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Pros, Cons and Starting Over Part of Village Center Talk

by Karen Goff October 20, 2014 at 9:28 am 17 Comments

Notes and thoughts on Tall Oaks Village Center at Master Plan meetingIn the early 1960s, Reston founder Bob Simon and other planners got to work on what the community should look like — including village centers that would serve as the commercial and social hub of each of Reston’s villages.

Fifty years later, village centers at Hunters Woods, South Lakes, Tall Oaks and North Point generally don’t look like what was planned. Lake Anne Plaza does fit the mold better, but is also undergoing a separate revitalization process.

What ended up serving Reston were essentially suburban shopping centers, heavy on parking spots and light on common areas.

With the second phase of Reston Master Plan up for review, might it be time to revisit the original ideals and work into the comprehensive plan the ability, should a developer want to do so, to revamp the village centers?

That was the main question posed by Fairfax County planners and Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins to participants who came to South Lakes High School Saturday to talk about the future of Reston’s Village Centers.

The village centers served as the model of Simon’s planning, said Hudgins.

“Some have survived over the years, some have not,” she said. “So this text is important — how do you trigger change? It may not happen in short time frame, but we want to be able to get this input on how the community thinks it should move forward.”

Fairfax County planning staff said Saturday they hope to have the final document drafted by mid-2015. But changes could be decades away, if ever.

Whatever changes are incorporated into the plan will not be a regulatory document and any structural changes will have to eventually go through the Reston Association’s Design Review Board, as well as county planning and zoning and the Board of Supervisors.

Citizens in attendance Saturday split up into discussion groups, where they did a rundown of the best and worst parts of the village centers.

The consensus seemed to be:

  • Hunters Woods, with the Reston Community Center located there, seems to most fit the bill as a mixed-use place, but also suffers from a perception problem as a high-crime area.
  • South Lakes has good bike and pedestrian access but is oriented ineffectively and should face its best asset: Lake Thoreau.
  • North Point, the newest of the village centers is probably the least like a village center, but features ample parking and upscale businesses. It also is very convenient for users of recreational facilities such as Lake Newport Pool and soccer fields.

Residents suggested that if future development were to occur, it would have to be built up into mixed-use residential with retail on the ground floor and hidden parking.

The center that got universal concern was Tall Oaks — which has been losing businesses rapidly (with no new ones opening in recent years). Perhaps Tall Oaks future lies in something else that does not feature retail?

Some of the Tall Oaks issues that came up in discussions: disengaged ownership;  low density surrounding the center; poor access and signage; and a wooded buffer along Wiehle Avenue that is RA land.

“Tall Oaks would be a good one to start over and rethink,” said Connie Hartke, an active Reston Citizens Association member who was presenting her table’s views to the rest in attendance. “Maybe it needs some completely new thinking about what can be done with that space.”

Bill Penniman, Reston Community Center board member who was speaking for his table, said all the centers should take advantage of unique features surrounding it, such as the lake at South Lakes, woods at Tall Oaks, and a visible gathering space between Hunters Woods and the RCC.

Citizens are welcome to send Fairfax County feedback on the village centers through the Reston Master Plan website.

Photo: Notes on Tall Oaks issues at Saturday Reston Master Plan meeting.


  • Nancy Monfredo

    Would love to see Tall Oaks become a fun recreational area with mini golf, roller skating and anything else that is fun for families that we currently have to trek out to Manassas to enjoy

    • Rational Reston

      Can’t you just roller skate in the vast empty parking lot?

  • long time reston resident

    No mention of the fact that Hunter’s Woods was squashed and rebuilt in the mid 1990’s. Crime was the reason for the “redevelopment” of Hunter’s Woods as well. Reston/Herndon doesn’t have a county rec center like Oak Mar, Spring Hill, Cub Run, etc. Perhaps this is a perfect opportunity for the county to leverage the developer and buy back the land from the developer and create a fun recreational area like Nancy suggests below?

    • OpenReston

      There was an assisted public housing issue back then that has gone away I believe, that had brought in a certain gang like element from apartments across the way..not sure why that couldn’t have been “policed” or security hired.
      But HW in the 70s-80s was probably one of the most frequented centers and was much more fun. Leveling it create a strip mall like center approach turned off a lot of people, it’s not a place to hang out at all..

  • SLeo

    The few restaurants and nail salon that are currently there are great. It’s a shame so few other businesses can stick around. It would be great if the grocery store could be broken up into smaller stores. Parking is also an issue, it is very limited (and when grocery store is active) can be difficult to find a spot. The bus stop is right in front of the grocery store which can make it crazy with traffic. If there is a way to rethink parking and traffic that might help too.

  • Jason Rub

    Is there any good reason why my comment about the “high-crime perception problem” at Hunters Woods was not approved for posting? I thought it was reasonable and added something valuable about classism and prejudice to the discussion, but I suppose we’re all more concerned about whether Yogiberry is gonna open next summer, right? I know I’m keeping my fingers crossed (and my eyes rolling)!

    • Karen Goff

      Your comment is right there on the site and has been since you posted it.

      • Jason Rubinsten

        Ay ay ay, apologies! Disqus told me my comment required “moderator approval”, then the comment disappeared and even after refreshing the page multiple times and checking later it still wasn’t showing up for me. Well, now I’m embarrassed, but clearly you can see I’m passionate? Thanks Karen, sorry for jumping to conclusions.

