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F.C. Council to Vote on 6 Initial OKs for City Center

Huge Package Of Legislation Comes Monday

A sweeping package of six ordinances and resolutions encompassing all the necessary components for the launch of the long-awaited new Falls Church City Center will come to the City Council for a round of preliminary votes this Monday.

The most critical vote involves the development agreement between the City and the Atlantic Realty Company. Since it involves the transfer of City-owned land into the overall development package, that one will require six out of seven Council votes to pass.

All of the votes will be of a preliminary, or “first reading,” nature. The package needs a second round of successful votes, expected to come no earlier than late February, to become finalized.

But with all the parameters of the historic deal now in place, apparently to the satisfaction of everyone on the City Council, the era of longing for a City Center dating back over 35 years could be coming to an end, with a launch of construction on the 5.93 acre site probable by mid-summer.

Benefits to the City will abound from the project, a City staff report to a joint work session of the City Council and Planning Commission asserted Monday at the Community Center.

Recent modifications to the plan since last fall enlarge its footprint, allowing for a larger hotel and, especially desired by the City, a larger conference and banquet capability to accommodate major citywide events.

It also resulted in a one-story height reduction in the primary residential building and an expansion of the age-restricted condo building. Also, retail will now appear on both sides of the first block on S. Maple Street, creating a synergy that will attract more quality merchants. There will also be a major supermarket.

One resolution before the Council on Monday will confirm its legal authority to exercise “condemnation” of property for appropriate public use. According to the latest report Monday from City Attorney Roy Thorpe, this may be needed in the case of only one small parcel on the project footprint. It would compel the sale of the private property to the City for a fair market price.

It was noted by Shields that the same authority was exercised by the Falls Church City Council in the mid-1960s to acquire the parking lot for the current U.S. Post Office site, setting a precedent for the current option.

That parking lot is now part of the City’s land, held by the City’s Economic Development Authority (EDA). It is the current, temporary home for the Two Sister’s Drive-Through Coffee Shop next to the parking lot, which will be conveyed to Atlantic Realty in a complicated, but carefully-crafted three-party development agreement.

The EDA’s land was acquired a decade ago for the purposes of inclusion in an eventual City Center. It was known as the “Podolnick property,” originally including an old house that was home to a local dental practice for decades. The house was torn down shortly after the land acquisition for public safety purposes. The acquisition was the first bold step by the City and its EDA to make good on the decades-long desire for a new City Center.

The City permitted the Two Sisters use of the property at a nominal fee, based on the awareness that the land would eventually be dedicated to a major redevelopment.

The six measures the Council will address Monday include the following:

1. A resolution to affirm the City’s authority to condemn property for an appropriate public use. This will be sent to City boards and commissions for review and recommendations Monday, coming back for a final vote next month.

2. A re-zoning ordinance for the City Center footprint where needed, from residential to commercial zoning status.

3. A “special exception” resolution inclusive of three components: exception to the commercial height limit, to allow for mixed use, and to the mixed use height limit.

4. An ordinance authorizing the comprehensive three-way development agreement, and the transfer of City property. This one will require a three-fourths majority of the Council for both the preliminary and final votes.

5. A Comprehensive Plan modification designed to urge all-commercial development for the eventual transformation of the north side of W. Broad St. into an extension of the City Center.

6. An ordinance encompassing an array of budget modifications needed to fit into the overall scheme of the City Center redevelopment.  

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