What’s Happening Besides the Reston Farmers Market

What’s Happening Besides the Reston Farmers Market

It was not easy for me to go to the Reston Farmers Market on opening day April 27 and just shop. I dutifully worked from a shopping list but, after 26 years managing the market, it was impossible for me not to schmooze with shoppers, vendors, co-Managers Fran, Keith, Anne, Ben and new volunteers along the way. Fran has organized a larger team to share market management duties now, making it impossible for me not to tease her about needing additional people to replace me!

I do find myself challenged to fill some “extra time” on my hands. I’m turning to more involvement in community activities for which I had little time while managing the Market. Luckily, we have Fairfax County, our version of local government, since unincorporated Reston with its 63,000 population is neither a town nor city. The county is a large, ponderous organization which often struggles to address essential public policy matters efficiently, if at all. Several matters are in need of attention, ones affecting residents’ quality of life and others crippling businesses’ (especially small ones) ability to deliver goods and services or to make a living. A prime example of the former is a continuing shortage of affordable housing, and one of the latter is the burdensome process of approving permits required to open new small businesses. 

Affordable housing continues to be in short supply in Fairfax County. While a few hundred new units actually were built in recent years, there has been little progress in most areas of the county, including glaringly, Reston. A couple of years ago new construction of 400 so-called affordable housing for median income residents here was proposed by a developer. Ultimately, after many months, the developer simply withdrew the proposal. 

In another case, an energetic Reston charitable outfit proposed to repurpose a solid, abandoned south Reston office building to provide basic housing for low-income, senior women. After months of back-and-forthing with Fairfax County reps, the non-profit dropped their proposal. It would have served some of our neediest residents. I found this particularly unfortunate because their proposal would have made use of a potential resource which Reston has in abundance … vacant and seemingly abandoned commercial buildings like the one in south Reston and four empty ones of seven large office buildings on Business Center Drive north of the toll road. Granted the empty monuments to the pandemic are not likely a free resource, but they certainly offer the prospect of greatly reduced per unit costs for housing to serve truly low-income residents such as elderly women. The concept has been known to Fairfax Supervisors for years, but to date there has been no serious effort by Fairfax to make use of it. Why?

Then there are the small businesses dogged by incredibly bureaucratic approval processes for permits needed to even open a store. In our Lake Anne Village Center neighborhood alone at least four new small businesses recently were forced to jump through permitting hoops for more than a year each. The would-be business owners were frustrated beyond belief. Yet, the other day when I asked the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors why the permit process takes so long, he claimed that often the problems had more to do with improperly prepared required applications. His advice to would-be new businesses encountering excessive delays was to contact their local Supervisor and ask for his/her help in expediting county processes. Ok, asking a politician to get priority for a constituent is realistic when the machinery isn’t working well. But I find it hard to believe that it isn’t past time for serious, third-party analysis of the processes and the potential for weeding out unnecessary requirements and/or retooling and applying improved technologies to the operations. Furthermore, look at this from a political perspective. There is no question that businesses, particularly the small ones hurt most, tend to identify the source of their problems with the political party in power when they have them. Hmmm!

The more I think about it, the more I think I will be able to find enough issues to serve as grist for my excess available time!