Falls Church Council Defers Adoption of S. Washington Area Plan, Angering Developer

The Falls Church City Council Tuesday night, at the urging of Mayor Nader Baroukh, heard a report and public comment, but deferred final action on approving the S. Washington St. Area Plan devised by the City Planning Department tonight until its next meeting in two weeks.

The deferral angered one developer present, Bob Young of the Young Group who’d just announced that he’d completed the renovation of a retail property at 300 S. Washington that included no small amount of personal investment into a streetscape there, himself.

Young spoke before the Council, saying he felt “great disappointment” at the move to defer, saying if the City doesn’t get busy and “get down there to do something” in an area “that looks very bad,” that the whole area planning exercise will be “a waste of time.”

Young also lashed out at comments made by Mayor Baroukh earlier in the meeting that he said placed the blame on developers of new mixed-use projects on West Broad for failing to provide funds for the establishment of a stop light there.

“Five years ago, the funds were provided that at the time were sufficient for the stop light,” Young said, “But the City delayed it over and over.” (Now, the latest plan for the stop light at the intersection of W. Broad and Pennsylvania Ave. is that it will be set to go by spring, Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester reported tonight).

Baroukh responded to Young’s remarks by saying “It is really unfortunate” that Young took what Baroukh had said as “blaming the developer,” insisting he did not lay blame on anyone in particular.

However, a review of the tape of the meeting revealed that Baroukh did say earlier in the meeting, when he confessed twice that he was “getting on his soap box,” that “there should not be a replay of the Broad and Pennsylvania situation again,” adding that such matters (as paying for the installation of the stop light) “belong at the doorstep of developers,” and said that “the developers should have put this in at first.”

Baroukh also said in response to Young’s outburst that he took “umbrage” at Young’s suggestion that “we are not going fast enough.”

However, Vice Mayor David Snyder seemed to pick up on what Young was saying later in the meeting, saying that it must be a priority to ask, “What do we need to do to get things going?” He added, “What do we need to do next, if we mean what we say when we approve this plan, so that it doesn’t wind up being just another plan that gathers dust on a shelf.”

Baroukh responded that, in fact, a number of infrastructure improvements are already in the works for the targeted area, which was why, he said, he “pushed back a little” on what Young said. “Maybe the news of what we are doing there is not getting heard, at least by one developer,” he said.

The substance of the S. Washington Plan, reported extensively in last week’s News-Press upon its unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, calls for an increase in the density of the 43.26 acre area of the City just south of the historic Falls Church Episcopal. The area is now a third taken up by surface parking and has a very low 0.56 floor-to-area-ratio (FAR). Increasing the FAR to 2.5-4 would triple the tax revenues coming to the City.

While an area adjacent the historic church that could result from a combining of a unutilized strip mall owned by the church and the Tower Square shopping center behind it – identified as a “town center” area by Falls Church’s chief planner Jim Snyder – was not intended to suggest a public use, Councilman Phil Duncan said he wanted it to be known that he does not think an eventual public use could be appropriate.

Councilman Ira Kaylin leapt at the Duncan comment, saying, “That’s because you want to move City Hall and the library to that, isn’t that so?”

But Duncan said it was too late at night to get into any of that, and Mayor Baroukh agreed.

The Council’s vote was 6-0 (Ron Peppe absent) to approve the deferral on the matter to the Council’s Oct. 28 meeting. After the meeting, City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press that it was planned in advance to defer the final vote. Since there was no time on a full work session agenda next Monday to present the plan there, it was thought that breaking it into two pieces at general business meetings this Tuesday and Oct. 28 would provide the Council the exposure it needed to the plan for a vote.