Local Commentary

Editorial: Mixed Use a Net Plus for Schools

The latest round kicked off Tuesday night at a Falls Church City Council work session of the effort by Spectrum Development to win approval for a zoning exception to build a project at the intersection of W. Broad and N. West Streets.

It was a work session in a small room at City Hall, not intended for a public hearing or public input. Still, because one small business owner currently on the site in question sent out a huge mailing mostly to neighbors of the site likely, like him, to oppose the project, urging them to show up Tuesday night, the room was packed.

All the citizens could do was interrupt with loud applause the proceedings when one or another of the Council members said something they liked, which was mostly the idea of further delaying the project by subjecting it to a third “first reading” OK.

They were clearly unhappy when the Council had to take the uncommon action for a work session of actually voting to move the process forward, which it did by a 4-3 vote, or to take a big step back in preparation for yet another “first reading.”

The audience Tuesday night by their applause and moans and groans exhibited the virtually identical behavior as others have for decades in Falls Church. The well-worn shorthand for the sentiment is “NIMBY,” as in “Not in My Back Yard.” It is so predictable how concerned citizens become when they perceive something is going to happen in their immediate neighborhood, but could care less about otherwise. There is a sense of entitlement associated with this notion that it’s OK for conjure up any and all kinds of “general public interest” arguments for keeping a project from imposing on a given neighborhood.

So, you find circulating often in anonymous fliers, online comments or blogs allegations that are flatly untrue, such as the claim that mixed use projects are responsible for rapid enrollment growth and burdens on the City’s schools. Not true!

The City’s Economic Development Office has calculated the following:

Six mixed use projects built in Falls Church since 2003 yield a total of $7.1 million annually, about $38,688 for every pupil who lives in them (not counting the $3.4 million developers have donated in cash for school capital needs).

By contrast, single family homes, which account for two thirds of the City school system’s pupils and where the fastest growth in student enrollment occurs, contribute an a per pupil basis $10,400 per year.

The average cost of a pupil in the school system is $15,703 per year. So, the average single family home contributes only two thirds of what it costs the City to educate a child from such a home. For children in mixed use projects, on the other hand, each unit contributes far more than twice of what it costs to educate students from them.