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New Tall Oaks’ Residential Plan Met With Skepticism

by Karen Goff April 24, 2015 at 9:30 am 1,274 32 Comments

New Tall Oaks Village Center owners The Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG) envision 154 residential units on the nearly empty shopping center’s seven acres at Wiehle Avenue and North Shore Drive.

The residents just want their grocery store back.

That’s the message the room full of Tall Oaks residents tried to convey to JAG Executive Vice President Greg Lamb and Senior Vice President Jim Duncan and their attorney, Mark Looney of Cooley LLC, on Thursday.

JAG, which bought the 40-year-old village center in December for $14 million, came to Reston Association headquarters Thursday to show their preliminary plans for and get feedback on medium-density residential and a small amount of retail at Tall Oaks.

Here is what JAG envisions (though it admits this is just the earliest stages): 46 townhomes; 42 “2 over 2” townhomes; 66 condos in two four or five-story buildings; underground resident parking; an enhances trail network; and about 8,500 square feet of retail, with first dibs given to the remaining locally owned small businesses at Tall Oaks. Tall Oaks Assisted Living would remain, as would a small office building.

Here is what the residents essentially had to say: The development lacks recreational space; new residents will overwhelm the Tall Oaks pool; North Shore will be choked with traffic; and JAG needs both a more community-focused idea process and a better traffic study.

And just bring back a grocery store.

“You are selling yourself short short on retailers,” said one resident. “Tall Oaks could have survived without a grocery store if [previous landlord] was able to provide reasonable rent.  They had grand ideas about making money, and that drove a lot of [the vacancies].”

Looney says that when Tall Oaks first opened the in mid-1970s, it could support a 25,000-square-foot Giant Foods because there were not that many options nearby.

Looney points out that Tall Oaks began its decline in the 1990s, after new retail at North Point, The Spectrum, Reston Town Center, Trader Joe’s and Plaza America all opened nearby.

After Giant left the center in 2007 — residents say it was a corporate decision on smaller stores and not from lack of use — followed by 7-Eleven in 2008, the vacancies began mounting.

“In part, it’s because of competition from other retailers,” said Looney. “But there are site challenges. There are mature [RA owned] trees blocking the center on North Shore. Many people don’t know it is there. There is only one way in and out on North Shore.”

Looney predicts Tall Oaks, which had a nearly 90-percent occupancy rate in 2007 and currently has a 13-percent occupancy rate, will be 6 percent occupied by early 2016.

“The reality is, every anchor store knows this center and has passed it by,” said Looney, adding that there was no recent retail developer interest to purchase Tall Oaks.

“We tested the market. Crickets. No one in retail wanted to buy it in its current condition. JAG stepped forward, They are keeping the retail component. They are taking a drab retail center and turning it into Reston’s next great cluster.”

Many residents — some of whom have lived nearby for 30-plus years — are not impressed.

Said one resident: “Brand new townhouses are going to make my townhouse look like garbage.”

Added resident Tammi Petrine: “People bought homes with the expectation this was going to be a retail area. We need a grocery store.”

Said Looney: “The lack of grocery at this location is not something in our abilities to solve. The market is going to dictate that no matter how much we try to wish it.”

JAG will be back at RA Monday at 7 p.m. for another community meeting.

Rendering of Tall Oaks residential courtesy of JAG

  • Nate_VA

    Will there at least be some sort of mini-mart, like a 7-11?

  • Ming the Merciless

    The JAG plan sounds way, way better than the current desolate wasteland!

    “We need a grocery store.” — no, you don’t. You have Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Trader Joes, and the North Point Giant. Get over it and stop whining.

    • Rodney Dangerfield

      True that … the Lake Anne one has potential, because it is on the main road and visible to the outside world, as well as being part of a much bigger thing, but a Tall Oaks grocery store has about a snowball’s chance in hell of being realized, especially in the middle of a TH community.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Hey, Tall Oaks Folks, the developers are saying to you, “BOHICA”.


