Walkability, and water


Townhouses in the Waterview Cluster on the shore of Lake Anne. (Photo by Lea Winerman FTWP) (Lea Winerman FTWP/PHOTO BY LEA WINERMAN FTWP)
August 19, 2011

From a bench in Washington Plaza at the center of Lake Anne Village in Reston, a grandfatherly-looking statue of Reston founder Robert E. Simon surveys the scene: diners filling restaurant patios, shoppers wandering into a used-book store, children playing in a fountain.

From his balcony 13 stories above the plaza, the real Robert Simon has an even better view. Simon, 97, moved 18 years ago into a high-rise condominium in the planned community he developed in 1962, on what was then farmland near the just-completed Dulles Airport.

Nearly 50 years after Reston’s founding, the suburbs have expanded to engulf it, and Washington Plaza is dwarfed by the behemoth Reston Town Center a mile down the road. But Lake Anne residents say that what keeps them in the neighborhood is exactly what Simon envisioned five decades ago: the homes, shops, restaurants, bike paths, parks and playgrounds clustered into a walkable neighborhood, and the sense of community that comes with getting out of your car and seeing your neighbors.

“The plaza does more than anything else for community,” said Simon. “This morning I went down there at 9:30. And it’s a wonderful feeling — talking to people that you know well, and talking to people you don’t know so well. . . . Here you can’t go for a walk without meeting somebody.”

The neighborhood centers on the plaza, which is surrounded by low-rise buildings with shops and restaurants on the ground floor and condominiums above. A 15-story high-rise, Heron House, stands nearby. The north shore of half-mile-long Lake Anne, a man-made lake where residents use kayaks and pedal boats on nice days, laps against the foot of the plaza. Townhouse clusters and some single-family homes stretch along the lake’s shores.


The fountain at Lake Anne’s Washington Plaza is a popular neighborhood gathering spot. (Photo by Lea Winerman FTWP) (Lea Winerman FTWP/PHOTO BY LEA WINERMAN FTWP)

“I love that you don’t have to get in your car for everything,” said Charlotte Geary, 36, a photographer who lives in one of the townhouses with her husband, Mike Pritchard, 35.

They can walk to the produce-and-crafts market that takes over the plaza on Saturday mornings in the summer; they can listen to the bands that play free concerts there on Thursday nights. Geary is looking forward to taking their infant son Daniel to activities at the community center soon. And Pritchard has taken up playing soccer with a group that calls itself the “ROMEOS” — Reston Older Men Enjoying Outdoor Sports.

“The people here are so friendly,” Pritchard said.

Local real estate agent and longtime resident Eve Thompson loves the neighborhood’s offbeat charm. Thompson, 50, has lived in Reston since 1987. She raised her children in a single-family home about a mile from Lake Anne. Ten years ago she and her husband settled into a townhouse on the lake, and a few years after that they moved to a condo in the Heron House high-rise.

Lake Anne is “just quirky,” said Thompson, who has an office on the plaza and is president of the Lake Anne Merchants Association. “We have a ukulele festival every summer. I just feel like that’s so Lake Anne.”

But the quirkiness isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The plaza’s gray-concrete-and-tan-brick 1960s architecture is striking — the modern buildings were designed by James Rossant, a student of Walter Gropius at Harvard. But many commenters on the popular local blog Restonian, and elsewhere, complain that the plaza could use a facelift.

Lake Anne is one of seven areas on which the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization and Reinvestment has chosen to concentrate its efforts. Consultants working with the office recently released a report suggesting that Lake Anne position itself as a dining destination and centralize its management to deal with issues such as updating infrastructure and coordinating business hours.

Some planners also say the area would benefit from more density — Simon’s original plan called for several high-rises, but only Heron House was built. In 2009, Fairfax County approved rezoning that would allow more residential and commercial buildings to be built on what is now the plaza’s parking lot, but developers have yet to sign on.

Density is a hot topic throughout Reston. Three new Metro stations are slated to open there as part of the Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport. The first station will open in 2013, at Wiehle Avenue and the Dulles Toll Road — less than two miles from Lake Anne’s plaza. Many residents are excited about Metro rail, but many are also concerned about increased traffic and congestion from the station and new development around it.

A county-appointed group of residents, developers and business owners, called the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force, is working on recommendations meant to guide Reston’s development through the coming changes.

Meanwhile, the aging infrastructure in Lake Anne’s nearly half-century-old development can occasionally trouble homeowners as well as businesses, as Geary and Pritchard, who moved to Lake Anne from Colorado in January, discovered when the weather heated up this summer. More than 500 homes around the lake, including their townhouse, are cooled by the Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning Corp. (Relac), an unusual system that uses lake water to cool the houses — and that many residents find expensive and unreliable.

“We didn’t realize how bad it would be when we moved in in the winter,” Geary said.

Still, Geary and Pritchard love the other amenities that Simon’s vision provided.

“We feel like we live at a resort, like we’re on vacation, with the lake and pools and tennis courts and the plaza,” Geary said. “People go to vacation places for a few days, but the lake is there for us every morning.”

Lea Winerman is a freelance writer.

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