The final edits were being made yesterday on the final version agreed to by both the Falls Church City Council and School Board of a 21-page “request for conceptual proposal” for development of the 34.6 acres of land annexed into the City as part of the sale last year of the City’s water system to Fairfax County.
The request, known as an “RFP,” was due to be released to the public today, posted on the City’s website, the state’s on-line procurement site, on social media and through a press release, Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester told the News-Press Wednesday.
It took two joint marathon meetings of over three hours each, one held behind closed doors last week and the other in a public session this Monday, for the City Council and School Board to arrive at a final version to distribute to developers, who will now have until the end of October to respond.
The Council voted 6-1 Monday to distribute the RFP over the objections of one Council member, Karen Oliver, who said it was “premature.”
The elements of the RFP include either the renovation and expansion or construction of a new high school and middle school and on 10.38 acres whose specific location is not stipulated, commercial development.
Among the issues that were resolved at Monday’s joint work session were ones pertaining to how far the RFP would go to specify that, no matter what, the final plan would be subject to a public referendum, mostly likely in November 2016, and language around the commercial development component of the project, indicating a preference for commercial but not written in stone, so to speak.
Council member Phil Duncan led the persuasive arguments on that one, that the RFP should allow the developers to indicate to the City and its schools what the market will bear in the potential mix of office, retail, hotel and residential components.
Going forward now, the prospective developers will have until 2 p.m. on Sept. 23 to submit questions and requests for clarifications, and until 2 p.m. on Friday, October 30 to submit their proposals.
Some Council members Monday felt the RFP should be worded in a way to irrevocably commit the City to a referendum on the project, whether formally a bond referendum or not.
But the Council was advised by City Attorney Carol McCoskrie that the RFP is not the right place to signal public policy, but has as it’s intent including sufficient legal protections for the City, and therefore it would be wise for it for present the issue of a referendum in somewhat flexible language. She said that the Council would better indicate its resolve for a public referendum in a separate resolution that could be adopted later.
The language of the RFP sets the goals of the project as these three:
1. “Replace or renovate existing George Mason High School and expand the existing Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School so that both schools can accommodate increasing student enrollment and provide modern educational environments consistent with the policies of the School Board, the mission, values, goals and objectives of the Falls Church City Public Schools and the general ambiance of the City.
2. “Redevelop up to 10.38 acres of the parcels for high-quality commercial uses that will benefit the City and its residents, and that will encourage economic development for the western part of the City.
3. “Maximize the short- and long-term economic benefit of the redeveloped portion of the parcels to help fund the capital costs of the new and expanded school facilities and spur further economic development. The School Board and the City wish to deliver new and expanded school facilities with minimal or no general tax rate increases, to the extent possible,” and “to maximize competition among potential proposers for the project.”
For George Mason High School, it says its new construction “may be accomplished by demolishing the existing school in its entirety and constructing a new school or by renovating all or part of the existing school.”
It states that the new school “is expected to accommodate 1,500 students” (double its current capacity). As for the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, it calls for an expansion “expected to accommodate an additional 400 students” (its current capacity being 600 students).
At Monday’s meeting there were minor differences of emphasis on how the paragraph concerning the 10.38 acres susceptible of commercial development should be worded. Some wanted the wording to be in favor of significantly more commercial, and others like Duncan wanting to provide the developer with flexibility based on its knowledge of the market place in the region.
The calendar for the RFP process included in the document begins with today’s public issuance, and a non-mandatory project information meeting set for August 25. The deadline for questions is Sept. 23, and the submissions deadline is Oct. 30. The announcement of a “short list” will come in December, and from that short list, a detailed proposal submission will be due by next March.
A public hearing on the detailed proposals will be held next April, and the selection of the preferred developer will be made next June. The comprehensive agreement will then be hammered out next June and July, to be finalized by November 2016, when a public referendum, which may or may not involve a bond authorization, will be held.
Finally, if the referendum passes, a “notice to proceed” will be issued to the preferred developer in December 2016.