News and notes from Reston (tm).

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Faith in Democracy Restored, Sort Of: $255 Per Vote, Fancy Signs, Not Enough To Buy Election

Walter Alcorn decisively won the shockingly expensive primary for the Democratic nomination for the Hunter Mill seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, garnering nearly 50 percent of the vote (which sounds great, until you realize he got just 5,385 votes in an election that represented an existential debate about the character of local representation in a fast-growing community and then sadness ensues). Laurie Dodd came in a close(ish) second with 2,847 votes, followed by Shyamali Roy Hauth with 1,746 votes. Comstock employee and banner enthusiast Maggie Parker got 1,010 votes, which, given the nearly $260,000 she spent on this election, works out to more than $255 per person who actually voted for her. Primary losers aren't allowed to run in the general election, so this all but assures that Alcorn will be elected to succeed Cathy Hudgins in November.

Between the massive amounts of money all of the candidates spent -- which, with the turnout only roughly half of previous low-turnout Democratic primaries in Hunter Mill, actually works out to more like $50 per person who showed up to vote in what wound up being the highest turnout in the county, and the hilarious First Amendment violations in one of the growing number of private "public" spaces in our community, it's hard to see this as a huge victory for the democratic process, but we'll take it.

Friday, June 7, 2019

How Much Is A Seat On The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Worth? Apparently At Least $420,000, Or $25 Per Vote

Totally normal thing to see atop a county-owned garage in a totally normal local election with totally normal local candidates.

Ahead of Tuesday's primary, the five candidates running for the Democratic nomination for the Hunter Mill seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have raised at least an eye-popping $421,702, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Banner-happy Comstock employee Maggie Parker is responsible for the lion's share -- nearly $260,000, more than $100,000 of which came directly from Comstock or Comstock-related individuals or organizations, not all of whom have, shall we say, left-learning affiliations.

That's a lot of money for... not a lot of voters, at least historically. Looking at county voting records, Hunter Mill district turnout in the 2017 and 2018 Democratic primaries hovered around 15 percent (last year, only a small number of district voters were in the boundaries of the 10th Congressional district, but the percentage of voters was still right around that level). The Hunter Mill board seat wasn't up for grabs either time, so let's be generous and assume all the fancy banners, mailers, and filthy "web logging" about this primary bumps up turnout a little and 20 percent of the eligible voters in Hunter Mill actually Pokemon Go to the polls on Tuesday. If our slide rule calculations hold up, that means for each of the 16,950 expected voters, the candidates will spend at least $25 per vote -- and $15 of that will be from Parker's campaign alone.

It's almost as if a giant developer someone has a financial stake in the outcome of the election! Almost. Actually, we'll give Parker and Comstock credit for falling squarely in the DGAF camp, taking naked advantage of the grey area involving privately owned and operated "public spaces" and providing only the curtest of responses to voter questionnaires. No one can claim to be surprised about what they're voting for, that's for sure, but we're still shocked at the cynically brazen tactics.

Meanwhile today, Fairfax County Chair Sharon Bulova all but threatened legal action against Comstock to allow other candidates to campaign on Reston Station property, saying the company's actions are "clearly wrong and cannot be tolerated."

Unfortunately, since it's the close of business on the Friday before the election, Comstock can claim it didn't receive the letter until the 11th hour and promise, through their director of marketing, that they'll work hard to make sure that First Amendment activities are protected in "the future," once they have their candidate on the board and it doesn't really matter any more.

