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9.5 Acre ‘West Falls’ Site Plan Submitted, Set For Review in July

Details of the plans for the 9.5 acre mixed use development project to be called “West Falls” and slated to go onto the site of the current George Mason High School were submitted to the Falls Church City Hall last week, and City Manager Wyatt Shields told the F.C. City Council Monday night that the plan has all the required features discussed in the recent years leading up to this point, and that “the layout is good.”

In brief remarks to the News-Press this week, the City’s Chief Planning and Economic Development czar Jim Snyder was effusive in hailing the submission, saying that it is “great news” because, in the midst of the current Covid-19 pandemic and economic lockdown, a lot of jurisdictions are experiencing postponements if not cancellations of many development projects.

The entire Special Exception Site Plan (SESP) submission is currently posted on the City of Falls Church’s website. Earlier-established agreements on the development of the land and terms of payment to the City remain in force, with revenues from the projected megaproject expected to cover the cost of the new George Mason High School under construction, and much more.

A presentation of the plan will come before the City Council at its next meeting on July 6, Shields said.

Only mild controversy has arisen from the submission so far, being a repositioning of a planned office building in Phase 2 of the project that could cut into the amount of surface parking, including parking scheduled to be utilized by the high school.

The change, according to Evan Goldman of EYA, one the three partners chosen to build and fill the project, has been made in an effort to optimize the potential for filling the office building by having it face more directly along Route 7. This is in recognition that the regional market in commercial office spaces is expected to present a real challenge in the coming years with the prospects of an extended economic downturn and an overbuilt market up the road in Tysons.

Still, such factors are a considerable way out, with the good news being that there will be plenty of time for the markets to recover by the time West Falls is built out and ready to go.

The project of the team of Hoffman and Associates and EYA is the product of a common vision for West Falls as “a vibrant mixed use district anchored by thoughtful retail, open space and community amenities,” according to a statement issued with the submission of the SESP.

The project includes 550,000 square feet of residential space, including 400 apartment residences and 127 condominium residences, 225,000 square feet of senior living, 120,000 square feet of retail, including a grocer, up to 400,000 square feet of office space, a 150-room hotel and a half-acre park that can be transformed into almost an acre of open space for public community use.

It will be built on the 9.5 acres cleared with the demolition of the current sprawling single-story George Mason High building. That demolition is still on schedule to occur next January as the stylish, uber-modern new multi-story $120 million high school complex, going up right next to it, is slated for completion and occupancy by this December.

The West Falls mixed use development promises to be the biggest, by far, in the City of Falls Church (Mill Creek’s Founders Row mixed use project, currently under construction only half a dozen blocks away at the intersection of W. Broad and N. West Street, is half the size at 4.3 acres).

Still, even with its large size, West Falls is described in the SESP filing as “the first component of a larger 35-acre planned, neighborhood-focused development of the area between Leesburg Pike (Route 7) and the West Falls Church Metro Station that is intended to add to the culturally-rich area with an active and walkable urban fabric that fosters community, sustainable values and innovative design.”

That prospect will unfold as the adjacent property, leased from the City with an option to buy by Virginia Tech (the University of Virginia having withdrawn from its partnership with Virginia Tech at the site in favor of its much larger development prospect in the neighborhood of the Inova Fairfax Hospital), and the 24 acres owned by Metro being the site of the West Falls Church Metro station are sewn together into a seamless mega-development the rival of Merrifield’s Mosaic.

Aside from the repositioning the office building on Rt. 7, the other change from earlier versions of the West Falls project involves a slight redirection of the wide boulevard planned to slice through the center of the project to enable it to hook by way of a signal light into Fairfax County’s Chestnut Street across Rt. 7 from it.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has requested the connection be provided after earlier requesting just the opposite, that they not be aligned. It is believed that the election of a new Providence District supervisor in Fairfax County, Dalia Palchik, has resulted in the new, and imminently reasonable, adjustment.

The West Falls SASP submission, in its introductory letter, hails the City of Falls Church as “a truly unique place where the community is knowledgeable, engaged and supportive.” Goldman of EYA said “We are thrilled to be progressing the vision for this transformative project and look forward to working in partnership with the community in the years to come.”