Colin Mills/File photoAs you know, I’m a fan of snowy days. I hope you’re all warm and safe inside right now. But once the cars and the walk have been shoveled, the snowmen have been built, and the day’s sledding runs are complete, you might be looking for something else to do. If you are, and if you care about our community’s future, I have a suggestion: Why not apply for a spot on the RCA Board?

We have three available seats, and we’re looking for dedicated community-minded folks to fill them. If you read my posts on a regular basis, odds are that you’re interested in Reston and community issues. And thank you for that!  We need people who care about local issues. If that’s you, I’d like to challenge you to take the next step and get involved in planning our community’s future with RCA.

Last year was one of RCA’s busiest years ever, and 2014 is shaping up to be just as active.  It’s Reston’s 50th anniversary, and our community will be looking back at its history, but there are plenty of issues that will have us looking forward as well. The opening of the Silver Line and its surrounding development, the implementation of Phase 1 of the Master Plan and the preparations for Phase 2, the proposed new rec center… these issues are going to change the face of Reston and how we live, work, and play for decades to come.

RCA and its Reston 2020 Committee are active on the front lines of all of those issues and more. If you’re interested in helping to shape the community conversation and help plan for our future, RCA and 2020 are a great place for you to get involved.  Read More


Colin Mills/File photoReston’s 50th anniversary is at hand. Lately, I’ve been at several meetings where the focus has been on Reston’s history. There are a series of exciting events planned for this year that will take a look back at our past. I’m excited about attending as many of them as my schedule will allow.

But you know me; I like to look forward. I like to think about the future, and where our community is headed.  Fortunately, just around the corner, we have an event in Reston that’s all about the future, and about fostering the spirit of experimentation and innovation that makes Reston special. And it comes as no surprise that this event is being put together by one of my favorite organizations: Nova Labs.

I’ve written about this terrific Reston-based nonprofit before.  In case you don’t know, Nova Labs is a makerspace.  That means that it provides space for people to create and build things, a place to collaborate with like-minded people, and an opportunity to learn about new technologies, tools, and skills. Basically, it’s a dream come true for people who like to make things.  I’m proud that Reston is home to a creative and exciting venture as this.

At last week’s RCA Board meeting, we received a presentation from Nova Labs. We learned all about the projects that they’ve been doing, such as using drones to do an aerial survey of the Wiehle Metro station and hosting programs designed to get kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).   We learned about their plans to move into a larger space within the near future.  And most interesting of all, we learned about their plans to hold a Mini Maker Faire, right here in Reston next month.

What’s a Maker Faire?   Basically, it’s the coolest show-and-tell you can imagine. It’s a gathering for engineers, crafters, tech types, and other makers to display and talk about their projects. The idea was hatched in the Bay Area by MAKE Magazine back in 2006. Since then, Maker Faires and Mini Maker Faires have been held across the country, and even internationally; combined, they’ve had over 1.5 million attendees.

What will you see at the Mini Maker Faire?  It all depends on the exhibitors, and what they choose to display. That’s part of the excitement; you never know what you’re going to going to see. The focus is often on displaying new technologies, but you might also see innovative projects in science, engineering, or the arts as well. You might see some robotics projects, a 3D printing demonstration, exciting new apps, breathtaking Lego sculptures, artisanal crafts, performance art demonstrations, inventions, and more. And you won’t just be able to see what other people are making; you’ll have the chance to learn how to create things too!

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Colin Mills/File photoIt’s time once again for one of my favorite duties as RCA President: announcing our Citizen of the Year.

With so many dedicated citizens doing good work in the Reston community, I am delighted that we can honor some of those well-deserving folks. I love reading the nominations we receive, and learning about the citizen volunteers that make Reston such a special place.

RCA is all about the power of Reston’s committed citizens to achieve great things. It may be fashionable to be cynical about what individuals and citizen groups can accomplish in a world of big bureaucracies and institutions. But RCA is built on the belief that with hard work and dedication, our citizens can move mountains.

