Mason Row Gets Another Push Forward; Election Could Be Key for Project

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 1, 2015

The fate of the controversial mixed use project known as Mason Row remains uncertain, but it took another step toward becoming reality last week when the Falls Church City Economic Development Authority (EDA) voted to recommend the City Council approve it.

That recommendation, in the form of a resolution, was by a 4-1 count with one abstention and is subject to developer Spectrum Development making some minor changes. But the explanations for their votes from Authority members indicated that Mason Row is enthusiastically endorsed by most of the group. Chairman Mike Novotny was the lone vote against; he said there were still too many loose ends for him to support the project at this moment in time, although it appeared his vote could change to favor the proposal with more work from the developer.

The Authority’s recommendation is non-binding, but the City Council is likely to take it with some seriousness. However, the Planning Commission remains the biggest hurdle to overcome for Mason Row’s developers and supporters, and it remains unclear if the EDA’s recommendation will have any impact on them. Commission member Lindy Hockenberry, the Commission’s liaison to the EDA, was at the meeting and noted that Planning had some of the same concerns as were raised by Mr. Novotny and others. That suggests that Planning Commission objections are not set in stone and could be overcome.

City officials and residents alike won’t know the fate of Mason Row prior to this week’s elections, and those elections could ultimately determine if the project ends up getting built or not. Nader Baroukh, who has been a prominent critic of the project, is not running for re-election, and first-time candidate Letty Hardi has expressed cautious support for it. She also has defended the other Broad Street mixed-use projects, and thus could be a fifth vote for Mason Row, and that would be enough to overcome a negative vote from the Planning Commission.

The other City Council candidates include incumbents Phil Duncan, who favors the proposal, and Mayor David Tarter, who in September voted against sending the project to second reading. It’s not clear if Mr. Tarter is unalterably opposed, or whether changes to the project could still win his vote.

Former City Councilors Sam Mabry and Johannah Barry are back running for a new seat on the Council, and both are calling for a moratorium on new mixed-use developments like Mason Row in order to allow for time to evaluate the impact on the City of new projects scheduled to be completed in 2016 — the Harris Teeter building at 301 W. Broad, and the Reserve at Tinner Hill, now rising on the 500 block of South Washington.

Mabry in particular is running on a platform suggesting that the mixed-use projects are changing the look and feel of the City for the worse. His campaign tag line — keep our City and schools small — reflects that view.

Thus the election does present a clear choice. No one can say this year that they’re all the same, which is healthy for a democracy. Competing views are being heard and the voters will have their say.

Given that both the Teeter and Tinner projects were unanimously approved not long ago, one would think there isn’t a great deal of support for a moratorium. But there hasn’t been any scientific polling on the subject, so no one really knows.

Times do change and positions evolve. Barry voted for both of those projects but is suggesting a breather is needed now. Is she riding the crest of an an anti-development wave crashing through Falls Church City? Tuesday night may tell us the answer.

November 1, 2015 


8 Responses to “Mason Row Gets Another Push Forward; Election Could Be Key for Project”

  1. Dale walton on November 1st, 2015 10:47 pm

    I am going to make this rather short since I have commented before. I am against this project, in its current design, for the reasons many others have stated. So I agree with the EDA Chairman. I realize the potential financial benefit for the City. But I am willing to forego the small tax benefit I will accrue rather than see a project of this size negatively and permanently impact the adjacent neighborhood and related parking and traffic. On Tuesday, I will be voting against any proponent of this project as currently designed including Ms. Hardi who I view as a proponent and potential swing vote.

  2. Jane Singleton, City of Falls Church on November 2nd, 2015 2:30 pm

    I have to say that it’s no surprise that the EDA voted in favor of the Broad and West development. I’ve seen them discuss it. The theory about mixed use – that it’s “good for us” (and pretty much all the way to “no matter what”) – is what proponents are banking on, but it’s just a theory. That rosy picture does work out in some cases but will not in others, and this proposed development at Broad and West is an example of the latter. Too much given for too little received, especially in light of the too many problems it will create. Thank you to Mr. Novotny for his current “no” vote. I agree with Dale Walton’s opinions about the project – and with his concept of being brief.

  3. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church (703) 209-2005 on November 2nd, 2015 5:02 pm

    Thanks for the update on Mason Row, Stephen. Last I heard, it wasn’t certain that the Planning Commission would vote on the matter Monday night. City staff reported last week that the applicant asked the Commission to defer action until Nov. 16, in part to allow time for all the input from boards and commissions to be collected and analyzed.

    If I may, I’d like to share the answer I give when asked, “Do you support the Mason Row project?”

    Answer: I voted to refer the Broad & West application to boards and commissions, giving them a charge to closely review it and hear further public comment. The B&C’s expertise in multiple subject areas (architecture, traffic, environmental and economic impacts, etc.) will help ensure that if the Mason Row proposal returns to Council, what we’re offered will be more reflective of more citizens’ desires for the site. Then, it would be up to Council to debate and decide if the proposed use would be preferred to “status quo” at this corner, or perhaps a “facelift” of the various current structures there.

  4. TFC on November 2nd, 2015 7:51 pm

    @Phil…or an alternate use/project as a 4th alternative…..

  5. Stephen Siegel on November 2nd, 2015 9:31 pm

    Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone of the Falls Church Times comment policy. You can be anonymous, but not if you’re criticizing others by name. Additionally, you must leave a real name and email address. If you do not, and the Times cannot contact you, your comment is subject to deletion.

  6. Jane Singleton, City of Falls Church on November 2nd, 2015 9:43 pm

    Phil, I get it. A lot of us get it. The status quo at the corner of Broad and West – and at other spots around the City – could be more profitable, more attractive, etc. But your wording in your above response frames the Spectrum proposal as the only possible alternative to that status quo. It may be at the moment, but that should not compel an action to approve it just to get rid of said status quo. This particular proposal is too big, too disruptive. I remain optimistic that there are/will be other solutions to be found for that corner and to grab – just for grabbin’s sake – the first one that comes along ignores its many downsides.

  7. Dale Walton on November 3rd, 2015 12:29 am

    I am no planner. I am no developer. I simply apply common sense and practicality and say there have to better alternatives than the current version on the table now…that would gain much more public support.

  8. Dale Walton on November 4th, 2015 4:16 pm

    Congratulations to the election winners, and to all who ran. It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice and all should be commended.

    On Mason Row, the hope now for the opponents is of course that first the Planning Commission finally votes and votes NO on the the current version. But even if that happens, the City Council can still approve with a super majority vote of 5 to 2,

    You can do your own head counting. But, losing Mr. Barouck from Council is a setback. Despite their statements which are carefully worded, I think both Mr. Duncan and now Ms. Hardy (who will join Phil) and others to create that super majority will vote YES even if the project remains too tall, with too many units, and other flaws. Ms. Hardi’s election is a setback for Mason Row opponents despite her carefully worded written statement.

    When it gets back to the City Council, maybe this Mr. Sze, who is an interesting fellow when voting on controversial matters, acts like he has before will take the easy way out and vote to abstain like he has done before on tough votes….to throw things into chaos. Or maybe St. James Church and School get more aggressive in their opposition to the current plan which could make some members cave on their support.

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