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Post Office Told by F.C. to Move by Spring as City Center Plan Readied

The U.S. Post Office in the downtown 300 block of W. Broad Street has been officially notified by the City of Falls Church that it must be prepared to move by sometime in the spring, the News-Press has learned.

The move comes as the City makes room for Phase I of its City Center redevelopment plan, a slated Atlantic Realty-driven comprehensive makeover of the south side of the two blocks of W. Broad just to the west of Rt. 29.

Atlantic Realty, which was granted the opportunity to spearhead the redevelopment by the City earlier this year, will be prepared to make public the parameters of its project later next month, company partner David A. Ross told the News-Press this week.

The News-Press has learned that a grocery store and hotel will be included in the project, along with the straightening of S. Maple Street where it crosses Broad Street and a vehicular circle at the intersection of S. Maple and W. Annandale. The Bowl America facility will be razed and Bowl America will be incorporated into a new building.

In the meantime, the Post Office has been told that the City will not perpetuate its month-to-month rental agreement of the City-owned portion of the Post Office that encompasses the public parking lot. That parcel will be combined with the adjacent City-owned property known as the old “Podolnick property” that currently is home to a drive-through coffee shop to be folded into the redevelopment.

Sources have told the News-Press that the Post Office is considering relocating the retail component of its facility to a new office building that is being planned for the north side of the 800 block of W. Broad, and that it may keep its sorting and distribution plant at the current location, where it could stay without the need for public parking.

The Post Office building is owned by a private property owner who also owns the property that is home to Anthony’s Restaurant. None of that property is currently included in plans for the City Center redevelopment.

Observers noted that, at best, the first phase of the redevelopment will not be ready to begin construction until the end of 2007, which would buy the Post Office more time, but which would make the issue of timing with the construction of a new “by right” office building in the 800 block of W. Broad a key component.

Questions also remained about any distinctive “Great Place” features that the Atlantic Realty plans may or may not have when made public next month. City Center advocates have been pushing hard for the redevelopment to “Have a there there,” with a town square or equivalent identity-creating and community gathering component. Early reports are that they may be disappointed with the look of the project’s first phase.

As for the north side of W. Broad, which is under the direction of Centex Homes and can be called Phase 2 of the project, progress has been complicated by the greater number of property owners involved and the reluctance of at least some to sell.

Falls Church Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry, in comments to a local service club Tuesday, said that reports the City intended to use its powers of “eminent domain” to compel some property owners there to sell was not being considered.

It is also unclear what impact the sudden downturn in the residential condominium market will have on the City Center plans, since they originally envisioned as many as 1,000 such condo units as a core element of the project. Developers are now saying that no financing for any condos projects is available.