At long last, the groundbreaking for the large scale mixed use project at the northeastern corner of the E. Broad St. (Route 7) at N. Washington (Route 29) intersection in the center of the City of Falls Church will be celebrated this Friday morning, April 29, that will involve shovels, dirt, a heavy dose of Falls Church Celebrity A listers, leaders of the Creative Cauldron local theater troupe that is looking forward to occupying 5,000 square feet at the site (it is rumored they may also do a little performing Friday) and representatives of the Insight Property Group and a modest reception at the Clare and Don’s Beach Shack.
It is not known whether work by VDOT on creating a Route 29 southbound left turn into the restaurants adjacent the site will be completed in time, but most of the rest of the 2.7 acres has already been leveled (including the site of the old Mountain Jack’s and subsequently Applebee’s), with the four-story Robertson Building at the corner emptied and about to come down. It will come down in a piecemeal fashion, unfortunately with no dramatic eye-pleasing implosions slated.
According to Maury Stern of Insight, it will be two years before the new 50,000 square foot mega-Whole Foods that signed a lease two years ago for the site will open.
Other aspects include the subsidized space for the non-profit Creative Cauldron, a grassy, public “Unity and Justice” plaza right at the corner, 339 residential units, ground floor retail and an expansion of free and other parking that will also benefit adjacent businesses and an option for voluntary concessions that include up to 10 percent of the residential units to be set aside for permanent affordable housing.
The site was first acquired by Insight for $13.6 million in early 2015 in a deal with the now-imprisoned Todd Hitt who was originally committed to putting his real estate developer company’s headquarters there. A unanimous City Council vote of approval was obtained. But when Hitt was arrested and convicted of investor fraud in 2017, Insight had to reconfigure its plans for the site, and that accounted for some of the delay in the last half-dozen years.
Yet coming back for yet another OK from the F.C. City Council, Insight again proved agile and successful in addressing neighborhood issues, both from residential property owners behind it on Lawton Street and from its retail neighbors, the Clare and Don’s and Thompson’s Italian restaurants and the State Theater live music venue. A new Council OK was also unanimous in the end.
Parking was one of the biggest issues, including provision for it during the construction, and the City agreed to sell to Insight its 0.7 acre parking lot at the site and negotiated parking deals with a generous Kaiser Permanente clinic across the street. Getting VDOT to OK the left turn off S. Washington was another big step.
Finally, Insight became the first of F.C.’s developers to commit up to 10 percent of its residential units to be designated “affordable.”
Insight has another major property in Falls Church, having acquired what was the Oakwood Apartments, now Falls Green, in the City.
It has properties throughout the D.C. area, going under names like Ravensworth, Elliott, Wray, Elm, Apollo, Shelby, Fenwick, Baldwin, Lockwood, Arbor Grove, Buchanan Park, Avery and more.
New projects are now underway on Columbia Pike and the Ballston areas of Arlington.
In petitioning for the zoning and special exceptions required for its Broad and Washington project (which is the name it is going by), the Insight people stressed their sense of responsibility to Falls Church given the central location of the project, which has accounted for a number of the amenities, including the Creative Cauldron space and the pedestrian friendly “Unity and Justice” plaza and major concessions made to keep its neighbors happy.
With its headquarters located just down the road in the Ballston area of Arlington, the company has a statement of purpose on its website that reads, “Our founders decided early in their careers to invest in Washington, D.C., and its surrounding communities. They challenged themselves to develop places and spaces that responded to the needs of their residents in new ways. To do so, they gathered a team of professionals committed to engaging with people and neighborhoods as well as constructing remarkable buildings. Our purpose is to provide great homes for our residents and compelling spaces for our retailers, create value for our investors, and give back to our communities. We aim to deliver thoughtfully crafted buildings that become integral to their neighborhoods.”