RA Central Services Facility Designated as Wildlife Sanctuary

The Northern Virginia chapter of the National Audubon Society has certified Reston Association’s Central Services Facility as a wildlife sanctuary. The certification recognizes properties that promote citizen participation to conserve and restore local natural habitats.

Here’s more about the certification from the Northern Virginia chapter:

“The largest volume of acreage available for conservation and restoration of healthy green space in Northern Virginia is “at home” in our own backyards. Incentives for participation include making a difference in aiding the environment and pride in property certification and registration as an ‘Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary.'”

A native plant garden at the facility serves as a “demonstration site to educate Metro developers on how native plants can be integrated into areas near transportation stations,” RA noted in a weekly newsletter.

File photo

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Flash Flood Watch Today — In a flashback to yesterday’s weather alert, the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch in effect from 2 p.m. through the evening today (June 18). Thunderstorms and heavy rainfall are expected throughout the region. [Fairfax Alerts]

Local Wealth Advisory Firm Acquired — Reston-based financial and investment advisory firm MTX Wealth Management LLC has been acquired by Cleveland-based MAI Capital Management LLC. MTX’s nine employees will transition to work for MAI out of its offices at 11710 Plaza America Drive. [Washington Business Journal]

Design Review Board Reviews Colts Neck Underpass — Reston Association’s independent agency will review a proposal by Ben Volta to transform the underpass into public art. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at RA headquarters. [Reston Association]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Reston Association to Host ‘World’s Largest Swimming Lesson’

Reston Association will host the 10th annual “World’s Largest Swimming Lesson” at Lake Newport this month.

The event, which is set for Thursday, June 20, is a global public relations event that encourages the worldwide aquatics industry to build awareness about water safety and awareness.

The initiative was started by the World Waterpark Association in 2010, according to its website. It is set for 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.

In a Reston Today video, Willa Suter, RA’s aquatics program manager, hopes the event at Lake Newport will be a success.

Video via Reston Today/YouTube

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Taste of Reston and More This Weekend in Reston

Our weekend pick is Taste of Reston — Northern Virginia’s largest outdoor festival — which kicks off today and runs until tomorrow (Saturday).

Here’s a recap off the festival, which will bring food vendors, local restaurants, and others together for two days of food-related fun.

Parking will be free during the event.

Tomorrow (June 15)

  • Family Fun Entertainment Series (10-10:45 a.m.) — Enjoy the Uncle Devin Show, an interactive musical experience, that takes kids on a magical journey through the land of percussion. Parking is free on weekends at Reston Town Center.
  • Stop-motion animation workshop (1-3 p.m.) — Exhibiting artist Stephanie Williams will lead workshop participants on stop-motion animation at the Greater Reston Arts Center. Registration is $30 and all materials are included.
  • Trip to Nationals vs. AZ Diamondbacks Baseball Game (2:15-8:15 p.m.) — Reston Association is organizing a trip to Nationals Park. Registration is $54 for RA members and $62 for all others.
  • Bookworms Club (11 a.m.) — Young readers will dive into “PAR-TAY!: Dance of the Veggies” at this weekly bookclub. Younger readers are welcome to join at any time.
  • Summerbration Fun Brunch (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) — Enjoy flow circus at the Reston Station Plaza in this free event for all ages. Parking is free on weekends in the Metro Parking garage.

Sunday (June 16)

  • Bird Walk (7:30-10:30 a.m.) — Beginner and expert birders are invited to scout for birds in this walk, which is cosponsored by Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and The Bird Feeder store. Registration is not required and the walk is for adults only.
  • Summerbration Fun Brunch (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) — Meddle in mad science during this free event at Reston Station Plaza. Parking is free on weekends in the Metro Parking garage.
  • Chess Club for Kids (2-3 p.m.) — Learn tactics and end game strategies at Reston Regional Library. Players of all strengths are welcome to join.
  • How to Stand Out in the College Admissions Process (2-3 p.m.) — InGenius Prep will give a presentation on how to standout in the admissions process, and Susan Shifflet, a former assistant director of admissions at Yale, will also offer her insights.

Photo by Don Renner

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During Special Meeting, Reston Association Mulls Fixes to Covenants and Design Review Process

(Updated at 2:57 p.m.) Reston Association’s covenants department is once again contemplating ways to streamline its services and address staffing issues.

