Op-Ed: Why I Support the Tetra Purchase

This is an op-ed by former Reston Citizens Association president Colin Mills. It does not represent the views of Reston Now.

What makes Reston a special place? To a lot of us — including me — it’s the careful design and planning that went into its creation.

Tetra buildingOne important element of that planning is the integration of open space and natural areas throughout Reston. As Bob Simon said in one of his founding principles, “Beauty — structural and natural — is a necessity of the good life and should be fostered.”

It’s extremely valuable that even in the middle of a thriving, growing, busy community, there are pockets of green where we can experience tranquility and beauty. Right now, we have the opportunity to help preserve one of those green spaces in Reston. I hope that our citizens will take advantage of it.

I support RA’s plan to purchase the Tetra property for a variety of reasons. As a student of Reston history, I appreciate the idea of preserving the old Visitors Center. As a longtime patron of RA programs, I support adding another venue to host programs and accommodate our growing population.

Neither of those is the key reason to me, though. What matters most to me is what RA would add to the parcel — trees, shrubs, and green space — as well as what it wouldn’t add, which is more development in a location that would add more traffic to our streets and threaten our existing natural resources.

During my three years as president of RCA, we spent a great deal of time advocating for careful planning of Reston’s future growth. We recognized that growth and development is coming, and it’s foolish to think that we can stop the clock and preserve Reston exactly as it is forever. But we urged that development be concentrated in areas that were designed for it, such as in the vicinity of the Silver Line stations and the existing village centers.

We strongly opposed development in and near existing stable residential neighborhoods, in spots that would threaten our existing green space and environmental resources, and in areas that would worsen our already-clogged traffic. The Tetra property fails on all three counts.

Recently, I realized that although I’d read quite a bit about the pros and cons of the Tetra purchase, I hadn’t actually been to see the property for myself. So right after the Founders Day celebration earlier this month, my daughter and I took a stroll over to see it. It’s hard to appreciate the importance of the property’s location if you haven’t visited.

It’s located right between two existing RA recreation areas, Brown’s Chapel and the Lake Newport tennis courts. The parcel is tucked back next to the lake, in a tranquil and beautiful spot. It’s surrounded by trees, pathways, and natural splendor. To me, the parcel as it stands fits in perfectly with the parks and recreational areas around it. It’s a nice spot for a nature walk, or perhaps some fishing in the lake. It’s a terrible spot for additional development.

Some of those who oppose the Tetra purchase have argued that the existing property is already safe, due to its being in a Resource Protection Area. I wish that were true. Having spent four years of my life as a member of the Reston Master Plan Task Force, I learned more than any sane person would want to know about how planning and development works in Fairfax County. And if there’s one thing that I had drummed into my head, it’s that property owners hold most of the cards when it comes to development questions. In particular, once development rights have been granted to a property, it’s very difficult to take them away.

Here’s what we know. According to Fairfax County, the Tetra parcel is zoned for a convenience center, which would allow a mix of office and retail development. The County later approved a rezoning of the property that would permit office and/or restaurant development that could extend up to 50 feet into the lake. That’s what could be built there right now, if a developer were so inclined.

Cramming that kind of development between Brown’s Chapel and the tennis courts would lead to additional traffic on Baron Cameron (and probably North Shore as well), potentially damage the surrounding natural areas, and negatively impact the homeowners around Lake Newport. That’s not smart development. But it could very well happen as things stand.

As the Lake Anne area is revitalized, developers will be looking for other nearby properties that they can redevelop. The Tetra property, which is in easy walking distance from Lake Anne, would be a prime target. Some developer will surely snap it up and redevelop it, as densely as possible, if they get the chance.

As it is, Brown’s Chapel and the tennis court provide a nice buffer between the Lake Anne redevelopment and the quieter neighborhoods around Lake Newport. By purchasing the Tetra property, RA can assure that that buffer is preserved, and that one of our biggest and best chunks of quiet, relaxed, tree-lined park space remains that way.

We shouldn’t take it for granted that the Tetra property is safe just because it hasn’t been redeveloped yet. The ongoing saga over Reston National golf course shows how dangerous it is to assume that open space will remain that way if it’s in private hands.

I want to see Reston’s open, green space preserved. I want the southern shore of Lake Newport to remain a place for relaxation and recreation, not redevelopment. And that’s why I will be voting “yes” on the Tetra referendum.

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

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