In the morning of the second day of the three-day Lake Anne Village Center charrette last week, Robert E. Simon Jr. took the microphone and the room fell quiet.
Not only was the founder of Reston about to speak, but also a person who currently lives on Lake Anne, frequents village restaurants and has a bronze twin stationed in Washington Plaza to greet all who should enter.
“You think you may be getting a consensus, and I would like to say I’m unconsensed,” said Simon to the group of California-based consultants that facilitated the workshop held last Thursday through Saturday. While Simon’s comment referred to a density discussion of the 181-unit Cresent Apartments, he was participating in the process like everyone else: one comment at a time. Dedicated to the process, Simon attended all three days.
The charrette, hosted by Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and, gave “stakeholders” the opportunity to provide input on a broad design plan for the village, which was designated a county revitalization area in 1998 and sits right on the edge of Lake Anne. The county board of supervisors dedicated $30,000 to the workshop, which also received support from various public and private sponsors.
The problem for the 40-year-old village, which was brought up routinely by residents and merchants alike in several focus groups initiated by the county last month, is that it lacks the retail space, pedestrian traffic and commercial attraction to support long-term viability. considered the historic heart of Reston.
ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM is difficult, partially because of complex village ownership, which includes parking agreements and easements that are difficult to decipher. Much of the village upkeep has been charged to the Lake Anne Residential Condominium Association, whose members have been left with high condo fees.
Lake Anne locals appreciate and love what they have now — a sense of community, cultural diversity and aesthetic beauty — but increasingly recognize the need for some change.
“It’s sinking in that there are some problems that have to be solved,” said Patrick Kane, long-time Reston resident.
To promote coordinated revitalization, the Reston Community Reinvestment Corporation (RCRC) was formed to promote the economic and social vitality of aging Reston, but is currently focused solely on Lake Anne. Many of RCRC’s board of directors are representatives of private owners or ownership organizations at Lake Anne Village Center, such as Martha Green, president of the Lake Anne Condominium Association, and Alfredo Melendez, owner of the coffee shop.
RCRC’s President, Kurt Pronske, attended all three days of the charrette. “Our role has been an advocacy role all along,” said Pronske. “Nothing is going to happen unless you have all the property owners working in concert, and that’s why I brought those people together. Then we brought on more representatives from the residential community.” The RCRC also was the group that recommended that there be an economic study of the Lake Anne Village Center, which was completed back in March.
The charrette, which followed the focus groups which followed the economic study, was the next step toward revitalization. The three-day event brought in outside experts to pool all stakeholder concerns into a working consensus to then be used as the basis for a conceptual plan.
THE FIRST TWO DAYS allowed participants to pour ideas and concerns on the table. The consultants — David Wilcox of Economic Research Associates, John Stutsman of Kaku Associates, Dennis Dornan and Sameer Chadha of Field Paoli Architects, and Steele Knudson with the Northern Virginia Regional Commission — spent most of this period absorbing participants’ views and answering questions.
“We agree you have a brand of excellence of urban design, but who knows about it in 2005?” said Wilcox, the chief facilitator of the charrette.
“On the first day, the number of hands that went up that had lived [at Lake Anne] since the 1960s was amazing,” he said of the group of participants, adding that there were 10 or 12 architects, three to four urban planners and three to four engineers from the community who participated.
During the opening two days, the participants addressed the full gamut of issues.
“The parking lot is the first thing people see when they come to the village center, and it is ugly,” said Bill Hauser of Waterview Cluster, addressing the issue of Lake Anne’s entry way. “It gives no hint as to the beauty you’re about to see.”
“I would say the lighting is sub-par and it makes you feel unsafe as a woman,” said Kimberly Dillard, who lives in Waterview Cluster.
Consultants heard several recurring themes from participants, such as a commitment to open space and greenery.
Affordable housing was also brought up and discussed several times. “This group has said for a day and a half that diversity means affordable housing,” said Wilcox.
Consultants also heard a theme of caution.
“You are sitting in the center that is the warning of what could happen at Lake Anne,” said Yonna Kromholz, during the first-day session held at the community center at Hunters Woods Village Center, which was recently redeveloped. Participants echoed her sentiments several times, making it known that they did not want a strip-mall-like development.
After two days of passionate discussion on everything from open space to parking lots, the consultants were given Friday evening to produce proposals, which were presented to the charrette participants Saturday morning.
The consultants presented four plans for the village: A, B, C and D. Plan A deviated little from the status quo. Plan B made modest changes to the village. Plan C built on Plan B, adding density and parking support. The most aggressive proposal was Plan D, which nearly maxed out residential and commercial space. None of the plans made changes to the famous ‘J’ structure in the Washington Plaza that currently houses residential properties, the community center, retail stores and several restaurants.
After the four plans were presented, participants had a chance to respond.
“D changes the whole feeling of Lake Anne to a vehicular area from a pedestrian area,” said Dillard, who was one of many participants who did not like Plan D.
“Obviously choice D was not popular,” said Knudson of the four plans.
After the consultants heard reaction, they teamed up again for over an hour on Saturday while participants ate lunch and returned with Plan E, which was supposed to incorporate reaction from the first four plans.
Plan E scaled back some of the high density of Plan D, introduced some new commercial space, and maintained several features of Plans B and C.
“I feel like we hit all the stakeholders,” said Knudson. “They were all there and without them this would never have happened. Their input was just absolutely vital.”
AFTER THE CHARRETTE ended, people were generally encouraged by the end product.
“What the charrette accomplished here today is that everybody put their ideas in and they have ownership, and therefore they’re going to be supportive,” said Kane. “A developer is not going to touch anything here unless there is public support,” he said.
“The one thing I found encouraging is that people [participating in the charrette] don’t think of density as a dirty word anymore,” said Pronske. “I don’t know if we have the plan that everybody would like, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction, a very positive step.”