Reston Association's 17,000 eligible members started receiving ballots from the homeowners association this week, asking for permission to build or buy itself a new 20,000 square foot headquarters.
RA's current lease on its offices at Isaac Newton Square expires in August 2006. The building is slated to be demolished soon thereafter and be replaced with an 80,000-square-foot commercial office complex.
Over the last 22 years, RA has paid its landlord a total of $5.8 million in rent for the organization's existing 20,000-square-foot headquarters.
"We just want the same amount of space," said Karen Monaghan, RA's director of communications. "As soon as we get the go ahead from our members, we're going to start looking for the best deal we can find."
Without member approval to build or buy a new headquarters for RA's 77 full-time employees, the organization will continue to lease office space in Reston. That means RA would probably end up using more of its members' dues to pay for the rising rent costs in Reston's hot commercial real estate market.
"Right now, RA has the right to throw its members' money away on rent," said Barbara Aaron, the Hunters Woods/Dogwood representative on RA's Board of Directors. "If RA continues spending money on rent, they're going to end up paying a whole lot more."
BY OWNING its own headquarters, RA officials project the organization would save $41,405 after the first year, $226,939 after five years and more than $636,967 after a decade.
If the referendum fails, RA Board President Rick Beyer said he expects RA member dues could be increased substantially to cope with rising rent costs.
"We'd be stuck in a rising market and that's the last thing we want," he said. "This referendum will save RA member money immediately."
To be approved, the $13,000 referendum requires a 10 percent turnout of RA members and a simple majority.
Despite the relatively low burden of approval, RA officials have undertaken a major outreach campaign to win the community's support. Sample ballots are being distributed throughout Reston, sandwich boards have been placed at high-traffic areas, public service announcements are running on Comcast Cable, e-mails are being sent to hundreds of members, RA officials are meeting with community groups and an organized letter writing campaign for the local newspapers is underway.
"Although we only need 10 percent of voters to approve this, we want a clear mandate," Monaghan said. "We want to hear loud and clear that people want this."
TERRILL MAYNARD, a South Lakes resident, is among a small number of RA members who are speaking out against the headquarters referendum. Maynard said he believes RA may end up spending much more than expected on its new headquarters because RA has allowed its $5 million cap to increase based on market conditions.
"The key concern I have is that they're overcomplicating what should be a simple bond proposal," Maynard said. "And I think they're overstating their savings in their analysis."
Beyer and other RA board members dispute Maynard's assertion that RA has used overly optimistic assumptions, saying the projected savings are the product of RA's fiscal committee, comprised almost entirely of professional financial workers.
"All nine members of the fiscal committee said we should buy rather than continuing to lease," Beyer said. "This is a slam-dunk."
CRITICS like Maynard also question RA's ability to find a suitable building within Reston. With commercial real estate costs rising, he said, its seems far-fetched to believe RA will be able to buy a parcel of land and still be able to afford construction costs or the cost of an existing building.
"If they find a building for what they want to pay for it, it's going to be as old and worn out as the one they're already in," Maynard said.
RA officials are considering their options regarding where they might find a viable new headquarters and have not ruled anything out, Monaghan said.
One possible site, she said, is the current location of RA's Central Services Facility. RA already owns the land, located next to the Reston YMCA, though it would require redevelopment.