72°Clear

Reston 2020 Outlines Alternative for Tall Oaks Village Center

by Karen Goff — February 24, 2016 at 11:30 am 56 Comments

Total Rehab has moved from Tall Oaks Village CenterAdvocacy group Reston 2020 is offering a suggestion on how the planned redevelopment at Tall Oaks Village Center could better preserve green space and add more retail to serve the neighborhood.

Tall Oaks Village Center is planned for redevelopment by new owner Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG). JAG is planning to make the center mostly residential, with 156 residential units (garden-style condos, townhouses and two-over-two townhouses) and up to 7,000 square foot of retail on the site of the nearly empty 70,000-square-foot village center at Wiehle Avenue and North Shore Drive.

JAG tweaked its design last spring after citizens said they were disappointed in the early plan for only about 3,000 square foot of retail.

Reston 2020 is among the citizens groups that thinks it should be tweaked more.

“The essence of the alternative proposal is the re-constituting the residential property there (more condos, fewer townhomes) to still permit the full allotment of allowable dwelling units while also creating about 49,000 square feet of retail and a much larger green space/plaza,” Reston 2020 Co-Chair Terry Maynard wrote in a letter to Reston Association, which will be discussing Tall Oaks at its monthly meeting on Thursday.

Reston 2020 points out that a similar approach of residential-over-retail redevelopment is being taken in Arlington.

“In short, Reston 20/20 believes that a true village center is viable at the Tall Oaks location and offers at least the beginning of alternative concept to achieve that end,” wrote Maynard.

Reston 2020 says “the so-called village center is crammed with housing and asphalt. It does not in any sense of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, meet the criteria for a Reston ‘village center.’ ”

Reston 2020 says that a new vision could be achieved by

  • Scrapping the so-called “2 over 2” townhomes (42 dwelling units)
  • Not building the row of townhouses closest to the village center entrance (8 units)
  • Not building the proposed small amount of retail space (less than 10,000 GSF), less than currently is operating at the shopping center.

Reston 2020 would like to a see more condos and a much larger central green space, with additional underground parking for the condo buildings.

See the full report on Reston 2020’s website.

At meetings last spring, many Tall Oaks-area residents were upset that the plans are for more residences without giving retail another try. JAG said at that time there was virtually no interest by retailers in moving to the site, which has poor road visibility and has been suffering for more than a decade, after additional retail options have opened on Reston Parkway and at Plaza America.

Said Reston 2020: “We are well aware that JAG has insisted that retail at this location is infeasible because of the proximity of retail shopping centers within several miles. While it has repeated this statement on numerous occasions, it has yet to provide a market study that demonstrates that conclusion. It simply asserts it.”

Another citizens group, Concerned Citizens of Tall Oaks, also has an alternative plan.

JAG’s plan is scheduled to go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission May 6.

Photo: Empty storefront at Tall Oaks/file photo

  • Ming the Merciless

    “We are well aware that JAG has insisted that retail at this location is infeasible because of the proximity of retail shopping centers within several miles. While it has repeated this statement on numerous occasions, it has yet to provide a market study that demonstrates that conclusion. It simply asserts it.”

    The death of three grocery stores and numerous smaller stores is all the “market study” that any sensible person needs. That’s more than a “study” – it is practical experience!

    • GB

      I came to post exactly that comment.

    • Terry Maynard

      The fact of the matter is that the previous owner tried to force out tenants (one of whom is a neighbor of mine) by jacking (not just “raising’) rents and other actions. And succeeded! So they sold the place.

      • Ming the Merciless

        While you have repeated this statement on numerous occasions, you have yet to provide any actual evidence that demonstrates that conclusion. You simply assert it.

        • Critical Thinking

          @ Ming
          I would agree with Terry Maynard that the previous owner tried to force out tenants in serveral ways, although it may not have included raising rents.

          Based on my research of public records, the previous owner was a REIT based in Boston. Based on my conversations with well informed development professionals familiar with the former owners, “CRP-2 HOLDINGS TALL OAKS LLC’s” ownership of Tall Oaks was part of a much larger portfolio of properties that was basically office. The 10 or 11 office properties were their cash cows and the Tall Oaks retail property filled out their portfolio. I don’t know if they had Tall Oaks for tax purposes or what. What’s clear is they paid no attention to it, it wasn’t worth their time.

