Local Commentary

Editorial: Shape-Shifting Broad Street

It’s becoming clearer now that the long-discussed transformation of the City of Falls Church’s downtown area is just around the corner. The north side of the first two or so blocks of W. Broad St. has yet to see the light of a specific development proposal, but on the south side, the Atlantic Realty company has already unveiled ambitious plans for changes that will change up the area profoundly and forever. Those plans will come, officially, before a work session of the Falls Church City Council and Planning Commission later this month.

But, as we’ve long been told, this will involve more than just building new stuff on commercially-zoned land, as we’re already seeing along the blocks further west on Broad. This time, the public streets, including Broad and the cross streets of Maple and Little Falls, plus more, will also undergo a major shape-shifting.

Get ready, folks, for a totally new look to your downtown. It will come with a widened Broad Street that will encourage on-street parking, a Maple Street whose curve just south of Broad will be straightened out, a Little Falls that may continue south of Broad across what is now Post Office property and continue down to lower Maple, and a “round-about” at the intersection of Maple and Annandale road, slowing traffic while eliminating the need for stop signs there.

The purpose of taking out the small mailing services building on the southeast side of the current intersection of Maple and Broad in order to straighten out Maple will be in an anticipation of the eventual redevelopment of the north side of Broad Street. When that happens, the plan is to move Maple on that side of the street to the east, allowing for a central plaza that will be create the longed-for “sense of place” as the cornerstone of the new downtown.

How all of this will unfold, and in exactly what form, is as yet undetermined. But City Manager Wyatt Shields insists that the big decisions will come sooner, rather than later. He wants the game plan pretty well spelled out by the end of March, so that the Atlantic Realty development can get underway. One of the biggest questions will be whether on-street parking will be available on both sides of West Broad, or on only one side. That will decide whether a new right-of-way along West Broad will be an additional 14 feet, or only seven feet wide. The plan would include maintaining two lanes going in both directions and a turn lane in the middle. The turn lane could also become the corridor for a light rail system that may eventually come out of Baileys Crossroads, from Columbia Pike, toward Leesburg.

Tonight, a work session of the City Council, Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority will begin to tackle these big questions. But the time for relentless studying is past. Yes, there will be ample public hearings, but the big decisions will be made soon.