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by Del. Ken Plum — June 22, 2017 at 11:30 am 11 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

With the conclusion of the political party primaries last week, the general election is now teed up for Nov. 7.

There were some surprises coming out of the Democratic and Republican primaries. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam easily won the Democratic primary to be the nominee for governor, even though there was discussion beforehand that polls indicated a tight race. Polling for primaries is notorious for being inaccurate because with a typically light turnout, the universe of potential voters is almost impossible to determine. Former one-term Congressman Tom Perriello has a great deal to offer and will hopefully stay on the scene for future opportunities. Although the term “establishment” was grossly overused in describing Ralph Northam, his service in the state Senate plus his active role as lieutenant governor made him well known and greatly admired throughout the state.

Justin Fairfax gained everyone’s admiration after a primary loss to Attorney General Mark Herring four years ago led to his active campaigning during the interim time, making him well known for this primary. He was also well known for his work as an attorney. If you review the areas where Ralph Northam did well and compare them with where Justin Fairfax was strongest, you create a strong statewide team that will be nearly impossible to defeat. Attorney General Mark Herring was not challenged in a primary and will be on the ballot to succeed himself in November. There is no one-term limitation with the attorney general and the lieutenant governor as there is with the governor.

The greatest surprise of the primaries may have been on the Republican side to pick a candidate for governor. Ed Gillespie who has been mentioned for years as the next Republican governor of Virginia barely got through the primary with a shockingly strong showing by Corey Stewart, who is known for his anti-immigrant work in Prince William County and for campaigning with a Confederate flag. He has the distinction of being so over the top that he was fired by the Trump campaign. Turnout was especially low in the Republican primary, and Stewart was just over a percentage point from taking out Gillespie. It will be interesting to see if the folks who voted for Stewart will vote in the general election or decide to stay home.

The Republican primary for lieutenant governor was a slugfest between two state senators, with Sen. Jill Vogel winning after a mud-slinging campaign that left neither candidate looking good.

All 100 seats for the House of Delegates are up for election this fall with a record number of contested elections. Historically, it has been difficult to recruit candidates to run for the House of Delegates, but events of the past year have brought forth more candidates than ever before. There was a record number 27 seats where the candidates were determined by the primary because there was so much interest in running. Democrats will certainly pick up seats in the House of Delegates getting closer to shifting or sharing power in that legislative body.

While I am uncontested in my race for the House of Delegates, you can still expect to see me campaigning. It is a good way to stay in touch with constituents and to increase turn-out for the statewide elections. Expect a busy fall of campaigning leading up to the fall elections in Virginia that will send a signal to the nation as to the public’s reaction to national events.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 15, 2017 at 11:00 am 24 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

One of my favorite classes to teach in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at George Mason University is a course I have entitled “A New Look at the Old Dominion.”

It came out of my experiences growing up in Virginia and attending public schools from elementary through graduate school and using state-approved textbooks, at least in the early years. A persistent problem I had was matching up the romanticized version of Virginia’s history with realities I read about in source materials. This problem is not unique to Virginia or its history; every state and every culture always attempts to put its best foot forward. It skews our view of events and may lead us to believe that America was at its greatest in some bygone era. The fact of the matter is that our greatness has been evolving.

Reading early Virginia textbooks could lead one to believe that slavery was good for all, until what some termed the “War of Northern Aggression,” and then there was the Lost Cause movement that restored faith that Virginia was right all along. We still hear remnants of that line of thinking as the debate on Confederate monuments is going on.

I was reminded of this background as I recently visited a new exhibition at Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Orange County. Through extensive archaeological work there is an attempt to tell “a more complete American story.” The title of the exhibition, “A Mere Distinction of Colour,” is a phrase from Madison’s writings: “We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”

Despite that observation, the Father of Our Constitution was the owner of hundreds of slaves who worked his farms and did his labor allowing him time to be a statesman. He did not free his slaves at his death. Enslaved families were split up and sold to retire the debt he left behind.

Visiting Montpelier today, you can see the mansion beautifully restored, including the upstairs room where Madison probably did his writing about the Constitution. Thanks to important archaeological work, you can visit the area around the mansion where the slave quarters were located, with several reproductions having been added in recent years. A tour of Montpelier can be eye-opening for your children, to contrast the home of the owner with the quarters of the enslaved.

