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RA Candidates Support Tetra Purchase — With Caveats

by Karen Goff — March 4, 2015 at 11:00 am 20 Comments

All seven candidates for Reston Association’s Board of Directors said at a Candidates Forum on Monday that they are in favor of RA acquiring the former Reston Visitors Center for recreational and community use — but with caveats.

RA has sent a letter of intent to Tetra, the property owner for more than a decade, to purchase the building on Baron Cameron Drive for $2.65 million. The acquisition of the 3.48-acre property adjacent to RA’s Brown’s Chapel Park and Lake Newport would give the association 98 contiguous acres of open space and prevent a developer from purchasing the property — and using the 3,128-square-foot building — for a commercial enterprise, which is allowed under the current Reston Master Plan designation.

RA is planning a member referendum on the subject in April. If approved by the members (10 percent of 17,506 eligible voters), RA hopes to close the deal in July.

Andy Sigle, the former RA Vice President running for the South Lakes seat, said “the devil is in the details” when it comes to the purchase.

“In general, yes, I am in favor,” said Sigle. “We can hold that space and make sure it stays the way RA wants it means a lot. But we need to ask the questions that need to be asked.”

RA CEO Cate Fulkerson said there is $650,000 from an unnamed developer that will go towards renovation and repurposing the Tetra building.

“My question is what’s the next-best thing the money can be used for?” said Sigle.

Incumbent South Lakes Director Richard Chew has similar questions, but says answers are on the way.

“Is this acquisition in the best interest of RA? The short answer is ‘yes,’ ” he said. “Rest assured, the current board is asking difficult questions, financial questions. These are sensitive behind-the-scenes questions. The  answers are coming shortly.”

At-Large Candidate Ray Wedell, a leader with Rescue Reston and proponent of protecting open space in Reston, said “this is an issue rare opportunity to seize control of open space.”

“We HAVE to take control of the Tetra building,” he said. “Of course there are issues, but they are all minor compared to difficulties we will face in stewardship of land. We will look back on this as a no-brainer.”

Other candidates Julie Bitzer (South Lakes), Mike Sanio (At-Large), Dannielle LaRosa (North Point) and Charles Dorfeuille (North Point) said they had similar concerns about the developer contributions and other financials, but were in favor of acquiring the building to protect green space and boost community programming.

Other topics of discussion at the forum included RA’s 2016-17 budget, member outreach and support for aging homes and clusters in need of renovation.

See the entire forum on the YouTube clip above.

Voting in the 2015 election (online or by mail) began Monday and will continue through the end of March.

  • LaureenMT

    Some of the RA candidates have “live” links in the article that take the reader to more information, but others do not. Can you put links for all? It seems difficult to locate all of the candidate coverage on Reston Now. Thanks.

    • Karen Goff

      Not all the profiles are live yet. At large candidates Michael Sanio and Ray Wedell will run later today.

      • Guest

        Andy Sigle? Richard Chew?

        • Karen Goff

          those are now linked. When i wrote the story yesterday those two profiles were not yet live either.

  • Cluster Tycoon

    6:50 “inclusion”.

  • Cluster Tycoon

    Going into massive debt to buy the dilapidated, overprized Tetra building is a trivial pursuit that yields little or nothing to the membership. if Reston wants to maintain its homely, lush green image they should seriously consider buying the Reston National golf course and turning it into the regions’ premier nature preserve and agricultural showcase. SLHS students could practice their farming skills, residents could lease plots of land to maintain their own green spaces etc. Perhaps we could even combine operations with the Reston Zoo and share space, grazing rights. There are plenty of other things to consider, options that would ensure a continuous stream of visitors, tourists and residents to come to this mecca, lets be serious about how we conduct business, and also how we reward those that make it happen.

  • John Farrell

    Having sat through this year’s candidates forum, there is a very strong possibility of not voting this year for the first time in 20 years.

    I can think of a lot of things RA could borrow $2 million to spend on that would serve the entire membership better than a 50+ year old buildling.

    Especially when the land is severely restricted on what it can be used for and has a parking easement covering most of the property allowing RA to park cars on it.

    And the County says the land and buildings are only worth $1.2 million.

    This is fundamentally the same RA Board that wouldn’t put the indoor tennis facility to referendum when that cost was $4 million.

    WTH

  • JCSuperstar

    I love it when someone just throws their hands in the air and says, why bother. You must be a hoot at party’s.
    Perhaps members see more to this acquisition than you do. The efforts such as Save Brown’s Chapel, Rescue Reston National Golf Course, the Land Swap, and Say No to useless rec center at Baron Cameron Park are just a few good examples of why this purchase makes sense. It protects this beautiful parcel from zealous overdevelopment and ridiculous county interference. I appreciate RA’s recent efforts to protect the one asset so dear to us — common area land.

