Falls Church’s four-term mayor David Tarter was right on time with a highly-upbeat summary of how things are going in the City delivered to the first in-person monthly meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, as it preceded by a day the shocking announcement of a double-digit single year increase in residential real estate assessments (see story, elsewhere this issue).
It was a celebratory gathering at the Italian Cafe, the traditional location for a Chamber luncheon, marking the first time loyal members and some newcomers assembled without masks for some tasty luncheon fare, accompanied by distinctly springlike temperatures outside.
Although promising to keep his remarks short, the mayor was hard pressed to cram everything he needed to say into a half hour, and it was all no nonsense updates on the many development oriented things going on in the Little City. Numbered off in crisp fashion the way the mayor did it made it all sound as incredible in fact as it indeed is, and led to calls for such an “annual report” type presentation to be made to the entire city.
“We’ve all been through a very tough stretch,” opened the mayor, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic, but he reported that 82 percent of adults in the City have been fully vaccinated and 92 percent having gotten at least one shot.
“But Covid has not slowed the City down,” he quickly added, citing first the 10-acre West Falls Church development beginning to get underway now that will be “transformational.” It will bring $5 million a year in tax revenue, and will catalyze development for the entire area, including for the adjacent properties of Beyer Automotive and Federal Realty, he said.
The project will include 100,000 square feet of hotel use, 125,000 square feet of office space, 120,000 square feet of retail, including a major grocery, and subsidized senior housing, multifamily residential, including rental, condos and micro-units, a conference center and civic spaces.
He said it is all being built at the same time, designed to “create a great sense of place from Day One” that will take about three years to complete, followed by a much smaller Phase Two that will be done by 2026.
The project accompanies the already-completed new high school, done on time and on budget, he said.
A second project the mayor reported on is the Insight’s Washington at Broad project that will center on a major Whole Foods grocery, a new home for the City’s Creative Cauldron theater, and 399 residential units, 10 percent of which will be affordable for their full lives.
This new affordable housing component, he said, marks a significant achievement for the City, upping the level of affordable housing from six to 10 percent, and in some cases even higher, in new projects, and extending the length of their affordability to the full life of the homes.
Tarter said that public parking will initially be a challenge around the Insight project, as there will be some inconveniences at first with the erection of a wire fence around the entire 2.4 acres eliminating a convenience cut-through that patrons of the adjacent Beach Shack, Thompson’s Italian and State Theater patrons have been using to access a City-owned lot behind them.
The main objective is to have VDOT create a left turn into Park Place next to the State Theater for cars coming south on Route 29 (N. Washington) into that lot. Unfortunately, that will not happen for about a month yet, but in the meantime the City has negotiated a new and improved arrangement with the Kaiser Clinic across the street for use of the top levels of its structured parking garage on weeknights, as well as weekends.
Tarter hailed the “very generous” new Kaiser arrangement.
The official groundbreaking for the project is scheduled for next month.
The mayor said Mill Creek’s Founder’s Row 4.2 acre development at the northeastern corner of the interaction of W. Broad and N. West Streets is nearing completion, with 329 residential units, 70 senior units and 88,000 square feet of commercial. He noted that Mill Creek has placed $3.2 million in escrow for use in the buildout of a movie theater complex at the site, for which letters of intent have been obtained.
The “One City Center” project of Atlantic Realty at the opposite corner of the Broad and Washington intersection from the Insight project is also pressing ahead, awaiting a final City Council OK for 246 residential units, 10 percent affordable, and 109,000 square feet of commercial, including a grocery, a new facade on the old George Mason Square building (above the Ireland’s Four Provinces) and a pocket park.
Mill Creek’s “Founders Row 2” project, catty corner at W. Broad and West Street from Founders Row 1, is nearing Council final approval that will allow for another 280 residential units, 12 percent of which will be affordable and half of those at the low income end of the affordability scale.
Mayor Tarter noted that the City seems to be emerging as a “medical office niche” space for its new commercial uses.
He noted that the City is on the verge of having 45 attractive new “wayfinding” signs posted around town.
He cited the City’s ability, despite its spending on a new high school, a newly renovated library and recently-renovated City Hall, to lower its residential tax rate last year from $1.355 per $100 of assessed valuation to $1.32, and that the Council has already suggested that another cut of up to four cents may be permitted in the City Manager’s projected FY23 budget that he’s expected to recommend later this month.
The Council will make its final decision on the new budget by May 2.
The mayor touted the success of the City in landing federal relief funds related to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as grants from Amazon, one of $3.7 million and another of $5 million for affordable housing acquisitions.
There’s also been funds flowing in for the City’s “Great Streets” project on Park Avenue between the library and State Theater, on S. Washington St. where a multimodal intersection is now under construction, improvements around the 10-acre West End site, a connector between the W&OD trail and Haycock Road, and various transportation and traffic calming initiatives around town that include bumpouts, crosswalks, signage and the like.
There are three electric school buses coming, and the mayor said he’d like to see all the Falls Church Police Department cars go electric as “a nice statement of who we are as a City” (he recalled the time when all the City’s police cars were Volvos, which became its own kind of statement about the City).
He noted new businesses just opening in the City, including a Five Guys location, the Cuates Mexican Grill, Harvey’s at the Byron, and the Smoothie King coming to the location of the Sun Trust bank on W. Broad.
He said that “preserving existing businesses” is another City priority, and to advance an image of the City as “eclectic, fun and funky.”