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Reston, Va. A glimpse, perhaps, into our own future

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

RESTON, Va. -- Reston Town Center and its posh residential environs may be the closest thing to a crystal ball North Central West Virginia will ever see.

According to publicist Lane Bailey, the 36-year-old community -- nestled between Dulles International Airport and Washington, D.C. -- has many similarities to the Charles Pointe endeavor planned for 2,000 acres north of Bridgeport.

"They're both master-planned communities. One is, and the other will be," said Bailey, a managing director for Golin/Harris International. The firm handles public relations for both developments.

Reston, named for developer Robert E. Simon, is an unincorporated community of about 60,000. Ten years ago, a high-tech industry/retail district called Reston Town Center located in the middle of the 7,400-acre Fairfax County community, providing an instant downtown.

Charles Pointe, named for local coal magnate Charles E. "Jim" Compton, is a $750-million development to be located between Interstate 79 and Benedum Airport. The plan calls for 250 high-tech homes, a conference center, hotels, a high-tech business park, a Global Village retail district and a golf course.

While Charles Pointe is smaller in scale, Bailey said it has several advantages in terms of life quality, including scenery.

"Reston's basically flat. The views you have are of buildings," Bailey said.

A new lifestyle

In an early statement, Charles Pointe developers, James and Jennifer (Compton) Corton, said the community will offer a "lifestyle for this next millennium."

The Cortons said that is needed to attract the top talent associated with a high-technology working environment.

That theory's a main tenet in Reston.

On a recent afternoon, the plaza at Reston Town Center was abuzz with shoppers and workers on break. They were smoking, reading and drinking tall, skim lattes at sidewalk cafes.

Mike Hervey was among them.

An architect turned techie, Hervey is a manager for TIS Worldwide, one of many Internet-related businesses that anchor Town Center.

"People who come here to work can spend the whole day here and never have to get back in their cars," said Hervey, a single 30-something who rents a home five blocks away from his office.

"This reminds me of the European town center concept. It's almost a self-contained community."

Hervey speaks from experience. He has lived in Europe, Philadelphia and Dallas since leaving his native Nebraska. He compared Reston favorably with them all. In addition to the absence of a commute, he said Reston offers upscale bars at which to network with other professionals after work, mountain bike trails and a variety of planned activities such as art shows and concerts that occur literally outside his office building's door.

Hervey believed that lifestyle would be equally appealing in West Virginia, where the draw would be extreme sports instead of a nearby urban center.

Hervey was not alone in his assessment.

Single Don Choudhury, a Bangladesh native who is an executive assistant manager at Town Center's 517-room Hyatt Regency, likes Reston much better than Los Angeles, where he previously worked. He said the East is cleaner and prettier.

Katherine Devine, who moved to Reston from France, said the community is good for families, as well.

"Now she's a teen," Devine said of her daughter. "She can do everything right here -- go out for pizza, see a movie. It's a great place."

Teen resident James Goldlust, who formerly lived in Miami, saw things similarly.

He especially enjoys the Town Center's ice rink, where he skates with friends and tries to meet girls most winter evenings.

Reston's lifestyle is not for everyone, however.

For the Spanish-speaking workers busy hanging Christmas wreaths and cooking up mango chutneys, for the scores of retail workers selling $21 baby rattles and the like -- residency is rarely an option.

"People have to have a roommate," said Susannah DeBose, manager at The Bombay Co., of living anywhere in the Beltway region. She noted her storefront view onto Town Center's Market Street yields a steady stream of Volvos, BMWs and Mercedes.

The cheapest one-bedroom apartments in Reston are about $800 a month and are rare, according to Lori Yancura of Pardoe ERA Realty. An ordinary four-bedroom house sells for about $330,000, while one of scores of 10,000-square-foot mammoths start at $500,000.

The community has recently developed a homeless shelter.

Some are pragmatic about the fantasy element of the Reston lifestyle.

Caroline Henry-Cross, a worker at Town Center's Brentano's Books, said visitors sometimes express disappointment that the development is devoid of the churches, government buildings and other establishments found in more traditional American downtowns.

"It's an outdoor mall with offices," she said.

An economic model

The Reston/Fairfax County economy is one many communities would likely enjoy emulating.

While the county grew from about 450,000 to about one million residents between 1976 and 2000, property tax rates actually went down by 29 percent during that time.

Gerald Gordon, president of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, credits that unlikely reduction to a good business plan.

In 1976, the county's property tax rate of $1.74 per $100 assessed valuation was extremely high, especially compared to its current $1.23. Comparatively, Harrison County's 2000 unincorporated rate is $1.32 for owner occupied and $1.61 for owner occupied within the city limits of Bridgeport.

Previously a bedroom community for Washington, D.C., Fairfax County -- especially Reston -- reached out to a variety of high-technology, biotechnology and aerospace corporations in particular.

"The businesses came in and did offset the cost," said Gordon, noting the county's population is projected to top out at 1.2 million within the next 10-15 years.

"Again, we're asking how are we going to pay for this growth," Gordon said. "The answer is business. Otherwise, the residents are going to be the ones paying."

Randa Mendenhall, marketing director for Equity Office, one Town Center owner, is convinced the Reston portion of the model is replicable -- including in West Virginia's rugged hills. She has recently fielded inquiries from developers in South Carolina, Texas, Japan and Belgium.

"When Reston was built 36 years ago, it was way out in the boonies," Mendenhall said. "Now, this is the Silicon Valley of the East."

Mendenhall said key elements of their success have been hiring a person to create community activities and traditions, considering the proximity of Dulles International Airport an asset instead of a liability, and planning for large amounts of green space.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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