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Falls Church Planning Commission accepts affordable housing for density trade at Gateway project

Renderings of Little City Commons development in Falls Church (image courtesy EYA)

An update to the Falls Church Gateway project is headed to the Falls Church City Council with an uncertain approval from the Planning Commission, following a long discussion over whether the city should be more ambitious with its affordable housing goals.

The update primarily involved a proposal to expand the senior housing facility planned for the development by an additional 35,000 gross square feet, bringing the maximum square footage up from 225,000 to 260,000 square feet.

Staff also recommended approval of additional affordable housing at the mixed-use development in exchange for the added density — a relatively common trade in residential development.

The discussion of the project during the planning commission’s eight-hour meeting on Wednesday (Aug. 4) was convoluted to the point where even commission members were unsure what they were voting on by the end.

Ultimately, the commission gave its support to the staff recommendation that the city accept the developer’s concession of making 4% of housing in the multifamily section affordable to a range of incomes, including lower income households.

“The market is much less likely to accommodate the provision of homes in these ranges,” the staff report said. “Since there is a need for housing across the spectrum of affordability, the concession of 6% of ADUs affordable to households at 60% AMI would be acceptable as well.”

In a confusing back and forth over changes and amendments, the commission ended with recommending “additional ADUs provided at the AMI levels recommended by staff.”

Commission members flirted with the idea of adding more ambitious language into the recommendation and requiring higher levels of affordable housing in keeping with earlier plans, but also discussed the careful balance involved in credibility as an advisory group.

“The more we put in recommendations they ignore, the less they take anything seriously,” chair Brent Krasner said. “I think we have to be careful about putting a wishlist of things that aren’t going to happen…At his point it’s unlikely the council will make any changes…Otherwise it’s just about getting our principals out there as a protest.”

The recommendation, Krasner admitted, was vague, but it could open the door for further discussion at the city council meeting on Monday (Aug. 9).

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