In the first formal debate of the 2013 Falls Church City Council campaign this fall, the five candidates competing for four open seats in the November 5 election showed some daylight between them mostly in issues of development, while providing a lot of platitudes about the wonderment of the Falls Church community and support for education.
Without it always being explicitly clear, one big issue of difference was what the City might to if the water referendum passes in November and it gets its hands on acreage adjacent the West Falls Church Metro as a result.
Some candidates, including Vice Mayor David Snyder and candidates Marybeth Connelly and Dan Sze said they saw enormous potential for high-density economic development from that site which could contribute enormous new revenues to the City and ease burdens on residential real estate taxpayers.
On the other hand, other candidates, especially Robert LaJeunesse, felt that such dense development, even away from the residential areas of Falls Church, was not a good idea. Asked about what height limit should be allowed in some areas of town, he said “We don’t need higher, but only to infill” at current prevailing heights.Karen Oliver stressed new development should be “deliberate” with plenty of planning and public input.
While citing the economic potential of the land near the West Falls Church Metro, however, Snyder also struck the theme of the “non-Tysonization” of Falls Church, saying that the city’s “bright future” of long-term sustainability will be derived from its core values of community engagement and commitment to education. He said that support for the arts in the City is vital element of what maintains its uniqueness.
Sze said that “the City will be developed,” citing he $5.5 million coming annually into City coffers now from new large-scale mixed use projects. But he also noted that new development offers opportunities for environmental gains, and said that he would like to the see the City eventually become a “net generator of power.” He also noted that the City could develop new recreational opportunities on the top of new buildings, such as with a ice rink or swimming pool.
Connelly stepped outside the usual box of policy options discussed at the Council level when she cited the City Planning Department’s small area planning documents to not that a community center could go onto property adjacent Fairfax St. where a new City Hall and Library could go. She noted that energy efficiency could also come from building new, rather than renovating old, buildings.
LaJeunesse said in terms of new city and school building needs that focusing on synergies between the schools and City could create “neglected capacity.” He assailed the “neglect” afforded parks and public spaces, contrasting “private affluence in the face of public squalor.”
Oliver focused on the importance of “walkability” and transportation improvements. She said that with all the competing opinions in the City, “It is important to listen to them all and not focus on differences.”
The candidates touched on affordable housing and Snyder and Connelly on the need to extend the tax deferral program for seniors, and Connelly was the only one to call for a revenue sharing agreement between departments of the City and the schools in the budgeting process.
The event was cosponsored by the Village Preservation and Improvement Society and the F.C. League of Women Voters, with Marjorie Hobart serving as moderator, and a large gathering present in the Council chambers at City Hall. It was videotaped for airing repeatedly on Falls Church Cable TV.