F.C. Council OK’s High Density Plan for N. Washington Area

Over a year in the making, Falls Church’s North Washington Street Small Area Development Plan was adopted 4-0 by the F.C. City Council Monday night as a “guiding document for decision making,” and to be referenced in the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

The plan for redevelopment with densities as high as 2.5 floor-to-area ratios (FAR) and open space fronting the Four Mile Run stream was OK’d with the understanding that wording be added to ensure that it conform with the Council’s earlier mandate that no on-street parking be eliminated, that references to making either Maple or Little Falls one-way be deleted, that mixed-use projects be guaranteed to maximize potential for net revenues to the City, and that architectural designs of new structures reflect unique and aesthetic considerations.

The importance of the first of a number of small area plans being devised by the City’s Planning Department lie in its unique location as a gateway to the City from Arlington, and in proximity to the dense development that Arlington County OKd earlier this year for the nearby East Falls Church Metro Station.

The 30-acre area of the development plan is also proximate to the I-66 Interstate and the W&OD Trail, which make it a critically-important redevelopment location for the long-term sustainability of Falls Church as an independent jurisdiction, Falls Church’s Planning Director James Snyder told the Council.

The plan is the first of up eight that are in a queue for development in different parts of the City, based on what Snyder initially presented to the Council at a work session in May 2011. Some of those may now be consolidated, Snyder told the News-Press in an interview yesterday, and the process for the formation of a second one will begin Saturday morning, June 23, at the Columbia Baptist Church.

At that public meeting, Snyder said, members of the City staff, the Economic Development Authority and Planning Commission will welcome input from citizens about what they’d like to see the S. Washington corridor eventually look like.

That’s how the process for the N. Washington plan was launched at a public meeting last October. Out of that meeting, the City planning staff went to work and produced a draft plan it rolled out on March 24 this year. Then seeking input from various City boards and commissions, it was finally brought before the City Council this week.

“I am very pleased it was approved unanimously,” Snyder told the News-Press, even with modifications all of which are entirely in keeping with the intent of the plan.”

It can be a real stretch between a conceptual plan like this one, and actual development, Snyder conceded. In the case of the N. Washington area, a principal landowner, the Falls Church-based Jennings family, is profiting from the current under-developed W. Jefferson Street, and would need considerable incentives to invite a major redevelopment process.

“Over time, it could happen,” Snyder said. The Jennings family, he said, did some preliminary research on flood plain issues back when the new fire station was built. Moving ahead would involve some transfer of development rights and participation in property consolidations, he said.

However, the tax revenue benefits to the City of Falls Church would be considerable if a 2.5 FAR could be achieved at the north end of the area. All the area plans will be considered for their contribution to the City’s tax base.

While back in the 1990s, the late Falls Church Development Chief David Holmes developed a set of sectional development plans with spectacular tax revenue returns that first brought such potentials to the attention of City residents.

While a modest development “boom” followed in the first years of the last decade, generating the first new major developments in the City’s commercial corridors in two decades, it ground to a halt with the onset in 2007 of the Great Recession. Only recently has some new development been restarted.

The upcoming S. Washington Street plan will take into account its arts components, including the existing Art Space of Falls Church on S. Maple and the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation property on S. Washington, Snyder said. It will also include the new mixed use project proposed for the S. Maple at Annandale Road intersection by developer Bob Young and the impending sale of the Saab dealership property further down on S. Maple.

Snyder said he expects each of the seven or eight small area plans will take six to seven months, so that they’ll all be completed “fairly expeditiously” by 2015.

He recalled that work by students at the Northern Virginia campus of Virginia Tech was instrumental in laying the conceptual groundwork for the N. Washington Plan. The study, completed in May 2010, was presented to the City and is currently posted on the City’s website.

It includes the key feature of the “daylighting” of Four Mile Run and the development of a park and open space adjacent it.

“All across the country, people are rediscovering their streams and opening them back up,” Snyder noted.