(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) The Fairfax County Department of Transportation got an initial round of public input last week on its study to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety and infrastructure in the area around the West Falls Church Metro station.
The department held virtual meetings on Wednesday and Saturday (Feb. 9 and 12) on the study as the county hopes to address community concerns before developers begin to transform the 24-acre transit station area, attracting more foot and vehicle traffic to the area.
FCDOT planner Timothy Kutz Jr. explained that the study focuses on a 2-mile radius around the Metro station to find gaps in the bicycle network. The study’s scope also encompasses a 1-mile radius for possible pedestrian improvements.
After the presentation, attendees brought up a range of issues, from missing sidewalks to the need for safer crossing methods. Areas of concern included access to the Metro station and nearby Haycock Elementary School, among other destinations.
One example of the need for increased safety was Redd Road, where participants raised concerns about the lack of sidewalks and safe crossing points as well as potential traffic dangers.
According to the study description, improvements there could include a walkway and a bridge that would connect to Redd from both the Idylwood Road and Pimmit Drive sides of the street.
Attendees also questioned if the planned development will make local traffic denser and more hazardous.
“We will be looking at forecasted volumes on select streets in order to determine how a change in traffic given increased development may affect the recommendations we make for active transportation improvements,” Kutz said.
The county launched the study in December after the Board of Supervisors approved comprehensive plan changes in July to allow mixed-use development around the West Falls Church Metro station and the Virginia Tech campus.
The plan allows for a maximum of 1,340 residential units, 301,000 square feet of office space, 48,000 square feet for retail space, and 160,000 square feet for institutional needs.
According to the project’s draft scope of work, the first set of recommendations will be ready to present for community feedback sometime this spring. A final draft of the study is projected to go before the Board of Supervisors in the summer.
Photo via Google Maps
Plans are officially in for the mixed-use project that will transform the West Falls Church Metro station area.
Developers EYA, Hoffman & Associates, and Rushmark Properties has proposed replacing parking lots by the Metro station with over 1 million square feet of new construction, including residential buildings and townhomes, an office building, up to 10,000 square feet of retail, and 2.1 acres of parks.
After signing an agreement in August with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which owns the land, the group — collectively known as FGCP-Metro LLC — submitted a rezoning application and final development plans to Fairfax County on Dec. 17.
The project will create four new streets, potentially 90 townhouses, and up to 810 multifamily dwellings across three new buildings in Idylwood around an existing six-story WMATA parking garage.
“The Applicant’s proposal, in addition to redevelopment of the adjacent West Falls Site and Virginia Tech Site, presents an exciting inter-jurisdictional planning opportunity entirely unique in Virginia,” Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh attorney Andrew Painter said in the application. “When constructed, this approximately 60-acre district will function as one larger transit-oriented neighborhood.”
The plan calls for a six-story multifamily building by Falls Church Drive and the existing WMATA parking garage.
The building’s first floor would have retail, resident amenities, and an outdoor terrace. The complex would also have an interior courtyard, and a nearby woonerf would encourage pedestrian traffic.
Parking for the new structure, which is slated to be developed by Rushmark, would be concentrated in an underground garage.
The proposal also includes three blocks of townhomes. The first two would be three stories tall, with one set having up to 17 units and the other, located by The Pavillion and Village condos, having up to 42 townhomes. The third block would consist of four-story residences with up to 27 units.
Of the for-sale homes, 15% will be considered affordable, and 10% of the rental units would meet other affordability criteria for workforce dwelling units, the proposal states.
Additional multifamily buildings with up to 280 units and 210 units would be allowed sometime in the future.
“Together with the surrounding community and Metro, EYA, Hoffman & Associates and Rushmark Properties, have created a thoughtful design,” WMATA said when it announced the development agreement. “The project is the result of a multi-year effort between Metro, the development team, and Fairfax County…to enhance an underutilized asset.”
The outdoor spaces would include a 20,600 square-foot park, a 33,300 square-foot transit plaza, and an approximately 8,100 square-foot nature area with benches and bicycle racks.
Additionally, a 19,500 square-foot, fenced dog park could be created at the northwest corner of Haycock Road and the Metro access road. According to Painter, the area would also feature horseshoe games, disc golf practice baskets, and picnic tables.
Fairfax County made way for the proposed construction in July, when the Board of Supervisors approved a comprehensive plan amendment permitting mixed-use development in the West Falls Church Transit Station Area.
The amended plan also allows for a redevelopment of Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center campus on Haycock Road, though the university killed its proposed expansion in March and has not announced any replacement projects since.
