News

Little City Commons Developers Go Into ‘Nuts & Bolts’ Stage of Planning

A RENDERING OF the City’s West End Development project. (Rendering: EYA, PN Hoffman, Regency Centers)

The Falls Church City Council’s unanimous approval earlier this month of the “special exception entitlement” for development of 9.8 acres at the City’s west end, now known as the “Little City Commons,” has kicked off the most intensive, creative phase of the development team’s work to date, aimed at winning approval of the special exception site plan by the City Council in January with complete and detailed architectural and engineering designs.

Meanwhile, at the annual forecasting luncheon hosted by the regional NAIOP organization of commercial real estate developers, held at the greater Falls Church Fairview Marriott last week, optimism oozed about prospects for growth and prosperity in the Northern Virginia region, with the prospective development of Amazon’s second headquarters and the major higher education commitments being made in conjunction with it.

The extension of the Silver Line and the expected economic stability of the region, including in costs of living compared to other major centers, face only uncertain headwinds associated with the costs of construction and the war for brainpower, the conference’s 200 attendees were told. Falls Church City was represented by Councilman Ross Litkenhous.

Two conferences aimed at evaluating the prospects for the immediate future of the entire region are scheduled for the coming period, with Falls Church Chamber of Commerce board member Andrew Painter slated to moderate a panel at a conference on Fairfax County’s coming prospects, and Little City Commons’ development team chief spokesman, Evan Goldman of EYA slated to speak on prospects for the immediate region in the wake of Amazon’s impending arrival at a conference in Alexandria next month.

The Little City Commons is being viewed by its development team of EYA, PN Hoffman and Regency from the longer-term perspective of an eventual “mega-project” that would subsume the 9.5 acres in the current project, the seven acres of the adjacent Virginia Tech property and the 22-acre property owned by WMATA at the West Falls Church Metro station.

Robin Bettarel and Shawn Seaman of PN Hoffman told the News-Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday that elements of putting the three properties together are already “being master-planned in concert” respecting factors such as parking and traffic impacts, even though the Virginia Tech property development is being handled by a rival developer, Rushmark, and the WMATA property development is, they said, “in a very preliminary stage.” They confirmed, however, that the Little City Commons development team has already responded to a solicitation concerning it.

Goldman, in earlier testimony at public events in Falls Church, noted that the long-term vision for the south-to-north “central park” space central to the Little City Commons involves it being extended through the Virginia Tech and WMATA properties to run from Route 7 all the way to the West Falls Church Metro station.

The vision for that mega-project, which could dwarf the Mosaic District in Merrifield when it is eventually completed, involves making the entire space readily accessible to the West Falls Church Metro station, meaning that a lot of the housing, including the planned condos, senior apartments, regular apartments and smaller micro-units planned for the Little City Commons, would be appealing to anyone in the wider region looking for the rapid Metro transit mode of transportation.

Not included in the wider, long-term prospects for the project were the possible addition of the over 20 acres in the City controlled by Beyer Automotive and lands controlled by Federal Realty that includes the shopping centers that are currently anchored by a large Giant and a Staples on West Broad St.

PN Hoffman’s Betterel and Seaman told the News-Press that their company’s successful development of the Wharf in D.C. could signal the kind of robust development they expect coming in Falls Church. There, they said, even though their historic emphasis has been on condominium development, there has been a particularly effective marriage of condo and office spaces.

“We’re hoping the same model can be developed for the Little City Commons,” Betterel said. She noted that the combination of new apartment and condominium developments will help to fill the retail spaces in the new project, and that effective office space development will add a daytime vitality component to the project and the region.

It’s an added overall population growth and daytime office worker growth that are key to making retailers more successful, she noted, including restaurants that struggle if they have only a nighttime clientele to rely on.

Seaman said that a key to the success of the Little City Commons will be its ability to be open to the entire Falls Church community, with a town center appeal to be a gathering place for existing, as well as new, residents for events of all types.

“We want the community to appreciate the potential of the central park space as a civic space welcoming to the entire community,” he said. “We see it as a fantastic and unique prospect that does not exist in the region currently.”

With this vision, and the overwhelming support the Little City Commons has enjoyed from City officials to date, it is time to “get down to the nuts and bolts” of what the project will look like in detail, Bettarel said.

The development team is now focused on the design and engineering of building (including residential, office and hotel) architectures, along with roads, sidewalks and public spaces within the project.

They stressed that there will be more public events scheduled in the fall to take input from the citizenry on these elements. Betterel said there is no single vision going in on the overall architectural look of the project, but they want it to be compatible with a “Falls Church look,” if such a thing exists.

“We are very excited as we move into this new stage given all the strong support we have enjoyed from the community to date,” she said.

The latest positive development from the City of Falls Church’s standpoint is the estimate from the City’s economic development model that current plans for the project may generate as much as $7 million a year in tax revenues to the City, not counting the benefits of the additional economic activity that the new residents and businesses can be expected to bring.