News

Council Candidates Opine on Future of Falls Church

To all the candidates who have bravely stepped forward to run for the seats on the Falls Church City Council and School Board that are being contested in the Nov. 3 election, the News-Press offered an opportunity to respond to a series of questions centered on visions for the future direction of our Little City.

We are delighted that 13 candidates – five for the City Council and eight for the School Board – responded in a prompt manner. Alphabetically, here’s what the City Council candidates gave us (with School Board responses next week):

 


JohannahBarryheadWEBJohannah Barry

What key issues have caused you to seek this office?

Before us are a significant number of new commercial developments whose fiscal model fails to include capital costs created by perhaps another 2,400 residents. While development in our City is welcomed and needed, the future of Falls Church will be determined by how we carefully integrate commercial development into the fabric of a small, unique, and vibrant community.

I remain concerned that the expenditure trajectory is unsustainable, despite the influx of more commercial dollars. I disagree with those who would argue that fiscal restraint is debilitating to our City. A strong fund balance is key to our City’s agility and sustainability.

Should the City Council approve full funding of City Schools? Why or why not?

A reasonable answer is “it depends.” What is being asked for and why? Is the request in line with other jurisdictions and how will it affect other City services? If full funding is not received will the school system violate state-mandated regulations, will children be underserved, and will their health or safety be at risk? How would full funding benefit critical classroom instruction and how is that measured? Is there a careful balance between at risk children and mainstream learners? Does the request respond to parent concerns and the input of credentialed specialist groups engaged by the School division?

How should the City develop the new 34.6 acres campus that contains George Mason and Mary Ellen Henderson schools?

Until we have the full set of financial and predictive tools to help us understand what kind of development will positively impact the City, and until we have a process that meaningfully engages our citizens, it is too soon to have a detailed discussion.
The approved process for inviting proposals has been reduced to a public private partnership structure which prevents public discussion. This does not spark healthy debate and I think is ultimately injurious to the process.
Decisions need to be guided by a full understanding of the additional costs which would organically occur from development of this magnitude.

Do you support the Mason Row project? Why or why not?

I bring the same concerns to the Mason Row discussion as I do the the George Mason campus and any other large, multi-use development initiative being contemplated by our elected officials. Is the process open and accessible, is the development appropriately scaled. Is it an innovative use of space that provides long-term benefit, economically, aesthetically, and meets critical needs? As it is currently configured, no I do not, nor do I believe it is aligned with the citizen-approved small area plan. I would support ingenious uses of our underperforming commercial areas, but we do not currently have the predictive tools to determine real economic benefit.

What about the City’s small area plans rolled out to date do you support or oppose most strongly?

The small area plans were conceived and created at a time when the City’s resources were not nearly as limited as they are now and we will want to carefully consider ongoing implementation. Importantly they engaged citizens and reflected City-led priorities which must guide development from this point forward. The South Washington street initiative takes advantage of the multi-modal transit plaza, incorporates historical and cultural elements of the City and serves as an important anchor to the S.Washington Street entrance to our City. I look forward to the thoughtful implementation of the remaining area plans.

If you win this November, do you see yourself running again in the future?

Absolutely.

 


philduncanheadWEBPhil Duncan

What key issues have caused you to seek this office?

I want to help make Falls Church the best, most beautiful place inside the Beltway to live, educate children, do business, and enjoy a broadening array of opportunities for dining, shopping, entertainment and recreation. My goals are to: maintain excellence in public education; provide quality municipal services; meet infrastructure and open-space needs; be mindful of environmental stewardship; keep the property tax rate stable; and spur economic activity that will help us create a more vibrant, walkable City for all generations. To protect our sense of community and closeness, I want to encourage a positive political culture, with reasoned, civil dialogue.

Should the City Council approve full funding of City Schools? Why or why not?

My spouse and our children are all FCCPS graduates and I’m a longtime former volunteer. So it’s not surprising I hold the view shared by many in Falls Church that public schools are our “jewel in the crown.” As a City Councilor, it’s my duty to ensure the City effectively delivers a range of quality services for all citizens. Properly allocating funding to City and schools is an annual exercise in rigorous community discussion and compromise. My rule of thumb is to peg the school budget to enrollment growth plus inflation. In recent years, enrollment growth has been modest and inflation low. So I’ve supported school budget increases in the 5% range.

How should the City develop the new 34.6 acres campus that contains George Mason and Mary Ellen Henderson schools?

The City has issued an RFP on the Upper West Side land (GM/MEH campus and environs); conceptual proposals from the private sector are due Oct. 30. As a sitting Councilor who, if re-elected, would help evaluate proposals submitted, I’m advised by the City Attorney not to speak with specificity prior to Oct. 30 about how I would assess submissions. Broadly, I’m very optimistic that citizens will have an opportunity to vote at referendum on a proposal that, if approved, would provide great school facilities, and attendant development that would fit compatibly with schools and generate significant revenues to offset infrastructure costs.

Do you support the Mason Row project? Why or why not?

