Op-Ed: Tetra Good Value For Great Investment

Tetra buildingThis is an op-ed by new Reston Association President Ellen Graves. It does not reflect the views of Reston Now.

Reston Association was approached by Tetra Partners, the owner of the old Reston Visitor Center property at Lake Newport, asking if RA was interested in purchasing the property for $2.7 million. The owner indicated that the price was firm (he is in the commercial real estate development and brokerage business) and that he was going to make a decision in June regarding whether to sell the property (to RA or another entity) or continue to use it for his own purposes.

This 3.147-acre property strategically connects two larger RA common-area properties. RA has non-exclusive parking rights as well as trail easements in the property. Many members now enjoy portions of the property not within the RA easements. A considerable number of members have been concerned for years about the spectre of more intense commercial use of the property.

For these reasons, the RA Board was interested in discussing favorable but fair contingent contract terms with the owner. The RA Board did not secretly decide to initiate the acquisition of this property. The seller initiated these discussions. The seller’s original price was not based on any RA appraisal. When the RA Board became convinced that the offer from the owner could present a rare opportunity to expand the common area and childrens’ programs within Reston, it voted to decide this issue the “Reston way.”

The “Reston way” is to let the members decide, providing them with as much accurate, factual information as possible. That is why the Board directed staff to initiate a referendum, so that all RA members can vote whether the purchase and reuse of this property as common area, on the best terms and conditions that the seller will allow, is an opportunity that should be taken.

We are not a local government or municipality that can condemn property. We can purchase property only on such terms as the seller will agree. An appraiser within Reston, Stephanie C. Reger, stated “Given that the subject property is even available to purchase (at nearly any price) is a rare opportunity.”

This opinion is shared by many board members. However, the RA Board did not want to undertake a referendum if reasonable terms could not be negotiated with the seller. Staff first sought to determine if the $2.7 million selling price was reasonable. A written appraisal report (complying with the Uniform Standard of Professional Appraisal Practice) was commissioned by RA to answer this question.

The appraisal indicated that a price of $2.65 million is reasonable, assuming (1) some major deferred maintenance items are repaired by the seller and (2) the permitted redevelopment options for the property are limited to only a 6,930 sq. ft. additional restaurant and nothing more. A purchase price of $2.65 million for a building in good or better condition (replacing the certain portions of the HVAC and roof systems) is smack in the middle of the value range concluded by the two appraisers who signed the appraisal.

Since its founding, the “Reston way” has always meant that all decisions about the shaping of the community are driven by members. After all opinions are weighed, it is ultimately the responsibility of residents to choose the best course to protect Reston and provide new opportunities for members.

The Tetra property purchase referendum puts members in the position to decide what is the most prudent course to preserving the Reston’s assets and lifestyle. Some members will likely consider this a good opportunity, as I do, and will vote in favor of this purchase to increase common area.

Some of you may remember the Save Lake Newport campaign when Restonians donated their time and money because of a very real significant risk of further commercial development of this property. And, while they were successful at the time, there is no lawsuit which once and for all precludes further development of the property.

To the contrary, a site plan was approved by the County for a 6,930 sq. ft. two-story addition located directly on the lake (details of which are contained in the appraisal). Building plans and architectural renderings were prepared.

There is no reason why this site plan for the additional two-story addition would not be approved again. A June 25, 2007 Fairfax County Zoning Interpretation states there is more than adequate parking for such addition, specifically considering the RA non-exclusive parking easement. This additional building footprint is located outside of the floodway.

Another county-issued zoning determination states: “It is my determination that adding an eating establishment to the site that is unrelated to the existing sales center would not require an amendment to the existing development plan and proffers, and that the specific location and FAR of an eating establishment on the site would require approval of a PRC plan and a site plan as determined by DPWES…. It is also my determination that there are no specific Zoning Ordinance provisions within the PRC District or within the proffers regarding the height, the hours of operation of an eating establishment, indoor or outdoor seating, or music entertainment. Special events, such as wedding receptions and banquets are permitted uses within an eating establishment.”

In addition, the owner submitted a PRC Plan to the County that shows an additional 27,000 square feet of office space (in addition to the existing office space and the additional 6,930 square feet of restaurant).

This PRC Plan addresses engineering issues with the dam spillway/floodway and the owner’s engineer thinks it is approvable.

The Reston National Golf Course situation is a recent example of those who thought there was zero chance of redevelopment. They were proven wrong when a new, more aggressive owner purchased the property in 2005. Just because an owner has not aggressively pursued redevelopment in the past, does not mean a new owner will do the same.

Some members, who want to preclude commercial redevelopment of this property once and for all, will probably vote “yes” in the referendum. While some residents may not benefit directly from the instructional, recreational, youth camp and after-school programs planned for the site. they do benefit indirectly because these programs contribute to make Reston a great place to live. The use of this property to expand these programs constitutes a significant opportunity to many of our members.

The RA Board’s position is that the families whom these programs would benefit should know of this opportunity, and should be able to make their voices heard through a referendum. We hope that you take the time to read the information online about the possible Tetra purchase and then vote to make your voice heard.

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

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