Tuesday’s election in the City of Falls Church was yet another watershed moment in the City’s on-going struggle to achieve a solid basis for its long-term viability while at the same time maintaining its unique identity as a special 2.2 square mile enclave inside the Beltway.
With the sound defeat of a ballot referendum that would have killed new development in the City’s commercially-zoned corridors, the result turned out to be the exact opposite of what those who worked to qualify the measure for the ballot hoped for. In other words, the proverbial “unintended consequence” of the referendum was, effectively, a vote of confidence for the City Council to continue on the course of measured and quality mixed-use development. The fact that Mayor Robin Gardner was re-elected to a third Council term with the highest vote total of any of the seven candidates was also a testament to that.
Those two votes signaled to the City and the region, including the development community, that citizens in Falls Church appreciate the favorable impact mixed-use projects have had to date on stabilizing the City’s fiscal condition, even in challenging times, and assuring the full funding of its outstanding school system. Despite the troubled real estate market, Falls Church raised its real estate tax rate only two pennies, and the effect was to actually lower the real tax bill of the average resident by $176. This was made possible by the tax contributions of the new mixed-use projects, many of which are far from completion, barely begun or not even started yet.
While the referendum and Gardner’s strong re-election vote were the most significant facets of Tuesday’s election, City voters also chose to bring a set of fresh, critical eyes onto the Council in the form of independent candidate Nader Baroukh, an outspoken critic as a neighbor to the $317 million City Center project approved unanimously by the Council in February. It is not surprising that City voters did not appreciate a unanimous vote on that disputed project, and became persuaded over the course of the campaign that Baroukh has the acumen and skill to offer a credible alternative view on the Council.
Unfortunately, the victim of that sentiment became the enormously dedicated and talented Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry, who lost by a thin margin of 39 votes after eight years of superb public service on the Council. Finishing ahead of her was Lawrence Webb, who shared the slate with her, and by virtue of winning rewarded
Finally, effective incumbencies were key to the victories of Joan Wodiska and Kieran Sharpe to serve new terms on the School Board, while newcomer Charlotte Hyland was the second-highest vote getter.