The controversial land swap — which exchanges a parcel of wooded land adjacent to the current Lake Anne Plaza parking lot for a less-desirable piece off of Baron Cameron Avenue — came about as part of Republic Land Development ‘s plans for a redeveloped Crescent Apartments and Lake Anne Plaza area.
The proposal was met with strong opinions all around. Citizens concerned with the environment pleaded with the board to think about the ecosystem and an alternative parking area that does not remove mature trees. Others asked the board to go ahead with the plan to ensure the economic viability of Lake Anne Plaza’s future.
“We are really are pitting two things we hold dear,” at-large director Andy Sigle said. “Reston sustainability and how do we keep village centers vibrant. Republic’s plan most people agree in general is a beautiful plan and will revitalize the area. The other side is environmental stewardship and the uniqueness of Reston. And this has been pointed out this is common property.”
The motion passed 6-2, with Lake Anne/Tall Oaks Director Eve Thompson abstaining.
The swap, which enters RA into a non-binding letter of intent with Republic, passed with a few caveats. Republic must work with Reston’s Design Review Board to make sure parking garage achieves excellence in design; Republic must provide assurance that a minimum of 30 percent of parcel remain undisturbed and must work to ensure the proposed facility does not have further environmental impact.
Republic will also put $100,000 into escrow with RA for tree canopy improvement. Other late concessions from Republic: The developer will be taking only 0.7 of an acre (rather than 1.1 acre) from RA an will be giving them a 1.1 piece in return. The structure will be as close as possible to North Shore Drive to minimize the loss of trees, including three champion oaks, said Republic CEO David Peter.
“At a minimum, the number of trees measuring 24 inches in diameter on Baron Cameron will be equal to the number that will be removed from the RA parcel for parking,” he said. “The land we will be giving will have the same or more trees.”
Republic has about $500,000 in improvements to RA facilities, but will now concentrate those improvements on trail safety and trail enhancement, Peter added. Construction on the parking garage would not begin for three to five years, he said.
Peter detailed 11 nearby sites at Lake Anne that the company investigated as potential alternative parking areas. Among the choices: Lake Anne Fellowship House, Martin Luther King Jr. Church and the Lake Anne of Reston Condo Association parking lot on the other side of plaza. All came back unsuitable for a variety of reasons, but a recurrent drawback was the options were not going to enhance convenience for shoppers to visit Lake Anne merchants.
“The goal is to make [the merchants] healthier,” Peter said. It’s clearly the best location. It’s in center of entire development … It’s the most convenient for existing merchants, it keeps all of the parking clustered on one road, which allows easy visitor access and it keeps parking within 500 feet of the merchants. This is in line with industry parking standards, which is very important to attracting new customers.”
The board heard from dozens of members via email in the last several weeks. Members also gave their thoughts to the board for nearly two hours at a public hearing on Thursday.
“We have all understood for change to happen something would not be able to remain the same,” said Rick Thompson, president of the Lake Anne of Reston Condo Association, which includes residential and commercial members. “After a decade [of discussion on redevelopment] this is the reality. We think we have a great plan. Without parking the plan will probably not succeed. Without parking, the commercial owners will be severely hindered and the proposal may crumble.”
Said Tammi Petrine, co-chair of Reston Citizens Association Reston 2020 committee:
“To my way of thinking this is like Henny Penny – the sky is falling and we have to make a decision now,” she said. “Lake Anne is the mother of Reston. It must be protected. It must be revitalized and parking must be provided but it must not be provided at the expense of precious, rare ecology and trees. We must save these trees. Who wants that crap parcel [on Baron Cameron] for this valuable row? No one.”
Susan Beffel urged the board to set a precedent for future development.
“Without the frame of trees around Lake Anne, without that frame, Republic’s plan will lose a lot of its value,” she said. She also suggested the plot of land could serve as a play space and nature area for Restonians of all ages.
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