South Washington Street Poised for Makeover If City Officials Approve
By STEPHEN SIEGEL
Falls Church Times Staff
June 12, 2012
South Washington Street between Annandale Road and the Fairfax County line could soon get an enormous makeover from new development — if two pending projects are given the green light by City officials.
The bigger of the two projects is a proposal for a mixed commercial and residential complex on the site where Saab dealer International Motors and the Meineke muffler shop are now. Together, the parcels comprise more than two acres of land.
For weeks, sources have offered conflicting information about whether a contract was in place between a developer and the two landowners. But on Monday, a source said, and the developer confirmed, that a contract has been signed. Lincoln Property Company, a national development company based in Dallas, agreed to buy the two lots, but the contract is contingent on getting city approvals, said Richard Rose, vice president of acquisitions and development for the Mid-Atlantic.
Mr. Rose declined to offer any more details Monday.
If approved and built, the project would dramatically change the appearance of South Washington Street. And it would have the potential to bring substantial new revenue to the City, not only because a new, large building would bring in more property and sales taxes, but because the existing sales tax revenue from new and used car sales at International Motors now goes directly to the state coffers in Richmond, and not to City Hall.
The prospect of new residential in the area also could only help the fledgling retail establishments across the street at Pearson Square, where Body Dynamics, a physical therapy and fitness company, is preparing to open, and in the adjacent Tax Analysts Building, where Pizzeria Orso is located.
City officials have declined to say anything about the proposal, or even offer a word about whether it is likely to be approved, although they have been aware of the contract negotiations for some time. The sticking point appears to be the size and quantity of the residential portion of the building. Officials have previously expressed concern that the city’s limited commercial space not be used too heavily for residential — particularly for large residential units that would bring more children to the city’s popular public schools.
The second of the two projects that could transform South Washington is local developer Bob Young’s latest proposal, which, if approved, would rise at the corner of Washington and Annandale.
Mr. Young, who developed the Read and Flower buildings on Broad Street, is seeking a special exception to construct a building similar to the Read, which houses the PNC bank and Vantage Fitness at 402 West Broad.
Called Washington 300, the proposal features two stories of commercial — a first floor of retail and a second floor of office space — with four residential stories above featuring a total of 52 units. Similar to the Read, the apartments would be small, which would mean little impact on the schools and plenty of demand for the units, Mr. Young says, adding that there is a waiting list for his one bedroom units at the Read.
“It’s an example of market forces being in line with what city would like to see,” he said.
The Read building, he said, is fully occupied, and has mostly young professionals, with an average age of 31.8, and only one student attending city schools. Rents are in the $1,700-$1,800 range for the one bedroom units.
One thing that Mr. Young is asking for from the City is a reduction in the parking he is required to provide. He believes that parking for the office space and the residential can be shared, under the assumption that residential spots will be largely empty during the day, when office people will need it, and the reverse will be true at night.
“If we had to provide parking for the office space, the project would not be feasible,” he said. “We think it makes sense and it’s allowed in most other jurisdictions, including Arlington.”
If his building is approved and the Lincoln proposal for the Saab and Meineke parcels goes forward, it would be a huge improvement for that part of the City, Mr. Young said. The current incarnation of that corridor is, he said, “ugly beyond belief.”
As for the preference of city officials that commercially zoned land be reserved for commercial and not for residential, Mr. Young scoffs.
“I’ve been in the city 13 years,” he said. “I don’t believe the city will attract large commercial office buildings in the next 20, 30, 40 years. “They’re waiting for the magic fairy to come to the city. That’s not going to happen.”
He suggests the city follow what he called the “Ballston model,” in which Arlington accepted thousands of residential units first, which in turn encouraged commercial developers to locate retail and office buildings there to be near all the new people.
“I think the city has a stark choice: you either accept mixed-use buildings that are good quality or you have no development,” he said.
By Stephen Siegel
June 12, 2012