Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reston Master Plan Special Study Phase II

Last Friday was the deadline to submit comments for Phase II of the Reston Master Plan Special Study. Terry Maynard summed up the thoughts we hear most often in his cover letter to the County:

“A theme that runs throughout these coordinated comments is that Restonians generally like suburban Reston the way that it is and believe few changes should be made.”  He continues: “We offer some flexibility in the village center mixed-use areas.  We also lay out some general requirements for any future redevelopment.  All of our ideas are driven by the Reston Vision and Planning Principles approved by the Reston Task Force and incorporated in the Comprehensive Plan.”

Read the ideas about planning needs for Phase 2 of the Reston Master Planning effort from RCA’s independent committee, Reston 2020.

Rescue Reston submitted comments also. Reston National Golf Course is not the focus of the Phase II study, but it is a good opportunity to publicly thank our County Supervisors for their support to date. It also allows us to remind developers how positive it is to have this tax-free amenity so close to Reston residents and office workers.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@RCAreston), and subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll keep you posted as new information from the Phase II Special Study comes available.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Thank You to All of RCA’s Volunteers

by RCA Board Member Connie Hartke

An all-volunteer organization such as RCA faces the same challenge as volunteers everywhere. We take vacations, many have day jobs, some have young folks in their lives; some have eldercare responsibilities. Life events happen.  Phase II of the Reston Master Plan comments are due. Life in Reston is not quiet.

So when someone else does a part of our job for us, we really appreciate it!

In this week’s Reston Connection, John Lovaas, wrote about the “Changing of the Guard at Reston Citizens Association.” He writes an outstanding farewell to our outgoing Board Members while also giving a synopsis of the 46-year history of RCA. Be sure to take a moment to read page 5 of the paper version or the online version here.

Lovaas gives a very clear explanation of the difference between Reston Association (RA) and RCA – a topic we’ve been planning to turn into a 411 series document. Thanks to John, we now have the outline for it! 

Our three new board members bring a range of abilities that should serve us well moving into Reston’s next 50 years. 

Dennis Hays will bring some diplomacy that should be useful as we navigate growth with our local government, Fairfax County.  He is a former ambassador to Suriname and past president of the Reston Runners (with 800+ members). He also serves on the boards of Community Living Alternatives and the Friends of Reston Regional Library.

Robin Hogan has been my right arm at Rescue Reston for the last two years.  Her experience will serve RCA well as we increase our activities and keep Restonians aware of who we are and how we can help represent your interests. She is VP of Communications for Rescue Reston.

Hank Schonzeit has always been an active volunteer in the Reston communities that he has lived in. He has followed the Reston Master Plan progress, and wrote an insightful article after one of the Task Force meetings last year.  As a retired healthcare system executive, supporting the health and well-being of the community he lives in is second nature.

We welcome your input and queries and hope to soon have an easy way for you to email your Board representative directly.  Subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll keep you informed each month on our projects. Be one of our volunteers and help preserve the Reston we love.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

RCA Election: Sridhar Ganesan Elected President Together With New Board Members

Reston Citizens Association (RCA) today announced the election of Sridhar Ganesan, who was elected to RCA’s Board from Reston’s North Point District, as President and the election of four other directors to its Board for the year 2014-15.

John Hanley, Hunters Woods District director, was re-elected by the Board as RCA’s Vice President, a position that he has held for the past two years. Board Member Nick Georgas was elected as Secretary and Joe Leighton was reelected to the position of Treasurer.

Incumbent Hunters Woods District Director Constance Hartke was re-elected to the Board.

Dennis Hays was elected to the Board as an At Large Director.

Hank Schonzeit joined the Board as a new Director from Town Center/Lake Anne/Tall Oaks District, while Robin Hogan also joined the board as a new Director from South Lakes District.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

President Colin's Farewell

By RCA President Colin Mills

This is it.  After three years as President of the Reston Citizens Association, having written weekly about community issues for Reston Patch and Reston Now since August 2011, this is my final column.  RCA is in the process of counting and verifying the results from our recent election.  When the Board sits down to meet next Monday, someone else will be sworn in as President, and my three years in charge will officially come to an end.

Now that I’ve reached the end of the road with RCA, I have mixed emotions.  On some level, I’m sorry to be stepping down; it’s still a very exciting time in Reston, between the Silver Line’s (finally scheduled) opening, the further revisions to the Master Plan, the question of how we’ll meet our community’s transportation, recreational, and environmental needs as we redevelop and grow in the future.  I feel that RCA will have a key role to play in those community conversations, and I’m sorry I won’t be there to guide the organization on those issues.

