By a 5-2 vote (Tarter and Snyder dissenting) the Falls Church City Council moved forward the proposal for an innovative “middle housing” option for the City, a cluster of 10 senior cottage units on Railroad Avenue, despite heated opposition from neighbors to the plan, late Monday night. Strong views, both pro and con, came before the Council during the petition period, from those who contended the whole matter was the result of “bias and favored treatment” and based on a “conflict of interest” by Council members who’d received campaign contributions from the developer in question, Robert Young, to a strong contingent of citizens, such as Bill and Renee Andrews, who said the prospect of the cottage community is precisely what their aging parents need.
Council members and City Attorney Carol McCoskie took turns dismantling the claims by the projects’ opponents that a “nefarious” conflict of interest had something to do with the proposal. From Councilman Dan Sze’s angry renunciation of the charge to Vice Mayor Mary Beth Connelly’s beat down of the idea, augmented by the assertion from McCoskie that receipt of a campaign contribution from any single person does not count as a conflict of interest if a matter pertaining to that person’s interests later come into play, the notion was thoroughly repudiated. An opponent to the plan even threatened the Council with an FOIA request to learn of who contributed to the Council members’ campaigns and claimed that a legal counsel representing her interest was observing in the room. But McCoskie reminded everyone that complete campaign funding reports are readily available on the Virginia Department of Elections website at any time.
Still, concerns for the impact on the neighbors to the proposed project led Mayor Tarter and Snyder to vote no, and others said that without some better relations developing between the neighbors and the developers, they might wind up voting against it when it is due to come back for a final vote next month.
The 1.25-acre cottage project, the first of its kind in the City since an ordinance was passed earlier this year making such a plan feasible, was hailed as a national and regional demonstration for providing housing that addresses the need of seniors needing to move out of more expensive housing but not wanting to transition more dramatically into an apartment condo. By clustering the 10 homes together, with a “common house” that serves as a social center for the cluster, seniors will feel more integrated into a community and not isolated or lonely, its proponents argued.
With Monday’s vote, the proposal will now go to a wide array of City board and commissions for review, comment and recommendations.