No sooner than they’d completed an exhaustive process of adopting a difficult budget for the coming fiscal year than the Falls Church City Council got a sensory overload at a work session this Monday with back-to-back-to-back presentations of three conceptual plans for development around the East Falls Church Metro station, for the North Washington St. corridor between Broad St. and that Metro station, and for the South Washington St. corridor between Broad St. and Graham Road.
All are in the preliminary stages, but with ambitious and well-developed concepts for what the areas may look like before too long.
Three immediate and glaring shortcomings of the studies were evidenced, at least from this newspaper’s point of view. All are related to the fact that the studies were done with design, landscaping, environmental and safety factors in mind, but with no attention whatsoever to the City’s urgent need for new economic development.
Therefore, issues such as phasing, density and prioritizing, as well as an integrated sense of “place” for Falls Church were entirely missing.
The three shortcomings were 1. the lack of sufficient density at the East Falls Church Metro area, especially on the Falls Church side of the Arlington-Falls Church border, 2. the lack of a plan for making the intersection of Broad and Washington the identifiable, integrated center of Falls Church as an immediate, if interim, priority, and 3. the lack of recognition that the City has a new marketing effort underway that includes a study of a signature brand, or look, to the downtown area.
On the first point, the Falls Church part of the East F.C. Metro area may be the City’s last best location for the kind of robust commercial density, located away from residential neighborhoods, the City requires. To suggest a huge chunk of it be set aside for a park-like public space is to be grossly indifferent to the City’s economic needs.
On the second, the intersection in question was totally ignored in the studies, because both the North and South Washington studies see it as merely one end-point for their designs. This is absurd. The City has an urgent, immediate need to spruce up that intersection, and to add new, safe sidewalks and lighting linking the State Theatre to the intersection, which should be integrated with the help of a defining piece of public art. It is annoying the way that Council members tippy-toe around this concept, apparently because it originated in this editorial space. This is a valid economic development concept and needs to be treated seriously for just that reason, without trepidation due to its authorship. Among other things, it has support on the board of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, on which our editor has served for 18 years.
Finally, any proposed design features of these plans that do not pay attention to the City’s current marketing and branding efforts is simply out of touch with what’s going on, even in such a small city.