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!