Tysons, VA

The Falls Plaza Shopping Center in Falls Church is about to get a new look.

Property owner Federal Realty Investment Trust announced today (Thursday) that the 144,000 square-foot shopping center will undergo renovations intended to update its physical appearance and enhance amenities next year.

“Federal is a long-term holder of real estate and has been part of the Falls Church community for over 50 years,” Federal Realty Vice President of Asset Management Deirdre M. Johnson said. “The new amenities and conveniences coming to Falls Plaza…reflect the evolving needs of the community that we serve.”

Scheduled to start in the spring of 2021 and conclude prior to Thanksgiving, the redesign will include new building façades that fuse “a modern farmhouse design with industrial elements” as well as new decorative lighting and signage, according to a Federal Realty press release.

The project will also introduce parking spaces for curbside pick-ups, expand the sidewalks with outdoor dining and gathering space, augment the plaza’s landscaping, and add a fireplace.

Federal Realty first acquired ownership of Falls Plaza in 1967. Anchored by Giant Food, the center features a Staples, Conte’s Bike Shop, CVS Pharmacy, Starbucks, and a variety of other retail, dining, and services venues.

Most recently, Falls Plaza added the restaurants Plaka Grill, Tasty Dumplings, and Jersey Mike’s.

“We are appreciative of the continued support that both the city residents and officials have provided us over the past 50 years, and we look forward to the next 50,” Johnson said.

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The mixed-use development that Elm Street Development has envisioned for the Dunn Loring Center remains on track for realization.

In a report released on Nov. 18, Fairfax County staff recommends that the county planning commission approve the developer’s application to rezone the two-acre site at 2722 Merrilee Drive for planned residential mixed-use zoning.

Located less than half a mile from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, 2722 Merrilee Drive is currently occupied by a three-story office building that was originally constructed in 1984. The site is zoned for an I-4 medium intensity industrial district.

Under the name Merrilee Ventures L.C., Elm Street Development first submitted a proposal for turning Dunn Loring Center into a mixed-use development to Fairfax County on Dec. 9. The application was accepted on Mar. 5.

The developer proposes transforming the existing office building into a seven-story, 85-foot building with 239 multifamily residential units across five floors.

The bottom two floors will consist of an above-grade parking structure with 294 parking spaces – 264 for residential use and 30 for retail use – as well as two loading spaces, a trash enclosure, and a bike storage room, according to the Fairfax County staff report.

Amenities proposed for the development include an expanded streetscape along Merrilee Drive, a retail plaza adjacent to the nearby mixed-use apartment building Halstead Square, public open and park spaces, a dog park for residents in the building’s northwest corner, and other private indoor and outdoor spaces for residents, such as a pool, grilling stations, and a fitness center.

The project will occupy 235,235 square feet total with a floor area ratio of 2.70.

“The proposed development would contribute to the revitalization and development of the Merrifield Suburban Center and Transit Station Area through the provision of high-quality design and pedestrian facilities that are appropriate to the ‘Main Street’ designation of Merrilee Drive,” county planning staff say in their report.

In addition to seeking to rezone the site, Elm Street has asked Fairfax County to approve the proposed reduction of 18% of the property’s existing parking.

“Fewer parking spaces than would be required in the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance will be necessary to accommodate future on-site parking demand because of the site’s proximity to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro Station,” the engineering consultant Gorove Slade says in a parking reduction study prepared on May 19. “A parking reduction would not adversely affect the surrounding areas.”

Elm Street says on-street parking will be provided on Merrilee Drive and on a proposed private street that could eventually be extended to connect Merrilee with Dorr Avenue to the west.

Fairfax County staff say the planning commission should approve the parking reduction request “based on the proximity of the development to mass transit facilities.”

According to the report, Elm Street has committed to making 16.6% of the residential units in the new development workforce dwelling units. A third of those units will be priced at 80% of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area’s area median income, a third will be at the AMI, and the last third will be at 120% of the AMI.

Since the existing property has few existing trees, the developer has proposed adding about 8,962 square feet of tree canopy coverage, which Fairfax County staff says would exceed the county’s comprehensive plan requirements.

In another proffer, Elm Street has said it will contribute $12,262 to Fairfax County for each of the 27 new students that the Dunn Loring Center development is expected to add to the public school system. Children who live in the development will attend Shrevewood Elementary, Kilmer Middle, and Marshall High Schools.

The full staff report for the Merrilee proposal can be found through Fairfax County’s land development system.

A Fairfax County Planning Commission public hearing on the Merrilee application has been set for 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 2, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing on Jan. 26, 2021 at 3:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy Elm Street Development

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The City of Falls Church wants to expand its stock of affordable housing, but exactly how it should achieve that remains up for debate.