          In conversations I had with several current tenants, they all said the same thing: A) the property manager for the Boston REIT (Lincoln, I believe) wouldn’t even answer their calls, let alone respond to/take care of routine maintenance issues like repairing cracked sidewalks, etc. This doesn’t happen by accident. B) the REIT wouldn’t offer anyone long term leases, which any small business owner needs to invest in their own businesses. This also likely kept out new tenants, as new tenants would’ve had to spend hundreds of thousands to remodel, and no one would do this if only offered a one year lease.

          The whole point was that Tall Oaks was neglected (at best) by the former owner, allowing it to fester and deteriorate so they could easily sell it when it suited their larger property portfolio.

          Now JAG is trying to convert a Village Center to a Cluster, in contravention of the community’s vision laid out in the Reston Master Plan – a vision that has been constant for 50 years. This conversion is not because the “market” is dictating it, but because the old owner didn’t care, and the new owner is a residential developer.

          And btw, JAG’s proposal will not “pay for itself”. As anyone who has been involved in the development process in this area knows, development partially pays for itself, but the county has to burden the high costs of schools, roads, parks, etc. that *no developer* ever fully pays for.

          So this proposal is not about the “market” nor is it reflective of an appropriate solution to Tall Oaks’ problems. This proposal would also set an important precedent for Reston’s other Village Centers.

          Apologies for the ridiculously long post. 🙂

          • Greg

            Where was the RA in enforcing its property maintenance covenants?

          • Ming the Merciless

            So like Terry and Mike you have no actual evidence.

      • Richard

        I had a similar discussion with the owner of one of the restaurants over there. He maid it clear the landlords were pushing him out on purpose.

        • Ming the Merciless

          Yeah, it couldn’t just be that he was a crappy businessman in a crappy location in a crappy economy where people lack money to eat out.

          • Richard

            No. It could not, because none of those things are accurate

          • Ming the Merciless

            Crappy location and crappy economy definitely are accurate.

      • Mr.Bigs

        Marginal businesses that are “making it” in a marginal location because they are paying below market rents. I would bet than none would survive if they were paying market based rent.

      • Why do you bother?

        Nice straw man, Terry. The fact is that that shopping center has been killing retail businesses for years, long before the owner started hiking rents. The proof is in the pudding. Or lack thereof, as it were.

        • Mike M

          Apparently, no one could afford those “market rates,” which tells you the market rates in that area were genuinely lower than asked. If no one can come in and pay and succeed then the “market rate” game applies to the landlord (supplier) as well. Clearly they wanted to squash the whole investment and start over. They had to have confidence in the County’s willingness to appease to do something like that.

          I don’t mind the developer wanting to make more money. But granting their conversion to something more profitable shouldn’t come at the expense of the community in terms of traffic congestion and safety, and crime. That’s what proffers used to be about. The community has a stake. But demanding green space seems a bit over the top. Just make them pay for the local infrastructure requirements so I don’t have to subsidize their more profitable arrangement.

          • Why do you bother?

            No, what it tells us is that regardless of the rates, the shopping center did not attract customers, likely because it is essentially invisible.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Apparently, no one could afford those “market rates,” which tells you the true market rates in that area were lower.

            Or, maybe those businesses couldn’t cover their other costs after paying the market-rate rent, because nobody ever patronized the plaza that sucked, and thus they had to close.

            The landlord can have their cake and eat it too. They don’t need to drive out all their tenants and let it sit there empty, earning no money, until the demolition crews arrive. But we’ve had this conversation before.

            The community’s “stake” in Tall Oaks is ZERO, because the community has no money on the table. Therefore they should have no say in what the landlord does. But we’ve had that conversation before, too.

          • Mike M

            No, Ming. Market rate for landlords is what their renters can afford. If they can’t afford it, then the facility goes vacant and the landlord goes broke too. That’s “market” rates in commercial real estate. That is how that market works.

