News and notes from Reston (tm).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Brown's Chapel Rec Center: Jocks vs. Nerds Little Leaguers vs. Tennis Players vs. the RA!

We always loved those movies where the jocks square off against the nerds, who use their mad bloggin skillz to show them a thing or two! Well, the continuing brouhaha over building a massive $65 million rec center/mosh pit/American Gladiators arena at Brown's Chapel Park is starting to shape up like this, except that it's tennis players vs. little leaguers, which by our book is jocks vs. jocks, but otherwise exactly the same thing.

All of which is easier to follow than the back and forth between opponents of the center, who have created their own "Web-site" and started sending letters accusing the RA of violating development best practices by not getting the DRB and Planning and Zoning Boards involved in the discussions. Boy, are they going to get a nasty letter in the mail! Also, they've already decided to name the as-of-yet-unbuilt center the "Simon Center," after Reston's Dear Leader. Meanwhile, nearly 400 people have signed an online petition opposing the center, and the fan letters keep coming. Here are excerpts from a letter Newport Shores resident Peter Greenberg sent RA President Robin Smyers:

Having had a chance to reflect upon our meeting, I’m less encouraged than ever that you will make the community outreach process open, fair and transparent. To the contrary, you appeared steadfast in your strong denial of my requests to: 1. include the input of many more affected parties in the Assessment being done by Brailsford and Dunleavy, and 2. to add to your timeline a period of community discussion about alternative uses for Browns Chapel Park. RA inexplicably has this project on a fast track that will necessarily limit community input. As we pointed out, the only people interviewed for the study were groups favorable to the concept, each being small in size. The two specific sports groups mentioned were tennis and aquatics. Further, as I point out below, the questions of whether the health club should be built, and what is best for Brown’s Chapel are separate questions.

I left our meeting with no doubt in my mind that you have strong preconceived feelings in favor of getting the health club built. Milton Matthew’s posture was even more obvious. How is that leadership? It is not, it is the pressing of a personal agenda, the reasons for which are still unclear to me. You desire to commit $150,000,000.00 of your neighbors’ money, without appropriate community input, possibly for some personal reason I can not quite put my finger on.

It is the most fundamental habit in land development to check in advance with local Design Review Boards and Planning and Zoning officials, PRIOR to undertaking preliminary site plans, to see if the subject piece of land will be suitable for the proposed development. In fact your Design Review Guidelines encourages people to come in for an ‘informational only’ meeting to be sure that any problems with an idea can be aired out up front.

Question: Since this will be the largest single capital project of its time in RA, why didn’t you use best practices in your planning and get preliminary written opinions from DRB and P&Z of the viability of using Brown’s Chapel for the planned health club? Was it inexperience, incompetence, or was it a desire to obscure the process? In my view those are the only possible reasons. I think it was the latter. You have been led down a path of opacity by RCC and have acted, at least at early stages, to keep secret your plans to build this $150,000,000.00 health club using your neighbors’ bank accounts.

Since this secret has been made open, before this plan goes any further, and more money gets wasted, you MUST seek a preliminary written opinion from both RA Planning and Zoning and Reston DRB on: “the concept of constructing a significantly sized full-service commercial health club facility with hours from 5:30 AM to 10:00 PM 7 days per week of a similar size and nature to the attached Alt E”. Please take that professional step-back in the process and find out if what you wish to do is remotely feasible before committing any more RA dollars to the project.

For gosh sakes, the existing Assessment does not even support the building of the health club, even though all the people in the focus group were apparently hand-selected to be favorable:

1. It will reduce the wealth of RA members by $150,000,000 over 20 years with no asset to replace the one given away. You are gifting Fairfax County $150,000,000! Outrageous! +

2. It will never cover its own operating expenses BEFORE DEBT SERVICE.

3. 70% of users will not be from Reston, but Reston will pay 100% of the money. Therefore it is not for use PRIMARILY by RA members and does not fulfill the mission of RCC or RA.

4. It will destroy the largest green space in Reston at a time when density is increasing and there is a requirement to have appropriate ratios of green space to residents.

I hope you are giving consideration to my offer to help bring the various groups lined up against this into the process of discovery of what is best for Brown’s Chapel Park. That is clearly a separate issue from the question of ‘should the health club be built?’.


You have already apparently caused over $100,000 to be spent or committed by RA/RCC on the study of this project - without widespread community input. Just like the office building, this will never pass a referendum. How much of our RA and RCC funds are you willing to commit to spending to support an already bad financial decision? Why compound the problem? Even after you leave the Presidency of the Board next year, and this fight rages on, you will we be responsible for the decisions you make now. You will own them and all the consequences.

The groups forming will have the financial resources to take the fight on at every turn. You are going to tear this community apart during this battle.

I discovered just this morning by reading the minutes of the March 9, 2009 RCC board meeting that both the RA board and RCC board have agreed on a name for the health club. That is an unbelievable fact considering that you told us no decisions had been made on the project; that is except for the size, configuration, location, name, funding, and strategy to get it pushed past your various constituencies. Is that how you will lead?


