At a joint Falls Church City Council and Planning Commission work session in the F.C. City Hall Monday, the Spectrum Development company came out in full force in its first official appearance, but concerns for the size of its now-called Broad & West project for 302 small apartments, a 150-room extended stay Hilton hotel and 30 percent retail, as well as parking and transportation concerns were expressed by most of the City officials there.
Still, it was recognized as just the beginning of a stage of a process that has been underway, including with meetings with neighbors to the site, for two years. By consolidating four acres of property owned mostly by the Shreve family, the developers have done what the City’s Comprehensive Plan calls for in that area, yet the result was characterized as “too big” by a number of the City officials.
It was also criticized for its overall size, but not for the size of what it could bring in new revenues to the City. The development team pointed out that the projected annual tax yield to the City, in numbers worked out in collaboration with the City’s Economic Development Office, could be between $1.4 and $1.8 million,, compared to $138,000 that comes from what’s there now.
Over 15 years, that would be a net $26 million in tax revenues that residential real estate owners would not have to pay, compared to $2.5 million that would come from the area with what’s there now.
Former Falls Church City Manager David Lasso, who was there representing the development team for the project, said after the meeting that he was concerned a first reading for plan not get set back too far. All the tentative contractual commitments on the land and some of the prospective tenants will become void if the project is not finally approved before the end of this year, he said.
As reported on page one of the News-Press in late January, developers of the project, in a preview presentation to the City Council’s Economic Development Committee, said they needed the review process to move ahead in a timely fashion to keep together the many moving parts of the project. “Developers Press F.C. Council to Begin Approval Process in February,” the headline of that story read.
But at this Monday’s work session, the Spectrum developers were told it would not be until April that the proposal could be ready for a preliminary “first reading,” a preliminary move for the project to run the gauntlet of an array of citizen-volunteer run boards and commissions.
The problem with such boards and commissions is that they are tasked with looking at a proposal from the standpoint of their operational mandates, such that the Tree Commission will look at it only from the tree point of view, for instance. None of the volunteer groups at this level are tasked with measuring the benefits of the revenues from the project against its potential downsides, not even the Planning Commission. It is only when it gets to the City Council that officials are able to bring the revenue factors into the equation.
Yet, members of the boards and commissions are City taxpayers, and while they are reviewing this project in front of them, the City tax office is reaching into their wallets.
The developers told the City Council and Planners Monday that “the back up plan” for the Shreve and the other owners of the four acre site is to “keep it as it is.”
Councilman Dan Sze, expressing support for the project, echoed that caution. “What is our final vision for this site? Is it to have a project like this, or to have a gas station and convenience store on that corner?”
Councilman Phil Duncan asked “how are we really going to fill up this retail space?”
Mayor David Tarter said that current plans for a Walgreens on the Broad-West corner “is underwhelming.”
A number of the Council members and Planners also criticized the plan to locate two normal residential homes on the Park Avenue end of the site, even though the suggestion to do that came from Spectrum meetings with the neighborhood.
No one asked what impact excluding those homes in favor of a small open park-like space would have on the financial viability of the project.
In fact, none of the calls for downsizing, for example, came with any expressed interest in that factor.