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Lake Anne Study Questioned

The revitalization study upset local residents as many believe the numbers used are irrelevant and inaccurate.

The Lake Anne revitalization process is at a point where the residents are given a chance to respond to a study prepared for Fairfax County by Basile Baumann Prost & Associates (BBPA). Many residents find the report to be out of tune with Lake Anne, and otherwise flawed for several reasons.

The study, “Economic Analysis and Initial Revitalization Concepts for Lake Anne Village Center,” suggests that something must be done in order to boost the economic viability of the area. Three possible concepts for revitalization were given in the study, and presented to residents on March 16 at Lake Anne Elementary School. Concepts included marketing, for which there would be no additional physical development or redevelopment; modest development; and large-scale development. The modest development concept would introduce 44 new residential units at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and 25,000 square feet of office space at the adjacent Reston Association (RA) property. The large development concept, known as Master Plan Realization would introduce 935 residential units and 105,000 square feet of office space.

“This is the end of the beginning in terms of the process,” said Jim Prost of BBPA. Prost said Lake Anne is not a typical shopping center, as it does not have a grocery store any longer, which, he said, in developers’ vision provides the anchor for a shopping center’s economic vitality. “Introduce a Harris Teeter or a Wegman’s and it really makes a difference,” he said.

The residents agree Lake Anne Village Center is not a typical shopping center, but offers a mix of shops and restaurants that cannot be found anywhere else.

Patty Nicoson, a resident, said the stores at Lake Anne are the jewels of retail, but they are underused. The revitalization issue is how to preserve the unique feel of Lake Anne, while increasing its economic viability, potentially through development. “There is a clear desire to preserve the character of this unique, wonderful, jewel,” said Prost, “and whatever has to be done has to be done in a right way to preserve the uniqueness of Lake Anne.”

The study paints a bleak picture of Lake Anne’s economic viability when compared to other shopping centers in Reston. However, residents say it is impossible to do a comparison of Lake Anne to other shopping centers. “Lake Anne cannot be compared to strip malls,” said Fran Lovaas, an area resident, “Lake Anne is more like a park.”

PROST ADMITTED to Lake Anne’s park-like nature, but added it is more than a park; it is also a retail operator. As such, the merchants at the village center need increased visitation. According to the study, Lake Anne Village Center totaled a little more than $7 million in retail sales in 2004, while its Reston counterparts North Point Village Center and Tall Oaks Shopping Center had total retail sales of nearly $42 million and $10.5 million respectively. Meanwhile, Lake Anne had a larger population than both of those centers at 3,493 residents, meaning that North Point and Tall Oaks retain the money from their own residents as well as attract visitors from other areas to their shops better than Lake Anne does. “The total retail sales and potential have been adjusted to exclude retail store types not applicable in Lake Anne,” explained a footnote in the study.

The technical appendices to the study explain where the numbers came from. There are inconsistencies with the appendices and reality. Before calculating the numbers, BBPA categorized the businesses at Lake Anne, and numbered how many belonged in each category. The appendices note no gas stations within the primary market area for the purpose of the study — the 0.33-mile radius from the Reston Museum. However, there is a Chevron gas station at 11410 North Shore Drive, just across the street from the entrance to the Village Center. The appendices also note zero stores in the category of Books, Periodical, and Music stores, excluding the Used Book Shop from the study. It makes mention of one store each in Electronics and Appliance stores and Sporting Goods/Hobby/Musical Instrument stores which are not present at Lake Anne. Furthermore, the misconceptions in the analysis of the other shopping centers in Reston include two grocery stores at Tall Oaks and a car dealership at North Point, among others.

The data used in the analysis came from a secondary source, said Jim Prost. A footnote explains the data was collected by ESRI Business Information Solutions, Eastern Division located in Vienna, and provided by InfoUSA, collects and maintains a business database by referencing sources such as White and Yellow Pages, and annual reports, among other sources. The data, said Prost, was also based on interviews with all of the merchants in the study area, and surveys returned by some of the merchants. “I have a fairly high degree of confidence that the numbers are accurate,” he added.

SEASONABILITY, SAID PROST, is the issue that must be tackled. He said there is a tremendous difference in the numbers of people who come to Lake Anne in the summer than in the winter. The capture rate, how much the residents of Lake Anne spend at Lake Anne, calculated by dividing retail sales by retail expenditures, is significantly lower at Lake Anne than in the other centers in Reston. A 100 percent capture rate would mean that the residents of a given area spend most of their money in that area, and the money spent in other areas is replaced by the money spent by non-residents. According to the study Lake Anne’s capture rate stands at 21 percent, while North Point and Tall Oaks are at nearly 85 and 46 percent respectively. “Seasonability is really what keeps the capture rate down,” said Prost.

Eduardo Faubert, the president of the Lake Anne Merchants Association and owner of Jasmine Café, a restaurant on Washington Plaza in the Lake Anne Village Center, agrees with Prost. He said he is fortunate to have a boom in terms of attendance at his restaurant during the summer, because the rest of the year the attendance tapers off.

“In the wintertime, Lake Anne is not very attractive itself," he said.

Faubert said a marketing strategy would bring initial relief to the merchants. The BBPA study suggests the marketing concept without any development would increase the sales by 8.8 percent. Faubert said that increase in sales could be the margin of profitability for the merchants in the area. He also added the merchants will not wait for an implementation of one of the concepts to begin a marketing strategy. Whatever money the merchants can save will be used to begin marketing strategies on their own.

If businesses want to thrive, said Faubert, the environment must be altered and demand created. Mixed development, residential and business, is key, because one will create nighttime and weekend demand, while the other will raise the daytime demand. The mixed development at Lake Anne, he said, should not be intended to copy what happened at Reston Town Center. “We need to retain the village feel,” he said, “that is very important to everyone here, and the key words are ‘village’ and ‘town.’”

FAUBERT’S JASMINE CAFE has been on the plaza for the past 17 years, another problem residents pointed out with the BBPA study.

Priscilla Ames said most of the businesses at Lake Anne have been there for decades, thus questioning the problem of sales as opposed to other problems. In a written statement, Wayne Schiffelbein, a resident, said the plaza business owners received notice of a 63 percent increase in their property assessments. “If these increased assessments stand, you can say goodbye to most of the small businesses on the plaza and hello to Gap, Starbucks and other such chains,” he said, “for they are the only businesses that can afford to pay five to six dollars a square foot in property taxes.”

Faubert, however, said it is not the property value that concerns him. “The condo fees are not the main concern, the problem is sales,” he said.

Prost said the study did not concentrate on the private sector performance, and thus did not include the magnitude of the rising land values. If the County chooses to pursue a high scale development option, the study suggests replacing the 181 residential units at Crescent Apartments, with 825 units. The units at Crescent Apartments are considered affordable units, and the residents do not want to see that disappear.

Robert Simon, resident and founder of Reston, asked that the development not be touched, and instead of building on that site the new development should occupy the site of the current surface parking lot. Simon added the process is in a stage where the County has an opportunity to condemn the report, and give the revitalization concepts back into the hands of a developer. Prost said the 181 affordable units at Crescent Apartments would be exchanged by a new 181 affordable units. “It is very important to Reston and to Lake Anne to maintain affordability,” said Prost.

However, Simon said, the affordable rates are not affordable, “Affordable is high priced.” Prost said the assumption in the study is that the new units would be sale, not rental, units, because the current market is pushing home ownership. He also said the study did not include a dollar amount of the cost to buy the 16.5 acre Crescent Apartments development. The study also does not include other costs associated with increasing the area’s population through development.

“Traffic, environment, and schools all have to be addressed before this moves forward,” he said.

THE NEXT STEP is to initiate a charette process, which will help finalize the implementation strategies and add further recommendations. Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said the Lake Anne revitalization process is ahead of the other six in the county. Lake Anne is being addressed before it becomes a problem, she said.

Robin Smyers, the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks Representative on the RA Board of Directors, said she was pleased with the number of people who came to the meeting to voice their concerns over the process. “It is a testament that Lake Anne is unique, and that it really is a village center,” she said.