On the other hand, I also feel more than a little relieved.  The schedule of meetings, emails, and other ancillary duties is tough on someone with a family.  I’m really excited about getting to spend more time with my wonderful wife Jennifer and my amazing daughter, Leslie.  And I also look forward to having the chance to tackle something new.  I’m the kind of guy who likes to look ahead to the next challenge, the next hill to climb, and now I’ll have a chance to do just that.

I’m proud of all that RCA has accomplished in the last 3 years under my leadership.  When I took over as president, I wanted RCA to have a much stronger voice on Reston’s political and social issues.  We succeeded.  In the last three years, RCA has informed and advocated for our citizens on a wide variety of issues, from the funding of the Silver Line to the rewriting of our Master Plan to the funding and administration of County libraries to the re-planning of Baron Cameron Park.  Our Reston 2020 Committee has become a widely-recognized authority on planning, development, and transportation issues.  We held forums, wrote articles, performed analysis, and spoke up in hearings on behalf of Restonians.

Our actions and advocacy could be controversial sometimes, but you know what?  I’m okay with that.  As a community, we’re better off if we’re openly discussing and debating the issues that will shape our future.  We may not always agree, but we’re much better off hashing these things out rather than having our leaders make decisions with no input from an apathetic public.  Reston has long been famous for its active and engaged citizens.  I’m glad RCA has helped perpetuate that tradition, even if it gets a little messy at times.

I’m also proud that RCA has strengthened its ties with other community organizations.  Collaborating with RA and ARCH has helped RCA achieve its goals, but more importantly, it’s helped us all better serve our constituents.  One of my proudest accomplishments with RCA is the joint forum we held about the Master Plan and Reston’s future.  It was the best-attended community meeting I have ever seen, and we did a great job bringing our citizens up to speed and helping them understand how the changes to the Master Plan will affect us as a community.   It was a fine example of what we can achieve by working together. 

I’m also proud to have made the public aware of the fine work our citizen volunteers are doing, both by better publicizing the work of our Reston Accessibility Committee and through our annual Citizen of the Year Award.  In this case, I can take no credit for the work; that’s being done by the volunteers themselves.  But I have been very happy to celebrate and recognize the excellent work that they do on behalf of the community.  If I have helped make Restonians aware of RAC’s tireless efforts to make Reston’s buildings and facilities more accessible for people with disabilities, or of the volunteer efforts of super citizens like Nick Brown, Cate Fulkerson, and Kathy Kaplan, that fills me with pleasure.  It’s inspiring to volunteer in the community alongside people like them.

I’m also proud that I’m leaving RCA in excellent shape.  When the Board sits down on Monday, we’ll have a diverse group of hard-working and dedicated Restonians with different strengths, all of whom are committed to building RCA and helping Reston move forward.  The Board has several people who have the strength, capability, and vision to serve as President, and I’m sure the Board will choose one of them to lead the organization.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what RCA will accomplish under its next leader.

As for me, I promise that I will stay involved in the community.  Reston is in my blood; I love this place, and I am driven to keep serving.  I haven’t decided where my next challenge lies, but you haven’t heard the last of me (decide for yourself if that’s a promise or a threat).  I’ll be around and involved.

I’ll close out my farewell message with a lyric from one of my favorite artists, Warren Zevon:

We'll go walkin' hand in hand
Laughin' fit to beat the band
With our backs turned, looking down the path

Some may have, and some may not
God, I'm thankful for what I got
With my back turned, looking down the path

I don’t know what paths I’ll be heading down in the years ahead.  But it’s summertime, and right now, walking hand-in-hand with my family and watching the fireflies along Reston’s paths sounds like just the ticket.  I’m thankful for my family, and I’m thankful to have had the privilege of serving Reston these last three years as RCA President.  Also, I’m thankful to everyone who reads this column.  If you see me out on the path, be sure to say hi.

Good news, Leslie: Dad’s coming home on time tonight.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Thanks For Voting!

The 2014 RCA elections are now closed.  Thanks for all of you who took the time to vote!  The results have been handed off to the RCA Election Committee, which is responsible for validating and tabulating all of the votes cast.  The Committee will follow established procedures to ensure a fair and accurate count, while working to get the results as quickly as possible.

As soon as the Committee is finished counting the votes, we will post the results on this website, and we will distribute them to the local media for publication.  Check back within the next couple of days for the results.

Thanks for your interest in RCA.  We look forward to serving the citizens of Reston once again in the coming year.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Gang's All Here

By RCA President Colin Mills

Last night, I attended one of my favorite meetings.  I got together with RCA Vice President John Hanley, RA President Ken Knueven and CEO Cate Fulkerson, and ARCH President Jerry Volloy.  We had a couple drinks and talked about the hot issues in Reston, what we’re each working on, and how we can help each other out.  We laughed a lot and teased each other a fair bit, but we left feeling like we understood each other and the community a little better.

