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Board of Supervisors Clash Over Community Input for Proposed Zoning Changes

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors disagreed about community input on contentious proposed zoning changes, before authorizing public hearings early next year on the changes at their meeting today.

The proposal, which would increase the population density in Reston, has sparked a backlash from community groups, including the Reston Association, Coalition for a Planned Reston and Reston 2020.

County planning officials have argued that the change is needed to put into action Reston’s Master Plan, which allows for future growth over the next 40 years.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust vented frustration at the Dec. 4 meeting that Reston residents have not heard back from the county regarding the public hearings for the zoning proposal.

In response to Foust’s concerns, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins said that locals have had plenty of opportunities to get the desired information.

County officials began small workgroup sessions hosted by the Coalition for a Planned Reston, a grassroots organization, and the Reston Association in July to discuss the controversial plan.

“Yes, there are some questions that people have,” Hudgins said. “Those questions have been answered before or are not relevant to this.”

Hudgins stressed that consideration of the proposed zoning changes is moving forward because of the work, including 13 follow up meetings since May and regular meetings with the Reston Association, already done.

Hudgins praised the “noble” staff for answering community questions.

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook said that verbal responses from staff to locals are not enough, adding that the community would benefit from written questions and answers available online.

“I don’t think it’s enough to have oral questions,” Cook said. “Not everyone can get to public meetings.”

Cook added that community input must have limits. “It’s fair to have a cut off date for questions,” he said.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission has 100 days from the referral — the staff report published Dec. 4 — to take action on the zoning proposal. The Board of Supervisors authorized public hearings on the zoning changes for 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 and at 4:30 p.m. on March 5.

“The clock starts today,” Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay said.

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Music and a coat drive — The Reston Chorale will perform George Frideric Handel’s Messiah tonight at 7:30 p.m. at St. John Neumann Church. Locals are encouraged to bring new or gently used coats or new hats, gloves, scarves or socks, which will fill Cornerstone’s Coat Closet, to receive $5 off of the ticket. [Reston Chorale]

Holiday fire safety PSA — The county’s Fire and Rescue Department has safety tips for open-flame candles for Hanukkah celebrations. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department]

Design Review Board meeting — The Reston Association’s Design Review Board will meet tonight at 7 p.m. to review pending applications. [Reston Association]

 

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Monday Morning Notes

Virginia’s new members of Congress — Hear what the five lawmakers have to say about their first few weeks on Capitol Hill. [WVTF]

Winter break camp — With the holidays coming up, find out about the Reston Association’s Winter Break Camp if you need to keep your kids entertained and active. The deadline to apply is Dec. 13. [Reston Association YouTube]

Homeseller advice session — Mark Sierakowski,  a realtor with Long and Foster Real Estate, Inc., will present a workshop on selling your home at 1 p.m. at the Reston Regional Library. [Fairfax County]

Photo via Ray Copson

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Proposed Zoning Changes Spark Local Backlash

As Reston is projected to continue growing at a dramatic pace, Fairfax County is moving forward with a proposed zoning amendment to allow for greater density. But a group of Reston citizens are protesting the move, saying the proposed amendment is rushed through and under-explained.

The zoning amendment would increase the maximum population per acre in the Planned Residential Community (PRC) district from 13 persons to 15. Dwelling units per acre would increase from 50 units to 70 near Metro stations.

The Board of Supervisors is anticipated to authorize public hearings on the zoning changes at its upcoming Tuesday (Dec. 4) meeting. Public comment will not be heard at the meeting.

A group of citizens calling themselves the Coalition for a Planned Reston wrote a letter to Supervisor Cathy Hudgins saying that approval of the zoning amendment would be premature.

“The Coalition for a Planned Reston (CPR) is deeply concerned and dismayed by the announcement that you have requested County staff to move forward with the proposed PRC Zoning Ordinance Amendment,” the CPR wrote in the letter. “We strongly urge you to withdraw your request immediately and to complete the community dialogue to which you committed.”

The letter included a list of 23 areas where the groups say Fairfax County officials have supplied inadequate information. Among the criticisms of the zoning amendment are exemptions given to developers with proposals that do not conform with the Reston Master Plan.

Some of the topics of the letter involve the minutiae of zoning amendments but others — like what the CPR calls a lack of clarity over the expected number of students the added density would have on the school systems — could shape Reston for years to come.

This isn’t the first letter from the CPR over the issue. The group had previously sent a letter on Aug. 1 urging Hudgins to suspend action on the amendment. The Reston Association has also expressed concern about the impact of the zoning amendment.

