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New Library Plan at Mason Row Gets Tepid 1st Review

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At a joint Falls Church City Hall work session combining the minds of the City Council, Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority , the Spectrum LLC developers of the 4.3-acre proposed Mason Row mixed use project at the corner of N. West and W. Broad Streets saw their latest attempt to serve the interests of the City by providing 25,000 square feet of brand new office space to sell the City a new public library fall short of cause for great delight.

In fact, the 18 or so citizen-leaders who listened to the details of the latest plan tonight and then offered their impressions were singularly underwhelmed by the notion. This came despite the fact most of them acknowledged that the current plan to spend $8 million on a renovation of the existing Mary Riley Styles Library location was also inadequate.

Many had simply not yet computed the proposal from the standpoint of realistic alternatives, and thus were in large degree feeling unwilling to expend the political capital to even entertain a bold new idea.

Still, the latest iteration of the Mason Row project is ever bigger and more impressive, library or not. The City Council’s plan is to act on the special exceptions and zoning changes needed to win general approval of the plan by sometime this summer, and then to take up the question of the library use after that.

Overall, the project has grown since its latest modification last August from 519,000 square feet of residential, retail, hotel and office use to 565,000 square feet that includes 52,000 square feet for an eight-screen underground movie theater complex (not underground movies, but movies shown on screens one level below street level).

Spaces provided for parking has increased from 684 to 947, and the novel market public square in the center of the project has been expanded from 5,840 square feet for 11,235.

Even more impressive, the net tax revenue that the City calculates it would derive from the project, after subtracting the cost to the City of an estimated 112 new students in the school system, could readily exceed $2 million a year (according to Rick Goff in the Economic Development Office, up to $541,000 per acre “net net” for the 4.3 acres).

The latest plan has no condominiums but all 340 residential units will be rentals, and there are no entrances for parking on the Park Avenue side.
The commercial component of the project grows in the new submission from 25 percent to 32 percent of the total and the floor-to-area ratio (FAR) remains at 3.0. The project is bigger by virtue of having another element of real estate added, the office building at 916 W. Broad St., growing it from 3.91 acres to 4.3.

The Council members, Planners and EDA members were skeptical of the six-story structured parking component for how it might look to the residences on Park Avenue behind it. But on balance there was as much praise as criticism of the new submission, notwithstanding the library component.