Falls Church stands at the precipice of a disastrously squandered potential. The lack of imagination and ability to visualize the true potential of the City-owned 36 acres adjacent the West Falls Church Metro station may doom the City to a level of underachievement that could do her in before long.
Mercifully, the Falls Church City Council voted a temporary reprieve Monday, deferring action on the City Council and School Board’s Phase II “request for proposal” for development of the land that Falls Church annexed from Fairfax County as part of the deal to sell the water system that culminated in January 2014. The development is called the “campus development project” because the land is home to the City’s high school and middle school, and the terms of the sale stipulated that 75 percent of the land go to educational use, and 25 percent being free for economic development.
Following endless meetings behind closed doors in the last year, the City’s School Board and City Council emerged last week with a somewhat detailed document of what they wish done with the land, and it is an unimaginative fail. It woefully lacks any creativity, ingenuity or imagination and should be summarily ditched.
In fact, a spectacular potential attaches to this land, which has been called “the most valuable parcel of land on the eastern seaboard” more than once, because it is pristine and undeveloped yet adjacent to a Metro station.
In 1991, a developer and the Falls Church City Council spent months on studies and plans to use the land to augment the high school there with a world-class sports facility that could have been home to a minor league baseball team and host a myriad of regional and national youth baseball tournaments. The divided Council of that era failed by only a single vote, 4-3, to move that vision forward.
Anti-development forces then proceeded to smother that vision by selling a big chunk of that land to the University of Virginia for $1 a year. That’s how bad that was.
Now comes the current opportunity, but the City seems intent on blowing it all over again. So what if 75 percent of the land has to be dedicated to education? A world class performing arts center, Olympic swimming pool and multi-use sports facility would all fall under “educational use,” and there would be room for all of them if the remainder of the school facilities were put comfortably onto, say, four or six floors.
The revenue-generating potential of this site would be unprecedented, and it would all be for education. Then, on the 10 acres designated for commercial development, a major hotel or two within walking distance of the Metro station, topped off by high rise luxury condominiums, would be a self-evident and enriching complement. Height limits and density would be whatever the market would bear.
This development must be a game-changer for Falls Church. It can’t fall sway to mediocrity.