Nearby at Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, there is an expansion of the tours to include a slave tour. The tour guide says very clearly what was denied for generations, that Jefferson fathered several children by Sally Hemings. Of the more than a hundred slaves owned by the writer of the Declaration of Independence who said “all men are created equal,” on his death only those slaves that he had fathered were freed.

The historians at Montpelier call it “a more complete American story.” It is being written way past time. While we need to acknowledge and embrace a history that is inclusive of the men and women who did the work in founding our country, acknowledging the arbitrary distinctions of the past will make us stronger as a nation.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 8, 2017 at 10:15 am 5 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The Virginia General Assembly will celebrate its 400th anniversary in a couple of years, making it the longest-running representative legislative body in this hemisphere.

Although not much has changed in the basic procedures of lawmaking with committees and structured floor debate, over the centuries there have been adaptations to the times as the Legislature has sought to best serve those it represents. Most recently, the biggest changes have been to the housing of the legislative functions.

For those interested in details, here is a summary of the major changes — past and present. The General Assembly in 2004 abandoned Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol for the first time since the Civil War to give the place a major renovation that would keep it standing and expand its size underground so as to not take away from its iconic exterior. For that renovation, the Legislature moved to the former state library, whose upstairs had been renovated to be the Governor’s Office but whose reading rooms downstairs had been left intact and became very efficiently the House of Delegates and Senate chambers for several sessions.

Meanwhile, the offices of legislators in the General Assembly Building (GAB) have been crumbling asbestos, explaining the white dust that periodically appeared on the furniture. Legislating should not be considered hazardous duty, at least in a physical sense, nor should failing plumbing and heating and cooling systems cause delays in the work of the Legislature.

For decades, the Life Insurance Company of Virginia had occupied the building before it moved to an office park in the suburbs and sold its aging building to the Commonwealth. The building is currently being demolished, and a new office building will be constructed in its place with a parking garage across the street. That will be good news for those who want to participate in the legislative process but have been prevented from doing so because they simply could not find a place to park.

The last act of legislators this past session was to pack ourselves up for a move down Richmond’s Capitol Hill to the Pocahontas Building, formerly in private hands as the State Planters Bank of Commerce and Trust Building, where we will have temporary but nice and asbestos-free offices for several years while the new building will be constructed. The Pocahontas Building was available to us as the Attorney General and his staff, who had offices there, have recently relocated to the Barbara Johns Building, formerly the Hotel Richmond and later state offices, just across the street from where the new General Assembly Building will be.

Regardless of whether you chose to follow all that, the good news is that when you come to Richmond you will be much more likely to find a convenient place to park, and you will be in a safer setting.

With our physical surroundings taken care of, now we need to go to work on bringing the legislative process up to date by making it more transparent and responsive. Maybe a significant anniversary and a change in working environment should be viewed as a time to start anew.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 1, 2017 at 10:15 am 10 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

My credentials as a progressive Democrat (capital D) are well established; sometimes missed in the political back and forth of an election year might be my earnest effort to be a democratic (small d) advocate.

The outcomes of elections can be no more reflective of the public mood and aspirations than substantial participation by voters in the electoral process. That observation has been made over and over, yet elections occur with only a small fraction of eligible voters taking part.

Voting does take some time and effort. To vote one must register, but registration is active as long as you have not moved. Even though elections take place on a weekday when many people work, it should be possible to find some time between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. in order to vote. If not, absentee voting is an alternative. There has been much legislation over the years designed to suppress the vote, but I and others have spent a lifetime working to get it defeated in the courts or in the Legislature.

Although candidates spend huge amounts of money and time selling themselves to voters, there are many voters who consider themselves too ill-informed to vote. Bringing a realistic vision of a candidate to a voter is not an easy task. Candidates need to keep trying, and voters need to step up the effort to find out information on candidates for themselves. The recent growth of interest groups registering voters and informing people on the issues is a very hopeful sign. I believe it will help change the outcome of some elections, and for sure it is likely to increase participation.

Virginia has an election every year. While most states skip the odd-numbered years for elections, Virginia — along with New Jersey — will elect a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all members of the House of Delegates this year. That election will be on Nov. 7. But even before we get to those campaigns, there are many more primary elections in both parties this year than I can ever remember.

June 13 is a most important date when primary elections will take place. Voters do not register by political party in Virginia. To vote in the Democratic or Republican primary on June 13, you need to declare your political party at that time. You cannot vote in more than one primary.

Of course, I am voting in the Democratic primary and will be voting for current Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam for the Democratic nomination for governor and Justin Fairfax as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Attorney General Mark Herring will be the Democratic nominee for re-election, as he is not being challenged in the primary.