At a special meeting yesterday (June 13) between its Board of Directors, the Design Review Board and other staff, Anna Donato, RA’s director of covenants administration, suggested temporary fixes, including starting design and review meetings at an earlier time and editing guidelines to allow more DRB projects to be completed without applications.

The suggestions are part of an effort to improve the covenants’ departments services and create more room for staff to complete property inspections, address home resale requests, and other issues not directly within the purview of the DRB.

The DRB is primarily focused on preserving the architectural integrity of Reston Association properties, while covenants typically involve issues related to  use and maintenance, which refers to the physical condition of properties. Covenants staff also provide support to the DRB, which is an independent agency within RA that reviews exterior improvements of properties within RA.

Richard Newlon, the DRB’s chairman, said that diluting the DRB’s role and process by limiting staff support or curtailing the DRB’s function is not sustainable fix for the “systemic problem” and “staffing crisis” that faces the covenants department.

New needs have changed the role of the covenants department over the last decade. The level of detail required for DRB applications has increased significantly and decision letters are much more details — departing from the days when applications were stamped with an “approved” label. Furthermore, redevelopment had generated more applications and RA recently started requiring its own properties to go through the DRB process.

Last year, the DRB processed 2,097 applications — up from 1,904 in 2016 and 1,835 in 2017.

Donato said workload increases justify the need for one full-time inspection, one full-time cluster specialist, and two vehicles to perform services, including property inspections.

Issues facing covenants staff have been a topic of discussion for at least a decade. 

In October 2017, staff contemplated ways to address covenants requests. In 2006, a study commissioned by RA assessed the efficiency, processes and organizational structure of the covenants department. 

That study by BDO Seidman LLP was brought to the attention of Donato several weeks ago. It laid out several problems with the department, including high turnover, no standardized training process for new hires, lack of retention, and significant manual and duplicated efforts.

The report suggested that the department clarify its goals and mission, revise its recruiting process and improve the department’s overall performance levels.

At-large Director Ven Iyer said he was concerned that RA’s covenants policies were driving away residents. In some cases, covenant inspectors flag longstanding issues that previous inspectors have not acknowledged — leaving some members to foot the bill of unanticipated issues.

Some RA members say the covenants process needs more teeth and consistency.

For example, when John Robinson bought his home, he says a covenants advisor listed necessary repairs required by the seller less than a week before closing.

“The structure is inherently broken if they can only create problems during the sale process and are not empowered to fix them,” Robinson said.

W. Neal Roseberry, a DRB member, disputed Iyer’s comments that RA’s design covenants were causing residents to move out. He said RA’s policies are designed to maintain property values and a desirable community.

RA’s CEO Hank Lynch said that he stands by covenants staff who work hard in stressful circumstances. He also stated that discussions about the report by BDO was “counter-productive.”

“If you don’t like the rules, go live somewhere else,” said Charlie Hoffman of the DRB said.

Discussions on solutions going forward will continue in the coming months.

In introductory remarks during the meeting, Cathy Baum, RA’s board president, also called out Reston Now for “irresponsible” reporting on issues facing the covenants department.

Baum, who is an elected by RA members, incorrectly stated that a Reston Now story left the impression staff had been interviewed for the story — even though the story explicitly stated staff remarks were referenced from a May 23 board meeting.

Reston Association also took issue with a recent poll about members’ experiences with the covenants department. Baum accused Reston Now of using the poll to “stir the pot of negative comments.”

“Irresponsible journalism or journalists have no place in this community,” she said.

Baum did not contact Reston Now about her concerns, although RA’s spokesperson contacted Reston Now about the poll, which he stated was being used to “drive comment engagement.”

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Poll: How Would You Rate Your Experience with Reston Association’s Covenants Process?

Reston Association’s covenants department is working on ways to streamline the way it handles daily activities and spend more time on neighborhood inspections.

At a meeting on Thursday, June 13, RA’s Design Review Board and Board of Directors will meet to discuss possible changes to its current operations.

As we head into the work session, we want to hear about your experiences with RA’s home resale and covenants process. We are accepting responses via email at [email protected].

Also, readers are welcome to share how their experiences with the covenants process has been in the poll below.

