By STAN FENDLEY
Falls Church Times Staff
February 5, 2010
A member of the Falls Church Economic Development Authority challenged the wisdom of the proposed affordable housing project, “The Wilden,” Tuesday night, indicating that the City could gain over $1 million a year with a different approach.
At the organization’s monthly meeting EDA member Mike Novotny presented a 15-slide presentation considering alternative uses of The Wilden property at 350 South Washington Street, along with adjacent properties at 360 and 370 South Washington Street. Earlier this week, City officials disclosed that the new owner of 360 South Washington, Bob Young of McLean-based Jefferson One LLC, intends to construct a new commercial building in a consolidated site plan with The Wilden. The Wilden property is owned by the Falls Church Housing Corporation, which will team with Boston-based The Community Builders to construct the affordable housing project. Falls Church Housing Corporation is seeking a $2 million 15-year loan from Falls Church taxpayers to support The Wilden. City officials indicate that Young has discussed the possibility of the City renting space in his new building.
Novotny’s presentation estimates that together 350, 360 and 370 South Washington Street currently bring revenue of approximately $59,000 a year to the City, which could grow to approximately $95,000 a year as a result of the coordinated effort between Young and The Wilden partners. Alternative scenarios, Novotny says, could raise as much as $1.3 million a year for Falls Church coffers based on modeling used by the City.
Falls Church Housing Corporation CEO Carol Jackson was present at the EDA meeting and subsequently offered to host a forum for Novotny to present his ideas to “a diverse group of community stakeholders.”
The Falls Church Times conducted the following interview with Novotny Wednesday concerning his presentation.
FCT: Why did you present this alternative analysis?
Novotny: The City Council asked the Economic Development Authority to review and make recommendations on the special exception proposed for the Wilden project. In response I tried looking at the broader economic impact by comparing the project with alternatives that are more consistent with the City’s future land use plans.
FCT: Why do your alternative schemes include office and retail uses but no residential?
Novotny: First, the Wilden parcel is zoned for business use, and the City’s Comprehensive Plan calls for business use throughout that area. In fact, this portion of the City is one of only three main areas that are proposed for significant amounts of business use. The other two are in the West End near West Falls Church Metro station and the East End near Seven Corners.
Second, attracting high-quality office and retail development on a scale that befits our community would do a lot of good for our City. These uses create significant new tax revenue while not burdening our schools or City services.
Third, in the big picture of our City’s finances, 75% of our real estate tax revenue comes from residential and 25% from commercial. We are not diversified with commercial development, so our residents pay an excessive portion of our overall real estate taxes as a result.
Consider that in Arlington 15% of the land pays for 50% of the taxes. They are using their commercial areas wisely and have achieved a better balance of commercial uses to residential.
To move even to a 70% residential/30% commercial ratio, we would need to add about one million square feet of commercial space – about ten new office buildings of 5-stories each. And to get to a 65% residential/35% commercial ratio, we would need two million square feet – about twenty buildings.
That’s a significant amount of new commercial space in a City that’s only 2.2 square miles, and since we only have a few areas that are really suitable for commercial development, we would be smart to plan them really well and encourage that type of use.
FCT: Why do you think we could attract Class A offices to that area?
Novotny: You don’t have to look far outside of the City to find great examples of other jurisdictions that have planned specific commercial areas, put the right incentives in place, and successfully attracted class A commercial development. Falls Church is a well-located and desirable place, and I believe we can use similar strategies to attract high-quality development.
FCT: What would it take for the city to accomplish the kind of development there that you envision?
Novotny: We need to start with very detailed long range planning. I’ll quote the Columbia Pike Initiative main page to show the process they used:
Through the course of numerous meetings with the community in 2000 and 2001, a long-range vision and plan was established that focused on economic development, land use and zoning, urban design, transportation and public infrastructure initiatives, as well as existing and future open space and recreational needs. The development of the resulting two-volume Columbia Pike Initiative – A Revitalization Plan, adopted in March 2002, was a cooperative effort between County staff, the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) and area residents, business and property owners.
To plan areas like the South Washington Corridor in a more comprehensive way and to attract high-quality development, we need to follow a planning process like the one used for Columbia Pike. The alternative is keep bumping along and deciding our future on a project-by-project basis. Occasionally we’ll get lucky and get a good development project, but more often we’ll be disappointed with the outcome.
FCT: With the office market down why would your proposal make sense?
Novotny: Now is the best time to plan while the market is down. Real estate is cyclical, when the market turns back we need to be ready.
Novotny finished the interview offering to meet with other key City decision makers to exchange ideas about the South Washington Street area.
