By David Tarter
First of all, I would like to thank the citizens and City Council of Falls Church for giving me the opportunity to serve you. I am honored and humbled by the confidence placed in me. As Mayor, I am but one of seven members on the Council, nonetheless, I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts about the coming year.
We are emerging from tough economic times, and have many challenges before us.
These challenges include maintaining the excellence of our schools in an era of explosive enrollment growth, among the highest growth in the region. Years of austerity have led to pent-up demand for capital improvements for the schools, the library, City Hall and other facilities. We must find ways to satisfy this demand while continuing to provide high quality core services to our community.
All of this will put pressure on our tax rate, but higher taxes are not the answer.
I believe that we can meet these challenges by renewing our commitment to economic development and smart growth. Not growth at any cost, but properly considered and well-planned development that is consistent with the values, culture, and character of our City.
The recent water sale agreement created a tremendous opportunity for economic development. This agreement resulted in the transfer of more than 38 acres of land from Fairfax County to Falls Church, markedly expanding the City’s area. Our middle and high schools sit on 36 of these acres, located next to the West Falls Church Metro Station. Reconfiguring the schools’ footprints could make up to 11 acres available for commercial redevelopment. A parcel this size next to a Metro station has enormous potential.
This transformation will not happen overnight. It will take a significant amount of work by our City staff and citizen volunteers, including the School Board, the Planning Commission, the Economic Development Authority, Council, other boards and commissions, and the community at large. Nevertheless, it is an unprecedented opportunity worthy of our most diligent efforts. For it may be possible, with proper planning and execution, to leverage this land to provide much needed new school facilities, while creating a center of inviting commercial activity that will help generate the new tax dollars needed to pay for it.
The School Board and City Council will be partnering in this effort. Discussion of the process and timing for this endeavor should begin shortly.
In addition to land, Falls Church is also netting over 14 million dollars as a result of the water system sale. Soon, the City Council will be considering the use of these funds. The prudent application of these proceeds can provide another opportunity for us to contribute to our long term financial well-being.
Falls Church has not yet fully taken advantage of our geographic location. We occupy an enviable spot along major thoroughfares and next to two Metro stations, including the soon to be expanded Silver line, yet too many of our residents’ dollars are spent outside the City’s confines.
Continuing to articulate a long range vision for developing and revitalizing our downtown and commercial corridors is critical to their success. We are now in the midst of discussion of the City’s third area plan, which will set forth a more dynamic vision for the downtown area surrounding the intersection of Washington and Broad Streets. Ultimately, eight such plans will be adopted, encompassing all of the City’s main commercial zones.
Part of this process is making the downtown more pedestrian friendly and accessible. Last year, the Council increased the building setback and standard streetscape width from 14 to 20 feet on Washington and Broad Streets, creating welcoming space for walking and outdoor dining in our downtown areas. This year, we will consider the Mobility for all Modes Plan. The plan is designed to encourage residents to walk and cycle to their destinations and to improve connections to regional transportation networks.
I believe our efforts are beginning to bear fruit. In the past year or so, three new grocery stores have committed to our City: Harris Teeter, Fresh Market, and Good Fortune at Eden Center. In short order, they will more than double the number of grocery stores within our boundaries. I expect that additional projects will be put forth for consideration as the year progresses.
As you can see, we have a busy, and hopefully productive year ahead. However, to be successful, we need help from our residents. Without a doubt, the citizens of Falls Church are full of creative and thoughtful ideas. As they say, it takes a village, or in this case, a City. I invite you to fully participate in the process, attend public hearings, and help make a great place even better.
I look forward to our future, and appreciate the opportunity, in some small way, to help shape it.
David Tarter is the Mayor of the City of Falls Church.