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Letter: Tall Oaks Housing May Lead to City Without Personality

 This is a letter that Sherri Herbert, president of the Bentana Woods Cluster Association sent to county officials urging them to rethink the process to redevelop Tall Oaks Village Center into a housing development with limited retail.

The Jefferson Apartment Group, owner of Tall Oaks Village Center, has held a series of community meetings showing concept plans to 150 homes and about 7,000 sqare feet of retail at the site of the mostly empty 70,000-square-foot village center.

The redevelopment of one of Reston’s Village Centers into something completely different sets a precedent that could put Reston on the road to being the next Tysons Corner, Hebert writes.

Dear Community Leaders,

As the president of the Bentana Woods Cluster Association and a neighbor of the Tall Oaks Village Center, I’ve been to all of the community meetings regarding the redevelopment, and conducted two surveys of the Tall Oaks community. Because of my involvement, I have been asked by many of my neighbors to summarize for you the Tall Oaks residents’ views regarding the redevelopment project for the Tall Oaks Village Center and to ask for your continued support and leadership.

As you are well aware, decisions made regarding Tall Oaks Village Center will have a long-term impact on all future development of village centers which will either preserve the life style of Restonians or turn Reston into the next Tysons. Having a healthy mix of commercial office, retail, housing and other amenities only in the Reston Transit Station areas will leave much to be desired for the founding neighborhoods of Reston and will not make Reston a sustainable transit oriented community.

The residents of Tall Oaks and the Reston community at large has, on multiple occasions, expressed their views and desires for the seven-plus acres of prime real estate at the corner of North Shore Rd and Wiehle Avenue. This mostly vacant lot is in walking distance of the Wiehle-Reston Metro (albeit a lengthy walk) but not walkable to Lake Anne or any other community services or retail establishments (with the exception of McDonalds or Taco Bell).

In April 2015, community residents responded loudly in both numbers of attendees and views expressed at the Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG) presentations. The themes at both sessions where:

  • More community space
  • More enough retail and community services
  • More green/open space
  • Incorporating the Assisted Living Facility
  • Too much housing (are we creating another cluster?)
  • Parking and traffic concerns (mixed uses will allow for parking to be used at different times of the day)
  • Several of the current business owners in Tall Oaks took issue with the premise that commercial establishment would not succeed. Many of these businesses have been successfully operating in Tall Oaks for years, even during the downturn of the village center.

Concerned residents took action by starting a petition to ask both Fairfax County and Reston Association to listen to the residents of Tall Oaks regarding this valuable land. Shortly after these community meetings, the cluster presidents of the Tall Oaks community reached out the JAG hoping to dialogue about the proposal and to create a partnership in the design. JAG did not respond until they were confronted during a presentation to the Reston Planning and Zoning committee (P&Z) in May.

Even with the strong opposition to the JAG proposal, on May 18, JAG presented the same plan to the P&Z. In that meeting, they stated that they had spoken to the business owners currently operating in Tall Oaks about their future intentions, but the fact is they had not. I actually spoke to the some of the owners that day, and they had not been contacted by JAG. I am bringing up this point, because JAG demonstrated to me, that they will misrepresent the truth for their gain. This is a dangerous game to play especially if decisions are made without facts.

The following evening, May 19, JAG made the same presentation to the Reston Design Review Board (DRB) with the same misrepresentations of truth they gave the P&Z. Both groups, based on the words of the developer (completely one-sided) gave a nod that JAG was heading in the right direction.

This was extremely frustrating for the residents in attendance.

The Bentana Woods Cluster Association, as a sample population, participated in a survey regarding the retail service needs of the village center. With a 49-percent response rate, the desire for eating establishments was priority one.

On June 22, Fairfax County hosted an interactive community meeting to again hear the views and opinions of residents. Again, the residents filled the room to capacity to express their concerns. The sheer number of attendees indicated the seriousness of the development project. JAG presented the same proposal that many had heard in April. The same issues were surfaced.

Concerned Citizens of Tall Oaks launched another survey to get reaction to two other fictitious options. The consensus was that neither option was good because they did not have enough community space, a plaza feel, parking, or retail. The options offered forced respondent to choose between additional green/open space and additional parking. Respondents, 54 percent to 29 percent, wanted the open space.

The real value of the survey was in the comments where people expressed their concerns about losing the village center, traffic, and future of the community.

On Aug. 6, Reston Association’s Board of Directors issued a letter opposing the current redevelopment plans of JAG and the need to appreciate this land as valuable resource. Developing this land into a gem of Reston and a model for other village centers is critically important to Reston’s future.

