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6-Block W. Broad Strip May Add $14 Million in Annual Taxes, Report Says

A LENGTHY FALLS CHURCH City Council budget work session tonight kept F.C. Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly tied to her duties displaying her loyalties to her alma mater Villanova even as her beloved Wildcats were marching to an NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship. We hope she got out of there at least in time to see the 'Cats buzzer-beating winning basket. (Photo: News-Press)
A LENGTHY FALLS CHURCH City Council budget work session tonight kept F.C. Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly tied to her duties displaying her loyalties to her alma mater Villanova even as her beloved Wildcats were marching to an NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. We hope she got out of there at least in time to see the ‘Cats buzzer-beating winning basket. (Photo: News-Press)

Depending on the scale and type of development anticipated for the West Broad Street commercially-zoned six-block strip between Little Falls Street and the W&OD trail, total net fiscal impacts to the City of Falls Church could be in the range of an additional $5.9 million to $14.2 million in annual tax revenues, the latest iteration of the City’s planners’ “small area plan” for the area suggests.

This whopping addition to the plan, which has been before the City Council for consideration for the last two months, had the effect of a small, if muffled, glitter bomb going off at Monday’s Council work session.

The work session Monday dealt with many nitty-gritty issues on the $87 million budget for the coming fiscal year that it is now considering, but an underlying theme of can-do optimism and amazing potential seeped through the deliberations with the projections about the fiscal potential of the mid-section of West Broad.

Presented as a rather off-hand comment amid a short presentation on revisions to the West Broad Street Area Plan, F.C. Principal Planner Paul Stoddard noted that being added to the public narrative on the vision for the commercially-zoned area was a projection that it could be developed to add the eye-popping range of new revenues.

Council member Phil Duncan zeroed in on that comment, saying that if the Falls Church taxpaying public appreciated that, it would realize that the City could do just about anything it needed in terms of development, services and maintenance of its world class schools without having ever to unduly burden its individual real estate taxpayers.

As the Council moved to within three weeks of its deadline of the adoption of the new budget that will go into effect July 1, it began Monday’s meeting welcoming the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones, who provided an extraordinarily detailed and precise presentation of the schools’ request in the current budget for a 5.39 percent increase in the transfer of funds from the City.

Jones provided detailed answers to 16 questions that the Council had presented to the School Board in writing, and demonstrated how enrollment growth, pressures to retain quality teachers and outside funding pressures accounted for every dollar of the request.

When the discussion came around the City operations budget, Chief Financial Officer Richard LaCondre told the Council that that variables which could cause headaches for the budget are (1) the fact that the City has not been keeping pace with needed infrastructure improvements, including replacement of indispensable vehicles, (2) rising health insurance costs and (3) greater obligations to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which City Manager Wyatt Shields has proposed to offset with personal property tax and cigarette tax revenues to the tune of a half-million in the coming budget.

Key decisions ahead for the Council center on its Capital Improvement Programs budget, including whether or not to deploy half a million in funds offered by the City’s Economic Development Authority for construction of a new civic plaza in the 100 block of W. Broad, and how far to progress with the plan to renovate and expand City Hall. That question also involves whether or not the City needs structured parking on Park Avenue beyond what adding a second deck to surface parking at City Hall would provide.

Shields’ proposal for this budget is that an initial $225,000 be provided to hire a project manager to “get the process started.”

As far as the West Broad Street small area plan is concerned, it is in an area where some new mixed use projects have already been completed since 2003, such as The Broadway, the Spectrum, the Read Building, the Byron and new commercial buildings such as the Flower Building (800 W. Broad) and the Hilton Garden Inn. It also includes the Kensington senior living facility well under construction on the site of the former Burger King, and the 4.3 acre Mason Row mixed use project that won final approval earlier this year at the northeast intersection of W. Broad and N. West Street.

It also encompasses proposals that have been submitted to the City for consideration, including the Tradition Homes mixed-use building at the southeast intersection of W. Broad and S. Spring, and the Holiday Inn Express that is seeking approval at the site of the current Virginia Inn and its adjacent building.

However, the Planning Department’s delays to the final approval of the new area plan for this strip has come because virtually every property owner along that strip is now anticipating prospects for major, dense redevelopment which they expect to drive up the value of their properties. They have lobbied heavily to have the plan reflect this reality, that virtually every foot along that strip could be transformed.

The projected added tax revenue benefits to the City of the strip’s buildout range from $5.9 million if the projects are 80 percent residential and 20 percent commercial and limited to five stories, to $14.2 million if they are 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial with seven stories fronting onto Broad Street.

In the latest modifications to the plan, new deference is also given to as much compatibility with residential neighborhoods behind the strip, mostly on its south side, as possible. “Redevelopment efforts must respect the close proximity of adjacent land uses in regard to height and character,” a new statement reads. “Redevelopment efforts must reflect the existing built environment within the corridor.”

It also called for “development to include innovative solutions in regard to transportation and environmental sustainability,” and for connections that “bring the western part of the City together,” with a focus on pedestrian and bicycle access including with nearby neighborhoods. A large focus of the economic development should be with an eye to surrounding neighborhoods, as well.

The Council will host a second town hall on the budget this Saturday, then hold a public hearing at its regular business meeting this Monday. The budget is scheduled for final adoption on April 25.

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