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RA: Let’s Reconsider Tall Oaks in Master Plan

by Karen Goff — October 28, 2014 at 11:00 am 30 Comments

Empty anchor store at Tall OaksReston Association’s Board of Directors says perhaps Tall Oaks Village Center should be re-envisioned as something else — maybe a convenience center instead of a full scale village center.

The board’s comments came in a mark up of the Reston Master Plan Phase II draft plan. The board made a series of tweaks and changes it hopes Fairfax County planners will keep in mind as it formulates a Master Plan for Reston’s village centers and neighborhoods as the community heads into its second half-century.

On Oct. 20, county planners held the second in a series of community meetings to obtain priorities and feedback on the draft proposal. The Oct. 20 meeting concentrated on the village centers — what works, what doesn’t and what should be considered for the future.

The focus groups seemed to agree — Tall Oaks has been failing for years. With storefronts sitting empty for years and no new ones opening, it may be time to rezone some of the land to something else keeping some of Tall Oaks a “convenience center” or a mini village center.

Reston Association agrees.

From notes issued by RA to the county planners:

Reston was originally planned with Village Centers serving as the focal point of activity for the surrounding neighborhoods.

FOUR of the five existing village centers – Lake Anne, Hunters Woods, South Lakes and North Point (Tall Oaks is crossed out) are planned to continue to serve this purpose in the future. They are planned to allow currently approved intensities and to densities to remain but are envisioned to also accommodate some more intense vertical use redevelopment in the future to fully achieve the goal of being vibrant centers of activity.

Other suggestions from the document:

Senior housing and universal design residences are encouraged to be located within the village centers.

Tall Oaks is the smallest of the five Village Centers. Consideration should be given as a re-designation of this center as a smaller convenience center.

Other opinions of note from RA’s comments:

Reston has, since its inception, been envisioned to be a place to live, work, play and get involved. The overriding goal of the Plan is for Reston to continue to evolve in a sustainable manner over the next four or five decades. … As Reston evolves, it is important to respect and continue the characteristics that have helped define Reston from its inception.

As Reston’s population increases, added capacity should be achieved through development of land and/or facilities to meet the demands (not needs) generated by the development or redevelopment.

Protect the headwater areas and other environmentally sensitive areas through the implementation of innovative stormwater management practices and Reston Association’s stream restoration/preservation program.

Increase senior housing, ensure opportunities are provided for adequate senior housing designed to suit a range of age, income and health needs.

Wherever possible, missing connections in the pedestrian and bicycle networks should be rectified with new sidewalks, bike lanes (shared or separate) or trails.

Should the Hunt Club property be redeveloped residential, it should be part of Reston Association.

The Lake Newport Convenience Center designation should be deleted and the land is planned for office use at the existing density to maintain character.

To see the entire document, visit Reston Association’s website.

  • Margaret P

    Let’s turn it in to the new community center. It would have better parking than the other two.

    • Scott H

      100% agree. No need to take from baron Cameron park when this eye sore sits idle and will require a moor overhaul anyway.

      • Robert Mowbray

        I agree, this would be a good place for the indoor pool and tennis courts.

    • John Farrell

      Who is going to pay for it?

      Small Tax District #5 taxpayers?

      The megagym @ Brown’s Chapel is projected to cost $53 million and that’s with the FCPA land coming in @ NO COST.

  • GB

    It’s so close to the metro – High density condos / apartments with retail on the ground floor.

  • novatom

    “They are planned to allow currently approved intensities and to densities to remain but are envisioned to also accommodate some more intense vertical use redevelopment in the future to fully achieve the goal of being vibrant centers of activity.”

    What does this mean in English?

    • Karen Goff

      Keep densities the same. If you are going to expand expand UP (high rises or mixed use retail on first floor, residential and office above)

      • GB

        sounds like that increases the density

    • John Farrell

      Vertical redevelopment means high rise aka luxury housing. As if there aren’t of those already in the pipeline.

      • Ha

        Because John Farrell should decide how much luxury housing is “enough”, not the people who are putting their money and their livelihoods on the line.

        • John Farrell

          There are 16,000 high rise units in the pipeline now.

          There aren’t that many families making $200,000 a year who want to live in a high-rise.

          In contrast, almost no garden apartments have been authorized in the last decade. The lower cost to build this product makes it more affordable for middle class families.

          There are fads in real estate development. Recent ones have included movie theaters, golf courses and data centers.

          When each product got over saturated the lenders stopped funding. That’s starting to happen now with high-rise.

          When the capital markets say enough is enough, its time to look at other products.

      • Delsin Rowe

        Agreed, there are enough of those in the pipeline.

  • ?

    What the heck is a “convenience center”?

    Does that mean it needs a Burger King and a 7-11?

    • Karen Goff

      Sort of. To the Master Plan people, a convenience center is a retail area that is NOT a Village center, ie the soapstone convenience center with 7-11 or the Sunrise Valley strip with the big dental practice and a few retail stores. There have been suggestions to re-do Tall Oaks with convenience center level retail (perhaps keep the strip where the Mama Wok, the nail salon, etc., are located and do something different with the rest.

  • Ihor Jarema

    Shouldn’t the burden of the responsibility be on the center’s owners with RA enforcing covenants? The center is being operated in an absentee slumlord fashion and is more than likely depressing home values in the area. It’s hard to believe that the owners are putting any effort in revitalizing the center. They have a responsibility in running the center well just as all RA members have in following the covenants. Instead of re-imagining let’s have RA apply some legal action to the center’s owners who have created a blighted area in our community.