If you are voting in the Republican primary on June 13, you have a choice of three candidates for the nomination for governor, and three for lieutenant governor.

I am not being challenged in the primary but several delegate districts have primaries in Northern Virginia. To look at a sample ballot for each party, go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections/upcoming.htm.

However you choose to vote, do get out and vote and encourage your neighbors to do the same.

by RestonNow.com — May 26, 2017 at 10:15 am 10 Comments

This letter was submitted by Reston resident Bruce Ramo. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.

Too much, too soon.

This is the crux of the community’s concern with the proposed zoning amendments, which were the subject of a community meeting with Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins on May 24.

  • Too much emphasis on promoting economic growth, without firm commitments for the infrastructure to support it.
  • Too much willingness to give legal priority to the quantitative possibilities of increased density presented by the Master Plan, without addressing the qualitative conditions of the Plan’s Vision Statement and Planning Principles.
  • Too much form over substance in engaging the public in three quick presentations rather than collaborating to develop a balanced approach for the future growth of Reston.
  • Too much hubris in assuming that the County’s evaluation and analyses of the impact of increased density, without a willingness to consider other thoughtful analyses of the impact to roads, safety, schools and recreational facilities.
  • Too much commitment to the County’s internal work plan for modifying the zoning ordinances.
  • Too much emphasis on getting it done now instead of getting it done right.

Each day, many of us pass a dangerous portion of Wiehle Avenue near Sunset Hills Road where a pedestrian bridge is slated to be built someday. The area is the gateway between the Planned Residential Community of Reston (PRC) and the Metro station area with its thousands of new apartments and townhouses.

The missing pedestrian bridge is a symbol of all that is wrong with the County’s zoning amendment and the manner in which it would facilitate growth without the infrastructure to support it.

The proposed amendment would allow even more development throughout the PRC and elsewhere, but where is the pedestrian bridge? Where are the other new or improved parks, roads, schools and paths to service the higher density? Why is the County pressing to facilitate more growth in Reston, but not balancing the growth with near-term action to make that growth safe, convenient and sustainable? Why is Supervisor Hudgins content to tell Restonians that infrastructure is not her job, as she did [Wednesday] night?

This is the essence of the community’s challenge to the proposed zoning amendment. The County’s approach simply enables far too much development too soon. Please urge the County Planning Staff and Supervisor Hudgins to step back, table the proposed zoning amendment, and work with the community on a more sensible zoning plan to support the future growth of Reston.

by Del. Ken Plum — May 25, 2017 at 10:15 am 19 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

For more than a half century, signs along the roadsides and ads in local newspapers featured Smokey the Bear with a message “Keep Virginia Green.” His reference was to forest fire prevention, for which he said 9 out of 10 could be prevented. Forest fires were a big concern because wood products were big business in Virginia.

A campaign continues today with a “Keep Virginia Green” theme as part of the “Keep Virginia Beautiful” effort. It has a broader meaning, as it now includes stopping littering and other actions consumers can take as part of caring for the environment in the Commonwealth.

Maybe the most meaningful effort ever taken to protect Virginia’s environment was announced last week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — that he had signed an Executive Directive ordering the Department of Environmental Quality to begin the process of establishing regulations in Virginia that will reduce carbon emission from power plants. As the Governor explained, “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void. … Virginia will lead the way to cut carbon and lean in on the clean energy future.” The current federal administration has moved to rescind actions of the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and to act on climate change.

While proponents of states’ rights may applaud the shift from the federal to the state governments, wind currents from power plants and airborne pollutants do not recognize state boundaries. It is critically important that other states follow the actions of Gov. McAuliffe.

According to the press release announcing the Governor’s Executive Directive, the Commonwealth has seen an increase from just 17 megawatts of solar installed to more than 1,800 megawatts in service or under development. Revenues in the rapidly growing clean energy sector have risen from $300 million to $1.5 billion between 2014 and 2016. In the last year alone, solar installations have risen nearly 1,200 percent. The number of Virginians employed by the solar industry rose 65 percent to 3,236 — twice the number of jobs supported by coal. An analysis by The Solar Foundation quoted in the release said that Virginia is now second in the Southeast and ninth in the nation for year-over-year solar growth. As of 2017, Virginia is first in the Southeast for corporate clean energy procurement.

