F.C. Commercial ‘Sector Plans’ Should Aim At Big Boosts in Densities, City Planner Says

Falls Church’s new City planner Jim Snyder, who helped orchestrate the commercial development of Arlington County before coming to work in F.C. earlier this year, told the F.C. City Council at its work session tonight that the “floor to area (FAR) ratios” in its prime commercial corridors are at this stage woefully short of where they need to be for the City to optimize its revenue potential for commercial development here.

Laying out his Planning Department’s plan for a systematic rewrite of the City’s Comprehensive Plan over the next five years, Snyder identified the same eight “sectors” in the commercially-zoned areas of the City laid out in the 2005 Comp Plan update, and noted that none of them are above 1.0 in FAR, whereas to be successful, they should all be above 2.5. In fact, he noted all of them are significantly below 0.5 FAR except for the one segment of W. Broad where new mixed-use development in the last decade has occurred. That area is at 0.9 FAR.

“You must make density your friend,” Snyder quipped to the Council, and to members of the City’s Planning Commission who were also invited in on the briefing. While it is important to bring neighborhoods in on the discussions, as Council David Snyder insisted, Snyder said that coming to them with a blank slate is not a good idea. Councilman Ira Kaylin agreed. “We are going to have to have more density to survive as an independent city,” Kaylin said. “It involves a management of expectations. If you hear from neighborhoods that they want low growth and no tax increases, they have to be told what their options really are.”

“Ensuring quality is really what this is all about,” City Manager Wyatt Shields chimed in. “We’re trying to set standards here.”

Snyder’s plan is to spend six months on each of eight commercial segments of the City, and while the entire project won’t be completed until 2015, getting the first one done in six months will be a daunting challenge, he said. The sectors he identified, in order of priority, are 1. North Washington St., 2. Eastern gateway, 3. Gordon Road triangle, 4. City Center, 5. S. Washington, 6. West Broad (two sections) and 7. the far west end. The N. Washington St. sector is not only closest to the Metro system (the East Falls Church Metro station), but Snyder noted that Arlington County adopted a planning model for development around that station that is very low-density in its commercial component. That, he said, could open the door for the N. Washington sector in Falls Church, a quarter-mile from the Metro, to focus on commercial development, possibly drawing on a plan drawn up by graduate planning students at the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia campus in Falls Church, that would consolidate properties and generate 2.63 FARs with 121,000 square feet of retail, 248,000 square feet of office and 98,800 square feet of residential, including a park and the daylighting of the Four Mile Run creek there. Snyder suggested that a hydraulic specialist may be retained to look into the feasibility of the daylighting component, which pundits have quipped could allow for the formation of a Falls Church navy.