Plans for New Harris Teeter Store Tangled in Litigation

Falls Church Times Staff

August 14, 2012

A plan to bring a Harris Teeter grocery store to Falls Church City is alive but mired in litigation, the Falls Church Times has learned.

The plan, which first surfaced last year, would bring the upscale grocer to the 300 block of West Broad Street, where the now-vacant old Post Office building, two parcels of city-owned land, Anthony’s Italian Restaurant, and a Burke and Herbert bank branch now stand.

The project, which also calls for several floors of apartments or condominiums above the grocery, may also encompass the overflow parking for the Falls Church Bowl bowling alley, at the northwest corner of Maple Avenue and Annandale Road.

But if you ask city officials about it, including new city councilor and former Economic Development Authority chair Dave Tarter, he will say that he “can’t talk about it.” Other city officials also demur when asked about the topic.

The reason they are reluctant to speak on the subject is that the project is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the City against Atlantic Realty, the huge regional development company that originally was tapped by the City to build the now discarded City Center proposal, which went down in flames when the economy declined in 2008.

The suit, which now is scheduled to be heard before a judge in April 2013, seeks to have the City Center plan, and Atlantic’s role in it, declared null and void — presumably so the City could engage a new developer to build the Harris Teeter complex.

Atlantic is fighting the suit.

Documents filed in Arlington County show the city sent a “notice of default” to Atlantic dated March 2, 2011, arguing that the developer “failed to perform its obligations under the agreement” between the city and the developer. Among those obligations, the city says, was for Atlantic to “diligently” pursue efforts to obtain a site plan approval from the city, that would be required before the project could proceed.

The city’s suit also asserts that Atlantic no longer even has the capacity to get the needed site plan approval because it doesn’t own, or have control over, all the land necessary for the City Center project. It cites the fact that Falls Church Bowl, Inc., owner of the bowling alley, refused to sign necessary documents to execute the plan. The bowling alley would have been demolished as part of the 2008 proposal.

On January 20, 2012, the city sent Atlantic a letter formally asserting that the agreement between the two sides is terminated. But on February 9, Atlantic sent a letter back that said it was not. “Atlantic vehmently disagrees that it is in breach of the agreement with the City and the Economic Development Authority,” said the letter, which was signed by Executive Vice President Adam Schulman. Mr. Schulman did not return a call seeking comment.

But despite the legal wrangling, the new project appears to still be moving forward. Multiple sources tell the Times that they saw soil samples being taken at the site about a month ago. Typically, soil samples would be conducted after a contract is signed between a landowner and a developer. Their purpose would be to see if the ground is contaminated; if it is, extensive cleanup would be required before new construction could begin.

In an interview, Mr. Tarter said a grocery store is a great revenue generator for the city because the high volume of sales would result in significant tax flows into the city’s coffers. The project also would enhance the value of what is now either underutilized land — such as the tiny, one story bank branch on the site’s east end — or tax exempt and vacant land — the lots owned by the city and the city’s Economic Development Authority, and the now-vacant Post Office building. That would lead to higher assessments and higher property taxes.

But it also would generate controversy over density, because it would, like the other mixed-use buildings on Broad Street, such as the Spectrum, Byron, Broadway, and Read, add many residents to the already-congested Leesburg Pike corridor.

August 15, 2012 


25 Responses to “Plans for New Harris Teeter Store Tangled in Litigation”

  1. Dennis Szymanski, Falls Church on August 16th, 2012 8:47 am

    “add many residents to the already-congested Leesburg Pike corridor.” And let’s not forget the many school-age children added to the rolls

  2. grateful2binfc on August 16th, 2012 10:38 am

    Stephen Siegel, as always, I am grateful to see your byline. Thank you for reporting this, I was wondering what might be going on with the Harris Teeter plan.

  3. Paper-Projects on August 16th, 2012 3:49 pm

    Thank you for the update. As with this project it would also be helpful to know the status of the Hilton. As presented over the past years, we should by now have a wonderful new hotel with 80% plus occupancy and generating enough city revenue to cover school technology needs and litigation costs. It’s curious that nothing has happened on this and no one seems to know or follow up. Is this also tied up in some form of litigation or ownership wrangling?

    Has anyone ever associated the actual costs (millions) and lost revenue (more millions) of these “paper” projects that are never fulfilled? WOW!

  4. Denton Roberts, Falls Church, VA on August 16th, 2012 5:11 pm

    The article fails to identify who was taking soil samples… it may not be Atlantic Realty

  5. Ray Arnaudo, Falls Church on August 16th, 2012 5:29 pm

    it would be nice to have a decent grocery store in Falls Church…

  6. Stephen Siegel on August 16th, 2012 6:35 pm

    Mr. Roberts,

    The article fails to identify who was taking soil samples, because I don’t know. I am sure it’s not Atlantic, though. I included it to illustrate that a new developer, who would build the Harris Teeter complex, seems to be moving forward. Apologies if it wasn’t clear.

