What Is Happening along Sunrise Valley Drive?

By Kevin Burke

In the last issue of Ripples, we reviewed the land-use concept of “density” in theoretical terms. But density is nothing if not a practical, daily reality. With that in mind, we thought it might be useful to look at density in action.

Reston, from its beginnings in the 1960s, was planned with a dense, urban core of residential and commercial development. The urban center would be oriented to rapid transit along the Dulles Airport highway (called the Dulles Corridor). This dense core would extend from Sunrise Valley Drive on the south to Sunset Hills Road on the north and from Hunter Mill Road on the east to the Fairfax County Parkway on the west. In addition, much of the area immediately adjacent to the Reston Parkway (like the Reston Town Center) would be included in the urban core.

Beyond this core urban area, Reston envisioned less dense residential areas clustered around small retail centers (like South Lakes Village Center), which supported grocery stores, pharmacies, coffee shops, local restaurants, and other small-scale commercial and community operations and supplied most of the everyday requirements of residents. One important goal was to reduce dependence on the use of automobiles by locating recreational and small commercial facilities within walking distance of residents clustered nearby. In addition, environmental protection was to be a hallmark of the development throughout the area. These village clusters, therefore, were town houses (like Lakeport), apartments, and condominiums.

Then, as development spread farther away from the urban core, the Reston plan called for less density, i.e., more single-family homes. While this pattern of gradually decreasing density is not inviolable, this overall mix of housing types is designed to allow residents to find homes somewhere in Reston that would be suitable for their own needs and those of their families throughout their lifetimes. The hope also has been that the mix will generate a variety of housing for different family incomes.

So if we walk down Sunrise Valley Drive from Reston Parkway and head east toward Wiehle Avenue, we can see some redevelopment projects that illustrate how the Reston plan is being implemented. There are four redevelopments underway on the north side of Sunrise Valley Drive.

1. Reston Heights
This is, by far, the largest of the four projects. It has taken the space adjoining what used to be called the Reston International Center, the original high-rise building in Reston. The project is being built on what were mostly parking lots and one-story retail buildings. Reston Heights is designed as a mixed-use project, since it includes several restaurants (including Reston Kabob that had been in one of the buildings that the development is replacing) and other retail shops.

The development has 385 units for rent. These are one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments and two-level loft apartments. The project includes an outdoor pavilion, a rooftop lounge, and a fitness center and pool. The apartments surround a courtyard with a fire pit and grilling stations. While the retail spaces are still under construction, the apartments are already being leased.

2. Valley & Park Townhomes
Construction has just begun on these 54 residential townhomes. Interestingly, this is an example of commercial development being replaced by residential. Originally, this was the site of a six-story office building built in 1985. This change in land-use can be challenging to local governance since housing requires different infrastructure from commercial uses and it generates different traffic patterns to which the county and state must adapt.

3. Sunrise Square
This is another residential replacement of an existing office building. In this case, the 34 townhomes and 10 condominiums are being built on the former site of the American Press Institute (API) offices. Marcel Breuer, the architect of the API building, which opened in 1974, also designed the office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, as well as the Whitney Museum of Art (now called the Met Breuer) in New York. The Sunrise Square townhomes include rooftop terraces and two-car garages. The townhomes are largely complete and are being offered for sale, while the condominium building is still under construction. The developer promotes the townhomes by noting their proximity to the Reston National Golf Course, which ironically is experiencing its own redevelopment pressures.

4. Lincoln at Commerce Park
This is the first of the redevelopment projects that will transform Commerce Park. Currently under construction and replacing a parking lot is a seven-story building that will include 260 housing units. The Lincoln will be part of a complex, multi-stage redevelopment of the whole Commerce Park site, which the developer described as a “pedestrian-friendly mixed-use neighborhood” with access to the Reston East-Wiehle Metro Station.

What we see, then, as we travel down Sunrise Valley Drive is a dramatic change that involves over 700 dwelling units where just last year there was none. Since two of these redevelopment projects were previously parking lots and another was a largely vacant (if architecturally significant) office building, these changes imply an increase in traffic volume and in government services. But they also mean a more dynamic urban core that will contribute to the diversity of the community and its recreational and educational opportunities. Or, at least, that’s the plan.

Next time: Other Major Development Projects along Sunrise Valley Drive
(and after that: Density and Traffic)

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