Traffic Still Issue as Saab Parcel Plan Heads For Vote
By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
May 9, 2013
A final vote has been scheduled for Monday on a proposal for a new mixed-use project at the International Motors site on South Washington Street, despite misgivings among the city’s staff about the project’s impact on traffic and pedestrian safety.
Called The Reserve at Tinner Hill, the project would have 224 one and two-bedroom apartments and first-floor retail, which is expected to include a Fresh Market grocery store if a few more details can be ironed out between the store and developer Lincoln Property Company.
With plans for a 20,000 square foot grocery, the apartments in the 85-foot tall building, and the underground parking, the project will add considerable density to what is already a burgeoning part of the city; the big Pearson Square apartment complex and the all-office and retail Tax Analysts building are across the street.
To handle the increased traffic, Lincoln agreed to pay for a new traffic signal at Tinner Hill Road and South Washington, adjacent to Elevation Burger, and the city will add a signal just to the west at Maple and South Washington, which long had been on their list of planned improvements for the area.
City staffers say that without the signals, traffic in the area would get a failing grade. Studies showed that it would be better, but still failing, during the afternoon rush hour with only the Tinner Hill signal, and it graded out as acceptable after the proposal for the Maple signal also was included in the studies.
But city planners remain concerned about traffic and pedestrian safety at the proposed entrances and exits that lie between the location of the two new signals, east of Maple and west of Tinner. They are so concerned, in fact, that they recommend prohibiting left turns into and out of the site on the South Washington Street side.
“From the staff perspective, allowing lefts in and out of the site could be problematic given the traffic volumes on South Washington Street, and constrained sight lines due to topography,” the staff report says. “In addition, there could be associated pedestrian safety issues. As turning vehicles are focused on finding breaks in traffic
flow in order to cut across travel lanes, drivers may be less mindful of pedestrians that may be crossing the sidewalk in front of the drive aisles.”
The city recently prohibited left turns into and out of the Giant Food plaza between the Citgo gas station and the new BB&T bank branch on West Broad Street for what is likely a similar reason. That prohibition forces traffic leaving the plaza to exit either via Birch or Haycock in order to head east on Broad, but reduces the amount of traffic crossing the sidewalk at that location.
Planners appear to want to have a similar setup at South Washington. That would require traffic coming east on Washington from Fairfax County to turn left only at one of the two new signals to access the project. Similarly, traffic leaving the site wanting to head north on Washington toward Broad would need to exit either at northbound Maple or at one of the new signals. But at this point, officials have chosen not to require that, and the developer says Fresh Market will not agree to that kind of restriction in any case.
The report also acknowledges that the developer’s own traffic engineer could build a case that justifies allowing left turns to and from Washington. But it suggests the City Council consider the issue before it opts to vote for approval of the entire project.
The vote scheduled for Monday would grant the developer special exceptions to the zoning code, including the right to build residential in a commercial district and to build 85 feet high, 30 feet higher than the code allows.
If approved, Lincoln will then submit a site plan for city approval. The company hopes to break ground before the end of the year.
By Stephen Siegel
May 8, 2013