This is the Gang of 5.  We’ve been gathering, in various configurations and at various times, for the last two years.  Meeting with the Gang has been one of the highlights of my RCA presidency, and I believe it’s been a great benefit to our organizations and to Reston as a whole.

Our meetings are very informal.  There’s no agenda, no one takes minutes, and Robert’s Rules of Order definitely don’t apply.  It’s a chance for us to let our hair down, say what’s on our minds, smooth out any bumps in the road, and find ways to better serve our constituents.

One of my goals when I became RCA president three years ago was to strengthen our relationship with other Reston organizations.  We’re all serving the community and we share many of the same broad objectives; why shouldn’t we work together more?  If we don’t, we risk duplicating efforts or, worse, fighting where we could collaborate.  We may not agree on everything, but I suspected we might agree on a lot if we sat down and talked things out.

This wasn’t the first effort to bring Reston organizations together.  About 10 years ago, the leaders of many Reston groups formed the Coalition of Reston Organizational Leadership (COROL), to share information about what everyone was working on.  But that effort faded quickly, and since then, our organizations had largely been stuck in their silos.  Too often, we didn’t talk to each other, we didn’t really trust each other, and we spent too much time guarding our own turf instead of looking for ways to help each other.

The “Gang of 5” concept was John Hanley’s idea.  John is a great raconteur, and he believes that big things can happen in casual meetings.  So he proposed a get-together with Jerry, Ken, and then-RA VP Andy Sigle.  Happily, they were all on board.  We met at the now-closed Greenberry’s Coffee shop, and spoke about our organizations, our projects, and our goals for the community.  The relationship bloomed from there.

What have the Gang of 5 meetings accomplished for Reston?  Quite a lot, actually.  We’ve discovered that we’re on the same page about a lot of community issues, and that Reston would benefit from a collaborative effort, a unified citizen voice rather than a Greek chorus of organizations with different messages.  So we’ve sought out opportunities to join forces and present a united front to the community.

In addition to presenting a unified message to the community, joining forces also allows us to take advantage of each organization’s unique strengths.  There are things RCA and ARCH can do that RA can’t, and vice versa.  But by coordinating our plan and backing each other up, we’re able to do the most good for our citizens.

This approach really paid off during the Master Plan Task Force discussions.  RCA, RA and ARCH all had representatives on the Task Force, but like the other citizen representatives, we all had our own separate messages, which paled in comparison to the much more unified efforts of the developer reps.  In our Gang of 5 discussions, we recognized that we shared many of the same goals regarding Reston’s planning and land use, so we decided to work together.

This resulted in a couple of joint statements to the County outlining our goals and concerns, and a joint forum at which we told Restonians how the planning process was going, and let them know what still needed to be done.  The forum drew an overflow crowd of hundreds, and many more watched it at home on YouTube.  That turnout showed the County that the people of Reston were paying attention, and that our message was resonating in the community. 

Did we get everything we wanted in the final plan?  No.  But we did get a lot of our points incorporated, and that wouldn’t have happened without a strong, united campaign by all three organizations on behalf of our constituents.  And that campaign couldn’t have happened without the trust, working relationship, and open discussions that the Gang of 5 made possible.

The Master Plan campaign has been our biggest effort to date, but our collaboration has worked in other ways as well.  For instance, we’ve been brainstorming about ways to better inform and engage the community on issues concerning Reston’s future.  And RA and RCA are also working on reviving Reston’s Sister City relationship with Nyeri, Kenya.

None of this couldn’t have happened if John hadn’t proposed the Gang of 5, or if Jerry, Ken, Cate, and Andy hadn’t been open to pursuing closer ties.  I’m very optimistic that the collaboration will outlive our terms with our respective organizations.  We’ve done a lot of good for Reston in the last couple years, and I believe all of us see the value in continuing that work.

What does the future hold for the Gang of 5?  Ideally, I’d like to see it expand to include other Reston organizations.  There are a lot of groups out there that do good work, and I think the kind of collaboration that RCA, RA, and ARCH have done would only be better if more groups were involved. 

As for me, I’m assured that even after I leave RCA, I will remain an honorary Gangster and will still be welcome at the meetings.  I look forward to seeing my friends again, and I’m delighted that we’ve taken a big step toward better representing the people of Reston.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Springing Forward Into A More Accessible Reston

By RCA President Colin Mills

With the RCA election in full swing (vote now!) and my time as President winding down, I’ve been trying to fill you in on what we’re doing before I depart.  It occurs to me that I haven’t talked about the Reston Accessibility Committee lately.  Happily, Ken Fredgren and his committee are still working hard to make Reston’s commercial buildings and facilities more accessible to people with disabilities.  This week, I’ll bring you up to date on some of their most recent projects.

