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Op-Ed: Good People Straying From the ‘Reston Way’

by RestonNow.com April 22, 2015 at 2:00 pm 1,701 42 Comments

Tetra building This is an op-ed by Reston resident John Farrell. It does not necessarily reflect the views of Reston Now.

My very dear friend, Reston Association Board of Directors President Ellen Graves, lent her name to an Op-Ed that appeared on Reston Now last Friday. The editorial was in favor of RA’s $2.6 million purchase of the former Reston Visitors Center.

Early on, Ellen protests that RA did not secretly initiate the negotiations with property owner Tetra. That no one has made this accusation makes the denial gratuitous.

Our source of consternation is the CEO’s admission, reported on Reston Now on April 10, that RA “leadership” secretly worked on this acquisition beginning in the Fall 2014 and only disclosed it to the membership and full Board in late January 2015. That’s  when the issue first appeared on the Board’s agenda as an authorization for referendum.

Nothing about that course of events is consistent with the “Reston way” about which Graves waxed poetic last Friday. Neither is it part of the “Reston way” to withhold essential information from the membership or the full Board such as the Feb. 4, 2015 appraisal, which wasn’t released to the full Board until the night of its final vote on the referendum or to the full membership until days later.

How RA Board members were expected to examine, understand, question and evaluate a 95-page appraisal and vote for a $2.6 million referendum the same night is for someone else to explain.

When I heard that my dear friend would be authoring an Op-Ed about the appraisal, I strongly urged her to make sure she read the appraisal before she allowed her name to be put to any article. Sadly, that apparently didn’t happen.

I conclude this because the April 17 Op-Ed made reference to several documents that are not contained in the appraisal. The two zoning administrators interpretations referenced in the Op-Ed are neither referenced in the appraisal, attached to the appraisal or posted on the RA website. This, despite the fact that I personally asked RA land use attorney John McBride for copies of them in early March.

Since the Chesapeake Bay Ordinance that impedes development of the Tetra site is not part of the zoning ordinance, it’s no surprise if there is no mention of it in either of the zoning administrator’s letters.

Similarly, the Op-Ed references the Fairfax County-approved site plan for the restaurant, but it too is not found in the appraisal. There is a drawing of the “as built” for the visitors center that isn’t county approved and has the restaurant struck through; probably because the restaurant wasn’t going to be built before the county bonds for the public improvement for the visitors center were released in the mid-1980s.

That’s relevant for several reasons, not least of which is that the rescission/lapse/expiration of the 1981 site plan, means any new effort to build a restaurant will require the approval of a new PRC Plan by the Fairfax County Planning Commission and a new site plan by the County DPW&ES.

That also means the new PRC plan and site plan will have to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance adopted in 1989 and whose 100- foot buffer around Lake Newport covers the entire 1981 restaurant site. Any exception to build in the RPA will require approval of the Board of Supervisors making it the political equivalent of a rezoning.

The Op-Ed also references a draft PRC Plan that shows a large amount of office space on the site. Again, this draft PRC plan is not referenced in the appraisal and no copy of the PRC plan is attached to the appraisal. Nor does the Op-Ed reveal if this draft PRC plan was ever submitted to the county or if the county ever returned comments on that PRC plan. No doubt an appraiser would find such information vital to its opinion of value.

There was a PRC plan submitted and disapproved in 2003. Maybe that disapproval is why the appraisal, on page 10, quotes the current owner as saying that the office use cannot be expanded. Curious. Which part of the “Reston Way” includes withholding all of these four documents from the RA Board and the RA membership before either makes a decision isn’t made clear in the Op-Ed? Which part of the “Reston Way” includes posting these documents and others on the RA website after the ballots are received by the membership and some members have already voted?

Things get “curiouser” when one looks at the comparable sales listed in the appraisal and finds only a very few of them are actually in Reston. It gets worse when several of the comparable sales prices are adjusted by 50 percent. Most appraisers would tell you that, when a sales price needs that size of an adjustment, it probably isn’t truly a comparable sale.

It gets yet more curious when it’s noted that all of the comparable sales in the appraisal are for office space and none are for restaurants when, as noted above, the owner is quoted as saying no expansion of the office is space is possible.

My dear friend also protested that none of the RA Board members are bad people. Who can possibly disagree? It is, however, not too much to expect those who sought positions of great power in this community of 60,000, and were entrusted with that power, to take the time to scrutinize all of the relevant documentation to the largest transaction in the Association’s history before submitting that issue to referendum.

