Two years ago this month, under the leadership of former RA Board President Ken Kneuven, Reston’s homeowner association announced its deal with a local developer to purchase his property, the Tetra office building, for over twice its county-appraised value of $1.2 million. Thus began a long slide of Reston Association into bad governance and mismanagement.
How did this happen? We don’t know for sure, but we understand Kneuven and another former RA Board President, Rick Beyer, who lives on the shore of Lake Newport opposite the Tetra property, have been friends for some time. Beyer, who was active in supporting the RA Tetra purchase, and other Lake Newport homeowners were no doubt concerned that something untoward would happen to their view and, as a result, also their property values. It is not clear whether Beyer asked a favor from Kneuven in eliminating this risk by having RA pursue the purchase of the Tetra property, but what is clear is that after Kneuven left his RA post, he ended up working as a senior consultant in the company managed by Beyer.
As for the rest of us, RA and its Board justified paying $2.65 million in part by pointing out that a proposal had been drawn up to build a costly restaurant there twice the size of the Tetra building. RA didn’t bother to note, however, that the restaurant was never approved, nor would it have been given environmental restrictions and 14 easements on the property. Moreover, RA’s appraiser put the property’s “as is” value at just $1.1 million using the Income Approach, even lower than the county’s valuation. In fact, the Tetra property had been on and off the market with little interest for most of a decade.
Nonetheless, to sell the deal in a community referendum, RA “projected” that renovations, inside and out, would cost RA members just $259,000. To date, interior repairs alone have cost Restonians $692,000 — not counting $925,000 in seller contributions and a Comstock proffer to RA which could have been used for much better purposes — and an RA consultant projects proposed exterior improvements will cost $1.2 million.
On the other side of the ledger, RA projected rental income from a rent back agreement with the Tetra owners of more than $140,000 through 2016. Unfortunately, the sloppily written agreement allowed Tetra’s former owners to walk away at the end of 2015, resulting in an immediate $100,000 loss in RA revenues. RA scrambled to make up the shortfall, but — as of November — expected year-end cash flow losses reached $902,000, some $515,000 more than RA projected for 2016 during the Tetra referendum.
If publicly known at the time, these massive misstatements, mistakes, expenses and overruns would have doomed the purchase’s narrow community approval.
Indeed, the massive renovation cost overruns were not revealed until May 2016, although RA financial data indicated RA and presumably some Board members knew there would be huge overruns as early as February. Thus, RA members were denied that important information as they cast their ballots for RA Board members in February, including the re-election runs of two Board members who strongly supported the Tetra initiative, Eve Thompson and Danielle LaRosa. Of course, they won re-election in the absence of public knowledge of the huge cost overrun.
When the cost overruns were disclosed, even the complicit RA Board found this revealed reality a bit much. Under significant community pressure, it agreed last summer to contract for an independent review of the purchase and renovation.
After choosing to sign a pro bono $1 review contract with Mediaworld LLC, using a team of Reston volunteers expert in financial matters, a few members of the Board sabotaged its own by insisting on excessive RA control and contractor liability in multiple, lengthy contract drafts. A special Board meeting with the Mediaworld volunteers in December couldn’t salvage the negotiations — another obstructionist draft resulted — and the volunteers withdrew last week, explaining the multitude of reasons why.
The increasingly urgent question is: What are some members of RA’s Board and senior staff trying to conceal about the Tetra acquisition and renovation — and why? Did they engage in illegal, unethical or just plain stupid behavior? Unless there is a criminal investigation, the chances are dwindling Restonians will ever know who, how, why and when all this financial mischief occurred as the Board and staff continue to hide the truth any way they can. The future of honest, open, prudent governance in Reston has never looked more uncertain.
The RA Board 2017 election a month away is an opportunity to reverse the Board’s recent gross misbehavior. There are four openings and, if filled with candidates who seek to reform the RA Board and the way it does business, the Board could actually represent the interests of the community rather than the guilty. Pay attention to what candidates file and what they say about the handling of Tetra, including the need for an audit, the development of an RA ethics policy with teeth and openness in RA decision making. It could be your last chance in years for meaningful change in how our community is governed.
Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee
This is an op-ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 2020 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.
The Transportation Service District (TSD) proposed for Reston’s station areas calls for homeowners there to subsidize developers as they build private roads on their property. With a projected balance in residential and non-residential development in the station areas, that means residents there would be paying between $55-$88 million in 2016 TSD tax dollars to developers to build roads on their properties over the next forty years depending on the initial TSD tax rate and if it remains constant (which it won’t).
In an incomprehensible move, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) has identified a phony $350 million “funding gap” for Reston road improvements requiring the creation of a TSD. As laid out in its September 30, 2016, presentation to station area developers, the so-called RNAG “stakeholders,” $305 million of the funding shortfall is to pay for the construction of their “grid of streets.” That’s 87% of the total TSD funds and some 30 percent of the grid’s $1 billion total cost.
This “grid of streets” is the network of privately built roads on developer-owned property. They may be turned over to the state upon completion, but that is not at all clear. Station area residents–present and future–just get to pay developers to build them if this TSD proposal is approved. In contrast, the Tysons “grid of streets” is being paid for in its entirety by developers through financial contributions ($304 million) or in-kind contributions ($561 million); not a penny of Tysons TSD tax revenues.
This subsidy to the for-profit endeavors of developers of scores of millions of residential tax dollars suggests that the developers’ effort really won’t be that successful. However, our analysis of scope of profits for developers across the station areas over the next forty years, based on Boston Properties 2015 annual report, indicates they will have a net operating income averaging in excess of $1.1 billion per year in 2015 dollars. That’s $45 billion in profits over the next four decades. And yet the proposed tax suggests developers’ need residents’ financial help for some reason to build their roads themselves. We don’t think so.
The economic question above only accentuates the unfairness, even immorality, of forcing residents to to pay taxes to support commercial for-profit development. We don’t think the idea comes remotely close to passing a decency test, especially in light of developers’ anticipated profits. We recognize we are dealing with politics here, but it still leaves a strong stench.
As we have said here and elsewhere, there is no need for a new Reston road tax of any kind. This is especially so when a large chunk of it is intended to go into the pockets of developers. Moreover, the so-called “funding gap” is a mirage, even a fraud, created by the County to justify creating a new tax gimmick to afflict Restonians.
You can help stop this dangerous Reston road tax idea. First, Reston 20/20 has posted a petition on Change.org calling for a stop to passing this new tax that you can sign. Second, attend and participate in the RNAG community meeting on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. in the South Lakes High School lecture hall. Third, let Supervisor Cathy Hudgins know about your concerns over the Reston TSD proposal.
Finally, attend and testify at the Board of Supervisor’s hearing on the matter, which has yet to be scheduled.
If we all work together, we have a chance to stop this unfair, unneeded County tax boondoggle.
Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee