Letter: Simon Says He Supports RTC Tower

Reston founder says 23-story tower on Reston Parkway is a good thing.

The debate for the site at thecorner of Reston Parkway and Bowman Towne (sic) Drive opens up a much larger area for discussion than is being held about that particular site.

Proponents of approval for the building carry the day since it can be built by right. Opponents offer a variety of objections based on rejection of the original master plan for Reston as a whole.

That plan, created in the early 1960s, provided for seven village centers and one town center. Each of these was to feature plazas enclosed by high-density structures. Today, only one authentic village center and the town center have been built. There are no village centers, other than Lake Anne, with plazas in Reston; nor have the high-density structures planned to support Lake Anne Plaza been built.(Discussions for bringing lightrail alongside the Dulles access road in 1966 did not result in amending the Master Plan to bring appropriate density to Wiehle Avenue, where the Metro station is to be located.)

Among the several objections to the proposed building, two stand out. The first: that densities belong at the Metro stations and taper off in proportion to the distance from these stations. This concept defeats the original, over-riding vision for Reston-—densities at the plazas, the very features that best foster community.

The second:that “not a single resident supports” the 23-story building. I do, (and with the delight that a world class appearance, as distinguished from adequate appearance, can becoming to Town Center).

Bob Simon


Editor's Note: The Board of Supervisors has a public hearing scheduled about the tower on Sept. 11. Have something to say about it? Get on the schedule here.

