Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Happy 12th birthday, Brambleton! (We are Not Ashburn)

I have lived in Brambleton since October 18, 2003... almost ten years ago.  My husband and I had been working in Ashburn (reverse commuting from Falls Church) for several years when we decided to build our first home here.  We liked the idea of living so close to work (even though neither of us were still working at WorldBomb by the time our house was finished, but that's another story).  The tech component of the planned development appealed to us, as did the idea of becoming part of a new community.

We started to realize that, despite the fact that our 20148 zip code was an Ashburn zip code (if you use the USPS zip code tool, it will tell you that Ashburn is the "preferred city" for 20148, with other "acceptable cities" being Arcola, Brambleton, and Broadlands), we didn't really live in Ashburn.  We had some trouble with our initial Verizon phone activation, and I was passed around through various parts of the company because the Arcola exchange was legacy GTE instead of Bell Atlantic. The phone books we received (in fact, still receive) are for Prince William County.  We have NOVEC (a rural coop) for electricity instead of Dominion.  And everywhere we went in Ashburn, we met people who had never heard of Brambleton, and who didn't think there was anything past Broadlands.

I loved (and still love) Brambleton; it felt special, different.  In 2006, I was on "Jeopardy!" (one-day champion, oh yeah) and said that I was from "Brambleton, Virginia" -- I think I was the first person to ever do so on national TV.  The next year, I started writing a column called "Brambleton Buzz" for the now-defunct Loudoun Independent.  The editor thought there was enough going on out here to have something separate from the Ashburn column.  And oh, was there stuff going on out here.  The Brambleton Town Center was booming - shopping! restaurants! movie theater!  Houses were popping up, and the schools were filling up.  Brambleton even weathered the recession fairly well; there weren't a lot of foreclosures like in other areas.  (BTW, I am aware that the Brambleton developer's site says that Brambleton is "in Ashburn".  I know this is a marketing tactic, but I really wish they would scrub those few references off the site.)

Then, the 2010 Census came.  Afterward, there was a tough redistricting battle that separated almost all of Brambleton from Ashburn.  That was the first political use of Ryan Road as a "natural" north-south divider.  Our numbers (9,845 people as of the 2010 Census) were used to justify the existence of two western districts, even though we have more in common with our neighbors in Ashburn than with the rest of our Blue Ridge District, especially in the issues of transportation and schools.  But once the redistricting was done, so was our place in Ashburn.  We were excluded from the 2011 Ashburn Community Outreach survey, even though problems like Waxpool Road, alternates to the Greenway, etc., also directly affect us.  As the survey site says:
Are You in Ashburn?

The Ashburn Community includes the following areas: Alexan at Ryan’s Corner, Alexandra’s Grove, Amberleigh, Ashbriar, Ashbrook, Ashburn Farm, Ashburn Manor, Ashburn Meadows, Ashburn Village, Ashby Ponds, Ashleigh, Belmont, Belmont Glen, Belmont Greene (Belmont Forest), Belmont Ridge, Broadlands, Cameron Chase, Carisbrooke, Cedar Ridge, Courts of Ashburn, Dulles Parkway Center, The Estates of Forest Ridge, Farmwell Hunt, Flynn’s Crossing (Ryan Park Center), Forest Manor, Goose Creek Village South, Hunt at Belmont Country Club, Lansdowne, Leisure World, Loudoun Parkway Center, Loudoun Valley Estates, Morefield Station, Mooreland Estates, The Park at Belle Terra, Potomac Farms, Potomac Green, Potter Property, The Regency, The Reserve at Belle Terra, The Ridges at Ashburn, Timberbrooke, University Center, Vantage Pointe, Villages of Waxpool, and Windermere.

Aw, c'mon!  Loudoun Valley Estates made it in, but we didn't?  (And Lansdowne, with its Leesburg 20176 zip code, is considered Ashburn.  So zip codes mean zip.)  Oh, don't worry, LVE.  You are on the "wrong" side of Ryan Road, and your time would come to join us in "Not Ashburn".  And sure enough...

