By a 5-2 vote, the Broad and Washington large scale mixed-use project finally won a preliminary approval from the Falls Church City Council Monday night. The plan, for 295 apartments and 66,000 square feet of Class A office space, has been before the City government for two years, finally breaking out with a favorable vote after extended efforts to appease the concerns of residential neighbors behind the site.
Only three of those neighbors, residents of Lawton Street, showed up to express their opposition Monday, even following extensive efforts by the site’s developers, the Insight Group, to modify plans by lowering elevations and adding pocket park spaces at the Lawton Street end of the plan. The 2.63-acre plan, which would replace the Robertson Building now at the northeast corner of the City’s central intersection of Rt. 7 and Rt. 29, and the Applebee’s restaurant behind it, would devote 5,000 square feet for a permanent home for the popular Creative Cauldron theater troupe and add over 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail that would include restaurants and other business attracted by the presence of the Creative Cauldron space, in particular.
Even after two years and lots of modifications, the plan was opposed by two members on the Council — David Snyder and Phil Duncan — on grounds that it has not yet nailed down signed lease commitments from major retailers for its ground floor portion.
But Monday that complaint was met strongly by Councilman Dan Sze who raised his voice sharply to remind his colleagues that the tax revenues from the project, projected to be worth three cents or more annually on the City’s real estate tax rate, “is part of the effort to mitigate the impact on taxpayers of the cost of building a new high school.” Voters had approved the $120 million school bond referendum by a wide margin just a week before, but there appeared to be a disconnect between that and Monday’s Council debate until Sze intervened.
The turning point in the voting was Council member Letty Hardi’s vote in favor. Until then, it was a 2-2 proposition, with Karen Oliver and Sze in favor, and Duncan and Snyder against. While Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly was expected to vote yes, it was when Hardi signaled her “yes” then Mayor Tarter announced his “yes” that made the final vote 5-2.
While the plan now goes to the City’s boards and commissions for their advisory input, it is currently slated to come back to the Council for a final vote on April 9, 2018.