Dominion Energy, the Commonwealth’s largest electricity producer, announced earlier that it intends to follow the federal Clean Power Plant regulations even if they are rescinded by the current administration. Older coal-powered plants are being converted to natural gas or closed. The company will be subject to any additional regulations that result from the Governor’s Executive Directive.

It is heartening to see the number of citizens who have expressed a greater interest in environmental matters as they realize the threat to current protections under the new administration. We need to thank and applaud the Governor for his action and at the same time keep the pressure on federal and state elected officials to see that our air is kept clean and safe. I am pleased that both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have recognized my efforts in this regard.

by RestonNow.com — May 22, 2017 at 10:15 am 19 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Reston’s population is a key factor in the County’s high-speed drive to raise the density limits in our Planned Residential Community (PRC) zoning ordinance from 13 to 16 persons per acre across Reston to accommodate growth laid out in the new Reston Master Plan. It argues that Reston is at 12 persons per acre right now, including existing and approved development and we need to create more headroom for growth. Specifically, its “calculated estimate” of Reston PRC population, including approved plans but excluding affordable dwelling units, is 74,192 people.

Not even close on Reston’s current population — including the non-PRC areas of Reston.

The Past

The County was even badly wrong back in 2006 when it adjusted the zoning ordinance household factors — the average number of people living in each type of housing (single-family, townhomes, multi-family — garden and elevator). At that time it put Reston’s “calculated” PRC population at 64,227, roughly 10,000 fewer people than it calculates today.

Then reality set in.

In 2010, the US Census put Reston’s population at 58,404 in 25,304 occupied dwelling units, including such non-PRC areas as Deepwood and much of the Reston station area corridor. That’s a population density of 9.4 persons per acre of Reston PRC, nearly 40 percent below the current density limit of 13 persons per acre –hardly a driver for raising the overall population density ceiling.

The Present

The American Community Survey, the US Census’ official mid-decade estimate of population and other data, then put Reston’s population at 60,112 in 2015. Other unofficial sources tend to have even lower estimates of Reston’s population.

So why is the County claiming the much larger “population calculation” of 74,192 people in the PRC, which is most, but not all, of Reston?

The key reason is that the County includes the population of  developments that have been approved, but not yet built. In fact, many approved proposals have been on the books for a decade or more, including Colts Neck independent living (former Hunters Woods United Christian Parish now under construction), Reston Excelsior Oracle and Boston Properties Property #16 (under construction).

Spectrum Center is a major example. The Board gave final approval to this redevelopment in January 2013, but the developer — Lerner Enterprises — said then that redevelopment may not take place for many years, even decades. Indeed, the strip mall from Staples to Not Your Average Joe’s is still operating at capacity. Among other features, the redeveloped Spectrum Center is approved to include more than 1,400 dwelling units (almost 3,000 people).

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by RestonNow.com — May 19, 2017 at 1:30 pm 72 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by a group of area bicycling advocates. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Today is Bike to Work Day in the Capital Region. Cyclists will be all over the trails and roads like cicadas emerging from their hibernation.

And as the weather turns warmer and summer approaches, it seems true that many of us and our neighbors begin to head outdoors to exercise, emerging from gyms into the spring sunshine. Roads and trails begin to fill up with walkers, runners and cyclists who are enjoying the benefits of warmth and longer days.

Our region has made incredible strides in providing infrastructure to support these activities. From the Washington and Old Dominion Trail to the Fairfax County Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) that was recently passed, we are all fortunate citizens to have a government with the foresight to build and plan infrastructure for the future.

While riding a bike is legally allowed on all non-limited-access roads in the Commonwealth, the increase in traffic of all kinds, motor and bicycle, has led the county to seek ways to increase safety for all road users. One way in which the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) upholds the BMP is through a partnership with VDOT.

When VDOT repaves a road, in many cases the road is studied for installation of a “road diet.” A road diet is a change in the allocation of space on an existing road to increase road safety for all users. A road diet can include a center turn lane for left-turning traffic as well as bike lanes. Since the passage of the Bicycle Master Plan, over 100 miles of bike lanes and road diets have been implemented.

Road diets and the addition of bike lanes and center turn lanes serve to slow traffic through many of our streets, some of which used to be quiet neighborhood roads, but which have now become fast cut-throughs for commuters. The benefit of slowing traffic on those roads, through the re-striping during repaving, accrues to the people who live on those roads as well. People who want to walk their dogs, chat with neighbors, cross the street to pick up their mail — all of them benefit from road design that slows the traffic passing through.

