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Citizens Speak Out on Rec Center Proposal

On March 27th, RCA held a forum about RCC's proposed rec center at Baron Cameron Park. In case you missed it, find out what happened here.

Last night, RCA held its latest community forum, concerning Reston Community Center’s proposed new rec center at Baron Cameron Park.  Over 50 people turned out for an exchange that was spirited and open, but respectful and informative.  I think we all came away with a clear understanding of where the proposal stands, what we agree on, and which issues concern the community. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here’s a summary of what we discussed.

Leila Gordon, Executive Director of RCC, started off by providing a summary of the project to date.  She explained that RCC’s current facilities, especially the pool, are overbooked and limited.  Therefore, the RCC Board has made the expansion of aquatics offerings a priority in its Strategic Plan.  Program data and community surveys confirm that there is demand for more swimming options, and the need will only increase as Reston grows.

Leila stated that RCC is committed to building the facility cost-effectively.  This is why RCC is exploring a partnership with the Fairfax County Park Authority: building at Baron Cameron, which the Park Authority owns, would save on land costs and would provide a County contribution to the project.  Leila also said that starting the project now would be smart financially, since financing and construction costs are at or near historic lows.  She noted that the RCC Board would be open to receiving proffer money from future development to reduce the cost to Restonians.

Leila also mentioned that RCC will include citizen input in the planning process.  She noted that beauty and environmental concerns are important, and that the new rec center should be an asset to surrounding neighborhoods.  She said that if the facility is built at Baron Cameron, RCC has no intention of destroying or eliminating the existing features (the fields, the dog park, the community garden, and the trees).  Reston’s citizens will ultimately have the final say on the project, as they would need to vote for a bond referendum to allow the rec center to be built.

After Leila finished her presentation, the community had its say.  I was glad to see the citizens so engaged on this issue; it’s obviously something that we’ll be talking about for a long time to come.

Most citizens who spoke were in favor of, or at least open to, a new rec center.  Almost everyone acknowledges the need for more indoor pool space.  A representative of the Masters Swim Team pointed out that not only is RCC’s existing pool small, but it’s got a temperature problem.  Swimmers like the water to be cool, but the pool is also used for aquatic therapy, and those users need the water warm.  RCC compromises by setting the temperature somewhere in the middle, which pleases no one.  More aquatic space is needed, and the community seems to be on board with that.

While they generally supported the idea of a facility, most citizens who spoke also expressed concerns about the proposal.  By far, the biggest concern was the proposed location.  Many of those who commented live near Baron Cameron Park, and they were concerned or outright opposed to building the rec center there. 

The speakers noted that the park is very well-used already: the soccer and baseball fields are fully subscribed, the dog park is extremely popular, and the park is also a nice spot to take a walk.  They pointed out that outdoor recreation space is just as scarce in Reston as indoor recreation space, and warned about supplanting one shortage with another.  They expressed concern about losing one of Reston’s few remaining open spaces.  They noted that the park is home to wildlife, and they worried that the rec center would drive the animals away.  Several people argued that the rec center would bring additional traffic, light, and noise to the surrounding area.  In short, many people thought it was the right facility in the wrong location.

Several speakers suggested alternate locations.  The most popular suggestions included the North Town Center area (near the library, where the Park Authority owns some land), the Tall Oaks Village Center, and the southwest corner of Lake Fairfax Park (closest to the new Wiehle Metro station).  These sites would all be closer to the Toll Road corridor, where new growth is most likely to happen in the coming years.

Leila replied that alternative sites, including the ones mentioned, are being considered.  She did point out, however, that several of the suggested sites had similar issues to Baron Cameron.  For instance, building at Lake Fairfax would also involve losing open space and disrupting wildlife, while the North Town Center and Tall Oaks sites would also present traffic challenges.  She also pointed out that building on a non-County-owned site would add to the project cost.

The other major concern expressed was how the project would be financed.  Several speakers pointed out that Reston does not have a County-built rec center, and asked why Restonians shouldn’t ask for their fair share of County funds.  They urged RCC to seek out developer proffers to help pay for the project.  They noted that the cost of living in Reston is high, and that additional taxes and fees would price more people out of living here. 

