Veteran Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, who represents the Dranesville District sharing the boundary with the City of Falls Church at its northwestern edge, told the News-Press Wednesday that he was unaware and surprised by the move taken by the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) last month to submit an aggressive mixed-use development plan for its 24 acres adjacent the West Falls Church Metro Station.
The WMATA property, now little more than a surface parking lot, is entirely within Foust’s district of the county and adjacent the City of Falls Church and the 36-acre school development site that includes 10 acres the City is pushing to develop in hopes of yielding tax revenues needed to help fund the construction of a new George Mason High School.
“I think that Falls Church would be more surprised (by the WMATA plan) than me,” Foust said, because they’ve been in contact with WMATA about matters related to their own development plans. Falls Church City officials said they were caught off guard by the WMATA plan, especially as it appears to undercut the City’s desire for a collaborative approach on its own development with neighbors to its site, including WMATA.
But the WMATA plan, while well-developed and thought out, was submitted in December to the Fairfax County Planning Department as a nomination for a Comprehensive Plan change and reviews will begin in March with final approval, if it comes, by the Fairfax Supervisors coming next year. The plan calls for 1,100 dwelling units and 243,000 square feet for commercial development, with a height limit of 85 feet.
“Ultimately I would like to see all three parties sit down and talk together, given the shared interest in development at this important location,” Foust said, “But I’d probably want to meet with Falls Church officials first because their plans are moving ahead much faster.”
That is an understatement, based on the aggressive schedule the City has adopted to move toward finding a development partner for its 10 acres. At the City Council work session Tuesday night, consultant Ted Risher of Alvarez and Marsal, the firm whose contract was just extended by the City to help get the economic development component done, laid out an aggressive schedule for the coming weeks aimed at issuing a first-phase Request for Conceptual Proposals by the end of this month, shopping it to major developers in early February and having a short list of prospects from which to choose by May.
A town hall meeting on the RFP and the overall process is slated for Jan. 28, and the Council plans to provide authorization for the issuance of the Phase 1 procurement on February 26. The goal is to arrive at a final partner for development by next November and to reach a final lease and sale agreement for the land by May 2020, with construction to begin on the development by 2021.
“I am very comfortable with this schedule,” Risher said.
Councilman Dan Sze, encouraging creative thinking about the site, said he was hopeful it could attract “homeland security stuff,” a hospital or a global headquarters of some communications network.
Accompanying Risher at the meeting Tuesday night was the City’s new hire, Lee Goldstein, who is now the City’s manager of all the major moves to be made on the economic development of the site. He comes from the Office of the Mayor of Washington, D.C. as its chief of economic development, and was in his first day on the job in Falls Church.
Also present was Jim Snyder, promoted to now head the City’s economic development efforts over all. He was replaced in his role as Chief Planner for the City by Paul Stoddard, who was unable to attend Tuesday night due to illness, according to City Manager Wyatt Shields.
While Risher spoke Tuesday of the prospects for seeking collaboration with neighbors to the site, Councilman David Snyder said that, given the secretive approach WMATA has taken on its plans for the West Falls Church Metro station property, “We’d better be prepared to go it alone.” Others nodded in agreement.
It was suggested that the City’s economic development plans at the West End site might have spurred WMATA to draw up its own plans, but there was nothing to back that idea up. “So far,” Snyder told the News-Press, the response to the WMATA revelations about its secretive planning in the last week has been “nothing but silence.”
The Jan. 28 meeting will be held at 2 p.m. in the Senior Center at the F.C. Community Center, and will feature Peter Noonan, superintendent of the F.C. City Schools, to talk about the school construction project, and City Manager Shields to talk about the economic development component. Both will take questions from the public.