News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Zoning Wonks Rejoice! We Read the Fancy Lake Anne Redevelopment Report So You Don't Have To

lake anne report 1.jpg

My, that is a professional looking document! Unveiled earlier this week, the final report of the Lake Anne Village Commercial Reinvestment Plan clocked in at a nearly Dickensian 130 pages. (Did the authors get paid by the word?) The bottom line is that the consultants hired by Fairfax County to develop the report are arguing that the best commercial concept is to market Lake Anne as a food and dining destination, and the best way to do that is to find a way to centralize the management of the plaza. Not exactly news to anyone who's followed Lake Anne's changing fortunes in recent years, but there are more specific action plans on how to do these things -- more than 45 pages of them, in fact -- than we've seen before.

It's taken us a while to read the 130-page report (and now our mouths hurt from all that moving our lips as we read). What does the darn thing say anyway?

lake anne map.jpgFirst of all, the consultants were able to locate Lake Anne on a map. Good on them.

With that out of the way, the report has some good news! According to its authors, Lake Anne could support up to 9 new dining establishments, a small specialty food market, a wine shop or bakery, a modern full-size pharmacy, and a few personal service tenants such as a dry cleaner. Yeah, we're shocked, too, but there's a big "if."

All of this is based on what the report's authors call the "upside" scenario. (Translation: Keep clapping!) It touches briefly on the redevelopment plan for Lake Anne approved by Fairfax County in 2009. Those plans could ultimately lead to as many as 1,755 new residential units and nearly 250,000 square feet of new commercial space at Lake Anne, and that redevelopment is really the key to revitalizing Lake Anne. But more than two years later, there hasn't been a peep about any project more extensive than repainting at Lake Anne, thanks to the ongoing slow-motion collapse of the global economy market conditions and the new hawttness of the Metro drawing all the bollardy attention to both sides of the Toll Road.

Bob Simon, bless his heart, said just as much when the report was unveiled.
Reston founder Robert E. Simon said the Lake Anne Merchants Association and LARCA are already doing almost everything the report discussed. He said the future lies in new ownership with money to spend.

"All of [the report] will not accomplsh what we need to have accomplished until a developer comes in here using comprehensive plan," said Simon. "Our real future really lies in a developer coming in when the market recovers."
That's the truth.

But let's pretend that filthy "web loggers" get paid by the word (or at all) and dive a bit deeper into the report. The idea of focusing on creating a dining destination at Lake Anne is hardly a bold one, as restaurants have driven most of the retail growth throughout Reston in the past decade. Lookit this fancy chart:

fancy chart.jpg

We're guessing cupcakeries fall under "food services."

For those of you still awake, here's a smattering of other highlights from the report:
  • lake anne options.jpgThe community's preference is for a "combination of concepts," but the food and dining destination ranked highest.

  • The appeal and significance of the existing architecture at Lake Anne is "recognized by modernists, architects, planners and some segments of the general public." (The remaining segments of the general public tend to comment loudly and repeatedly on this "web log" whenever Lake Anne is as much as mentioned.)

  • The April 2008 Wiehle Avenue/ Reston Parkway Station Access Management Plan shows the potential for a paved trail connection between the LAVC and the Wiehle Avenue Station. That was actually news to us.

  • The LAVC will be eligible for designation in the National Register of Historic Places in 2016, when it turns 50. Maybe we should go for a Colonial Williamsburg approach, only with costumed interpreters wearing polyester and demonstrating how to properly burp a Tupperware container.

  • Currently 13,844 square feet of the 73,471 square feet of Lake Anne's commercial space is vacant -- or 19 percent. That's not great, but it's better than a lot of shopping malls these days. (Have you been to Springfield Mall lately?)

  • The economics of leasing and running retail space at Lake Anne are challenging, to say the least: "Many owners have a very low to almost zero return expectation, with some owners leasing their space at cost. This in turn creates a disincentive for tenants to maintain a competitive business with healthy sales volumes," the report states. And it gets worse: "Depending on their level of invested equity, a market driven commercial investor would have to charge an annual rent ranging from $24 PSF to $40 PSF+ in order realize a reasonable return. At the high end of this scale, rents would have to approach the rates achieved by the highest performing commercial spaces in Reston Town Center. Assuming industry standards for retail operating margins, this implies that the tenant would have to produce an annual sales volume of at least $335 PSF." That's not hard to do when you're selling iPads and whatnot, but a hell of a lot tougher for locally owned businesses.

  • There are a mind-boggling 26 non‐residential property owners in the core Washington Plaza area, which does not include the owners of the ASBO building, the Washington Plaza Baptist Church, and the Lake Anne Professional Building. "The ownership structure of these individual commercial units does not lend itself readily to creating a retail merchandising strategy that will allow the diversity of retail types to enter the marketplace and create a balance of retail categories that is needed for the LAVC to be successful," the report (under)states.

