HQ Referendum Set to Go

HQ Referendum Set to Go

Reston homeowners will be asked to give RA authority to purchase or build a new headquarters building.

In two weeks, nearly 17,000 Reston homeowners will be asked to approve a referendum giving Reston Association the authority to purchase or build a new headquarters.

RA's current headquarters at Isaac Newton Square is scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt as a larger office complex sometime in the next five years. RA's current lease expires in August, 2006.

RA officials want to own their 20,000-square-foot headquarters so they can stop pouring money into a lease and to escape escalating rent costs.

"We want to invest our money so we can get out of this vicious cyclone of rent increases," said RA Board Treasurer John Higgins.

Over the last 22 years, RA has spent just under $6 million on rent for its headquarters. Under the referendum the organization is asking its members to approve it would spend no more than $5 million on its new building, though that figure could increase to accommodate the market.

"This board is going to get the best possible deal for Reston," said RA Board Vice President Doug Bushée (North Point).

BALLOTS will be mailed out to RA members on Dec. 10 and will be due back by Jan. 7, 2005. After ballots are sent out, members can also vote online at www.reston.org.

The final referendum question was approved by RA's Board of Directors after more than four hours of debate Thursday night. Board members agonized over the wording and whether or not to set a dollar amount.

Though the referendum only requires a 10 percent turnout and a simple majority to pass, RA board members said they want to have a clear mandate and ensure it receives the most possible votes.

"We are looking for a very positive turnout," said RA Director Robin Smyers (Lake Anne/Tall Oaks). "We're looking for a mandate like we got on the Southgate Rec Center."

The Southgate referendum, sent out in September, 2002, was the last time RA members were asked to empower the board to move forward on a major capital project. Voters overwhelmingly approved that referendum after a concerted outreach campaign by RA and other organizations.

RA board members have been meeting with various neighborhood associations over the past few months to explain the new headquarters referendum and try to secure their support.

A FEW CRITICS of RA's effort to purchase a new building urged on Thursday night that the organization to reconsider its plans and continue to lease.

Terrill Maynard, a South Lakes resident, said he believes the assumptions RA used to calculate the building's fiscal impact may be flawed.

"I have some real problems with this," he said. "I don't think it's fair to the people of Reston."

Maynard said the average price for square foot in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area is higher than RA's figure of $240. Maynard said he believes that the true average is closer to $300.

Also, Maynard pointed out that existing 20,000-square- foot buildings are scarce in Reston. Should RA build a new headquarters from the ground up, the cost of land and escalating construction prices could push the new building's price tag much higher than expected.

George Kain, also a Reston resident, said RA should set a limit on the amount of money it would be able to spend on the new headquarters.

"You should put your best foot forward and put a cap on that dollar amount," he said.

RA'S BOARD wrestled Thursday night with the notion of capping the amount of cash it could spend on the new building, but it ultimately decided that it should not handcuff itself when future market conditions are unknown.

Buying or building a new headquarters is simply a better deal for RA's members than continuing to shovel money into a lease, said RA Board Member Vicky Wingert (at large).

"We already have the authority to spend beau coup bucks on a lease," she said. "But without the referendum, we don't have the authority to spend that same amount of money to buy our own building."

Should the referendum be approved by its members, RA officials said they expect to move as quickly as possible to locate a suitable headquarters, perhaps even before its current lease expires.

"It is in RA's best financial interest to acquire a new headquarters sooner rather than later," said RA Board President Rick Beyer (at large). "We're not going to build a Taj Mahal. We do know that. We're not going to be on the upper end of construction costs."