Railroad Avenue Walking Tour Offers F.C. Council Cottage Plan Insights

ADVOCATING FOR THE Railroad Avenue Cottages Project, F.C. resident Theresa Twiford (center) was joined by architect Jack Wilburn (left) to explain the plan to the F.C. City Council at its work session Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)

Despite an impending downpour that never really materialized, a couple dozen City of Falls Church policy makers and stakeholders gathered at dusk in an obscure corner of the Little City last Monday night to get a sensuous feel for what a unique first-of-its-kind age-restricted cottage community tucked in there might look like.

The tour preceded an extended Council work session on the proposal, which is due to come to the Council in search of a preliminary approval this Monday night.

The plan, provided for with the passage of a cottage-facilitated City ordinance earlier this year, would place 10 small, one-and-a-half story units 1,500 square feet each together in a cluster with a shared common house along what is now a narrow and barely asphalted street known as Railroad Avenue, right next to and parallel the W&OD Trail.

The project would go onto three contiguous lots that would otherwise be developed as four large single family homes. Yet, that has not stopped neighbors to the site in opposing the plan, decked out with “No to Railroad Cottages” t-shirts and yard signs.

Serious concerns were expressed by some on the City Council, including Mayor David Tarter and Councilman David Snyder, for the plan’s logistics in handling traffic and parking.

But Councilman Dan Sze was particularly enthusiastic, saying, “There’s a lot to like about this project. It is well-designed and can’t compare with a single family home alternative that brings an average of 3.2 school aged kids each.”

The project would be age-restricted as permitted by law, requiring that at least one occupant be 55 years or older and no one allowed to live in them under age 18.

This is a new “middle housing” type needed in the City, explained City resident Theresa Twiford, one of the principles in the proposed development. “I have long been passionate about cottage housing and have been working to bring this to Falls Church for years,” she said Monday. “Our city is in need of middle housing that is between single-family homes and condos and apartments.”

With a projected price range of $700,000 per unit, the cottages as not “affordable” in the general sense, but fill a housing slot serving those seeking to downsize from large single family homes.

Twiford argued that with a third of the City’s homes being one-person households, this project as a regional prototype would permit a downsizing by residents while also addressing the “epidemic of loneliness and social isolation” that the Surgeon General has said is “more dangerous than obesity and nearly as deadly as smoking”

The cottage community concept is designed to encourage residents, who in other locations are primarily single, older women, to spend time together, take care of each other and avoid the need to leave the City in search of acceptable downsizing options.

The project proposal here has also enjoyed the support of Washington state architect Ross Chapin, author of the book, Pocket Neighborhoods.

Chapin wrote about the F.C. plan, “Your proposed plan appears to be designed sensitively in relation with neighboring properties. The layout of the shared spaces, the community commons building and the large porches will foster a close-knit neighborhood. I wish you the best in moving this to reality.”

A dissenting view is contained in a guest commentary in this week’s edition of the News-Press.

Per the City staff report, the proposed 10 cottages are less in terms of density than four large, single family homes that might otherwise be built on the land. According to a deed restriction judged lawful by the City attorney, no one under age 18 may live in the community, resulting in no school-aged children compared to the average of 8 or 10 who would be occupants in single family homes on the same land. At least one resident of each cottage must be 55 years of age or older.

A meeting with stakeholders in the community is slated for May 17, assuming a preliminary first reading on an enabling ordinance is forwarded by the Council this coming Monday.