            In this case it is understood the landlords wanted conversion for better profit. OK. They jacked up rents to work the county for conversion. OK by me so long as I don’t have to subsidize them by sitting in traffic, risking an accident at the intersection, or suffering from crime inflicted by vermin who might live there – especially in county subsidized units.

          • Ming the Merciless

            No, Mike. The landlord has a certain minimum cost that he must charge in order to maintain the property. He cannot charge less than this even if the tenant can’t afford it. The tenant has other costs besides rent – payroll, inventory, etc. – and even if they’re paying a “reasonable” rent they still may not be doing enough business to cover all their costs.

            All this talk about jacking up rents is not only illogical, but hearsay. Haven’t seen a shred of real evidence for it.

            None of those actions of yours “subsidizes” the landlord in any way.

          • Mike M

            It’s Economics 101. Unless you have opened up the landlord’s books, you don’t know about his “minimum costs.” Weren’t you asking for more evidence above for the point that they jacked up rates? Mind you he operated the place for years at half occupancy or less. Then, it is clear he took action to press out the remaining tenants. We know because the tenants told us. We’ve seen it elsewhere in Reston and Herndon. If the property is truly not viable, as WDYB says below, or even if the someone can make more money with a redeveloped site, then redevelopment makes sense, so long as the County looks out for the surrounding community. Unfortunately the squeaky wheel is the do-gooders paradise club. They will battle for a few square feet of “green space” and oila! Another crummy development from a traffic standpoint.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Unless you have opened up the landlord’s books, you don’t know that he “jacked up rates”. It is not at all “clear” that “he took action to press out the remaining tenants.” In fact, it is totally unclear because there is no hard evidence of it at all. What the tenants supposedly said is hearsay (and your version of it, at that, which makes it second-hand hearsay). What we have “seen elsewhere in Reston and Herndon” is a lot of businesses going under because the economy sucks.

            Basically, you’re making stuff up here to support your NIMBY grumble.

            It is hard to see how any business anywhere could go under, using your “logic”, because the landlord would always charge the minimum rent the tenants could afford – and if necessary, zero rent. This is preposterous. You really need to go back and take that Economics 101 course all over again.

          • Mike M

            I have no NIMBY grumble. I just don’t want big development getting approved without traffic mitigation and other infrastructural externalities addressed. Unfortunately they won’t be because the grumblers are worried primarily about design and green space issues.

            I need no evidence. The logic makes sense, tenants confirmed rate hikes, and it happens elsewhere. If I was sitting on a large commercial property that was underperforming, I might do the same thing. I could lower rents or I could redevelop. If I had “confidence” in the County’s coooperation, I would do exactly what the owner(s) did in this case.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Yes it is very clear that you think what you want to think and no evidence is needed for it.

            “I want the externalities addressed” is what NIMBY grumblers always say.

            If you were sitting on a large commercial property that you wanted to redevelop, you would keep as many tenants as you could for as long as possible in order to keep a cash flow.

          • Mike M

            Unless I wanted to redevelop the place in favor of a more profitable investment.

          • Mike M

            As I noted before, where is your evidence to support the rent rate as necessary for meeting minimum costs? So, you are as guilty as I am of not presenting evidence. I present logic and hearsay (from primary sources). You present the decrees of M the M.

          • Ming the Merciless

            I’m not the one advancing the crackpot conspiracy theory.

          • Mike M

            By the way, the theoretical “perfect market” to which markets seek to equilibrate has exactly the scenario you described – zero margin (not zero rent). Theoretical perfect competition drives that. Perfect doesn’t happen on either the competition or margin front. Tis from that whence profits flow – until they don’t. Yeah, as an economist I kinda get economics.

          • Ming the Merciless

            You must be an economist for the government. Or at least, so the preposterous, evidence-free theorizing and lack of connection to the real world would seem to indicate.

          • Mike M

            Guess again.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Which does not mean that every economist is correct and should be listened to. Plenty of them are in the grip of failed dogmas and remain stubbornly indifferent to how the economy works in reality.

          • Mike M

            The concept of perfect competition is very basic and is entirely relevant to the real world. Do you see people get out of businesses that become low margin. That is often perfect competition at work. I think it was at play in this shopping center’s case.

