The founders of the City of Falls Church, almost 60 years ago now, never envisioned that the city would remain a mere 2.2 square miles. They felt that to secure its long-term sustainability, the city would have to expand, incorporating large enough sections of Fairfax County to contain a population of 25,000 or 30,000. However, since then, state laws changed making annexation of parts of adjacent jurisdictions virtually impossible. Now, boundary adjustments can occur only if both jurisdictions involved, and the state legislature, all agree.
Over the years, the challenge to far-sighted leaders in the City of Falls Church has been not simply to keep the operations of the city going, but to do so in a way that preserves and enhances the city’s ability to remain independent in the long haul. The particular challenge has been to address the way its small size has limited diversity in its tax base to residential real estate taxes. Gradually over the last decade or so, city leaders met that challenge with a move to significant new development in its narrow commercial corridors, although big chunks of that have retained residential components. Still, any serious stall in the housing market calls into question the city’s sustainability. There is good reason to be jittery about this now.
Here’s a plan: Fairfax County desperately wants to get its hands on Falls Church’s water system, which serves 120,000 customers, mostly in Fairfax County, including in the area targeted for its most intensive growth, Tysons Corner. Fairfax also wants the land adjacent the West Falls Church Metro station owned by Falls Church, where George Mason High School and M. E. Henderson Middle School now sit. Fairfax has taken a fresh look, overall, at its Metro stations and now wants dense development around them. Falls Church, for its part, needs more room to diversify its tax base in order to survive for the long haul.
We propose that Falls Church tell Fairfax County it will do everything it can to help Fairfax develop the Tysons area into one of the nation’s premier commercial centers, giving over its water system and school campus to that purpose. Falls Church will get to lease back the school campus for a decade until it can relocate its schools.
In exchange, Falls Church will get to annex about two-thirds of the county’s Mason District. The deal includes construction of an easy pass-through under or around Seven Corners and expediting plans for light rail running on Route 7 from Bailey’s Crossroads to Tysons. Falls Church will take on the special needs of Culmore district and other areas, but will have plenty of underdeveloped commercial space in which to grow, economically, pay for its schools and keep its existing neighborhoods pristine. The Mason District’s supervisor will get to be mayor of the new Falls Church for the first four years, but the government and City Council will remain based at the F.C. City Hall.