    Stephen Siegel

  7. Patricia Webb, Vienna, VA (former FC resident from childhood to college) on August 17th, 2012 9:24 am

    Would the Harris Teeter cause the closing of Anthony’s, Burke and Herbert and the Bowl America if the project does happen? i would hate to see that. Falls Church already has enough multi- use sites and in my opinion too many. I miss the Falls Church of my childhood. I’m not against progress but the Broadway etc seem too tall and out of place. Falls Church is not Ballston or Crystal City. Traffic is already so bad on Rte 7 that we don’t need more congestion. Keep it tangled in legislation!

  8. Joe Fire, Falls Church on August 17th, 2012 11:11 pm

    I live in the neighborhood adjacent to the planned Harris Teeter and believe the development will be great for the city if done correctly. The grocery store will serve as an anchor and catalyst to that area which will then stimulate the remaining parcels of the adjacent commercial land to develop in a more natural way as opposed to the large block, single developer approach of the original city center plan (where the key anchor of the grocery store wasn’t even planned until stage 2 of that development). While i understand the concerns about another mixed use development, this project has some key differences in that it will likely have a better ratio of commercial to residential space while also providing assurance that the commercial space will be actually occupied to produce commercial tax contributions for the city.

  9. mel watson on August 18th, 2012 11:17 am

    Hi, forgive me for changing the subject but I don’t see another place to bring this up.

    Does the City have any plan for dealing with the increasing number of those looking for day work who assemble on Broad Street in front of the U-Haul and Staples stores? I am not sure any laws are being broken or if any loitering ordinances relative to public property are in place which are being violated? Not sure what sort of plan, if any, is needed.

  10. Anonymous on August 18th, 2012 1:26 pm

    A *pre-teen* girl I know, who speaks Spanish, told me that the men made inappropriate comments as she walked by them. She refuses to go near those men and tells her friends to stay away too.

  11. Bill Simpson, Falls Church on August 18th, 2012 6:26 pm

    I can’t imagine anything better for that site than a Harris-Teeter-anchored mixed-use project. I have no doubt that it’ll be a huge success.

    Thanks, Falls Church Times, for covering what people are interested in. Of course, if I want to read a 487th op-ed on the “Peak Oil Crisis,” I’ll pick up the other paper.

  12. Fiona Apple, Falls Church on August 20th, 2012 10:59 am

    Hey Patricia Webb from Vienna, VA. As someone that doesn’t even live in Falls Church anymore I’m not sure how much your opinion matters here. I appreciate you hoping that the grocery stays in litigation longer since you don’t have to pay the legal fees like the residents of falls church city do. As a homeowner in the city of Falls Church I am all for city progress and most importantly a grocery store. I’m tired of overpaying in real estate taxes because some people can’t break free of the low density falls church of 30 years ago.

    Burke and Herbert and MOST importantly the Bowl America are huge eye sores along Broad St and Maple. Not to mention the abandoned post office and the ugly city owned property next to it. I realize Anthony’s has a lot of loyal customers and it is a testament to the “family business” model we all enjoy in Falls Church.

    The grocery store, hotel or anything else that goes up will be worthless unless this town does something about the public parking in this city and Pete’s Towing gets out of the wallets of certain local business owners.

  13. mel watson on August 20th, 2012 1:20 pm

    Fiona – – what we are facing here in the City in my opinion….is we have almost reached a fiscal breaking point….meaning real estate taxes have gotten as high as many people can afford The City is facing immense challenges because of many years of miscues and lost development opportunities that would now be softening the blow of rising residential real estate taxes. We have been able to kick the can down the road for many, many years. So, we have approached a point where basically there are no quick solutions. We are so far in a corner that may have to now accept any development opportunity that comes along – – we can’t be choosey. It will take years to overcome the miscues and lost opportunities. Many of those miscues are continuing.

    The school system, which I and my children are graduates of and which I respect, has contributed to this dilemma over the years. It has year after year said we need x….and the City Council has bascially said okay without much challenge. That behavior has gone on for decades…..and now we are a point where a certain pushback against the school system is evitable given a long list of things in the City that have gone unfunded….such as stormwater improvements. Many in the school system are not used to that sort of pushback or requests for increased justification and this is causing a lot of angst.

    I along with most everyone else is not sure where this is all heading, but frankly a lot of folks, including maybe you, and especially those of who are getting older have either departed or are formulating their exit strategy before the tax rate goes to $1.35 if not beyond…..because frankly a number of us don’t see where they are getting their money’s worth any longer……and if there is not a more “balanced” approach to all of the City’s challenges.

  14. Edwin Fields on August 20th, 2012 8:32 pm

    Does anyone have any insight on potential new tenant at the old Falls Church Cabinetry business? I noticed that the “For Lease” sign…gone for over 1-month and today some activity.

  15. Keith Brendley on October 21st, 2012 8:42 pm

    Regarding Rt 7 traffic caused by a new grocery, the traffic seems by far the worst during rush hour when I presume it’s mostly used by commuters passing through. I suppose the store will add more, but it’s hard to imagine that it would add even 1% to Rt 7 trips. Anybody out there have data on local vs commuter traffic in FCC?