Photo via Jill Silton

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As Needs Evolve, Reston Association Struggles to Handle Covenants Workload, Property Inspections

It’s no secret that Reston Association’s covenant process, which maintains design standards for Reston properties, is often arduous and unwieldy.

In order to better administer the process, RA’s Design Review Board and Board of Directors are calling a special meeting to explore ways to improve covenant administration, reduce staff workload, and sort through staffing issues. The two boards will meet on Thursday (June 13) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. to address lingering concerns.

At a May 23 board meeting, RA’s CEO Hank Lynch said the organization is “overworking” its covenants staff, who spend most of their time processing applications for the DRB. The panel has jurisdiction over issues related to architectural integrity of properties.

That leaves less than a full working day to conduct property inspections, respond to requests for home resales, and ensure the physical condition of properties, including vegetation, is up to standard.

“I do feel strongly that we are not out there enough,” said Anna Donato, RA’s director of covenants administration.

Staff must inspect thousands of properties spread out over 11 square miles, according to RA. Walkthroughs by a team of RA staff can take up to a year for each of the 134 clusters RA oversees.

Donato said the department has also struggled to retain staff, who are working hard to maintain “100 percent customer satisfaction.”

The issue is only expected to get more complex as more properties in the community age and the need for maintenance increases with time.

She suggested the following measures to decrease workload and reprioritize projects:

  • Reduce the number of DRB applications submitted
  • Improve process of submitting DRB applications to provide more flexibility
  • Spend less time on DRB panel meetings and reallocate it toward more inspections and working with clusters
  • Perform inspections for use and maintenance only — which covers the physical condition and use of properties
  • Grant staff the authority to perform more and recheck neighborhood inspections

RA plans to distribute a marketing video to illustrate the challenges it faces. In the video, an RA staff member warns that failing to catch up on inspections and decrease workloads could result in permanent consequences.

“Otherwise the job of keeping Reston looking like Reston will become a distant reality,” the video states.

Photo via Jill Silton

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Reston Association Works to Remove Fallen Tree from Lake Thoreau

Reston Association’s employees are working to remove a large tree that collapsed into Lake Thoreau during a recent storm.

Unlike previous trees that were removed with a crane, the tree in Lake Thoreau is being removed with saws and the help of boats.

RA also worked in coordination with a homeowner to make the project happen.

“With every project, we make sure it’s done safely and in a safe manner,” said Ali Khatibi, RA’s Central Services Facility manager, in a recent Reston Today video.

The homeowners association only removes trees on its properties. To request tree removal, residents should call 703-437-7658.

Video via Reston Today/YouTube

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Reston Boat Rentals — Williams Peterson, the watershed manager for the Reston Association, has information for Restonians about summer boat rentals, including single canoes and kayaks. New this year, boat rentals will be available on July 4 and Labor Day weekend. [Reston Association/YouTube]

Lake Anne ES Students Protecting the Planet — “Lake Anne Elementary’s Eco-School team was invited to present at the second annual Student Innovation Showcase… students were able to share their work on protecting the environment.” The school will receive $2,581.82 in grants this spring for to improve the existing learning gardens, create an herb garden and composting system, create a nature trail and more. [Fairfax County Public School]

Office Evolution Coming to Herndon — “Office Evolution is now bringing what it calls a workplace revolution to Herndon with a 6,400 square-foot center on Van Buren Street that opened on Mar. 15, becoming the company’s second franchise in Fairfax County along with an existing Tysons Corner location.” [Fairfax Times]

Herndon Students Say “Au Revoir” to French Immersion Program — “May 31 [was] an occasion of mixed feelings for everyone involved with Herndon Elementary School’s French immersion program. Past and present students, teachers, and parents [gathered] that day to celebrate the program’s 30th anniversary, but the event [was] a final send-off, as Herndon Elementary will no longer offer French immersion after this academic year ends in June.” [Fairfax Times]

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Reston Association Board of Directors Prep for Upcoming Budget Season

Reston Association’s Board of Directors is seeking suggestions from members on the upcoming 2020-2021 budget.

The development of the budget process kicked off on May 23 with the adoption of the budget calendar.

For the rest of the year, RA’s board, staff and members will draft the upcoming budget, which heads to the board for approval in November.

