Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Development Can Enhance Community & Environment

By Debra Z. Roth

In honor of Falls Church “Little City” open-mindedness, intellect, arts, culture, environmental-mindset and friendship – our soul and spirit – I eagerly support controlled, smart, judicious and innovative development like Mason Row and the City Council members and candidates and School Board candidates who steward inventive, practical and exciting ways to creatively enhance our community while assuring it is affordable and inclusive.

I value the varying views and concerns of my neighbors. We do not want a traffic nightmare or to be overshadowed by looming buildings and troublesome strangers poking around late at night. Sparked by my background as a community activist and, professionally, in public relations, including corporate-nonprofit partnerships involving business development and the environment, asked by others, and excited that Mason Row might enable FCC to expand arts and augment and enrich environment, I began meeting with the developers this past year.

I continue to be convinced that Mason Row is unlike most ventures. Is the developer’s motive largely profits? Yes, and that forges a win-win opportunity because if they succeed in a vision like their team and the community are crafting, it will be because the community embraces it as imagined.

Mason Row has provided concepts and compromises that serve as solutions and pathways toward our ideals. The current plan includes a public space with green and landscaping intended for arts, cultural experiences, recreation and festivals; fuses the development with the bike/walking trail; incorporates arts space; provides arts programming monies; encourages walkability; and proposals are being considered that would add Metro- and FCC-center city shuttles. Potentially, the design would sport a decorative fountain that might be like the Mosaic District’s which draws children who dash through the sprays while it would also cool air and attract wildlife. What about model ski boats racing on frozen pools in the fountains?!

I believe we could become eligible for environmental-oriented grants for a number of these ideas in the near future. Some say we’ve tried that and our partnership that enabled the bus, GEORGE, failed: Perhaps it failed because it wasn’t fully promoted. Maybe residents need incentives to change driving habits.

If we say no to Mason Row, the developer may lose financing and go elsewhere. The land may end up in the hands of another developer, one who wants little and does little except for, perhaps, planting more fast food restaurants.

Some worry about the movie/dining venue: Will it be too big? Will people visit too late at night? As a frequent user of Angelika in Mosaic, which the potential theater will be like, many of us think it’s fabulous. Sophisticated movie-dining theaters are what intellectual, artistic crowds like. Some in the Falls Church arts community hope it might be used for lectures, too. Imagine discussions with small film directors. How about using it for Tinner Hill Foundation blues videos and civil rights small group discussions?!

I hear many wonder about apartments: Will residents be short-term and uncommitted to the City?

I owned a home for many years and chose to reduce size and responsibility and focus commitments elsewhere: I love where I live now – an apartment – and I am actively committed to Falls Church City. Some say apartment dwellers will add more cars to the mix – possibly, but demographics show that many, of all ages, buy one vehicle for a couple and use easy-access car rentals. And whether young or retired, apartment residents choose to spend much of their disposable income on dining, cultural activities, other recreation, and more.

Revenue from these developments will reduce reliance on real estate taxes for city enhancements and infrastructure maintenance. Real estate value will likely rise. Competition can help keep apartment and business unit rents in line.

I focus on the big picture as well as the details and believe the big picture is critical here because whatever we do, it won’t last forever. I would abhor our becoming a Tysons 3 – and we won’t go that far. Yet, do I think we need to keep our eye on developers to keep them in check? Absolutely.
Helping craft a block that integrates the soul of Falls Church City, that will link with other long-loved parts of The Little City, like our historic City Hall, library, and more, enlivens the spirit of our city. Development and developers do not need to overcome us. Power to us! Negativity stalls and pushes people backwards. To be as active as we are in discussing our community can breed more positivity and realize dreams. Guiding Falls Church City forward and into the future can be through a partnership that can diversify, solidify and advance us.