By a 4-2 vote, the Falls Church City Council, working deep into the night Monday with concerns about the 4.3 acre mixed use project the Spectrum Group has planned for the intersection of W. Broad and N. West Street, wound up approving a new first reading for the plan at 12:20 a.m.
The no votes came from Nader Baroukh and Mayor David Tarter, who were holding out their concerns for elements of the project, including its parking deck and massing, but once Council member Karen Oliver called for a vote on her original motion, it swiftly passed 4-2 with Dan Sze, Phil Duncan and Marybeth Connolly joining Oliver with yes votes.
Although it was not verbalized in such exact terms, it might have proven the case that the Monday vote was decisive for the project to move forward, given the financing needs of the developers.
Some observed that the vote resembled the one taken the night that the Rushmark-Harris Teeter approval hung the the balance, and the developer expressed a willingness to walk away from the whole idea, which it had been working on with the City for the better part on with the City for the better part of a decade, if it didn’t get the needed votes right then and there.
However, Peter Batten, principal of the Spectrum Development LLC that has made numerous modifications to its plans for its 4.3 acres since first submitting its plans in January 2014, was careful to make no such ultimatums this week.
Nonetheless, with much of the meeting having been devoted to the annual budget deliberations pushing the Mason Row submission way toward midnight, it was looking like a lot of concerns that Baroukh expressed were beginning to put everyone asleep and that things were boding poorly for the project.
But when Baroukh finally suggested putting his concerns into the motion for action, the original makers of the motion, Oliver, said, “Why not let’s just vote on my motion, first?” That seemed like a breath of fresh air, and when that vote was subsequently taken, the first reading was granted without all the caveats that Baroukh wanted.
In the latest submission made on April 8, the plan to locate all or part of the City’s library in the project was removed, with Batten having told the News-Press that it was put in at the request of City Hall, and not of his own design.
The developers continue to claim that the City will benefit from over $2 million in annual tax revenues once the project is complete, and have made a long list of proffers in exchange for zoning and special exception changes, as well, including to affordable housing, school capital costs, parks, off-site infrastructure improvements, a contribution to the Little City CATCH arts group.
With a height exception to allow for 85 feet, the project includes a five-story hotel with 150 rooms, a movie/dinner theatre complex, numerous retail stores, parking, a six story mixed use apartment building with 340 residential units, and 6,500 square feet of office space.
According to a submission letter by local developer agent David Lasso (former City Manager of Falls Church), the April 8 resubmission includes numerous new accommodations to City Hall and citizen concerns, including “an ‘opening’ of the market square facing Grove Ave.” with the parking garage now having a ground level retail element designed to attract local businesses, with the garage lowered and set back and other changes made to the massing, parking, and design.”