          • Ming the Merciless

            It is not necessary to believe that the landlord jacked up the rent in order to believe the shopping center is low margin. That place was moribund for many years before the last grocery store pulled the plug and there was any talk of redevelopment. Simply could not compete with Plaza America, North Point, and RTC.

          • Mike M

            The community has a stake when the redevelopment makes them sit in traffic longer, pay higher insurance rates, pay for infrastructure through taxes and bonds, reduce the value of their investments. Just like the sewerage dump. Let’s say they decided to put it within sniffing distance of your throne. Would you have a stake? It is the job of the County to make sure we are not subsidizing the redevelopment.

          • Ming the Merciless

            And the community can pay for all those improvements with their taxes. That’s what taxes are for. The community uses it, the community pays for it. So simple that even an Economist can understand it!

            It is the job of the County to make sure we are not subsidizing the redevelopment.

            The County believes their job is to encourage the creation of jobs, businesses, and places to live. Punishing developers does not do that.

          • Mike M

            Nope. If you want to build a profit center, the people shouldn’t have to subsidize it with their taxes. This would be doubly true where you are tearing something down to redevelop it. If you can’t afford to pay for the needed adjustments, then don’t build. It’s an economic decision.

            I have no problems with jobs and homes and businesses. I have problems with bad planning that allows these things to create net losses for the community in terms of infrastructure.

          • Ming the Merciless

            The claim that building infrastructure “subsidizes” businesses is stupid. That is all.

          • Mike M

            And so it is decreed! If there are particular infrastructure requirements that would not exist without that particular facility, and there are, then they should pay. Not me. Not you.

  • RestonNiceGuy

    I agree that from a design perspective this redevelopment effort has be uninspired; but there is a ton in this proposal that makes it nonsense. A developer couldn’t afford to do underground parking and still make a profit, let alone ignoring the fact that it seems unlikely that retail is suddenly going to flourish in a location where it has persistently failed. The stage is silly.

    • Terry Maynard

      JAG is already proposing underground parking for the two condo buildings. I just propose another level in each building to accommodate shoppers.

      Retail needs a critical mass and a “star” attraction–normally a good supermarket & pharmacy. This proposal offers that opportunity I think.

      • Why do you bother?

        How many supermarkets have gone out of business already, Terry. You know the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on me; foo me twice…..”

        • LakeNewportLady

          I was just thinking that…three that I can remember. Isn’t insanity doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome? 10 YEARS and this place hasn’t been viable for retail. A fast food restaurant couldn’t survive for goodness sake. I will miss the Pho but clearly this place needs a major change.

          • Nyla J.

            Yes, grocery stores have closed in the past there, but that was with much lighter density and lighter traffic in the area. They were also crappy stores like Giant and an international market. Throw in a Fresh Market or some other trendy place and all your condo dwelling urban-wannabes will flock there. Not to mention people won’t be able to get anywhere else to shop with the grid lock in that area once redeveloped. Seems that the roads are being addressed as an after thought. Retrofit Reston!

          • Greg

            Fresh Market would never locate in an aging location like the Tall Oaks. It’s too isolated, too hard to find and get to and does not have nearly the retail density, income and age demographics (all that grand Section 8 housing!) and development potential forward-looking retailers desire.

          • Nyla J.

            Yes, I agree it’s currently pretty crusty and no decent retailers would want to be there now, but in this new, futuristic, utopian vision of Tall Oaks, the one with shiny new apartments, bikeshare and all the old NIMBYs gone, it could work. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

          • RAmember2

            So don’t do the same thing. Build 150 or so homes there that will use the shopping that is right there at their feet.

  • RestonRealist

    so now we are comparing Tall Oaks to Arlington? Really??

    • Guest

      Your point? Did you read the paper? Did you see the Arlington location?

      Check it out before you call it out.

    • Nyla J.

      I laugh anytime Reston is compared to Arlington. Since the metro dropped we’re more like Springfield, ya know?

  • RestonResident

    All of the retail that failed in that space did so BEFORE Metro arrived at Wiehle. The situation is vastly different now.

