Tall Oaks Study Will Take Second Look at Retail Possibilities

by Karen Goff February 26, 2016 at 11:30 am 31 Comments

 Jefferson Apartment Group’s (JAG) plans for Tall Oaks Village Center will be delayed as the developer conducts a market study examining the area’s retail viability.

JAG’s plan, which had been slated to go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission in early May, is for 150 homes and about 7,000 square feet of retail space. It has not been well-received by community members or Reston Association, which said in a letter to county officials last summer that the plan fell “woefully short” on retail and community space.

JAG’s latest plan features a variety of townhomes, 2-over-2 townhouses and condos and about 7,000 square feet (up from the original plan for 3,000 SF) of retail, and what critics say is limited open space.

JAG representatives said at community meetings in spring of 2015 that Tall Oaks’ current 70,000-square-foot retail space — which went from 90 percent occupied in 2007 to 13 percent in 2015 — was not viable.

They said they shopped the store vacancies, including the 25,000-square-foot anchor/grocery store space, to retailers but there was no interest.

The market study will provide more definitive results, and Fairfax County is likely to follow up with a similar study of its own, said RA land use attorney John McBride.

“There is a problem with Tall Oaks,” he said at RA’s monthly board meeting on Thursday. “The community, developer and the county are hopefully going to work together to solve that problem.”

McBride said part of the problem for Tall Oaks is it is designated a village center in Reston’s Master Plan, but never developed as a village center — with a variety of uses built around community space — when it was first built in the mid-1970s.

“It never was a true village center,” McBride said. “It is more of a suburban strip center. Getting it to a true village center as best it can be is the challenge before us.”

McBride said after the market study, the developers will present the findings — and perhaps new plan — to the RA Design Review Board in June and the county planning commission in July.

Several Tall Oaks-area residents said they would like to see a study done independent of the one JAG is conducting.

One resident pointed out that retail should be more viable than ever with hundreds of more residents coming to new multifamily developments nearby, such as near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station.

“With residential [building] in progress, it would make retail a better fit,” said Melanie Whitaker, who lives on Bentana Way. “I think we need to keep to the true intent and keep it as a village center.”

RA At-Large Board member Ray Wedell encouraged RA to step up and take a strong stand on what is essentially a housing cluster JAG has planned for Tall Oaks.

“The proposal is so antithetical to the principles of Reston,” said Wedell. “This should serve as a clarion call that we need to control our future. We need to band together so we don’t have an abomination like this crammed down on us. RA needs to stand up.”

Rendering of new Tall Oaks Village Center/Credit: JAG

  • Arielle in NoVA

    I agree with Wedell: the development should fit in with Reston and should be what the neighbors want, not what some random developer wants to make money from.

    • Ming the Merciless

      If development can only happen when and in accordance with “what the neighbors want”, then development will never happen (which is very likely what a lot of the NIMBY neighbors indeed want).

      The owner of the property, who has invested money in it and will invest more money in it, is the one who should decide what happens to the property.

      If the neighbors wanted thriving, viable retail at TO, they would already have supported that with their dollars. But they didn’t. All those people living on the side streets behind TO no doubt shopped at Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s instead of the TO grocery store. Their Dollars Have Spoken – in the most decisive possible way. That’s your “market study” right there!

      If “random developers” who wanted to make money were not allowed to make money, then Reston would not exist at all.

      • Terry Maynard

        Sorry, Ming, but your wrong that “The owner of the property . . . is the one who should decide what happens to the property.”

        There are such things as Comprehensive Plans, zoning ordinances, and–in Reston–a DRB that are created to guide any property owner’s decisions–be it the color of shutters or building a residential cluster vs. a Village Center.

        The key redevelopment issue is whether a true Village Center–the Comprehensive Plan designation for the Tall Oaks area–is economically viable, not whether it maximizes the developer’s ROI. In theory, an unbiased market research study should help determine that (& I’m not expecting an “unbiased” study from JAG). If a Village Center is economically viable–which is certainly my belief–then it ought to be built and operated.

        The question is not where the neighbors have ever shopped beyond Tall Oaks (supermarkets or otherwise), the question is whether they will shop at Tall Oaks in a true Village Center setting, including the residents of the 150 new homes there.

        Using your logic, the failure of any number of attempts by man to fly should have told the Wright Brothers it couldn’t have been done. Yet they did, and here we are.

        • Ming the Merciless

          Nobody is ever wrong when they say “should”.

          If a Village Center is economically viable–which is certainly my belief–then it ought to be built and operated.

