News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tetra Referendum Opponents Get Organized: Mass Mailings And Anonymous Blogs


Imagine our surprise when we got a second visit by uniformed federal agents at Restonian World Headquarters in less than a week, this time delivering a postcard-sized mass mailing urging us to vote against RA's proposed purchase of the Tetra property at Lake Newport.

The mailing, paid for by a mysterious organization calling itself "Restonians to Stop Tetra Purchase," points to a "web log" detailing more information about their opposition to the proposal, and including links to other anti-referendum commentary by our BFFs at Reston 2020 and others.

An anonymous blog critical of something involved with Reston? The nerve!

Oh, wait.

Here's the flip side of the postcard (and please to be noting the appropriately, and tastefully, stained desk we use to review all correspondence at Restonian World Headquarters):

Letter 2

What's surprising is that, as was the case in recent RA elections, folks are actually spending real money on the outcome of an RA-related vote. If critics of the purchase are right (and they probably are), the property owners stand to make a bundle if the referendum passes. Who stands to gain if people vote no?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Caddyshackpocalypse Now: BZA Ruling is 'Complicated,' Not Great News For Fans of Golf, Green Space, Puppies, Pretty Much Anything But Concrete (Updated)

BZA ruling"It's complicated" is not great news.

Following today's "complicated" Board of Zoning Appeals ruling on the Reston National Golf Course, we're going to go out on the world's smallest limb and say that anything but a flat-out rejection of the developer's claims gives them a window to move forward with pursuing awesome bollardy development on the golf course site. And with the money at stake, it would be crazy to think that they won't try to take advantage of that opportunity.

That doesn't mean development will happen -- but it does mean that proposals could ultimately wind up going through the standard county approval process, which hasn't had a great recent track record of listening to opposition from the Reston community -- or even its own planning staff.

Give us some good blockquote, BFFs at Rescue Reston:

Rescue Reston is disappointed that the BZA has seen fit to overrule portions of the decision of the Zoning Administrator and we will carefully consider appealing this decision to the Circuit Court. We believe the BZA has ignored not only the law and the property rights of the thousands who own property adjacent to the golf course, but also the will of the more than 6,000 supporters of Rescue Reston, and the thousands more members of the Reston Association, who respect the Reston Master Plan and oppose development of the golf course. We thank our supporters, including the hundreds who attended the hearing in January to help present the community’s views, and will continue to work with you to overturn this BZA decision. This does not end today.
Remember when we said that the developer's argument to the BZA was akin to a plot point from a kid's TV show? Well, according to our BFFs at Reston Now, today's announcement was more akin to the plot of a particularly long and uninteresting 19th century novel:
Before it could get to the ruling — or in this case, a partial ruling — the BZA heard more than two hours of rambling testimony from BZA members Paul Hammack and James Hart.

The testimony covered details including 1971 maps; a 1993 letter from Fairfax County Zoning;  a 2012 letter from county zoning administrator Cathy Belgin to attorney Mark Looney, who filed the original inquiry for RN Golf; and what parcels of Reston land are subject to various planned community zoning rules.

In the end, Hammack’s motion that “we overrule the zoning administrator to the extent she says a comprehensive plan amendment is a precondition [to development]” was unanimously approved.

The BZA took only into consideration the 2012 letter from Belgin to Looney and not the many documents and findings on the issue discovered since then.
But fear not! The BZA said it will have to wait to make a final decision until they see what Northwestern Mutual and its maybe not-so-anonymous developer wind up proposing for the site:
Hammack said it is hard to make a ruling when the board does not know what RN Golf has planned for the golf course.

“Until we know what is proposed, I don’t think we can make a determination saying the zoning administrator is right or wrong,” he said. “At this point, [ruling on] a development plan is hypothetical.”

The BZA motion all but ensures the discussion over the future of the golf course will continue. The golf course owner has 30 days in which to make an appeal.
Rescue Reston is currently weighing its options, but Connie Hartke made one critical point -- that without the protection of a master plan, developers can ultimately wait out any opposition to, well, pretty much anything:
“They can propose whatever they want to propose. Right now, we would band together and fight it. But in 50 years, who knows what will happen?”
Sigh. It's a disappointing day for Reston. Maybe a picture of a cute puppy will cheer us all up:

Sad day
Or maybe not.

Update: From the Washington Post "news-paper," comments from the developer's attorney:
RN Golf Management — which includes the Northwestern Mutual insurance company — bought the golf course in 2005 to use for residential development and has been seeking confirmation from the county of its right to do that, said the group’s attorney, Frank McDermott.

