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New Lincoln Mixed-Use Plans Draw Fears from Arts Leader

A large-scale mixed use project that will come before the Falls Church City Council and other planning groups within weeks was previewed in depth to members of Falls Church’s arts and cultural leaders last week. While all favored it, there were serious concerns from some about its impact on fledgling, existing arts efforts – namely, the ArtSpace Falls Church and Creative Cauldron – that would be in its shadow.

The Herndon-based Lincoln Property Company has been in talks with City planners and economic development officials for months about their project, which if approved will be built on land it acquired where the Saab dealership currently sits between S. Washington and S. Maple Ave.

The project would have 224 small, 850-square foot residential rental units, a 23,000-square foot grocery store (as yet unidentified), 7,500 square feet of retail space and 10,000 square feet of a park-like area available for outdoor events. It would require a special exception from the Council for height, as its 85-foot height would exceed the 55-foot code limit.

However, the height of the project would not be greater than that of the new Pearson Square building across the street. ArtSpace Falls Church and its main tenant, Creative Cauldron, are on the ground floor of Pearson Square, and chief organizer Laura Hull expressed concern last Thursday that those would be buried in a “apartment building canyon” if the Lincoln project goes in.

Worse, however, was her fear, she said, that a competitor arts organization, the Levine School of Music, might be recruited to locate in the new building.

While City officials, including Chief Planner Jim Snyder, who was present along with Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester Thursday, are optimistic that Levine would help create a “critical mass” for the arts in the area that would help Creative Cauldron, Hull said it would compete for the same arts monies from Fairfax County and elbow out the little ArtSpace which has imminent needs for expansion, itself.

Richard Rose, a vice president of the Lincoln group, told the meeting last Thursday (attendees from the City were members of the so-called Falls Church CATCH, short for City of Falls Church Arts, Theatre, Culture and History) that nothing has been agreed to yet with Levine, which explored looking for new space in Falls Church about a decade ago.

Hull said that possible incentives to Levine would also disadvantage her operation, as well as plans to have most of the retail on the ground floor of the Lincoln building facing onto S. Washington, and away from S. Maple where the ArtSpace is located.

But Rose and Stephanie Pankiewicz, principal of the Alexandria-based LandDesign urban architects, said their vision is for transforming S. Maple into a potential “festival street” that could be easily closed to traffic for special events, and that ArtSpace would be right in the middle of that.

The conversation led to the idea that the City’s weekly farmer’s market could be relocated there, for example. The street could be readily blocked off without any serious impact on the flow of traffic, given the very short diversion onto Tinner Street that would be involved.

“We are looking to activate all sides of our building,” Rose said, including by the use of visual transparency and windows on all sides. While the main entrance to the mystery grocery store would be at the Rural NAACP Arch at S. Washington and Tinner Streets, there would also be an entrance on S. Maple, he said.

Snyder said the City would prevail upon the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for a signal light at the S. Washington (Rt. 29) and Tinner intersection. Mester confirmed that, having been run through the City’s economic impact model, the project if approved would net $571,000 in taxes annually to the City.

Former Falls Church City Manager David Lasso, who is a consultant to Lincoln on the project, said the new building “will be a fantastic opportunity” for the City.