R.

Rogers
15 May 2015

TALL OAKS: ISSUES FOR ANALYSIS

Summary and Key Judgments:
The new owners of the retail site at Tall Oaks Village
Center have submitted a proposal for redevelopment that
radically revises the area to a primarily residential area. The
unprecedented nature of the transformation proposed for
Reston and its impact on the Tall Oaks neighborhood means
that this proposal should get vigorous review.
Tall Oaks area residents have expressed considerable
concern--even outright opposition--to the proposal. They are
concerned about its impact on retail availability and
transportation. Others are opposed to the abandonment of the
Reston “Village Center” concept.
A key issue that is unclear is how the broader Reston
community will deal with this radical re-conception of the
Village Center concept. Right now, the Reston and Fairfax
County procedures do not seem well suited to dealing with this
big question. This paper attempts to broaden the discussion
beyond the JAG proposal to help it better serve the
community.
The Tall Oaks Village Center
Tall Oaks is the site of the smallest of the Reston Village Centers with
18 acres. Ten of its retail acres are subject to the proposed redevelopment.
Also present is the Tall Oaks Assisted Living Facility (ALF), a development
for seniors, and a small office building. The Center has languished in recent

years. This has promoted the steady reduction of other shops; the retail
segment is now only 10% occupied.
The Proposal
Jefferson Apartments Group (JAG), a Washington based developer of
upscale apartment projects with a limited retail element, has proposed that
the retail section of the Center be redeveloped as a residential community.
Their tentative proposal calls for 148 residential units including 66 condos in
4 to 5 story buildings, 40 town homes and 42 “2 by 2” condominium town
home units. There would be a very small new retail building on the JAG site
and JAG expects that the adjacent office building can accommodate some
more retail. (The JAG proposal and the text of its presentation to the
community can be found on the Reston Association (RA) website).
Right now the proposal is in conceptual form and has not been
formally submitted to the County.
The Process
The process for review and approval of this proposal is somewhat
uncertain and Reston may be poorly equipped, as currently structured, to
handle it.
According to the revised Reston master plan under review now, the
site is characterized as a Village Center and its revision is subject to a planamendment, which should reflect some of the Village Center characteristics
noted below.
JAG has this winter has taken positive steps to discuss its tentative
proposal with a select audience including some citizens, RA and selected
retail tenants. In April it held two community wide meetings which gave a
broader selection of residents an opportunity to have some input. Next week
it will present its proposal to the RA Design Review Board (DRB) and the
Reston Planning and Zoning Committee (RPZ). The latter is an independent
advisory group appointed by Supervisor Hudgins with community input.
JAG appears anxious to push ahead with the proposal as rapidly as
possible given its financial commitment to the site.

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The RA DRB and Reston PZ will have an opportunity to comment on
the informal plan now and again when a formal proposal emerges. These
two groups, however, have usually focused on the specific design and
architecture of a proposal rather than its broader planning and community
wide implications. The DRB charter calls for this and the RPZ practice has
been to focus on narrower issues.
Reston Association itself has been trying to stake out a broader role for
itself in Reston re-development. It has important interests to protect in its
own land and facilities and the RA covenants cover Tall Oaks. In this case,
RA has helped JAG meet with people in the community and organized the
two April meetings.
However, RA appears to have already taken an important position on
the issue. This winter it submitted proposed changes to the Master Plan
reclassifying Tall Oaks as a “Convenience” rather than “Village” Center.
The RA Board did not however, appear to take a formal vote on this specific
issue and it was not submitted for community discussion. RA itself has a
substantial potential conflict of interest since conversion of Talk Oaks to
residences implies more members paying into RA.
Some people at the April community meeting suggested that a
Reston-wide process be begun that could consider alternative ideas for
redevelopment. The draft master plan seems to envision such a process.
Regarding Village Center redevelopment, it calls for a process involving all
stakeholders--property owners, retail shopkeepers, neighborhood residents-that would consider options via working groups. As noted above, the
current forums in Reston do not seem to accommodate such a process.
Re-Conceptualizing Tall Oaks
The case for re-envisioning Tall Oaks is a strong one. As noted in
detail by the JAG lawyer, Mark Looney, a well informed and articulate
proponent of developer interests, Tall Oaks has languished in recent years.
Giant supermarket moved out many years ago and two supermarkets that
tried to utilize the space failed. Without major drawing cards other retailers
have left, leaving small but dedicated neighborhood retailers occupying
about 10% of the retail space. JAG representatives noted that Tall Oaks
faces extensive retail competition from places like Plaza America and Harris

