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.”