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

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.

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