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Teeter, and will face more as the Wiehle metro area and Lake Anne
develops.
As noted above, RA, with little community input, has proposed to the
County that Tall Oaks be labeled a “convenience center.” Reston has
several such centers, the one on Sunrise Valley near Soapstone, being the
most successful example. It contains medical offices and community service
businesses (banks etc). In submitting this proposal RA did not really explain
its justification but apparently thought this would keep some retail while
enabling residences to be built there as well. In fact, residential units are
explicitly contemplated in the master plan for “Village Centers”.
One disadvantage of labeling Tall Oaks a “Convenience Center” is
that it would lose any focus as a center for neighborhood activity. Reston
founder Bob Simon originally envisioned the Village Centers as a hub for
such activity. The County plan calls for Village Centers to be “the focal
point for activity in the surrounding community”. Although Tall Oaks had
a pleasant plaza, it never lived up to this ideal. The JAG proposal makes no
provision for any neighborhood-serving activity at Tall Oaks.
At the 27 April community meeting, Mr. Simon called the JAG plan
“a completely missed opportunity.” He advocated a far more substantial
residential development with a significant neighborhood-serving plaza. He
thought more density would help to support neighborhood-serving retail.
Retail
One of the big issues relating to re-development of Tall Oaks is the
amount and type of retail activity there. The JAG proposal calls for a
minimal amount of retail--perhaps 8,500 sq feet. Tall Oaks did have
170,000 sq ft and currently has about 17,500 sq ft occupied by small
neighborhood-serving businesses such as low cost restaurants, a cleaning
shop and pet store.
JAG appears to think that only selected retail would remain and that it
would be moved into a small new building of 4,000 sq ft and the existing
small office buildings. It has apparently talked to selected retailers that it
thinks might be suitable for the upscale development proposed, and at the
public meeting the idea of an upscale restaurant was mentioned. The other
businesses would be terminated as leases expire.
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At the April public meeting numerous ideas were suggested for retail
services needed, including a retail grocery merchant, a pharmacy, a coffee
shop and deli. Residents familiar with the Tall Oaks Assisted Living facility
made the important point that those residents need a readily accessible
source for pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and sundries.
Some neighborhood residents envision Tall Oaks remaining as
primarily a retail oriented Village Center. Barring the re-location of Trader
Joe’s from its overcrowded location to Tall Oaks, where a key dominant
tenant would come from is unclear.
The master plan calling for redevelopment of Village Centers says
that among other studies a marketing study should be undertaken. In the
case of Tall Oaks, a survey of neighbors within one mile of the center could
suggest the types of neighborhood-serving businesses that could be
supported.
It should be noted that despite the overall decline of Tall Oaks, a
number of dedicated retailers have found a responsive community to serve.
The retailers have survived despite openly noting that the previous owner
ignored needed maintenance and was not responsive to retail interests. This
seems to demonstrate that the Tall Oaks neighborhood will support more
retail activity than JAG envisions. Some estimate that a walkable retail
center of 25,000-30,000 sq ft could be supported by the Tall Oaks
neighborhood.
It has been stated that Tall Oaks could not even support a 7-11. It is
true that some years ago a 7-11 closed there but this was when it was in
competition with a supermarket.
Although the JAG presentation correctly notes the development of
many retail areas in Reston, none of those are within easy walking distance
of the Tall Oaks neighborhood.
.
Transportation
A major concern of residents living to the east of Tall Oaks, along
North Shore Drive, is the impact residential development will have on
transportation. They note the current difficulty their neighborhood has since
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only one vehicular exit point leads from North Shore into Wiehle, the major
North-South route. This exit is directly in front of the JAG property. About
800 households are dependent on this exit to get elsewhere in Reston. This
area is now heavily congested in the morning rush; movement south on
Wiehle to the metro station area is routinely congested.
