Future of Winter Hill Mulled After Housing Project OK’d

Following the Falls Church City Council approval earlier this month of a 174-unit affordable housing project, the fate of 83 existing affordable housing units in the Winter Hill section of the City remains undetermined.

The original plan, as presented to the Council by Carol Jackson, executive director of the Falls Church Housing Corporation (FCHC), was to relocate the seniors living in the Winter Hill to the new City Center South Apartments building and then to renovate the Winter Hill units and sell them to first-time home buyers.

Part of the funds from the renovation and sale of the units would go to pay for the new apartment building.

But at the Aug. 11 City Council meeting when the project was approved, Councilman Dan Maller raised some eyebrows when he suggested that the Winter Hill units might have a different fate in store.

He said he would not be opposed if the FCHC sold the units there to a developer who might put high-end townhouses on the more than four acres in question, instead. If that were the case, he noted, the FCHC could use the money to find better options for increasing the City’s stock of affordable housing.

In an interview with the News-Press this week, he said that it “could make better sense” to use the resources from the sale of the Winter Hill units to, for example, acquire another large building that may be about to increase its rents, in order to keep it affordable.

But what would happen to the property on which the 83 Winter Hill units sit, if it was sold to a private developer? What would be the impact on the neighborhood if the developer built large townhouses, or even went for a zoning change to put a large-scale mixed use project there?

With Winter Hill’s proximity to the new $317 million Atlantic Realty City Center project, such a zoning change approach may not be out of the question, Maller noted.

The notion of the FCHC selling the Winter Hill property did not come as a surprise to either Mayor Robin Gardner or Council member Nader Baroukh in interviews with the News-Press.

Baroukh, who said his involvement as a member of the Winter Hill Community Association of town house owners in the same neighborhood as the 83 affordable units in question would not prevent him from acting objectively on such matters, said his major concern was that the FCHC work closely with the City Council in whatever it wants to do.

“A lot more policy work needs to be done,” he said. “When it comes to ‘special exception’ or zoning issues, the City has a lot of control.”

But he said he would not want the FCHC to continue pursuing a policy of concentrating affordable units in one place, as with the City Center South Apartments, but to “disperse them throughout the community.” Issues of fiscal impact on the City will also be paramount for him, he said.

Mayor Gardner said that while selling Winter Hill and allowing a private developer to build larger, market-rate dwellings would not be out of the question for her, she said she would adamantly oppose any efforts to change the zoning to allow more density. “We’ve already done enough to disrupt that neighborhood with the City Center and Pearson Square developments,” she said. “I’m resolved to retain the character of the neighborhood going forward.”

“Putting market-rate units there would almost certainly increase the property values of all of us,” Bernadette Fancuberta, president of the Winter Hill Community Association, told the News-Press, “But it is difficult to comment because there is so much uncertainty.”

She is troubled, she said, that so many of these questions went unanswered in the rush to approve the City Center South Apartments.

The FCHC’s Jackson, who still claims that the original plan to renovate the existing Winter Hill units and sell them to first-time homebuyers is the best plan, said that nothing will happen until the City Center South Apartments plan wins approval for $12 to $16 million in tax credits from the Virginia Housing Development Authority in Richmond next year.