At a festival yesterday celebrating Reston's 41st birthday, Mike Corrigan proudly donned a "ResTOWN in 2006" lapel sticker. To Corrigan, Reston is the ideal suburban town.
Plenty of folks live, work and play within its borders, a rare luxury in a region of commuters, he said. With its 55 miles of walking trails, a person can walk to the store or one of 15 swimming pools, or just take a stroll through the trees, inevitably running into a friend or neighbor on the way. All the while, he said, that person might never realize that nearly 60,000 people live within the booming town's borders.
Yet, for all its townness, Corrigan lamented, Reston isn't a town at all.
Yesterday he and others were collecting signatures of Reston residents on a petition in the hopes of transforming Reston from an unincorporated corner of western Fairfax County into a full-fledged town.
"It's just time we had the clout, the wherewithal that towns with a mayor and a town council have," said Corrigan, president of the Reston Citizens Association, a political organization spearheading the effort. "It's time we had a stronger voice for Reston on major issues."
Corrigan and others are in for an uphill struggle. Reston residents voted down the issue by a 2-to-1 ratio in a 1980 referendum. It has surfaced occasionally since then but never got beyond the idea stage, partly because of vehement opposition by residents and business owners who feared an increase in their taxes and more restrictions on development. Another potential hurdle is that the county supervisors and General Assembly must approve the change.
Under the current proposal, many of Reston's community boards and neighborhood associations would be rolled into a single town government able to levy taxes for townwide projects.
As a town, Reston would remain part of Fairfax County, which would continue to provide education, police, fire, court, library and social services and other programs.
The new draft charter is better and stronger than the 1980 one, town supporters say, and with a single government entity overseeing town operations, taxes probably would roughly match the $425-per-home that residents now pay in dues to the Reston Association, Reston's largest homeowners association. Many could pay less.
But more important, supporters say, town status would give Reston a unity and a voice that they feel are lacking.
A primary motivation for the latest effort is the planned coming of the Wiehle Avenue Metro station, part of the Dulles rail project connecting West Falls Church, Tysons Corner, Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County.
Town status, supporters say, would help Reston exert more influence over the financing and design of the station, which is likely to worsen traffic and parking problems in the area.
Many Reston leaders say the nearby town of Herndon, which has a third of the population of Reston, has had more influence over the project.
"Herndon ultimately had a lot of authority on the decisions that were made, whereas we weren't even at the table," said Douglas Bushee, vice president of the Reston Association.
Bushee said he has not made up his mind about town status but is leaning toward supporting it.
Opponents see the rail project as the perfect example of why a town government would be a hindrance to Reston, especially businesses, which are funding part of the project through higher commercial taxes.
"The burden on the business community is already substantial," said Karl Ingebritsen, a longtime resident and community leader who dropped by the festival early yesterday. "I think it's just another layer of taxation that is just not necessary."
Tracey White, president and chief executive of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has firmly opposed the town status proposal in the past but has not cast a decision on the current effort.
"The concern [in the past] was that it would be another layer of government and another layer of cost," she said. "But a lot has changed since then. Reston is a different place."
Reston was founded in 1964 by developer Robert E. Simon Jr., who envisioned it as a pedestrian-friendly suburban paradise in which residents of all incomes and backgrounds could live. Modeled after the "new towns" cropping up in Europe at the time of its founding, it was the first such planned community in the United States. A year later, the town of Columbia was established on similar principles by the Rouse Co.
Reston has burgeoned both in population and in wealth. Since 1980, the population has nearly doubled, with many of the newer residents drawn by the prosperous high-tech firms established there starting in the 1990s.
At Reston's founding, the price of land went for about $1,300 an acre, Simon said, compared with as much as $6 million today.
Simon, 91, who lives in Reston, is an ardent supporter of the town movement.
"Richmond doesn't even know we exist," he said. "Do you know Reston isn't even on some maps that are printed?"
Town advocates hope that discontent over the rail project and a desire to have influence over it will win over past opponents, especially merchants. They also hope a strong sense of pride and a desire for identity will overcome financial concerns.
They hope to get the nod from county supervisors in September, conduct a community referendum in October, gain approval from the state legislature early next year and hold a final referendum on the town charter by November 2006.
If all goes as scheduled, Reston residents would elect a mayor and town council by May 2007.
"Reston has gotten to a point where it has a different identity [from Fairfax County], a different sense of what is important to us," said Melissa Bessey, who has lived in Reston for eight years. "It's in the best interest of the residents."