To create another housing cluster would set the wheels in motion to dissolve the uniqueness of Reston and its village centers, increase traffic and decrease the character of the neighborhood and lower the quality of life of the resident. All of these factors would ultimately lead to a city without personality or distinction and lower property values.

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Tall Oaks Citizens Have Suggestions for Better Redevelopment

Total Rehab has moved from Tall Oaks Village CenterNearly 100 Tall Oaks-area residents answered a recent survey on the future of their village center, saying they want more than 10,000 square feet of retail, among other tweaks to what is being planned for the ailing village center.

In July, the grassroots Concerned Citizens of Tall Oaks asked neighbors to look at “Citizen Options” compared to the latest concept from The Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG).

JAG, which purchased Tall Oaks late last year, wants to build 150 residential units 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.

Sixty respondents to the citizen survey said they liked “Citizen Option 1,” which adds retail up to 10,000 square feet and opened up space in front of Tall Oaks Assisted Living. Thirty-three responses were in favor of Citizen Option 2, which also added up to 10,000 square feet of retail, as well as more parking.

Overall, 83 percent of respondents chose a citizen option over JAG’s option, says group rep Sherri Hebert, the president of the Bentana Woods Cluster Association.

“Although not a scientific research study, the results further validate the thoughts and concerns of the residents of Reston,” says the group’s report.

Hebert has also written a letter to county officials outlining the citizens’ furstration.

“Developing this land into a gem of Reston and a model for other village centers is critically important to Reston’s future,” she said. “To create another housing cluster would set the wheels in motion to dissolve the uniqueness of Reston and its village centers, increase traffic and decrease the character of the neighborhood and lower the quality of life of the residents. All of these factors would ultimately lead to a city without personality or distinction and lower property values. “

The group’s main conclusions:

  • Require a minimum of 10,000 square feet of retail. The retail that is currently operating successfully at Tall Oaks, to include Paisanos, Paradise Nails, Fur Factory, Pho 75, Vocelli, Kumon Learning, and Tall Oaks Veterinarian easily fill the square footage. They have expressed interest to stay and have been successful for years in the village center.
  • Require community green space/meeting space in a village or plaza-like setting.
  • Require adequate parking so overflow parking isn’t along North Shore or it becomes impossible for customers to park for the retail services.
  • Require a traffic study and feasibility of an exit onto Wiehle westbound.
  • Require design of housing and retail building fit into the community and the Reston nature feel.
  • Push for LEED certifications, green roofs, reuse of rain water, etc.
  • Consider building above retail if needed.
  • Require plaza/village space, multi-generational gathering space.

JAG has not yet submitted any formal permits or plans for Tall Oaks. After an April meeting where the concept was not well received, it did make changes to double the retail space (from 3,500 to 7,000 square feet) and add open space.

“We don’t know if Jefferson Apartment Group is open to changes, but we need to have our desires known and data can speak louder than words,” says the citizens group.

See a final report from the citizens below.

Tall Oaks Options Survey

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Tall Oaks Owners Add More Retail, Green Space to Plan

The owners of Tall Oaks Village Center have slightly tweaked the proposed redevelopment plan to turn the ailing shopping center into a mainly residential neighborhood, but citizens would still like to see more changes.

Duncan Jones of Tall Oaks’ owner, The Jefferson Apartment Group, showed changes at a community meeting on Monday that included four fewer townhouses, a doubling of the retail space from 3,500 square feet to 7,000 square feet, and an addition of more common area.

The standing room-only crowd seemed to look ahead this time around. At two meetings in April, many community members disliked the residential plan and insisted residents would support retail if Tall Oaks were managed correctly.

At Monday’s meeting, which broke up into roundtable focus groups, attendees were asked to take a critical look at JAG’s plans. JAG purchased Tall Oaks for $14 million late last year.

The consensus: the small groups generally liked the diversity of housing (including two garden-style condo buildings, four clusters of 2-over-2 townhouse condos and 100 townhomes), the addition of more retail and the move towards community space.

They also requested even more stores and a more cohesive community open space, as well as another exit to Wiehle Avenue and more integrated space with the existing Tall Oaks Assisted Living building.

“I would like to see more retail,” said longtime resident Dick Rogers, a former board member of the Reston Citizens Association. “It’s an improvement [over what was presented in April], but they can go a little farther in my view.”

Citizens were asked to rank amenities in order of importance, including trees and open space, a dog park, trails and walking paths, public art, playgrounds and variety of retail shops.

County planning officials and JAG will tabulate results and consider them, along with the feedback summary from Monday’s meeting.

Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, who lives close to Tall Oaks, said she sympathizes with neighbors about the potential loss of their village center as they have known it for the last 41 years.

