In a surprise unanimous 6-0 vote, the Falls Church Planning Commission Tuesday night recommended in favor of the approval of the 2.68 acre mixed-use project at the central intersection of downtown Falls Church. With the overwhelming OK from the Planners, the matter comes back to the F.C. City Council for a final OK which is due to occur on April 9.
But the decision by the Planning Commission Tuesday night was seen by many in the City as the critical watershed moment for the project, which has been a long time coming and now appears on the brink of a final OK from the City. Comprehensive Plan and zoning changes are required, plus a special exception to allow a height of up to 90 feet at one end of the project when the Council takes up the matter for a vote.
The project is slated for the dead-center of the City of Falls Church at the intersection of Routes 7 and 29, also known as Broad and Washington Streets. At the location now is the four-story Robertson building, an Applebee’s restaurant and some small retailers.
Stiff opposition to the project especially from neighbors to the site at its back end on Lawton Street has held up the plan while deliberations on modifications to allay the neighborhood concerns were worked through. They resulted in lowering the height of the project at its back end, and the inclusion of a 9,000 square feet pocket park open to the public leading off of Lawton.
Despite the cramped quarters of the community room at the Community Center, where the Planning Commission will be meeting for the coming year as City Hall undergoes a renovation and expansion, a large contingent of citizens were present to again express their reservations and opposition to the project, but as the Planners queried the representative from the Broad and Washington project, it became evident that a mood of support existed on the board.
The Planners attached to their OK some conditions, such as the completion of a median cut prior to commencing with construction to allow a left turn for south-travelling traffic on Rt. 29 into Park Place to enable access to the parking areas behind the Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Argia’s restaurants, to urge the project achieve a LEED Gold environmental standard, to review options for the 18 residential units to be designated “affordable,” to allow for that mix to include efficiency and two bedroom units, and collaboration with the City on public parking options.
“This is a wonderful addition to the City on land that is wholly underutilized now,” said Commission chair Russ Wodiska. “I am really supportive of this.” Commissioner Tim Stevens also emphasized to the large turnout of mostly Lawton Street neighbors to the site that “the need for this kind of project couldn’t be greater than right now,” given the beneficial effect of the tax revenues to the City from the development. “We just don’t have much space in Falls Church for commercial development, and we need this.”
A motion by Melissa Teates and second by Lindy Hockenberry before the unanimous vote.
The project will have 295 residential units, and Class A office space, in addition to space for at least two restaurants and 5,000 square feet for the Creative Cauldron comprehensive theater operation, doubling its current S. Maple space and putting it right onto a major thoroughfare.
Project spokesmen told the commissioners that the value of the proffer to Creative Cauldron is “a seven figure number.” There will be 35,000 square feet of open space in the project, including 17,000 of which is open to public use. One space will be a pocket park off Lawton Street at the rear of the project and the other a second-floor plaza, both 9,000 square feet.
At its highest point, right at the Broad and Washington corner, it will be 90 feet, and the developers are still mulling a rooftop restaurant there overseeing the downtown of Falls Church.