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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

Something on your mind? Send an op-ed to [email protected] Reston Now reserves the right to edit letters for clarity and style.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Who decided to kill Tall Oaks?

    You did, I did, we all did. Everyone who lives within walking distance and didn’t shop there. Your actions then speak much louder than your words now. If you don’t patronize a business, it will go away. And it should go away!

    Insisting that you totally promise to walk to Tall Oaks if they put a grocery store there is waaaay too late in the game at this point. You didn’t do it when there was one there. That’s why it isn’t there now.

    (Chuck, spare me the usual jibber-jabber about the evil landlord.)

    • Guy Montag

      I wasn’t going to walk to a sub-par store. Had it been a Wegmans or a Whole Foods or even a Trader Joe’s I’d consider a stroll. But I’m not walking to a Giant or a Shoppers or some subpar store

    • pleasebekidding

      Completely agreed. Giant was always empty and the replacement grocery stores were also empty — and always reeked of fish.

      I just hope the developer is responsible for increasing throughput for the Wiehle/North Shore intersection and then all’s fine with me.

    • Chuck Morningwood

      Wow, Mung, you really have that condescension thing down pat. It’s no the Landlord that’s evil. The Landlord/s are only doing what (commercial) landlords do: they make a profit. They’re primary concern is not the community. The community is only an after-thought.

      To follow in the footsteps of your psuedo-Teahadist philosopy, the community’s personal responsibility is to the community. The community gets an input in several ways, only one of which is patronizing the businesses at TOVC.

      The other method, of course, is by influencing the Zoning process. We elect leaders who listen more to the developers than they do to their constituents. There aren’t too many people who are pleased with the prospect of another 154 households on that corner all contributing to the gridlock along Wiehle Dr, or that they will no longer have any hope of local shops.

      No, it’s the community. Because if Restonians, RA and the BoS were all really interested in preventing the planned high-density abomination, they would be pursuing incorporation as a municipality, instead of letting others decide their future.

      • Ming the Merciless

        Guess I’m not going to be spared the jibber-jabber.

        Herndon promotes and facilitates residential and commercial development. There is no reason to think incorporation of Reston would prevent similar development. The elected leaders of Herndon “listen more to the developers than they do to their constituents” – but the elected leaders of Reston would be totally different, for some reason known only to Chuck.

        • Chuck Morningwood

          You’re right. As long as you go spouting your right wing jibber jabber, you won’t be spared my jibber jabber, and attempts to minimize and trivialize it won’t work either.

          The reason it would be different is because, their usually isn’t a hue and cry against the developers in Herndon, not that they’ve got an awful lot of development going on. Restonians, though, are a noisy lot. Now, I know that the Reston 2020 crowd would sell/sail us down the river with all of their TOD blather, if they were elected. Still, even if it happens, it would be better if Restonians were saying “Let it happen.” than the friggin’ BoS.

          • Ming the Merciless

            It is “right-wing jibber-jabber” to say that stores go out of business because people don’t patronize them? Whatever, dude. Stick with your unprovable, common-sense defying conspiracy theory about the landlord if it pleases you.

            If you think the inhabitants of Reston are somehow different and would elect an anti-development town government, you are truly living in a different world.

          • JCSuperstar

            Herndon has a huge amount of redevelopment going on.

            “…On May 27, 2014, the Herndon Town Council approved the rezoning of the site to Planned Development-Traditional Downtown (PD-TD) by Ordinance 14-O-16( /Content/Business/DowntownRedevelopment/TownOwnedLotRezoning14-O-16May27.pdf) . This initiative will allow the town to convey a zoned parcel that reflects the vision of the Downtown Master Plan.

            In the coming months the town will be requesting Letters of Intent (LOI) from developers interested in redeveloping the town-owned land in our downtown. In addition to the town-owned property, there are several other sites available for redevelopment in downtown Herndon…”

            http://www.cit.org/cit-complex/future-innovation-center/
            http://www.herndon-http://www.herndon-

            va.gov/Content/Business/DowntownRedevelopment/default.aspx?cnlid=5897

          • Ming the Merciless

            But noisy Restonians would not do that because social justice, feelgood, and opengreenspace, or something.

