The challenge is to preserve the feel of an historic area, while bringing new development to it. That new development can bring objections from those trying to preserve the area, but some argue that new development is needed at Lake Anne in order to make it a viable mixed business and residential center.
LAKE ANNE VILLAGE Center has underperformed economically in comparison to other areas in Reston for years now. “Lake Anne is in trouble because it lost its anchor, the supermarket,” said Robert Simon, Lake Anne resident and founder of Reston. He said the area needed to find a way to attract more people. However, reintroducing a supermarket is impossible, because a modern-day supermarket requires 60,000 square feet of space, said Simon.
Known as Reston’s historic district, Lake Anne is home to a number of restaurants, specialty shops, the Reston Museum, and small markets. It was the first of Reston’s four lakes to be built; even the lake itself is experiencing problems due to a high concentration of algae.
As a part of its effort to bring in financial investment to certain locations in the county, Fairfax County branded Lake Anne as one of seven locations for revitalization. Basile, Baumann, Prost & Associates (BBPA) recently released a study prepared for Fairfax County’s Office of Revitalization within the Department of Housing and Community Development, entitled “Economic Analysis and Initial Revitalization Concepts for Lake Anne Village Center.” The study offers three concepts that can be applied to bring more people, and therefore more money, into the area. It eliminates the fourth option, to do nothing, because, according to the numbers published in the study, that scenario would continue to have negative effects on Lake Anne’s shops, decreasing the retail sales by 8.8 percent based on 2004.
THE STUDY exposes particular concern for the Village Center’s retail shops. Five of the 11 reasons for concern listed were directly related to the retail stores, including modest retail sales and capture rates, and weak retail sales in the winter and early spring/late fall. In order to boost the sales of the retailers in the area, BBPA suggests one of three revitalization concepts be applied — strategic marketing, modest infill or master plan realization.
Strategic marketing does not involve the physical development or redevelopment of Lake Anne. It is a management, marketing, and improvement strategy, which will attempt to promote the area’s shops to outsiders. The strategic marketing concept could include increasing retail visibility through better signage, and scheduling more winter events to increase off-season patronage. The scenario is expected to raise the total sales at Lake Anne from approximately $7 million to approximately $7.7 million based on 2004 numbers. It is assumed in the other two concepts that strategic marketing is applied as well.
Those at Lake Anne — store owners, residents and representatives — seem to agree something has to be done. They are opting for physical development around the historic district, so that additional office and residential units could be introduced. “Everything is changing around us,” said Alfredo Melendez, the owner of Lake Anne Coffee House, “but we are not, we are like an antique.” Melendez acknowledges changes will have to be matched with a price, but he is willing to pay, as long as development does not mean bringing in competition for him. “I’ll pay, but don’t bring in a Starbucks or a Panera,” he said.
ROBIN SMYERS, the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks District representative on the Reston Association (RA) Board of Directors, said the neighbors would not let that happen. “The No. 1 goal of revitalization is to preserve the local neighborhood feel. You can’t take Lake Anne Coffee House, or Jasmine Café, to another neighborhood,” she said. In a neighborhood of unique stores, chains would not necessarily mix in well, added Smyers, also an advocate of new development.
“We can’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Smyers, “development is a necessity, the County will give us money, and we would be stupid not to take it.” The problem is not just economic, she said. The infrastructure at Lake Anne is aging, and it needs revitalization as well. Smyers said it is necessary to upgrade what the historic district looks like, while maintaining the integrity and feeling of it. She described Lake Anne as a unique neighborhood, where one comes to meet people, not a place where one goes to do shopping and then head home.
Smyers added that any new development should be partly focused around building the new RA headquarters in the area. Recently, the RA received approval to build or buy its own headquarters, and the board is looking at possible sites for its new home. Smyers said she would like to see the headquarters of the organization that represents Reston be located in Reston’s historic district.
The two development concepts — modest infill and master plan realization — are projected to bring additional residential and office space to Lake Anne. The development involved in modest infill would increase resident population, and daytime population. A potential residential development program on the site of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church could introduce 44 new dwelling units, 37 of which would be at market rate, and seven of which would be modest income housing units. The adjacent property, undeveloped RA property, could yield 25,000 square feet of office space. The combination of the residential and office development would introduce 77,800 net new square feet of development. The impact the concept would have on the sales would be an increase from approximately $7 million to approximately $8 million, based on 2004.
INCLUDED IN the master plan realization concept’s objectives are significantly increasing resident population, daytime population, and redeveloping multifamily housing. The concept would add 935 dwelling units, 825 of which could be built on the site currently occupied by the Crescent Apartments. Simon said he would not want to see Crescent Apartments be redeveloped, because the units at Crescent are moderately priced. He suggested new units be developed on the site of the current parking lot, and the parking be made into below-grade parking instead. The master plan realization concept would also bring 125,000 square feet of office space to the area, and would raise the sales from approximately $7 million to almost $12 million.
Another problem with the study, said Simon, is that it applies to shopping centers, and Lake Anne is not an ordinary shopping center. It is a series of misunderstandings, he said. “It is not a place where you attract people twice a week,” said Simon, “but a meeting place.” The study area was measured as a 1/3 mile radius from the center of Lake Anne, but the stores at Lake Anne have nothing to do with that radius. The specialty stores, such as the used books bookstore and the new Body by Geoff gym, attract people from all parts of Reston and beyond, he said. Simon added the study did not incorporate enough office and retail space as well. Smyers echoed Simon’s concerns about the comparisons the study made to other village centers in Reston. However, she said, she is confident whatever development takes place will be done right, because of the community involvement. “The integrity of Lake Anne will be maintained because of the people who will drive the process from day one,” said Smyers.
A public meeting on the study will be held on Wednesday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m. at Lake Anne Elementary School, hosted by Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill).