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Colin Mills: My Fond Farewell

Colin Mills/File photoAfter three years as President of the Reston Citizens Association, having written weekly about community issues for Reston Patch and Reston Now since August 2011, this is my final column.

RCA is in the process of counting and verifying the results from our recent election. When the Board sits down to meet next Monday, someone else will be sworn in as president, and my three years in charge will officially come to an end.

Now that I’ve reached the end of the road with RCA, I have mixed emotions. On some level, I’m sorry to be stepping down; it’s still a very exciting time in Reston, between the Silver Line’s (finally scheduled) opening, the further revisions to the Master Plan, the question of how we’ll meet our community’s transportation, recreational, and environmental needs as we redevelop and grow in the future. I feel that RCA will have a key role to play in those community conversations, and I’m sorry I won’t be there to guide the organization on those issues.

On the other hand, I also feel more than a little relieved.  The schedule of meetings, emails, and other ancillary duties is tough on someone with a family.  I’m really excited about getting to spend more time with my wonderful wife Jennifer and my amazing daughter, Leslie.  And I also look forward to having the chance to tackle something new.  I’m the kind of guy who likes to look ahead to the next challenge, the next hill to climb, and now I’ll have a chance to do just that.

I’m proud of all that RCA has accomplished in the last 3 years under my leadership.  When I took over as president, I wanted RCA to have a much stronger voice on Reston’s political and social issues.  We succeeded.  In the last three years, RCA has informed and advocated for our citizens on a wide variety of issues, from the funding of the Silver Line to the rewriting of our Master Plan to the funding and administration of County libraries to the re-planning of Baron Cameron Park.  Our Reston 2020 Committee has become a widely-recognized authority on planning, development, and transportation issues.  We held forums, wrote articles, performed analysis, and spoke up in hearings on behalf of Restonians.

Our actions and advocacy could be controversial sometimes, but you know what?  I’m okay with that.  As a community, we’re better off if we’re openly discussing and debating the issues that will shape our future.  We may not always agree, but we’re much better off hashing these things out rather than having our leaders make decisions with no input from an apathetic public.  Reston has long been famous for its active and engaged citizens.  I’m glad RCA has helped perpetuate that tradition, even if it gets a little messy at times.

I’m also proud that RCA has strengthened its ties with other community organizations.  Collaborating with RA and ARCH has helped RCA achieve its goals, but more importantly, it’s helped us all better serve our constituents.  One of my proudest accomplishments with RCA is the joint forum we held about the Master Plan and Reston’s future.  It was the best-attended community meeting I have ever seen, and we did a great job bringing our citizens up to speed and helping them understand how the changes to the Master Plan will affect us as a community.   It was a fine example of what we can achieve by working together.

I’m also proud to have made the public aware of the fine work our citizen volunteers are doing, both by better publicizing the work of our Reston Accessibility Committee and through our annual Citizen of the Year Award.  In this case, I can take no credit for the work; that’s being done by the volunteers themselves.  But I have been very happy to celebrate and recognize the excellent work that they do on behalf of the community.  If I have helped make Restonians aware of RAC’s tireless efforts to make Reston’s buildings and facilities more accessible for people with disabilities, or of the volunteer efforts of super citizens like Nick Brown, Cate Fulkerson, and Kathy Kaplan, that fills me with pleasure.  It’s inspiring to volunteer in the community alongside people like them.

I’m also proud that I’m leaving RCA in excellent shape.  When the Board sits down on Monday, we’ll have a diverse group of hard-working and dedicated Restonians with different strengths, all of whom are committed to building RCA and helping Reston move forward.  The Board has several people who have the strength, capability, and vision to serve as President, and I’m sure the Board will choose one of them to lead the organization.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what RCA will accomplish under its next leader.

As for me, I promise that I will stay involved in the community.  Reston is in my blood; I love this place, and I am driven to keep serving.  I haven’t decided where my next challenge lies, but you haven’t heard the last of me (decide for yourself if that’s a promise or a threat).  I’ll be around and involved.

I’ll close out my farewell message with a lyric from one of my favorite artists, Warren Zevon:

We’ll go walkin’ hand in hand
Laughin’ fit to beat the band
With our backs turned, looking down the path

Some may have, and some may not
God, I’m thankful for what I got
With my back turned, looking down the path

I don’t know what paths I’ll be heading down in the years ahead.  But it’s summertime, and right now, walking hand-in-hand with my family and watching the fireflies along Reston’s paths sounds like just the ticket.  I’m thankful for my family, and I’m thankful to have had the privilege of serving Reston these last three years as RCA President.  Also, I’m thankful to everyone who reads this column.  If you see me out on the path, be sure to say hi.

Good news, Leslie: Dad’s coming home on time tonight.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association

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Colin Mills: The Gang’s All Here

Colin Mills/File photoLast night, I attended one of my favorite meetings. I got together with RCA Vice President John Hanley, RA President Ken Knueven and CEO Cate Fulkerson, and ARCH President Jerry Volloy. We had a couple drinks and talked about the hot issues in Reston, what we’re each working on, and how we can help each other out.  We laughed a lot and teased each other a fair bit, but we left feeling like we understood each other and the community a little better.

This is the Gang of 5. We’ve been gathering, in various configurations and at various times, for the last two years. Meeting with the Gang has been one of the highlights of my RCA presidency, and I believe it’s been a great benefit to our organizations and to Reston as a whole.

Our meetings are very informal. There’s no agenda, no one takes minutes, and Robert’s Rules of Order definitely don’t apply. It’s a chance for us to let our hair down, say what’s on our minds, smooth out any bumps in the road, and find ways to better serve our constituents.

One of my goals when I became RCA president three years ago was to strengthen our relationship with other Reston organizations. We’re all serving the community and we share many of the same broad objectives; why shouldn’t we work together more? If we don’t, we risk duplicating efforts or, worse, fighting where we could collaborate. We may not agree on everything, but I suspected we might agree on a lot if we sat down and talked things out.

This wasn’t the first effort to bring Reston organizations together. About 10 years ago, the leaders of many Reston groups formed the Coalition of Reston Organizational Leadership (COROL), to share information about what everyone was working on.  But that effort faded quickly, and since then, our organizations had largely been stuck in their silos. Too often, we didn’t talk to each other, we didn’t really trust each other, and we spent too much time guarding our own turf instead of looking for ways to help each other.

The “Gang of 5” concept was John Hanley’s idea. John is a great raconteur, and he believes that big things can happen in casual meetings. So he proposed a get-together with Jerry, Ken, and then-RA VP Andy Sigle.  Happily, they were all on board.  We met at the now-closed Greenberry’s Coffee, and spoke about our organizations, our projects, and our goals for the community. The relationship bloomed from there.

What have the Gang of 5 meetings accomplished for Reston? Quite a lot, actually. We’ve discovered that we’re on the same page about a lot of community issues, and that Reston would benefit from a collaborative effort, a unified citizen voice rather than a Greek chorus of organizations with different messages. So we’ve sought out opportunities to join forces and present a united front to the community.

In addition to presenting a unified message to the community, joining forces also allows us to take advantage of each organization’s unique strengths.  There are things RCA and ARCH can do that RA can’t, and vice versa.  But by coordinating our plan and backing each other up, we’re able to do the most good for our citizens.

This approach really paid off during the Master Plan Task Force discussions.  RCA, RA and ARCH all had representatives on the Task Force, but like the other citizen representatives, we all had our own separate messages, which paled in comparison to the much more unified efforts of the developer reps. In our Gang of 5 discussions, we recognized that we shared many of the same goals regarding Reston’s planning and land use, so we decided to work together.

This resulted in a couple of joint statements to the County outlining our goals and concerns, and a joint forum at which we told Restonians how the planning process was going, and let them know what still needed to be done. The forum drew an overflow crowd of hundreds, and many more watched it at home on YouTube. That turnout showed the County that the people of Reston were paying attention, and that our message was resonating in the community.

Did we get everything we wanted in the final plan?  No. But we did get a lot of our points incorporated, and that wouldn’t have happened without a strong, united campaign by all three organizations on behalf of our constituents. And that campaign couldn’t have happened without the trust, working relationship, and open discussions that the Gang of 5 made possible.

The Master Plan campaign has been our biggest effort to date, but our collaboration has worked in other ways as well. For instance, we’ve been brainstorming about ways to better inform and engage the community on issues concerning Reston’s future. And RA and RCA are also working on reviving Reston’s Sister City relationship with Nyeri, Kenya.

