Vote on HQ Needed

Vote on HQ Needed

A tentative schedule proposed Monday would have ballots sent to RA members by early December.

Under a tentative schedule proposed Monday night, Reston Association would mail out referendum ballots in early December to ask its membership for permission to purchase or build a $4.8 million headquarters.

The schedule was proposed by RA’s Board Advisory Committee, which is composed of members of the organization’s Board of Directors. The schedule, along with a tentative referendum question, will be formally recommended to RA’s board at its Oct. 28 meeting.

Barring unanticipated opposition, RA officials hope to have approval on the referendum before the end of January.

“I think this is a no-brainer for people,” said Rick Beyer, president of RA’s board. “It’s strictly by the numbers. The savings would be substantial.”

The question of whether RA should continue to lease space for its headquarters or buy a 20,000 square foot office building was the topic of much debate and analysis over the last few months.

The lease on RA’s current headquarters, located at 1930 Isaac Newton Sq, will expire in August. RA has occupied that space for 22 years and has paid nearly $6 million in rent.

At the board’s last meeting, on Sept. 23, RA’s fiscal committee recommended buying or constructing a new headquarters at a cost of no more than $4.8 million. The committee estimated that RA would save $55,109 after the first year and as much as $3.4 million in 10 years. On the other hand, the officials pointed out, continuing to lease a building would result in no savings at all.

“The $4.8 million is going to be spent one way or the other,” said RA Director Vicky Wingert (at large). “The question is how we’re going to spend it.”

WITH THE TENTATIVE schedule being advocated by the Board Advisory Committee, there would be two public comment sessions next month, the first on Nov. 8 and the second on Nov. 18.

Referendum ballots would be mailed out on Dec. 10 and then counted and announced on Jan. 27. In all, the referendum is expected to cost no more than $30,000.

RA Director Joe Leighton (South Lakes) said that schedule may be overly-optimistic and that some extra time would help sell the proposal to members.

“Haste makes waste and you can’t automatically assume people will support this,” he said.

But most members of the RA board said they believe the proposal should win easy approval because homeowners understand the long-term savings inherent in buying real estate rather than paying rent. And the potential benefits allow the board to assert that, in 15 years, they would have accumulated in savings nearly the entire original cost of the headquarters.

“When you look at all the factors, for this non-profit, it’s better to own a property rather than lease,” said Doug Bushée (North Point), the RA board’s vice president.

RA’S EXPIRING lease is not the only factor pushing this issue atop the board’s priorities. In six years Metrorail is slated to arrive at nearby Wiehle Avenue and the area surrounding Isaac Newton Square could become transformed or, at the very least, rents will rise substantially.

“This is a very important time right now,” said RA Director Bob Poppe (at large). “Property values are about to go sky high when the rail comes in across the street.”

And if RA cannot find adequate office space within a reasonable amount of time, the rising commercial real estate costs could prove $4.8 million is insufficient. If that happens, the RA board could find itself in a scenario where it needs to go back to referendum to gain approval for additional funds.

“We may need a little buffer,” said RA Director Robin Smyers (Lake Anne/Tall Oaks).

The RA board is expected to discuss at its Oct. 28 meeting if the $4.8 million should be pegged to a commercial real estate index that would account for rising costs or possibly some other index to adjust the dollar amount.

But as for now, RA board members said they are confident the membership will support the referendum and are eager to get the process moving along.

“This makes sense,” Beyer said. “The numbers really speak for themselves.”