F.C. Chamber Pens Letter Advocating for Development at West Falls Metro Site

At its virtual meeting this Tuesday, the board of directors of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce formally signed off on a letter to the Fairfax County Planning Commission in advance of its meeting on Wednesday, June 16 at 7:30 p.m. The letter, sent over the signature of Falls Church Executive Director Sally Cole, expressed the Chamber’s strong support for an amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan to permit mixed use development at WMATA’s West Falls Church Metro station site.

The plans for the 23-acre site and its neighboring Virginia Tech site, developed by the same development teams heading the City of Falls Church’s ambitious 10-acre site where the old George Mason High School has just been demolished, is intended to extend the Falls Church development through neighboring property held by Virginia Tech and WMATA. The combination of the three sites encompasses over 40 acres and represents one of the bigger integrated regional developments in the area, potentially bigger than the Mosaic development in Merrifield.

Its full build out would render the word “transformational” inadequate. It would completely redefine the wider area that encompasses a significant portion of the City of Falls Church’s west end, delivering a revenue stream for the City that would enable its tax burden on property owners here to shrink substantially.

In fact, as Andrew Painter of the Chamber’s legislative committee told the board meeting Tuesday, the area subject to the massive redevelopment is not just the 40 acres of the three contiguous sites, but two major sites in the City would also be folded into the mix, the assembled lots owned by Beyer Automotive and the strip malls owned by Federal Realty, to constitute another 20 acres and bring the overall development to a whopping 60 acres.

While the prospect of the mega-project is viewed very favorably by the Falls Church Chamber, according to the letter OK’d by its board to be sent this week, the matter has been much more controversial in Fairfax County.

Public hearings held by a task force established by County Supervisor John Foust drew a lot of angst from neighbors to the WMATA and Virginia Tech sites, worried about impacts new development could have on traffic and density.

Concerns and objections will undoubtedly be expressed at next Tuesday’s Planning Commission vote where, in particular, the opinions of Foust will hold considerable sway.

Following the county Planning Commission’s recommendation on Wednesday, the matter will come before the county Board of Supervisors for decisive action that is now set for Tuesday, July 13 at 4 p.m.

In addition to the Falls Church Chamber, groups supporting the measure include the Coalition for Smart Growth, which held a seminar of the project and supports it for the new emphasis it places on public transit, namely the West Falls Church Metro station there. Its ridership has plummeted since the opening of the Silver Line has temporarily bypassed it.

The projected mixed-use density on the WMATA site, according to plans developed by EYA, Hoffman and Rushmark (familiar names to Falls Church), is a less than 1.0 FAR (floor-to-area ratio, a standard measure of density), compared to the still modest 2.5 FAR projected for the Virginia Tech land and City’s 10 acre site.

The Fairfax County comprehensive plan amendment would permit up to 1,004,000 square feet of mixed use residential, office and retail uses on the WMATA property and 817,000 square feet of residential, office, institutional and retail uses on the Virginia Tech site.

According to the Chamber letter, “The plan offers an exceptional opportunity for this area of Fairfax County and, by extension, the greater Falls Church area, to attract new investment and residents and evolve as a component of a larger, approximately 40-acre vibrant, walkable, urban educational and residential inter-jurisdictional neighborhood.”

It adds, “The plan includes placemaking, open space, environmental and affordable housing recommendations.”

Further, it states, “Additional commercial and residential density on the WMATA and Virginia Tech sites is critical to improving Metrorail ridership at the West Falls Church Metrorail station, which has seen a staggering 74 percent drop in ridership since the 2014 opening of the Silver Line. Introducing new uses at the station is paramount to capitalizing on the tremendous public investment Northern Virginia has made in the Metrorail system.”

The letter adds, “The Plan Amendment’s traffic study (which has been thoroughly reviewed by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Transportation) has demonstrated that, if the Plan Amendment’s land use and transportation goals are realized, will result in improved connectivity and improvements to the surrounding road network.”

Finally, the letter states that the Falls Church Chamber “believes the proposed Plan Amendment, if adopted, will offer a vibrant urban experience, deliver new retail and highly-demanded housing, and provide a sustainable future for greater Falls Church.”