Council, Planning Commission Continue Gateway Discussion

Falls Church Times Staff

October 28, 2010

Lacking a quorum for a regular meeting, the Falls Church City Council held a work session with members of the Planning Commission last Monday evening during which they discussed voluntary concessions for the 200 unit Gateway project (500-520 N. Washington St.).  Project developer Akridge, which is seeking rezoning and two special exceptions for the site, is proposing 10 concessions.  The City officials and staff reviewed each draft proposal in conjunction with Akridge’s Mike Gill.

Affordable Housing  –  The developer’s contribution will be 8 affordable dwelling units (ADUs), $1.3 million in cash, or a combination of the two.  The proposed value of the individual ADUs would be $162,500 if the City were to select a mix of units and cash.

Mayor Nader Baroukh noted that clarification was needed as to how many of the ADUs would be either one bedroom or two bedroom.   Planning Commission chairman John Lawrence advised that it was the City’s option as to the mix.  Mr. Gill said that the projected ADU mix would follow that of the project, which is 70% studio/one bedrooms and 30% two bedrooms. 

If rented, the rents for ADUs would be based on 60% of the HUD median income as determined by the Housing Commission for the next 15 years.   If sold, the developer would agree to sales prices of $187,410 for one bedrooms and $221,173 for two bedrooms in accordance with the 80% HUD median income.

Pedestrian Oriented Design Elements  –  Akridge will provide streetscape improvements along a dedicated 20 feet right-of-way including brick sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, refuse and recycling receptacles, stormwater management, street furniture, utility undergrounding, and other features set forth in the adopted N. Washington streetscape plan.  The mayor asked the Commission to review the details of the developer’s proposal to assure sufficient pedestrian width.  Commissioner Melissa Teates advised that the 20 feet width had been “really vetted out.”   

Transportation Improvements  –  Gresham Place will be widened to two lanes to facilitate right turns.  After the issuance of building permits the developer will provide a $150,000 contribution to upgrade the traffic signal at Gresham and N. Washington and to improve stream and stream bank on Four Mile Run.  Contingent on VDOT approval, Akridge will provide a raised median running along the centerline of N. Washington from Gresham to E.  Jefferson St.  Mr. Gill noted that this was a City request.  The developer also will effect various repairs and improvements to Gresham and E. Jefferson at the end of construction.

Mr. Lawrence referenced the issue of two parking spaces on Gresham.  City manager Wyatt Shields advised that they were not currently part of the concession and that the issue was still to be discussed between the City and the Gresham HOA.

The mayor noted that there previously had been a contribution assigned to the now terminated GEORGE bus system and suggested that the developer consider a cash proffer for transportation improvements, ideally toward the west gateway/entrance to the Metro station.   Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry concurred and suggested other developers along N. Washington be encouraged to offer similar support.  

Stream Improvements  –  In order to reduce the pollutant load on the adjacent Four Mile Run the developer will remove any contaminated soil from the site and provide stormwater management which is currently lacking.  The office building will have a green roof and the residential building will utilize cisterns.   Mr. Shields stated that all the recent mixed-use projects have provided improved stormwater management but that the concessions provided here “raised the bar” even higher. 

Underground Parking  –  Officials expressed strong interest in keeping the commercial part of the garage open to public access after business hours. 

School Capital Cost Contribution  –  The developer will offer $6,746 for each sale condominium unit and $7,511 for each rental apartment unit.  Mr. Shields stated that payments should be made at issuance of certificate of occupancy, rather than via installments.  The mayor recommended studying whether there should be adjustments in the model used to derive these figures.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Criteria  –  Akridge agrees to a design that will enable the office building to receive LEED Silver status for the office building and LEED certified for the residential building.  This would be guaranteed by a performance bond as LEED certification isn’t achieved until two or three years after project completion.   Mr. Shields said the developer has resisted attempting to achieve LEED Gold for the office building or LEED Silver for the residential.  Mr. Gill stated that there are very few structures achieving these levels of certification in Virginia.  

Phasing  –  This assures that no certificate of occupancy (CO) for residential units will be issued until the CO for the office building has been issued by the City.  The mayor asked the City attorney to see if there was a way to “shore up” the language of this concession and that on residential ownership structure.  

Residential Unit Ownership  –  Each unit will be taxed as a separate lot of real estate.   The developer and future condo unit owners will have the right to rent each unit.  Mr. Shields noted that the value of rental versus condominium properties can ebb and flow over time and that there was no guarantee that condos would always achieve a higher value.

Street Level Retail Uses  –  Akridge agrees to reserve 4,000 gross square feet in the office building and 2,000 gross square feet in the residential building for retail and service uses.   CommissionerTeates felt the frontage space should be dedicated to retail, with service space off to the side.  Commissioners Lawrence and Hockenberry expressed concern about the developer’s listing of prospective uses for the space.   Mayor Baroukh agreed that the uses need to be better defined and encouraged the Commission and City planning staff to provide guidance to the Council.

The project’s request for special exceptions will need a resolution which will require one Council reading.  The zoning change application will require an ordinance which will involve two readings.   The mayor observed that the earliest date of a first reading would be November 8, but said he did  not want to have a second reading during the holidays.  Mr. Lawrence advised that the Commission could hold a project work session on November 15 and a public hearing on December 6.      

Councilwoman Johannah Barry reiterated her view that some of the concerns of E. Jefferson St. residents had not been satisfactorily resolved.  She advised that the E. Jefferson neighborhood association will be meeting with Mr. Gill in the next couple of weeks. 

Video of the meeting is available on the City website.


October 28, 2010 


4 Responses to “Council, Planning Commission Continue Gateway Discussion”

  1. J Bowman (City of Falls Church) on October 28th, 2010 1:27 pm

    Thanks for the great summary. Somehow, even tho I am a member of the Gresham Place Homeowners Association, I missed the announcement for this meeting!

  2. Frank Simpson on October 28th, 2010 4:05 pm

    How is it that the Jefferson Avenue residents have not yet had their concerns heard so late in the process? What are those concerns?

  3. Steve Sprague (City of Falls Church) on October 28th, 2010 7:51 pm

    I’m puzzled over the reference to “[t]he developer and future condo unit owners will have the right to rent each unit.” It is very difficult to get financing for a condo if the building allows a large number of of units to be sold that are not owner-occupied.

  4. J Bowman (City of Falls Church) on October 31st, 2010 12:05 pm

    From the current discussions, it is extremely difficult for builders to get financing for condos. The planned apartment/rental buildings (according to our Planning Department and several Planning Commissioners) will meet the desire of the City to provide small rentals.

    The nearby homeowners are concerned about the builder’s request for a special exception that allows for reduced parking spaces. And then, the plan to change the present residential street parking restrictions. The thought is that commercial businesses are going to need parking and prefer street parking.

    The Arlington businesses on Westmoreland (next street) use the designated limited parking spaces in the WestLee garage or the metered parking on the street. Unfortunately, several businesses have already closed.

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