Local Commentary

A Catastrophe, A Laughing Stock

With all the compounding horrors accumulating at the national level this fall, hopefully to be redressed by a favorable outcome in the presidential election, at the local level the City of Falls Church is facing its own potential catastrophe. This word is carefully chosen. It arises from the growing realization that the proposal to place a 40,000-plus square foot Whole Foods megamarket at the City’s central intersection of Broad at Washington might fail to win the OK of the City Council.

This is catastrophic in a number of ways, and the blame for a failure will fall both to the Insight Property developers and a Council not willing to do the right thing in the face of predictable resistance from neighbors to the site.

  1. The City will turn away well over $2 million in annual net tax revenue from the project, compared to about $116,000 it gets off the three acres in play today. Also, “The Whole Foods Effect” raises real estate values about six percent in surrounding areas, according to a RCLCO Real Estate study.
  2. The impact of that rejection in the current economic environment will be devastating, and for that reason will become the stuff of legend. We have no idea yet what the longer term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic’s cost to the economy will be locally, regionally and nationally, except to know it will be great. As time goes on, the impact will likely prove to be worse and worse, sinking the nation into a deep new Depression. It’s a real possibility, and it will be foolish to dismiss that until we have more evidence of the pandemic’s real impact.
  3. The City of Falls Church will become a laughing stock overnight throughout the wider region’s development community, and will sink back into the doghouse that it took so long for the City to crawl out of starting 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, the City Council appears not to appreciate the enormity of these factors and is far too willing to bend to the pressure by neighbors to the site.

On the other hand, the project’s developers, the Insight Group, appear to not fully appreciate the position the Council is in. They can’t believe the Council will actually turn them down. But they’re wrong.

Insight must take more seriously redressing the Council’s concerns. The architectural design stinks. If it’s not significantly improved, the project will go down. (By the way, we think that design needs to include a bright and colorful marquee over the entrance to the Creative Cauldron space.) The additional temporary parking spaces available to neighboring businesses during the construction phase need to be signed up pronto. The Whole Foods lease, signed by Amazon, needs to include language assuring that if the Whole Foods brand does not wind up at that site, that something equivalent, in terms of projected revenue yield, will.