For those of you who missed your Outside The Box fix, the regular Sunday feature will return next week.
Thank you for your interest.
By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
December 8, 2013
It may not be the season to talk about al fresco dining. But then maybe it will make you feel warmer, as the first snow of the season falls lightly on the grass.
Clare and Don’s, one of the City’s most popular restaurants, has received approval, through a zoning variance, to expand its North Washington Street space and build a 600 square foot upper level deck over the existing outdoor space. The business had sought that approval some months ago before the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
The approval of the outdoor space was one of a number of interesting tidbits contained in the City Economic Development Office’s December business report.
Among the other highlights were the announcement of some new restaurants coming to town; several new medical offices opening; and several updates to the city’s big new construction projects.
On the restaurant front, Pita Poche, serving Middle Eastern cuisine, is slated to open next year in the old bagel and donut store near Staples in the Falls Plaza. Originally, a burger chain called Burger 7 was going to go in there, but that has changed. However, the ownership is the same. Burger 7 has a location just beyond the city limits in the Idylwood Plaza. The Pita Poche has been rumored for some time, but now construction on the space has begun, suggesting that it really is coming.
Perennial favorite Dogwood Tavern also has completed an elevated outdoor space above their patio, with 15 seat bar and televisions tuned to sports. That should be a plus for all those Virginia Tech fans that were observed there recently.
The medical facilities opening include Ortho Urgent Care, which has received an occupancy permit for the ground floor of the Broadway, 502 W. Broad Street. The company also will offer what it calls “professional sportscare” at that address.
Right across the street in the Byron, 513 W. Broad, Primary Care Associates has purchased the old Pilates space and is relocating from Arlington. They are targeting Jan. 1 for opening. And at the Spectrum, an eye doctor has moved into 431 Park.
Additionally, Pulmonary & Medical Associates, also relocating from Arlington, is making major improvements to their new space at 500-510 W. Annandale Rd., including the installation of a new elevator. Perhaps we’ll soon be known as The Healthy Little City.
Burger 7 may have stayed over by the Whole Foods, but Smashburger is coming to the City. It is locating in the rehabbed 300 S. Washington Street strip mall that currently features Meat in a Box. Now, the whole plaza can be called Meat in a Box and Bun. It will be interesting to have another gourmet burger place so close to Elevation Burger; hopefully, they both can survive and prosper.
Northgate, the mixed use development near the Arlington county line on North Washington, is nearing completion, and is advertising its apartments as Big Living in the Little City. They are targeting late February for their grand opening. The Hilton Garden Inn at 706 W. Broad is getting closer to completion as well, and is accepting reservations beginning June 15. So they must be confident about their construction schedule.
Meanwhile, on the new project front, the Harris Teeter complex received unanimous approval from the city Planning Commission on Dec. 1. They are hoping to break ground in January. The Reserve at Tinner Hill, across the street from Pearson Square on the International Motors and Meineke Muffler sites, also is expecting to break ground early next year, and reports that it has a formal lease signed by Fresh Market, an upscale grocer, for a chunk of its ground floor space.
By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
December 2, 2013
Creative Cauldron will present its holiday classic: The Christmas Cabin of Carnaween weekends from December 6 through 22 at ArtSpace Falls Church, 410 S. Maple Avenue.
“We are presenting our finest production ever in this final year,” offered Director Laura Connors Hull. “Audiences that have been making it part of their holiday tradition will find some fresh new scenes added and new cast members joining the ensemble. And for those that are making their first visit, we are sure that this beautiful story will tug at your heart strings and work its fairy magic once again.”
Since it first premiered in 2009, this original adaptation of an Irish folktale has played annually to critical acclaim and full houses. “Poignant and bracing…. a reminder of the season’s rich ideals,” Washington Post 2009. “This uplifting, engaging and poetic tale celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and reminds of the ‘Christmas within,” Maryland Theatre Guide 2011. “The spirit of selflessness and giving is at the heart of this production, and is shown in a loving way that enchants the entire family!” DC Metro Theater Arts 2012. The 2013 production will be the final year for the production that was first conceived and adapted by Hull.
