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24 West End Decision Makers Meet, Project Deadlines Loom

Members of the Falls Church Economic Development Authority and Planning Commission joined the City Council, City staff. the project developers and key School system members for a work session to discuss the impending deal for development of 10.3 acres at the City’s west end Monday. (Photo: News-Press)

An extraordinary work session was held in the F.C. Community Center following the regular City Council business meeting last Monday where two dozen of the City’s most important decision makers interacted with the development team to move the process for the proposed 10.3-acre west end project closer toward a May 13 deadline to execute the agreement.

Willing to forego most of the national college basketball championship game, even with the University of Virginia in that final (and one Council member, Letty Hardi, sporting her UVa colors), the decision makers were notified by Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields of a letter from Fairfax County about the project, but were assured that the terms of the land transfer with the county that traded the City’s water system for that land stipulated that terms of a 70 percent-30 percent split use of the site provided the City “total discretion” in that execution.

“There has been a lot of interaction with the county in the last four years in the zoning, planning and political processes and all partners are well informed. The original agreement was that the 70-30 split is at the total discretion of the City,” Shields said.

The county’s letter suggested that the matter might not be so completely resolved, however,

stating that “the relationship between the (City’s development) proposal and the Boundary Line Adjustment Agreement between the City and the county…are being handled separately by the county and the City.”
Shields reiterated Monday that there is nothing being “handled,” actually, that it was all worked out in the original agreement.

Otherwise, the county’s letter opined about aspects of the developers’ Special Exception Entitlement (SEE) application, most significantly observing that the plan “restricts access to Chestnut Street by eliminating an existing left turn into Chestnut from westbound Route 7,” and urges that “Public access easements should be provided to ensure that development to the north, on the Virginia Tech and WMATA sites, can access the road network on the (City) site.”

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Two two dozen people at Monday’s extraordinary work session included the entire F.C. City Council, City staff led by Shields and Carly Aubrey, who was named the City’s Employee of the Year for her work on this project, City Attorney Carol McCoskrie, most of the members of the Planning Commission and the Economic Development Authority, both of which have already approved the plans with unanimous votes, the superintendent of the City schools and School Board chair and representatives of the developers’ team led by Evan Goldman of EYA.

If there was any new slant to the discussion, it focused on providing for an “outward” focus of the plan, to avoid the “fortress” look that Mayor David Tarter said Merrifield’s Mosaic development has.

It was noted that the Planning Commission approval came with the recommendation that the intersection of Route 7 and Haycock at the edge of the project be crafted into a “City gateway,” and that the project “have an outward focus” toward the surrounding community.

Councilman Ross Litkenhous offered that the need to avoid the “fortress” look also involves the prospect for bringing adjacent properties in the City, the Federal Realty-owned shopping centers housing a Giant Foods down to a Staples, and the Beyer Automotive property, which has involved an assembly of smaller properties and the OK last week for construction of a new showroom on the site, aimed at enabling designs to advance for a bigger, consolidated plan.

Goldman stressed that expert landscaping “will soften the entire project,” and that what he called “wow factor” architecture and other aspects will come into the process once the special exceptions and contract agreement have been achieved.

Planning Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry said she hopes the project will be as a “shining star,” with collaboration between the developers, and the some 1,000 residential units they plan to build there, and the adjacent high school for community use of its fields and open spaces. Superintendent Peter Noonan said that such public access to the fields is already being discussed and will be encouraged.

Goldman said he’s met with the president of Federal Realty, and Shields said a meeting with the City’s economic development team and Federal Realty is scheduled.

“Now is the time to begin thinking about Federal Realty’s 10 acres and the Beyers’ 20 acres,” Mayor Tarter said.

The Planning Commission’s Melissa Teates noted that the City Planning Department is now crafting the next of its small area plans that will focus on the area in the City adjacent the west end development.

Council member David Snyder said adequate concern needs to be focused on the needs of police and fire services.

Shields said the plan is now to proceed with the structured parking facility that will be shared by the schools (with 187 parking spaces) and the development’s hotel, senior housing, residential and retail users.

With the week of spring break looming, the Council is not scheduled to meet this coming Monday, but will reconvene on April 22 to finally adopt the coming Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

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This last Monday’s meeting included the presentation of proclamations by Tarter and the Council honoring Aubrey as the Employee of the Year, Julio Idrobo as the Steve Sprague Affordable Housing Advocacy champion, Public Safety Communicators’ Week, and the legacy of the late and beloved pediatric dentist Frank Aquila.

Sharon Schoeller hailed the upcoming dedication of the Miller House group home for the developmentally disabled. The ribbon cutting for that new facility on N. Washington Street is scheduled for April 23.

On the issue of a task-force proposed increase in funding for the City’s senior, disabled and veteran tax abatement program (from $140,000 to $265,000) under Council consideration, Councilman Litkenhous expressed his opposition to the abatement, but support for the deferral program, saying it butts up against many other unmet needs in the budget.

But City Treasurer Jody Acosta stressed again that the abatement program is effective for keeping seniors in their homes longer, and the City’s current program is among the stingiest in the region.

Councilwoman Hardi said that “helping the most vulnerable in the community sends an important signal,” while also urging the City to set aside money for affordable housing.

Councilman Phil Duncan asked why the City’s relief program is already the least in the area. “We should be more competitive,” he said. “This is a value we all share.”

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