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Fresh Vision of a Dense Commercial Core, Town Center Spur F.C. Council

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Plan OK’d for Review By Volunteer Boards Prior to Fall Adoption

The Falls Church City Council Monday formally referred out for review to City boards and commissions the ambitious S. Washington Street Corridor Small Area Plan developed in house by the City’s Planning Division and its director, Jim Snyder.

The plan covering 33.6 acres of potentially the most commercially-dense area of the City could be developed from its current 0.56 floor to area ratio (FAR), with a third of the land surface parking lots now, yielding $6.4 million in annual tax revenue to the City, to a 2.5 to 4 FAR area bringing in a minimum of $15.4 million annually.

Council member Phil Duncan singled out the plan’s reference to a “town center” concept in properties adjacent the historic Falls Church Episcopal where a mix of commercial and public uses could be developed.

“I’d love to see this occur,” he said, “and I’d like to see what the community thinks of it.”

Without more specifics, there have been many informal conversations buzzing around City government circles about relocating the City Hall, the Police Department and an annex of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library there.

This was included in a number of conversations with consultants who were in the City last week interviewing policy makers and stakeholders about the future of the City’s library. It also arises whenever the discussion of spending money on improvements to the current City Hall, including relieving pressures on a cramped police department and structural issues with security for the operations of the Arlington County Court at the current facility, arise.

But while all this remains “informal” at this stage, it was clear in Snyder’s presentations at a public forum in April and this Monday to the Council that he has such considerations in mind.

While the plan meanders through a number of City volunteer boards and commissions this summer, hopefully being received favorably and returning to the Council for final approval sometime in the fall, the next area plan for the adjacent “Center City” area around the first blocks of W. Broad Street, has also been set in motion with a hearing on June 1.

That area plan, clearly in conjunction and fully compatible with the adjacent S. Washington plan, proposes an “arts and entertainment” core theme that capitalizes on existing features such as the State Theatre and restaurants on W. Broad and around the Broad and Washington intersection which offer variety and, in a number of cases, live entertainment.

In that area plan, Snyder told a June 1 forum at the Columbia Baptist Church, relies heavily on maintaining and enhancing existing establishments and features, rather than encouraging a major upheaval of the area (by contrast with some earlier models). Seeing existing business and restaurants as assets to the overall development of the City, Snyder said that preserving such things as the venerable Brown’s Hardware should be seen as a priority.

The adoption of all the commercial area plans, to include the already-adopted N. Washington, the S. Washington, Center City, Eastern Gateway (Eden Center next to Seven Corners), two-phased W. Broad corridor from Little Falls to West Street, the west end and Gordon’s Triangle areas at the far west edge, are intended to result in changes to the City’s Comprehensive Plan, and especially to aid potential developers to see what the City would like to see them bring to the various commercial sectors.

Meanwhile, a spate of “interim improvements,” such as the under-grounding of utility lines, sidewalk improvements and benches, may be implemented in advance of the full adoption of the plans, Snyder suggested Monday. “Often when this happens, such improvements spur interest by investors in an area.”

The S. Washington plan had its last public hearing in late April, and Snyder said he hopes to get it finally approved by fall.

 

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