  16. sam wilson falls church on October 23rd, 2012 11:47 am

    this is what this city calls “progress” to become a clone “anytown usa”

    screw the small business, whine about how hard the council has it and basically flag the poor sucker who was caught in their ‘wind’.

    falls church is creeping towards that cold death grip, they don’t even see it coming and yet we have a lot of ghost lease space all over the place.

  17. sam wilson falls church on October 23rd, 2012 11:49 am

    oh and for the council member who cried about his ‘hard times’ before a small business owner who just got their whole life yanked out right from under them after 40 yrs….

    KARMA… something most politicians are able to conceive.

  18. Stan Fendley, Falls Church City on October 23rd, 2012 3:34 pm


    Your previous comment has been edited. You are welcome to express your anger on this site, but please refrain from name calling.

    Stan Fendley

  19. @sam on October 24th, 2012 11:42 am

    I’m the first defender of businesses-particularly small businesses-who find themselves in trouble because of excessive government regulation. But you completely mischaracterize what’s going on here.

    Anthony’s has a *lease* on property. They don’t own it. Leases expire, and it’s up to the City whether or not they want to renew said lease. The City is choosing not to renew the lease, because of the opportunity cost associated with leaving Anthony’s there.

    Like any business whose lease has expired, Anthony’s has a lot of options. It clearly has a strong, loyal customer base, so I don’t understand why it can’t survive in the free market like any other restaurant in the area. Anthony’s seems to be seeking some sort of subsidized rent at a new location. Why would taxpayers do that?

    I’m a fan of Anthony’s, but I also support the growth and development of my City. The property taxes we pay due to the City’s mismanagement of commercial zones is a real shame. If we’re going to fix things, we need to make some tough choices. In some cases, that will mean that thriving businesses will have to relocate. Welcome to the real world.

  20. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on October 24th, 2012 12:23 pm

    It’s worth clarifying something “@sam” said – Anthony’s lease is not with the City, but with the private owner of the building/land where Anthony’s sits. That properly owner has been planning to redevelop the site for a few years now, which is why he didn’t renew the post office’s lease (and hence their move).

    The City owns (and is selling) the post office parking lot. The EDA owns the empty lot next to the parking lot.

  21. Tim, Falls Church on February 4th, 2013 2:15 pm

    I am all for fixing up Broad St. It’s run down and honestly, we cannot afford not to revitalize and grow. From a RE perspective as well as a tax base perspective. Keeping everything “status quo” is not the answer. Understand traffic concerns but with a reasonable tax base, you renevate roads as well. Its far too easy to simply say “I like things the way they are”. Falls Church will decline in many ways if it does not allow growth (and in fact, small business will not reach potential). Anyone who has seen the decline over the years should realize this. The stand-alone city can only survive with tax growth (sad, but true). So take your pick…become part of a neighboring county and they have no problem with fast growth, or grow at a responsible pace and you can still take into account small business concerns. But again, status quo doesn’t seem like the answer. Between the new metro and revitalizing Broad St., wouldn’t this be a positive for small business? I know I look at much of Broad St. now as being run-down but maybe thats just me.

  22. Dan Lehman, Falls Church on February 7th, 2013 4:38 pm

    > The grocery store, hotel or anything else that goes up
    > will be worthless unless this town does something about
    > the public parking in this city and
    >>>>> Pete’s Towing gets out of the wallets of certain
    >>>>> local business owners.

    I wonder about this dreamed-of great boon a Harris Teeter
    is supposed to deliver (of itself to us, and…) when if one dares
    walk away from a parked lot to adjoining businesses there’s
    a risk of returning to find one’s vehicle towed! -such instances
    have occurred at the Giant, it’s been reported.

    BTW, since we have already Giant, and some small grocers
    (Lebanese Butcher & the Vietnamese small grocers are now
    moved or closed (resp), but there remains Halalco in the center
    and another Vietnamese tiny shop, and some others to the west),
    what’s this great need for HT -who might come at the cost of
    business others, if they meet the hype?

    Seems that there are continual Great Hopes of Development
    (the Red Lobster was replaced w/high rise, and then the Spectrum,
    and beside-Panera high-rise), and we’re still wanting to become
    … Rosslyn?

  23. D. Wayne Jones on February 12th, 2013 4:33 pm

    Without growth in our small commercial corridors, our Little City will become the BIG REAL ESTATE TAX CITY. I am sorry that you bought a residence next to a big, run-down, under-achieving property. If we don’t utilize it and others to their fullest this city cannot continue to sustain itself and it excellent school system. If we continue to nit-pick developers to “a death by a thousand cuts,” they will not build anything. Our city talks the talk of encouraging business and development, but doesn’t even come close to walking the walk. If I were this developer, I would leave you with your trashy looking plot and your sky-rocketing taxes.

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