John G August 29, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Honestly, beyond offering an opinion, like every citizen has the right to do, what role or weight does Simon convey? I'm tired of the worship he receives - He's long since sold out to the developer interests -also his right - and won't be here to bear the brunt of these decisions as Reston becomes even more densely packed. He cites original 'visions', but those have been trumped by corporate interests.
The BSD Guy August 29, 2012 at 06:13 PM
John G: Realistically, none - he has or should have no more say in anything going on in Reston than anyone else, but he's a "marketable" item. He's portrayed, even by editors in the Patch as this kindly gentle man, and yet none of these editors remember (or lived here) when Simon would openly, often very offensively, insult residents and dismiss them as "nimbies" and other derogatory/stereotypical terms if someone got in the way of him making a buck. Simon IS a developer - first and foremost. Developers and Hudgins like to prop him up as the "founder" of Reston and then use that as an excuse to impose what they want to on the residents. The fact is it's the residents that make up Reston, not Bob Simon and developers - and no ... we're not a bunch of "nimbies," "insignificants," and "throw-aways" as Ms. Hudgins seems to believe.
Lilguy August 29, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Henry Ford had a vision for the automobile. Thank God were not still driving Model Ts. The same is true for Bob Simon's Reston vision. While he is right that the village centers could be much more than the mini-strip malls they are, he has failed to adjust his thinking to the 21st century urban design. Contemporary urban design calls for a rail-centric "urban core" (if we can call Town Center that) to be developed with the highest densities (tallest buildings) near the rail stations and tapered down from there. And these areas should be mixed use with a balance between residential and non-residential uses to help reduce auto use. This is Transit Oriented Development (TOD)--sort of like the automatic transmission or maybe GPS for the Model T. Beyond the half-mile arc of the TOD area--as the redeveloped Town Center Office Building is--there is NO reason to have high density and even less to have the high density office space this proposal offers. Even the already approved redevelopment scheme for Spectrum Center--as depicted in the article--stands only half the height of the TCOB project and is still too much for this part of Reston. The area in question is not in Reston Town Center. It is in North Town Center--as defined by the Reston Task Force of which Simon is a part. It is all outside the half-mile TOD area. It should be much less dense than Town Center and much more residential. And the time is 2012, not "the early 1960s."
The BSD Guy August 29, 2012 at 06:43 PM
What he's trying to do is offer up justification for more unwarranted development. Development should occur on an "as needed" basis, not "how much money can I make right now." As I've stated numerous times, there is NO PROOF WHATSOEVER that more development will do anything positive for this area. Empty and marginally filled buildings are everywhere - if you want to have some real fun, check out the "low rise" office spaces in Reston, Herndon, and Sterling .... I'd guesstimate their occupancy must be a whopping 10% - and even THAT might be generous. Even the developer of this monstrosity made comments about occupancy concerns in this area. In other words, the building, like the SHRINE TO OVERDEVELOPMENT that sits at the intersection of Hunter Mill, 267, and Sunrise Valley might very well sit there empty for 10 years (or more) as well thus giving us a MEGA SHRINE TO OVERDEVELOPMENT.
kelly atkinson August 29, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Frankly, whether Simon wants it or not, its about time that Reston Town Center got an upgrade in building design that this building offers us. We have been stuck with whatever Boston Properties or Beacon (another Boston Developer) decides to "throw" our way. sick of getting sloppy seconds. Maybe now they will have to compete with a real class A office building!!!
Rob Whitfield August 29, 2012 at 08:30 PM
The BSD is right in most of his comments but understates the Reston office building vacancy rate. Colliers International reports for Q2 2012, a vacancy rate of 16.2% in Reston, 18.7% including sublease space available. Developers in Tysons and Reston under recent master plan guideline revisions and proposed concept plan amendments have sought increased densities, mostly in the 4.0 to 6.0 FAR range but usually in the context of mixed use transit oriented development. The 1760 Reston Parkway project does not seem planned in context to its adjacent community. Along with the late Dave Edwards, Dick Rodgers and a couple more, I attended almost a dozen meetings of the Reston Town Center Master Plan Task Force subcommittee headed by Robert Goudie and Pete Otteni. Several presentations were made for the Town Center North area, extending north from New Dominion Parkway to Baron Cameron Avenue but I cannot recall participation in the plan process by the owners of 1760 Reston Parkway. If my memory serves correct, Mark Looney gave an update on Lerner Company's plans for the property adjacent to 1760 Reston Parkway.
Susan August 29, 2012 at 08:35 PM
I am confused and disheartened that there is so much trash talking and not real talking. No reason to bash people...Simons or Hudgins...if you don't agree. And yes, he is SO correct when he counters the "not a single resident supports" because actually there are many of us who do. The sad thing is that as in the elections this year, it's all about who has the loudest mouth. Let's talk and discuss. Stop with the generalizations and incorrect quotes. When did Supervisor Hudgins ever refer to residents as "throwaways." Really ....
