Falls Church City Council members have given unqualified support to a $2.5 million office project off N. Washington Street, saying the development would benefit citizens, preserve open space and protect the nearby residential neighborhood.
"It's among the most important projects in the city in the last several years," said Falls Church planning director Henry Bibber.
"It's an innovative idea in line with traditional values."
Despite opposition from several citizens, the council voted 6 to 0 Monday night to close a half-block section of E. Great Falls Street and sell a portion of the city-owned Madison School site to the political consulting firm of Craver, Matthews, Smith & Co.
The Falls Church-based firm, which owns two buildings on N. Washington Street on either side of E. Great Falls Street, will purchase for about $388,000 a 24,000-square- foot section of the adjacent school site and a 240-foot-long section of the street to expand its offices.
The city's Planning Commission is scheduled next month to consider a site plan by the Craver firm to build a third three-story Victorian-style office building behind one of its two existing facilities, construct about 100 parking spaces and landscape the area around the buildings.
The Craver firm has agreed to construct pedestrian walkways through the site, allow the public use of a landscaped area beside the buildings and make 20 parking spaces available on weekends and holidays to citizens using the Madison Park behind the site.
"We will certainly approve it the site plan in some form," said Falls Church Planning Commission Chairwoman Sally Phillips. "I think it's a question of getting a design that blends well with the two existing buildings and residential neighborhood . . . . I think we'll get there eventually."
"I'm a convert to the proposal," said City Council member J. Roger Wollenberg. "My impression is the Cravers have been good citizens in this city and have been very interested in preserving the buildings we treasure . . . . I think the vacation of the street is not a sinister Craver plot . . . . I happen to go with those who happen to think it's a good thing for everybody."
Monday night's meeting was the second and final public hearing before the council on the proposed street closing and land sale and not everyone expressed support for the plans.
Jeffrey Lang, former chairman of the city's Historical Commission, said he opposed the site plan itself, partly because he is against the idea of large parking lots around buildings.
"Even a project like this where the developer works closely with the city is basically crippled by our existing parking space regulations," Lang said. "These large parking lots attract all sorts of unattractive things . . . derelict automobiles and beer cans."
Lang argued that approval of projects like the Craver project would eventually lower property values in the neighborhood just to the east, "the most concentrated area of old houses in Falls Church."
But other speakers and several council members said the project would have the opposite effect on the neighborhood. They argued that the closing of the street would separate and protect residential streets from commercial N. Washington Street and the new building would enhance the area's appearance.
The Planning Commission is expected to approve the Craver site plan in some form this fall. Construction of the project could begin early next year with completion expected by the summer of 1988.