Local Commentary

Editorial: Referendum’s Deep Chill

Organizers putting together a campaign to defeat the ill-conceived anti-development referendum on the May 6 ballot in the City of Falls Church have been mulling over options for a succinct slogan this week, something that would convey clearly why voting “No” next month is in the best interests of the community.

It’s unclear if a few key words can convey enough of the core issues involved to be persuasive, and in our information age society, with folks bombarded by data from so many sources, boiling down the meaning of an issue such that it will stick in the public mind is a real challenge, so good luck to the sloganeers in this case.

To us, the defeat of the referendum is important for three core reasons: (1) to keep residential taxes low, or lower than they’d otherwise be, by continuing on the successful path of sensible new development in the City’s commercially-zoned corridors that is generating millions for the City’s tax coffers, (2) to maintain the quality of the school system by the same means, and (3) to sustain the long-term viability of the City as a self-determining independent jurisdiction, also by the same means.

Were the referendum to pass, all three of the above would be seriously jeopardized. The referendum would impose an arbitrary straightjacket on development in Falls Church that would generate an immediate chill over the regional development world, which has only recently begun to warm up to the potential in Falls Church. It would come like a frigid winter blast and grind everything to a halt.

It would have nothing to do with whether or not the market could begin to support some of the kinds of mixed-use development fitting within the unbending parameters the referendum proponents want. No, it is the mere fact that the City would have in its charter an unyielding imposition of its will over the free market that would send potential developers running for cover.

Economic downturns, such as the one we are now experiencing everywhere, teach folks that none are invulnerable, and none can afford the kind of icy, rigid arrogance that that constitutes the “body language” of this referendum. The real world simply doesn’t operate that way. The princess can remain in her ivory tower convinced that her suitor will stop at nothing to get to her. But in real life, the suitor is more likely to find someone less reticent to court.

That’s how developers work. They follow the path of least resistance to achieve the best yield. They look for prospects that will pass muster with their financing institutions in New York or elsewhere, for whom the matter is simply about return on investment. In the best of worlds, a self-determining community and a developer find a mutual benefit in moving ahead cooperatively. Falls Church has been lucky to achieve some of this benefit so far, and this is no time to suddenly freeze it out.