Letter: Tall Oaks Housing May Lead to City Without Personality

 This is a letter that Sherri Herbert, president of the Bentana Woods Cluster Association sent to county officials urging them to rethink the process to redevelop Tall Oaks Village Center into a housing development with limited retail.

The Jefferson Apartment Group, owner of Tall Oaks Village Center, has held a series of community meetings showing concept plans to 150 homes and about 7,000 sqare feet of retail at the site of the mostly empty 70,000-square-foot village center.

The redevelopment of one of Reston’s Village Centers into something completely different sets a precedent that could put Reston on the road to being the next Tysons Corner, Hebert writes.

Dear Community Leaders,

As the president of the Bentana Woods Cluster Association and a neighbor of the Tall Oaks Village Center, I’ve been to all of the community meetings regarding the redevelopment, and conducted two surveys of the Tall Oaks community. Because of my involvement, I have been asked by many of my neighbors to summarize for you the Tall Oaks residents’ views regarding the redevelopment project for the Tall Oaks Village Center and to ask for your continued support and leadership.

As you are well aware, decisions made regarding Tall Oaks Village Center will have a long-term impact on all future development of village centers which will either preserve the life style of Restonians or turn Reston into the next Tysons. Having a healthy mix of commercial office, retail, housing and other amenities only in the Reston Transit Station areas will leave much to be desired for the founding neighborhoods of Reston and will not make Reston a sustainable transit oriented community.

The residents of Tall Oaks and the Reston community at large has, on multiple occasions, expressed their views and desires for the seven-plus acres of prime real estate at the corner of North Shore Rd and Wiehle Avenue. This mostly vacant lot is in walking distance of the Wiehle-Reston Metro (albeit a lengthy walk) but not walkable to Lake Anne or any other community services or retail establishments (with the exception of McDonalds or Taco Bell).

In April 2015, community residents responded loudly in both numbers of attendees and views expressed at the Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG) presentations. The themes at both sessions where:

  • More community space
  • More enough retail and community services
  • More green/open space
  • Incorporating the Assisted Living Facility
  • Too much housing (are we creating another cluster?)
  • Parking and traffic concerns (mixed uses will allow for parking to be used at different times of the day)
  • Several of the current business owners in Tall Oaks took issue with the premise that commercial establishment would not succeed. Many of these businesses have been successfully operating in Tall Oaks for years, even during the downturn of the village center.

Concerned residents took action by starting a petition to ask both Fairfax County and Reston Association to listen to the residents of Tall Oaks regarding this valuable land. Shortly after these community meetings, the cluster presidents of the Tall Oaks community reached out the JAG hoping to dialogue about the proposal and to create a partnership in the design. JAG did not respond until they were confronted during a presentation to the Reston Planning and Zoning committee (P&Z) in May.

Even with the strong opposition to the JAG proposal, on May 18, JAG presented the same plan to the P&Z. In that meeting, they stated that they had spoken to the business owners currently operating in Tall Oaks about their future intentions, but the fact is they had not. I actually spoke to the some of the owners that day, and they had not been contacted by JAG. I am bringing up this point, because JAG demonstrated to me, that they will misrepresent the truth for their gain. This is a dangerous game to play especially if decisions are made without facts.

The following evening, May 19, JAG made the same presentation to the Reston Design Review Board (DRB) with the same misrepresentations of truth they gave the P&Z. Both groups, based on the words of the developer (completely one-sided) gave a nod that JAG was heading in the right direction.

This was extremely frustrating for the residents in attendance.

The Bentana Woods Cluster Association, as a sample population, participated in a survey regarding the retail service needs of the village center. With a 49-percent response rate, the desire for eating establishments was priority one.

On June 22, Fairfax County hosted an interactive community meeting to again hear the views and opinions of residents. Again, the residents filled the room to capacity to express their concerns. The sheer number of attendees indicated the seriousness of the development project. JAG presented the same proposal that many had heard in April. The same issues were surfaced.

Concerned Citizens of Tall Oaks launched another survey to get reaction to two other fictitious options. The consensus was that neither option was good because they did not have enough community space, a plaza feel, parking, or retail. The options offered forced respondent to choose between additional green/open space and additional parking. Respondents, 54 percent to 29 percent, wanted the open space.

The real value of the survey was in the comments where people expressed their concerns about losing the village center, traffic, and future of the community.

On Aug. 6, Reston Association’s Board of Directors issued a letter opposing the current redevelopment plans of JAG and the need to appreciate this land as valuable resource. Developing this land into a gem of Reston and a model for other village centers is critically important to Reston’s future.

To create another housing cluster would set the wheels in motion to dissolve the uniqueness of Reston and its village centers, increase traffic and decrease the character of the neighborhood and lower the quality of life of the resident. All of these factors would ultimately lead to a city without personality or distinction and lower property values.

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