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Looking to the Past to Plan Reston’s Village Centers’ Future

by Karen Goff August 6, 2014 at 4:30 pm 12 Comments

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Classic Reston is a biweekly feature sponsored by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce that highlights businesses, places and people with deep roots in Reston.

As Fairfax County planners begin to re-evaluate — and possibly re-imagine Reston’s village centers — they may look to what did and did not work with the original plans for the new town.

Reston founder Robert E. Simon envisioned Reston with seven European-style village centers where residents could gather, kids could play and shops could do business. In the mid-1960s, as America’s suburban car culture was building and strip malls and indoor malls were flourishing, Simon’s idea of a central plaza was unique.

And so in the mid-1960s, Lake Anne Village Center was born, followed by Hunters Woods Village Center in 1972. Later village centers in Reston followed a more traditional strip-mall footprint, but they may be rearranged in the future depending on the outcome of this latest comprehensive plan amendment.

Original Hunters Woods Village Center/Credit: Northern Virginia Digital ArchivesSimon, who at age 100 lives in Heron House overlooking Lake Anne Plaza, still believes that village centers should be the hallmark of Reston. He says that the Reston Master Plan Phase II is a crucial time for Reston’s future and he would like to see

“The village centers are my chief passion, of course,” says Simon. “The reason for the incredible reception (of Reston) when it was built was because of the plazas. I would like to see all the village centers look like Lake Anne, with plazas surrounded by density. Density IS coming to Lake Anne now.”

Simon is referring to Lake Anne Development Partners’ revitalization plan, chosen by the county in 2013, that will bring 60,000 square feet of new retail space, up to 82,500 square feet of office space, and 1,037 residential units near the plaza. The plaza itself will not be altered as it has a historic preservation designation. However, it is expected that the interior of the plaza will see a boost (and some cosmetic work) as more retail and residential is built around it.

The redevelopment is expected to get underway in mid-2015. It will take about 10 years to phase in all developments, Republic officials said.

Republic’s plan was selected by the county after years of studies, discussions and charrettes on ways to revitalize Lake Anne. Lake Anne was once home to a supermarket, a library, a child care center, a coffee house and other retail necessities. But though the lakefront setting was attractive, as the years went on, it proved difficult to get many Restonians out of their cars and running errands by foot.

It was a similar story at Hunters Woods, minus the lake views. The original Hunters Woods Village Center was designed “oriented towards people not automobiles,” according to an early marketing brochure. Some of the more stable tenants over the first 10 years: Drug Fair, Safeway and Baskin-Robbins. Others that came and went: Bangkok West, Big Daddy’s restaurant, La Gazelle, Ryder’s, Pizza Inn, the Seafood Emporium and the Alpenhaus Cafe. Fritzbe’s was a popular restaurant there for 14 years, from 1980 to 1994.

But it did not become the village gathering spot once envisioned. By 1979,  Martha Pennino, Reston’s rep on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the way the center was built was “simply not conducive to good business. People go to the liquor store and the Safeway, and then leave,” the Washington Post reported.

By 1997, the center had been sold several times and a new plan was submitted to the county. The plan called for tearing down the entire 114,000-square-foot center and building a new one in its place.

The “new” Hunters Woods, now 16 years old, now faces the parking lot. Just like Simon was trying to avoid.

Photo of original Hunters Woods Village Center/Credit: Northern Virginia Digital Archives

  • Terry Maynard

    Mr. Simon and RCA Reston 2020 have disagreed about many issues in the Reston Master Plan re-make, but we are largely in accord with the importance of Reston’s village centers as focal points for our neighborhood communities and the need for their revitalization. They certainly are unsatisfactory in a planned community as the strip malls they have become.

    We offered to the County planning staff our take on the issues in planning for Phase 2 and focused especially on the village centers. We have suggested that they have an internal green space or plaza as a focal point for each VC, that the parking be moved to garages (no more asphalt!), that they should include a public meeting room, and that they have moderate residential density above first floor retail (including economical and handicap focused housing).

    Our proposal on VCs & other Phase 2 (suburban Reston areas) topics is available here for your review: http://reston2020.blogspot.com/2014/07/reston-2020-ideas-for-phase-2-reston.html

    We understand that the planning staff is still taking public comments and we encourage all Restonians to put forward their views, either specific or general. Please click on this County webpage to provide your remarks: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/reston/comments.htm

    We hope that the staff will listen.

    • Don

      Don Morgan Hunter Woods Bordeaux neighborhood.
      We’ve lived here since ’70-75 Lake Ann area & in HW since ’75. There are several problems with the Simon vision of people walking to the village centers for groceries. I’m ~.7 mi from there `20 mins each way by foot, but have to cross Reston Parkway, a VERY busy intersection (when we lived up in the Lake Anne area they built an pedestrian overpass over Weilie Av. but that was back when the developer was doing things to sell more homes. To get more overpasses now, we’d have to pay for them). The vast majority of folks come in, & fill up the trunk or Minivan with a weeks worth of groceries, get the dry cleaning & head out. We see a few unfortunate folks who don’t have cars trying to get home with a few small bags without having them break. They have to come every day. People in Europe’s old towns may not have had large refrigerators so had to shop small.
      There have also been security issues (much better with the new set up). The way the original HW town center was built, the Police couldn’t get into the center in their cars. Despite the nostalgia of the policeman walking his beat as they did in the ’40’s when I was little, the Police are now wedded to their cars. That is their office, has their computer extra ammo, spot lights, radios and anything else. They can also load suspects in the back when necessary. It is also kind of nice to drive by the restaurant to see it is open before getting out of the car and walking around a corner.
      For my money, I’ll take the parking lot with its police (FF County as Reston is not a town so can’t have their own police) in their idling cars & the nice assortment of shops & restaurants. The North Point village center is very nice too and is laid out similar to the HW location.
      The discussion ignored the VERY successful Reston Town Center, all on private land with their own security force. there are 50-75 restaurants there. there are lots of condos within the TC which work nicely with the nearby offices. The Town center is doing a good job of putting the village centers out of business. I think Tall Oaks Village center is about dead.
      Don

  • Mike M

    Here’s the problem with putting idealistic fantasy before practicality: It meets with abject failure. But then, you can always run away to Switzerland until someone starts to overhaul your error and come back a wise hero! The repeat the same mistake! 🙂

  • BikeReston

    Bike culture is returning to Reston, so the village center plans need to recognize and promote that by providing good bike parking, good bike access, and opportunities to interact with the family biking crowd.

    • Mike M

      Sure! It’s like, “I ride a bike. So, like totally everything should be totally about me!”

      • Southside

        Bike people who regularly visit the centers also help to keep these spaces safe, so we should encourage that actually..

  • Chuck Morningwood

    I applaud the ideal of a place for people to gather while or instead of shopping. We need to keep in mind that one man’s gathering place is another man’s loitering place and yet another’s open air drug market.

    • Mike M

      Shhhhh. You are killing our utopian buzz!

    • reston99

      So we tore down the old HW center, it’s an open strip mall design now and the problem is still there, on the bike trails around that center, it’s still not safe. There were a few robberies last year. We need active police patrol around the problem areas, or it continues.

  • Thomas

    Plenty of security cameras are what’s needed. When I’m in a public place I expect that people will be watching me and don’t care it they photograph me because I won’t be doing anything bad.

    • vdiv

      Cameras are not enough, we need active law-enforcement presence.

      • Southside

        Indeed. Some bike patrol on the paths and around the centers with known issues, Hunters Woods and R. Town Center seems overdue.

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