The Mill Creek developers, who plan to move in a first wave of residents by this September to their ambitious 4.3-acre Founders Row project now dominating the northeastern corner of the W. Broad at N. West Street intersection, returned to the Falls Church City Council last Monday with a revised plan for a 2.1 acre mixed-use “Founder’s Row 2” diagonally across the intersection.
Significant modifications to plans for the new project since its initial introduction to the Council in March include a lowering of the height and number of rental residential units, mostly efficiencies and small one-bedrooms, and also feature more street-level retail and amenities to please its neighbors.
(Mill Creek, working through its key public spokesman Joe Muffler who participated in this Monday’s meeting, has demonstrated a strong responsiveness to residential neighbors in the case of its original Founders Row with lots of direct contacts and community meetings.)
The biggest new neighborly impact of Founders Row 2 (not the official name, mind you), in addition to an overall reduction of one story, or six feet, in height, is how the height drops down behind it where it goes from 76 feet in height on W. Broad to 30 feet on Ellison St. behind it.
Other new features include open public spaces, a proposed corner plaza at Ellison and S. West, and a mid-block plaza on S. West. It includes an overall reduction of 14 percent in the building size, and a reduction of 39 residential units (from 319 to 280). There will be 433 parking spaces, all underground, and the floor-to-area ratio (FAR) is 3.6.
Proposed commercial square footage increases over the March submission to 20,800 square feet, being 15,000 square feet of commercial and 5,800 of office, being 5,000 square feet of “dedicated co-working space.” The W. Broad building facade will have more glass and balconies, and a menu of voluntary concessions involving a variety of community benefits, most significant of which is a commitment to providing 12 percent of its residential units as affordable (half for households with 60 percent of the region’s average median income, or AMI, and half for households at 80 percent of AMI).
Also, the building will comply with a “LEED Gold” environmental standard.
There appeared little consensus between the City and the developer on the expected annual fiscal yield of the project to the City. The City’s economic model has found so far that an average of $470,000 in net annual yield, as offset by the cost of educating students that can be expected to reside there, with some significant give or take on that.
Muffler said the developer analysis provides almost double that annual yield, based on what he insisted are more accurate projections of anticipated student enrollment from new residential units. Voluntary concessions will include $1,500 per residential unit dedicated to school capital costs and $250 per unit for the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.
A challenge will be the project request for parking at 17 percent below the code.
It also calls for a median break on W. Broad to allow for left turns out of the project, a feature that will not require Virginia Department of Transportation approval, the City staff opined.
The new project will replace the now-vacant Rite Aid store and the carpet store on the corner of W. Broad and S. West that has large window signage advertising “close out” sales.
In his presentation Monday, Muffler said that, although there were “significant modifications from the March submission in response to Council and community concerns,” he conceded “this effort is far from completed.”
“We’re in a much better place than we were,” signaled Council member Ross Litkenhous. He stressed that it is important to “look across the totality of commercial and residential ratios in the whole City,” and not to demand the same ratio in each project.
The building design “looks less like a fortress now,” he added. He also noted the added green spaces and less hard ones, and more co-working office space, which he said is a “high quality business amenity.”
Mayor David Tarter commented that he is hoping for a greater increase in commercial space there, and said the City needs to do a more thorough analysis of its own on the fiscal impact.