What’s So Smart About East Falls Church Area Plan?

On April 16 County Board voted to adopt the East Falls Church (EFC) Area Plan, touting it as the climax of a five year planning effort with lots of community input. Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth submitted remarks endorsing the plan, which entails 600,000 square feet of mixed used development, including replacement of the VDOT owned Metro parking facility at EFC with ground floor retail and up to eight stories of apartment/condo development. Mike Nardolilli, president of the EFC Civic Association, said that key features of the plan were all approved by EFC residents in a 2005 survey. But EFC resident John Shumate and others who testified challenged that claim. See Shumate’s website. Shumate said that only 7 percent of those surveyed bothered to respond and that Nardolilli systematically ignored or tried to silence civic association members critical of the plan. He claimed that the ultimate insult was Nardolilli’s acquiesence to 600,000 s.f. of development after pledging to set the limit at 450,000 s.f.

Also critical of the plan were Charles Benjamin, owner of the Shreve Robert Fuel Company and Mark Silverwood, developer of the Westlee Condominium, located on opposite sides of the intersection at Lee Highway and Westmoreland. They argued against consolidation of the fuel company site with a used car lot on one side of the company’s property and Suburban Animal Hospital on the other. Benjamin and Silverwood have a point. What’s so smart about demolishing vet Gary Schrader’s newly constructed animal hospital? The spacious, ultra modern two story steel and glass structure is a real eye catcher that merits review in Architectural Digest, not the wrecking ball. Even if the animal hospital weren’t so attractive, why should Schrader vacate a prime location with an established clientele to suit Arlington County’s vision of smart growth? It doesn’t make any sense.

Not to worrry said Bob Atkins. The plan can’t go forward, because VDOT won’t sell the Metro Park and Ride site, which is the linchpin of the plan. Atkins commented that if truth in advertising applied to EFC, the plan would be labeled a delusion. Asking County Board whether the promised new west entrance to the EFC Metro would be constructed before the next Ice Age, Atkins concluded that “everything [in the plan] is world class but the follow through.”

Such withering criticism might give any ordinary government body pause. But not Arlington County Board. The Democratic Party stranglehold on county government guarantees it hegemony and the right to rule. On the mechanics of how County Board manufactured consensus on EFC development, Shumate said:

You have chosen to respect input only from a board-appointed task force, board-appointed commissions, and county employees, all of whom you can trust not to tell you the critical things you do not want to hear. You have treated the citizens who have pointed out core faults in the plan as a public relations problem. You are isolating yourselves in a closed loop of cliches, while orchestrating a public relations campaign.

Using similar techniques County Board has quelled opposition to Crystal City and Columbia Pike development. It will do the same to EFC once VDOT is brought to heel, presumably when GOP Governor McDonnell leaves office.