None of this could have have happened if John hadn’t proposed the Gang of 5, or if Jerry, Ken, Cate, and Andy hadn’t been open to pursuing closer ties. I’m very optimistic that the collaboration will outlive our terms with our respective organizations. We’ve done a lot of good for Reston in the last couple years, and I believe all of us see the value in continuing that work.

What does the future hold for the Gang of 5?  Ideally, I’d like to see it expand to include other Reston organizations.  There are a lot of groups out there that do good work, and I think the kind of collaboration that RCA, RA, and ARCH have done would only be better if more groups were involved.

As for me, I’m assured that even after I leave RCA, I will remain an honorary Gangster and will still be welcome at the meetings.  I look forward to seeing my friends again, and I’m delighted that we’ve taken a big step toward better representing the people of Reston.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association.

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Colin Mills: Springing Forward Into a More Accessible Reston

Colin Mills/File photoWith the RCA election in full swing (vote now!) and my time as President winding down, I’ve been trying to fill you in on what we’re doing before I depart. It occurs to me that I haven’t talked about the Reston Accessibility Committee lately. 

Happily, Ken Fredgren and his committee are still working hard to make Reston’s commercial buildings and facilities more accessible to people with disabilities. This week, I’ll bring you up to date on some of their most recent projects.

When I last discussed RAC’s work, I shared the success of a major effort by Ken and other advocates to make Virginia’s building codes friendlier for people with disabilities. This was a major, multi-year effort, and I’m thrilled that it came to fruition. But I know the completion of that effort was also something of a relief for RAC’s chair. He no longer needs to travel back and forth to Richmond, and he’s able to focus his efforts back home in Reston.  That renewed focus is reaping significant benefits for the community.

Because most RAC projects deal with outdoor facilities (parking lots, sidewalks, and the like), construction tends to take place in the warmer months. This can make winter a somewhat frustrating time for RAC, as progress slows down considerably. The bright side is that come springtime, there’s often a surge as several projects move forward almost simultaneously. I will report on three projects in this installment, but there’s more good work in progress.

Two of RAC’s recent successes are actually updates on long-standing projects. One of them, Hunters Woods Village Center, is actually up for a third go-round. In 2009, RAC worked with the then-owners to add accessible parking spaces and access aisles, curb cuts, and crosswalks. When Edens & Avant purchased the center in 2012 and planned to redesign the parking lot, RAC engaged them to ensure that the existing improvements would be preserved. Not only were the improvements retained, but the accessible spaces were moved closer to the buildings, making them even more convenient.

There was one remaining holdup: At RAC’s suggestion, Edens had promised to add additional accessible spaces to the lot. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication with the paving contractor, no additional spaces were added. Ken maintained a good-faith dialog with Edens, and last month, he found that a new accessible space and access aisles had been added, replacing two regular parking spaces. Kudos to Ken for his persistence, and to Edens for keeping their word to make Hunters Woods more accessible.

The second project is at Reston Corner, the office park where RA’s headquarters is located. In 2009, RAC made a series of recommendations for the building at 12007 Sunrise Valley Drive: addition of automatic entrance doors, the addition of access aisles and curb ramps in the parking lot, and an update to the signs on the accessible parking spaces. The doors were installed, the signs were updated, and the access aisles were added; unfortunately, the contractor didn’t install curb ramps or correct the slope of the accessible spaces.  This meant that people with disabilities could now get out of their cars, but they couldn’t get safely from the accessible spaces to the sidewalk.

RAC met with representatives of Cassidy Turley, the property manager, and made a clever suggestion: add asphalt to the accessible spaces to raise them up to the level of the curb. This would both fix the slope of the spaces and allow safe access to the sidewalk without having to install curb ramps. Cassidy Turley adopted the suggestion, and last month, they revamped the spaces to make them fully accessible and compliant with ADA regulations.

When Ken drove by the lot to check out the improvements, he spotted a woman helping her mother, who uses a walker, out of the car in one of the improved spaces. He asked the woman what she thought of the new layout, and she said, “It’s so much better!” This was a perfect example of how RAC’s efforts make concrete improvements in the lives of people with disabilities.

RAC’s third project deals with Carrabba’s Restaurant on Sunset Hills Road.  Ken brought the site to RAC’s attention when he noticed that their parking lot contained only two accessible spaces. The law requires three accessible spaces for a lot that size, and given Carrabba’s popularity, RAC felt that four spaces would better reflect the need. The signs on the accessible spaces were also in need of updating.

RAC contacted the restaurant’s owner. He replaced the signs right away, but said that Carrabba’s corporate headquarters would need to address the accessible spaces.  RAC followed up with corporate, only to discover that the site’s landlord was in charge of the parking lot.  Undeterred, RAC reached out to Dwoskin, the property manager, to follow up.

Happily, Dwoskin was responsive to RAC’s outreach, and made plans to add accessible spaces. They were scheduled to complete the work early this month; the next time I go for dinner there, I will check it out myself.

All in all, not a bad haul for the past month!  (Of course, all of these successes are the result of months or even years of calls, emails, letters, meetings, and friendly but persistent effort by the RAC team.) As the warmer weather continues, RAC should have more progress to report soon.

Working with Ken Fredgren and RAC on behalf of Restonians with disabilities has been a highlight of my time with RCA.  Ken is an inspiration and a true friend, and the members of RAC are a pleasure to work with.  That’s why, even though I’m stepping off the RCA Board, I plan to continue working with RAC.  I believe in RAC’s mission, and I want to see their successes continue.

If you share my support for improving access to Reston’s buildings and facilities, I hope that you’ll become a member of RAC.  The bigger RAC grows, the more good they’ll be able to do for the community.  I hope to see you at RAC’s next meeting.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association

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Colin Mills: Cast Your Vote for RCA’s Future

Colin Mills/File photoIt’s election season again! No, I’m not talking about the seemingly endless parade of Congressional and gubernatorial primaries. I’m talking about the RCA elections.

The RCA elections open on Saturday, and I’m once again encouraging you all to take a few minutes to cast your vote. You can help determine who will be standing up for Reston’s citizens on issues from the future of our libraries to the revisions to our Master Plan to ensuring that the Silver Line is built in a way that doesn’t overburden Toll Road users.

This is a particularly important year to cast your vote. As I’ve noted before, I’m stepping down as president, and longtime Board members Terry Maynard and Dick Rogers are retiring to focus on planning and transportation issues. RCA will have a new president and a number of new Board members (including the three new Board members we added in February). There’s new blood and the possibility of a new direction for RCA; casting your vote will give you a voice in shaping that new direction.

For the third year in a row, we’re holding our voting online to make it as easy as possible to cast your vote.  You can vote from the comfort of your home or office, or at the Starbucks, whenever it’s convenient for you: on your lunch hour, in the morning before work, or in the middle of the night.

We’ve made an additional change this year to make it easier for you to vote. For as long as I’ve been on the Board, the RCA has held its elections in July. This is because we used to hold the vote at the Reston Festival.  Now that the Festival is defunct and we’ve gone to online voting, we realize that July is a tough time for people to vote: a lot of folks are on vacation, and those that aren’t might not be paying close attention to community issues in the dead of summer. By moving the elections back to June, before school lets out and before vacations start, we’re hoping to see a jump in turnout.

As always, the voting process is simplicity itself: Just go to the RCA website, and there will be a link on the left side of the page labeled “Click here to VOTE”, When you click it, you’ll be taken to a page containing information about how to vote, as well as short bios of all the candidates. On that page, you’ll be able to click a link that takes you to the ballot. Verify your residency, vote for your preferred candidates, click “Done” and your vote is recorded!

As always, the elections are a team effort, and as always, I’m grateful to the Board members who have rolled up their sleeves and made it happen.

Our tech master, Gary Walker, is once again handling the nuts-and-bolts work needed to make the election happen.  He designed and tested the ballot, transferred all of the candidate information into web pages, and is in the process of getting the election information up on our website. Gary’s in a very busy time personally and professionally, but he’s coming through when we need him to put the IT side of the election together.

Our Election Committee (Gary, Tammi Petrine, John Hanley, Annmarie Swope, Joe Leighton, and George Kain) also deserve a lot of credit. They collected election information, recruited candidates, produced and distributed our call for candidates, and publicized the election. It’s a thankless job, but our Election Committee is once again proving up to the task.

