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Mason Row Team Seeks More Theater Space in 4.3 Acre Plan

THE FALLS CHURCH CITY COUNCIL AND SCHOOL BOARD held a joint session on Monday, Oct. 3. (Photo: News-Press)
THE FALLS CHURCH CITY COUNCIL AND SCHOOL BOARD held a joint session on Monday, Oct. 3. (Photo: News-Press)

The team readying to develop the 4.3-acre so-called Mason Row large-scale mixed-use project at the northeastern intersection of W. Broad and N. West St. updated some revisions to their plans in front of the F.C Planning Commission Monday night that included a request for a small zoning variance to allow for an expanded space in the project for a motion picture theater complex.

“All four theater applicants share the need” for a “theater box expanded by 10 feet,” said attorney David Lasso speaking on behalf of the development group.

Plan changes include moving the multi-screen theater complex from underground to above ground and in the center of the project. To accommodate the newly-centralized role of the complex in the project, and for other reasons, the number of residential units is being reduced from 340 to 299, a 5.3 percent reduction, and the removal of a floor in the building on N. West, and another floor off the building at Park and Mason (the project’s new internal street). Parking that was above grade will be moved into the below grade space originally designated for the theater complex.

A five-man team representing the project, including Lasso, John Caldwell and Amirali Nasserian of Mill Creek and Peter Batten and Dick Buskell of Spectrum Development, was present to make its case to the commissioners.

The session was the second big new development-oriented meeting in Falls Church last weekend. On Saturday morning, the City’s Planning Department organized a second “visioning session” for the public held at the Columbia Baptist Church that was designed as an interplay between development potentials and citizen preferences.

Expert urban planners and market analysts Alan Hanson, Anthony Chang and Robert Atkinson spoke about regional trends to open the meeting, and then F.C.’s Planning Department chief Jim Snyder summed up what’s going on, and could be, in The Little City. He noted that while the City is approaching 14,000 in population, those in surrounding post office districts that are identified as Falls Church total 107,000.

His mantra was that “private money follows public money well spent,” and he ticked off a list of things that may come to pass in the near future, including City collaboration in putting an elevator that exits onto Park Ave. in the Kaiser garage for times when the public is allowed to use it, the potential for a major new development across from the Lincoln at Tinner Hill that is now finishing up its construction, and at the Burke and Herbert site on W. Broad.

He spoke of the daylighting of the Four Mile Run and Tripps Run tributaries that run through the City toward the Chesapeake Bay. He noted the Virginia Village on S. Maple that has 80 affordable housing units now could be renovated to permit even more over time.

There’s the prospect for sprucing up the “rolling road” extension of W. Fairfax across S. Washington behind the new Smash Burger that could be a contained park area, the use of the Christian Science building on N. Maple, offered as a gift to the City if moved and utilized, as a visitor’s center, a pop-up park in front of City Hall, a big compass painted into the Broad and Washington intersection, slow-moving neighborhood electric vehicles, and an overall ambiance of “chillin’.”

He suggested the City create an atmosphere as a place in the busy urban region where “people have the permission to slow down and relax,” where “reality is more interesting than a cell phone” and “where reality still exists and people talk to each other.”

“We should give ourselves permission to be something different,” he proposed.

(The News-Press will have a report on the presentations of the three outside specialists next week).

On the Mason Row petition to the Planning Commission Monday night, David Lasso noted that criteria for a zoning variance (which will eventually go to the City’s Board of Zoning Appeals for a ruling) has changed in state law from requiring a “hardship” be established to “whether or not a reasonable use is being precluded” by an existing zoning decision.

The Mason Row team also reiterated its voluntary concessions it has agreed to provide the City, including $1.8 million for the schools, $219,000 for the library, $25,000 for the arts and humanities council, $150,000 for City parks and $50,000 for post-development traffic studies for a total of $2,297,000. The project will dedicate 6 percent of all residential units for affordable housing at 60 percent of the regional income average, with three at 80 percent. It will put $20,000 to a bikeshare installation as well as bike racks and storage facilities.

Mason Row’s preparations to move forward is the latest fresh development in the City where the recently-completed 300 West Broad, with its mega-Harris Teeter store has arguably transformed the culture of Falls Church (becoming a veritable gathering place for a wide range of residents with all varieties of tastes in food, wine and beer).

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