Editor’s note: Lisa Varouxis has in depth knowledge of all the iterations and discussions regarding Mason Row. She attends all the meetings, reviews all submitted documents and submits detailed questions and follows up with the city for answers.
Mayor Tarter, Vice Mayor Snyder, Council Member Baroukh, Council Member Connelly, Council Member Duncan, Council Member Oliver, Council Member Sze:
I appreciate the changes Spectrum Development and Mill Creek have recently made to address some of the concerns of the adjacent neighbors, specifically the announcement on the 23rd of November they will reduce the height of the building by one floor on the West Street facing side. Yet the development as a whole is still too dense and too big for this site and there are additional items to be addressed.
1. With all the references/comparisons made over time to the Mosaic District (and most recently, the Dunn Loring development) no one has mentioned those projects were developed near the intersection of two major roads (Lee Highway and Gallows Road), and not on the edge of existing residential neighborhoods. That is not the case with the proposed Mason Row. Perhaps a downsized Mosaic District is not what is best for Falls Church.
Broad Street is a four-lane road, but West Street is a two-lane road, with residences on either side of it after you pass the first block north or south of Broad Street. The volume of traffic this development will bring will more or less cripple the West End neighborhoods, and residents of Chestnut Street, Jennifer Lane, Steeples Court, Park Avenue, Grove Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, and West Street will be the most impacted. Those living on courts and dead end streets will find it difficult to get out of their immediate neighborhood, while those living on the through streets will, potentially, find it difficult to get into and out of their cars due to the constant stream of traffic. The flow of traffic into and out of the development will become gridlocked, especially during peak movie times, which will keep people from wanting to make it the destination being purported.
2. I appreciate the 5% reduction in the number of apartments proposed, but believe 322 residential apartments, with a yet unidentified breakdown between 1- and 2-bedroom units, still adds a large number of residential units to our quickly (perhaps too quickly) expanding population. Construction of the 282-unit Rushmark project and the 224-unit Reserve at Tinner Hill project is still under way. The three projects alone will add 828 new residential units. Those are in addition to the recently completed Northgate, with 94 units, and Gateway, with 200 units. That brings the total to 1128 new residential units in a five to eight year period. In addition, lest we forget, the recently proposed Broad and Washington project, with 324 units, in addition to the Campus Redevelopment Project, with an unknown quantity of residential units.
Being conservative and saying 25% of the units in the four approved developments and the proposed Mason Row and Broad and Washington developments are two bedroom units, and only one person occupies each bedroom, we are looking at a population growth of 1670 people – 13.5% over the 2010 census number of 12332 residents.
If 159 of those new residents, using the .11% per residential unit calculation used by staff, are school-aged children, then we are faced with spending $2.8M+ per year to educate the 159 students that will be part of that population growth. That does not include any other expenses the city may incur in providing services to the new residents. Does the city have the resources to manage this type of accelerated growth? Or are you counting on the potential revenue generated from the new retail sites to cover all of added expense? What if the retail portions do not do as well as projected for several years?
3. The failure by the developer to provide a definitive answer on the façade of the hotel is unsettling. Originally, Spectrum stated the design was beyond their control as the hotel developer would be building to the corporate standard. Now they state they are in talks with the hotel developer to modify the exterior of the hotel to bring it closer in line with “Virginia architecture.” What does that mean – red brick, white siding, and black shutters? If this proposal passes Second Reading, what assurance will there be the hotel will not be the unattractive design, or something similar to the one in the current plans?
4. Acquiring a first run movie theater could be an accomplishment for the city, bringing many visitors to town to dine in our restaurants and visit our shops, and provide a place for City residents to walk to for a movie. Yet the number of screens and seats at the theater seems to be in flux again. Will it be seven or eight screens with 800 or 900 seats? How will the increased traffic be managed during peak movie times? Should the residents of the neighboring streets (North and South West Street, Lincoln Avenue, Park Avenue, Grove Avenue) just accept the fact there may be a couple hundred more cars traveling down their streets on Friday and Saturday nights?
5. The request by the developer for a 10% theater admissions tax, paid in full to them for the first 15 years, then 90% paid to them for the next 5 years, is offensive. Not only should we not be paying the developer for building a movie theater, one is left to wonder what expense the city (a new staff position, perhaps?) will incur to process this tax, then make the payments to the developer. How often would payment be made – monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, or annually?
6. The failure of the developer to include a 20’ setback from the curb to the face of the buildings for all of the street-front structures, regardless of the fact this requirement has been reiterated numerous times over the two years this has project has been up for review. Projects approved in the past (such as The Spectrum, The Broadway, The Read Building, The Flower Building) did not enforce this standard, and it is difficult for two people, walking in opposite directions, to pass one another comfortably.
7. The trash bay/pickup site on West Street could cause traffic back up and delays, dependent upon the scheduled trash pick-up time. This should be internal to the project and not on a through street.
The last minute changes offered by the development team are an obvious, and appalling, attempt to win approval from the City Council. These changes should have been made prior to their sixth submission, which they tendered on July 24, 2015, and not come trickling in as the proposal goes through the approval process. Additionally, the changes are not available to the public prior to the Public Hearings, which seems to be an unscrupulous attempt by the development team to blindside those of us who are truly interested in the outcome of this.
Yes, the voluntary concessions (to include money for the schools and library, a space for the arts, safety improvements at two bike trail crossings, and more) being proffered by the developer in an effort to garner approval are nice, but do they truly offset the problems/additional expenses a development of this size may bring?
Closely review the comments made by each of the boards and commissions, most of which are comprised of members appointed by you, the City Council, and consider if their concerns are being addressed.
I implore you to look past the glamor and glitz of a fancy new project replacing buildings many consider to be an eye sore and consider the overall impact this will have in both the near and distant future. Consider the projects currently under construction and the ones recently submitted. Ask yourself how you want this city to look 20 years down the road: Do you envision 5-story and taller mixed use buildings from the western edge of the city all the way down Broad Street to Washington Street, with the accompanying gridlock to go with them?
Please vote NO on Mason Row on December 14.