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F.C. ‘Supermajority’ Law May Stall Downtown Plan

A SOLID TURNOUT was witnessed for Insight Property Group’s walking tour of the proposed Broad and Washington project site. (Photo: News-Press)

The need for an elusive “supermajority” of the Falls Church City Council members support for the sale of City-owned land has thrown a huge monkey wrench into the approval process for the Broad and Washington project in the City’s downtown area.

The F.C. City’s attorney Carol McKoskrie presented her formal opinion to a Council subcommittee Wednesday, saying that existing state law stipulates that when it comes to the sale of public property, an authorizing vote by the governing body of any jurisdiction requires not a simple majority vote, but a “supermajority” of 75 percent of the seats on the governing body.

For the F.C. City Council that would require five votes, which is the total number of Council members now deliberating on the issue of a land sale to the developers of the Whole Foods proposal. One Council member, Ross Litkenhous, has recused himself on grounds of a potential conflict of interest, and a second one, Daniel X. Sze, died in July.

This law puts the Insight Property Group in a bind, with its current plan to advance a three-plus acre project at the intersection of Broad and Washington Streets in the center of the Little City that would feature a 45,200 square foot Whole Foods Market.

That’s because the plan at present centers on the acquisition of City owned land on the site that is currently used to provide free parking for three stand alone retailers right there.

It is the disruption of the parking for those establishments — Clare and Don’s Beach Shack, the State Theatre and Thompson Italian — that has been one source of major controversy about the project overall.

F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields, upon hearing McKoskrie’s news at a meeting of a City Council subcommittee Wednesday morning, said he is not sure whether or not Insight was yet aware of this new hurdle.

The subject did not come up during a walking tour of the site hosted by Insight on Tuesday afternoon.

F.C. Mayor David Tarter (center, holding megaphone) takes a few moments to address the crowd at the Broad and Washington project’s walking tour Tuesday. (Photo: News-Press)

Over 70 people, including City Council members, City staff, candidates for the Council special election coming up, owners of the adjacent restaurants, leaders of the Creative Cauldron theater that has been promised a subsidy to move into 5,000 square feet there, and residents of the Lawton Street area behind the site were all present in person for the tour of the project site.

Shields welcomed the gathering, calling it the first in-person event of its kind in the City since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early March and it was held outdoors with masks and social distancing.

Mayor David Tarter said subsequently that he learned a lot from actually walking the site and sensually relating to the spaces involved.

Shields reported yesterday that Insight folks have told him they have some changes from their most recent submission in the works, but they will not be ready to present until the Oct. 13 meeting of the Council in almost two weeks.

However, he conceded that any changes will be “cosmetic” in nature, only dealing with areas of the exterior near the entrance into a proposed garage.
Mayor Tarter said that one of the important alterations he is looking for, however, deals with the need for “tapering” of the project at its rear facing Lawton Street.

Still, it will be only a simple majority of votes (three) to forward the Insight plan to City boards and commissions on Oct. 13 and it remains not entirely clear if the “supermajority” vote will be required any time before the actual vote on the land sale.

Shields said that Insight has indicated the vote on the land sale will be needed by Jan. 10, 2021 at the very latest.

The Sze vacancy will have been filled by the Nov. 3 special election and swearing in before then, however, but even with six active Council members, five votes will still be required for the sale.

At the subcommittee meeting Wednesday morning, it was also indicated that an alternative to a $12-17 million pricetag for six major storm water mitigation projects could be done for much less if they involved acquiring properties to place dry ponds.