This year’s winner is a shining example of that belief in action. It gives me great pleasure to announce Kathy Kaplan as our 2013 Citizen of the Year.Kathy joins a proud tradition of RCA Citizen of the Year award dating back to 1976; people like Embry Rucker, Janet Howell, Jim Allred, Claudia Thompson-Deahl, Dave Edwards, and last year’s winner, Cate Fulkerson.  As you know if you’re familiar with this award, the criteria for selection are as follows:

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Colin Mills/File photoThe train is coming!  At last, the Silver Line will pull into Wiehle station within the next few months. And just in time, Fairfax County is finishing the revisions to our Comprehensive Plan to set the ground rules for development in the station areas. The draft Comp Plan goes before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, with a vote likely within a few weeks.

The good news is that over four years of work by the Master Plan Task Force is about to come to fruition. Those long meeting nights and discussions about Floor-Area Ratio and Levels of Service are over. I’m happy to have my Tuesday nights back, and my family feels the same way.

The bad news is that the Comp Plan still falls short in several areas. The plan doesn’t do enough to protect Reston’s quality of life, or to ensure that the station areas will be well-integrated into the surrounding community. In this week’s column, I’ll update you on where the process stands, highlight the areas where RCA believes the plan can be better, and explain what we’re going to do about it.

The last time I talked in depth about the Comp Plan was in the wake of the Task Force’s final vote in September. In that column, I spelled out why RCA felt the plan needed improvement. Since then, the plan has gone to the County Planning Commission, which reviewed and approved it.

The Planning Commission spent several weeks reviewing the plan, but ultimately made only minor changes. We were particularly discouraged that the Planning Commission disregarded the changes suggested by Reston’s citizen representatives, while adopting several changes provided by individual landowners and/or their lawyers.

As a result, RCA’s concerns about the plan are the same today as they were back in September. To refresh your memory, I’ll touch on a few of the key areas.

Traffic has been a key issue for RCA throughout this process. The development around the stations won’t benefit Reston if clogged streets mean that we can’t get to the Silver Line, or that the Toll Road becomes a virtual wall during the rush.

The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor has been cited as a success story for transit-oriented development; traffic in that area has actually improved over time.  Unfortunately, the County Department of Transportation’s modeling suggests that won’t be true for Reston; our traffic is projected to get worse — in some cases, much worse — if the Comp Plan goes forward as written.

That’s why RCA supports a goal of Level of Service E at Reston’s “gateway” intersections (where Wiehle Avenue, Reston Parkway, and Fairfax County Parkway intersect Sunset Hills and Sunrise Valley). Level of Service E means an average delay of 55 to 80 seconds at each of these intersections.  Currently, the Comp Plan calls for a “network” Level of Service E, a fuzzy goal that allows for delays of up to four minutes at the gateway intersections, according to FCDOT models.  That level of gridlock just isn’t acceptable. Read More


Colin Mills/File photoLast week, the Fairfax County Planning Commission approved (with a few changes) the draft Comprehensive Plan amendment produced by the Reston Master Plan Task Force. The plan now goes to the Board of Supervisors.  I’ll be writing more about our thoughts on the plan and how we think it can be improved, but this week I want to focus on one crucial issue: providing athletic fields for Reston’s new residents.

You may have read an article on the field situation in Reston Now earlier this week. If so, you know that RCA and our Reston 2020 Committee have made this issue a priority throughout the Master Plan process.  So this week, I’ll explain why the field situation in the station areas is so challenging, and why we’re concerned that the Comp Plan doesn’t do enough to address the issue.

