‘Kearney Plan’ to Move Mt. Daniel & City Hall Will Air at Jan. 17 Meeting

January 2, 2013 8:25 PM9 comments

‘Out of the Box’ Idea Breaks Into Open as Budget Talks Begin

The “cat’s out of the bag” about one of the more creative options for the future of new capital projects for the City of Falls Church and its school system.

In a commentary in the News-Press last week, Former Planning Commissioner Michael Kearney set forth clearly his innovative vision for moving Mt. Daniel Elementary to the current site of City Hall and demolishing City Hall to remove municipal services to a new building site shared with private developers.

Kearney said he first floated his idea at a community forum last spring, but references to it have been “hush-hush” at best. When the News-Press alluded to the plan in its Dec. 6 edition last month (“Hilton Groundbreaking Signals News Development Wave in Falls Church”), Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields penned a letter to the News-Press published the following week that stressed, “City officials have not been looking for alternate City Hall sites nor has the City been looking at alternate uses for the library site.”

But it acknowledged there was a study “conducted to survey the City Hall property as a future site of Mt. Daniel Elementary was requested and funded by the schools” and said the City awaits “a time where the Schools present such a scenario.”

After Kearney’s detailed explication of the plan in last week’s paper, however, Shields announced to the News-Press Tuesday that the proposed scenario will come up at a joint City Council-School Board work session convened Jan. 17 to discuss the 20 year “facilities plan” involving projected new construction needs of both the Schools and the general government.

If interest in the Kearney Plan (for want of a better term) grows, then it would translate into major changes in the City’s long term capital improvement project (CIP) projections, and the sooner such changes are introduced, even in theory, the better.

The attractiveness of the plan is that it would avoid investing large sums in the badly-needed renovation of old buildings in favor of swaps that could generate money from the sale of the present Mt. Daniel land and private-public partnerships that could help subsidize brand new municipal building and school facilities needs.

So, if seen as credible, it could throw a lot up into the air about this spring’s budget deliberations. Whatever the Jan. 17 meeting produces, for example, will go to the Planning Commission for review and formal recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which will be hammered out this spring.

Still, the Kearney Plan may have no serious impact on actual dollars included in the FY14 budget for deployment in the next fiscal year beginning July 1. Anticipated at this point are dollars for completion of the Thomas Jefferson Elementary renovations, storm water utility improvements and the refurbishment of the City-owned Child Development Center property on N. Cherry St.

Also, as Shields told the News-Press Tuesday, there will be the development of a multi-modal transportation hub at the intersection of S. Washington and Hillwood Ave., where federal and state funds have already been allocated for the effort. It will involve, among other things, sidewalk and pedestrian improvements.

A meeting on that project has been set for next Thursday, Jan. 10, at 9 a.m. in the adjacent Tax Analysts building above Pizzeria Orso at 400 S. Maple Ave., Suite 400, designed to draw business owners near the site.

Shields said the coming year will be “busy with a lot of possible opportunities to work on in coming years.” He said that “how some of them are resolved” in the coming year could be critical.

In addition to the annual budget adoption process due for completion at the end of April, 2013 there are likely to be crucial City Council votes on special exception requests for three important development projects, the Harris-Teeter plan for the 200-300 block of W. Broad, the Lincoln Properties plan for S. Maple, and the 400 N. Washington St. plan.

These plans are projected, at present, to bring close to $1 million in net new revenues to the City coffers, equal to almost three cents on the real estate tax rate.

Meanwhile, construction will continue on the Hekemian Brothers’ Northgate project on N. Washington, and the Hilton Garden Inn in the 500 block of W. Broad. The Hilton could be completed in just over a year.

Also, for the first time, a municipal election this year held not in May, but in November, in accordance with the outcome of a public referendum on the matter in 2011. The November election will not only be for statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, but also for a Falls Church referendum on the sale of the water system to Fairfax County and for four (out of seven) Falls Church City Council and School Board seats.

