News and notes from Reston (tm).

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Forget Paris II: Why Reston, Not Tysons, Could Be the Electric Boogaloo of the 21st Century

We've had lots of fun talking about all the creative branding efforts to transform "Fairfax County's downtown" from a gridlocked collection of ugly office towers and car dealerships into Paris a 21st century city.

Turns out, though, that's not exactly what's happening, at least if you look at where companies are actually setting up shop in a commercial real estate market that could charitably be described as "soft":

Reston is dominating the Northern Virginia office market, with companies sometimes willing to pay 30 percent or more in rent to be in Reston Town Center instead of other neighborhoods, according to research from the real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield.

But vacancy in Northern Virginia and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in particular have risen dramatically recently. Meanwhile, the vacancy rate in Reston has plunged downward in the last few years as companies scramble into available space... Some of the newer offices in Tysons are shaping up as strong competitors to buildings in Reston, particularly those that can offer closer access to the Silver Line than Reston Town Center will be able to. But the plan for Tysons is four years old. The plan for Reston is 50 years old. That’s a 46-year head start.
IN YOUR FACE, TYSONS! It's almost as though people prefer the human-scaled, walkable environment of our ersatz downtown to Crystal Koons, Wal-Mart and endless traffic, even if there is a parking lot painted green to lure in the food trucks and whatnot.

Even stories focusing on future growth in Tysons amid a generally bleak office market in Northern Virginia acknowledge this inconvenient truth:
Reston Town Center — where a fifth new metro station opened — is the county’s second largest business center. It has 19.8 million square feet of office space, just behind Tysons, which has 26.3 million square feet. Reston’s vacancy rate is 1 percent, says Hardy. In Tysons at mid-year the rate was nearly 17 percent.
A 1 percent vacancy rate is pretty much unheard of. Who knows, maybe they counted the rats.

But there is, as they say in the movies, a snag. Our BFFs at Reston 2020 point out that this advantage may be short-lived if Reston's infrastructure doesn't keep up with the increased bollardy densities that have already been approved for future development:
That Reston plan was updated last year with much greater commercial and residential density as part of the Reston Master Plan process. Indeed, the planned infrastructure to support Reston Town Center's development would choke trying to support the kind of development planned at Tysons. In fact, we believe its transportation, education, and parks & recreation planning for Reston Town Center is terribly inadequate even for the densities now planned there and well below existing County planning standards and guidelines. As a result, the Town Center area will be less able to handle traffic and meet the recreational needs of its residents, workers, and visitors than Tysons if they both develop as their new plans propose.

Maybe long term Tysons will turn out to be the better, more walkable, more accessible, more attractive mixed-use urban area than Reston's Town Center. We certainly hope not, but that is what the two plans currently offer!
SICK BURN. It's yet another reminder of the need to hold our elected county officials accountable for all the shiny new things that were promised along with the Metro and added development it brings. Failing that, we could always try painting a few parking lots green -- that is, if there are any left, the end.

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