The school redistrictings of fall 2012 and spring 2013 should have been a wake-up call to anyone in Brambleton who still felt like part of Ashburn.  In the elementary redistricting, the Ryan Road divider made its appearance again, and the small portion of Brambleton residents north of it were taken out of schools within Brambleton and sent to Moorefield Station ES.  This set us up for the debacle that was the middle and high school redistricting.  I don't want to dwell on the details because of the pending court case (which, by the way, is moving forward), but it was a stark visual when "Ashburn" turned out all in white shirts to lobby against Brambleton - an effort that was organized behind the scenes by Broadlands and the other Ashburn HOAs.  By the way, LCPS called it the "Ashburn and Dulles North area" boundary process.  Guess which one we are?  Not Ashburn.

And no one would dare to suggest the construction of a limited-access freight-cargo road through Ashburn.  Can you imagine?  But it's okay to dump on Brambleton because we're "new" (hello, 12 years old!) or we're "still building" or we're "so big".  Yet we cannot fully leverage our power because we've been divided and conquered even as we continue to grow.  In 2011, we were the sixth-top-selling planned community in the nation, with 454 new homes sold.  In 2012, we set a new record by selling 466 new homes, an average of nine homes per week.  By 2020, after the next Federal census and subsequent redistricting, perhaps we will have more effective and direct representation on both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board.  In the meantime, what can you do?  Little things, like using Brambleton in your address (not Ashburn), telling people you live in Brambleton (not Ashburn), and supporting Brambleton businesses.  Put your rants and raves on the Brambletonian. Get involved with and embrace your community.  You could also do big things, like running for Blue Ridge District Supervisor or School Board Rep in 2015 (Brambletonians north of Ryan Road and east of Belmont Ridge can run for Dulles District offices).

We are Not Ashburn.  We are Brambleton.  Happy birthday to us.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Back to school

My twins start kindergarten at Legacy ES today.  Here's a little picture we took for Loudoun for Full-Day Kindergarten.  It's too late for my kids, but hopefully in the future kindergarteners here will get a full day like almost every other school district in the Commonwealth.

Oh, and my kids are going to a school that was left overcapacity on purpose during last fall's Ashburn/Dulles North elementary redistricting.  Legacy is on overflow for kindergarten.  Parents who do have the resources to pay for private full-day kindergarten face the possibility of not getting a spot for first grade next fall.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Flashback Friday

I know, I know, he's not Brambleton's Supervisor (thank you, Jesus), but in honor of Eugene Delgaudio's recent censure, here is today's Flashback Friday pic, which was taken in Brambleton.  I will never ever get tired of this picture and its caption. It originally appeared in one of the local papers.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Last month, one of my neighbors sent this epic letter to the HOA.

Covenants Committee,

Here we are, another year, another growing season, another series of noncompliance letters blanketing the entire neighborhood, like snowflakes or propaganda letters kicked out the back of a military transport while flying overhead. The HOA must spend tens of thousands of dollars on postage sending these out, I know they must go out to pretty much everybody since most of my neighbors (the ones I talk to) are all aflutter over theirs. At least nobody will feel left out. I believe it's a good thing that my HOA fees are spent this way because I wouldn't want them to be used dealing with the nonstop solicitors, noncompliant street parking, lack of crosswalks on the road by the town center, ensuring our trash is actually picked up on the appointed days, speeders on my road of the one by the park and weekend boaters clogging up all the remaining roads in the neighborhood.

Of course this isn't about my neighbors, trash, speeders, boaters, or the daily game of real-life-or-death-Frogger I play everyday trying to get to the town center, this about my rather compliant lawn.