  • Mark

    This is an extremely bad idea and will totally gut the character of FCC. If anything it is a totally ‘in the box thinking’ of a real estate developer seeking to leverage local politicians for the benefit of investors – while ultimately harming the taxpayers/citizens of FCC (have we seen this deal countless times across America)

    1. It seems give great support to a real estate development firm at the expense of FCC citizens. The ultimate goal appears to be the acquisition of land near West Falls Church Metro (per the water deal with Fairfax) by the developer … at the expense of taxpayers.

    2. Why is the spouse of an elected official (who could benefit financially) promoting this so aggressively? How much in school board/city dollars were used for the study? Was the City Council aware of this backdoor planning by the school board?

    3. School population is well known for going through peaks and valleys … the growth of FCC schools will not continue forever. We may need more space now … but to take up the heart of FCC for a school is crazy. Eventually school populations will decline (it happens all the time) and FCC will be stuck with a white elephant in the heart of FCC.

    4. City Hall is the only real landmark in FCC that is a public building – next to a wonderful park. Thus we want to destroy it for a school …. when we (a) have sufficient land (build vertical if needed) and (b) we may get more land per the water settlement deal with Fairfax (if approved by the voters).

    5. The claim that it is too expensive to renovate City Hall (a landmark) is silly when you consider the long term alternatives … the city goes from being an owner to a renter!

    6. The proposed deal seems to really benefit the land development firm that is promoting the idea … tear town city hall then space is needed for city employees. Where to put them? Oh yes, the city can cut a deal with the same land developer … the land developer can then shop the plan for financing. So the city ends up in space belonging to a real estate firm and goes from owner to renter. Sounds like a bad deal for the citizens.

    7. Do we really want an elementary school that close to Route 7/Broad? Seems to present more danger.

    8. What happens to Mt. Daniel property? Who would want to buy it? How much would the city get?

    9. The school board was crying earlier this year about tight budgets … but they find money to conduct a study (that benefits a real estate development firm). So what else is the school board spending money on? This entire matter needs to be investigated.

    In conclusion, tearing down a landmark that is the heart of FCC is just plain wrong and a bad long term financial deal for the taxpayers.

    • andyrankin

      There are obviously a lot more details to understand about this plan, but I think Mark is off base on a few things.

      1. We don’t know any specifics yet. It seems like one option is for the City to develop something and then rent out the extra space. Wouldn’t this be additional revenue for the City?

      2. I don’t know the answer to the first two questions but I’m fairly sure the City Council was aware of the study being done by the schools.

      3. This is a nice perspective – but what if there isn’t a decline coming? It seems like we could dig into the demographic and housing data and figure out if we’re likely to see a dip anytime soon. Even if there is a dip coming, what is the proposed solution in the short to mid term? My kid goes to school each day in a trailer as it is now.

      4. My understanding is that building up at Mount Daniel would be hard to get approved and actually do (with the kids going to school there) – but I’d like to hear more information about that option. I’m not aware of the City gaining any land in the water deal. Some land the City already owns will move from Fairfax County into the City but we’re not getting more land, are we?

      5. I thought one of the long term options was for the City to still be an owner (and maybe landlord).

      6. This seems to be a lot of assumptions. Obviously, if a plan like this moves forward there will be a process for selecting a development partner.

      7. Is this a serious concern? The current elementary school is closer to an interstate highway (66) than the new school would be to Broad Street.

      8. I suspect a single family home developer would be interested in buying the Mount Daniel property. Mr. Kearney estimates the City could get $9 – $12 million for it – I have no idea if that’s a good estimate or not but it sounds reasonable to me.

      9. If you’re seriously asking what else the schools spend money on I’m sure that information is available.

      I think there are a ton of things to figure out before we can say that a plan like this is good or bad. I hope we can have honest conversations about the potential risks and benefits before jumping to conclusions.

  • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

    It’ll be funny to see how many anti-development types post a comment about how this will overburden our schools and traffic without reading anything more than the headline.