Now, back to the call to action. By casting your vote, you’re expressing your support for RCA and its efforts. If you benefit from our work in some way, voting is a great way to encourage us to keep up the good work.

If you want our Reston 20/20 Committee to keep fighting to ensure a balanced and sustainable future for Reston, please cast your vote.  If you appreciate the work our Reston Accessibility Committee does to make Reston a friendlier and more accessible place for people with disabilities, please cast your vote.  If you believe that it’s important to have an independent citizen voice keeping Restonians informed and speaking up on key issues, please cast your vote.

In the next year, our community will once again consider a number of important issues that will shape our future course. The County is now looking at Phase 2 of our Master Plan revision, and we need to ensure that the changes allow for reimagining our village centers will protecting our existing neighborhoods and open space. The Silver Line will open soon (we think!), and we’ll soon be seeing the first wave of redevelopment proposals. We need to make sure that we balance the growth with protection of our roads, our environment, and our quality of life.

The future of Baron Cameron Park will be decided soon; will it include a new RCC rec center, a relocated dog park, more field capacity? RCA will be keeping Reston’s citizens informed and engaged on all those issues, as well as others that we can’t foresee yet.

Our new Board will have a powerful combination of dedicated returning members and new blood with fresh ideas to move RCA forward.  RCA will continue working together with other community organizations, taking on new challenges, and looking for ways to better serve the citizens of Reston.

To my mind, that kind of community leadership is priceless.  But right now, all it costs is a few minutes of your time to vote. Make sure to act fast: the polls open Saturday and close on June 22nd. Please go to our website, learn about the candidates, and cast your ballot.  And thanks for your support!

Colin Mills is president of the Reston Citizens Association. 

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Colin Mills: Time for a Reston Memorial?

Colin Mills/File photoA couple of weeks ago, I took a day trip over to Annapolis. As much as I love Reston, I do escape its borders from time to time!

Annapolis is a lovely town, and I enjoyed the boutique shops along Main Street, the top-notch seafood and Key lime pie at a good old-fashioned crab shack, the museums and historic buildings, and the beautiful views along the Bay. But an unscheduled stop at the World War II Memorial proved the highlight of my trip, and got me thinking about the idea of creating something like that in Reston.

Driving down Ritchie Highway, I saw a small sign indicating a World War II Memorial and scenic overlook.  Being both a history buff and a fan of scenic views, I figured it might be worth a few minutes of my time.  Little did I know just how breathtaking and thought-provoking the memorial would turn out to be.

The memorial is built into the side of a hill, so you have no idea what you’re about to experience when you approach from the parking lot. The first thing you encounter is the overlook, a pavilion that provides gorgeous views of the Severn River, the Naval Academy, and parts of downtown Annapolis. I stood there for a few minutes, enjoying the beautiful weather and the sense of calm that overtook me.  Even though the memorial is between two busy highways, it’s surprisingly peaceful and well-protected by the trees and hedges that surround it.

But the memorial itself was what I wanted to see, so I went down to take a look. Conceptually, the layout of the Annapolis memorial is similar to the National World War II Memorial in DC, with a ring of 48 stone pillars, one for each state in the Union at the time. But Maryland’s memorial contains several additional touches that made it stand out for me.

Outside the ring of pillars is an obelisk, the memorial’s most striking feature. The seven-sided base displays the names of the various branches of the service, while the metal obelisk forms a five-pointed star. It was impressive when I saw it during the day, but I’ll bet it’s even more attractive at night, when it’s lighted.

In between pillars on the north side of the memorial are a series of granite panels displaying the names of the Marylanders who lost their lives in service during World War II. The stark simplicity of the names etched in the dark stone reminded me of the Vietnam Memorial, and provided the same sense of solemn reflection.

My favorite aspect of the memorial is a series of 20 metal plaques that provide a succinct yet surprisingly thorough overview of the war. The plaques touch on the major events and locations of the war (including the “forgotten theater” in China, Burma, and India), as well as efforts on the homefront and Maryland’s role in preparing for, supplying, and fighting the war.

The west and east sides of the memorial contained hidden gems: a pair of maps depicting the major battles in the eastern and western hemispheres.  The maps and the plaques combined to tell the story of the war well.  My daughter recently studied World War II in school; I’d like to take her to the memorial to help her put the facts she learned into context.

The center of the memorial did not contain a fountain like the D.C. memorial; instead, it housed an amphitheater that went down into the earth. This is no doubt intended primarily for presentations and ceremonies, but it’s also a good spot to sit and take in what you have seen.

I walked away feeling deeply impressed by the memorial.  It was visually striking and majestic without being overwhelming.  It was cleverly integrated into its surroundings, with the scenic views only enhancing the experience. Despite being in a fairly busy location, it still provided tranquility and a place for quiet reflection.  And best of all, it provided information and fostered a sense of connection with the events it commemorated.

After considering all the things I liked about the memorial, my next thought was: We should have something like that in Reston.

As the 50th anniversary celebrations this year have demonstrated, our New Town now has a history of its own.  Now that we are an established community, I think it’s time for us to start thinking about building monuments of our own here in Reston.

Of course we have Bronze Bob, and the 9/11 Memorial at Browns Chapel, and other lesser-known historical markers like the Dag Hammarskjold plaque by the International Center.  But I’d love to see something on a larger scale, something that could serve as a community gathering place as well as a monument, something as well-planned and well-executed as the World War II Memorial in Annapolis.

Obviously, World War II wouldn’t be a suitable subject here, since Reston didn’t exist at the time. But a similarly informative memorial about Reston’s history would be a terrific companion to the fine exhibits at the Reston Museum. Or perhaps we could commemorate a historical event with a connection to Reston.  A memorial about the civil rights movement would be most appropriate, given Reston’s history as an open community and our continued commitment to diversity. A Cold War memorial would be more unorthodox, but would also be a suitable choice, given Reston’s ties to the CIA and the defense industry and our proximity to the Nike missile site in Great Falls.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.  Is Reston ready for a large-scale memorial?  What would be an appropriate subject for such a memorial?  And where would be a suitable location for it?

Also, I highly recommend a visit to Annapolis.  It’s only an hour away, and it’s a great place to spend a day or two if you’re a fan of history, crabs, or funky little shops.  Now, if we could talk about bringing some of those funky little shops to Reston.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: Giving Credit To Two of RCA’s Best

Colin Mills/File photoLast week, I announced that I will not be running again for the RCA Board. I’m not the only one stepping down this year, however. Two other RCA stalwarts, Terry Maynard and Dick Rogers, are also retiring at the end of this term.

This week, I’d like to pay tribute to Terry and Dick. They have both served Reston well in their time with RCA, and I’m glad to count them as trusted colleagues and as friends.  I will greatly miss working with them both.

Dick and Terry have a lot in common. They have served with RCA for quite a while (Terry joined the Board in late 2009, Dick in early 2010). Both are retired CIA analysts, and they brought that analytical skill to their work with RCA. Both are most interested in planning and transportation. But although they’re similar in background, they have different approaches and have contributed to RCA in different ways.

If you’ve followed the planning for Reston’s future — whether it’s the Silver Line, the Master Plan revisions, or the RCC rec center proposal — you’ve probably heard Terry Maynard’s name. He has been quoted more often than anyone else on the RCA Board, and with good reason. Over the years, Terry has become one of Reston’s preeminent experts on development issues.

Terry’s analytical reports, full of charts and footnotes, are legendary. If you think I’m verbose, you should take a look at one of Terry’s reports, which can run 100 pages or more. But they are lengthy for a reason.  Most people don’t have the expertise or the inclination to dive into spreadsheets full of numbers and figures and dig out the real story, but Terry does. Whether he’s examining the accuracy of Toll Road revenue forecasts, quantifying the impact of development on Reston’s traffic and recreational facilities, or raising unanswered questions about the rec center, you can count on Terry to provide a rigorous, reasonable analysis.

In addition to his reports, Terry has taken on a leadership role on planning issues. He has been the co-chair of RCA’s Reston 2020 Committee, serving as a community watchdog on key development-related matters.  He also served with distinction as RCA’s primary representative on the Reston Master Plan Task Force, standing up for Reston’s citizens to protect our founding principles and quality of life. While the final Master Plan recommendations weren’t quite as Terry wanted, his staunch advocacy and thoughtful analysis made the final plan better for Restonians.

Terry can be outspoken, but his passion has its roots in an abiding love for the community and a desire to see it thrive for decades to come. Terry believes strongly in responsible and well-planned development and in transparent and responsive government, and he’s not shy about speaking out when he believes our leaders are falling short in those areas.

