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Letter: Viable Options Exist for Tall Oaks Village Center

by RestonNow.com — August 24, 2015 at 1:00 pm 26 Comments

Alternative Tall Oaks Plan by Bill Woloch

This is an op-ed by Bill Woloch, PhD Architect. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

I recently had the honor and a pleasure to sit down with Mr. Bob Simon, the founder of Reston and talk to him regarding his thoughts of the future development Tall Oaks Village Center.

After my discussions with Mr. Simon, I put pen to paper and developed a concept plan for the Tall Oaks Village Center that may be more in line with public thinking of what Tall Oaks Village Center could look like.

If you venture to Lake Anne and look at the mix of residential and commercial properties you will find a very quaint setting. I found out that originally a lot of the business areas on the ground floor of many of the buildings were originally residential and eventually converted to commercial space as Lake Anne Village Center evolved. This evolution of space function should be planned for in the Tall Oaks redevelopment strategy.

Applying this principle between commercial and residential space is somewhat unique in terms of planning developments, but the concept has already been proven in Reston with the continual evolution of the Lake Anne Village Center and should continue into the future.

The buildings themselves could be anywhere between three stories to five stories tall with underground parking and centered around a community plaza. The plaza would have areas of high, medium, and low activity. Covered and uncovered areas should exist in and around the Plaza and seating areas so the space can be enjoyed for a whole host of purposes. Planned and unplanned functions can occur in the new Tall Oaks Village Center similar to what at Lake Anne and the Mosaic District.

The Mosaic District in Fairfax was developed and is managed by a company called Edens. This small piece of geography has to be visited to understand how a small outdoor space can successfully bring the community together and offer something to everyone who visits.

The Tall Oaks Village Center can share some of the simple features that exist in the Mosaic District and the Lake Anne Village Center such as water fountains where small children can get wet while parents sit and watch in the shade. Lake Anne has a similar water feature.

Comfortable outdoor seating in the shade and in the sun located throughout the development. No stepdown street curbs, but a gradual slope between the limited roads and where people walk. There are a host of other considerations that do not cost a lot that make the Mosaic District and future Tall Oaks Village Center successful.

Traffic and vehicle circulation in the future Tall Oaks Village Center will be very limited and with one exception.  Access by vehicle would be limited to the edges of the Village Center so parents and small children do not have to worry about accidents.

One element of the new Village Center is dramatic with regards to traffic, and that is a new connection to Wiehle Avenue from the development. This new exit to the Village Center will now allow a circular pattern for not only pedestrians and bicycles, but vehicles as well. Surface parking will be limited to areas in the development closer to North Shore Drive so the center of the development is vehicle free.

Please take a minute to look at the drawing and if you like what you see please contact the Fairfax County Planning Commission, Supervisor Cathy Hudgins and Reston  Association and let them know that you encourage them to examine other alternatives to the existing proposals.

  • map

    This is not the most effective way to collaborate with your community and represent all of their views, especially when trying to preserve a design theme! Reston Association needs to better handle direct involvement and representation!

    • Reston Realist

      To whom is this remark directed? Mr. Woloch, Mr. Simon, RestonNow….?

      Actually, it seems to me to be the BEST way to make an individual’s ideas known to the community. I don’t think Mr. Woloch is trying to represent everyone (he says its his and Simon’s ideas).

      Maybe responsible groups in the community will pick up on them, amend them as the community suggests, garner JAG’s support, and move forward. Who knows, maybe RA will actually consider this input along with the others that have been put forward, especially from the nearby Bentana Woods neighborhood (https://www.restonnow.com/2015/08/21/letter-tall-oaks-housing-may-lead-to-city-without-personality/).

  • Terry Maynard

    I’m a little concerned about the vagueness of “commercial” part of the several buildings. I like the idea of first-floor retail–the kind that every VC in Reston has–but I’m not sure about “commercial” space about the ground floor. I’m confident that if each building had ground floor retail, the total space for retail would be the same or larger than currently exists. And the apartments above would provide an immediate market for those retailers.

    On the taller buildings, the second floor could be personal service professionals (a narrow version of “office space”) comprising, for example, doctors, dentists, & other health professionals, attorneys, personal financial advisors, etc., and other categories of professional services catering to individuals/families. But NOT large-scale office space for hi tech or other corporations. (I’m not sure how one zone this, but I’m sure there are enough County officials to figure that out.)