Filthy neighborhood "web site" Nextdoor took space away from its constant stream of urgent alerts about kids ringing doorbells and distressed furniture sales to post an informal poll, although it only had 70 respondents late Friday afternoon, so take the results with a grain of salt:

Like we've said before, we've always taken comments about the current supervisor being a puppet for developers with an equally large grain of salt. After Tuesday, we may no longer be able to say the same.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

No Carpentry Squares Required: More Quadrilaterals, Weirdly Elevated Tree Coming To Reston Station

Now that, at long last, the fancypants, actually-designed-by-a-real-architect parallelogram rhombus looming over Reston Station’s “civic plaza,” if by “civic” you mean “allowing banner-sized ads for employees running for public office,” finally has an anchor tenant, it’s time to think big! No, we don’t mean a CVS or a hotel or a new burger place or even a pizza joint, but more fancypants office buildings on the other side of the Toll Road that, in the true spirit of Reston’s aging housing stock, eschew 90-degree angles! Give us some exciting unpaywalled blockquote, BFFs at the Washington Business Journal:

The new building, pictured on the left, would complement the existing building at 1900 Reston Metro Plaza. The new building will be developed on part of Commerce Metro Center.
Designed by the same architect — Helmut Jahn — this fancy glass boi looks like it’s leaning across the Toll Road to embrace its transit-oriented bestie. But it’s… different. Different enough that we had to search “Types of Quadrilaterals” to accurately describe the new building and its pals. Turns out the new building is actually the parallelogram, or maybe a rhombus, while the existing one, what with its tapering angles, is technically an isosceles trapezoid. You’re welcome! (We can’t tell what the other proposed buildings on the south side of the Toll Road are, except maybe the less well-known Blocks With Weird Growths category of irregular "quadris," as the nerdy kids in Geometry class maybe called them, once).

So yay! We’ve said before that we’re happy with anything that doesn’t look like an off-the-shelf piece of airport access road architecture, and these are actually… nice!

But wait, what’s that in the top right of the new parallelogram?

A giant tree, or a tree-like An Art, suspended in a glass trapezoid about 10 stories above the Toll Road? A bit on the nose, Comstock, but okay!

But What Does It All Mean? Our BFFs at Reston Station had this to say in a comment to an article at Reston Now:

Much more is coming! The Reston Station neighborhood will include additional dining options (including upscale), as well as entertainment, retail and service offerings to compliment the office, residential and hotels being developed by Comstock. The Reston Station neighborhood covers nearly 40 acres stretching from Sunrise Valley Drive to Sunset Hills Road and when fully built, Reston Station will be one of the largest mixed-use and transit-oriented neighborhoods in the DC region. And with a Metro Station in the middle of the neighborhood, it will be unlike any other neighborhood currently being development at any of the Silver Line stations.
Comstock’s earlier bets on building on spec — a relative rarity in commercial development — seem to be paying off, and already a new, sadly square, office building on the north side of the Toll Road is well underway. And if this weekend’s color scheme is any indication, maybe they’re teasing us again with possible tenants.

Here’s hoping it’s a mustard company!

Friday, May 31, 2019

You Had One Job, RA: Lifeguard Shortage Could Lead to Hellish, Dystopian Future Of Slightly Fewer Pools, Golf Courses, Other Nice Things We Can No Longer Have

Despite the funky architecture in the background, not an actual RA pool.

Over the unofficial first weekend of summer, several Reston Association pools either didn't open or were forced to close. Not to worry, because Memorial Day weekend isn't traditionally a big time for pool-going, but somehow people who pay $693 in annual dues and another $28 for pool passes noticed. What a bunch of whiners! Give us some apologetic blockquote, BFFs at the RA:

Most of the closings were related to a shortage of lifeguards to staff all of RA’s 15 outdoor pools. Some lifeguards called in sick. Additional problems were related to equipment failures and vandalism.

“We apologize for the inconvenience caused by the closing of some pools last weekend,” said the association’s CEO, Hank Lynch. “Like many community and recreational associations in our area, RA is trying to meet the challenge of hiring staff for various summertime positions. With the unanticipated shortage of lifeguards creating a potential safety issue, we felt the most prudent thing to do was to close some pools and invite folks, through our social media channels, to visit one of our several other pools that remained open through the weekend.”

Luckily, it's a week later, so those wacky sitcom mixups have all been addressed. Right?