And when Terry speaks, you know he’s got the facts and figures to back it up. His impassioned critiques are informed by his dispassionate analysis. He understands that once you’ve done the homework and know that you’re right, you shouldn’t be afraid to speak out. Terry has never been afraid to speak his mind.

Terry’s integrity, analytical capability, dedication, and abiding support for Reston’s citizens have been a tremendous boon to RCA and to Reston. We’re all much better off for his efforts.

While Terry is a widely-known figure in Reston, you may not know Dick Rogers. That’s due to a difference in styles: Dick is quiet where Terry is outspoken, and Dick often works behind the scenes while Terry has been more visible. But Dick has also been a tremendous advocate for the community’s interests, and he has been a tremendous help to RCA in his time on the Board.

Dick first became involved in RCA through Reston 2020. He was already an active member of the community, serving for more than a decade on his cluster board and having been an Associate Member of the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee. Dick has lived in Reston for a long time (almost 40 years), and he wanted to represent the community as Reston’s future was being discussed. When a spot on the RCA Board opened up, he applied, and he’s been a blessing to us ever since.

Dick is well-liked by everyone, and with good reason: he is very thoughtful and a true gentleman. He applied these qualities, as well as his analytical background, to carve out a niche as RCA’s transportation expert. He attended as many transportation-related meetings as he could, and reported back with thorough notes and observations. His dogged persistence and gentlemanly demeanor helped him find out information that no one else had.

Perhaps Dick’s finest work is the paper “Wiehle Metro Station Access: Congestion Ahead,” of which he was the principal researcher and author. Early last year, Dick began wondering if Reston was ready for the coming of the Silver Line and the transportation challenges it would bring. He wasn’t sure, so he started doing the legwork: doing research, interviewing key players, and developing findings.

Dick concluded that not enough has been done to allow Silver Line users to access the Wiehle station. His report described the problems in detail, and better yet, suggested solutions.  His report focused public attention on a key challenge to the successful implementation of the Silver Line, and sparked discussion on how to address it.

It’s unfortunate that Dick and Terry will no longer be on the RCA Board. Happily, though, neither one is leaving RCA entirely. Terry will continue as Reston 2020 co-chair, pushing for responsible and balanced planning solutions. Dick will also remain active on 2020, and he will serve as RCA’s representative on the Hunter Mill Transportation Advisory Committee. I’m delighted that RCA and Reston will still benefit from their expertise.

Terry Maynard and Dick Rogers have been two of RCA’s guiding lights for the last several years. I hope that Restonians recognize how much that they’ve done for the community, and that we give thanks for their dedication and service. This column is my small contribution toward giving them the recognition they deserve.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: Turning The Page

Colin Mills/File photoAll good things must come to an end. After losing my election for the Reston Association board earlier this month, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what the future holds for me, including my future with RCA.

With our elections just around the corner and the candidate filing period now open, I felt that I owed it to the RCA and to potential candidates to make a decision about my plans.  And after long and careful thought, I announced to the Board at last week’s meeting that I have made the difficult decision not to run for re-election to RCA.

Many factors have gone into this decision. One of the driving factors is the needs of my family. My new wife and my daughter have been very supportive of my work with RCA, but they need and deserve more of my time than I’ve been able to give them.

But perhaps the deciding factor is my belief that it’s time for me to do something different. I have served the community actively for almost a decade, and I have been with RCA for almost all of that time, including the last 3 years as president. I have learned a lot and grown a lot in that time, and now it’s time for me to start a new chapter in my life.

I’m proud of everything that RCA has accomplished under my leadership.  We have raised RCA’s profile tremendously, and made ourselves part of the community conversation again. We have been a strong voice for Reston’s citizens on issues like the Master Plan, transportation, open space, parks and recreation, our library system, and many more. We have forged strong relationship with fellow community organizations like RA, ARCH, Rescue Reston, and others. We have renewed our focus on keeping the citizens informed (one of RCA’s original missions) by hosting and co-sponsoring community forums, producing analytical reports, and starting the new Reston 411 series of quick facts.

Our Reston 2020 Committee has become widely-known and well-respected as an analyst and watchdog on planning and development issues. Terry Maynard’s reports and white papers have become a go-to resource for those who want to understand the community in depth. Our Reston Accessibility Committee has continued to thrive in its mission of improving access to Reston’s facilities for people with disabilities. Their excellent work has earned commendation from Fairfax County, and it has made a real concrete difference at shopping centers, office parks, and buildings all around our community.

Our revived Citizen of the Year Award has grown into a much-loved annual event, and we’ve recognized some very deserving citizens, including Dave Edwards, Nick Brown, Cate Fulkerson, and Kathy Kaplan. We are also in the process of taking primary responsibility for our annual candidate forums, which we have long co-sponsored with John Lovaas and Reston Impact.

In short, I believe that I am leaving RCA in a very good place.

That very good place includes the state of our Board. Right now, we have the strongest Board that I have worked with in my time with RCA. Our Board is diverse in age, background, experience, and length of Reston residency, but we’re united in our strong desire to serve the people of Reston. Every one of our Board members has contributed to our success.  Our continuing Board members are ready to lead, and they have indicated that they are ready to step up. One of the reasons I feel comfortable stepping aside now is that I’m confident that the Board is ready to carry on our good work without my involvement.

Just to be clear, my time isn’t quite up yet. My term doesn’t expire until the summer, and I will continue to work hard for RCA and for Reston’s citizens until then. I will be leading our upcoming meetings and continuing to develop the projects and issues already in progress. And I will work with the incoming President and the new Board to ensure a smooth transition and make sure that RCA is positioned to keep growing into the future.

Rest assured that I’m not going away, either. I love Reston, and I intend to continue serving the community actively.  You’ll still see me at meetings (although not as often, I hope!), and I’ll still be seeking ways to help Reston address the opportunities and challenges that await us in the future. I’m currently in the process of planning my next chapter, but I look forward to sharing it with you all.

Leading RCA has been an honor and a privilege. I have really enjoyed getting to know my fellow Restonians better, both our leaders and the ordinary citizens that make our community special. And I have enjoyed sharing the news about our accomplishments and progress here in this space. Whatever the future holds for RCA and for me, I’ll always be able to look back on this time with pride, knowing that we helped make Reston a better place. I look forward to seeing you out and about in Reston.

Want to step up and help RCA write its next chapter?  Now’s the time to file your candidate form!  Click here to download the application.  Deadline for submission is May 23rd.

Colin Mills is the president of RCA. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: Enjoying Reston’s Tastiest Tradition

Colin Mills/File photoThe candidate filing period for the RCA Board is now open!  If you’d like to join us, click here to learn more about the election and download the candidate application.

In the middle of a rainy and dreary week like this, it’s only natural to think ahead toward the weekend. I’m very excited about this weekend. Not just because warmth and sunshine are scheduled to make a reappearance, but also because one of my favorite Reston traditions is getting started again: the Reston Farmers Market opens for the season on Saturday, and I can’t wait to go. There’s not a lot that can get me out of the house on Saturday morning, but this is well worth the trip.

It’s hard to believe that the Farmers Market has been around for 16 years; it doesn’t seem like that long. But the market, under the able supervision of my good friend John Lovaas, has grown into a Reston institution, a place for the community to come together and enjoy local produce, meats, and more.

Farmers markets and Reston go way back. I remember the Reston Farmers Market on Baron Cameron when I was a kid, across from the Pet-A-Pet Farm (today’s Reston Zoo). My family used to stop in there from time to time to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables; the sweet summer corn was especially delicious.

The best time of year to visit the farmers market, hands down, was Halloween. We always picked out our pumpkins there, trundling the little red wagons among the rows of beautiful gourds. We went into the back of the store to fill our gallon jug with apple cider (so sweet and delicious; we drank it in the fall and I dreamed about it the rest of the year). 

And best of all, my sister and I got to climb Fort Pumpkin! This was a contraption constructed out of hay bales and decorated with pumpkins, perfect for kids to burn off some energy running and climbing while Mom was finishing up the shopping. When I reached the top of the fort and looked out toward the horizon, even though I couldn’t have been more than 20 feet off the ground, I felt like I could see forever. Fort Pumpkin was my favorite thing about Halloween, even more than the candy.  (Okay, maybe tied with the candy.)

