Editorial: No ‘Guard Rails’ On Campus Site

July 13, 2017 12:25 PM0 comments

Hey, Wegmans! Were you tuned into the Falls Church City Council meeting Monday night? With no West Coast baseball to watch during the All-Star break, maybe you accidentally had the Falls Church Cable channel tuned in to cure your insomnia around midnight.

As reported in this week’s edition, when the fantastic idea of planting a giant Wegman’s store on 10 acres of the Falls Church campus site, the City’s consultants grinned, saying if anything like that were desirous of moving onto the site, it would make their and the City’s work a lot easier. Talk about a cash cow that could pay off a new high school!

But why not? There is a crazy tendency to treat really big new ideas with derision and ridicule. But the City of Falls Church has really had only one economic development champion in its history, who came into City Hall in the late 1990s and thought big and out of the box. Unfortunately, the late David Holmes (RIP) fell ill and left too soon. But among other things, he was serious about luring the world headquarters of Capital One to Falls Church’s west end. It didn’t happen, but not for want of his trying.

Now, something akin to Mr. Holmes’ scale of visioning has been retained by the City as consultants tasked with attracting something big to the 10 acres of the campus site, the nationally-acclaimed firm of Alvarez and Marsal. In what has been all open meetings with the F.C. Council and its sub-groups in the last month or so, they’ve been way too deferential, in our view, to conservative and low-scale preferences of the noisiest of City residents. Regrettably, they’ve been taking their cues from the City Council on this score.

But the spectacular reality of this summer is this: on the one hand, the City needs to pour over $200 million in capital projects, a new City Hall, library and high school, among other things; and, on the other hand, these 10 City-owned acres could generate a true windfall to the City in both land acquisition and tax receipt values that could cover a good portion of those costs over a relatively short time.

Now, Mayor David Tarter and most on the Council seem to think it is important to include so-called “guard rails” in any request for proposals from developers that ostensibly are designed to set limits based on citizens preferences and prejudices.

The biggest problem with this is the chronic disconnect between citizen perceptions on what they’d ideally like and the costs they’re asked to bear in taxes. They tend to want everything and don’t want to pay for anything.

So, such citizens are hardly a reliable good counsel on what’s in the City’s best interest. That’s the job of City Council members, professional City staff and expert professional consultants.

In the campus project case, there should simply be, at least for now, no “guard rails,” period.

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