We already have a shortage of athletic fields in Reston.  As anyone who plays an organized sport (or with a kid who does) knows, the competition for field time around here is fierce. When I was a kid, our sports were a pretty casual affair: we played baseball and football in the common areas around our neighborhood. We played tennis in the road that ran through our cluster. When we could get away with it, we snuck onto the neighboring Hidden Creek Country Club golf course.  We didn’t use actual fields that much. Read More


Colin Mills/File photoWinter has settled in with a vengeance! I hope you’ve all been coping well with the bitter cold we’ve had this week. While the temperatures we’ve had might not faze someone from Wisconsin or upstate New York, they’re pretty unusual for this area. Personally, I believe that cold weather builds character, but I’ve had a hard time convincing my daughter of that.

Perhaps when the weather is cold, it’s inevitable that the mind turns to places that are warmer. Places like Reston’s former Sister City  — Nyeri, Kenya,where it’s supposed to be in the low 80s today. It was around this time two years ago when I wrote about the history of Reston’s Sister City relationship with Nyeri and RCA’s role in it.

Recently, I’ve had some conversations that have convinced me that the time might be right to reunite these old Sister Cities. So this week, I’d like to tell you about the conversations I’ve had, and how I think resuming relations might be a boon for both cities.

A couple months ago, I received an email from a woman named Anne, who had come across the 2012 piece I wrote about the history between Reston and Nyeri. As luck would have it, she had been thinking about helping Reston and Nyeri become Sister Cities today. When she found out that this relationship had already existed, she said she “got energized just thinking about the art of the possible.” She asked if we could meet to discuss it further, and I gladly agreed.

It was a cold and rainy night when I arrived at Cafesano to meet with Anne and her friend Catherine. But once we began talking, their energy and enthusiasm quickly helped me forget the cold. Anne and Catherine grew up across the street from each other in Nyeri. They both wound up emigrating here separately, and they were delighted to discover that they were neighbors again in America.

In the course of their conversations, they often talked about creating a connection between Nyeri and their new home. They said they were excited for this meeting, because it meant that they would start taking action on their long-imagined idea.

They told me about growing up in Nyeri, and what the town was like. The major industry in Nyeri is agriculture, especially coffee and tea farming, but there are also several bottling plants and the home of East Africa’s leading dairy, Brookside Dairy. Nyeri is also a tourist destination, both for tourists seeking natural beauty (the city is located in the foothills of Mount Kenya) and history (the grave of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, and the hotel where Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne are in Nyeri). The more they spoke, the more interested I became in seeing Nyeri for myself.

Nyeri, Kenya/Credit: News24 Kenya.comI asked Anne and Catherine what they thought should be the basis of the Sister City relationship. They said Nyeri would benefit most in planning and economic development. They described Nyerians as being very bright, well-educated, and entrepreneurial, but said that Nyeri has been struggling in recent years for a lack of planning. It’s a fairly large town, but it has few planning ordinances and growth has occurred in a somewhat haphazard fashion. If someone wants to start a restaurant or a shop, they just build it wherever they can find the space. You can imagine the kind of problems that sort of scattered growth can cause.

Anne described how much she loved seeing Reston’s growth according to its Master Plan, and she felt that seeing a place as well-planned as Reston would help encourage and guide Nyeri in its development. Being able to talk to our leaders about how we’ve planned and managed our growth might provide Nyerians with some ideas they can implement. Read More


Colin Mills/File photoHappy New Year, Reston!  As I enjoy one of my favorite New Year’s traditions, the NHL’s annual outdoor game, I will continue a tradition of my own by sharing my resolutions for RCA in 2014.

Looking over last year’s resolutions, we hit on some and missed on others.  We succeeded in revamping our website and relaunching our newsletter, and John Lovaas did officially turn the candidate forums over to RCA this year.  In other areas, like the Master Plan Task Force, we didn’t have as much success as we would have liked.  Despite that, 2013 was an extremely busy year for RCA, and we wound up dealing with a variety of issues that we never knew would come up when the year started.  Who knew on New Year’s Day 2013 that we’d be fighting to protect our County libraries, or debating the fate of a parcel of trees at Lake Anne, or considering whether or not to build a new RCC rec center?

