By Carl W. Anderson
April 4, 2013
The following Community Comment reflects oral remarks of Carl W. Anderson before the Falls Church City Council on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 concerning the proposed development of mixed-use commercial and residential properties in the 300 block of West Broad Street.
A modestly-sized Harris Teeter (and some other commercial offices or restaurants) could be a constructive addition to the downtown Falls Church area, but Rushmark’s proposal to build 282 apartments at “301 West Broad Street” will have the perverse effect of keeping the City’s school budget in a continuous state of shortfall for years to come. Building 282 apartments will benefit Rushmark, not current residents of the City of Falls Church.
Moreover, adding 282 apartments in this already crowded area will destroy the quality of life for Winter Hill residents, many of whom have been paying taxes to the City for decades. Current residents of Winter Hill should not be forced to bear nearly all of the adverse effects of development that will primarily benefit new residents and Falls Church residents living in uncongested areas of the city. Winter Hill residents already made a choice to be “environmentally conscious” years ago by buying homes with “small environmental footprints.”
I think it was Council member Ira Kaylin who commented that the apartments and condos in the relatively new mixed-use high-rise developments in Falls Church had contributed “only 30 percent of the new additional student population” in Falls Church public schools.
A 30-percent increase in the population of “new students” is a very significant increase when one considers that the recent mixed-use high-rise developments have all been built since 2005. If the new residences had been occupied by childless couples starting in 2006, their eldest children would be in just the first or second grades as of 2013; so, obviously, many people with children moved into the new high-rises beginning in 2006.
Further, an argument that “only 30 percent of the new additional student population in Falls Church public schools comes from new high-rise development” reflects a lack of thought about how families grow. Almost every family I ever knew began with a couple renting an apartment. (I know that many well-to-do young couples have been able to buy a house with inherited or family money, but most young couples still start out in an apartment.) By the time the first child arrives, the couple is planning either to move to a larger apartment or to buy a house, depending upon their career paths. Few successful couples stay in the same apartment for more than a very few years. Furthermore, there are heavy economic incentives for them to move out of an apartment: they can’t build equity by renting an apartment, and owning a home acts as a hedge against inflation. If their careers are going well enough and they still like the area, they may choose to buy a home in Falls Church, in which case they will continue to add to the school population.
As soon as they move out of the apartment, that apartment is available for rent by another couple, also of child-bearing age. And the process of family building repeats itself with the new couple.
Does anyone know a significant number of families that have not developed according to the pattern I have just described?
I know that Rushmark proudly proclaims that most of the 282 apartments will be small enough to discourage rental by couples. Has anyone on the Council heard of single-parent families, by any chance? They are pretty common in the United States these days, especially in large urban areas like inside the Washington beltway. In these times of diminished employment opportunities, many single parents—or couples of modest means—are going to be willing to squeeze into a small apartment. This will continue at least until the single parent or couple finds means to move to larger accommodations, or accommodations of their own.
In my remarks to the City Council on Wednesday, March 27, I stated that allowing Rushmark to build 282 apartments is “sacrificing the future for short-term gain.”
Why did I say that? Primarily because according to the City’s latest estimates of expenditures for 2014, education will eat up 45 percent of the City’s expenditures. (And a few years back, the City staff indicated that schools ate up about 75 percent of the capital budget.) So by building 282 new apartments as proposed by Rushmark, the City will lock itself into a long-term budgetary shortfall. Because of the process I have described above about how families grow and move into better lodgings, building the apartments will only increase the likelihood that the City stays in a permanent state of budgetary shortfall with respect to funding the City school system.
Therefore, building 282 apartments is for Rushmark’s benefit, not the City’s. Moreover, building that many apartments above the proposed Harris Teeter supermarket will ruin the quality of life for residents already living in the Winter Hill area, primarily for three reasons.
