2024-06-13 12:19 AM

Downtown Project Goes Forward With 5-0 Vote

ALL FOR NAUGHT? With the F.C. City Council’s approval of the Broad & Washington project’s plan, the signs along Lawton Street pushing back against the proposal have an uphill battle ahead. (Photo: News-Press)

There was a silent but incredibly seismic upheaval that shivered through the City of Falls Church Tuesday night. It came around 9 p.m. when the City Council was given a key new game-changing piece of information by the Insight Property’s developers seeking Council approval for a 3.1 acre large scale mixed use project at the corner of N. Washington and E. Broad with a 55,000 square foot mega-Whole Foods grocery as its anchor. Immediately the calculus of everything in the Little City was set askew, but in a good way.

Scott Adams, speaking for Insight at Tuesday’s online Council meeting, calmly announced shortly into his presentation of the latest modifications to the plan that Insight had obtained in the last few days written agreements from two local restaurants adjacent the site — Clare and Don’s and Thompson’s Italian — supporting the project and to become “a team moving forward as partners together.”

It marked hatchet burying of what had become the biggest stumbling block in the whole process for months, centered on Insight’s need to bring into its plans the small, 65-space parking lot behind the two restaurants and that has served as their primary source of their customer parking.

Months of a heated impasse based on the perceived harm taking that lot out of commission would inflict on the two small restaurants had gone as far as it could. Support for the popular small restaurants was strong in the community, and even campaign signs were sprouting up all over town saying, “Save Our City Parking Lot & Our Small Businesses.”

Numerous among the now-five member Council threatened no votes, a project kill, despite the fact it would increase the tax yield to the City of the land from $116,000 per year to a whopping $2.2 million annually, almost double what the earlier proposal had involved including considerable Class A office space.

But so much has changed since that April 2019 plan that won unanimous Council approval, including this year’s Covid-19 pandemic that could send the office market in this region, and nationally, into a deep tailspin for over a decade.

“The fact we have a national anchor in the midst of a recession is not lost on me,” Council member Letty Hardi wound up saying Tuesday night, buoyed by the fact, she said, that “a lot has happened in a week.”

Mayor David Tarter concurred. “There has been a lot of progress made,” he said, “We’ve come a long way.”

After the 5-0 (with Ross Litkenhous abstaining due to a perceived conflict of interest, he said), a pleased Councilman Phil Duncan, the chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, texted the News-Press, “How about that — a unanimous vote! It took a village over the past month to make that happen — lots of one-to-one conversations involving Insight, City staff, electeds and appointeds [sic], local businesses, neighbors, Creative Cauldron boosters and a well-timed editorial nudge from your newspaper. Council’s 5-0 vote sends a message that in Falls Church, local and national businesses can find a home, and revenue growth and community building can go hand-in-hand.”

The final votes to start construction still won’t come until the end of January 2021, and it is unclear now how much fervent opposition there will be now that the biggest issue — parking for Clare and Don’s and Thompson’s Italian — has been settled.

A past example is The La Cote d’Or restaurant.

When the restaurant was feeling particularly under siege surrounded by the construction of two major residential buildings in the last decade, the advice to them was to tough it out because, once the buildings are done and occupied, it would enjoy a significant business windfall.

The Broad-Washington plan calls for 339 residential units, smaller than originally envisioned, ground floor retail including 6,500 square feet at the corner of the intersection to function as a public pocket park, 5,000 square feet proffered to the award-winning Creative Cauldron acting and educational troupe that will double its present size and put it in a far more prominent location at the center of the City.

The plan now has 686 parking spaces, plenty for residents, Whole Foods shoppers and the same number as now of free public parking spaces that will be available to the public with no strings attached. There will also be 74 paid public parking options.

Also being proffered are $2.3 million to the City schools, 21 lifelong affordable housing units, the Creative Cauldron’s rent subsidy valued at $2.4 million, LEED Gold architecture, $159,000 to the parks, $50,000 for traffic calming, $20.000 to the stormwater fund and bikeshare, crosswalk upgrades adjacent the site, a small pocket park on the Lawton Street backside of the project, bus shelters, streetscape around the site, and overall, “a vibrant downtown area.”

The deals to arrange for 64 alternative parking sites within a narrow perimeter of the two small restaurants is also included in what’s being offered, and the permanent use of 64 spaces behind the restaurants’ site once the project is done.

There is also an option to up the current number of apartments that will be designed to double as office units, depending on demand.

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