Among Falls Church’s string of new and proposed development projects, one of the biggest is the plan for 294 apartments above a Harris Teeter supermarket. This building would fill the central spot on Broad Street, where the old post office and Anthony’s Restaurant now stand.
But check out the plans online, and you may see why the neighbors say the developer is packing too much into a small space. While the building would offer benefits to our city – a stable, new business on Broad that would add to tax revenues – it also would needlessly clog traffic and parking, and assault its neighboring homes with truck pollution and noise. These troubles would be built into our downtown, and the adjoining Winter Hill neighborhood, for decades to come.
The good news may be that these problems can be addressed if the city will enforce the zoning code and push the developer, Rushmark LLC, for design changes. (You can view the plans by entering “Teeter” in the search box at www.fallschurchva.gov.)
Rushmark offers buzzwords to echo the city’s desire for public spaces that invite people to walk and shop in an urban downtown. But its plan doesn’t follow through. To the contrary, Rushmark is trying to build – on a small site at the city’s center – a supermarket as big as the Giant Foods over by the high school. If it is built as planned, this 60,000-square-foot store would be by far the biggest Harris Teeter store in Northern Virginia.
Compare this project to the Spectrum building, at 444 Broad St., where a pedestrian plaza helps invite people into retailers such as the Mad Fox Brewing Company. Rushmark would build more dwellings and as much retail/office space as at the Spectrum, but on a site 20 percent smaller. What gets squeezed out is any well designed public space to invite people to linger or meet on Broad Street.
Dozens of residents in Winter Hill, next to the proposed building site, are meeting with Rushmark, the architects and city officials to get this plan changed so that it fits both its 2.63-acre lot and the surrounding neighborhood. Here are some specific issues that concern us:
• Traffic. The current plan would have two entrance or exit alleys on Broad Street, and two on West Annandale Road. A pedestrian-friendly design would minimize the number of entrance/exits.
• Parking. The proposed building’s 586 parking spaces (on three underground levels) are 250 short of zoning requirements. And a suburban-size supermarket, while it pretends to be an urban, walkable space, would draw customers dependent on cars to haul groceries home. A failure of this project to meet the parking demand it generates would push overflow parking onto Annandale Road and adjacent residential streets, which currently are at or near capacity meeting the needs of Winter Hill residents and their guests. We want this project to increase its supply or reduce its demand for parking.
• An Assault on Neighbors. The current plan puts a service alley, loading docks and the complex’s trash compactor, with their associated trucks, noise and diesel fumes, at virtually the closest point possible to the homes adjoining the site. The alley passes within five feet of residential property, where city zoning rules require a 20-foot distance. The loading dock is within 35 feet of residential properties, where the code requires 100 feet. (While the post office has a loading dock, it receives smaller vehicles that do not idle their engines while waiting to unload, as we have seen grocery trucks do at many area supermarkets.) We want this service alley moved.
• Inadequate Buffers and “Stepbacks.” Rushmark is asking the city to let it build to 83 feet in height, beyond the limits of the downtown business zone. But the design rises in a sheer vertical cliff, as little as 50 feet from the neighboring homes and children’s play areas, with no “stepbacks,” or tapering of the building’s profile. The zoning code requires such stepbacks for such buildings that rise next to residential neighborhoods, and we want to see a stepped back design along the residential property line.
• Excavation Risks. Following damage to Winter Hill townhomes during the construction of Pearson Square, our neighborhood is conscious of the risks of deep excavation, and we want careful steps to protect the foundations of homes next to the site.
The City Council and Planning Commission this week got their first formal presentation of Rushmark’s plan. We will be asking them to join us in pressing Rushmark to change and downsize its design for this building to better meet zoning codes and more wisely develop this site at the center of our community.
James Rupert is a resident of Winter Hill in the City of Falls Church.