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

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.

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