Not everyone at Monday night’s jammed, standing room only turnout at the Falls Church City Council meeting at the temporary Senior Center digs at the Falls Church Community Center stayed past 11 p.m. when the final votes were taken, but there were still plenty on hand to witness the Council vote unanimously three times, 6-0, 6-0 and 6-0 (with David Snyder absent), to approve the most ambitious mixed-use development project yet in the City’s history at its iconic central Broad and Washington intersection.
It’s taken nearly three years for this final OK, after the initial submission from the Insight Development Group in August 2015 to put 295 rental apartments, 100,000 square feet of Class A commercial office space and retail construction (including 13,000 square feet for a restaurant and 6,000 square feet for a specialty grocery store), 90 feet at its highest point, 600 parking spaces, a public plaza, a public pocket park, a public office lobby and 5,000 square feet for a subsidized permanent home for its cherished Creative Cauldron acting troupe.
Countering fears that the project might delay its construction, the developer withdrew a proposal from a just a week earlier asking for an extension of the OK for five years, more than the three years usually offered by the City. That request was withdrawn, and Insight’s principal Rick Hausler, who was present at the meeting, assured the News-Press that the construction would begin “as soon as possible,” although there are more steps required to get started, such as the OK of a site plan by the Planning Commission.
“The clock is ticking” for the Creative Cauldron, among other things, said John Adams, a representative for Insight, which is facing an end of its subsidized residency at the Pearson Square, where it is working with half the space it will have at the Broad and Washington project.
But Adams made a big announcement tonight, when he said his client had received a letter of intent for 20,000 square feet of the Class A office space, the entire top two floors of the office building, by Kiddar Capital, the operation headed by Todd Hitt that owns the land and is currently headquartered in the four-story old Robertson Building at the site.
In addition to the Robertson Building, the site includes the current Applebee’s one story building and a two-story office building just east of Applebee’s. The plan is to work to retain two other neighboring locally-owned restaurants, Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Argia’s, that essentially link the site to the popular State Theatre live music venue. A big issue Monday night was the effort underway to provide a median cut on N. Washington St. to enable traffic coming south to turn left into the City-owned parking lot behind Clare and Don’s and Argia’s, since once construction begins on the Broad and Washington property, it would become difficult from south-bound traffic on N. Washington to pull in and patronize the existing businesses now there.
A filing with the Virginia Department of Transportation has already been submitted to seek the median cut.
As recently as last Friday, the Insight Group offered more modifications to its plans to address concerns raised by the Council at its work session last week, including dropping the request to extend the expiration date of the approvals by two years, and also to allow flexibility in the project’s proffer for affordable housing, modifying its options for five or six percent of the rental residential units as subsidized affordable units, to allow for a cash-only payment by the developer for a contribution to a City affordable housing fund as an alternative.