Local Commentary

Editorial: The West End’s ‘Agora’ Promise

Last Thursday was another red-letter day for the City of Falls Church. Its leading officials were in the limelight before hundreds of the greater Washington, D.C. region’s most important and influential real estate developers at a breakfast meeting hosted by the commercial real estate developer group NAIOP. The mayor and much of the City Council were there, while the City Manager Wyatt Shields and economic development chief Jim Snyder held forth on a stage with representatives of the three collaborators working to develop the West End Economic Development Project. The dense 10.3 acre mixed-use project will be the biggest thing, by far, the City of Falls Church will achieve over the next years ahead.

Falls Church city officials were rightly proud of the well-deserved attention and the explanations they were invited to provide about how it all came about covered well many aspects of what has gone into the effort so far.

Going forward, as this project proceeds toward the approval of its site plan over the next six months, we propose adding to the development a narrative focusing on the numerous ways in which it is particularly unique, more than just another big development behemoth in the wider region. Here are among the elements we’d focus on, all of which citizen and public opinion in the City, cultivated over many years of discourse and policy decisions, has helped inform:

First and foremost, the project is ahead of the curve addressing the greatest and most pressing need facing the entire region, which is to massively increase the percentage of housing units that need to fit into a classification as “affordable,” meaning that persons below the threshold of the wealthy can afford to live in them. With all of its focus on revenue generation, this project has made room for over 100 so-called micro units. This should be showcased as a way to address the regional housing crisis, but it was not mentioned in the forum last week.

Second, there is the collaboration with the public school system to work in a fully symbiotic manner to jointly construct a model new high school adjacent dense economic development, with a promise of incorporating the adjacent Virginia Tech campus. This arose from the original vision for the site seeing the commercial, residential and new educational institutions as an “agora,” the ancient Greek concept of an integrated learning-based city, in the manner the late City father Ed Strait envisioned for Falls Church. It’s had a lot to do with the community’s ongoing overwhelming support.

Third, there is the promise of linking the project with at least two, or more, large adjacent properties for a regional 40-acre plus “neighborhood,” which by proximity to the Metro and plans for a grand boulevard linking Route 7 with the Metro, promises to be truly unique, aesthetically elevating and vastly more integrated than its monster Tysons neighbor.