Local Commentary

Editorial: ‘Highest & Best Use’

It perhaps was not intended to be that way, but the small group “stakeholder” meeting the News-Press crashed Monday (see article, Page 1 this edition) turned out to set an important tone for the coming crucially-important discussions on how to develop the some 40 acres the City of Falls Church received into its borders from the sale of its water system to Fairfax County last year.

That is, an important City policy maker underscored the plausibility of truly deriving the “highest and best use” of the 10 acres of that land which, under the terms of the sale agreement, can be designated for commercial development.

The portion of that land closest to the West Falls Church Metro Station, and roughly on where the George Mason High School football field now is, is nowhere near a residential neighborhood, and therefore height and density exceptions that a developer could seek to maximize revenues from the site should represent no problem to anyone. It would all be a function of the risk a developer might be taking to put something really extraordinary there.

What might seem hardest for Falls Church citizens to grasp is that development of some of that end of the property will not be oriented toward the City of Falls Church, even if it is in the City limits. No, it would be oriented toward Washington, D.C., Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport, destinations that can (or soon will be) be reached by the Metro. These are the Golden Geese who will be pumping Falls Church’s coffers full of cash money as whatever goes at that West Falls Church Metro site provides what will be moving along those Metro tracks.

For example, with an orientation to Washington, D.C. it should be noted that D.C. is one of the largest holiday and tourist destinations in the world, with 20 million visitors annually. If those people could be housed at a high-rise hotel by a Metro station, equally distant between D.C. and the airport, relatively safe and inexpensive compared to options in the District itself, then whoever puts a hotel there will make a killing. (All other things being considered, commercial revenue models show that hotels are the most profitable, in terms of tax yields, of all).

That use, with perhaps a few floors for luxury high-rise condos and some ground floor retail to serve the hotel and condos, could combine with the “educational” use on the rest of the 40 acres in the form of, in addition to the high and middle schools, a first-rate performing arts center. Built along the lines of the Strathmore in Montgomery County, Maryland, it would serve the schools and the wider public alike, and draw a lot of people to where their dollars begin stuffing those Falls Church tax coffers.

The beauty is that the City of Falls Church would need no one’s approval to do all this, just some creativity and resolve.