First, there are already about 481 residential units in the Winter Hill area immediately adjacent to the proposed Rushmark development. This includes the 194 townhouses of the Winter Hill Community Association, the 200 condominiums of the Winter Hill Condominium Association, and about 87 subsidized apartment units for low-income families and individuals. Adding 282 apartments above the Harris Teeter supermarket will increase the number of residential units in the Winter Hill area by about 60 percent. That is an outrageous number of new residences to add to an already crowded neighborhood. Rushmark claims to be providing sufficient new parking for the apartments; but since, according to Rushmark, it will be mostly young single professionals inhabiting these apartments, has Rushmark planned parking for the two-car married couples and the assorted friends and relatives who come to visit for parties and overnight stays?
Second, parking in the entire Winter Hill Community has always been inadequate. The parking lots for the townhouses, the condominiums, and the subsidized apartments are on the old “footprint” established for the Tyler Garden Apartments that preceded the Winter Hill developments. The Tyler Garden Apartments were built in 1946, immediately after World War II, when a family was lucky to own one automobile, let alone several. Parking in our community has worked out over the past 35 years solely because most neighbors are considerate of each other’s needs.
When I walked home with a neighbor after the City Council meeting on the night of March 27, the parking lanes on Annandale Road behind the proposed development site were loaded with vehicles “spilled over” from Winter Hill parking lots. I can only imagine what the parking spillover from 282 additional apartments will do to parking in the neighborhood. I expect the parking situation in Winter Hill to degenerate to nasty and brutish “Hobbesian conditions” in which parking becomes “a war of all against all.” (Yes, this is a bit hyperbolic, but I supervised the maintenance of Winter Hill townhouse parking lots from 2000 to 2013 and found that people become nasty when their parking is threatened.) As it is, the late-night parking situation throughout all of Winter Hill is certainly as dense as any in Northern Virginia and may equal the densest parking conditions in downtown Washington DC.
Third, it is already difficult to enter or leave the Winter Hill area during the morning and evening rush hours. There is a long wait to cross Broad Street at South Virginia Avenue, and Annandale Road traffic impedes exit from Gundry Drive and parking lots opening onto Annandale Road. Moreover, Annandale Road—a main route to the entrances to the proposed Harris Teeter and overlying apartments—presents a huge problem. There is a strong tendency for distracted or scofflaw drivers to run the stop signs located at Annandale Road’s intersection with Gundry Drive. Drivers exiting Broad Street want to “get the heck out of Falls Church”; and drivers headed toward Broad Street are accustomed to driving at 35 miles an hour for miles up Annandale Road and don’t seem to want to be inconvenienced by having to slow down approaching Broad Street. In any case, they constantly run the stop signs in both directions, and the City has had to station police nearby to ticket people running the signs. The ill-fated stop signs are located about 300 feet from the proposed Annandale Road entrances to the Harris Teeter/Apartment complex. This traffic-control problem will not be solved without a traffic light controlling the entrances to the complex. Good luck to all Winter Hill residents trying to leave the neighborhood to get to work on time in the morning.
In summary, the 282 apartments are a completely counterproductive idea in terms of generating revenue for Falls Church City Schools, and they will destroy the quality of life for Winter Hill residents who have been paying taxes to the City for decades. If the City Council had really wanted to help the City, they would have asked for a more modest supermarket of 30,000 or 40,000 square feet instead of the 60,000-square-foot behemoth that’s proposed. (I understand the Harris Teeter at Lee-Harrison Shopping Center in Arlington is about 40,000 square feet.) The smaller footprint would have left more room between the development and existing townhouses located on Annandale Road. Also, there would have been more room to accommodate Anthony’s Restaurant, and perhaps several other small shops, thereby preserving the quality of “The Little City.” (The current proposal might make it more like Clarendon or Ballston, except that there will be no subway service to alleviate traffic and parking problems.)
Instead of seven or eight levels of apartments above the Harris Teeter, there could be but two or three levels above Harris Teeter for other types of businesses or offices. That would at least comply with the City’s own zoning ordinances on building height. Offices and shopping would add revenue to Falls Church without overloading the school system. Offices would supply employees to frequent city restaurants and businesses, and the employees would leave the area in the evenings. They could use underground parking for offices and the Harris Teeter, and construction for office parking would not require as much expensive excavation as that required to provide parking for an additional 282 residential units.