Photo via Fairfax County

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Birthday bash for Mark Twain — Reston Regional Library will celebrate from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. the famous American humorist, who died in 1910 and would have been 183 years old on Nov. 30. [Fairfax County]

Senior movie day — The Reston Association’s “Meet Me at the Movies” will screen “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” — the 2018 documentary about Fred Rogers — at 10 a.m. with free refreshments. Tickets are free for people age 55 and older. The monthly movie event is done in cooperation with the Bow-Tie Cinemas at Reston Town Center and is sponsored by Tall Oaks Assisted Living. [Reston Association]

Paid parking lawsuit ends in a settlement — Boston Properties agreed to a settlement with Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food & Lucky Lounge, bringing a close to the restaurant’s lawsuit over the mixed-use development’s paid parking system. [Faifax County Times]

Reston Rotary Club networking — The club will host a networking event tonight from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Reston Hyatt’s bar in the lobby. [Reston Rotary Club]

Flickr pool photo via Chris Gordon 

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Reston Association Receives ‘State of the Environment’ Report Summary

The Reston Association’s Board of Directors received a summary last week of the second annual report about the state of the environment in Reston.

Doug Britt, a Virginia Master Naturalist and the director of Reston Association’s first Reston Annual State of the Environment Report, gave an overview of the 2018 Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER) at a Reston Association meeting on Thursday (Nov. 15).

The study is intended to give readers a better understanding of Reston’s current environmental conditions in order to provide a baseline against which future changes to the environment can be measured.

The second RASER updates all of the topics addressed in the first one, along with adding new topics and recommendations. The results of the first RASER arrived in January after it was published last July.

The report has 11 new recommendations, which include the following:

  • Schedule dredging when nuisance aquatic weeds are dormant
  • Enforce shoreline distribution regulations for cluster shoreline properties
  • Create a plan to alert residents about lake safety issues
  • Assess whether de-icing salts are affecting water quality
  • Partner with organizations to conduct native plant education programs, to use edible plants in landscaping and to distribute leftover food
  • Determine baseline noise levels throughout parts of Reston

The report also has an analysis of 19 environmental attributes — rating them on a scale of green (good), yellow (fair), red (poor) and undetermined — and adds in excerpts from Fairfax County’s Environmental Vision Document. “I feel confident as a community that we are way ahead of a lot of other county committees in meeting the revised vision document of the county,” Britt said.

Attributes that got a “green” rating include air quality, drinking water, wastewater treatment, hazardous and toxic waste and environmental education.

Streams received a bump from “red” to “yellow” status this year after more diversity than expected was found in them over the summer, Britt said, adding that almost half of Reston’s streams have been restored. Lakes and ponds, urban forests, landscaping, wildlife management and light pollution also got bucketed in the “yellow” rating.

Attributes that lacked enough data for an adequate rating included wetlands, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates and noise pollution.

Only one received the “red” designation: stormwater management. “When Reston first developed in the early 60’s and 70’s, the stormwater was typically shunted from development sites into nearby receiving sites as quickly as possible trough impervious surfaces,” Britt said. “This resulted in the streams not being able to handle the capacity of storm surges.”

South Lakes District Director Julie Bitzer said at the meeting that she has had a lot of residents talk to her about erosion and stormwater management, because of the amount of rain this year. “I think that is something we need to look at,” she said.

Britt encouraged the board to move away from the “band-aid approach” of expensive lake dredging to remove sediment and instead focus on soil erosion prevention, which he said will be a more cost-efficient choice for improving streams and water quality issues. He also suggested that the board empower residents to help by using low-technology solutions like rain gardens and also set higher standards for developers.

Britt also provided a breakdown of the progress of the 61 recommendations made in last year’s report. Two have been completed, while the rest include 14 lacking progress, 20 with limited work done and 25 with “substantial” progress.

“I don’t want anybody to get the idea that because only two were fully completed, that this designates some ignoring of these recommendations, because very few of the recommendations were what I would call ‘one and done,'” he said.

The three highest priorities should be protecting Reston’s urban forests, improving surface water quality and maintaining “robust” education and outreach programs, Britt said.

RASER recommendations will continue annually, while updates will come every other year, Britt said. The next updated text is expected to be released in 2020.

