Expressing enthusiasm for the new “infill” versus “teardown” approach that the City of Falls Church’s new Planning Director Jim Snyder has brought to his planning work here the last couple years, the Falls Church Planning Commission gave a unanimous thumbs-up to the latest of Snyder’s conceptual so-called “small area redevelopment plans” Monday night, a 5-0 approval for the downtown “Heart of the City” component. The commission wanted included in the version that will now go to the City Council comments and feedback from a variety of volunteer citizen boards and commissions, specifically seeking more attention on parking options ranging from garages to metering on-street areas downtown.
Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry summed up the approval of the body overall when she said, “This is not calling for a total upheaval of the downtown,” as many other grandiose plans in the past have recommended. There is no issue here, as in the past, about whether or not Brown’s Hardware, for example, will remain. In the theory of this approach, Brown’s in its current form is seen as an asset, and of course stays where it is. Other “infill” over “teardown” examples also exist, and the report cites seven national redevelopment examples where this approach has been most effective.
“This does not involve a huge public investment, but is very realistic and works with what we have,” commission vice-chair Melissa Teates added. When the City approved a $313 million downtown redevelopment project in 2007, just prior to the onset of the Great Recession, it was filled with expensive taxpayer-driven components. Not so now. When it came up tonight about moving on this plan sooner rather than later, Snyder reminded the commissioners that the Rushmark Harris Teeter project on W. Broad and the Lincoln Properties’ Reserve on Tinner Hill project on S. Maple — both of which are at the gaping hole in the ground stage now — are shining examples of the plan already at work.
Of the feedback on the plan from boards and commissions, the contributions of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation (CACT) were most hailed by the commission, and it was stressed that pains be taken to include its recommendations as an addendum to the report now going to the Council. These spoke to a “parking management plan,” with Commissioner Rob Meeks reiterating that on-street metered parking in certain blocks of the downtown be elevated in consideration, along with the long-sought after notion of a parking deck, per se, in an effort to get beyond what Snyder called the “Balkanized lots” downtown now that, among other things, create a lot of heartburn due to predatory towing practices of some trying to keep their lots clear of those who use them for more than shopping a their establishments.
With new technologies on display in N. Arlington, on Westmoreland right on the border of Falls Church, the cost of operating on-street meters has been dropped considerably. The new approach has one of two centralized terminals in each block where persons drop their coins or credit cards and get a receipt to place in their car window indicating how long they’ve paid to park there.
Snyder said that with consolidated parking, i.e. a garage or two, issues of bonding, public-private partnerships and other factors enter in that would require a lot of staff time at City Hall to manage that isn’t there right now. “We also have to keep in mind how to keep the area pedestrian-friendly,” he added, and circulator buses should also be on the table.
The downtown plan is the third that been floated out of the City;s Planning Department to go through a public vetting and approval process. The earlier two dealt with the North and South Washington Street Corridors. And the next is coming just ahead, as well, being one for the West Broad Street Corridor running from Little Falls St. to the W&OD Trail Crossing. The first unveiling of this plan will be this Saturday morning, June 21, at the Columbia Baptist Church.