As development ratchets up in Reston around Lake Anne Plaza and Metro’s new Silver Line, the community’s homeowners association wants to snap up and preserve several lakeside acres before a developer buys the property.
But the purchase price is causing some Restonians heartburn and suspicion as the homeowners association is ready to pay $2.65 million for a property assessed by Fairfax County at $1.25 million. Concerned that the value of the land continues to decline, opponents of the sale have set up an anti-purchase Web site and created a satirical attack video, even as the issue has been put to a vote of the planned community’s nearly 18,000 property owners, with the referendum ending Friday evening.
“Municipalities are doing everything they can to add and protect their open spaces. It’s central to a healthy community,” said former Reston Association board president Ken Knueven, a supporter of the plan. “It’s the number one reason people move here, for all of the natural open spaces.”
The association obtained its own appraisal in February, which assessed the site’s value “as is” at $1.3 million. But if someone built a restaurant there, the appraisers calculated, that would add another $1.35 million in value, for a total market value of $2.65 million. That became the agreed sales price, conditioned on approval by Reston’s homeowners.
Many of those homeowners are resisting, fiercely. They say the property is environmentally protected by being in a Chesapeake Bay watershed, that the association already owns a chunk of the land through easements already on the property, that no one wants to build a restaurant there, and that the price is, well, too high.
“They say they’re preserving something,” said resident Paul Gayter, “but they don’t appear to want Restonians to know what that something is.”
Activist Terry Maynard said the association kept the homeowners in the dark on the deal until it was already negotiated with Bill Lauer, the property’s owner and a longtime Reston developer, who died suddenly Tuesday. Maynard said another building couldn’t be built because of environmental restrictions, and “there is a price for that property, and it’s about $1 million.”
Reston is the second-largest population center in Northern Virginia, after Alexandria. The Reston Association, a mandatory homeowners’ group that provides recreational and environmental services for the community’s 60,000 residents, first announced in January it was looking to buy the visitors center property, astride Lake Newport near Baron Cameron Avenue. The association would keep the old one-story visitors center, now offices for Lauer’s Tetra Partners company, and use it for community programs and meeting space rather than allow someone to build a restaurant there.
Though the property is obscured by trees from Baron Cameron Road, it is walking distance from Lake Anne, which is set to undergo massive redevelopment in the coming years. Knueven said the association’s land use lawyers felt the property was ripe for a lakeside restaurant a short stroll from Lake Anne, even as it faced a handful of houses in a quiet neighborhood, and that sharp development lawyers could work around environmental restrictions.
Knueven noted that Fairfax County has seemed unwilling to say no to a corporate property owner seeking permission to tear down Reston National Golf Course and redevelop it. A group formed to fight that move, Rescue Reston, is supporting the purchase of the “Tetra” property.
“It’s a shame the developer did not give the land to [Reston Association] back in the day,” said the group’s president, Connie Hartke. “If we can get it now, RA members will next have input on what it will become. Reston may never become a town, but it should have had this waterfront park. Now it can.”
Opponents of the plan have no problem with a waterfront park. But they remain baffled by the price for a property that is already partly owned by the homeowners association and that, because it’s not on a main road and is hidden by trees, they say does not seem a likely spot for a restaurant.
Maynard said the $2.65 million loan would cost Reston homeowners $3.8 million over 20 years, necessitating increases in the annual dues (currently $634). He said the association “is driven by fear something commercial will be built there. But there will be no development there because of planning, environmental and easement restrictions.” He noted that a county revision of the master plan for Reston, to be voted on next month, proposes to limit the site to “existing use.” He said Tetra was “trying to accelerate this transaction before further development is precluded, and RA is doing its bidding at a huge potential cost to us all.”
Knueven said the association’s land use lawyers assured him $2.65 million was a fair market price, and that properties often sell for far above their assessed values. He said it was “a rare opportunity” to add green space, that it would improve home values and enable more recreational programs for Reston.