Local Commentary

Editorial: Let Imaginations Run Wild!

It’s all over but the formalities now, and the City of Falls Church can now relish the idea of having jurisdictional control over almost 40 acres that will be officially brought into its city limits in its first geographical expansion in its 65 year history.

With an overwhelming majority of City voters approving in last week’s election a referendum to sell the City’s embattled water system to Fairfax County, the City gets for its part of the bargain a net $10 million in cash and those cherished 40 acres where its middle and high schools now sit, and which is nestled up next to the West Falls Church Metro Station on the Metro’s Orange Line.

It is more than a new property acquisition, because it is not just a question of ownership (the City’s School Board has been the technical owners of the land for a long time) but jurisdictional control, meaning that all approvals for what might happen there are subject to Falls Church official approvals, and not Fairfax County. Therefore, what the City cooks up to do there it can also approve, as long as it doesn’t break any state or federal laws.

The only constraint, built into the deal, is that 75 percent of that land must be dedicated to educational use, leaving about 10 acres free for any form of unbridled development that could maximize net tax revenues to the City. And that 10 acres will undoubtedly be the portion of the property closest to the West Falls Church station, where it will offer direct walking/Metro access to the entire greater Washington D.C. area.

The land is completely undeveloped, commercially, now, resulting from a long-standing Fairfax County policy, changed recently, of leaving land by its Metro stations pristine. So, folks in Falls Church can let their imaginations run wild about what could work best there. It’s not near City residential neighborhoods, so no worries there.

So what if the new 1 World Trade Center building in lower Manhattan has topped out marginally higher than the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago as the tallest, at a symbolic 1,776 feet, in the Western Hemisphere? There is nothing standing in the way of the Falls Church City Council deciding it will go for a new record with a building on its new West Falls Church station property!

There are those pesky things called “market forces,” but what about settling for the tallest building in Virginia? That would require something taller than the current highest, the 38-story Westin Virginia Beach Town Center and Residences, at 508 feet with spire, completed in 2008 to eclipse the old James Monroe Building in Richmond, completed in 1981 at 449 feet and 29 floors.

Some Westin-like combination hotel and luxury condominium residences could work here, among other things catering to the 12 million tourists who come to the D.C. region every year. It may not be as wacky an idea as it sounds!