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West End Plan’s Architectural Look Draws Mixed Reviews from Council

CORRECTION: An early version of the story said Councilman Phil Duncan urged “no dog park” for the West End development. Duncan is pro dog park for the development.

EYA, Hoffman and Regency, co-developers of the City of Falls Church’s massive 9.7-acre West End Gateway Project, presented some visuals to a joint work session of the Falls Church City Council, Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority on the kind of architecture they’re currently considering for seven buildings of their project, and the reviews were mixed.

As the Council moved to table action on scooters in Falls Church, the Gateway project’s architectural design issue became the highlight of Monday’s Council meeting, along with a review of a proposed West End Small Area Plan and a novel ordinance to sidestep the Virginia Dillon Rule to offer protections for persons based on LGBTQ and gender identity.

The images displaying a warehouse traditional look for the Gateway project were met with less than overwhelming enthusiasm by the representatives of the three groups in the session, held in the middle of Monday’s Council business meeting. The color scheme presented was a mix of soft grey, brown, white, red and yellow. “Everything is square, is there no arch?,” quipped Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly as a typical response.

While some expressed appreciation for the designs, others deferred saying they are subject to individual aesthetic tastes, with only Tim Stevens of the Planning Commission suggesting that he personally prefers a more modern look. Others felt that the hotel or the condominium buildings should exhibit a “more luxurious” look, and Melissa Teates of the Planning Commission added that “white does not age well,” subject to “looking dirty.” Councilman Dan Sze said the project would need to create the appearance of being broken up more to overcome a “sense of sterility.”

Councilman Phil Duncan said that it should have a more “futuristic” look, reflecting a “citizen-centered community,” touting freedom of expression and First Amendment values. He urged transportation options to the nearby Metro station and was pro dog park and a waterfall feature.

Council members Letty Hardi and Ross Litkenhous focused on a stairway planned for the middle of the block along Haycock Road that would take pedestrians up to the level of the commons area in the center of the project. “The stairs have to be a gateway to the project from the City, truly inviting the City and the Beyer property to the center of the project,” Litkenhous stressed.

The developers are scheduled to hold a public forum tonight at 7 p.m. to present their initial architectural concepts to the wider Falls Church community. Their final plans will follow their site plan submission in mid to late January.

Scooter Ordinance Tabled

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On the scooter ordinance, upon learning that the City of Falls Church already has on its books an old ordinance prohibiting the use of electric-powered scooters on sidewalks, City Attorney Carol McCoskrie recommended a tabling of a new ordinance pertaining to a scooter policy pending a “cleaning up of the existing ordinance.”

The effort cancels out the first reading given to a new ordinance last month that would have prohibited use of scooters on sidewalks except on Route 29 and 7, and a new proposed ordinance can be expected to come forth in late January or February, she said.

Meanwhile, a lot of comment has been received by the Council to permit use on sidewalks cautioning about the relative dangers to scooter riders of being limited to the streets. It was noted that the advent of scooters conforms with the City’s goals of encouraging alternatives to gas-fueled autos and would encourage retail commerce downtown.

McCoskrie noted that as things currently stand, “The Virginia Code provides that motorized scooters and skateboards are permitted to ride on sidewalks unless an ordinance provides otherwise. The (current) City Code, both in the definitions and in Section 26-108(b), prohibits motorized bicycles and other vehicles from riding on the sidewalk.

City Manager Wyatt Shields confirmed that the City has complied with the state requirement to submit a general policy guideline for scooters before the end of the month, and that the City will accept applications from scooter companies to operate in the City following the beginning of the new year, though none will likely be granted licenses before April. The Council voted to table the measure by a 6-0 vote.

West End Area Plan

On the West End small area plan review, Erik Pelton of the Economic Development Authority suggested that plans for the far west end commercial zone integrate the W&OD Trail into the area plans, with perhaps a bike trail connecting the trail to Haycock Road behind the Falls Plaza shopping centers.

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Litkenhous said the plan should recommend a “more prescriptive approach” by the Council to help insure “we get what we’d like to see there,” noting that the future lies with the rise of data centers, that offer “the single best income generating potential.”

Hardi noted that the area includes two of the City’s five schools, and that the slogan, “A place to live, work and play” should have “and learn” added. Transportation, parks and green space should not be “afterthoughts” in the planning, she added.

Connelly said that education needs more attention as a critical component of the economic development of the area, as well as “tourism” that could derive from sports tournaments that the new George Mason High School could host.

Duncan said that there could be a “water way” provided in the area, while Mayor David Tarter suggested that retail be encouraged on Haycock Road, connecting the existing developments to the upcoming West End Gateway project.