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Monday: More Developer Talk on Tall Oaks

by Karen Goff April 27, 2015 at 9:30 am 56 Comments

Tall Oaks residential rendering

The new owners of Tall Oaks Village Center will be back in Reston Monday for another presentation about potential plans for the nearly empty center at Wiehle Avenue and North Shore Drive.

Executives from The Jefferson Apartment Group, along with land use lawyer Mark Looney, spoke to a full house at an initial meeting at Reston Association headquarters on Thursday.

Monday’s meeting (7 p.m. at RA’s offices) is not expected to yield new information, but will be another chance for residents to see what JAG has in mind.

Thursday’s presentation was met with a high level of frustration by Tall Oaks-area residents and store owners, who blame the previous Tall Oaks Village Center owners for letting the 40-year-old retail center fall into disrepair while it continued to raise rents. That drove many tenants away in the last few years — with no new stores taking their place.

McLean-based JAG plans 154 residential units on the site — a mix of townhomes, “two over two” townhomes and condos in two-four story buildings. JAG also plans 8,500 square feet of retail, which would hopefully include loyal Tall Oaks tenants such as Mama Wok, Paradise Nails and others.

Many at Thursday’s meeting said more residential would burden traffic and asked that retail be given another chance at Tall Oaks.

Looney pointed out that retail has been declining at Tall Oaks for a decade. Giant Foods left the anchor spot in 2004. It was replaced by two different international grocery stores, each of which lasted fewer than two years.

There are also a half-dozen other grocery stores within a few miles, most of which were not open when Tall Oaks was thriving in the 1970s and 1980s, he said.

“When you start to compare existing retail at Tall Oaks to other new retail that is newer and more attractive, that’s when Tall Oaks began to struggle to compete,” he said.

The future may have been sealed when 7-Eleven left in 2008, he added.

“The notion of 7-Eleven not surviving is shocking,” said Looney. “7-Eleven is a very nimble business. If you can’t keep a 7-Eleven open, it says something.”

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.

JAG says that no site plan has been filed with Fairfax County and the Tall Oaks redevelopment plans are in the very early stages. JAG would also have to file a re-zoning application to build housing on the site of the shopping center.

Tall Oaks’ future was also a big point of discussion at last week’s public hearing on Reston Comprehensive Plan changes.

Rendering of new Tall Oaks Village Center site/Courtesy JAG

  • Ming the Merciless

    Many at Thursday’s meeting said more residential would burden traffic
    and asked that retail be given another chance at Tall Oaks.

    Did any of you ever operate a business in Tall Oaks? No? Do you have any money at stake in Tall Oaks? No? TALK TO THE HAND!

    • LakeAnne Resident

      For once I agree with Ming! Looking at the initial renderings from JAG, they are going to need multiple points egress for traffic. I’m only seeing one at this point.

    • Mike M

      Here we go again. We all have money at stake if their plans require they leverage county investment. They usually base their plans on county subsidies in the form of school space, teachers, roadwork, emergency services and other infrastructure. Our Democratic supes rarely slow them down or say no to subsidy or get them to pay their own way. The supes are more interested in cheap political statements like a few low income housing units. You may have noticed the more they develop the higher go our taxes and the more time we sit in traffic. There are more stakeholders than the property owners, Ming. They drove tenants out of the center with every intention of the county bending their way.I don’t think a single owner has put money into this development in years. That would make them slumlords of sorts.

      • JCSuperstar

        Give me a break. This property was going into distress for years. Even Humberto, the owner of El Manantial, stated this:

        “El Manantial, a high-end Mediterranean restaurant, has been a mainstay at Tall Oaks for 11 years, even as other stores closed, leaving more vacancies at the center than occupied spaces. Owner Humberto Fuentes said he signed a five-year lease, rather than a 10-year lease, in 2009, knowing that Tall Oaks had lost much of its vibrancy.

        That lease is up in July. More than half the Tall Oaks space is now vacant, including the anchor grocery store space.

        “I realized this center is not going to get any better,” he said. “I want to operate in a better location.”

        Fuentes will also rename the restaurant Europa, which better describes the menu, he said.

        The departure of the popular restaurant is one of many businesses to close at Tall Oaks recently. Earlier this month, Total Rehab Chiropractic moved from Tall Oaks to 1760 Reston Parkway.

        The stand-alone Burger King and the 25,000-square-foot anchor space have been empty for years. Curves gym and Dominos Pizza have also closed in the last 18 months and no new tenants have taken their place….”


