Local Commentary

Editorial: Mixed Use’s Net Positives

Early Friday morning, the latest large-scale mixed use project to jump on the City of Falls Church’s conveyor belt will come before the meeting of the City Council’s Economic Development Committee. This one involves consolidation of a number of parcels on the northeast side of the intersection of W. Broad and N. West streets and according to initial reports would be bigger than either the Rushmark/Harris Teeter or Lincoln/Reserve at Tinner Hill projects approved last month.

This plan, whose representative is former Falls Church City Manager David Lasso, would subsume the Shreve Plumbing property, the location of City Sunoco and some adjacent strip shopping buildings. Details, now sketchy, will come to light Friday.

First of all, it must be pointed out that this project has become possible because of recent years’ changes in the City code to deter a proliferation of drive-through banks, which is a very inefficient use of commercial land, from a revenue generating standpoint. It was well known that at one point, such a bank was being considered for the Sunoco location. With that option gone, however, the impetus for a much higher and better use of the property has been proposed.

To some in the City, yet another large-scale mixed use project represents more families with more school age children and more pressures on the school system and the taxpayers that fund it. After all, this will mark the fourth such project in the pipeline, as the Hekemian Northgate project is now under construction on N. Washington, and the Rushmark and Lincoln projects have been OK’d and both have submitted site plans. (A fifth plan, Nova-Habitat’s plan for a senior living residential project on the site of the Burger King, is also in the works, although its chances of adding to the school age population is nil).

The past decade’s spate of such projects, in combination with the spectacular reputation of the Falls Church schools, have already led to the City of Falls Church’s new distinction as the fastest growing, population-wise, in the state, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report.

However, it remains the point that from the standpoint of the cost of mixed use projects on the City and its school system, in every case there has remained a significant net positive, with revenues from the projects outweighing the costs. So, with each such project, the City and schools derive a net gain.

This is not the case, by contrast, for the effect of single family detached homes. In each case where a single family home is sold and a family with school aged children moves in, the net effect is a fiscal loss for the City and schools.

So the more the City develops its urban core, whether through commercial or dense residential development, the more it gets ahead of the game. Population growth is a very healthy net positive for the City, its schools and its businesses.