Falls Church City Council Monday night unanimously approved a redevelopment plan for downtown Falls Church, referred to as the “Heart of the City,” that seeks to preserve City stalwarts like The State Theatre and Brown’s Hardware while capitalizing on development opportunities around existing buildings.
The Draft Downtown Falls Church Small Area Plan, presented to City Council by Planning Director James Snyder, promotes infill development, which would encourage new structures to be built in open spaces and expansions to be made to existing buildings – as opposed to tearing down existing shops, offices, and residences to create new structures.
The plan, which was approved 5-0 with Mayor David Tarter and Council member Karen Oliver absent, is to be used as “a guiding document” for redevelopment in the area surrounding the intersection of Washington and Broad streets, both major thoroughfares. This area includes The State Theatre; George Mason Square, home to Ireland’s Four Provinces; Bowl America; the mixed-use project currently under construction on W. Broad Street that will be anchored by a massive Harris Teeter grocery store; the Kaiser Permanente facilities; and the small shops and restaurants that line Broad Street.
Similar infill redevelopment plans have been effectively employed in areas such as Rehoboth Beach and Old Town Alexandria.
While the plan before the Council cited no immediate fiscal impact, Snyder made clear his belief that the plan would generate revenue for the City.
“We do hope and think we will have a very positive fiscal impact going into the future,” Snyder said.
Developer Robert Young and Planning Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry, both City of Falls Church citizens, urged City Council to adopt the plan during public comment at the meeting.
“I think it’s a good plan; it’s not perfect but no plan is,” Young said. “It’s a guide, and I think it’s a very good one.”
The plan came before City Council Monday night after receiving unanimous approval from the City’s Planning Commission last Monday. The Wednesday following, Council members and other civic leaders were led on a walking tour around the area considered in the plan by Snyder.
On the tour, Snyder highlighted underused areas ripe for development and discussed ongoing improvements in the area, such as the expansion of Dogwood Tavern to include a roof deck and patio and renovation of a different building for use by a restaurateur. As those on the tour gathered at the site of the currently under construction Harris Teeter on Broad Street, Snyder discussed how the site is within walking distance for 6,000 City residents. With ease of pedestrian entry to the site taken into account, its opening could result in increased foot traffic in the area.
Snyder and other City staff members on the tour also discussed needs for improvements to pedestrian walkways and crossings in the area. Precarious pedestrian crossings and narrow sidewalks were noted along the tour route. City Planner Paul Stoddard mentioned the need for benches at bus stops in the downtown area, as some have no resting place for travelers waiting for the bus.
During a stop on the tour at Art and Frame of Falls Church for a brief presentation, Snyder shared illustrations that demonstrated how a terrace could be created in the lot adjacent to Art and Frame that would increase available parking in the area while also creating a community gathering space for festival events.
City Council praised the plan Monday night, created by City staff without the input of outside consultants and accounting for comments from City boards, commissions, and elected officials. But Council members also spoke to the need for steps to be taken to see the plan come to fruition.
“The thing that is most frustrating to me about this plan is that I would really love it to be done now,” Council member Marybeth Connelly said with a laugh, adding that she wanted to know what the Council could do to make the plan a reality. Council member Phil Duncan said he hopes City staff can take the plan to developers who may be interested in working in Falls Church.
“We are mindful that this is a concept. At this point, it’s enough for us to declare victory,” Council member Dan Sze said. “Now the real hard work begins to implement this vision.”