How do I know it's in compliance you ask? Well for one, I talk to it, and it's of a generally agreeable nature; but also I know because every 4-7 days since the start of the growing season in April I've personally mowed the lawn to a height of 4"-5" and trimmed and edged the entire property and sidewalk. In addition I also do the following:

- pull weeds by hand, hoe and trowel; and with a Fiskars 7870 Uproot Lawn and Garden Weeder (very handy against crab grass by the end of the summer, but does well against deep rooted dandelions)

- spray several types of weed killer (commercial Roundup, Spectracide and Bayer Advanced) and other herbicides (glyphosate, Ortho MAX, agricultural use Roundup, Fertilome)

- spread seasonally appropriate fertilizer and yard treaments (Scotts Winterizer for 2 treatments last year, then this season's Scotts Turfbuilder weed & feed for 3 treatments) with my handy 2-wheel spreader

- chase children, defecating and urinating dogs and adults off of my curb strip and east-facing yard, the bus stop that I can't seem to shake on my property has accounted for thousands of dollars of yard damage over the years

- picked up animal feces from my curb strip and east-facing yard at least every week

- pick up trash, underwear and used condoms left by non-compliant and very noisy street parkers

- planted a new tree in the east facing backyard of my property

- cut and had ground down a dying tree in my backyard, including the stump

- mulched my tree bases and front landscaping

- regular waterings

In fact I've performed so much yard work this year and leading up into this year, at such an insane tempo, that I've sprained my elbow, suffered heat exhaustion, pulled something in my back and even vomited in my yard. Despite these medical concerns I've managed to soldier on because, I thought to myself, "I love my yard and I won't see one of those damnable HOA letters *this* year!". I've sat proud on my front porch, sipping an iced-tea, wiping the sweat from my brow with my remaining good arm and admired what may be the best looking yard on the block this year.

Sure it's not up to the standards of the pros, those guys with tens of thousands of dollars of high-end equipment, like the Stanley 62ZS Zero-turn Riding Mower with roll bar, a Kawasaki V-Twin turbo charged 31HP engine and a 62" cut. Or the Swisher ZT2866 Z-MAX XTR Zero-turn with a B&S EL 28HP engine, a 66" cut in an 11-Gauge cutting deck with a matte black finish...lawn mowing at 30mph and can turn on a dime. The ones who were born in a riding mower seat and cross cut their yard twice daily, then get out and tweeze the details in by hand. But like children, I'm proud of where it's at and where it's going despite having to occasionally beat it back into line.

I'm working with a 5HP Honda Self Propelled mower, 2-stroke gas powered trimmer and an 11-amp electric edger backed up with an electric leaf blower to clean out the detail work. My kit may not look like much, but it gets the job done. All told, I've probably spent upwards of $500 on yard supplies and another few hundred on services so far this year and exhausted almost all of my inventory, changed the oil and blade on my mower and gone through 2 dozen trimmer wires (hand cut to the perfect length from the spool).

Alas my dream was not to be and I found myself the disappointed receiver of a first, another first (I had to take time off of work to pick this one up from the post office as it was registered), and then a second notice. Shattered, I looked up into the sky and looked for meaning, tears slowly glistening off of my beard as I quietly wept.

At first I thought this was all a clever prank by a coworker, but I asked around and couldn't get anybody to admit to it, even under intense interrogation (nothing illegal). And then I thought, "nah, this couldn't be based on an inspection because my yard looks damn awesome this year". More muddling and searching about for explanations and solace and I came up with nothing.
So there it was, my non-compliance notice - it seemed the work of mad people, hellbent on a lustful pursuit of raw power, starting with a Machiavellian plan centered on driving home owners crazy about the state of their lawns until they are broken, in the style of '1984', and they admit that perfectly manicured lawns are indeed ugly tangles of failed dreams, that war is peace, freedom is slavery and all that.

After much thought, I can come to only two possible scenarios where I'd receive a notice this year:

1) The notices just get sent out to everybody regardless of their lawn condition. I'm jaded in thinking this, but as a strategy against some of the hardest of yard offenders (I call them 'Yardies') us residents have to live with some within a block of me, it could just work. I spent enough time pulling migrating weeds inherited from nearby rabid lawns that I could entertain this as a strategy of military brilliance. A kind of noncompliance blitzkrieg sent out with the force of a thousand singing Valkyries.

