The Falls Church City Council is expected to take its final action at its only official business meeting of the month this coming Monday when it is expected to approve a major revision in the already-OK’d 4.3-acre Founders Row project. While it has been years in the making, with significant delays, the Mill Creek developers of the mega mixed-use project at the northeast intersection of W. Broad at N. West Streets in Falls Church say that with a favorable Council vote Monday, they’re prepared to break ground and begin construction by the end of September.
In a lengthy briefing and Q-and-A period with the Council at its work session this week, Sean Caldwell and Joe Muffler of Mill Creek announced that terms have been reached with the owners of the 7-Eleven at the site that will assure its vacation of its site by Sept. 30, resolving the last piece of the land assembly that has included the site of Ken Currle’s popular Sunoco station and other parcels held by the Shreve family.
While there is no report on whether the 7-Eleven owners will relocate anywhere nearby, Currle has long-since made plans for a move, having already acquired a similar service station behind the Trader Joe’s just up Route 7 in Pimmit Hills. Mike’s Deli at Lazy Sundae has already reopened, as Lazy Mike’s Deli, at the site of the former Long John Silver’s on Beyer Automotive property in the 1000 block of W. Broad, the Panjshir restaurant is already thriving at its new location in the Lily Shopping Center adjacent the historic Falls Church Episcopal and the Bikenetic bicycle shop is doing well at its new W. Jefferson St. location.
While gladly all these businesses will continue to contribute to what makes Falls Church what it is, it’s the promise of what the Founders Row (officially with no apostrophe) project will bring that continues to enliven the debate around the project. That debate has centered on concerns for realizing its success, what that success or not will or not mean for the City and its tax base, and the size of the project and its impact on traffic and the surrounding neighborhood.
The two main anchors of the project, already contractually committed, are an eight-screen, dine-in movie theatre complex, known as the Studio Movie Grill, and City Works Eatery and Pour House. They will frame a 17,000-square foot public “market square” space in the center of the development which will feature a turf lawn and eight-jet “spray fountain” the developers say will attract families to hang out and play on pleasant evenings.
This combination of factors will give the site the look and feel of the interior of the Mosaic District in nearby Merrifield, where a theater complex and restaurants frame an open public space with a water feature which has become an enormously popular urban park.
The change that Mill Creek has sought from the Council, which will be the subject of Monday’s vote, will be modifications in its special exception application to enable what was originally envisioned as a hotel to be repurposed as an age restricted, 55-and-up active adult, 72-unit apartment building.
It has been argued that the new plan will bring more revenue to the City and the businesses in Founders Row by having the residential building housed with permanent, well-heeled residents rather than transient hotel occupants.
The projected revenue to the City from the site, overall, has been adjusted upward due to a revision in the City’s model, Becky Witsman of the City’s Economic Development Office, reported Monday. The projection now calls for annual revenues to the City in the range of $1.7 to $2.1 million annually (the equivalent of a much as six cents on the real estate tax rate).
The revision, Witsman explained, is based on factual data of actual, rather than estimated, occupancies of two new major projects, the 301 W. Broad and Lincoln at Tinner Hill. Earlier estimates, she said, were “extremely conservative.”
This week’s work session included a report from the City Planning Staff’s Gary Fuller of responses over the last two months to the new plan from 13 City boards, commissions and organizations that evaluated 16 topic areas, which predominantly favored Council approval. It included a three-hour Architectural Advisory Board meeting with Mill Creek officials that resulted in changes to the look of the southeast corner of the project.
Changes on voluntary concessions included making the affordable dwelling unit component of the total 394 rental units (72 in the age-restricted building and 322 in the main apartment building) applicable for the life of the project, rather than for 20 years, with provision for cash in lieu of units, and an increase in the food and beverage-dedicated components of the project from 20,000 to 25,000 square feet, among others. Three speed bumps on Grove Street and a crosswalk on W. Broad at Rowell Court were included.
The Council was advised that a proposed crosswalk from Grove Street to the project on N. West was not advised, according to pedestrian safety factors, although the developers will be open to revisiting that issue once the project is built and actual public walking patterns are evaluated.
Caldwell said that Mill Creek will take ownership of the 7-Eleven land in early September, providing two payments for it, the last due upon the full vacation of the site on Sept. 30.
This Monday’s Council meeting will include a public comment period before the Council votes.