2024-07-18 1:16 AM

The Next Big Thing: Talks Underway On How to Develop New City Land

Somebody’s got to come up with a catchier name than the “Joint Process Planning Committee” to describe the high-powered body that’s already begun deciding how the City’s new acquisition – the some 34 acres adjacent the West Falls Church Metro station that was transferred into the city limits with the sale of the City’s water system earlier this year – will be developed.

Actually, the full name is “The George Mason/Marry Ellen Henderson Campus Joint Process Planning Committee.” It was formed in January by actions of the City’s School Board and City Council and its purpose, according to a committee document, is “to map out the planning (i.e. identifying decision points) and process for coordination, collaboration and expert guidance for the ‘school-related parcels’ site incorporated into the City of Falls Church boundaries from Fairfax County in a 2013 boundary adjustment agreement.”

It is, according to the paper, “tasked with establishing a process and a schedule for planning tasks to be done in an open and coordinated manner by the City Council, School Board, appropriate City boards and commission, and professional staff, with input from the public.”

The blue-ribbon committee of Falls Church A-listers includes Mayor David Tarter and Vice Mayor David Snyder, School Board chair Susan Kearney and member John Lawrence, Planning Commission chair Ruth Rodgers, and Economic Development Authority member Michael Novotny, with support from City Manager Wyatt Shields, School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones, Planning Director James Snyder, Director of Economic Development Rick Goff, Schools’ Attorney Tom Horn, Business Development Manager Becky Witsman, and Senior Planners Garrison Kitt and Paul Stoddard.

In quite the low-key fashion, this group met already six times between mid-February and the end of April, although they were all officially announced in advance. The result of those meetings was the draft 14-page “Planning Roadmap” presented to the Council and School Board last week.

With Mayor Tarter and School Board chair Kearney providing the cover letter to the bodies, the draft was presented to elicit feedback prior to the adoption of a final draft in early June.

It was noted that “the extraordinary opportunities and challenges” exist with the transfer of the site into the City limits. “A collaborative process is needed for the property as 24.76 acres of the parcel is owned by the School Board, and the remaining 9.96 acres is owned by the City of Falls Church.”

The committee’s work is intended to be completed with its final report, and the adopted recommendation that a “steering committee” then be created by the Council and School Board to further the work. It is not unreasonable to expect that many of the same players will find up on that “steering committee,” only with a somewhat more formal structure.

But the documents to date and their decidedly muted form and tone hardly do justice to the incredibly-exciting, open-ended prospects of what could emerge from this site. It was then Falls Church City Manager David Lasso who at some point in the early 1990s declared that the undeveloped land by the West Falls Church Metro station is credibly “the most valuable real estate on the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S.”

Under the terms of the agreement for the transfer of the property into the City limits, where now it is the City, alone, that has total control over how it is developed, 30 percent of the total acreage, or 10.3 acres, can be used for economic development right away.

It may seem obvious, but the one of the jobs of figuring out what to do will be to determine that those 10.3 acres shall be at the closest point to the West Falls Church Metro station.

But it is not yet clear how collaborative the efforts between the City and the Schools will actually be. If the Schools decide to configure the site to meet its perceived needs, then the potential for extracting the highest and best use of the portion susceptible to aggressive economic development might suffer.

Again, it would seem obvious that the Schools would recognize they would benefit the most from the most capital intensive development of the site possible. That would bring more revenues in that the Schools could benefit from.

But nothing is obvious in an open-ended situation like this. You’ll have anti-growth forces coming into play, as well, urging the City to go for something considerably less than its maximum revenue generating potential.

There is plenty at stake here for every taxpaying Falls Church citizen and advocate for the best schools. It’s a prime case where these two forces should be working in complete cooperation as both would benefit most from maximizing the revenue potential of the site.

Whether that will pan out, however, is far from settled at this stage.





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