Unlike Fresh Market, Harris Teeter is Poised to Deliver

July 26, 2016 by · 7 Comments 

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
July 26, 2016

The Fresh Market may have declined to follow through on its letter of intent to locate in the new Reserve at Tinner Hill project on South Washington Street, but another upscale grocery just a few blocks away is expected to open its doors Wednesday.

That upscale grocery is the Harris Teeter, which has leased most of the ground floor at developer Rushmark’s new West Broad building, located at 301 W. Broad Street, on the site of the old post office and Anthony’s Italian restaurant.

The new supermarket will bring yet another grocer to the Falls Church City market, which currently boasts just Giant Foods inside the City limits, but Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and Shoppers Food Warehouse just beyond.

It also will create a new amenity for the residents of the West Broad building, who have been moving in floor by floor since the winter. There is underground parking in the building for the store’s customers.

The complex is the first new mixed-use project completed since Northgate on North Washington Street, and also is one of the biggest. Reaching close to 90 feet tall, it features about 290 one and two bedroom units with sizes ranging from 747 to 1,274 square feet.

The project was controversial from the beginning, both because of its size and its location: it was very close to some of the Winter Hill townhouses, especially those that sit on the east side of Annandale Road, and residents there were concerned about having the building towering over them, as well as noise from the loading docks, among other issues.

The building does tower over them; that much cannot be disputed. One can see down to the Winter Hill rooftops and into their yards from West Broad’s second floor community lounge. But while the decision to build the project may have been, and may still be, controversial, what is probably not controversial is that the building is very high quality and quite beautiful inside.

The lobby is ornate, features a large fireplace, and has a very contemporary appearance. The model apartments continue the theme, with stainless appliances and dark, espresso cabinetry and flooring.

The one bedroom model is small, offering 747 square feet, and is offered for a price that may seem shocking to Falls Church City residents. The rent is $1,985, plus an annual $450 fee that pays for the common amenities, which include indoor and outdoor entertaining spaces on the second floor. Utilities also are extra, as is the underground parking. So a one bedroom in the building will run a tenant well over $2,000 per month if they sign up for the parking.

The two bedroom model was 1,237 square feet (although some other units are slightly larger) and is a far more functional floorplan than the one bedroom. And its rental rate reflects that. The cost to move in to such a unit is $3,120, plus the annual fee, utilities, and parking.
The first residents began moving into the building Jan. 20. It also will feature a Starbucks Coffee, even though there is a Starbucks a block away. That may make more sense than it appears, because the existing Starbucks is frequently quite crowded.

There’s one other retail space in the building, for which the developers are seeking a restaurant. But the space has not been leased yet.

Fresh Market Leaves, and Leaves City and Developer in the Lurch

July 23, 2016 by · 11 Comments 

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
July 23, 2016

The Fresh Market, an upscale natural food grocer similar to Whole Foods, has changed its mind and will not open in the new Reserve at Tinner Hill project nearing completion on the old International Motors site on South Washington Street, the Falls Church Times has confirmed.

Rumors about the departure have been circulating for several weeks, but nothing official was released from City Hall, apparently because officials were hoping the chain would change its mind again and come back. But that does not appear to be in the cards.

A City official told the Times Friday that developer Lincoln Property Company is “actively marketing the space” which suggests they believe they no longer have a tenant for the largest space in their new building, a 20,000 square foot ground floor that already has been built out to Fresh Market’s wishes.

That’s a big blow to the developer, who stood to gain substantial cash from a lease with the store. It also hurts their efforts to attract other retailers to the complex; stores like to be near supermarkets because of the traffic they draw. And it’s also a major blow to the City, which was looking forward to a large influx of sales tax revenue from the highly-regarded grocer.

Additionally, it removes some of the rationale for the project. One of the reasons the City Council approved the large building, with its 224 apartments, in 2013 was because of the presence of The Fresh Market, which had signed a letter of intent in late 2012 to locate in the project.

The Council required that letter of intent before approving the mixed-use plan, which required a Special Exception to the zoning code. But the chain’s decision to pull out anyway shows the limits of such a letter. It’s not an iron-clad guarantee, and even the existence of a signed lease prior to Council approval wouldn’t guarantee they would open, either. Leases are broken all the time, and it appears that occurred in this case.

Business conditions can change quickly, and it’s not clear why the chain reconsidered. They already were aware they were locating near a new Harris Teeter supermarket, which is scheduled to open next week in the new West Broad building at 301 W. Broad Street.

But they didn’t know, when they signed their letter, that they’d also be competing with their arch rival Whole Foods, which is now expected to open in a few years in the new project slated for the northeast corner of Broad & Washington streets. That project had not been announced back in 2012.

However, it may not be a reconsideration of the competitive landscape, but instead internal policy changes that made the decision. The Fresh Market recently was purchased by private equity group Apollo Global Management, and such investors may be seeking higher profits than were projected at the proposed Falls Church location.