        • Mike M

          No breaks for you JC. I honestly don’t care what they do with the place. I do care if the County won’t watch out for my interests and my tax rate and offeres them a break on what they should invest to make this place work without having the locals subsidize them.e.

          • Greg

            With the exception of subsidized housing, this effort will not impact your tax rate. What the socialists don’t tell you does:

            Eliminate Duplicative Agencies:

            Fairfax County is the ONLY jurisdiction in the state to have a separate consumer affairs department. Consumer affairs is a state responsibility and this is good enough for EVERY other jurisdiction in the state.

            Consider Streamlining and Centralizing Functions:

            There are agencies in the county that could centralize functions and better utilize personnel. For instance, 13 County departments have 23 positions in charge of public relations, but we also have a central Office of Public Affairs with 18 employees; 12 departments or agencies have 29 personnel in separate Human Resource functions in addition to the 76 positions authorized in the centralized HR Department.

            Excess Rents should go to Debt Reduction:

            Rather than pay off our debts from county owned rent control housing, $6.5M is being leveraged to incur more obligations. These funds should be used to reduce our housing subsidies from the General Fund. Since FY2010 the County has spent over $335,000,000 on housing programs in addition to the hundreds of millions developers have been required to pay through proffers.

            Address Our Growing Pension Cost:

            With people living longer, the attention paid to retirement programs by the rating agencies, our desire to fund our retirement programs through contribution formulas without supplementation from the general fund, and the shift in importance of pensions in the workplace, the Board needs
            to address pensions as businesses, localities and the Federal government have. Options include raising the retirement age for new employees, increasing the rule of 85 for new employees, reviewing the sustainability of the social security offset (County employees receive a payment equivalent to Social Security from the time they retire until
            the time they reach retirement age), the ratio between employer and employee premiums and shifting to a 401(k) type plan for new General County employees.

            Reducing Excessive County Publications:

            Each year we spend tens of millions of dollars on printing and mailing publications and other printed matter through the County. A few, targeted reductions in these could generate significant savings. Several times per year, ACE catalogs and ParkTakes magazines are mailed to every County resident and cost exceeding $1 million for each mailing. Registration for these courses has largely shifted to online platforms and continuing to print and mail catalogs to those who have not requested one is a waste.

            Reducing our Facilities Cost.

            Use a private sector concept called hoteling as a way to reduce our facility cost.


            There are many areas of the County that could be privatized which would result in significant cost savings. Some examples include trash collection and disposal (especially the county agency trash routes), RECenter operations, and the solid waste center operations.

            Focusing Developer Contributions on our Priorities:

            We need focus the contributions we receive from our developers on our priorities instead of everything from bird friendly glass on buildings to even more rent control housing. We can’t do everything for everyone – we must focus on priorities.

          • Mike M

            I doubt that you know that. I don’t either. But it is generally the trend.

            Regarding the rest of your statement. Agreed!

          • Ming the Merciless

            What’s the evidence of a “subsidy”, again?

          • Mike M

            Any required investment by RA or Fairfax or Virginia to make their P&L statement better.

          • Ming the Merciless

            In short there is no such subsidy.

          • JCSuperstar

            Please show me where that has happened regarding Tall Oaks.

          • Mike M

            My whole point was that I don’t care what they do so long as it doesn’t leverage the hide of the neighborhood and the rest of Reston.

      • Ming the Merciless

        They usually base their plans on county subsidies in the form of school space, teachers, roadwork, emergency services and other infrastructure.

        These are not “subsidies”. They are reasons to build here. Just like they are reasons for individuals to move here. You did not get a “subsidy” when you decided to move here because the county had good schools, roads, and other infrastructure, nor does anyone else in the county have any claim on you because you use those things. Similarly, the developers are not getting a subsidy if they decide to build here, and nobody has any claim on them just because they made that decision.

        Our Democratic supes rarely slow them down or say no to subsidy or get them to pay their own way.

        They are going to pay their own way. Nobody else is going to pay them to build those homes and shops.

        There are more stakeholders than the property owners, Ming.

        No. Unless your money is at stake, you don’t get to decide what business operates in that plaza.

        They drove tenants out of the center with every intention of the county bending their way.

        As we have said before, I don’t believe that is true, and even if it is, so what. If they wanted tenants to leave so they could sell and redevelop, that was entirely their prerogative as the owners of the property.

        I don’t think a single owner has put money into this development in years.

        If they did, that would be throwing good money after bad. Can’t blame them for not doing that.