Photo via Reston Association/YouTube

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Monday Morning Notes

Last day of Cornerstones food drive — Residents can drop off non-perishable food and other items, including toilet paper, at various locations around Reston to help families in need. [Reston Community Center]

Meditation workshop — Adults and teens can learn and practice meditation techniques in this workshop with facilitator Neil Goodman. [Reston Regional Library]

Managing fall foliage PSA — Reston Association wants residents to keep leaf debris in mind as they enjoy fall while it lasts. [Reston Today]

Don’t count on Yellow — Due to a 14-day capital improvement project, there won’t be any Yellow Line service from Nov. 26 through Dec. 9. Crews are planning to make structural repairs and upgrades to the Yellow Line Bridge over the Potomac River. [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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New Reston Association Budget Includes $11 Assessment Increase

Reston Association’s Board of Directors approved next year’s budget, which increases the assessment fee by $11, at last night’s meeting. The Thursday meeting focused on finalizing the $17.9 million budget for next year and setting the assessment fee to the new rate of $693 — a bump from last year’s $682 fee.

Larry Butler, RA’s Acting CEO, presented his recommendations for the budget before the board took a deep dive into the budget.

The long-vacant CEO spot — one of several unfilled positions, including CFO and Planner — loomed over the board’s budget deliberations.

RA At-Large Director Ven Iyer, who unsuccessfully attempted to keep next year’s assessment fee the same as last year’s, argued that keeping costs low sets a good example for whoever fills the CEO spot. “What happens if the CEO comes in and says, ‘Actually, the costs need to go up’? What would you do if that happens?” Iyer said. “I think we need to set the tone.”

RA President Andy Sigle said that RA needs a CEO’s “fresh eyes to keep pushing for more efficiencies.”

Quite a bit of confusion around the operating reserves dominated the discussion as well. Ultimately, the association trimmed roughly $280,000 from initial expense estimates from the first draft of the budget, which allowed the association to limit the assessment increase to 1.6 percent.

“Our job is not, not to spend money,” said John Mooney, secretary of the RA, said at the meeting. “We can’t do everything everyone wants… The question is not expense, it’s value.”

In an effort to pass expenses shouldered by RA, the board also green-lighted a measure to start passing on credit card fees for purchases made through WebTrac to members beginning Jan. 1. Members who purchase pool and tennis passes or activity registrations through the website will be charged the credit card service fees.

Assessment-related credit card transaction fees will also be passed on to members starting in 2020. RA also directed the association’s staff to increase employee health insurance contributions.

The RA will mail assessment packets by the end of the first week of December to residents with information about the fees and funding. The payment will be due Jan.1, and a six-month installment plan will be available. Late fees for assessment payments kick in after March 1.

Photo via Reston Association/YouTube

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Thursday Morning Notes

Schools closed, Fairfax Connector continues normal service — Although Fairfax County Public Schools are closed today due to a wintry mix slowly descending onto the region, the Fairfax County connector will continue normal service today. [Fairfax Connector]

Vote on Reston Association budget expected tonight — The Board of Directors will vote on the final budget for the next year, as well as a planned $11 assessment increase. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Other items on the budget include an update on the state of the environment in Reston and an executive session to discuss personnel and contractual matters. [Reston Association]

Another vote of note tonight — The Fairfax County Planning Commission is expected to vote on a plan by Woodfield Investments to replace a vacant office building at 1941 Roland Clarke Place with an apartment building. [Fairfax County Government]

A chance for gift giving — The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department is seeking donations for its annual Toys for Tots campaign beginning Nov. 19. All county fire stations will accept donations through Dec. 12. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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Design Review Board Vote Sets ‘Snakeden’ Stream Restoration Project into Motion

Plans to restore roughly 800 linear feet of Lake Audubon’s streams were approved by Reston Association’s Design Review Board Tuesday night. The project, called Snakeden, would involve tree removal, stream construction and revegetation along RA’s parcels between Cedar Cove Cluster and Wakerobin Lane.

Meghan Fellows, the county’s manager of watershed projects, said a design team has been working on the project, with the input of RA, property owners and residents, for nearly three years.

“The stream is desperately in need of some assistance,” Fellows said at the DRB meeting, noting that portions of the area are degrading significantly.

Richard Newlon, the board’s chairman, said he hopes the project team will minimize the loss of trees by tweaking designs and implementation to conserve trees — even if it meant a minor tweak to save just one tree.

The project was challenged by the need to secure easements across private property and Reston Association property to construct the stream. Land rights for the project were obtained in June following a more than a year-long period of tree and stream surveys and conceptual planning.

After a cycle of revisions, permits were granted in October. After receiving final approval for designs, drawings and permits in the spring of next year, construction is likely to begin in the summer, Fellows said.

Overall, several sanitary crossings in the area are exposed and RA found that 40 trees are likely to fall down if no action is taken. Trees will be replanted during later phases of the project.

County staff estimates the project will cost under $1 million.