The budget approval schedule is available online. Tentatively, public hearings are set for Sept. 26 and Oct. 24.

RA runs on a biennial budget divided into two parts: the operating budget and the capital budget. Assessments rates are calculated based on the total spending allocation for both budgets.

Members can fill out the suggestion form — which is available online — and email to [email protected]. The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, June 18.

File photo

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Pool Closures Continue as Reston Association Looks to Hire More Lifeguards

Several of Reston Association’s 15 pools will be closed for the second weekend in a row due to a shortage of lifeguards. The association is working actively to hire more lifeguards and closed some pools this weekend due to safety precautions.

After closures over Memorial Day weekend, all aquatics facilities except Lake Thoreau pool, were open as scheduled during the weekdays. Lake Thoreau’s pool opened Thursday evening after shattered glass was found inside the pool over the weekend. RA believes the pool was vandalized.

The following pools will be closed tomorrow (June 1):

  • Autumnwood
  • Golf Course Island
  • Lake Audubon
  • Newbridge
  • Shadowood

The following pools will be closed on Sunday (June 2):

  • Dogwood
  • Golf Course Island
  • Shadowood
  • Tall Oaks

In a statement, RA’s CEO Hank Lynch apologized for the closures.

“Like many community and recreational associations in our area, RA is trying to meet the challenge of hiring staff for various summertime positions,” he wrote.

RA will host one or two job fairs to hire staff for its pools, typically high school and college students. The organization adjusts its seasonal pool schedule to coincide with the availability of students who are off from school. Interested applicants can apply online.

Photo by Leslie Sogandares

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Reston Association Grapples with Lifeguard Shortage for Pools

Several pools suddenly closed over the holiday weekend when Reston Association announced that it did not have enough lifeguards to staff several of the 15 pools the organization manages.

Now, RA is moving aggressively to hire more lifeguards ahead of the weekend in what is becoming an annual and familiar staffing challenge. The problem was exacerbated by several lifeguards who called in sick over the weekend, according to RA.

In the past, RA has changed the staffing structure so that lifeguards are standalone positions. Duties previous performed by lifeguards are separated into other positions like desk attendant and pool operator. Staff are also exploring increasing the pay for lifeguards and changing the pool schedule for peak hours.

There are many competing opportunities for summer employment in this area to include summer internships, family schedules and vacations, restaurants, other services and with growth in the area other summer jobs are available at a higher salary. Ten years ago, this was not the case, a lifeguarding job was sought out with our roster filled and substitutes waiting for an opportunity for a full time role,” Mike Leone, RA’s director of communications, marketing and member services wrote in s statement to Reston Now.

RA is hiring for 200 full-time lifeguards positions and unlimited substitute positions. So far, 156 people have applied.

Leone also attributed the shortage to an overall reduction in the number of teens between age 16 and 19 who are actively participating in the workforce. 

But staffing was not the only reason that pools closed over the weekend.

All pool are currently open, but Lake Thoreau’s pool remains closed after staff found broken glass bottles on the deck and in the pool over the weekend. RA believes vandalism happened sometime between the overnight hours of Friday to Saturday.

The pool will reopen once a scuba diver inspects the facility and clears it for reopening. Divers are expected to begin work early this week, but it’s unclear when the pool will reopen.

Uplands lap pool also closed temporarily after some equipment failed over the weekend. The issue has now been resolved and all areas of the pool are now open.

In a statement, RA’s CEO Hank Lynch apologized for the closures.

“Like many community and recreational associations in our area, RA is trying to meet the challenge of hiring staff for various summertime positions,” he said.

So far, no changes to the weekend pool schedule are proposed. RA plans to update members about the weekend schedule as the week progresses.

A job fair to recruit more lifeguards is set for Thursday (May 30) at 6 p.m. at Newbridge Pool and June 13 at 4 p.m. at Lake Newport Pool.

RA’s recruitment strategy also includes emailing local sports groups, working with local universities, turning to social media, and providing information during community events.

File photo

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Working Group Dives into Enforcement and Oversight Issues on Lakes, Boats and Docks

A working group tasked by Reston Association’s Board of Directors to review policies concerning lakes, boats and docks is calling for stricter enforcement of rules and precise language to manage the use of Reston’s lakes.