  • Newer Restonians may not feel the same about Lake Anne as long-timers, according to the report: "While many residents appreciate the national tenants located in Reston Town Center, they do not want to shift away from locally owned businesses in the LAVC," it states. "However, newer residents do not seem to have the same traditional connections to the scale, character and mix of the LAVC, with one interviewee saying that while Lake Anne Village is an important symbol, the passion to protect the LAVC from change is harder to understand, and considered the design qualities of the village to be 'an appreciation to be gained over time, but not something that is automatic for everyone.'"

The report has some value, but the reality, again, is that improving the fortunes of Reston's brutalist gem will depend largely on significant redevelopment -- something the Reston Association itself wasn't willing to do. Hopefully others will step in at some point sooner rather than later.


  1. Can someone please explan why the 26 non-residential owners and their tenants aren't jumping up and down. Could Lake Anne be their tax loss writeoff? Do they live in Reston, Do they really care. Leases can be written to ensure stores are open so that retail sales can be made. How is it that the restaurants that are there are barely surviving, But the plaza can support more? And if someone buys a case of wine - how are they going to get it to their car? A modern full size pharmacy - clearly no one wants to do that since Larry can't seem to sell his space to another pharmacist. While Lake Anne is a study for architects, etc., Young people appreciate color, vitality, etc. Bob Simon says Venice was an inspiration. Look at all the color in Venice. Perhaps DRB would approve painting the railings a seafoam green. At least that would be something that could be done today to brighten up the Plaza. Or, we can hang around waiting for a developer with deep pockets who will get beat up by everyone from those who want Lake Anne to stay the same, to the P&Z committee, to DRB, and then Fairfax County.

  2. Lake Anne is way too drab and boring looking. I understand that there may be some emotional attachment for some. But newer (and younger) Reston residents could not care less about that place.We prefer the RTC. You may call it the "fake downtown", but those huge crowds on the weekends dont seem fake to me. And the money that people are dropping in those stores isn't fake either. Think about it, what's currently there to attract a nice crowd to Lake Anne? Nothing, that's what. I think that Bob's idea of having village centers is a failed idea. You can not expect the low number of people living in a village to be enough to support the merchants in the village centers. You have to attract people from outside the village. Get with it Bob.

  3. Agree completely with ..2:36. In fact, I think s/he should be elected as the successor to Bob once he abdicates.

  4. To anon 2:22 -- Bob Simon used Portofino Italy, not Venice, as an inspiration.

  5. Portofino may be in Italy, but Portomalo is in Reston.

  6. The main thing I like about Lake Anne is the farmer's market. With all the booths, vendors and people there I don't notice the ugly buildings so much. I don't understand why anyone would want to preserve the look of those buildings. I've lived in Eastern Europe, and trust me, there is plenty of Stalinist architecture in the world already--we don't need to preserve a little patch of it here in Reston.

  7. I think the comparisons to RTC are missing the point -- they're two very different kinds of places, and they should complement each other, not compete with each other. There's never going to be an Apple Store at Lake Anne, but you're not going to find many/any local non-chain establishments at RTC, either. Especially as the area grows, the market should be able to sustain both.

    And while some people don't like the 60s architecture of Lake Anne, not everyone's enamored of the fakey, Disney feel of RTC, either.

  8. How boring. Half dozen Reston residents could have come up with that plan and not charge. Cafes? Modern Pharmacy? Cleaners? Yikes!

    After 33 years of living within sight of, but not inside Reston, the people and problems they have are always fascinating. Thankfully, I visit and enjoy, not live in Reston.

    Anyway, my suggestion for Lake Anne is to sell the property to a Casino company and urge them to build a great new Casino so that all Restonians will never pay HO fees or special taxes again.
    There MUST have been a Native American Tribe that can claim this property was stolen from them and they want it back NOW!
    Of course The Commonwealth abhors gambling and booze, unless they can run the businesses. And, of course, the Commonwealth and Fairfax County have no fiscal problems, so it is probably only the Native American angle that might work.

  9. Hey out there! I LIVE in Lake Anne. I don't appreciate having my home called "Stalinist." RTC is a great place to live if you are a multimillionaire, but no Canada geese fly by to say "Good morning" when have coffee on your balcony. Lake Anne is Reston's Greenwich Village. Come by on Sat morning for free music.

  10. Once again, we have a community redevelopment plan that relies on re-development, a fantasy for older sections of Reston, as the RA is hysterically resistance to change of any sort, the "original owners" want Reston to stay exactly as it was back in the day, and the LAVC is surrounded by subsidized housing that drags property values down.

    It's easy to say redevelop if an owner steps up with deep pockets and then pat yourself on the back and do nothing.

    I wouldn't be too worried if I had a set up like Bob...he's got a great view from the hulking cement column that towers over LAVC.

