Falls Church Planning Commission Approves Broad and Washington Project — with Conditions

The City of Falls Church Planning Commission gave its support to the long-gestating Broad and Washington project last week, recommending after a Dec. 2 public hearing that the city council approve the proposed mixed-use development.

The commission’s unanimous decision to recommend approval of a comprehensive plan map amendment and a special exception for the project came despite some lingering dissatisfaction with aspects of Insight Property Group’s oft-revised proposal.

“Overall, I think this is a good project,” Commissioner Tim Stevens said. “There’s a lot of potential benefits for the city, and I stress potential, because there are a couple of high-exposure risks that the city faces.”

Given the current market, the commissioners concluded that there is likely little that can be done to address the project’s lack of office space. They also expressed concern about how much the project’s appeal relies on Whole Foods as the anchor, a skittishness inspired by the recent loss of the cornerstone tenant of Falls Church’s Founders Row project.

However, the commission addressed some issues by qualifying their approval with conditions related to the availability of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the distribution of ground-floor square footage, and affordable housing requirements.

As part of a package of voluntary concessions, Insight has currently committed to providing a minimum of five electric vehicle charging stations as well as electrical conduit to support the future installation of five additional stations at the roughly three-acre site.

In its resolution recommending approval of Broad and Washington, the commission stated that the voluntary concessions agreement should require “the addition, at a minimum, of 10 conduits and related infrastructure to support future demand for equipment to charge electric vehicles.”

“That would give this project equal to what the city achieved with Founders Row,” said Stevens, who proposed the amendment. “It would be disappointing to think that we made progress with Founders Row and would possibly experience some back-sliding with this project.”

The commission also inserted a clause recommending reducing the amount of ground-floor area in the project’s main building that can be redistributed.

In its retail plan, Insight has agreed to dedicate at least 6,500 square feet of ground-floor space to retail sales and restaurant uses. 56,000 square feet on the ground floor and mezzanine levels will be devoted to a full-service grocery store – presumably Whole Foods – and 5,000 square feet on the ground floor has been reserved for the arts group Creative Cauldron.

However, the voluntary concessions agreement also includes a provision allowing the property owner to redistribute up to 10% of the ground-floor area between uses.

McGuireWoods partner Scott Adams, who represented Insight at the public hearing, told the planning commission that the developer is already reevaluating the amount of space that can be redistributed.

“[10%] probably made sense last time when we had a lot of uses on the ground floor,” Adams said. “It doesn’t work for the current configuration, so that’s something we’ll be changing in the VCs.”

The planning commission also encouraged the Falls Church City Council to explore ways to increase the number of affordable dwelling units in the Broad and Washington project. Insight has currently agreed to make 6% of the 339 units it plans to construct affordable to households that earn up to 60% of the area median income.

Noting that Falls Church lost approximately 200 affordable market-rate rental units between 2012 and 2018, Commissioner Cory Weiss initially suggested lowering the project’s required capital contributions in order to get a bigger ADU commitment, but the commission ultimately opted to be less prescriptive.

“I would support encouraging city council to consider that and look into that to see if it’s a viable option,” Planning Commission Chair Andy Rankin said. “…I just don’t want to suggest that they necessarily do it, because I don’t know what the consequences of that would be.”

Adams says Insight will submit a revised proposal that incorporates feedback from the city on Dec. 16. The city council will hold a public hearing and take action on Broad and Washington on Jan. 25, 2021.

Image via City of Falls Church

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