Grocery Store at Tall Oaks Not Going to Happen, Developer Says

by Karen Goff May 11, 2016 at 10:00 am 25 Comments

For more than a year, Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG) has been brainstorming what to do with Reston’s Tall Oaks Village Center, which it purchased in 2014.

JAG wants to build mostly residential on the land at Wiehle Avenue and North Shore Drive. Many Tall Oaks-area residents are still hopeful for the return of retail, which has essentially died over the last decade. The 70,000-square-foot center has been without an anchor grocery for five years — and a majority of the smaller retail spaces remain empty too.

JAG said in May of 2015 that large retail was untenable at Tall Oaks. Then it commissioned a consultants’ report, which was presented Tuesday night and echoed that analysis.

The study by national real estate consultants RCLCO says no grocery will work at the 42-year-old village center. Not traditional (i.e., Giant or Safeway), not speciality (i.e. MOM’s Organic Market) and not a Trader Joe’s. (RCLCO looked at all three).

“The conclusions are a grocery store is not supportable,” said RCLCO’s Len Bogorad, speaking to the community in the chilly, dark and empty 25,000-square-foot grocery space for dramatic effect. “Without a grocery anchor, there is limited demand for other services as well.”

Bogorad said heavy competition from nearby grocery stores at North Point Village Center, the Spectrum, Plaza America and other centers, combined with limited access and visibility for Tall Oaks mean the center could support about 7,500 square feet of retail. That number is, not coincidentally, nearly the exact amount JAG was proposing in its most recent vision for Tall Oaks.

Barbara Byron of Fairfax County’s Office of Community Revitalization says the county had a third party review RCLCO’s findings. The review, by consultants RKG, said about the same thing — that Tall Oaks could support about 6,000 square feet of retail but could also support a bit more in services. RKG says there should be about 3,000 square feet of service-oriented businesses at Tall Oaks.

JAG took that into account when unveiling its latest proposal for the center. The newest draft keeps roughly the same number and layout of residences, but adds additional retail and service space in an existing office building for about 8,500 square feet (up 21 percent from the previous proposal). The new plan also adds 39 percent more green space.

The tweaked plan contains structured open space, including a small amphitheater, lawn areas, a public art/fountain feature and outdoor exercise stations geared toward senior citizens.

There are also plans for a children’s play area that will be “very Reston,” with natural materials, said Duncan Jones, JAG’s Director of Development & Investments.

In other words, the new Tall Oaks will more resemble a village center than a strip mall, which it was supposed to be in the first place.

“Compared to the other [Reston] village centers, which are basically strip retail centers, we are not that,” said Jones. “It’s really all about a mix of uses. We are going to work very hard to bring in what we say.”

The plan will go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission July 14. JAG will continue to have meetings with Reston Association’s Design Review Board during the planning process.

Community reaction was mixed at Tuesday’s meeting, and some attendees are still holding out hope for groceries. They asked RCLCO if it looked at bringing in grocery discounter Aldi or if there was any change of reconfiguring streets for better access.

Others are accepting that something has to be done. The owner of Paradise Nail Salon, one of the remaining Tall Oaks businesses, says he is concerned about crime now that the center is mostly empty.

“I had to call the cops twice recently,” he said. “People were scoping out my store. The center is dead. Let’s work [with JAG] on a compromise. All I want is to move forward and get it done.”

Pat O’Connor, who has taught preschool at Lake Anne Nursery Kindergarten across the street for nearly 30 years, says she used to buy her lunch at Giant every day until that store left in 2007.

“The employees at the time said they closed because they were not making money,” she said. “So we cannot say [a grocery store] was doing fine. They did not do fine. They could not support a 7-Eleven here. We have to understand that. We have to have retail that will come and will stay.”

  • Waaaah!

    Local NIMBYs said, “But… but… try harder, I’m sure it will work somehow!”

    • Thomas Day

      Why would you possibly believe this comment is helpful to this discussion?

      • Chuck Morningwood

        Because the Anonymous poster is a shill for JAG, trying to Trump the dissenters.

        • Waaaah!

          BZZZZZT, WRONG, guess again. But congratulations for cramming so many stupid memes into one short post.

          I am someone who lives within walking distance of Tall Oaks. I am tired of the concrete wasteland. I want it to be something useful to the community. Stop whining, get out of their way, and let JAG make it happen.

          • Greg

            You are right. JAG will not sit around and haggle for long. Take it people now before it’s too late or JAG will dump the property, walk away and we will be stuck with the Brutalist concrete wasteland for another decade.

      • Guest

        Waaaah! just wanted to get a picture of his son in the digital newspaper.

  • Terry Maynard

    The article captures well what was presented last evening. JAG appears to have come to understand the “gathering place” idea that is at the heart of Reston’s village center vision with its expanded and improved open space visible in the two renderings.

    What very clearly was missing was any substantive explanation of why RCL and RKG believe the “market capture rate” for retail would be so small given the relative economic strength of the primary and more distant market–beyond the usual excuses. That needs further examination.

    • Waaaah!

      Oy vey. We have over 15 years experience of Tall Oaks sucking at retail. There is NO MORE need for “further examination”. This is not the Manhattan Project. JAG is making the investment, they have a reasonable plan, let them move forward.

    • Guest

      Terry, I generally commend your work on planning and development issues , but I think you are out in left field on this one. A “build it and they will come” perspective on retail at this location will not work at Tall Oaks. Let the residential plan go forward.

