When is a Tax Not a Tax? F.C. Budget Options Sounding Airy

The action taken by the Falls Church City Council at its work session this Monday night was veritably unprecedented. To cast a formal vote on a matter of City business normally never happens outside of a regularly-scheduled and advertised Council business meeting.

But there was a palpable sense of urgency that rushed the item onto the work session agenda, to be taken up ahead of everything else and passed, unanimously, with almost no extended discussion.

The Harris Teeter supermarket company was, proverbially, standing on the railway platform with suitcase in hand, ready to say good bye forever. The Council rushed like a lover come to his senses, aiming his trusty steed to gallop in overdrive and arrive before the next train.

Harris Teeter first expressed an interest in locating in the City Center area of Falls Church for a half-dozen years ago. It bought into the $314-million City Center plan that was approved just before the Great Recession hit, and then patiently waited for the financial thaw and a new plan.

ELBOW TO ELBOW but miles apart, what issues forth from the mouth of freshman Falls Church City Councilman Phil Duncan (left) often seems to put his colleague Ira Kaylin (right) through conniption fits. Granted, the differences in viewpoints are substantial. (News-Press Photo)

This one, by Rushmark Properties, combines City-owned parcels in the 300 block of West Broad and one private one for a large scale mixed use project with nearly 300 rental residences above and a full-scale Harris Teeter on the ground floor.

With the City strapped for money, the plan will add $1,320,876 in net new tax revenues annually and, from that aspect, is almost too good to be true.

Too good, indeed! That was until the usual “Falls Church Way” legions of civil activists got themselves mobilized. Indeed, some meetings with residential neighbors behind the site led to some constructive modifications in the Rushmark plan, including reducing the number of residential units and covering loading dock areas.

But when executives from Harris Teeter came up from Charlotte, North Carolina, last week and met with Mayor Nader Baroukh and Vice Mayor David Snyder, according to News-Press sources, to find the latter expressing sympathy for a seven-page, single spaced missive from the City’s venerable Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) that included an overwhelming list of proposed new changes, a sudden chill came over the proceedings.

This news organization not being privy to the exact nature of the exchange, the result was that the Harris Teeter execs nonetheless convinced Baroukh and Snyder that they were deeply wearied and ready to walk away from the whole idea, right then and right there. With massive plans for a nationwide expansion of their franchise, unacceptable delays in Falls Church would simply shift the company’s priorities elsewhere.

Nervously, a meeting of a larger portion of the Council followed Friday and over the weekend it was determined that Harris Teeter would stay on, but only for the very minimum amount to time needed to get all the final approvals.

Thus, the extraordinary Council vote on Monday night that set May 18 as the solid date for a vote on the final approval of the project.