ULI Washington News

Falls Church Faces Unique Development Opportunity

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A historic boundary adjustment between Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church has resulted in a unique development opportunity for the City of Falls Church: how to plan for and co-locate 10 acres of commercial development alongside a new, state-of-the-art high school that is intended to serve the City over the next 50 years.

To address this planning challenge, the City sought the assistance of ULI Washington, and was selected to receive a Technical Assistance Panel – or TAP – through a partnership with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, or COG, to deliver TAPs in COG-designated Activity Centers. During the course of the 1.5 day TAP, nine ULI Washington members whose professional expertise range from real estate and planning to zoning and finance collaborated to create a dynamic vision for the study area that included site plans, concept plans, a development program, financial analyses, as well as suggested best practices for implementation.

The study area, which measures approximately 34 acres, became part of the City of Falls Church as the result of a 2013 boundary adjustment agreement between the City and Fairfax County titled, “Voluntary Boundary Adjustment Agreement By and Between the City of Falls Church, Virginia, and Fairfax County, Virginia.” The study area is located in the northwest corner of the City, and is bounded by Leesburg Pike (also known as West Broad Street) and Route 7 to the south, Haycock Road to the east, and Falls Church Drive (an unsigned Metro and I-66 access road) to the west.

Falls_Church_mapUltimately, the Panel drew on the concept of an agora to create an overall vision for the study area. Based on the ancient Greek city-state, an agora is defined as a place where the academy and commerce meet, resulting in a creative marketplace of goods and ideas. The Panel’s overall vision is to physically link a 10-acre commercial development site to a new high school campus. This link would be spatially created by a large public plaza that is located at the boundary between the campus and the commercial development site, where the academy and commerce meet. The public space will encourage interaction between the school system, the larger Falls Church community, and the proposed mixed-use commercial development.

After careful analysis, Panelists recommended a development sequence that involves the following steps:

  1. Build the new school
  2. Demolish the old school
  3. Develop the 10-acre commercial site

IMG_0060Panelists acknowledged that this approach does not allow for the sale/lease of the commercial acreage to support the development of the school, but advised that there was no suitable sequencing alternative given market realities and spatial constraints of the study area.

After selecting the location for the commercial development site, the Panel envisioned that the site would be a mixed-use environment, anchored by a fitness center stacked on top of a movie theater, and include such complementary uses as residential, shopping, employment, and hospitality. Establishing a grid of streets will be critical to creating a pedestrian-friendly and inviting environment. The Panel’s recommendations also included a development program, phasing, a project timeline, best practices for implementation and attracting a developer, and an analysis of the fiscal benefits of the project. Panelists also addressed design issues relating to creating a high performance learning environment.

StudyAreaConceptPlan_legendULI Washington is especially grateful to the Panelists who volunteered their time and talent to this project. Panelists included Robert Wulff, who served as chair, as well as Elizabeth Baker, Leonard Bogorad, Anthony Chang, Martine Combal, Peter Crowley, Bob Eisenberg, Gary Malasky, and Sean O’Donnell. ULI Washington is also thankful to the staff and consultants of the City of Falls Church for the opportunity to study such an interesting project.

To view the report, which was released earlier this week, and is titled, “Development Opportunities in the City of Falls Church,” click here.

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