For those of you who will make the final vote on this proposal in May, I ask that you do three simple things:
(1) Please take a drive around all streets in the Winter Hill area during the morning rush hour. You will notice that the first block of South Virginia Avenue below Broad Street is very narrow—especially when residents are still parked along the street. It is amazing that more drivers do not sideswipe each other in that area.
(2) Please do the same thing for the evening rush hour. You will notice that there are numerous young families with young children along all areas of Winter Hill during warm weather. It would be a good thing if all of those young children reached adulthood by virtue of having lived in a safe neighborhood. You will also notice how inconvenient it is to cross Broad Street and how unruly traffic is on Annandale Road.
(3) Please take a drive through all streets in the Winter Hill area after 9:30 pm. on a normal week night. You will see that the parking situation is very tight. A number of neighbors have complained to me that when they arrive home from a late night at work or an evening out, they have to park several blocks from home. That doesn’t sound very much like “home” to me, and the City Council can make things much worse with the approval of this misguided project.
Finally, one of the Council members on March 27 stated that it was important for the City to resist being absorbed back into Fairfax County, or with Arlington County—with which the City of Falls Church has merged its legal system. Well, if the City Council is going to insist on approving “mixed-use high-rise developments” that are self-defeating, increase gridlock, and which ensure that the City stays in budgetary shortfall with respect to its future school system—“chasing its tail,” so to speak—then I think that integrating with one or the other of the larger jurisdictions will become an inevitability, rather than a matter of choice. (You’ve already had to sell the water system to Fairfax.) Furthermore, if you’re going to approve projects that create gridlock and make Falls Church a choke point for Northern Virginia commuters trying to move along Route 7 or Route 29, then the puffed-up “Little City” will soon become a subject of derision and scorn. (To really emulate Clarendon and Ballston, you must have a subway.)
Carl W. Anderson has lived in the Winter Hill section of Falls Church City for 35 years.
The 2013 Northern Virginia Housing Expo, showcasing affordable housing opportunities throughout the region, will occur Saturday March 16 from 10am-2:30pm at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. The Expo is hosted by Fairfax-based nonprofit AHOME in cooperation with the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA), the City of Falls Church, the City of Alexandria, the counties of Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun, and the Towns of Herndon and Manassas. Read more
By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
February 27, 2013
Editor’s Note: Actions taken by the Falls Church City Council are reported by the City Clerk in a “Legislative Update” typically published within a few hours of adjournment of a City Council meeting. Video and minutes (3 hour and 31 minutes) from this Council meeting are now available online. Other materials including agendas, working materials, past minutes, and the schedule of upcoming meetings are available from City website.
Amongst other business and after comments by a number of citizens, City Council voted 7-0 on first readings to refer to committees resolutions that would change the designation of over 2 acres of land on South Washington St. from “business” to “mixed use” on the City’s Future Land Use Map and grant a special exception for residential development and height. Public hearings will be held on March 13, 2013. Read more
A community meeting on the South Washington Street Small Area Plan will be held on Saturday, April 27, 2013, from 9 – 11 a.m. at the Columbia Baptist Church, 103 West Columbia Street, in the Fellowship Hall. The City encourages feedback on what we heard about community desires for development and redevelopment within the designated planning area.
The City will present potential redevelopment opportunities, how ideas expressed at the kickoff meeting were incorporated into the South Washington Street Small Area Plan, and next steps. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions following the presentation.
Attendees are encouraged to walk, bike, or use the parking lot behind Columbia Baptist Church. Entrances to the parking lot are off of North Maple Avenue and from southbound on North Washington Street. Enter the building through the double glass doors closest to North Maple Avenue. After entering the building, the staircase is on your left and the elevator is on your right, just around the corner from the entryway. Take the stairs or the elevator to the second floor. The Fellowship hall is across the corridor from the elevator shaft and on your left after exiting the stairwell.
