F.C. Council OKs 2 New Incentives To Spur Commercial Growth in City

RICHARD GOFF OF FALLS CHURCH'S Economic Development Office, testified before the City Council Monday in support of two items to incentivize commercial development here. Both wound up passing the Council unanimously. (Photo: News-Press)
RICHARD GOFF OF FALLS CHURCH’S Economic Development Office, testified before the City Council Monday in support of two items to incentivize commercial development here. Both wound up passing the Council unanimously. (Photo: News-Press)

Monday night the Falls Church City Council gave final approval to a pair of ordinances designed to further incentivize commercial development in the City.

The first provided a tax abatement for improvements or new developments to all-commercial office structures in the City, and the second to redefine the conditions under which technology-related commercial entities in the City can also qualify for tax abatements.

It was made clear in the meeting that these abatements would apply only in cases where no taxes are currently coming in, at all, so there is no “give away” in that sense.

An earlier 1996 City ordinance on office space tax abatements was aimed only at limiting the vacation of certain sites, but the new ordinance, at the recommendation of the City’s Economic Development Authority aligned that program with “current City objectives to encourage higher commercial density, expand the commercial base, encourage land consolidation and increase the inventory of office spaces” by “encouraging developer investment in commercial properties,” according to a City staff report.

A motion to amend the measure to place a 10-year “sunsetting” limit on the incentive was defeated by the Council in a tight 4-3 vote, with Mayor David Tarter, David Snyder and Karen Oliver voting in favor, and then the measure passed unanimously 7-0.

The revised technology zone ordinance also passed unanimously, being the first change since the City first passed such a tech zone ordinance in 1997. The revisions limit the area of the City where the tax abatements can apply (it was the entire City before this) to its commercially zoned corridors, redefine the kinds of businesses that qualify, and extend the duration of the abatements by two years.

In other significant developments in Monday’s Council meeting, the Council approved on first reading an ordinance to permit cottage-style senior residential developments in the City by a 6-1 vote (Mayor Tarter dissenting).

The measure, if given final Council approval in late January after review and recommendations by Council-appointed boards and commissions, would permit as many as nine residences on a 45,-000 square feet parcel (or accumulation of parcels), each limited to 1,000 square feet on the ground floor (and a 1 1/2 story height limit).

The purpose is to provide a new form of housing stock in the City catering to older adults (ages 55 and up).

Mayor Tarter’s objection was on grounds that since limitations on tearing down existing residential units had been removed from the draft ordinance, now any number of parcels in the City can be combined to qualify for a cluster of such cottages if it became economically viable to do so.

The policy, if approved, would permit construction of clusters of small structures on the pattern of the old “bungalow” communities that flourished in Los Angeles and Hollywood in the 1930s. While more modestly priced than full single family homes, they would not qualify as affordable housing, but as senior specific housing.

Mayor Tarter suggested that the current ordinance that qualifies occupancy on the basis of one person being age 55 or up be modified to age 62. That was not acted upon Monday, however.

Finally, the Council approved major personnel changes to the City’s Planning Commission, accepting the resignation at the end of their appointed terms at the end of December of current chair Rob Meeks and of long-time member Ruth Rodgers and appointing in their stead Tim Stevens and Brent Krasner.

They also reappointed to new terms on the commission Russ Wodiska and Andy Rankin.

In addition, reappointed to the Economic Development Authority were Brian Williams and Michael Novotny.

All the appointments were interpreted by knowledgeable observers as moving the City in a more pro-development direction.