“Many of us remember Tall Oaks when it was a vibrant center and people supported it,” she said. “But for eight years, no matter what we have tried [has not worked]. The point is to bring some vibrancy back to Tall Oaks.”

Jones said the 70,000-square-foot center — of which only about 13,000 square feet is occupied — faces extreme competition from neighboring existing and future retail centers. Retail centers at North Point, the Spectrum, Reston Town Center and Plaza America, all built after 1990, have contributed to the demise of Tall Oaks, he said.

“There are competitive locations that are sucking your dollars away from this center,” Jones said of nearby Harris Teeter, Giant, Whole Foods and other big retail stores.

The Tall Oaks anchor space vacated by Giant in 2007 (and later two international groceries that each lasted just two years) is just 35,000 square feet, which is too small for most modern grocery stores, he added.

He said the planned retail — which could also be further expanded by adding ground-floor stores to an existing office building — would most likely be small stores, with an outreach to existing tenants such as Paradise Nails, Mama Wok, Fur Factory pet grooming and others.

“It would most likely be limited to what we see today,” he said. “Food and delivery supported by a loyal base.

Photo: Reworked concept for Tall Oaks/Courtesy JAG

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Tall Oaks Owners to Show Tweaked Plans June 22

 Tall Oaks Village Center owners Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG) will present a revised look at plans for the space on June 22.

JAG, along with Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, is hosting and open house at 7 p.m. at Reston Community Center at Lake Anne, 1609-A Washington Plaza.

JAG, which purchased Tall Oaks for $14 million last December, held two community meetings in Reston in April. Representatives showed plans to replace the increasingly vacant shopping center with 154 residential units (townhomes and condos) and a small amount of retail.

The proposal was not well received by Tall Oaks-area residents, who would prefer the village center be preserved as a retail center, including a grocery store anchor. There is an online petition asking JAG to keep Tall Oaks retail.

The 25,000-square-foot grocery store space — formerly a Giant and then two different international groceries — has been vacant for nearly five years.

Land use attorney Mark Looney said at the previous meetings that there was almost no interest in Tall Oaks among retailers.

Looney predicts Tall Oaks, which had a nearly 90-percent occupancy rate in 2007 and currently has a 13-percent occupancy rate, will be 6 percent occupied by early 2016.

Meanwhile, Reston Master Plan Phase 2, recently approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, says developers do not have to get a Comprehensive Plan Amendment in order to redevelop Tall Oaks as residential.

Rendering of new Tall Oaks residences/Courtesy Jefferson Apartment Group

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Petition Asks That Tall Oaks Remain Retail Center

Total Rehab has moved from Tall Oaks Village CenterA group of Reston residents has started an online petition to demand that Tall Oaks Village Center remain a village center — and not a residential development.

The petition, posted by “Concerned Residents of Tall Oaks” is aimed at Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins and Reston Association CEO Cate Fulkerson.

“Tall Oaks community needs and deserves a Village Center with retail that we can walk to and green space where the community can gather,” the petition says. “A balance of residential and retail in a plaza-like setting would be a good compromise.”

Tall Oaks has been losing retail tenants at a fast clip the last several years. It is currently at 16 percent capacity, land use attorney Mark Looney said in a presentation to residents in April. In 2007, it was 92 percent occupied.

The village center was sold to McLean’s Jefferson Apartment Group in December. The company is in the early stages of envisioning what to do with the 40-year-center.  Preliminary plans include 154 new homes in a combination of mid-rise condos and townhouses, as well as 8,500 square feet of retail.

The plans were presented to Tall Oaks-area residents at two meetings in April. They were not well received. Many residents said a retail center would be successful if it had the right management and that more residents will choke traffic on already slow Wiehle Avenue.

“Tall Oaks community needs and deserves a Village Center with retail that we can walk to and green space where the community can gather,” the petition says. “A balance of residential and retail in a plaza-like setting would be a good compromise.”

Changing the county zoning from commercial to residential may be more flexible under changes to the Reston Master Plan.

Many of those who signed the petition list their reasons why they want Tall Oaks to remain retail.

“Please represent the people of Reston instead of developers,” said one commenter.

Wrote another: “I grew up down the street from Tall Oaks and loved it when it had a Giant and a 7-Eleven. Being able to walk with my mom or ride my bike to the store to get something was awesome. My parents still live there and I pass Tall Oaks every day, and I’m sad because I remember what it used to be. Would love it if they could bring something similar back. Plus, when Robert E Simon designed Reston it was for a planned community where everyone is supposed to be within half a mile of a village center.”

Photos: Top, current empty spot at Tall Oaks; Bottom, Jefferson Apartment Group rendering of residential development.

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