ANALYSIS: Planning Commission Rejects Mason Row, But Impact Unclear

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 23, 2015

The controversial Mason Row project proposed for Broad & West streets was rejected by the City’s Planning Commission on a 3-3 vote last week, but days later it remains unclear what the vote’s impact will be.

That’s because there remain several possibilities going forward, and the developers have not publicly indicated how they plan to proceed — or if they plan to proceed.

The tie vote Nov. 16 was better for Mason Row than expected; going in, it was well known that Commissioners were heavily opposed, and the Times was told there might be only one vote in favor of it.

But the fact remains that even the 3-3 vote is a big setback for the project; it can only be approved by the City Council now by a 5-2 supermajority. Even a 4-3 majority is not sufficient after last week’s Planning Commission rejection.

So developer Spectrum Properties has three options at this juncture. They could:

– proceed and hope they can get five votes;
– withdraw and resubmit their proposal with changes;
– decide the project will never be approved and walk away.

Given all the time and money they’ve already spent on the project, it doesn’t seem likely that they would just throw up their hands in disgust, no matter how frustrated they may be with the situation.

That leaves the options of forging ahead and hoping to get five votes, an outcome which seems unlikely. That said, the Council that will be seated in January is expected to be a bit more favorably predisposed to such projects, as newcomer Letty Hardi replaces Nader Baroukh, who has been a tough critic of Mason Row. As a result, if a City Council vote is delayed until January, it does improve the project’s prospects somewhat, but it would by no means be certain to be approved.

If they withdraw and resubmit their proposal, they would have to go back through the entire process again, beginning with the Council’s first reading. That’s not the end of the world for them, but it does delay the project, which will cost them yet more time and money.

Still, Planning Commission Chairman Rob Meeks, who voted against the project, told the Times he expects to see it come back in a different form.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to still see an improved version back to us again,” Mr. Meeks said. “I’m not opposed to development on that site, and I’m hoping this (the rejection) is the catalyst to get this project where we want it to go.”

The concerns that caused the Planning Commission to reject the proposal were really the same ones that have made the project controversial to begin with: height and density.

The three who voted against it wanted to see a project with lower heights on the Grove/Park side of the project, and less residential density. The project still has 340 apartments, a number that has been basically unchanged through the entire process, even though many City officials have been critical of that level of density since the project was unveiled more than two years ago.

The developers have not reduced the number of apartments in the face of that criticism because they have said they need that many to get bank financing for the project.

Update, November 25:

It seems evident that the developers aren’t planning to withdraw. They introduced some new changes this week, just after this story was published, that would reduce the number of apartments from 340 to 322 and that would reduce the height of the project by about 10 feet near the West/Grove intersection.

November 23, 2015 


2 Responses to “ANALYSIS: Planning Commission Rejects Mason Row, But Impact Unclear”

  1. Kevin Falls Church on November 24th, 2015 4:46 pm

    I wasn’t expecting that….

  2. TFC on November 25th, 2015 1:10 pm

    I think they have too much time and money invested in the proposal to take their collective dollies and dishes and go home.

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