Local Commentary

Editorial: N. Va’s Coming Population Boom

If some folks in the City of Falls Church don’t think there’s a market for new mixed use, predominantly residential projects here, consider the plans that are afoot just up the road in Tysons Corner.

The Tysons Corner Task Force is putting the final touches on a three-year study process, and is zeroing in on two options for the giant urban center. In terms of new residents, the study will recommend new allowable densities that will grow the population there from the current 16,000 to either 72,000 or 100,000. The number of employees would grow from the current number of 105,000 to either 159,000 or 203,000.

This is with the rapid development of the new Metro Silver Line running from the East Falls Church Metro station to Dulles Airport and beyond. That plan got back on track, so to speak, with a new decision by the Federal Transportation Authority to OK the plan, opening the way for the project to begin in two years and be completed by 2012 or 2013. The Falls Church Chamber of Commerce learned about the latest developments in this project from Patricia Nicoson, president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, at its monthly luncheon this week.

In reality, the plans for development not only in Tysons Corridor but along the entire new rail line are eye-popping. Many of them have already been approved for construction, pending the commencement of the Metro rail construction.

Falls Church residents should feel relieved that significant new mixed use projects in their city have already been constructed, are under construction, or approved for construction. As the crush of new people piles in to take new jobs in Tysons and environs, many will come to Falls Church first, if only because the newly-completed housing will be ready. Had Falls Church delayed, then once the green light comes in Tysons, the development world might well have overlooked it entirely, leaving it far too revenue poor to survive. In fact, there remains a narrow window of opportunity for Falls Church to get in on the first wave of this new urban transformation of Northern Virginia, and to reap its first fruits. The City Council has to keep this ticking clock in full view as it takes up the next round of development approvals.

Helping fuel the population explosion in the region is the rapidly-untenable prospect of living in outlying regions, given the combination of collapsing housing values and rising gas prices. Some of that problem will be allayed with the extension of the Metro rail into Loudoun County, but that will be at least four or five years off. In the meantime, enduring the long commute from employment in D.C. or Tysons to homes in Loudoun or Fauquier is not only eating up hours a day, but is costing commuters up to 28% of their income, according to the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis. Falls Church’s close-in location is rapidly becoming its strongest suit.