In the news business, this is known as a “process” story. On Saturday the county board voted to accept a task force’s plan for development around the East Falls Church Metro Station. The board passed the plan on to county staff, who will review it and make changes while preserving 15 priorities outlined by the board. The board’s action will have no actual, practical consequences. That will come when the final plan is adopted by the board about six months from now, following more revisions and public discussion.
For what was essentially a procedural action, however, there sure were plenty of people who wanted to talk about it. About 25 speakers voiced their opinion on the EFC plan, most of them residents who believe that the addition of transit-oriented, mixed use retail/office buildings and the subtraction of the commuter parking lot would “destroy” or otherwise sully their relatively quiet residential neighborhood.
Passions run high on the EFC issue, and Saturday’s nearly three hour discussion was no exception. At one point, while the board was discussing the plan amongst themselves, board chairman Jay Fisette scolded development opponents for hissing.
Later, in a bit of openness that should give opponents hope, board vice chairman Chris Zimmerman acknowledged a major hurdle that could prevent the development from getting done. The commuter parking lot, which the county wants to convert into a mixed-use development that will act as the “town center” of East Falls Church, is owned by VDOT, which has said it wants the lot to remain.
“Maybe VDOT won’t allow it and it won’t get built,” Zimmerman conceded.
Board member Barbara Favola challenged opponents’ assertion that development will not provide a compelling community benefit. Among the sites slated for redevelopment under the plan are a gas station, a car repair shop, an oil storage facility, two banks and an Econo Lodge hotel.
“I for one am 100 percent certain that we can do better than what is there, that we can absolutely enhance quality of life,” Favola said.
After the 5-0 vote to move the plan forward, Fisette encouraged plan critics to “catch up” and participate in the process with “an open mind.”
While accepting the task force’s plan, the board outlined 15 specific priorities for staff to keep in mind while drafting a final plan. Via a county press release, those priorities include:
- Preserve single-family homes.
- Protect historic sites.
- Place a high priority on including a grocery store and other neighborhood-serving retail/office uses at mixed-use site.
- Provide new and enhanced public plazas and recreation spaces.
- Generally limit building heights in the concept area to four to six stories where buildings meet the street.
- Restrict heights along the frontage on the Park & Ride site to the same as those of the homes facing them across Washington Blvd. and Sycamore Street (generally, 4 stories, not more than 48 feet), tapering up from the neighborhood behind he buildings along the street frontage by one to two stories, then tapering up again by one to three stories, along the center section of the I-66 frontage.
- Outline goals and strategies for preserving and creating affordable housing within one mile of the East Falls Church station area.
- Provide financing mechanisms and plans for building a western entrance to the Metrorail station at the earliest possible date.
- Reduce auto congestion in the area by reducing commuter parking at the Metro station.
- Control spillover parking through the Residential Zoned Parking Program.
- Improve the streetscape, especially across Lee Highway and along Washington Blvd., to enhance the environment for walking.
- Establish additional bike routes along arterial and neighborhood streets, provide for better bicycle parking and storage.
- Design an improved path for crossing Lee Highway on the W&OD that is safer and easily accessible.
- Enhance bus service, improve safety, convenience of bus loading.
- Include strategies that preserve and protect existing natural areas.