Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the prestigious Coalition for Smarter Growth, last weekend chose to conduct one of his organization’s famous walking tours in the City of Falls Church, focusing in the recently-completed cottages project developed by City developer Bob Young, chair of the City’s Economic Development Authority, and his team. The cottages were identified by Schwartz’s group as important in the wider conversation about “sustainable growth” because they represent a departure from the prevailing notion of what single detached homes should look like and offer to the demographic trends of tomorrow.
Schwartz summed up his thoughts about the walking tour that included over 40 people including a lot of Falls Church A-listers, in the Guest Commentary that appears in this week’s edition.
His comments are not unrelated, putting it mildly, to other articles in this edition dealing with the urgent need to address dangerous cut-through traffic and the current and impending impacts of climate change on the community. Falls Church has an advantage in addressing all these issues by virtue of its small manageable size, the willingness of its current City Council to take these matters seriously and the current commercial mixed-use development boom that provides many opportunities for improvements in the City’s infrastructure dealing with sustainability and reliance. On the other hand, of course, its disadvantage centers on its relative inability to combat wider regional trends that are threatening to overwhelm its ability to mitigate some unfavorable environmental developments.
So, the City is left with the option of leading by example, and it’s something that the coalition helped along with its walking tour last weekend. Schwartz is the last to suggest that the cottages project in itself offers a significant solution because the relative cost of the units is still too high, but that the notion of a cluster of smaller homes located within walking distance of major transit options is in principal a huge step in the right direction.
He noted that current planning and zoning rules in the region “do not make it easy to build clustered homes, and the time and cost for special approvals adds to the cost of each new home. It is easier to build ‘by-right’ very large, nearly full-lot occupying houses, which on this site would have cost $1.5 million or more, than to build these smaller 1,340 to 1,380 square foot homes.”
The cottages project, he added, “Point the way to the potential for smaller homes, and especially duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, to provide more options with greater affordability…Creating more walkable, transit-oriented communities is how we can grow sustainability, provide the homes we need and fight climate change.”
So, clearly, where the City can “lead by example” would be in the area of instituting the kinds of planning and zoning rules changes that will have the effect of incentivizing shifting development priorities in just that direction.