It was in mid-October of 2014 when the City of Falls Church was visited by a team from the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute (ULI) in the period following the acquisition by the City of the 34 acres of the George Mason High School-Henderson Middle School campus that, according to the terms of the acquisition from Fairfax County, included 10 acres that could be susceptible of economic development.
It was before the City had formulated any ideas about how to configure the land, where to put things, including the 10 acre commercial component. To many, it seemed self-evident at the time that the City should take advantage of the site’s close proximity to the West Falls Church Metro station and put something there that would optimize its potential for revenue, such as is being done all over the region at other Metro station locations.
So, the ULI gifted its services for a two-day analysis of the site, and behold, when it presented its findings at a meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn, it had concluded that the best place to put the 10 acres of commercial development was not by the Metro, at all, but in fact as far away from its possible. They planted it at the intersection of West Broad and N. Haycock, and pressures of various sorts have kept that location in the minds of the City ever since.
Some in the room at that Oct. 14, 2014 meeting objected, including the News-Press, that intoned, “What about the elephant in the room here, the opportunity represented by the West Falls Church Metro station?” The notion was dismissed by a barrage of vague reasonings, including the better exposure to possible business on Rt. 7 (which already has plenty and will get plenty more).
Even though the site was never seriously challenged after that, the narrative that the site was “near the Metro” was a constant refrain as an incentive for the development.
So, behold, it’s come to light this past week that WMATA, owners of 24 acres by the station, with the help of Fairfax County, has carved out for itself acreage right by the Metro that it now wants to develop with office and retail, in addition to residential, up to 85 feet.
Well, those developments, as smelly as they may seem to the suspicious, could be dismissed as coincidental if it were not also the case that WMATA had conveniently circumscribed its 47-acre West Falls Church Transit Area to a space contained entirely within Fairfax County, to the exclusion of a single square foot in the City of Falls Church city limits, but right up against them for much of it.
Why is this? Why has the City been kept in the dark about WMATA’s new plans for the West Falls Church area, even as the City has made overtures to enhance collaborative development of the area?
We don’t want to think the worst.