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VPIS on Broad and West Street Development

Latest comments, older comments below:
 
May 28, 2015

Mayor Tarter and Members of City Council
Chair Meeks and Members of the Planning Commission 300 Park Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046

SUBJECT: Proposed Broad and West Street Development

Dear Mayor Tarter, Members of City Council and the Planning Commission

The Board of Directors of the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) is continuing to review the latest submission and attend public presentations and discussions on the proposed Broad and West Development.  We support the additional business development in the business districts along our main transportation corridors.  The VPIS Board also offers the following input on the most recent proposal dated April 8, 2015, with some material being April 18, 2015 and based on recent meetings:

1)      Massing and Size: The project massing still is an issue. The actual size and massing as well as the overwhelming perception of enormous size and massing is still of concern. We would like to see some step backs on the upper floors as well as minor changes in ground level setbacks to provide a relief to the massing. (More related to massing in architecture below.)

2)      Architecture: The architectural plans of the April 8, 2015 proposal appear to be limited to Attachment 3 pages A2.0 and A2.1 that does not provide the detail to provide a realistic review.  We appreciate that vertical elements have now been included but do not see the difference in setbacks, form and materials that that would help break the massing and provide the appearance of multiple buildings.      Again, we think the style should be more compatible to Falls Church and Virginia  and that The Pearson Building (on S. Maple Ave.) could be cited as inspiration  a building that that has been successful at a clearly less advantageous location.

3)      Park Avenue:  Transitional Zoning should be used on Park Avenue.  Not to do so is to abandon the clear transition that the planning and zoning intended to ease impacts on residential neighborhoods.  The setback on Park Avenue should be a minimum of 25 feet, just as the front yard setback of the rest of the street.  To allow the structure closer to the street is repeating the mistake made on the Hilton Garden Inn parking deck but a mistake
 
a magnitude larger in impact.  Setting the zoning at T-1 clearly sets the expectation for setbacks and step-backs of upper stories and respect for the single family neighborhoods. To eliminate the Transition zone sets a very bad precedent for the rest of Park Avenue and elsewhere.

4)      Concern about Movie Theaters: We support uses that will bring appropriate vitality to the development. However it appears that the addition of the theaters resulted in several negative consequences to the overall project. It has
      increased the size and massing of the project;
      caused parking to be relocated from underground to an above ground deck;
      will add approximately 250 car trips per hour during prime theater times;
      requires a financial subsidy from the city to make the addition of the theaters financially viable.
Given all of those negative impacts, the addition of the theater component is not worth the negative impacts that it brings to the City.

5)      Voluntary Concessions: There are numerous issues in the voluntary concessions statement of concern including streetscape and site plan review that we detail in the attachment.

Thank you for considering these issues. We look forward to working with you to develop a successful project.

Sincerely,

 
Keith Thurston, President
On Behalf of the Board of Directors
Village Preservation and Improvement Society Attachment: Voluntary Concession Issues
cc: City Manager Planning Department Spectrum Development
 
Attachment
VPIS issues raised concerning the Broad and West Voluntary Concessions Statement dated January 30, 2015


1.      Paragraph 1- Site Plan states that "Minor modifications to the CDP/SE" may be permitted during the site plan approval.  The word minor should be eliminated in that it appears the developer is stating that any changes to the plan beyond someone's definition of minor are not permitted.  That will undermine the site planning process.

2.      Paragraph 1 Theater.  Since the concept of cinema may change over the life of the building, the VC should be worded as Theater (retail entertainment). The City Council at the time may approve the non-cinema use that qualifies as retail entertainment.

3.      Paragraph 2. Streetscape.  VPIS supports keeping the Streetscape Plan Broad Street as it  and NOT varying on a site by site basis  defeating the cohesive quality appearance that was designed. A similar streetscape is not acceptable (cite: Hilton Garden Inn).  We do not support each building maintaining different streetscape plantings along Broad Street.

4.      Paragraph 3  Name. VPIS does NOT support any developer right to change the name of the building after approvals. The names of buildings and streets are a very important part of community history and character  and thus the Community benefits and should be listed in the final VC statement.  We may have suggestions for an appropriate name at a later time.

5.      Paragraph 6- School Capital Costs. A sentence should be added that "At the time of first full occupancy, if the number of occupants under age 18 exceeds the projected amount in the model, the developer will contribute an additional $7511 for each child over the projected number."

6.      Paragraph 10 - Offsite Improvements. For clarity, the undergrounding of utilities includes all "except the high voltage electric transmission lines" so be added.

7.      Paragraph 12- Transportation. This paragraph is vague and appears not to commit to the new signalized intersection at Park and West, and the new stop light on Broad Street and Mason lane, and not the realignment of the WO&D Trail at West Street.

8.      Paragraph 13  TDM. Again this paragraph is vague and refers to another Transportation Demand Plan and Parking Management Plan and no reference to compliance with any standard, approved by whom or by what date.

