(Updated 10/25/19) The City of Falls Church is a 10-minute drive from rapidly expanding Tysons, but members of the Falls Church City Council want to maintain the feeling of a small community while still capitalizing on innovation and growth.
The City of Falls Church operates as an independent entity under the Falls Church City Council while Tysons still has no official governing body of its own, outside that of Fairfax County.
Councilmember Ross Litkenhous said that Falls Church wants to stay unique and its small population and efficient city council allows the city to stay “agile.”
“We are by no means trying to keep up with anybody,” he said.
Tysons Reporter talked to the councilmembers, seeking their input about the future of Falls Church.
“Always Been a Cut-Through”
Several councilmembers said the city is already seeing increased traffic thanks to Tysons’ urban sprawl.
The increase in traffic was brought on by the tolls on I-66 and the increasing popularity of apps like Google Maps, Litkenhous said.
Litkenhous worked in commercial development for 10 years before becoming a councilmember.
Councilmembers were originally told by the Virginia Department of Transportation that the addition of freeways tolls around the area would not impact traffic flow, he said, but people started driving through the city to avoid the tolls.
Now, the city is faced with concerns about pedestrian and bicycle safety that come with more traffic. Litkenhous cited several incidences concerning the safety of residents, especially kids.
There have been a few pedestrian deaths in the last few months in the Falls Church area, which are spurring discussions with officials.
But, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly noted that it is important to remember that “Falls Church has always been a cut-through” and a “crossroad” in the Northern Virginia area.
In August, the city broke ground on a new project that focuses on improving pedestrian access and traffic flow near the upcoming George Mason High School.
The $15 million infrastructure investment will make the area safer and open up accessibility to the future mixed-use retail space, Cindy Mester, the Falls Church Assistant City Manager, said.
The mixed-use retail space is being developed by the same people who built the Wharf in D.C., Mester said, adding there will be a grocery store, a senior living facility, an arts center, restaurants and retail shops in the development.
Mester referred to the upcoming space as Falls Church’s own “Mini Tysons.”
When it comes to the evolution within the city’s limits, Litkenhous supports the idea of Falls Church evolving as a tech hub.
“Here in Falls Church, we’ve had a chance to capitalize on the indirect spinoff [of Tysons],” Litkenhous said.
With the new startups and tech companies in Tysons, it allows local high school students to take on fellowships or internships with innovative and entrepreneurial companies, according to Litkenhous, further encouraging students to pursue STEM-related fields.
With the new startups and tech companies in Tysons, it allows local high school students to take on fellowships or internships with innovative and entrepreneurial companies, according to Litkenhous.
Though Litkenhous said he would love to have some of these companies move into Falls Church, he realizes offices are limited and added that a co-working space within city limits would be a solution. “We can’t work in a vacuum here and we recognize that,” he said.
A Stroll in a New Direction
Unlike Tysons through, Litkenhous said Falls Church focuses on small businesses and walkability within city limits. “We’ve got Tysons beat on walkability by a mile.”
Last year, the City Council started the “Live Local Campaign,” sparked by Litkenhous, which encourages people to eat, play and spend money within the city’s limits.
Councilmember Phil Duncan said he keeps tabs on local businesses moving into the city and tries to support them by attending grand openings.
“I think there’s a good mix of big names and more local, family-run businesses,” he said, adding that some businesses that would have previously passed up Falls Church might realize that it is a new market.
“This whole area will become a great American city,” Duncan said.
Coming up in November, the city will host its second “Live Local Campaign” to encourage people to spend money within the community by eating at local restaurants and shopping for holiday gifts from small companies.
Both Litkenhous and Connelly said they want people to follow in their example and take advantage of all the dining and shopping options within the area.
Ultimately, Mester said she thinks the people in Falls Church help to make it special and unique.
“We have a caring and wonderful workforce,” she said.
During a keynote address for the groundbreaking today (Monday) ceremony at George Mason High School, Councilmember David Snyder said that this $15.7 million dollar project will create a safer and more economically successful community around the West Falls Church Metro.
The new improvements, according to the City of Falls Church, include:
- synchronization of four new traffic signals
- a high-intensity, pedestrian-activated crosswalk on Haycock Road
- pedestrian access improvements, such as widening sidewalks
- bus stop enhancements
- bicycle access improvements, including near the newly installed Capital Bikeshare stations near the high school campus
- utility undergrounding and relocation
The money for the project was acquired through the Northern Virginia Department of Transporation.
Infrastructure issues that have been building up over many decades will finally be addressed with this project, Snyder said.
“Twenty years ago this project would not have occurred,” Snyder said. “This is a classic example of the system working.”
The project is still in the “beginning stages,” according to the City of Falls Church website, adding:
The timing of project design and construction will be coordinated with the new High School construction and future Little City Commons development. City staff expects that design, engineering, and environmental work would begin in Fiscal Year 2021, with construction beginning in Fiscal Year 2022.
Lindy Hockenberry, who taught at George Mason High School for 30 years, served for eight years on the Falls Church City Council and spent another 11 years on the city’s Planning Commission before retiring, attended the groundbreaking to show support for the project.
“Its been my life dream to replace George Mason,” she said adding that the school has serious infrastructure problems, like leaky ceilings.
The new high school campus is already under construction and is slated to be completed by early 2021.
Until then, the students will remain in the same building, which will eventually be demolished for a new commercial center, similar to the Mosaic District, Hockenberry said.
“This will be truly multi-modal,” Snyder said, adding that this these updates will allow people easier access to the Metro.