Local Commentary

Editorial: ROI & Aesthetics

At the joint Falls Church City Council and Planning Commission session Monday night, Mayor Robin Gardner encouraged all to let their true feelings just hang out about the proposed first phase of the City Center development project. As might be expected, it turns out the opinions ranged widely from one who said she has no issue at all with the height of buildings on the one hand, to others who said they wanted no development at all, really, and claimed that most others in the City share their view. Then there were the many points in between.

Such sewing circle-type gab sessions revert to personal feelings, and thereby tend to lack an objective focus. That’s putting it mildly.

Atlantic Realty’s proposed collaboration with the City of Falls Church to bring about a long-awaited first step toward a revitalized, energetic and “great” new downtown area rises or falls on whatever balance can be struck between two indispensable factors: 1. return on investment for the developer and, 2. aesthetic value for the community.

If that balance is not struck, if it becomes too lopsided either way, the whole kit and caboodle goes down the drain. Maybe some want that. We don’t think the community wants that, and that no one concentration of a small group of citizens can claim to speak for the community. The closest anyone can really come to divining the public will is in elections. A few years ago, the Falls Church public voted in a fall referendum election to firmly support the direction of the City’s leadership at that time, which had already begun approving the kind of large-scale mixed use projects we now see going in. It affirmed that the City Center plan should continue. Again, in last year’s City Council election, there was no evidence of a public will to change that direction. This spring, the hefty contribution the current inventory of new large scale mixed-use development provided for the City budget saved residential taxpayers hundreds of dollars each. That would suggest that popular support for such efforts would be greater than ever now.    Therefore, if anyone wants to be a “player” in determining what the new City Center will be like, then they have to accept the two critical components of the equation required to make it happen. One cannot exist without the other, plain and simple.  

We fully support efforts to challenge the developer with providing the best appearance for the project that can still accommodate the developer’s need for a return on investment. Indeed, Atlantic Realty has already shown good faith in that process, making numerous significant changes, some of which were announced for the first time Monday night, in response to such considerations.

The bottom line is that, balanced against aesthetics, the project has simply got to work financially, or it does not work at all. Future deliberations on this topic should focus on that balance alone.