The beginnings of what the next 36 to 40 months on the west side of the City of Falls Church will be like can be seen by anyone driving around the busy intersection of W. Broad and N. West Streets now. A wire fence has gone up around the perimeter of the site, and demolition work has begun on its 4.3 acres, including the now long-gone 7-Eleven, Ken Currle’s Sunoco (relocated to Pimmit Hills), Shreve Plumbing and more, from now on known as Founders Row.
When it’s all done, the project, a long time in the planning and approving by the F.C. City Council, will include, according to City planner Jeff Hollern, “significant community benefits, such as providing a vibrant, mixed-use development that includes a dine-in movie theater, 59,493 square feet of ground floor retail and restaurant space, a market square, 4,946 square feet of office space, 322 general housing units and 72 senior housing units, including affordable housing, streetscape improvements, transportation facility improvements, school capital cost contributions, and recreational park and W&OD Park and Trail improvements.”
Although even bigger plans are afoot for the west end school campus site, Founders Row will be the biggest project ever to occur within the 2.2 square miles of the City of Falls Church, the latest significant advance in the last two decades of mixed-use developments here.
But from now until Founders Row is done, in roughly 40 months, getting from here to there will involve arduous efforts by the developer, Mill Creek, to minimize unavoidable disruptions in the daily flow of life in the City in and around the site.
Tuesday night, Mill Creek’s principal public face in its efforts, Joe Muffler, the managing director of its Mid-Atlantic Development region, appeared before the City Planning Commission to spell out the parameters of the construction management plan it has worked out in recent months of extensive talks with the City’s Department of Public Works.
The parameters of the plan are approved by the Public Works department administratively, and do not require further approval, so the briefing was for informational purposes, only. With all that’s coming, however, Muffler stressed that Mill Creek is eager to keep the public informed, and an initial town hall is slated for when things really get rolling in mid-April.
Since its final approval, culminated by its site plan approval by the Planning Commission in August, Mill Creek has purchased the land and its site-clearing efforts have been on schedule, Muffler reported. He said that the management plan has been worked through with the City’s Planning Department over months, and resulted in a significant realignment, out of concern for neighbors to the site, mainly to restrict access to and from the site by construction teams and vehicles to the first block of N. West Street and the 900 block of W. Broad, leaving Park Avenue, in particular, free from that traffic.
The company is dedicated to minimizing neighborhood impacts and will be operating “with the best of intentions,” Muffler said, including self-policing that will involve fining drivers that violate policy.
He said that safety, efficiency and minimum impact on surrounding neighborhoods are the three keys to its success, and the project will proceed through five stages. The work will be extensive, as 75 percent of the site will be excavated to over 30 feet in depth or more.
Phase One is well underway with the fencing, hazmat abatement, initial demolition of structures on the site, sanitation work and the construction of a median on W. Broad, and will run through Feb. 19.
Phase Two will occur over the course of the next two and a half years, requiring the closing of the sidewalk on the north side of W. Broad in the 900 block and two entrance ramps on W. Broad and N. West to move the debris out of the dig that will go more than 30 feet deep.
A staging area will be on W. Broad for 17 months requiring the shifting of one of the two westbound lanes and intermittent blocking of one of the two lanes. Parking for the 100 or so construction workers will be at the Bowl America bowling alley on S. Maple, with shuttles to move them to the construction site.
Phase Three will commence with the building up to grade of the construction and will run to June 2020.
Phase Four will commence with the establishment of Founders Avenue running through the site from W. Broad to Park Avenue, running from July 2020 to June 2021, when one lane of W. Broad westbound will be closed.
Phase Five will run from June 2021 to the project’s expected completion in October 2021.
Work will commence from 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and will become more noticeable with the commencement of noisy pile-driving in April. That is why the first town hall meeting is scheduled for that time frame, Muffler explained. He said Mill Creek is preparing a special email address to receive comments or complaints from citizens as the project gets underway.