It was one of the truly historic events in the 60-year history of the City of Falls Church. Monday, at City Hall, the Council chamber was packed to the rafters with a wide array of people ranging from near celebrities, city founders and pillars and recent arrivals in the city, showing up to complain about the perceived impacts on their homes. There were ex-mayors, ex-vice mayors, a big-time corporate vice-president and even the man who created Reston, Virginia from scratch.
There were the pros, there were the cons, but as the dust began to settle, the Council carried its own discussion deep into the night to arrive at the point most expected it would and all six ordinances and resolutions needed to enable the development of 8.7 acres in the middle of Falls Church for an ambitious new City Center were preliminarily approved by unanimous votes of 7-0.
They were approved on their “first reading,” which precedes final approval, or “second reading,” that proponents hope will come by the end of February. In the interim, citizens as well as Council-appointed volunteer boards and commissions, including its sometimes prickly Planning Commission, will have their own reviews of the ordinances and resolutions. This will be a particularly dicey time for the City Council, since pressures from the community – both for and against the project – will become white hot. In deference to its respect for all points of view in the community, most on the Council spoke up Monday to invite a full public vetting of what they set in motion.
No doubt the Council’s resolve and nerve will be sorely tested in this period. Opponents to the project, ranging from those who want it torpedoed altogether to others who want it severely diminished, are all banking for their success on slowing down the juggernaut. Their goal in the next 40 days will be to gnaw relentlessly at any residual doubts or misgivings they might find among the seven Council members. The golden words they’re hoping to hear are “This needs still more study.”
But while the Council can listen and even tweak, it cannot delay without almost assuredly blowing the whole deal. We hope those who know the importance of this project will continue to work relentlessly in the next weeks to help the Council through this critical review period so that it arrives at the needed final approval without delay on Feb. 25.
In particularly pertinent remarks Monday, Councilman David Chavern observed that the density in the City’s commercial area is now no greater than in the residential areas of town, a tremendous squandering of the potential that commercial zones are supposed to represent. Also, Former Mayor Dan Gardner noted that if the City gave up its independence, Fairfax or Arlington would do exactly the same thing being proposed now, only with no one in Falls Church having a say in the matter to make sure it evolves into a “great place.”