Local Commentary

Editorial: The Falls Church Advantage

The regional forecast delivered by George Mason University’s Dr. Stephen Fuller to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors Tuesday did not paint a rosy picture, despite his best efforts to plant some lipstick on that pig for the edification of an audience thirsty for any good news.

Coming away from that report, a further confirmation of what he said earlier this fall that Falls Church’s Wyatt Shields cited in the joint City Council, School Board and Planning Commission meeting earlier this month, City of Falls Church policy makers should seriously consider what the implications mean for important decisions that are coming onto the horizon here.

It can be applied with meaning to all sorts of things, including plans for the development of the new City property, acquired with the sale of the water system earlier this year, where the high school and middle school now sit, and how to best deploy the $11 million or so in cash from that deal.

One thing is clear to us: this is not the time to hunker down, to pull back and hide.

Because of its unique small size and significant recent gains from the water deal and major mixed use projects now coming out of the ground at two locations in the City, and because of an established reputation for outstanding public schools, Falls Church is perfectly positioned to be the proverbial “exception that proves the rule” to fly in the face of whatever lack of growth may be in store in the wider region.

With smart and proactive decisions, a little good can go a lot farther in a small jurisdiction like Falls Church, compared to the cumbersome mega-jurisdictions surrounding it, in a way that can produce a distinct advantage.

For the immediate period ahead, here are important examples of how to do this:

First, accelerate the push for whatever serious mixed use development proposals are now out there. The Mason Row project at the intersection of W. Broad and N. West Street is such an example. It has all the components of a project that is responsive to the developing regional economy, especially its emphasis on smaller rental units, diversity in its retail, and its plans to integrate into the cycling component of the adjacent W&OD trail.

The case of the new Hilton Garden Inn is evidence of the Falls Church advantage for projects like Mason Row: its customers are perceiving it to be right on top of the West Falls Church Metro.

So, secondly, this calls for investment in an abundant now downtown-to-Metro transit to capitalize on this advantage.

Thirdly, the City must not allow itself to be perceived as backing down on its commitment to its outstanding school system. To make a one-to-one correlation between a new student and his or her cost to the City is a big mistake. Such linear thinking will undermine the colossal edge the City has and stands to gain from its schools.