    Would also like to see less roadway in the space, much more non-plaza open space where kids can play in nature on something other than a concrete or brick plaza, and a more creative design of the boxy buildings, maybe attaching some of them. (I realize this is a rough cut, however.) The right turn on to Wiehle is a great addition.

    With this or any other design, I would like to make sure that the developer conforms to RA’s new tree preservation/restoration standards.

    Great proposal. Hope JAG, the County, and RA listen.

    • Arielle in NoVA

      Like your ideas. Retail on the first floor, offices on the second floor, apartments/condos above, roof terraces, and underground parking for at least the residents and workers would be great. A right-turn exit to Wiehle: great. Minimal surface-level parking (for those making quick stops in particular) would be nice. Nicely shaped/designed buildings; mostly open space that’s safe for kids and for slow-walking residents.

      In addition, I’d like to emphasize keeping an under-road walking path to LANK and the pool, so residents can get to those and the LANK and pool folks can get to the retail and professional services – and also because that’s the connection to local pathways.

      I’d like to suggest adding an upper ring for the buildings: one- or two-story enclosed sections on the upper or next-to-topmost floors of the residences, or even at all levels EXCEPT ground level, to allow people to walk between buildings easily. Have common rooms, sitting areas, workout areas, and more in those so folks are encouraged to circulate, socialize, enjoy the view, etc. – good in all types of weather. Talk to the retirement home to see if they’d be interested in linking up as well.
      http://bridges-2013.blogspot.com/2013/01/bridges-between-buildings.html

  • pashko

    I really like this idea, especially the parts about egress to Wiehle and a traffic-free plaza. I think we will need either ingress or egress from/to Wiehle in order to attract any good businesses. Does anyone know the history around why this is such a taboo topic? I know that RA owns the buffer and that getting ingress/egress is a non-starter, but why?

    • Sally Forth

      No idea should be a non-starter. Thinking outside the box is exactly what needs to happen for Tall Oaks to be successful. Those previously commenting about historical Tall Oaks problems have not attended the meetings nor do they know how the former owner purposefully made life hell for existing tenants in order to attempt a super profitable sale of property as a non-retail/commercial parcel. Thank heaven Reston IS a planned community with rules, special zoning and involved citizens. Contrary to many uninformed comments, JAG does not have carte blanche; they must conform to planned community guidelines for this parcel. Why do you think Reston is the gem everyone is flocking to and trying to over-develop? IT IS NOT a typical place. It is PLANNED. Now we must fight to keep Reston special and not another Arlington.

      Kudos to Maynard for new egress onto Wiehle, to Arielle for walkway between building ideas and to Bill Woloch, the architect who got this creative discussion started. Also to be commended is a determined, visionary neighbor, Sherri Hebert who raised the alarm about JAG’s terrible, NON-Reston plan to minimize retail to eradicate Tall Oak’s village center function. RA and Supervisor Hudgins are now supporting the principle that neighbors deserve walkable retail and a truly exciting public open space that incorporates Tall Oaks Assisted Living Center.

      Trolls and negative, limited imagination thinkers will spew but the ball is rolling, and sun is shining on this project. The more light, the better!!! And finally, thanks to Bob Simon for protecting your vision.

      IF JAG listens and understands how this 7.6 acre plot can be transformed, they will make plenty of $. Huge demand for residential and services is there. JAG just won’t be able to throw up some TH’s and jet with big bags of cash. No need to weep for their plight. They are sitting on a gold mine IF they join the Reston scene vs. trying to exploit OUR community.

  • Reston Crimewatcher

    Did JAG ask for his input? I don’t get why people think unsolicited advice or ideas will have any impact on what the OWNERS want to do.

    • Greg

      Bingo.

    • Guest

      The ideas may not affect what the OWNERS want to do, but it may affect whether or not they will be ALLOWED to do it given the “village center” standard, master plans, zoning, and, oh yes, politicians and bureaucrats.

    • Damon Feldman

      RC – The owners bought a property incorporated into the Reston plan as one of the neighborhood centers and zoned commercial. They need to make that work or take a loss. They are an “apartment group” and are trying to turn a buck by building apartments at the community’s expense.

  • RestonLyons

    Mosaic has FAR more available space than Tall Oaks. It has dozens of restaurants, a massive Target, a huge upscale movie theater and is in no way confined to such a small neighborhood as Tall Oaks. It also has upscale shops. If you wiped out the residential there now there might be room for what Mosaic has. The area that could mimic Mosaic would be around the Metro Station. Talks Oaks is not convenient to drive to. We moved to Reston in 2003 and have been there , maybe 5 times.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Great point. Mosaic District is 31 acres, Tall Oaks is 7.6 acres.

