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RA Investigating Purchase of Former Visitors Center

by Karen Goff January 23, 2015 at 9:00 am 1,040 9 Comments

Tetra Building in Reston/Courtesy of Tetra Reston Association is taking steps to add the former Reston Visitors Center to its property portfolio, but ultimately the members will get the final say on the acquisition.

The RA Board on Thursday unanimously passed a motion to authorize a referendum on the purchase this spring.

Members would vote on whether RA should purchase the building, which is set on 2 1/2 acres off of Baron Cameron Avenue.

The building was constructed in 1982, and for nearly two decades served as a visitors center to familiarize people with Reston, particularly the North Point area as it was constructed.

The 3,200-square-foot building is currently the headquarters of Tetra Partners, a commercial real estate firm. Tetra approached RA about purchasing the property about a year ago, said RA president Ken Knueven.

The property would be a natural fit for RA as it abuts several other RA properties. Among them: Browns Chapel Park, Lake Newport Dam and Lake Newport Tennis. The building also has a 50-foot extension into Lake Newport.

“This seems like a wonderful opportunity to get control of a piece of property that could, over time, be subjected to a lot of pressure as surrounding areas develop,” Lake Anne/Tall Oaks Director Eve Thompson said at Thursday’s board meeting. “It would be better to have that in our control and have the land used in a manner appropriate to its setting.”

RA is currently pursuing an appraisal of the property’s value, which would determine the price. However, it is challenging to know financial details when it is not known what the building would be used for or what kind of revenue it will produce, said RA Chief Financial Officer David Harris.

The community would not only get to decide whether RA moves forward with the purchase, it would also have great input on the building and land’s eventual purpose, the RA Board said.

RA land use attorney John McBride said the property was originally designated in the Reston Master Plan as a convenience center (mix of commercial, office and limited retail).

In the Master Plan Phase 2 draft, RA has recommended that the convenience center designation be removed and the parcel be limited to office or community use, which would enable the property to be redeveloped, said McBride.

The RA Board approved a fast-track schedule to get to the referendum. It includes:

  • Feb. 9  — Special meeting for board to consider referendum question and approve letter of intent to purchase
  • Feb. 10 — Week of posting notice of public hearings for purchase
  • Feb. 26 — First public hearing
  • March — More community discussion at four already planned district meetings
  • March 26 — Second public hearing; board to consider conditional contract pending referendum
  • April 13 — Ballots mailed out to member. Only property owners (and not renters) would be eligible to vote
  • May 8 — Deadline to return ballots
  • May 11 — Election results announced

RA CEO Cate Fulkerson said the reason for the quick schedule is “this sets us up for 2016-17 budget cycle, so we know what to plan for.”

“I have been a Reston resident for 36 years,” said Fulkerson. “I remember when [the building] was a visitors center. I watched the movie with my parents when they were curious about North Point. It is gorgeous, and I would like to add it to RA’s portfolio. The building itself has a wide range of opportunities.”

Photo: Tetra building at 11450 Baron Cameron Ave./Tetra file photo

  • Reston Realist

    It strikes me as outrageous that the RA Board is proceeding with its intent to purchase without even knowing the PRICE of the property, much less having (or at least publishing) an estimate of the cost it will add to Restonians’ annual assessments to cover the mortgage for the next 30 years.

    So far as I know, this is the first mention of the possible (or maybe “probable”) acquisition of this property and follows on the heels of a horrible deal with LADP to give away an accurate of wooded property for a drainage ditch in the same area.

    Is RA working for Reston or for developers? Does RA know what “transparency” means?

    • Reston Southie

      I would have to ask if you can READ?! The article says that RA is going to proceed with a referendum which will allow RA Members to decide IF they should proceed! Geez! Reading comprehension try to get some!

      • Greg

        But an RA referendum in and of itself is a very costly thing. Why spend the money?

        What unmet but desired needs are being addressed by acquiring yet another expensive highly desirable piece of property (taking it off the tax rolls), which will require even more expensive repurposing and, God-forbidden redevelopment, when so many existing RA properties are underused and poorly maintained?

        Moreover, RA has a history of ignoring the results of its referenda. Recall the pool-and tennis-fee roll in result? The build-or-rent HQ referendum? The very expensive consultants’ (yes, more than one) recommendations to close aging and underused rec facilities?

        I don’t think the big Baron Cameron park rec center or the botched bocce court pet project of Chew came to referendum, but these were clearly not desired projects.

      • Rational Reston

        The referendum isn’t so much of RA asking the members “Hey is this a good idea?” as much as the RA needs to have a referendum in order to purchase the property. A piece of property that RA has no idea of the purchase price or what the heck they’d do with it once they got it.

        But it’s OK, they’ll just raise our fees some ridiculous amount to figure out these answers.

  • Reston North

    Why doesn’t the Owners just sell it. Last thing RA needs is to spend an unknown amount of money on more real estate they don’t know what it will be used for.

  • Sue Beffel

    There are so many unknowns — and the nature of this purchase WAS deliberately kept vague on the RA Bd Agenda until it was announced on Thursday. The biggest are “What do they want to use it for?” and “What’s the rush?” There could be perfectly good answers, but they were not part of the announcement. The lack of transparency IS redolent of the Land Swap.

  • Guest

    Let me suggest that the COUNTY buy the property and add it to its parks collection, specifically Baron Cameron Park, using the building as a mini-conferencing center.

    Why does RA think that Restonians need to pay for everything when the County has billions more in the way of income?

  • Upchucky Cheese

    Just catching up on my Reston reading. And what’s going on around Lake Anne?

    First I find that the Parks people think that the developer owes THEM $1.4 million in proffers and then I read that RA wants to use Reston $$$ to BUY a real estate building.

    Isn’t there something here that doesn’t make sense?

    Shouldn’t RA be getting the proffer money and the Parks and Recreation people be buying the old Reston RE spot to add to Baron Cameron Park?

    What am I missing???????

  • Rob

    It’s not really big enough to be more than a meeting center (which RA already has) or some sort of “Reston Museum” type place (since RA doesn’t need the office space as I understand it). The land itself would have more uses than the structure I would think. If buying this helps preserve green space in Reston I could also see where RA might be interested, that sort of seems to be a course they’ve chosen recently (since they indicated an in interest in buying Reston National to preserve it as green space).

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