    • Uplands resident

      I agree. It sounds like the owner has intentionally pushed out the tenants with high rents and short leases. When they show how vacant the place is, they claim it’s important to re-develop. Reston needs to ensure we get what’s needed for the community, not what’s wanted for the developer’s bottom line. We don’t need more residents. What the community could use is just what was there before – a grocery store and/or pharmacy, a few local restaurants, a retirement home and some additional shops & offices.

    • Orlina Tucker

      Ihor – we sold our townhouse in Bentana West in Spring 2014, and potential buyers didn’t seem bothered by how empty Tall Oaks is. However, I agree with you that it brings the overall neighborhood quality down, and can see it being a major negative to potential buyers in a competitive market. I’m glad we sold before the increase in inventory!

  • TH

    My vote is for a bocce stadium.

    • bizz

      How about a Paisanos megafactory!?

  • John Farrell

    There is no reason to believe a convenience center would succeed @ Tall Oaks.

    Garden Apartments would restore some of the market rate middle class housing lost @ Crescent, Fairways and Jonathan’s Keep.

    We definitely don’t need any more luxury high rise in Reston. It’s crowding out the middle class.

    • Um

      Luxury high-rises ARE the market rate housing. The subsidized stuff is NOT market-rate. Builders know better than you what is “needed” because they actually put their money on the line.

      • John Farrell

        To afford a 2 bedroom apartment @ the Avant or the Harrison, a family has to have an annual income of $200,000!

        That’s almost twice the County average.

        Market rate garden apartments would be more affordable because the cost of construction is lower than high-rise. Nobody said anything about subsidized housing.

        Garden apartments would be more compatible with the neighborhood around Tall Oaks than high-rise.

        • Um

          Location, location, location.

          Are you seriously unaware of this basic principle of real estate? Houses in different neighborhoods cost different amounts of money, and houses on different streets cost different amounts of money.

          There is absolutely no reason to expect condos in Reston to cost the same as condos elsewhere in the county. If they cost more because various factors make Reston more attractive than elsewhere in the county, then that is what the “market rate” for Reston is. The “market rate” for a condo in Reston is absolutely NOT the average price of a condo throughout FFX county, for the obvious (to everyone but you) reason that Reston is more attractive than other places in the county and thus people are willing to pay more to live here.

          I think you should go to every house that’s for sale in Great Falls and bid $460,000 for it, because that is the “market rate” (average price) for single family homes in the county. Good luck, and please report back to us with your results.

          • John Farrell

            The Avant and the Harrison are both in Reston.

          • Karen Goff

            In the spirit of civility, let’s not personally attack. Also, Mr. Farrell is a well known land use attorney in Fairfax County, so he pretty much does know what he is talking about (and helps me out often when I get stuck with land use gobbledygook.)

          • LOL

            His contention that people should pay the “average” county price for condos in Reston – and that developers should want to create much-less-profitable garden apartments rather than luxury condos – is proof positive that he does not know what he is talking about. Such babble is the product of a political agenda, and as is usual in such cases, he wants other people to sacrifice so that his ideals can be achieved.

          • John Farrell

            Whether high-rise is more profitable that gardens is debatable given the higher hard costs and soft costs of high rise.

            But high-rise is the only product County staff is approving. Their bias is distorting the market.

            There is plenty of demand for other housing types that cannot get authorized by County staff who are pursuing ideology that bears little connection to the market.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    How about just turning it into a park? If nothing is working there, trees will.

  • Orlina Tucker

    We lived in Tall Oaks for 16 years, and we were ecstatically happy when the 7-11 and the grocery stores closed. Between the groups drinking, the abundant trash, and the multitude of discarded shopping carts in the creek, the path behind Bentana West was a horror, especially during the warm months. Not sure what, if any, benefit a convenience center would be to the neighborhood. But all of this is moot, if the owner isn’t interested in marketing and leasing the property, only interested in holding onto it until it can be rezoned and redeveloped

  • Rob

    There are lots of good ideas here, but some of the logistical facts are missing in some of the suggestions I believe.

    The Tall Oaks plot is too small for a Community Center with Athletic Fields. It’s probably too small for a full-sized Community Center with gyms, workout space, etc. so it couldn’t replace the approved Baron Cameron park.

    It’s too small for a grocery store other than a boutique-ish place like Trader Joe’s, who has a space they appear to like with better visibility in a newer building. The fact that many “convenience” establishments have BEEN there already and failed tells me the location isn’t suitable for that purpose. The location is hidden enough that no one would would just happen upon it (which has been the case for decades now). As such, I would suggest commercial options here that are dependent on people coming there aren’t viable and doomed to fail in the long term.

    That leaves Residential as next on the list – again, the plot of land wouldn’t lend itself to anything more than a high-rise (which would never get approved at that location) or a handful of garden apartments, which the neighborhood already has across the street. A high-rise facility would probably lack enough parking.

    If you rule out retail and residential, you’re left with community uses. You could build an over-sized dog park and remove the one at Baron Cameron – the surrounding “Tall Oaks” would help control the sound. You could build a mega-playground akin to Clemyjontri in McLean. The space is big enough for both of those together, actually. Reston could very much use a space like that for itself.

    You could bulldoze the Tall Oaks pool (which is comically small with virtually no parking) and build a larger facility similar to Lake Newport or one that is more “play” oriented like Uplands (or both). If you took out the Senior Center and the small office building you could flatten (level) the plot and build two Little League-sized baseball fields with parking and snack bar facilities – maybe.

    In any case, I believe the days where Tall Oaks is a viable retail space of any kind are over. I’d love to see RA or Fairfax County Park Authority acquire and redevelop that space over any of the other suggestions. Heck, even a new and expanded library would be a welcome addition.

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