  • Agatha

    The old Giant in Tall Oaks would be a great seasonal attraction: The Haunted Grocery!

  • John Farrell

    The comments reported here weren’t heard by most of the attendees because the format of the meeting inhibited the exchange of ideas among Restonians.

    As with Phase I, its very clear the County staff has preconceived notions that will constitute the final Phase II report and these sessions, like those for Phase I, are solely for the purpose of window dressing.

    Hunter’s Woods, South Lakes and North Pointe Shopping Centers all
    have usefull lives that extend beyond the 20 year horizon of the Phase II
    Plan. And County staff knows it.

    This whole Phase II exercise is about what to do with Tall Oaks and County staff made very clear that they were frustrated that the owners of Tall Oaks had not taken the bait and made a submission into this process.

    Tall Oaks is too small (only 7 acres) to be attractive to any modern national retailer. Every grocery store chain requires a surface parking lot with a minimum of 800 spaces on 15 acres.

    Because of its proximity to Lake Fairfax and other open space, there aren’t enough rooftops nearby to justify a retail complex at Tall Oaks.

    It also went unsaid, because of staff censorship, that non-union grocery store leases prohibit any public spaces in their new shopping centers because they fear that unions will use that space for organizing. Those leases even go so far as prohibiting Girl Scout cookie sales.

    Also, while its understandable that some pushed for public spaces to be green instead of hardscaped, anyone whose done any athletic field maintenance knows that it takes very little foot traffic to turn a lovely grassword into a denuded muddy mess.

    The Comp. Plan should include repurposing options for Tall Oaks for low-rise
    residential to restore the middle class market rate housing lost at Cresent
    and Fairways Apartments. It might include first floor retail or
    work/live space.

    Attendees didn’t hear most of the foregoing because it didn’t advance the County staff’s predetermined agenda. Too bad.

    • Nancy Monfredo

      Rational Reston—I get what you are sayin–my kids skate on the street and in the basement……but…… I have amazingly fond memories of hanging out at a roller rink back in PA that was similar to Skate and Fun zone in Manassas with my friends on Friday nights. There was food, roller skating, music, bowling, pinball and video games. Just down the way was mini golf. In Manassas, they also have go carts. Lasar tag is also big these days as is Ball Room Dancing. Tall Oaks is big enough to become a great recreational area and still feature great places like SLeo mentions. Moms could get manicures or eat while kids skate, play mini golf etc. There is also a place in Leesburg near the Wegmans that is a restaurant where you can bowl. Long boarding and skateboarding is also a big hit among pre teens and teens these days. As a 24 year resident of Northern VA and mother of 3, I would love another amazing fun place in Reston, other than Lake Fairfax and Reston Town Center.

      • Nancy Monfredo

        Also, Jason Rub–I get what you are saying too. However, if a place is in demand enough, people will go in spite of any perceived crime. So many people trek into DC, Alexandria, Inner Harbor and other places that may not be perceived as the ultimate safe areas. The upside is, as more people trek in because of the attraction, it is not only perceived as safer–it becomes safer because of the non stop traffic and security that comes along with having popular attractions. Would love to see the next blog be about the traffic problems Reston experiences because of the new whatever it is in Tall Oaks 🙂

  • Modern Restonian

    I am glad someone went there. I am tired of people making comments about “hoodlums,” “Southeast DC,” and “gang bangers” and not realizing that these euphemisms are incredibly transparent. People should be called out for being racist in 2014. It is unacceptable in this era.

    • OpenReston

      also not true, I’ve just seen “residents” there of all colors & nationalities..not scary at all..

    • Mike M

      You and Jason might feel like real cool suburbanites excusing all kinds of bad behavior in the name of standing up for something you only fantasize about, but there are many victims of bad behavior in that vicinity and they are often African-American and Hispanic. So, you wanna be hero, get out of your too-cool denial and help fix the problem. Your denial is an insult to the people who live over that way. As for Ms DeFoe, if people don’t call the police, it would be unbelievably presumptuous of a crime prevention professional to conclude there is no problem. Do you think there might be some other reason people wouldn’t call the police?

  • OpenReston

    I’m not really deterred by the alleged crime element at HW, the current shops are not my cup of tea, and the Safeway is a bit tired. Want people there, dress it up a little & get better stores. I prefer South Lakes, Lake Anne & Fox Mill center, all have some element of good shops & or restaurants.

  • Leila Gordon

    Beginning in the late summer of 2013, a coalition of Hunters Woods neighbors and County agencies has been working to make our neighborhood a safe, appealing and welcoming place. As a result, reported criminal activity from summer of 2013 compared to summer of 2014 dropped by 63%. RCC, County police, the Community Services Board, Department of Housing, Neighborhood and Community Services and our partners, Cornerstones, Christ the Servant Church, HW Fellowship House, Edens (property owner/manager of HW Village Center), Reston Association, and individuals who live in our neighboring townhomes all worked together to improve understanding, step up patrols, coordinate responses to undesirable behaviors and obtain assistance for people who needed it. The Village Center property has undergone many and significant improvements. RCC’s participation and attendance at our programs continues to be robust – we are filled to capacity for nearly everything we offer. We welcome visitors to our neighborhood and we know that a vital and successful neighborhood is one that adapts and evolves and one in which the neighbors know each other and work together to keep the neighborhood a great place to live, work and visit.


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