Local Commentary

Editorial: Land for Water

The perpetuation to this day by some in Fairfax County of an apparently-strident antipathy toward any proposal allowing the City of Falls Church to annex some county land, even as part of a lucrative swap for water, is puzzling. Fairfax County opposition to this notion dates back to the 1960s when a Falls Church move to do so was fought furiously by the county in the courts.

Sixty years ago, the independent jurisdiction of the City of Falls Church was founded by, among other things, giving up to Arlington a large residential section around the current East Falls Church Metro station that had been part of the Falls Church township until then. The founders of Falls Church had to settle at the time for the tiny 2.2 square mile area that still constitutes the boundaries of the city. But they were confident that once the school system and city government were up and running, they’d be able to annex territory in Fairfax County to render their jurisdiction economically and fiscally feasible for the long haul.

It never happened. Efforts by some of the early leaders of Falls Church to proceed with annexation were rudely rebuffed by Fairfax County, and by the early 1980s, new state laws were cemented into place making annexation very difficult.

Back in the 1960s, there were undoubtedly an array of factors that made Fairfax County want to, politically speaking, strangle little Falls Church in its crib. Falls Church leaders from that era recall that they were up against Virginia’s notorious “Byrd Machine” in their annexation efforts. The Byrd Machine, led by Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator Harry S. Byrd for half a century from the mid-1920s on, was a ruthless, top-down political apparatus dedicated almost entirely to resisting the advance of civil rights and racial integration. It was not limited to one or another political party. Among other things, the Byrd Machine instigated the infamous “Dillon Rule” in Virginia that, to this day, permits no local jurisdiction from passing any law that has not been explicitly permitted by Richmond.

By the 1960s, along with Arlington, Falls Church was in the forefront, statewide, of school integration. Fairfax County, still mostly rural, was lagging. The land annexation matter occurred in this context.

But that was then. This is now. Fairfax has become, for all intents and purposes, a powerful driver of progressive values. Perhaps a last vestige of Fairfax’s rural past vanished when the county recently shifted away from prohibiting development at its Metro station sites.

Now, it makes abundant sense for Fairfax to sit at a bargaining table with Falls Church, which owns valuable land at the West Falls Church Metro and a gigantic water system serving 120,000 Fairfax County customers. What a shame if, inadvertently, ghosts of the old Byrd Machine days reappear to dash a serious consideration of that.

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