  • Concerned Parent

    It is completely improper for the Chair of the school board’s husband, who may stand to benefit, to have any involvement in this. The fact that such a preposterous idea has been given any credence points to Mr. Kearney having undue influence here. I favor the development that is going on in the City, but when the developer husband of the school board Chair starts eyeing our school properties, something is very wrong. Mount Daniel isn’t even close to being in tear-down condition, and City Hall should stay right where it is at the center of our little downtown. Just because something is wacky doesn’t make it “innovative”. Often, it just makes it dumb.

    • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

      Speaking of dumb…Falls Church has a “downtown”?! Where?

  • Mark

    Fully agree with ‘Concerned Parent”.

    As noted by Andy, there are unknowns … but this whole thing is obviously being driven by real estate developers for their benefit alone and no FCC citizens. It looks to be an obvious land grab for properties near West Falls Church Metro (assuming the citizens approve of the deal water deal with Fairfax).

    1. I fully support development in FCC … but tearing down the sole public landmark borders on stupid. It is the anchor of FCC.

    2. If the schools need more land … we should support the water deal with Fairfax – an entire campus can be built over in that area. BUT, remember the demographic trend of expanding enrollment will eventually tail-off (there is only so much room in FCC unless we turn the entire place in a condo/apartment valley). The peak/valley trend of schools is pretty common.

    3. The schools should focus on education and not land deals … especially ‘in the box’ type solutions that involve the Chair of the school board’s husband. AND the school should not be paying for such studies! There should be a full accounting how much the school spent … and an audit of how they spend taxpayer dollars.

    • andyrankin

      Mark, the “land deal” with Fairfax County would take land that the City currently owns that exists in Fairfax County and make that land exist in the City of Falls Church (i.e. make the borders of Falls Church a little bit bigger). I don’t think we’re getting any new land (if anything, we’re transferring some land we own in Fairfax County that’s used by the water system over to their ownership).

      The land in question is where the high school and middle school currently sit, right next to the West Falls Church Metro stop. The other part of the deal with Fairfax County is that a portion of that land, which is currently used for schools, could be used for other purposes. This is nice for the City because if we put commercial property on that land we’d generate tax revenue (without the Fairfax County deal that tax revenue would go to Fairfax County).

      So, one thought is to redevelop the high school (it is old and falling apart) on a smaller portion of that land, freeing up some land for commercial redevelopment. If the City develops the land for City Hall functions we could maintain ownership and potentially rent out (i.e. generate revenue) office space in the same development. I suppose a developer might make some money in that deal – but so would the City (i.e. the taxpayers).

      Are you suggesting that instead of doing that we build a new elementary school over by the high school and middle school? I suppose that’s an option but there are a lot of drawbacks to that plan – not the least of which is lost tax revenue potential of that land.

      Ultimately, it sounds like you’re suggesting we either don’t do anything with Mount Daniel (school enrollments will come down one of these days) or we add another floor to Mount Daniel to accomodate increased enrollment.

      Or is there something else you’re suggesting?

  • Sarah Badell

    I don’t understand why everyone is deathly afraid of development. Sure, maybe Kearney’s isn’t the best idea but development of FCC is inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is whether or not we will get quality high-dollar developments or ugly buildings that mar the aesthetic of our city. If we continue to discourage developers, they will take their money elsewhere and we will get the latter.

    In response to the fears our city becoming a condo/apartment valley please consider for a second the idea of zoning. No one is suggesting that we bowl over historic sites to put retail in their place. Developing the areas that are already commercial properties will not ruin the current aesthetic of our city. It will just make it cleaner, more modern, and more attractive. But by trying to please every citizen in Falls Church we end up with disgusting strip malls like the yellow atrocity that is now home to the new Dunkin Donuts and Caribbean Plate. It is called commercial area for a reason! We can’t plant twice as many trees as parking spaces on every new development! Lets be clear what the purpose of zoning is and make the historic, commercial and residential separate instead of trying to blur the lines.

    • City Resident

      preach

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