With the new development expected to bring more residents and traffic, the county initiated an effort on Dec. 13 to study options for improving the area’s transportation network, which community members have said is already unsafe and inadequate for the anticipated new demand.
WMATA has previously said that construction on its redevelopment project will begin in 2023.
With plans to develop the West Falls Church Metro station area now in place, Fairfax County has decided to evaluate how to improve the surrounding transportation network so it can actually accommodate the anticipated growth.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation will kick off a West Falls Church Active Transportation Study at 7 p.m. today (Monday) with the first meeting of a new citizens’ advisory group.
The study will focus on the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in and around the West Falls Church Transit Station Area, which is bounded by I-66, the Dulles Toll Road, Haycock Road, and the Falls Church City border near Route 7.
“The ultimate goal of the study effort will be to improve pedestrian and bike access and safety around the Metro station,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said by email. “To the extent located in the study area, safe access to several schools, including Lemon Road and Haycock [elementary schools] in the Dranesville District, will also be considered.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed staff to create an active transportation plan in July after approving an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan that allows more mixed-use development in the West Falls Church TSA.
While Virginia Tech halted plans to redevelop its West Falls Church campus earlier this year, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officially signed an agreement with developers in August to bring over 1 million square feet of residential, retail, and office space to the TSA.
Coupled with Falls Church City’s impending West Falls project, the development could draw an influx of residents and traffic that has community members pushing the county to address existing safety challenges and enhance streets and sidewalks not built to support the increased density.
The West Falls Church Active Transportation Study will identify possible projects to improve safety, accessibility, comfort, and connectivity for bicyclists, pedestrians, and other non-motorized travelers, according to a draft scope of work.
In addition to providing “multiple opportunities for community input,” county staff will conduct an assessment of existing facility gaps and barriers to access in conjunction with the 13-person advisory group, which will consist of:
- Three representatives each from the Dranesville and Providence districts
- Two representatives each from Dranesville and Providence school PTAs in the study area
- One representative each from the McLean Citizens Association, Providence District Council, Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, and Fairfax Families for Safer Streets
The citizen group will be assisted by a technical advisory group with local and state transportation, schools, parks, and police officials as well as one representative each from Metro, the City of Falls Church, and Virginia Tech.
Noting that the study will encompass both sides of Route 7, Foust points to Haycock Road between Great Falls Street and the Metro station as one area he anticipates will get a lot of attention.
“The sidewalk is very narrow and needs to be improved,” he said. “I also expect [the advisory group] will identify many intersections where we need to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.”
A tentative timeline for the study has an initial public meeting taking place this winter, followed by the completion of the existing conditions assessment in the late winter or early spring. A final report with recommendations is scheduled to go to the Board of Supervisors in summer 2022.
Foust says the study will establish priorities among the identified projects, which could be funded privately through the county’s rezoning process or compete for public money.
Developers broke ground last week on a project to construct new townhomes on part of Graham Park Plaza.
The project will bring 177 townhomes to the West Falls Church shopping plaza at 7271 Arlington Boulevard. The developer committed to having 22 of those in Fairfax County’s affordable dwelling unit program.
It’ll also redevelop the area with public greenspace, improved sidewalks, and bicycle facilities.
Bethesda-based developer EYA, which is also involved in several other projects in the Falls Church area, has sold 40 townhomes so far, and the next phase of sales will occur early next year, a spokesperson said.
“This project supports one of our key strategic objectives, to provide attainably priced homeownership options in a well-designed, walkable neighborhood,” Evan Goldman, an executive with EYA, said in a news release.
The three-story townhomes with an option for a fourth-story loft start in the mid-$600,000s.
Goldman participated in a groundbreaking ceremony last Wednesday (Dec. 1) with Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, and others, including representatives of property management firm Federal Realty, which has retained part of the plaza.
Federal Realty previously owned the entire plaza but sold 8 acres on the western side for $20.25 million in March to make way for the townhouse project. Several buildings on the eastern half of the plaza, including a Giant grocery store, were slated to remain for retail.
McKay said revitalization projects take a lot of creativity.
“It’s not just another development,” he said. “It’s revitalization and transformation of a part of the county where we need to continue that momentum.”
A mixed-use development along Route 7 has a list of possible names for new streets that would connect sections of the West Falls development project, which seeks to serve as a gateway to the City of Falls Church.
The city is inviting people to give their input by emailing Carly Aubrey with the city planning team at [email protected] as it moves through various boards and commissions over the next two months, culminating in a Falls Church City Council vote on Dec. 13.
Formerly known as Gateway, the development project calls for for offices, retail, and residences, including multifamily condominiums and apartments as well as senior housing.
