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$5 Mil Per Acre?

F.C. Commercial Land Too Pricey, Centex Stalled

Stiff asking prices for prime downtown real estate in the City of Falls Church, reaching $5 million an acre, combined with a nationwide downward trend in residential condo sales has brought City Center redevelopment plans to a standstill, the News-Press has learned. It’s at least true for the vast majority of the proposed project where developers do not already own the land they intend to build on.

“It is very difficult to proceed under current market conditions,” a spokesman for Centex Homes, given the franchise by City Hall to develop the first two blocks on the north side of West Broad, told the News-Press yesterday.

Andrew Vinisky, director of community development for Centex, said that while his company maintains its interest in Falls Church, it is now at a standstill here, waiting for the City to come forward with an overall reevaluation of its plans.

He said he was told by City officials that a Florida-based consulting firm had been retained for the fresh look, and that it would take six to eight months for new guidance on how to proceed.

But the News-Press learned that some property owners on the north side of West Broad are asking $2.5 million an acre for their land, while the owner of a small shopping center on Annandale Road in the City wants twice that much. He’s asking $5.7 million, according to News-Press sources.

Earlier City plans for downtown redevelopment included a major component for residential condos, as many as 1,000 of them. But the market has collapsed and is not intended to rebound soon.

A problem for Falls Church, Vinisky said, was that even as it begins to rebound, Falls Church will not be at the front of the line. “Falls Church’s downtown is located shuttle-bus distance from the Metro stations and will have to compete with developments that are within walking distance,” he said. “This is a major factor for us.”

Still, he said, Centex officials “remain in conversation” with landowners along West Broad. “We are hopeful things will work out and we are in dialogue with several of the land owners,” he said.

He said that he will be attending a meeting at the Falls Church City Hall next Tuesday morning aimed at establishing new affordable housing guidelines for future development projects.

But Rick Goff, head of Falls Church’s Economic Development division, confirmed that Centex “is not active at this point in time.”

Another indicator that things may be at a standstill for a long time on the north side of West Broad is the report that at least one retailer there has been offered a long-term lease from his landlord for the first time since the discussion of the redevelopment began a half-dozen years ago.

One limiting factor is the City Council’s adamant insistence that it will not resort to invoking “imminent domain” to acquire parcels in the targeted eight-block redevelopment area, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling making it legal for jurisdictions to deploy such methods for economic development purposes.

While the north side of West Broad is at a standstill, however, Centex’ counterpart tasked with developing the south side of the street is inching ahead. That’s because Atlantic Realty already owns a large chunk of what it needs to build, with the City adding still more property.

Surveyors were out on West Broad Street last week to assess what would be a straightening of Maple Avenue where it crosses W. Broad.

But at least one resident at a Gibson Street four-plex unit off S. Maple said to the News-Press that she’d been told she won’t be under any pressure to locate for at least two years.