Christmas Cabin of Carnaween is set in the time of the great potato famine in Ireland and follows the journey of Oona Hegarty, the abandoned daughter of a family of tinkers. Oona is taken in by the Donegal village folk who inhabit Carnaween. She makes her way caring for the young and the sick and the elderly, but as a tinker’s child she is never quite fully accepted. The years pass and her yearning to have a cabin of her own would go unfulfilled were in not for the intervention of some wee folk on a snowy Christmas eve.
Katie Culligan will play the role of Oona for the fourth time. Culligan has been seen in Creative Cauldron’s 2010 Helen Hayes Awards Recommended® production of Nevermore and this past summer’s sold out cabaret performances “Voices of Vantage.” Katie will be joined by an ensemble of storytellers and village folk that includes Judy Butler, E. Augustus Knapp, James Lynch, and Laura Quackenbush Steele. The ensemble also includes members of Creative Cauldron’s young Learning Theater program: Anna Brotman-Krass, Libby Brooke, Olivia Laurine, Grace Rollins, Sarah Tarpgaard, and Alex Weinstein. The production is underscored by the live Irish music trio Magh Meall featuring Rosemary Gano on flute and whistle, Mary Wilkerson on fiddle and Katie Boyle on Guitar.
Performances are Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 7:30pm and Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm. The closing performance will be on Sunday, December 22 at 2 pm. Tickets for Christmas Cabin of Carnaween are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at www.creativecauldron.org or by calling 703-436-9948.
Creative Cauldron is a non-profit arts organization whose innovative programs in the performing and visual arts embody collaboration, experimentation and community engagement. Creative Cauldron was founded by Producing Director Laura Connors Hull in 2002. In June of 2009, Creative Cauldron acquired a permanent home in ArtSpace Falls Church, a 3,000 square foot flexible arts space that provides a venue for year-round classes, live performances of theater, music and dance and visual art exhibits. Programs are presented in part through grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts Council of Fairfax County, the City of Falls Church and the Little City CATCH Foundation.
It was only supposed to be a quick update to the big project proposed for the busy corner of Broad and West. But Times readers took it and ran with it, posting 39 comments as of this writing, showing that the project has inspired a very high and intense level of interest and concern.
The comment thread has focused on some of the usual issues — concerns about traffic and congestion, as well as the impacts on the City’s small schools. Yet commenters also have gone beyond that, and expressed a fear of loss — a loss of some favorite businesses, yes, but also a loss of the virtues of smallness.
I can appreciate the sentiment.
The property where the proposed development would be located is the northeast corner of Broad and West streets. It doesn’t look like much, but houses some of the City’s most popular businesses, such as Mike’s Deli at Lazy Sundae. It’s not the only one, however.
Other interesting businesses, the kind that give Falls Church City its unique vibe, include Panjshir, which features food from Afghanistan and has been a fixture at that location for 20 years.
Newer businesses also are offering many fine services. Lil’ Italian Cafe, which only has been open for a short time, doesn’t look like much from the outside — or the inside, for that matter — but it boasts a shockingly good marinara sauce, especially for a nondescript little diner.
Then there’s Bikenetic, an independent bike store, and Brits on Broad, which I confess I have yet to go into, but certainly looks interesting and unique.
These all would disappear if new the project is built, although the developers say they are hoping some of them will sign up to be part of the new project.
I think it would be great if they did, but the odds don’t seem to favor it. The cost to lease a space in a new, shiny building is guaranteed to be considerably higher than it is to lease some tired, one story storefront that dates to 1955 or thereabouts. So one has to assume that much of the new retail will be deep-pocketed chains, just as Chipotle and Famous Dave’s have moved into the Broaddale Center in recent years. And Broaddale isn’t even new construction!
