News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, February 15, 2019

Hey Siri, Bing "When Is Google Moving To Reston Station?" And Ask Jeeves If Amazon Wants To Move NYC's 0.5 HQ Units Here Too And Shuffle My "Transit-Oriented Development (Very) Slow Jams" Playlist Please

The Google-colored neon disappeared from our favorite parallelogram almost immediately after our RESTONIAN WORLD EXCLUSIVE about its significance, leading us to lose countless nights of sleep over a speculative filthy "web log" post possibly souring what is undoubtedly a multi-million-dollar real estate deal between two wealthy companies, all for a few pennies of clickbait ad revenue.

Turns out, we needn't have worried. On the heels of Google's announcement earlier this week that it is doubling the size of its Virginia workforce, we've gotten yet another confirmation that execs at the Internet giant really have been Asking Jeeves "How do I hang pictures on a wall with a 45-degree angle?"

Give us some good CRE blockquote, BFFs at the Washington Business Journal:

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) plans to nearly double its footprint in Reston as part of a much larger expansion its chief executive announced Wednesday.

The Mountain View, California-based company is close to announcing plans to move from Reston Town Center to 1900 Reston Metro Plaza, the trophy office building Comstock Holding Cos. Inc. (NASDAQ: CHCH) developed speculatively at the foot of the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station, said two sources familiar with the situation but not authorized to comment publicly.

More bad news for parking-plagued Reston Town Center, it seems. Even as we speak, the RTC crisis management team must be frantically churning out another press release calling its new anchor tenant the "Google of nail salons."

But we digress. There are already a lot of sweeeeeeeeeeet Google jobs posted for Reston (we're personally holding out for that plum Chief Web Log Officer position), so go for it if your dream board for 2020 includes working in a neon-bedecked glass trapezoid within walking distance of a Starbucks and some impressive An Arts.

Meanwhile, it looks like the 0.5 units of the much sought after Amazon HQ2 that wound up in New York City instead of Crystal City National Landing are coming to Virginia after all. And the photo accompanying a story in the (Failing) New York Times makes it perfectly clear why. After all, why should a company with virtually unlimited resources that could convince potential employees to move anywhere (and Crystal City National Landing is a good test of that theory) have to put up with a view like this:

When it could have this?

Let's enjoy a little bit of schadenfreude on behalf of the fancypants Big Apple, courtesy of Arlington County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey:

Mr. Dorsey said he couldn’t speak directly to New York’s possible fumblings. “I can’t speculate what went wrong, and I don’t really care to think about it much,” he said.

But he discussed how his area had done a better job of planning for Amazon, convincing the company to come and then rolling out an infrastructure and development plan to make its arrival possible.

But if Amazon wants to see what things look like when companies are enticed to move somewhere without an accompanying "infrastructure and development plan," there's a slightly more rectalinear building right next to their Internet rival they could look into on this side of town, the end.

Friday, February 8, 2019

We Welcome Our Automated Wegmans-Adjacent Overlords: Self-Driving Vehicles To Aid In Carrying Prepared Foods To Regular, Non-Self-Driving Vehicles

Enormously huge news for fans of Black Mirror-like dystopian futures, prepared foods, and planned real estate developments: Turns out our plastic fantastic planned community will be among the first to have self-driving cars zipping around, in an endless Wegmans-to-parking-garage-and-back-to-Wegmans loop in the fun new 4 million square-foot Reston Crescent development that's now apparently called Halley Rise, enabling hungry Restonians to make their rotisserie chicken runs at speeds approaching Mach 3. Sweet! Give us some futuristic blockquote, BFFs at the Verge:

Boston-based self-driving startup Optimus Ride said on Thursday that it will provide rides in its golf cart-sized vehicles to tenants of a $1.4 billion mixed-use development project in Reston, Virginia, starting later this year. It will be a very modest deployment of the technology — three vehicles on a fixed loop to and from the parking facility — but it underscores the need for self-driving car operators to rein in their ambitions before going public.
HOGWASH. It actually underscores the need to get those Wegmans prepackaged food containers back to the car before they get cold.
An MIT spinoff, Optimus Ride said its vehicles would be confined to the private development site called Halley Rise, and it will be geofenced, meaning they can’t operate outside of a specific geographic area. Human safety drivers will be in each vehicle in case anything goes wrong, though the company claims its technology is Level 4 capable, or able to handle all of the driving duties within the geofence and under specific conditions.
When the vehicles reach Level 5 capability, they will be able to enslave humanity pick out the best sushi platters and pre-warmed samosas on their own.

So that's exciting! But maybe you're looking for a futuristic means of transportation beyond the friendly confines of Halley Rise (BTW, does "rise" refer to our grocery bills, congestion along Sunrise Valley, or both?).

But we digress. Might we suggest the other futuristic, next-generation innovation in transportation -- the electric scooter? Already annoying and endangering people available in Arlington and D.C. proper, imagine our surprise when we opened our flip phone and saw one lonely Bird Scooter, apparently abandoned at the Wiehle-Reston Metro Station and pinging for help.

