Council, Planners Like Benefits for Economy, Arts
A plan for a make-over of the intersection of Routes 7 and 29, also known as Broad and Washington streets, in the center of the City of Falls Church was eagerly embraced by members of the Falls Church City Council and Planning Commission at a joint work session this Monday, marking the first sign of significant traction at City Hall for an idea whose origins date back over a decade.
The plan was incorporated in the report by City-retained consulting firm on the more comprehensive North Washington Streetscape enhancement plan, but some on the Council urged that the intersection make-over be put on a faster track than the overall plan because of its economic-development impact. They also cited its ability to enhance the newly-formed “arts and cultural district” in the City and to help kick-off the “branding” effort that is also now under development for Falls Church.
“This is a high impact, low cost concept that could produce important results for our economy,” Councilman David Snyder said, suggesting this component of the overall plan “be moved on first.” Councilman Dan Maller added that “it would be well worth putting $100,000” toward it right away.
The concept, as presented by Ryan Bouma out of the Alexandria offices of EDAW, Inc., a global design firm specializing in environmentally-friendly, sustainable projects, is to connect, with signage, paving, public art, lighting, pedestrian-friendly features, benches and landscaping, the four corners of the intersection.
The idea is to create a sense of “place” not only for the 40,000 vehicles that through the intersection daily, but also for the 700 patrons from throughout the D.C. Metro region who often fill the State Theatre a half-block away.
Also, combining the intersection plan with making pedestrian access from the State Theatre to the intersection inviting, well-lit and friendly sidewalk upgrades will help generate a growing recognition by State Theatre patrons of additional dining and entertainment options accessible by foot within a short block or two.
There are no less than seven restaurants, including two with live music, a very short distance from the State, which is currently the City’s primary single draw of outside dollars to help buoy the local economy.
The sense of “place” established by the intersection make-over could include a piece of public art, or a fountain, in front of the Ireland’s Four Provinces on a large section of a double-wide sidewalk. It could give drivers and pedestrians approaching the intersection the sense that “this is Falls Church,” said Vice Mayor Hal Lippman.
Pavers or other means for integrating the intersection with colorful pedestrian crosswalks connecting the four corners is also proposed, along with a plan to do a similar coloration of the entire intersection, and to allow for diagonal pedestrian access across the intersection at certain low-traffic points of the evening.
It could give the overall intersection more of a sense of a plaza, noted Planning Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry. She coined the phrase, “Falls Church’s Four Corners” in reference to the area in question, and noted that in addition to its economic development benefits, public art and other signage could embrace the just-approved designation of the area as an official “arts and cultural district” under Virginia law.
It would also serve as a gateway to the already-approved City Center plan, once the economy thaws and it gets underway nearby.
Bouma laid out a timetable for the overall North Washington Streetscape project that could lead to its final approval by the City Council by the end of the year.
But the intersection plan “will make it easy and attractive to do business here,” Snyder said, “It will make the intersection the major ‘downtown’ of the region, adding to “a more vibrant” City Center plan down the road.
Snyder identified the proposal as the “Benton Plan,” named for News-Press Owner Nicholas F. Benton’s editorial origin of the concept more than a decade ago, and for the support it has enjoyed since that time among board members of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, of which Benton is one.
Benton revived his plan earlier this year, in conjunction with annual Washington Area Music Awards fete at the State Theatre, in editorials in the Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 editions of the News-Press. He presented it to the full Chamber board at a meeting attended by City Manager Wyatt Shields on Mar 10.
He described it as his “Yellow Brick Road” idea, based on attracting State patrons with enhanced sidewalk and lighting features to an upgraded Broad-Washington intersection and the restaurants and retailers around it. His plan also included the need for a shuttle bus to make it easier and more welcoming for out-of-town visitors to the State and center city to come and go via the East Falls Church Metro.
Benton was then invited by the Falls Church Planning Division to outline and argue for its parameters in a special briefing at City Hall on June 8.
Councilman Maller hailed the proposal Monday, saying it will be “critical to the identity of the City, by contrast to the intersection’s indistinguishing appearance now,” adding, “This is an exciting opportunity to put our money where our mouth is on this.”
Bouma’s report included a summary of citizen comments at a public meeting on the North Washington Streetscape held June 11. Input on the Four Mile Run gateway area and the Madison Park area were discussed, along with the State Theatre and the Broad and Washington intersection.