Harris Teeter Developer Shaves Residential Units, Now 6 Stories

February 20, 2013 8:54 PM11 comments

The small meeting room at the Falls Church City Hall reserved for work sessions was packed like a just-opened sardine can Tuesday night, as neighbors to the site of a proposed large-scale mixed use project anchored by a 60,000 square foot Harris Teeter grocery story piled in to hear the latest on the plans.

They learned that Patrick J. Kearney and his colleagues at the Rushmark Properties, LLC, had revised the plans for the 301 W. Broad Street proposed development, making a number of key concessions based on further meetings with City staff and house meetings with the neighbors.

It was a time to digest the changes, and while some on the City Council and Planning Commission who were present groused about issues of “massing” and a “suburban rather than urban feel,” at the end of the two-hour session, Council members were crowing about the prospect of the project to be a “seminal” project kicking off the development of the City Center area, and a “catalyst for a new, vibrant downtown.”

The project, in its latest form, fits a state-of-the-art Harris Teeter below five floors of rental residential units, requiring a special exception for a height of 90 feet, three levels of underground parking, a plaza for outside dining fronting on W. Broad, additional landscaped buffering between the project and the Winter Hill neighborhood behind it, enclosed loading and trash docks, reversing of the pattern for supply truck circulation in and out of the site, undergrounded utility lines, and the shift of its density further away, up to 70 feet from the neighborhood behind.

The total number of residential units was scaled back to 282 from 294, and there will be a pedestrian walk-though in the middle of the site from Annandale Road to W. Broad.

Kearney told the joint work session that the project still promises to yield $1.32 million in net new revenue to the City, the equivalent of 4.5 cents on the real estate tax rate. In addition, the project offers an aesthetic “full masonry skin,” 17 affordable dwelling units, LEED silver environmental impact and a generous contribution to the school system.

While members of the Council and Planning Commission expressed misgivings in general, including the lack of a plan for handling left-turn traffic from the westbound lanes of Rt. 7 (W. Broad St.) into the project, in the end the Council comments were positive.

Councilman Phil Duncan applauded the developers’ “process of involvement with the community,” saying, “You’re making good progress.” He added, “I am ready to move. This is a big thing for Falls Church, a catalyst for more up and down on West Broad.”

Councilman Ira Kaylin said, “I would like to have something really successful here” given the “budget numbers coming up.”

Council member Johannah Barry called the plan “seminal,” being “very important in a very important location.” She added, “I want to make it viable for Rushmark and its clients.”

Councilman David Tarter added, “I am confident we can work through these issues. It will be a catalyst for a new and vibrant downtown and we need it desperately. We need this anchor.”

No mention was made in the meeting of the fate of Anthony’s Restaurant, the long-standing historical icon of the City that would be sacrificed to the project if it gets approved. However, Kearney reiterated that there will be 3,400 square feet of ground floor retail available, which could be for a restaurant.

  • FallsChurchCitizen

    Is there a valid reason why the updated proposal has a 20 percent INCREASE in the number of multi-bedroom units, up from 88 to 106? Why in the world is this necessary given the pressures that already exist on our schools?

    • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

      Schools can be built and expanded, ya know. And my guess is that most of the people buying a condo above Teeter are going to have very young kids. By the time they enter K-12, the current K-12′ers will be graduating. I’m sure an actuary can pull together some data on this and project the impact on the schools.

      Btw, it’s always interesting to me that ppl are concerned about enrollment capacity when it comes to development, but seem to ignore that very issue when pushing for more “affordable” (read: subsidized) housing.

      • FallsChurchCitizen

        These aren’t condos, I believe they’re apartments for rent; big difference (just look at the net drain that Pearson Square is for the City). FWIW, I’m not a fan of taxpayer-subsidized housing to meet someone’s subjectively defined population mix, but if some of these already planned units are designated as such — versus creating a new affordable housing facility out of thin air — I hope they’re earmarked for young working teachers or policemen here in the City.
        Schools can absolutely be built and expanded, and to that end, the school board is recommending a new $100 million high school (see this link).
        http://www.fallschurchva.gov/content/government/departments/finance/finance/fy14budget/cip/06_pubfac.pdf
        One of the attractive features of the school system is its small size, though, and that advantage is diminished as the student population grows. Turnover in existing housing is going to happen and drive enrollment growth, which is why I’m dumbfounded to see this intentional compounding of the problem with even more multi-bedroom rental units.

        • http://twitter.com/GarrickBoyd Garrick Boyd

          Can someone please explain the “net drain that Pearson Square is for the City”?

          • FallsChurchCitizen

            This article is a bit dated, but it provides the basic story:
            http://fallschurchtimes.com/11745/students-at-pearson-square-now-double-city%E2%80%99s-projection/
            “As word spread, more parents moved in, and by the time student numbers were official for the 2009-2010 school year, the figure stood at 64 students – nearly double the projection.
            At $20,000 per head, 64 students cost the City schools $1.28 million, or some $750,000 more than the tax revenue generated from the project.”

