Letters to the Editor: October 29 – November 4, 2015
Worried About Fear-Mongering in Campaigns
While I chose to raise my family in Falls Church City because of the schools and care deeply about their quality, other aspects of the community are also important to me. My vision for our Little City is simple: a wonderful, safe place to live, play, and raise a family. For me, that means walkable / bikeable streets; a vibrant, central, walking-accessible retail/restaurant corridor (wouldn’t it be wonderful if our stretch of Route 7 evolved to be as vibrant and varied as King Street in Alexandria?); high-quality, inquiry-based, reasonably-sized community schools that offer a range of academic and extracurricular opportunities to all of our children; and an active community of interconnected neighbors.
I am deeply concerned about the fear-mongering infusing this campaign cycle. For one, keeping our schools exactly the same size as they are now does not ensure quality. Nor – if you actually look at the facts – does creating a vibrant semi-urban commercial corridor ensure that school quality will decline.
I worry that making decisions about development based primarily on fear not facts will ruin the rich fabric of our Little City. Leadership of that nature would certainly necessitate our reconsidering our commitment to raising our family in the City of Falls Church.
I hope the candidates elected will govern not out of fear, but instead out of a coherent vision for what the City of Falls Church can and should be in 10-20 years. Our City deserves that.
Momentum Isn’t Always A Good Thing
The News-Press is full of information about candidates and their opinions, your opinions about development in the City, and lately a sunny, but not completely logical, guest commentary about what’s good for the City. One of those opinions (as quoted from Phil Duncan and your word choice for the p. 1 headline), “Moratorium or Momentum,” is a naïve, simplistic way to frame development issues in the City and presents an untrue – and unnecessarily scary – dichotomy. Moratorium doesn’t mean “forever,” but rather a pause to take stock of the impact of the developments already underway and not approving more until we understand what we’re already getting. Momentum isn’t always a good thing. Momentum can get out of hand, and will if we continue to approve large mixed-use developments without pausing.
The choice is really “Pause and Review vs. Develop to Develop.” The “little” City of Falls Church can handle only so much exactly because it’s small. Not to know the impacts of developments underway in and around the City limits before we approve even just one more large mixed-use project is unwise, working against ourselves, and not “smart growth.”
Ms. Roth, it’s highly unlikely that the corner of Broad and West is going to “end up in the hands of [a developer] who wants little and does little except for, perhaps, planting more fast food restaurants” if “we say no to Mason Row.” Don’t you try to scare us, too! The Broad and West developers are making proffers because they have to and they want major zoning exceptions in return. Falls Church is not their concern, no matter how nicely they say it is. That’s not an insult to them. Business is business. Developments are built and sold. Spectrum will be gone in the not-too-distant future. A too-large project that’s approved just to keep “momentum” going will be with us for decades, as will its impact.
Falls Church Does Not Need To ‘Take a Breather’
We do not need to take chances on inexperienced School Board candidates who have a personal vendetta against the School Board or no track record (Kaye, Kutchma, or Smerdon); or former council members who did nothing remarkable their first time on Council and apparently have few ideas of what to do in the future since they (Barry or Mabry) only want to “take a breather” (granted that is Mabry’s shtick, however all five mentioned above likely subscribe to that by association since all appear on a flyer that arrived this week in our mailboxes). Get elected and “take a breather?” That’s a non sequitur if ever I heard one, and unfortunately a great disservice to our citizens and our students.
This slate of candidates appear to have an ironic reverse progressive attitude. So their mantra is to “let’s take a breather,” and by a logical extension then allow the surrounding jurisdictions to box Falls Church City into an untenable situation where there is a diminishing tax base and real estate taxes on homeowners will be forced even higher. That sounds like a recipe for losing our identity and being forced to merge with Arlington or Fairfax County. The City Council and School Board have been doing a great service to our City’s citizens in the face of our unique and compact geography. That geography forces the commercial district into a distinct and defined pattern, and our Council has been effectively managing the increase in commercial, and revenue generating, use of that space. I welcome multiple groceries within the city.
We are situated in a unique hub of opportunity where Metro and the toll road to Dulles, Metro and I-66 to D.C. and out past Manassas to Front Royal can be spokes of a technology circle to rival the Technology Corridor of I-270 in Maryland. Certainly our Council has been aware of this unique geography on which the City finds itself as a hub of opportunity, and has been effectively building for our place in the rehabilitation of this area. It is not time to “take a breather,” lest we be left behind and the history of the City of Falls Church ends with a “take a breather” attitude.