Fairfax County is home to an incredibly diverse population. However, one thing that is universal is we all want our loved ones to come home safely. No one wants to get a call that their mother, husband, daughter, brother, wife, father, sister or son was killed for any reason. This universal human desire is sometimes forgotten when people take to the wheel of a multi-ton vehicle, ignoring the indisputable facts of physics. The human under the bike helmet in front of you us is 150 percent more likely to die when hit by a car at 40 mph than at 25 mph (Source: NHTSA). It’s in all of our interest to address this.

Cyclists are members of the community — we are your neighbors, your doctors, your waiters and your pharmacists. We ride bikes for transportation, exercise and recreation. Some of us do not have cars and commute solely by bike. But we are no different from you and your neighbors in our desire to get home safely. That’s all we ask.

Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling
Reston Bicycle Club
The Bike Lane
Green Lizard Cycling
Evolution Cycling Team

by Del. Ken Plum — May 18, 2017 at 10:15 am 11 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last week, without provocation, a woman in the checkout line at a local grocery store told another customer — a Muslim woman — “I wish they didn’t let you in the country.”

In the exchange that was recorded on a camera phone, the woman to whom the remark was directed explained that she had been born in the United States. Rather than leave it at that, the first woman went on saying, “Obama’s not in office anymore; you don’t have a Muslim in there anymore. He’s gone — he may be in jail in the future.”

I realize that there are more people than I would like to acknowledge that have strong prejudices against others because of their race, religion, ethnicity or other reason. It continues to shock me when I see the ugliness of the expression of such prejudices as the recording of this event provided. As the woman to whom the remarks were directed pointed out, it’s abnormal to start a conversation like that with someone you do not know. There really is something wrong with people who are so blinded by their prejudices that they feel compelled to lash out at a person who has done them no wrong. The comments reflect a deep-seated hatred that comes out for reasons only a mental health expert could help discover.

What is particularly troubling these days is the blurring of the line between political convictions and prejudice toward individuals. In our deeply divided political landscape, too often political views become opportunities to demonize people who hold different views. Unfortunately talk radio, social media and some cable news shows tend to invite this destructive phenomenon.

In addition to the repulsiveness I feel about the hateful comments, I was also saddened that social media and news accounts described the scene as a store in Reston, Virginia. I know from a lot of personal experience the amount of effort that so many people have made over the years to ensure that Reston is an open, welcoming and inclusive community. While I understand why the store did nothing to address the situation, I wish somehow there had been a disclaimer on the video: The woman speaking does not represent the views of the people of Reston.

The situation reminds us that building community is not a one-time occurrence, a workshop, or a feel-good session. Building a community of respect and love is an ongoing process that we work at a little every day. We greet those we meet; we hug each other; we attend each other’s houses of worship; we show respect to others; we speak out against hate and prejudices; we listen to each other. We use appropriate channels to discuss political views, and whether in person or online we stick to the issues and don’t resort to personal attacks.

A display of hateful and ugly prejudice as we have just witnessed must bring us together in mutual support and respect as we want Reston and every other community to display.

by Del. Ken Plum — April 27, 2017 at 10:15 am 3 Comments

Several weeks ago, at the invitation of their leader, I spoke to a group of Boy Scouts about government and the responsibilities of citizenship. Talking with me helped the Scouts meet one of their requirements for a merit badge.

One of the Scouts asked me about the most important legislation I had ever gotten passed. I told him about multiple issues on which I had worked, but I focused on one that I thought he might know little about but would show the range of issues with which legislators deal. I told him about my work to expand infant screening in the Commonwealth.

Prior to my election to office, I served on the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board. A member of that Board whose adult son was a resident at the Northern Virginia Training Center told me of the great hope there was in detecting health issues in infants at the time of their birth with blood screening. At the time Virginia had only three tests, one of which was PKU testing. I remembered our conversation after I was elected, and I got new tests added as scientists developed them.

Metabolic disorders that can be discovered from a pinprick of an infant’s heel can generate early and sometimes simple treatments that can lead to a healthy child and adult. Without treatment, numerous medical conditions can develop including severe developmental delays and chronic illnesses. Metabolic disorders affect the chemical processes in your body that must work together correctly for you to stay healthy.

