Local Commentary

Editorial: When F.C. Was Anti-Development

The front page article in this week’s edition of the News-Press, drafted on the occasion of the death last week of real estate developer Ross Keith, tells the story of earlier days in the history of the City of Falls Church when the forces in control of the City were explicitly anti-development and squandering development opportunities left and right.

The Independence Square was a case in point. Keith won the bid from the City in 1978 to buy the 1.68 acre site on the proviso that he carry out the City’s wishes, which were to build low-density two story office condominiums while leaving plenty of space for surface-level parking.

There was a considerable sentiment in the City to leave the property completely undeveloped and turn it into a park, and for show, there was also an option for a four-story office project with underground parking. The City Council sold the Independence Square plan as a compromise between the two extremes.

There were plenty of people around then who encouraged the low density, anti-development approach because they knew that would contribute to a gradual fiscal squeezing of the City, making its continued existence as an independent city nonviable. They hoped to fuel a popular movement to abandon its independence in favor of control by either Fairfax or Arlington county.

Why would outside forces want the City of Falls Church to fail? Because they held the political power strings in the adjacent counties and wanted them extended to the City, where a whole set of local government and elected officials were always by definition out of their control.

So, such outside forces aided and abetted efforts of anti-development citizens and citizen groups in the City to kill new sources of revenue being sought to buoy the independent jurisdiction’s viability.

But there was a divide in the City also contributing to this process between those who thought the City’s resources should be aimed solely at the schools, and those, such as leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, who fought for tax cuts for businesses without regard for how they would impact the schools.

The News-Press, now in its 25th year, came on the scene in March 1991 and relentlessly advocated editorially for a different approach, for bringing the schools and businesses together behind the common theme that economic development provided the revenues to maintain the schools. Businesses had to support the schools’ needs, and vice-versa.

When our owner-editor became president of the Chamber, the ground for this new approach was established, and behold, it came to pass when the Chamber went on record in favor of full funding of a school budget in 1994. The rest is, as they say, history.