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

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(Updated on 11/12/2020) Capital One expects to unveil a 1.2-acre sky park with food trucks, a bar and beer garden, games, a dog run and an amphitheater in time for summer 2021.

Nested on top of the newly open Wegmans grocery store, The Perch is part of the second building to be completed in the 24.25-acre Capital One complex. Two more parts of the project are slated to open in the fall of 2021: the Watermark Hotel and the Capital One Hall.

From The Perch, Capital One Center Managing Director Jonathan Griffith said the public will “view Tysons from a completely different vantage point.”

For him, that perspective applies to the company’s mission to mix employees and Tysons residents.

“We are trying to separate from the notion that this is for only Capital One employees,” he said, citing The Star, a shopping and dining destination inside the Dallas Cowboys’ new training facility in Frisco, Texas, as inspiration.

The Watermark Hotel and two residential buildings will surround the Perch. The 300-room hotel will be managed by B.F. Saul Hospitality, whose flagship property is The Hay-Adams luxury hotel in Washington, D.C.

The Watermark will no longer be one of two hotels on campus, after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a request to change a planned hotel into an office building.

The Watermark Hotel is slated to open next fall, while construction on the residential towers could begin in 10 years, Griffith said.

Until the residential towers go up, semi-permanent installations will “activate the space,” including an old-school double-decker London tour bus and an Airstream converted into food trucks, Griffith said.

From the Sky Park, people can see the glassy Capital One headquarters, completed in 2018, as well as a 30-story office building with two floors of retail.

These developments fit with the trifecta of “live, work and play,” but Griffith said a fourth component, “culture,” is missing.

To fill that gap is Capital One Hall, with a 1,600-seat theater and 250-seat black box theater, as well as vaulted event spaces, large restrooms, plentiful concession areas and an expansive coat room, he said.

Capital One Hall General Manager Jamey Hines described both performance venues as “tight in feeling and room focus, but not uncomfortable.”

“People on the edges have just a good view and the audience won’t feel far away from the performer,” he said.

Having two options impacts the performer, too. “I’ve found that you have to create the room, so people achieve in the room, through seating,” Hines said.

Capital One, Fairfax County, and ARTSFAIRFAX are working together to ensure county agencies and Fairfax County Public Schools get access to 15% of the hall’s bookings at discounted rates. Already, the manager is looking to fill dates for 2022-2023.

Hines has mapped out some events and is gauging what people want to see.

The pandemic has given Capital One Hall more opportunities to be added to a multi-city tour, but he anticipates the Hall will be a bigger destination for one-time shows and productions. Hines encouraged those who are interested in dates to join the email list at capitalonehall.com.

Capital One Hall and The Perch will be open to weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, galas and functions for nonprofits, concerts and speaker series, Capital One Center marketing and community affairs manager Meghan Trossen said.

The coronavirus pandemic has sped up the building pace, now unencumbered by traffic, but the supply chain has been disrupted, impacting shipments of materials and equipment, Griffith says.

Through it all, he said Fairfax County has done “an incredible job” accommodating construction during the pandemic, implementing measures such as inspections via FaceTime to keep employees safe.

Photo courtesy Capital One

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Close to two years since a new vision for downtown McLean was first presented, Fairfax County staff and community representatives are still working on a plan for implementing that vision.

The draft McLean Community Business Center comprehensive plan gives developers more flexibility, while creating parameters designed to protect existing neighborhoods and foster a sense of community.

“We believe the draft plan finds a middle ground, providing for development while preserving what we like about our downtown,” McLean CBC Task Force Chair Kim Dorgan said. “There’s no doubt each of us would change an element here or there, but we think it gives us what the community wants.”

Led by Fairfax County Planning Director Leanna O’Donnell, county staff and the 20-person task force assembled by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust informed the public about their latest work on the McLean CBC draft plan during a virtual open house held on Saturday (Nov. 7).

Last revised on Oct. 5, the draft McLean CBC comprehensive plan retains many elements that have been in place since consultant Streetsense released its vision plan in December 2018, including the establishment of three zones with development becoming more concentrated closer to the center.

Foust says that, in order to revitalize the CBC, the county has to give developers more incentives to invest in the district, a 230-acre area between Dolley Madison Boulevard, Chain Bridge Road, and Old Dominion Road. One way to do that is to allow more density in the district’s core.

The draft plan sets a maximum height of seven stories for buildings in the designated center zone except for select sites where developers can go up to 10 stories if they provide public open space. It also allows for more residential development than the current comprehensive plan for McLean and no longer prescribes specific uses for specific properties.

“The plan tries to create a positive framework for developers to come forward,” said Elizabeth Hagg, who serves as deputy director for the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization.

McLean is also one of six locations included in a new economic incentive program approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in September. The program offers developers a 10-year real estate tax abatement for redevelopment projects in the designated areas.

