Fairfax Co. Planning Commission Defers on F.C. Plan for Mt. Daniel

Suddenly thrust into doubt by an unfriendly response from the Fairfax County Planning Commission at a hearing in late June, Falls Church’s $15.6 million Mt. Daniel Elementary School renovation and expansion project has now been delayed past the planned tight window that would have it ready to open in September 2016.

The Fairfax Planning Commission voted Wednesday night to accept the Falls Church City Schools’ request for a deferral of the board’s final action until September 12.

Facing the real prospect of having the project rejected by the Planning Commission, the City Schools and their consultants scrambled to put together a thorough 64-page document clarifying the rationale and appropriateness of the school expansion which was provided to all members of the commission.

The project had a thumbs-up from the Fairfax County planning staff and residents in the neighborhood of the school site, located three blocks outside the Falls Church city limits in the county, were “on board” the planned expansion. But at its June 24 meeting, the Planning Commission was greeted by a strong opposition to the plan presented by Mark Zetts of the McLean Citizens Association.

The board of directors of the association on June 3, long after the plans were publicized including as part of a F.C. citywide referendum that was passed in November 2014, issued an extensive resolution in opposition to the plan, claiming, fundamentally, that the proposed expansion was too big for the nine-acre site.

At the June 24 hearing, members of the Fairfax Planning Commission began questioning the City Schools’ rationale for relocating the second grade in the City’s system to the Mt. Daniel site, requiring a growth in student capacity from 436 to 792 students in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2.

Dranesville commissioner John Ulfelder, an appointee of Dranesville Supervisor John Foust, who is up for re-election this fall and mindful of the McLean Citizens Association argument for that reason, began exhibiting doubt even as he’d announced ahead of time that he’d seek a deferral on the action until last night.

F.C. School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones told the News-Press Wednesday night that Mt. Daniel’s classroom configuration will now be exactly the same this fall as it was in the spring.