Oh, wait. By our count, nearly half of RA pools -- 7 of 15 -- will be closed either Saturday or Sunday. Two -- Golf Course Island and Shadowood -- will be closed both days. The RA is working to hire more lifeguards -- they held a job fair on Thursday and have another one scheduled for June 13. According to our BFFs at Reston Now, they've only received 156 applications for 200 full-time lifeguard positions to date, so you can see the isssue. You can apply for a job yourself if you want! Give us some blockquote about those entitled Kids Today, what with their avocado toasts and Tide Pods and whatnot:

“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 a statement to Reston Now.
It's almost as if this long-evolving issue could have been anticipated before Memorial Day. Almost.

Complaining about not being able to go to the nearest swimming pool when there are 14 others you have access to within a short walk or drive is, of course, a First World Planned Community Problem. The problem is that, after past battles to close less-attended pools (looking at you, Tall Oaks), this provides ammunition to "rightsize" more than just a couple of the smallest pools, just like we're hearing arguments, for obviously different reasons, about rightsizing our way out of golf courses that Those Kids Today can't look up from their Snapchats long enough to play a full round at. And yes, you can make the argument that Reston might not need two full-size golf courses (though it definitely needs the open space), or that it doesn't need 15 pools, some of which are small and dated. But at some point, we run the risk of rightsizing our way out of the kinds of amenities that made people want to come to Reston in the first place, and not all the cornhole boards and fire pits in the world will take their place, thanks for coming to our Ted Talk, the end.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

In Hunter Mill Supervisor Race, Bad Looks Abound

We weren't the only ones who were a little surprised that Comstock employee Maggie Parker, who is running for the June 11 primary that will effectively decide who replaces retiring Hunter Mill representative Cathy Hudgins on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, was allowed to plaster building-sized posters of herself, who as we may have mentioned is a Comstock employee, all over Comstock property at and near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station.

What makes it weirder is that Comstock has barred in-person campaigning on its property -- a little dicey given its public-private provenance -- but to be expected in today's climate of "public spaces" that are public in retail name only. Parker, a Comstock employee, told our BFFs at Reston Now that she is "challenging" her management to allow campaigning for one day, and that the giant signs are all fine because they're on "private property."

We'll take her at her word. But if you're an employee of a developer running in a race that, to the extent people are paying attention, is all about the growing backlash to rapid-scale development, plastering your name all over said rapid-scale development seems like... a bad look.

Of course, Parker isn't alone in bad looks. Fellow candidate Walter Alcorn, who won the coveted-in-1987 old-timey Washington Post "news paper" endorsement for, in part, his experience as a planning commissioner and making Tysons walkable (we paraphrase, but just barely), got a little unwanted attention of his own when he returned a couple of donations from the leaders of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a "right-wing, pro-business group."

Again, we'll take him at his word, but the "won't take money from Hunter Mill developers" tagline on his fancy mailers seems... kinda it-depends-on-what-your-definition-of-is-is specific.

So far as we know, Alcorn, Parker, and all the other candidates running for Hudgins' seat --- Laurie Dodd, Shyamali Hauth and Parker Messick -- are fine! They've issued statements opposing efforts to develop Reston's two golf courses, and have said reassuring things in forums and in Q&As. You can even watch them on YouTube! And we're not reflexively anti-development, so we're not immediately suspicious of anyone who isn't talking about returning Reston to its two-lane, nudist colony days.

But it's funny. Over the years, every time one of the commenters on this filthy "web log" would accuse Hudgins of being in developers' pockets -- which happened a lot -- we'd roll our eyes. It's a county board seat, after all, not Tammany Hall! But Alcorn has apparently raised over $71,000, and Parker's giant signs can't be cheap! Stuff like this is enough to make us lose our wide-eyed optimistic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Fair Oaks view of local politics. It's almost as if money, if not talks, at least pays for giant billboards and enough mailers to fell all of Reston's remaining trees for their printing.

