Local Commentary

Editorial: A Waterfront for Falls Church?

A waterfront for the City of Falls Church? One of the more fanciful development concepts ever proposed for The Little City came from a team of graduate students at the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center in the form of a “West Jefferson Street Conceptual Plan” laid out at the meeting of the City’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) Tuesday night.

This wasn’t just a college student pipe dream (or pipeless dream) about Tripps Run, the creek that usually drizzles through Falls Church, it was done with the oversight of a man who led Arlington County’s development planning efforts for 33 years, who is its biggest fan.

Jim Snyder, now an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech, regaled those at Tuesday’s meeting, including three members and members-elect of the Falls Church City Council, two members of the Planning Commission, the staff of the City’s Economic Development Office, an active local developer and the EDA, with examples of what’s happened with under-appreciated flowing water in other cities in the U.S. once some vision and fresh thinking was brought to bear.

He cited the downtowns of San Antonio, Texas, with its world famous River Walk, Providence, Rhode Island and Frederick, Maryland, where creative solutions to storm water problems were mixed together with ambitious environmental and development planning to create some of the most vibrant and pleasant urban environments in the nation.

Why not in Falls Church, which is traversed by the storied Tripps Run creek that feeds into Four Mile Run? The idea of turning Tripps Run into a San Antonio River Walk-style amenity has appeared in this editorial space in the News-Press in the past, but was dismissed by a derisive response. In retrospect, it has become clearer to us that some of those most eager to protect Tripps Run wanted to preserve it in its pristine form, as untouched by human intervention. That’s why, ironically enough, they were willing to keep it away from people by keeping it flowing in underground pipes as much as possible.

But that form of prehistoric environmentalism has been supplanted by a much smarter, wiser approach to utilizing optimum environments of clean air and clean water by smart growth. In the Virginia Tech “West Jefferson Street Conceptual Plan,” for example, the amount of impervious cement and brick covering the nine acres examined in the project would be significantly reduced, making it more environmentally friendly.

While there would be much higher density in parts, allowing for some buildings as high as nine stories, there would be a park with an amphitheater and, yes, a waterfront, as Tripps Run would be opened up and its shores landscaped along the strip where the City shares its boundary with Arlington. Yes, there may be a Falls Church Navy some day!

What was presented Tuesday was a lovely conceptual vision for that area of Falls Church. But translating it into a reality will present a major challenge to anyone really wanting to see it happen.