Some will shrug and say “So what?” Or they will say: “That’s the price of progress.” And they may be right. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about, or lament, what is being lost. Personally, I would like to see more retail options and a nicer looking building at that corner, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be sad to see some of the existing businesses disappear. You don’t have to be on one side or the other.
In fact, the longer you live, the more you learn that every decision is a double-edged sword. There’s good and bad things that result from almost every choice.
A number of commenters have even made it clear that’s it’s not all about restaurants; even the Sunoco gas station would be mourned if it vanished. Many area residents seem to get their cars worked on there, at a location an easy walk from their homes. They know the owners and the employees, and they trust them. And the convenience can’t be duplicated.
Of course, it’s easy to say that one of the busiest corners in the City shouldn’t be a gas station, but, again, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that will be lost when the corner has a higher and better use.
Additionally, the whole scale of the area will change, if this project (or any new one) goes forward. The current collection of one story storefronts in three- and four-unit configurations may scream 1950, and not be particularly attractive, but it also offers a human scale: you can see over them, even when you’re on foot. Pedestrians will not be able to see over whatever replaces them.
But maybe we shouldn’t fret. Maybe we should be thankful that we enjoyed that human scale for so long, despite being located in the beating heart of a thriving metropolitan area, six miles from the nation’s capital.
Outside the Box is an opinion column. Read it every Sunday in the Falls Church Times.
By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
December 1, 2013
Mary Gavin took over as Falls Church City Police Chief when Harry Reitze retired in 2012. The City’s first female police chief, she had been second in command under Chief Reitze previously. She sat down with the Falls Church Times recently to discuss her experiences as the City’s top cop.
Ms. Gavin’s first day was Nov. 11 of last year, and it began as what she describes as a “typical” day. Yet her description sounds anything but typical: She reports that she directed officers to watch for thefts near retail stores and for problems associated with alcohol-related parties.
Why that advice? Because it was November, and the 11th month is “robbery season,” she explains, even in Falls Church City, because so many people are shopping for the holidays, which makes them targets, and they are having celebrations where adult beverages flow freely.
And because alcohol is a factor in so many crimes, from drunken driving to assaults, Ms. Gavin says police keep tabs on all 55 of the City’s businesses that have Virginia alcohol licenses. “That gives you information as to where the crime is,” she says.
But despite the focus on alcohol and related issues, the top two law enforcement issues facing the City, Ms. Gavin says, are traffic and parking — she bases that on resident complaints — and she adds that those are the top complaints in most jurisdictions.
Crime, of course, is not a huge issue here, in part, the chief says, because of our small size and relatively low density. “With density comes people, with density comes crime,” she says.
Nevertheless, she points out that there still are criminal elements in our midst that require a response, mentioning the Eden Center as well as the Stratford Motel as two addresses that police are forced to frequent.
Police have responded to shootings at both locations in the last few years, and there also have been fights and assaults in the Eden Center. Additionally, there was a rape at the Stratford that occurred after the victim had been drugged, court documents say.
“We have a good relationship with the property manager’s representative, and work with him very closely,” she said of the Eden Center. “We have a presence a lot, a proactive presence. We’ve done community policing, and small business reach-out.”
Ms. Gavin noted that the Eden Center is unusual in the City because it is heavily Vietnamese, which sometimes presents language or cultural issues. “I would love to have an officer who speaks Vietnamese,” she said, although she is well aware that budgets are tight, as the force has lost two officers during the recent lean years.
Asked about the criticism police received from some in the Vietnamese community following the arrests that stemmed from an investigation into illegal gambling at the Eden Center, the Chief said that “quite a bit of money was seized…with that came some people who are not happy.
“It wasn’t driven by the Falls Church Police Department (it was multi-jurisdictional), so I can’t speak to it completely,” she said. “But that (the arrests and seizure of large amounts of money) is going to bring some anxiety and bad feelings, I’m certain. People are always going to proclaim their innocence — particularly if they’re doing something wrong.”
Even though there haven’t been any reports of police wrongdoing or inadequate skill, every now and again there are comments on various blogs or news sites, suggesting the City’s officers aren’t as well-trained as others.
