The two items on the agenda of the Falls Church City Council work session Tuesday night were treated as separate items, but their interconnectedness was the glaring and overriding reality of the long evening.
On the one hand, the Council is staring down the barrel of a dramatic 10 cent increase in real estate taxes (from the current rate of $1.27 per $100 assessed value to $1.37) even while general government services will remain unchanged. This number goes even higher for residents when an average $274 annual surcharge for storm water management is added on, meaning that for the owner of an average-valued single family home in the City (at $600,000), the tax bill will rise by $874 above current levels.
In conjunction with that, the regional economy could suffer significantly if Congress permits “sequestration” to go into effect on March 1 that will disproportionately impact Northern Virginia.
On the other hand, the City Council holds the keys to two new large scale mixed use development projects that are ready to rock-and-roll. One is the Lincoln Properties plan for S. Maple Street, and the other, anchored by a state of the art Harris Teeter grocery store, came back to the Council Tuesday with modifications made in response to the concern of neighbors to the site. The project promises to add $1.2 million to City coffers every year, or the equivalent to 4.5 cents on the tax rate.
It would not cover the entirety of the possible 10 cent rise, but would theoretically cut it in half, at least as soon as it is ready to go.
In the case of that Rushmark Company project, it was heartening to see the extent the developer, in the latest incarnation of its plan, was directly responsive to neighbor concerns, moving the direction of traffic, adding to buffer spaces, enclosing the loading docks and trash stations, undergrounding utility lines and moving densest elements of the project away from the neighborhood.
All that considered, it was disconcerting to hear members of the City Council continue to express reservations, mostly based on vague notions of “the massing” of the plan, and that it has more of a “suburban than urban” appearance. The only really credible specific concern expressed was for the impact of left turns off of western-directed lanes on W. Broad into the project.
Otherwise, the complaints about its size, and height, are simply, “So what?”
“So what?” indeed, especially when the Council is faced with the grim fiscal realities that it then moved on to discuss Tuesday. At least at the end of the Harris Teeter presentation, a number of Council members overrode their earlier misgivings by recognizing, in Council member Johannah Barry’s term, its “seminal” potential for added development in its wake.
“It can be a catalyst for a new, vibrant downtown, and we need this desperately,” Councilman David Tarter chimed in.
“Desperately?” Yep, he got that right.