News and notes from Reston (tm).

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why Is The RA Considering Buying Its Old Visitors Center? Location, Location, Location

Visitors center
The Reston Association is looking to reclaim its former visitors center, announcing last week that it intends to go through a referendum process this spring to purchase the 2.5-acre property adjoining Lake Newport.

There are a few minor issues, including the fact that the RA doesn't know the current value of the property or what they'd use it for. But it's got a sweeeet parking lot and is currently zoned for a "convenience store," so maybe we could see a convenient "grossery" for folks living on the fancypants north side of Baron Cameron, assuming that North Restoners ever slum it by purchasing Slurpies or similar non farm-to-table fare. Maybe free-range jerky?

But we digress. Give us some good blockquote, BFFs at Reston Now:

The RA Board on Thursday unanimously passed a motion to authorize a referendum on the purchase this spring.

Members would vote on whether RA should purchase the building, which is set on 2 1/2 acres off of Baron Cameron Avenue.

The building was constructed in 1982, and for nearly two decades served as a visitors center to familiarize people with Reston, particularly the North Point area as it was constructed.

The 3,200-square-foot building is currently the headquarters of Tetra Partners, a commercial real estate firm. Tetra approached RA about purchasing the property about a year ago, said RA president Ken Knueven.

The property would be a natural fit for RA as it abuts several other RA properties. Among them: Browns Chapel Park, Lake Newport Dam and Lake Newport Tennis. The building also has a 50-foot extension into Lake Newport.
Kind of like a game of Monopoly, only we're assuming that they won't be putting houses or hotels on it.
“This seems like a wonderful opportunity to get control of a piece of property that could, over time, be subjected to a lot of pressure as surrounding areas develop,” Lake Anne/Tall Oaks Director Eve Thompson said at Thursday’s board meeting. “It would be better to have that in our control and have the land used in a manner appropriate to its setting.”
It may actually be a smart move: The current owners approached the RA to see if they'd be interested in buying the property, presumably thinking the RA would be a better neighbor than a random developer. If the RA doesn't buy the land, the land will likely be designated for office or community space in the ongoing master plan revisions, meaning something bigger and blockier could ultimately mar Lake Newport. On the other hand, if the property can be used as community space, it could become yet another proposed location for the never-quite-extinguished dreams for a new rec center.

Also, it's definitely a lot smaller -- and presumably cheaper -- than buying Reston National Golf Course, which is an idea that's been floated by the RA should the current zoning unpleasantness there not go the community's way. Would buying one preclude the RA from buying the other?

More questions than answers at this point. The RA Board would formally decide to go forward with the referendum process early next month, followed by public hearings. Referendum ballots would go out in April and be due in early May.

Who knows? Maybe it could become a visitor's center yet again. God knows we certainly have enough new residential properties coming on line to need one.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Frankie Goes to Reston: The Final Days Of The RELAC Referendum

We're down to the final days of the referendum determining whether residents in the neighborhoods around Lake Anne will continue to be required to use RELAC, Reston's awesome jet-age lake-powered cooling system. It follows a similar referendum in 2005, which failed narrowly.

For the referendum to pass, a two-thirds majority of affected homeowners will have to vote "yes." If it succeeds, RELAC will continue to be an option, but homeowners will get to choose whether they want to use the system without a doctor's note, a little like the way we used to get permission to bring in AC units in college. The quorum details were at first a bit vague, given that the Reston Association sent out a clarification that the quorum requires two-thirds of only the members who cast votes, not all 343 households who received ballots earlier this month. The RA has a fun fact sheet if you're into such things.

The Reston Citizens Association has come out in favor of the referendum.

Sridhar Ganesan, President of RCA stated: “While clearly many people around Lake Anne still like and want RELAC because it seems to serve their purposes, it is also clear that a number of people have not been happy with the system, the costs and other burdens that they feel it imposes on them. RELAC is a system as old as the Lake Anne community. Not only would the investment in that system have been fully paid for, today’s technologies have surely far surpassed RELAC's. Many of us on the RCA Board as well as members sympathize and feel that after all these decades of using and paying for the operation of that system, those that would like to opt out of RELAC and pursue other alternatives should have the Choice to do so."...

If the referendum passes then everyone will get a fair choice. It is a matter of fairness in allowing choice in the important area of comfort. This will require that 2/3 of those voting will agree to choice for RELAC 's involuntary subscribers by voting yes. Vote yes even if YOU are happy with your summer cooling. Consider your neighbor across the street/lake/cul-de-sac who may not have the same experience.

