News and notes from Reston (tm).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

At Long Last, Master Plan Turns Its Eye to Village Centers

Hunters Woods village center.jpgHey, remember that time a "master plan task force" with an unpronounceable acronym (§) came up with fancy color-coded maps for the areas around Reston's soon-to-be-built Metro stations, which included such fanciful things as "urban street grids" and "open space?"

Yeah, that was awesome. Well, after months of relative silence, the task force is shifting its focus to "Phase 2" of the master planning process: figuring out what to do with our righteous stucco strip malls village centers. There's been lots of talk about what this means, including questions about what the masterplanning process could do to existing neighborhoods. As Reston2020 BFF Terry Maynard said in a letter to the Connection:

I have heard a wide range of views about what these neighborhoods and village centers should become in the 21st Century. Some believe neighborhoods are old after being around for 40 years and should be re-developed. Others, including our founder and RTF member Bob Simon, believe the village centers should become community focal points as he initially visualized them, with large pedestrian-friendly park-like plazas and denser mixed-used development (mid- to high-rise apartments/condos above ground floor shopping). There has been talk about expanding the boundaries of the village centers as well. Some think all Reston should be at high densities while others have suggested further limiting the re-development of neighborhood properties—although not as stringently as historical preservation restrictions might require. Others have suggested we need to look more at Reston infrastructure issues, including local transportation (streets, buses, biking, walking), schools, recreation, parks and open spaces, natural areas, cemeteries, and so on.

The point is there are a lot of ideas out there—some of which you may find attractive, others that you may find literally unlivable.
It's an emotional issue, and the reality is that there's considerable appetite for redevelopment. As Kathy Kaplan put it in a letter published by Patch:
In Oct. 2008, the county launched the master plan revision process at a community meeting attended by about a hundred community leaders. At that meeting county planner Heidi Merkel said that many of Reston’s 40-year-old neighborhoods were old, run down, and in need of redevelopment.

About a year and a half ago I attended a Reston 2020 meeting when discussion turned toward the redevelopment of the older neighborhoods. A former Fairfax County planner attending the meeting said with great authority, “The old clusters have to go.”

About a year ago I brought the issue up with a Reston Association board member and was told, also with great authority, that the old clusters would be replaced with eight-story apartment buildings.
Reston Association officials have repeatedly stressed that this kind of wholesale redevelopment cannot happen without approval of property owners and the RA itself. As RA President Kathleen Driscoll McKee said late last year:
While it is conceivable that a developer could come in and buy a neighborhood in its entirety, the reality is that s/he would have to pay each and every property owner fair market value for the properties and all owners would have to agree to the sale. Any redevelopment would have to go through the Design Review process in Reston, and that trumps all other approvals.
At least for now, though one developer already seems bound and determined to challenge the authority of the DRB to get its own sideways mauvescraper built as part of Reston's first wide-scale residential redevelopment. Which is why, as the planning process began to shift towards Phase 2, there was talk about trying to put less of an emphasis on the voice of developers. We don't know how successful those efforts were, but it's definitely a reason why community members should stay involved in this process as it starts hitting closer to home.

Like it or not, development is coming to Reston, and it's not all going to be concentrated around the Metro stations. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing -- walk through Tall Oaks Stucco Wasteland Village Center sometime and see if the status quo there is either sustainable or beneficial to the neighborhoods around it. Lake Anne Village Center already has a plan on the books to add more residential and commercial space around the Plaza -- which is what was originally planned back in the 1960s, and the lack of that added traffic was a big reason why the center has struggled in the subsequent decades. And the Hunters Woods redevelopment, while creating a gawdawful strip mall flanked by some condos and whatnot, was still an improvement over the old center's creepy, Omega Man-like final days. The challenge, of course, is finding the right balance, and the more people who participate, the better the chance of that happening.

The community meeting that kicks off Phase 2 of the master plan process is at 7pm tonight at South Lakes High School.


  1. If being around longer than 40 years and a little rough-around-the-edges is criteria for demolition, Georgetown is well over due to be "re-developed".

  2. A Very Special Episode of Reston HeightsNovember 16, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    I think we need to preserve Reston's Omega Man-like qualities for future generations. We've already lost the derelict building in the Reston International Center courtyard, between the Sheraton and Chili's, and lost one of the nation's foremost tributes to Logan's Run.

  3. Peasant From Less Sought After South RestonNovember 16, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    To help the locavore movement AND put a fading village center to better use, maybe we can turn a certain part of Reston back into agricultural land. We could start by plowing under Tall Oaks to turn it into a grain field: Tall Oats, the Heart-Healthy Breadbasket of Northern Virginia.

    And as an added benefit, the amber waves of grain would fit nicely into the DRB color scheme.

  4. Peasant, please save me El Manantial. To thrive in dying Tall Oaks, they have to be a cut above.

    Hunters Woods was the place to be when I moved to Reston in the '70s. Hardware store, tailor, drug store, a library, and of course Fritzbe's. The stores were around a common space that was away from the parking lot. Away from traffic. One could actually go there with a toddler without contently barking at him to stay close, don't run, hold my hand, etc.

    What contributed to its decline is proximity to Hudgins' umm constituents in SE Reston. Vandalism and gang activity wrecked the fountain, drove out the good shops and caused it to be redeveloped as strip mall instead of village center. Not a place to just hang around.

    The only place left in Reston to just hang out, to have a coffee and watch the kids play in the fountain is Lake Anne. No wonder they want to redevelop it. It is actually pleasant.

  5. Ok. Let's blow up all "old" clusters. Let's start with those festered with section 8 housing or owned by the county.

  6. Hunter's Woods was awesome once upon a time, but Fox Mill and South Lakes shopping centers killed it.

    Anyone ever eat in the german restaurant there?

  7. Agreed on El Manantial. Easily my favorite restaurant in Reston. Mama Wok and the pho place aren't bad, either. Weirdly encouraging to know the shopping center can support worthy eateries, even if it couldn't support a 7-11 and a Burger King.

  8. Subsidized housing must be "redeveloped" as far from FFC as possible.


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