          • c0mment

            The article also isn’t very accurate for a variety of reasons. One is the part that you quote. Adding 64 students doesn’t just add $1.3M to the cost of the schools – it doesn’t work that way. If anything, adding 64 students drives down the cost per student statistic.

            The Pearson Square project included the addition of the Tax Analysts office building. Taken together, that project is a net gain (in terms of tax revenue) for the City. That said, the configuration of Pearson Square (72% multi-bedroom units) puts a lot of strain on the school system.

  • Ken

    Mr. Benton,

    Thank you for your piece. However, there was no mention of whether Rushmark’s second proposal complied with the published recommendations of city staff and council persons (e.g. move the “service isle”, a private road, to the other side, build terraces to reduce loom, etc.) or how neighboring residents felt about the changes. Where is the independent check?

    The loom and the loading docks are not the only issues with the current design either…there was no mention of:

    * the new “drive aisle” for retail parking that will carry 2,400+ cars per day within 15 feet of our properties, 24-hours a day (according to the consultant hired by the developer),

    * the undermined walkability (the plan has pedestrians walking from Winter Hill through an underground parking lot to Broad St.),

    * the construction woes (noise trucks),

    * concerns about property damage during construction,

    * excess shade,

    * unattractive and potentially inadequate buffers,

    * privacy concerns, or

    * potential negative impact on property values due to noise, pollution, traffic, and a new road behind our homes.

    As proposed, this project will be the tallest in the city…were the current zoning rules intended to mitigate commercial impacts of this scale on residential areas?

    There was also no mention of the strong objections to the size of the project, “a suburban project in an urban setting”, by council persons Snyder, Barry and Barouhk.
    Mr. Tarter’s desire for wider space in front of the building to enhance walkability was not mentioned. Nor was there mention of Ira Kalin’s pointed questions to the developer regarding whether the project could be restructured with terraces (to reduce the loom and negative impacts on neighbors) and still make Rushmark a profit (he asked for hard numbers here) as well as his objection to the way the developer calculated the net present value of the project by using an unrealistically low discount rate for future net profits, which had the impact of raising the net present value of the project to the city (Mr. Kalin did state that he is for the project in order to expand the tax base).

    And why have no depictions of the building from the neighbors’ perspective been published on the City’s website? There was a fleeting view from the stop sign on W. Annandale toward the building in Rushmark’s brief video presentation which has not been made public. Even these images, though, would not provide the perspective from the backyards of homes directly impacted by the project. The few depictions of neighbors’ properties are from high above on the proposed property and depict tall evergreen trees in the buffer as well as heavily wooded Winter Hill yards despite no trees actually being in these yards.

    Let’s be clear, this isn’t about development vs. no development. It is about creating a project that can coexist with a residential area and which doesn’t force a few dozen residents to pay an unnecessary price, so that the city can finally get some development going. If done right, this project can be a seminal moment for the city, but a more reasonably sized project can also achieve that goal without harming citizens.

  • Matt

    Mr. Benton,
    A point of clarification to your headline: The new Rushmark design sits six stories of apartments atop the Harris Teeter level which itself is the height equivalent of two stories. So, this is effectively an 8 story building – 90 feet – that would be the tallest structure in the City of Falls Church along Broad Street.

    The “scaling back” of apartments in the latest design appears to be nothing more than the developer playing slight of hand with the numbers. Despite reducing the unit count by 12 the number of overall bedrooms in the latest plan actually INCREASED with an extra 18 multi-bedroom units.

    Yes, the City needs development and tax revenues and this project will certainly bring them – but those goals can be met while maintaining sensitivity to the surround neighborhood. This design isn’t there yet.

    • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

      The scaling back tapered the height away from the closest townhouses. The developer will only move forward with this project if it can turn a profit – that’s how capitalism works. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who knowingly buy a home next to a lot zoned for tall buildings, and then complain when one is planned.

  • Katharine Newman Zohir

    All of us who live, or shop, near the new project or drive to the library or farmers market should be concern about the lack of adequate parking for so large a project. I will be happy to have a Harris Teeter in town, but traffic and parking will change forever right in the heart of our Little City. City Council and the Planning Commission and staff can and should address this impact with honesty and creativity!

  • disqus_Xm2XRnYdIq

    I’ve read the comments on this article and I do really want this project to succeed. Theres revitalization it will bring to the city and revenues that will help reduce all our property taxes and benefits it will bring to our day to day lives. I appreciate that theres a cost to a few of us, but should that prevent us from moving forword? The construction will inconvenience us for a time, but that time will pass. In the long run, I think we’ll all be glad for this improvement to our city.

Facebook Iconfacebook like buttonTwitter Icontwitter follow buttonGoogle+Google+