The Falls Church Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors reiterated its unanimous support for Mill Creek’s 4.3 acre Founder’s Row project with a vote at its monthly meeting this Tuesday morning. The board gave an earlier show of unanimous support in November 2015, before Mill Creek modified its plan this spring requiring another approval by the F.C. City Council.
While the City Council OK’d forwarding the changes to the City’s boards and commissions in May, two non-City advisory groups, the Chamber of Commerce and the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) were due to weigh in this week before a public hearing before the City’s Planning Commission this coming Monday, July 16.
Other City advisory bodies, such as the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board and the Architectural Advisory Board, also were due to meet this week, and while the architectural group is slated to meet Wednesday night, the recreation group voted unanimously to endorse the project with its changes.
The changes involve substituting for a hotel a 72-unit active-adult, age qualified (55 years and up) apartment building, a “spray fountain” public water feature and a modified estimate of projected tax revenues to the City from the project, which is up significantly over the earlier City Economic Development Office estimate.
The updated projected revenue estimates are based on new information about residential unit costs in mixed-use projects in the City, which with the added information from newer projects like the 301 W. Broad and Lincoln at Tinner Hill suggest a much lower cost than earlier thought.
Changes also include an increased value of voluntary concessions and the extension of the offer for affordable housing units from a fixed end date to in perpetuity.
The VPIS board meeting that was scheduled to take up the subject on Tuesday night was ruled off the record, according to its chair Elizabeth Meade, and the News-Press had not received a report of what transpired as of press time.
The unanimous vote of support Tuesday by the Chamber board was for a draft letter from Chamber board chair Lisa D’Ambrosio-Irons to Falls Church Mayor David Tarter and members of the City Council.
Following its original November 2015 endorsement of the project, the letter states, the Chamber’s Legislative Committee and Board of Directors finds the proposed amendment to the project “even more beneficial to our business community than the original plans,” noting that “Mill Creek has already secured the capital required along with two anchor tenants” being “a significant benefit to the City.”
“The amendment,” according to the Chamber letter, “calls for the replacement of the planned hotel with an age restricted apartment complex. In addition to the tax revenue and relatively low cost of City services associated with this new feature, the project will attract new residents nearing retirement, partially retired, and retired. These citizens will bolster the City’s daytime population which will support the City’s restaurant, retailers and professional services. Additionally, these inhabitants will also be potential employees and volunteers for our City’s businesses and organizations. The tax revenue spin off generated by this population should not be underestimated.”
The letter, claiming the Chamber’s full support for the amendment, includes several “suggestions,” including considerations for construction staging to minimize disruption to the neighborhood, a “welcoming exterior,” an effort to attract commercial tenants, moving ahead with efforts at including “parking technology” able to “direct visitors to viable parking options, via signage, apps, or other technology,” and encouraging collaboration with local entities.
“Mill Creek has a solid reputation and its fully integrated business model will prove to be an asset to the City as they will manage all aspects of the project from development to construction to operations,” the Chamber letter concludes.
The City Council’s liaison to the Chamber, Phil Duncan, was present at the meeting, and also attended the meeting of the Rec and Parks Advisory Board meeting Tuesday night, where the unanimous vote of approval was minus that of Chair Charlie O’Hara, who abstained because he said his firm has done legal work for Mill Creek.
The vote came following a lengthy presentation by Mill Creek’s Joe Muffler and a vigorous question and answer exchange. Beyond the scope of the board, questions extended to the revised fiscal impact, road, pedestrian and bike safety improvements and the “sprayground” water feature in the Market Square planned for the center of the project.
It was argued that a downside of switching from a hotel to age restricted senior apartments was the prospect that apartment dwellers would be more apt to have dogs and the need for places to walk them. It turned out that Mill Creek plans a “dog trot” area on the rooftop of the building to address just that need.
Peter Smiths of the Architectural Advisory Board wrote the News-Press about its meeting set for last night, “A project of this prominence needs to be well designed and well built. The developers also need to be sensitive to the context and the City.” He added that “Many prior AAB comments have brought up such concerns yet their comments have mostly been ignored.”
Tim Stevens, a member of the VPIS board and also on the City’s Planning Commission, reported that a letter is being prepared by the VPIS board to the City regarding the special exception request by Mill Creek, with two members of the Planning Commission on the VPIS board abstaining.
Following this Monday’s public hearing before the Planning Commission, and that commission’s vote, the matter will come back to the City Council for a work session review on Aug. 6 and vote on Aug. 13. Mill Creek officials say they hope, if they can get their request for modifications approved, to begin work on the project by Sept. 18.