I was honored to work on legislation that added most of the 30 tests that are done in Virginia on that same spot of blood from an infant to detect these disorders. Last week, I was reminded of the experience that I had working with Dr. Barry Wolf of the then-Medical College of Virginia, who had discovered that the disorder in which the body is unable to recycle the vitamin biotin can lead to developmental delays in children, hearing and vision loss, breathing problems, and problems with balance and movement. When discovered early such as through a screening test, the disorder can be treated with nutritional supplements that can result in a normal life for the person.

With Dr. Wolf’s research and my legislative proposal, in 1984 Virginia became the first state in this country to begin infant screening for biotinidase deficiency. Since that time, every state and many foreign countries have started the screening. The March of Dimes recognized us for that accomplishment.

The reminder of this story came from a local doctor in Reston who was a medical student at MCV at the time and knew of Dr. Wolf’s research and my bill. She wrote to us both, telling us of a teenage patient she had just met who at birth had been found to have the deficiency but, with treatment, was living a normal life. She wrote to both of us that “because of researchers like you and advocates like you… our world is made a little better for all, and lives are saved for some precious few. That’s something to be proud of.”

I hope the Boy Scouts understood why I consider the work on infant screening to be among the most important I have done.

by RestonNow.com — April 24, 2017 at 10:15 am 32 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Our County Board of Supervisors, led by Chairman Sharon Bulova, is in the process of overbuilding and underserving residents in Reston and across the county. The result will be the eroding livability of Reston and other county areas facing urbanization.  

And this is being accomplished by a simple arithmetical trick: Overstating the amount of space new housing and office space require to accommodate residents and workers. Very simply, county planners continue to overstate the space needed for office workers as 300 gross square feet (GSF) per worker when studies globally over nearly a decade show it is now under 200 GSF/worker and could be headed to 150 GSF/worker.  

At the same time, as it started to plan for Tysons’ redevelopment nearly a decade ago, the County raised its planning assumption for the size of station area dwelling units (DUs) from 1,000 GSF/DU to 1,200 GSF/DU. Nonetheless, a County planning study for Tysons showed then (2007) that the average size of Tysons residents was 1,100 GSF, mostly in garden apartments before the recent advent of massive high-rise residential development there. Now, the average high-rise DU size is shrinking well below 1,000 GSF/DU, more than offsetting the few mid-rise and single-family attached DUs in station areas, as some recent Reston development proposals show:

  • JBG/Wiehle and partners plan for 1,300-1,500 residential units in 1.2 million GSF of development in two 5-story buildings, or 800-925 GSF/DU;
  • Golf Course Plaza proposes 413 DUs in a 392,600 GSF multi-family building or 950 GSF/DU, also in 5-story structures;
  • Faraday’s proposes redeveloping the area just south of Wiehle Station with up to 500 apartments in two buildings with about 487,000 GSF of residential space that will reach about 975 GSF/DU according to its plan submission.
  • Lerner Enterprises is planning a 457-“luxury apartment” complex called Excelsior Park with average unit size at about 1,050 GSF in 423,587 rentable square feet (RBA), which equates to 481,350 GSF.

That’s nearly 3,000 DUs, including luxury apartments, whose average GSF is about 925 GSF/DU — nowhere near the County’s assumed size of 1,200 GSF/DU — and suggesting the number of future residents and DUs in Reston’s station areas will be nearly one-third greater than planned under existing allowable densities. This is consistent with national data: A study of apartment sizes over the last decade shows that their average size has shrunk — not expanded — from 1,015 square feet to 934 square feet.  

The impact is straightforward: The resulting planned densities (total GSF of development divided by the square footage of the lot on which it sits) will allow half-again as many office workers and 28 percent more residential units than the County plan officially intends. Yet developers and the County are only planning to provide services — improved roads, schools and parks, and more — based on the lower count envisioned in the plan. The result will be reduced services and higher taxes.

So what does that mean for “real people?” Based on GSF information provided by FCDOT to the Supervisors serving as the Board Transportation Committee, the current Reston station area plan offers the potential for 76,280 added residents (at 2.0 residents/DU) and 29,059 added office worker jobs (at 300GSF/worker) in the next four decades.  

If instead of using the County’s faulty planning assumptions, we use real world experience, we can anticipate that the allowable development could result in an addition of 101,492 total residents in 50,746 DUs and 78,559 office workers, including retrofitted office buildings, market conditions permitting.  More specifically, it suggests an order of magnitude explosion in residents (11,720 in 2010 vs. 113,212 then) and more than twice as many office employees (69,941 in 2010 vs. 148,500 then) in Reston’s station areas. Overall, Reston can expect twice as many people living and working in the station areas as is anticipated by the Reston plan.

