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Votes

Condo Association Responds to Reports

Letter to the Editor

<bt>To the Editor:

The following letter was addressed to the members of the Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association:

As you know, the Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association has been working for some months now to resolve covenants violations associated with Il Cigno's non-conforming during enclosure and tent system. The ownership of the restaurant has taken an adversarial stance on the matter, and news stories relating to this unfortunate situation have appeared in the local press from time to time since the dining tent was first erected on our property in the spring of 2001. The Association has chosen not to make public statements to correct the substantial misinformation that has appeared in these news stories as a matter of policy, given that the restaurant ownership has sued us. This has meant that even our own membership's knowledge of events has been largely limited to what has been published in the Reston papers.

Now, however, recent front-page stories in both the Times and The Connection were so inaccurate and unfair that we can no longer remain quiet in the face of such outrageous misinformation. We are writing directly to you to ensure that all the members of our Association are given the true facts of the current situation. We also wish to frankly tell you what the Association plans to do going forward.

Some background: We (the Association) have asked Il Cigno virtually every month for nearly one year to move its planters off the Plaza Common Element and onto il Cigno's easement. Il Cigno's ownership has far failed to comply. We therefore delivered a final warning and notice of our intent to remove the offending planters from our property on Feb. 28. To stop us from doing so, Il Cigno's ownership sued us, seeking an injunction to prevent us from removing the planters.

Il Cigno lost in court when the judge denied their request for an injunction, and ruled that the planters were not within the restaurant's easement. Il Cigno's owners, and their attorney, then promised to quickly move the planters onto their casement. Not wishing any further litigation, and hoping to still resolve things amicably, we sought a settlement with Il Cigno's ownership. But after one month, and despite repeated requests to keep their promise, the planters remained on the Plaza Common Element. Il Cigno's ownership then changed attorneys.

On April 3, Il Cigno, through its new lawyer, finally agreed to discuss a settlement and even proposed a method for doing so, including a "standstill agreement." However, on April 5, despite a favorable preliminary response from the Association that we welcomed the opportunity for settlement discussion, Il Cigno re-erected its unproved tent and did so on Plaza Common Element. This is where things stand at the moment.

The news articles that prompted this letter contained many significant mistakes that we would like to correct for the membership. For example, despite the disparaging remarks quoted in the papers that seem calculated to unnecessarily vilify Wayne Schiffelbein, Wayne's thwarted attempt to remove the planters was predicated by Il Cigno's ownership failing to move the planters on their own, as they had promised to do. Wayne therefore began removing those planters that the Court had found to be illegally on our property. The police did not order Wayne to put the planters back, as has been reported, since Wayne's actions were entirely lawful. Wayne put the planters back to keep the peace.

And to be perfectly clear on one subject raised in the papers: Wayne Schiffelbein, who was elected to the Board last October by a vote of the entire Association, is without question Larry Cohn's designated representative to the Association. A copy of Larry's Power of Attorney to Wayne is on file in the Management Office.

As the Association Board, we have a responsibility to see to it that our covenants and easements are enforced. Despite many rumors to the contrary, no LARC Board has ever given prior written approval for Il Cigno's tent enclosure system, as is required by the condominium's governing documents. The system as installed does not even conform to the preliminary design sketch that Il Cigno's owners informally presented to members of the previous Board, nor even to the design that was initially approved by the Reston DRB. And it is worth mentioning that the planters that have figured so prominently in the news have not been on the Plaza for 20 years, as has been reported in the papers. They are, in fact, brand new. Moreover, they fail to comply with the Reston DRB guidelines for planters on our Plaza, with or without the tent, and whether they are on or off the easement. And now the courts have ruled that Il Cigno is occupying portions of the Plaza that they have no right to occupy. Under these circumstances, the Association has no alternative but to continue to work to bring Il Cigno's outdoor dining facilities into compliance if our covenants and easements are going to mean anything at all.

Our plans going forward are in keeping with our responsibilities to the Association: Unless Il Cigno's ownership vacates the Plaza Common Element, and unless they apply for and receive approval from our Board for their tent, we will pursue removal of the tent from our Plaza through the courts. We will also seek a judgment against Il Cigno to reimburse us for our legal fees and other costs in upholding our property rights.

Understandably, emotions are running very high right now. Nevertheless, as we move forward to protect our rights, we on the LARC Board fervently hope to preserve the ties that hold our community together. We know this will not be easy. Our silence has been shamelessly abused in the press as an opportunity to broadcast self-serving untruths. But we have restrained our impulse to respond in kind because all parties involved are part of our Lake Anne community, and we will all continue to be neighbors and partners in our condo association long after this is over and the lawyers have all gone home. In that spirit, we on the board urge you to remember that our "opponents" are our neighbors, and that they are not unreasonable or mean-spirited people; they are people who have taken an unreasonable position, one that we cannot, and will not, accept.

Board of Directors

Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association