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Op-Ed: Why I’m Voting No on Tetra Purchase Referendum

by RestonNow.com — April 15, 2015 at 11:00 am 21 Comments

Tetra buildingThis is an op-ed by Reston resident Terry Maynard. His opinion does not represent Reston Now.

I am voting “NO” on RA’s referendum to purchase the Tetra property at Lake Newport and, having reviewed the available materials, official and otherwise, I believe it may be useful to share with you why I have made that decision. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but I believe it is important to present evidence for my position, not just assertions.

The $2.65 million price is waaaay too high! In fact, the County puts the property’s assessed value at $1.2 million, down $50,000 from last year. The difference, as directed by RA and stated in the RA-funded appraisal ,is largely the “market value of the subject, assuming restaurant uses are permitted and any deferred maintenance has been corrected, as of Jan. 23, 2015, is estimated to be” $2.65 million. In fact, there is no restaurant on the property nor will there ever be. The property condition analysis points to at least a quarter-million dollars in needed repairs. At most, this property is worth one million dollars–if we really need it.

That $2.65 million price will cost Restonians more than $3.8 million in loan payments over the next 20 years and, even with RA’s optimistic revenue forecasts for rental of the small Tetra building, mean net cash outflows totaling nearly $2 million that RA members must pay over two decades. To pay off that shortfall, RA will have to add over 20 percent to the average annual increase in RA fees over the timeframe if its fees grow at a 3-percent inflation rate. (See attached 20-year financial chart.)Tetra Financial Analysis/Terry Maynard

There will be no development there because of planning, environmental, and easement restrictions. An alleged key reason to buy the property is to prevent others from building a 6,900-square-foot restaurant there (hence, the appraisal assumption) under a 2001 zoning determination or expanding “Lake Newport convenience center” as the Tetra building property is characterized in the current Reston Master Plan. Neither of these will happen.

First, as part of the six-year effort to revised Reston’s Master Plan, it is being altered within the next few months to preclude that from happening. The latest draft language for the Lake Newport Convenience Center says, “Lake Newport Convenience Center is planned for office or community use at the existing built intensity to maintain its current character.”  The “existing use” is the lone Tetra building.  The Planning Commission hears this draft plan on April 22 and the Board of Supervisors will hear it on June 2. No opposition is expected to this provision — except from Tetra properties, which is trying to accelerate this transaction before further development is precluded — and RA is doing its bidding at a huge potential cost to us all.

The property is covered with environmental restrictions and 18 easements, including RA easements.

Most importantly, the lake and shoreline area are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and are protected as a Resource Protection Area (RPA) under the Fairfax County Chesapeake Bay Protection Ordinance (CBPO), which flows from the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Act, the interstate (all Bay watershed states and DC) Chesapeake Bay Protection Agreement, and the Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order.

Flood zones on Tetra property/Credit: Terry Maynard The goal of all these orders, agreements, laws, and ordinances is to prevent further pollution of the Bay and, over time, improve its condition. In general, they restrict any development or redevelopment (other than minor modifications and repairs to existing property) in perennial lakes and streams or within 100′ of the shoreline, such as is the case with the Tetra property as shown on the attached County map.

Without going into too much detail, the shoreline area from the Tetra building west is also in a designated floodplain (see the “FPL” on the attached map). That carries its own set of development restrictions largely focused on not blocking any flooding that may occur, adding to construction costs in usually unacceptable ways — if one can acquire the necessary approvals to build.

Like virtually every law or ordinance, there are opportunities for waivers and exemptions through hearings and Board approvals, but the notion of Fairfax County approval of the construction of restaurant extending into Lake Newport on the Tetra property is remote at best, especially with the new Master Plan in place calling for it to remain “as is.”  That is why several restaurant owners have already decided against proceeding with a purchase of the Tetra property.

Moreover, if a developer were interested in buying the property to build a restaurant or office building there, I am quite confident that environmentally sensitive Restonians would rise up to block any construction there. And you can count me among those who would stand in opposition under such circumstances.

Virtually all the remaining property outside the Tetra RPA is covered by RA’s own easements and other utility purposes, including the parking lot and roadway. We already control the use of half of this land, and we don’t need to buy it.

