News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, January 23, 2015

Reston: The Rise of the Machines

Reston the Magazine
Either Reston: The Magazine just got real meta, or all our "jokes" about DRB drones are about to come to fruition. After all, what better way to introduce our new overlords than a glossy magazine spread, under the guise of a fun family event?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Caddyshackpocalypse Now: BZA Hearing Hinges on Scooby Doo Plot Point

BZA shocker
Yesterday's Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on the future of Reston National Golf Course was a doozy, stretching out for more than five hours. The BZA has deferred a decision on whether the golf course property can be considered as zoned for residential development instead of permanent open space until April 15. But who knew the property owners are basing the crux of their argument on whether a yellowing document from 1971 had the correct stamp? Give us some good blockquote, BFFs at Reston Now:

After RN Golf’s side gave a long saga of trying to locate the original documents — which took them through Fairfax County file rooms and Reston Association records, among others — McDermott argued that at least two of the the 1971 documents located came from George Mason University’s planned community archives.
McDermott said without coming from the county with official government stamps, the documents are not valid.

“You must be persuaded you be persuaded [by Fairfax County zoning] to respect and give greater dignity to unapproved plans from an unapproved source,” said McDermott. “They call these the approved development plans. There is not one iota of evidence that they are the approved development plans.”
Zoiks, Scooby! As of now, there's no truth to the rumor that the seal was STAMPED IN INVISIBLE INK.

The folks from Rescue Reston argue all this is a diversion, given that Old Man Wilkins was wearing a ghost costume county staff and the Reston Association support their position.
John Pinkman, founder of Rescue Reston, said talk of missing files is a diversion from the real issues.

“When you have a weak position, you create a diversion,” he said. “That diversion is the rabbit hole of suspicion, such as where did docs stamps come from? If you look at the spirit of the community, no one would think of that. I don’t know if there is anyone here in 1971 who said in 40 years there will be a subway here and we have to create the documents to create a loophole.”

Others in attendance said that the BZA told the large crowd that their decision on the haunted amusement park golf course would focus on technical issues, not the impact of a proposed change on nearby property owners or residents (they suggested those arguments would be better served if and when any proposed development goes before the county board of supervisors). That's one reason a decision wasn't made yesterday. Who knows, maybe they're going to squeeze some lemon juice on the documents to see if the INVISIBLE INK appears.

But we digress. We'll have to wait and see what happens next. But it seems clear that the property owners are prepared to leave no legal loophole unturned. But what happens when the developer behind the scenes is finally unmasked?

Zoiks, indeed.

Action McNews coverage (moved to this link because of the stupid autoplay).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Caddyshackpocalypse Now: Tomorrow's BZA Hearing The Beginning of the End, or the Ending of the Beginning

As we gird our land use loins, figuratively speaking, for Wednesday's big showdown on the future of Reston National Golf Course, we're glad that our BFFs at Rescue Reston have broken out their "l33t," as the kids haven't said since 2011, Photoshop skills.

The good news is that Rescue Reston's legal justifications are considerably stronger. Fairfax County's planning staff issued a report urging the BZA to uphold Reston National's designation as permanent open space. Someone, presumably armed with a flashlight and a machete, managed to find the original 1971 planning documents that say the same thing in unambiguous terms. More than 300 people showed up for a rally a few weekends ago, auguring good attendance for tomorrow's public hearing.

A PDF summarizing the legal arguments from Rescue Reston's attorney are here, and you can read the county staff report here. But if all those legal words and whatnot are too complicated, here's a helpful scorecard that RR put together:

Official Lineup
But the hearing is only the first step. If the BZA upholds the current zoning designation, Northwestern Mutual can then proceed with legal action, which is a perfectly sensible thing to do when you're just curious and exploring your options. Especially given, as our BFFs at Reston Now have pointed out, that Northwestern Mutual and Lerner, allegedly the unknown developer behind the massive redevelopment plans curiosity about the status of the land already know the missing documents were found -- and didn't much care:

Subsequent to the submission of this appeal application the development plan copies were located, and the appellant was provided with copies of these development plans, which occurred prior to the initially scheduled public hearing date(s) in 2012.
So is this the beginning of the end for plans to redevelop the golf course, or the ending of the beginning of a protracted legal battle? We'll find out soon enough.

