Mason Row Wins Unanimous Council Approval

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
January 12, 2016

In the end, it was anti-climactic.

More than three years after Spectrum Development first approached Falls Church City planners with their idea to build a mixed-use project at Broad and West streets, a unanimous City Council approved the controversial project on a 6-0 vote late Monday night.

The unanimity was somewhat unexpected, and one possible vote against it didn’t materialize because long-time project critic David Snyder chose to abstain from the vote due to a conflict of interest. He said he has retained some members of Spectrum’s development team in a zoning issue he has before the City, and didn’t want his vote to be seen as having been influenced by that situation one way or the other.

Still, the unanimity of the other six councilors was surprising in its own right. But more than one Councilor said the project had improved considerably in the last few weeks, and Marybeth Connelly said she would have been a “no” vote if the vote had been held in the fall, before those changes were made.

Ms. Connelly lauded the rejection of the project by the City’s Planning Commission in November for galvanizing the developers to make the necessary changes to win her vote and to gain approval from the Council. “This project got so much better after the Planning Commission decided not to send it forward,” she said just prior to the vote.

Her words were no doubt music to the ears of Planning Commission head Rob Meeks, who told the Times in November that he hoped their decision to reject the project on a 3-3 vote would be a catalyst for positive changes to the proposal.

Mayor David Tarter, who had been moderately critical in his comments about the project and was regarded as a possible swing vote, also said the proposal had improved dramatically during the last two months, and he indicated that those changes were sufficient to gain his vote.

Mr. Tarter added that he hopes approval of Mason Row will encourage other development in what he described as an “underserved” part of the City. West Broad Street between West and Shreve does still have a large number of automotive uses — repair shops, car sales, and the U-Haul site, among other businesses.

Despite the 6-0 vote, the project was controversial among residents to the bitter end of the three year long debate on it. Letters and emails continued to pour into City Hall from residents on both sides of the issue, although it appeared there were more emails against, just as there were more public speakers urging a no vote.

Largely because of the number of residents who wanted to speak against the proposal, the Council meeting, which began at 7:30 pm, didn’t adjourn until 11:20 pm. The Mason Row vote was taken around 11 pm.

The vote ends the long-running public debate on the project and allows the next step to begin. That step will be for the developers to submit a site plan and seek permits to begin construction, although that construction probably won’t begin for up to a year.

One of the criticisms of the project mentioned by many has been that its design and amenities have repeatedly changed, and a variety of details do still need to be worked out in that site plan approval process. Some residents who urged the Council to vote against it cited confusion and a lack of clarity over some details that didn’t appear to be nailed down as a reason to vote no.

But the Council decided there was sufficient clarity to move forward, and City Manager Wyatt Shields reassured the Council prior to the vote that the City had adequate protections in place to ensure the developer builds the project as proposed, including the commercial features of an extended-stay hotel and a movie theater that will feature food service. Those features are keys to the project delivering the anticipated increase in revenue that the City wants to see.

Councilor Karen Oliver agreed with some of the critics that there were some details that were uncertain, but said just prior to announcing her vote that “nothing is guaranteed except death and taxes.” She felt the project was certain enough to warrant a yes vote.

The proposal is the largest such project approved in the City to date. Consolidating more than four acres of privately-owned land, Mason Row will occupy all the land north of Broad Street between West Street and the St. James Church.

In addition to a hotel and multi-screen movie theater, it will have a variety of retail and restaurants; office space; a parking garage; an outdoor gathering space suitable for music; and 322 apartments, including 23 that meet the City’s affordable housing requirements.

The key changes to the project that allowed the Council to accept it were a reduction in the apartment count from 340 to 322; a reduction in height on the north side of the project achieved by taking one floor off the top; and the relocation of a trash bay access point from West Street to an internal location, among other modifications.

By
January 12, 2016 

Comments

2 Responses to “Mason Row Wins Unanimous Council Approval”

  1. Steve Wisemiller Falls Church City on January 12th, 2016 11:46 pm

    Nice reporting..thanks for the update Steve

  2. Stephen Siegel on January 13th, 2016 8:43 am

    You’re welcome, Steve.

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