At a marathon meeting Tuesday night, the Falls Church Economic Development Authority voted unanimously to endorse the “special exception entitlement” application of the Falls Church Gateway Partners to proceed with a dense economic development of 10.3 acres of land at the current site of George Mason High School at the City’s far west end. In the group’s other major action, it elected local resident and developer Bob Young as its new chairman.
Members of the F.C. Human Services Advisory Council and seven members of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors were also present as the meeting marked the kickoff of a compressed schedule of six briefings to groups of City boards and commissions to review and comment on the application before it comes back to the City Council for a final OK on May 28.
The Council had given a 6-0 vote in favor of the special exception, known as SEE, just last week.
With his election Tuesday, Young replaced Mike Novotny as chair of the EDA and Erik Pelton was voted the new vice-chair.
This coming Monday, the City Council will hear the presentation of City Manager Wyatt Shields’ proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. The budget will include intact the School Board request that came from that board’s unanimous vote last month, and the news that revenue growth, as reflected in assessments of real estate in the City, has been higher than expected. That higher-than-expected number, according to the City assessor, brought in real estate values at a 3.35 percent growth rate, increasing the overall revenue growth rate at 2.5 percent, above even two percent projected last fall.
Once the Council receives Shields’ report Monday, it will propose a preliminary tax rate, subject to deliberations and public hearings that will continue until April 29, which is the date at which the Council is expected to adopt the Fiscal Year 2020 (July 2019 to June 2020) operating budget.
Tonight, the Falls Church Gateway Partners’ SEE is due to be presented to a meeting of the Village Preservation and Improvement (VPIS), the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and the Arts and Humanities Council. On Thursday night, it is slated to be presented to the Historic Architectural Advisory Board and the Historical Commission, next Monday to the Library Board of Trustees, Housing Commission and Citizens Advisory Board on Transportation, next Tuesday to the School Board and next Wednesday to the Planning Commission, Environmental Sustainability Council, the Tree Commission and Architectural Advisory Board.
At Tuesday’s EDA meeting, Evan Goldman of the Gateway Partners’ EYA group, made the primary presentation at the meeting held in the offices of Viget in downtown Falls Church. In addition to the EDA, Chamber of Commerce and HSAC groups, an array of citizens, including City Council members Phil Duncan and Letty Hardi and the Planning Commission’s Lindy Hockenberry were present.
The City’s Carly Aubrey made an initial presentation on behalf of the project.
Goldman reiterated that the project, slated to begin upon the completion of the new high school in December 2020, will call for, at this point, 1.4 million square feet of construction for a “floor to area ratio” of 3.7. The project will be roughly 40 percent commercial and 60 percent residential, with potentially over 1,000 new living units. Buildings will be six to 15 stories in height, with no solid decisions on that at this point. Project elements include an anchor supermarket, senior housing, hotel, entertainment venue, structured parking garage and centerpiece “central plaza” promenade in its first phase.
Goldman stressed the importance of creating Type A office space in the first phase of the project, to attract its share of that market in a region where Tysons is currently where new businesses may be more likely to locate. This means that more parking than usual may be required, he said. It is also key that the array of retail components of the site come on line roughly simultaneously to achieve the desired “placemaking” for the site.
He said that expected net revenues from the project will be in the range of $4.2 – 4.7 million per year.
He said the site is “one of the last ones of its type available inside the beltway,” and that with its proximity to Virginia Tech, it will be more “family oriented” than other urban contexts. He said at the present time there’s a sense that a preference for brick in design and construction holds.
Aubrey said that a meeting of representatives of Virginia Tech, the Rushmark (chosen to develop the Virginia Tech site) and the City is slated for March 22 to coordinate their efforts, and that on March 19, Fairfax County has slated a public meeting of stakeholders about the development potential of the combined Falls Church, Virginia Tech and WMATA (West Falls Church Metro station) sites.
For the Falls Church City Council, other matters brought before it Monday included the following:
The Council was advised by members of the Mary Riley Styles Library Board of Trustees at its work session Monday that cost estimates for the planned renovation and expansion of the facility could be more than $1.2 million. Applying a voluntary concession contribution from the Founders Row development and other resources could reduce the shortfall to $660,000. The project remains over six months away from acquiring a “guaranteed maximum price” from developers.
Among the data presented to the Falls Church City Council by consultants developing the demographic chapter of the City’s comprehensive plan at Monday’s work session, the F.C. Council learned that the City’s population can be expected to top 15,000 by the beginning of the next decade, that the impact of the Amazon H2Q location in the region will require an addition of 160 new dwellings in the City by 2025, and demand for considerable gains in small “workforce” housing units in the coming period. Overall, there is a housing shortfall facing the region that will rise to 120,000 by 2015, according to Lisa Sturtevant of the Alexandria-based LSA.