Rest assured that the unanimous decision of the Falls Church Planning Commission this week has not gone unnoticed in places far and wide. The commission voted to remove any height or density limits from the City’s wish list for the commercial development of the 10 acres on the 36-acre high school redevelopment site.
It was a wise move by the commissioners and although it comes just as their recommendation to the City Council, which will vote on it in February, it bears a lot of symbolic significance. Not that the rules were set in stone already, but this proactive move to change the policy speaks volumes to the development community.
It potentially propels the project into an entirely different level, especially if there is some developer out there who wants something big and dense next to a Metro station inside the D.C. Beltway. (Maybe it’s not too late for Amazon!)
The other change the Planning Commission recommended was a small revision aimed at making it clear the revenues from development of that site will not go only to paying for the next high school. Now, that change was addressed more to the City residents than to the development world. They need to know that if something big is actually proposed for that site, that the benefits to the City of all that new revenue will not be limited to the high school.
This is the way the City should be conducting its business. Those living here may have their own perceptions of what the Little City represents. But it may look entirely different to the outside world. As mentioned, to that world, it is the City’s location, including its proximity to a nexus of transportation options, that constitutes its greatest value. For example, there is nowhere on the entire D.C. Beltway where all the locations around the Beltway are more accessible than in Falls Church. It is also one on-ramp from two major international airports and with two Metro stations that link the City to the entire Metropolitan region.
There is also the benefit at the campus site of being adjacent an existing, functioning Virginia Tech and University of Virginia graduate center, as well as one of the best high schools in the U.S. and a school district with an integrated K-12 International Baccalaureate continuum. These advantages accrue not only to what kind of information technology giant might be interested, but also to the families of the highly qualified individuals who might be working there.
Behold, all this could be exploited without overburdening the laid-back, walkable, tree-laden quality of life that the 14,500 residents of Falls Church enjoy. We will still have our neighborhoods, parks and unique sense of community that come with an involved citizenry benefiting from an independent local government and good local newspaper.