ANALYSIS: Planning Commission Rejects Mason Row, But Impact Unclear

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 23, 2015

The controversial Mason Row project proposed for Broad & West streets was rejected by the City’s Planning Commission on a 3-3 vote last week, but days later it remains unclear what the vote’s impact will be.

That’s because there remain several possibilities going forward, and the developers have not publicly indicated how they plan to proceed — or if they plan to proceed.

The tie vote Nov. 16 was better for Mason Row than expected; going in, it was well known that Commissioners were heavily opposed, and the Times was told there might be only one vote in favor of it.

But the fact remains that even the 3-3 vote is a big setback for the project; it can only be approved by the City Council now by a 5-2 supermajority. Even a 4-3 majority is not sufficient after last week’s Planning Commission rejection.

So developer Spectrum Properties has three options at this juncture. They could:

– proceed and hope they can get five votes;
– withdraw and resubmit their proposal with changes;
– decide the project will never... [Read more...]

South West Street Gets Three Crosswalks

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 14, 2015

It’s been a long slog for residents and users of the South West Street corridor, with detours, congestion, construction vehicles and noise while the road was rebuilt during the summer and fall. But the payoff can be seen now, with smooth new pavement and three new crosswalks that residents had requested.

There was some question about how many crosswalks ultimately would be approved, and City officials decided on the maximum choice of three (the other options were one or two) following meetings with residents last month.

The crosswalks are located at Ellison, Parker, and Poplar, and do change the look and feel of the road, making it look more like a residential area and less like a busy thoroughfare. Officials also added a fourth crosswalk perpendicular to the one at Ellison on the northbound side of West Street.

The Ellison crosswalk in particular seems to stand out, probably because of its location immediately south of Broad Street. There is a lot of pedestrian traffic there, especially from residents of the dense neighborhood of apartments on the 900 block of... [Read more...]

In Council Race, Incumbents, Mixed-Use Defender Win; Duncan Survives

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 3, 2015

Falls Church City voters were given a golden opportunity on Tuesday to stand athwart 300 Park Avenue and yell stop, or at least time out, before proceeding with any more mixed-use developments. But they declined to do so, defeating the two candidates who called for a moratorium on the controversial projects and sending to the City Council three who generally favor them.

Mayor David Tarter was the Council’s top vote recipient, gaining 25 percent of all votes with a total of 2,344 . He was closely followed by newcomer Letty Hardi, who will take the spot occupied by the departing Nader Baroukh. She gained an impressive 2,223. Incumbent Phil Duncan just squeaked in ahead of Johannah Barry, gaining 1,625 to her 1,544. Sam Mabry was not far behind with 1,462.

Mr. Duncan was likely hurt by the revelation Oct. 20 that he, along with other elected officials and prominent residents, had written a letter to the Arlington County Circuit Court in 2012 on behalf of Michael Gardner, who pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse in September. The letter asked for leniency in sentencing... [Read more...]

Gill, Castillo, Reitinger Elected in Rare Contested School Board Race

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 3, 2015

Newcomers Erin Gill and Phil Reitinger won seats on the Falls Church City School Board Tuesday, joining Board Chairman Justin Castillo, who won re-election, in the first contested School Board race in many years.

Ms. Gill was the top vote recipient, gaining 1,945 votes — far and away the highest total — while Mr. Castillo showed strong staying power, finishing 2nd despite a number of issues at the schools recently that could have tripped him up. He finished with 1,393. Mr. Reitinger, also a newcomer, finished in a strong third with 1,338. Incumbent Kieran Sharpe finished in what had to be a disappointing 6th place.

Alison Kutchma, who has been a thorn in the board’s side for some time with her advocacy on special education, finished a strong 4th with 1,211. Her tag line, “Because it’s our money” may have resonated with some residents concerned about the high cost of the schools and some of the schools’ missteps over the past year, such as the Mt. Daniel referendum, which has yet to proceed, despite money having been borrowed, because... [Read more...]