What the Reston Farmers Market lacks in whimsical hay-bale forts, it makes up for in diverse, delicious food offerings. Sometimes, I’ll walk through and pick up everything I need for lunch or dinner right there at the market.

Maybe we’ll have Gunpowder bison steaks, fresh green beans, and a salad with juicy tomatoes and goat cheese from Cherry Glen, dressed with a vinaigrette from Wisteria Gardens. Or perhaps we’ll have sandwiches, sausage from Valentines on artisan bread from Baguette Republic. If I’ve got a sweet tooth, maybe pick up something from A Bit More or Grace’s Pastries for dessert. I love one-stop shopping for my meals.

Another thing I love about farmers market shopping is being introduced to something I haven’t tried before.  For instance, last year I tried ramps for the first time after picking them up at the market. Ramps are wild leeks; they look kind of like scallions with big leaves on top. I tried them raw and cooked, and I loved their earthy, pungent, peppery flavor. I can’t wait to see what new discoveries I might run across this year.

I’m not the only one in my family who’s looking forward to the market’s opening. My wife loves to shop there, and we’re both hoping that the selection will inspire us to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet. My daughter, meanwhile, is particularly fond of the Cherry Glen goat cheese (she loves to eat it on Ritz crackers for a snack) and the black bean dip from Wisteria Gardens. If I go to the market without her and forget to pick up the black-bean dip, I know she won’t forgive me.

The market is more than just a chance to pick up tasty locally-grown food; it’s also a great social opportunity.  You never know who you might run into at the market. Prominent Restonians like Bob Simon and Ken Plum often stop by, and if you’re hoping to run into your neighbor on Saturday morning, the market is a good place to look.

The Saturday farmers farket serves a function a lot like the plazas in Bob’s original vision of Reston; it gets people out of their cars and interacting with each other.  I’m always in favor of anything that foster community conversations, and the market definitely does that.

I also love the fact that the market is held at Lake Anne.  It’s our oldest village center, and it’s still my favorite place in Reston.  The farmers market has done a great job drawing people over to Lake Anne who might not have gone otherwise. I think it’s no coincidence that Lake Anne has been on an upward swing since the market got started in 1998. And I’m also really glad to know that the market will still have a home in the revitalized and expanded Lake Anne Village Center that’s coming soon.

While you’re at the Farmers Market, it’s also worth stopping by the craft market that takes place on the plaza itself. That market features local arts and crafts. Walking through there makes me think of a Middle Eastern bazaar. It’s well worth a stroll to see what you might find.

I hope you’ll be headed out to the Lake Anne Farmers Market on Saturday morning. And if you see me there, checking out the produce or sampling the goat cheese offerings, stop by and say hello.  We’re neighbors, after all.  Bob would approve.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. His column runs weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: Get Involved In Reston’s Future By Running For RCA Board

Colin Mills/File photoThis is an important and exciting time for Reston. As we celebrate our community’s 50th anniversary and our founder’s 100th birthday, we’ve been looking back at our past and ahead to our future. And as we look ahead, it’s clear that major change is in store for our community.

The Silver Line will soon be open, and that will trigger major redevelopment that will bring great opportunities and great challenges for Reston.

Our original village center, Lake Anne, is about to begin a major revitalization. Our other village centers may have redevelopment awaiting them as well. We’re going to see thousands of new residents and new jobs in the coming decades, which will bring new vitality, but also new demands on our infrastructure. We’re going to need roads, schools, fields, parks, and open spaces for those new Restonians, and we’ll need to provide them with limited resources and without damaging the quality of life for existing Restonians.

There’s a lot going on! And it’s a great time to be involved. There’s no better evidence of that then the large field of candidates (myself included) who ran in the recent Reston Association election. If you’re interested in all the change in Reston and want to be involved, I’d encourage you to get involved in planning our community’s future by running for the RCA Board.

RCA and our 20/20 Committee have been on the front lines of the planning and development issues that are shaping our community. We were active participants on Phase 1 of the Master Plan Task Force, and we’ll be back again for Phase 2. We’ve done studies and issued papers on how to meet the transportation, recreation, and environmental needs of the coming development. We’ve stood up for our citizens to protect our resources, whether that means standing up for our libraries or working with Rescue Reston to save Reston National Golf Course.  And we’ve held forums to inform our citizens and listen to their opinions on issues like the Master Plan and the proposed changes at Baron Cameron Park.

If you want to represent the community on the issues that will affect our future, there’s no better place to be than RCA. We recently added some fresh voices to our Board; why not add yours too?

If planning and development isn’t your focus, don’t worry; RCA has a broader focus than that. Since 2008, our Reston Accessibility Committee has been a strong and tenacious advocate for Restonians with disabilities. Our new Reston 411 series provides quick facts to keep our citizens up to speed on what’s going on.  And we’re continuing to work hard on our community-positive traditions like the Citizen of the Year Award and our candidate forums.

If you have a community issue that you believe needs more attention, we’re always open to expanding our portfolio to better serve our citizens.  Join us and lead the way. And we’ve planning to make a big push on improving our communications and fundraising in the next year; if you’re skilled in those areas, we would love to have you on board.

Naturally, you’ll want to know about the candidacy requirements. In order to run for a seat on the RCA Board, you must be at least 16 years old, and you must live in Small Tax District 5 (the tax district that funds the Reston Community Center). That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve lived in Reston for 30 days or 30 years, whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, what political party you belong to (RCA is non-partisan), or whether you’re younger or older (as long as you’re at least 16). If you want to improve Reston’s quality of life, and you have the drive to get involved, you can throw your hat in the ring.

There are five seats up for election this year:  North Point DirectorLake Anne/Tall Oaks/Town Center Director, South Lakes DirectorHunters Woods Director, and At-Large Director. How do you know which district you’re in? It depends on where you vote in state and federal elections. I’ve got a handy chart below:

North Point: If you vote in North Point, Stuart, or Aldrin Precincts (at Aldrin or Armstrong)

Lake Anne/Tall Oaks/Town Center:  If you vote in Reston I, Reston II, Reston III, or Cameron Glen Precinct (at Lake Anne or Forest Edge)

South Lakes: If you vote in Sunrise Valley, South Lakes, or Terraset Precinct

Hunters Woods: If you vote in Dogwood Precinct, Hunter Woods Precinct, or Glade Precinct (at RCC Hunters Woods)

In order to run for a District Director seat, you must live in that district.  To run for At-Large Director, you may live anywhere in Small Tax District 5. All Directors serve 3-year terms (this is a change that we’ve made this year to bring RCA in line with other Reston organizations like RA and RCC).

If you’d like to learn more about RCA and what we’ve been doing, you can read some of my past columns on Reston Now, or you can check out the RCA website. The candidate filing period opens on April 28 (next Monday) and closes on May 23, so don’t delay if you want to run. The candidate form will be up on our website once the filing period opens.

Once you’ve filed as a candidate, then it’s time to start campaigning. Thanks to the online voting system we implemented in 2012, it will be easier than ever for your supporters to cast votes.

If you love Reston and want to be involved during this exciting time, consider running for the RCA Board.  There’s a lot going on, and we need our citizens to be involved. I hope you’ll take this chance to help shape Reston’s future.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: A Stroll Through Spring

Colin Mills/File photoThere’s just something about this time of year.  As the days get longer and temperatures start to creep upward from the winter (an unusually long and cold one this year), my mind and body both feel the urge to wander. I don’t know if it’s the shoots of green and flashes of floral color, or if it’s the arrival of baseball’s Opening Day, but I always feel drawn to head outside and celebrate spring at this time of year.

I wrote about the glories of spring at this time last year, and I’ve always enjoyed this season of renewal and rebirth. Last year, I mentioned that RCA was undergoing a rebirth of its own, branching out into new areas and winning community praise for our analysis and advocacy. I’m happy to say that the past year has been a very busy and productive one for us.

We’ve been active on issues from the Master Plan to the proposed RCC rec center to our libraries and more.  We’ve done a great job getting involved in the community conversation on key issues.  We’ve strengthened our relationships with other organizations.

I’m happy to report that RCA is poised for another renewal as we head into this spring.  Our recently-seated new Board members have brought fresh perspectives and new energy to RCA.  We’ve rolled out our Reston 411 series to help our citizens get up to speed on key issues (the first installment is now up on our website). We’re preparing for Reston 2020’s upcoming “ResTown Hall Meeting” on the Baron Cameron Park master plan (happening on Monday, April 7th at 7 PM at Aldrin Elementary). And we’ve had some recent developments on the Reston-Nyeri Sister City project that I hope to share with you soon.

