Founders Row Phase 2? Mill Creek Moving to Acquire Vacant Rite Aid

MILL CREEK, developers of the Founders Row project under construction in Falls Church, are seeking to acquire two vacant properties, across the street from its current project, at the corner of W. Broad and West Streets. (Photo: Nick Gatz, News-Press)

The Economic Development Committee of the Falls Church City Council got the news at its meeting last Thursday from Joe Muffler, managing director of Mill Creek developers, that the 4.3 acre Founders Row mixed-use project now coming out of the ground at West Broad and N. West Streets may be augmented with a two-acre “phase two” right across the street.

Muffler confirmed to the News-Press in an interview Tuesday that his firm is “very excited” to be “working very hard” on securing a contract on the now-vacant spaces catty-corner from the Founders Row project that have housed a carpet store and the shuttered Rite Aid store.

Muffler has been the face for years to the City on Mill Creek’s efforts that finally won the OK for its Founders Row, and is now hopeful, he said, about plans to come back to City officials in the next two or three months with a proposal for the Phase Two project.

He said a lot of work needs to be done yet on what, exactly, may go on the new site and how it might be integrated with the existing project underway.

The Founders Row project will include a dine-in movie theater complex in addition to ample residential housing and restaurant amenities. It is thought that Phase Two, while being mixed use, might have less commercial space.

Muffler emphasized that he is not at liberty yet to talk about what could happen on the new site, since contract negotiations have not yet been completed. But made his presentation at an open meet

ing of the Economic Development Committee last week, and among those in attendance, both Council members Phil Duncan and Letty Hardi, the Council’s representatives on the group, posted reports about it on social media.

Founders Row hopes to have some of its retail components open in time for the holiday season next year, and completed by the summer of 2022. Muffler told the News-Press that whatever might happen on the Phase Two site would not begin to be developed for at least two years.

Meanwhile, in other developments this week, the City’s quasi-independent Economic Development Authority (EDA) invited representatives from a number of boards and commissions to hear an update by Staunton-based architect Kathy Fraser on designs for new “wayfinding” signage she’s proposing for the City, including gateway, directional, boundary, destination and parking signs with the aim of making it easier for folks to get around the “Little City.”

The signs that she has designed to date all include the iconic Little City logo, although a criticism from Melissa Teates of the Planning Commission was that the logo “doesn’t mean anything to outsiders.”

But Fraser said the purpose of the design is to be “both charming and timeless,” as she put it.

Meeting attendees also suggested signage to mark Tinner Hill and the W&OD Trail, and Keith Thurston of the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) said that he will try to provide an inventory of existing signs that have been posted in the City over the years at VPIS’ expense.

Fraser’s proposals for the new signage, blue against green, will offer a “more unified image” around the City. The EDA has footed the bill for the study and maybe for some of the initial gateway “Welcome to Falls Church” signs, but the cost of doing the total project, according to EDA chair Bob Young, will be in the hundreds of thousands.

The City’s Economic Development chief Becky Witsman reported on a parking study that is being developed for the downtown area, though no specific proposals have come forward yet.

She said that the plan is to come with options to present to the public at a series of public meetings in the next months. Among the options will be the introduction of paid on-street parking and the closing of one lane on West Broad in the evenings and weekends on downtown blocks to allow parking there.

Young cited the irony that the one part of town with the greatest pressure on providing adequate parking is the one area where it is restricted the most now.

Witsman said that a mural to adorn the new Mr. Brown’s Park, the pocket park in the 100 block of W. Broad, is being commissioned for a non-permanent large sheet-like product that can be placed over the blank wall space at the park site. It can have a lifespan of up to 10 years, she said.

On Monday, the F.C. Planning Commission decided to put off a decision to make a recommendation on a request by Washington Gas for an easement at the western part of the West End Park for a couple large boxes and pipes along the site next to the car wash. The equipment would be relocated from the current high school site, where construction of the new school will require its relocation.

Concern was expressed Monday for whether other locations had been considered, or not, and other considerations about the use of the parkland for the easement. The Planners will have another meeting later this month before the City Council makes a decision on March 23.