        • Chuck Morningwood

          Specious, Ming. Any new development there will have an impact. Your statement about the community not having a stake in the development is far from true, because that development affects all of us. Sure, the developer is going to reap the rewards, and attempt to do so at the least cost possible. But the rest of us will have to live with the consequences, including traffic, higher taxes, more pollution, higher density.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Specious, Chuck. “The community” is not shouldering any of the risk, so “the community” has no right to assert any control and has no right to claim any of the reward.

            You own a house now, and have desirable places to shop, because sometime in the past a developer put his money on the line to build those properties. If the farmers back in 1961 had said to Robert E. Simon, so sorry, we don’t want to live with more traffic, taxes, pollution, and density, so we’re not selling to you, where would you be living now? Not Reston, that’s for sure.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            What do you mean the community isn’t shouldering any of the risk? Of course we are. We bear the risk of bad traffic, air and noise pollution, higher population densities and higher taxes.

          • JCSuperstar

            Chuck, the owner of this property is within her or his rights. So long as the plans conform to the existing development plans — which they do. As a homeowner, I have a right to raze my home and start over with a brand spanking new one. I also have a right to maximize what I can do on my lot, so long as it conforms to existing code, development plans and yes, Reston Association’s DRB.

          • Ming the Merciless

            But… but… you didn’t build that!!!!

          • JCSuperstar

            Maybe not one of my best analogies. I remain your humble servant.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            Well, actually, no, you don’t. I suggest you try it. I’m sure you’ll hear from a bunch of people (besides your neighbors) about what you can and cannot do with your property.

          • JCSuperstar

            As I said, so long as your plans, preferably by a good architect, are in conformance with current zoning and covenants you may go forward. It’s already happening. For the most part, your neighbors can only object when the plans are out of conformance, or require a variance.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            So, then, you’re not really free to do whatever with your property. And those rules that bind you, can be changed, don’t you think.

          • Mike M

            In Reston you would need approvals for that. You cannot do whatever you please with your lot.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Are you an investor in JAG? If not then no you are not shouldering the risk.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            As a member of this community, I am shouldering the risk of JAG’s actions.

          • Ming the Merciless

            (shrug) I am also a member of the community, and I see no risk to myself. I only stand to gain when the plaza is improved.

            Can you even quantify your supposed risk? How much additional traffic, noise pollution, etc. will the development generate relative to a hypothetical “fully tenanted” plaza full of businesses? How much more tax are we going to pay? So far this is all a big hand-wave on your part. “I hate this idea so it must also be bad for us all somehow.”

          • Chuck Morningwood

            That is such a contradiction. So you admit, then, that you do have a stake in the development, and that it does affect you.

          • Ming the Merciless

            I have no stake in ANY business in Reston. Not a single penny of my money is invested. I will not gain a penny if they succeed or lose a penny if they fail. Therefore I have no right to make decisions about Reston businesses.

            What I will “gain” if they succeed is (maybe) some stores where I can shop or restaurants where I can eat. This only is a “gain” relative to the current situation in which the moribund plaza has no places where I care to shop and only one restaurant where I care to eat (Mama Wok). The idea that this “gain” gives me a “stake” in the development such that I should get to decide what the owners do with the plaza is preposterous and untenable. The owners are assuming the risk that their businesses will fail, and therefore they should make the decisions about what to do.

            To argue that anyone who lives nearby is “affected” when a business opens and thus should have veto power over whether or not the business opens is to argue, for all practical purposes, that no new businesses should ever open. There is always going to be someone who objects to anything. But if they don’t have money on the table they should, as I said, talk to the hand.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            You do love extremes. Whether you want to admit it or not, neighboring properties, whether businesses or residential, affect your property values, which is a monetary stake, apparently the only kind that matters to you. But life is not all about money. There are personal stakes as well. What if the new neighbor ruins your enjoyment of your property. Don’t you have something at stake as well? The very fact that you can’t just rip down your own structure and put up whatever it is you want, including a landfill if you were so inclined, must surely indicate that someone other than yourself has a stake in your use of your property.

          • Ming the Merciless

            The extremist is not me, but the people like you who characterize any new development as creating “strip mines” or “landfills” next to their house. That is not even close to what JAG proposes to do. When you describe their Tall Oaks plan in such terms, you only make yourself ridiculous. If it “ruins the enjoyment of your property” to have new houses and new businesses near your house, you are a much more sensitive flower than I am, that’s for sure. Also, you better start packing, because new houses and new businesses are certainly coming to Reston. The county will quite properly consider that your tender feelings do not entitle you to control or veto what developers do on pieces of property like Tall Oaks.

