Mulling Big Tax Hikes on Residents, F.C. Council Ignores $ from New Plan

March 19, 2014 9:03 PM3 comments
MEMBERS OF THE Falls Church City Council (left) and Planning Commission (right) crammed into the Dogwood Room at City Hall Monday night to hear and comment on the Broad & West plan presented by the Spectrum development team (center). (Photo: News-Press)

MEMBERS OF THE Falls Church City Council (left) and Planning Commission (right) crammed into the Dogwood Room at City Hall Monday night to hear and comment on the Broad & West plan presented by the Spectrum development team (center). (Photo: News-Press)

At a joint Falls Church City Council and Planning Commission work session in the F.C. City Hall Monday, the Spectrum Development company came out in full force in its first official appearance, but concerns for the size of its now-called Broad & West project for 302 small apartments, a 150-room extended stay Hilton hotel and 30 percent retail, as well as parking and transportation concerns were expressed by most of the City officials there.

Still, it was recognized as just the beginning of a stage of a process that has been underway, including with meetings with neighbors to the site, for two years. By consolidating four acres of property owned mostly by the Shreve family, the developers have done what the City’s Comprehensive Plan calls for in that area, yet the result was characterized as “too big” by a number of the City officials.

It was also criticized for its overall size, but not for the size of what it could bring in new revenues to the City. The development team pointed out that the projected annual tax yield to the City, in numbers worked out in collaboration with the City’s Economic Development Office, could be between $1.4 and $1.8 million,, compared to $138,000 that comes from what’s there now.

Over 15 years, that would be a net $26 million in tax revenues that residential real estate owners would not have to pay, compared to $2.5 million that would come from the area with what’s there now.

Former Falls Church City Manager David Lasso, who was there representing the development team for the project, said after the meeting that he was concerned a first reading for plan not get set back too far. All the tentative contractual commitments on the land and some of the prospective tenants will become void if the project is not finally approved before the end of this year, he said.

As reported on page one of the News-Press in late January, developers of the project, in a preview presentation to the City Council’s Economic Development Committee, said they needed the review process to move ahead in a timely fashion to keep together the many moving parts of the project. “Developers Press F.C. Council to Begin Approval Process in February,” the headline of that story read.

But at this Monday’s work session, the Spectrum developers were told it would not be until April that the proposal could be ready for a preliminary “first reading,” a preliminary move for the project to run the gauntlet of an array of citizen-volunteer run boards and commissions.

The problem with such boards and commissions is that they are tasked with looking at a proposal from the standpoint of their operational mandates, such that the Tree Commission will look at it only from the tree point of view, for instance. None of the volunteer groups at this level are tasked with measuring the benefits of the revenues from the project against its potential downsides, not even the Planning Commission. It is only when it gets to the City Council that officials are able to bring the revenue factors into the equation.

Yet, members of the boards and commissions are City taxpayers, and while they are reviewing this project in front of them, the City tax office is reaching into their wallets.

The developers told the City Council and Planners Monday that “the back up plan” for the Shreve and the other owners of the four acre site is to “keep it as it is.”

Councilman Dan Sze, expressing support for the project, echoed that caution. “What is our final vision for this site? Is it to have a project like this, or to have a gas station and convenience store on that corner?”

Councilman Phil Duncan asked “how are we really going to fill up this retail space?”

Mayor David Tarter said that current plans for a Walgreens on the Broad-West corner “is underwhelming.”

A number of the Council members and Planners also criticized the plan to locate two normal residential homes on the Park Avenue end of the site, even though the suggestion to do that came from Spectrum meetings with the neighborhood.

No one asked what impact excluding those homes in favor of a small open park-like space would have on the financial viability of the project.

In fact, none of the calls for downsizing, for example, came with any expressed interest in that factor.

  • Eve Atorr

    So glad to see the council members asking relevant questions about the proposed usage of the property, noting the massive size of the proposed development in terms of how it fits in with the neighborhood, and questioning the increased volume of traffic this would have. As two sides of the site are surrounded by residential areas, the shadows that a six story building will cast on the residents is not insignificant. Nor is the traffic, noise, lights from the businesses, etc. Imagine how incredibly disruptive the construction itself will be to the Broad Street drivers, neighbors, city, businesses and school next door.

    I would hope that a development would be appropriate to its location, within the height levels mandated by the city (vs. the variance requested), and visually appealing, with a deep setback to permit trees and wide sidewalks around the street-lined sides of the building.

    I appreciate Dan Sze asking about the vision for the site, but it is not an either/or prospect of a monumentally large building smack up against the edge of single family homes in neighborhoods, vs. a gas station. There is room for options in between that are visually appealing and appropriate to the Little City feel that Falls Church highlights on flags and banners throughout town. And these options can also increase revenue for the city.

    • JFallsChurch

      agreed but not sure how visually appealing that intersection is currently

    • Sajeela Ramsey

      Thank you for your astute comments. As a neighbor residing a few blocks away from this proposed project, I (and many of my neighbors) have considered all of these variables. This project is a humongous uninterrupted brick and mortar impediment that lacks a central green courtyard to create community, and intelligently break up such a behemoth architecture. I also dread the construction itself. Huge oversized vehicles traverse West every day, and I can’t imagine how much worse it can get. And the ground shaking noise during construction is going to be horrid to endure. I remain unconvinced that the commercial spaces will not be filled up with a pharmacy, cleaners, yogurt shops, low-end commercial food chains and the like. Falls Church already boasts a plethora of this sort of retail. And for every single unit in this complex we can count on at least 2 occupants, so just automatically double the number of rooms to project what kind of population explosion there will be. Add in many resident’s pets and friends, and we have changed the nature of what is a small city today. There is just too much about this project that remains well out of resident’s hands and hearts.

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