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Lake Anne Redevelopment: Back to the Drawing Board?

by Karen Goff December 14, 2015 at 11:30 am 23 Comments

Rendering of renovations at Lake Anne/Credit: LADP

Ten years.

That’s how long plans for revitalization of Lake Anne Village Center were discussed and criticized, reviewed and voted upon, anticipated, and finally revoked.

Lake Anne Development Partners (LADP) announced late last week that it was terminating its agreement with Fairfax County for the giant redevelopment plans for Crescent Apartments and the area near Lake Anne Plaza.

LADP’s plans called for moving roads (Village Drive) and tearing down buildings (Crescent’s aging garden apartments, as well as an office building and the the former Millennium Bank building). They envisioned a high rise along North Shore Drive; nearly 200,000 square feet of office space; a parking garage and an expanded retail boulevard leading into Lake Anne Plaza’s historic section.

But LADP, chosen by Fairfax County after a request for proposals in 2013, never put a price tag on the grand plan. LADP said on Friday that it “has not been able to satisfactorily assemble all of the required land parcels needed for a viable development plan.” Sources said that did not happen because the company was unable to get the necessary financing to do so.

Here are some questions and answers about the project.

Why was Fairfax County involved in the project?

Fairfax County owns Crescent Apartments, which it purchased for $49.5 million in 2006 to use as affordable housing.

Also in 2006, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorized evaluation of a plan amendment for Reston’s Lake Anne Village Center and adjacent areas. In March 0f 2009, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted the final Comprehensive Plan text to guide the revitalization of 41 acres of Lake Anne. 

The county said the future of Lake Anne depended on obtaining and maintaining critical mass, which would happen with redevelopment.

It doesn’t mean it was a quick process. In October of 2012, several Lake Anne residents and merchants stormed out of a meeting, frustrated with the county timeline that revitalization would not happen until after 2016.

“I am wondering why you called this meeting,” said one woman. “We have told you 15 times what we want for Lake Anne. This is [expletive].”

What happens to Crescent Apartments now?

VOICE, a local advocacy group for recent immigrants and other low-income residents, held several rallies and spoke at Board of Supervisors’ hearings during the process.

LADP assured residents that Crescent’s 181 affordable units would be replaced, and county guidelines in the RFP required developers to offer an additional 151 units to be workforce housing. That meant about one-third of the nearly 1,000 new apartments would have below-market rates.

So it now it is back to 181 aging units. Crescent had apparently cut back on recent leasing as it prepared for development, which also promised relocation of the residents as it tore down the buildings. Replacing Crescent was slated to be the first phase of the LADP plan.

Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins told residents in a letter last week “that you can continue to live at the Crescent and that we will remain committed to keeping the Crescent a vibrant, attractive place to call home. We will have high standards for the appearance of the property, and will maintain it with great care.”

Hudgins said Crescent “has a significant number of apartments vacant because of the planned redevelopment,” and will start leasing again in the coming weeks and months.

What about the Lake Anne land Reston Association swapped to get the deal done?

In late 2013, Reston Association’s Board of Directors approved a deal to swap an acre of its land adjacent to Lake Anne Plaza for a similar-sized piece off of Baron Cameron Avenue.

LADP planned to use the land to build a 120-space parking garage.

The deal was controversial at the time, though, because the Lake Anne plot contained mature trees and the Baron Cameron land was considered less desirable.

At 2013 meetings, citizens concerned with the environment pleaded with the board to think about the ecosystem and an alternative parking area that does not remove mature trees. Others asked the board to go ahead with the plan to ensure the economic viability of Lake Anne Plaza’s future.

The approved swap entered RA into a non-binding letter of intent with LADP.

Reston Association did not have immediate answers on the future of the land when contacted Friday and Sunday.

What about the new businesses getting ready to open at Lake Anne Plaza? Were they counting on critical mass with the redevelopment?

Not really. Lake Anne Plaza was going to get worse (a torn-up parking lot, a temporarily relocated Saturday farmers market, and lots of construction equipment) before it got better. The entire redevelopment was expected to take 10-12 years.

Melissa Romano, a Lake Anne resident who is getting ready to open Lake Anne Brew House on the plaza, said is “certainly saddened by the news of the halted redevelopment,” but looks forward to opening Reston’s first nanobrewery in early 2016.

“We purchased our property because we believe in the original spirit of Lake Anne Plaza, and we believe that our business will be part of a renaissance for the Plaza,” she said. ” Alongside current, new, and future merchants, Lake Anne will not only continue to be the special gem that it is, but will also see a vibrant new energy come its way.”

