Within the course of just the last two weeks, what was trending toward a very cloudy future for the City of Falls Church suddenly changed course. “Suddenly” may be a little bit of a stretch, but the one-two punch has been invigorating indeed: (1) a groundbreaking ceremony July 14 to kick off the first new major mixed-use development in the City since before the Great Recession, and (2) the July 18 and 25 unanimous approvals by the City’s Planning Commission and City Council for another Great Recession-delayed project, the Hilton Garden Inn on W. Broad St.
The combination of just these two new projects promises to stuff the City’s coffers with up to a million in additional tax revenues annually, and they come as a welcome salve after all the relentless pummeling the City has been taken from its not-so-neighborly giant Fairfax County neighbor over the issue of its water system.
County water users continue to storm the barricades, waving false claims that the City of F.C. “steadfastly refuses to answer customers inquiries” about the basis for a proposed rate hike, as one wrote in a Fairfax-based paper last week. But Mike Smith, writing on the FCNP.com web site this week, had it right when he said, “Falls Church has always delivered a quality product, dependable flow of water and superior customer service. So getting the best costs a little more than getting average dependability and poor service. Why complain about that? This is all about the politics of control: Fairfax doesn’t want anyone in their sandbox, even if that someone is doing their people more good than the county ever has.”
Somewhere in all this, there could be grist for another great “Chinatown” film, which, as you recall from the 1970s, was also about the politics of water and real estate. With all the prospective new development in Tysons Corner and Merrifield, it rankles the county that Falls Church will continue as the supplier to both of those boom areas.
It’s been by the threat of more lawsuits that the county hopes to pressure the City into coughing up the system, but were it to come to that, if the City played its cards right it wouldn’t lose anything from the standpoint of net revenue (since it has wrongly been prohibited from taking a return on investment), but it would be able to bid up the price for the system by finding more than one entity who wants it. The payout could be very handsome, indeed.
While the City mulls its options on such matters behind closed doors, the City remains sustainable for the long term because of the desirability of its location, its manageable development application and fulfillment process, especially with some new, seasoned expertise in that area at City Hall, and its already-aggregating “critical mass” of good restaurants and watering holes. The only thing really standing in the way now is a solution to the downtown parking problem.