          • JCSuperstar

            I’m actually agreeing with you Sire.

            Chuck is living in this hypothetical world where Restonians will put a stop to this and oh-by-the-way nothing much is happening in Herndon. The market drives what a property owner is going to do (within her/his property rights). This entire area is ripe.

            Look at downtown DC, Montgomery County, Alexandria, to name a few other areas.

            RA’s only hammer is it’s DRB, and its recent resolutions requiring the developer to get into early conversations with the community — before going to P&Z, etc. RA should also continue to get as many “non-member” corridor projects into the fold as possible (like Comstock).

            JC

          • Ming the Merciless

            Yes, I know.

          • JCSuperstar

            What boggles my mind is our neighbors become instant retail market analysts overnight. Even the “experts” on 2020 have no clue what goes into selecting a location.

            Tall Oaks has been passed by. It had an opportunity to do well — when it was still in the planning phase decades ago.

            Not even Hooters would want to locate there now. Sorry Wings!

          • Ming the Merciless

            If there is one thing that can save the dying patient, it is an infusion of tasty chicken wings served by delightful young ladies!

          • Wings!!

            But Reston needs a Hooters!
            #HootersForReston

          • FULL TIME BOJANGLER

            Community gathering space. So the community can gather.

  • Robert Mowbray

    Was Tall Oaks ever a “true village center”? When I moved to Reston in 1980 there were only two “vilage centers” in Reston – Lake Anne and Hunters Woods. Hunters Woods was destroyed in the late 1980s when I was living overseas. I understand that security concerns, not market forces, were responsible for the conversion of Hunters Woods into the most user unfriendly shopping area in Reston.

    • FULL TIME BOJANGLER

      Security concerns drive the market.

    • Greg

      The new Hunters Woods open center has not mitigated the “security concerns.”

  • Greg

    Tall Oaks died because very very few people wanted to be there. For any reason. It’s neither attractive nor a pleasant place to congregate. The original village centers, those Being Tall Oaks, Lake Anne and Hunters Woods (especially the original one) have all failed. It’s (long past) time to move on and develop what works.

  • pleasebekidding

    Except for Lake Anne (which no longer works as-is today), none of the “village centers” were built in the way Simon envisioned and he has said as such. They were meant to be thriving, living centers immediately surrounded by high density (low-rise apartments and town homes). When Simon was let go from failing and struggling “Reston” and Mobile Land Development took over, that idea was thrown out for what would be prosperous with the demand needed at the time.

  • CarolKristin

    “…with a parking lot that fills to about half capacity on the weekend.” What? I have lived in Bentana Woods condos across the street for the past 2 years and I have never seen the Tall Oaks parking lot 1/2 full or even 1/4 full. My biggest concern is that North Shore this side of Wiehle is a dead end and the only exit to Wiehle. With more residential than is already here, I’m concerned about traffic jams of residents getting onto Wiehle. As it is, Wiehle is frequently backed up almost all the way from the Wiehle Metro to North Shore. It can only get worse as all the residents on this dead end try to exit onto Wiehle. I hope there will be plans to open up an exit from the “new” Tall Oaks Center onto Wiehle, but I didn’t see it in the preliminary plans. Personally, I agree with previous comments that the commercial use of this center failed and I don’t have an issue with the new residential development.

  • Ray Wedell

    Good piece, Bill. I am a newly elected RA Board member, and I offered a soliloquy a few weeks ago on this subject at an RA meeting. Maybe many do not agree, and maybe many don’t appreciate my input, but you have at least one voice on the RA Board who agrees with your position. We will see how it all shakes out. Bob Simon is scheduled to speak to the RA Board at 7:25 pm on Thursday on this subject (keep in mind the times on these agendas are rarely 100% precise). Anyone in Reston would be wise to tune in and listen.

  • Rational Reston

    It’s nice to ‘want’ things for Tall Oaks, but realities must be faced, not “Bob Simon’s vision”. The land is too small for a 21st century supermarket, unless you want a niche supermarket. I don’t see how that is going to be the case.

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