Local Commentary

Editorial: F.C. Housing Rebound?

City of Falls Church residents should take heart from the fact that, in this gloomy, almost panicky economic climate, a major developer has come to City Hall wanting to build something big. The highly accomplished and respected Akridge Company came back to a joint City Council and Planning Commission work session Monday (see story, Page 1 of this edition) still eager to push ahead with its large-scale mixed use project known as “Gateway” on North Washington Street, right against the city’s border with Arlington.

Akridge, which has a decade-long history in Falls Church pursuing a variety of development options, first presented its project for 154 residential units, an office building and street-level retail two years ago. It downsized its original plans in response to concerns from residential neighborhoods behind the proposed project, and then waited patiently as City Hall focused on getting approvals for Atlantic Realty’s $317 million City Center plan and Jefferson One’s Hilton Garden Inn.

Given the economic and housing climate now, it is very significant that Akridge still wants to push ahead. It suggests that smart minds in the development business are recognizing that a location like Falls Church will be among the first opportunities for a real estate rebound.

Unlike others perhaps oblivious to geography, they’ve figured out that the still-unfolding recession and housing meltdown are very uneven in how they are playing out, in terms both of ferocity and timing. There are some healthy signs around Falls Church, for example, that people are looking for housing bargains here, knowing that prices are already way below where they may go, especially for any location in proximity to mass transit.

Nervous about the financial, commodities and overseas markets, some are already beginning to think that carefully-selected real estate can be a solid and rewarding place to invest their money.

Real estate decisions cannot be based on bargain hunting alone, because there are some regions where matters are only going to get worse and there will be no rebound. In some outlying areas, high gas prices and imploding real estate values will create ghost towns, and $10 will never earn you $20 in places like that.

Therefore, the news that Akridge still wants to build in Falls Church should be encouraging to everyone around here. Right now, the Akridge folk are being frank, saying they can’t yet say for sure whether the residential units they want to build will be for-sale condominiums or rentals. Again, that can be interpreted in one of two ways. Either it’s because the housing market is still way too fragile, or maybe it’s because Akridge is sensing a favorable shift in the winds. Long and short, if any type of housing can sell in this market, it would be smaller condos within walking distance of a Metro station. The fact they’re keeping the condo option open is again a hopeful sign.