One option currently under consideration is updating the zoning ordinance’s special exception section, which has become a reliable tool for encouraging mixed-use development.
Under a preliminary proposal presented to the Falls Church City Council on Monday (Nov. 16), the criteria for evaluating possible development projects would be amended to incentivize the inclusion of affordable housing units, allow for smaller structures, and better reflect the current state of the commercial real estate market.
“With the economy changing and obviously the future of work and commercial space probably looking pretty different, I do think it’s time for us to modernize this,” City Councilmember Letti Hardy said. “…I know this is something that’s really important to the city and not something we want to take lightly.”
The special exception provisions in Falls Church’s zoning code permit mixed-use development and taller building heights than what is otherwise allowed in underdeveloped commercial areas that the city identified as sites that could be revitalized in its 2005 Comprehensive Plan.
The so-called Planning Opportunity Areas, including downtown Falls Church and West Broad Street, were officially designated as revitalization districts in 2016.
To qualify for consideration under the special exception provision, development proposals must be consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, show a significant net increase in the site’s new commercial square footage, and generate positive net new commercial and residential revenue.
Developers can get an exemption from the latter two criteria if at least 75% of the residential units in their project qualify as affordable housing.
The special exception provision has facilitated the completion of 10 mixed-use projects in Falls Church since 2003, all but one of which have brought in revenue for the city. Four more are now in the works, including Founders Row, the West Falls Church redevelopment, and the Broad and Washington project.
However, there have also been projects that fell through because they were unable to meet the code’s criteria without adding height and density that drew objections from surrounding neighborhoods.
Falls Church Planning Director Paul Stoddard says a proposed development at Tradition Place collapsed in 2016 after the developer started making the building taller to compensate for the net commercial square footage requirements and concessions to the city that were under discussion.
A Park & Lee development application submitted in 2017 failed to obtain approval after facing similar obstacles.
“Because there was some existing commercial [area] on the property, they were not able to meet that net increase in commercial in order to get through without making the project more dense, which was an issue for the community surrounding it,” Falls Church City Senior Planner Shaina Schaffer said.
In addition, none of the special exception projects approved by the city have met the threshold of 75% affordable housing needed to forgo the requirement for adding commercial space, which is less in demand now, especially for traditional office and retail uses.
To address these issues, the Falls Church planning staff is recommending that the city council amend the zoning ordinance so that projects only have to provide new commercial space, rather than adding to the existing square footage. They also say the 75% affordable housing threshold should be reviewed to see if it should be lowered to be more feasible.
Councilmember Debora Hiscott suggested that city staff should reach out to contacts in the developer community to get a sense of what percentage of affordable housing would be palatable for them.
“If we want to know what will bring [affordable housing] in, I think who better to ask than the people who’d be bringing it in?” Hiscott said. “Then we can make decisions from there whether it’s palatable for our community, whether it meets our goals, and brings in that revenue.”
Photo via City of Falls Church Government/Facebook
The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott) When March arrives, the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer be an officially declared emergency in Fairfax County. After honoring individuals…
Loyal Companion is closing all of its Fairfax County stores, including one at the Mosaic District (staff photo by Angela Woolsey) Loyal Companion is letting out one final howl before…
The baseball diamond at Linway Terrace Park (via Fairfax County Park Authority) The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) wants Fairfax County to reconsider its embrace of synthetic turf for athletic fields,…
Walking on Strawberry Lane in the Mosaic District (staff photo by Angela Woolsey) Local Task Force Deployed to Turkey — “Members of Virginia Task Force 1 in Fairfax County are…
Chris Green is one of the DMV’s finest fitness instructors. A Lululemon and South Block ambassador, he is a coach and mentor to so many. He embodies grace, positivity and motivation in ways that no one else can. If we could all learn a thing or two from him, the world would be a much better place. He does so much for others, and does so with a smile on his face 99% of the time.
He recently ruptured his Achilles and has an incredibly long and tough journey ahead. As if COVID hadn’t impacted fitness professionals enough, throw this in the mix and it’s a double, even triple whammy. CG is no longer able to work and do what he loves for the time being because of this and we’d love your support.
The Rhea Baker State Farm Agency is proud to support Shelter House in providing safe places to be during quarantine. Shelter House’s mission is to prevent and end homelessness and domestic violence. Right now they are providing over 200 hotel rooms to those in need in our community. In the past year, across all programs, Shelter House served nearly 500 households comprised of over 1,500 individuals, 60% of which were children.
Of the households that exited shelter, over 70% moved to permanent housing. The Baker Agency has served Vienna and Tysons residents and business owners since 2007 and proudly offers insurance solutions for you home, condo, auto insurance, life insurance and more. We offer complimentary reviews and coach teen drivers to safer, better drivers, and to help keep your auto insurance rates down! We are always happy to talk or text at 703-847-6880.