The chain recently pulled out of the state of Texas entirely, closing eight stores, and also shuttered two in Iowa, one in Missouri and two in Kansas. The North Carolina company still has 175 stores nationwide.

But regardless of the reasons, it’s a loss for City coffers and for the emerging retail corridor of South Washington and South Maple, which now features Pizzeria Orso, and Elevation Burger, among a number of other businesses.

It also may be a challenge for Lincoln to find a new tenant. Many businesses interested in the area cannot afford and do not need 20,000 square feet. So the ideal situation for them would be to find a replacement grocery, such as a Trader Joe’s or Mom’s Organic Market.

Two Armed Robberies On West Broad

May 11, 2016 by · 5 Comments 

May 11, 2016

Falls Church City Police are looking for a suspect who robbed the Wells Fargo Bank at 1000 West Broad Street at about 3:50 p.m. Wednesday. The robber implied he had a weapon, but no injuries were reported from any employees or customers. The suspect is described as a middle eastern male with a beard, eyeglasses, red baseball hat, and brown trench coat, about 5′ 10″ tall, and approximately 25-30 years of age.

More information will be released as it becomes available.

There also was an armed robbery a few blocks away May 6. In that incident, a man staying at the Stratford Motor Lodge, 300 W. Broad St., was robbed of his wallet outside the motel by three masked men with handguns. They fled on foot, and the victim was not harmed.

All three suspects wore blue bandanas covering their faces, black t-shirts and jeans. One is described as a white or Hispanic male in his 20s, about 5’6” with dark hair; the second is described as a black male in his 20s, about 5’10”; the third is described as a black male in his 20s, about 5’11”.

Anyone with information on either case is asked to call Falls Church City Police at 703-248-5053.

ANALYSIS: Council Poised to Push Back on Schools’ Budget Request

April 25, 2016 by · 7 Comments 

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
April 25, 2016

For many years, the song remained the same: Residents concerned about Falls Church City’s property tax rate complained that the City Council wasn’t pushing back enough against school funding requests, and instead gave school officials whatever they wanted.

But that appears poised to change tonight, when the Council is expected to approve a budget that gives the schools $912,000 less than they have asked for.

They aren’t doing that for fun, of course; they are doing it because a majority of the Council has decided they want to keep the property tax rate flat with last year and not raise it by any amount, not even the 2.5 cents proposed in City Manager Wyatt Shields’ initial budget proposal, which is required by law to include the schools’ request without any reductions.

The Council’s stiffer spine seems to have caught school officials by surprise. They are lamenting the impact they say it will have on the schools, and school advocates, including City Councilor Marybeth Connelly and School Board Chair Justin Castillo, have been making calls, sending out emails, and writing pieces encouraging the Council to reconsider.

It’s not a wholesale change. It appears that there are four votes for giving the schools less than they want, and either two or three for accepting the school budget proposal as requested. That could reflect a similar divide among City residents, although it’s difficult to say for sure.

Councilor Phil Duncan is one of the four poised to vote for the budget giving the schools less than they want. Mr. Duncan has never been shy about his desire to hold the tax rate as low as possible, but in the past he has advocated for using some of the City’s reserve fund as one way to hold the rate down. He seems more outspoken this year about the need for school officials to contribute to fiscal discipline.

In an interview ahead of tonight’s vote, Mr. Duncan said he wants school officials to really scrub their budget and see if they can find savings that don’t impact teacher pay or instructional quality. It’s his view that they have not tried hard enough to do so.

“I think the schools would benefit from increasing the public’s confidence…by really sitting down and going line by line through the budget,” he said.

He acknowledges that such an endeavor is hard work, but he thinks residents would like to see that the schools have made that effort.

He further says that if advocates believe there’s no way to maintain the quality of the schools, including the City’s signature small class sizes, in the budget as proposed, future school board candidates, as well as City Council candidates, should expressly run on a platform of increasing taxes in future elections. The school board doesn’t have any control over tax rates, but if board candidates advocating higher taxes were to win, it certainly could indicate that there is resident support for such a plan.

Mr. Duncan appears poised to be joined by councilors Letty Hardi, Mayor David Tarter, and Dan Sze in support of the budget that reduces the schools’ request.

The position of Ms. Hardi, who is in her first term on the Council, may also surprise some. She ran for Council last fall highlighting her commitment to the schools, and her campaign literature mentioned her three children, which gave the impression that she had a very personal interest in the issue.

But, she acknowledges that being on the Council, and representing the whole City, has had an impact on her views.

“However, after diving into both (City and School) budgets, the CIP (capital improvement projects), and future budget years wearing my new hat, my responsibility is to the entire City – not just schools – and for the long term. That means living within our means now, remembering that we are a little city, and challenging what we we can and cannot afford,” Ms. Hardi wrote on her blog.