    So let me get this straight. One resident said “new townhomes will make his/her old townhome look like garbage”, and that is supposed to be a concern of the new owner? Geez, talk about self centered. If your old townhome looks like garbage, then it looks like garbage whether or not Tall Oaks is redeveloped.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Not to mention that a townhouse that looks like garbage and is next to a deserted wasteland is far less valuable than a townhouse that looks like garbage and is next to a thriving new residential/retail development. But who can expect sense or gratitude from the NIMBY whiners.

      As usual, “the community” has no financial stake in the operation of the business and no understanding of what it takes to run a successful business, but still wants to tell the business what to do. If you told the same people that they should rent their house for a pittance rather than sell it to a developer for a large sum of money, they’d say, “what, are you crazy?” Yet that’s exactly what they think the previous owner of Tall Oaks should have done.

      • Mike M

        Your points are good ones, but I think there is a little more to the game than true market forces. Consider that the one cost that drove some business out of this and other locations was a sharply escalating rent. This is a monopolistic adjustment driven by commercial property gamesters who seem to want to vacate space so they can bring pressures to bear for redevelopment to their liking. It’s definitely not about the community and its not really always about market forces such as cost-benefit for the businesses. I just hope the county can look out for the community but I am confident that Bulova and Hudgins will feign concern and “take the trip to Veil.”

        • Ming the Merciless

          Commercial space is readily available in northern Virginia, even in Reston. Tenants could easily move elsewhere, and even remain quite nearby, as El Manantial did. Thus it was not a “monopolistic adjustment” to raise the rent, if in fact they did so. Every tenant could easily get a cheaper rent elsewhere.

          If you could sell the property for a much larger amount than you could possibly realize over a long period even if fully occupied (no vacancies), then of course you would sell. But no, this does not mean “it’s not about market forces and cost-benefit for the business.” Selling in that situation is very definitely a product of market forces and cost-benefit calculations! “A big pile of money right now or small increments of money doled out over a long period” – that is a very easy cost-benefit calculation to make!

          Nor was it morally offensive for the previous owner of Tall Oaks to take that deal. They made a profit – good for them!

          • Mike M

            My point was the businesses were run out of the location intentionally with redevelopment in mind. So, I don’t think it’s right to imply the developers are rescuing the situation. They created it. They had monopoly power over the entire site.

          • Ming the Merciless

            “Monopoly power” indicates you think they are doing something unfair or unjust. In fact the plaza is their private property. They own it, and they are perfectly within their rights to maximize their profits from it. If they had a plan to get rid of commercial tenants so they could sell to a developer – which I doubt – there is nothing discreditable about that at all.

            One may well ask, what will happen to the current tenants like Mama Wok now that the property has been sold? I imagine the new owners will not renew their leases and they will have to relocate somewhere else nearby. (I hope so, because I like Mama Wok a lot!) That being the case, why do we need to imagine a dark conspiracy on the part of the previous owner to drive away tenants before selling to the developer? If the plaza was 100% occupied with thriving businesses today, they would all still have to move just like the few businesses that are actually there now will have to move. And under this conspiracy plan, the former owner would forego all the rent they would otherwise receive before they sold. Thus the idea that the former owner deliberately drove out his tenants and let it sit there as a giant source of negative cash flow makes no sense to me.

            Neither the former owner nor the current owner “created” the situation that it is more profitable to sell and redevelop than to maintain as a (drab, moribund) commercial site. What created the situation was the arrival of the metro. Without that, the former owner could not have expected to sell for a hefty sum, nor would the new owner have paid a hefty sum for it. The new owners are rescuing the plaza because they expect to benefit from doing so. Happily, the surrounding neighborhood will also benefit.

          • Paul

            Ming – with regards to the “dark conspiracy” and not making sense: if the previous owner renewed leases and brought in new businesses (remember Gold’s Gym?) they would have had a more difficult time selling the place to a re-developer as that would require paying off all of the remaining tenants. Hence the non-renewal of leases and non-response to repair requests from business owners. If you attended the meeting last night you would have heard much of this from the very enterprising “bootstrapping” (but understandably incensed) All-American small business owners who have or have had spaces there. At least one of them doesn’t want to leave because much of his business it tied to the local community. How’s that for the wonders of the Almighty Invisible Hand (peace be upon Him)?

