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Hilton Garden Inn Project a Priority Of F.C. Council, July Target for OK

baroukhsnyderAnnual Revenues May Equal Near 2 Cents on Real Estate Tax Rate

In both a symbolic and actual push to spur new tax revenues for the City of Falls Church’s diminished income pool, the F.C. City Council rushed the proposed Hilton Garden Inn project onto the agenda for its work session Monday night, inviting the Planning Commission to sit in, as well, in hopes that the first shovel may go into the ground on the development early this fall.

Annual Revenues May Equal Near 2 Cents on Real Estate Tax Rate

In both a symbolic and actual push to spur new tax revenues for the City of Falls Church’s diminished income pool, the F.C. City Council rushed the proposed Hilton Garden Inn project onto the agenda for its work session Monday night, inviting the Planning Commission to sit in, as well, in hopes that the first shovel may go into the ground on the development early this fall.

Long-standing complaints and frustrations over the slow pace of City Hall’s processing of such projects gave way to hurried efforts at compiling updated data and reports in order to bring the project before the joint Council-Planning Commission work session this Monday.

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Falls Church Mayor Nader Baroukh (left), Vice Mayor David Snyder (center) and Councilmember Ira Kaylin at Monday’s Council meeting.

The aim is to have the plan ready to for Council action at its first meeting in June to forward the required zoning change application and special exception modification to City boards and commissions, and to have it come back to the Council for a vote on July 25. Since the site plan is expected to be very similar to the special exception approval, its approval would follow very quickly and a groundbreaking for the hotel could occur in September.

The City will not have to wait to enjoy the benefits of revenues derived from the project until it is completed and customers start occupying the hotel’s suites. In fact, from the point of final Council approval, fees for launching the construction of the project will begin to flow to City coffers.

In one new change to the plan introduced this Monday, a component to add a two-story office building to the back end of the property at 706 W. Broad St. was dropped. The building, which would have faced onto Park Avenue, introduced too many complications for the developer, and it was decided to erase it from the drawings. Instead, a parking structure attached to the hotel will extend slightly further back, and open space will expose the rear of the hotel more directly to Park Avenue residents.

“We want to go on this,” Vice Mayor David Snyder said Monday night, underscoring the urgency that some on the Council feel about stirring up new revenues for the City. “I am very anxious to get this built,” added Planning Commissioner and former vice mayor Lindy Hockenberry.

Once completed the project is expected to add $560,000 in annual new tax revenues to the City, equal to almost two cents on the residential real estate tax rate. Earlier studies by the City have established that, from a pure revenue standpoint, there is no “higher and better use” for commercially-zoned land than a hotel. In March, Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields said, “Per acre, it offers the highest fiscal impact of any project over the past five years.”

The Council can expect to get a portion of the considerable opposition to the project from neighbors to the site, likely the nearby St. James Catholic School, as well. When the initial application to build the hotel from local developer Bob Young of Jefferson Park LLC came before the Council three years ago, a firestorm of opposition was unleased, led by parents and officials at St. James who alleged that a hotel so near a school would invite pederasts.

Strong counter-arguments were provided debunking the claim, and the City Council provided the project with all the approvals it needed.

However, the project went the direction of the tanking global economy in 2008 and was revived with Young found the hotel developer group, Gosnell Palmer Holdings LLC, to retain the franchise from the Hilton Hotel group and join him in the effort to get it built here.

(It should not be lost on anyone in Falls Church that the Hilton Hotel group has relocated its international headquarters to McLean, just up the road from Falls Church, and in a related move, the next-door Hilton Hotel there has been renovated to become a showcase for the overall chain).

In Falls Church, bringing the Hilton Garden Inn plan back early this year, the intensity of the earlier opposition did not materialize. After all, the plan has already been approved and because of action by the Virginia State Legislature in the face of the economic downturn, all of its approvals remain in force for many more years than originally allowed.

This time, the special exception modification will apply only to the voluntary concessions component of the overall plan, since the developers have modified their offer in order to make the development work for them financially.

A vote on a zoning change is also required, but officials pointed out that, as much as both Council members and Planning Commissioners expressed their disappointment with the appearance of the hotel’s facade facing W. Broad Street, that is already a settled issue over which they have no legal control at this point.

In a related development Monday night, also in keeping with the Council’s new sense of urgency that the City’s commercial corridors contribute more to the tax base of the City, the Council was also receptive to a petition from the owners of The Byron mixed use project in the 500 block of W. Broad to accept a modification of the allowed uses of its ground floor retail spaces.
One of the spaces at the site has never been filled since the construction of The Byron was completed in 2006, Falls Church attorney Terrence O’Grady, representing the building owners, told the Council. By their inability to fill the space for five years, the owners “proved it can’t be done,” O’Grady noted, and he attributed it to an “unrealistic parking plan” for the project as a whole.
There have been “lessons learned” about parking in this case, Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields conceded.

Hockenberry stated that “I’d rather have someone in there” than to continue restricting the uses for the space. Rather than a retailer, the owners hope the space can be leased for office use.
Mayor Nader Baroukh said he wants “more transparency” concerning the asked-for rent and incentives that have been tried to fill the space before approving the idea.

O’Grady replied, “The asking price has dropped dramatically” for the space, without success.

 

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