News

Signs of New Life Seen for Stalled Major Mixed-Use Projects in F.C.

Gateway Wins 7-0 Council Vote, City Center Reviving

Although the final approval is not slated until mid-January, the Falls Church City Council Monday night voted unanimously to give a “first reading” approval to the Akridge Company’s long-awaited F.C. Gateway mixed use project in the 500 block of N. Washington St.

023akridgegateway

A WATERCOLOR RENDERING of Akridge’s new mixed-use development proposal, the “Gateway” at North Washington Street and Gresham Place. (Illustration: Akridge)
Gateway Wins 7-0 Council Vote, City Center Reviving

Although the final approval is not slated until mid-January, the Falls Church City Council Monday night voted unanimously to give a “first reading” approval to the Akridge Company’s long-awaited F.C. Gateway mixed use project in the 500 block of N. Washington St.

The action marked the first definitive step in over two years toward a revival of the suddenly-stalled new commercial development process in the City. After the Falls Church City Council gave complete approvals to three large-scale projects, the global economic crisis suddenly brought lending for such things to a standstill.

Now, not only is Akridge’s Gateway project back on track, but so is the City’s most massive plan, the $315-million Atlantic Realty City Center project.

Adam Shulman of Atlantic Realty was present at Tuesday morning’s monthly meeting of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce board of directors, and reported that the ambitious project that includes a hotel, supermarket, a relocation of the Bowl America, parking garage, senior housing, residential units and office space, is being readied to get underway.

He told the News-Press the first shovel should be in the ground in the first half of 2011, noting that no further approvals from the City government are needed to pick up where things left off when the economy tanked in 2008.

“Things are really starting to loosen up (in the lending markets),” Shulman said.

He confirmed that the project will proceed with exactly the same parameters and components as the Council approved in 2008, noting that the deal with Bowl America remains in place as before, and Atlantic’s offer of community benefits made to the City is also still there.

All that’s needed from City Hall is site plan approval, he noted.

Because of changes made to the Akridge plan, on the other hand, new rezoning and special exception approvals are required, with this Monday’s vote representing the first important hurdle in that process.

In addition to the Akridge Gateway project and Atlantic’s City Center plans, a third pre-approved project awaiting reactivation is Hekemian’s Northgate mixed use project that will be built adjacent the Akridge project on N. Washington St.

In fact, if Northgate gets underway, it may be that major construction will be underway on both sides of E. Jefferson Street that leads into a residential neighborhood.

A spokesperson for the East Jefferson Improvement Association spoke at this Monday’s City Council meeting expressing concerns associated with that prospect, and other matters. A meeting between Akridge officials and those neighbors was slated for this week.
The Akridge project in its current configuration (the fourth modified submission by Akridge) is composed of an Class A all commercial building and a predominantly residential second building with 200 units for sale or rental.

The fact the project is 3/8th of a mile from the East Falls Church Metro station is partly what would contribute to as much as $688,000 annual net revenues to the City, along with a $1.425 million one-time contribution to the City schools and other developer proffers and over $3 million in community benefits, overall.

Representing Akridge at Monday’s meeting were four familiar faces from the earlier negotiating and approval process, Mike Gill and Joe Svatos of Akridge, legal consultant and former F.C. City Manager David Lasso, and architect Lee Quill.
The Akridge project first same to a joint session of the City Council and Planning Commission in June 2006, and there was virtually no action between June 2008 and April 2010, during the depths of the recession.

However, despite significant changes in the make-up of the City Council, observers said they were heartened by the unanimous vote to move ahead on Monday.

Meetings by Akridge officials with the newly-active City Council Economic Development Committee on Friday mornings helped pave the way to Monday’s smooth vote. With four members of the City Council on that committee, many potential rough spots were smoothed over in these discussions, said the committee’s chair, Vice Mayor David Snyder.