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Next Big Step in West End Project To Clear F.C. Council Hurdle Monday

THE WEST END development team, Falls Church Gateway Partners, is expected to receive a special exception from the City Council on Monday for its 9.45 acre project planned for the site currently occupied by George Mason High School. The yellow dotted lines indicate the main roads and blocks currently planned for the development in this aerial visualization created by Falls Church’s Digital Design & Imaging Service using their trademark surveillance aerostat balloon from 800 feet above ground level. (Photo: Digital Design & Imaging Service, Inc.)

This coming Monday’s Falls Church City Council meeting is expected to veritably celebrate the next concrete step in the remarkably effective development and negotiating process over the last seven months between the City and the developer team of EYA, PN Hoffman and Regency, known as the Falls Church Gateway Partners. At issue is the approval of a Special Exception Entitlement for the intense mixed-use economic development of 9.45 acres on the site currently occupied by George Mason High School.

As construction of a brand-new high school is now underway on fields adjacent to the present Mason building on Route 7, the anticipated December 2020 completion of the school will free the existing school site for demolition and the commencement of an extensive, dense mixed-use development whose yield promises to cover the cost of the new school and much more.

The Council’s anticipated overwhelming “yea” vote on July 8 will have come about not for lack of intense public scrutiny and massages of the plans for the development over the last seven months, but also for what has appeared to be a remarkably copacetic and cooperative undertaking, albeit with many varied recommendation from school and citizens groups and subsequent modifications to the plan. A critical inflection point came with the signing of a Comprehensive Agreement May 13.

EYA’s Evan Goldman has become a downright ubiquitous presence at Falls Church policy meetings of all types, from the Council to the Chamber of Commerce and the Tree Commission. He was there at the Council’s first work session in the new Dogwood Room at the newly renovated City Hall Monday night explaining still-further modifications to the development plan, many made in response to public testimony in the recent period.

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The latest changes, submitted June 3, include the removal of the shared parking garage with the middle and high school, the removal of a left turn option out of the Commons Drive in the center of the project, the added potential “Street A” connection to “Mustang Alley,” with school pick up and drop off loop discussions still underway, a shared-use path along Mustang Alley presented as an alternative to a cycle track, and adjustments to massing and footprint of some buildings.

While the total square footage will remain the same, one block of buildings is split into two smaller blocks and a street created linking Street A to Route 7, the proposed grocery store (Goldman said Monday that there are two principal and maybe a third candidate for that store) will be relocated to the corner of Haycock Road and Route 7 offering a commercial presence and activity at that corner and along Haycock. Also, the senior housing building, as the tallest (up to 15 stories) will be moved further from the new school, the hotel moved further north and the micro-unit building, both, moved further from the school entrance plaza and toward the Commons Drive, the Phase 2 office building is moved to adjacent the school surface parking lot and Phase 2 retail proposed for the northern corner of Haycock and the proposed Street A.

Further smaller refinements are spelled out in the staff report attached to the draft resolution that the Council will vote on Monday.

Overall, the parameters of the Special Exception Entitlement that the Council will be voting on Monday are nearly identical to the Comprehensive Agreement the Council and development partners agreed to in May.

The parameters include 123,400 square feet dedicated to retail, another 40,000 square feet to a grocer, a minimum of 20,000 square feet for civic use, 85,000 square feet for a hotel, 330,000 square feet for office use, 600,000 square feet for multi-family rentals and condos, and 225,000 for senior housing.

The overall floor-to-area ratio (FAR) assigned to the site is established by City staff at 3.6, and a staff fiscal impact analysis projects an annual net of $5.1 million in the project’s first phase and an additional $1.8 million for Phase 2.

In the discussions of voluntary concessions this Monday, Councilman Phil Duncan spearheaded an inquiry into affordable housing options, which could involve a range between a designated number of affordable units provided by the developer at the site, to funds to permit acquisition of affordable units offsite, to funds proffered to an affordable housing fund for future development by the City of affordable housing projects.

Goldman said that his company has worked different arrangements with different jurisdictions, including the purchase of older off-site units with Alexandria, and to cash with Arlington.

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He said that the details of those kinds of plans can come over the next months, as the onset of construction of the new Falls Church site will not come until the completion of the new high school in December 2020.

As for the micro-units sought by the developer as part of the project, the discussion of affordable housing as an aspect of that proposal never came up.

Following the anticipated approval of the resolution agreeing to the Special Exception Entitlement Monday, the Council going forward will be approving a series of Special Exception Site Plan submissions in the coming period.

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