McDermott said Wednesday that there were still no concrete development plans for the golf course. “I have to advise the client” about the ruling, he said.
That calls for another cute puppy photo:

Sad day 2

Action McNews coverage:

And one more, linked instead of embedded because of the stupid Action McNews auto-play video.

Three sad teevee news stories deserve three more puppies:

Sad day 3

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tetra Referendum Begins Not With a Bang or a Whimper, But a Whole Lotta Blockquote

By now, uniformed federal agents should have delivered a ballot allowing you, Reston Homeowner, to vote on whether the Reston Association should go ahead with its proposed purchase of its old visitor's center, the Tetra property on Lake Newport. Since the initial announcement of the plan, we've learned a few Fun Facts about the proposal. Like that Tysons-based Woo Lae Oak and regional chain eatery Clyde's both took a look at buying the property for as much as $3 million, the latter presumably to fill it with wooden models of sailboats, horse saddles, and other tasteful memorabilia, but ultimately passed. And that the building needs a new roof, some HVAC repairs, some new trusses and windows, and some additional "TLC," if by "TLC" you mean "a punch list that would make the DRB drool, assuming it was a private residence."

We're no building inspectors. But the idea that maybe the roof needs a soup├žon of maintenance is visible even on the picture on the front of the handy referendum factsheet:

Leaky Roof
A little duct tape will take care of that, no problem!

To be fair, the current owner will pay for the roof, and "negotiate" on the $2.65 million asking price for the other problems. Maybe the RA should just stick a sippy straw into Lake Newport instead of fixing that clunky modern HVAC system, as per the recent wishes of its residents.

We originally thought this was a great idea, largely for the reasons the RA Board has specified -- that it would permanently extend the open space along Lake Newport and Baron Cameron Park. In fact, we think trying to obtain properties like this as they come available in the name of maintaining open space would be a good standing policy goal for the RA (which could come to pass sooner rather than later if tomorrow's Board of Zoning Appeals decision is bad news for opponents of redeveloping Reston National Golf Course). There's even a mention in the factsheet of using "developer contributions" exceeding $650,000 to offset the costs of the purchase -- something else that should become standing policy. But there's no denying that the purchase would impact assessments as early as 2018. Our BFFs at Reston 2020 have been particularly vigilant in estimating that impact, claiming the purchase will cost each RA household $83.56 over the next decade, and fact-checking various statements, as recently as today.

All other things being equal, we personally wouldn't mind spending $8 a year to preserve Reston green space -- and maybe even considerably more to ensure that Reston National, if things go south, is bought and converted into some awesome park or something. We'd really like it if developers could be encouraged required to fork over that $8 a year (or more) in our place. And we don't even live near Lake Newport or play golf!

But the secrecy that's at least partially required in a real estate negotiation has been taken as a sign that this may not be the best of all possible deals. There's been plenty of commentary about how the property is overpriced, not likely to be developed, falling apart, etc., etc. Here's one example:

They were all deathly afraid the property might be redeveloped. Exactly what it could be redeveloped was left to the fervent imagination of the audience. The fact that it’s been available for resale for a decade ought to staunch the nightmares of the innocent. The parking easement held by RA ought to be a source of comfort to the wobbly-kneed.

The fact that the property is the emergency spillway for Lake Newport would frighten away any investor or lender of any redevelop proposal. Can’t you just see the new building floating away after a visitation by Hurricane Agnes’ younger siblings. (It was Agnes that blew out the dam on Lake Ilsa, aka Lake Audubon in the 1970s). That any redevelopment of the tiny corner of the three acres not in the spillway or subject to the parking easement would probably require a rezoning, just like the Reston National Golf course, never came up.
And another:
Other statements are presented in an effort to bolster the $2.65 million price. One is that the seller will not accept less than $2.7 million.Another is that the present owner claims two restaurants looked at the property as a possible location. What is not stated clearly is that they both walked away.Moreover, there is no claim that a restaurant is currently considering the property.

Also not noted in the report is that at one time in the past, a restaurant was
proposed to be built at the same spot and the Lake Newport residents successfully defeated it in court.
RA Board President Ken Knueven explains the board's rationale:
During the past 50 years, Reston has seen substantial growth and expansion and there’s no denying more development is on the way... Owners and developers will work with their land use attorneys to make sure their property rights can leverage and maximize these designations in this booming Reston market.

