In what developed into a surprise Monday, the Falls Church City Council gave a unanimous approval for a preliminary first reading for the Spectrum Group’s gigantic mixed-use development project it hopes to build on 3.9 acres adjacent the intersection of W. Broad and N. West Streets in Falls Church.
Council chambers at City Hall Monday night were jammed with citizens there to speak for or against the plan, but the first surprise was the number of immediate neighbors to the site who spoke in its favor, citing the “interesting” and “unique” components, including the prospect for a seven-screen movie theater as well as a 150-room hotel and over 300 residential units.
Councilman Nader Baroukh set the tone for the unanimous vote, however, whether or not it was what he intended. He offered to support the motion for the adoption of the preliminary approval if certain conditions were met pertaining to what would be expected of the developer between Monday’s first reading OK and when it comes back for a final OK after a run through all the City’s board and commissions in early December.
All of Baroukh’s conditions, it turns out, were vague enough that the developer, and others on the Council tending to support the plan, had no problem expressing their support. So when the vote was finally taken, it was unanimous.
But some on the Council – like Mayor David Tarter and Vice Mayor David Snyder – said if it were a matter of a final vote of approval for the plan, they would not vote “yes.” They agreed to Monday, they said, because they want to involve the entire City in the decision making process and are hoping the developer will be responsive to that and make some changes.
As it stands now, the vote on the final disposition of the project will be on Dec. 8.
Peter Batten, chief of Spectrum Development, told the News-Press after Monday’s vote that he was thrilled with how it went, and that his organization is firmly committed to meeting the demands attached to the motion to produce the best possible project.
Asked if he was surprised that his motion turned out to pass unanimously, Baroukh quipped to the News-Press, “A motion of mine passes unanimously! Now, that’s news!”
The project includes a six-story, 85 foot high extended use hotel with 150 rooms, 46,000 square feet of ground floor retail, 253 residential rental units on floors two through six, and 67 residential condominium units and 719 underground parking spaces. It also has room for a seven-screen movie theater, with the theatre lobby on the ground level and the screens below ground.
The City’s staff recommended approval of the project, citing 31 areas where improvements could be made.
Former Falls Church City Manager David Lasso, who is representing Spectrum in this project, cited the redesign of the project to take on the look of Bethesda Row and the Rockville Town Center. He cited the legacy of the Shreve family’s ownership of the land, and of a number of current tenants on the property who are excited by the prospect of staying with the new redevelopment.
Lasso cited the projected $1.4 to $1.7 million net annual tax revenue income the project will bring to the City, by far more than any new project in the City to date, and the willingness of the developer to listen to the community concerns for a “fortress look” of an earlier design. The new design splits the project in two, with a road in between where patrons are greeted by an aesthetically-pleasing arch.
Batten said he wants the interior to be like “an oasis” for City residents and workers, with an array of dining options.
During the public comment period, Ken Currle, the long-time owner of the City Sunoco at the site, notified everyone that Sunoco “wants to be included” in the project, but had not been asked. A Mid-Atlantic Sunoco representative told him that she felt Falls Church “is the most charming city I’ve ever seen in the D.C. area.”
Currle said that, since he already does 28 percent of all the safety inspections and 36 percent of all the emission inspections in the City, that he would be able to maintain his business from another nearby location.
Two residents in the nearby 300 block of Grove Avenue spoke in favor of the project, one calling it “exciting for what it might be,” and the other calling it “something very interesting for the city.”
Vice Mayor Snyder said the project “still has a long way to go.” Councilman Karen Oliver said her three questions are, what is its fiscal impact, what it will do to the quality of life in the city, and will it fit with the image of the Little City.
Council members Marybeth Connelly and Dan Sze spoke in favor, and Baroukh made the motion for passage with a list of conditions that were agreed to by everyone. Councilman Phil Duncan modified one of Baroukh’s conditions by suggesting the sizing of the residential units be not “reduced,” but “adjusted.”