No one can argue with the fact that this is a defining time for the City of Falls Church. Many services have been cut and more cuts are undoubtedly on the way. We are in this together. Many of us recognize our City employees by face if not by name when we see them clearing snow from the streets, delivering barricades for block parties, or sitting in attendance at City Council and School Board meetings and work sessions. Likewise, we come to know our neighbors by volunteering on boards and commissions, or attending school events and Concerts in the Park. I’ve lived in both Arlington and Fairfax and they just don’t have the same feel.
That sense of community not only makes our little City a very special place to live, but it is also an important competitive advantage. As we move forward with budget negotiations and consider development opportunities, we need to consider their impact on that sense of belongingness. Changes should be considered through the lens of how they will contribute toward a strong, vibrant community that we want to call home.
For the past seven years, it has been an honor to serve as a board member to the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS), working to strengthen the fabric of our community in countless ways:
• Tree-lined streets. In partnership with the City we provide funding and volunteers to plant trees within 15 feet of the curb. The Neighborhood Tree Program received the 2009 Achievement Award from the Virginia Municipal Committee.
• Fun times. We organize and sponsor the popular Concerts at Cherry Hill Park during the summer featuring local talent. We also sponsor a Watch Night venue at Falls Church Presbyterian Church.
• Living history. We organize the Independence Day Readings of historical documents at City Hall, placing them within the context of local history and exploring their current relevance. Along with the Victorian Society and the City of Falls Church, we host the Arbor Day celebration at Frady Park, site of the first such celebration in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
We must not jettison those very things that create an underlying sense of community.
• Welcoming visitors. VPIS worked with the City to design, construct, and install new outdoor signs identifying the City of Falls Church at locations where major roads enter the City.
• Quality architecture. VPIS conducts a biennial Excellence and Design Awards program to recognize homeowners, builders, and architects producing beautiful additions to the City that are sensitive to the character of the community.
• Community activities. Through our Community Grants Program we provide seed funding to community projects that are consistent with our mission.
Realizing that funds are tight in the City, VPIS invested tens of thousands of dollars in several major projects this year. We came forward with significant funding for improvements to the Arbor Day Commons within Frady Park and for landscaping at the High School. We expanded the popular Concerts in the Park series, and co-sponsored the City Council Candidate Forum with the League of Women Voters.
Not withstanding unprecedented fiscal challenges, VPIS believes the fundamental elements of our community, including its physical infrastructure and human resources, remain strong. We believe the City should continue to rely on and implement the existing Comprehensive Plan, giving special attention to:
• Protecting residential neighborhoods. Revising and enforcing the zoning code will offer many opportunities to implement the vision in the Comprehensive Plan of quality of neighborhoods.
• Supporting strong architectural and landscape design. By formally adopting the existing “Design Guidelines” as binding requirements of the zoning code and affirmatively promoting these requirements early in the project development process, we can sustain out architectural heritage and encourage thoughtful development.
• Protecting the environment. The City should continue to implement the environmental protection policies identified in the Comprehensive Plan and work with homeowners and the development community to encourage projects that go beyond minimum requirements.
• Building the tax base by expanding commercial revenues. Rather than trying for major development projects – revenue “home runs,” the City should give top priority to “base hits,” recruiting a diverse range of businesses to the City and encouraging expansion of businesses already here.
Collectively, these policies promote development that will provide our City with needed revenue while preserving the very characteristics that make us attractive to developers as a place to invest, and desirable place for residents to live and do business. In VPIS, we are fond of saying “we moved here for a reason.” We do need to make hard choices, but we must not jettison those very things that create an underlying sense of community. In the end, our sense of community is what will pull us through. Maybe it’s trite, but it will take a village to save a village.
If you aren’t a member of VPIS please join us, and if you already are, please consider volunteering in our community-building events. You can learn more about all of these through our website: http://www.vpis.org.
Karl Ensign is president of Falls Church’s Village Preservation and Improvement Society. He announced he will be stepping down from his position at the end of the month