Originally posted in the Falls Church News Press by Nicholas F. Benton on September 3, 2015
You would be hard pressed to find anyone more enthusiastic and optimistic about the future of the City of Falls Church than her current mayor, David Tarter.
Even though he’s charted an independent course during his first four years on the Council, including the last two as mayor, he was unreserved in this enthusiasm for the Little City and its prospects in what has become a Falls Church tradition – the annual late summer “State of the City” interview with the mayor conducted by the Falls Church News-Press.
Tarter sat in the office of the News-Press last week, on the fifth floor of the office building across from City Hall, where the big windows afford a panoramic view of much of the City’s 2.2 square miles, and in particular of the Rushmark Properties’ formidable mixed use project that seems to loom, as it is being constructed, in the 300 block of W. Broad St. and will be home to a major Harris Teeter grocery when completed in about another year.
“Falls Church is a great, unique community,” he said. “I’ve grown up in Northern Virginia, and I love Falls Church more than any other area. It’s a wonderful community.” He cited a poll naming Falls Church the 17th “most livable City in the U.S.”
In a surprise revelation, Tarter said that in the nine years he’s lived in Falls Church, he’s walked his children to school every day, to three different schools, in fact. One is now at George Mason High and two others are at the Henderson Middle School.
Tarter’s remarks to a series of questions about issues before the City focused on a balance between the City’s need for continuing economic development, and its “small town feel” that he thinks its residents value.
Asked about the challenges facing Falls Church, he went immediately to this issue, right after commenting about the impacts on the area caused by the federal government, such as the recent sequestration move that had a big impact on employment and resources for development.
“Balancing economic development with our small town feel with great schools, moving forward with economic growth while providing for our excellent city services will always be a challenge because as a small community it is not always as cost-effective to provide these as in much larger jurisdictions,” the mayor said.
“But we’re on the right track,” he added. Ground floor retail vacancies in the commercial corridors added with the last decades’ new mixed use developments “are beginning to fill up,” and four of eight small commercial area vision plans have been approved which help to inform developers of what the City wants in given areas.
With the adoption of a bike master plan, a “Mobility for All Modes” plan, the City is poised to plug into regional bike share plans, while infrastructure needs are being met with the development of the new West End Park, the Howard Herman Stream Bed restoration and important storm water improvements.
In the downtown area, there is $600,000 allocated for improvements in the business district that include new crosswalks, lighting, sidewalk fixes and bike and pedestrian features that will be completed in the next year or so to make the area more inviting to customers.
He said that proceeds from the City’s sale of its water system in January 2014 to Fairfax County “have been invested well, saving two cents on the tax rate every year and enabling important capital improvements. We’ve been good stewards of our taxpayers’ dollars.”
He said that among the challenges for the City are to become more integrated with the wider region, including to be able to draw more for economic development from a wider area. “We have two Metro stations with our names on them (East Falls Church and West Falls Church—ed.) and we working on doing more to integrate them with us. Hopefully Arlington will establish a bike share at the East Falls Church Metro and improve sidewalks coming into the City. The notion of shuttle buses into downtown Falls Church is now being mulled, as well.