The new appreciation for “infill” versus “tear down” approaches to new development in downtown and other commercially-zoned districts in Falls Church reflects a years’ long growing process in the thinking of the City’s most influential cadres of citizen activists and is a welcome sign. To state it most simply, up until fairly recently, the prevailing assumption in the development of new Master Plan visions for the City, of which the new small area sector plans are a part, was that such planning constituted a consensus of “wish listing” by prominent citizens and their allies, and that has now changed.
It has not changed entirely, and probably never will, human nature being what it is, but the shift in the approach to many matters of this type at City Hall has become perceptible, and it’s as if many folks are discovering this for themselves for the first time. So it was at last week’s Planning Commission meeting that chair Ruth Rodgers and others suddenly discovered, in a kind of “aha moment” that at the core of the planning approach of newish City Planner-in-Chief Jim Snyder was a fundamental distinction between an “infill” approach and a “tear down” one.
All earlier efforts at planning a redevelopment of downtown Falls Church, as Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry pointed out, wound up costing tons of money while gathering dust on bookshelves at City Hall. This newspaper has been around long enough to have experienced the same tortuous process repeated more than once: It always starts out with a cute bunch of community meetings in which the same faces who’d been running the City their way for decades were treated like wise gurus and revered by whomever was running the latest study. The purpose was to find out what the City (i.e. these people) wanted the “vision” of their City to be before anything else gets attempted.
One outfit’s efforts at this, which did not come cheap to the City, thereby being the subject of much hullabaloo at the time, did all their “wish list” interviews with all the “I shall not be excluded from this list” important people, and then expended considerable resources on an exercise in City ego gratification, photographs, charts and fancy graphics laying out the results of their study. Mind you, it was not study of what would work for Falls Church but only what some important people said they wanted. It is no wonder that not one practical project arose from this exercise in futility. Only one key ingredient was missing, after all: the market.
This was the plan that caused most heartburn over whether Brown’s Hardware should remain at its current location, by the way.
So, we’ve come a long way, baby, to where we are now. Important people of yesteryear have lost their grip and more importantly, our new elements are an appreciation for what’s already here, on the one hand, and what the markets want, on the other. Good.