9.      Paragraph 15  ADUs. Item ii) should indicate the developer will administer the ADU program with the City.
 
10.      Paragraph 19- Bike Share.  The VC should be clear that the Bike Share location will be accommodated on the development premises (with an easement to the City).  There is no other City space left for bike share.

11.      Paragraph 23  Bus Shelter. VPIS strongly supports bus shelters that are of the uniform Broad Street Streetscape design. The option for the developer to provide one (perhaps of a different design) should be eliminated.




April 7th, 2015 revised letter to Council:

April 7, 2015
Mayor Tarter and Members of City Council
Chair and Members of the Planning Commission
300 Park Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046

SUBJ: Proposed Broad and West Street Development

Dear Members of City Council and the Planning Commission:
The Board of Directors of the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) is continuing to review the latest submission and attend public presentations and discussions on the proposed Broad and West Development. In several important areas the developer has listened to community concerns and made some adjustments to the proposal, and we are encouraged that the project is evolving based on community input.

We support the additional commercial development in the commercial districts along our main transportation corridors. Along with access to retail along the internal street of the project, we would also like to emphasize the need for first floor retail entrances on all street level frontages. There should be no blank walls facing West Street, Park Avenue or Broad Street, but each street should have pedestrian access to businesses to ensure a lively street presence.
The VPIS Board also offers the following input on the most recent proposal dated February 2, 2015, and based on recent meetings:
1) Massing and Size: The project actual size and massing as well as the overwhelming perception of enormous size and massing is still of concern. We would like to see some step backs on the upper floors as well as an essential reduction of the Park Avenue facade to the appropriate height of 35' in order to conform to code requirements for properties abutting the R1A residential zone. (More related to massing in architecture below.)
2) Concern about Movie Theaters: We support businesses that will bring appropriate vitality to the development. However it appears that the addition of the theaters resulted in several negative consequences to the overall project. It has increased the size and massing of the project, caused parking to be relocated from an underground plan into an above ground deck and will add approximately 250 car trips per hour (*1) during prime theater times. The developer has also indicated its need for a financial subsidy from the city to make the addition of the theaters financially viable. Given all of those multiple negative impacts, the addition of the theater component is not worth the negative impacts that it brings to the City.
3) Architecture: The architecture of the February 2, 2015 proposal emphasizes second floor horizontal elements that tie the whole development together and makes the project appear massive. We suggest that the external faade of the development should appear to be multiple buildings emphasizing the "vertical buildings". This can be accomplished with differences in the setback, form and materials that create the impression of multiple buildings. We think the style should be more compatible to Falls Church and Virginia  and that The Pearson Building (on S. Maple Ave.) could be cited as inspiration  a building that that has been successful at a clearly less advantageous location.
4) Parking Deck: The parking deck on Park Avenue in the February 2, 2015 concept iteration raises problematic issues concerning the apparent size, height, setback, finish and lighting (color and spillage). However, we understand that there have been some changes to the proposed parking deck and look forward to reviewing them when they are available.

Thank you for considering these issues. We look forward to working with you to develop a successful project.

Sincerely,
Dennis Szymanski, Vice President
On Behalf of the Board of Directors
Village Preservation and Improvement Society

cc: City Manager
Planning Department
Spectrum Development

(1)  Car trips are based on the stated 550 attendees during prime times, 50 of which are walking or biking, others arriving and departing by car every 2 hours and an average of 2 persons per car. 500 trips every 2 hours or 250 trips per hour. This is a rough calculation by VPIS.




January 15, 2015

Mayor Tarter and Members of City Council
Chair Rodgers and Members of the Planning Commission
300 Park Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046

SUBJ: Proposed Broad and West Street Development (temporarily Mason Row)

Dear Members of City Council and the Planning Commission:

The Board of Directors of the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) commends the City and the developers of the proposed project at Broad and West Streets (temporarily Mason Row) for listening to community issues and proposing substantial improvements in the project design over the past several months. Many of these project changes respond to suggestions provided by VPIS (see our original letter below) and by other community organizations.
Recognizing that the project footprint has changed and that numerous design elements are unresolved at this stage, VPIS would like to offer several general suggestions concerning topics that have been raised at recent meetings.

1) A New First Reading: A new First Reading would be appropriate since the project footprint has changed and numerous design elements are unresolved at this stage.

2) Support for Council Project Guidelines: VPIS generally supports the Recommended Actions and Strategies presented at the October 8th Council meeting. As the project continues to develop, the Council should continue to expect those actions and outcomes.

3) Concern on Library Proposal for Mason Row: VPIS has concerns about the suggestion to relocate some or all of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library to the Mason Row project and urges the Council to give careful consideration to the substantial problems in the short and long-term that would result from moving some or all of the Library into that location. The library needs should be addressed at the existing library location.

