The Falls Church City Council is scheduled to vote on whether or not to grant a final approval for construction of a 2.68-acre mixed use project on the northeast corner of Broad and Washington Streets, the City’s premier central intersection, at its meeting this coming Monday night.
As per the way things are normally done in the Little City, this has been a long time coming. The first submission of the plan came in August 2015. But if it’s seemed like a long time so far, it may be much longer than anyone has anticipated, if that’s the way to read the developer’s latest request.
The Insight Development Group, acting as the Broad and Washington LLC, came to City Hall with their latest set of revisions on March 26, and in addition to 23 changes from its November submission, when it earned a preliminary OK from the Council, it is now asking that the special exception it is seeking will “expire in 60 months (five years) instead of 36 months (three years).”
Virtually every member of the City Council, in its work session consideration of the matter last Monday night, zeroed in on this one change, and even though Scott Adams, the developer’s representative from McGuireWoods, was present, no explanation for the change was provided. It led most of the Council members to wonder why, and to speculate that perhaps the developer is not planning to actually get started on the project as soon as has been expected until now.
That would be a problem for the Creative Cauldron theater troupe, which has been counting on occupying 5,000 square feet of the project for a new, expanded theater, since its lease on its current location expires in June 2019.
“This is the first I am hearing of this,” the Cauldron’s Laura Hull told the News-Press this week. She said the Cauldron board was aware that the project wouldn’t be immediately ready for them, but had no idea that an extension is now being sought that could put a major crimp into their plans.
News-Press calls to Rick Hausler of the Insight Group were not returned yesterday.
“This is almost a non-starter for me,” said Councilman Russ Litkenhous of the request. “Either they should do this project, or not.”
“I don’t want to wait a decade for something to happen,” said Councilman Dan Sze, noting that the Creative Cauldron lease is due to expire soon, and wondering if this “will leave them out in the cold.”
Council member Letty Hardi said that the new Insight plan sounds “squishy,” and wondered why the developer could not come back after three years for an extension of the special exception then, if necessary.
But City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press by phone yesterday that in his conversations with the developer, “They’ve continued to tell me they plan to start right away,” and that the City position is still to want to hold the expiration date to three years.
“That’s what’s in the City Code,” Shields said. He said the City Attorney Carol McCoskrie would have to opine if a change in the code would be required to extend the expiration date, but she hasn’t been asked to do that yet.
Other concerns about the Broad and Washington project expressed at the work session dealt with the lack of certainty about who would occupy the commercial and retail spaces in the project. No commitments exist as at this point.
Sze suggested that a certificate of occupancy for the projects 295 rental units might be held back pending a satisfactory review of the retail and commercial mix in the project, an idea that Councilman David Snyder said “has a lot of merit.”
What the Council will be asked to vote on this Monday will include 295 rental units — 32 studio efficiencies, 132 one-bedrooms, 27 one bedroom with den, 74 two bedroom, 15 two bedroom with den, and no three bedroom units. There will be 15 units designated as “affordable,” or 5.1 percent of the total.
There will be 25,500 square feet of retail and 99,200 of office space. The commercial-to-residential ratio will be 25.2 percent to 74.8 percent.
Among recent modifications, the office square footage has been increased by 7,000 square feet, the restaurant square footage reduced from 13,800 to 10,000, an additional stair access to the elevated plaza has been added along the north property line behind Argia’s, and an east pedestrian entrance to the plaza has been redesigned to “offer a more welcoming appearance.”
In terms of energy conservation, there has been a commitment to LEED Gold, up from LEED Silver, and the median break for a left turn off N. Washington into the parking area behind Clare and Don’s and Argia’s has been included.
Additional landscaping along Lawton Street has been included along with other changes to the plan.