The challenge of being P.C. refers in this case, not to “political correctness,” but to the Planning Commission, Falls Church’s to be specific. The Planning Commission is reviewing the ambitious Atlantic Realty-City of Falls Church City Center Plan this month after a unanimous, preliminary vote of approval by the City Council. The Commissioners will hear public comment, deliberate, and make their recommendations hopefully in time for the City Council to cast its final vote on the project before the end of February.
There are indications that the Planning Commission is split and could fail to recommend in favor of the plan. While the Planners’ advisory role is important, regardless of how they vote, the burden of deciding whether the project will go forward remains solely with the City Council. Aside from providing helpful insights, the only real clout the Commission has is its capacity to filibuster and delay the process. But even that is limited. By law, if it does not act within 60 days, its time is up and the matter reverts automatically to the Council.
Unlike the Council, Planning Commissioners are appointed and not elected, and therefore do not necessarily live with the same acute sense of obligation to constituents who voted them to their jobs.
Further, the opinions of the Planning Commission, especially when prejudiced going in and not focused on providing sound advice to the Council, are rightly not definitive. The Commission has no responsibility to consider matters with an eye to their impact on the overall fiscal well-being of the City.
On the other hand, it is the elected City Council that must consider not only individual development projects, but their primary task of crafting a City-wide budget every year that includes, especially this year, very tough decisions. The budget process this year, because of an expected flat-lining of tax revenues from the City’s residential housing sector, will involve a painful effort to wrestle with no growth in revenues, on the one hand, and unyielding pressures to maintain basic vital services, including education, whose costs continue rising. The City Council by necessity brings to its job a focused attitude of gravitas that is the only proper approach to difficult decisions that impact people’s lives, including those especially dependent on their decisions, such as the elderly and young. The City Council knows that the revenue from the City Center project will be vital to the future fiscal well-being of the City and its people, if not this year, beginning with the next and culminating with the completion of the project a few years out.
No one unwilling or incapable of evaluating the City Center project from this perspective can appreciate what’s at stake. Anyone who would simply knock it down without suggesting an alternative, credible plan for meeting the City’s pressing revenue needs is boxing thin air.