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by Del. Ken Plum — April 20, 2017 at 10:15 am 12 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Virginia has the distinction of having had the first mental health hospital in the country, although it was called an insane asylum, which more correctly described the work it did.

From colonial days to the present, the role of the state in providing treatment and services for those with mental illness has been widely debated, filled with different theories and approaches, and always critically underfunded. It took a massacre of students at Virginia Tech and a state senator’s son attacking his father with a butcher knife, then shooting himself, to bring a higher level of urgency and seriousness to the discussion. A commission has been meeting the past couple of years and will continue to meet for at least a couple more to develop recommendations on what the state should do.

In the meantime, some hopeful progress is being made. After the Virginia Tech shootings, state appropriations for mental health programs were increased dramatically, only to be reduced again after the onset of the recession. Funding for programs for those with mental illness has been slowly increasing again but still does not come close to the levels requested by professionals in the field. Additional funding was provided in the most recent General Assembly session to allow for transitional housing. Statewide, there has been more clarification of the role of the Community Services Boards for the treatment of mental illness.

The practice of “streeting” persons, by putting them back on the street when there was no treatment option available to them, has largely been stopped. Emergency and temporary custody orders can be issued to ensure that those needing emergency care will receive it. Crisis treatment centers are being opened around the state.

We are blessed in Fairfax County that local government has for decades been offering mental health treatment and services well beyond that provided in most parts of the state. The most recent example is the Diversion First program, which just issued its first annual report. The program came about from the recognition that more than a quarter of the inmates in local jails have mental illness. They came into contact with law enforcement because of a behavior that needed treatment, not incarceration.

Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, the Fairfax County Police Department and the Community Services Board cooperatively put together a program that offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offenses. As stated in their annual report, the goal is to intercede whenever possible to provide assessment, treatment or needed support in an appropriate setting for those who struggle with mental illness, developmental delays or substance abuse, instead of jail being the default solution. In its first year of work, the program diverted 375 persons from jail into treatment programs. Both money and lives are saved with the shift of emphasis.

More about this important new service made possible by Fairfax County government officials working together is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/DiversionFirst.

by Del. Ken Plum — April 13, 2017 at 10:15 am 15 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Nearly two hours of the eight-and-a-half-hour reconvened session of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly were taken up last week by speeches from retiring members and acknowledgement speeches by others about their service and achievement.

The length of the tribute time was driven in large part by the fact that eight members, all of whom are Republicans, are retiring. Heading the list is the Speaker of the House, followed by a senior member who chairs the important Courts Committee. For some, like the Speaker, the longevity of service was a key factor. Others cited family and financial concerns. Another one or two may re-appear running for another office. Legislative service that is considered part-time with a low level of remuneration but takes full-time commitment always has some turnover, but the number this year is significant.

Another factor that may have influenced some decisions is the sense of changing political winds in the Commonwealth. Never in my years of service have I gotten as many phone calls, postcards and emails as I have this year. Traditional groups have gotten re-energized, and many new groups have formed. Activism is in the air.

For me, it has been reassuring. As a progressive, I feel less like I am speaking into the wind and more like there is a force of people behind me. For years I worked on the redistricting issue almost alone and now thousands of people are contacting their legislators asking that they support redistricting reform. The public has become keenly aware of the adverse impact that gerrymandering has had on the Legislature.

The signs of change were evident in the reconvened session last week. While the House of Delegates did not respond favorably to my plea that we approve an amendment by the Governor to expand Medicaid, there was discussion by majority party leaders in the House and Senate that a new group is going to be looking at how medical services can be expanded to the poorest in our state. I continue to be amazed at the argument that leaving $40 billion on the table in federal dollars could somehow be considered “fiscally responsible.”

The majority party may have felt somewhat humbled by the fact that the Legislature upheld 40 vetoes of bills by the Governor, extending the record of his administration to 111 with none being over-ridden. Of course, a two-thirds vote is required, but in the House only a couple of deflections by Democrats would have made an over-ride possible. The vetoes by Gov. Terry McAuliffe have kept Virginia out of the news with crazy legislation that has passed in other states.