How do the established merchants feel?

They are disappointed as well.

“On behalf of the Lake Anne Merchants and Condo Association, we are deeply disappointed that the planned redevelopment will not be moving forward as planned,” said Rick Thompson president of the Lake Anne Reston Condo Association, which represents commercial and residential owners.

“Although this is a significant setback for Lake Anne’s redevelopment efforts, Lake Anne is still committed to invest in the vitality of the Plaza. We continue to have a community of supporters and advocates who take pride in Lake Anne and are investing in our community to keep it active, local, and sustainable.”

What happens next?

Hudgins said Lake Anne/Crescent will get redeveloped — someday.

“Development of Crescent and Lake Anne Village Center has been a critical priority for the Reston community,” Hudgins said. “I look forward to working with the community to examine further opportunities to bring the redevelopment of these areas to fruition.”

“The County is deeply disappointed by this turn of events and shares the frustration that we know the community must be feeling. We will keep the community informed on the status of the site.”

It is not yet known whether the county would reach back into the 2013 RFP to see if a previous’ application would still be interested or whether it would issue a new RFP.

If a new plan is picked, look for a less ambitious — read, smaller and less expensive — one. Since LADP’s plan fell apart because of “economic viability,” as Hudgins said, it is likely the same would happen with a new developer.

  • dissapointed

    Disappointment of the year.

  • Ming the Merciless

    “Development of Crescent and Lake Anne Village Center has been a critical priority for the Reston community,” Hudgins said.

    Which is why we’ve been talking about it for over ten years but exactly nothing has happened!

    • Greg

      Had she stopped at “Crescent” she would have been telling the truth. Any project in that location (if not anywhere else) in which 1/3 of the units are project-grade is doomed. There is no where near enough “vitality” in around or near Lake Anne (but Tetra!) to draw those who will pay above market to support those who pay below.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Hudgins says “The County is deeply disappointed by this turn of events and shares the
    frustration that we know the community must be feeling.”
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
    As a tax paying resident of Fairfax County, I don’t feel disappointed by this, and as a Reston community member, I certainly don’t feel disappointed by this either.

    Garden Apartments = Good. Cabrini Green on Lake Anne = Bad.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Cabrini Green is so 1960s. The enlightened new approach is Section 8. The success of this approach is a matter of almost daily commentary on this site — namely, instead of crime and vice concentrated in urban high rises, it gives you crime and vice distributed in suburban garden apartments. What a magnificent victory for progressive social policy! Zhit stalo luchsche, tovarishchi!

      My only disappointment is that they hadn’t bulldozed Crescent before they pulled the plug on the project.

      • Chuck Morningwood

        Xleb i bratsvo, Tovarisch. Xleb i bratsvo.

  • Crescendo

    So the land swap got rejected , that is good reporting thank you. Tree hugs,

  • Baron von PloppenHausen

    Plop

  • concordpoint

    When pretty pictures were put in the RA magazine over two years ago, one would have thought that the economic feasibility of the pretty pictures would have been determined. The County process should have insisted on that! The County personnel involved with this fiasco should all be fired.

  • Terry Maynard

    The fact of the matter is that this area could not reasonably expect 2,000+ households to move there in a reasonable timeframe (financially satisfactory period) because the housing market is not strong. In addition, residences here would be competing head-on with the flood of high-rise apartments & condos coming along the DTR.

    Moreover, the local roadways–actually roadway (North Shore Drive)–couldn’t handle a doubling of vehicles for those who need to commute elsewhere to work, shop, or play. RTC is a mile away, Metro more than 2 miles; definitely not walking distance.

    It is also not clear that the two local elementary schools–Lake Anne and Forest Edge–could accommodate the added children (probably on the order of 200-300 added elementary school kids) without major additions that the County FCPS can’t afford.

    While Lake Anne definitely needs a “critical mass” of nearby residents to prosper, it does not need a nuclear weapons-grade level of “critical mass.” None of the other successful Reston village centers (North Point, South Lakes, & Hunters Woods) has near the level of residences as presented in the LADP and the County plan. More is NOT necessarily better.

    We need to move from a small residential mass to a robust neighborhood mass; excessive mass only causes more problems than it solves. As the next to last sentence in the article states, “If a new plan is picked, look for a less ambitious — read, smaller and less expensive — one.” Couldn’t agree more; should have done that the first time.

    • Ming the Merciless

      It’s almost like “having stores that do not suck” is more important to commercial success than “critical mass of nearby residents”…

    • qwerty

      The successful village centers aren’t really village centers though, to my mind (with the possible exception of Hunters Woods). They’re just (ugly) strip malls.

