New Tall Oaks’ Residential Plan Met With Skepticism

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

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