It is possible that many residents agree. They may want excellent schools, but also fiscal restraint. Time will tell if the Council is striking the right balance.

Fundraiser for Annual GMHS Graduation Party Set for Saturday

April 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Special to the Falls Church Times
April 20, 2016

For the 27th year, the George Mason High School All Night Grad Celebration is being planned for this year’s seniors. To help defray the cost, organizers are holding a fundraiser Saturday from 3 to 6 pm at Clare & Don’s Beach Shack on North Washington Street.

Called the Byrd Feeder after Mason Principal Ty Byrd, the fundraiser will feature a silent auction hosted by Mr. Byrd. It’s an event for the entire GMHS parent community, featuring auction items donated by GMHS families, local organizations, and other businesses. The Byrd Feeder netted more than $6,000 last year.

The all-night party, known as the ANGC, had its start 27 years ago, when GMHS parents, concerned about the risks of alcohol, drugs, and unsafe driving at traditional “grad night” celebrations, decided to offer new graduates a fun, safe alternative.

Now a cherished tradition with participation rates averaging more than 90 percent over the last several years, ANGC boasts a certain mystique that keeps the kids engaged and eager to sign up year after year. Outgoing seniors share stories of the activities and entertainment with underclass students but are asked to keep mum on certain aspects in order for each class to enjoy some surprises.

For virtually all GMHS grads, the ANGC is exactly how they want to celebrate the milestone of high school graduation. And in the 27 years ANGC has been held, the Falls Church City community has not experienced a single accident or fatality on graduation night.

Upon their return to GMHS after the graduation ceremony at DAR Constitution Hall on June 22, at 11:15 p.m. the new graduates will reconvene inside GMHS to party the night (and morning) away with their classmates. While some schools that host all-night grad parties allow non-graduate guests, at GMHS the focus for the new grads is enjoying their last hours together as a unified class.

This year’s ANGC will feature entertainment by an illusionist, casino games and unique attractions, plus many chances to collect raffle tickets toward fabulous door prizes, many of which have been donated by the local business community. At 5 a.m. on June 23, the graduates will leave GMHS for the very last time as a class – and most will head right home for a well-deserved nap. (GMHS opens as usual shortly afterward for the arrival of faculty, staff and underclass students.)

An event of ANGC’s scale comes at a high price. Despite an all-volunteer team of parent organizers contributing their time and talent, significant cash outlays are required in order to secure quality entertainment, keep hundreds of active grads nourished and hydrated for six hours of partying, and to ensure top-notch safety and security from start to finish. To that end, ANGC aggressively fundraisers throughout the school year, starting with a letter mailed to GMHS families in the fall. Committee members reach out to local business for corporate sponsorships and prize donations, publicize restaurant fundraisers, host at-home special events, and keep up the buzz on social media and FCCPS communications.

For almost a year, George Mason High School parent Julie Donnelly has been in charge of planning this year’s event. It requires coordination of food, entertainment and prizes, as well as the less-glamorous but vital elements of security, insurance and fire safety. Donnelly supports and cheerleads dozens of team members tasked with securing cash donations and items to be auctioned off in support of the event, dedicated fundraising events, prize collection, publicity, decorating, volunteer coordination and bookkeeping.

But here’s the kicker: Mrs. Donnelly’s own kids can’t attend this event – at least not this year. Her kids, Maeve and Erik Donnelly, will have their chances to attend the ANGC in 2017 and 2020, but their mom has devoted hundreds of hours, and counting, to planning the event of a lifetime for this year’s seniors only. Due to the massive scope of the event as well as the flurry of activities parents of graduates must manage, the chair of ANGC is traditionally the parent of an underclass student, and it’s a role Donnelly has performed with efficiency, grace, good humor and endless patience.

“The ANGC is an all-year commitment, but after having been involved as a committee member last year and seeing the result of our work, I was happy to take on the chair position and work with parents who feel as strongly as I do about the importance of providing this kind of event,” Donnelly says. “It’s exciting and rewarding to work with the talented ANGC team to organize a fun, memorable and safe ANGC – one that we hope all of our seniors will always remember.”

GMHS parents are encouraged to volunteer, and anyone may donate to the cause. For more information, click here: http://www.georgemasonhighptsa.org/all-night-grad.html

City Manager Proposes Budget With Real Estate and Personal Property Tax Increases

March 15, 2016 by · 2 Comments 

March 15, 2016

City Manager Wyatt Shields on Monday night proposed a Fiscal Year 2017 budget of $87 million, an increase of 5.1 percent over the previous fiscal year. The proposed budget provides for a 1.2 percent ($438,421) increase in general government operating expenditures and a 5.4 percent ($2,065,130) increase in local funding for public schools, as requested by the School Board and required by City ordinance.