Awww, poor 'lil guy! Let's just hope this Bird has a better fate than the ones here:


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Finally, Something More Annoying at RTC Than Paid Parking (Updated)

Please to be enjoying this Twitter cellular telephone video of a relaxing visit to Reston Town Center by someone called "plainpotatoess." Mr. Potatoess recently visited our ersatz urban core, charming midscale dining patrons with a unique blend of what he calls "cringy ass" comedy, which as close as we can tell involves telling people they resemble mid-tier celebrities or mocking their clothing.

Check it, as the kids haven't said in at least a couple of decades, but keep in mind this video is definitely NSFMRC (Not Safe for Midscale Retail Centers):

This video, which has garnered more than 32,000 "likes" on Twitter, actually managed to do something even more unthinkable. It actually made us feel sorry for RTC's elite parking squad, who are unsurprisingly called in to tell him to stop filming, the end.

Update: Mr. Potatoess deleted the video from Twitter. Here's a good guess why:

Friday, February 1, 2019

Up Next for Reston Town Center: Another Lawsuit, A Big Dose of Schadenfreude, And Uh, A New Nail Salon Or Something

We still haven't figured out how to download the fancy ParkRTC app to our Nokia flip phone, so it's been a while since we've picked up a cheap plastic flag to cross the street and check in with things in our fancy, if somewhat emptier, ersatz urban core. What's been doing?

Well, as the trickle of departing stores continues, Reston Town Center got itself sued -- again! -- by yet another tenant. Now it's Uncle Julios claiming that RTC's easy to understand and universally beloved paid parking system has cost the restaurant $1 million a year in lost sales. That's a lot of chocolate fountains. And apparently would-be tenants actually read the newspapers, as ramen bar Jinya, which announced in December it would take over the space occupied by Busara, apparently decided instead to "look for better opportunities."

At least nine businesses left RTC in 2018, followed by Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma just this past month. By one count, more than 20 businesses have departed since the awesome paid parking plan was put in place to universal acclaim way back in ought-seventeen.

We don't know if the elite crisis management team is still collecting a retainer from RTC, but shortly after the somewhat embarrassing news about Jinya someone quickly cranked out a press release suggesting that fleeing businesses and empty storefronts couldn't be further from the truth, silly rabbits, and RTC owner Boston Properties is literally so swamped with exciting new retail concepts it had to hire a new leasing agent, not that there have been any problems with parking-we mean leasing!

More specifically, sometime in 2019 we're getting a nail spa, another coffee chain (hello Peet's), two new restaurants, True Food Kitchen and North Italia, a workout place called DC Row, and an (already delayed) "paint bar," which we'll just say will give Jacksons a run for a portion of its Chardonnay-sipping clientele and leave it at that.

Which is a bit strange, as one plausible theory as to why Boston Properties has been willing to put up with the dent in its reputation (not to mention its leasing revenues) is that paid parking would help weed out the more midscale chain retailers and food purveyors in favor of more upscale ones and finally show all those undesirables teenagers that RTC isn't intended to be a "third place" for everyone in the community to loiter gather, but a place for Serious Retail, by which we mean $150 shirts and whatnot. But when you lose Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn, home of the $250 saucepan and $2,500 love seat, respectively, and you're bragging about landing a nail salon and yet another coffee chain... we dunno if that cunning plan is actually holding up.

Some people have been boycotting RTC since paid parking was put in place. A couple of years down the road, we'd argue the deliberate holdouts remain a very small percentage of the total number of people who visit our fake downtown, but something else has happened: People found other options. You don't have to be an elite leasing agent to know that once consumers change their behaviors, it’s almost impossible to get them to come back. Or maybe, as this commenter explains, RTC's woes are reflective of bigger challenges throughout the commercial real estate world:

Commercial real estate is in a giant bubble right now. It's worst in big cities like Manhattan, where entire sections of 5th avenue that used to be bustling with high-end shops are now empty. It's not that no one wants to shop there, the problem is that landlords like Boston Properties let their business people get a little carried away, and they started trying to charge insane rents that no business could pay and stay in business. But that's not even their biggest mistake. Everyone in the business decided to pretend that it was just a matter of time until new tenants came in and paid the high rents, so they revalued all their properties under the assumption that the high rents were sustainable. So basically there are blocks and blocks of manhattan that are dead zones, but have extremely high property values because everyone in the commercial real estate business is lying to each other (and themselves). Is this starting to sound familiar at all?
All's we know is that our equally earth-toned neighbor to the east just landed the biggest retail coup of the year so far. Not only is Vienna getting a Wawa's, said Wawas, like the rest of the town, will be painted a Reston envy-inducing Russet brown.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Reston Rezoning Proposal Decision Delayed, But Some People May Be Learning After All

After large numbers of Reston residents showed up to yesterday's Fairfax County Planning Commission hearing, the commission deferred a decision on the controversial Reston rezoning proposal until Feb. 13.

