Local Commentary

Editorial: City Center Gets a Boost

Kudos are in order for the citizens and business owners of the Falls Church Housing Corporation and the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce for bringing a strong message to Falls Church City officials Monday, urging full speed ahead on development of Atlantic Realty’s plans for a City Center south of West Broad Street. They came out in force to pipe up at a special public hearing before the F.C. City Council and Planning Commission. A number of those in favor of the project were citizens with residences immediately adjacent the site, too, countering a predictable, if small, turnout of “not in my backyard”  nay-sayers with what one described as her and her husband’s more welcoming attitude of “Yes, Next to Our Front Porch.”

The Council will vote on whether or not to give a preliminary “first reading” approval to the large-scale project, which when completed will bring a conservatively-estimated $2.8 million in tax revenues to the City annually, this coming Monday. The project on 5.2 acres includes a six-story office building, a 10-story hotel, a 10-story senior condo project, a large grocery store, retail spaces and over 400 residential rental units in a building ranging in height from six to 11 stories. But the big news was announced Monday by Housing Corporation President Dr. Steve Rogers of a deal between his non-profit and Atlantic Realty that would add 170 affordable housing units right across the street. Atlantic Realty has agreed to put up $4.3 million for the joint development, with the Housing Corporation, of an all-affordable housing structure just across Maple Avenue from the City Center.

The mood of the room, from Rogers’ announcement forward, was almost jubilant. Suddenly, the opportunity afforded by the project seemed overwhelming to most, sweeping over the nit-picking objections of its detractors. It triggered a startling reaction by one long-time Falls Church activist, former Planning Commissioner and Village Preservation and Improvement Society president, who pouted, to the effect that, “If we can’t keep the kind of city we want, then we should cede ourselves to Fairfax County or Arlington.”

If nothing else, the respected Keith Thurston’s shocking remark put into stark relief the issues at stake in the City Center. To him, by what he said, it would not matter if the City gave up its self-determination if that is what it would take to maintain its anti-development, pro-“village” bias. But, as others said in the hearing, Falls Church’s ability to self-determine its future has been, is, and will always be indispensable for maintaining and enhancing the quality of its school system and shaping its own destiny, generally. New revenues through development of the City’s thin commercial corridors are the key to maintaining the long-term sustainability of that capacity for self-determination. Backhandedly, Thurston affirmed that.