What are the lessons to be learned from the latest round in the on-going but now imminently successful struggle by the Hekemian company to come up with a project for the old Pearson Funeral Home site on N. Washington St. that the City Council would like? The plan now has better architectural design, fewer rental apartments, more retail and office space and a nice transition to the neighborhood behind in terms of both staggered heights and a row of town house rentals on the back end. After two rude drop kicks out of the room in response to earlier proposals, Hekemian came back this time to find what seemed to be a significant attitude adjustment on the Council, which voted 6-1 last week to give preliminary approval to the plan. What happened?
The obvious is that the new modified features of the project were significant enough to cause the Council to abandon its earlier hostility and start purring. But that which is obvious in life is seldom the whole story. In this case, there are at least three other factors involved.
Most important among them is the irresistible pressure of fiscal reality. The data is now public about the potentially-devastating fiscal impact of the precipitous decline in the growth rate of residential real estate values in Falls Church and elsewhere. It may still prove to be a net decline in values in F.C. for 2006. On the other side of the budget ledger is the undeniable fact, in the face of this, that the City’s financial chestnuts will be pulled out of the fire this year, barely, by the revenue contribution from the new large scale mixed use projects either just completed or now under construction. Taxpayers will not be patient with unreasonable Council delays on approving more such projects.
A second factor is the unexpectedly-attractive look of the just-completed WestLee mixed use project less than two blocks away. Located a few feet from the Falls Church city limits in Arlington, the handsome structure serves as a fresh gateway to the city for everyone coming west on Route 29. Many officials in the City probably secretly wish they could take credit for it.
The third factor involves what was either a conscious, intuitive or totally random stroke by Hekemian to offer the City Council an “out.” In the art of warfare, of intense negotiations or lovers’ quarrels, the clever victor never goes for the all out triumph and total humiliation of the vanquished. Rather, he or she deftly provides for an honorable retreat. This not only minimizes bloodshed, but it sets the stage for amiable post-conflict relations. In this case, even though the Council technically called the shots, it was cornered and on the defensive, assailed by pressures from neighbors in expensive homes, as well as by the precedent of its own earlier reactions against it.
Thus, by its willingness to bring forward a more attractive, neighborhood-friendly alternative, Hekemian has given the Council the out it needs to stand up to the neighbors and do the right thing.