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Mabry Decides Not to Run for F.C. Council

Former Vice Mayor Sam Mabry announced this week that despite qualifying for the City of Falls Church’s May 6 City Council election ballot, he will not run for a third term after all.

Mabry said he intends to devote his efforts, instead, to passing the referendum that will be on the May 6 ballot restricting residential development in the City’s commercially-zoned corridors. He expressed strong disapproval to what he characterized as an unsuccessful attempt by City officials to keep the referendum off the ballot, referring to a court petition for a delay that City Attorney Roy Thorpe has claimed was done solely in the interest of achieving legal clarity.

The surprise development reduces the field to seven candidates seeking to fill three open seats on the Council. Mayor Robin Gardner and Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry lead that field as incumbents seeking re-election, each to third terms.

Mabry was first elected to the Council in 1996, and after losing in 2000, ran again and won in 2002. He did not seek re-election in 2006.

He was considered the strongest in the field of non-incumbents that is now composed of Nader Baroukh, Ed Hillegas, Margaret Housen, Patrice Lepczyzk and Lawrence Webb.

In a statement e-mailed Tuesday morning, Mabry explained, “Why I decided against a Council run at this time,” stating, “After witnessing the City Attorney, a Council member and the Mayor’s husband together in court at one table, standing against the citizen’s right to petition for a vote, with arguments the Court found without merit, on what has been a five year massive conversion of commercially zoned property for condo and rental use, the choice was easy…defend and promote the May 6 referendum to protect the schools and our small city with all possible resources.”

Meanwhile, the board of directors of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce became the first organization to go on record opposing the referendum, which would bind the City to a fixed limit of 40% residential, and minimum of 60% commercial, on any new project. The board voted to approve a resolution affirming mixed use, and stating that “the referendum question on the May 2008 ballot in the City of Falls Church would deter continued market driven mixed-use by forcing development to meet restrictive guidelines.”

The Chamber’s resolution also committed the organization to “develop a mixed-use coalition to support the maintaining of the mixed-use approval process as it currently exists” in Falls Church.

The resolution that will appear on the May 6 ballot is virtually identical to one that was soundly defeated by voters in November 2004. The margin of defeat was taken as a “vote of confidence” for the City’s leadership at the time, and a signal to the wider development community of the City’s openness to new mixed-use development.

As a result, the Atlantic Realty Company came forward with a $317 million City Center redevelopment plan that won final approval from the City Council in a unanimous vote last month.

That project is expected to bring almost $3 million in annual tax revenues to the City, and the impact of earlier mixed-use projects, both those completed and those under construction, have eased the pressure on the City’s residential property owners for a steep hike in their taxes during the present budget deliberations.

One of the seven current members of the Falls Church City Council, David Snyder, is on record supporting the referendum.