          By who? Why do you think the current owner should be forced to operate a “village center” if they don’t want to?

          I think you ought to operate a Bed and Breakfast from your house. Go do that!

          Using your logic, the failure of any number of attempts by man to fly
          should have told the Wright Brothers it couldn’t have been done.

          And another adage is the definition of insanity is when you keep doing something that doesn’t work, expecting a different outcome.

          The people best equipped to know this retail at TO is not viable are the current owners, not you.

          • Terry Maynard

            The reason that I don’t operate a B&B at my house is that doing so would violate the Comprehensive Plan, zoning laws, and, yes, even RA design standards.

            So, I guess the Wright Brothers were insane. And thank God for that!

            I don’t know what JAG knows, but they clearly have focused on maximizing their profitability with their cluster proposal, not achieving the goals laid out in our community’s Master Plan (part of the Comp Plan). Since they are now willing to do a market study, however, I guess they really don’t yet know whether retail is viable (and I’m pretty sure their contractor will find that it isn’t, but what else would you expect?).

            The fact of the matter is that RA ought to sponsor a thorough, independent retail market research study of Tall Oaks so that some degree of impartiality is brought to this review process.

          • Richard

            Do not question Ming. He’s just trying to make America great again. Facts and details are for losers.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Nothing stops you from putting your place on airbnb. You should do that.

            they clearly have focused on maximizing their profitability with their cluster proposal,

            It’s almost like they are a (gasp, horror) for profit business or something.

            I guess they really don’t yet know whether retail is viable

            Of course they know. Much better than you!

            RA ought to sponsor a thorough, independent retail market research study
            of Tall Oaks so that some degree of impartiality is brought to this
            review process.

            No, they shouldn’t waste their money.

            If JAG wants to redevelop their property even in the unlikely event that some “independent study” finds they could operate profitable retail there, then they OUGHT to be allowed to do that.

          • John Higgins

            Consonant with Richard’s call for attention to facts and details, I would put a few on the table.

            Ming, you are mistaken in saying, “No, they shouldn’t waste their money.” It’s not their money, it’s OUR money. Apparently to some here, it’s okay to waste someone else’s money.

            As the RA board heard last night, the definition of a village center is broad. What is proposed for this site appears, factually, to be fully within the scope of the Comprehensive Plan. Once through that gate, it does sound perhaps arrogant for folks to tell owners how they should conduct their business.

            Viability might be an aspiration for some purposes, but as a matter of fact, it is not a standard for sensible business decisions. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t imagine that breaking even or minimizing ROI is the goal in many corporate board rooms.

            If JAG has a legally acceptable mix of residential, retail, professional, service, etc., yet some don’t care for it, they have an option: buy the property from them and do as you wish.

            Having said all that, I don’t begrudge efforts to persuade JAG to rethink (again) its plan. I would hope, however, the dialogue respects that owners have rights and neighbors have desires.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Indeed, I am aware it is OUR money – and thus to some extent MY money – and that’s why I don’t want it wasted.

            But as to the rest, I agree!

          • Guest

            Cannot understand your affection for “village centers” a dated planning concept which historically has had only mixed success in Reston, and which has been virtually abandoned in our sister planned town to the north, Columbia, MD as well as other so-called planned communities elsewhere in the country. In reality, most village centers these days are very similar to strip shopping centers ( such as North Point or South Lakes) with a proven mix of retail stores. The T.O. site is too small and non-competitive for such an endeavor and no governmental or quasi-governmental guidance (as you put it above) can really change the inexorable command of market forces. The developer’s marker survey, if properly conducted, will likely confirm that proposition (as would any such study by RA.)

          • Prince Vultan

            You must by flying blind on a rocket-cycle again Ming!

            As Richard and Terry pointed out, the former owners of TO wanted to drive the stores out of business so they could redevelop easier.

            Owning property does not impart precognition. The current owners, or others, would know if retail is viable if the situation is studied.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Richard and Terry made unimpressive, unsubstantiated claims. They can get back to me when they have actual evidence.

          • GB

            I’m with you on this Ming. The developers can do whatever they want (that’s legally allowed) with their property.

            But don’t hate on people for asking the developers to consider something. People are allowed to ask / suggest. I’m sure the JAG will give the suggestions appropriate weight.

          • Ming the Merciless

            They’re not just asking for a study. They think such a study should exercise veto power over what JAG wants to do.

        • Why do you bother?

          ” If a Village Center is economically viable–which is certainly my belief–then it ought to be built and operated.”