  11. Yet another is a never-ending, long series of studies that always come up with the same result.

    Lake Anne village center, like all of the original Reston village centers, is a failure.

    It's doomed to demise and it will never work with any sort of white washing or repackaging or other such nonsense as Hudgins and the rest of her idiot voter/supporters keep believing will save the dilapidated dinosaur called Lake Anne.

    STOP drinking the Kool-Aid, admit failure and move on. No one will ever be attracted to an ugly, dated place they can't find, and is as dead as the open smelly sewer surrounding it.

    Even McDonald's is (finally) getting it, dumping its faded 1960's design and renovating on an expedited scale to make the places attractive and welcoming to all rather than a failed monument to some dated, tired, failed-from-the-start, idea memorialised by a tiny minority of so-called "liberals" living in the past, denying reality and leaving their failed legacy for the rest of us to clean up.

    The only people making any money are the consultants and the fools who keep paying them are poster children for insanity. Doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result --- priceless and absolute madness.

    Lake Anne resembles NOTHING in Italy. Lake Anne is a slum, it should be torn down and redone from the filthy, polluted, grimy, slimy cesspool (aka "lake") up.

    And, get rid of that ugly stupid always-broken eyesore (aka "fountain") in the middle of the sidewalk in the process.

    We don't find Reston Town Center sucking taxes from people and vitality from the community as is Lake Anne. And the fun of calling it a fake downtown is another tired game.

    RTC is no more fake than the dilapidated fakeness of Lake Anne and RTC happens to be wildly successful pouring millions of dollars INTO the economy, creating many jobs and attracting thousands of people day and night 365 days a year.

  12. Lake Anne was built in the Brutalist style. I am not sure if there is a style called "Stalinist," but your point is well taken and right on. Neither word is warm or attractive and neither is compelling as a moniker for the ages.

    To those who may be offended by such words, they are just that -- words. If you enjoy living in Lake Anne, do just that and don't allow the words to offend you.

    I would welcome neither Canada geese nor musicians at my door on a Saturday (or any) morning, but your choice (it not quite freedom) to enjoy both bothers me not in the least.

    I've enjoyed my air conditioning many times this spring, and I wonder how you can tolerate such a costly dysfunctional RELAC system, but that is your choice and my paradox about which to wonder.

    The architecture is not attractive in Lake Anne and it has neither weathered well nor has it come close to passing the test of time as have many places in Italy

  13. PortoFINO = Italy:

    PortoFAILURE = Lake Anne

  14. Hickory Cluster Knuckle DusterMay 11, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    Again the troll(s) surfaces to talk shit about Lake Anne... *yawn*.

    Oh wow RTC! You get to drive your car to the Freedom Garage (yes that is actually one of the names of the garages there... talk about inane) and then circle for 10 minutes and park on the top floor.

    After your 5 minute walk to get to (fill in the corporate 'upscale' chain restaurant of your choice) and wait to get a table and pay too much for food that is made in a factory. Big whoop.

    To the poster who compared Lake ANne to Greenwich village: I think it is apt. RTC is more like New York via Las Vegas: overpriced artifice with no soul.

    It suits the loser trolls who hate on it.

    I'll take Lake Anne warts and all over the boring and very ugly RTC any day of the year.

    All this past week, It has been a real treat to live close enough to walk there and enjoy Thai Food, Sushi, Artisan Cupcakes, and have a coupe of drinks on the beautiful plaza, talking to real restonians (ones who have lived here and contributed to the community) and enjoying my neighborhood.

    There is no 'subsidized' housing near Lake Anne, unless you count Fellowship House.

    On this filthy web-log, there is an overabundance of ignorance and downright lies of what Lake Anne is and what it is all about.

    If you don't like it, the solution is simple: don't come. Save your shit talking for cougar season at Jackson's.

    (Just when I thought I was out . . . they drag me back in)

  15. Hickory Cluster Knuckle DusterMay 11, 2011 at 7:19 PM

    Troll 10:58,

    I have not had need for my perfectly functioning RELAC AC as yet... But I have not had to hear the AC units of my neighbor kicking on and off while their corpulent bodies sweat in dirty sheets like YOUR unfortunate neighbors have had to deal with you and your carrier unit going on and off because you are too fat to deal with temps in the 70's.

    Hint: lay off the breadsticks They make you fat AND stupid.

  16. Hickory,

    Put away your Robert Simon blow up doll and get a life. The truth hurts, I know. But it is what it is...Lake Anne is a toilet and you are just a turd floating in it. Sooner or later, some one will flush!

  17. Hickory Cluster Knuckle DusterMay 13, 2011 at 2:59 PM


    Yes the truth hurts fat ass.

    Lay off the breadsticks.

  18. Lake Anne is just begging to be taken over by hipsters. Just wait, rents will go through the roof and the plaza will be a mess of dive bars, vegan record shops, and organic thrift stores.


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