F.C.’s S. Washington Development Plan Relocates ‘Town Center’

May 1, 2013 7:37 PM0 comments

Public Meeting on Ambitious Vision Gets Some Details

The on-going discourse over the last year about the “small area plan” for the South Washington Street Corridor, the City of Falls Church’s core commercial area, was given another public meeting treatment last Saturday in advance of a hoped-for final adoption by sometime this summer.

The 135 components outlined in the plan addressing everything element of existing to hoped-for conditions of the 43 acres right in the center of the Little City will, once adopted, help potential developers figure out what the City wants. That’s the benefit of the public input, as it helps the City Planning Department craft a policy that has public support in advance of what may eventually come into the area.

At a meeting room in the Columbia Baptist Church Saturday morning, a smattering of citizens, including those with a special interest in that part of town for a variety of reasons, took time out of a very warm and sunny day to hear the City’s Planning Director Jim Snyder outline the parameters of the new vision. They then broke out into small discussion groups to sound off on their particular opinions, which were then summarized at the end.

Under Snyder’s direction, the City has already gone through one of these sector plans, dealing with the North Washington Corridor. Before it’s all over, all the developable sectors of the City’s modest 2.2 square miles will be subject to the same treatment.

As the South Washington plan encompasses what the City’s Comprehensive Plan and current zoning permits as the densest commercial core of the entire City, it could come under fire from anti-density proponents, although its proximity to residential neighborhoods is not immediate.

Already, the City has gone through an arduous process to win approval for a City Center Plan that Atlantic Realty had come forth with for $315 million in developments, a plan that fell through with the onset of the Great Recession in 2008.

The new vision plan focuses a bit to the southwest of the footprint of the Atlantic Realty plan, and includes the area that is now being proposed by Lincoln Properties for a large-scale mixed-use project at the current site of International Motors and Meineke.

While a lot of discussion has already been underway about that project, and the Falls Church City Council may be poised to formally begin the process of approving it later this month, one of the most intriguing features of the new area plan is the notion that the land encompassing the Falls Church-owned strip shopping mall on E. Fairfax and the entire Tower Square shopping center could encompass what Snyder called a new “town center” near The Falls Church.

This would presumably be an especially-dense area that would becoming the acknowledged new commercial-retail center of the City.

However, in numerous conversations over the last year (since this plan was first unveiled at a town hall meeting in June 2012), have suggested that it will not serve as a commercial-retail town center, but perhaps also as the municipal government center, a space where a new City Hall, Police Department and Public Library complex could be constructed.

This notion remains a touchy subject among certain quarters of City officialdom, as in with certain members of the City Council, in particular. But as the Council is faced with pouring large sums of money into a badly-needed renovation of its existing City Hall, and as the Police Department, currently housed at that City Hall, is badly cramped in its current space, and as court security is woefully lacking there, as well, the idea of completely new facilities for all the above might require some pause before too much money gets spent on the existing site.

Therefore, a more open discussion of the potential use of the new “town center” location identified in the South Washington Corridor plan may be called for sooner rather than later.

In another curious aspect of the plan as presented by Snyder Saturday, the cluster of four-plex housing on Gibson Street known as the Virginia Village remains in place even as the area around it is pegged for dense development. This keep this small contribution to the City’s affordable housing stock in place, it would also permit, as Snyder outlined it, of some open space that could connect with the Big Chimneys Park to be a south-of-Broad complement to the Cherry Hill Park.

Again, in soft tones, some in the business of visioning Falls Church’s long term future think the location might be suitable some day for a new Community Center, more expansive than what the City now has.

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