The area surrounding Lake Anne Village Center appears to need more residents living nearby in order to better sustain the plaza's business community, a consultant told a gathering of Lake Anne residents Tuesday night.
"The problem is that you have a retail operation here that is barely hanging on," said Jim Prost, a consultant from Basile Baumann Prost & Associates who was hired to assess Lake Anne's economic health as part of a major project to revitalize Reston's historic heart.
The best way to revitalize Lake Anne, Prost said, is to add more apartment and condominium units within walking distance of the plaza's historic core. More people living there, he said, would increase foot traffic at the plaza and boost the merchant community's visibility.
Tuesday night, at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne, Prost gathered input from citizens to hear what the community believes are appropriate levels of residential and commercial density in the area. His final economic health report is expected to be completed early next month.
"You have some room to grow," Prost told the Lake Anne residents.
Within a one-third of a mile radius around Lake Anne Village Center, the business community brings in approximately $70 million annually. The village center merchants, Prost found, only account for roughly 15 percent of that.
Other Reston village centers account for a substantially higher percentage of their area's sales volume. North Point Village Center, for example, brings in 67 percent of its area's business, while Tall Oaks Village Center earns just a slightly lower percentage of its area.
"The numbers are quite low and they need to be enhanced," Prost said.
SEVERAL RESIDENTS at the forum Tuesday night disputed Prost's data, saying the economic health of Lake Anne is hardly in dire straits.
But Eduardo Faubert, owner of Jasmine Cafe and president of the Lake Anne Merchants Association, said a higher residential and commercial density would bring more people to the plaza and could help sustain the businesses through the winter months, traditionally a slow period for the village center.
"I think it would be good for Lake Anne," he said. "An increased density would be superior, but it needs to be done in a tasteful way."
Were Lake Anne to increase the amount of foot traffic, Faubert said, merchants could begin to see the higher profits enjoyed by businesses located elsewhere in Reston.
"We do a pleasant amount of business," he said. "But I'm in the shadows of my neighbors over at Town Center."
ANOTHER PART of revitalizing Lake Anne, Prost said, is to reduce the inequities that exist between how much different residents and business people pay in condominium fees. Some of the larger businesses pay upwards of $2,000 per month, while others pay a few hundred.
The plaza's aging infrastructure may also become a major problem in the future, Prost said, calling it a "potential loaded gun."
Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), who also spoke at the Tuesday forum, said there may be opportunities for Fairfax County to help offset the costs of additional parking, restoring entrances to the plaza and fixing up roadways.
"There you can make a direct case that it would be for the public's good," she said.
Lake Anne Village Center has been designated one of Fairfax County's historic districts.
AMONG A PANEL of representatives from Lake Anne's four decades of history — including Reston's founder Robert Simon — there was strong support for increasing the area's residential density.
In fact, Simon said, Lake Anne was originally intended to be home to five high-rise residential buildings similar to Heron House, which towers over the plaza today.
"There's not any question that the NIMBY's — the Not in My Backyard people — have wreaked damage in Reston and preventing that from happening was one of their victories," he said.
Lake Anne was also supposed to always have an anchor that would draw people into the plaza from around Reston. Originally, the Safeway grocery store served as that anchor, but a sufficient anchor does not exist today, several panelists said.
Prost agreed, saying the plaza could use a book store or a children's consignment shop to draw people in. Lake Anne is already home to Reston's Used Book Shop and to Small Change, a children's consignment and crafts store.