In short, it’s an exciting time to be involved in RCA, and I’m proud of all the great work we’re doing. The fact that we’re making progress on so many fronts gives me confidence that RCA will remain strong with or without me.

As you probably know, over the past month I have been running for a seat on the Reston Association Board. The campaign is now over, but as of this writing, we don’t know who has won. As a result, I’m not sure whether I will be continuing with RCA.  (If elected to RA, the time commitment will require me to step down from RCA.)

The past month, dividing my time between the campaign and RCA and my family and my job, has been a busy and fairly stressful time. I couldn’t have survived it without the help of my RCA colleagues, who have stepped in to pick up the slack for my lesser involvement. They’ve made sure that RCA has kept humming along and remained just as productive as ever.

If I am not elected to RA, I will happily return to RCA and work on keeping our projects moving forward. But if I do wind up moving on to RA, I have every confidence that my smart and hard-working colleagues will keep RCA going and serving the community well in my absence.

As I await news on my future, I look forward to having some time to enjoy the season. Getting off the campaign trail will free up some more of my time for taking walks along our pathways and enjoying our natural beauty, the trees and flowers in full bloom.

Nature and the environment are essential to Restonians, a fact that was reinforced during my campaign. One of the concerns I heard most frequently from the people I spoke with was balancing development with preserving our natural resources and open space.  Striking that balance will be one of the key challenges that all of us — RCA, RA, and everyone who’s interested in Reston’s future — will need to face in the coming years.

With the revised Master Plan approved by the Board of Supervisors, it’s clear that growth — significant growth — is coming to Reston. There are going to be a lot of new buildings and a lot of new people in our community over the next several decades. Whether that winds up being a positive or a negative for Reston depends on whether we find the balance, particularly in areas like the environment.

It’s true that some parts of Reston, especially around the Silver Line stations, are going to be denser and more urban than anything we’ve been used to before. But there are ways to grow and develop without becoming a concrete jungle. It’s possible to make natural areas a key component of even our most urban neighborhoods. It’s possible to plan with the goal of creating harmony between nature and development. It’s possible to design buildings that are environmentally sensitive, that conserve our resources.

In order to do that, though, it’s going to take careful collaboration between all of Reston’s stakeholders and a shared commitment to those principles.  It will require thoughtful consideration of our priorities, and a clear vision about the elements that are most essential to Reston’s sense of itself.  This will not the easiest or cheapest way to develop.  But it allows us to grow for the future while ensuring that the things we love about Reston will be preserved. I look forward to helping us work toward that goal, whether I’m with RCA or RA or any other organization.

I hope you don’t mind that this week’s column wandered a bit more than usual.  Something about the warmth of springtime encourages this sort of rambling walk. I have no doubt that you’ll be hearing more from me and from RCA on the issues I’ve discussed, and more. I look forward to seeing what happens as spring continues to unfold.  And if you see me out on the pathways enjoying the splendor of the season, be sure and say hi.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now. 

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Colin Mills: Information, Please

Colin Mills/File photoIf you read this column on a regular basis, chances are you like to keep up with Reston community issues. You’re probably better versed on what’s going on than most Restonians. And that’s great; the more citizens that we have who pay attention to what’s happening, the better off we are.

But for a lot of folks, especially in today’s time-pressed and overscheduled society, keeping up with community issues can be a challenge. Between jobs and families and household chores and other duties, something has to give.  Even those who do make an effort to keep up with local issues can’t follow it all. It’s hard to find the time to attend community board meetings, read official documents, and form informed opinions.

This led us at RCA to ask: How can we help?  What can we do to keep our citizens informed in a way that’s quick and easy to follow for time-pressed people?  We produce a lot of information about issues that matter to our community, but not everyone has the time or inclination to read Terry Maynard’s latest 100-page analytical report, or do a deep dive on our website to learn the history of an issue.

That’s why we’re rolling out a new series of white papers entitled “Reston 411.” These papers will contain key facts and figures to help you make informed and educated decisions about local issues that affect Reston’s quality of life or relate to our founding principles. They’re designed as public service announcements in paper form.  It’s an easy way to get up to speed about what’s happening now in our community.

Each paper will focus on a key issue.  Some issues might be dealt with in a single paper; more complicated issues (the Silver Line, for instance) will rate a series of several papers, each one dealing with a particular aspect of the issue.  We plan to tie the series to issues that are active right now in the community, so that you’re learning facts and information you can use right away.

Each paper in the Reston 411 series is only one page long, designed to be read in just a few minutes.  You can read one on the Metro on your way to work, or while waiting for an appointment. If you’ve got 5 minutes to spare, you’ve got time to read a Reston 411 paper. You’ve got time to learn what’s going on and why it matters.

And if something really catches your eye and you want to learn more about an issue, each paper will include links to sources where you can go for more information. Those links might lead you to official websites with details or data on the matter and hand. Or they might lead to one of RCA’s long analytical reports. The Reston 411 series allows you to tailor your reading to your time and interest. You can just read the paper and get the quick facts you need to be conversant, or you have the resources to really study an issue and become an expert. The choice is yours.

Since the Baron Cameron Park Master Plan and the related discussion of a possible new RCC rec center are in the news, our first entry in the Reston 411 series deals with Small District 5, the Reston-based tax district that funds RCC. As we’ve talked to Restonians about the rec center proposal, we’ve discovered that a number of people don’t know about Small District 5, don’t realize they’re paying the tax, or don’t understand why they’re paying it. That’s why we decided to start here.

This paper will answer questions like: What exactly is Small District 5? Why does it exist? When was it created?  How much are you paying as a result of it? How does the Small District 5 tax relate to your Fairfax County property tax? When you finish reading the paper, you’ll have these facts and more.

Why is this important?  Because as Reston continues to grow and develop, we’re going to face tough questions about how to use our limited resources to fund our community’s needs and wants. As a citizen, you’re going to be asked to weigh in on those decisions, either when they come up for a vote or by giving input to our County Supervisor on the community’s priorities. It’s more important than ever to understand how we fund the amenities we enjoy today and where the money comes from, so that you know what can be done and can form an educated opinion on how our resources should best be used for the good of our community.

Future installments in the Reston 411 series may include an explanation of the services that Fairfax County provides for Reston, a primer on the Soapstone Connector, and what changes Reston’s newly amended Master Plan might bring to our community. In each case, the goal will be to provide you with the facts and figures you need to be an informed citizen and an informed voter.

With the change coming to Reston in the years and decades ahead, our elected leaders will need to hear from the citizens about the issues and priorities that matter to us.  In order to contribute to the discussion, our citizens need to be educated about the issues we face. The Reston 411 series is designed to help busy citizens learn about the community in a simple, straightforward, easy-to-digest manner.

We at RCA hope that the Reston 411 series will be a valuable community service.  Assuming that the papers prove to be a hit, we plan to provide them on a regular basis. It’s just another way that RCA plans to help Restonians become better informed and more involved.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: Reflections on RCA’s Citizen Of The Year Ceremony

Colin Mills/File photoWhen RCA revived the Citizen of the Year award in 2008, we intended to spotlight the terrific work done by community volunteers who too often go unrecognized. This year’s selection, Kathy Kaplan, definitely falls in that tradition.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who complimented me on our choice. I told them that Kathy deserves the credit —  she’s the one who’s been working for the community for decades. But nonetheless, I was glad to give Kathy some well-deserved accolades at our ceremony Monday night.

Kathy reminds me of our 2011 Citizen of the Year, Nick Brown. Both are modest folks who prefer to work behind the scenes, avoiding the spotlight. I was glad we turned the spotlight on Nick then, just as I’m glad we gave Kathy recognition this time around.

In my opening remarks, I noted that Kathy shows what individual citizens can accomplish through hard work and a dedication to the community’s best interests. If it hadn’t been for her love of libraries and her willingness to pore through long and complicated government documents, we might never have heard of the Beta Plan, the book culling, or the budget cuts to our County library system. It’s easy to believe that individuals are powerless against big institutions; Kathy showed that it’s not true.

RCA’s Terry Maynard, who nominated Kathy for the award, began with an excerpt from a letter Kathy wrote last summer, discussing a book of poetry she found at the library and expressing her fear that it would be thrown away, like thousands of other County library books in recent years. For Kathy, the fate of our libraries isn’t an abstract concern. It’s personal.

