Local Commentary

Editorial: Paranoia Hurting Economic Growth

The mental disconnect that is on exhibition in so many affairs of government and policy-making, where an awareness of larger imperatives gets lost in the minutia of bureaucratic micromanaging and turf wars, has always been a source of frustration. What can be seen so readily from the outside is lost on the actors of such occasions, themselves.

Take the case of the Falls Church City Council’s unwillingness Monday night to permit a commercial property owner a little more leeway to find a tenant for a space on West Broad Street that has never been occupied since the day it was completed as a ground floor component of The Byron five years ago.

The perpetual vacancy of the space in the 500 block of West Broad has not only cost the City tax revenues that it could have been collecting that whole time with a more market-oriented approach to its potential uses, but the image of a big blank window with no signage and no lights on inside has served as a deterrent to other potential retailers and businesses.

In the business world, everybody follows trends, and little could be more important to Falls Church for attracting new businesses than making sure the image of a thriving business district already exists here. But the phrase-du-jour of Monday night’s meeting was “kicking the can down the road.” It was applied to a number of items on the night’s agenda, but the delay it represented in the case of The Byron case was pathetic.

Isn’t this the same Council that came out of last month’s anguishing budget process committed like never before to new economic development, especially knowing that next year’s budget process will be even more trying than this past one?

So, what is its reaction to one of its first, if modest, tests on the subject? It is to tell a landlord that the “burden of proof” is on him to show that he can’t rent the space in question before the Council may consider give him some additional leeway. This is after five years of an unending vacancy, representing a veritable eye sore and deterrent to growth right in the middle of the one modesty-built up commercial section of the City.

The fundamental obstacle holding back Falls Church from enjoying the region’s relative economic revival (compared to elsewhere in the U.S.) is the relentless insistence of its leaders to ignore the signals from the market and to persist in their nit-picking.

There is a sense of distrust of business that pervades too many leaders in this City, a sense that businessmen are determined to take advantage of every situation and to exploit them against the City’s interests for their own selfish gain.

True, it is the role of government to guard against such things when they occur. But to assume it will be the case in advance of every situation reflects an ingrained paranoia that serves no one well.