The proposed name of the main route is West Falls Boulevard, which will eventually connect to the West Falls Church Metro station. Other streets include Magnolia Street, Mulberry Lane, Cardinal Lane, and Arbor Way.
Developers have given the following explanation for the names:
Our general approach to the naming was to select street names that would be relevant to the greater Falls Church community, and which would help ensure that the project becomes an integral part of the existing vibrant community.
We leveraged the use of a tree-based approach due to the common use of that nomenclature throughout the City and to celebrate Falls Church’s status as a Tree City USA community as designated by the National Arbor Day Foundation.
We looked at native trees in Virginia and this concept informed the following proposed names: Magnolia Street, Mulberry Lane, and Arbor Way. We sought to highlight the State Bird of Virginia – the Northern Cardinal – in our proposed use of Cardinal Lane.
Finally, the proposed use of West Falls Boulevard was selected as a means of creating placemaking and identify for the central spine of the project which will extend through the project to the West Falls Church Metro station. The West Falls Boulevard name will provide alignment with the name of the broader district and will help to create a unified and recognizable place.
Taken together, we feel that this collection of street names will offer a strong sense of place and be a collection that is fitting of its location, nature, and stature.
The development group for the project consists of D.C.-based firm PN Hoffman, Bethesda-based business EYA, and Jacksonville, Fla.-headquartered Regency Centers, which owns and operates shopping malls throughout the country.
The city council gave final approval to the West Falls project on Aug. 9. At nearly 10 acres in size, the development is the biggest in the city’s history, and construction workers could break ground early next year, the Falls Church News-Press reported.
More than two years after the idea was first proposed, Metro has the approvals it needs to set the stage for mixed-use development around its West Falls Church station.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced today (Thursday) that it has signed an agreement with a development group that will make over the 24-acre transit station area with more than 1 million square feet of office, retail, and residential space.
Branded FGCP-Metro, LLC, the development partnership consists of EYA, Hoffman & Associates, and Rushmark Properties. EYA and Hoffman are also part of the Falls Church Gateway Partners group behind the West Falls project that got key approvals from the Falls Church City Council earlier this week.
Falls Church News-Press reported on Monday (Aug. 9) that WMATA gave the developers a go-ahead to work on its land that day, according to a spokesperson from the Gateway Partners team.
“Building transit-oriented development is an important strategy for managing many of this region’s most pressing challenges, such as traffic congestion, sustainability, housing production, and transit ridership recovery,” Metro General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said. “The West Falls Church Metro Station is a unique opportunity that will convert underutilized parking lots to provide housing, jobs and economic opportunities, and create a cohesive development plan with the adjacent publicly-owned sites.”
In its news release, WMATA says the joint development agreement with FGCP-Metro will “generate long-term revenue for Metro through 99-year ground leases, in addition to fares from new ridership.”
Plans to turn the West Falls Church TSA into a mixed-use hub have been in the works since 2018, when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors initiated a study to consider amending the county’s comprehensive plan for the transit station area.
The Metro Board of Directors authorized a solicitation of potential developers to build up the 24 acres of land that it owns by the station in January 2019.
According to a WMATA staff report, a feasibility study completed before the board’s vote determined that the TSA should be reconfigured and redeveloped to create “continuity” with the City of Falls Church’s planned development of the former George Mason High School site as well as a proposed expansion of Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center.
After two years of study by a task force appointed by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, the Fairfax County board approved a West Falls Church TSA comprehensive plan amendment on July 13, paving the way for Metro’s new agreement with developers.
“I am pleased that it envisions a vibrant mixed-use, pedestrian friendly environment and attractive public spaces, while respecting nearby established residential communities,” Foust said of the approved plan, though neighborhood concerns about the potential influx of traffic brought by the new development will need to be addressed.
Now that its agreement with WMATA is in place, FCGP-Metro still needs to get specific plans approved by Fairfax County, a process that is expected to unfold over the next year:
The rezoning application will include the detailed plans for the redevelopment of Metro’s parking lots with apartments, townhomes, neighborhood retail, and public green spaces. It will connect the proposed mixed-use redevelopment of the Meridian High School (formerly George Mason High School) site in the City of Falls Church to the West Falls Church Metro Station with new bike lanes, broad sidewalks, publicly accessible park spaces and a secondary grid of streets that will help alleviate some of the congestion in the area.
WMATA says it will hold a public hearing later this year on proposed changes to the West Falls Church Metro station commuter parking and bus facilities, including a replacement of the existing parking lot, a relocation of the bus bays, and a redesign of the Kiss & Ride facility.
