As local jurisdictions go, Falls Church is definitely on the small side, with 10,000 residents and two square miles of space. But its planners are capitalizing on the city's size in attracting business owners and professionals.
Nestled between Arlington and Fairfax counties at the intersection of Rtes. 7 and 29-211, the basically residential community has 2,100 detached houses -- most of them modest -- as well as 518 town houses, some priced at more than $150,000, that were built in the late 1970s. In the past decade, the number of high-rise apartment units in the city doubled, from 659 to 1,235.
As the quiet little Northern Virginia community moves into the 1980s, its leaders anticipate a continuation of the modest commercial building resurgence that began in recent years. New office buildings, most of them relatively small, and new complexes of twon house-styled offices are emerging in central areas.
While Tysons Corners, a few miles to the north, grows dramatically and Seven Corners, a mile to the south, maintains its bustle, Falls Church describes itself as a close-in alternative for office location.
The city's director of business development, Paul Cooper, is aware of the futility of competing with surging Fairfax County, Reston, Crystal City and the new Skyline development. So he stresses Falls Church's central location and its moderately priced land for small-scale developers.
Although still somewhat choked by the traffic of Lee Highway and Broad Street, Falls Church expects some relief when nearby Rte. 66 is completed and when two Metro stations open just outside the city boundaries. The highway and the rapid rail system are expected to be serving Falls Church by 1985.
As chairman of the Falls Church Business and Professional Commission, architect Paul H. Barkley Jr. is pleased about the more than 100,000 square feet of office space recently completed or under construction in the city. And, if financing becomes feasible, there are strong prospects for a start this year of nearly 200,000 square feet of space in two commercial and office buildings at the city's crossroads, Broad and Washington streets.
The architectural firm of Sheridan, Behm and Eustice is completing designs for the seven-story George Mason Plaza that developer Ross Keith plans to build at the crossroads.
The same firm also has designed a complex of low-rise shops and offices for the Independence Square complex that Keith will build on the opposite corner. That 1.6-acre site was put together by the city government to stimulate central commercial redevelopment.
Known as the "historic triangle," the Independence Square site will be developed to complement the 247-year-old Falls (Episcopal) Church from which the city took its name. Keith bought the site for about $320,000, or $4 a square foot.
Most commercial land in the little city sells for about $5 to $6 dollars a square foot, only a fraction of the price in downtown Washington, Rosslyn or Tysons Corner.
In addition to a number of new town house office complexes, five speculative office buildings are planned or under way in the city. Some existing shopping areas, such as the Tower Square shopping center on Hillwood Avenue, are also being renovated.
John Walden, president of Arlington Mortgage Co., which has helped finance several Falls Church projects, said that the city's low-density, small-scale business development reflects the residential character of the community and the desires of its residents.
The new Park Washington town house office complex, for instance, was built after another developer tried unsuccessfully to gain permission to put up a high-rise building, Barkley said.
"The desire of the City Council and citizen leaders is to obtain a consensus of opinion that will permit development without sacrificing the basic nature of a community . . ." Barkley added.
"There's a small town feeling here in terms of civic issues."