4) Concern on City Financing of Movie Theaters: VPIS strongly supports the addition of a second major retail operation to the project and believes that the proposed movie theaters can provide benefits to the project and the City if the obvious resulting traffic and parking issues are somehow mitigated.

We understand, however, that the City is considering providing significant financial support for the theaters. We urge the City to be cautious in providing financial assistance to support any specific project element. If a theater development on this site can't be financed through a conventional, private process, the financial success of the project over the long term seems questionable. For the City to provide financing for a project element that might not be financially viable otherwise puts scarce City resources
at risk and detracts from efforts to identify a second retail anchor that is more likely to be a long term financial success.

In addition, City financial participation in a major commercial element of a development project raises questions over the net financial benefit of the project to the City and sets a precedent that could result in requests for comparable treatment in future projects. It should not be forgotten that the City is already providing a significant allowance by permitting residential units to be built within the business district zoning.
5) Need for Clear Open Process for Project Approval: The process for finalizing the project should be better defined and more clearly open to public comment. The City website on the project includes all the major project documents up to the release of the PowerPoint presentation to the Town Hall Meeting on December 17th. This presentation, however, does not speak to a wide range of important detail issues of interest to VPIS and other community organizations, including:

- residential quantity, type and density;
- impacts on schools;
- final net new financial impact assessment;
- environmental features;
- traffic management;
- affordable housing;
- an agreeable interface with the W&OD Trail;
- general architectural style of the tradition in Virginia and
- a development name that is distinctive of this location.

VPIS would like the opportunity to review and comment on the amended project
application and supporting materials describing the project elements. Although further public meetings to hear of project developments are helpful, they do not commonly include the project details that are needed to carefully evaluate the project.

Thank you for considering these additional suggestions. We look forward to working with you to develop a financially successful project that provides the City with multiple benefits.

Sincerely,
Keith Thurston, President
on Behalf of the Board of Directors
Village Preservation and Improvement Society

cc: City Manager
Spectrum Development

ORIGINAL VPIS INPUT 

March 15, 2013
Mayor David Tarter and Members of City Council
City of Falls Church
300 Park Avenue
City of Falls Church, VA 22046

SUBJECT:  Proposed Development at Broad and West Streets by Spectrum Development
      
Dear Mayor Tarter and Members of Council;

This provides initial comments from the Board of Directors of the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) on the proposed residential and commercial development at Broad and West Streets by Spectrum Development.

First, the VPIS Board of Directors strongly supports commercial development compatible with the community character along the City's main arteries for the long term financial health of the City. 

This proposal however raises many concerns that the Board would like to make known to you early. Briefly they are:

1.      The City seems to ignore the highly paid consultants' advice to cluster the intense high density development at the Downtown Business District to create a sense of place and destination - and to not string out midrise buildings randomly all along Broad Street.

2.      The traffic movements around West, Grove and West Broad Streets and the WO&D Trail are already very difficult and congested.  All traffic exiting this development onto Broad Street will be forced to drive west if not for just the turning restrictions but the sheer volume of traffic already at that location preventing an east bound departure.  This will force more traffic into the neighborhoods and down Park Avenue to loop back to access east bound Broad Street at another traffic light.  The inclusion of so many additional residential units here with the obvious additional traffic will make auto traffic here intolerable if not grid locked during peak periods.

3.      No parking requirement reductions are warranted considering the outcomes of other developments that were built at the City's minimum standards  that have created parking shortages.  For instance the Flower Building has consistent parking and access challenges, for an important City anchor establishment, the Post Office. This sends customers to more accessible locations like Merrifield and Westover loosing the exact business synergy that we all say that we want.  A parking reduction based on the bike path access is not a defendable justification. Bikers also own cars, and if they bike to work, their parking space is not available for daytime retail re-use  the normal parking tradeoff.  Analysis of morning departures from the housing units at West Falls Church Metro shows that few of the residents actual ride Metro, thus not reducing local traffic  or parking requirements.  Regardless of buzzwords, naming, promises and marketing, this demonstrates that our ability to social engineer the outcome of housing  is very limited.

4.      The development plans appear to destroy a historic house on West Broad Street that has been preserved as historic through the allowance of the expansion to it. The historic structure should be maintained an used to set the character of the resultant develop as done in Rowell Court across West Broad Street.

5.      The development also is requesting to change zoning to eliminate three period homes on Park Avenue further encroaching on a residential neighborhood and the character of Park Avenue that we have all sought to maintain.

6.      In general we are concerned with the size and density of development of this proposal at this specific location.

Thank you for your consideration.


Sincerely,

Mark Gross, Vice President
On Behalf of the Board of Directors
Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society

cc:
Chair Ruth Rodgers, and Members of the Planning Commission
City Manager, Wyatt Shields
Director, Planning Staff

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Village Preservation and Improvement Society
P.O. Box 6824, Falls Church, Virginia 22040