      Also, I have a strong feeling that the residents who live near Tall Oaks would react with horror and outrage if JAG suggested creating an exact replica of the Mosaic District right next to them. High rises and big box stores? Ugh! I hate going into that rabbit warren, I wouldn’t want to live near it.

  • Am I crazy?

    I find all of this amazing. How about the people that made the investment in the property do what they want with it? This whole process of NIMBYs and other random groups trying to dictate how this land should be developed is crazy. The folks that have millions of dollars invested in this property are going to do the analysis to figure out how to make the most money off of their investment.

    I am sure the investors love the idea of a huge open space that they cannot rent at the same price per sq ft that they would get from commercial and residential space. Underground parking? I am sure that is cheap to build. Comments below like “the apartments above would provide an immediate market for those retailers” is hysterical. Do you really think all the prior supermarkets would have thrived if they had another 40 families? That is a drop in a very large and unprofitable bucket.

    The real issue is that these types of investors, who have the money to invest in Reston, are going stop coming because the politics they have to deal with in this area. It is not going to be worth their time and the complaining bodies don’t have the money to do any of what they are requesting. This property is basically an empty lot right now. Anything that makes use of it is an improvement. JAG unfortunately needs RA approval, but RA doesn’t have clear guidelines. They have a completely subjective process with the DRB which is heavily weighted towards “affected parties” which are essentially groups of complainers with too much time on their hands. Fairfax has a much better process. If the developer stays within the rules that the property is zoned for then they should be able to move forward. If they need to make a change to the zoning, their is a clear process to doing that. Individuals, RA, RCA, etc. should not be impeding these developers.

    • Guest

      Be what Reston is–a planned community–or be gone!

      • Feh

        “Planned community” does not mean that every retard in the community – and there are so many! – gets to dictate what the plan is.

        • Guest

          It does mean they can all make a contribution–and this one is pretty good.

    • Greg

      No, you are not crazy. You are wise, erudite, and with common sense in abundance. Your comment is exactly on point.

    • reston realist

      Well said. Could not agree more that the “complainers” RA and the DRB stand in the way of progress and keep Reston from being a better place.

  • Greg

    Residential over commercial. Where have we seen that (EPIC) fail before? Right across the street in Lake Anne. Bye Felicia.

    • Guest again

      Hmmm. . . maybe because (a) vacancy rates for office buildings across the county (and region) are at near all-time highs and (b) because the Reston plan calls for village centers to have a strong residential element (i.e.–“the village”).

      • Greg

        Nope, it’s been that way for 40 years. And, Lake Anne’s failure has nothing to do with county supervisors’ failures to diversity the economy. Had those supervisors not wasted so much time and money on Lake Anne charettes and plans and meetings and bail outs and more, they could have focused on the current disaster of 25 percent and growing office vacancy. This is already leading to still higher residential property taxes and ever more of those who pay the bills to flee. Those who live in social housing do not pay the county’s ever-increasing bills #doomed.

  • quest4fire

    While I like the ideas in the article, it is irrelevant. The developers own the property and can do with it what they want. The fact that they had meetings with the community to solicit input is just a common courtesy. They are NOT really listening to you, they are pretending to listen so if something comes up later they can always say they had community input.

    • Guest

      One more time: THE OWNERS CAN NOT DO WHAT THEY WANT WITH THE PROPERTY. What they can do is guided by planning, zoning laws, the whims of the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, and, oh yes, maybe some good ideas from the public given opportunity to present them.

      • Guest

        OMG, I forgot to include RA and its DRB, including its numerous rules (“lots of earth tones,” as Restonian would say), in the decisionmaking.

        What was I thinking (or not)?

  • Cluster Tycoon

    Mosaic is all about spending money amidst a minimalist landscape that serves this one dimensional purpose only. In the bust cycle of the economy the place will look deserted and grey, that is my guess.

    In contrast, perhaps consider the new Georgetown water front and the nearby park where families can gather and kids can play under a fountain. There is shade and even more so when the trees are growing. It’s a significant investment but I think all of Georgetown will see a nice return on this community centered approach.

    Tall Oaks has an unique opportunity here to show off Reston because it’s close to the metro. I think the residents in that area could greatly benefit also. Just my guess

  • RestonLyons

    I would be fine with living near it if it was an appealing condo but not close. I wouldn’t want to live near a 7.6 acre pretend Mosaic District for sure.

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