2014 looks to be another big year in Reston, as we prepare to celebrate Bob Simon’s 100th birthday and our community’s 50th anniversary.  We’re no longer a New Town; we’re a mature community.  And 2014 will inaugurate two things that will likely transform Reston’s future: the Silver Line and the redevelopment of Lake Anne.  The former will spur the growth of new neighborhoods around the stations; the latter will spark the rebirth of Reston’s oldest areas.  Both hold great promise and excitement, but also the possibility of disruptive changes for our community and our citizens.

Like all of Reston’s leading organizations, RCA will be looking toward the future in 2014.  The actions we take now will set the stage for Reston’s next 50 years.  With that in mind, these are my forward-looking resolutions for RCA in 2014:

Advocate for a citizen-driven process for Phase 2 of the Master Plan Task Force. Phase 1 of the Task Force is in the books, and the plan recommendations for the station areas will soon be approved.  In 2014, we will turn our attention to the rest of Reston, most notably the village centers.  The planning we do in this phase will shape what our community looks like in the decades to come.

That’s why it’s essential for Phase 2 to be led by the citizens of Reston, and our vision for the future.  We’ll need to solicit widespread citizen input, and integrate that input into the decisions we make.  I’d like to see RCA work with RA, ARCH, and other citizen organizations to ensure that Phase 2 reflects the vision of the citizens, possibly using the Lake Anne redevelopment process as a model. Read More


Colin Mills/File photo Winter has come early this season! Being a snow lover, I welcome this early taste of the white stuff.

Certainly, it’s a welcome change from the largely barren winters we’ve had the last couple of years. The snow and ice meant a surprise four-day weekend for my daughter Leslie. For my wife and me, this meant working from home.

While I was tapping away on my computer and watching the flakes fall, I thought about the phenomenon of telecommuting. It’s pretty remarkable that technology has advanced to the point where we can be practically as productive outside the office as in it.

One of Bob Simon’s founding principles for Reston was that “the people be able to live and work in the same community.” In a way, telecommuting is the ultimate version of that goal: people living and working in the same house. And there are people who think that this is the future: widespread telecommuting will be what saves us from traffic paralysis and environmental degradation.

Maybe they’re right. But the move toward telecommuting is emblematic of a troubling trend in our society, toward less face-to-face human interaction. That trend runs the risk of damaging our sense of community.

We live in an increasingly atomized society; we spend less and less time in the company of others. For a lot of folks, life is a continuous cycle: from home to work to shopping and back home again. With the new self-checkout feature at grocery stores, you can get in and get out without having to talk to another person at all. It’s a lonely way to live.

Civic and fellowship organizations are a lot less popular than they used to be; so is going out for bridge night. Many of today’s leisure activities can be done at home alone (video games, surfing the
Internet, etc.). Lots of people work out at the gym, but that’s a solitary pursuit too, a time to plug in the headphones and unwind from (or get ready for) the day.

The office is one of the few places where we really spend time with people outside of our families anymore. If we’re no longer going into the office every day, what happens then? We are social creatures; instant messaging and video conferencing aren’t a real substitute for face-to-face contact as our primary source of human interaction.

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Colin Mills/File photoHappy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s time once again to gorge ourselves on turkey, mashed potatoes, and mediocre football games. It’s time to battle the traffic and cold weather to gather together with our families and friends. But most importantly, it’s time to give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

And as I’ve done every year since I started as RCA president, I’d like to take this moment to share with you what I’m thankful for here in Reston. This is one of the annual traditions that I enjoy the most.

It’s easy to read the headlines and become focused on the problems and threats we face. Whether it’s the government by crisis in Washington or divisive issues like the Comprehensive Plan and the Lake Anne land swap here in Reston, it’s easy to find things to be upset about.