          Terry, Terry, Terry. I believe that I am 5′ 8″ tall, have waist-length blonde hair, huge blue eyes and gazongas you can see for miles.

          Empirical evidence proves otherwise. See what I did there?

      • Richard

        Ming, you’re still spilling the baloney that the stores closed because of a lack of foot traffic. That wasn’t the case. The international/Asian market was packed to the gills (Literally. It stunk of fish.). The Giant made a regional decision to close smaller stores, as I recall, but made a point of saying that the store wasn’t losing money. Many of the problems had to do with exorbitant rents and crummy lease terms meant to drive them out so the owners could sell or re-develop, then cry about how retail won’t work so they must build exclusively residential.
        The situation cries out for an independent market study paid by RA to determine the viability of retail at the location. Although it sounds like there’s a possibility for Fairfax County to take that on, I don’t trust the county to conduct an independent, impartial study. Cathy Hudgins and the rest of the board haven’t seen an apartment building they wouldn’t build.

        • Ming the Merciless

          You’re full of it. I saw those stores. They were always moribund.

          If some “independent study” says retail is viable…. so what? If the owners want to redevelop anyway, so be it.

      • Mike M

        Great! Then we’ll move the septage receiving site next your house. No NIMBY problem there!

        • Ming the Merciless

          I’m sure I’ll be able to smell it from my place if the wind is blowing the right way.

      • Why do you bother?

        …I hate it when I agree with you…. 🙂

    • Minowaman

      Isn’t that why the developer is doing this in the first place? To make money?

    • Why do you bother?

      I have to disagree about “what the neighbors want.” If economic research (and visible evidence) finds that a location can’t support the shops (businesses were struggling long before the rents were jacked), then it makes no sense for a retailer to locate there. Stores aren’t charities – if they don’t make money, they fail. As they’ve done at TO for years.

      • GrumpyOldMan

        Instead of “what the neighbors want,” would you settle for “what the County Comprehensive Plan calls for?”

        • Why do you bother?

          Not if newer information makes it clear that the CCP calls for something that can’t work.

  • JoAnne Norton

    There should be a way to make access from Wiehle Ave. easier. You always had to drive down a ways to get to it. It should be easier to get to the area. That would draw people driving by and needing to stop for a drink, etc. Aldi;s grocery store is a smaller type store. It has some not necessary groceries but has the necessities and is a smaller store. They do need a Mom and Pop in that area and that would suffice.

  • RestonRealist

    Tall Oaks was poorly positioned as a retail center. The amount of density in that market area cannot support the amount of retail spending that you all are espousing..No amount of redesign or hope is ever going to change that. The only retail that can be supported in that location is a sub-shop, coffee shop and perhaps a dry-cleaner. A grocery store will NEVER locate there. Without the grocery store, you will not attract the small tenants. Let the owner of the property build what they deem financially prudent as long as it fits within the specified zoning.

    • GrumpyOldMan

      Gee, you must have already done a market research analysis to be so certain and specific. Of course, you overlook the 150 housing units that will be built AT Tall Oaks and the growing market between Tall Oaks and the Wiehle Metro station. A good supermarket (Trader Joe’s per SnarkyAnnie, Aldi’s which is not yet in Reston) and a couple of good NON-CHAIN restaurants (yes, Reston entrepreneurship) would go a long way to making its success a certainty. Even I wouldn’t mind walking to a restaurant for dinner if I lived there (and I may soon in the assisted living center).

      • RestonRealist

        As a matter of fact, I have been a commercial real estate appraiser and broker in northern Virginia since the mid-1980’s. I have seen many retail developments fail because they have poor visibility, lack of access or thin demographics… Tall Oaks suffers from all three.

  • SnarkyAuntie

    I have to agree with any comments about making retail in this area accessible. And visible. Make an entrance/exit right off of Wiehle, that also allows a retail area to be seen from the road.

    • Arielle in NoVA

      Tall Oaks is a block off of Wiehle. Pretty sure there’s a sign at the corner of Wiehle; if not, one can be added. A second Trader Joe’s here should work – the one by Silver Diner/Home Depot (it’s a block off of 606) is always packed, especially right after school through right after work, and it’s small and has a *smaller* parking lot than is available at Tall Oaks. That one’s near more apartments, but plenty of people drive on Wiehle who might stop at this location. The LANK traffic, small as it is, consists of a lot of families likely to shop at that sort of food store.

      • SnarkyAuntie

        I love the idea of Trader Joe’s! I actually live near Tall Oaks, and drive by so often, wishing there was a grocery, or a good cafe to grab lunch or dinner to go (like a Cafesano type place).


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