Paving of 7-11 Parking Lot Raises Questions About Mason Row
By Stephen Siegel
The Falls Church Times
January 3, 2017
Sharp-eyed Times reader Mark Sparkman was the first to notice, or at least the first to go public: in a comment on the Falls Church Times, Mr. Sharpman noted that the parking lot at the 7-11 was being re-paved. This seemed odd, because the entire site appeared likely to be demolished and excavated as part of the mixed-use Mason Row project slated for that corner.
Other readers quickly chimed in, and some suggested this was an indication that the controversial project was dead, or at least on life support.
But opponents shouldn’t get too excited. Both the City and the developer have known all along that 7-11 has lease rights that the developer needs to address before 7-11 will move out. The paving of the parking lot seems wasteful to be sure, but it may simply be part of a pre-existing contract that calls for such work to be done at prescribed intervals.
One can’t be sure without seeing their contract, but a similar situation unfolded at the Burger King on Broad Street a few years ago, when landscaping and repaving of their much larger parking lot occurred just days before the restaurant closed to make way for the Kensington, the new assisted living facility now nearing completion on that site.
In addition, a variety of other things suggest that Mason Row continues to march slowly but inexorably forward. Another business has made plans to leave the site — the oldest business at the site, in fact: Panjshir, the Afghan restaurant, which has been there for 25 years or more. It is moving to the new strip mall being renovated on East Fairfax Street across from The Falls Church.
And the Mason Row developers won a zoning variance this fall from the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals to allow the proposed movie theater complex to encroach closer to the St. James Church property, but only above grade and not at ground level. That request was required because the theater companies with whom the developers are negotiating asked for more square footage than was previously planned. Focus on such a small detail suggests that the theater negotiations are at a very advanced state.
Still, Mason Row cannot go forward without 7-11 agreeing to a move. The developers have known that since the start of this process in 2011, and they have spent thousands of dollars on architects renderings and other pre-construction processes since then, which suggests they are quite confident they can get the deal done. While it’s always possible that 7-11 could say they’re not going to move, odds are that some kind of agreement will be reached that will close their existing location and move Mason Row ever closer to their elusive finish line.
As the Times previously reported, 7-11 has been calling the owners of the Falls Church Cabinetry building on the southwest corner of Broad & West regularly, asking to move over there. That building has been mostly vacant for the last seven years, ever since the cabinetry company filed for bankruptcy in 2010. The lengthy vacancy was interrupted only by the owners opening a carpet and cabinet store of their own a few years ago, which they promptly shuttered after a few months.
That would seem to make the 7-11 advances attractive to them, but the Times has learned that the cabinetry building’s owners have continued to reject 7-11’s proposals. It is not known what they plan to do with their site, which is plagued by a lack of parking that has made it difficult for them to find another lessee. It might, however, have enough parking for a 7-11.
But regardless of the cabinetry building owners’ decisions, the fact that 7-11 has been aggressively courting them suggests that the company is not going to put its foot down and attempt to stay at its current location indefinitely.
By Stephen Siegel
January 3, 2017