“This plan and possible tax abatement could work together and stimulate future investments,” Hagg said. “We’re very gung-ho about it, and we think the timing with this comprehensive plan going forward could be the spark that we need.”

At the same time, county staff and the task force, which has been meeting regularly since May 2018, have tweaked the draft plan in response to residents’ concerns about the impact that more development could have on traffic, parking, and the availability of open space.

While a Fairfax County Department of Transportation analysis predicts a slight uptick in traffic during peak hours in the future, the proposed land use changes in the draft plan would maintain or improve conditions for all travel modes, according to FCDOT transportation planner Zach Krohmal.

The draft plan also calls for a more connected network of pedestrian and bicycle routes separate from roads and for wider sidewalks, particularly along Old Dominion Road, to accommodate travelers as well as outdoor seating areas and other amenities for restaurants and retailers.

A section of the draft plan that says parking in the center zone will mostly be in structures or underground with on-street parking encouraged, but surface parking limited, has been crossed out.

Hagg says surface parking will be allowed for mixed-use developments, though it will generally be located to the side or in the back of buildings.

Task force members who commented during the open house expressed optimism that the new McLean CBC comprehensive plan will be a necessary improvement over the existing one, revitalizing the area while also giving it a stronger sense of place and addressing issues like pedestrian safety and flooding.

“I personally believe the concept behind the plan is very good,” McLean Planning Committee President Rich Salopek said, acknowledging that there is a lot of diversity of opinions within his group. “…I think it’s a sound strategy, and if the plan develops as we all hope, I think it’ll make a very livable, walkable downtown that we can all be proud of.”

Fairfax County staffers will host a virtual question-and-answer session on the draft plan on Nov. 16, and the McLean CBC study is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2021.

Photo via Supervisor John Foust/Twitter

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Monday Morning Notes

NoVa Leads State in COVID-19 New Cases — “There has been an uptick of cases in Northern Virginia for over a week and an increase in the southwest region during October.” [Patch]

The Boro Wins Regional Development Awards — “KETTLER, one of Greater Washington, D.C.’s leading real estate services companies, announces the acceptance of multiple awards for Rise and Bolden Apartments, and Verse Condominiums located at The Boro in Tysons, Virginia.” [InsideNova]

Tysons Corner Center Announces Contact-Free Santa — “Santa and his helpers will be back at Tysons Corner Center, but there will be some changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” [Yahoo]

Macerich Secures Loan for New Residential Tower in Tysons — “While reporting its financial results for the third quarter on Thursday, Macerich Co. (MAC), a self-administered real estate investment trust, said its joint venture has secured a commitment for a $95 million loan on Tysons Vita, the residential tower at Tysons Corner.” [Nasdaq]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Fairfax County is inviting community members to provide feedback on its draft comprehensive plan for the McLean Community Business Center (CBC) at a virtual open house at 9 a.m. on Saturday (Nov. 7).

Hosted by the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development, the open house will give members of the public an opportunity to learn about the latest work of the McLean CBC Task Force and share their thoughts on a draft plan for the future of McLean’s downtown area.

A group of 21 residents, local business leaders, and civic association representatives appointed by Dranesville District Supervisor, the McLean CBC Task Force has been meeting since May 2018 with the goal of developing recommendations regarding land use, transportation, public facilities, and other characteristics of the CBC.

Spanning about 230 acres between Chain Bridge Road, Dolley Madison Boulevard, and Old Dominion Drive, the CBC serves as a downtown district for McLean, and the conversation around the draft comprehensive plan has been driven by debates about density and how to balance development with open space.

Based off a Vision Plan finalized in December 2018 and released on Oct. 5, the latest draft of the comprehensive plan states that the CBC is being “planned to provide for the needs of the immediate surrounding community and not the regional needs at the scale found in [nearby] Tysons.”

The McLean Citizens Association, which has two representatives on the CBC task force, plans to hold a special meeting of its board of directors on Nov. 18 that will exclusively focus on the CBC comprehensive plan.

In an email to members ahead of the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, MCA President Rob Jackson notes that the association traditionally does not take positions on comprehensive plan revisions until they are final, but the board decided to organize a special meeting after “a number of members” petitioned for one.

In addition to taking a preliminary vote on whether it wants to take a position now, the board will hear from committee chairs on the issues they would like to be considered in the comprehensive plan and determine which items to include in a draft letter to Foust.

“We are focusing on only big items to increase our chances of influencing the county, recognizing that an organization with a long list of priorities effectively has no priorities,” Jackson said. “Further, submitting a long list provides motivation for the county to toss us a couple of bones, while we are ignored on big items.”

Community members can join Fairfax County’s open house on Saturday by registering via WebEx. The county’s planning staff is soliciting comments and questions regarding the McLean CBC study at [email protected].

