City of Falls Church Mayor David Tarter won reelection to the Falls Church City Council last November and was reelected by the City Council in January by a unanimous vote. Amid a highly contested election in 2015, Tarter came out as the candidate with the most votes.
A little over eight months after the start of his second term on the City Council and as Falls Church City’s Mayor, Tarter sat down with the News-Press for its annual State of the City interview. We asked him about how he’s handling his duties as Falls Church City Mayor, how he thinks the City Council, Falls Church School Board and various other boards and commissions are working together, real estate and economic development in the City, the elections in Falls Church in 2017 and his perspective on the future of Falls Church.
News-Press: What is different about how you approached your first term as Mayor and how you’ve approached this one so far?
Tarter: I’ll tell you, first off, I spend a lot of time [in] and I put a lot of time into this. I seek input from all sorts of folks. We’ve got some great boards and commissions. My council is great. The City Council has got a lot of people with diverse experience and knowledge, so we all work together as a team and I think we’ve had some pretty good results.
N-P: You were talking about working together with City Council and the commissions. How well do you think City Council is working with other groups like the School Board and the Planning Commission?
Tarter: I think we’re working well. We’ve come at things with different points of view, but that’s good. I think we all have our own perspectives on things and I think we have come up with some pretty good results.
N-P: Earlier this summer, the School Board and Council voted to decouple the development of the 28 acres that George Mason High School and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School sit on from 10 acres designated for commercial development. What do you think would work best on the commercial acreage moving forward?
Tarter: There are different ways to approach this. There are what the market would prefer, which is probably a fair amount of apartments, but that doesn’t mean that’s what we want as a community. What we need to do is get our arms around, as a community through a public process, our goals for that site. One thing I think we ought to be thinking about is creating a sense of place, a special place. Falls Church already is a special place, but we have an opportunity to enhance that through this 10-acre site and there are unmet needs in our city that we may want to address. It’s part of the reason we’re doing the visioning process that started early in the summer.
We have a meeting in October, we have a survey going on right now and the idea behind that is to give the public an opportunity to let City Council and boards and commissions know what peoples’ priorities are. What do people want to see in future development? What kind of businesses do you want to see in the City? What do you like about things? What don’t you like about things? What could we do better? So, I think that’s a critical part in what we do with this ten acres is really get a lot of public input and really try to create a special place and I really think we have an opportunity to do that, given that it’s ten acres and it’s right next to a metro station, so it has a lot going for it.
N-P: What needs of the City do you think that space can meet specifically?
Tarter: First off, I’d like to hear what people think. One thing that I personally felt was lacking was entertainment. Some people have expressed interest in a sports complex of some kind, which I think would be very exciting. Those tend not to pay as much money in terms of profitability. So I think we really have to work with market forces to determine not only what we want, but what’s feasible. I think it’s a very exciting opportunity.
N-P: You mentioned Mason Row. What is the latest, moving ahead with that development?
Tarter: To my knowledge it is moving forward and I understand they are making progress with a hotel operator and a movie theater operator, so as best as I understand everything is moving forward. It’s going to take a while, though. This is a complex project.
N-P: What’s the latest with the development at W. Broad and N. Washington Streets?
Tarter: The latest I’ve heard is that they are still in progress and they are still interested, but they are working on coming back with a very strong commercial component to it.
N-P: What do you say to longtime residents who are opposed to so much development in the City?
Tarter: First off, I understand their concerns. Falls Church is a great community. I love Falls Church. But we can’t stand still in life and the City has to evolve and personally I view it as getting better and changing with the times. I mean, we have to have development to pay for the important things to us. For example, a new high school. We were just talking about that site. It’s a $100 million dollars. That’s a whole lot of money, so we really need to have our downtown working on all cylinders to help pay for those kinds of things. So that’s one thing, but I think when you get beyond that it’s just quality of life.
For example, with the new Harris Teeter that just opened, about half the City can walk there and I’ve seen about half the City in there. And so I think it’s a big success in terms of quality of life. People being able to get out of their cars, walk and explore downtown and go to the grocery store without having to buy a week’s worth of groceries….That’s the kind of downtown that I see. A lively vibrant place and I view commercial development as having a [significant] role in that. So the projects that I’ve approved or supported have all contributed in some way, I think, to a more vibrant downtown. So that’s the real critical element. It’s not for development’s sake. It’s to make a better community and that’s the goal I see and I think we’re able to accomplish that.
N-P: Next year is a local election. What are your thoughts about that?
Tarter: I’m not sure I have too many thoughts about that. I’m not aware of anyone announcing their candidacy, so I think it’s a bit early to speculate about that, but there’s a lot of good folks in this city, there’s a lot of good folks on council and a lot of good folks on the boards and commissions. We have a great city and great city involvement, so I’m looking forward to having some great candidates like we do every year.
N-P: Do you expect next year’s election to be contentious as this past year’s was?
Tarter: It’s hard to say. It really is. I don’t know. I like a good dialogue. I think it’s appropriate and I think that’s what democracy is all about, so having elections where there’s a vigorous discussion of the issues of the day is very healthy for a city. It fleshes out issues and it fleshes out candidates, so I have no issue with vigorous debate and the like, so we’ll see what comes.
N-P: Earlier this summer, the City got approved for grants to install bike share stations in the City. What can the City do to make the streets more bike friendly?
Tarter: We’ve done a lot of planning. For example, we have a bike master plan. We have a mobility for all modes master plan and some of those contain bike routes. Like where to direct bikes, where should bikes be promoted, where they should maybe be not so much promoted, and so the bike master plan does have a lot of routes and things like that in it. But we are pushing very hard on bike issues.
N-P: Overall, are you optimistic, cautiously optimistic or less so about the future of the City in the near term, medium term and long term and why?
Tarter: I’m optimistic all the way across the board….Falls Church has got so many great things going on. I’ll give you a couple of them. Harris Teeter opening up. It’s drawing people into our downtown. I see people walking down there more than ever before. It’s going to create tax revenue, really great tax revenue, maybe three [or] four cents on our tax rate for folks in the City….Northside Social, I think is going to be opening up pretty soon….I understand he’s pulled his permits, so we’re going to have that coming in in hopefully the next couple of months.
Mason Row is going to provide entertainment, activity and life to a new part of town. Bike share, which we talked about earlier. The shopping center across from The Falls Church was vacant for 12 years. It’s under construction, being renovated and it’s going to be fully occupied by the end of the year….That was 12 years in the making. [At] Big Chimneys Park, the City is going to be spending about a million dollars on that for traffic calming around that….So there’s a lot of good things. We’re planning for the future. The future is not an accident. It’s something that we are seeking through the visioning process….So, really, things are not just happening. We’re focusing on them. We’re planning for them….So there’s a lot of good stuff happening in the City and I think there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic for the City’s future.