Mary Linda Sara August 29, 2012 at 11:02 PM
I really like the projected picture which shows just a few cars on the road in front of the building. My main concern is over the traffic. Reston parkway is already a nightmare at rush hour--what happend when the spectrum development is done and dropping 7000 more cars in that area? Then this building? I don't think the roads can handle any more traffic. I came to Reston for the town-like feel not for traffic headaches.
For the Love of Reston August 30, 2012 at 12:34 AM
I find it very unfortunate how many people in this community do not realize how special Bob's original vision and plan of Reston was and still is. Bob is not hyped up by politicians - he is a true visionary who created something special that should be protected and striven for for many generations to come. Contemporary city planning was inspired by this vision and city planners from all over the world still come here to learn from this community. Live, Work, Play was invented here, high density and mixed-use outside of urban centers was invented here (which is now implemented all over the US to fix our disastrous urban sprawl), and these principles are now being taught in planning schools all over the country.
For the Love of Reston August 30, 2012 at 12:34 AM
But contemporary city planning often fails to replicate what Bob was trying to do - it is still hindered by unfortunate market demands, outdated codes (outrageous parking requirements and enormous street width...I am looking at you), and yes NIMBYism. Bob really had to defy most economic and planning beliefs (and NIMBYism of course) at that time (you know, the bad planning we are trying to fix now) to get his vision (at least partly) built. I applaud the planners that support the proposed RTC development because it keeps Reston's original vision alive. I would also love to see the village areas becoming what they were supposed to be - dense mixed-use areas with a civic function. If you don't like Bob's vision, you should not live in Reston. There are thousands of communities out there that offer what you are looking for - but there is only one Reston. Thank you, Bob, for sticking up for your vision!
Jim H August 30, 2012 at 01:47 AM
I'm glad Mr. Simon has not offered his opion on the RNGC issues as I am fearful that his thoughts on that topic will be as disciuraging as his thoughts on this one.
John Farrell August 30, 2012 at 04:52 AM
Mr Anonymous Lilguy I don't like the building either but for a different reason that I've mentioned before and repeat shortly. "Contemporary urban design"(as if there is such a monolithic thing) also says that tall buildings belong on the high points of a community to serve landmarks for that community. The "Reston Times" sits on the highest point in Reston north of the Toll Road. It's counterpoint south of the Toll Road is the International Center. Does the landmark building on that high point have to be 23 stories? Does it have to be that much taller than its neighbors? I don't know. I do know that I'm opposed to the current proposal because the garages are on the facade facing Reston Parkway, our city's Main Street. It's as if the architect and developer are"mooning" us.
John Farrell August 30, 2012 at 05:08 AM
Anonymous BDS Guy. Class B space (the kind of low-rise space you mentioned) has a vacancy rate around Reston/Herndon at 15-20%. Tenants for Class B space aren't looking to be in a 23 story office tower. A 5-10% vacancy rate in considered normal. Class A office space is currently around 16% vacancy. Chris Walker's formerly empty building at the corner of Hunter Mill and the Toll Road has recently been substantially leased out by the new owners. I sent Ms.Goff a copy of the announcement. I wish she had run it. Maybe she will now. Leasing that building will significantly lower the vacancy rate in Reston/Herndon and indicates some recovery in our city's economy from the Shrub Depression. Office buildings rarely break ground in a lending environment as exists today unless there has been substantial pre-leasing of the space. That's not always true, especially during times of speculative excess as existed in 2001-2007. But its true now and will be for the foreseeable future. If there's no pre-leasing, it won't get built. As it can take 5+ years to go through rezoning, site plan and construction process, an optimistic developer might be going through the rezoning process now in hopes that vacancy rates will fall over the next 5 years and a demand for 23 stories of Class A space will arise. JBG did a similar thing at the International Center several years ago and they haven't broken ground yet.
Nancy Mowry August 30, 2012 at 07:03 AM
Simon wrote in 1962 that in the creation of Reston, these are the major goals: *That the widest choice of opportunities be made available for the full use of leisure time. *This means that the New Town should provide a wide range of cultural & recreational facilities as well as an environment for privacy. *That it be possible for anyone to remain in a single neighborhood throughout his life, uprooting being neither inevitable nor always desirable. By providing the fullest range of housing styles & prices-from high-rise efficiencies to 6 bedroom townhouses & detached houses-housing needs can be met at a variety of income levels & at different stages of family life. This kind of mixture permits residents to remain rooted in the community if they so choose-as their particular housing needs change. As a by-product, this also results in the heterogeneity that spells a lively & varied community. *That the importance & dignity of each individual be the focal point for all planning, & take precedence for large-scale concepts. *That the people be able to live & work in the same community. *That commercial, cultural & recreational facilities be made available to the residents from the outset of the development-not years later. *That beauty-structural & natural-is a necessity of the good life & should be fostered. *Since Reston is being developed from private enterprise, in order to be completed as conceived it must also, of course, be a financial success. --The Reston Concept: New Town
