By a unanimous vote Monday night, the Falls Church Planning Commission recommended to the City Council that it formally adopt the Planning Department’s proposed small area plan for the development of 43.6 acres in the center of the City of Falls Church that has languished but now will become susceptible for major, dense commercial development.
The approval of large scale mixed use projects on either end of the territory, the Reserve at Tinner Hill on the south end and the Rushmark-Harris Teeter project on the north, have set the preconditions for a new vision for the area in between that could give developers an idea of how the City would like to see them build up the area.
Currently, a full third of the 43.26 acres is covered by surface parking and a lot of it is unsightly. F.C. Planning Director Jim Snyder reviewed the plan, with some edits added since the last public forum on it, and the Planning Commission was little short of ecstatic about the plan, which if fully realized would increase the average floor-to-area ratio (FAR) in the area from 0.56 to from 2.5 to 4, and over triple the tax revenues that would come to the City from the area.
Two local business owners with properties in the area, both of whom are residents of the City, developer Bob Young of Jefferson One and Paul Quinn of Quinn Auctions, testified in favor of the plan. with Young placing a particularly strong emphasis on the need to beautify the area with some streetscape improvements prior to inviting major new investment there. The S. Washington Street area between Annandale and where S. Maple intersects is “ugly and terrible” and needs investment for sidewalks and streetscape improvements right away, he said. He said he’s spent over $100,000 of his own money to improve the area in front of his redeveloped building at the corner of S. Washington and Annandale.
An emphasis was put on the W. Fairfax Street of City-owned land that is barely known despite having a lot of historical value and is currently a dead-end street between S. Maple and S. Washington that “the City should be ashamed of,” Young said. There, the City currently plans to deposit and underground holding vault as part of its storm water management plan, but Young suggested that when that vault is installed (as early as next spring, Snyder said), then on the surface above the City should invest in some brick and other amenities to make it an attractive location for public events.
“This is a wonderful way to go,” said Quinn, who recently purchased two buildings a 360 and 350 S. Washington. The long-time City business owner and resident said, “We’d be proud to be part of it (the new S. Washington Plan–ed.).”
Planning Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry crowed, “This is one of the most transformational plans we’ve got,” overhauling “a needy place with unique historical aspects but cruddy looking” into what will become “stunning.”
Snyder said that one of the edits in the plan involved more clarification on what was meant by the Town Center that could go into the combining of Falls Church Episcopal Church-owned property and Tower Square property. Not so much a new municipal center as what was done with the “Market Commons” in Clarendon around the old Sears store site was what he had in mind, he said, a dense collection of retail sites that are very walkable.
He said that similar “Market Commons” concepts could also work at the Eden Center and in land the City might acquire adjacent the West Falls Church Metro if the November referendum to sell the City’s water system is passed.
The Commissioners, in their unanimous approval of the plan, stressed the importance of interim investments in streetscape and beautification efforts on S. Washington as a priority, Commission chair Ruth Rodgers said, upon the 6-0 vote of approval, “I am hopeful the City Council will move on it in a positive way.”