Please RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org or 703.248.5040 so the City can provide sufficient seating.
By STEPHEN SIEGEL
Falls Church Times Staff
February 16, 2013
A developer is poised to formally announce plans to build a new, mixed-use four-to-six story building at the northeast corner of Broad and West streets, the Falls Church Times has learned.
The corner, which now houses a Sunoco gas station, 7-11 convenience store, and the popular Mike’s Deli at Lazy Sundae, among other businesses, had been slated a few years ago to become the new home for a Capital One bank branch. But that was nixed by City officials, who refused to allow an exception to permit a drive-through that the bank demanded.
The drive-through wasn’t the City’s real objection, though; what they really objected to was that an enormous commercial parcel in a prominent location at a major intersection was going to get only a small, single-story structure, instead of a larger building that would bring in more tax revenue, sources have said.
Now, City officials seem likely to get their wish, but it’s not clear just how quickly this project will move forward. City officials aren’t talking, and multiple people in a position to know declined to comment until the unnamed and unknown developer formally submits a proposal to City planners.
One commercial real estate agent, asked what she knew about the proposal, said, “I don’t know anything. I can’t talk about it.” Asked which it was, she responded, “Both!”
Another agent with multiple commercial listings in the city, when asked what he knew, said: “Why would you think I would know anything about it?”
John Shreve, who owns the land where the project would be built, also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But other sources confirmed the basic outlines of the proposal. It would be a similar building to many others either under construction or proposed and working their way toward City approvals.
Examples of such buildings include Northgate, at 472 N. Washington Street, which is well under way, and a proposal known as The Reserve at Tinner Hill, which would rise where Saab dealer International Motors now stands on South Washington. Another example is the proposed Harris Teeter project, at 301 West Broad.
Like those examples, the new building would have a first floor earmarked for retail stores, and apartments or condos on several floors above.
It would seem to be an attractive location for retailers and residents alike. Retailers would be situated at a very visible corner near one of the busiest intersections in town. Broad Street, of course, is heavy all day long, and West Street sees steady traffic, especially at rush hour.
Meanwhile, residents considering living there might appreciate the walkability of the location — less than a mile to the West Falls Church Metro Station and immediate access to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, which runs mere feet from the proposed project’s rear.
Despite those advantages, the project also would add density and traffic to the already-congested intersection, and potentially put more pressure on the already-burgeoning City schools, depending on the size and quantity of the residential units.
Smaller units are not as attractive to families with children, and that’s what many developers, who see demand for small, more affordable units, have been proposing. For example, 70 percent of the units at the Tinner Hill project are slated to be just one bedroom, which would draw almost no new students. It’s unclear how many units are being proposed in this case, or what their size would be, so it’s difficult to evaluate the impact on the schools at this point.
It’s also a bit early to assume any retail stores are already in the fold for this project, but one source told the Times that Bank of America already has expressed interest in the space. The huge bank’s only other City location is 1.5 miles away on North Washington, across from Northgate. However, the source who confirmed for the Times the basic outlines of the proposal said he hadn’t heard anything about the bank’s interest.
Multiple sources also said they understood that improvements to the congested Broad-West intersection would be part of the proposal and that some preliminary ideas already have been bounced around between the developer and City planners. However, it could not be learned what those proposals are.
The busy intersection is especially heavy in part because it’s what traffic engineers refer to as an “offset” intersection, in which northbound West Street is located further southeast than southbound West Street, which would create a potentially dangerous situation if both sides were allowed to proceed at the same time.
As a result, northbound traffic currently has a green light and a left arrow first, followed by the southbound traffic. That creates a longer light cycle for the intersection, backing up traffic more than it otherwise might. A possible change, therefore, would be a realignment of West Street to eliminate the offset.
Like the Harris Teeter proposal down the street, this project also would mean the loss of a local favorite. At the Harris Teeter, it is Anthony’s Italian Restaurant. As of Friday, 873 people had signed an online petition urging the city to help save Anthony’s. Ultimately, the decision is out of the city’s hands, although officials certainly could encourage the developer to find a way to incorporate Anthony’s into the new project.
