Members of the Falls Church City Council and School Board crammed into a City Hall conference room Monday night with their legal teams and City staff to discuss the unsolicited proposal last month for the build out of the 39 acres that was annexed by Falls Church as part of the swap that delivered the City’s water system into Fairfax County’s hands last year.
During the two-hour behind-closed-doors “closed session,” although the intricately detailed parameters of the proposal, which takes up over 400 pages of briefing books, had been provided to all members of the Council and School Board, those details were not the focus of the discussion Monday night, Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields confirmed to the News-Press yesterday. Instead, the focus was consultations with City, schools and outside legal counsel on how to proceed from this point, given that the Clark proposal came to the City prior to its issuance of any “request for proposal.”
(Of the over 400 pages of the submission, only 87 pages were made public this week, specifically lacking in details. Shields told the News-Press that no decision has yet been made when to make the totality of the proposal public.)
The development team is operating under the name Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate LLC, with its principal component being the Clark Construction Group that had the point in the same kind of “private public partnership model” construction of Falls Church’s Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in 2005 that it wants now to apply to the much more ambitious 39-acre plan. That model is permitted under the 2002 Virginia Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act.
The Edgemoor-Clark team surprised City Hall when its massive unsolicited proposal plopped on the desks of City Manager Wyatt Shields and School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones on March 19. With three members of the development team residing in Falls Church – Edgemoor vice presidents James Martin and Geoffrey Stricker and former Falls Church City Manager David Lasso on its legal side – the group had a heads up on the prospect to the development of the site prior to the swap that brought the 39 acres into the City over a year ago. Martin, who has children in the Falls Church schools, has been designated to be the development team’s main point of contact with the City and its schools.
The 39-acre area includes the current George Mason High and Henderson Middle School and their athletic fields, and under the terms of the deal with Fairfax County, all but 11 acres of that land must be dedicated to educational use. So, the Edgemoor-Clark proposal includes the construction of a brand new, state-of-the-art Mason High School and the commercializing of the 11 acres with “a transit-oriented, mixed-use development” where the property comes closest to the West Falls Church Metro station.
Knowing the City’s current Capital Improvement Plan has contained, in its “down the road” components, the massive estimated $100 million cost for a new high school, the Edgemoor-Clark group has come forward in its plan offering, in its cover letter, a “streamlining of the delivery of a new, state-of-the-art George Mason High School without requiring any tax rate increase or direct contribution by the City…Under our plan, the new high school will be open at the start of the 2018-2019 school year, and the commercial development of the land would be complete by 2020. The plan designates the commercial component as “Mason Market.”
While none of the substantive information from the closed session Monday night has become public so far, the News-Press has learned that the plan was met with great excitement by the School Board and by most of the City Council.
One of the big questions before the Council, and discussed extensively in Monday’s closed work session, will be how to proceed with the solicitation of other prospective bidders on the development of the project. For this reason, according to News-Press sources, some on the City Council have reportedly declined to read the details of the Edgemoor-Clark plan for fear it would prejudice them against possible future bidders. In addition, due to his representation of an entity that appears to share an owner with the owner of Edgemoor, Falls Church Mayor David Tarter has said he will recuse himself from participating in votes on the plan.
Among the decisions before the Council now are whether or when to make the details of this plan public. The vast bulk of the extensive proposal is marked “confidential and proprietary,” as provided under provisions of the PPEA law, and there is a risk to the City in looking this “gift horse” in the mouth since it is questionable how many other prospective developers will come forth with anything resembling the scale and detail of this plan.
Lasso, of the Falls Church-based Baskin, Jackson and Lasso general civil practice law firm that will play a major role in re-zonings, special exceptions, special permit, variances, zoning violation appeals and so forth, once remarked during his mid-1990s tenure as Falls Church City Manager that the undeveloped land by the West Falls Church Metro station represented “some of the most valuable real estate on the entire Eastern Seaboard.”
The development team, in addition to Lasso’s group, includes the Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate group, the Clark Construction group, Moseley Architects, Davis Carter Scott Design, Walter L. Phillips, KLNB Retail, Colliers International, Urban Analytics and the Stifel, Nicolaus and Company.
According to a statement from the group, “We have organized our team in a manner that allows us to be as efficient as possible in performing our work and delivering our services to the City of Falls Church. This structure is based on years of experience organizing and managing successful fast-track design-build-style and public-private partnership pursuits and over 100 years of managing construction projects around the country.”
The opportunity for this kind of development arose from the swap for the water system, as prior to that, all the 39 acres was located within the boundaries of Fairfax County, and even though the City of Falls Church and its school system owned title to much of that land, any prospects for development required the full participation of Fairfax County, which until recently was not inclined to develop at its Metro stations.
The 39 acres now within the Falls Church city limits, realizing its potential for dense development, especially adjacent the West Falls Church Metro station, will have no serious restrictions because, among other things, there would be little impact on residential neighborhoods that are not particularly close to it.