Op-Ed: Actions Speak Louder Than Words on Tall Oaks

by Karen Goff June 22, 2015 at 3:00 pm 23 Comments

 This is an op-ed by Reston resident Bill Woloch. It does not reflect Reston Now’s opinion.

Reston founder Robert Simon envisioned Reston as being a place where people could walk to work and shopping, walk to recreation and nature without using a car. He designed a number of Village Centers that were actually within walking distance of most of the residents homes in Reston.

One of those Village Centers is located at the corner of Wiehle Avenue and North Shore Drive. It is called the Tall Oaks Village Center. It has been in disrepair for a number of years, a decade, and no one in Reston cared. It was sold a few times, most recently to another developer.

Village Centers are more than just shopping and retail. They are gathering places for people who see each other occasionally from nearby neighborhoods. Where parents and kids could easily walk after hitting the RA pool and maybe have a coke or ice cream. Where dog walkers could sit and chat.

Architecturally, Village Centers made people feel like they could stop by no reason other than to hang out a while, with inviting open spaces, sitting areas (covered) and up till now, maybe a county or RA office or branch library.

The developer’s current plans allow for none of these. Worse yet, I believe the Reston Association and Fairfax County don’t seem to think it is important. Actions speak louder than words.

Who is responsible for ensuring the principles of Robert Simon’s vision and association bylaws are adhered to? Not an easy answer. There is the Fairfax County Planning Commission, the Reston Association (RA) Board of Directors, along with the RA Planning and Zoning Committee and the RA Design Review Board. That’s a lot of oversight. So what have they been doing during the last 10 years of the Tall Oaks Village Center’s decline? Ask them yourself. Send an email.

From the RA website: “The primary purpose of the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee is to provide a vehicle whereby the community can ensure that the development of Reston as a planned residential community (PRC) follows the founding principles. Its primary focus is the appropriate development of land use within the legal constraints of the PRC Zoning Law, county and state ordinances and laws.”

The redevelopment of the Tall Oaks Village Center in Reston is proving to be quite challenging. The developer has met with Reston Association and the Fairfax Planning Commission on a number of occasions.

Currently, the developer has over 90 percent of the seven-acre site planned for dense residential. The planned commercial space is a little over 3,000 square feet (Editor’s note: It is actually planned for 8,000 square feet). That’s not much bigger than a 7-Eleven.

The developer states that future commercial space would fail, despite the fact there are seven or eight businesses still there, some more than 20 years, with a parking lot that fills to about half capacity on the weekend.

You can’t blame the developer. They spent a lot of money to buy the property and should make money from their investment. You can blame the Reston Association and Fairfax County for not taking an active role in the redevelopment of the Tall Oaks Village Center. Sure, you can hear them say, not my job, that is not what we are supposed to do, etc. But if not them then who should continue the vision held by Robert Simon the founder of Reston? The developer?

The residents of the Tall Oaks area say they want a small grocery store so they don’t have to spend another 20 minutes getting home (traffic lights) if they stop at the store. Not going to happen.

I heard that our Reston Association Board Tall Oaks representative said that it is still walkable from Tall Oaks to the Lake Anne Village Center. I wonder if she ever tried that walk a mile or more when it’s 90 degrees outside or 30 degrees outside. It is a hike. Driving down Whiele Avenue or even North Shore Drive, you will never see people walking on those streets to go to a village center.

I am fairly certain, based on the latest review by the Reston Association Design Review Board where the term Village Center mysteriously was dropped during the discussion, and the term Cluster (residential housing) was used by DRB board members and the developer, that the Tall Oaks Village Center will die, and new residential cluster may be born. I don’t want to minimize the effort necessary to find a new definition for the term “Village Center” but that is where city planning, the RA design review board, and the county can step up and actively participate in creating this new vision.

I ask this, who decided to kill the Tall Oaks Village Center and turn it into a residential cluster? Who will take the responsibility and put in the hard work to be the champion of Reston, and redefine what a Village Center will be for the rest of the life of Reston? Got me. Remember, “actions speak louder than words.”

Bill Woloch
Reston

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