RA’s lack of consistent enforcement of rules and residents’ lack of knowledge about the association’s governing policies have led to some confusion about the permissibility of uses over the last two years. Reston residents raised several issues about enforcement, outdated policies and environmental impacts two years ago.

After months of discussions and two focus group meetings, the workgroup presented its recommendations to the board on Thursday (May 24). Staff will now analyze the group’s recommendations and return to the board with its assessment of the recommendations in June.

An attempt to increase the maximum percentage of cluster waterfront that can be taken up by moored boats did not gain traction with the workgroup. The contentious issue — which some residents said unreasonably applies rules that RA has not strictly enforced in the past — was left largely undecided. No vote was taken on whether or not to lower or eliminate the boat storage limit, which is currently 50 percent.

The Harbor Point Unit Owner’s Association challenged the 50 percent rule on the grounds that it was unnecessary and contradicts, “Reston’s core values of live, work and play.”

“It is unfair for Reston Association to have adopted the 50 percent rule quite some time ago, not enforce it, and now all of a sudden begin to enforce it,” the association wrote in a statement.

Others said RA needs to step up its efforts to educate Restonians about policies related to boats, docks and lakes. One Harbor Point resident said she did not see any mention of the 50 percent rule in home resale documents when she purchased her condominium unit.

RA may need to turn to volunteer “Lake keepers” to help address monitoring and enforcement issues like permit inspections, boat maintenance and the safe operation of boats. The group suggested RA work with volunteers to patrol lakes, monitor conditions and work with residents to report violations and address problems.

Much of the discussion centered around updating outdated definitions.

The report encourages RA to adopt U.S. Coast Guard definitions for the maximum size of deck boats, as well as restrictions on boat motors that have a forward thrust of 130 pounds or a maximum rating greater than five horse power.

The group also directed RA to clarify the definitions of docks and boats. Residents can take advantage of current definitions, which can be used interchangeably, the group noted.

In the report, the group also asked RA to differentiate between hand-carried boats and permanently moored boats. RA currently does not distinguish between the two categories. The board also recommended a maximum of two boats per lakefront property for mooring seasonally.

In an effort to step up enforcement of violations, the group also recommended that staff board boats if permits are not clearly visible. However, the group removed language that stated RA staff could request proof of residency.

Commercial uses of the last must be approved by RA’s board, including boats rented by RA members to non-members, the group recommended.

The complete report is available online.

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Reston Association Board Appoints Britt to Fill Vacated Seat

Reston Association’s Board of Directors appointed Doug Britt to fill a seat vacated by former director Sridhar Ganesan last month.

Britt, an environmentalist who led the team by the organization’s first RA’s State of the Environment Report (RASER), was appointed as an at-large director late last week during the board’s meeting.

The term will run through April 2020 because Britt was appointed by the board. The final year of the seat will be up for election next year.

He says engaging with focus groups can help stave off perceptions that decisions are pushed arbitrarily by a select group of people.

“You have to do the work upfront,” Britt told the board on Thursday.

Edward Abbott, a Reston resident of 39 years and chairman of RA’s elections committee, also applied to be considered for the position.

Britt, a Reston resident of 44 years, has a background in life sciences and resource management.

In addition to leading the RASER project, Britt has served as a volunteer stream monitor, worked at Walker Nature Center events, and helped draft Reston’s application to become a biophilic city.

He currently serves on RA’s Environmental Advisory Committee.

Photo courtesy Reston Association

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Lifeguard Shortage Prompts Pool Schedule Change — RA changed the schedule of its pools over the weekend due to an unexpected shortage of lifeguards. The organization is actively hiring lifeguards for this year’s season. A job fair is set for Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at a local pool. [Reston Association]

The Washington Post Releases Endorsements for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors — The paper endorsed Walter Alcorn for the seat of Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, calling him a “formidable land-use expert.” [The Washington Post]

INOVA Blood Drive is Today — Stop by the bloodmobile truck next to the pavilion at Reston Town Center to date blood between 1 and 6 p.m. today. Registration is available online and on site. [Reston Town Center]

Explore Reston Association’s Home Inspection Process — Dive into the exterior inspection process that is required by RA before selling your home. [Reston Today]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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