News and notes from Reston (tm).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

St. Johnspocalypse Maybe: Deferral of North Reston Development Plans Could Be a Revelation for Tempering Future Plans, Or Just Go Up in Smoke

We learned last week that plans to redevelop North Reston's St. John's Wood into the usual bollardy goodness have been deferred. Some 418 units of midrise awesome will now go unbuilt... for now.

As always, we offer the usual caveats: a deferred project is far from a defeated one; developers can always wait for "market conditions" to improve or riled up Restonians to focus their attention on another outrage or just forget about that nice cluster just sitting there, wouldn't it be a shame if something happened to it?

The proposal, which has been floating around for a couple of years, at least, is a good template for the battles we've already seen -- and will continue seeing -- as development pressures move away from the areas closest to the Toll Road and Metro stations. After all, they're not making any more golf courses land! Basically, developers will claim that the comprehensive plan calls for denser development than what is currently there, while neighbors will point out (correctly) that plans don't account for the additional traffic and demands on county services, much less quality of life issues.

Fortunately, between this and the ongoing brouhaha over the future of Reston National Golf Course, we're starting to see a fairly successful template for, if not stopping development outright -- which ain't going to happen, and really shouldn't happen -- ensuring that it's at least more reasonable than it would be otherwise. It includes:

Organized opposition. Whether it's Rescue Reston or the Reclaim Reston group that formed to oppose St. John's Wood, these groups have had an impact that random people speaking at public hearings haven't in the past. Recent organized opposition to proposed soccer fields at Lake Newport also put the RA's feet to the fire in a way it hasn't often felt.

Unlikely heroes. Somewhere down the line, the DRB stopped just dickering about the color of people's doors and started focusing on some more meaningful things, too. They pretty much singlehandedly prevented the as-of-yet-unbuilt Fairway Apartments development from being, as one member called one of the earlier proposals, "a South Florida motel design." And with St. John's, the vice chair made a compelling enough point about "internal overdevelopment" that the developers' attorney complained about its treatment at their hands. We mean, listen to this:

“Contextualism is a term that suggests an architecture that responds to its surroundings by respecting what’s already there, and I think we have a problem here because I don’t think that’s happening,” Newlon said. “I think you guys [Bozzuto] are going to really have to look at the design and do what you can, both from a massing standpoint and, as we get to it, an architectural standpoint.”
That's a lot more compelling than WHUT NO WHITE STONE, that's for sure.

Catchy tag lines. So maybe "if the [design] doesn't fit, they must quit" sounds a bit like something you'd hear in a brick-walled comedy club in the 1990s. But messaging matters. The Save Brown's Chapel folks figured that out when they created the second-best video in the history of Reston, and we can finally say "size matters" at a public hearing and not get arrested.

But the news isn't all good. There are plans afoot to change zoning ordinances throughout much of Reston to allow more density, in theory to accommodate already approved changes to Reston's comprehensive plan. And planning assumptions made for the areas right around the Metro stations are, Reston 2020's Terry Maynard argues, deceptive:

Based on GSF information provided by FCDOT to the Supervisors serving as the Board Transportation Committee, the current Reston station area plan offers the potential for 76,280 added residents (at 2.0 residents/DU) and 29,059 added office worker jobs (at 300GSF/worker) in the next four decades.

If instead of using the County’s faulty planning assumptions, we use real world experience, we can anticipate that the allowable development could result in an addition of 101,492 total residents in 50,746 DUs and 78,559 office workers, including retrofitted office buildings, market conditions permitting. More specifically, it suggests an order of magnitude explosion in residents (11,720 in 2010 vs. 113,212 then) and more than twice as many office employees (69,941 in 2010 vs. 148,500 then) in Reston’s station areas. Overall, Reston can expect twice as many people living and working in the station areas as is anticipated by the Reston plan.

Finally, DRB vice chair Richard Newlon made a scary point. Give us some prophetic blockquote, BFFs at Reston Now:
Roughly 10 percent of the 134 clusters in Reston are owned by developers such as Bozzuto, JBG and Lerner. He said the St. Johns Wood project is a “precedent-producing application.”

“One of my concerns is if all of those 13 or so clusters do the same thing, Reston as Reston exists today is gone,” he said. “Reston as we know it would cease to exist.”

Might want to keep polishing those catchphrases, guys.

Friday, April 14, 2017

At RTC, The Truth Is Out There (But Costs $2/Hr)

A Confidential Restonian Operative sent us this exciting cellular telephone photo from his aerie near our favorite fake downtown stressful city-like shopping center. What exactly is that weird series of concentric rings in the grassy knoll adjoining Reston Town Center?