In response to the call for a County-funded facility, Leila said that we could get one, but that Reston would be added to the lengthy list of County funding request, and it could be years or even decades before the County built a facility here.  She also noted that local funding brings with it local control, assuring that the new facility could be programmed to meet the community’s needs.  She said that partnering with the Park Authority represented the best of both worlds: a County contribution to the project, but built on Reston’s schedule and kept under Reston’s control.

One of the things that pleased me about the forum was that several of my fellow community leaders came to listen to the community.  In addition to several of my RCA Board colleagues, multiple RA Board members (including President Ken Knueven) showed up, as did George Kain of the ARCH Board, a number of cluster board members, and Bob Simon himself.  I’m glad that we were able to provide a forum where the citizens were able to speak and the community’s leaders were there to hear it.

There’s a long way to go on this project before the referendum, and Leila noted that both RCC and the Park Authority will offer many more opportunities for public comment.  So if you weren’t able to join us last night, you still have a chance to be heard.  I’m glad, though, that RCA was once again able to help keep Restonians informed on an issue that matters to our community’s future.  I hope to see you at the next forum!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michael Sanio March 28, 2013 at 09:41 PM
Good summary of the discussion last evening Colin. Reston needs an indoor facility to complement and support it's great outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts and other recreational amenities. Reston parents and kids must travel outside the community to practice and compete throughout the year. We lose our best kids, they compete for other communities since we do not have year round Olympic calibre facilities. I too heard support for a facility, but concerns from the local community about the location. Knowing more about the alternatives, the costs, pros and cons will help the discussion, and ultimately a decision.
Leila Gordon March 28, 2013 at 10:57 PM
Thank you for the opportunity to share information and hear from the community, Colin and RCA. Your summary captured the salient points quite well.
Colin Mills March 29, 2013 at 04:55 AM
Thanks, Mike! And thanks also for coming out to hear what the citizens had to say. I know that RA is in good hands with responsible community stewards like you and the others who came. I look forward to continuing this discussion and finding ways to provide the facilities we need in a way that makes sense for our citizens.
Colin Mills March 29, 2013 at 04:57 AM
You're quite welcome, Leila. And thank you for coming out to speak and to listen on behalf of RCC. I'm encouraged by the community's engagement at this point in the process.
leslie sogandares March 29, 2013 at 12:39 PM
Kudos to the board for holding an informative, if lively, forum for this important discussion. Mentioned many times throughout the evening, this wasn't the only opportunity for the community to hear about the process and the on-going discussion about matters that influence the decision, including location, cost, facility plans, etc. I was glad to attend a second time to hear about RCC's efforts, and I am certain that I will go again. This is a process, and the board seems very interested in what the Reston community wants to say. As a parent of two swimmers, I am very much in support of a new aquatics facility. We commute to practice facilities around the beltway every day of the week and to competition sites several times a month. I am intrigued by the level of support other communities give to swimming, and gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, etc., on display at these venues. I am also amazed at the potential for revenue that scheduled competition brings to the sites. Swim teams, alone, pay tens of thousands of dollars to host a meet each weekend, and that doesn't touch the additional financial gains that the surrounding businesses see from those patrons. (more to follow!)
leslie sogandares March 29, 2013 at 12:40 PM
Our high school doesn't have a home pool, unlike so many in Fairfax County. When the SLHS swim team trains, it does so in a non-regulation sized pool, with water that is far warmer than is appropriate for healthy and effective training. The dive team can't even practice with the swimmers--it must do so at the rec pool in Herndon. SLHS home meets are at the Herndon Community Center, but no team banner hangs on the wall. Madison, McLean, Langley, Chantilly, and other swim and dive teams practice and compete in facilities that support proper training and are home to their dual meets. There is significant advantage to those teams as a result. I appreciate the concerns of the neighbors whose homes surround Baron Cameron park and the dog owners who don't want to see the dog park impacted. I am a lifelong dog owner and value the comments made by those who spoke on Monday night. I also want to be clear that this facility, if it is ever built, will come along after my kids have moved on, but I still support it because of the incredible benefits it can bring to Reston in the long term. I think there is an answer that will suffice for all of us, if we are all willing to compromise. The opportunity for on-going, and respectful, discussion gives Reston a chance to meet a tremendous need in our community. Thanks to the RCC board for keeping this discussion open and honest!
Colin Mills March 30, 2013 at 02:26 AM
Thanks for the comment, Leslie! I absolutely agree that the discussion should keep going, and I know that it will. RCA is ready and willing to hold another forum on this down the road if events warrant it.

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