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New Office Building OK

 

Whirlwind of New Building Projects Greets City Hall

Get ready for more Art Nouveau architecture in downtown Falls Church.

An office building to fill four lots on the north side of the 800 block of West Broad Street in downtown Falls Church was given final site plan approval by the Planning Commission Monday night, making it the seventh large-scale new project approved for the City’s tiny commercial corridors since 2001.


The shovels should be in the ground on this one within two months, according to developer Bob Young, and the result will be a four-story structure with a restaurant and, hopefully, a wine shop on the ground floor, and three floors of office space, totaling 46,068 square feet above.

Young wasted no time announcing that he’s commissioned his architect to design another unique structure, along the lines of the Art Nouveau building he’s put up in the 400 block of West Broad, the recently-completed Read Building.

Whereas the Read Building is exemplary of the Glasgow School of the Art Nouveau style, the new building will be of the Vienna, or Wagner, style from the turn of the last century. “A bit lighter and more playful,” said Architect Jack Wilbern, who did the Read design and is back to do the new one too.

He said there is no precedent, architecturally, for either building anywhere in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

This new project did not require any special exceptions or zoning changes from the City Council, so it was “by right,” although some minor waivers on technical features were ironed out with City staff.

Young is hopeful that the U.S. Postal Service will relocate its current post office in the 300 block of W. Broad to the ground floor of the building. The Postal Service is currently weighing options in light of its impending need to vacate much, if not all, of its operations from its current site. That’s because the City of Falls Church owns the parking lot at the current site, and intends to give it over to the development of a new City Center as early as next spring.

Whatever the decision of the Postal Service, however, Young said he expects his new building to be ready in a year, and that he’s already found a solid tenant, Wilbern’s firm of Butz Wilbern currently based in McLean, to occupy one of the three floors of office space.

In addition to this new development, the Planning Commission, the City Council and the Economic Development Authority of Falls Church also took fresh looks at two more large scale projects coming along the pipeline.

On Monday, prior to the approval of the Young building, the Planners and Council met together to hear an update on the Akridge Company’s plans for its “Falls Church Gateway” project planned for property it now owns at 500-512 N. Washington St. The proposal had met with favor when it last came to the Council earlier this year, and Monday was no exception.

The 2.69 acre site currently holds three office buildings with 64,000 square feet of office space. The proposal by Akridge is to redevelop it at over four times the current density to 308,436 square feet, with 74% residential and 26% commercial.

A City planning staff report noted that the project “provides a unique opportunity for redevelopment of one of the City’s most visible and prominent real estate sites.”

“There is a lot to like here,” said Council member Dan Sze, reflecting remarks also made by Planning Commissioner Rob Puentes. Council David Chavern said the project would “add vibrancy in the pedestrian corridor” and attention was paid to the breakup of the project into four buildings to allow for pedestrian movement and green space between the buildings.

However, Councilman David Snyder cautioned about giving over a prime location to a project that is only 26% commercial.

Tuesday night, a number of Council members and Planning Commissioners also showed up for a briefing hosted by the Economic Development Authority on Atlantic Realty’s City Center project.

The material was the same that came to a City Council work session the week before, but there was more public presence at this meeting, and members of the public asked numerous questions of the Atlantic Realty representatives.

The project, which got the thumbs up from the board of directors of the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce last week, includes a six-story office building, a 75-unit age restricted condo project (age 55 and older), a 150-room hotel with conference center and restaurant, a relocated Bowl America facility, a 62,000-square foot Harris Teeter grocery store, street-level retail and 540 rental units, 80% of which will be one-bedroom.

Landscaping features include a traffic-calming roundabout at the intersection of Annandale Road and S. Maple, a proposed new park on the southwest corner of that intersection with a fountain, ample bike racks, covered bus stops, enhancements to the adjacent Big Chimneys Park and sidewalks up to 20 feet in width.

The tallest structures will be the condo building and the hotel, both rising to 115 feet. All the parking throughout the project, with a capacity of 2,000 cars, will be underground.

Once this is completed, Atlantic Realty intends to redevelop its existing George Mason Square property across the street. “This is all designed to have a snowballing effect for Falls Church,” said Atlantic Realty’s Adam Shulman.