Novotny’s complete presentation appears below, followed by reactions from EDA members Bob Butchko, Phil Duncan, and Andy Rankin, as well as FCHC CEO Carol Jackson and developer Bob Young.
REACTION TO NOVOTNY PRESENTATION
Bob Butchko, EDA Member:
Mike’s aggressive “development zone approach” is completely refreshing and spot on. It has worked well in many jurisdictions. most notably, Arlington County, a extraordinary success story.
This approach gives the city a chance to take the bull by the horns, and reach out to developers with a plan not, just a prayer.
Phil Duncan, EDA Member:
I really appreciated the effort Mike put into his presentation at EDA last night. It stimulated the sharing of some very useful information about the challenges the City has faced through its history in accomplishing economic revitalization.
One thing Mike said that stood out to me is that the City’s economic viability hinges on a very aggressive campaign to encourage new, revenue-generating development (including 2 million square feet of office space, I believe he said).
To my mind, redevelopment on this scale is more likely to be proposed by developers, and would more likely be supported by the citizenry, if we encourage it to occur on the City’s west and east ends, on the land in the City that is closest to the East and West Falls Church Metro stations and I-66 access. I think it would be very valuable for Mike to apply his “visioning” approach to the City’s perimeters, so citizens could begin to see how we could generate significantly more tax revenues by capitalizing on our proximity to Metro & I-66, while still preserving at the heart of Falls Church the “small town” feel that is so widely cherished.
Listening last night to the various points of view, which were consistent with what I’ve heard many times in my 25 years as a City resident, I wondered if we might attract more developer interest in, and citizen support for, revitalization of the City Center area if we focused there on uses of what I’d call a civic nature — government services, social outreach (to elderly, youth, workforce, etc.), indoor and outdoor community gathering spaces, educational and recreational facilities, arts/culture/heritage venues and amenities, and neighborhood retail/restaurant/services. These are the kind of uses that can help Falls Church retain the special sense of place that so many hold dear.
Andy Rankin, EDA Member:
From an EDA perspective I worry about using land in that area for the Wilden project – Mike’s analysis shows why we need to be careful about how the limited commercial areas in the City are used. If the potential problems for the Wilden encourage Bob Young to put a small office building on the other lot then that’s a good thing – although if he mostly rents it to the City then that’s not a great thing (if the City needs office space, there is already some available for rent). Bob’s office building would be a ton better than having the Wilden stuck next to the existing 360 building (although it seems like such an arrangement might not ever have gotten through), but ultimately it will do little to encourage additional redevelopment in that area.
It didn’t get discussed in the meeting too much but apparently the owner of 370 has no intention of selling/redeveloping – which isn’t good. If the City put incentives in place to try and consolidate the lots on that block you could eventually get to the point where the economics would sway 370 to sell (everyone has a price). However, with the Wilden and a Bob Young building next door it sounds like 370 will sit there forever. It will be hard for anyone to justify buying it for a price that would sway the current owner, and the current owner says he’s staying put. I think that would be too bad – those buildings do not benefit the City aesthetically or economically.
From a non-EDA perspective (i.e. my personal point of view) I think it’s too bad that the FCHC has been trying to get stand alone buildings built instead of doing more to get affordable units included with the mixed use developments. I haven’t been around long enough to know the history, and obviously it’s easy for me to say this now – after the recent projects in the City have been completed – but I really think it would be better for the City and the affordable housing residents if they could be integrated and not concentrated. Ultimately, I think City residents should pay a similar amount in taxes dedicated to affordable housing as people in Fairfax County and Arlington County do – but that might mean supporting affordable housing initiatives in those jurisdictions where they might have more appropriate spaces for dedicated buildings (although I still think it’s a bad approach).
Comment of Carol Jackson, CEO, Falls Church Housing Corporation
I would like to thank Mr. Novotny, Rick Goff and the EDA for giving us all some meaty food for consideration as we contemplate the bigger economic development picture and decisions made to foster our city as a truly sustainable community for the future.
There have been many discussions and plans put forward in pursuit of this topic during the 32 years my family has lived in Falls Church. There is always room for one more, and I think we should make a holistic effort to chew on this as soon as possible for the sake of our city’s land owners and citizens and decision-makers.
To that end, Falls Church Housing is interested in hosting an informal forum where Mr. Novotny will be invited to present his ideas to a diverse group of community stakeholders. I make note of Phil Duncan’s response to you today as another good idea that deserves vetting in the same context.
Personally, I am a progressive who has always wanted our community to embrace change and the decisions that make sense in context with our long term community values.
