Falls Church’s Economic Development Authority Tuesday night voted to support a plan to advance the City’s Great Streets project on the 200 block of Park Avenue linking F.C.’s City Hall, with its major renovations now underway, to the downtown area.
A lively meeting of the EDA was held Tuesday night in the library at George Mason High School that included two City Council members and two Planning Commissioners. The vote was unanimous to advance the plan, which ostensibly can be done for a mere $240,000 already in the kitty coming from a grant awarded by the American Planning Associations’ Great Streets program.
While an unresolved question Tuesday night had to do with who else, if anyone, needs to sign off on the plan, the discussion centered on how sprucing up Park Avenue just between Little Falls St. and Maple Avenue, where the newly-opened Northside Social restaurant sits, could contribute mightily to the walkability and overall appeal of the area linking City Hall and the first blocks of W. Broad St.
James Snyder, the City’s Economic Development and Projects general manager, filled out the plans following a walking tour of the long 200 block of Park Avenue he conducted with Chief City Public Works specialist Robert Goff and a Fairfax Paving and Concrete executive in July.
A draft memo from the EDA chair Michael Novotny and the EDA board was circulated Tuesday that spelled out details. Currently, it noted, “The attractiveness and ‘visit-ability’ of downtown Falls Church, and Park Avenue in particular, is limited by lack of street furniture, tired streetscape, lack of information about public parking, and lack of information generally about retail, restaurant and civic opportunities.”
It continued, “Installation of new street furniture, including benches, bike racks and trash and recycle cans will increase the vibrancy, attractiveness and accessibility of downtown,” noting that “Place-making relies on connections between different places. Modest investments in Park Avenue would play a large role in connecting ongoing, multi-million dollar investments in the library, City Hall, Northside Social, the downtown park and the Broad and Washington project.”
The block has already been significantly modified by the addition of on-street parking on its northside there (and along Maple Avenue), but a key feature of the new improvements would be a bump-out of the sidewalk at the corner of Maple and Park, in front of Northside Social, not only to make pedestrian mobility easier, but to make room for bike racks, benches, trash cans and a kiosk where City events and parking information, for example, could be available.
The other key feature would be at the west end of the block, directly in front of City Hall, where a plaza has already been included in the City Hall renovation site plan.
The current concrete sidewalk would be replaced with brick, and the plan could be extended to include the painting of public parking spaces around that area to help drivers avoid parking in tow-away zones (according to the City’s Economic Development office chief Becky Witsman, the towing of cars in the area is continuing at a high rate).
There was also a discussion of placing another information kiosk one block further east on Park at the intersection with North Washington, on city-owned land next to the State Theatre.
The concept was first developed when the City sought an award from the American Planners’ Association based on a 31-page report it prepared in 2015, entitled, “Park Avenue as a Civic Great Street,” that encompassed a three-block stretch of Park from N. Washington to S. Virginia (where the Mary Riley Styles Public Library is soon to be renovated and expanded).
While that overall plan envisioned improvements at a price tag of over $3 million, Snyder’s more recent and modest first step involves only the 200 block of Park at a cost of under a quarter million.