Asked if that criticism is warranted or if it bothers her, Ms. Gavin dismissed it.
“In a complaint, you always have to consider the source,” she said, pointing out that the department has been accredited by the Virginia Law Enforcement Standards Commission, a collection of Virginia sheriffs and police, the last two times it has applied.
“There’s always things we could do differently or better. But I’m not going to sit and read blogs every day from some anonymous person.”
But that said, she fully admits the City has fewer resources than a larger, county-wide department would have. “I don’t have an expectation to have the resources that Fairfax or Arlington would have.”
And that’s where mutual aid comes in, as those neighboring departments are sometimes called in for assistance.
There also has been criticism in some quarters that the police department is too big, although cuts have been made during the recession at both the officer and administrative levels.
Ms. Gavin’s view is that the department is fairly bare bones, and although she’d like to have more, she recognizes the times we are living in.
“The budget’s always a difficult time. I feel fortunate for what we have. Do I feel it’s too big? Absolutely not. We meet a minimum level of staffing, and not a whole lot more than that. There’s no fluff. It’s lean, I think it’s efficient. These people who say (it’s too big) — have they run a department before?”
She adds, “Every other city department has lost (what we have) and then some. All in all, it’s a great job in a great city. I’m pleased and honored to be here.”
Imagine there’s a business in Falls Church City that regularly gets away with code violations.
For example, suppose it doesn’t place its garbage dumpsters in their enclosure, even thought it’s mandated by its site plan, which was required and approved by city officials.
Then, suppose it routinely leaves the doors to the enclosure open, also in violation of the code, and in contrast to other nearby businesses that close them up tightly within minutes of a garbage pickup.
Additionally, let’s imagine that it puts in its parking lot giant storage trailers, delivered on a flat bed — again, a violation of the code.
Now, imagine that these violations are either not enforced, or only enforced grudgingly, even when there are resident complaints.
What would the likely result be? Would it cause the employees to straighten up and run a tight ship? Or would it be more likely to encourage additional violations of the code — and perhaps even of other ethical requirements?
I think the evidence is clear: lax enforcement will encourage bad behavior, while strict enforcement will lead to better behavior. That evidence is all around us:
On East Broad Street, where police enforce the speed limit more often than any other, drivers routinely slow to 25 mph — or even less — especially between Roosevelt and Lawton streets.
And until I got the City Council involved three years ago, the commercial garbage companies routinely violated the city curfew, banging dumpsters at 2 am, 3 am, and 5 am, waking up neighbors within a quarter mile of any commercial area. Once police cracked down and wrote tickets — which they did and continue to do — the problem went away.
So enforcement works. And the opposite, lax enforcement, produces opposite results.
With all that in mind, was it a surprise that a Rite Aid employee last week pulled a bag of garbage from the Broad Street store, carried it out to the rear parking lot, and went past the store’s dumpsters — to the adjacent West End Shopping Center, where he deposited the Rite Aid garbage in a dumpster being paid for by a different store?
I don’t think it is a great surprise. That’s because all the violations I asked readers to imagine above have been committed over the years by Rite Aid: improper placement of dumpsters; routinely leaving the enclosure doors open; and using the parking lot for storage trailers. It has been difficult, to say the least, to get officials to enforce these violations.
Now, it’s not fair to blame City officials for the transgressions of others. We don’t blame them when people shoplift, drive while intoxicated, or fail to pay for their car sticker.
But it is the job of officials to enforce the law, and when they choose not to use the tools in their toolkit, which includes writing tickets as well as just picking up the phone and telling a violator what they need to do, it creates a climate of “anything goes.”
It’s similar to the “broken window” theory of policing. That theory suggests that criminals recognize when minor crimes, such as broken windows and graffiti, go unaddressed — and it emboldens them to graduate to more severe crimes.
Would Rite Aid really elect to so brazenly use someone else’s dumpster if they hadn’t already gotten away with so many other violations? One can’t know for sure. But it certainly doesn’t help the situation. If they knew violations were going to be met with enforcement, one would think they would reconsider.
