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Op-Ed: Why I Support the Tetra Purchase

by RestonNow.com — April 21, 2015 at 2:00 pm 44 Comments

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.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Not hearing anything worth $2.65 million… or that benefits all of Reston rather than just a few homeowners on Lake Newport.

  • LakeNewport

    “and negatively impact the homeowners around Lake Newport”
    Bottom line, that’s what this is about. Let the Lake Newport HOA borrow 2.7 million and buy the property.

    • Eric

      Exactly. I personally don’t care if a restaurant moves in, or 7-Eleven, or nothing. If the residents of Lake Newport are worried about the impact, let them buy it.

      As for RA purchasing the property, that’s fine, but not even close to that price point. Maybe about half.

    • Secret Observers

      Agree with LakeNewport.

      Mr. Mills “learned more than any sane person would want to know about how planning and development works in Fairfax County”, and “wants the southern shore of Lake Newport to remain a place for relaxation and recreation” for “the quieter neighborhoods around Lake Newport”
      …..by 2.7 + million debt paid by the rest of Reston including many senior members struggling to pay rising HOA dues with their fixed incomes from retirement.

  • Dodge

    I think most people agree, or could be persuaded, that purchasing the tetra property is in line with Reston’s principals, but not at this price point. I feel that price is almost a million too high. I wish that if we all voted no that the property owner would feel motivated to lower his asking price and we could get a better deal, but with Lake Anne redevelopment starting in the next couple years the price is only likely to get inflated further. I will visit the property tonight, but I am still leaning towards a no since rushed decisions are usually bad ones.

    • johnson

      +1 on the price point. Would a restaurant really pay that much for the property? what would be their ROI?

      • JCSuperstar

        Uh, yea. You folks are killing me. Do you see a decline in development in Reston, or Herndon? Have you noticed anything different lately. The owner will get his price, period. You need to look at it vey simply: development (restaurant/office) or a park.

        I say let it go its course.

        • John Farrell

          Actually we have seen projects mothballed because there’s 19 million square feet of empty office space in Fairfax.

        • Rational Reston

          Go find the various articles on Reston Now with “Fill This Space”….there’s lot’s of space. If someone else wants to wade into such territory, so be it.

          It’s obvious that Reston is not filled with business people, it’s a despite the lake front view, it is a horrible space for a business. It has no frontage on the only road with access. It’s just like Tall Oaks, if you can’t see it, no one will come.

          And RA’s plan of ‘denying’ use for this mysterious development (what can really go in there that is so scary? an oil refinery? a spaceport? a soylent green bottling plant?) and instead using for ….uh, stuff! and ….uh events!. It’s bad business from RA’s standpoint. Overall from the ideas to this ridiculous referendum to all the virtual ink spilled, this is just a total waste of many, many resources.

      • Dodge

        Hooters may not, but I could see a larger chain being able to. Most likely would be a middleman would buy it and lease out the restaurant space.

  • MyOpinion

    If the building is so important to Reston, why did the RA sell it for Tetra for 1/3 of the current asking price years ago? Sounds to me like someone on the RA Board is buddies with the Lauer family and is looking for a kick back funded by the Reston Members.

    And the building was the Sales Center for all of Reston. Would you call the lobby of a car dealership a Visitors Center?
    http://tetrapartners.com/about-tetra-partners/headquarters.php

    • JCSuperstar

      Where does it say Reston Association ever owned this building in the past? The Reston Land Corporation (the developer) owned it back then. Developers have always owned this property.

  • MyOpinon

    Its also interesting that Tetra Partners dosent list the building as For Sale on their Properties Listing page. I believe I read in an earlier post that Tetra approached RA and asked if they would like to buy the property?

    http://tetrapartners.com/tetra-commercial-properties/index.php

  • Cluster Tycoon

    Even though most people will vote NO on this deal I will vote yes. Because a yes vote means that the building will not turned into a restaurant. Otherwise we will run into a serious possibility of increasing sewer rat population which already is a huge problem at Lake Anne, just walk there at night and you will see. So a yes vote means no sewer rats. This is serious folks.

    • No

      I think we already established that due to the chesapeake bay watershed protection act, no restaurants could be built on this property.

      • JCSuperstar

        Oops. You’re wrong.

        DPWES approved the plan. The restaurant is “adjacent to the floodplain.” “the building could be constructed without any further floodplain studies or related approvals.”

        Do your own research! Read!

