Local Commentary

Editorial: Ratios & Revenues No Longer Apply

Readers should pay special note to Falls Church Councilman Ross Litkenhous’ guest commentary in this edition of the News-Press. This bright new addition to the City Council comes from the real estate industry, as he notes, and he cites that, while “the growth around us is shaping our city in ways that we must manage,” “one thing is clear, Falls Church is on the (real estate developer) herd’s radar.” He explains, “A jurisdiction can’t continue to rack up national accolades in health, wealth and education, sit seven miles from the nation’s capital inside the beltway and expect to fly under the radar forever.”

But, as he writes and we concur, this is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it is something that gives folks in this manageable burg a great opportunity to shape just the kind of future that will serve them best. That is, as long as people are willing to live in an urban environment. As far as the halcyon sleepy village days of the past, or dreams of a purple rural plain go, they’re long gone and will never return. Folks who want those kinds of things had just better move west, way west.

The citizen activism here will be tasked with managing growth, not repelling it. And on this score, we find refreshing the sentiment on the City Council now that appreciates the “new rules” of development that are emerging amidst all this. This sentiment takes the form of comments by Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly, for example, who said last week, as quoted in the News-Press, that “There is no correlation any more between the percentage of commercial uses in a project and net revenue.” That is really quite a revolutionary realization, and it’s true.

In recent decades, the value of a mixed-use development project was always measured in terms of the ratio between its residential and commercial elements. If a project had less than 30 percent commercial, for example, it was frowned up by those who wanted the project to maximize its revenue yield to the City.

Now, that has changed. Residential use is no longer bad, especially as it is being conceded that the City “needs more people” to light up its commercial corridor. “Residential is no longer a bad word,” said Councilman Letty Hardi last week. “As it is now, we do not have enough people living here.” This week, she noted that while acreage available for single family homes is running up against limits, “There is a lot more commercially-zoned acreage left” for dense mixed-use projects.

Councilman Phil Duncan chimed in that “development gives us the opportunity to do it right that can result in more green space.”
In light of this, it seemed inconsistent that the Council this week seemed so dismissive of the NV Homes’ plan for a residential and condo-based project on Park at Lee, citing worn residential/commercial ratio data.