New Va. Tech Study Shows 4 Mile Run Promise for F.C.

A fifth contribution to the City of Falls Church’s visioning and future planning resources came last month from the Virginia Tech Graduate Planning Studio, this one focused on the potential development of the Four Mile Run stream that cuts through the City, and the considerable benefits that could accrue from it.

The study, like others Virginia Tech has provided to the City from its Northern Virginia campus adjacent the City, dealing with the Eastern Gateway, the Little City Center, West Jefferson Street and the Gordon Road triangle, does not take into consideration any of the politics associated with what it would take to carry out the vision, such as who owns impacted property.

But the studies have set the imaginations of planners and public officials ablaze, and caused the best of them to push the limits of the so-called “art of the possible.”

“The restoration of Four Mile Run in the City of Falls Church will improve water quality, create new parkland, provide impetus for mixed use redevelopment along the stream, and add value to the City through higher taxes and enhanced quality of life,” the report begins.

“Near the headwaters of the stream, the Falls Church segment of Four Mile Run is impaired with E coli and other pollutants and overgrown with invasive species, and its banks are incised and eroded. Numerous plans and studies have called for the stream’s restoration and creation of adjacent parkland and a trail along with W. Jefferson portion of the stream,” the report’s authors note.

While acknowledging some aspects of the political issues that would be faced, the report focuses on the positive values associated with the restoration, and even estimates what it might cost. It notes at the outset, “Current land uses along Four Mile Run within the City are predominantly auto-oriented, low-density businesses with little dedicated open space. Land value is nearly four times the value of the improvements in the area. A majority of parcels along W. Jefferson Street along the stream are owned by one family (Jennings—Ed.), so that a parcel consolidation in the area is feasible.”

In terms of the value of a serious restoration effort, the report contends, “The restoration is a timely and necessary endeavor for Falls Church to preserve natural ecosystems, create a vibrant, mixed-use district, strengthen the pedestrian and bicycle network, and promote a healthier lifestyle for residents. A restored stream with an expanded buffer will not only enhance quality of life, but will also improve stormwater runoff management, re-establish native plants and wildlife in and around the water, and reduce pollution.” It sounds like they’ve been paying attention to everything citizens of Falls Church say they want!

It adds, “In addition to environmental benefits, parks and open space add significant economic value through increased property taxes and by spurring new development…It is time to take action on a sustainable plan for a re-energized stream corridor.”

Near the headwaters of the stream, the City of Falls Church enjoys a small portion of the Four Mile Run roughly corresponding to a portion between its eastern boundary and the northwestern boundary with Arlington County. The stream runs entirely through Arlington, spilling into the Potomac River. The watershed of the stream encompasses much of the eastern part of Falls Church’s 2.2 square miles. Therefore, restoration of Falls Church’s component of the stream will have a big impact on the quality of everything downstream from it.

The Virginia Tech report suggests that improvements such as it is proposing would cost approximately $12 million, including $6 million for stream restoration, $4.9 million for land acquisition and nearly $600,000 for park development. A land banking fund, public-private partnership, tax increment financing, industrial revenue bonds and other options exist to help in the parcel consolidation and redevelopment effort, it says.

The report in its 53-page entirety is accessible from the City of Falls Church website, listed under “Concept Plans.”