Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Mason Row Is Still Too Big, Needs More Changes

By Dorothea Potter Teipel

In spite of the excellent intentions of Spectrum, and their flexibility in incorporating our ideas, especially starting over in some aspects, Mason Row is still too big by half. After working with Peter Batten for just one issue, I would love to support his vision, and all of his incredible plans, his devotion, his treatment of me as a peer citizen.

So much about Mason Row is fantastic, fun, and future-appropriate for us.

But since the beginning, for me, I have worried Falls Church will have so much human crowding, traffic and surrounding area gridlock, that we will be the lightning rod for Route 7 road rage, more school conflict, unrented apartments, empty offices, retail chaos, and more. This concern was only related to Mason Row, back in April.

Today, four weeks after our election, voters showed much favor to candidates open to MUD’s, and other inevitable proposals. There are several great ideas for our special town, city, our “smallest city in Northern Virginia…our smallest city-county in the United States…” We are still one eclectic neighborhood called Falls Church.

We must develop holistically from now on!

If we do not unite against traffic and density policies in our own code, which we currently do not enforce when pressed to adjust project-by-project, we could simultaneously become a laughing stock in our state and region, a political and planning object lesson on what not to do. Are we going to agree to a botched destiny, a fatal density? If we fail, the universe, including all of our neighbors, will know we did it to ourselves.

We become Broad Street, but are Route 7. We have huge, loud, smoke-spewing trucks all day, every day. Clearly, almost all are just passing through, eager to hurry to the next “open highway.” Rush hour is solid, about 3 to 7 p.m. daily, commuters also pushing to get elsewhere.

Weekends are their own special traffic ordeals: Route 7 both ways becomes clogged. Long waits at traffic lights and grueling searches for parking, are carrying mostly consumers, out to shop, dine, watch, acquire, to commit cash they just earned during the prior five days. The stream, from my home sidewalk assessment again, can only grow, and grow.

Are our traffic officials understating the consequences, which are already so obvious to common sense? Are we in denial? Do we feel guilty because we appreciate Spectrum as a “friend of the family” now? I feel as though I do, and as though I am betraying them.

I called Peter Batten recently, about my alarm over the ugly, windowless brown blocks in his Mason Row drawings. I was a little intimidated, but Peter was so great! He said he had planned red Virginia brick facades throughout Mason Row. How relieved I was!

We have all heard now that Spectrum’s financing partner will quit if the 340 apartments do not get approved. That’s such a gun to the head for all of us who want development to succeed in our City! If we had started the Mason Row process with a public-private partnership, we could have negotiated variances together. We have been very clear when we give Spectrum answers to their various proposals, every time: apartments’ size, and height/massing, are constant among our concerns. No real changes have occurred in spite of so many opportunities we had.

We are all keenly aware of several other new MUD developers, currently parked at our doors for approval! We must apply our Mason Row experience anew!

Please, everyone, please hear the citizens who want development today, but are caught up in such common sense concerns as scale, impact, traffic, and schools conflicts. We are not the same group as those seeking to cancel Mason Row outright.

What do you think? Will you assess each incoming proposal holistically, in the larger context of traffic and density around us already? All new proposals should have to plan around our revised codes, now that we have learned so much honest information.

I ask all of you, citizens and developers:

1) How can we help private sector proposals, and our city, to finance their visions based on our own new guidelines, which we must write into our planning codes!

2) How do we create legitimate profits for our city and developers, with a more uniform set of limits for each new developer? More offers of great welcome to them as well?

3) Will we honor our developer now, work together to save best features of Mason Row, and help obtain financing of reality-based planning for Falls Church, with so many prominent supporters ready to keep us moving forward in change we can shape together?