Communication Lines Opened as City Mulls Options at Mt. Daniels
A new thaw, a new “Era of Good Feeling,” between the long-warring City of Falls Church and neighboring Fairfax County – also known David and Goliath, respectively – has followed last November’s settlement agreement on the disposition of their dispute over water systems, but it took until last week to produce the first cross-border, friendly face-to-face dialogue, even if it was modest in form.
Fairfax’s Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust moved freely across the border into the City of Falls Church last Thursday to attend a meeting at the City’s School Board offices in the Flower Building on West Broad. He sat down with Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields, Falls Church School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones, School Board chair Susan Kearney, School Board member John Lawrence and F.C. Mayor Nader Baroukh.
Foust told the News-Press that he requested the meeting to sound out the City’s and its School Board’s intentions for the seven acres adjacent the City in his district where the Mt. Daniel Elementary School now sits.
He said he was there on behalf of some of his district constituents who live in the neighborhood of the school, and have been reading in the News-Press that there are an array of possibilities which the City Schools will be grappling with this fall.
Yes, Shields confirmed, an upgrade and expansion of the Mt. Daniel School is now in the City’s five-year Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), but “it is very early in the process and no decisions on how to proceed have been made.”
Shields told the News-Press that he, Dr. Jones and Kearney conveyed to Foust that while funds have been authorized by the City Council, there have been no architectural renderings, no studies beyond the commitment to go forward.
“It’s the uncertainty at this early stage that is proving unsettling to some neighbors to the site,” Foust said. Issues of traffic impact, hours of operation and so forth are of concern, he said. “These concerns are not unusual.”
Having been informed of the issue, “I decided to get out in front of it,” Foust said, which is why he requested the meeting.
Both sides said the meeting was “an exchange of pleasantries” (Foust’s phrase) and “very collegial” (Shields’ phrase). Foust added that he has a long history with Shields going back to when Shields’ father-in-law, Rufus Phillips, held his current job as Dranesville supervisor.
While last week’s meeting discussed no specific options, both formal and informal conversations within the City have thrown out possibilities of both expanding Mt. Daniel to the full capacity of the site and moving the school, altogether, and selling the seven acres to a developer.
The latter option, according to News-Press sources, is of far greater concern to the neighbors than an expansion of the existing school. A developer could put an awful lot of new homes on those seven acres which would introduce congestion issues far greater than the school ever would.
So, the challenge will be to see how long the current “Era of Good Feeling” between the county and City can be maintained, especially if the City’s plans for the Mt. Daniel site, as they unfold, rub its neighbors the wrong way.
Foust hailed last week’s meeting for “opening up the lines of communication,” in hopes they can remain open going forward.
It definitely represented a change of mood between the jurisdictions, which had been strained over the course of the last half dozen years of dispute over the operation of the Falls Church water system in the county.
The settlement reached last November, achieved to the surprise of many, was for Falls Church to sell its water system, which snakes through Fairfax County where over 100,000 of its customers reside, for $40 million to the county and for the county to agree to a boundary adjustment that would bring valuable real estate located adjacent the West Falls Church Metro station into the City.
The deal will be finalized contingent upon the citizens of Falls Church approving the sale in a public referendum in this November’s election.