Terry then walked the audience through all that Kathy did, from reading thousands of pages about the County’s library plans, to writing letters to County officials opposing the library cuts, to reaching out to librarians and library friends groups, to meeting with County supervisors, to gathering over 2,000 signatures on an online petition calling for the library system to re-evaluate its Strategic Plan.

Clearly, it took a lot of people coming together to convince the Library Board and the Board of Supervisors to stop the Beta Plan and the destruction of books. But as Terry’s speech made clear, there may be no single person who did more than Kathy Kaplan.

Kathy’s library efforts were the focus of the ceremony, but she has contributed much more to Reston than that. The next two speakers celebrated some of Kathy’s other good works in the community.

ARCH President Jerry Volloy gave a very emotional speech about Kathy’s contribution to the 9/11 memorial at Brown’s Chapel Park.  He described how, as RA CEO, he led an effort to create a memorial to that awful day (two Restonians lost their lives in the attacks).  He explained that they created a row of trees and bushes to create a memorial garden, and how the bronze plaques sculpted by Kathy provided the perfect complement to the natural beauty on display.

He noted that one of the plaques included an image of a caterpillar and a butterfly, to symbolize the renewal of life. Kathy is an artist as well as an activist, and Jerry’s tribute was a fitting celebration of that side of her.

After Jerry spoke, up stepped Connie Hartke, who is on the boards of both RCA and Rescue Reston, the group fighting to save the Reston National Golf Course. Connie described how nervous she was when she first became active with Rescue Reston a year ago, because she wasn’t up-to-speed on community issues. Kathy helped her get informed, and provided invaluable research and information to Rescue Reston. Connie noted that two of the community’s most valuable assets are the Freedom of Information Act and Kathy, who knows how to use it.

Kathy Kaplan (left) and RCA president Colin Mills/Credit: RCARCA’s Tammi Petrine spoke next. She noted that not only does Kathy read those long and boring documents most of us can’t be bothered with — she understands them!  A valuable skill, indeed. Tammi updated the audience on the ongoing threats to the library system, including a resumption of the book culling and further budget cuts. She urged everyone to stay involved and continue to support our libraries and our librarians.

When Kathy spoke, she emphasized the importance of libraries in her life.  She grew up in a town where the nearest library was 10 miles away, and she walked there if she had to in order to get her fill of books. (She described “The Summer of L. Frank Baum,” when she read all the Oz books. When she moved to Reston in 1983, she treasured our library; even though it was tiny, she took home a giant stack of books every time she went.

Kathy noted that the real heroes of last year are the librarians, some of whom were in attendance to celebrate her award. She praised them for having the courage to stand up and comment at meetings, and to write letters in their own names, even at the risk of retribution. She herself, she said, just “caused as much trouble as possible.”

Those of us who know Kathy know how good she is at causing trouble.  And thank goodness for that; a healthy community needs citizens who aren’t afraid to make noise. We need the Kathy Kaplans of the world, people who are willing to slog through official records and speak out when they see something wrong. Engaged citizens like Kathy keep our officials honest, and make sure that our institutions keep the best interests of the people at heart.

Thanks to Terry for a thoughtful nomination. Thanks, as always, to Leila Gordon and RCC for hosting the event and displaying the award plaque. And a special thanks to Harris Teeter at the Spectrum and Wegmans in Fairfax for their contributions to the food for our reception. And congratulations to Kathy Kaplan, a quiet woman who knows how to make noise, and who might just have saved our library system.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: Soapstone Connector Is Good Work In Progress

Colin Mills/File photoSpring and the Silver Line opening both feel a long way away right now. When you’re digging out from the latest snowstorm and reading about MWAA’s declaration that the line isn’t ready for turnover to Metro, it’s hard to convince yourself otherwise.

But believe it or not, we are getting closer to both. In the case of spring, the vernal equinox is on March 20, just a couple weeks away. (The real beginning of spring, baseball’s Opening Day, is a week and a half later.) With the Silver Line, unfortunately, we don’t yet have a firm opening date. But each day that passes brings us closer to both long-awaited events. For now, all we can do is wait.

In the meantime, we can pass the time by preparing for the impacts that the Metro will bring to Reston. The most notable of these is traffic. As RCA has stated repeatedly, new crossings of the Dulles Toll Road are key to easing congestion around the Silver Line stations. And of the proposed new crossings, the Soapstone Connector is the furthest along.

Last month, the County Department of Transportation presented the latest on the Soapstone project to the Hunter Mill Transportation Advisory Committee. RCA Vice President John Hanley attended the meeting, and he gave the Board an update last week. The good news is that the county understands the importance of the project and is moving it along; however, there are a couple of major questions that must be resolved before this important link in Reston’s transportation network can be built.

The last time I wrote about the Soapstone Connector, back in May, the County was evaluating several proposed alignments for the connector. They alignment has now been selected; it’s a hybrid of a couple of the previous options. And on the whole, it looks pretty good.

On the south side, the connector links up with Soapstone Drive, which is a definite plus.  You might have assumed this was a given, since the project is called the “Soapstone Connector,” but several of the alternatives would not have connected to Soapstone.)  The alignment passes through the existing National Association of Secondary School Principals building and generally follows the western side of Association Drive before crossing the Toll Road.

On the north side, the connector will run to the west of the BAE Systems building and the gas pipeline, and east of Plaza America, before ending at a signalized intersection with Sunset Hills Road. The connector will consist of two lanes over the bridge and three lanes on either side (two travel lanes and a turn lane), as well as bike lanes, a sidewalk, and a shared-use trail. The connector will not provide access to the Toll Road, but it will serve as a relief valve for crosstown traffic and for those trying to access the Wiehle station from the south and west.

This alignment seems like a worthy compromise. It’s a little farther away from the Wiehle station than would be ideal, but it connects directly to Soapstone Drive and requires relatively little disruption of existing properties.  Constructing two lanes over the Toll Road instead of four holds down the overall cost of the project, and the bike lanes and trails encourage pedestrian and bike travel to the station.

Sounds like a plan, right? Well, there are a couple things that still need to be dealt with before the plan can become reality.  The biggest ones are the challenges that face any infrastructure project: time and money.

When will the Soapstone Connector be ready?  We don’t know. Ideally, it would be in place when the Wiehle station opened, to divert some of the traffic from the immediate vicinity of the station. That obviously won’t happen, but will it be ready during the years when Wiehle is the end of the line? Probably not. The project hasn’t even begun preliminary engineering yet; it’s not certain that construction will even occur during this decade.

Part of the reason for that is the issue of funding. The current cost estimate for the project is $92 million, although that’s only a rough guess at this point. Whatever the final cost, it’s certain to be a significant outlay. And so far, the County has allocated only $2.5 million for further planning and study.

Where will the rest of the money come from? In all likelihood, funding will have to come from several sources.  Hopefully, developer proffers will be a piece of the puzzle. But of course, that money wouldn’t be available until redevelopment starts around the stations. And that depends on economic conditions, among other things.

Presumably, the Soapstone Crossing will be a key topic of the “inclusive process” on transportation funding that the Supervisors called for when they approved the revised Comprehensive Plan last month. RCA looks forward to participating in that process. If we’re going to prevent the Toll Road corridor from becoming a barrier that divides our community in half, we must figure out how to pay for the transportation infrastructure we’ll need. This is perhaps the most important implementation question that we face as we prepare for the transformation of the Toll Road corridor, and RCA is ready to be involved in finding the solution.

In the meantime, we find ourselves waiting, just like we’re waiting for spring and the Silver Line. But I am encouraged that the County is making progress on the connector, and that they’ve selected an alignment that makes sense. RCA will continue watching both the Connector and the Silver Line. We’ll keep you informed and keep advocating for solutions that maximize the benefits and minimize the costs to our community.

As for spring… sorry, you’re on your own there.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: Welcome To The RCA Board

Colin Mills/File photoRemember a few weeks ago, when I mentioned that RCA planned to fill open seats on the Board? I am happy to report that we received applications from some highly qualified and impressive candidates. At Monday’s Board meeting, we reviewed the applications we received, and interviewed the candidates that applied.

I came away with the same feeling I have when I’m reviewing nominations for Citizen of the Year: I’m really proud of the dedicated and hard-working citizens we have in Reston. I wish we had enough open slots to seat everyone who applied; each candidate has a lot to offer Reston and RCA. But we had only three seats available, and as with Citizen of the Year, we had to make a difficult decision.