Around Town

SUNDAY, 4/19: Citizens for a Better City Annual Meeting

All are welcome to join Citizens for a Better City (CBC) on Sunday, April 19th for their Annual Meeting & Cocktail Reception at Falls Church’s Hilton Garden Inn, 706 West Broad Street.


Reception begins at 5:00 PM with drinks & light hors d’oeuvres followed by our meeting at 6:00 PM.


Cocktails including 2015 dues $30 per person


You may pay at the door or in advance. Make your check out to Citizens for a Better City and mail to CBC, PO BOX 6080, Falls Church, VA 22042


Parking... [Read more...]

April 9, 2015 | Leave a Comment

Contested School Board Race is Rough and Tumble

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 2, 2015

City residents have lamented in the past that there was no competition for seats on the school board. In previous elections, there were sometimes four candidates for four slots. That’s not the case this year; there’s a veritable embarrassment of riches this time around, with eight candidates seeking three spots.

The downside is that the race also has become personal and nasty.

There are two incumbents running for re-election: Chairman Justin Castillo and Kieran Sharpe. As incumbents, a vote for them generally would reflect a view that the board is doing a good job.

Then there’s the change candidates.

In theory, anyone who’s not an incumbent is a change candidate to some extent, but the clearest change candidates appear to be Becky Smerdon and Alison Kutchma. Dr. Smerdon has joined three City residents in a lawsuit asking the Arlington County Circuit Court to disallow some changes the board recently made to a special education advisory committee, of which Ms. Smerdon is chair. Ms. Kutchma has not signed on to the suit, which the two women... [Read more...]

Could Gardner Letter Upend Popular Duncan?

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 2, 2015

The revelation was a classic “October Surprise.”

That’s the name long given to the fears of politicians in Washington that something unexpected would come out of the blue at the last minute to change the course of an upcoming November election.

At the Federal level, the fear of a such an event has centered around foreign policy, such as a war or terrorist attack that could have the effect of rallying voters to the incumbent president and away from a challenger. But a last minute scandal also could have the impact of turning the election upside down.

And Falls Church City now has its own October Surprise — the posting on the Internet last month of letters written on behalf of Michael Gardner, the husband of former Mayor Robin Gardner, who recently pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse. The letters, written after his initial conviction in 2012, didn’t attempt to exonerate him, but asked the Arlington Circuit Court for leniency in his sentencing, citing his long public service to the Falls Church City community.

Among those who wrote... [Read more...]

Mason Row Gets Another Push Forward; Election Could Be Key for Project

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 1, 2015

The fate of the controversial mixed use project known as Mason Row remains uncertain, but it took another step toward becoming reality last week when the Falls Church City Economic Development Authority (EDA) voted to recommend the City Council approve it.

That recommendation, in the form of a resolution, was by a 4-1 count with one abstention and is subject to developer Spectrum Development making some minor changes. But the explanations for their votes from Authority members indicated that Mason Row is enthusiastically endorsed by most of the group. Chairman Mike Novotny was the lone vote against; he said there were still too many loose ends for him to support the project at this moment in time, although it appeared his vote could change to favor the proposal with more work from the developer.

The Authority’s recommendation is non-binding, but the City Council is likely to take it with some seriousness. However, the Planning Commission remains the biggest hurdle to overcome for Mason Row’s developers and supporters, and it remains unclear if the EDA’s... [Read more...]

City Receives Two Proposals for High School Site

October 30, 2015

Today was the deadline for developers interested in the George Mason High School/Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School site to express that interest, and officials are reporting that two such developers have submitted proposals.

Those proposals are in response to the City’s Request for Proposals (RFP) for the replacement of the existing George Mason High School; expansion of the existing Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School; and redevelopment and commercialization of a portion of the school campus, which is intended to generate revenue to help fund the capital costs of the new and expanded school facilities.

A preliminary review will be conducted to confirm that the proposals are complete and comply with the technical requirements of the RFP. When that is finished, the public content of the proposals will be posted on the City website ( and on the School website ( Some elements of the proposals will remain private for competitive reasons.

For more information about the Campus Redevelopment Project please... [Read more...]

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