Professionally, I represent an organization whose mission is to serve the City’s goals for providing and sustaining a continuum of housing opportunities for those who live, work and want to retire in their community no matter their income nor life stage. The FCHC tag line is “defending our City’s historic strength; preserving affordable housing choices”. Until this community instructs us differently, we are dedicated to that challenging mission and the people we serve. In the meantime, the joint venture partners proposing The Wilden believe that our project as now proposed will serve as a catalyst for additional redevelopment in an area that has seen lots of effort but little results.
Bob Young, developer, Jefferson One LLC, and new owner of the property at 360 S. Washington Street
I admire the thought that Mike has put into this topic because, as we all know, it is critical to our Little City’s future. Unfortunately, Mike does not (like many others) have the benefit of knowing the history of development in the City, especially for the last decade or so during which I have been involved. While I cannot tackle providing a detailed history here, I just want to point out that I got the first major project approved in the City for perhaps 20 years or so in July, 2000. That was a 120,000 sq. ft. office building on the land now occupied by the Spectrum. I note that the City agreed at that time to invest $1.5million in the parking garage of that proposed building to (hopefully) make it feasible. I sold the land to Akridge which is what brought them to the City in the first place. As big and sophisticated as they are combined with the fact that we were at the peak of the market for that cycle, they still were unable to prelease any of the space and eventually abandoned the project.
The point here is that I simply do not understand why anyone would think that anything has changed since then, except for the worse. That certainly is the case for the office market. There is no question in my mind that millions of square feet of new office space would be great for the City. Unfortunately, I don’t see that ever happening—at least not for the next 20 years or so. The demand by large (over 20 or 25 thousand square foot) users for office space in the City is virtually nil and always has been, notwithstanding the unique cases of Tax Analysts and Kaiser. If anyone can find such users, I will be the first to stand in line to build buildings for them. I just do not see it happening and analyses that “prove” that high (2.5) density office buildings are “the way to go” I’m afraid rather miss the point. We need to attract the development we can rather than always holding what might be but virtually never is.
I believe in this circumstance that the proposed FCHC/TCB project is a good one to help kick off redevelopment of that part of the City and I hope to be able to develop a modest 100% office building concurrently but even that is uncertain at this time. Our project would be a 1.0 FAR, not 1.5 or 2.5. That’s just what might be feasible. I would love to talk to anybody who can show me how to prudently build a 2.5 FAR instead.
Finally, I want to point out that my company is in the Falls Church office and retail market all day, every day. That often includes weekends. I believe we have a good sense of the market. And, as a result, we believe that the City MUST attract mixed use projects to survive, at least for the next decade or two. It has now been proven that they do not flood the schools with new kids, they provide a significant net income benefit to the City and they bring absolutely needed new professional residents to the City. People wonder why we have so much vacant retail space. The answer is, among other factors, that we do not have the population to support all the new goods and services our citizens would like to see in the City.
There are many more points to make and hope to be able to continue to contribute to what I believe is an important and robust community discussion that I hope we can bring to a conclusion soon.
Additional information regarding the City’s consideration of The Wilden proposal is available here. The City Council and Planning Commission will schedule meetings to consider the project over the next few weeks.
February 5, 2010
In my more than eight months as a Falls Church Times staffer I’ve written about an endless number of cuisines. But I haven’t covered a Thai restaurant yet, which is odd, because I ‘m addicted to Thai food. In my mind, no cuisine on Earth can match Thai in terms of balance and contrast. A great Thai meal hits more points on your palate than you thought were there.
Unfortunately, I haven’t encountered a place in the City of Falls Church that has me itching to go back. My recent meals at Sweet Rice and Pilin Thai were okay at best—definitely nothing to write home about. I would never point a City resident towards them if they were looking for spicy, flavorful, knock-your-socks-off Thai food.
Instead, I would tell them to get in their car and head a few miles down Route 7 to Rabieng, a hard-to-see spot in the Culmore section of Falls Church. Though Rabieng has its flaws, most things I’ve had there are a notch above the competition. Foods marked with a chili pepper or two on the menu are actually spicy. Coconut milk-fortified curries are rich and complex, not watery and bland like so many other restaurant versions. And, perhaps best of all, in an age when every Thai restaurant seems to have the same boring menu, Rabieng offers signature creations and regional dishes that set it apart.
The restaurant has been around since the mid-1990s, making it a veteran in the Thai circuit. It’s actually an off-shoot of the fine dining Thai palace Duangrat’s, which opened in 1987 as the first “fancy” Thai restaurant in the region and still sits right around the corner. But Rabieng is more casual and more affordable, with many of the same menu items for a few bucks cheaper. If you go all out for a dinner the most you’ll spend, after tax and tip, is 25 bucks a person. I’ve never even ventured over to its bigger sister for that reason (though I recently learned of a $9.95 lunch special at Duangrat’s, so that will soon change).
