The decade-long conflict between the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County’s water system was not resolved with the sale by the City of its water system to its giant neighbor three years ago this month.
Tuesday night, an appearance by two leading representatives of Fairfax Water before a work session of the Falls Church City Council was characterized by some sharp exchanges and an unhappy departure by the Fairfax duo.
The last time representatives of Fairfax Water came before the Falls Church City Council in October 2016 with plans to replace their water tower behind Eden Center with one twice as big, the City Council did not greet the idea with favor.
So when the same representatives came back to a Council work session Tuesday having changed nothing in their request, they should hardly have been surprised to get the same unfriendly reaction from the F.C. Council.
It ended up a testy exchange, at best, when Falls Church Mayor David Tarter, joined by Council members David Snyder and Phil Duncan, raised serious questions on behalf of their constituents to Fairfax Water’s plans.
Fairfax Water said the bigger tower will save it considerable money over other options, but would require easements to impose on parking in the City’s parking-limited Eden Center Vietnamese-American commercial hub. It would be to the predominant benefit of Fairfax County’s aggressive plans for the commercial development of the Seven Corners area.
“Given the way the City of Falls Church has been treated by Fairfax County for decades,” Council member Snyder intoned, “This seems like more of the same thing.” He said the county will gain all the benefit and the City will bear all the cost,” he said, charging that the plan would “improve land values in Fairfax County at the expense of devaluing them in Falls Church.”
He noted that Alan Frank, general counsel for Eden Center, had written a letter opposing the plan. The need for an easement to block three dozen parking places at the Eden Center would provide a major hardship, Frank wrote. The Eden Center is a thriving Asian-American retail center with scores of small businesses and a major supermarket. Parking is always at a premium there.
Mayor Tarter confronted the two Fairfax Water representatives – general manager Chuck Murray and project manager Jamie Hedges – Tuesday with the notion that the City’s site was most convenient for Fairfax Water solely because any number of county-based locations that could be acquired through eminent domain were less attractive because of cost, and also because of resistance from neighbors.
Hedges responded that going the route of land acquisition for a site in the county “would make for a hard argument when we already own land in the City of Falls Church.”
Tarter retorted that the Fairfax Water reps were at the meeting because they needed zoning adjustments from the City government to be able to do that. “Yes, that’s why we’re here,” Hedges conceded.
Tarter said a “giant tank doesn’t fit in our urban plans. We do not have a lot of open land here. A giant water tower was not in my plans for a great city.” He urged the Fairfax Water reps to “come up with different options.”
Snyder chimed in that “most of the benefits of this for redevelopment will accrue to the county, and not to us. This needs to be fair to both of us. There is a very unfortunate history of an ‘us versus them’ between Fairfax County and Falls Church, and this looks like more of the same. We need to get past that.”
Snyder was referring to the decade of hostility and litigation as Fairfax Water decided it wanted to control the extensive service area of the former Falls Church Water System over the Tysons Corner area of the county, where development is now exploding.
Tuesday, Murray had only to offer that the water pressure demands in the area dictate that the tower needs to be the 139 feet in height, intimating a resistance to any modifications in their plans.
However, Tarter challenged that, saying there “have to be other ways, and they need to be looked into.”