With Preliminary OK, Hekemian Plan Runs Gamut of F.C. Advisory Groups

Having sailed through a preliminary approval from the Falls Church City Council last week, Hekemian Company officials were slated to run the gamut of city advisory bodies this week, hopeful that their new plan for a large mixed-use project on the site of the old Pearson Funeral Home will continue to find favor.

The project, to be called “Northgate,” is designed to include 105 rental apartments along with 14,015 feet of Class A office space and 22,700 feet of specialty retail. It has tiered height from three to five stories, and 10 town house-style residential rental units on its back end facing toward the residential neighborhood behind.

The Falls Church Planning Commission got its second look at the plan Monday night at a work session, following a joint work session it held with the Council January 29. Tuesday night, the developers went before the City’s Economic Development Authority and last night were slated to appear before the City’s Architectural Advisory Board.

While about six residential neighbors to the site were present to observe Monday’s work session with the Council, none raised major objections. Instead, they brought a list of 27 questions about the project, some of which were addressed at the meeting.

“The main concerns now seem to involve pedestrian routes to the Metro and construction parking,” said Chris Bell of Hekemian, in comments to the News-Press.

Some are concerned that their residential property will be trespassed by residents of the new project walking to the nearby East Falls Church Metro.

But Bell said he was “very pleased” with the tenor of the discussion with the planners.

Last week, the Council’s vote was 6-1 in favor of preliminary, of “first reading,” approval of the zoning change and special exception authorizations required for the project to move ahead. Only Councilman David Snyder voted “no.” Some other Council members indicated they did not want their “yes” vote interpreted as a guarantee they’d vote the same way when the project comes back for a final approval on March 26.

But the timing of the process favors final approval, since it will come for a vote at the same time the Council will be tackling tough decisions about its next fiscal year budget. The budget will be short of revenues this year, buoyed only by new funds coming from the new mixed-use projects either recently completed or under construction.

It will be very difficult for the Council to reject a plan that promises to bring significant new, and desperately needed, revenues from a site that has been non-performing for years.

In addition to its annual contribution, through real estate taxes, of near $300,000, approval of Northgate will bring a par value of $3 million in proffers, including $7,014 for every residential unit as a contribution to the City schools and $1 million worth of under-grounding of utility lines in the block.

The project will also offer 6.6% of its units as “affordable housing” available to those with incomes below 80% of the median regional income, and will offer “VIP” preferences for its rental units to City and City school employees.

The rental units that will go on the market ranging in monthly cost from $1,300 to $1,500, mostly two-bedroom, will be the first new such units built in Falls Church in decades. With its proximity to the Metro station, it is considered certain to be filled to capacity.

Another large-scale rental project is also now slated to move ahead in the same neighborhood, just beyond the Falls Church city limits on Westmoreland Street in Arlington. Across the street from the recently-completed WestLee condominiums, it has already received all the approvals it needs from Arlington County.

The developers of the project, called the Easton, shifted gears from earlier plans to build the project with condominiums, given the last year’s slow-down in that market. Now they’ve retooled their plans and are ready to move ahead with a large rental complex.