Certainly there is also an eye to November, with 77 Democrats lining up to challenge 49 Republican incumbents. As that number is reduced by primaries and conventions, it leaves hotly contested races that could dramatically change who is in charge in the House, and/or the attitude of those left in charge. Democrats have challengers to incumbents in the 17 districts held by Republicans that were won by Hillary Clinton. For those who continue to ask what they can do, there is a clear sense emerging that much can be done this year to put Virginia on a more progressive track.

by Del. Ken Plum — April 6, 2017 at 10:15 am 24 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

When Thomas Jefferson finished what he considered one of the most significant deeds of his lifetime in writing the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776, he returned home to Virginia and set about turning the ideals of the Declaration into steps that could lead to the formation of the first democratic republic.

Among his proposals was that a system of grammar schools be established throughout the state to be topped off by a grand university. He lived to see the University of Virginia become a reality, but his plan for a universal form of education for the masses did not come about in the Commonwealth until 1870 with a Reconstruction-era system of public schools.

The genius of Mr. Jefferson was the recognition that government by the people in a republic could be successful only to the degree that people were educated and that education could make them informed participants in the election of their representatives. Education is as important today, if not more so, as it was in the formation of the union. I am reminded of that fact daily.

The experiences of my early days as a classroom teacher remind me that there is a sharp difference between being schooled and being educated. The emphasis in recent times on the acquisition of facts with Standards of Learning and standardized testing fall short of the educated citizen that we need in today’s world. What facts could I have transmitted to my students that would stay with them to guide them through the rough waters of governance today? A few of course, but more important are the skills they may have learned by being social scientists, historians, and political scientists in my classroom and using the skills of those disciplines to understand and react to the world we face today.

Popular in the mid-1960s, when I was in the classroom, was the discovery approach to teaching the social studies made famous by Amherst College. There were few lectures in the classroom about what happened in history. Rather the students were taught to collect information, weigh evidence, identify points of view, question sources, draw conclusions and “discover” what went on in historic periods of history and why.

Those skills are more important today than ever. The ability to separate among news stories the fake news, alt-news, satire, points of view and evidence is increasingly vital. Hopefully there will come a time when more of those who make the news will be acting in an ethical and responsible manner, motivated to serve with the good of the whole in mind rather than simply personal gain.

With the increasing speed and number of sources of mass communications, skills of the social scientist are more important than ever. Thomas Jefferson was right — schools are critically important to democracy. Even more important is that the students coming out of school have the skills necessary to be functioning members of society that will preserve and strengthen our democratic republic.

by RestonNow.com — March 2, 2017 at 4:00 pm 0

St. Johns Wood apartmentsThis is an open letter submitted by residents of the North Point area, addressed to the Reston Planning & Zoning Committee, Reston Design Review Board, Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, Fairfax County Supervisors, and all affected community members. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

The undersigned residents of the North Point area of Reston seek your attention and assistance regarding anticipated changes to plans for redevelopment of the St. Johns Wood apartment complex.

The property is located at the intersection of Reston Parkway and Center Harbor Road. Please assure that Bozzuto Development Company Inc. (Bozzuto) provides all affected reviewing authorities and the public-at-large sufficient time and information to review the revised plans that the developer has indicated will be made.

The numerous submissions by Bozzuto for redevelopment of the property, seeking to convert 250 multi-family garden apartments in nine three-story buildings to 467 new apartments and 44 townhomes, have undergone many changes over several years. County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins currently advises on her website, “Bozzuto is in the process of revising their plan; therefore, the public hearing was deferred until May 25, 2017.” This postponement by County Planning follows deferral of review by the Reston Design Review Board in October 2016 and a statement of non-support for the Bozzuto application by the Reston Association in September 2016.

More recently, the Reston Planning & Zoning Committee calendared the review of a yet-to-be publically released revision of the developer’s redevelopment plans for St. Johns Wood. That meeting is scheduled for March 27.

Despite the rapidly approaching dates for Reston Planning & Zoning Committee review and the County Planning public hearing, to date Bozzuto has not provided the public with any information about changes to its application.

If the changes are not significant, it is unconscionable to withhold public scrutiny of this potentially neighborhood-altering project. If, as is suspected, the changes to the application are significant, it is even more imperative that the public be provided meaningful opportunity to examine and comment. This is particularly important given the troubling deficiencies cited by the Reston Design Review Board and the Reston Association.

The St. Johns Wood project will so greatly affect the quality of life, environment, safety and property values of the North Point area of Reston that the project must be reviewed in the most transparent manner possible. Please help!

Susan Barse

Stephen Canner

Mark Clyman

Patricia Lentz

John Mooney

Dabney Narvaez

Linda Platt

Jeanne Vasterling

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