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Downtown Project’s New Parking Plan Increases Chance of Approval

SCOTT ADAMS of Insight Property Group discusses how the Broad & Washington Project has changed over its planning phases before talking about its newly proposed interim parking solution. (Screenshot: News-Press)

The 3.16 acre, mixed use project at the intersection of Broad and Washington in the center of the City of Falls Church appeared to turn the corner toward eventual approval by the Falls Church City Council Monday night as developers presented a sharper plan about how they will address the temporary parking woes brought on by its construction.

Technically, the development plan — which will be home to a 60,000 square foot Whole Foods megamarket — was deferred until no later than Oct. 10 when it will seek a “first reading” approval by the Council. That’s subject, subsequently, to review and recommendations by City boards and commissions before coming back for a final disposition by the Council probably not before January.

The project promises to add $2.2 million in annual new tax revenues to the City coffers, a critical boost in the context of the current economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

With only five members of the Council hearing the Insight Property Group’s latest presentation of its plan Monday (given the passing of Councilman Dan Sze and a recusal for a potential conflict of interest by Councilman Ross Litkenhous), it appeared that if there will be continued progress securing temporary parking agreements for adjacent businesses during the construction process, at least three members of the Council seemed to incline toward support.

Monday’s presentation was less than a week after the Council’s work session on the same topic. Based on feedback then, Scott Adams and Maury Stern of Insight said they worked “furiously” to overcome the parking issue, saying “significant progress has been made,” and on other aspects of their plan.

On the temporary parking issue, they announced three major changes. First, they recalculated the two-year construction process to narrow to three months the time when 64 City-owned free parking spaces behind the adjacent Thompson’s Italian and Clare and Don’s Beach Shack — two popular local restaurants with broad regional draws — will be unavailable. That is down from earlier efforts to limit the downtime to six months, cutting that time in half.

The second change was the announcement that an agreement for use of up to 50 parking spaces at the adjacent Park-Washington office condo building was reached.

A third was that the developers found additional parking spaces, including at the Kaiser facility and the parking deck at the George Mason Square across the Broad and Washington intersection, no more than 800 feet from the businesses in question (down from 1,200 feet proposed earlier).

The developers also expanded on their plan, first unveiled at the work session last week, for including a number of residential rental units that include at-home office spaces.

That idea elicited immediately favorable responses from some on the Council, and will be expanded to up to 10,000 square feet on one floor. If the market is there for it, the developers said, it could also expand onto more floors to include more than the half-dozen units originally proposed.

Monday’s presentation also included some revised architectural designs, as well as discussions about the intent to have public art on some facades.
It’s an effort to highlight how the area has been identified as an “arts and entertainment district” in City planning documents and is inclusive of the State Theatre and the Creative Cauldron space to be included in the new project.

On that score, also presenting to the Council Monday was Laura Hull, founder and principal director of the Creative Cauldron, which is currently on a roll with at least two prestigious region-wide Helen Hayes Awards this season (Matt Conner winning for best director of a musical this week for his work on “Beauty and the Beast” following Nora Palka’s win for best performer in a musical for her role in “On the Air”).

The Insight developers of the Broad-Washington project have proffered 5,000 square feet of space for the Creative Cauldron to double the size of their current theatre space on S. Maple Street, and also placing them on a prime location at the City’s premiere intersection.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us after our 18 year journey in Falls Church,” Hull said. She praised Insight’s Rick Hausler for his “passion for this,” noting that “no one else in the D.C. region has such an opportunity.”
“Our patrons depend on us for a future,” Hull said, and this project will be critical for providing it, augmenting the best vision for the future of the Little City.

Finally, the developers offered their latest projections for potential annual tax revenue yields to the City, noting that the Whole Foods itself will bring in more revenues than the previous plan for Class A office space, boosting projected annual tax revenues from $1.5 million to $2.2 million (currently the yield from the site is $116,000).

Council member Letty Hardi said that “it is evident that a lot of hard work has gone into the new elements, noting the agreement for the 50 temporary parking spaces from the Park-Washington building, up from 25 before. “I appreciate the diligence, and would like to see the number of temporary spaces come as close to the 64 City lot spaces that will be lost as possible.”
“This can be a great project, much better than what we saw just a week ago,” she said.

Councilman David Snyder said he’s pleased that Creative Cauldron could find a long-term sustainable home, noting that it is a regional draw. “I want this to succeed,” he said, adding that he still had some doubts.

Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly said “I want to see this go forward,” nothing that Insight “definitely listened to our concerns from the week before.”
Councilman Phil Duncan said he wants the project to be reviewed by the Council’s advisory bodies “sooner rather than later.”

Mayor David Tarter said the project will “be beneficial to the City, bringing people downtown.” It will be a “great benefit,” he said, and that “all can thrive” from its development. He proposed a potential walking tour of the site by the Council to get a better feel for it.

The motion to defer a “first reading” vote to “no later than October 13 passed 5-0, with Litkenhous’ recusal counted as an abstention.