New Downtown Pocket Park an Immediate Hit, Add-Ons Slated

The Falls Church Economic Development Authority, chaired by Bob Young (center), held its monthly meeting in the Dogwood Room of the newly-renovated City Hall Tuesday night. At left, Erik Pelton is shown gesturing. (News-Press photo)

Members of the City of Falls Church’s quasi-autonomous Economic Development Authority Tuesday night treated themselves a lusty round of applause for accomplishing the Little City’s latest hot spot, the newly-renovated “pocket park” in the 100 block of West Broad Street.

Meanwhile, the momentum is growing to name the park “Mr. Brown’s Park,” to honor three generations of the Brown family, including the late Hugh Brown who passed away in November, the last heir of the family hardware store business that has been located a few doors down for over 125 years. The Economic Development Authority (EDA), credited with initiating the effort to redevelop the park space, voted unanimously to recommend the name to the City Council Tuesday night.

Witnesses have described the activity at the new park space as a veritable bevy of casual human activity, especially on weekend evenings, where folks can be seen with their families enjoying the modest amenities, including an artificial turf and ample benches, chairs and tables. Located in a block with multiple local eateries, including an ice cream shop, the site allows for citizens to linger and enjoy the warm summer evenings in downtown Falls Church.

Already there are plans for expanded uses for the park space, including a live music stage with a canopy and mural on the blank wall adjacent it. Some in the City’s Planning Department have suggested a mural might have a beach scene to enhance the casual ambiance of the space.

As for naming the space “Mr. Brown’s Park,” it was noted that an informal public survey inviting suggestions drew overwhelming support for naming it, in one form or another, for the Brown legacy. Snyder showed an artist rendering for what signage designating the park might look like, an arc-shaped sign like the ones that now identify two other parks further up W. Broad, with estimates that such a sign could be acquired for just above $9,000.

In conjunction with the modest investment the City has made in the renovation of the space, it has hired a part-time park coordinator, Naomi Goodwin, to oversee the maintenance and further improvements there, including some public event programming that is already scheduled.
Free classes in August being held there include “high intensity interval training,” yoga, “sprinkler fun,” “cardio dance,” “pop up” and “introduction to kettleballs,” all the events being hosted by local businesses.

The EDA’s Erik Pelton announced Tuesday that he and City Council member Letty Hardi, another initiator of the project, will be meeting soon with local business owners in the block about plans for the block and to elicit their suggestions.

The attitude of the local business owners has changed dramatically from the time when petitions filled with their signatures opposing the pocket park idea were brought to the City Council. Initially, they reacted against what they saw as a major deficit in parking that the project would create.
But the project was revamped to avoid any loss of parking, and in fact the City brought forward more modest improvement plans along with plans for a parking study of the area aimed at maximizing public parking.

That parking study will begin in the fall, spearheaded by the EDA’s Ed Saltzberg, and Snyder reported that plans for the milling and paving of the parking spaces behind the pocket park and on-street retailers in the 100 block’s north side has been estimated to cost around $32,000, a project that would provide an additional 10 parking spaces.

Pelton also proposed that, with the completion of that job, that a painted walkway running the length of the parking area from N. Washington to Maple be added to enhance the “walkability” of the area.

The subject of a mid-block crosswalk in that block was also raised at the EDA meeting, along with the idea of turning one lane of the westbound W. Broad in that block into angled parking and Uber/Lyft dropoff spaces in the evenings, when the traffic flows drop off.

The parking study would encompass a larger area of the City’s downtown, including new areas as the boundaries of the district ranging from the Founders Row project in the 900 block of W. Broad to the Lincoln at Tinner Hill in the 400 block of S. Washington St.

That, and plans for a “wayfinder study” to mull ways to make getting around town easier and more pedestrian friendly, will be topics at the EDA’s next meeting on Sept. 10.

Witsman said a meeting with officials at the Kaiser facility in the block behind about expanding their willingness to allow free public parking use of their structured parking facility was amiable, but no commitments were made to allow more parking than currently is permitted.

The EDA discussed what a role for it might be in the pursuit of affordable housing in the City, something that confronts the City with increasing urgency. Saltzberg proposed the establishment of a “blue ribbon” committee of top city officials and experts to develop an overall plan for moving forward.

EDA Chair Bob Young reiterated the disappointment that attended the effort a decade ago to marshall the resources for a senior affordable housing project in the downtown area. Many groups who weighed in on that effort, he said, are upset to this day that a City Council decision, by a one-vote margin, killed the project then.