Construction on the overall redevelopment project is expected to begin in 2023.
Reminder: Heat Advisory Today — A Heat Advisory will be in effect from noon to 8 p.m. today (Wednesday) with heat index values ranging from 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The National Weather Service advices drinking water, staying inside as much as possible, and checking on neighbors with the extreme heat and humidity bringing the risk of heat-related illnesses. [NWS]
Falls Church Gateway Development Approved — “In a series of unanimous 7-0 votes Monday night, the Falls Church City Council gave final decisive approvals to special exceptions and the site plan for the biggest project in the City’s history, a 9.75-acre mixed use development at the site of the now-demolished old George Mason High School property. The project…now awaits a groundbreaking set for early next year.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Northrop Grumman Celebrates Space Launch — The Falls Church-based company launched its 16th mission to resupply the International Space Station at 6:01 p.m. yesterday (Tuesday) from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Named NG-16, this is the fifth mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with Northrop Grumman. The contract was first awarded in 2008 and covers a minimum of of eight missions to the ISS through 2024. [Office of the Governor]
Meet the New Thoreau MS Principal — “Teresa Khuluki spent the last nine years as principal of Wolftrap Elementary School just north of the town of Vienna. On June 30, she traveled a few miles south to become principal at Thoreau Middle School. Serving as Thoreau Middle’s principal will let her get back to her enthusiasm for working with older, secondary-level students, Khuluki said.” [Sun Gazette]
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).
The amendment opens up much of the nearby area to mixed-use development, with the aim of creating a residential and retail hub similar to the Mosaic District, but the approval came with some caveats from the county planning commission, and skepticism from some in the public.
Throughout the process, residents in nearby neighborhoods have shared concerns that the new developments will put more traffic onto nearby streets not build to withstand the pressure, particularly putting pedestrians in jeopardy even with some pedestrian improvements planned for the site.
The planning commission made some adjustments to the proposed amendment in recognition of these concerns, such as adding text saying that “connections should be provided within the site and to the existing pedestrian network surrounding the site, with an emphasis on pedestrian safety, accessibility, and comfort.”
At Tuesday’s public hearing, resident Adrienne Whyte said the amendment will allow developers to turn the site into a “gateway to gridlock” and that the suburban character of the nearby streets don’t support the kind of road network envisioned in the site plans.
“What other station depends on a two-lane country road for egress?” Whyte asked.
The project got some support from residents and various advocates, including Sonya Breehey, Northern Virginia coalition manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth — an organization that Breehey acknowledged is partially funded by project developer EYA.
“The county must prioritize the redesign of its streets to make them safer for people walking and biking,” Breehey said. “Nearby streets need to be redesigned with bike lanes and safer crosswalks.”
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, who represents the area, celebrated the approval, but he acknowledged the ongoing community concerns and said he would support improvements down-the-road to nearby streets.
“Our work is not done,” Foust said. “Clearly there is concern…by neighborhoods that have challenges today. With or without this application, we need to address them.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said the project was adequately vetted and the area is appropriate for the planned development, but agreed with Foust that the nearby transportation problems can’t be ignored.
“Clearly, near a Metro station like this is where you want to see this type of growth,” McKay said. “That being said, residents have good reason to be concerned. We’ve got work left here to do.”
Tropical Storm Elsa Heads to Virginia — After leaving Florida behind, Tropical Storm Elsa is expected to bring heavy rain and strong winds along the East Coast from Georgia to New England through Friday. Forecasts show the storm passing to the east, but the D.C. area on I-95 could get some rain and breezy conditions tonight. [Capital Weather Gang]
Falls Church Developer Proposes More Senior Housing — “The Falls Church Gateway developer partnership getting underway with work on the 9-acre site of the former George Mason High School came to the F.C. City Council Monday with a request, granted a preliminary vote by a 7-0 margin, to expand the senior living building set for the site from 225,000 square feet to 260,000, including a height increase to 15 stories to accommodate up to 215 units.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Cause of Bird Deaths Still Unknown — The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources received more than 1,400 reports of sick or dying birds in Northern Virginia, including Fairfax County, between May 23 and June 30. No cause has been identified yet, but symptoms of the illness include eye swelling and neurological issues. [Vienna Police/Twitter]
Travel Ban Puts Falls Church Couple’s Wedding Plans at Risk — “The pandemic has prevented a couple from Falls Church, Virginia, from walking down the aisle, and now they say they’ll lose $30,000 if the U.S. travel ban on citizens from Britain and other European nations isn’t lifted soon.” [WTOP]