The 10-acre lot adjacent to the site for the new George Mason High School in West Falls Church is coveted real estate. After four years of brainstorming potential plans for the area, a referendum to construct the new school passed in November 2017, and a coordinating committee was formed in January 2018 as a forum for collaboration between school and economic developers.
In March 2018, City Council and the School Board began receiving developer qualifications, then asked three finalists to submit detailed proposals. Two finalists, Falls Church Gateway Partners and Rushmark WFC, accepted the invitation, with different visions for the future of West Falls Church. Detailed proposals were received this month.
Falls Church Gateway Partners is a conglomeration of developers EYA, PN Hoffman, and Regency Centers. Their project, named Little City Commons, is a mixed-use space for all ages. They hope to turn West Falls Church into an 18-hour-a-day community with the addition of new housing and retail space, while also having as little impact as possible on the district’s nearby schools. PN Hoffman is known for developing the popular Wharf community in the district, and the company hopes to instill the same sense of place in Little City Commons. It’s what the partners call “placemaking,” creating a space where patrons feel there is uniqueness and harmony in the style of all its different elements.
To achieve this, FCGP will use “place management,” designing a hotel alongside a music venue or civic space, as well as a retail space anchored by a grocery store and restaurants, senior living, commercial office space, as well as a mix of apartments, condos, and affordable housing. The design integrates the new GMHS park and entrance and considers the needs of nearby students. Importantly, the community will be centered around nearly an acre of open space, creating the opportunity for activities such as outdoor yoga or art exhibitions.
Rushmark WFC, meanwhile, has the same goal of creating a sense of community and harmony, but focuses on some issues not addressed in FCGP’s proposal. Dubbed FallsWest, the development is described as a “multigenerational, livable neighborhood.” It will capitalize off of the intersection of education and transportation by developing spaces that build off of both the high school and the West Falls Church metro station. Some components of the plan are similar to FCGP: a full-service hotel, retail and office space, mixed-income housing, and a common area, tentatively named Falls Church Square. This will be a three-quarter-acre green area with underground parking to maximize open space, whereas Little City Commons would build a shared central parking garage. Also mentioned for the square is a spray park for kids, an outdoor movie theater, and an ice rink in the winter.
In contrast to its competitor, Rushmark has dedicated a substantial section of its proposal to the goal of developing with energy efficiency and sustainability in mind. It hopes to further Falls Church’s Green Power Community Initiative, incorporating high-tech elements into the development process, such as drone delivery and robotic construction. Their proposal also outlines eco-friendly design and style elements. Their contractor, HITT, is known for its sustainable practices, and Rushmark developed the first LEED Gold office building in Fairfax. It also has neighborhood cred due to its development of the WestBroad Residences, including the adjoining Harris Teeter.
Payment for FCGP would entail a hefty upfront land payment to the city to assist in offsetting the cost of the new high school. Rushmark would pay a 20 percent deposit in 2019, a land payment for the condos in 2021, and continue with a 99-year lease thereon, which they believe sets the community up for long-term success.