But despite the often-depressing headlines, we’re also very fortunate. Reston is a great place to live, work, and play, and that’s just as true today as it was 50 years ago when Bob Simon was turning his dream of a New Town into reality. Whatever challenges we may face, they pale in comparison to the many benefits and blessings we enjoy.

Here’s what I’m thankful for this year:

1. As always, I’m thankful for my colleagues on the Reston Citizens Association. We’ve faced a lot of issues in Reston this year, major issues with implications for our community’s future. And RCA has stayed on top of those issues and remained a strong voice for our citizens. That’s a testament to the hard work and commitment of our Board and committee members. 2014 is shaping up to be another active year in our community, and I’m glad I can count on my colleagues to keep up their good and dedicated service next year. It’s an honor to work with you.

2.  I’m thankful that the Silver Line is going to open soon. As long as I’ve been around, we’ve been talking about bringing the Metro to Reston. At last, it’s going to happen! Now when I head downtown to see my beloved Nationals (wait ‘til next year!) take thefield or visit the museums with my family, I won’t have to drive to West Falls Church or Vienna; I’ll be able to catch the train right here.

There’s still work to be done on this front; we must make sure that Toll Road users aren’t picking up too much of the tab for Phase 2, and we need transportation improvements to ensure that the Wiehle station doesn’t bring traffic gridlock. But these issues can be worked out. Getting rail to Reston is a huge and exciting step forward.

3. I’m thankful to the Reston Association and the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners for their continued work with RCA on community issues. Strengthening our alliance has been a major goal of mine, and I’m happy to say that we’re succeeded.

Our partnership reached a new level last month, as we submitted joint comments on the Comp Plan and held a community forum to let the citizens know what Reston’s future might hold.

This sort of collaboration is what community leadership is all about. I’m thankful for what we’ve done together so far. And I’m even more thankful that our collaboration is just beginning.

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Colin Mills/File photoWhere has this year gone?  I look at the calendar and see that it’s November, and yet it feels like 2013 just got started.  The sands have been flowing through the hourglass faster than usual this year.

One reason for that, I know, is that we’ve been dealing with so many major issues in Reston this year.  The coming of the Silver Line and the associated revision of our Comprehensive Plan has been the biggest one, but looking back, it’s amazing how much we’ve taken on this year: The battle over the Reston National golf course.  The proposed new RCC rec center. The Beta Plan and the future of our County libraries.  The Lake Anne redevelopment. And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.  No wonder 2013 hss seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.

One advantage to the way we’ve been flying through the calendar is that it’s now time for one of my favorite events: RCA’s Citizen of the Year award. We’re now accepting nominations for the 2013 award. Read More


colinmillsColin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He will write a weekly opinion column on Reston Now. 

Last night, four years of work on the Reston Master Plan Task Force came to a frustrating and disappointing conclusion.  The Task Force voted to send the new Comprehensive Plan to the Planning Commission, starting it down the road to approval before the Board of Supervisors.  RCA’s representative, Terry Maynard, voted “no” on the final product. I did not have a vote on the Task Force, but if I had, I would have voted the same way.

RCA was not satisfied with the latest draft of the Comp Plan, as evidenced by the report card that our Reston 20/20 Committee prepared this week, which gave it an overall grade of D.  We felt that the plan was seriously lacking in many areas, most notably parks and recreation, transportation, and implementation. We joined with ARCH and RA to produce a joint comment describing the areas that we felt needed improvement.

Unfortunately, the few changes approved by the Task Force last night did little to improve the plan. Therefore, we felt that we had no choice but to oppose it.

The lack of changes to the draft plan was not for a lack of suggestions. By my count, there were 15 sets of comments submitted suggesting changes to the plan, including ours. Unfortunately, the discussion last night was limited to a handful of subjects selected by the Task Force chair, Patty Nicoson. The Task Force did not even consider all of the comments made by its members.  Major topics such as transportation and implementation weren’t even discussed at all!  Since those were two of the areas that needed the most work, I was extremely disappointed that they weren’t even raised. Read More


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