Alternatively, perhaps the lack of City enforcement of the regularly overflowing dumpsters at West End encourages Rite Aid to imagine that no one will notice if they also contribute to the mess. It’s hard to imagine, for example, Rite Aid employees doing the same at Taco Bell, where the dumpsters are in an enclosure that’s almost always closed and where the parking lot is always clean as a whistle.
Of course, that means West End is partially responsible for others illegally dumping on their property, because its unsanitary condition is akin to the broken window. But City officials’ lax enforcement of the code may be the brick that initially breaks that window.
Outside the Box is an opinion column. Read it every Sunday in the Falls Church Times.
By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 23, 2013
The ambitious proposal for the northeast corner of Broad and West streets, which was first outlined in July, is still moving ahead and is poised to be formally submitted to city officials within days.
The project, which would be almost four acres in size and contain retail storefronts, several floors of apartments, and an extended stay hotel, would be the westernmost such project in the City to date and the largest in terms of its physical space.
If approved, it would dramatically transform the corner from its current jumble of a Sunoco gas station and several one-story storefronts into a far more dense and modern development, similar to others now rising or approved, such as the Harris Teeter proposal for the 300 block of West Broad and Northgate, which is nearing completion in the 400 block of North Washington.
Even though it has yet to be formally submitted to city planners, the developers already have been in discussions with officials, and some changes already have been made. The most significant change is to move the extended-stay hotel to the south frontage along Broad Street. In the initial design, it fronted the Washington & Old Dominion Trail on the project’s northwest side.
“That enabled us to put retail and residential along the park, and that’s more conducive to the park,” said Peter Batten, a principal in Spectrum Development of Vienna. “All of our group felt that was a good idea by the City.”
Neighbors also have gotten involved, calling the developers and asking to meet with them — a request the developers happily complied with. Meetings with the neighbors last month were productive, Mr. Batten said.
“The meetings were constructive. People were asking lots of questions about the project. There was a lot of good dialogue. I think people are supportive; they would like to see the property redeveloped.”
He added: “They like the idea of new development coming and creating an environment for shopping in a pedestrian style.”
The project, if approved, would cover the area from West Street nearly to the St. James property, and would result in the redevelopment of the aforementioned gas station, as well as the buildings now housing Mike’s Deli at Lazy Sundae and 7-11. In addition, the project would replace the two strip malls to the east, one of which is largely empty, while the other contains several new businesses, including a bike store, Bikenetic.
Mr. Batten said they’d like to have some local independent businesses in the project, including a bike store, and have reached out to Bikenetic owner Jan Feuchtner to see if he’d be interested in setting up a shop there. One would imagine he would — he has previously expressed interest in staying in the area — but the question will be the cost; rents are likely to be much higher in the new development than in those being torn down.
One concern neighbors have regarding the project is traffic. Broad and West already is one of the most congested intersections in the city, particularly at rush hour, and the addition of 274 apartments and a number of storefronts could make things worse.
Mr. Batten notes that the project will reduce the number of entrances and exits on the property from 11 to four, which he said would improve congestion, and he also said they are recommissioning a traffic study to look at cut-through traffic on Grove, which already is an issue for residents there.
The developers also plan to stripe West Street near the intersection with Park to improve traffic flow, separating through traffic on West from those turning to and from Park and to and from the new project.
The proposed 274 apartments will be small and will attempt to target young professionals, including those who now choose to live in hip and expensive Clarendon. Mr. Batten suggests that those Clarendon residents will be lured to the project by lower prices, lower density, and an attractive, pedestrian-oriented environment, along with Clarendon-like amenities.
To that end, they are aiming to have a European-style, sit down coffee house, a “nice” bakery, and a gourmet butcher shop among their retail choices. The only other coffee place within walking distance is a Starbucks near the Giant, and it only has a handful of small tables indoors, making it more of a carryout location, not one designed for customers to linger and read.
