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 soupçon of maintenance is visible even on the picture on the front of the handy referendum factsheet:
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.And another:
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.
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.RA Board President Ken Knueven explains the board's rationale:
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.
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.In her own op-ed, Lake Anne/Tall Oaks board member Eve Thompson wrote:
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.
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.Ballots are due back by May 8.
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.