          • Mike M

            I used extreme analogies to make my case clear. Then you cling to the analogy. Ugh!

          • Ming the Merciless

            Your extreme analogies muddy your case, they do not clarify it. And such analogies only show how desperately you are flailing for objections to a perfectly reasonable project.

          • Ming the Merciless

            No, you are not. You will suffer no loss if the redevelopment fails economically.

          • Mike M

            Actually the property values of local housing have likely taken a hit for the vacancy rate. So, yeah, the locals have a stake.

          • Ming the Merciless

            So wait, first you argue they are going to diminish the value of your property if they build something, and now you say they are going to diminish the value of your property if they do nothing. Sure sounds like a no-win situation for them.

            You are a free rider. You have no money invested in the Tall Oaks property. Therefore, you have no stake, and are entitled to no say in what they do.

        • Mike M

          My tax dollars and tax rate puts me in the game. The time it takes me to get up Wiehle gives me a stake. When I moved here, I bought a house already approved by the county. I didn’t have to “hob nob” with B&Z officials nor the supervisors. My arrival did not add net new requirements to the roads and to the schools. When developers want changes just for them and their bottom line, that’s a different game. It makes sense to ask how far the county should go for them. When developers want to turn a town into a city, the ton has a stake in the game and with proper representation the developers would take heed and carry their share of the investment. Shall I resort to the strip mining analogy? It’s not just about the income statement of one property holder.

          • Greg

            “My arrival did not add net new requirements to the roads and to the schools.”

            Really? How does your mail get to you? How do you get to wherever you have / want to go? Did you home school your kids? Did you harvest “saplings” and make your own furniture? Did all your possessions Bewitch themselves into your home? No tradespersons need visit to repair or replace anything?

            What about your trash and recycling? Do they vanish into thin air?

            And that vehicle fleet that reads your utility meters?

            We will assume you don’t take a newspaper or have carriage-trade goods delivered and collected, but what about all them trailers we have to educate our kids in? No (net) effect at all. All that traffic on our “dieted” roads just going round and round to nowhere, eh? #smh.

          • Mike M

            There is a difference between buying into already approved housing stock and establishing an entirely new development that requires the cooperation of elected officials and investment by the local government. My mail was getting to my predecessor and out of a budget that has nothing to do with Reston or airfax. The roads existed and my predesessor left. The point is the county has every right to control changes to zoning, especially where there is significant community impact. If I decide to build a 300 apartment tenement where there is currently single family housing, and I need a zoning change to do it, think your elected offcials best step in and represent your interests.

          • Ming the Merciless

            So as long as Reston remains in stasis forever, Mike M will be happy…

            The odds of that happening are, thankfully, slight.

          • JCSuperstar

            It is the owner’s right, pure and simple. As is the case being argued regarding the Reston National Golf Course. As they pointed out:

            Sect. 6-301 of the Zoning Ordinance states that the “PRC District regulations are designed to permit a greater amount of flexibility to a developer of a planned community by removing many of the restrictions of conventional zoning.” Chief among the goals of this added flexibility is to provide “[a] variety of housing types, employment opportunities and commercial services to achieve a balanced community.” Id. at Sect. 6-301.1. In other words, the PRC District regulations stand in sharp contrast to traditional Euclidean zoning that limits not just the available uses but their arrangement.

            In furtherance of this desired flexibility and balance, Sect. 6-302 of the Zoning Ordinance divides the universe of permitted uses within the PRC District into five (5) broad sub-categories – Residential Uses (6-302.A.), Neighborhood Convenience Center (6-302.B.), Village Center (6-302.C.), Town Center (6-302.D.) and Convention/Conference Center (6-302.E.) – each containing anywhere from 25 to 60+ specific uses that are permitted either by right or upon approval of a separate special exception or special permit application.

          • Ming the Merciless

            My tax dollars and tax rate puts me in the game. The time it takes me to get up Wiehle gives me a stake.

            None of those things gives you a right to determine what businesses should exist on Wiehle. Only ownership of property on Wiehle does that.

            When I moved here, I bought a house already approved by the county.

            Which existed because a developer built it there, thus adding to the density, pollution, traffic, yadda yadda yadda. But it’s fine and dandy when it’s your house

            My arrival did not add net new requirements to the roads and to the schools.

            Of course it did.

            When developers want changes just for them and their bottom line, that’s a different game.

            They want to improve their property. Nothing wrong with that at all. All around this county, people are tearing down little boxy houses built in the 1950s and putting up McMansions. Same game here on a larger scale. Nothing wrong with it in either case – though no doubt you also oppose building McMansions.