        • Reston Realist

          WRONG! It may be adjacent to the floodplain, but it is in the middle of the “Resource Protection Area” of the Chessy Bay ordinance. These are different sets of restrictions. No new restaurants, not even a much-needed HOOTERS!

          • JCSuperstar

            Do your research friend, the RPA is only a guideline, does not prohibit development. And more importantly, the development plan was approved prior to the Chesapeake Act and the County’s passage . Hence, the latest DPWES determination.

          • Terry Maynard

            I was surprised at your statement re “a guideline,” to I looked it up. Here is what the state CBPA says:

            “The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and regulations REQUIRE that a vegetated buffer no less than than 100 feet wide be located adjacent to and landward of all tidal shores, tidal wetlands, non-tidal wetlands connected by surface flow and contiguous to tidal wetlands or along water bodies with perennial flow. These features, including the 100-foot buffer, comprise the Resource Protection Area (RPA), and serve a direct water quality function by removing excess sediment, nutrients, and potentially harmful or toxic substances from groundwater and surface water entering the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Buffers also help to absorb periodic flood surges, and supply thermal protection, food, and cover to fish and other wildlife, stabilize stream-banks, and provide recreation and aesthetic values.

            Generally, vegetation in the 100-foot buffer must be preserved on lots that include an RPA, and established where it does not exist. . . .”

            I see the word “require” (yes, I capitalized it), not “guideline.” Where do you see “guideline?” And, yes, Fairfax County has defined Lake Newport as an RPA.

            And, FWIW, the zoning decision included only a floodplain determination, not an RPA decision.

          • JCSuperstar

            Wanna see who wins over this little lake? You’re like a legal intern, reading the books for the big people who make the big bucks. Not practicing in the real world.

            How’s it going with you versus the County so far? Oh, never mind, let me check your blog, and I’ll get right back to you.

          • Ya Know

            Whether you are right or not, your preferred outcome is more likely to come to pass if people vote no. So you should stop challenging Maynard, because people who think he is wrong about the impossibility of further development of Tetra – perhaps because you have convinced them of it – are likely to vote yes.

            What’s more important to you? The outcome of this vote or badgering poor old Terry Maynard?

          • JCSuperstar

            Both actually.

            It pains me to see so many here with their commanding dialogues, falling for the likes of the Mr. Maynards in the world. Sheeple.

            So much of what is wrong in the world today is the result of naïve individuals being led by the nose, and not knowing or caring. Just read and do your own research, be well grounded in logic and the facts. Or, just join the ranks…

            https://youtu.be/sIzivCJ9pzU

          • edgyone

            No, JC is just a giant dbag that thinks he knows something the rest of us don’t and argues incessantly to try to get people to vote yes by saying he is for private development. Even though it is very plain to see on the maps for dpwes, the law and past non interest in acquiring the property that no one wants to buy swamp land, JC and the rest of the RA chicken littles want to rush over and pay tetra twice what their mosquito trap is worth.

          • JCSuperstar

            No edgy, no, not really.

            Again, you fail to read and let your brain process what’s been written. This leads you to join the rank and file and play the old “telegraph” game.

            I voted no, and hope others do as well. Looks like folks here have done so.

            I want to see the parcel developed. It is the property owner’s right to sell to the appropriate buyer and let it happen.

            The County zoning has approved this, the silly argument over the RPA is null and void. So nothing in the way for Seller to meet Buyer with the dollars and the plan.

            I also believe this to be the case at the Reston National Golf Course.

            The only thing Reston Association is guilty of in my estimation is trying to defend (and interfere) in other property owners business affairs. RA certainly should do so for the property it owns (that is it’s right to do so).

            Clear enough??

          • John Farrell

            Wrong JC, the RPA is in the County Ches Bay Ordinance and is mandated by the General Assembly in the Chesapeake Bay Act. So is the 100 foot buffer zone. It’s law not a “guideline.”

            The “property rights” are limited to the existing building.

            Please leave the land use law pronouncements to us professionals.

            Correcting your never-ending misstatements and misinformation is a boring waste of time.

          • JCSuperstar

            Wow, you’re a “professional.” What an old intimidation tactic John.

            You know as well as I, knowledge is power and power can corrupt. As you can see, encouraging skepticism and not to simply accept everything as gospel from the powers that be, is something I hope everyone does here.

            No need to stand up to you, rather just flank you.
            You’re too slow.

            Your claim above has maybe 10% truth to it. Your basing the rest on hearsay (I suspect you’ve been down that path a few times as a “professional.”) But, I bet you tell people you’re never wrong — all the time.