We certainly did that when the indoor tennis facility was under consideration. A committee met, in public, for two years and had detailed civil engineering and architectural studies performed before the decision was made not to go to referendum: a decision I agreed with. Why not a similar deliberative consideration this time? Isn’t that the “Reston Way?”

As my Irish great-grandmother repeatedly warned, “Hate the sin, boyo, not the sinner.”

The failure of most, if not all, of the Board members to carefully read the appraisal and other cited material before voting to put the referendum to the membership and the failure to release the four documents listed in the Op-Ed to the membership before asking us to vote on the referendum are, in the words of Tallyrand, was worse than a crime; it was a mistake.

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

  • Wings!!

    TL;DR Reston still needs a Hooters, who’s going to author the OP-ED article for that?

  • Brian

    and we have to pay for it.

  • JCSuperstar
  • Ming the Merciless

    At this point, can we really say that proposing stupidly expensive, unnecessary projects is not the “Reston way”? The Baron Cameron rec center, the new RA headquarters, the Tetra purchase…

    Does membership on the Board come with a free pair of Bad Idea jeans?

    • LakeNewportLady

      I thought about it, and even though it’s over, I’m going to tell my wife about the affair.

      • Ming the Merciless

        “They want twice what the place is worth, but what the heck, we’re buying it anyway.”

    • Hank Johnston

      You know- the fact that even the new board members support this has actually made me think that there may be something very reasonable going on here.

      Julie Bitzer came highly recommended in my neighborhood as someone who wouldn’t “go with the flow” and yet she’s in favor of this move as is Ray Waddell. Both people who were promoted as big change agents, and yet they’re both in favor of the purchase.

      So, no I don’t think membership on the RA Board comes with a free pair of “Bad Idea Jeans” as you put it- so maybe there’s something in that for us all to examine.

      • JCSuperstar

        Curiously, Farrell tried to run for the board and then pulled out. Kitchen must have been too hot for him that day.


        • John Farrell
          • JCSuperstar

            Thanks. Didn’t know you and Mr. Knueven were so close and in agreement on so many things.

        • Cluster Tycoon

          The Scottish warlord has a history of promising steak and not delivering. First he says don’t vote then he promotes Richard Bocce-Drew. No wonder the villagers are confused.

      • Ming the Merciless

        If they have some information available to them that makes this seem like a good deal, they have inexplicably not chosen to make it available to us. Instead they have insulted our intelligence with sheer twaddle.

    • Secret Observers

      …..”that proposing stupidly expensive, unnecessary projects is not the “Reston way”

      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: A fiduciary is a person who holds a legal or ethical relationship of trust between himself or herself and one or
      more other parties (person or group of persons). In such a relation good conscience requires the fiduciary to act at all times for the sole benefit
      and interest of the one who trusts.

      HOA BOD and STAFF has fiduciary duty to its members. Duty of the Board and Staff is to direct HOA and its members.
      -Smart competent ethical professional directors/staff will direct the right way with the least expensive $$$ for the most effective positive ROI
      -Stupid incompetent directors/staff will direct the wrong way with the most expensive $$$ for zero or negative ROI.
      -Smart competent but corrupted directors/staff will maliciously direct the “right” way using the most expensive FREE PUBLIC $$$ to achieve the most effective positive ROI …. just for FEW INDIVIDUAL POCKETS.


      People are watching, time will tell and history will prove. The show of “Reston
      way” goes on ….. :):):)

  • Reston Realist

    It is curious that NO ONE at RA has said whether the RPA issue would prevent development at the Tetra site although RA’s legal mouthpiece went on and on about RPA process issues at last night’s show. There’s is nothing on RA’s Tetra webpage that mentions the issue. Seems like a straightforward question ought to have generated a straightforward answer, which tells me RA’s hiding something. My guess: It can’t be done.

  • Brenda Louis

    Here’s why I’ve already voted YES. I think it would extremely short-sighted to let this slip opportunity through our hands. It’s not going to be cheaper at a later date; it’s going to be more expensive. Further I think it’s foolish to count on it going undeveloped or to count on its use remaining “quiet” as it is now. Even if the structure never got bigger its use could change and it could become a restaurant which would change the entire character of the entire area; and what a shame that would be.

    More people are coming to Reston, we have an chance to ADD to our open area the price of doing so now is projected to be 80.00 over 20 years.If we don’t do it now then when? When else will we have the chance to add our our space rather than always fighting to conserve it? What will you be saying when we’re faced with trying to save the golf course Mr. Farrell? How much will be too much then?

    • JoeInReston

      This completely ignores the main argument against purchasing the property – the inflated price tag. At what price point would you consider this property to be too overpriced and not worth purchasing?

