‘Kearney Plan’ to Move Mt. Daniel & City Hall Will Air at Jan. 17 Meeting

‘Out of the Box’ Idea Breaks Into Open as Budget Talks Begin

The “cat’s out of the bag” about one of the more creative options for the future of new capital projects for the City of Falls Church and its school system.

In a commentary in the News-Press last week, Former Planning Commissioner Michael Kearney set forth clearly his innovative vision for moving Mt. Daniel Elementary to the current site of City Hall and demolishing City Hall to remove municipal services to a new building site shared with private developers.

Kearney said he first floated his idea at a community forum last spring, but references to it have been “hush-hush” at best. When the News-Press alluded to the plan in its Dec. 6 edition last month (“Hilton Groundbreaking Signals News Development Wave in Falls Church”), Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields penned a letter to the News-Press published the following week that stressed, “City officials have not been looking for alternate City Hall sites nor has the City been looking at alternate uses for the library site.”

But it acknowledged there was a study “conducted to survey the City Hall property as a future site of Mt. Daniel Elementary was requested and funded by the schools” and said the City awaits “a time where the Schools present such a scenario.”

After Kearney’s detailed explication of the plan in last week’s paper, however, Shields announced to the News-Press Tuesday that the proposed scenario will come up at a joint City Council-School Board work session convened Jan. 17 to discuss the 20 year “facilities plan” involving projected new construction needs of both the Schools and the general government.

If interest in the Kearney Plan (for want of a better term) grows, then it would translate into major changes in the City’s long term capital improvement project (CIP) projections, and the sooner such changes are introduced, even in theory, the better.

The attractiveness of the plan is that it would avoid investing large sums in the badly-needed renovation of old buildings in favor of swaps that could generate money from the sale of the present Mt. Daniel land and private-public partnerships that could help subsidize brand new municipal building and school facilities needs.

So, if seen as credible, it could throw a lot up into the air about this spring’s budget deliberations. Whatever the Jan. 17 meeting produces, for example, will go to the Planning Commission for review and formal recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which will be hammered out this spring.

Still, the Kearney Plan may have no serious impact on actual dollars included in the FY14 budget for deployment in the next fiscal year beginning July 1. Anticipated at this point are dollars for completion of the Thomas Jefferson Elementary renovations, storm water utility improvements and the refurbishment of the City-owned Child Development Center property on N. Cherry St.

Also, as Shields told the News-Press Tuesday, there will be the development of a multi-modal transportation hub at the intersection of S. Washington and Hillwood Ave., where federal and state funds have already been allocated for the effort. It will involve, among other things, sidewalk and pedestrian improvements.

A meeting on that project has been set for next Thursday, Jan. 10, at 9 a.m. in the adjacent Tax Analysts building above Pizzeria Orso at 400 S. Maple Ave., Suite 400, designed to draw business owners near the site.

Shields said the coming year will be “busy with a lot of possible opportunities to work on in coming years.” He said that “how some of them are resolved” in the coming year could be critical.

In addition to the annual budget adoption process due for completion at the end of April, 2013 there are likely to be crucial City Council votes on special exception requests for three important development projects, the Harris-Teeter plan for the 200-300 block of W. Broad, the Lincoln Properties plan for S. Maple, and the 400 N. Washington St. plan.

These plans are projected, at present, to bring close to $1 million in net new revenues to the City coffers, equal to almost three cents on the real estate tax rate.

Meanwhile, construction will continue on the Hekemian Brothers’ Northgate project on N. Washington, and the Hilton Garden Inn in the 500 block of W. Broad. The Hilton could be completed in just over a year.

Also, for the first time, a municipal election this year held not in May, but in November, in accordance with the outcome of a public referendum on the matter in 2011. The November election will not only be for statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, but also for a Falls Church referendum on the sale of the water system to Fairfax County and for four (out of seven) Falls Church City Council and School Board seats.