Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Broad & Washington: A Broader Perspective

By Mary Chaves

Last week’s News-Press gave a full-throated cheer for the proposed new Broad and Washington project, including a Class A Office building and a new venue for Creative Cauldron. It virtually ignored the rest of the building, with 273 apartments averaging over 1,000 square feet each, failed to show the full site plan, and did not mention problems raised by City staff that have not been addressed.

While many may welcome Class A office space and support a continuing Creative Cauldron, we should look more deeply at what this project entails. Mr. Hitt’s business would occupy the top two floors of the new office building, but is already located in the building it would replace. Creative Cauldron would gain more space here, but leave space elsewhere. There do not appear to be any other commitments to rent space in the office building or the remaining retail/restaurant spaces, to help assure that the project is viable. Yet the developers’ analysts project annual net fiscal income for the City from this project of $1.3 million, versus $1.3 – $2.1 million for the 60 percent larger and more ambitious Mason Row project. City staff has been asked to run its own fiscal revenue estimate.

Mr. Hitt’s partner in this project, Insight LLC, has been focused on mixed-use apartment buildings in the District’s urban core. Insight indicates it does not do condos, which might be more financially beneficial for the City and produce fewer students. The proposed apartments would include 121 two-three bedrooms, and 130 one-bedrooms, possibly with dens. Using the City’s fiscal impact ratios of 0.7 or 1.0 student per two-three bedroom and 0.15 student per one bedroom with den, the yield could range from 105 to 141 additional students unless the project devises a unique way to focus on mature adults only.

Mr. Hitt and Insight LLC seek “due dispatch” to move the project quickly through City deliberations. It is already moving to City Council Working Session within two weeks of submission and with no true City staff review. They also seek zoning and land use map changes, plus special exceptions for mixed use (not envisioned for this area in the 2014 Downtown Falls Church Small Area Plan) and additional height on land currently zoned as high density business and transitional property. Apartments would account for 76 percent of the new building, which would cover an area larger than that of the Harris Teeter building, with comparable height.

City staff advised Insight LLC one year ago of several changes that would be needed to support their proposal. Those below remain unaddressed:

• “The overall project and building is perceived as too large, massive and high” … “particularly in the current T-1 zoned parcel, and portions of the building design has minimal modulation or step backs with a solid wall appearance.”

• “The potential impact to Lawton Street is seen as significant.”

• “The proposed public access needs to be improved and provisions for additional public access incorporated.”

• On-street parking “needs to be evaluated further with consideration of potential impacts to vehicular movement on Broad Street.”

• The Business Future Land Use designates “areas that may redevelop with residential and commercial uses, but that should remain predominantly commercial”…Therefore, it is recommended that a significant reduction in the overall residential density be considered.”

• Building “heights adjacent to existing R districts must be stepped back at the maximum height (35 feet) of that zoning district.”

• “The existing ‘Transitional’ designated parcel is intended to provide a buffer or transitional use between commercial and residential uses.”

Height and density in the core of the project have increased, while virtually no effort has been made to bring the structure on the transitional lot into compatibility with the surrounding residential neighborhood. Some 100 trees will be lost; impermeable area expands by a 1/4 acre; and “green” buffering along Lawton Street has, on balance, been reduced.

From the back, by Argia’s, Clare and Don’s and the State Theatre, the developers have chosen to propose a blank wall extending hundreds of feet and decorated with a few posters as their link to the entertainment district. How much more might have been done to make this a true welcome to the arts community!

A Class A office building and including Creative Cauldron in this redevelopment are laudable, but the overwhelming residential density of the project, the lack of public access and open green space, the future impact on our schools, and the failure to work productively with the neighboring community underscore that considerable work remains to be done to gain the Little City’s support.

City Council will have a first discussion of this project at its Work Session on April 3 at 7:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

 


Mary Chaves is a resident of the City of Falls Church.