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Letter: Tall Oaks Housing May Lead to City Without Personality

by Karen Goff — August 21, 2015 at 9:30 am 20 Comments

 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.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Yeah that empty, economically unviable wasteland is doing wonders for the personality, distinction, and property values of the neighborhood. You should definitely fight against the effort to change that.

  • MJay

    What’s wrong with turning Tall Oaks into a new cluster? I imagine RA is going to need the extra revenue to offset its recent history of operating beyond its means e.g. the Tetra debacle… Incidentally, the RA was rather misleading in its lobbying for the Tetra purchase, so if our own homeowners association is doing that, does it surprise anyone that the JAG people are doing the same thing?

    • Bah

      We only have this whiner’s word for it that JAG “misrepresented” anything.

      • MJay

        Fair enough… Perhaps our local media, such as it is, could follow-up on these claims and speak with the parties, particularly the existing business owners?

        • Bah

          The “future intentions” of the business owners at Tall Oaks simply are not relevant.* A new landlord has the perfect right to renew leases, or not, just as they like, whether or not the existing businesses would like to stay.

          That said, it should be abundantly obvious to everyone that Tall Oaks is a loser as a commercial plaza. All the bellyaching in the world from people who live nearby cannot alter this. These are the people who ensured its failure by withholding their dollars, and now they want to obstruct a genuine plan for revitalizing the plaza because they claim to want some imaginary commercially successful plaza (which they no doubt wouldn’t patronize either).

          Figure it out, haters – it is either JAG’s plan or nothing. Don’t like it? Pony up the dough, buy the plaza from JAG, and make it succeed on your own terms. Oh wait, you don’t want to put your own money on the line, you just want to tell other people what to do with their money.

          • LakeAnne Resident

            Couldn’t agree more and reminds me of the wailing and gnashing of teeth we had regarding the Lake Anne Redevelopment. In the end the retail owners need consistent, year around, high volume (i.e. residences) foot traffic to survive.

    • TH

      What’s wrong with turning it into another cluster is that it goes against the restrictions set out in Phase 2 of the Fairfax County Reston Master Plan. There is a lot of wording in that document that is open to interpretation, but simply making it a cluster with no community plaza nor retail is simply not one of the interpretations a rational person could make.
      Ooops, I used the words “rational person” which clearly is not an interpretation I would apply to many of the trolls commenting here.

      • Nah

        JAG is not proposing to turn it into a cluster. Hebert is wrongly claiming that they are. The JAG plan is consistent with the master plan guidelines, which do not specify how large a “community plaza” or “meeting space” has to be.

        • xfit

          What do you call 154 homes on seven acres. A cluster!!!

          • Nah

            Clusters don’t have retail – this will.

  • Reston Crimewatcher

    With all due respect, Ms. Herbert has no idea what she is talking about.

  • restonresident

    Unbelievable. These people have no economic sense. They seem to prefer the wasteland of an empty shopping center to an attractive residential community. As they did with Lake Anne for nearly 20 years that want to debate this forever.
    Bulldozer the whole think and put up a commuter parking lot. See if they like that option.

    • Greg

      More like 30 years. Lake Anne has sucked deeply and frequently on the public teat for at least that long. Between the RCC annex (tax-dollar funded); the Bob Dix and Mother Pennino “donation” of at a million tax dollars to refurbish the place; the Reston museum; Comrade Cathy’s endless charettes, and to the $60 million tax dollars spent to acquire the crescent section 8 apartments…it long ago would have gone bankrupt and been demolished.

  • RestonNative

    Tough situation. The traditional Reston village center model hasn’t worked at this location in the past. (It’s not just Tall Oaks – other village centers in the area are sitting on unrented space). And as Lake Anne has proven, RA can’t “force” retailers (like grocery stores) into renting space in village centers just because our Master Plan thinks it would be a good idea. Neither, however, is it fair or reasonable to ask JAG, or any development co. in business to make a profit, to basically donate the land to become “open space” or “community space”. (I think we can forget RA stepping in to offer to buy the land – not after the kerfuffle that erupted over the last land purchase earlier this year.) If the neighbors don’t like the current plan, I think they’re going to have to come up a plan that offers JAG a profitable way to proceed. Do we need to be thinking about a different “kind” of village center – perhaps a facility that combines medical offices (convenient for retirement home dwellers) and retail? Goodness knows plenty of drs. and dentists are going to be looking for homes after the one-story office parks nearer to metro get mowed down.

    • Bah

      If the neighbors don’t like the current plan, I think they’re going to
      have to come up a plan that offers JAG a profitable way to proceed.

      They don’t have veto power. They can come up with all the stupid “plans” they like, or even just sit there moaning and complaining, and the County can say “thanks for the input” and tell JAG to proceed anyway.

      • RestonNative

        Of course you’re right – but very occasionally you get situations where the stakeholders with no power end up carrying the day by proposing and “selling” an imaginative “win-win” scenario. I don’t imagine JAG cares how they make their money as long as they realize a profit equivalent to their current proposal. Not the same situation, but the neighbors around the Pony Barn didn’t just grumble when RA proposed undesirable redevelopment; they came up with a viable plan and did a great job of selling it.

  • RestonLyons

    Tall Oaks is not a city. It is a cluster. Sadly it has never had had an identifiable personality. The shopping area has been a park in front the shops type but without enough density to support it. What I see in the picture looks pleasant to me

  • Lake Anner

    It seems to me that the neighbors have some good points and are trying to salvage a modest sense of community out of the redevelopment. They are asking that some community plaza space remain and modest, neighborhood retail only. One could imagine a bit more density along with the stimulus of nearly Metro service to make that a going proposition at Tall Oaks for the developer and the community.

    • Greg

      Problem is, they’ve had, and not adequately used or supported, that for the last 40 years. There’s no “sense of community” and no sense to repeat, on the back of a private company no less, what’s proven to fail. It’s not been successful at Tall Oaks, Lake Anne and Hunters Woods. Either as a “gathering” space or for retail. The only thing that has been successful is open, welcoming retail, like North Point, and dense mixed-use development as is found in Reston Town Center. Lake Anne has been heavily subsidized by taxpayers and RA-assessment payers for decades — it would have been bankrupt long ago but for that support.

  • Richard

    Well, the supporters of unbridled growth and loss of community are thick on the comments page today. Fortunately, the list of commenters is ripe with the usual whiners. Plazas? Blah. Green space? Blah. Tall Oaks is not viable. Crime is rampant. Illegals are taking over. I don’t know what world these people live in or whether they’re paid shills for the developers, but the facts and the point of view of most Restonians don’t jive with the comments. My neighbors in the Tall Oaks area support some kind of public space and retail, as the plan for Reston calls for. The Tall Oaks business owners who I’ve spoken to have said that they were driven out by the landlords, not by poor business conditions. Tall Oaks is an appreciated village center by those in the area and will be utilized when it’s rebuilt. The developer has a responsibility to abide by the plan for Reston and to listen to the residents, not to the fringe haters on this message board.

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