In the case of the Broad and West project, it would be Mike’s Deli at Lazy Sundae, a popular spot, especially on hot summer evenings when people line up for the store’s ice cream.
Worrying about that loss may be getting ahead of ourselves, however, as this proposal has a long way to go before it ever becomes a reality.
By CITY OF FALLS CHURCH COMMUNICATIONS
Monday, January 28, 2013
The total taxable assessed value for all properties in the City as of Jan. 1, 2013, is $3,324,120,300 ($3.3 billion), a 2.9 percent increase from January 1, 2012. The City plans to mail assessments for 2013 in February, so property owners should receive the notices on or after Tuesday, Feb. 12. Updated assessment information will be posted on the City website Monday, Feb. 11. Individual assessment information will not be available until after the mailing.
Overall residential real estate values increased 3.1 percent over the last year. Single family home values increased by 3.5 percent, townhomes increased by 3.6 percent, and residential condominiums had varying changes.
Overall commercial property values increased 1.6 percent since January 2012. The real estate value of multi-family apartments increased 5 percent, large office buildings are up 0.2 percent and large retail properties are up 3.9 percent. The value of City hotels remained flat.
As set forth in the Virginia Constitution, real estate is assessed at 100 percent of fair market value. The City’s Office of Real Estate Assessment calculates property value annually using mass appraisal techniques that are standard in the real estate assessment industry.
Real Estate Taxes and Public Hearings
The notice of assessment is an appraisal of the fair market value of the property; it is not a tax bill. Property tax payments will be due in two installments on June 5 and Dec. 5; property owners will receive bills prior to these dates.
The real estate tax rate will be determined on April 22, 2013, when the Falls Church City Council adopts the Fiscal Year 2014 Operating Budget and Capital Improvements Program and sets the tax rate. Public hearings on the Fiscal Year 2014 Proposed Operating Budget will be held on March 25, April 8, and April 22 at 7:30 p.m. in Council Chambers (300 Park Ave.). To see the complete budget schedule, visit www.fallschurchva.gov/Budget.
Individual assessments will be mailed in February. After evaluating the assessment, homeowners wondering if their assessment is correct should ask the question, “Would my home sell for the assessed value if I put it on the market?” If the answer is “yes,” the assessment is probably accurate. If the answer is “no,” contact the Office of Real Estate Assessment at 703-248-5022 (TTY 711).
Deadlines for assessment appeals are Friday, March 15, 2013, for an Office of Real Estate Assessment review and Friday, July 5, 2013 for a Board of Equalization review. More information about the assessment review process is available online at www.fallschurchva.gov/AssessmentProcess.
By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff
December 1, 2012
Winter Hill homeowners were out in force last Thursday evening to hear a briefing on the proposed Harris-Teeter store and apartment complex at 301 W. Broad St. Many in the standing-room-only crowd did not like what they heard.
The six story building, which would replace Anthony’s Restaurant and the old post office property, may provide a significant tax windfall for the city. However, given the residents’ strong objections, the project clearly will face a struggle when it comes before the Planning Commission and City Council.
Ten Winter Hill townhouses are adjacent to the site and many others are in close proximity. Owners of some of those homes and many other area residents objected to several features of the project’s design and how it will impact the neighborhood.
Many of their objections concerned the location of the access route for trucks and the loading docks for the grocery store and the apartments. As designed, this alley will parallel the property line on the west side of the building. Residents felt that it would be better to shift these features to the opposite side of the complex, where the noise and air pollution generated by vehicles would be away from their homes.
The residents noted that the building also would cast extensive shadows over their properties much of the day. As proposed, the structure will be 83 feet high, which is 8 feet over the standard city limit. This will require a special exception, which already has been filed.
Residents also were concerned that the combination of a supermarket and an apartment building would significantly increase traffic in the area and contribute to the neighborhood’s parking problem, long severe due to the lack of space in Winter Hill lots. Attendees’ suggestions included a traffic signal at the intersection of Gundry Drive and Annandale Road and a special parking district with spaces reserved for area residents.