The Analyst August 30, 2012 at 09:53 AM
The way occupancy rates are calculated and the so-called demand for more development needs to be examined, and I mean seriously examined. We have, in the Fairfax County government, a conglomeration of officials that have rather obvious ties the developers. I keep hearing and reading, typically from proponents of development, that we need more and more development, and yet there seems to be a wealth of "For Lease" signs everywhere - and it's not just an odd office building here and there, they seem to be on nearly every building in the entire county. As The BSD Guy likes to so constantly point out, why are there no tenants at the building bearing the name "Dulles Corridor" after 10 years? That's a huge building and no one wants it. I used to work in an office not far from there, and I could drive into numerous regions all along Sunrise Valley and see office building after office building near empty or completely empty. If you want some real entertainment, visit the office complexes at the end of Sunrise Valley as it nears Dulles. If you remember the cold war days, something was devised called a neutron bomb - it could kill and eliminate people without destroying buildings. That's what those office parks, and some of them, as usual, have huge buildings, look like. All either unoccupied, or marginally occupied. And yet we're constantly told this isn't so. Something is very, very seriously wrong here!
The Analyst August 30, 2012 at 10:05 AM
John G raises a great point. Bob Simon may have designed and implemented Reston decades ago, but he doesn't own it. It's not his personal property. He has no right or business dictating what should be going on here, especially when there's clearly a lot of resistance to it. If he wanted such a degree of control he never should have sold anything and allowed people to rent and lease from him, but he didn't. He took the money and ran. Why should I pay an ounce of attention to what his so called "visions" and "plans" were? There of no consequence. Take a guy that rebuilds old cars and restores them and then sells them. If he sells one of his restored Model T's, what business does he have thinking he can dictate to the new owner that he can't paint it, can't modify it, or can't update it unless he approves. It's almost ridiculous, if not flat out ludicrous, to be bringing his opinions into an argument
Stuart Rakoff August 30, 2012 at 12:58 PM
So let me summarize. We are concerned that some greedy developer will invest all his money in this empty building and lose his shirt. So sad. But at the same, we are concerned by the greatly increased traffic from this empty building. Got it.
Susan August 30, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Thank you for pointing out the inconsistencies Stuart. May I add that we are -- what -- 15 miles outside the United States government and you don't want to see growth? It was only okay when you moved in here, but don't let anyone else? To bring up the Dulles Corridor is silly. We are talking about Reston now. And when I visit Lake Anne and see developers from around the world come to see this great idea of Mr. Simon's ....than I can truly appreciate his vision. And he -- like all of you -- have a right to voice an opinion! Really people. Have some class.
Rob Whitfield August 30, 2012 at 05:28 PM
From Transwestern Outlook for Northern Virginia, Q2 2012: http://www.transwestern.net/Market-Research/Documents/Q2%202012%20Northern%20Virginia%20Office%20Outlook.pdf Northern Virginia grew 18,600 jobs, or 54% of the region’s jobs, in the 12 months ending April 2012. Yet this was not enough to generate any net office absorption in the 12 months ending June 2012. ... two factors at play, more than any others ...are defining the Northern Virginia office market of late: • Economic uncertainty over the impact of Federal government austerity and how sequestration will translate to demand for office space, especially for defense contractors. Uncertainty breeds decision avoidance – tenants are simply avoiding lease commitments. • Reduction in demand driven by more efficient use of office space by tenants, or “densification.” The amount of space used per worker has been on the decline and we predict it will decline further. Accenture is an example of this trend, moving from Reston in April 2012, where they leased approximately 200,000 SF, to Ballston where they lease approximately 99,000 SF – without a reported reduction in staff. Well said Transwestern. Mid-Year 2012 Market Highlights: • Net absorption: Negative 1.1 million SF in the 1st half of 2012, compared to negative 461,000 SF during the 1st half of 2011. • Overall vacancy rate: 14.4%, up from 13.6% one year ago. 2012 vacancy rates inside the Capital Beltway have skyrocketed.
RKO August 30, 2012 at 07:09 PM
