Combined $2 Million Projected Revenues To City, 2 Groceries
In a one-two punch marking an historic inflection point in the economic development of the City of Falls Church Monday night, the F.C. City Council unanimously approved special exceptions for two major mixed use projects that will now move forward to transform the City’s downtown.
At 11:43 p.m. Monday, the Council approved the Rushmark project to bring a full-scale Harris Teeter grocery to the 255-301 parcels of W. Broad Street after earlier giving a similar final approval to a Lincoln Properties “Reserve at Tinner Hill” project on S. Maple Street which will include a Fresh Market grocery.
Combined, the two projects will bring a projected $2 million in annual tax revenues to the City’s coffers, add over 500 new residential rental units and two major grocery stores to the center of the City. As lynchpins about six blocks apart, they will create the conditions for the in-fill with dense predominantly commercial development in between them, as spelled out in the City’s draft S. Washington Area Plan.
Never in the history of the City has so much development been given final approval by its City Council in one night. All votes to make it happen were unanimous, cast by all seven Council members who were present.
Despite strong pressure from residents immediately behind the Rushmark project against Harris Teeter’s desire to have two drive aisles, one for residents and one for Harris Teeter patrons, on W. Annandale Rd., the Council gave its final OK to the project with language calling for further work to resolve the issue for purposes of public safety and traffic flow. However, the project’s approval will not be conditional on the solution reached with 30 days of additional deliberation.
The Council went on record in favor of winning Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) approval for a W. Broad St. left-turn lane entrance into the three-levels of below-ground parking in the Rushmark project. It would ameliorate the concerns for heightened traffic flows on W. Annandale, but official VDOT approval of such a plan may take up to six months (Rt. 7, or W. Broad St., is technically a VDOT owned and operated thoroughfare). A Rushmark spokesman present Monday expressed support for that Council action.
The vote Monday also finally sealed the fate of the historic Anthony’s Restaurant in the 300 block of W. Broad, which had already announced its closing date of June 2.
With changes made to the Rushmark plan as recently as last Friday, the final issue of dispute became competing plans for the ingress and egress to the site by vehicular traffic off W. Annandale. The concern expressed by numerous residents contiguous to the project, including the leadership of the Winter Hill Community Association representing 194 townhomes, was that the latest drive aisle plan would add 3,000 to 4,500 cars driving on W. Annandale daily.
The Council agreed to language in the measure approving the project submitted by Vice Mayor David Snyder that created a 30-day time frame in which the issue of the drive lanes would continue to be open for discussion with neighbors, officials and experts, and subject to modification in the best interests of public safety and noise abatement.
The developer’s final decision on that matter would be incorporated into the project’s site plan, which would come before the City’s Planning Commission for approval this summer. However, the Planning Commission will not have veto power over the project at that point in the event there remains a serious dispute.
Driving the Council to bring final closure to its approvals of the two projects was growing impatience by the developers, and especially by Rushmark’s Harris Teeter tenant, headquartered in North Carolina.
Harris Teeter expressed strong interest in being located at or very near the W. Broad location for more than a half-dozen years, as a full service grocery store there was included as an anchor component of the $318 million City Center project by Atlantic Realty approved by the Council in 2008 that ground to a halt under pressures from the Great Recession.
Last month, Harris Teeter officials came to Falls Church to meet with the Economic Development Committee of the City Council and to make it unmistakably clear that they were prepared to pull their project if any significant further delays or roadblocks emerged. Indeed, the City’s Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) provoked that action by issuing a lengthy letter filled with requests for new conditions on the project’s approval.
The Rushmark project deal involved piecing together properties on the southwest side in the 255-309 block of W. Broad that included property known as the “Podolnick site” acquired by the City’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) in the mid-1990s for just such a future use. The parking lot and building of the old post office, and the property where Anthony’s Restaurant sits are the other land components of the deal.
Mike Novotny, chair of the EDA, spoke Monday in favor of the projects, saying that Rushmark’s “is a very strong project and should be approved.” He added, “We are delighted this (EDA-owned – ed.) land will go to such a strong use.”
He also hailed the agreement that would provide 22 parking spaces in the project for public use, in addition to patrons of businesses and residents on site.
Chris Bergen, chair of the board of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in support of the final approval of both projects. “Both are exceptional projects,” he said.
The Rushmark project is projected to add a net $1.3 million annually to the City’s tax coffers, and the Lincoln project up to $960,000.
At 90 feet in height, the Rushmark building will be technically the highest in the City by a slim margin of five feet above the Spectrum. It will also be the “densest,” with a floor-to-area ratio (FAR) of 3.25, compared to 2.55 for the Spectrum and 1.76 for the Byron. The Lincoln project, approved to be 85 feet tall, will become the second most “dense” in the City, with an FAR of 2.98.
Each project includes generous proffers of over $7,511 per residential unit donated to the City schools’ capital funds and the set aside of affordable housing units.
The Lincoln project will have 224 rental residential units, and the Fresh Market on the ground floor will be 26,000 square feet.
The Rushmark project will have 288 residential units, including a high proportion of one-bedroom and efficiency units, and the Harris Teeter will encompass 50,000 square feet on the ground floor.