Fairfax’s McKay Makes History

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay made an historic visit to Falls Church this week, in what was maybe the first time ever for the leader of the Little City’s gigantic neighbor to the northwest, with 1.2 million people the largest jurisdiction in Virginia.

Two issues he focused on were the 30,000 job vacancies in the region and the severe lack of affordable housing. They are, of course, interrelated.

McKay spoke at the monthly luncheon of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, and although the venue, the Italian Cafe, is a few yards outside the City, the Chamber is totally Falls Church-centric. But the powerful board chair exhibited familiarity with many issues joining the interests of his county with the Mouse That Roared Falls Church and its modest 14,800 residents.

McKay carries a lot of  weight in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) region, especially during the pandemic when cooperation was the watchword for government and public health entities. In contrast to a lot of federal officials in the region, elected and otherwise, leaders of local jurisdictions handle the bread and butter issues of accommodating peoples’ lives.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair Jeff McKay (left) posed with his long-time friend Andrew Painter, prominent Falls Church land use attorney. (News-Press Photo)

Since the City’s official founding in 1948, there have been over 20 Fairfax board chairs but this is the first time one accommodated an event in Falls Church as a speaker. Hanley was once a teacher at F.C.’s then George Mason High School, but that was long before she entered county politics. 

It’s because the City and county are now in the midst of an era of good feeling with considerable mutual gains to be had by cooperation, a situation not always the case in the past. Acrimony, in fact, marred most of the past relations, until the City and county finally came to an accord in January 2014 on the transfer of the massive City-owner water system to the county in exchange for some really valuable 10 acres of real estate by the West Falls Church Metro that is shaping up as a huge cash cow for the City.

At Tuesday’s luncheon, McKay was introduced by prominent F.C. Chamber Board member Andrew Painter, now a successful land use attorney in F.C., because when he was in high school in the county, a friendship between the two developed over their mutual interest in politics that has lasted over many years.

The two areas he identified where the county and City are now cooperating are both right on the City’s doorstep, one at the west end of F.C. adjacent the West Falls Church Metrorail station, and the other at the City’s opposite end, where after a decade of incremental planning, a county plan for a redo of the Seven Corners traffic entanglement is about to enter its first of four phases of development with a ring road that stops just short of entering onto the City’s turf. 

The west end plans are pressing ahead aggressively, not only with the numerous construction cranes that now dot the skyline there from the full-steam-ahead construction on the City’s 10 acres, but also because the plans for dense development of two adjacent parcels located in the county are making big gains in the approval process.

The plan being spearheaded by the EYA development team for over 20 acres right at the Metro station was approved by the county planning commission last month and will come to the county Board of Supervisors for a final vote of approval on May 23. 

County action on the Virginia Tech site sandwiched between the City’s 10 acres and the EYA plan is due to begin approvals on June 7.

The three projects will form a seamless more than 40 acres of dense development, sewn together by a new boulevard that will run through them all from Route 7 to the West Falls Church station.

Asked what he thought the most pressing issues facing Northern Virginia as a whole, ranked from 1 to 10 in terms of urgency and seriousness, McKay gave a “10” to the challenge of affordable housing.

He said because of aggressive steps now being taken in the county, he said he would put that issue as a “5” there but a “10” regionwide. He said one of the ways the problem is being addressed in the county is by measures to encourage the development of “auxiliary dwelling units” on private residential properties.

“It’s the fastest way to generate large levels of new affordable housing that will have the added benefit of enabling a lot of seniors to stay in their homes,” he said. But such a move is facing stiff opposition from residential homeowners.

It is like the opposition to zoning changes in both Falls Church and its much bigger southeastern neighbor Arlington County that are being forwarded as ways of addressing the crisis of the lack of affordability in housing.

McKay said his county’s role is to build 10,000 new affordable units by 2030 and that they will go all over the 406 square miles of the county and to also acquire existing affordable units.

 Overall, he said, 80 percent of the county’s annual budget of over $5 trillion goes for personnel, with mental health and affordable living challenges atop the list of needs. There is a steep shortfall in the hiring of police, for example, along with the overall 30,000 job vacancies in the region. 

It doesn’t help, he said, that his county gets back only 23 cents on each $1 it sends to Richmond.