    • LakeNewportLady

      I don’t see how metro will affect it…it’s not walking distance

      • GB

        It’s 1 mile and the route is well served by buses. I think the metro impacts Tall Oaks.

      • RAmember2

        Maynard’s proposal would be helped by an exit from Tall Oaks directly to Wiehle Ave. going north. Then people driving home from the Metro or toll road could stop at the village center and buy their groceries, dinner, pick up their laundry, whatever, and head home north without going through that stupid stoplight.

      • Nyla J.

        Yes it is.

  • Greg

    Tall Oaks has been a retail and esthetic failure since it’s inception. Those who believe otherwise are living in denial. Reserving space there for retail, especially 49,000 square feet, is senseless. Very few of the previous tenants, especially in the last 25 years, (including at least three grocery stores) have succeeded, regardless of the rents charged, and few of them attracted many customers. Move on Reston 2020.

    • Terry Maynard

      Please note that I am not proposing renovating the current shopping center at Tall Oaks. I’m am proposing an integrated Village Center with retail and residential as called for in the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

      I certainly agree that the current center is an aesthetic failure. Besides that, it failed commercially because (1) it lacked visibility from Wiehle, (2) difficult road access arrangements, (3) rents & other charges jacked by last owner to force out businesses and made it easier to sell, and (4) a small immediate market base.

      So the proposal I’ve put on the table (including JAG’s portion):
      (1) Visibility: Tall Oaks VC will be highly visible from Wiehle because the edge ring of SFA townhouses will be 40′ high and the condo/retail buildings 60′ tall. Improved signage at the Wiehle-North Shore corner would also help. Anyway, it will be visible!
      (2) Access: I failed to include in my proposal at least a right egress from TOVC on to Wiehle northbound–there should be one. Ideally, it would be a “right in, right out” link so cars could both enter & exit directly on to Wiehle going north so people could shop easily on their way home from Metro or DTR as I said earlier here. That access would require that RA allow it to be builty across their property.
      (3) Leases: Several knowledgeable sources have corroborated that the previous owner hiked rents in new leases and charged fees beyond the lease agreement that forced out several businesses. Obviously, an owner/manager interested in seeing that NOT happen (presumably JAG) would not do that.
      (4) Market: The addition of 156 new residences on site markedly changes the viability of shopping that would be at Tall Oaks. That retail would necessarily be fairly basic (groceries, pharmacy, restaurant, maybe fast food, salon) and not Tysons Galleria-style. Combined with the coming density in the area south, it should be successful.

      So, no, doing the same thing over again would be unwise. The addition of residences, better access, reasonable rents/fees, and greater visibility substantially improves the likelihood of success of this residential and retail focused Village Center with a large plaza/green.

      • Critical Thinking

        @ Terry

        I doubt that a traditional anchor like a grocer can succeed here, unless you clear-cut the RA land along Wiehle Avenue and level the mound of soil too. Well, maybe a Trader Joe’s could survive, although there’s one of those less than 2 miles away.

        What could likely succeed here is a cluster of 4 or 5 nice sit down restaurants framing a very high quality plaza. Add in a sprinkling of convenience uses, like a dentist, pet care, cafe, etc. Essentially create a “destination” or “experience” that any family can come to and then choose which restaurant to dine at. Afterwards, stroll around the plaza or “people watch”. Get coffee at the cafe.

        156 additional units will help, but the major thing to help such a development would be a nice plaza and full storefronts. I’m in shock that the current tenants have been able to survive in such a hostile environment (vacant anchor and other empty windows, huge empty parking lot, obvious disrepair of the sidewalks and landscaping), Their survival is a testament to the strong market in this area.

        Also, your proposals for visibility and access are good ones, however I doubt RA leadership has the guts to allow even a small right-in/right-out onto Wiehle through their property, or landscaping to improve visibility at the intersection of Wiehle and North Shore. Although they could prove me wrong.

      • Critical Thinking

        @ Terry

        Now that I’ve taken a look at JAG’s portfolio, http://jeffersonapartmentgroup.com/properties/ it seems they have plenty of experience building mixed use development that integrates residential and retail use.

        It is by no means a stretch to expect them to come up with a proposal that includes more than 7,000 sf of retail use.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list