Big changes are coming to Graham Park Plaza, the shopping center on Route 50 in Falls Church that used to be called Loehmann’s Plaza.
The owner, Federal Realty Investment Trust, wants to tear down the western half of the shopping center and replace it with a mixed-use development with 250 apartments, a parking deck, a reconfigured retail center with new, different stores, and a public gathering place to serve as an “outdoor living room.”
|Graham Park Plaza's auto-oriented design is obsolete, the owner says.|
Representatives from Federal Realty and many county officials, but only about half a dozen local residents, attended a community meeting on the project May 31 at Westlawn Elementary School hosted by Mason Supervisor Penny Gross.
The shopping center doesn’t seem to be doing that well. LA Fitness closed nearly a year ago, and the Bova furniture store, Stein Mart, and CVS will probably close next year when their leases are up, said Allison Williams, development manager for Federal Realty. About half the office space at the center is vacant.
Federal Realty is seeking an amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, which would be the first step in redeveloping the site. The Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the plan amendment for Oct. 20. The Board of Supervisors’ hearing will be Dec. 6.
The county would then consider a rezoning proposal. If all that goes smoothly, Williams said construction could start in 2018 at the earliest. Another community meeting will be held this fall.
Federal Realty won’t be able to redevelop the eastern half of the property because Giant has a long-term lease that won’t expire until 2067, and Giant’s lease gives it control over that section, which includes Advance Auto Parts, Jos. A. Bank, Pet Valu, a dentist, a martial arts studio, nail salon, 7-Eleven, and offices.
The company’s vision for the other half of the center calls for an “active, pedestrian-friendly environment,” Williams said. As “brick and mortar retail is evolving,” the most successful stores are “in an environment that is safe and engaging, and has a heart.”
To make that happen, Federal Realty plans to create more open space between the two halves of the center, add two smaller plaza spaces as gateways to the adjacent residential areas, add a grid of streets, and replace 140,000 square feet of obsolete retail with 80,000 square feet of new retail space, including a mix of current tenants and new businesses, such as restaurants and community-serving retail.
The apartments would rise five stories above the stores along the west side of the shopping center across the street from the Monticello garden apartments. An above-ground parking garage would primarily serve the new residents.
“It’s not going to be the next Mosaic,” Williams said. The rents at the new apartments would be lower than those at the Mosaic District in Merrifield.
The project might include a new westbound exit onto Route 50, although that would have to be approved by VDOT.
The few residents who attended the meeting raised concerns about traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, and the need for better access for bicyclists. The county’s planning and zoning staff will draft a report analyzing the proposed project’s impact on traffic, pedestrian access, transit, and schools.