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A Proffer They Can’t Refuse?

RA would like to persuade developers to help fund the Nature House.

Reston Association Director Bill Keefe asked fellow board members and staff last week to petition the Reston Planning and Zoning committee to steer proffers toward the funding of the Nature House.

Several years ago, voting in a referendum, members of Reston Association overwhelmingly approved the construction of a Nature House.

Rather than pay for it with homeowners’ assessments, the RA came up with a plan to raise the money by soliciting donations from the private sector and individuals.

But because of soaring construction costs, the Friends of Reston, the organization charged with leading the fund-raising effort, seems mired in a never-ending campaign to raise money.

After six years, the effort has raised about $900,000, which is about $100,000 more than the original building cost estimate, according to Ray Leonhard, RA’s chief financial officer. “The Friends have been successful at fund-raising, but the costs have been going up dramatically,” said Leonhard. Members of the Friends of Reston, which has not released an official update for building costs, have estimated conservatively that construction costs will now exceed $1 million.

Now, with the effort dragging on six years and seeming as elusive as ever, Keefe said proffers could sped up fund-raising. “That’s an excellent idea,” said Jennifer Blackwell, RA president.

ONCE BUILT, the Nature House will benefit community members throughout Reston, argued Keefe. “It just cropped into my mind that when one of those [development] applications goes through that it would be nice to have the Nature House considered,” said Keefe.

Keefe, who is no stranger to the world of proffers, is a land-use planner with Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley, Emrich & Terpak PC. He occasionally represents developers during the zoning and land-use approval process. Most recently he represented Kfoury Construction in a project to build 40-60 3,000-square-foot luxury condos on the Prison Fellowship property, a 5.2-acre site home to the Manor House and two office buildings.

Proffers are concessions made by developers to local government to account for various impacts the development will have on public resources.

In the case of the Nature House, Keefe said, proffers could consist of money donations or in-kind services given to the Friends of Reston. “This is a huge priority for RA right now, but we’re stalled. The Friends of Reston have done a bang-up job, but we’re still about $400,000 short,” said Keefe. “We have to find other ways to help them out.”

“IT’S AN ADMIRABLE suggestion, but I don’t know if it would be appropriate,” said Arthur Hill, a member of Reston’s P&Z committee. Hill said Keefe’s idea may run into an unavoidable legal obstacle. “Proffers are usually made by the developer, as I understand it, to the county and to the benefit of the county and its residents,” said Hill. He said he thinks proffers can only be given to the county, not an organization.

If a letter from RA reaches the P&Z before its June 5 meeting, the committee will discuss the possibility of directing proffers to benefit the Nature House, said Hill.