Economic Development Group Added To Mull Road Ahead on Campus Site

FALLS CHURCH PLANNING COMMISSION appointees to the new economic development task force for the campus project compared notes Monday night, left to right, alternate Lindy Hockenberry, Andy Rankin and Russ Wodiska. (Photo:  News-Press)
FALLS CHURCH PLANNING COMMISSION appointees to the new economic development task force for the campus project compared notes Monday night, left to right, alternate Lindy Hockenberry, Andy Rankin and Russ Wodiska. (Photo: News-Press)

The critical economic development component of the planning for a new high school on the 36-acre campus recently ceded to the City of Falls Church has earned its own special task force which began weekly deliberations last week.

The Campus Economic Development Working Group was formed of members of existing Falls Church boards and commissions with an intended focus on addressing specific economic development potentials on the site. In the terms of the deal to transfer the property into the City, in exchange for the City transferring its water system to Fairfax County, up to 10 acres of the land can be dedicated to economic development, ostensibly to help pay for the construction of a new high school.

“Our job is to find out what the market might support on that site,” task force member Andy Rankin, appointed to the group as a member of the F.C. Planning Commission, said to fellow Planning Commissioners Monday night.

Planning Commission chair Russ Wodiska, another appointee to the group, added, “Our group needs to be laser focused on what the market may be willing to do,” including by looking into what neighbors to the site such as the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, owners of an educational building and parking lot, and Federal Realty (owners of the shopping center where the Giant Food store is located) may be willing to do.

“No one is ruling out anything at this point,” Wodiska said. It was thrown out that economic development might go onto the universities’ parking lot in exchange for, say, an offer of a first floor of whatever gets built there.

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields, the key City staff person on the new task force, told the News-Press this week, the goal will be to “determine what the best development option is” for the site.

He added that while preliminary discussions are aimed at developing the economic options and data, possibly leading to a market study, it will all be to the purpose of “teeing up decisions by the City Council, School Board and Planning Commission” that would ideally be made in June in order to have the parameters set for submitting language for a November bond referendum to the courts by late July.

The best combination of cost savings on the construction of the new high school and expected yields from economic development on the site will be sought to maximize the quality of the new construction on the one hand, and to limit its cost to taxpayers on the other.

Appointed to the new working group have been Mayor David Tarter and David Snyder from the City Council, Chairman Lawrence Webb and Michael Ankuma from the School Board, Rankin and Wodiska from the Planning Commission and Bob Young and Michael Novotny from the Economic Development Authority.

No outside specialists or consultants were present at last Friday’s first meeting. “It was an informal organizational meeting to discuss the scope of the work,” Shields said.

The formation of the new group means there are now three focused on the campus process, including the one focused mostly on the parameters of a new high school, and the Planning Commission’s work on the area’s integration into the City’s small area development plans.

The economic group will meet next this Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. at City Hall, while the campus working group will meet tomorrow at 9 a.m.
In the context of this, the Planning Commission is preparing for an annual “retreat” to take account of the big picture.

Also, Shields is due to introduce his recommended annual operational budget to the City Council next week, triggering a deliberative process that will be due to culminate by April 24.

Meanwhile, questions are beginning to arise concerning the wisdom of calling for a major bond referendum on the same November ballot this fall when four seats on the City Council and four on the School Board will also be contested then.

On the other hand, the unexpected 21 percent increase in the cost for construction at the Mt. Daniel Elementary revealed last month is a new reality that has to be taken into account if there are any delays now.

With the Federal Reserve beginning to raise interest rates, the inflation rate will begin to rise faster than at any time in the last eight years. Even just a one-year delay could be very costly.