A few of the dishes I’ve enjoyed at Rabieng over the years are borderline transcendent.
One is the panang curry with slow-cooked dark meat chicken. Now, this is a Thai restaurant staple, usually described as “insert protein here” with coconut and peanut curry sauce. Rabieng’s rendition is spicier than most, luscious with coconut milk, and so good that you’ll be thinking of ways to bring it up in conversations with friends and complete strangers (well, at least that’s what I do).
Just as good is the roast pork in a red curry sauce with pineapples, tomatoes, and rambutans, which usually appears as a special. The dish is a riff on a Thai classic generally made with roast duck, but Rabieng’s uber-tender slivers of pork are a great stand-in. Even so, the meat takes a back seat to the dreamy red curry sauce, which is silky with coconut milk goodness and spicy-sweet. It’s a textbook example of how complex a red curry can be, somehow harmonizing shrimp paste, chilies, lemongrass, shallots, cilantro roots, and a host of other ingredients. The best bites are the ones with a little pork, a little rice, and an inordinate amount of sauce.
Beyond those two excellent curries there are plenty of other good bets. The wok roasted cashews, flecked with scallions and fiery Thai bird chilies, get better with every bite. Tidbit, a long-time signature appetizer, is another good way to start the meal. The dish consists of pressed fried rice cakes and an accompanying sauce of coconut, peanut, and pork, which sounds odd but tastes like a satay sauce gone wild. My only caution would be to avoid too many fried appetizers, as some of them—like, say, the spring rolls and fried calamari—taste mostly of the oil they were cooked in.
You’re better off getting one of the many salads, most of which are laced with a bracing chili and lime vinaigrette and have a similar hot and sour flavor profile. Or, if the weather is right, go for a soup. I delved into that section of the menu for the first time on my most recent visit and I’m sorry I waited so long. The Chicken Galangal soup, Rabieng’s take on the classic tom kha gai, is easily the most balanced one I’ve come across in a restaurant. Usually it’s too salty or too sour or too hot. At Rabieng it’s a pleasant balancing act of all three.
Stir-fries can be a weak point, especially if you order more generic-sounding options like something in “brown sauce” or “with ginger.” But anything with chili, garlic, and basil, the Thai Holy Trinity that first hooked me on the cuisine many years ago, is pretty tasty. There is also a respectable (but oily) rendition of drunken noodles, one of the hottest dishes in the Thai repertory.
Seafood is a gamble. At times it can be fresher than you’d expect from such a small, well-priced restaurant. But just as often it’s a little old and a little off-tasting. If you’re feeling lucky and want to chance it, go for the Southern Satoh Shrimp, a spicy, saucy stir-fry with just the slightest hint of funkiness from dried shrimp and sator beans, also known as “stink beans” because of their pungent flavor.
It’s rare that I recommend saving room for dessert at a restaurant. Most places are out to get you with over-priced, skimpy portions of rather blah sweets. But at Rabieng you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t save room for the Mango with Sticky Rice or the Coconut-Tapioca Pudding. Both are Thai standards done with uncommon finesse.
If you walk into Rabieng on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you’ll be handed a “Thai Dim Sum” menu, which sports a number of Thai-inspired small plates priced at about five bucks per plate. Though there are some great eats among the bunch, especially the incendiary chili-basil fried rice topped with a fried egg, I prefer the standard menu items. Still, the chance to gorge on three or four plates per person is a fun dining out excursion that I’d recommend to eaters that can never decide what to get.
The bottom line: Order strategically and a trip to Rabieng can be a memorable one. Just be sure to prepare yourself for some serious heat—most of the good stuff will leave a pleasant burning sensation on your tongue. Also be sure to drop by Duangrat’s Market next door before or after your meal. Though dingy and disorganized, the small grocer is a great source for Thai pantry items and the closest Thai market to the City of Falls Church. The selection of ready-made curry pastes (including the well-regarded Mae Ploy brand), Thai cooking implements, and eclectic Thai snacks is impressive. I find myself there quite often, usually so I have an excuse to swing by Rabieng.
Rabieng is located at 5892 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA, 22041. 703-671-4222
The Falls Church City Public Schools have already used their four “snow days.” What happens if the next dump of white stuff causes another cancellation?
According to schools communication director Karen Acar, students will sit in the classroom on holiday and professional days.
“If we should have another snow day, Feb. 15 [Presidents’ Day Holiday] would be the make-up day,” Acar said. “If we have two more snow days, the second make-up day would be Apr. 12, which is currently scheduled as a professional day.”
