By a 5-2 vote, the Falls Church City Council gave final approval for a special zoning exception to permit development of a cluster of 10 senior age-restricted 1,500-square foot bungalow-style cottages on Railroad Avenue in the City. The unique project, the brainchild of F.C.-based developer Bob Young, won approval despite fierce opposition from some of the neighbors to the location, which is tucked adjacent the W&OD trail on the fringes of the City boundary.
The final approval completed a year-long process that began with the Council OK’ing a change to permit construction of such cottage clusters as a matter of policy. That was followed by the specific Railroad Avenue plan that took months to gain Monday’s final OK. In the end, it was in the spirit of the original allowance for cottage clusters as an alternative housing model that won the day on the Council, with the crucial approvals coming from Council members Letty Hardi and Karen Oliver for just that reason. They both cited their support for alternative housing models as grounds for their approval of the Railroad Avenue plan, saying that moderately priced alternatives to the City’s dominant focus on large single family homes, and in this case, restricted for senior use, constituted their grounds for support.
Once those two Council members went on record in support Monday night, the die was cast, and the remaining expected “yes” votes from Phil Duncan, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly and Dan Sze only sealed the outcome. Mayor David Tarter and Councilman David Snyder voted “no” on grounds argued by those neighbors to the site who were opposed, that it was cramped into too small an area and that parking and emergency access issues were not adequately addressed.
But one of the strongest arguments in support of the plan came from Stewart Schwartz, head of the regionally-influential Coalition for Smarter Growth. He spoke to lodge his strong support for the novel housing model, congratulating Falls Church for “leading the way” with the first in the region housing model. “It will enhance the community and property values, providing for diversity and reducing the carbon footprint,” he said.
Connelly also stressed the argument made by the developer that the alternative for the site would be four large single family homes that could be built “by right” which would be even more dense than the cottage cluster, in terms of floor-to-area ratios and which would involve no restrictions on parking and no improvements to the Railroad Avenue, itself, which under the cottage plan will tender the approval from the Fairfax Park Authority to grant an easement on its land to widen the street to 16 feet.