Five leaders of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce appeared before a work session of the Falls Church City Council Monday, coming at the Council’s request to comment on a plan to utilize $533,417 of the $20 million in cash proceeds from the City’s sale of its water system for some sprucing up and quick fixes at or near the City’s “crossroads” intersection of Routes 7 and 29 (Broad and Washington Streets).
The Chamber members, led by current Chamber board chair Joe Wetzel and executive director Sally Cole, reported on 73 responses to a survey the Chamber sent out to members, including leaders and members, of the Chamber and their friends and heard back from in five days. Thirty percent of those came from businesses right in the targeted area.
In addition to Cole and Wetzel, past president Gary LaPorta and developer Bob Young were present and also spoke.
The responses were broken into three categories, first, second and third highest priorities. In the top priority, maintenance items called for concrete sidewalk repairs, short term improvements called for conversion of all street lights in the commercial areas of Broad and Washington to brighter LED lights, the addition of bike racks and the installation of “wayfinding” and “bigger, more welcoming signage” at City boundaries.
For the longer term, the top priority category also called for a revision of signage options for downtown businesses “to make them more consistent and appealing.”
In the second level tier of priorities, the Chamber called for the weeding and pressure washing of all sidewalks, the repair and refreshment of all crosswalks and the weeding and replanting of all flower beds, while in the short term making provisions for exterior electric and water access to the beds.
For the second tier longer term, the Chamber listed “continuing to investigate a redesign of a public park on a small City-owned parcel in the middle of the north side of the 100 block of W. Broad “without losing and perhaps expanding access to public parking from Broad Street and developing Bikeshare options.”
On the Chamber’s third tier of priorities were maintenance items of refreshing lighting pole planters and trimming of trees to permit business signage to be seen better.
Short term improvements would involve widening of sidewalks on the 100 block of N. Washington, curb extensions and ramps on Park Place, a crosswalk on Park Place, a crosswalk on N. Washington on the south side of Park Avenue, the addition of thermoplastic markings on all crosswalks, the addition of more Hot Spot (very short term) parking as needed, and “customer service training for the City’s development staff.”
Longer term investments on the third tier list included securing public art for the 7/29 intersection, a pedestrian signal on N. Washington on the south side of Park Avenue, efforts to make the WMATA bus schedule more reliable, the inclusion of bike lanes, and a public parking deck.
“If you put all these small things together, it would make a huge difference,” Cole said, adding that the downtown “crossroads” area at night is currently dark and its sidewalks slick and bumpy. “These changes would not only be to the benefit of the businesses in the immediate area, but to the good of the entire community.”
The Chamber reps disagreed some on whether developing the City land for a mini-park in the 100 block was more important than making more parking available.
Barbara Cram, the chief organizer of the annual New Year’s Eve “Watch Night” happening in that area, said that the same businesses who get “really excited” for “Watch Night” will be the most eager to get involved in these proposed improvements.
Bob Young said that the now-under-construction Rushmark/Harris Teeter project in the 200 block “should be seen as the real anchor for the downtown,” but “if you can get across the street to get to it, it is not an anchor.”
He called for a crosswalk on W. Broad directly across from the entrance to Harris Teeter, and to have a traffic stop there.
Councilman Phil Duncan, the Council’s liaison to the Chamber, said there should be something like the “Love” statue that was secured temporarily for “Watch Night” on New Year’s Eve at that intersection permanently.
Councilman Nader Baroukh agreed that “there needs to be a ‘be there’ feel” to the area, and Vice Mayor David Snyder said the priorities provided by the Chamber are “exactly the way to go,” including the need for “a unique image to mark this area.”
Wetzel said that in addition to the downtown improvements, the Chamber board feels strongly that the City needs to revamp its BPOL (business gross receipts tax) formulas, which are “out of whack” with surrounding jurisdictions, significantly higher than in Arlington and Fairfax.
“For small businesses, these taxes are very important, and for as many such businesses as we gain, we also lose because of them,” he said.