Seeking Condo-to-Rental OK, $ Offered to Build Arts Center

New $100,000 Gift By Atlantic Realty Wins F.C. Planners

Atlantic Realty officials responded this week to growing public pressure to offer some compensation in exchange for the City of Falls Church’s permitting the conversion of 231 for-sale condos to rentals at its giant Pearson Square mixed use project now under construction. They formally offered Monday to contribute $100,000 in design and build-out costs of the “flex arts space” at the site they’ve offered to the City for reduced rent.

“This is a huge step forward for this project to have this kind of support,” Laura Hull, executive director of the Falls Church-based non-profit youth arts program, Creative Cauldron, remarked to the News-Press. “With this space and, now, support for its development, we can begin to kindle a wonderful arts community in Falls Church.”

News of the added proffer surfaced at Monday’s meeting of the Falls Church Planning Commission. It helped expedite a unanimous vote by that body to recommend approval of the condo-to-rental switch to the Falls Church City Council, which will take the final vote on the request at its regular business meeting this Monday.

David A. Ross, a partner with Atlantic Realty, was on hand to explain the new offer Monday. At the request of Commission Maureen Budetti, he assured them the contribution would be $100,000, and not “up to” $100,000, noting that the cost of the build out would exceed that considerably.

The offer fell short of the suggestion that Atlantic Realty gift the space to the City, rather than offer it at a reduced rent. It remains to be seen if the City Council will seek this added proffer Monday, although it gave no public signals in earlier meetings that it wanted even as much as Atlantic has now offered.

The likely impact of switching from condos to rentals on the City’s school system, in terms of additional school-aged children moving in, was already covered with a volunteer cash-equivalent proffer by Atlantic.

But the shift from condo to rentals, driven by current market conditions, will cost the City an estimated $185,000 in annual tax revenue, based on the different ways in which the two housing products are assessed.

With his office closing early Tuesday for the July 4 holiday, Ross was unavailable to provide further comment about the new art-space build out proffer to the News-Press in time for this week’s edition.

Meanwhile, the News-Press has learned that the task of directing the design effort and capital campaign for the build out of the arts space at the site has been handed over entirely to Hull and her Creative Cauldron organization, based on a decision by the board of Falls Church Arts Monday.

“Now, the task is about communicating to the public what’s going to be there, and generating excitement about how this unique kind of arts incubator can contribute to the development of a rich cultural life and environment in Falls Church,” Hull said.

 Technically, the Planning Commission’s recommendation Monday and the City Council’s vote this coming Monday is limited to permitting the condo-to-rental conversion of the 15 units at the site designated for “affordable housing” use, but sets the tone for the entire project.

Meanwhile, the News-Press has been contacted by citizens who had inked preliminary contracts to buy condo units at the site, who say they are now in a state of limbo, not knowing nor having been contacted by Atlantic about where things stand, and what all of this will mean for them.

Atlantic has assured the City Council in earlier meetings that the housing units will continue to be constructed “as if” they were condos, which will allow conversion back to for-sale condos when the market rebounds.

Technically, the condos in question are now owned by Carr Homes, Inc., and if Monday’s vote is favorable, will be sold to Trans Western, Inc., a company that specializes in rental products. However, Atlantic officials like Carr and Adam Shulman have taken the case to the Council since they were the original recipients of the special exception rulings that initiated the project.

Whatever final terms are voted on Monday will be binding for all owners and future owners and developers at the site.