          • edgyone

            JC never heard of the code of Hammurabi either I bet. Laws can only be accessed by real estate developers and the RA nobility. The real rules are hidden from the public and not on the counties web site! That is why RA must pay 2.7 million to tetra now, or the hidden truths allowing for development of the swamp land will only be apparent when it is too late!

      • Cluster Tycoon

        With that kind of confidence you should back up your vote and prepare for the worst, sewer rats. A high powered water proof rifle, a good night scope, waders perhaps. Unless you have the cash for valet parking. Otherwise avoid that neighborhood altogether or vote YES – just sane.

  • Ken Fredgren

    Thanks, Colin. A lucid presentation as always. When folks refer to the building, the fact that it’s on 3.47 acres of land is often missed. The building is minimal in that context, and, having been there and used it, I can say the parking spaces that belong to Tetra are a tiny area compared to the 3.47 acre whole.

  • MJay

    I think the yes vote will prevail on this one. RA was very slick in touting this as a revenue-generating endeavor. Many members will only be exposed to the optimistic RA literature and take RA at its word that adequate revenue will be generated, which in turn sounds like a double bonus for the so-called green space preservation. However, I did my duty and voted no yesterday.

    • JoeInReston

      Yea, I brought up this issue with a friend of mine. He hadn’t heard the criticisms and had already voted yes. There is a political advantage on the side that distributes the referendum material.

  • Sally Parker

    I just went to the meeting on this topic at Browns Chapel. I have to say it was really GOOD! I think what I came away with is that this is a reasonable deal– maybe not the best deal but a reasonable deal. We need to be thinking about the future and the right thing for the future of Reston is to put this property in RA control.

    • edgyone

      They serve kool aid? It’s a stupid deal, for the benefit of the residents across the lake, with money that will be missed later when property that would actually be attractive for development comes due. There is no reason that property is worth what RA wants to pay other than hypothetical fallacies that mean nothing. If there was a potential that the property was worth what RA is asking it would have been sold long ago. But, keep pinning your hopes on “lake Anne revitalization”. That dump can only be revitalized with a demolition and new buildings.

  • John Farrell

    Colin, nothing new can be built there until a PRC plan is submitted and approved by the Planning Commission.

    A PRC plan was submitted and disapproved in 2003. That’s why the Appraisal quotes the current owner that the office use cannot be expanded.

    The 1981 site plan approval for the restaurant has lapsed and cannot go forward without a PRC plan approval.

    The fearmongering of the development potential for this site is blinding people to the responsible price for this property.

    • JCSuperstar

      Nope.

      • Reston Realist

        Thank you for sharing….

  • marf

    One thing missing from this discussion is that the referendum is on a **maximum** sale price of $2.65 million. What are the chances of the property for going for less than that. Can Reston take steps to place a lower, undisclosed ceiling on the sales price? Why isn’t anyone talking about that?

    • Terry Maynard

      Bill Lauer, Tetra, wanted $2.7 million for the property. RA said at the community meeting that they talked him down to $2.65 MM. That might be further reduced by about $150K to cover the immediately needed repairs & replacement of the trusses, roof, and HVAC, among other things. So, maybe $2.5MM–minimum.

      • Ray Wedell

        Once again, your “minimum” figure makes good press, but is inaccurate. The “no” vote is a vote not to preserve open spaces in Reston. Period. Most realize that now. It is time to save this valuable parcel and work together to make sure we use it in the best possible way for the Reston community; both now and in the future. Thanks for your help in advance in this effort, Terry.

        • Terry Maynard

          Sorry, Ray, my “NO” vote is because the contracted price is 2-1/2 times the fair market price with a small building on lousy condition and numerous property development restrictions. One of those is RA’s easement on the parking area, road, and pathways. As a result, there is and will be connectivity of the existing green space from Brown’s Chapel to the Lake Newport tennis court area. RA already controls this portion of the property “now and in the future” (which might otherwise be developable). Why buy it?.

  • Sue Beffel

    Nice to hear a different voice, for a change! Also one I happen to agree with. Thanks, Colin for adding your thoughtful comments.

    • Ray Wedell

      Ditto.

  • Ray Wedell

    Colin, thank you again for a spectacular piece and combatting the fear-mongering that has dominated a well-organized minority opposition, which is now trapped in a “no” position which clearly is a “no” to preserving valuable open spaces in Reston and not much more than that. Your essay is outstanding.

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