Little City ‘Mouse That Roars’ Wins N. Virginia Transportation Grant

Over 1,000 letters, petitions and comments from citizens played a major role in the decision by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority board last week to award the City of Falls Church with $15.2 million for two projects aimed at reducing congestion and benefiting the wider region, it was announced this week.

The two projects were among four to win grants among 41 applicants from the wider region, and were secured despite the small size of the City due to the “mouse that roars” size of its civic activism.

The two fully-funded projects in the City of Falls Church are:

West Falls Church Access to Transit and Multimodal Connectivity: For $6,900,000, it involves the installation of a new 10-foot wide multi-use path and six-foot wide planting strip along Shreve Road between the W&OD Trail and Route 7 with acorn-style lights, a crosswalk near the intersection of Shreve Road and Gordon Road, and benches near the entrance to the W&OD trail.

Downtown Falls Church Multimodal Improvements: For $8,300,000, this involves the installation of two midblock crossings, the widening of sidewalks, removal of obstructions (including utility lines), installation of curb extensions, adjustment of intersection geometries, and the increased visibility at six crossings/intersections on Park Avenue between N. Washington Street and Virginia Avenue.

F.C. City Council member David Snyder, who has served for years on the executive committee of the NVTA, said, “We much appreciate the regional cooperation that has led to the approval for funding of both of the City of Falls Church transportation proposals. This is a great example of the direct benefits that accrue to our citizens from the active engagement of City Council Members and city staff in regional policy and funding bodies.”

Both projects will significantly enhance the “walkability” of the City, and the first one will bear directly on the “Safe Routes to the Schools” initiative for student safety, as well.

The projects will come in addition to the $18 million one currently underway to improve the intersection of W. Broad (Route 7) at Haycock/Shreve Road and the planned work on the S. Washington (Route 29) and S. Maple intersection and on the multimodal project where Hillwood Ave. intersects with S. Washington.

Other action by the virtual F.C. City Council at its meeting Monday with Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly presiding (Mayor David Tarter was absent due to the passing of his aunt, Ann Fielder, “who raised me,” according to his memorial post on Facebook):

• The Council voted 6-0 to grant a preliminary OK for the rezoning of 1.7 acres at 116 E. Fairfax and 130 E. Fairfax for the construction of a 12,000 square foot building on what is currently a vacant lot, used mostly for church parking.

The building is slated to be the site of a children’s “interplay and cognitive development” experience known as Scramble, fully taxable with a current location in Arlington.

The land was bought by the Falls Church Episcopal in 2005 and leased, along with the adjacent strip mall, to The Young Group a decade later.

The proposal will be forwarded to City boards and commissions for their consideration and a second and final approval is expected by August 10. If OK’d, the building will commence construction in mid-August and be completed by Christmas, according to developer Bob Young.

• The Council heard an updated plan for the West Falls 9.6 acre project on the current site of George Mason High School, and voted 5-0 (Councilman Dan Sze also absent by that point) to refer the plans to a wide array of City boards and commissions, including the F.C. Chamber of Commerce.

Evan Goldman of EYA, one of the three development teams working jointly on the project, reported some proposed changes to the project in light of the current economic environment that will reduce the number of studio (micro-units), condominiums and senior housing units and replace them with more multi-bedroom rental units.

“This is a surprising change in the mix” said Councilman Ross Litkenhous.
The new plan reduces the projected net annual tax yield to the City to $4,715,314, down from $5 million, and increases the projected students in the project to 68, according to Becky Witsman, the City’s chief economic development specialist.

But Goldman questioned the City’s projections, noting that the two-bedroom units his project proposes are smaller, and not likely to draw the number of families with school-aged children as, for example, the West Broad units above the Harris-Teeter. The West Falls units will be only 750 square feet on average, he said, compared to 1,000 square feet at the West Broad.

Also, it was noted that some of the retail space will be filled with non-taxable entities, such as a daycare center that would pay BPOL but not sales taxes.

Witsman said the City will rerun its fiscal model in light of Goldman’s clarifications to see if there is a change. “Pupil numbers could be very different,” she said.

Councilman Phil Duncan said market forces need to be heeded in matters of this kind. “We have to take the developers’ word for what can be marketed,” he said, but cautioned that “People will squeeze into small spaces to get their kids into Falls Church schools.”

• Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester reported that court services commenced at the newly-renovated City Hall last week and that 70 cases were processed. “The court went very smoothly,” she said.

• The Council’s work session set for July 20 will include a discussion on how to allocate $1.2 million in federal CARES Act funds and how to apply the new state firearms legislation to the City.

• A proposal received by the Council received some preliminary verbal support from Council members to name the gazebo in Frady Park in honor of the late civic activist Barbara Cram.