Updated at 4:35 pm to clarify information about the board election
Since Dec. 1, Robin Jordan warms water in two large stock pots, waits for the water to heat up, and crouches over the pots in her shower to give herself a bath with a washcloth.
“We have no idea what’s going on,” Jordan, said.
That’s because between 20 units — twelve condominium units and eight commercial units — — haven’t had hot water since Dec. 1. Some go to local gyms to take showers while others turn to relatives and friends for help.
The aging building, which was built in 1963, is losing roughly 300 gallons of water per hour. And it’s unclear where the water is going, although recent assessments by maintenance staff suggest it is pooling underground. Pipes are corroding and leaking in multiple areas.
After weeks of attempting to address the issue with the Lake Anne Reston Condominium Association (LARCA), residents’ frustrations are boiling over.
Jordan, who has lived at the condominiums for eight years with her husband, hung a sign above her balcony alerting the public about the issue. Others question where condominiums fees of around $1,000 are going.
LARCA has been consumed by political in-fighting after the results of an election for board president were disputed by two groups within the board. Board President Jason Romano and owner of the Lake Anne Brewhouse was certified as the winner over George Hadjikyriakou, the owner of Kalypso’s. But the results of the election are still contested by board member Senzel Schaefer and others on the board.
Romano says resolving the hot water issue is the board’s top priority. Last night, the board approved a plan to install a $35,000 hot water heater by the end of next week. Residents can also shower at Reston Community Center Hunters Woods, if needed.
“You would think that you can replace a hot water heater and you’re back up and running. But that’s just not the case. It has taken a long time to troubleshoot the problem and find out what the actual cause is.”
But that fix is only a band-aid. Recent engineering and structural analyses have shown that a major replacement — likely of the building’s underground trunk line — is needed as soon as possible.
The latest water heater replaces one that was installed roughly a month ago. That heater was not powerful enough to service the entire building, which has leaking and corroding pipes in multiple areas.
“We’re looking for a creative solution that will be the most cost-effective and least impactful for the community,” he told Reston Now.
The hot water issue is emblematic of maintenance issues that are popping up all over Lake Anne Plaza — often at the same time.
“We have a situation where we’re really trying to replace and fix the aging infrastructure all around us. It’s had a wonderful lifespan until this point and we want it to continue for another 50, 100 plus years and keep this community going,”Romano said.
Board members like Schaefer allege their efforts to address the hot water issue have been stalled by intentional efforts to thwart progress.
“The Lake Anne of Reston issue is a microcosm of our national politics, this is why elections matter,’ she said. “Jason Romano who lost in the October 2020 LARCA election refused to respect the will of the members.”
She too has been attempting to address the issue with the help of two other board members.
Basil Shakarchi, a resident at the condominium building, resorted to installing a $2,000 tankless hot water machine in his apartment — an addition that was only possible because he renovated his unit.
Other units in the aging building, which was built in the early 1960s, do not have that luxury. The units simply cannot handle that much electric current.
Shakarchi wants the board and the building’s property manager to find a long-term solution.
So far, it’s unclear what that long-term solution — which would will likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — is. Romano says the board has contracted with an engineering firm to explore available options.
He hopes the installation of the new hot water heater will buy LARCA time to find a long-term solution.
Jordan, who recently began washing her hair in the sink of her hair salon in Sterling, says she wants the board to be more responsive and transparent to residents.
“I’ve been here for eight years and we’re all pretty outraged,” Jordan said, noting that the need to replace the building’s aging trunk line did not arise overnight.
Shakarchi has a simple plea for himself and residents: “Please send help.”
Photo via Robin Jordan
LARCA President Senzel Schaefer said she initiated the review following a board vote after last year’s election brought a new slate of board members who committed to “change and fiscal responsibility.” In-fighting and contention over finances have marred the board leading up to and following the election. Schaefer said she hoped the review would shed light on financial mismanagement, ultimately putting the board on “a new path to financial solvency.”
The review calls on LARCA to establish better internal controls and accountability practices. E&Y reviewed spending and other activities of the previous LARCA board over the last three fiscal years.
Schaefer said the report — which she characterized as an audit — is critical to improving the financial standing of the association. She says she’s been targeted by a “small but vocal group” of people seeking to halt the audit and her work. A lawsuit has been served against her, she said.
“I repeatedly pointed out to these individuals and still believe that good governance starts with transparency of operations and finances and following our bylaws, which were not adhered to in the past, so I will not stop the audit because we need to know where operations broke down and how to fix them,” she said.
“The question should be: in light of our financial irregularity and operational failures; why would anyone be so opposed to an audit which would give us answers and a path forward?” she added.
Others contend the review offers an incomplete and misleading picture of LARCA’s past financial practices. They also state Schaefer acted unilaterally by approaching E&Y with strong allegations against the previous board. Schaefer denies those allegations, saying she acted with the consent of the board.
Karen Jarvis, a property owner at Lake Anne who stepped down from her role as chair of LARCA’s finance committee, said a request for significant additions, corrections, and retractions is in progress. Jarvis, who is a procurement compliance manager and a former finance manager, says that the report is based on limited documentation to E&Y — some of which she says is accessible in LARCA’s administrative office.
“We are still working with E&Y to get a final version signed off with corrections,” Jarvis said. “There were huge amounts of information that were not provided but are readily available.”
The draft report — which was posted publicly by a community advocacy group — was released on May 29 and presented to the membership in mid-June. The Fairfax County Police Department also expects to release a report about its investigation of LARCA by the end of July, according to Second Lieutenant Erica Webb.
When analyzing $2.68 million dispersed to the top ten vendors, EY found “limited written policies and procedures at LARCA,” including the lack of written bidding, contracting or payment requirements. It suggested considering rebidding for large vendors to ensure the most favorable market-competitive rates were secured.