Falls Church City Mayor Nader Baroukh told the annual meeting of the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) Sunday that he is looking forward to attracting commercial development to the City while ensuring that any new development respects the character of the City.
At the meeting at the F.C. Community Center, Baroukh spoke of the special affection he felt for the VPIS, which has been working to preserve and improve Falls Church since 1885, most recently with the Neighborhood Tree Program, concerts and grants to arts organizations.
Baroukh discussed the opportunities and challenges facing the City over the next decade, including a focus on restoring City finances and making the City a magnet for large commercial enterprises capable of generating employment opportunities and revenue for the City. He also noted the potential for positive spin-offs for existing local businesses, not least the many restaurants in the City.
Key factors for future development, Baroukh said, included creating sectors of the City that encourage walkability, areas that would be friendly and accessible to pedestrians. Every new development should seek to attain high-quality standards ensuring that buildings were capable of lasting, and that they would be compatible with existing businesses, recreation and park facilities. Baroukh told the meeting that a number of development projects have been approved and have or soon will begin construction, including the Hilton Garden Inn, the North Gate mixed-use building, Dominion Jewelers, and a 24 Hour Fitness center.
Baroukh promised to look at zoning regulations to address substandard lots and unmaintained properties, making it easier for City officials to tackle the problem without the requirement to make each issue a criminal case. He did identify major challenges in the area of storm water run-off, highlighted most recently during the storms in September, in which numerous properties were damaged. Baroukh reported that resolving this complex and costly issue could take years, as the problem affects not just residents and commercial premises, but also water run-off into the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
Baroukh added that traffic was a major issue, saying that liaison work was underway with the authorities in Fairfax and Arlington to ensure coordination, for example in traffic signals. Baroukh said he not only welcomed the idea of a trolley service in the area, but felt it crucial that Falls Church made sure that the trolley service ran through the City. Such a new service would attract economic development and may ease traffic flow, and was worthy of the City’s financial and administrative support.
Looking into the future, Baroukh said his vision for the City saw development moving toward denser developments closer to the Metro and other public transport but also served by sufficient businesses within walking distance. City Council would, he said, have to take into account not just the likely effect on traffic of each project but also the cumulative effect of them all and those of the surrounding area.
To address exceptional costs generated by the families of school-age children of some federal employees, the mayor said City staff were looking at earmarks or other sources of funding to offset the financial impact on City schools.
Whatever decisions the City makes in the next few years, the most important element, Baroukh said, was the active involvement of the people of Falls Church to ensure that every decision is made in the best interests of the whole community. He encouraged citizens to learn about plans for development and get involved in the process.