The city projects that the apartments will add only 34 additional pupils to its crowded schools, but some people were skeptical of this estimate. Thirty percent of the apartments will be two bedroom units. This is a much lower ratio than found in Pearson Square (401 S. Maple Ave.), which includes 133 two bedroom and 25 three bedroom apartments.
As now designed, the project’s ground level includes the 60,800 square feet Harris-Teeter store and an additional 3,110 of retail space. Five upper floors will offer 294 multi-family rental apartments. There will be 30 studio apartments, 176 one bedroom, and 88 two bedroom units.
The development also will include a three level underground parking garage which will provide 586 spaces. Parking on the first level will be reserved for shoppers. The residential parking ratio will be 1.33 spaces per unit.
Architect Doug Carter of Davis, Carter, Scott and Patrick Kearney of Rushmark Properties responded to the homeowners’ questions and concerns. Carter, who was the architect of the Byron (513 W. Broad St.), welcomed the comments and stressed that the project process is in a very early stage. Mayor Nader Baroukh, a Winter Hill resident, and Council member Johannah Barry attended the meeting but did not speak.
Information on the complex is available in five files at the city’s website. Architectural elevations and conceptual floor and parking level plans are in Part 4. Project specifications and a preliminary fiscal impact analysis are in Part 5.
This effort is the latest attempt to restart the City Center project, originally proposed in 2007 but set aside during the recession. Attempts to approve a senior citizens apartment house at 350 S. Washington St. and an adjacent office and retail building failed in 2010.
In October 2012, the City Council approved the sale of two city-owned lots in the 200 and 300 blocks of West Broad Street to a development company called Falls Church Development Partners, LLC, of which Rushmark is a member. One lot, adjacent to the Burke and Herbert Bank, is technically owned by the City’s Economic Development Authority. Together, the city is selling them for $4,322,000, a value arrived at in an appraisal done for the city earlier this year.
However, other issues must be resolved before the project can begin. The developer won’t be able to close on the land until it applies for and receives a building permit. The city also is including a performance requirement that would allow officials to buy the land back if the project is not started in 12 months or completed in 24 months of the sale.
Also, the city’s suit flied last year against City Center developer Atlantic Realty must be resolved. Falls Church sent a “notice of default” to Atlantic on March 2, 2011, arguing that the developer “failed to perform its obligations under the agreement” between the city and the developer. Until the court declares that project null and void, the city cannot proceed in other directions with the land.
By BECKY WITSMAN
July 10, 2012
Nearly all of us were impacted in one way or another with the recent storm. Some suffered through hot days with no air conditioning, some of us had to clean out our refrigerators and throw away significant amounts of food, some of us had to wait in lines to get gas and some of us spent money to stay in a hotel to try to avoid as much of the discomfort of it all as possible. Luckily, many of us were not scheduled to work over the weekend, when the storm’s aftermath and impact was greatest, so we didn’t feel the effect of the storm so directly to our paycheck.
But many of our “Little City” retail, service and restaurant business owners, managers and employees were not so fortunate and they are feeling the impact in many ways. Most of them could not open their doors for business over the weekend (and many into mid-week!) because they had no electricity. Consider too that the weekend represents the most profitable part of the week for many of our businesses. So, not only did many businesses fail to make any money over the weekend, they also lost money if they had to throw away any refrigerated items – like our restaurants, grocery stores and other shops that sell food. Employees who counted on income from wages or tips will feel the impact severely; many lost out on a significant amount of their monthly income. Our businesses also still have to pay their rent, vendors, utilities, etc, regardless of whether or not they had a good or bad weekend and paying those bills this month will no doubt be a challenge.
None of us could have prevented this most recent storm from doing the damage that it did, but we can all be mindful of how much our businesses would especially appreciate our patronage at a very difficult time.
Becky Witsman is Business Development Manager for the City of Falls Church