Development Projects Keep Rolling in F.C. During Crisis

DESPITE SOCIAL DISTANCE mandates shutting down many operations in the City, Falls Church’s Founders Row and other projects roll on during the coronavirus crisis. (Photo: J. Michael Whalen)

Even as the current coronavirus pandemic has gripped the City of Falls Church, as it has everywhere, the City government here will be challenged to find a way to proceed ahead as soon as possible with more than just emergency and continuity-of-government issues. That is all that is currently stipulated under ordinances adopted to accommodate “social distancing” guidelines by the authorization of virtual online gatherings of the City Council for the conduct of formal business.

A big part of the business of the City, as it faces the crises to come from extreme revenue shortfalls this year, will be proceeding with deliberations and approvals of new development projects. As City Manager Wyatt Shields reported to the City Council last week, deliberations are continuing with the developers of the 10.3-acre West End development project though further formal actions will not be required until after the new George Mason High School is completed, whose construction remains underway and whole timetable for completion still holds at December 2020, and the existing old high school complex is demolished to make way for the West End plan.

But ready to go through a formal approval process as soon as possible is the 2.3-acre Broad and Washington project of the Insight Group, who resubmitted their plan, a revised one, this week, and is eager to move ahead.

In remarks to the News-Press last week, Maury Stern of the Insight Group said that despite the current crisis, “We have significant interest from equity partners to see this project move forward and feel that we can hit the ground running as soon as we receive approvals from the City.”

WORK CONTINUES with no delay on the Mary Riley Styles renovation project. (Photo: J. Michael Whalen)

The latest plan calls for 339 residential units, down from 350, and a 50,000 square foot Whole Foods Market anchoring the intersection considered to be heart of downtown Falls Church and 5,000 square feet dedicated to the non-profit Creative Cauldron theatre troupe that, along with the State Theatre live music venue a half block away, has achieved a seminal role in the City’s cultural life.

Controversy arose over the plan submitted last fall that the project utilized the City-owned parking lot at the rear of that corner space that has served as free parking for two lively restaurants there, the Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Thompson Italian, both closed during the current crisis.

The new plans, according to Stern, call for an increase in parking spaces by 85 spaces, 39 for residents and 46 for shared public parking. It also calls, he said, “For reducing the time that the City lot is unavailable to adjacent businesses to between six to eight months by resequencing our construction and taking on more construction costs to ensure the time is minimized.”

He said, “We will also expedite the delivery of the new public parking prior to the rest of the building so that it is available to the public as soon as possible.” He added, “During construction, and while the City lot is unavailable, we plan to offer a combination of valet parking and additional lots in the area for public parking, while also helping to promote existing public spaces at Kaiser and George Mason Square.”

To ease concerns of residents on the back end of the project, he added, design for the building “has also been set back to a consistent 40 feet along the neighbors property at 107 Lawton Street to create a larger park and greater distance between the building and the neighbors.”

The attraction that can be the most important to the City as it recovers from the current crisis is the projection that the project will yield a net $2.3 million in annual revenue to the City, or almost $50 million over 20 years, promising by its central location in downtown Falls Church to be regional draw to its Whole Foods from both Arlington and Fairfax County.

Meanwhile, nine blocks up W. Broad at the intersection of N. West Street, construction on the ambitious 4.3 acre Founders Row project has not stopped during the current social distancing mandate, even as Joe Muffler of the Mill Creek developers told the News-Press that practicing the six-foot spacing between persons in the project’s construction has been in practice at the site.

The site remains on track to open in the summer of 2021 to include a 6-8 screen dine-in movie theater, a 72-unit senior living facility, 60,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space, 5,000 square feet of office space and 322 market-rate apartments.

As mentioned at last week’s Council meeting the current crisis could actually facilitate the construction there, as other construction in the area is delayed or cancelled and cost of materials may go down.

Again, it is the projected revenue yield from the project, once completed and underway, that will provide a sorely-needed estimated $1.7 to $2 million annually to the City’s tax coffers.

Meanwhile, according to Falls Church Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan, construction of the new George Mason High School also continues apace for scheduled completion by December, although there was concern for availability of some materials that, it was announced Monday, has been resolved.

The work on the just-begun renovation and expansion of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library has also continued without delay or diminishment, Shields reported to the Council, and remains on schedule.

Work on improving the intersection at W. Broad (Rt. 7) and Haycock Road continues, as well, as does the work on the bike bridge over Lee Highway (N. Washington) at the other end of town.

Meanwhile, repaving of Hillwood Avenue has been completed and the makeover of the intersection of Gundry and Annandale Road, both City Department of Public Works projects, is also done.