In an historic first, the governing bodies of the City of Falls Church and its much larger Arlington County neighbor met in the same space at Arlington City Hall Monday with the two bodies sharing their respective plans for the development of the area of Route 29 where they both meet.
The area is valuable for both, as it is adjacent the East Falls Church Metro station that is now the jump off point from Metro’s Orange Line to its new Silver Line through Tysons Corner and eventually to Dulles Airport. It is also a jumping off point for Interstate 66 that links the area directly to Washington D.C. in one direction, and to the Beltway in the other.
Planning Department officials from each side took turns introducing the meeting to the work that has gone on to date to developing plans for their respective sides of the Route 29 (Washington Street).
Arlington has vetted preliminary plans for a semi-dense commercial and mixed use development adjacent to the Metro station. For Falls Church’s Planning Director Jim Snyder it was a trip to his old stomping grounds. A long time Arlington planner, he’s enjoyed a welcome reception since coming to the City of Falls Church, and began the process of small area development plans, including one for the N. Washington Street corridor that he presented Monday.
The most eye-opening component of that plan is the notion of daylighting the Four Mile Run creek that runs through it, almost contiguous with the Arlington County line. The Falls Church plan envisions a small grassy park at the creek’s edge with mixed use high rises behind it.
Were Falls Church and Arlington to adopt a fully collaborative approach to development of the area, Arlington could complement the Falls Church waterside park with one of its own. Conceivably the creek could be widened there for the two jurisdictions to park their respective Navies, a light-hearted allusion to the potential of the area.
Present from Falls Church were Mayor David Tarter and Council members Nader Baroukh, Marybeth Connelly, Phil Duncan, Dan Sze and Karen Oliver, along with City Manager Wyatt Shields and other City staffers. Present from the Arlington Board were its current chair Jay Fisette, Mary Hughes Hines, Libby Garvey, Walter Tejada and John Vihstadt, along with County Manager Barbara Donnellan.
Other areas the lawmakers identified for collaboration are in the area of bike lanes on major corridors, like Rt. 29. There needs to be an effort to make sure that bike lanes added to westbound lanes of Rt. 29 do not suddenly stop when they hit the Falls Church border, and likewise in the other directions, they noted.
The impetus for the meeting, the first ever of its kind in the 66 year history since the independent City of Falls Church was carved out of its other neighbor, Fairfax County, came when David Tarter became mayor of Falls Church last year.
With his law practice having brought him frequently before the Arlington board, he’d developed a friendship with Arlington board chair Jay Fisette. So it was not hard for the two to get in touch with each other and to propose the meeting.
Of course, the “Little City” and Arlington already collaborate in another area, in that they share the same court system. The Arlington Circuit Court is led by Judge Thea Stamos, who is elected every four years, as is the court’s clerk, Paul Ferguson, by voters from both Arlington and Falls Church. Both will be up for re-election in November 2015.
Court proceedings held at the Falls Church City Hall twice a week are under the auspices of the Arlington Circuit Court, as well.
So the basis for more cooperation between the jurisdictions is already established. Citizens of the City of Falls Church indicated their preference for association with Arlington over Fairfax when in the 1980s they voted to move away from the Fairfax Court system and align with Arlington.
Arlington and Falls Church are also joined by the boundaries of the 8th U.S. Congressional District, which has been represented by Rep. Jim Moran for 24 years, and will be by congressman-elect Don Beyer come January.
There is far more agreement than not on matters political and cultural between Arlington and Falls Church than between Fairfax and Falls Church, although a recent shakeup in the five-member Arlington County board with the recent election of an independent candidate signals that there are no guarantees on such matters.