Logistical information about tomorrow morning's hearing from Rescue Reston is here. They're still urging as many people as possible to attend, which strikes us as a pretty good idea, the end.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Gapocalypse Now: Is Reston's Treasured Midscale Chain Retail Being Driven Out By Slightly More Upscale Midscale Chain Retail?

For lovers of midscale chain Americana and planned communities -- but only when they are combined together in a you-got-your-Macaroni Grill-in-my-fanciful-concrete-bollard! sort of way -- it's been a tough couple of months here in Reston.

Following the abrupt closure of the Macaroni Grill and its corporate carb-dispensing sibling Chilis within weeks of each other, our BFFs at Reston Now inform us that Gap and Gap Kids will be leaving Reston Town Center before the end of the month. According to the article, the store's lease was not renewed by Boston Properties, the owner of all things RTC, meaning that the last sweater will be compulsively refolded by staff in the next week or so.

Being "web loggers" ever in search of the next HOT TAKE, we've noticed that when midscale chain purveyors leave RTC, they're often replaced by slightly more upscale midscale chain purveyors. Consider Uno's -- the midscale chain product of America's most midscale big city, Chicago. They were given the heave-ho for twee comfort food emporium Ted's Bulletin -- which, as people pointed out at the time, was a trade-off between an affordable place frequented by teenagers and pricey homemade pop tarts frequented by... people who can afford pricey homemade pop tarts. And Eddie Bauer, itself on the nice side of midscale, has been replaced by some... we dunno.. fancy perfume place? And this isn't even getting into all the cupcakeries, saladries, etc., etc. that have flocked to RTC.

It gets worse. We're old enough to remember when RTC was home to a -- wait for it -- Ruby Tuesday's, like some dying shopping mall in an aging Rust Belt exurb. Quel horreur! We'll just sit here waiving the smelling salts under our notes and dreaming of our promised chocolate bar.

It's all part of a worrisome trend that is making us wonder where we'll be able to park our Ford Focus (and lest we forget, RTC has hinted that we may have to pay for parking at some point in the future). And we can only assume that midscale Macaroni Grill will soon be replaced by the slightly more upscale midscale Cheesecake Factory (although the fact that they sell advertising in their menus keeps them squarely in Ford Focus territory).

Of course, the CVS that's now open in RTC is the counterfactual to this HOT TAKE theory. But we haven't been; maybe they only sell spritzers and artisanal root beer instead of sodas. And generics? Climb into the Focus and drive to a less pricey Zip code, the end.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Salt in the Wounds: Despite Hopeful Article, Macaroni Grill Probably Not to Return

Picture, if you will, the roller coaster of emotions experienced at Restonian World Headquarters over the weekend when we fired up our Internet browsing machine of choice and saw this exciting headline:

The headline should probably have been a tad larger -- maybe not quite as large as GERMANY SURRENDERS, but close. Yet our hearts soared, or more accurately, raced erratically in anticipation of carb-intensive happiness. But soon, our spirits (and blood pressure) sank.

Alas, it is (probably) not to be. The basis for the article is the fact that some job listings for the late great Reston Macaroni Grill are still being posted to a job site.

A recent job ad, posted Dec. 29 states the the company is seeking a manager for a Macaroni Grill restaurant in Reston. Other ads placed Dec. 30 show they are looking for bussers, line chefs and dishwashers.

An employee at the Macaroni Grill in Alexandria said there is no restaurant in Reston and none planned. No one answered the phone at owner Ignite Restaurant Group in Houston.

Yet, ads have been placed in the past 10 days.
The most logical explanation? The ads were scheduled well in advance of the December 18 closing, which by all accounts took employees by surprise. Or, given the normal turnaround in the restaurant industry, the ads are just set to post on auto-pilot on a regular basis by a HR manager who hasn't gotten around to turning them off yet.

Meanwhile, an online fundraiser for the abruptly terminated employees has raised more than $1800 at last count.

Sadly, we have to say this is only a final tragic rage against the dying of the light, if by "light" you mean "tablecloths you can draw on with crayons."

Salt, meet wounds -- and the last thing our until-recently Macaroni Grill-intensive diet needs now is more salt. And so it is with a heavy, sclerotic heart that we keep the minute hand of the Macaroni Grill Doomsday Clock (tm) firmly set at midnight.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Caddyshackpocalypse Now: Rescue Reston Gears Up For BZA Hearing

Please to be enjoying this subtle cartoon about the recently revived efforts to challenge the zoning of Reston National Golf Course to open the door for development. Fortunately, our BFFs at Rescue Reston held a press conference this week to explain things.