This point has already been tested with the Visitors Center. The owner is going to sell the property — and knows his property has significant value in the hands of the right developer.

We see this as the opportunity to step in and do something that is rare these days — add open, green space to our natural resources portfolio.

By purchasing the property, Reston Association members would take total control and ownership of this parcel, protecting it for future generations to come. We would repurpose the property for community and recreation purposes only, providing continuity of ownership and use with the surrounding RA recreational and green space parcels.
By removing the commercial office/restaurant development potential on the site, we will be able to preserve and enhance the existing green space. Further, if acquired, we will plant more trees and shrubs as well as explore the feasibility of increasing green space on the parcel by reducing impervious surfaces (parking) that contribute stormwater water runoff to Lake Anne.

We believe an increase in green space common areas is critical to offset the growth within Reston.
In her own op-ed, Lake Anne/Tall Oaks board member Eve Thompson wrote:
The RA Board has a responsibility to investigate these kinds of opportunities. We are not empowered to act unilaterally, but we are empowered to gather enough information to determine if an opportunity makes potential sense for the community.

That is what we’ve done here — the rest is up to you. For some it will make sense to add to the band of 90+ acres that runs along Barron Cameron. For others it will make sense to make sure that the property is not able to be developed — now or ever; and for others it won’t make sense at all.

What is critical is that you had the opportunity to decide.
Ballots are due back by May 8.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Happy 101st, Bob Simon!

Bob 100
Our Facebook BFFs at Lake Anne Plaza shared this throwback photo from way back when Reston founder Bob Simon was a mere 100 years old -- just a baby, really. He's a great example of how a passion for life and a commitment to age in place (plus a daily martini and walk around the lake) can take you far. Here's to many more, Mr. Simon!

Update: Photos of Saturday's Founders Day festivities.

Video of the festivities:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Vowel-Free Apartment Dwellers, You Will Be Assimilated (By the RA)

BLVD borg
As the fancypants, vowel-free, Metro-adjacent BLVD apartments near completion, the Reston Association is trying to make good on a promise made when the project was approved: ensuring that the residents of the 400-plus building become card pool pass-carrying members of the RA (or, in keeping with the cachet of the building, maybe just "R").


RA’s Board of Directors voted at its regular meeting on March 26 to undertake the necessary steps to add the 450-unit luxury high rise currently under construction above the Reston Station parking garage adjacent to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro.

Under RA Bylaws, properties can be added to the association with written consent of fee simple owner (in this case, Comstock Properties) and a two-thirds vote of BOD, said RA CEO Cate Fulkerson.

The Board of Directors passed a motion several years ago to make adding new construction in Reston a priority for the association. Properties within Reston Town Center are not in RA territory. New buildings such as The Harrison, which recently opened on Reston Parkway, and BLVD, as well as planned new and replacement construction at the Crescent Apartments site, are slated to be RA members.
As we become an urban hellscape a denser, larger community, this marks a crucial reversal of what we've called Reston's Original Sin: Allowing our gritty downtown to go its own way, instead of falling under the auspices of the RA.

This is important, because all those new residents represent new income for the RA, which would basically wind up having to provide amenities of some sort either way. Who knows, maybe this will even help pay for six-figure web redesigns and bocce courts keep future assessment rate hikes lower. Crazier things have happened.

In the meantime, we'll welcome our new Borg overlords in their cube-shaped complex neighbors:


Our favorite correspondent, the Peasant From Less Sought-After South Reston, suggests a different song, to the tune of the theme from Cops:
"Bad Borg, Bad Borg, whatcha gonna do when the RA comes for you?"

Monday, April 6, 2015

Flashback Monday: An Idyllic Scene

Spring reston
This idyllic, gauzy scene evokes a simpler, less complicated era in Reston, with the clubhouse of the Reston National Golf Course and the Reston International Center sparkling in a misty spring morning. But even then, were those pristine links envisioned as a temporary placeholder for midrise condo goodness, as certain lawyers and insurance conglomerates have suggested, using a plot point lifted straight from a children's cartoon?

We'll know soon enough, but at considerable personal expense, we applied lemon juice careful forensic evidence to the original unretouched 1960s-era photo and, much to our surprise, unveiled these faded annotations:

Spring reston 2
There are no words.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Pirates of a Body Of Water Slightly Smaller Than The Caribbean

Strange things are afoot at Lake Anne.