Local Commentary

Editorial: City Hall Still Doesn

There is a clear and distinct “good news/bad news story” for the City of Falls Church as it enters the coming annual budget cycle, but it remains lost on City Hall, at least for the time being.

The bad news is what the City shares with every other Northern Virginia jurisdiction, and many across the U.S. as well. That is, a sudden deflation of the recent years’ swelling real estate bubble has dropped the rate of government revenue growth by a whopping percentage. In Falls Church, it is down from 17% a year ago to 3% in the current fiscal year. While a cooling was anticipated, it was certainly not expected to be this kind of freeze. A projected, more moderate 8% annual growth has proven far too optimistic. A projected 8% annual revenue growth over the next five years is now considered impossible.

While there are going to be draconian fiscal implications from this that will impact the budget the Falls Church City Council will fashion over the next few months, the good news for Falls Church is that it could be a lot worse. In fact, the 3% growth in revenue in the current year is a lot better than surrounding jurisdictions are faced with.

This growth, if modest by recent years’ trends, is due almost entirely to the coming on line of new, large-scale mixed use projects in the City. This increased revenue flow begins not only when projects are completed an occupied, but as they are being built and are improving the value of their property. This growth, as a percentage of the total budget of tiny Falls Church, is way more than any surrounding jurisdictions have experienced in the past year, and it is the only thing that will ameliorate the impact of the slowed economy on the individual homeowners’ pocket books come residential tax payment time.

But this “good news” for Falls Church, which will continue as more projects line up for construction here, seems still lost on a City Hall that urged the Planning Commission this week to reject a request from a developer for a modest variance on a buffer to make a new, all-commercial project financially feasible on West Broad (see story, elsewhere this edition). Fortunately, the Planning Commission ignored the City’s official recommendation, but the request must still be OK’d by the Board of Zoning Appeals next week. The City doesn’t get it: grant a modest variance to a zoning technicality, or no project. Period.

The same goes for City Hall’s failure, once again, to include a municipal parking garage in the downtown area in its five-year Capital Improvement Plan, unveiled this week. It’s there “only conceptually,” as it was presented Tuesday, while almost $80 million in other expenditures were delineated. The City still doesn’t get it: make new development happen, or the City’s future is severely jeopardized. It is going to take the Planning Commission and City Council once again to correct City Hall and make sure enough money is in the CIP to build at least one new municipal parking garage within the next three years.