            Shall I resort to the strip mining analogy?

            The strip mining analogy is false and absurd, not least because you are happily living in Robert E. Simon’s “strip mine” right now. JAG is not doing anything Simon didn’t do 50 years ago. Developers building homes and shops is how towns and cities come into being fer pete’s sake.

            Redevelopment of Tall Oaks is going to create value for everyone, not destroy value or only give value to the developer.

  • Greg

    It wasn’t so much the previous owner who let it continue festering (since it’s been in decline for at least 30 years); the RA DRB was very much involved. Extensive bickering over minor changes to the corner “tall oaks” sign during several DRB meetings I sat through. With that much hassle just to change the sign’s color and light it at night (so that it might attract more interest?), it’s no wonder the place has changed very little since it was new and is a desolate unattractive eyesore.

    • JCSuperstar

      So now Restonians are angry at Reston Association for protecting the appearance of the community. We are a fickle group of people, I give you that.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Everyone in Reston knew it was there. The reason nobody shopped their was not because nobody knew it was there, but because the stores stunk.

      • Greg

        But it’s a village center. Restonians are supposed to live and work and play in it, no? Shopping is done at Reston Town Center (which, thankfully, is not part of Reston) or North Point or Tysons or TJ’s or vibrant, attractive, safe, visible places like them.

        • Ming the Merciless

          Normally “vibrant” means the opposite of safe and attractive. =)

          But anyway, Restonians voted with their feet (and wallets) that Tall Oaks stunk. Instead of doubling down on failure, as many seem to want to do, especially when it involves other people’s money, how about trying something different that might actually succeed?

          • Greg

            “Vibrant” means full of energy and enthusiasm. I am sure we agree this does not apply to Tall Oaks now, if it ever did.

            “Safe and attractive” is, perhaps, more subjective, but I am equally sure we agree that Tall Oaks is a dump and should be written off (and razed) as a failed (socialist, Brutalist, whatever) dream that never worked and be replaced with, as necessary, verdigris and bland brick boxes that bring vibrancy to that blighted corner of Reston.

            In short, we agree that it’s long past time to try something different that will succeed.

            One look no farther than Reston Town Center, a mile or two away, to see what will succeed. So successful, in fact, that the very successful Spectrum Center itself will be razed and replaced with even more successful things. In much the same way as parts of Jonathan’s Keep / Parc Reston were razed and replaced with yet more verdigris. Reston brown, and bland brick best-use property.

            Too bad for the aging socialists / hippies who think their presence has no effects and want no change.

    • RestonResident

      It would not surprise me if the prior owners gave up on the plaza because of RA. I am sure every store that wanted to move in ran into some sort of issue with Fairfax, RA, DRB, neighbors, etc. Even the most wonderful addition of Glory Days in Northpoint had battles about outdoor seating. I am thankful that the Metro has finally arrived and we can start seeing some real change in this area. At a minimum every new piece of development is going to make for some great reading on Reston Now!

  • One and Done

    What about the complex owners? Many inquiries into leasing space there have gone unanswered in the past few years – it seems like they wanted it to decline so that they could sell/redevelop easily.

    • JCSuperstar

      The new owners just purchased the property a few months ago.

      The prior owners obviously were not interested in anything to do with Reston. Their choice, maybe not a great choice, but theirs to make.

    • Greg

      The previous owner was Atlantic Realty; the same (re)developer that rescued Hunters Woods when it was as bad as Tall Oaks is now and developed the much-more-successful Plaza America. It’s apparent Atlantic has abandoned the quaint, but failed, village center concept and has moved on to Metro-centric development.

    • Ming the Merciless

      And if so… so what? Their property, their decision.

  • Mike M

    “The reality is, every anchor store knows this center and has passed it by,” said Looney.

    The reality is every anchor store knows this landlord and has passed it by. The reality is no one wants to rent from a landlord who is not going to reinvest in the place, yet will keep raising rents.

    • JCSuperstar

      This landlord just took the property.

      You can yell all you want at the prior owner for their behavior, or even Reston Association for keeping those trees along Wiehle Avenue which hide the complex from view. But, at the end of the day, this proposal brings new life to a blighted property.

      • Mike M

        And if that is all it does and it doesn’t add traffic or increase my taxes, so be it.

  • Ming the Merciless

    If every “local” has the right to veto any new development, then stasis is exactly what will result because there will always be someone who objects to any development. Nothing will ever be allowed to change.

    Over time, of course, you won’t have stasis if new businesses and homes can never be built. What you will have is a Detroit-like wasteland.


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