The City of Falls Church was greeted with good news on the first day of 2008, when Mayor Robin Gardner chose the day to announce her plans to seek a third term on the Falls Church City Council, dragging the News-Press away from TV’s college football marathon to issue her campaign statement at her home. This means that the core, and now experienced, leadership of the current City Council, Mayor Gardner and Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry, should remain intact for another four years if the two can secure their re-elections next May. Not facing election in 2008, another veteran, David Snyder, and “rookies” Dan Maller, Dan Sze and Hal Lippman, the Council should remain in good hands through the City’s difficult transition from over-dependence on single-family residential real estate for its tax revenues to a creative and refreshing mix of urban-style residences built over retail and adjacent hotel and other strong-revenue enhancing enterprises.
The current Council goes into the New Year poised to close the deal on Phase 1 of the kind of City Center development it’s taken almost a decade of determined efforts to complete. The Council will be able to handle, politically, the budget pinch it will confront this spring due to the flatlining of residential real estate values, by pointing to its achievement of guaranteeing a rosy future for the City that the new City Center and related projects will insure.
If one wishes to compare the pro-active approach of recent City Council leadership in Falls Church, tending to the City’s need for a growing and diversified tax base to protect the quality of its schools, one need only compare the emerging topography of Falls Church with that of nearby Vienna, Va. Being a town, rather than an independent city like Falls Church, Vienna does not face the responsibility of raising its own revenue. That duty falls to the leadership of the 1.1 million-populated Fairfax County. So Vienna has by and large sat on its hands, evidenced by its main street, Maple Avenue, continuing to exhibit single or two-story retail stores behind large surface parking lots. By contrast, Falls Church is already showing off the modern, smart and efficient model of moderately-tall mixed use projects along its commercial corridors. The difference is between one jurisdiction that is willing to build to protect its autonomy and one which, lacking autonomy, sits mired in an unchanged suburban model.
This is only the beginning for Falls Church. Ultimately, it is its ideal location — adjacent two Metro stations, I-66, moments from the Beltway, equally distant between two major airports and a short trip to the District — that will make it increasingly desirable. With its autonomy, Falls Church will move into its future with the power to fashion its new identity in accordance with uplifting, aesthetically-pleasing and human-centered development and architecture.