When I last discussed RAC’s work, I shared the success of a major effort by Ken and other advocates to make Virginia’s building codes friendlier for people with disabilities.  This was a major, multi-year effort, and I’m thrilled that it came to fruition.  But I know the completion of that effort was also something of a relief for RAC’s chair.  He no longer needs to travel back and forth to Richmond, and he’s able to focus his efforts back home in Reston.  That renewed focus is reaping significant benefits for the community.

Because most RAC projects deal with outdoor facilities (parking lots, sidewalks, and the like), construction tends to take place in the warmer months.  This can make winter a somewhat frustrating time for RAC, as progress slows down considerably.  The bright side is that come springtime, there’s often a surge as several projects move forward almost simultaneously.  I will report on three projects in this installment, but there’s more good work in progress.

Two of RAC’s recent successes are actually updates on long-standing projects.  One of them, Hunters Woods Village Center, is actually up for a third go-round.  In 2009, RAC worked with the then-owners to add accessible parking spaces and access aisles, curb cuts, and crosswalks.  When Edens & Avant purchased the center in 2012 and planned to redesign the parking lot, RAC engaged them to ensure that the existing improvements would be preserved.  Not only were the improvements retained, but the accessible spaces were moved closer to the buildings, making them even more convenient.

There was one remaining holdup: At RAC’s suggestion, Edens had promised to add additional accessible spaces to the lot.  Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication with the paving contractor, no additional spaces were added.  Ken maintained a good-faith dialog with Edens, and last month, he found that a new accessible space and access aisles had been added, replacing two regular parking spaces.  Kudos to Ken for his persistence, and to Edens for keeping their word to make Hunters Woods more accessible.

The second project is at Reston Corner, the office park where RA’s headquarters is located.  In 2009, RAC made a series of recommendations for the building at 12007 Sunrise Valley Drive: addition of automatic entrance doors, the addition of access aisles and curb ramps in the parking lot, and an update to the signs on the accessible parking spaces.  The doors were installed, the signs were updated, and the access aisles were added; unfortunately, the contractor didn’t install curb ramps or correct the slope of the accessible spaces.  This meant that people with disabilities could now get out of their cars, but they couldn’t get safely from the accessible spaces to the sidewalk.

RAC met with representatives of Cassidy Turley, the property manager, and made a clever suggestion: add asphalt to the accessible spaces to raise them up to the level of the curb.  This would both fix the slope of the spaces and allow safe access to the sidewalk without having to install curb ramps. Cassidy Turley adopted the suggestion, and last month, they revamped the spaces to make them fully accessible and compliant with ADA regulations.

When Ken drove by the lot to check out the improvements, he spotted a woman helping her mother, who uses a walker, out of the car in one of the improved spaces.  He asked the woman what she thought of the new layout, and she said, “It’s so much better!”  This was a perfect example of how RAC’s efforts make concrete improvements in the lives of people with disabilities.

RAC’s third project deals with Carrabba’s Restaurant.  Ken brought the site to RAC’s attention when he noticed that their parking lot contained only two accessible spaces.  The law requires three accessible spaces for a lot that size, and given Carrabba’s popularity, RAC felt that four spaces would better reflect the need.  The signs on the accessible spaces were also in need of updating.

RAC contacted the restaurant’s owner.  He replaced the signs right away, but said that Carrabba’s corporate headquarters would need to address the accessible spaces.  RAC followed up with corporate, only to discover that the site’s landlord was in charge of the parking lot.  Undeterred, RAC reached out to Dwoskin, the property manager, to follow up.

Happily, Dwoskin was responsive to RAC’s outreach, and made plans to add accessible spaces.  They were scheduled to complete the work early this month; the next time I go for dinner there, I will check it out myself.

All in all, not a bad haul for the past month!  (Of course, all of these successes are the result of months or even years of calls, emails, letters, meetings, and friendly but persistent effort by the RAC team.)  As the warmer weather continues, RAC should have more progress to report soon.

Working with Ken Fredgren and RAC on behalf of Restonians with disabilities has been a highlight of my time with RCA.  Ken is an inspiration and a true friend, and the members of RAC are a pleasure to work with.  That’s why, even though I’m stepping off the RCA Board, I plan to continue working with RAC.  I believe in RAC’s mission, and I want to see their successes continue.

If you share my support for improving access to Reston’s buildings and facilities, I hope that you’ll become a member of RAC.  The bigger RAC grows, the more good they’ll be able to do for the community.  I hope to see you at RAC’s next meeting.