          • Ming the Merciless

            Nothing wrong with not renewing leases and encouraging people to leave. That is the prerogative of the owner. The tenants, admirable businesses though they may be, have no right whatsoever to control that space beyond the terms of the lease, and have no right whatsoever to expect to be able to lease their space for as long as they like.

            If you are renting a house, and the owner sells it and you have to move, you are understandably annoyed and inconvenienced, but you have no real basis for complaint against the owner.

          • Mike M

            Monopoly means they control the market for that entire space. Property is not a commodity. There is no imaginary conspiracy. It’s real. Property is going vacant because landlords are intentionally raising the rents to vacate the property with the intent to redevelop.

            It is their right to do as they please but their plans bank on the following:
            1) The county making the changes they need.
            2) Our existing infrastructure to be shared among a higher density of people
            3) Higher tax rates for me to accommodate them.
            The developers are leveraging you, and I Ming. They had an alternative to reinvest in their property themselves. They chose not to do so. They are banking on Bulova and Hudgins and you and me to subsidize their plans and profitability. That’s not capitalism; it’s crony capitalism.

            I’ll make it simple with analogy. Let’s say your closest two neighbors decide they can make more money off their property if they convert it to a sewage treatment plant. So, they decide to fly a few county supes and B&Z clowns to Veil to receive a Peace and Justice in Community Planning award. Their plans are going nowhere without elected reps and their agents’ approval. Right. So the sewage plant goes in. Next thing you know your property value collapses and the roads need to be re-purposed at our expense.

            How does that cost-benefit math smell? Good? Then I had a depleted strip mine I’d like to sell you.

          • Ming the Merciless

            You’re trying to make it sound bad – because a “monopoly” is supposedly bad – but you are just flailing around for an unflattering way to describe the simple reality that they own the property. That means they have every right to do what they want with it – rent it or don’t rent it, sell it or don’t sell it. If they want their tenants out so they can sell, they don’t even have to raise the rent to do that. They can simply say they are not going to renew the lease. And there is nothing legally or morally wrong with doing so.

            In fact they do not have “monopoly power”, even though they own the property, because there is a very large and active market for commercial property in northern VA and even in Reston itself. If they set the rent too high then the tenants are perfectly free to go elsewhere, as indeed a number of tenants have done.

            I am not convinced that redesignating the property from commercial to residential involves any sort of “subsidy” from the taxpayer. You would have to demonstrate to me that the taxes that the county received from Tall Oaks, at full occupation in its prior form as a strip mall, exceeded the taxes that they will receive when it is redeveloped and gets taxes from the new businesses and residences. My guess would be that after redevelopment, Tall Oaks will generate significantly higher tax revenues than it ever did during its heyday as a strip mall.

            Since there is no evidence that Bulova and Hudgins have any personal relationship with the developer, “crony capitalism” is not the correct term.

            Your sewer analogy is wide of the mark for many reasons, not least because the redevelopment of Tall Oaks will increase, not destroy, the value of the surrounding homes.

  • JoeInReston

    Is anybody worried about the traffic impact on Wiehle and Reston Parkway from all these new plans for apartments and residential units in the Reston?

    • Mike M

      Actually, I looked at the picture and said to muyself, “Where is the traffic?”

      The problem is that the developers don’t own that, the county does. And the County doesn’t do its job aligining approvals with the new requirements they generate.

      So, keep voting for K Hudgins and S Bulova and keep getting more of the same.

    • Rational Reston

      How would the traffic be any different to when the Giant was there are operating? I would think many cars were repeatedly going in and out of the center (before it became a suburban wasteland).

