F.C. Planners Lift Height Limit Off Economic Piece of Campus Plan

LEADERS OF THREE of the Falls Church City Schools’ employee advisory organizations came before the School Board at its work session Tuesday to spell out their groups’ needs for the upcoming budget cycle. David Sikora (center) of the Professional Employees Advisory Committee was joined by Mason High School principal Matt Hills (left) of the Administrative Educators Advisory Committee and Shea Wakeley (right) of the Support Employees Advisory Committee. All three urged a salary “step” plus a cost-of-living adjustment be included in the coming budget. (Photo: News-Press)

Monday night in a unanimous vote, the Falls Church Planning Commission recommended to the City Council that language in the Comprehensive Plan concerning the 10 acres set aside for commercial development on the Mason High School site not be encumbered with any reference to density limits. The draft language for the new location set densities at FARs (floor to area ratios) of “2.5 to 4,” but the commission was in unanimous agreement that two words be added to that formulation: “or more.”

Their intention was clear, with the City moving toward opening up to bids on development of the site, the commission thought it unwise to place any limits on how dense the project could be.

“This document is to provide a limit on the lower end of the FAR range, not the higher one,” Commissioner Tim Stevens said. “It’s the opposite of what we would want for most of the rest of the City in which we would want to place an upper limit on density,” he said, “But in this location, it is the other way around. We want a lower limit, but don’t want to predispose an upper limit.”

The other change the commission made was in language defining the purpose for the 10 acres of dense economic development. The draft language said it is for the purpose of covering the cost of the new high school planned for elsewhere on the site of an overall 36 acres. “But is is also for other purposes, so we would not want language to restrict it to that purpose,” the commission concurred.

The action by the commission came just days after the first informational briefing was held on the first stage of the campus project, the new high school construction, held at the George Mason High School cafeteria on Dec. 13.

A total of 56 developers and architects piled into the cafeteria for the signal event.

“I am very pleased at this show of interest,” F.C. Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan told the News-Press afterwards. “These design and build teams asked all the right questions and we’re very excited as this process actually gets underway.”

The “request for qualifications” notice was sent out on Nov. 30, on schedule, to, in the language of the document, “solicit conceptual-phase qualification proposals from experienced and qualified private entities for the design and construction of a new George Mason High School.”

Interested parties have until Jan. 18, 2018 to submit a response, with a Jan. 11 deadline for submission of questions prior to that deadline. From the field of respondents then, three finalists will be chosen by Feb. 22, and invited to respond to a more detailed “request for proposal” that will result in a final choice by July 2018, with actual construction on the project set to begin in July 2019.

Noonan welcomed the 56 participants in the informational briefing, advertised as a “Non-Mandatory Pre-Proposal Meeting,” on Dec. 13, that included the likes of Clark Construction, Turner Construction, Grunley Construction, Phillips Construction, Smoot Construction, O’Connor Construction, and others, as well as teams of architects and designers.