With the choice before them of working with the developer to craft the kind of mixed-use five-story senior assisted living project that could double revenues to the City or be faced with a renovated Burger King currently on the site, the Falls Church City Council was divided in its sentiments but decided Monday to decline a request to put the proposed Kensington Senior Living project on its agenda for initial consideration later this month.
Developer Ed Novak of Nova Habitat, who played instrumental roles in a number of large scale mixed use projects in the City, including the Byron and the Spectrum, cautioned the Council that he has the three-fourths acre Burger King site under contract only until next April, and that the management of the current Burger King there is “under a lot of pressure” from its parent company to undergo a major renovation of the current use, which would lock in that location as a free-standing Burger King for the next couple dozen years.
Three members of the Council, Phil Duncan, David Snyder and Ron Peppe, went on record in favor of pushing ahead with the project, while other Council members expressed in a variety of ways that it wasn’t ready for “prime time” anytime soon.
Mayor Nader Baroukh said that in seeking a “special exception” for height at that location that the project is under the burden of being “exemplary,” and said the idea of putting an art gallery on the ground floor, outside the formal City “arts district,” seemed “disjointed.” Council member Johannah Barry said “there is no urgency here,” and called the discussion of an art gallery on the ground floor “disingenuous,” and was troubled by the unwillingness of the developer to commit to an environmental “LEED Silver” standard.
Councilman Ira Kaylin said that besides the human value of the assisted living notion, “this remains a business proposition” and that he has yet to see what proffers the developer might offer. Councilman David Tarter said that while the new architectural plan for the building “looks ten times better,” he was concerned for the impact of such a project in the “dead center of our business district.”
But Novak and his partner in the development, Kensington Senior Living’s Harley Cook, told the Council that the idea of an art gallery or some kind of equivalent public space on the ground floor, along with a cafe or wine bar, would draw people both from the community and from the 88 units in the building, itself, for a healthy interaction. The idea was specifically proposed by consultants from Street Sense retained by the developers.
The project would offer three levels of service to seniors needing assisted living, active seniors eager to interact with the surrounding community and seniors needing advanced memory care. Councilman Peppe asked how many in the room at tonight’s joint City Council and Planning Commission work session had explored senior assisted living options for their parents, and a half dozen hands went up. He said, “Anybody who has looked into this knows there is not an oversupply of these,” and he applauded the commitment of the developers to not simply see how they could get a top dollar out of the site.