Photo via Supervisor John Foust/Twitter

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Mary Riley Styles Public Library Construction Closes N. Virginia Ave. in Falls Church — “The 100 block of N. Virginia Ave. will be closed from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 4, to allow for work on the library renovation and expansion project.” [City of Falls Church]

Halloween House Fire in McLean Causes Serious Damage — “An abandoned house in McLean went up in flames on Halloween night, causing $621,400 in damages…The cause of the fire remains under investigation.” [Patch]

How a Tysons Task Force Built a Road Map for Redevelopment — “The Tysons Land Use Task Force provides a potential model for permitting more housing in other expensive, suburban jurisdictions.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Wawa Hosts Tesla Giveaway and Electric Car Parade in Vienna — “Not only did the event crown Luis, local resident of Alexandria, VA, with a brand-new Tesla, but the event supported sustainable environmental causes throughout Vienna.” [Wawa]

Photo courtesy Wawa

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Developer KETTLER announced the day before Halloween that it has broken ground on the next stage of an ambitious development plan called The Mile.

The Mile is an approved project that will transform a 45-acre area of underutilized space northwest of Tysons Galleria. Brentford, the second phase of the development, will be a 411-unit mid-rise apartment community advertised as being in walking distance from major employers, world-class shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.

“As a business operator in Tysons, our company has felt the positive impact that redevelopments have had on our community,” KETTLER President Cynthia Fisher said. “We’re thrilled to be leading this transformational project in partnership with PS Business Parks as we begin construction on Brentford at The Mile.”

In a press release, KETTLER states that the Brentford apartments will offer “stylish, nature-inspired floor plans, with highly amenitized interior spaces and larger units such as 3 bedroom apartments and 2-story townhomes.”

With its first units expected to be completed in spring 2022, Brentford will be located near Highgate at the Mile, an apartment building with Republik Coffee Bar on the ground floor (7915 Jones Branch Drive) that represented the first part of KETTLER’s plan for The Mile.

During the project’s approval process, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors praised The Mile for featuring a natural, 10-acre green space around Brentford and Highgate at The Mile. The first stage of the plans includes a publicly accessible dog park at the location.

“Residents of The Mile will feel the ease of suburban living, just minutes from the ‘Bustling Boro’ and Tysons Corner Center,” KETTLER said.

Image via KETTLER

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Fairfax County and Virginia state officials kicked off passenger service on Thursday (Oct. 22) for Relay, the first test of autonomous technology in public transportation in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

“Won’t it be great to look back and say, ‘We remember the day in 2020 when we were sitting in the Mosaic and this Relay vehicle successfully proved to the country that you can do this in a safe way and also look toward future innovations in transportation,” Jeffrey McKay, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said.

Relay, a 100% electric, autonomous vehicle, runs 10 miles per hour from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metrorail Station to the Barnes and Noble in the Mosaic District. It makes the trip every 15 to 20 minutes, Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Relay can transport up to 12 passengers — six seated and six standing — but to encourage social-distancing, it will currently only take three passengers and a safety attendant at a time. The shuttle is fully accessible for people with disabilities.

The project represents a public-private partnership between Fairfax County and Dominion Energy aimed at improving road safety, encouraging the use of public transit, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It received a $200,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and a $50,000 match from Fairfax County. The county is contracting with Transdev to manage the operations of Relay.

EDENS, the developer of the Mosaic District, provides shuttle storage and stop improvements. The Virginia Department of Transportation provided signage, lane striping and bus stops.

The ribbon-cutting event held Thursday, three months after its first test run, was abuzz with officials talking about the future and innovation.

Mark Webb, the chief innovation officer for Dominion Energy, said Relay “is just plain cool.”

“It’s the sort of thing we’d see in a Star Wars movie or Blade Runner movie without lift-off capabilities,” said Webb, whose company purchased the shuttle and contracted with EasyMile, a driverless technology company that mapped the route and manufactured the vehicle.

Even without the futuristic promises, Relay improves road safety, extends public transit, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, Webb said.

Connecting the two ends of the Mosaic District will encourage people to ride public transit who are dissuaded by getting to and from transit stops, said Catherine McGhee, the director of research and innovation for the Virginia Transportation Research Council.

“Relay serves a real purpose. It’s not a one-off demonstration in a parking lot,” she said. “It is part of the transit ecosystem here in Fairfax County.”

Officials also reminisced about the underutilized, industrial, dull feel of the Mosaic District before serious efforts were undertaken to develop it, spearheaded by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia).

“Without a Mosaic, there would be no Relay. There would be no autonomous vehicle project,” McKay said.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik wants to see the development extend to the older, industrial, and partially vacant zone in between the two Relay stops.

“I really hope it will help develop the areas between the two stops,” Palchik said. “We don’t stop here.”

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