Local Commentary

Editorial: The Planners

The Falls Church Planning Commission meandered through la-la land for five hours Tuesday night. It tabled a site plan modification to The Spectrum that will cost taxpayers untold thousands as occupancy permits for the project are held up. Then, waiting until around midnight, it predictably dumped all over the City Center plan that has been years, including numerous general election votes, in the making.

We cautioned about this outcome in this space three weeks ago. In the editorial entitled “The Challenge of Being P.C.,” we concluded, “Anyone who would simply knock it (the City Center plan) down without suggesting an alternative, credible plan for meeting the City’s pressing revenue needs is boxing thin air.”

The only positive result coming out of Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting was the fact they voted and got their recommendation back to the City Council in a timely fashion. That means that the Council can now move forward with yet another public hearing on Monday, and with plans for its final vote on Thursday, Feb. 28. According to News-Press sources, there have been no public indicators of a basic shift of any Council members who passed the “first reading” of the six ordinances required to enable the City Center unanimously last month. Fortunately, Council member David Chavern will not have to miss the final vote due to business, as earlier thought.

In fairness to the Planning Commission, it is not its job to rule on projects from a fiscal or revenue standpoint, but by interpreting the zoning codes, Comprehensive Plan and perceived best interests of the City as they apply to any particular submission. But in this regard, their perspective is extremely shortsighted, and should be taken for what its worth both by the City Council and the general citizenry of Falls Church, who voted overwhelmingly for this kind of project in a special referendum in November 2002 and in the re-election of pro-development City Council members routinely since. And, apart from some “limousine liberals” living in Broadmont McMansions, wealthy enough to not care how high residential real estate taxes might go, the bulk of new residents arriving in the City since the 2002 referendum are young and eager to see a vital new downtown in Falls Church.

The City Council can take some of the specific concerns of the Planning Commission into account to make the City Center a still better project. But it must not miss the unique, narrow “window of opportunity” open to it with the Feb. 28 vote. The Council’s wider perspective includes the history of the painstaking, public process of crafting a viable City Center plan over the past decade, of finding a willing developer and financing, and of meeting the City’s acute revenue needs with the minimum $3.3 million annually the project will provide to relieve residential taxpayers and maintain vital services.