F.C. Council Mulls Sorely-Needed Quick Fixes for Rt. 7 and 29 Hub

The F.C. City Council work session Tuesday night. (Photo: News-Press)
Members of the F.C. Economic Development Authority listen to consultant Gregory Leisch of Delta Associates (far right) at Tuesday night’s work session with the F.C. City Council. (Photo: News-Press)

By utilizing a tiny fraction of the $20 million the City of Falls Church received as the cash component of the sale of its water system to Fairfax County last year, a significant sprucing up of the area around the intersection of Routes 7 (Broad St.) and 29 (Washington Street) may be coming in the next months, if the City Council follows the guidance of City Manager Wyatt Shields.

For an estimated $533,417, the project would focus on one block of N. Washington St., between W. Broad and Park Avenue, and two blocks of W. Broad St., between N. Washington and Little Falls St. City officials met with business operators and owners from that area on Jan. 9 to get feedback on the proposals.

On N. Washington, improvements would involve upgrades to existing lighting, new brick sidewalks to replace the existing concrete, new accessible curb ramps, curb extensions and a marked crossing at Park Place, and an additional marked crossing at Park Avenue.

On W. Broad, upgrades would include upgrades to existing lighting (by converting to LED lights and refurbishing poles), new sidewalk brick pavers as needed, replanted tree pits, refreshed crosswalks with thermoplastic markings, a new conduit for electric and fiber optics in the utility strip, sidewalk weed removal and pressure washing. Three of the signal mast arms at Washington and Broad will be replaced, as the existing northeast mast arm was damaged by a vehicle and the existing mast arms on the south side of the intersection are not the City standard decorative mast arms.

Also included in the cost is $150,000 for the refurbishment and conversion to stronger LED lighting of existing City streetlights along W. Broad all the way up to Haycock Road, approximately 80 streetlights.

The stronger lighting, Shields told the City Council in a work session Tuesday night, will make a major difference on its own. Meeting with the Council were members of the City’s Economic Development Authority, whose chair, Mike Novotny, said the improvements “could be a big spark for the downtown.”

The project, according to Shields, would take nine months to implement.

The plans were discussed at the work session as part of longer term improvements, including plans developed by the Economic Development Authority for improving the small parcel of City-owned land between the Hunan Cafe and the Unity Club that is now totally underutilized.
Longer-term visions to develop a downtown mall in the area between Park Avenue and W. Broad in the first two blocks of W. Broad would follow on, as well, possibly as a new location for the City’s popular weekly farmer’s market. Most of the land that would be used for currently constitutes “the ridiculous amount of non-functional surface parking” there, in the words of Vice Mayor David Snyder.

Snyder said he wants to see participation from the business community in the area to make it work, including financial participation.
Council member Phil Duncan said he’s been concerned for safety in the area, with uneven sidewalks being potential liabilities for pedestrians. Inconsistencies in light poles, dead plants, and other things that make the area “look rinky-dink” should enjoy the improvements for both safety and aesthetics, he said.

Snyder said he would also be looking for a “wow factor” to the upgrades, and Shields suggested that at the Route 7 and 29 intersection, where a million cars pass through each month, at the large sidewalk area in front of the Ireland’s Four Provinces, a distinctive work of art or sculpture could help to identify the intersection as the center of Falls Church for everyone in their cars.

He noted that the acquisition of the Virginia Department of Tourism’s “LOVE” signage for the New Year’s Eve “Watch Night” at that intersection made a big, if temporary, impact.

The Economic Development Authority, for its pocket park concept, commissioned the firm of Olin Associates to develop conceptual plan options for the redesign of the park area. The EDA hosted a public meeting on Jan. 6 to present the plans and take feedback.