Changes in the plans for the development of 2.46 acres on the northeast corner of the City of Falls Church’s central intersection to include a 50,000 square foot Whole Foods grocery, remove almost all office space and expand its footprint to subsume the purchase of a City-owned surface parking lot. The revisions were contained in the Insight Group’s formal submission to City Hall early this week, and have already elicited a lot of concern and comment.
The changes to an earlier plan that won the unanimous approval by the Falls Church City Council in April 2018 are considerable and therefore will require another full deliberation, inclusive of public hearings and consideration by advisory boards and commissions prior to another decisive City Council vote.
With the submission of the formal plan, roughly outlined by Insight principal Maury Stern in an exclusive to the News-Press two weeks ago, City Hall will soon establish a date for an initial work session with the Council, but that is yet to be set.
However, there has been considerable buzz about the new proposal and how it will fly with the Council, especially since the earlier plan for 100,000 square feet of Class A office space has been entirely removed.
Of course, the major occupant of that office space was to be filled by Kiddar Capital, the now defunct company owned by convicted felon Todd Hitt. Hitt is now serving a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence for securities fraud, but had sold his share in the proposed project to Insight prior to his arrest and sentencing this June.
Insight is a major developer in the region, and acquired the sprawling Oakwood Apartments complex in the City in June 2018 and recently completed a thorough renovation of them with a new name, Falls Green, that has won rave reviews.
Lacking the office space component, Insight’s new plan consists of the Whole Foods (for which a lease has already been signed, contingent on the ultimate approval of the project), 5,000 square feet for the City’s popular Creative Cauldron theater troupe, more than doubling the size of its current operation on S. Maple, 350 rental apartments (up from 295 in the earlier proposal) and 613 parking spaces. There will be another 8,400 square feet available for a restaurant and other retail uses.
The apartment breakdown as proposed would include 153 one-bedroom units, 44 one-bedroom with den units, 85 two-bedroom units, 15 two-bedroom with den units and 35 studios (no three bedroom units). This would include nine studios and nine two-bedroom units designated as affordable as part of the developer’s proffer to the City.
The other major change involves Insight’s proposal to acquire the City-owned parking space adjacent its location and behind two popular local restaurants, Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and the new Thompson’s Italian restaurant. Stern said the proposal includes an offer to purchase the City-owned land, although a proposed price tag is not included.
David Tax of Clare and Don’s told the News-Press this week that the plan as it exists would drive both his restaurant and the Thompson’s Italian out of business, plain and simple, because of the loss of parking for the period of construction of the project. “There is a zero percent chance that we can stay in business if this happens in its current form,” he said.
He noted that his restaurant gets over 1,000 customers on a typical weekend day and that options like valet parking or access to parking blocks away simply won’t work.
Stern told the News-Press that he’s aware and sympathetic with the concerns of the two restaurants, although he added that once his project is completed, all of the parking, and more, will be restored. Still, it leaves an 18-month to two-year period when the project will be under construction that will severely restrict those restaurants’ parking options.
“We’ve got some ideas for mitigating the impact on them, but they’re not fully worked through yet,” he said. One plus is that Impact has resubmitted a request to VDOT to make a left-turn from southbound Route 29 (N. Washington) lanes into the Park Place, between the State Theatre and Clare and Don’s.
City of Falls Church efforts to win approval for that failed earlier this year, even though it would benefit Clare and Don’s. Tax said that 60 percent of his business comes from Arlington and would benefit from the ability to make a left turn there.
“I have to fight for my business,” Tax added. “We’ve kept our kitchen staff for 15 years and don’t want them to suffer. We’ve worked hard to earn a constructive role in this wider community with our charitable efforts, and it’s not to boost the business as much as to simply enjoy doing the right thing. We hope to lead this community by example.”
On the other hand, the new Insight proposal promises to yield $45,511,000 net new tax revenues to the City over the next two decades to offset the tax burden on City homeowners.