Local Commentary

The Latest Budget Plan & Its Causal Element

The combination of the reveal of Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields’ proposed FY23 budget with its recommended 8.5 cent reduction in the real estate tax rate and the solid vote of final approval for Founders Row 2, the latest large scale mixed use project to get the green light in the Little City, marked this Monday’s meeting of the Falls Church City Council as perhaps one of the most consequential in many a moon.

The two are interrelated in the sense that the success of the City to do all the monumental things it has done in recent years – build a new state-of-the-art $120 million high school, prepare for the construction of virtually an entire new city on 10 acres adjacent it, renovate City Hall and the Mary Riley Styles public library, make major gains to protect everyone from the anticipated impacts of climate change, as with stormwater, and much more – has been due to the combination of strong and responsible local leadership, on the one hand, contributing to the region’s most robust mixed use development in its commercial corridors, on the other.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the events of Monday night. In presenting his latest annual budget, subject to modifications and formal adoption by the City Council on May 2, Shields noted that the 8.5 cent real estate tax reduction, down to $123.5 per $100 assessed valuation is unique for these parts, as the City’s two much larger neighbors, Arlington and Fairfax, are anticipating no tax rate reductions despite their growth trends.

In the case of the Council’s adoption of the zoning and special exception changes needed for the Founders Row 2 project, with its 280 new residences, it passed with relative ease by a 5-2 margin, a far cry from the 4-3 vote it was barely able to achieve, with tons of caveats being expressed at the time, from the Council to move ahead last September. Enough creative changes to the look and content of the project by its Mill Creek developers were made in the interim to make the version approved this week seem far more palatable.

In that context, another component of the project is its commitment to affordable housing, as 12 percent of the housing units will come under the City’s affordable housing controls. The terms price half of them at the lowest end of the income scale for prospective residents. That 12 percent number is a sharp increase from the six percent goal of the Council in the recent past, something the Council has become more emboldened to demand lately.

It will involve yet another transformation in the area, replacing the long-idle Rite Aid store and its oversized parking lot, and the carpet store at the corner, with a handsome project that will complement the nearly completed Founders Row 1 across the street.

As Mill Creek’s Joe Muffler said to the Council Monday, the project represents a “win-win alignment.”