Guest Commentary: Change Course This Election & Hold Council Accountable

August 24, 2017 1:41 PM0 comments

By Amanda Henneberg

As a lifelong resident of the City of Falls Church, I have watched with dismay as our City Council has made several development decisions that have negatively impacted our community.

These concrete jungles have visually disrupted our two square miles, stretched our infrastructure to a breaking point and — most alarmingly — led us to a place where we are now considering taking on an insurmountable amount of debt.

With several more of these devastating projects currently under consideration, I believe that all development — especially those that grow our population in any way — should be put on hold.

It’s clear how we got to where we are now. The City Council — never seeing a development deal it didn’t like — approved mixed-use after mixed-use project.

The problem? The inevitable growth in the population — including the drastic increase in the number of students — stretched our limited infrastructure beyond capacity, and the retail tax revenue did not make up for the costs. It never does.

Take the Pearson Square project, for example. A mixed-use project that added an entire bus stop of children, but came in way below expectations in the amount of revenue that it would generate for the City.

The consequences of this and others like it that fared even worse could not be more real. In recent years, we have added a middle school, renovated T.J. and Mt. Daniel and we are still bursting at the seams.

The City Council’s solution? Double down on this faulty equation and continue to do more of the same. Even now, more mixed use is being proposed on Founder’s Row and Broad and Washington, and more population growth would take place if railroad cottages are built.

More mixed use when the previous projects have been a net-loss and are not filled to capacity. There is no comprehensive plan or vision from our so-called leaders. Just temporary band aids and development status quo.

And where has all of this left us? It has left us footing the bill with the highest taxes in the area. It has left us debating millions of dollars of debt for capital improvements. It has left us fighting to keep our schools on top with the influx of students. It has left us struggling through the traffic and parking because our roads are jammed.

But even more, it has left us with an identity crisis by chipping away at the foundation of who we are as a City — a small, engaged, population connected to each other — by turning us into just another Northern Virginia corridor with transient populations.

People chose to live in Falls Church because it’s unique and a respite from the surrounding areas. It’s supposed to be a place where you make lifelong friends in kindergarten, you get a private school education because your class size is so small, you can walk with your friends at night and feel safe, and families and neighbors actually know each other.

These development projects, and the ones before them, threaten to undermine these core values of our community.

As we confront the reality of where we are now, our Falls Church political establishment continually argues that we must spend our way out of this situation that they themselves created. That we need to rush the process, approve deals, complete all of the capital improvement projects at once, raise taxes and do what we’ve always done. That we need to become more and more like the neighboring towns around us.

But I believe that the solution lies in getting back to the basics. Say no to more mixed use and ill-planned development that has gotten us into this problem to begin with. Say no to spending more than we have. Say no to irresponsible budgeting that fails to prioritize capital improvements based on critical need. Say no to debt. Say no to higher taxes. Say no to changes that just make us like everyone else.

For far too long the career politicians sitting on the City Council have gone unchecked, making decisions that have put the interests of others over the interests of the people who actually live here, and it’s time we hold them accountable by making our voices heard and making changes in the election this fall.

If you’d like to join me in this endeavor, take back the City for the people, and preserve our special hometown, feel free to email me at amanda.henneberg@gmail.com.

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