F.C. Council Reviews Downtown Project’s Changes

That major proposed development for the northeast corner of Falls Church’s central intersection of Routes 29 and 7 (Washington and Broad Streets) is back, and looks different — but not necessarily worse — than what was promised when it was first submitted five years ago and subsequently won a 7-0 approval from the F.C. City Council. Its centerpiece is still a 75,000-square foot Whole Foods grocery store.

The new presentation was provided to the City Council at its virtual work session this Monday night led by Scott Adams of McGuire Woods and Maury Stern of the Insight Group that owns the land.

The major issues that will drive the discussion going forward on whether or not the project gets another OK, as it now needs, involve negotiations around the City-owned surface parking lot behind what is now Clare and Don’s and the Thompson Italian restaurant in the 100 block of N. Washington and the net fiscal impact to the City of the plan.

Other important issues are the retention of the discounted 5,000 square foot new home for the City’s Creative Cauldron Theatre troupe and the satisfaction of residential neighbors to the site on Lawton Street behind it.

Under the new plan, Insight purchases the City parking lot and includes it in its 3.16-acre project. The issue is not so much the price, which is currently under negotiation, but the impact on the two restaurants currently there, plus the State Theatre, all of which depend on the ability of customers to have access to that City lot.

As far as the overall project’s fiscal impact on the City is concerned, the projection said it will provide net annual tax revenues of $1,542,317 to the City, significantly up from the range of $793,000-to-$1.1 million projected in the earlier plan, according to F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields.

But almost all members of the Council expressed their concern for the ability of the three popular entities adjacent to the project site — Clare and Don’s, Thompson’s and the State Theater — to weather the whole thing.
Stern said that the new plan to address that involves building out the project in two stages, involving the demolition of the 100 N. Washington building there now (it used to be known as the Robertson Building) and the relocation of the public parking to that space reducing the time when the parking will not be available from two years to eight months.

During that eight months, Stern added, alternative parking provisions will be arranged allowing for valet parking and the use of lots controlled by other businesses across N. Washington. “All hands are being engaged in finding a workable solution,” Stern said. Once completed, the project will replace all the parking spaces currently available, including through the dedication of paid public parking in the Whole Foods garage.

While the new version increases the number of residential units from 339 to 350, there will be office space included. Most of the residential units will be studio and small one-bedroom. The ratio of commercial to residential in the project will be 16 percent to 84 percent.

Roughly a third of the area of the new plan is dedicated to green space, including a 3,500 square foot plaza in front of the Whole Foods right at the Broad and Washington intersection and a proffer of $50,000 for the improvement of the intersection, itself.

“This is a great project for the City, better than our submission of 2018,” Stern said, adding that Whole Foods is eager to move as fast as possible and is also very excited about the plan.

“We need to hear from the three existing venues there that they’re satisfied with the arrangements,” City Council member Letty Hardi said, a point of view reflected in the remarks by her colleagues Ross Litkenhous, David Snyder, Phil Duncan and Marybeth Connelly.

In also concurring, Mayor David Tarter said that the replaced public parking in the new project will need to be clearly identified as designated for the public.
In other developments from the Monday City Council work session:\

• The Council heard a report from City Police Lieutenant Dimitri Assayev on the work of the committee formed to assess how the City may move forward in the wake of State House Bill 421 that was passed and signed in Richmond this spring to give local jurisdictions greater latitude on possession of guns in public places. Led by Councilman Snyder, other Council members shared the view that the most restrictive allowable options should be chosen.

“We’ve asked Richmond for years exactly what we’ve now been granted, and we should choose the option that is the most balanced, effective and restrictive,” Councilman Snyder said. Councilman Hardi added, “This is in response to a long-standing request by us to live our values.”

The Council will take up the matter at its meeting this Monday, July 27.

• The Council began discussing how to allocate the $1,275,000 in federal CARES Act money provided to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, noting that support for vulnerable populations for rent and other assistance is a priority, including the fact that City’s police department has been hit by six officers who’ve contracted the virus and have had to be moved to quarantine, along with others with whom they’d been in contact.

Shields and some Council members expressed concern that while the City was oversubscribed for the use of the funds by $432,000, little of the money is available for actual virus mitigation.

Shields noted that the City of Falls Church’s case numbers have been extraordinarily low because, he said, “This community has been very responsible,” but that areas right around the City report twice the infection rate or higher.

Mayor Tarter said the entire Northern Virginia region has been doing well.

• The Council heard from the City’s Chief Financial Officer Kiran Bawa that revenues for the first 11 months (through May) of Fiscal Year 2020 held strong in the area of real estate tax payments, sales, meals and business licence taxes despite the pandemic interruptions such that shortfalls are now projected at $2.1 million (out of a $100 million annual operating budget) compared to a projected $2.7 million just a month earlier.

Combined with underspending, the FY2020 net numbers should more than offset revenue shortfalls, she said.

The Council also considered an easement request for the West End Park and a draft West End Small Area Plan.