An unexpectedly robust outpouring of concern by property owners and other stakeholders on the West Broad Street commercial corridor of the City of Falls Church led to a decision to slow down action on the so-called ‘West Broad Street Small Area Plan” by the F.C. City Council Monday night, even though the plan is only a guiding document with no force of law.
The eight-block strip between the 300 block of W. Broad at Little Falls St. up to the 1100 block where the W&OD Trail crosses W. Broad is considered the most critical for intensive commercial development, having already experienced a considerable amount since 2002 and with more plans approved.
The latest conceptual plan, the fourth to cover commercially-zoned areas of the tiny City’s 2.2. square miles (following previous adoption of the others – S. Washington, N. Washington and City Center), is designed to “allow the City to take the lead on redevelopment” by “prioritizing public investments and showing desired development to private investors,” concerned stakeholders mostly, because it suggested to constrain height limits in key areas of the West Broad strip between the 300 block at Little Falls St. and where the W&OD trail crosses W. Broad in the 1100 block.
Since the Council gave a 6-1 preliminary approval to the West Broad plan, concerns for building height, massing and parcel consolidation in the 300 block, the 400 block and the 800 block were expressed in letters to City Hall.
In a memo to the Council from City Manager Wyatt Shields issued at Monday’s meeting, he suggested that a revised “concept map” be considered. The comments received “are generally consistent with the concept of nodes and higher intensity use connected by lower intensity infill. So while the stated positions seem to be in conflict, the underlying interests seem to be in general agreement,” Shields wrote. “The concept map is intended to be just that, a concept map, and not a set of prescribed building forms.”
The alternate concept map he proposed “avoids the use of specific building heights, and instead provides general ranges based on existing zoning allowances and the special exception process.” The Shields memo added, “The alternate concept states that building heights in the nodes (three dense areas along the strip—ed.) would be considered for height bonuses through the special exception process. In comparison, the building heights for the infill connections (between the three nodes—ed.) should be in keeping with what is allowed through by-right allowances.”
Responses prompting these revisions came to City Hall in December and January from Judy Wolff representing the Christian Science Reading Room at 123 Little Falls St., Scott Adams of McGuire Woods concerning the Stratford Motor Lodge site at 300 W. Broad St., Bill Baskin of Baskin, Jackson and Lasso at 301 Park Avenue, Mike Novotny (in the form of comments) representing the Economic Development Authority, Andrew Painter of Walsh Colucci Lubley and Walsh PC representing the Falls Church One at 803 W. Broad St., and from Painter representing Lee Square Apartments in the 400 block of W. Broad.
The letters all advocated greater flexibility in the areas reflected in the original concept map approved last November, all in the name of prospects for future development at those sites, suggesting that considerable future commercial development along this eight-block stretch is in store.
It was noted by City staff Monday that development in that stretch since 2000 has generated an average $310,000 per acre on 9.95 newly developed acres, compared to $60,000 per acre on 39 acres not so developed.
The concept plan addresses issues of step backs, horizontal design of buildings, masonry and natural materials and decorative features. It also addresses issues of plazas and pocket parks, undergrounding of utility lines, the minimization of storm water impacts, tree canopies, private investment options, pedestrian accessibility, park connectivity and prioritized public investment.
The Council will mull the plan at its work session next Monday night, but plans to finally adopt it on Feb. 22 now seems likely to be delayed.