Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Falls Church’s Incremental Approach Must Change

Thank you to the citizens of the City of Falls Church for the opportunity to serve on your City Council. Apart from family, I can not conceive of anything as rewarding as serving our Little City in its mission to achieve the best quality of life for those who choose to call it home.

Like many of you, I will seek out ways to serve our community in the less prominent but perhaps more essential ways that citizens have to express what is important to them, by serving on our boards and commissions, voting and otherwise participating.

Our Little City is at a crossroads, and these trying economic times for our families as well as our City are testing our beliefs and values in a way they would never be tested in times of plenty. The spirit of this place does not shrink from these challenges. Like the heroes whose words we read every July 4th in our Council Chambers, I believe our generation is up to performing the duties and overcoming the challenges inherent in self-government.

I believe our generation is up to performing the duties and overcoming the challenges inherent in self-government.

The citizens who sought independence for our City, especially those who carried that to the next level in supporting our nascent public schools, left a legacy that many generations have carried on faithfully. While the values of our founding mothers and fathers offer us a sure gauge to see that we do not stray too far from those core values, nevertheless they do not provide us with definite guidance in what course to set. The economic crisis gripping our nation and our own Little Recession have made it painfully obvious that we can not continue in our process of incremental course corrections without identifying sources of funding and inspiration to provide the resources necessary to carry on. In that spirit, I wanted to offer several “non-incremental” suggestions:

Strategic alternatives for the George Mason High School property. Our high school (and middle school) sit on the most valuable piece of property in the area. The development potential of 30 acres at the West Falls Church Metro is enormous. The natural response is: where would we put our high school? My answer is that we could not find a more expensive piece of property, so we would find property somewhere in or around the City, and the money earned from the endeavor would finance not only the acquisition of alternative property, but likely a significant portion of the construction cost of new facilities as well, and provide for a far more orderly transition. Another key point would be that this property is in Fairfax County, so of course this proposal would require us to do what we should be doing anyway: to engage more fully and cooperatively with our neighbors to achieve “win-win” outcomes. The recent settlement of the Water Litigation offers us a chance to re-engage with Fairfax County in a more constructive way, and several recent overtures I have made to members of the Board of Supervisors have been met with a willingness to engage in neighborly discussions about issues like development and storm water.

A related point is that many in the community have lamented that a bowling alley anchors our “City Center,” and Virginia law does not allow “taking” of property for development. Why not consider this location for a new school facility, and then rearrange our plans for the development of the area, which as we all know have yet to gain any traction?

Little City Development Corp. Most have us have experienced and expressed considerable frustration at the quality and/or quantity of development that the market brings us. I suggest we form a venture and take a more direct role as a City in the creation and facilitation of development that meets our standards. This should also include a significant public investment in parking and other business infrastructure to allow the clustering of revenue-generating development, with a reduction of parking required to be provided by the landowner directly. Our business community provides about 25% of our tax base, and given the difficulty we have had in increasing this number to relieve the burden on residential taxpayers, it is time to adopt a more aggressive and coordinated strategy.

We have a rich historical legacy, but as I said recently, history lives not just in buildings but in the dedication of people to preservation of the values that matter to us. What is precious about our City is our size and ability, that is to say agility, to express our fundamental values through direct public action. Maintaining our commitment to education and our other community values requires us to be more proactive; if we fail to rise to this challenge then we will have earned the anonymity and obscurity we will enjoy. Please join me in insisting our local government meet your expectations.

 


Dan Maller has been member of the Falls Church City Council since 2006. He is in the final months of a four-year term and will not be seeking re-election this May.