There is simply insufficient space to build a restaurant or an office building worth the effort that is not covered by either environmental or easement constraints.  So why pay should Restonians pay $2.65 million for a property over a fear of something that can’t happen? 

RA’s stated reasons for purchasing the property are not compelling and greatly overstated.   RA gives three reasons to purchase the Tetra property in its latest (Draft #11) “Fact Sheet”:  Protect against overdevelopment, increase and enhance green space, and increase community and recreational opportunities. None of these reasons withstand scrutiny, especially at a price tag of $2.65 million.

I have already explained why Restonians don’t need to worry about overdevelopment of this property. The new Master Plan will preclude it, and the combination of environmental restrictions and easements on the space already make it impossible to do so. That’s why none of the restaurants originally nosing around the property bought it!  Why should we buy it when the new Master Plan will protect the property from overdevelopment?

As for the green space argument, if one digs into this paragraph of the fact sheet, one discovers that what RA really is talking about is “to provide continuity of ownership and use with the surrounding RA recreational and green space parcels.” In fact, the only barrier to continuous green space ownership is the road from the Tetra building leading to Baron Cameron. RA owns the land on both sides of this street: Brown’s Chapel and the Lake Newport tennis court area.  Without the possibility of redevelopment of the property by its current (or another private) owner, there is no threat that green space will be lost.  So why should we buy it to protect against a non-existent threat?

Finally, it would be nice to expand community and recreational opportunities, but RA’s existing indoor facilities — its headquarters, the Nature House at the Walker Nature Center, the Glade Room, and Brown’s Chapel — are not fully utilized now.  In fact, those three facilities, including some outdoor activities at the Nature Center, were booked for about one activity per day, be it an RA committee meeting or a recreational activity.

Specifically, only 131 RA activities were booked in 130 days in or at RA facilities in the January-April period this year.  At most, these facilities were used at one-fifth of their operating capacity– and that’s counting the large RA conference center as a single space.   Some other RA activities were booked at RCC and some involved trips, but the use of RA building facilities was extremely limited.  So why should we buy another building that is three decades old and nearly derelict for these activities?

To sum up, there are no compelling reasons to buy the Tetra property. There is virtually no threat that the property will be re-developed into some oversized commercial or retail complex.  And the price of $2.65 million is way over the top.

I am voting “NO” on the RA referendum proposal to buy the Tetra property and I urge you to do the same. And I appreciate you taking the time to read this lengthy explanation.

Something on your mind? Send a letter to [email protected] Reston Now reserves the right to edit letters for spelling, style and clarity.

Tetra file photo; charts and diagram by Terry Maynard.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Exactly right! Every Reston resident should read this!

  • Wings!!

    I fully agree that Reston needs a Hooters. However, 2.6 million is asking a lot. It dosen’t have to go in the TETRA building, though it would be nice.
    #HootersForReston

  • Stop the Insanity

    So when Lake Newport LLC bought the TETRA property in 2003 the sale was for $750,000 which was under the county assessed value of $1.1. or $1.2 million. One can only surmise that the reason for the low price was the limited development potential and the parking easements for the tennis courts. So if we go with the current county assessment of $1.2 million and then request a reduction in price for the necessary repairs from neglect and deferred maintenance (which I don’t know how that could happen; doesn’t RA have rules about such things) of $250,000 that would make a reasonable RA offer $950,000.

    RA is also assuming that there is going to be revenue from the building. But they based their estimates on 100% usage. What if they only get half the weddings they expect? Half that revenue is gone. Who is going to want to rent it if they are going to be kicked out at 9 or 10 PM and they can’t have a band or dancing? How much is it going to cost them to just unlock the door for a wedding? Is there going to be a RA representative in the space for the event? How much will that person be paid? What about cleaning up after? Heating during the winter?

    So many questions that RA hasn’t answered and don’t seem to want to answer.

    Come on RA, this isn’t rocket science.

    • Reston Realist

      Not rocket science, but it could be REALLY embarrassing.

      • Wings!!

        I know that there are some issues with opening a restaurant on the property due to the Chesepake Bay Watershed. But I could really see myself sitting on that deck eating some Chesepake Bay Blue Crabs and throwing back a couple cold beers.
        #HootersForReston

        • Stop the Insanity

          Sorry Wings!! but I would vote for Tilted Kilt.

