Yesterday marked the official beginning of the end of two longstanding, if also largely abandoned Reston institutions, if by "institution" you mean "structure built to confirm to 1960s-era design notions that are of marginal relevance in today's world of pressboard and Tyvek."
In one (well, two) fell swoops, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors consigned the brutalist Marcel Breuer-designed American Press Institute building on Sunrise Valley Road and the Tall Oaks
Stucco Wasteland Village Center to the wrecking ball, approving awesome bollardy developments that will take each of their respective places.
The API building is arguably the greater loss, given an architectural pedigree that led to a last-ditch effort to save it, and even possibly reuse it as a future home for the Reston Regional Library. "Breuer’s American Press Institute building deserves a second life, not a demolition permit," Carol Ann Riordan, Cheryl Terio-Simon and Ralph P. Youngren wrote in a Washington Post op-ed the week before the county's decision.
Instead, county supervisors used circular logic: the historical building didn't have historical designation so it couldn't be considered on its historical merits. Give us some developer-friendly blockquote, BFFs at Reston Now:
The supervisors’ mission is to stick to judging an application on “meeting the criteria set forth in the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance for this area and supported by recommendation of approval by Department of Planning and Zoning,” [Supervisor Cathy Hudgins] said. [...]But never fear, fans of brutalist architecture and dying media!
“It’s a building no one wants to occupy,” said James Lee, president of Ronney Properties, which purchased the building three years ago. “I understand sentimental attachments to this building. It would have been nice if they put a historical encumbrance on it before it went to market, because we would not have bought it if we knew if was functionally obsolete and could not be leased.”
“We have determined adaptive use is [not possible] because of the way it was built,” he added. “As a result if the rezoning is denied, we are left with an asset that has no cash value. It has to be demolished.”
The supervisors also passed a motion that efforts will be made to preserve an archive of the building and its history.Pro tip, county officials: Click this link and hit CONTROL-P. There's your "archive."
Across the Toll Road, the news that the Tall Oaks Stucco Wasteland is now cleared to become a largely residential Matrix-like virtual world of CGI grannies staring blankly at walls was a bit less of a surprise. A series of small revisions made by developer Jefferson Apartment Group over time led to, if not the open space and wide-ranging retail one would expect from a village center, some pretty fancy names for the limited open space that will be on offer (we can't wait to hang out on the Linear Green, though it sounds like we might need a sextant to do so). As an added bonus, the repurposing of a couple of the existing outbuildings for retail space means that all both of the existing tenants can relocate to new space instead of waiting for all that stucco dust to clear once the center is torn down.
What's not clear is whether the developer agreed to pay for improvements requested by both the county and the Reston Association, which finally has a reason to invest in the perennially empty Tall Oaks pool directly across the street from the ex-Village Center:
RA has asked JAG for contributions for improvements to the Tall Oaks Pool, which is located across North Shore Drive from the new development. Fulkerson said the pool needs ADA (Americans With Disability Act) accessibility upgrades, improvements to the parking lot, the addition of bike racks, and improvements to the underpass that connects Tall Oaks to the pool area. “Thus far, the applicant has not agreed to assist with the improvements,” she said.We're not holding our breath. Together, these decisions definitely reinforce the pro-development bent of the county board, but we can't fault them for this one. While this is the first time a village center has become something less village-centery, it's an improvement over the decaying stucco monument to lost franchise stores that sits there today. Even Bob Simon, as staunch a supporter of village centers as anyone in Reston, said that we don't need all of them anymore.
The developer has also declined to make the planning staff recommended contribution to Fairfax County Public Schools. The staff report says the new Tall Oaks should net about 57 new students (33 elementary, 8 middle and 16 high school). Staff recommends a contribution of $669,693 (57 students x $11,749).
JAG says it is declining to make the school contribution because 1) the school system was offered land to build a new school when Tall Oaks was first developed and eventually returned the land rights; and 2) the site was zoned as a shopping center in 1969 and a schools contribution was not required.
JAG has also declined the staff report’s recommendation of a $20,000 contribution to offset impact to Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Station 25 on Wiehle Avenue.
At the same time, we can still mourn small losses to Reston's original heritage, as our plastic fantastic planned community becomes a little bit more like other rapidly growing areas around Metro stations. And maybe buy earplugs and dust masks -- tearing both of these suckers down is going to be a noisy, messy affair. After all, they don't build them like they used to, the end.