  • Robert Mowbray

    I still haven’t heard anyone say what RA intends to use the property for. RA should not purchase this property just to ensure that someone else doesn’t.

    • JCsuperstar

      Perhaps one should read the fact sheet(s) provided by RA, and linked by RestonNow several times. All quite informative. Gather your facts…then share a thought.

      • John Farrell

        Exactly which “fact” on that sheet do you consider relevant?

        • JCSuperstar

          Uhhh. The section: “Why Purchase This Property?” for one. Robert obviously had not read the information available and decided to provide an uninformed opinion anyway.
          I’m seeing a lot of this on this blog. People making up facts and stating them long enough (and with conviction,) until they become real. Or, they’re bullying others with their “my way or no way” attitudes.
          What’s that old saying about opinions? Let me think — “opinions are like…” damn, what are opinions like? Anyone?

          • John Farrell

            There aren’t any facts in that section. There is speculation, opinion, exortation and a sales pitch but no facts.

            There are very few facts in the entire document.

            The discussion about the assessment valuation is full of nonsense.

            The Virginia Constitution requires assessments to be for the fair market value, just like an appraisal. A mass appraisal is simply a different methodology to arrive at fair market value.

            Never has a FFX assessment been shown to be off by 50%.

          • JoeInReston

            Two different but related questions:

            – Why RA plans to purchase the property
            – What RA plans to do with the property

            Robert Mowbray said specifics were lacking on the latter question. Your reference to the “Why Purchase This Property” section in the RA fact sheet answers the former question more than the latter question.

            The RA fact sheet items “Protect Against Over Development” and “Increase & Enhance Greenspace” certain don’t answer the ‘what’ question.

            The “Increase Community & Recreational Use Opportunities” section does provide a glimpse. But frankly, given that assessment fees are too high as is, I don’t see how the recreational use opportunities listed in the section would justify an increase to the RA assessment fee.

          • JCSuperstar

            Joe,
            Good points. I do agree the draft fact sheet still needs some tightening up. But, you stated it best: the “Why” is answered reasonably well (and I believe Julie2020’s comment on this thread lends to that answer as well); the “What” is explained well enough for me (community based programming, with additional input from members). For me, the “Why” takes priority, as the members have a rare opportunity to add a very desirable parcel to RA’s common area AND take control of it.

            You believe assessments are too high, I’m curious what you believe the reasonable assessment is?

      • Robert Mowbray

        I have read as much as I can find, and I have not seen anything very specific about what this property will be used for. Looks like someone decided to buy it and they are now looking around for a good use for it.

        • JCSuperstar

          Robert. Didn’t you hear? It will be a pool parlor. Sponsored by Red’s Table.

  • Julie2020

    As I stated in the Elections panel forum on Monday evening, I do support the acquisition of the 3.476 acre Tetra property but with caveats. A caveat = a caution, a warning to consider details when evaluating. Some questions I have include – 1) will there be or has there been the equivalent to a home inspection with regard to any maintenance/retrofitting/even accessibility requirements, will such be factored into RA negotiations and final deal? 2) can current proffers or developer contributions be counted on as absolute towards this acquisition? The property’s market appraisal is based on its current commercial zoning – what value it could command as zoned. Today the property could be developed/re-developed with two-story office space, and a restaurant, and there’s the ability to put a “dock” out into Lake Newport. Right smack in the middle of our RA facilities…..If RA purchased it, adding the property into our resources, that risk would be put aside. We could chose how to integrate it into the rest of the RA facilities, making the sum of the surrounding “parts” (Lake Newport, the tennis courts, Brown’s Chapel Park) greater and far better than they are individually. The redevelopment of Lake Anne Village alone is slated to bring 1000 more residences to that geographic area of our RA community. Thus many more Restonians will seek the “open space”/RA facilities just as we currently enjoy and which are maintained by our assessments. Just some of my thoughts…you can email me ([email protected]) or find me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Julie4RA) BUT PLEASE, I encourage all to attend any or all of the upcoming RA District meetings (3/12th, 3/16th, 3/23rd, 3/25th) where this topic is to be discussed – we need to be as informed as possible when the referendum is presented to us. We all need to use our voices and our votes.

    • John Farrell

      That property has had exactly the same authorized uses for decades and yet it has been substantially unused.

      What’s the bum’s rush to grossly overpay for it now?

      We studied the indoor tennis facility for more than 2 years.

  • Local Passerby

    Why if this property is it the current developer-owner can think of no better use for this property? Or, at least one he thinks can get approved in this neighborhood? And, why is no one else interested except RA for reasons still not real clear. This is the same RA that made the nifty deal in a land swap for that ideal drainage area just across Baron Cameron. Matter of fact, who did the assessment on that piece of land that they already have no use for? Why the rush? Let’s see what price the market sets for Tetra.

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