          Let’s see, if I wanted to open a franchise it would be $2.65 M for the property + $250 K for the repairs + $100K or more to setup the restaurant = $3 M and they haven’t served one wing / crab / beer yet. Oh wait, I would be in a bidding war with RA so maybe I would have to spend $2.75 M for the property. On second thought, maybe I don’t want that franchise.

          Just thinking, if the restaurant customers throw the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab shells into the lake, it would just be returning the remains to their natural habitat. I wonder how the folks who live around Lake Newport would feel about that?

          Of course the people who live on the lake are loving this, RA is going to protect their precious lake and property values and they won’t have to spend a dime. The 44(?) homes around the lake could just buy it for themselves as their cluster community house. That’s just $66 K each, a small price to pay to protect their million dollar homes.

          • fed up

            The Lake Newport homeowners have an extensive e-mail campaign going on right now in support of this purchase. And why not? I’d love to have ALL of Reston pay to protect my water views.
            Those of us not on Lake Newport (and who don’t succumb to their scary commercial development myths) should go door to door and get out the NO votes. Inform your neighbors of this insane waste of OUR money.

    • JCSuperstar

      I think the latest BZA decision today, regarding the Reston National Golf Course, lays the groundwork for all developer/owners, the opportunity to push to the max their own property rights and uses.
      I still favor NO, but that decision today frightens me. A lot of time and money is going to be spent fighting the fight.

      • Rodney Dangerfield

        Instead of wishing it were right to legislate or litigate property rights away, why don’t you folks work on raising money to buy them, then you can preserve them how you wish … the BZA made the right decision today.

  • MJay

    “‘market value of the subject, assuming restaurant uses are permitted and any deferred maintenance has been corrected, as of Jan. 23, 2015, is estimated to be’ $2.65 million”

    You know what they say about “assuming” things… Ugh…Our dues are going to go way up at some point in the next few years to cover this expense when the revenue doesn’t pan out as outlined by the RA Board.

  • east297

    Well said. Super letter.

  • Greg

    There’s more, a consolidated version, on why everyone should vote *** NO *** here. https://saynototetra.wordpress.com/

  • ItsNotMyMoney

    It’s unfortunate that a vote like this is not based on rational thought. So even though all your points make sense, I’m afraid it’s still going to pass. The poll on RestonNow (https://www.restonnow.com/2015/04/13/now-open-ras-tetra-purchase-referendum/) continues to favor approval of the referendum (63% yes/ 27% No). So assuming that those answering the poll are probably reading the commentary, why are they still inclined to vote yes, WTF?

  • You are right. Reston A does not desperately need this and the owner has it way over priced. It will be difficult to get a commercial business in there. So I’m voting no!!!

  • LaureenMT

    I had heard once that those who oppose the Tetra purchase should refuse to vote, since lack of a sufficient number of votes could kill the deal. Today, I received a postcard in the mail telling me to vote “No.” As an opponent of the Tetra purchase, which is the more effective route to stop this ill-advised purchase?

    • Terry Maynard

      The more effective way is to VOTE “NO.”

      It will be much more difficult to prevent a quorum (& therefore failure of the referendum) by not voting than to defeat the referendum by VOTING “NO” where a simple majority of 2,000 or so votes would win (& defeat the referendum).

    • JoeInReston

      I fear this will option will have the effect of splitting the vote. Ugh.

    • LaureenMT

      I will vote NO!

  • Secret Observers

    Terry, Thank you for excellent op-ed with lots of factual evidences.
    Can members sue RA Board and staff for misleading or breach of fiduciary to collect $ or put lien on their properties to pay for $3.8 MIL ?

    • Terry Maynard

      You can sue, but–thanks to changes by RA referendum in the governing documents about a decade ago–whether you win or lose you have to pay RA’s costs for defending itself. (I think a judge might disagree, but that’s the RA governing rule.) FWIW–I voted no in that referendum too after reading all the proposed changes, a few of which were good, many of which were bad.

  • Don

    thank you for such a comprehensive explanation. I agree. This makes no sense, financial or otherwise.

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