Local Commentary

Editorial: Impervious Minds?

City of Falls Church officials are picking the wrong time to, proverbially speaking, shoot their residential property owner constituency in its collective foot. A patently absurd and unnecessary encroachment on personal property rights and values is nearing approval by the City Council. It would restrict the amount of the land any property owner has that could be covered by a combination of a house, garage, deck, driveway, patio or other structure to only 30% of the total. Right now, Falls Church law restricts that percentage to 35%, one of the most restrictive limits in the state, but that is not enough for the ideologically-obsessed social engineers at City Hall.

The clarion cry of the forces pushing this further restriction has to do with the preservation of the Chesapeake Bay, storm water management and limiting the imposition of one neighbor’s water runoff onto another’s property. But lost in this passionate crusade are a myriad of unintended consequences and loopholes that would make its outcome, if implemented, look as absurd as the notion, for all intents and purposes, of the criminalizing of stepping stones.

The board of directors of the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, at its meeting this Tuesday, summed it up in a resolution tightly. The City, it opined, would do better to use an approach that incentivizes, rather than criminalizes, to reach its objectives in this case. There is a lot that is overlooked which would do far more to improve the effective absorption of storm water than what amounts to an attempt to legislate morality by limiting property rights.

It appears clear to us that the underlying City staff motive does not really have to do with water management as much as with its zeal to stamp down any new residential development that might offend its aesthetics or obsession with keeping the City as a sleepy suburban village. That’s because in the language of the proposed new law, it applies only in cases when 2,500 square feet or more of any given property is “disturbed.” It does not apply to existing homes. It may also not apply if someone were to build 2,400 square feet, complete a project, and then proceed to build another 2,400 square feet, as some have suggested might well happen. Where it would apply, it would compel builders to construct garages closest to the street to limit the size of driveways, and other aesthetically-offensive tactics.

Needless to say, limiting the development potential of any residential property in Falls Church will limit its value in the market place. With the residential real estate market already going into the tank, guaranteed to beset Falls Church with very real fiscal issues in the coming year, this is hardly the time to be adding insult to injury on this front. It’s already been reported that neighboring Arlington faces a $20 million budget shortfall because of this situation, and Falls Church residents will surely begin to feel that kind of pinch soon enough.