Crop circles? Apparently, part of being an elite shopping destination is catering to out-of-towners -- in this case, folks coming a bit further than the particleboard Valhalla of Ashburn. But fear not -- in an effort to prevent mass panic and maintain the premium customer experience, we have it on good authority that any UFOs that fail to download the ParkRTC app and pay the intergalactic equivalent of $2/hr while docked at the circle will receive the customary RTC welcome, the end.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Rainbows and Rezonings and Woonerf on Condos, These Are A Few Of Developers' Favorite Things

A little late for St. Patrick's Day, a Confidential Herndonian Operative sent us this exciting cellular telephone photo of a rainbow pointing towards our earth-toned Nirvana, just as it should. Looks like the $200 million payout pot-o-gold is hidden under some rezoning documents somewhere on the 13th hole. That hasn't escaped would-be developers with their champagne wishes and midrise condo dreams, to be sure. Give us some good blockquote, BFFs at Rescue Reston:

Developer attorneys are calling Rescue Reston's attorney asking about the history of the legal case... We want to discourage bidding at a development price. The more that we can convince speculators that it will be extremely difficult to change the land use designation, the better the chance that a good steward of the land will be able to purchase it.
Meanwhile, Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins issued a fancy press release, on county letterhead and everything, talking about the "very specific process required" to use the property for anything other than golf or open space. But it doesn't say that it can't be done at all!

Meanwhile, we never saw the buzzword-laden language Fairfax County is apparently using to describe the bollardy bushel of transit-oriented goodness on the other side of the Toll Road:

“The plan aims to make [the Wiehle-Reston East] station area an education-focused neighborhood with housing that is well-connected to transit by new walkable streets.”
An "education-focused neighborhood" sounds awesome! Nerds, woonerf, and maybe we'll finally get a full-sized bookstore again, the end.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

SPONSORED CONTENT: Reston Town Center To Enhance Paid Parking With Protective Barrier; Loudoun One To Pay For It

The following is sponsored content:

RESTON TOWN CENTER (April 1, 2017) -- Building on the critically acclaimed implementation of enhancements to customer safety and convenience through the introduction of paid parking, Reston Town Center today announced it has further enhanced its offerings to merchants, residents, and customers by building a protective barrier around the elite outdoor shopping mall. The protective barrier will "enhance the customer experience by not allowing parking scofflaws, protestors, cars, litigious attorneys, poors, or anyone else, really, into the Town Center," said friendly public relations specialist Crisis McCrisistown. "It will provide a first-class elite experience for those who will remain inside, perhaps for a prolonged period of time."

In response to a small number of disaffected merchants who claim that the protective barrier has reduced sales and store traffic by 100 percent, McCrisistown scoffed. "Scoff," he said. "It's merely typical seasonal traffic patterns you see in retailing. Some merchants are doing quite well. The new 'pop-up' store selling food, water, matches, and blankets literally sold out in minutes."

Nor will Reston Town Center will rest on its laurels. As part of "giving back" to the community, a small percentage of the paid parking fees already collected will be reinvested in soundproofing, so Reston residents will no longer have to hear the muffled cries for help of customers enjoying a prolonged elite world-class experience inside the hermetically sealed Town Center. And the developers of the award-winning ParkRTC app are already at work on another smartphone application that will allow a select number of especially elite customers to enter, and perhaps leave, the Town Center. Named after the crisis management team's beloved office cat, the "Checkpoint Charlie" app will dynamically score potential entrants' FICO scores and propensity to comment on news sites before allowing customers to enter a 97-digit passcode to request entry. To exit, customers need only recite the 97-digit code from memory to RTC's friendly paid parking ambassadors; those who forget the 93rd or 94th digit will be helpfully reeducated in RTC's elite corporate training center.

In related news, Bow Tie Cinemas has announced it will be screening the John Carpenter classic, Escape From New York.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Caddyshackpocalypse Soon: Reston National Golf Course Sellers Hint At $200 Million Financial Return, Not Counting Any Stray Golf Balls Left On Course

Hey, remember that time that a giant insurance company decided to try to turn Reston National Golf Course into a collection of sweeeeeeeeet midscale condos, only it couldn't, legally, so it tried to find a greater fool buyer?

Yeah, that was awesome. Well, the company contracted to sell our favorite by-right parcel most endangeredest piece of endangered open space is now calling RNGC "the best residential development opportunity with the highest return potential of any property currently on the U.S. market."

With that level of hyperbole, you'd think it was another real estate developer who's been in the headlines of late who made that statement. But no, it's still the same folks who use lorem ipsum on their website a lot. And it might actually work. Give us some scary blockquote,

The source who priced the possible sale of Reston National also feels optimistic about a favorable zoning decision. “I think once the buyer submits a plan and gets it approved the property could easily be worth more than $200 million.”
Rescue Reston, the RA, and others continue to argue that the golf course cannot be arbitrarily rezoned for residential development through "by right" development, and (for now) our elected officials seem to agree. However, as we've pointed out repeatedly, the owner can go through the regular development channels and propose whatever they want for the space -- and if the county approves it, that's it. Given a possible $200 million return on what is rumored to be a $25 million asking price for the property, it's a safe bet that some enterprising developer will be willing to take a gamble at winning over our development-friendly Board of Supervisors.

