With Unanimous Vote All on Council Eager To Support Project
The Falls Church City Council gave a unanimous preliminary “first reading” approval at its business meeting Tuesday for the sale of two lots at 255 West Broad Street. The lots, owned separately by the City and the Economic Development Authority (EDA), constitute the parking lot of the old post office and the so-called Podolnick property adjacent it for total 1.3 acres.
The sale is for the appraised value of $4,322,000. F.C.’s EDA approved the sale terms, also unanimously, at its meeting earlier Tuesday, and the City Council will take up a final approval of the sale at its next regular meeting on Oct. 22.
Rushmark Properties LLC, a Falls Church area based developer, intends to develop the property, along with the adjacent old post office property and present location of Anthony’s Restaurant, into a mixed use project that includes residential apartments, retail, and a Harris Teeter grocery store.
A realistic completion date for the project, should all things go smootly, Councilman Phil Duncan said at Tuesday’s meeting, might not be until early 2016, but Vice Mayor David Snyder said that “maybe we can beat 2016.”
“We are pleased to have this opportunity with Rushmark Properties. This land sale agreement is an important step toward redeveloping the property with Harris Teeter as a strong retail anchor for the City Center area,” said Rick Goff in a statement released by the City following Tuesday’s vote. Goff is City’s Director of Economic Development.
“This is the first significant step in what we hope will yield a very beneficial economic development project for the City,” stated Snyder. “This is very exciting. It is a win-win for everyone, and we look forward to marching down the road to a successful conclusion.”
City Council member and the Council’s Economic Development Committee Chair Ira Kaylin echoed the sentiments in the statement released by the City. “There has been an effective and productive relationship between the developer, Rushmark Properties, and the City’s team. The success of this project will energize continued smart growth, not only in City Center, but in other designated business areas in the City as well,” he said.
Kaylin seconded the motion made by Johannah Barry to approve the “first reading” of the plan.
“I am strongly supportive of the application,” Duncan said. In comments posted on the News-Press website yesterday, Duncan wrote that it is “a landmark event for economic revitalization in Falls Church.” He added, “I was proudly part of the Council’s 6-0 vote Tuesday to start the wheels turning for a project that will bring to our downtown a new grocery and other retail, new residents to support these and other businesses, and underground parking. It’s a community-enhancing project that would boost our City’s fiscal position, paying for all its public-service costs and generating additional revenue to help us keep the tax rate reasonable. As details of the project are reviewed by Planning Commission and other boards, I urge all in Falls Church to support it.”
Goff said he expects the developer to submit a land use application in the coming weeks for the proposed development. The application will include architectural plans, fiscal impact analysis, and analysis of impacts on existing city facilities, including transportation and schools.
The land use approval process includes public hearings, input from City boards and commissions, and a recommendation by the Planning Commission prior to action by the City Council. The formal transfer of the property to the developer would occur only after land use approvals are granted by the City.
In a briefing for the News-Press Tuesday, City Manager Wyatt Shields said that Harris Teeter has been interested for over a decade in locating in Falls Church. A Harris Teeter store had been included in the $314 million Center Center project that was approved by the Council in 2008, before the Great Recession hit. In that plan, it was to be located at the current site of the Bowl America.
Shields said that the City and its EDA decided to move ahead with a sale of the properties to the so-called Falls Church Development Partners LLC that includes Rushmark, based on the Fairview section of greater Falls Church, and Todd Hitt, president and CEO of Kiddar Metz in Reston. The project will be built on a total of 2.6 acres.
It is contingent on a legal confirmation that the City is now seeking in the Arlington District Court that the earlier deal with Atlantic Realty for the City Center project is now null and void, since more than three years has passed without action.
Also, the closing on the City’s and EDA’s sale will not come until after the special exception and building permits have been obtained. If the developer does not commence with construction within a year after that point, the City/EDA can buy back the land at its purchase price.
A special exception would be required from the Council for the mixed use nature of the project to include residential in a commercially-zoned area. Goff said that the project might fall under the “by right” provisions for height, but said that specific plans for the number of residential units, for example, have yet to be hammered out.
On the future of the historic Anthony’s Restaurant in Falls Church, Shields told the News-Press that the City is working hard to find another location for it in the City. He said that the family-owned Anthony’s, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary here, wants to stay in Falls Church. Its lease is up in early 2013.
“We want to try to keep them here,” Shields said.
In the briefing to the News-Press, Goff pointed to land adjacent where the Harris Teeter project will go, and said that it will suddenly become highly-prized for development.
The City will find up getting its City Center after all, he suggested, only in a more piecemeal fashion.