Local Commentary

Editorial: Get Going on Mt. Daniel Plan B

They say the only way to effectively negotiate for something is to actually internalize your willingness to walk away. That may be the only thing that will bring the Fairfax County’s Planning Commission to its senses to OK the renovation and expansion of Falls Church’s Mt. Daniel Elementary School campus on county land just outside the City.

Residents in the section of Fairfax where the Mt. Daniel campus is located stand to fare far worse if the City just walks away from that location and puts it up for sale to a mega-residential real estate developer. The devil you know is always better than the one you don’t (another wise saying!) and residents of that area have helped to make sure that the elementary school there has a minimal impact on their ‘hood, even with the expansion and renovation plans.

They will not know, however, what could be in store for them if that land is sold. It is very prime real estate, and Falls Church would make a killing from the land sale especially if it was to an entity that wanted to put multiple residential units there.

So, the move by City and school officials here to possibly acquire the 1.8-acre Fellows Tract next to the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School helps to up the ante for the City’s negotiating position. There may be some minor inconveniences, but moving the Mt. Daniel campus to that location will certainly end the county’s ability to interfere with the City’s needs to accommodate its rapidly-increasing school enrollment growth.

In fact, the obstructionism at the Fairfax County Planning Commission level comes as more like political nay-saying from the “McLean Way” members of the McLean Citizens Association than from technical objections to the plan, and the City Schools were blindsided by this unexpected roadblock last year. The Schools thought they had done their homework by winning favor from the neighbors to the site and did not realize that just before the matter was to come before the Fairfax Planning Commission last summer that the citizens group would weigh in.

Their influence is considerable in the Dranesville District of the county, and the appointee of Supervisor John Foust there could put Foust’s political fortunes in limbo if he bucked the wishes of the citizens group. So there you have it.

No one counselled the City Schools that they might run up against a politically puffed up group like the citizens association. No one saw that coming or told the Schools to expect it.

In the final analysis then, it may be more up to how well or not the neighbors to the Mt. Daniel site can prevail on their community organization leadership to allow the City’s Mt. Daniel plan to be approved.

In the meantime, though, Falls Church needs to go ahead with its Plan B, and get cracking on serious plans to put a new Mt. Daniel on S. Oak Street. And mean it.