2) It's still a prank, but it's actually by the HOA. Every couple weeks, you guys sit around a list of residents who you know will get pissed off by receiving a nonsensical noncompliance letter about their yard (I've definitely had to dispute several in the past so I know I'm on record someplace). Maybe you send them to us all, maybe there's a roll of the dice, regardless, the letters are sent and the HOA office is filled with guffaws, vodka shots and statements to the effect of "this will really get his goat!".

Nevertheless, I'm obligated to treat all notices of noncompliance as serious, regardless of their absurdity, so after receiving the first notice I went out to Home Depot, purchased another $30 worth of yard supplies (receipt attached), mowed, edged and trimmed only 4 days after the last time I had done the same, treated the yard with the Weed B Gone and remulched my trees and garden (the first notice wasn't clear what exactly was out of compliance, and since I could find nothing in particular wrong with my yard, I performed everything covered in the letter). You'll notice that the purchase date of the supplies is 5 days after the First Inspection date, I believe it was the day we received the notice. All work was performed on the day of purchase.

Satisfied that my yard had now been attended to, and knowing that I would be mowing, edging and trimming it yet again in a mere 4 days (the 29th) by my previously reserved schedule, and then again on June 2nd, June 8th and then again tomorrow on June 12 (actually it was scheduled for today, but I've had to waste my time dealing with this compliance dispute), I felt confident that it would pass even the harshest of inspections, since it was not possible for my yard to be in noncompliance of any of the offending articles listed, especially on the date of the second inspection (June 6th).

Since I cannot further increase the maintenance tempo of my yard without giving up a promising and upwardly mobile career, I've also hiring a yard service at additional cost of at least $1000 through the end of the season.

If the HOA feels that these efforts and costs are insufficient, I'd be more then happy to entertain whatever absurd yard maintenance schedule, equipment, service and costs the HOA believes would be appropriate for maintaining compliance. In that event, please let me know where to send the bill to cover that level of yard maintenance and if I should expect payment net-30 or 45 so I can schedule and budget appropriately.

Since I'm clearly operating far above and beyond any reasonable lawn care regimen (which would be weekly mowings and trimmings with yearly mulchings), I trust that the second notice was simply a result of the first strategy above and that this matter is already closed. I look forward to the affirmative email in response so I can withdraw my attention from this matter and return to spending time tending my yard.

Kindest Regards,

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Witch hunt

Last week, a white man wearing a white bandanna was spotted entertaining himself with, um, himself in his car outside Harris Teeter. Someone saw and called the police. They were too bewildered/disgusted to get the license plate, but they did note the color and type of car. Let the witch hunt commence!

I'm not going to say the real color and type of car here, because I don't want to add fuel to the fire.  It wasn't a silver Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna, so already it was a real freak show here in Brambleton.  It was a noticeable color of a slightly unusual sedan.  Let's say it was a red PT Cruiser.  Oh, and with a white stripe.  So, anyway, the police were called, and someone sounded the alarm on the B_Alert Facebook group...with unsurprising results:

"I will be more aware of [PT Cruisers] from now on"

"There was one of those in the Harris Teeter lot last night maybe around 7 pm or so"

"If anyone sees the [red PT Cruiser] with a white stripe again, please write down the license plate number. It might not be him, but it could be."

"[Original Poster], do you know if the car had a vertical white stripe on the right side? Back in March of this year, I took a picture of a license plate of a [PT Cruiser] in Harris Teeter because it shocked me that someone had a plate that said something sexual in Spanish. There was a man in the driver's seat. I still have the pic. I can send it to you."

"[Original Poster], do you know if any of the witnesses recall any part of the license plate? I pulled up behind a car matching this description on Loudoun County Parkway about 30 minutes ago and was able to snap a picture of his license plate. It's a little blurry because of the rain but you can still make out the numbers. I'm just a little reluctant to forward the photo because there may be more than one car in the neighborhood matching this description and I'd hate for an innocent person to be tagged for such a creepy offense. Unfortunately I was not able to get a look at the driver."