I voted to refer the Broad & West application to boards and commissions, giving them a chance to closely review it and hear further public comment. The B&C’s expertise in multiple subject areas (architecture, traffic, environmental and economic impacts, etc.) will help ensure that if the Mason Row proposal returns to Council, what we’re offered will be more reflective of more citizens’ desires for the site. Then, it would be up to Council to debate and decide if the proposed use would be preferred to “status quo” at this corner, or perhaps a “facelift” of the various current structures there.

What about the City’s small area plans rolled out to date do you support or oppose most strongly?

Our development review process is anchored in the Comprehensive Plan, which, mindful of City history and traditions, sets out a broad vision for land use. Small area plans, a newer tool, help by bridging the Comp Plan, current “best practice” standards in community design, and market conditions. Produced through a highly collaborative process that takes input from citizens and local businesses, small area plans will help Falls Church gracefully evolve from a heavily auto-dependent suburb to a true small City, with more accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists, and more businesses citizens can reach on foot, by bike, or by short car trips.

If you win this November, do you see yourself running again in the future?

I’ve not given that any thought. I’m focused on reaching out to voters before Nov. 3. Since I first was elected to Council just a little over three years ago, I’ve greatly enjoyed the opportunity to serve this City I’ve called home since 1985. I try hard to balance competing priorities and act in the best interest of the whole City. I’d love to keep working on Council to bring our community’s terrific volunteer spirit and civic energy into the deliberative, consensus-building process. And I’m very eager to get younger generations in our citizenry involved in the City’s political life.

 


lettyhardiheadWEBLetty Hardi

What key issues have caused you to seek this office?

I’m running for City Council to be a positive, new voice representing ALL citizens. Much of what makes the City great is civic participation, and I have the opportunity to give back to a community that has so supported me and my family. I want to represent the citizens who believe in both the value of maintaining our schools’ excellence and more prudence in how we spend taxpayer dollars. We value strategic and responsible economic development that creates more dining and retail choices, trees and green space, and more walkable and vibrant neighborhoods, while keeping taxes as low as possible. We can balance progress with our history and small town charm.

Should the City Council approve full funding of City Schools? Why or why not?

With three kids currently in 3 of the 5 schools, a husband who attended all of the schools, and a mother-in-law who taught in FCCPS, my love for the schools runs deep. I understand the importance of investing in our small, world-class school system; the benefits of great schools extend not just to our children, parents, teachers, and staff, but to everyone else in the City, through greater sense of community and increased property values. I am committed to ensuring our students’ education remains one of our key priorities, but I also believe we need earn the trust of the community by demonstrating that we will use the funding wisely.

How should the City develop the new 34.6 acres campus that contains George Mason and Mary Ellen Henderson schools?

The underway RFP is a strategic opportunity to receive options on how to develop a much-needed new high school and expanded middle school while minimizing the taxpayer burden. I hope we will be able to create both a school campus and “city center west” that will benefit the schools and greater community. With creative and careful planning, we can create an environment where students can have a world-class high school and access to vocational or internships with local businesses, while residents can enjoy attractive retail, dining, performing arts, recreation, and public green space – all of which will keep the area vibrant even after school hours.

Do you support the Mason Row project? Why or why not?

I support smart, responsible development and I believe Mason Row can be a model of that – with a few caveats. It can diversify our tax base and keep residential taxes as low as possible. It will provide citizens more dining, retail, and entertainment choices, which helps residents spend locally and attracts disposable income from outside our borders. I remain concerned about (1) the overall size and number of apartments – it needs to be fully vetted and account for impact to traffic, parking, schools, services, and capital needs, (2) the number of affordable dwelling units should meet policy, (3) I’d like to see firm commitments for occupancy by the movie theater and destination retail and dining promised by developers.

What about the City’s small area plans rolled out to date do you support or oppose most strongly?

Small Area Plans are critical planning documents – they are intended to be the vision of how future development happens in the City, created with input from citizens. I support the overall concept of good planning, especially (1) identification of under-utilized or vacant parcels in our commercial corridors that could be transformed with infill or new development (2) addition of green space via innovative options like pocket parks in our limited 2 square miles. I’d like to see more focus on preserving residential areas with thoughtful planning that better transitions commercial areas to homes – ensuring we have right-sized buildings, step downs, and setbacks that protect existing neighborhoods.

If you win this November, do you see yourself running again in the future?

I never thought I would have aspirations for public office, but here I am! If elected, I certainly hope that I will bring new perspectives into the fold of local government, and together, we can positively move Falls Church forward. I would be happy to continue the work, but I would be just as happy to pass on the torch. Regardless of the outcome of this election, I hope my candidacy inspires others on the sidelines to jump in. We really do need more fresh voices involved – from elected offices to volunteer boards to civic groups. I would be thrilled to see others throw in their hats.

 


sammabryheadWEBSam Mabry

What key issues have caused you to seek this office?

