Are you ready for another Founders Row? The Mill Creek Residential Trust development group that is pressing ahead with its giant 4.3 acre development at the intersection of W. Broad and N. West Streets — the biggest ever in the City of Falls Church to date — came before a work session of the City Council here with its first public presentation on plans for a second phase of its project right across the street.
Most keen to the development scene in the City have been aware of Mill Creek’s plans for some time, but this was the first televised public airing of the plan and it appears to have considerable but not unanimous Council support so far.
The Founders Row Phase 1 currently under construction was the subject of attention in the News-Press last week as an impactful contributor to the tax revenue base of the City, allowing for the City Manager to recommend a one cent reduction in the real estate tax rate citywide.
Catty corner from where the immense Founders Row project has currently risen out of the ground and moves to completion, in the area now occupied by a carpet store and former Rite Aid that is closed, and its large parking lot, is where Mill Creek has already put preliminary holds on the land and wants to construct another 319 apartments in a mostly-residential plan that needs the City OK for a variance on its height limit to seven levels at 85 feet.
The proposed 319 residential units will add to the almost 400 units (322 market rate and 72 senior) apartments at Founders Row 1 across the street. Those over 700 units will be augmented by the West End Gateway project and the Broad and Washington project to bring a total of more than 2,000 new apartments to the Little City in the next few years.
That should cause the City’s population, which has exploded from 9,500 to over 15,300 in recent decades, to jump further toward 20,000. While the City has upgraded its school system with a new $120 million high school and expansions of its middle and elementary schools to accommodate the growth, it will enjoy the financial benefits of this expansion which will ensure that residential tax rates come down and that the quality of life is maintained.
Mill Creek moved to acquire the Founders Row 2 property in early 2019 and have pressed ahead with construction of Founders Row 1 without delay through the pandemic. The first of its residential units could be ready for occupancy by fall, although the project is not slated for completion for another year from now.
Joe Muffler, the principal spokesman for Mill Creek, told the City Council at its virtual meeting Monday that his outfit is “very excited” at the prospect of the new component to its Founders Row project in Falls Church that is a “complement” to Phase 1 that it has proposed will include up to 12 percent (38) of its units as affordable and 58 senior apartments, age restricted to 55 or above.
The other apartments will be 75 percent studios, 1 bedroom or 1 bedroom with a den, appealing to a younger, more mobile renter.
The architecture of the project will be more modern, and an effort is being made to provide connectivity to the nearby Washington & Old Dominion Trail that crosses over W. Broad Street in that block.
The retail component slated for the ground floor of the project will be limited to service providers that will address the needs of the residents there, such as a convenience store, cleaners and perhaps a pharmacy.
He noted that there is now a need for something like a 7-Eleven in that area, since the 7-Eleven that used to be on the Founders Row 1 site is gone.
“There is a lot to like about this,” said Councilmember Letty Hardi, noting the opportunity for affordable housing and greenspace expected around the site.
The unit mix is “smart and needed,” said Councilman Ross Litkenhous, citing the “dynamism and aesthetic appeal” of the project.
Councilman Phil Duncan said that the “child impact will apparently be much less than we thought,” due to the small size of the residential units.
But Councilman David Snyder lamented the fact that the project is 94 percent residential, and that any notion of “a mix of uses” between residential and commercial is gone from it. “This is not what we need,” he said.
In a similar vein, Mayor David Tarter, who said he was in support of the Founders Row 1 because of its mix, including a movie theater (that is now up in the air due to the economy), complained that the “size and mass” of the project is too big and that the offer of 12 percent affordable residential units comes at the cost of any other voluntary concessions to the City from the developer. “This needs work,” he said.
No voluntary concession documents have yet been prepared, Muffler noted, as his group is “very flexible” on the affordable housing question.
Work on the project, when approved, will commence in about a year, in February or March of 2022, at the point that Founders Row 1 is expected to be fully completed.