We Need to ‘Clean House’ In City Elections
I thought life in Falls Church was pretty good until I started paying attention to the city council election. My family loves our community, our neighbors, and our friends here.
I’ve written multiple versions of this letter. Admittedly, it’s been tough to finalize. This was in part because I needed clarity around my own thoughts on redevelopment, anticipated traffic impacts, and stretching our school’s capacity. I’m also hung up on the emerging, disturbing details of current and past community leaders and their combined leniency plea for a convicted pedophile. Their actions defy logic and sound judgment.
So all of the chatter about the pros and cons of taxing those who want to catch a movie, tolling those who want to get to work on-time, and shutting out those seeking a high-rise home in a small city (especially if they have kids – yikes!) is a distraction from our first order of business.
We need a clean house.
We need a fresh start with a new team – no incumbents or past members. There is too much baggage (with little evidence of any healing or self-reflection done) for this group to function effectively. Unfortunately, the math doesn’t work out. With only one first-time candidate among the five, the refresh can’t be done in one election but we must start here.
The same is true for the school board. We need a clean slate of leaders who are ready to roll up their sleeves and work together without resorting to tactics that distract from the number one issue – school kids.
We can start on November 3 by electing a team to effectively represent us, work together, and be trusted to make compassionate, courageous leadership decisions.
Mixed-Use Is Not Responsible for Increase In Students
As a 40-year and now-retired City resident, I have seen the need for growth result in successful development activity that has removed many eyesores while increasing our downtown’s livability and attractiveness, particularly along the Broad Street corridor. I vividly remember the deteriorating Adcom property, where the Broadway now stands, sitting vacant surrounded by a chain link fence for 15 years, while the same kind of endless debate taking place in the current campaign, went on and on. I also recall that there have been three referendums since 2000 on the development issue. In the one in 2010, 57 percent of those who voted favored the pro-development position. In the other two (2002, 2008), more than 60 percent voted in favor of the pro-development position.
My family intends to stay where we are in Winter Hill, and fully support the continuing efforts to move forward with the kind of mixed-use development that has brought us the Spectrum, Byron and Northgate – and their mix of stores and restaurants I can walk to, such as the Mad Fox Brewing Company, Café Kindred and Penzeys Spices. And, that’s why I find it disconcerting that those opposed to this smart development raise the red herring that it is the mixed-use approach that is responsible for the significant increase in the number of students in our public schools. The fact is, this increase in the student population over the past 10 years or so has come largely from single family homes and long established townhouse complexes such as Winter Hill. The not so subtle message coming from this opposition bloc is if you want to move to Falls Church City by either buying a single family home or a Winter Hill townhouse, don’t bring any children! Of course, this is not something I or anyone wants, let alone comports with our nation’s housing laws and regulations.
Vote ‘No’ on Further Mixed-Use Development
I write to register one more voice to voting “no” on further large-scale, high-rise, dense, “mixed-use” developments in The Little City. Is the aim to become Ballston, Rosslyn or Megolopolis?! The numbers game being used to advocate for further development sure seems boundless, in this regard.
Some are drunk with visions of millennial childless piggy banks propping up an elite school, and it’s as though the drunk co-ed is in the upstairs frat bedroom and all the developers are urged to get while the gettin’s good – more Hitt, more Spectrum.
I urge citizens of the Little City to vote “no” to further development, to let the current massive developments – at Tinner Hill (right across from an earlier one), Broad Street & Little Falls (Harris Teeter), the impending assisted-living complex along Broad by Lee, the large Avalon development and the in-discussion development around West St. – have some time to give effect, and to spare our current small businesses from the bulldozer (or raised rents).
“Luxury apartments” are now here en masse; affordable housing, not so much.
Signs for a new high-rise promise “Dining, shopping, and entertainment right here.” Hey, look around, we have that already, right here in The Little City – and don’t really need the development to stomp out the extant businesses.
We have good, ethnic small-business groceries for Indian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Vietnamese influence. Let’s not squeeze them out for Wegman’s or Harris Teeter or Whole Paycheck, okay?
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