My reasons are straightforward. Is the City of Falls Church going to retain its small town character, which is already eroding and under unrelenting attack by developer driven interests, or recommit to and hold fast to being a small city? Led by elements on the City Council, using a loophole in the zoning laws, fanned on by special interests, every project after a numbing, ineffective review process survives and makes it to the Council dais for approval. We have a current Council committed to quantity not quality. Bigger, but not better. Only this election can change that.

Should the City Council approve full funding of City Schools? Why or why not?

I am for full funding for the classroom – for the teachers and the kids. That means the best teacher pay and smallest possible classes. I am not for full funding the front office of the Superintendent that consumes millions of dollars nor redundant administrative and financial services which could be carried out by a central office serving both the schools and the city. I was the Council co-chair for the financing of the Mary Ellen Henderson school and I saw many instances where there was a lack of interest in maintaining the integrity of financial accountability.

How should the City develop the new 34.6 acres campus that contains George Mason and Mary Ellen Henderson schools?

In many ways that choice has already been made. The RFP that has been issued is very much a decision vehicle. Unless the Council is changed, the process for a new high school will move forward. It will move forward without any other alternative being considered. There has been no RFP for the sale or lease of the land. There has been no RFP for a fixed price contract for new construction or remodeling. The financials in a PPP construct is proprietary and will not be revealed. In essence, this Council has asked the citizens to trust without being able to verify the terms of any agreement.

Do you support the Mason Row project? Why or why not?

I do not support the Mason Row Project. This 85 foot gargantuan will simply add more apartments and more population, further “densing” the city – even before another 300-plus units under construction are occupied. What the proponents of these massive projects have not been able to show is that they actually reduce the tax rate significantly. But what we do know is that they further increase the population adding more and more cars to our neighborhoods and further diminishing the available open space on a per capita basis. So where is the value?

What about the City’s small area plans rolled out to date do you support or oppose most strongly?

I support all forms of urban planning. But at the end of the planning process, because the broadly defined special exception ordinance can be used, the best designed plans can be trumped by four members of the Falls Church City Council. The special exception ordinance must be re-written to insure that when the underlaying zoning is set aside, that the project is special and deserves an exception. Without this “loophole” vehicle, the Kensington would not be under construction and Mason Row would still be a gleam in some developer’s eye.

If you win this November, do you see yourself running again in the future?

Given the special interest monied support for turning Falls Church into an echo of Ballston – call the result of their development paradigm “Fallston” – I will be ready to run again.

 


davetarterheadWEBDavid Tarter

What key issues have caused you to seek this office?

As a former member and chair of the Economic Development Authority, and as an attorney with twenty years of experience in commercial real estate and land use, I bring real knowledge and experience to critical issues facing our City, including how to manage growth intelligently to relieve the tax burden on homeowners while maintaining the excellence of our schools and City services.

I’ve helped neighboring communities resolve many of the issues facing our City, and I believe that I can help Falls Church achieve the same successful results.

Should the City Council approve full funding of City Schools? Why or why not?

With three kids and a niece in the City’s schools and a wife who works at Mt. Daniel, I understand the importance of maintaining school excellence.
As a member of Council, however, I represent the interests of all of our citizens. That means independently evaluating all components of the budget, and balancing the diverse needs of our entire community.

Certainly, our schools are one of the City’s crown jewels and will remain a top priority, but we must be mindful that our tax dollars must also pay for our parks, library, recreation, police, and other important City services.

How should the City develop the new 34.6 acres campus that contains George Mason and Mary Ellen Henderson schools?

I am proud to have been a Member of Council when it obtained the boundary line adjustment that brought the GMHS campus into the City as part of the water sale deal.

The site offers the City the possibility of constructing state-of-the-art educational facilities that can be appreciably paid for with exciting “place making” commercial development – a huge win for both the schools and our greater community.

Maximizing this opportunity will require deep expertise and solid decision making. With my extensive real estate experience, I am especially well suited to the task.

Do you support the Mason Row project? Why or why not?

Not at this time. I still have concerns about the project’s design and voluntary concessions.

Even though the latest version is improved, it is still too large and too intrusive into the surrounding neighborhood, and it has too much residential density. I also have concerns about the project’s commitment to school capital contributions, retail plan, and traffic and other transportation issues.
We must better utilize our commercial corridors to create a vibrant, walkable downtown that will enhance our quality of life and increase our tax base, but not by sacrificing important community values.

What about the City’s small area plans rolled out to date do you support or oppose most strongly?

Small area plans are our opportunity to clearly articulate the City’s long-term vision for our commercial cores.

The best way to get desired development is to let developers know exactly what we want; otherwise, we are just reacting haphazardly to redevelopment proposals.

With my career in commercial real estate and land use, I have seen other communities successfully use these plans to attract desired development. I believe we can use small area plans to transform our downtown into a vibrant, walkable, and economically sustainable urban village that reflects our community’s sensibilities.

If you win this November, do you see yourself running again in the future?

I have enjoyed my time on Council and as Mayor and am eager to continue serving the community. I believe that I have the experience, knowledge, and temperament to address the important issues affecting our City. My focus right now, however, is squarely on the pressing matters at hand, and I would be honored to be re-elected.