School Board May Consider Different Path for Mt. Daniel

A scheduled appearance before the Fairfax Planning Commission Wednesday night by a representative of the Falls Church School System on plans for the renovation and expansion of its county-based Mt. Daniel Elementary was set to be postponed once again, the News-Press has learned.

Rescheduled from mid-September to last night, the renovation plans may go an entirely different bureaucratic route through the county’s approval process, F.C. School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones told the News-Press Wednesday.

Coming out of a lengthy meeting with Fairfax’s Dranesville District Planning Commissioner John Ulfelder last week, Dr. Jones said it was suggested by county officials that the approval process might be more susceptible of a “special exception” process rather than an up-or-down vote by the Planning Commission.

The difference, Jones explained, would be that with a “special exception” process, there would be more of a give-and-take negotiation with the county over the nine acre site, rather than a more rigid accept-or-deny approach.

“The School Board will need time to consider all the aspects of what the new proposal might involve,” she said. “So that discussion process will need to happen before a decision is made on which way to go.”

She said that “special exceptions” are usually done with private schools, such as the Potomac School, but then again, even though Mt. Daniel is a public elementary school, it is under the jurisdiction of Falls Church, and not Fairfax County.

Also, in the “special exception” mode, the final approval in the county would be by the Board of Supervisors, and not just the Planning Commission. Last night, only School Board attorney Tom Horn was scheduled to attend the Planning Commission meeting.

Jones said the meeting with Ulfelder last week covered extensive ground, including new transportation study results that underscore the “do-ability” of the project, she said. Usually in county process, if the Planning Commissioner in the district where a development proposal has been submitted moves to approve it, then commissioners representing all the other districts in the 1.2 million member county will comply, and the same goes if the commissioner moves to reject it.

Thus, Ulfelder remains the key player at the county level. The supervisor who appointed him, John Foust, won a close race for re-election Tuesday, and it might have been much more difficult for him had the Mt. Daniel decision come before election day. That’s because the McLean Citizens Association had decided it would take a strong stand against the Mt. Daniel plan last summer, surprising the City schools, who felt it would enjoy the support of the neighbors to the site, since the alternative to the expansion of the school may be to sell the land to a residential developer.

Also, the plans had been approved by the county’s planning staff.

The intervention by the citizens group, issuing a formal statement against the Mt. Daniel project, threw the F.C. Schools’ expectations off track and plans for construction in June had to be postponed.

The McLean Citizens Association’s sudden opposition is based on the notion that the plans are to put too much on the site. The schools’ plan was to expand the school to handle grades 1 and 2 by increasing its capacity from 436 to 792 students.