News and notes from Reston (tm).

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.


  1. Don't forget the musty odor the inspector found in the main conference room! If I wanted to smell mold and mildew, I'd hang out in my basement for free.

  2. It would be a great spot for a Senor Frogs.

  3. That dark spot on the roof is a shadow from the chimney.

    1. What about the ones much lower on the roof?

  4. This is a dollars and sense issue, even if you can ignore the overly stealthy way this has been handled, and Kneuven's patronizing op-ed argument: "The board likes it, therefore you should, too." The issue is not if this is a good idea, but rather, the issue is that this property is worth nowhere near $2.6M. No one wants this property, RA is bidding against itself, and appraisals are half the figure. Given the severe limits on this property's development (spillway, easement, etc.) and the awful condition, I would be ok with a purchase between $900k and $1.3M on the high end. RA, however, is spending others' money and is talking up the value, which is exactly the incorrect tactic to employ in effective real estate negotiation. Perhaps RA will negotiate the price lower, and perhaps developers will kick in, and perhaps the property will be a useful location for wedding receptions ..but I doubt it. RA appears to be in over its head on a simple deal, heaven help us if these rookies need to, say, buy a golf course in the near future.

  5. Wow, Restonian, have you bought the RA Board argument hook, line, and sinker? The "fact sheet" is full of smoke and mirrors, not facts. If you want facts, check out . No reason to pay over twice the market price for something you already control!

  6. Mold in a wood-frame building in Virginia that hasn't been air-conditioned for ten years?! No! I am amazed that the place hasn't turned into a fungi museum.

  7. Terry Maynard has a very compelling op ed opposing the purchase over at restonnow:

  8. I didn't get a firkin' ballot by the uniformed gov't agents.


    Most likely one of my neighbors got it and will commit postal and voter fraud. Bastids!

    1. Did you check a box on a recent ballot saying you would receive future communications electronically? If so, you should have gotten an email.

    2. Don't worry, Conspiracy! I didn't get my ballot in the mail until today. But also: check your email in case Mr. Helper is right.

  9. I had a nice Subway sandwich-type picnic with dope and an old Hondo guitar on the Lake Newport "docklet" down the goose path in 1993. It was nice. Then I accidentally dumped the other half of my sub into the murky waters and the picnic went downhill. Not so nice.

    Do the three guys in the FedEx truck still bang that one girl (woman, legal by 2x) over there on lunch breaks?

    This was rambling. Sorry. RAmbling. Go figure.

  10. Great place to hide a restaurant if they could build one there. But they can't. 2.7 million would be awfully useful for anything but this dumb deal. It looks like a kickback deal to me.


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