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F.C. Planners, EDA at Odds Over Conceptual Plans for W. Broad St.

FALLS CHURCH SENIOR PLANNER Paul Stoddard (far left) spelled out parts of the “small area plan” that has been devised for the middle section of W. Broad St. to members of the Planning Commission Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)
FALLS CHURCH SENIOR PLANNER Paul Stoddard (far left) spelled out parts of the “small area plan” that has been devised for the middle section of W. Broad St. to members of the Planning Commission Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)

Identical presentations before two influential City of Falls Church citizen volunteer organizations this week of the F.C. Planning Department’s conceptual “small area” development plan for the central W. Broad Street district drew markedly different reactions. The Planning Commission on Monday night and the Economic Development Authority on Tuesday night provided sharply diverse feedback to the report as presented both times by City Senior Planner Paul Stoddard.

In short, one body, the Planning Commission, reacted that the plan may be going too far in offering building heights up to eight stories in the section running along W. Broad from Maple Avenue to the W&OD Trail. The other body, the Economic Development Authority thought the plans were “not bold enough.”

While the Economic Development Authority, or EDA, role in this process is only advisory, the Planning Commission is tasked with actually voting to recommend, or not, the study to the City Council, which will take it up for a final vote. The Planners this week decided to defer their vote, however, until their next meeting on Sept. 8.

That has slowed down the process, but it is unlikely to make much of a difference because the EDA’s strong support seemed more in line with what the current City Council wants to hear. (City Council members Phil Duncan and Marybeth Connolly and Council candidate Letty Hardi were present at the meeting).

After all, the one-mile strip of W. Broad in question, while not a “Miracle Mile” in the sense of Chicago’s or Los Angeles’, as Stoddard quipped, while it used to be known as the “Village Section” of the road, is already by now one of the City’s most developed with high-density mixed use projects.
The Broadway, the Spectrum, the Read Building, the Byron, the Flower Building and the Hilton Garden Inn, all put there in the last decade, have made it far more dense than those who decided to call it the “village section” some time in the 1970s had intended.

Moreover, there is the Kensington Senior Apartments over ground floor retail project that has been approved to the point that the Burger King it is replacing has closed and is on the verge of being demolished to make way for construction. Then there is also the 4.3-acre Mason Row project on the southeast corner of W. Broad and N. West Street, whose latest resubmission of revised plans to City Hall seems to be met far more favorably than its earlier iterations.

At both meetings this week, it seemed to be accepted as almost a foregone conclusion, although there were still citizens present to speak out against it. The Mason Row’s latest plans to ease off development along Park Avenue, running parallel to W. Broad St., by such measures as making its hotel component a free-standing building right on the Broad and West corner, have apparently helped, Peter Batten of the project’s development team told the News-Press yesterday.

This mid-section of W. Broad Planning Opportunity Area “small area” conceptual plan is the fourth that the City’s Planning Department, under the direction of Jim Snyder, has churned out, and the other three – for S. Washington St. (Route 29), N. Washington Street and Downtown (nearest the intersection of Washington and Broad) have all met with enthusiasm by citizens during public hearings and in votes by the Planning Commission and the City Council.

However, this is the first one involving a more significant exposure of residential neighborhoods behind it, and some of those, such as the well-organized and informed citizens on Grove Avenue that runs diagonally east of Broad, have been very vocal critics of the plan, not the least being the proposal for a “pit stop” along the W&OD Trail that would place restrooms next to the West End Park.

The concept plan splits the strip into five sections, with denser retail nodes at either end and around the existing Spectrum in the center. It conforms with the current plans for the Mason Row project at the west end, and at the east end it envisions a seven to eight story project on the current location of the Stratford Motor Lodge, and one where the Exxon station at W. Broad and N. Virginia is currently located.

Projects such as the single story Broaddale Plaza strip mall in the 400 block of W. Broad are not likely to be displaced because they’re already there and making a lot of money, Stoddard said, although it was noted that if “a lot more height were offered as an incentive,” it might generate change.
The plan envisions another large project as the location of the Taco Bell currently at Broad and S. West, encompassing the two-story building next to it, in favor of something of seven or eight stories.

While there is no suggestion to move the St. James Church or school, the plan does envision reverting N. Spring Street back to a two-way street.

It envisions an expansion of the Hilton Garden Inn, parking meters where on street parking is available, and mid-block pedestrian crossings to make the area more pedestrian friendly, removing W. Broad as a “barrier” between its west and east sides.

The EDA discussed the need for tax revenue estimates to be provided for some of the larger projects the plan envisions, and in the meantime, taking steps to “clean up” the look of W. Broad.

In early September, the Planning Commission will take up the plan again, and it is as yet undetermined whether a walking tour of the stretch involving all the relevant boards and commissions will take place before or after that meeting.

Still to come are “small area plans” for sections further to the west on Broad Street.