Due to relentless opposition from nearby St. James School parents and neighbors to the site, the developer seeking City of Falls Church’s approvals to build a Hilton Garden Inn hotel on W. Broad St. may modify his plan to build the hotel “by right,” without needing any City government OKs.
The News-Press learned that developer Robert Young of Jefferson One L.L.C. has drafted alternative plans for the hotel that stay within the existing height limit permitted under the current Falls Church Zoning Code. In that event, the hands of all interested parties would be tied as he exercises his right to build on the land he owns.
In an unusual move at the Falls Church City Council work session Monday night, spokesmen for St. James parents and neighborhood residents were given 10 minutes each to speak to the Council about their objections. They centered on traffic congestion and storm water runoff issues, and not on fears many had publicly expressed earlier that the hotel would be a haven for pedophiles.
Normally, no citizen input is allowed at work sessions, but is limited to public hearings, of which there have been many this spring, including at City Council business meetings and Planning Commission meetings.
Council members commented that traffic and parking impacts of the proposed hotel would be equal or even greater factors for any development on the prospective hotel site, which is a block away from the school.
Closer to the school, in the same block, is a four-story office building now under construction that will become the new home of the Falls Church retail branch of the U.S. Postal Service. Young is the developer of that project, and is building it “by right,” under the existing zoning code.
Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner, speaking at Monday’s work session, cautioned the school and neighborhood representatives, and her Council colleagues, that Young could use the “by right” option with his hotel project, as well.
If compelled to go that route, of course, Young would not deliver on about $350,000 in proffers he’s offered the City under the current plan, which is to secure Council approval for a height allowance and other minor modifications.
Sources tell the News-Press that Young’s alternative option to build the hotel “by right” would not cause a significant loss to him in revenue. The source said that Young petitioned for the special exceptions, in the first place, because he was inadvertently misled by someone at City Hall into believing it was necessary, and only added on the extra height after that.
Young contends the project, when completed, will bring $477,000 in annual net tax revenue to the City tax coffers. He’d already presented data and testimony showing that such a hotel would actually enhance the safety of the neighborhood, rather than the other way around.
He said he’s willing to cooperate with the school to add crossing guards, signage, traffic calming methods, to pave the sidewalks along both sides of Oak Street and to modify the Oak at Broad St. intersection.
In hopes of agreements between the school, neighbors and Young, and to collect still more information, the Council determined to put off its intended vote on the final approval of the project to June 23.
At Monday’s hearing, Casey Catterton, a spokesman on behalf of the St. James parents said that a petition opposing the hotel had been signed by 811 Falls Church residents and 28 business owners. He said the parents are still waiting to see if they “need to deploy in full fashion.”
He also challenged a City-commissioned study about the expected revenue yield of the project, saying that compared to current data of hotel occupancies in the region, it would not be near full and could at best yield $200,000 to $300,000 annually in net tax revenue.
Nigel Yates, a neighbor to the site, said, “We want the site developed, but not with a hotel. It should be office, retail or a restaurant, done to existing code. A hotel doesn’t fit the unique character of the area.” Neighbor Dan Fitzgerald expressed concerns about storm water runoff and drainage issues.
Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry asked what similar concerns, and what mitigating measures, came into play when St. James built a new gymnasium at its site a decade ago. She also noted that any other uses at the hotel site would create the same, or even greater, traffic and drainage problems.
When Councilman Hal Lippman asked about using Spring Street, to the west of St. James, to shield students from the “worst case scenario” traffic impact of the hotel, a school parent spokesman said that the school might seek the closing of that street, instead.