Photos via handout/Reston Association

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Reston Association Set to Consider Assessment Fee, Budget Tomorrow

Reston Association is set this week to hold a vote and the second public hearing on next year’s budget.

This upcoming meeting will focus on approving the second year of the 2018-2019 budget at the public meeting tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:30 p.m. at RA’s headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive) after the first year of the budget was approved last year.

Larry Butler, RA’s acting CEO, presented his recommendations for the budget at a public hearing last Thursday (Nov. 8). RA board and staff created three drafts of the budget, using 2018 as a baseline.

During the budget process, the RA board directed the association’s staff to increase employee health insurance contributions and to reduce expenses by passing credit card convenience fees along to the cardholder. The association trimmed roughly $300,000 from the initial budget estimates from an earlier draft, according to a Nov. 1 press release.

“This year’s budget was shaped primarily through a wide range of cuts in operating expenses,” the press release said.

If approved, the proposed budget would increase members’ assessment fee by $11, setting the rate at $693. The first draft would have set the annual fee, which helps the association maintain pathways, facilities and recreational areas, at just over $700. Last year’s totaled $682.

The board is also requesting $40,000 from cash reserves to reinstate staff training and $17,545 for staff recruitment and “market rate adjustments for difficult to fill positions,” according to meeting materials to be presented to the board.

After the new assessment is set by the board, RA will mail assessment packets to residents with information about the fees and funding. The payment will be due Jan. 1.

The draft agenda for the meeting is available online.

Photo via Reston Association/Reston Today

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Wexton, Democratic incumbents celebrate Election Day victories — Local voters also turned out in numbers the surpassed recent midterm elections. The Fairfax County Office of Elections estimated a 69.7 percent turnout for the general election, up from 45.7 percent in 2014. [Fairfax County Times]

DMV2Go in RTC today — The wireless office on wheels will offer DMV services today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the pavilion. Services include driver’s license and ID card applications and renewals, driving records, decals and more. [Reston Town Center]

Reston Association budget hearing, assessment increase proposal tomorrow — RA will hear comments from members about its plans to increase assessments by $11 at a hearing tomorrow (Thursday). [Reston Association]

Robert Sapolsky to speak at CenterStage tonight — Sapolsky, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, will speak tonight. His lectures touch on topics like stress, baboons, the biology of individuality, memory aggression and schizophrenia. Tickets are sold out but the box office will maintain a waitlist today for any returned tickets. [Reston Community Center]

Photo by John Pinkman

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Five Seats Open in 2019 Reston Association Board Election

Reston Association has issued a call for candidates for the 2019 Board of Directors’ election. Five seats are open.

The following seats will be open next year: an at-large seat for a three-year term, apartment owners representative for a one-year term, Hunters Woods/Dogwood district representative for a one-year term, North Point district representative for a three-year term and Lake Anne/Tall Oaks district representative for a three-year term.

Interested candidates must complete a candidacy statement form. RA’s elections committee will validate candidates in late January and the election will begin on March 4.

The nine-member board is responsible for setting the mission and goals of RA, policies and procedures, monitoring finances, approving budgets and setting the assessment rate.

Photo via Reston Association/YouTube

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Friday Morning Notes

Budget to increase Reston Association’s assessment fee by $11 — After hashing out several drafts of the 2019 operating and capital budgets, next year’s assessment fee is proposed to include an $11 increase, setting the rate of $693. [Reston Today]

A big win for the governor — Roughly 400,000 newly eligible low-income adults in Virginia can start enrolling in Medicaid, scoring a major win for the state’s Democratic governor. [WTOP]

Get your absentee votes in — Tomorrow is the last day for in-person, absentee voting. Ten locations are available for voting. [Fairfax County Government]

Daylight savings and Metro — Time changes are likely to change how you do things this weekend and that applies to Metro service as well. [WTOP]

Photo by David Toms

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Reston Association to Hold Public Hearing on Assessment Increase, Budget

As deliberations on next year’s budget continue, Reston Association is holding a public hearing to get feedback from members next week.

The hearing is set for Nov. 8 (Thursday) at 6:30 p.m. at RA’s headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive). The draft budget is available online and includes a possible $28 increase in assessments.

RA’s Board of Directors is also contemplating a number of policy directives, including passing on credit card fees for processing members’ and nonmembers’ payments from the organization to individuals. Other issues before the board include expanded health benefits for employees, overall compensation packages and merit-based salary increases.

The first year of the 2018-2019 budget was approved last year. The second year will be approved by the board in mid-November.

Photo via Reston Association/YouTube

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