It's probably a good idea to continue supporting Rescue Reston -- and holding our elected officials accountable for maintaining the property's open space designation (a good question to start asking anyone running for the Board of Supervisors starting now is whether they'll support RNGC remaining a golf course regardless of any future development proposal). Otherwise, there's a really good chance some property developer, with orange hair or without, is going to offer the cash-strapped county a transit-oriented Deal It Can't Refuse somewhere down the line, throw in a bit of woonerf as a sweetener, and we'll all end up in the alternate timeline from Back to the Future:

Oh, wait.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

LOL, We Mean BREAKING: Jacksons Sues RTC Over Paid Parking (Updated)

Couldn't happen to a nicer purveyor of "stressful city-like shopping centers": Restaurant and noted purveyor of cougar nightlife Jackson's Mighty Fine Food & Lucky Lounge has become the first restaurant to sue Boston Properties for the utter clusterf*ck the Reston Town Center paid parking system has become, arguing that their lease bans Boston Properties from creating a system that "unduly impedes" people from getting to their restaurant. While our correspondence school legal degree from an off-brand Trump University affiliate prevents us from dispensing legal advice in 48 states, we think it's safe to say a system that confuses actual astronauts probably fails that particular sniff test.

Give us some hubris-inspiring burn blockquote, BFFs at Reston Now:

"We did not want to have to sue and we tried to work with Boston Properties to address our concerns and our rights under the lease to give our customers free and hassle-free parking, both before and after Boston Properties implemented this parking system," Jon Norton, CEO of Great American Restaurants, said in the statement. "But they were uncompromising and appeared disinterested in working with us to provide our guests a better experience at Reston Town Center.

"It appears to us that they are focused on maximizing revenue instead of honoring the spirit and terms of our lease, and seem unconcerned with the impact their system has had on the Town Center," he added. "It is disappointing that they have spent so much time bolstering a PR campaign rather than working with us to fulfill their lease obligations."

Crisis-management campaign, not PR campaign. And given that even august NPR has now devoted air time to the issue, we think it's time for the elite crisis managers to put on yet another pot of coffee.

Here's not one, but three HOT TAKES on all this:

1) If you're a property manager, that's the one drawback to encouraging fancypants chains at the expense of mom-and-pop businesses: they have deeper pockets, smarter attorneys who actually read their leases, and the ability to credibly pursue legal action against a giant corporate propertyholder.

2) Tenants sue over leases all the time. You generally don't get hundreds of people to march around what is essentially a shopping mall (it's more than that, but in deciding to charge for parking, it's clear that's what BP believes it is) in frigid weather unless they're worried about something bigger than paying a couple of bucks to park. BPX really stepped into something that touched a nerve about what our community is about on this one, and their ham-handed "PR campaign" and paid community outreach still shows no signs of recognizing this. (Having said that, we're still waiting for some of that sweeeeeeeeeeet sponsored content cash. Maybe a nice thinkpiece on frivolous lawsuits driving up the totally reasonable cost of paid parking for everyone?)


Update: According to this report, Jacksons is apparently suing for $500,000 in damages, as well as no-cost validation, the elimination of the ParkRTC app, and free ice cream for a year. Okay, so maybe we're making the last part up, but half a million dollars would buy a lot of ice cream -- or roughly 57 years of free parking at our favorite stressful city-like shopping center, the end.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

ParkRTC or RA WebTrac: Which Reston App Is The Worst?

As the ongoing war of public opinion between Reston Town Center and its own tenants over paid parking continues, with the fancy Washington Post "news paper" finally catching wind of the recent unpleasantness with our "stressful city-like shopping center," the most recent rebuttal of Boston Properties' exercise in crisis management "open letter" to the community by the RTC merchants included a world-class burn:

The “parking ambassadors” are unfriendly and not helpful, and seem to be on hand mostly to warn you that you must pay. They are not knowledgeable about the system and generally can’t help guests figure it out. Educational signage? The signage is not succinct and/or user-friendly. One customer – an astronaut! – was having trouble figuring it all out in a timely fashion, and complained to the proprietor of the store she was in.
Yes, apparently figuring out the unhelpful ParkRTC app is rocket science.

But ParkRTC has some competition of late. For unknown reasons, the Reston Association "upgraded" its own web infrastructure to something called WebTrac, which as far as we can tell, will allow us to pay for our pool passes at warp speed or with lasers, or something. Look at how convenient it is, as this photo sent to us by a Confidential Restonian Operative shows:

The whole "variety of reasons" thingy doesn't exactly give us confidence about the new brilliant plan to ensure that the RA can finally bring to an end the scourge that is bringing it to financial ruin. No, not future purchases of leaky lake houses, silly rabbits! We're finally getting serious about that time your kid borrowed his brother's pool pass so his friend from the uncivilized wilds beyond the pale beige, like Herndon or (gasp) Sterling, could check out what our fancy ce-ment ponds look like without paying the $5 guest fee. Once we start cracking down on this MASSIVE FRAUD, we'll recoup the Leak House purchase price almost immediately, or at least just as soon as we bring 520,000 of these cheaters to JUSTICE. Alls we need to do is upload photos, unless we really don't want to, and lasers or something will chime whenever an IMPOSTOR tries to breach the impenetrable fortresses that are RA's pools:

What could possibly go wrong?