And if there are three or more? Falls Church parents can only tremble at the thought.
Calendar information regarding make-up days appears on the schools Web site. The warning at the bottom of the page advises parents of the planned make-up days and requests them to “Please avoid making travel/vacation plans on these days.”
Special to the Falls Church Times
February 4, 2010
Due to the forecast for a major winter storm beginning tomorrow, the City of Falls Church has declared a snow emergency effective at noon on Friday, Feb. 5. The Snow Emergency Declaration was issued by the Mayor at 4 p.m. today, pursuant to the City’s Emergency Operations Plan. The snow emergency is effective until further notice is issued, so citizens must remove parked cars from snow emergency routes by noon tomorrow. The no parking requirement will be enforced by the Falls Church Police Department on designated snow emergency routes (see list of streets below). These routes are essential transportation corridors for the City and must remain clear in order to allow snow removal crews to clear the roads. Citizens are also encouraged wherever possible to not park cars on any streets so snow plows have unheeded passage.
In preparation for this major snowfall, City crews are preparing final checks on snow removal equipment and supplies. City streets will be pre-treated before the snow begins to fall. Falls Church City crews will work around the clock to ensure streets are safe and passable. First priority for salting, sanding, and plowing will be snow emergency routes. Upon completion of clearing emergency routes, City crews will clear all other City streets. Because of the large amount of snow expected, it may take more than one day for crews to clear all City streets, and residents are urged to be patient.
Traffic signs identify which City streets are snow emergency routes. Vehicles abandoned or parked on snow emergency routes may be towed and fined. The traffic emergency routes are:
- Annandale Road from Hillwood Avenue to Broad Street
- Broad Street from Haycock Road to Seven Corners
- Columbia Street from Maple Avenue to Tuckahoe Street
- Great Falls Street from West Street to Washington Street
- Hillwood Avenue from Washington Street to Seven Corners
- Lincoln Avenue from West Street to Yucatan Street
- Little Falls Street from Broad Street to Great Falls Street
- Maple Avenue from Annandale Road to Columbia Street
- Park Avenue from West Street to Washington Street
- Roosevelt Street from Hillwood Avenue to Roosevelt Boulevard
- Washington Street from Graham Road to Westmoreland Street
- West Street from Abbott Lane to Great Falls Street
For more information regarding snow emergencies and closings visit www.fallschurchva.gov .
By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff
February 4, 2010
After meeting this morning in chambers with attorneys for the City of Falls Church and the Fairfax County Water Authority, Circuit Court Judge R. Terrence Ney issued an order continuing the trial until March 1 to permit the parties to pursue settlement discussions.
In his concluding remarks, Judge Ney expressed his hope that the parties can settle their differences and complemented both the plaintiff’s and the defendent’s legal teams on their skill and professionalism.
Under the terms of the continuance, several witnesses who may be involved in settlement negotiations will be exempted from discussing aspects of the case. They are Charles Murray, General Manager of Fairfax Water, his deputy Steven Edgemon, Falls Church Chief Financial Officer John Tuohy, and Robert Etris, the City’s Director of Public Utilities. Other persons under subpoena remain subject to the rules on witnesses.
If the proceedings resume in March, defense attorney Sandy Thomas will complete his cross-examination of Dr. John Mayo, who was on the stand yesterday afternoon.
A copy of Judge Ney’s order is available here.
A copy of Falls Church’s pre-trial bench brief is now available on the City website.
Mrs. Susan Merten, wife of Kenneth Merten, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, will give a first-hand account of the Haiti earthquake and
aftermath at the Thursday Feb. 4 Falls Church Rotary Club’s dinner meeting at 6:30 PM at the Harvest Moon Restaurant, 7260 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, VA 22046. Dinner costs $11 and visitors are welcome.
By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
Feb. 4, 2010
As you know, snow is in the forecast for tomorrow. At this point, based on the forecast information that we have, we anticipate opening school on time. However, because the forecast is changing hourly, the decision could change. We ask that you be prepared for an early dismissal or a school closing.
You can stay informed of updates in the following ways:
The school division Web site
Falls Church City Television (Cox 12, RCN 2, Verizon 35)
The FCCPS parent information line: (703) 248-5500 x 3113
Twitter.com (Follow FCCPS)
Local commercial television and radio stations
In addition, we will send a courtesy email to all FCCPS parents for whom we have email addresses. However, as we have advised in the past, many things can interfere with prompt email delivery. For that reason, it should be considered the least reliable source of information. If there is any question, please check one of the above-listed sources to ensure you have up-to-date information.