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Akridge Back With Revamp of ‘Gateway’ Project Plans

023akridgegatewayThe Akridge Company of Washington, D.C., which first came forward with its plans for 500 N, Washington St. redevelopment in 2006 before the Great Recession hit, has returned with a reconfigured plan for the site.

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A WATERCOLOR RENDERING of Akridge’s new mixed-use development proposal, the “Gateway” at North Washington Street and Gresham Place, brought to an F.C. City Council and Planning Commission work session Monday night. (Illustration: Akridge)

The Akridge Company of Washington, D.C., which first came forward with its plans for 500 N, Washington St. redevelopment in 2006 before the Great Recession hit, has returned with a reconfigured plan for the site.

The new plan involves two buildings, one office and one for 200 residences with retail on the ground floor, and it was the subject of an initial presentation at a joint work session of the F.C. City Council and Planning Commission Monday.

The reconfigured so-called “Gateway” project will be 30 percent commercial and 70 percent residential, and City Hall fiscal analysis indicates it would bring in from $561,000 to $880,000 in added revenue to the City annually. The presentation was made by City staff members with Akridge officials observing in the audience.

However, the Council’s Economic Development subcommittee, chaired by Vice Mayor David Snyder, has already indicated to Akridge that it would like to see more commercial as a component of the project, perhaps as high as 50 percent of the developed site.

The subcommittee, composed of four of the seven Council members, including Snyder, Mayor Nader Baroukh, Lawrence Webb and Ira Kaylin, has found itself in the position of virtually vetting the Akridge proposal ahead of involvement by the whole Council, and some expressed concern about that Monday. Baroukh adamantly denied that was either the intent or the role of the subcommittee, but that it was meant only to begin a dialogue at an earlier stage in the process so that the developer has a better idea of what to expect.

But it was noted at the work session that Akridge officials in the meeting with the subcommittee stood firm in support of their configuration of their new plans, despite pressures from some on the group to increase the percentage of commercial uses.

Gary Fuller of Falls Church’s Planning Office made the report on the project to the joint session Monday, noting that the Gateway is proposed to be built on 2.6 acres at 500 N. Washington St., a site that is currently home to three Class C office buildings constructed in 1984 that take up 64,000 square feet.

In their place, Akridge wants to put up a five-story Class A office building with 71,000 square feet of offices and 12,000 square feet of ground floor retail, and a five-story residential structure with 200 units and ground floor commercial use of 2,500 square feet.

The project as planned is a total of 279,619 square feet, 193,764 residential (or 70 percent) and 85,855 commercial (30 percent).

A rezoning and special exception will be required to accommodate the plans, including to under-park the project with 513 underground spaces. Coming in 20 percent under the currently-required parking rate is justified, they argue, by the proximity of the site to the East Falls Church Metro (it is an eight minute walk from the Metro).

The new plan, submitted to City Hall last month, has changed from the 2006 submission that called for one commercial and four residential buildings for 268,000 square feet of total development, 11,000 less than the current two-building plan.

The new plan doubles the amount of retail from 7,700 square feet to 15,000 and increases the residential units from 180 to 200. The project has received a favorable response from members of the adjacent Gresham Place homeowners.

“We need to work with the developer to see how much commercial we can get” in the project, Snyder told Monday’s work session.

Melissa Teates of the Planning Commission, however, cautioned that pushing for too much commercial could kill the project’s ability to win bank financing.

Commissioner Mike Kearney said he was “pleased” with the project “as shown.” He said it would be better for the development of N. Washington overall for this project to not be too big.

While Snyder reiterated his desire to “close the gap” between 30 percent commercial and 50 percent, Planning Commissioner Rob Meeks said he could not understand the idea that 50 percent commercial has “some kind of theological power.”

Councilman Ron Peppe expressed concern that the Council’s economic development subcommittee, which meets every Friday at 7:30 a.m., does not engage in “any substantive negotiations” with the developer. Baroukh insisted it has, and will, not.