      • Terry Maynard

        I would personally prefer a true VC there if that’s feasible, but my problem last night was that the consultants did not show me that retail would not work because they glossed over their analysis (thanks in part to someone who didn’t want to hear any of it). In fact, the RCL presentation sounded just like JAG’s earlier presentations. And Byron added little from an RKG perspective. I asked for all the materials and will review them to see if they are persuasive.

        If the analyses are credible, I’m willing to change my position. (I generally like living in reality, not someone’s profit-driven desire for something else.)

  • Vomitous

    Isn’t it the county that keeps selling the idea that all this residential development is supposed to drive retail development?

  • Mean Girl

    Stop trying to make the grocery story happen. It’s not going to happen.

  • meberger

    I like this plan, especially exercise stations with seniors in mind. As far as retail, how about a drug store? The two drug stores in Reston that come to mind have parking issues, and with an older population close by it seems like a win/win. Some smaller drug stores like Vienna Rexall sell medical equipment, and others carry basic groceries. I think a drug store could be a successful addition, that and either a good custard ice cream and/or a coffee cafe.

    • Anonymous

      The senior housing at Tall Oaks has its own 24 hour pharmacy that services its residents with both Rx and OTC meds. They do not need a drug store.

      • Arielle in NoVA

        Didn’t realize they have their own pharmacy. Would still be good to have either a standalone pharmacy (Rite Aid/Walgreens/CVS) or a pharmacy within a grocery store, for everyone else who lives within walking distance and for the folks who work and drop off at LANK (preschool across the street) and use the pool (also across the street).

  • CE

    Would have been nice to see a Total Wine move in there. Mama Wok is the best Chinese/Sushi restaurant in town. Hopefully they find a way to stay.

  • Greg

    No go for Aldi or any grocery.

    Specific location criteria:

    ±18,000 square feet with a minimum of 85 dedicated parking spaces

    2.5 acre pads for purchase and development

    End-cap or inline space with minimum of 87’ of frontage

    Signalized, full access intersection preferred

    Dense trade area population within 3 miles

    Sites located in community and regional shopping districts with convenient access to population

    Sites zoned to allow grocery use

    Daily traffic count in excess of 20,000 vehicles per day

    • Guest

      –Underground parking

      –Wiehle has well more than 20K vehicles per day, and a right in/right out would get a whole bunch of them into Tall Oaks.

      • Greg

        Aldi is food-stamp budget — they will not pay for underground parking. We don’t even have that at RTC and it will soon cost to park in those ugly garages.

        • Terry Maynard

          Actually, JAG already plans underground parking for its two condo buildings. Another floor or two would probably be needed for grocery or other retail if the first floor were retail.

      • Greg

        Also, Wiehle is fewer than 18,000 per day at that location.

      • Arielle in NoVA

        Underground parking works well at Woodland Crossing, off of Monroe Street just south of 267. There’s a Harris-Teeter there, good-sized but not enormous; not sure of the square footage. You can go in or out of the store either from the underground lot or from the street level. A Harris-Teeter or Trader Joe’s, a Panera/Chipotle/Qdoba/Subway, and a Starbucks or other tea/coffee spot at Tall Oaks would be great.

  • Jonathan Damm

    I recommend you all read the report (Link at bottom). It is an incredible piece of obfuscation. It claims the “principal reasons for the limited retail potential is the lack of visibility from Wiehle Ave. There is limited opportunity to enhance signage.” So in other words – damn, if you could just see it from Wiehle or if there was just some darn way to put up a sign that there is an decent midsize grocer here – problem solved!

    Then they focus on the lack of traffic on North Shore since they conveniently do away with the fact that Wiehle has a ton of traffic (doesn’t matter – can’t see it and we can’t figure out how to put up a sign). They can figure out how to jam a ton of condos and townhouses in a small space – but signs… forget about it. It would take an engineering marvel. And they barely even try to make a serious argument that demographics, population or market conditions would hinder a midsize specialty market.

    And even if there is a critical mass, there is just too much competition, they assert! No way people will pass up crossing through Reston and being stuck in rush hour traffic in the evening. They like Target, and Harris Teeter too much. They will gladly catch up on Terry Gross rather than walk or drive around the corner to an Aldi, TJ or something similar. But anyway, even if these subjective arguments are not to be believed, there is that damn visibility problem. Just no way to get around that – right? It’s clearly their fall back argument.

    I have three words to say regarding the “principal” reason they can’t have a market at new Tall Oaks, “Fox Mill Center.” I didn’t even know that place was there until last year and I lived and drove on Reston Parkway and Fox Mill for 8-years before that. That is not an exaggeration. You cannot see Fox Mill Center in any meaningful way from Reston Parkway and there are barely any signs. Nor does the cross streets Quincy Adams and John Milton offer much more in the way of traffic then North Shore.

    As far as I can tell, the shopping center at Fox Mill Center and the Giant are vibrant. So visibility can apparently be overcome. Please ready the report, it is not persuasive. And please don’t say that grocery has not worked at Tall Oaks before so it won’t now. This is an entirely new development. The facts are different. And there is a ton of new development at the Metro Station. If there is an Aldi, TJ or something similar at New Tall Oaks, people around here will find out, and remember its there. People actually have good memories around here I have noticed.

    And don’t you think you should question a study that in one of their first bullets claims that the problem of signage can’t be overcome? Please.



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