But we did make a decision, and we welcomed three new members — Nick Georgas, Yavuz Inanli, and Annmarie Swope — to the Board. I’d like to introduce them here, so you can get to know the people who will be working on your behalf at RCA.

Nick Georgas first learned about Reston when he studied it in college. He was fascinated by what he learned, and he wanted to be part of it himself.  When he found the opportunity to live here, he gladly took it.  I’ve heard some version of this story from many folks who decided to live in Reston. When you combine that with the number of Reston natives (like me) who choose to stay, it’s a testament to the strength of Bob Simon’s vision and what a fascinating and well-planned community we have built together.

Nick is a landscape architect and planner, and he has observed the Fairfax County planning and development process up close.  He followed the discussion over the revised Comprehensive Plan with interest. Like us at RCA, he thought that several parts of the plan could be better from a citizen perspective, most notably the open space that will be provided in the station areas.

RCA has been very involved in land use and planning discussions over the last several years, and Nick allows us to strengthen a strength. We have brilliant analysts like Terry Maynard and Dick Rogers, and plenty of experience on the citizen’s side of the planning process. What we have lacked is engineering expertise and an insider’s view of the process, and Nick helps us out in both areas. I’m really excited to have Nick on board.

Yavuz Inanli has believed in community service throughout his life. He grew up in Cincinnati, where in addition to being a student leader in his high school, he participated in a community coalition that developed award-winning anti-drug workshops. His commitment to service continued in college at Fairleigh Dickinson, where he led an effort to reignite interest and participation in student government.

Yavuz has only lived in Reston for a little over two years, but he’s already developed an attachment to the community and a desire to get involved. He has particular interest in transportation, especially public transit.  A daily transit user himself, Yavuz has been following the discussions of Bikeshare and Silver Line-related bus service changes with great interest. He hopes to help Reston remain a place for people of all incomes, offer a multi-modal transit network, and provide a place for young professionals to start their lives and for families to raise their kids.

One reason Yavuz wants Reston to remain a magnet for young professionals is that he is one. While reviewing the applications, I appreciated how many young people, including both Nick and Yavuz, decided to apply. I’ve talked a lot about the importance of getting young people involved in Reston’s civic activities, and I couldn’t be prouder to see those efforts paying off.

It’s become cliché to say that young people are too busy to get involved in civic activities, or that the young are more interested in saving the world than getting involved in their own backyard. But people like Yavuz and Nick show that’s not true. Plenty of young people are just as dedicated and civic-minded as the pioneer generation of Restonians who built this community. I’m delighted that these two impressive young men decided to get involved with RCA.

Annmarie Swope has lived in Reston for 12 years, and she’s already very active in the community. She is deeply involved with the PTA at Aldrin Elementary, where she has served as co-chair of the Health and Wellness Committee and the After School Program Committee, and where she founded the Business Partnership Committee. She is also a Reston Little League coach.

Annmarie first became interested in RCA during the discussions over the RCC rec center proposal last spring. We’ve been wanting to get her involved with RCA for months, but with all her other activities, she’s had to consider her priorities carefully.  I’m happy to say that she has decided to step up and get involved in RCA!

Annmarie is a longtime marketing and communications professional, and I look forward to her helping RCA communicate more effectively with the community. She is also very interested in Reston’s future development, and she wants Reston’s citizens to have a strong voice in implementing smart long-term change in the community. She is passionate about education, and is currently involved in the discussion over Fairfax County school funding. Her energy and expertise in this area should be a boon to our Education Task Force.

RCA and Reston are blessed to have these three smart, hard-working, and forward-thinking people putting their talents to work for the community.  Annmarie, Yavuz, and Nick bring a variety of skills, interests, and life experiences to the RCA Board. I’m very excited to work with them to help RCA become an even stronger voice for our citizens and our community.

Miss your chance to submit an application? Don’t worry: RCA’s next election is coming up in a few short months. And our committees are always looking for a hand. Drop me a line if you’d like to get involved.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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Colin Mills: Staying Involved in Reston’s Future

Colin Mills/File photoLast week, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the revised Comprehensive Plan for Reston, paving the way for the development around the future Silver Line stations to begin in earnest.

The new mixed-use, transit-oriented development along the Toll Road corridor will change the face of Reston in the coming decades. Those changes offer the potential for Reston to be a thriving, forward-looking, 21st-century community. They also pose significant challenges that the community will have to face.

As you likely know, RCA expressed a number of concerns about the plan revisions. We are concerned that the plan doesn’t do enough to address the traffic that the new development will add to our streets. We’re concerned that the plan doesn’t ensure that Reston’s new residents have enough parks and athletic fields nearby. And we’re concerned about the plan’s implementation, and who will be responsible for ensuring that the plan’s goals and constraints are met.

Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors made only minor tweaks to the plan, and most of our concerns were not addressed. The Board did pass the follow-on motions recommended by the Planning Commission, the most important of which calls for “an inclusive process” to determine how the necessary transportation improvements will be funded.  But most of the issues we had with the plan passed by the Task Force are still there.

So is this the end of the road? Not even close. What happens next will go a long way toward determining whether our vision of Reston’s future succeeds. There’s still work to be done, and we need our citizens to remain active and involved.  Here’s an outline of the road ahead for Reston, and how RCA will keep remain involved along the way.

Let’s start with the “inclusive process” on transportation funding. Obviously, RCA will push to ensure that we and other citizen groups are included in that process. And we will work hard to develop an equitable plan that delivers the transportation improvements we need. 

Keeping Reston’s traffic moving will require a lot of improvements, including multiple additional crossings of the Toll Road. And someone — really, several someones — will need to pick up the tab. Much as we might hope that developer proffers will pay for it all, that’s not realistic. Most likely, a combination of state and county funding, proffers, and other sources will be tapped to get the money we need.

However, those “other sources” shouldn’t include another tax district on Restonians. At the Board of Supervisors’ discussion, the possibility of creating a Reston tax district to fund transportation improvements came up. Supervisor Hudgins has stated that she doesn’t support Restonians paying for the needed infrastructure on our own; RCA will work to make sure that we don’t.

In addition, there’s the larger question of plan implementation. Transportation funding is a key piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the only piece. We must determine our infrastructure needs and priorities, so that the money we do get is applied where it’s most needed. We also must consider how development can be phased so that our infrastructure can keep up.

In her remarks at the public hearing on the plan, Supervisor Hudgins stressed the importance of working with the community to develop an implementation process for the new development. We at RCA agree, and we look forward to helping develop that process.

At the Planning Commission, we heard that the Comprehensive Plan is only a guide, and the specifics will come when development proposals are considered. If that’s true, having a strong voice for our citizens in the development process is crucial.  We need to be among the first to hear about proposed projects, not among the last. And our citizens must have a seat at the table, to ensure that the new development is consistent with Reston’s vision and values.

While we’re pushing for a proper implementation of the development in the corridor, we must also keep our eye on the rest of Reston. Remember, the plan amendments that were just approved only constitute Phase 1 of the plan review. Phase 2 covers all the other areas, most notably our village centers.

We don’t yet know when those areas will be studied or what form the study will take.  RCA will be advocating for a citizen-driven process, more so than the developer-heavy Task Force we saw in Phase 1. The Phase 2 review should be charged with reimagining our village centers, to create something better than the strip malls that most of them are today, while protecting our existing residential neighborhoods and our open spaces. RCA will be working to ensure that we develop a process for Phase 2 that benefits the entire community.

As you can see, last week’s vote by the Supervisors isn’t the end of the process. Rather, it’s the beginning of a new chapter. It’s important that Reston’s citizens remain engaged in the process, and RCA intends to keep working hard to ensure that our community’s interests are represented.

Fortunately, we are not alone. One of the best things to emerge from the plan review, in my view, is the collaboration between RCA, RA, and the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH) to advocate for common goals and keep Restonians informed about the changes that are coming.  Our three organizations issued multiple joint statements recommending changes to the Comp Plan, and we held a widely attended and widely praised joint forum letting Restonians know about what was in the plan and how we thought it could be improved.

Our collaboration didn’t perfect the plan, and we didn’t get everything we wanted.  But the plan is definitely better for our efforts. And the turnout at the forum shows how much the citizens appreciate our work.  As we move to the next stage in planning Reston’s future, I hope that our three organizations, along with other Reston groups, continue working together for the good of Reston. We speak much more clearly when we speak as one voice, and Reston’s citizens are the winners.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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