Nearly 30 people made statements during the hearing, which ran until 11:30 in the evening. Not surprisingly, virtually all were opposed to the zoning change, but the most interesting comment of the evening came from Vice Chairman and At-Large Commissioner James Hart. Give us some good blockquote, BFFs at Reston Now:

Hart ended the meeting by saying that he’s learned from the mistake of separating zoning and planning and that in the future, the two must get planned together. “We’ve left ourselves a real mess,” he said about the current state of things.
It's not exactly a reversal from "we can't stop development waiting for roads to be built," but maybe "we've left ourselves a real mess" is a start.

Video of the planning commission hearing here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Hudgins Announces Retirement As Pet Reston Rezoning Proposal Goes to Public Hearing

As widely expected, Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins announced today that she would not seek re-election this year. Her departure will end two decades of service on the board, which she first joined in 1999.

While Hudgins never faced a significant challenge for her seat, it was clear that her pro-development stance has created a wedge between her and many Restonians in recent years. Even ahead of her announcement, two other Democratic candidates had announced plans to challenge her for her seat--Shyamali Hauth and Parker Messick, who explicitly cites stopping "big development" as a goal.

This happens as the Reston rezoning proposal she backs strongly -- against the opposition of virtually every organized Reston group -- goes before the Fairfax County Planning Commission tomorrow night. The complex -- and controversial -- proposed changes would essentially allow denser development beyond Reston's present and future Metro stations, particularly in and around the existing Village Centers. All of which wouldn't be awful, at least to us, except that the county's response to planning the infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate all this growth has been to (seriously) say that they "can't stop development waiting for roads to be built," which actually is, exactly, their job.

But we digress. Despite the hamhandedness of the county's initial announcement -- which (again, seriously) said that planning for public input was "not an opportunity for public input" -- county officials have moved the time of the meeting up to accommodate what's expected to be a heavy turnout.

Ahead of the meeting, Reston 20/20 listed a series of "gross misstatements" Hudgins has made about the proposal, including the lack of funding to address the transportation improvements needed for growth such as the long-delayed Soapstone bridge across the Toll Road, and forwarded charts like this one showing the potential growth in the Village Centers:

Even the Reston Association has formally urged the planning commission to reject the proposal. It has since called on people to attend the planning commission hearing, using the jet-age technology of teevee to fill seats at tomorrow's meeting:

They're right. The county initially called for input from community stakeholders, then abruptly announced it was done with that phase and preparing to move the proposal through the approval process. Tomorrow's public hearings before the planning commission, and then, before the county board of supervisors if it doesn't get shot down there, represent the last opportunities to slow or stop the rezoning changes.

But where does that leave Hudgins? Even at the not-an-opportunity-for-public-input-public-hearing, county supervisors besides Hudgins expressed frustration with the lack of communication and input. Here was Hudgins' response:

“Yes, there are some questions that people have,” Hudgins said. “Those questions have been answered before or are not relevant to this.”

Hmmm.

Hudgins has said that the increased density is essential to ensuring that Reston remains economically and socially diverse as it grows -- which is an admirable goal. However, the proposed (and approved) developments to date haven't exactly gone out of their way to support this goal, and overtaxed infrastructure will hurt everyone. Sadly, she's often lumped all critics together as NIMBYs, which we'd argue is not the case. Call us YIMBYBOWAIAFs (Yes In My Backyard But Only With Infrastructure And Appropriate Funding). Guess that doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it?

As Reclaim Reston and Coalition for a Planned Reston's Bruce Ramo put it:

Like it or not Restonians have little say over how our community is being developed, and the elected official who should be watching out for us, our county supervisor, has retreated to a defensive posture. She frequently tells us “we just don’t understand” and has suggested that Reston, perhaps the most progressive community in Virginia, opposes the proposed increase in the density cap out of fear of “the other” sharing our neighborhoods. This is simply untrue. The community group Coalition for a Planned Reston proposed an increase in the required affordable housing levels for Reston–our supervisor did not support us.
Adds Tammi Petrine:
Supervisor Hudgins has done a lot of good work over her long tenure. I pray her positive legacy will survive the missteps she is now making because she is a very, very decent human being. That said, Wow!!! The tide of public support has radically shifted AWAY from her due to her stubbornness and short-sighted attitudes on the PRC Cap issue and increasing density on specific properties, another lesser known part of her proposal for the Reston zoning change. We will be having a new supervisor in Jan, '20. We just don't know who that is right now.

The planning commission meeting will be held at 7pm tomorrow, Jan. 23, at the Fairfax County Government Center. Details here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Bing.Com "Reston Commercial Real Estate Deals," Because A Big One Is (Probably) Coming

Please to be enjoying this crappy cellular telephone photo of our favorite parallelogram at Reston Station. Do those colors look familiar? (Albeit reversed, all the easier to be appreciated by visiting Silicon Valley executives coming the other direction from the airport.)

Looks like the rumors are true. It also looks like Comstock's decision to put a few extra bucks into adding the "festive shroud" color-changing neon adornments to everyone's favorite rhomboid just paid off, the end.