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Proposal Stirs Up Lake Newport

Neighbors are upset at plans to build commercial structure on site of vacant visitor's center.

A group opposed to the large scale redevelopment of the old Terrabrook Visitors Center on Lake Newport took its case to the Reston Association on Monday night.

The redevelopment that has Rick Beyer, and other Reston residents up in arms, is a plan by Bill Lauer, a local developer, who would like to build a 20,000 square foot restaurant that would wrap around the current 3,000 square foot visitors center and jut out 90 feet into the lake.

"What can I say," said Beyer, in a recent interview. “Their plan is quite audacious.”

Mark Looney, Lauer's Lawyer, said his client originally wanted to develop the site as an office building. While the original plan was for a nearly 36,000-square-foot building, Looney and Lauer felt the office would have been less invasive to the neighbors. "An office building is used primarily 8 to 6 and not on weekends."

Protest from neighbors, led by Beyer, led the county zoning to reexamine their initial approval of the preliminary office site plan. The county zoning board determined that only a restaurant, which was on the original site plan and Reston proffer, could be built. "We think office use is better and with less impact, but we warned them to be careful what they wished for," Looney said. "By forcing the county's hand, you just might get it."

“WE ARE LOOKING for the RA board to study the impacts of redevelopment and encourage them to become active in the review process,” said Beyer.

Beyer added that RA would have a say over many issues surrounding the vacant property, including easements, parking, noise and dredging. Any plan would have to go through RA's design and review board, Looney said. "We are still working on the architectural schemes," Looney said. "We will be happy to work with the neighbors and RA."

While, the county will have the ultimate decision on the final project, RA has stakes in the discussion, as well. After listening to Beyer's presentation at the Board Administration Committee meeting on Monday night, Susan Jones, RA president, said she wanted to learn more about the proposal. "Reston Association has a number of different interests in the area, from easements to pathways to the lake to the watershed to the environmental concerns," Jones said. "We really do need a lot of time to study all of this and we are going to request more time to look at it and give our feedback. We have properties that abut on all sides of the site."

Doug Bushee, the RA's North Point representative, believes that RA should take a close look at the ramifications of such a development on the neighboring community. "I want to see how RA is impacted," Bushee said before the meeting.

In attempts to stop the proposed redevelopment, Beyer, who lives across the lake from the visitors center, and others have put together a legal fund set up "to scrutinize the exploitation of this “historic” property."

“We are not just some NIMBY group, we do support the Reston Visitor Center for professional use, but at the core of this, we are objecting to the unlimited large-scale commercial building. That is simply wrong,” Beyer said last week. “We will support a small quaint residential restaurant that is similar in size to the current Reston Visitor Center which is consistent with the 1980 site plan filing which is not built into Lake Newport."

The footprint for the original proposal for an office building was essentially secured for the 420-seat restaurant, a number dictated by the available parking, Bill Lauer said. Lauer added a covered walk way to connect the main dining hall with a lounge or bar that would sit out on the water. The dining room would be built in the parking lot and the two pieces of the building would wrap around the current visitors center which Lauer would turn into his personal office, Looney said, adding that they would also propose upgrades to the 20-year-old building, as well.

"It's inconceivable that a 3.37 acre property would remain undeveloped," Lauer said. "The existing office building cannot carry all that land by itself."

Tom Williamson of Terrabrook said he stands behind their contract purchaser, Tekra Partnership and the potential developer, Lauer. "We did adjust the plans and I feel we can proceed," he said. "This had the potential to be something very ugly and that is not what we wanted."

While Lauer wanted to build an office building originally, Looney says his client is comfortable with building a restaurant. "It's a very viable restaurant site with great views on the water," he said. "They just don't want anything on that site."

Lauer dismissed concerns about the plan to build out into the lake. "That's our property line," he said. "That's on the site plan."

IN 1979, AS WELL as 2003, the Fairfax County Comprehensive Zoning Plan stipulated the following: “No commercial development should occur north of Baron Cameron Road and east of Reston Parkway.”

On March 8, 1979, the then-owner of the visitors center, Reston Land Corporation wanted to establish a Reston Visitors Center to promote the surrounding community, Beyer said. Since the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan did not allow for any commercial development, a special “proffer” was required to build the visitors center. “The proffer stipulated that once the Reston Visitor Center was no longer used to promote Reston it would be converted to an office or a restaurant,” Beyer said on Thursday. On Monday night, the spokesperson for the “Save Lake Newport” coalition reiterated his findings to the RA Board Administration Committee. “The proffer also allowed a second site to be constructed as a restaurant.”

Jones has other qualms about the project. "The second issue about the site for me is a personal issue," the RA president said. "It seems like that is an awful lot of development for an area that the comprehensive plan and the master plan indicate that there was to be no commercial development in that area, so I have personal concerns, as well."

Beyer said he was pleased with the reaction of the committee. "Honestly, I think some on the board were really taken aback about the plans," he said. "They own the lake so they will and should have a say."

IN A LETTER to county Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, dated May 30, 2003, opponents outlined their arguments against the current redevelopment plant. The letter detailed two primary reasons the county should use to reject the application. “First the zoning proffers limit the development and use of the parcel to only one restaurant building in addition to the existing Sales & Visitor’s Center building,” the letter written said. “Second, the approved flood plain study for Lake Newport establishes a 100-year-old flood plain in the same area the PRC Plan shows the second building. “

In addition to curtailing Terrabrook’s redevelopment plan, neighbors have proposed having the county designate a “quiet zone.” “In order to protect the public heath, safety and welfare of the residents of the Lake Newport residential area,” the May 30 letter said. The group proposes that the level of noise which shall be permitted within this ‘quiet zone’ be a maximum decibel level which is the same as is found in residential zones.

Hudgins has asked her staff to review the issue of quiet zones in Fairfax County.

“The exterior noise level we propose will not preclude an office use of the Sales and Visitors Center and the establishment of one restaurant located with view of the shoreline,” the May 30 letter read. “These are very important issues for the residents of Lake Newport because of the sound transmission qualities of the small lake and because of the parcel’s highly visible location. This secluded and serene residential lakefront environmental warrants protection by the imposition of a ‘quiet zone.’”

The proposal comes at the same time that RA is trying to enclose four of the six tennis courts at Lake Newport which would share a parking lot with the proposed structure. “Taking away whether you are for or against the tennis facility, I think this issue shows that they need to put aside the issue while this is dangling in front of them," Beyer said. "It would be very difficult to make that decision in light of the visitor’s center debate."