      • Steve

        Reston learned from Lake Anne when developing/redeveloping the village centers. The only way to attract a developer like Lerner for North Point, for example, was to change the village center concept, making it more like a tasteful strip mall that would attract lots of people but serve a real need in those areas.

      • Terry Maynard

        Couldn’t agree with you more. Lake Anne is the only current classic “village center.” Inward looking retail on a major plaza with peripheral parking and residential mixed in. Hunters Woods1 did the same (minus immediate housing like LA’s condos and Heron House), but it was torn down and re-built (HW2) as a strip mall 2 decades ago. Neither LA or HW1 have/had a “critical mass” of retail–including especially sufficiently large supermarkets & drugstores–to keep people coming and, yes, largely by auto.

        I think we can’t get Bob Simon’s vision to work, but it is a matter of getting all the pieces in the right size to fit the marketplace–not cram thousands of people into a small area with insufficient transportation and school infrastructure. It can’t compete with housing around the Metro stations otherwise.

        • Guest

          I fail to understand the fascination with “inward-looking’ community centers rather than neighborhood shopping plazas that are commercially successful and actually work, even if some think that they are “ugly strip centers”. Note that our kissin’ cousin to the north, Columbia, Maryland abandoned the neighborhood center idea years ago, largely sticking with the large mall and commercial strips on Route 175 and elsewhere. Rouse and its successors realized that the earlier concept did not work for most modern retailers and their customers.

          • Terry Maynard

            I can’t speak for others on this, but for me it is truly an aesthetic thing. Just using Lake Anne as an example, I find it rather pleasing to engulfed in a place with a central public feature (plaza, park, lake) when I walk out of a store than facing a see of asphalt, sheet metal, and chrome. South Lakes had the same opportunity as Lake Anne, but it is a 3-sided strip mall surrounding a parking lot–and you can get to the lake in the corner if you try.

            I think there are two keys to making VCs successful: A sufficient retail mass and other public facilities (community center, church, library, etc.) to attract users, and good visibility and easy, multiple access from the street (which may mean REAL signage and a 2nd entry from Wiehle to Tall Oaks). If it takes real advertising signs to make a VC work, I’m OK with that although I know others may not be.

    • Herr Heinrich Herring

      I and many walk a mile or more to Metro. It’s easy and good for you. 1-2 miles is definitely walking distance. Even better for biking. Or hover-boarding.

    • Steve

      Good points Terry. Were these same arguments considered and rejected by the county Board of Supervisors, school and transportation officials? The sole issue involved in the developer’s cold feet appears to be financial, and it looks like they goofed. Can we now take down “Reston: Renewed?”

      • Terry Maynard

        I don’t recall if FCPS took a look at the implications for the schools (they probably did), but I know the County transportation people did. They said transportation would be OK, but then they also think that 5 minute waits at each stoplight across the DTR from Sunrise Valley to Sunset Hills are OK too–at least that was their assessment for future traffic in the station areas ca. 2040. My experience is that they usually give the Board the answers they want to hear by using really obscuring their findings in indecipherable bureaucratic language.

  • Sec8

    TL’DR – Section 8 housing ruined it for everyone.

  • The world moves on while we still talk about our dreams. The boom
    time is over for lots of NV for a couple of decades or so. I once lived in a city
    on the Ohio River which was founded around 1900 and grew to 100,000 population
    by 1928. And it was expecting further growth and the streets and water
    and sewage lines were in place to support another 50,000 people. But the market
    crashed in 1928 and that city planned by a famous American has around a 50,000 population today. It is interesting to drive those streets built in a well-planned city that have never had a house built on them to this day.

    The world does move on and the unlimited military expenditures which have
    fueled growth in Northern Virginia are history. We need more modest planning in
    Reston and Fairfax County. And the future of “affordable housing” will not be
    secured by squeezing builder with unlimited credit cards in the decades ahead. The
    primary development focus will be on the Metro Rail corridor for the
    foreseeable future.

    The right redevelopment of Lake Anne would have been great but the
    world moved on while we talked.

  • CYNIC

    Inquiring minds want to know: Did Supervisor candidate and incumbent Cathy Hudgins know about this failure at Lake Anne before the election, but got LADP to delay making it public until she was re-elected even if she had no opponent?

  • Lake Anne Resident

    OK, I have come to accept this unfortunate turn of events, but could we at least do something with the god forsaken parking lot? It is a complete eyesore!

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