Here's the video from the press conference, which actual members of the press actually attended. (Journalists hate press conferences, so that's a big win.)

The resulting news coverage repeated one of the few public comments from the managers of the golf course, which is itself owned by insurance giant Northwestern Mutual.

RN Golf Management’s legal representative, Frank McDermott, has said repeatedly through this process that the company is seeking clarity on the property’s zoning.

“The owner of Reston National is asking for confirmation of the zoning that applies to the property so it can understand the property rights that apply,” McDermott said in November. “It has proposed no change in the zoning of the property and has filed no plans for its redevelopment.”
Which is why it's spent countless thousands of dollars on lawyers -- out of idle curiosity. Which is why we hired geological experts to drill under Restonian World Headquarters to see if it was suitable for a profitable potential fracking operation -- we were just curious. Don't sweat the oil rigs in our backyard, DRB!

But we digress. During the press conference, Rescue Reston officials shared their own interpretation of what's happening.
Rescue Reston founder John Pinkman said RN Golf tried to slip its case back in over the holidays, when no one would be looking.

“The timing of the appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals is suspicious,” he said at a press briefing on Wednesday. “From day one, this secret project has hoped to slide through the appeal process without involving Reston residents. Now they come again, trying to push this appeal through during the holiday season, hoping that few would notice. Well, that didn’t work.”

Pinkman says he believes Lerner Enterprises, owners of, among other properties, Dulles Town Center, North Point Village Center and the Washington Nationals baseball team, is the developer that seeks the golf course property. Lerner has had no comment.

“Respectable developers have in the past come to directly affected residents in clear transparency,” he said. “Northwestern Mutual’s strategy is quite the opposite.”
That's for sure.

To its credit, the Reston Association, which participated in the press conference, is holding firm to its opposition to any changes to Reston National, even offering to buy the golf course to preserve it as open space (though if people don't want to spend a couple of thousand bucks for a bocce court, getting a multimillion-dollar purchase approved might be a little dicey). That aside, RA President Ken Knueven made the right point about why it's important to oppose the redevelopment of Reston National, whether you like golf, or golf course views, or open space, or not:
"If it doesn’t follow the master plan, then we are no longer a planned community. If we are no longer a planned community, we are no longer Reston.”
Well put.

Rescue Reston is holding a rally at 2pm Saturday at Langston Hughes Middle School to rally support ahead of the Jan. 21 Board of Zoning Appeals hearing, which it is also urging residents to attend. Rescue Reston has pointed out the hearing is at an inconvenient time for most folks, but we'd say it might be worth taking the morning off work.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Rumor: Is Tall Oaks Shopping Center Changing Hands? (Update: Confirmed)

Now even the owners may have abandoned the Tall Oaks Stucco Wasteland Shopping Center.

Tall Oaks Sold
A (very) Confidential Restonian Operative forwarded this document, which purports to show that the deed for Tall Oaks has been transferred from its current owners to a "Tall Oaks Development Company." If the document is to be believed, the transaction was worth $14.3 million.

As those of us (sort of) in the news business would say, we cannot independently confirm this news (translation: a few minutes of Googling turned up nothing). But it would make sense. As we've pointed out before, the current owners haven't exactly been aggressively marketing the center as more and more tenants have moved out. And the whole master plan process has given a semi-official green light to developing Tall Oaks into something less strip mall-y and more residential with some neighborhood-scale amenities.

We've also heard the new owner is a well-known developer -- but again can't confirm that. The one thing we can say with some confidence is that it's not a shell company for "Susie de los Santos," hellbent for revenge.

For the first time since all the rumors about Blooms, things might be getting interesting in Tall Oaks.

Update: Our BFFs at Reston Now have confirmed the sale, including some new information about the buyers:
Tall Oaks Development Company is based in McLean, and records show it shares an address with the Jefferson Apartment Group, a local company that has developed more than 18,000 rental units with a value of more than $3 billion in 10 east coast states, including Virginia.

Locally, the Jefferson Apartment Group has developed, among others, the Residences at the Fairfax County Government Center, Tellus in Arlington, The Asher in Alexandria and the Jefferson at 14W, a seven-story, mixed-use luxury development in Northwest DC.
The shopping center would have to be rezoned to be developed as a residential property, but county officials have been nudging things in this direction with the master plan work anyway.