Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
After a week off, we hopped back in the saddle with a packed agenda. We discussed the two big development projects – Founders Row (formerly Mason Row), Broad and Washington, and the GMHS Campus Project. Also, if you’ve been wondering whether mixed use development is a good idea, read on for a new report with the latest facts and figures. Also, post-Target and Aldi news – catch up on the other new business openings expected later this summer and fall.
Speaking of GMHS, we will be casting two important votes in 10 days – 1) whether to put the GMHS $120M bond question on the ballot this November and 2) whether to adopt a full or modified CIP in order to accommodate the $120M debt. If you have input, now is the time to hear from you! We are holding a Town Hall on Wed, July 19th at 730 pm to provide citizens an opportunity for Q&A and comments on both topics. You can also email us at email@example.com. I’ll also be holding office hours next Saturday, July 22nd at 9 am at Cafe Kindred (note the time change) if you’d like to chat in person.
What Happened This Week:
(1) Founders Row/Mason Row – we had a long awaited project update from the developers of Founders Row about their amendment to replace the hotel in the project with 72 age restricted/55+ apartments. We were told that despite their best efforts to secure a hotel, a deal could not be made. According to the developer, they expect signed leases for the movie theater and a restaurant anchor by the end of the summer/early fall. The status of the 7-11 lease also seemed unclear, but expected to be settled by early fall as well. We have heard from many citizens with concerns over the loss of the hotel anchor and in general, wariness about the developers’ credibility. I expect that Council will not consider the amendment until all of those outstanding issues are resolved. If it proceeds, there will be ample community engagement with more round of public hearings and formal votes.
(2) Broad and Washington – we were also asked to consider voting on first reading for the Broad and Washington project so it could be referred to Boards and Commissions. Despite some progress on the key areas of concern discussed in previous meetings, the majority of Council did not think enough of the substantive issues have been resolved to merit a first reading vote. As such, we voted 6-1 to defer a first reading vote until September. I spoke specifically about the height concern the Lawton neighborhood has expressed – as the City welcomes more development, transitions and buffering to residential neighborhoods is important and how we manage it sends an important message to the community. I hope in the next two months, it can become a project the neighborhood can embrace. With the addition of a new office building and a permanent home for Creative Cauldron, the project has a lot of merit and can be great community asset for the key intersection in the City.
(3) GMHS Campus Valuation Update – at the end of the meeting, we heard from our real estate consultants with an update on the valuation work for economic development (ie, what is the land and economic development worth?) on the GMHS land. Some key takeaways:
- The 10 acres could be valued at $43-45M assuming a long term lease (vs a sale)
- Based on market trends, regional uses and competition, construction costs, etc – that value is based on a 70% residential to 30% commercial split. 6-8 stories high. We could demand more commercial, but there is a value tradeoff as it would be more risky. Likewise, we could also ask for more density and height and if the market demand is there, we could generate more value than $43-45M.
- Note that this just includes the land transaction; in progress is the fiscal analysis for tax revenue that could be generated once the development is built and filled.
(4) Mixed Use Development Financial Report
Since the last update in 2015, the ever-popular mixed use development report on the 8 mixed use projects built in the City in the past 12 years was recently refreshed and released. The summary report and chart are both very useful. Key takeaways:
- The 8 projects currently generate $3.8M per year in net revenue to the City (net means it already accounts for the cost of City services), which is equivalent to 9 cents on the real estate tax rate. Gross revenue from these projects is $10.6M per year from all City tax sources. This compares with $571,000 per year in gross tax revenue from pre-development land uses.
- Developers have contributed voluntarily over $7M in cash towards school capital projects
- We’ve added 370,000 square feet of commercial space and 93% of that commercial space in the eight buildings is occupied, sold, or leased. This last tidbit is surprising to many, as they notice some high profile vacancies around town, but for the most part, we enjoy a very high occupancy rate.
- Out of 1072 residential units, 225 pupils out of 2600+ in FCCPS reside in them. There is a common misconception that mixed use development results in crowding of the school system when in reality, the majority of new student growth comes from existing housing stock, not the mixed use developments. Pearson Square is the anomaly, with 127 pupils residing there. With school costs increasing, Pearson was reported to be near breakeven level in 2015 and is now a negative $428,000/year. You can also see from the report that the City’s model has also been accurately projecting the pupil counts and cost for each project and we are trending on the low end of the projected ranges for both of the recently completed projects – West Broad and Lincoln at Tinner Hill.
(5) New Businesses
If you would like to stay on top of the new business news, consider subscribing to the Economic Development Office’s quarterly bulletin. Recently spotted were “coming soon” signs all around town; we’re looking forward to welcoming new eateries into the City and new homes for some long time favorites.
- Just opened: Falls Church Distillers
- New location soon: Panjshir – Shops at Southgate (across from The Falls Church)
- New location soon: Mike’s Deli to former Long John Silver’s
- Newcomers soon: Liberty Barbeque, Northside Social 2, Falls Church Arts Cafe, and a brewpub at Southgate
What’s Coming Up:
- Monday, July 17 – City Council Work Session (Joint with School Board on GMHS)
- Wednesday, July 19 – Town Hall (730 pm, City Hall)
- Saturday, July 22 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am, Cafe Kindred)
- Monday, July 24 – City Council Regular Meeting – **final City Council vote for referendum language & CIP Amendment**
- Monday, August 14 – City Council Regular Meeting (last regular meeting of the summer before our recess)