Cooler heads stepped in and suggested that any "helpful" information be submitted to the police and not forwarded around to random people. But already we have people taking pictures WHILE DRIVING IN THE RAIN of [red PT Cruisers]. And the stripe - the police only said it was a white stripe. Is it vertical? Horizontal?  WHO CAN SAY??!!

Wanna guess what the closest car dealership to our neighborhood is? And it's a stone's throw from a CarMax too.  There are more than a handful of [PT Cruisers] driving around here.

If the next perv to be spotted is driving a dark red Chrysler Town & Country, I'm in trouble. Will you be my alibi?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Back in action

Whoa...what year is this? Too much has happened since the 2011 election for me to do a catch-up post. I spent a lot of time potty-training my twins and dealing with their terrible 3's and traumatic 4's and I really just lost my sanity for a while. Then, during the biggest crisis to hit Brambleton since I've lived here ( article 1 | article 2 ), I was helping out on the research/strategy side and didn't really want to write about what was going on because it upset me too much. Instead, I unloaded verbally on anyone who would listen (or couldn't escape). I'm not going to write anything else specifically about it now because of the lawsuit mentioned in that second link; even though I am not one of the petitioners, I know things that probably shouldn't be shared and if I get worked up about it again who knows what I might write.

So, Brambleton is growing, and it has growing pains. This has never been a perfect place but some folks move here and seem to regret it immediately - if their rants on Facebook are to be believed. Brambleton is a magical place where children never egg houses; where teens never drag race down deserted streets; where packages never go missing from porches; where unlocked cars are never ransacked; where neighbors never show up at Harris Teeter in identical chevron maxi-dresses... right? No. Brambleton is a place with problems both real and imagined. And this summer's malaise has manifested itself in one issue: the pools.

Brambleton has two pools. Three if you count Summerfield, which is only open to Summerfield residents because they pay for it in their condo fees. Or four if you count Sport & Health, which you shouldn't because not all residents are members, even though Brambleton gives you one free membership per household for a year. Or six if you count the two (at last check) private residences that have inground pools. So really, two pools. One is closed a lot in the mornings because of swim team practice and meets; the other is smaller and hosts swim lessons, though it doesn't close for those. Both are managed, uh, inconsistently by the same company. I haven't been to the Community Center pool this year, but my kids did lessons at Beacon Crest so we've been there quite a bit, and in the evenings, it's not so crowded. But apparently if you go at peak times you could be turned away, or if the lifeguards don't show up to open on time, there are lines; if you do get in, the bathrooms might be dirty; there isn't enough shade; the lifeguards are lazy; etc. (These are not my complaints - I'm just summarizing.)

Pool #3 was supposed to be open this summer, and was designed with the swim team in mind (which would free up the larger and more kid-friendly Community Center pool). But it's not ready, and boy, did the villagers mount up their pitchforks. I can't even begin to relay the insanity that went on (mostly on Facebook, but it spilled over onto the Brambletonian a little bit) after people showed up at the Community Center pool on a hot Sunday morning and the pool opened one hour late. Brambleton transitioned right into Crazytown. People were fighting over the pool issues, over the multiple neighborhood Facebook groups where the fighting played out (the Brambleton Facebook ridiculousness merits its own separate post), and over the methods by which problems should be resolved here. I wondered if some residents were just going to show up at the third site with shovels and try to hand dig the pool themselves.  Meanwhile, there are people with real problems in the real world.

Over the weekend, things seems to have simmered down a bit (the epic Regal Wood / Cartier block party helped!) But it still feels like there are rifts in this community (some of which were exacerbated by the elementary and high school redistricting) that are going to keep coming to light every time there is a problem related to growth. New residents should embrace what we oldtimers already know - Brambleton isn't perfect, but it's the best place to be.