But we digress. Parker also told Reston Now that Comstock is willing to sell advertising space to any candidate. We'll just wait to see how much they'll charge us to put a giant 20-by-30-foot version of this fancy poster on the Reston Station parallelogram; we're sure neither the Hunter Mill candidates nor the anchor tenant would mind, the end.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Reston on the Teevee: Relive Carefree, Slightly Less Airborne Pathogen-Free Summer of '89 in Feel-Good Movie of the Year

Three decades after a minor mishap in our plastic fantastic planned community put Reston on the infectious disease map -- literally -- we can all relive the carefree, go-lucky days of 1989 with a movie debuting on the National Geographic channel on Memorial Day.

The fancy trailer for The Hot Zone -- based on the Richard Preston book of the same name -- features more clips of hand-washing and zipped-up biohazard suits than exterior shots of whatever Hollywood thinks Issac Newton Square looks like, but this is the one shot that (we think) gets at the real-world fun of housing a facility full of infectious, dying crab-eating macaques next to a daycare center.

LOL, and be sure to grab the disinfectant spray popcorn before tuning this in on Monday! We're pretty sure the movie won't capture the drab banality of the actual building, which has since been torn down and replaced with yet another daycare center (no truth to the rumor that its mascot is the Fightin' Ebolas). The movie's star -- Ebola Reston, not Julianna Margulies -- has made a few cameo appearances in the years since, most recently in the Philippines. And for added fun that could only happen in the Year of Our Lord 2019, the comments on the YouTube page housing the movie trailer have devolved into a series of anti-vaxxer rants, the end.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Caddyshackpocalypse Now: Reston National Golf Course Sold by Would-Be Developer to Other Would-Be Developers, So Here We Go Again (Updated)

Over the weekend, word got out that Northwestern Mutual has sold an attractive parcel of by-right developable property Reston National Golf Course to two Baltimore developers, who said there's nothing to fear, the golfers are just gonna keep on golfin' (at least for now). Give us some good boilerplate blockquote, BFFs at the Washington Business Journal:

“Billy Casper Golf has been retained to continue managing the golf course with no set plans for the property beyond that at this time,” Marc Weller, founding partner of Weller Development, said in a statement. “Both Weller Development and War Horse are focused on building relationships and working with the communities we serve and we look forward to being part of the Reston community for years to come.”
Of course, "terms were not disclosed," which is key to understanding the developers' intentions. (Update: Sources told the Washington Business Journal on Monday that the sale price is $23.75 million). Remember that as it's tried to unload the property for years, Northwestern Mutual's selling agents have argued that the property, if developed, "could easily be worth more than $200 million" and priced it accordingly.

Rescue Reston cofounder John Pinkman said yesterday that "several golf centric corps wanted to buy the course at or close to selling price. NWM wouldn’t even talk to them. There is no chance that this housing developer has any intention on keeping the course." On social media, Rescue Reston said:

“You bought a golf course and you own a golf course. Period.”
But who knows? Maybe these two developers are really closet golf fans, and just wanted a quiet spot far from the bustle of Baltimore to squeeze in a quick round between deals. Let's check out their fancy "web pages" to see if they have photos of lovingly maintained green space and happy golfers and bunnies and whatnot. Here's what's on the front page of the peaceful-sounding "War Horse" website:

That's a weird-looking sand trap. Who knows, maybe the 18th hole is next to the rooftop swimming pool. And then there's the "human-centric" Weller Development homepage:

Human-centric ant farms, by the looks of it.

But let's look on the bright side. The courts and Fairfax County have both affirmed the idea that the property should remain open space, although all that really means is that the developers would have to go through the normal, often developer-friendly, rezoning process with the county. And since they're more local than a freaking insurance company, there's a good chance they'll propose something nicer than wall-to-wall condos... like say a "grand park". Yeah, that's the ticket!

All this makes the upcoming primary for Catherine Hudgins' soon-to-be-vacated seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors all the more important. The Reston Association, groups like Rescue Reston, and the county all did a good job facing down Northwestern Mutual and its seemingly infinite resources. Hopefully they'll be able to do so again.

Update: Rescue Reston's official statement.