It was a lengthy discussion with the Falls Church Planning Commission last Monday night, but the chief public face of the 4.3-acre mixed-use Founders Row project came away hopeful that a final site plan approval will come from that group when it meets again this Monday. The project, with residences, retail, public open space and a movie theater complex, will be biggest of its kind to date in the history of Falls Church.
Superstition, Joe Muffler, the young vice president for Mid-Atlantic Development of the Bethesda, Maryland-based Mill Creek company, told the News-Press this week, is the main reason he’s not projecting timelines right now with more certitude in advance of Monday’s vote.
Muffler, whose personable manner has served his company well in leading a number of public meetings with skeptical neighbors to the site in recent months, appeared before the Planning Commission Monday with Antonette Isherwood, a project manager for Walter Phillips, the Falls Church-based civil engineering and architectural firm.
In all, the main issue was whether or not a crosswalk connecting Birch Street, coming in at a southeast diagonal, to the site would be included or not, given the assessment by the City of Falls Church public works department that it would be unsafe.
Planning Commissioner Andy Rankin put up the biggest objection to the lack of a crosswalk, suggesting that it will encourage pedestrians to take matters into their own hands and jaywalk, at a risk to life and limb.
Commissioner Melissa Teates expressed a concern that the look of the senior age restricted housing building, which was approved to substitute for a hotel, right on the corner of W. Broad and N. West Streets, where Ken Currle’s Sunoco station now is, be improved with a more colorful appearance.
There was also concern over the inclusion of a logo element atop the project, adding to its height and not visible to the immediate area.
But with the project having received the near-unanimous (6-0 with one abstention) vote of the F.C. City Council last month, the mood was one of collaboration and cooperation this week, despite a handful of neighbors to the site sitting in on the work session, and a letter of multiple suggestions from nearby Grove Avenue resident Lisa Varouxis. There did not arise any sense that the final site plan OK would not come this Monday.
Once that vote is taken, then Mill Creek will be more forthcoming with its subsequent plans, including the closing on final purchase of the site and the ceremonial first groundbreaking featuring local dignitaries wearing hard hats, which could be by late October.
A fence going up around the entire perimeter of the 4.3 acres will be one of the first visible signs, although already, the legendary 7-Eleven on N. West Street has been closed down. The Sunoco station will have until the end of October to follow suit.
It will then take two months for all the utility connections on the property to be identified and removed, at which point every structure on the property will be bulldozed to the ground and everything cleared away.
Following that, the excavation of the site will commence, when explosives will augment the digging for the underground parking that will eventually go there. All this in the first months of 2019.
Muffler said that construction of the new components of the project will all begin simultaneously, and the first retail locations and the movie theater should be accepting their first customers by late 2020.
“Hopefully, the public will be able to watch ‘Avengers 8’ there sometime in the fall of 2020,” Muffler quipped.
The Planning Commission meeting for the expected final vote on the site plan for Founders Row will be held at the F.C. School Board offices, 800 W. Broad, second floor, starting at 7:30 p.m. next Monday.
Meanwhile, a joint meeting of the Falls Church City Council and School Board will be held at the Senior Center of the Community Center, 223 Little Falls, also at 7:30 p.m.
Both locations are temporary arrangements while the F.C. City Hall continues to be renovated and expanded.