Three tax increases are proposed by the City Manager to meet needs and requirements set forth in the budget. A 2.5 cent increase in the real estate tax – from $1.315 to $1.34 per $100 of assessed value – is proposed to meet the school funding request. Taxes for the median home value of $647,800 would increase $163.

Mr. Shields also proposed a 16 cent increase on the personal property tax – from $4.84 to $5 per $100 of assessed value – and a 10 cent increase on the cigarette tax – from 75 cents to 85 cents per pack – to help offset a $627,112 increase in Metro funding required of local governments. The increase in the personal property tax would mean an additional $27 for the average car tax bill in the City.

The Capital Improvements Program (CIP) contains significant projects this year and for the subsequent four year planning period. The five year total is $128 million, and includes the high school and middle school; improvements to Big Chimney Park, Cherry Hill Park and Herman Stream Valley Park; and upgrades to Fire Station 6. Two new projects are the downtown West Broad Street Plaza and funding for land acquisition. Transportation projects totaling about $6 million are largely grant funded, and include Oak Street and Sherrow Avenue bridge repairs, Roosevelt Boulevard roadbed reconstruction, intersection improvements, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

The Council will adopt a final budget on April 25 after three public hearings and two town hall meetings. The 2017 fiscal year runs from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Documents, presentations and video are posted or will be posted to the City’s website, www.fallschurchva.gov/Budget and made available at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library. The schedule of budget meetings and public hearings is also available on the website.

An Open House and Town Hall will take place this Saturday, March 19, at 10 a.m. in the Community Center. At the event, community members can meet with department directors, project managers and school representatives to ask questions about budget priorities. There will be presentations and a question and answer session. The City Council and School Board members will be in attendance to hear public comment and answer questions.

A second Town Hall will take place on April 9 at 10 a.m. in the Community Center with a budget presentation and opportunities for questions and answers and public comment.

Public comment also is open at the City Council’s regular meetings, including March 28, April 11 and April 25. The City Council’s work sessions do not allow for public comment, but are open to the public: March 21, April 4 and April 18.

Additionally, public comments and questions may be sent via email to budget@fallschurchva.gov.

Dream Season Ends in Semis for Mason Boys’ Hoops

March 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
March 11, 2016

The George Mason High School Boys Basketball team was living the dream. Winners of its first 29 games this season, including a last second, 74-72, thriller earlier this week, they were poised for an unbelievable 30th straight victory against zero losses as they headed to Richmond.

But their hopes for a state championship were dashed in the semifinal round of the playoffs by the Greensville County Eagles, who came from behind in overtime to end Mason’s stunning season Friday, 66-63.

Had they won, Mason would have played for all the marbles Saturday afternoon at 4 pm. Instead, they’ll head back north while Greensville County takes the place they wanted. Greensville is a rural county near the North Carolina border.

It wasn’t like they didn’t give it their best shot. Trailing 30-23 at the half, the Mason boys battled back and took a 55-51 lead in the fourth quarter, only to see Greensville tie it up shortly thereafter. Greensville then scored again to take a 57-55 lead late, but Mason’s Elliot Mercado, a senior and the team’s second leading scorer, was fouled with 27 seconds left.

Mr. Mercado may never have been in such a pressure-packed situation as this. The game and the season were on the line. Literally. But he nailed both free throws, making it look like he’d done it before. And the two teams headed for overtime.

Mason scored first in the overtime and even opened up what seemed like an insurmountable, 6 point lead at 63-57 halfway through the extra period. But this time, it was Greensville that showed resolve, digging deep and coming back, even without their two best scorers, who had fouled out. They tied the game at 63, and then hit a huge three point shot with just seconds remaining. A desperation three by Mason missed as time expired, and their season abruptly ended with a record of 29-1.

Mason Boosters Annual Mulch Sale Underway

March 10, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

March 10, 2016

It certainly has been spring-like the last several days, and that reminds us that the annual George Mason High School Athletic Boosters Association spring mulch sale is underway.

For the 23rd year, student athletes will donate their time to load and deliver mulch to homes throughout Falls Church. This is the Athletic Boosters’ largest fundraiser, and proceeds are used to provide student scholarships, end-of-season and Hall of Fame banquets, banners that hang in the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School gym, as well as big ticket items, including the baseball/softball field lights and equipment purchases.

The high quality, shredded hard-bark mulch comes in three-cubic-foot bags, which sell for $5.00 each. Those interested can purchase mulch online at the MasonAthletics.org Fan Shop. Order forms also are available at the Community Center, Mary Riley Styles Public Library, and all Falls Church City Public Schools offices.

When you order, be sure to note where you want the mulch placed on delivery day. The deadline for orders is March 22. Deliveries will be made on Saturday, April 2.

For more information, contact: Surbhi Ashton, ashton4x@yahoo.com.

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