Local Commentary

Editorial: Swap of the Century?

Little did we imagine that our editorial last week, entitled “A Modest Proposal,” would spark the kind of reaction it has. In addition to a lot of verbal comment, it elicited a thoughtful letter from a member of the Falls Church Planning Commission, drew wry comment from “Blueweeds,” the foremost blog focused on Falls Church political matters, and an entire column, no less, by Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross (see elsewhere in this issue). On the News-Press web site, the editorial quickly broke into the “most viewed stories of the week” list usually reserved for national issues columnists and other stories of wider and more universal interest.

With thought to Hamlet’s “Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” we might suggest that the subject, a proposal for a significant swap of assets and real estate between Falls Church and Fairfax County, struck a nerve. Perhaps that’s because it combined very real economic concerns with assets that everyone knows are “in play” between the jurisdictions, but not generally considered in a holistic way.

In her column, our friend Penny Gross wrote “Thanks, but no thanks” to the editorial’s off-hand proposal that a swap giving Falls Church a chunk of the Mason District be sweetened by allowing her to be mayor of the larger City of Falls Church for a time. While she light-heartedly attributed the editorial to “a slow news week” or “too much coffee consumption,” she conceded that “it did what editorials are supposed to do: encourage thought and debate.”

We are thrilled the editorial stirred up enough reaction to spice up our news columns during a slow news month. But its timing was due, in fact, to the Falls Church City Council’s current focus on polishing a “vision statement” for the future. Early drafts of such a statement, needless to say, have been confined to the current boundaries of the City and current commercial density allowances. Yet one of the City’s wisest and most respected administrators stated not that long ago that he doubted the City could sustain itself as an independent jurisdiction for the long haul in its current configuration due to its lack of capacity for expanding and diversifying its tax base.

Also, between Fairfax County and Falls Church, the jurisdiction that covets most the assets of the other is Fairfax, not Falls Church. Fairfax wants Falls Church’s water system, and it wants Falls Church’s property by the West Falls Church Metro. So, why shouldn’t Falls Church get what it needs in exchange for such things? What it needs is a lot more real estate susceptible to dense commercial development.

Such hard realities were the point of the editorial, and not its hypothetical specifics. Those were thrown in to spark some fresh thinking and sorely-needed, reality-driven mental stretching beyond perceived limits, including city limits and limits to the possible.