Neighbors of East Falls Church Metro stunned by development idea

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 14, 2010

Some Arlington County residents who live near the East Falls Church Metro station say a proposed plan for guiding future development in the area will destroy their bucolic neighborhood.

The proposed East Falls Church Area plan offers guidance for the potential redevelopment of about 10 sites in the community, including the East Falls Church park-and-ride lot, in preparation for the arrival of the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport.

The plan recommends replacing the more than 400 parking spaces at the park-and-ride with a six- to nine-story building, a central plaza, retail operations and about 100 short-term parking spaces for shoppers, among other ideas.

The Arlington County Board is scheduled to discuss the plan Tuesday and is expected to schedule public hearings on the 150-page proposal.

"Those of us who bought in this part of the county did so because it wasn't urbanized. We wanted to have single-family homes," said Nancy Weinberg, a 32-year resident, who said her family made concessions when townhouse developments came to the community. "A nine-story high-rise? I don't think so."

But the head of the East Falls Church Planning Task Force, formed by the county in 2007, said something had to be done. Development will happen one way or another.

The community wanted to avoid a "piecemeal development" and gain such amenities as a grocery store, sidewalks and bike lanes, said Michael Nardolilli, task force chairman.

"What do you suggest? We do nothing? Or do you just ignore the fact that three years from now East Falls Church will be the transfer station for the Silver Line and hope for the best?" Nardolilli said.

But some residents said the County Board has the power to control what happens in the neighborhood.

"The amount of development will be no more or no less than the County Board wants, because they control that site. . . . That is just nonsense," said John Shumate, who has lived one block from the Metro station for 24 years.

Shumate said residents were "rowdy and hostile" at a community meeting last month when they learned of plans for a six-story, 450,000-square-foot building at the site. The building could be as large as nine stories and 600,000 square feet if the developer adds more community-approved amenities.

Some residents said they hadn't had enough input in the process or enough time to study the report. There is "a lot of interface between the task force and the county, but not nearly as much interface between the task force and citizens," Shumate said.

Several residents agreed and said the board should delay any votes on adopting the plan until the community has had more time to discuss it.

"I'm not an opponent or a proponent. I'm just thinking people need to talk about these things before they happen," said Barbara Green, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years and recently learned about the plan.

A Virginia Department of Transportation representative and three task force members voted last month against moving the plan forward for the county review. They lost 14 to 4.

"VDOT is concerned about any future uses that do not provide complete replacement commuter parking and reservation of right-of-way for rail or highway expansion along I-66," Jo Anne Sorenson, VDOT's assistant district administrator, said in an April 20 letter to the task force.

Nardolilli, who said he has been making presentations on the proposal, said some residents don't want any development; others think the area needs even more.

"I think that is good and healthy," he said. "Now it is before the County Board, and the County Board will decide what to do."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company