Mass exodus from RELAC is highly unlikely as conversion costs are a major factor, but to imprison anyone in a system that does not work for them is ... well, unkind. Kindness and fairness is crucial to maintaining the fabric of our community. Forcing bondage to an antiquated monopoly is not kind, fair or necessary.
Meanwhile, John Lovaas says in a column that an RA Board member is actively encouraging residents to vote "no" on the referendum.
In addition to singing the praises of the aging RELAC and arguing with homeowners favoring change, the Board member has even resorted to what I would call fear tactics, by suggesting that if the referendum were approved and some homes convert to conventional air conditioning, the electricity serving the area may be overwhelmed. In one of many emails, the Board member said, “I have a concern our 50 year old junction line will not handle the load.” There is no such problem.

In fact, Dominion supplies more than adequate power and would be delighted to sell even more electricity around Lake Anne if it were needed. When asked, Dominion, in fact, said as much.
The unnamed board member is well within their rights to voice their opinion, just as others are well within theirs to argue that the system doesn't work for them, if by "work" you mean "cools the house to under 80 degrees on a hot summer day."

Free From 15 posted some of the arguments against making a change that may have convinced voters to maintain the status quo in the 2005 referendum. "Sadly, their dire predictions about costs came true because their opposition destroyed the chance for competition, which we believe is the only realistic way to lower costs for everyone," the site argues.

Deadline for ballots is 5pm this Friday. While most of the households impacted by the decision likely voted as soon as uniformed federal agents delivered the ballots to their homes, it might not be a bad idea to check the stack of Reston-related mail piling up in your sunken living room, the end.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Reston: The Rise of the Machines

Reston the Magazine
Either Reston: The Magazine just got real meta, or all our "jokes" about DRB drones are about to come to fruition. After all, what better way to introduce our new overlords than a glossy magazine spread, under the guise of a fun family event?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Caddyshackpocalypse Now: BZA Hearing Hinges on Scooby Doo Plot Point

BZA shocker
Yesterday's Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on the future of Reston National Golf Course was a doozy, stretching out for more than five hours. The BZA has deferred a decision on whether the golf course property can be considered as zoned for residential development instead of permanent open space until April 15. But who knew the property owners are basing the crux of their argument on whether a yellowing document from 1971 had the correct stamp? Give us some good blockquote, BFFs at Reston Now:

After RN Golf’s side gave a long saga of trying to locate the original documents — which took them through Fairfax County file rooms and Reston Association records, among others — McDermott argued that at least two of the the 1971 documents located came from George Mason University’s planned community archives.
McDermott said without coming from the county with official government stamps, the documents are not valid.

“You must be persuaded you be persuaded [by Fairfax County zoning] to respect and give greater dignity to unapproved plans from an unapproved source,” said McDermott. “They call these the approved development plans. There is not one iota of evidence that they are the approved development plans.”
Zoiks, Scooby! As of now, there's no truth to the rumor that the seal was STAMPED IN INVISIBLE INK.

The folks from Rescue Reston argue all this is a diversion, given that Old Man Wilkins was wearing a ghost costume county staff and the Reston Association support their position.
John Pinkman, founder of Rescue Reston, said talk of missing files is a diversion from the real issues.

“When you have a weak position, you create a diversion,” he said. “That diversion is the rabbit hole of suspicion, such as where did docs stamps come from? If you look at the spirit of the community, no one would think of that. I don’t know if there is anyone here in 1971 who said in 40 years there will be a subway here and we have to create the documents to create a loophole.”

Others in attendance said that the BZA told the large crowd that their decision on the haunted amusement park golf course would focus on technical issues, not the impact of a proposed change on nearby property owners or residents (they suggested those arguments would be better served if and when any proposed development goes before the county board of supervisors). That's one reason a decision wasn't made yesterday. Who knows, maybe they're going to squeeze some lemon juice on the documents to see if the INVISIBLE INK appears.

But we digress. We'll have to wait and see what happens next. But it seems clear that the property owners are prepared to leave no legal loophole unturned. But what happens when the developer behind the scenes is finally unmasked?

Zoiks, indeed.

Action McNews coverage (moved to this link because of the stupid autoplay).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Caddyshackpocalypse Now: Tomorrow's BZA Hearing The Beginning of the End, or the Ending of the Beginning

As we gird our land use loins, figuratively speaking, for Wednesday's big showdown on the future of Reston National Golf Course, we're glad that our BFFs at Rescue Reston have broken out their "l33t," as the kids haven't said since 2011, Photoshop skills.

The good news is that Rescue Reston's legal justifications are considerably stronger. Fairfax County's planning staff issued a report urging the BZA to uphold Reston National's designation as permanent open space. Someone, presumably armed with a flashlight and a machete, managed to find the original 1971 planning documents that say the same thing in unambiguous terms. More than 300 people showed up for a rally a few weekends ago, auguring good attendance for tomorrow's public hearing.