You must fight to preserve Browns Chapel Park because it is the largest remaining outdoor recreation facility in Reston. And, you should improve it in a cost effective and appropriate manner. A multi-use ‘field turf’ playing surface for both upper ball fields is one idea. Such a facility would be income producing to Reston (as opposed to giving away $150,000,000.00 of STD5’s cash and real estate to the county), bring much desired facilities to the baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse, and softball leagues, and preserve Reston’s largest outdoor recreation location. Lead in that direction and people will follow.
The full letter is at the link above. Meanwhile, the RA has responded by putting up something on its own "Web-site," saying that no decisions have been made and people should just chill out until the consultants hired by the RA and RCC, Brailsford & Dunlavey, finish up their feasibility study (150 pages of "more indoor tennis plz! kthxbaie!") for general consumption, which should be around June 1.
No decisions have been made by either Board. Gathering community input is critical to the process, and this summer will focus on this effort. We look forward to hearing from as many members of both Reston Association and constituents of Reston Community Center, Small District No. 5, as possible as we consider and evaluate the project.
To their credit, the RA has finally posted a bunch of documents about the proposed center (see above link), so people can start evaluating the proposal on their own. It's a shame so much negativity had to surface about the lack of transparency of both groups, which began meeting together to discuss the project last fall, to prompt them to do so.


  1. From the 2007 RCC survey:

    32% supported expansion of services. 68% would like to see services kept at existing levels or curtailed.

    77% of residents said it was somewhat to very important for citizens to be involved in RCC governance. 23% said participation wasn't important at all.

    Reconcile those facts with how you've handled this process RA/RCC....

  2. People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?...It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice....Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.

  3. There are two questions here:

    1. Do we need the center?

    Within 10 miles of Reston there are at least 20 sports/fitness/health clubs. Granted, none have indoor tennis and only a few have aquatics. But Reston has how many tennis courts? And how many pools? If some people are unhappy because they can't play tennis year round they can join Hidden Creek. If they want to swim year round they can join the "Y".

    2. Has the RA been responsive to the majority of the members' requests, recommendations or expressed need for services?

    See Tom M.'s comment above. Coming on the heels of the new HQ referendum, this would be laughable except all it has done is make Reston a laughing stock. Seriously, Google "Reston Indoor Tennis" and see what you get. Of course, it does mention a certain very well thought out blog...


  4. The Convict in Gulag 4May 4, 2009 at 9:10 PM

    In all seriousness, during these tough economic times, we would do well to marshall our resources and maintain the facilities that we currently have. I am a great believer in public services provided by govt and even quasi-govt. However, now is not the time to go on a huge spending spree and, potentially, jacking up people's assessments on frivolities.

    Let's do more to figure out how to live with the resources that we already have.

  5. RA needs at least 5193 houses to vote in the referendum for this to go forward.

    They couldn't get that many to vote either yea or nay on the office bldg.

    RA could only get 2474 to vote yes for the office bldg and almost won because 2431 voted no.

    If the 2431 no votes hadn't voted, the office bldg vote would not have been close.

    The strategy is clear for opponents of the Browns Chapel rec center: don't vote in the RA referendum.

    Make the supporters of this fiasco get 5193 votes.

  6. Worldgate sport and Health is less than 10 minutes away and offers indoor tennis. Even if it didn't, why should the residents of Reston have to pay for the hobbies of a few people? I'm sure there are people who would like a year-round ice rink, should we have to pay for that, too? How about a basketweaving center?

    I'm also fairly disgusted that RA/RCC have already been spending money designing this thing without even finding out if people want it first!

  7. If you don't vote in the referendum to sign over our common lands to the county, a very small number of people will be able to push this through. If you don't want it, vote NO. Not voting is a poor strategy.

  8. 5193 yes votes is not a small number. Unlike the RCC vote, each house only gets 1 vote.

    Every no vote helps RA get to the quorum minimum: 5193.

    E.g. if 2596 vote no and 2597 vote yes, the referendum passes even though only 15% of RA houses voted yes.

    If, in that example, the 2596 no votes had abstained, the referendum would have been defeated by not getting the required minimum number of participants.

    Therefore, opponents of the Browns Chapel rec center are best advised: DON'T VOTE.

  9. Why should the people of South Reston pay $65m in assessments and taxes to benefit North Reston, also known as East Herndon.

    Those folks didn't want to go Reston's high school but they are more than happy to take South Reston's money to make their lives better and their property more valuable.


  10. My understanding is that the referendum must pass by a yes vote of 2/3 of 30% of the voters. If the people who don't want to give the common land to the county sit on their hands and don't vote, there may be an adequate number of tennis enthusiasts who will pass the measure.

  11. The last anonymous poster is correct: It takes a 2/3 majority with the requisite 30% quorum to pass an RA capital initiative.

    It makes so much sense to vote "NO" under these circumstances if you oppose the rec center that it's hardly worth responding to those who say don't vote.

    Civic duty aside, if you won't take the minute required to mark an "X" in the "NO" box on the ballot, put it in the envelope provided, and mail it postage-free, you deserve the RA assessment fees you'll end up paying.

  12. RA referenda are historically low turn-out affairs.

    If the rec center proponents needs 2/3 of a 30% participation, and the opponents vote, the tennis people only need to find 3462 households to support this fiasco to win.

    If the rec center opponents don't participate, the pro-rec center people need to find 5193 households to vote: that's an extra 1731 houses.

    Every no vote thus helps the proponents meet he 30% participation threshold.

    So the opponents have a clear strategy: DON'T VOTE.

    Anyone who tells you different is a supporter of the rec center.


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