      • Orlina Tucker

        The difference is you’re adding potentially 300 more cars (154 units x 2 cars each) all trying to get out onto Weihle Ave during rush hour. It’s a matter of concentration during a specific period of time. It might not seem like a lot, but considering how backed up that intersection gets at 8:15 am Mon thru Fri now, more cars aren’t going to improve the situation. I was never against redevelopment, but it’s disingenuous of developers to suggest that there won’t be a negative impact to traffic on North Shore.

        • Rational Reston

          Your 300 number sounds like a fair estimate. But remember that rush hour is a drawn out time period, not just an actual hour. Also, between teleworking, different schedules, or non working people, not everyone will be commuting everyday. So some fraction of that 300 cars will be leaving every 15 minutes over a 2-3 hour time frame in the morning and afternoon rush hours.

          I remember when Tall Oaks actually had a fair amount of business, and the traffic light would back up quite a bit. Sometimes you had to wait for a second cycle to get through.

          So the traffic light would maybe need to be adjusted a little bit, but not a whole lot to accommodate the new cars, it really isn’t a whole lot different than having the fairly steady stream of shoppers and residents that were there before.

          Of course, it would be way less of a problem if the ‘master planner’ of Reston had put in two entry points to Tall Oaks from the beginning.

          • JoeInReston

            The additional traffic could be coming from several sources. Isn’t Lake Anne undergoing additional development and St John too?

  • JCSuperstar

    Now you folks are talking my language! Developers are looking all over Reston for opportunity to make it a better place for all of us. The golf course, Tetra, St. Johns Woods, Lake Anne, the Spectrum, and so on. Home values, and yes, quality of life.

    Of course the developers will win too. But, that’s what it’s about.

    • Reston Realist

      “Developers are looking all over Reston for opportunity to make it a better place for all of us.”

      No, they are looking for all over Reston for the opportunity to make more money–and to hell with the rest of us!

  • Wings!!

    You could fit like 4 or 5 Hooters in this location!!

    • JCSuperstar

      Or just one Super Hooters.

      • Wings!!

        Wow. Now that’s an idea. I’m going to need to take the rest of the day off to think about that one.

      • Wings!!

        A Hooters with mixed use medium density and small amount of retail. Now thats a concept I will vote for.

  • Reston Realist

    Ah, the usual developer approach to a new project.

    Present a slick, but grossly over-dense, under-served proposal, then slowly lower the density, add a little green space, and (in this case) add a convenience center through two, maybe three, rounds of public presentations. Then the density and the rest meets the developers’ actually expected level of development the market can absorb and the developer can say they consulted with the community and compromised to meet community needs. Of course, they got what they intended in the first place and, in the absence of a strong neighborhood response, they would have gotten much more.

    So keep it up Tall Oaks residents and those who support reasonable redevelopment there. Illegitimi non carborundum!

    This is Developer Negotiation Tactics 101 brought to you by Marc Looney, Cooley & all, JAG land use attorney who does his dirty work in Reston and lives in Arlington.

  • Orlina Tucker

    I don’t know why anyone is surprised by this – why would you think that a property developer would do anything other than develop its property. And honestly, Tall Oaks needs to be redeveloped. It’s run down, and there are too many grocery stores in Reston for one to survive at Tall Oaks. It could turn out to be a very good thing for TO home owners, but I admit, I’m glad we sold and moved last year.

  • Damon Feldman

    They bought a shopping center. Now they should improve it, lower rents and get creative to make it appealing and profitable. Maybe a little more housing but not this. Stop whining and make it work.- they are pitching an 80 percent plus reduction in actual retail, despite the extra housing to support it. This for a center that survived in 2007 despite no updates in 40 years.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Bottom line: if Burger King and 7-11 can’t make money, nobody can.

  • Greendayer

    This is the new owner’s view of the property’s highest and best use. The shopping center has failed. There will be no grocery store coming to Tall Oaks. Residential will work for the developer, but the County and Reston has to make sure that the schools. recreational facilities, and roads are sufficient to support the additional citizens.

  • east297

    Grocery shop at Harris Teeter…5 minutes away…let them revive this DEAD area!!!


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