The final piece needed to fully redevelop the West Falls Church Transit Station Area has fallen into place.
After a public hearing on Tuesday (July 25), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved developer Rushmark Properties and HITT Contracting’s proposal to transform Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center in Idylwood into a mixed-use hub designed to promote sustainability.
With the aid of architectural renderings, a representative for the development team known collectively as Converge West Falls bestowed a futuristic aura on the plan to replace the university’s existing four-story academic building at 7054 Haycock Road with an updated office building and apartments.
“This all looks otherworldly almost,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross observed before expressing “some qualms” with the location of a kids’ play area next to four-lane-wide Falls Church Drive.
The play area will be in a 7,908-square-foot Pocket Play Park — one of three publicly accessible open spaces proposed for the 7.5-acre Converge development, according to the rezoning application.
The developers also plan to build a 7,419-square-foot Sustainability Pocket Park with a boardwalk and other features on a stormwater management pond and a 42,668-square-foot Innovation Civic Plaza in the median of West Falls Station Blvd, a new private street that will be extended west from the recently approved Metro station redevelopment to the West Falls project now under construction in Falls Church City.
Those parks will be complemented by walkways, public art, pollinator gardens, landscaping and seating throughout the property, along with QR codes that will enable visitors to learn more about the site’s construction, said Walsh Colucci lawyer Andrew Painter, the development team’s representative.
The civic plaza is intended to serve as “the nucleus” of the development with an event lawn and an electronic, LED “Cloud Pavilion” whose canopy can be programmed to change color, shape, size and design based on the environmental factors, such as the angle of the sun.
“We believe this is going to be an immersive experience that will be a distinctive public art moment for the entire West Falls Church transportation area,” Painter said of the open-air pavilion.
According to Painter, the developers also wanted to create a “defining architectural statement” with the planned, 270-square-foot office building, which will house a new corporate headquarters for HITT and a Coalition for Smart Construction run by Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture.
Topping out at 120 feet tall, the building will have a 100,000-square-foot solar panel array on its roof that’s expected to generate between 1,100 and 1,400 megawatts of electricity — enough to power the whole facility. It will aim for net-zero carbon emissions.
“Furniture within this building will be generated with a 3D printer,” Painter said. “The façade of the building will be prefabricated to reduce the carbon footprint…Every step of the way, we’ll be incorporating those types of sustainability elements in the building.”
Apartment building height a sticking point for some residents
Community criticisms of the project, however, focused on the 13-story, 440-unit residential building — specifically its height, which will reach 145 feet along West Falls Station Blvd and taper down to 85 feet at the corner of Falls Church Drive and Haycock Road.
While most of the Falls Church Drive frontage will be 85 feet tall or less, the building’s northwest corner could reach a maximum height of 135 feet, per the development plan.
Fearing they’ll be literally overshadowed, residents of The Village condominiums argued at the public hearing that the proposed height violates the West Falls Church TSA’s comprehensive plan, which limits “portions of the buildings…directly across from” their complex to 85 feet high.
“The comprehensive plan accommodates a height limitation…of 85 feet all along Falls Church Drive and 145 feet for the rest of the building to mitigate the visual and aesthetic impact to the Village community and reduce the shadows cast by [the residential building] that will impact those condos directly across from the tower,” The Village Homeowners Association President Holly Wade said.
However, county staff disageed that the controversial portion of corner is “directly across” from The Village, since it’ll be 250 feet away from the nearest condo units and include a 30-foot-tall podium with up to 18,000 square feet of retail.
Noting that the Fairfax County Planning Commission fully supported the application when it met on July 12, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust concurred with staff and expressed confidence that the planned setback and varying building heights will mitigate the risk of negative impacts on The Village.
“I know people feel very strongly,” he said. “I’m sorry I can’t agree with them. I’m sorry I couldn’t solve the problem, but I will say this, I think this is an absolutely first-class project and needs to be approved.”
Some community members and even one man who identified himself as a longtime Restonian expressed support for the project, asserting that the added housing and more pedestrian-friendly design will address the county’s affordability challenges and reduce residents’ dependence on cars.
“The vast majority of my neighbors that I talk to regularly are extremely excited about the developments coming here,” said YIMBYs of Northern Virginia member Aaron Wilkowitz, who lives within a half-mile of the Metro station. “We want new restaurants, we want new neighbors. We don’t want to look at an old parking lot and a few mid-sized office buildings. We want more density and we’re very excited about it.”
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