F.C. Real Estate Assessments Due Out Next Week, Residential to Jump by 6%

At the Saturday retreat at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary library, the Falls Church City Council was addressed by the City’s planning director Jim Snyder.  (Photo: News-Press)
At the Saturday retreat at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary library, the Falls Church City Council was addressed by the City’s planning director Jim Snyder. (Photo: News-Press)

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press at the Falls Church City Council retreat last Saturday that real estate annual assessments due out later this month will show an average six percent rise for residential properties, while commercial properties will come in flat.

City officials confirmed to the News-Press yesterday that assessments compiled by City Assessor Ryan Davis will be mailed to City property owners next Friday, Feb. 14, and that a summary of the results will become available by midweek.

But already Shields’ advance snapshot should be instructive to the F.C. City Council, policy makers and developers about what’s hot and what’s not, and should result in some rethinking about the merits of residential vs. commercial development going forward.

Last year at this time, the assessments showed a net increase of only three percent for residential, a finding that many in the City questioned because it was so low.

This year’s number, as Shields indicated, may be coming in twice as high, but still below the annual 16 percent and up leaps that residential real estate experienced in the years leading up to the Great Recession.

There is little doubt, based on exploding school enrollment numbers here, that the popularity of the City’s high quality school system is a major factor in driving up real estate values. Its impact on new apartment facilities, such as at Pearson Square is already local legend as there are over 100 children now at Pearson Square.

School buses stopping at the entrance to the building linger there while students pour out with the frequency and numbers of clowns climbing out of a Volkswagen at your favorite circus show.

On the other hand, the reality of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area office glut is also a reality that is not being lost on the Little City.

The only kind of “all commercial” high yield building projects now pressing ahead here are either anchored by a hotel or dedicated to senior assisted living use.

It presents a cautionary note to the City’s policy makers that insistence on significant commercial components to large-scale mixed-use projects may be deal-killers, as has been the case already once.

In a list of 18 development projects presented by the City’s Economic Development chief Rick Goff at Saturday’s Council retreat, no mention was made of the N. Washington Street property that had been the darling of the D.C.-based Akridge Company.

That the project was sold by Akridge last year to Inova Health Systems was hushed up because the City’s intransigent demands on the developer, especially the demand for excessive commercial, made it untenable and Akridge simply took their ball and went home.

If City officials are going to learn from that fiasco, then they should take a very close look at the assessments coming out next week and use that to work with prospective developers, rather than work at odds with them, especially at this critical time with as much development in the pipeline as now exists.

“We are seeing the most activity and highest level of redevelopment interest in at least the past 10 years,” Goff told the Council.

Pending project deliveries, he said, include the Hilton Garden Inn, due in April, the Hekemian Company’s Northgate project, opening in March on N. Washington St., and the Good Fortune Asian grocery coming over the summer in the Eden Center.

Projects categorized as “recent deliveries and major investments,” Goff said, include the renovated and now operational Easter Seals Child Development Center building on Hunton Avenue, the Pulmonary and Medical Associates buildings at 500 and 510 Annandale Road., the second level deck at the Dogwood Tavern, and Bob Young’s art nouveau designed retail strip at Annandale and S. Washington, home to the Smashburger whose sales numbers have been smashing other Smashburger locations in the region.

Pending investments include the Kern Group Architects’ acquiring the Odd Fellows building at 105 N. Maple, with designs for retail (perhaps a restaurant) on the ground floor that would be welcomed by employees at City Hall who’ve been without a nearby eatery since Charlie’s Pizza shut down over a decade ago. The other pending investment is the rooftop addition to Clare and Don’s on N. Washington.

Pending groundbreakings, Goff listed, include the Rushmark/Harris Teeter project with a tentative March 3 demolition date for the old post office and Anthony’s structures, followed by a March 24 groundbreaking, and further out for the Lincoln Properties’ Reserve at Tinner Hill, where the undergrounding of utility lines there is imminent.

Projects with applications still pending include the Spectrum Company’s mega-mixed use (hotel included) plan at the southeastern corner (Sunoco station) of N. West and W. Broad, the Kensington Senior Living plan for the current site of the Burger King on W. Broad, and the 400 N. Washington St. older office building.

Key properties with a high level of development interest and potential at the moment include the City school and its own properties on Haycock Road (the incredible potential represented by the annexation of that land at the West Falls Church Metro station as part of the water deal with Fairfax County), the Robertson Building at the corner of Washington and Broad, the impending application from the Inns of Virginia to double the size of their hotel on W. Broad (including by acquisition of the Falls Church Florists building) and the strip shopping mall on E. Fairfax St., owned by the Falls Church Episcopal Church.

Recent commitments to backfill existing commercial space include the opening of Pita Poche in the Falls Plaza, of an Ortho Urgent Care in the Broadway, Primary Care Associates and a yoga studio on the ground floor of the Byron, an optometrist in a vacant space at The Spectrum, and Einstein Bagels seeking signage approval to occupy the current Crisp and Juicy site on W. Broad.

Unsolicited developer interest has come from a luxury townhouse developer, and an age-restricted independent senior housing developer, Goff said.

Beyond all these, Goff rattled off conversations about properties such as the Don Beyer Automotive site, Bowl America, L.F. Jennings, the Stratford Hotel (under contract), the corner of Park and Lee Streets and the Coleman Power Sports site, 2.5 acres on S. Washington.