I think the point the Analyst is trying to make is that the data the county is providing has been "fudged" somewhat. I remember reading a post somewhere (here?) that claimed county development related offices had "re-classified" office space. I think the trick was to put stuff like warehouses, which typically hold few workers in enormous spaces in with commercial buildings, which have a lot of people in relatively small space. For example, a warehouse with 500,000 sq ft can have 2 people and be 100% occupied, an office with 50,000 sq ft which should hold 100 people can have 5, for an occupancy rate of 5%, and this is expensive space, but the warehouse was cheap. You can skew this number using weighted averages as follows: Sum up the product of the space and the occupancy rate: (actual space) X (occupancy rate) Then divide by the net space available. Using my example: Warehouse: (500,000 sq ft) * (100% occupancy) = 50,000,000 Office: (50,000 sq ft) * (5% occpancy) 250,000 Total 50,250,000 Total office space: 500,000 + 50,000 = 550,000 Skewed occupancy: 50,250,000/550,000 = 91.36% By using a weighted average, you can make it look there's a real need for development, when in fact the office in this example is nearly empty. This *****does****** need to be looked into.
Rob Whitfield August 30, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Up to 6 commercial real estate leasing and sales provide quarterly office market reports in Northern Virginia - too many reports for signifgicant manipulation of vacancy data to be likely by Fairfax County. Since the early 1980s, I have known Curt Hoffman, who has prepared the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority's Real Estate Market Reports for 30+ years. We are fortunate to be served by such a capable real estate market expert. Thanks for your service Curt! http://www.fairfaxcountyeda.org/sites/default/files/pdf/hoffmanBio.pdf http://www.fairfaxcountyeda.org/sites/default/files/publications/ye11rer.pdf OVERVIEW The recovery of the commercial office market in Fairfax County suffered a small hiccup during the last half of 2011. Both the overall and direct vacancy rates increased for the first time in 18 months. After dipping below the 15 percent mark for the first time in more than two years at midyear 2011, the overall vacancy rate increased during the last half of the year, closing at 15.6 percent. The direct vacancy rate was 13.7 percent, up from 12.8 percent at midyear. These increases can be attributed directly to movement of federal agencies associated with the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC). The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Joint Medical Command, the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Missile Defense Agency vacated roughly 2 million square feet (s.f.) of office space throughout Fairfax County.
The BSD Guy August 31, 2012 at 06:35 PM
...and for the county's next trick - Put pedophiles in charge of day care centers! No offense to Mr. Hoffman, but that comment plays right into everything everyone has been saying about special interests running the county!
RKO September 01, 2012 at 05:53 PM
I would surely not call a building sitting empty for 10 years a "success story."
John Farrell September 01, 2012 at 08:30 PM
No one did. It is a good thing that so much empty space has been taken off the market, no?
Michael September 04, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Mr. Simon's vision was incredible then, just as it is inflexible now. The idea of plazas at Village Centers was a great plan - but was undone by market forces (the marriage of American family life with auto-centric transportation). The way forward should be to but the plazas, and all of their community-building nature, at the places where people will want them and will use them - places like the Metro stations. The goal of community-building around plazas will work if the plazas are more properly sited. But Mr. Simon inflexibly believes that the actual physical location of his village centers (like Tall Oaks) cannot ever be moved for any reason whatsoever. The coming of metro gives us an opportunity to focus exactly the type of community plazas Mr. Simon claims to want - but only if we're allowed to build them where market forces will support it, instead of where a decades-old plan says they ought to have been. And yes, thanks to those who pointed out the inconsistencies in the arguments. If it's overbuilding and the market won't support it, the traffic people are afraid of will never materialize. One can only hope that VA/FFX Co will come up with the money for another bridge across the toll road, because Wiehle Ave and Reston Parkway will both be failing within 10 years.
The Analyst September 05, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Over development is a lose-lose situation for residents. If a mega-structure like this gets built, and lets say that the population actually expands at such a rate that the occupancy rates allow it to be full along with all other buildings, traffic will be much, much worse and we'll need massive infrastructure changes, more schools, more police, more everything. Where's the money coming from? Developers? Don't be ridiculous. Now lets say it's built and the population stagnates with the number of empty or marginally filled buildings increasiing (like now.) Either the building sits there empty for years, or it "robs" tenants from other buildings, which then lose money. A loss is a loss, and a loss isn't taxable. Someone somewhere will lose their jobs, and some business somewhere will likely go bankrupt. Who pays the bail out money, the unemployment insurance, etc? Developers? Don't be ridiculous. Didn't one of the "principal architects" of Reston overdevelopment and rail, after conning the county into it this development fiasco, sell all his land and move to Florida .... where they have tough laws to prevent the less-than-honest from having their money seized via legal action? The only thing that "trickles down" in a developers world is poverty and problems. As others have said before, Cathy Hudgins should be ashamed, *****ashamed***** of herself for cow-towing to wealthy developers and spreading the poverty downstream.


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