The proposed development will add 148 residential units. JAG plans
extensive parking in garages, in underground parking areas and in the
interior streets. They appear to be anticipating 276 parking spaces. Any
excess parking that has to go out onto North Shore—a narrow 4 lanes
street—will further inhibit traffic movement.
Some have argued that a large proportion of the new residents will
walk to Metro. During the Phase I Reston planning process, it was estimated
that ½ mile from Metro is the maximum that most residents will walk to the
station. Tall Oaks is about one mile from the station. So even if large
proportions of residents were to use Metro to get to work they will probably
be seeking alternatives to walking.
It was also claimed that a residential development will contribute less
traffic than a retail site. However, retail traffic is spread throughout the day
while the major problem for the new residents will be their daily trip to
work.
A traffic study of the proposed development is both required by the
Master Plan and promised by JAG. Although developer-sponsored traffic
studies are potentially biased, a study may provide some additional
information.
Several transportation related suggestions have made for possible
improvements. Right now JAG has only promised to continue to provide a
bus stop for the RIBs bus that now stops stop at Tall Oaks. One suggestion
is to add a new exit to the west of the development that would link it directly
to Wiehle. Although this might help some for traffic moving north on
Wiehle, it would involve construction up a difficult slope and through
wooded areas controlled by RA.
Other suggestions include a right hand turn lane on North Shore from
traffic getting onto Wiehle going north and an acceleration lane on Wiehle to
make access easier. Other suggestions include bus shelters for the RIBs stop
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and for the more heavily utilized stop on the west side of Wiehle at North
Shore for bus traffic to Metro. There is fairly frequent bus service here to
Metro although the ride to the station is congested.
Community Facilities and Amenities
As noted earlier, the Bob Simon’s concept of Village Centers called for
them to be focal points for neighborhood activity and interaction. Although
Tall Oaks had a nice plaza, like other Village Centers it never lived up to
this potential. As noted above, Mr. Simon has suggested a more intensive
development that would allow some room for community interests. At
present the JAG proposal completely ignores this potential use and envisions
Tall Oaks as a new upscale cluster.
One possibility is more open spaces that could be used for a plaza that
would include sitting and landscaped areas. The JAG proposal offers very
limited open space that is oriented to the residential units. A revised JAG
concept might provide open space/plaza adjacent to Tall Oaks Assisted
Living Facility and whatever retail might finally be allowed. This would
serve not only the new residents but immediate neighbors including Tall
Oaks ALF and also neighbors who might walk there. A more visionary idea
would have an indoor meeting space in the area which could serve as a
community meeting room for neighborhood and cluster groups.
If Bob Simon’s suggestion for a more intensive development with
more high rises is followed, this could provide more land area for
community-serving open space as well as more patrons for retail. Of course,
more density would complicate the traffic issue.
Other ideas have been suggested that might make the development
more attractive in itself and more appealing to neighbors. One is to convert
the RA Tall Oaks pool across the street from proposed development into a
heated pool and space. This would involve JAG working with RA to heat
the pool, remodel the facilities and extend the season of use into the spring
and fall. It is somewhat surprising that JAG has not indicated that such an
amenity would be in its proposed upscale development when it is becoming
standard for many of Reston’s new competing developments, such as the
nearby Harrison Apartments.
Other amenities that have been suggested include:
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--a tot lot on RA wooded land adjacent to the Tall Oaks pool
and day care facility.
--a gym as a part of the commercial facilities at Tall Oaks.
--improvements to the RA tunnel under Wiehle Ave that links
Tall Oaks to the bus stop noted above. Also needed is a short
walkway from the RA path at the tunnel to the existing
sidewalk and bus stop. This is a minor improvement that would
also encourage walking to Wiehle Metro station.
***

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