“This project will set the tone of the West Side (of Falls Church City),” Mr. Batten proclaimed. “The West Side is a great retail destination; it just needs to be modernized.”
Traversing Lincoln Avenue recently, I thought to myself that it suddenly has become very easy to tell when you leave Falls Church City as you head east towards Arlington: It’s the presence of a new bike lane.
Some may find that observation odd; some may find it interesting; and some may find it illuminating, especially as Ped Plan 2.0 — a wholly rewritten document — is set to be unveiled at Monday night’s City Council meeting, months after Version 1.0 was shelved.
The bike lane is short, covering just the area between the City limits and Little Falls Street, where a cyclist can turn to gain access to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. But it also is accompanied by striping that has the effect of narrowing a wide street on which drivers tend to speed, which should cause traffic to slow down.
It’s not a huge deal, but I find it interesting that the bike lane begins where the city ends. It reminds me that we’re still behind our neighbors in a number of areas, and one of them is pedestrian safety. Hopefully, Ped Plan 2.0 will be an improvement, be approved, and begin to remedy that disparity.
Yet it’s not just pedestrian safety where our neighbors may have an advantage. Adding a bike lane, particularly a short one, may not measurably improve safety. Perhaps it does, perhaps not. As a result, I am more interested in what that short bike lane says about the state of government function and services in the City compared to our adjacent jurisdictions.
One may not be able to generalize about the state of government function from a short bike lane. But maybe one can. Consider:
Here in the City, hundreds, if not thousands of hours of staff time were used to create the first Ped Plan. But city officials foolishly put in an item that caused resident objections: the idea of eliminating street parking on Lincoln and on Hillwood, which was mistake number one.
That could have been remedied by the City Council, had it chosen to simply excise that piece. Instead, it unwisely discarded the entire thing, and nothing has been done, wasting all that staff time and causing many good ideas to go unimplemented for another year. That was mistake number two.
In Arlington, they have dozens of miles of bike lanes, as well as other pedestrian safety enhancements, known in the traffic engineering world as “traffic calming” techniques. I’ve also seen some in McLean. We have only a few speed humps here in the Little City (mostly in Broadmont), and I can’t think of any bike lanes or other traffic calming measures.
What does that say about the City’s services compared to Arlington’s? Can one conclude that Arlington has better services across the board? I think one can. It’s probably not just in pedestrian safety where the City is behind, but this particular issue is an easy one to see.
There may well be others. Last week, in response to an article I wrote about housing prices, some commenters suggested that Arlington has better city services, and they contended that is at least part of the reason the County has more highly valued homes.
It’s difficult to say if higher housing prices are a direct result of that, but it’s interesting that several commenters suggested that the City’s services are subpar.
Frankly, I’ve encountered other areas where city services are poor. It took me eight weeks and countless emails to get officials to tell Rite Aid they couldn’t use their parking lot as a storage facility, even though they acknowledged immediately that it wasn’t allowed.
I’m still waiting for public works to write a ticket at the West End Shopping Center for the non-stop overflowing garbage problem that has caused one city official to dub the parking lot “Dumpsterville.”
A Freedom of Information Act request finds that, despite photographic evidence of clear and gross code violations, not a single ticket has been written at that address in at least two years. Perhaps there’s a reason for it, but when the official in charge of writing the tickets says she writes “as many tickets as are necessary,” she sounds less than truthful.
And this is occurring despite hundreds of hours of staff time being used recently to write a so-called “property maintenance code” intended to make it easier to address code enforcement.
Does Arlington do it any better? Admittedly, I don’t know. But I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Their efforts on pedestrian safety are impressive, so one might be justified in assuming they have been effective in other areas as well.
Of course, the past is the past, so let’s look to the future. Ped Plan 2.0 is on the docket; let’s do it right this time, in a way that’s appropriate, but also affordable. And let’s tackle other issues of government function at the same time.
Outside the Box is an opinion column. Read it every Sunday in the Falls Church Times.