      • Brenda Louis

        Inflated according to??

        • JoeInReston

          Terry Maynard, John Farrell, and Irwin Flashman have each posted op-eds on this site – none of which were rebutted in counter op-eds by Reston directors.

          At what price point would you consider this property to be too overpriced and not worth purchasing?

          • Karen Goff

            There have actually been three op-eds by RA directors on here. I expect we will get a couple of more. But I would doubt they will be engaging in a point-by-point rebuttal to another letter.

          • JoeInReston

            Some semblance of a defense of the appraisal would be nice… and a defense of the projected revenues for the future Tetra site.

            How expense are appraisals? I presume it would be too much $$$ to gather a second appraisal?

          • Ed Cacciapaglia

            I think 3 Board op-eds by RA is already excessive even though I support freedom of speech. Thankfully a majority of people I have informally talked to on this are voting NO.

          • Brenda Louis

            I’m sure there’s some price at which is too high but just because these 3 think its too high doesn’t convince me. The house adjacent to the property in question sold last year for 1 million for less than .25 acre. This is almost 3.5 acres- It’s not out of line.

            I think it was Irwin Flashman and Terry Maynard who wanted to value the land in the Lake Anne swap by the number of trees! For crap sake they said that the 1.6 or 1.7 million dollar appraisal on that parcel as too low– so which is it? Too low or too high? These guys are just NO people. No matter what it is they want it to be No.

          • Terry Maynard

            I didn’t say anything about the land swap at the time, and certainly nothing about the trees, but I think it was only the second worst deal the RA Board has struck. Tetra leads by a long shot.

          • 30yearsinReston

            they can’t build houses on it nor is it habitable
            if the adjoining properties are worth millions, why don’t the HOA have a whip around and buy it themselves

          • Reston Realist

            I appreciate hearing all sides of this debate here, especially since I can’t get any sign of a counterpoint from RA itself.

            Thank you, Karen.

          • 30yearsinReston


    • Greg

      Wrong. There has been NO INTEREST in the property in the past (ten?) years. At any price.

      • JCSuperstar

        I’m curious. Says who?

        • Reston Realist

          The restaurants that didn’t buy it.

          • JCSuperstar

            You know, that makes total sense. Nobody’s ever shared interest in buying my house for the last 20 years. I guess I’ll never be able to sell this thing.

        • John Farrell

          Says the RA’s Appraisal

    • 30yearsinReston

      the only ones who will benefit from the “open space” are the lake Newport HOA
      If they wait Long enough, the place will rot and have to be torn down anyway
      No replacement is possible

  • Idon’thaveEnoughTimeToReadit!

    OMG! TLTR! Mr. Farrell here’s a hint for you, hire an editor!

  • Mike M

    No matter. The online ballot is down now anyway. Must be the cool new website. How much did they pay for that?

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    • 30yearsinReston

      those clowns can’t even put up a website – that implies the ballots have been compromised

    • 30yearsinReston

      cold Fusion is a hackers dream

  • Ed Cacciapaglia

    And here’s a song that fits the situation “The Boys in the Back Room” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MerDBENLxgc

  • 30yearsinReston

    The “Reston way” has been hijacked by the egos and the bureaucrats of RA a long time ago
    They seem to believe that they know better than those who are paying through teh nose to fund their lifestyle
    The fiasco of the “referendum” to make Reston a “town”, with commensurate salaries and titles, was one of the first, followed by the attempt to build a taj mahal for those deserving individuals. In the meantime, we have to suffer from unsafe poor lighting because some “architect” complains that street lights change the “color” of the houses

    • Reston Realist

      Well, actually the ResTOWN “fiasco” was an RCA initiative, not RA, and I thought it was a good one to get rid of County meddling AND maybe get rid of RA. Still there would have been a Town Council with many of the same “bureaucrats.”

      • JCSuperstar

        Hey now. I bet Mr. Maynard loved it as well. What a bright crew at this RCA.

  • 30yearsinReston

    Everyone should read the appraisal
    From the conclusion made that since Clydes and Wo Le Oak, the only ones interested declined, a restaurant should be included as part of the appraisal, to the list of “comparable” properties in Falls Church, Mclean and other areas at least 5 miles away, it seems that the appraisal may have been written to support a known conclusion
    My questions are

    1. Who paid for the appraisal
    2. Who had input to the draft
    3. Who reviewed it

    • John Farrell

      RA paid for it. McBride told me in early March that he had reviewed it and wouldn’t release it. Whether he or anyone else had input and whether anyone else reviewed it is unknown.


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