A PDF summarizing the legal arguments from Rescue Reston's attorney are here, and you can read the county staff report here. But if all those legal words and whatnot are too complicated, here's a helpful scorecard that RR put together:

Official Lineup
But the hearing is only the first step. If the BZA upholds the current zoning designation, Northwestern Mutual can then proceed with legal action, which is a perfectly sensible thing to do when you're just curious and exploring your options. Especially given, as our BFFs at Reston Now have pointed out, that Northwestern Mutual and Lerner, allegedly the unknown developer behind the massive redevelopment plans curiosity about the status of the land already know the missing documents were found -- and didn't much care:

Subsequent to the submission of this appeal application the development plan copies were located, and the appellant was provided with copies of these development plans, which occurred prior to the initially scheduled public hearing date(s) in 2012.
So is this the beginning of the end for plans to redevelop the golf course, or the ending of the beginning of a protracted legal battle? We'll find out soon enough.

Logistical information about tomorrow morning's hearing from Rescue Reston is here. They're still urging as many people as possible to attend, which strikes us as a pretty good idea, the end.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Gapocalypse Now: Is Reston's Treasured Midscale Chain Retail Being Driven Out By Slightly More Upscale Midscale Chain Retail?

For lovers of midscale chain Americana and planned communities -- but only when they are combined together in a you-got-your-Macaroni Grill-in-my-fanciful-concrete-bollard! sort of way -- it's been a tough couple of months here in Reston.

Following the abrupt closure of the Macaroni Grill and its corporate carb-dispensing sibling Chilis within weeks of each other, our BFFs at Reston Now inform us that Gap and Gap Kids will be leaving Reston Town Center before the end of the month. According to the article, the store's lease was not renewed by Boston Properties, the owner of all things RTC, meaning that the last sweater will be compulsively refolded by staff in the next week or so.

Being "web loggers" ever in search of the next HOT TAKE, we've noticed that when midscale chain purveyors leave RTC, they're often replaced by slightly more upscale midscale chain purveyors. Consider Uno's -- the midscale chain product of America's most midscale big city, Chicago. They were given the heave-ho for twee comfort food emporium Ted's Bulletin -- which, as people pointed out at the time, was a trade-off between an affordable place frequented by teenagers and pricey homemade pop tarts frequented by... people who can afford pricey homemade pop tarts. And Eddie Bauer, itself on the nice side of midscale, has been replaced by some... we dunno.. fancy perfume place? And this isn't even getting into all the cupcakeries, saladries, etc., etc. that have flocked to RTC.

It gets worse. We're old enough to remember when RTC was home to a -- wait for it -- Ruby Tuesday's, like some dying shopping mall in an aging Rust Belt exurb. Quel horreur! We'll just sit here waiving the smelling salts under our notes and dreaming of our promised chocolate bar.

It's all part of a worrisome trend that is making us wonder where we'll be able to park our Ford Focus (and lest we forget, RTC has hinted that we may have to pay for parking at some point in the future). And we can only assume that midscale Macaroni Grill will soon be replaced by the slightly more upscale midscale Cheesecake Factory (although the fact that they sell advertising in their menus keeps them squarely in Ford Focus territory).

Of course, the CVS that's now open in RTC is the counterfactual to this HOT TAKE theory. But we haven't been; maybe they only sell spritzers and artisanal root beer instead of sodas. And generics? Climb into the Focus and drive to a less pricey Zip code, the end.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Salt in the Wounds: Despite Hopeful Article, Macaroni Grill Probably Not to Return

Picture, if you will, the roller coaster of emotions experienced at Restonian World Headquarters over the weekend when we fired up our Internet browsing machine of choice and saw this exciting headline:

The headline should probably have been a tad larger -- maybe not quite as large as GERMANY SURRENDERS, but close. Yet our hearts soared, or more accurately, raced erratically in anticipation of carb-intensive happiness. But soon, our spirits (and blood pressure) sank.

Alas, it is (probably) not to be. The basis for the article is the fact that some job listings for the late great Reston Macaroni Grill are still being posted to a job site.

A recent job ad, posted Dec. 29 states the the company is seeking a manager for a Macaroni Grill restaurant in Reston. Other ads placed Dec. 30 show they are looking for bussers, line chefs and dishwashers.

An employee at the Macaroni Grill in Alexandria said there is no restaurant in Reston and none planned. No one answered the phone at owner Ignite Restaurant Group in Houston.

Yet, ads have been placed in the past 10 days.
The most logical explanation? The ads were scheduled well in advance of the December 18 closing, which by all accounts took employees by surprise. Or, given the normal turnaround in the restaurant industry, the ads are just set to post on auto-pilot on a regular basis by a HR manager who hasn't gotten around to turning them off yet.

Meanwhile, an online fundraiser for the abruptly terminated employees has raised more than $1800 at last count.

Sadly, we have to say this is only a final tragic rage against the dying of the light, if by "light" you mean "tablecloths you can draw on with crayons."

Salt, meet wounds -- and the last thing our until-recently Macaroni Grill-intensive diet needs now is more salt. And so it is with a heavy, sclerotic heart that we keep the minute hand of the Macaroni Grill Doomsday Clock (tm) firmly set at midnight.