Op-Ed: Rescue Reston Says Vote ‘Yes’ on Tetra

by RestonNow.com April 30, 2015 at 3:00 pm 77 Comments

Tetra buildingThis is an op-ed by Rescue Reston, an open-space advocacy group. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

Rescue Reston has a focused mission statement of opposing redevelopment of Reston National Golf Course into residential housing or any site development other than a golf course or comparable open space.

Our board sees important parallels between defending the golf course property and the opportunity to purchase the 3.47-acre Tetra property (formerly the Reston Visitors Center). At stake is our control of open space and development in Reston. Rescue Reston therefore recommends that Restonians vote yes in the Tetra Referendum, which is open for voting until 5 p.m. on Friday, May 8.

All seven Rescue Reston board members are Reston Association members. Our own households have voted yes on the referendum. This is a rare opportunity to put this property under the ownership of our homeowner’s association, to serve our interests, and remove the potential for an unknown developer entity to commercially develop the site.

Few developers have ever seen “open space” that couldn’t be improved by a few buildings on it. They have high-powered attorneys who know how to blow their way through almost any “protection” we may think a space is subject to.

As the economic impact of Metro’s Silver Line continues down the line to two other Metro stops in Reston, it is vital that we speak in one voice on issues that affect the open spaces in our neighborhoods. After five Reston Master Plan Phase II community meetings and community outreach, the County and Restonians agreed that the neighborhoods should essentially stay “as built.”

Now, with the draft plan ready to move forward in June to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) for approval, we read that some in the development community are implying there should be more wiggle room for higher density development in our neighborhoods, unchecked by BOS approval or Reston community input: Not enough potential planning for areas outside of transit centers

Both Brian Winterhalter, a lawyer with Cooley LLC, which represents several developers, and Patty Nicoson, Reston resident and Master Plan Phase 1 Task Force Chair, said there is not enough leeway for future development without more comprehensive plan changes.

“It would require comprehensive plan amendments for any redevelopment proposals,” said Winterhalter. “Fundamentally, I don’t think that is the right approach. A community as large as Reston should provide opportunities to grow. This downplanning does not make sense.”

This sends shivers through those of us who understand the implication of what they are saying.  They want everything on the table for higher density — our neighborhoods, our two golf courses, what else? As Ms. Nicoson well knows from chairing Phase 1 of the task force, high density is approved in the transit center corridor. The radii circles extending out from each Metro stop are not full circles and have hard stops at some very real borders, such as Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road, with a bump-out for Reston Town Center and Town Center North.

We are heartened that there are developers in Reston who value the uniqueness of an urban core with a short walk to “the country.” Comstock has offered funds that they specifically want to go toward improvements of the former Visitors Center. They see the value. All eyes (and we stress  — the developers are watching) are on the Tetra referendum.

Do Restonians mean it when we say open space is critical to the uniqueness of the Reston in which we live, work and play?

In the past, Restonians have tended to look at the geographic confines of their own neighborhood. In the case of the threat to Reston National Golf Course, it took time for greater Reston to grasp the ripple effects of development of these 166 acres. For instance, medium density residential development on just ¼ of the golf course could add 700 units. At two cars for each unit, think what that adds to our traffic.

When Rescue Reston (RR) was formed almost three years ago, it was difficult to explain the potential danger outside those who lived immediately around the course. Now, the ripple effects are crystal clear to most in the community.

There is a parallel to the potential acquisition of nearly 3.5 acres on the north side of Reston. With the Tetra acquisition, we have the rare opportunity to put this space under the stewardship of RA and protect it from commercial development. This acquisition is fully embraced by one of Reston’s major developers, Comstock, which is donating more than they are required because they are excited about this amenity. Increasing RA’s amenities will encourage new residential development in the corridor to join RA rather than Reston Town Center Association, a key point to consider.

The parallel to the golf course is that some day we may have the opportunity to put these 166 acres into the public domain, possibly through a conservation trust, when a willing buyer comes along. If that buyer is either RA or the County or a combination of both, will voters embrace the opportunity? Is it possible that several of the “good” developers in Reston will want to contribute to such a venture? Possibly so if we encourage them now to fully embrace and get involved with the “Reston Way” of Live, Work, Play.

When one of them (Comstock) knocks on our door with a gift (their donation is higher than required), we need to think long and hard before not answering that offer.

In as much as RA & RR stand together on the golf course issue, Rescue Reston joins RA in recommending a yes vote on Tetra.

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