The third meeting of Falls Church’s Campus Economic Development working group composed of members of the City’s Planning Commission, School Board, City Council and Economic Development Authority, is slated for this Friday morning at the refreshing hour of 7:30 a.m. at City Hall.
The group, formed to scope out the optimum economic development potential that could be extracted from the 36-acre George Mason High School campus, was spiced with impassioned talk of ensuring the maximum potential from the site at its meeting last Friday.
Under terms of the agreement of its transfer to the City, economic development would be limited to 10 of the 36 acres with the rest to be devoted to education.
A “draft prelude” document to assist in the crafting of a request for proposals to the development community is due to be ready for discussion this Friday, and the input for it provided last Friday was basically that there should be “no holds barred.”
Mayor David Tarter said, “We have a chance to do something really unique to put Falls Church on the map, to create a sense of place that will be important for the future of the City.” He added, “It is the tax yield that we can take from this that is the key, both now and in 50 years.”
Russ Wodiska, the new chair of the Planning Commission, weighed in forcefully, suggesting “something bigger to tie in with the universities” — (the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center building being adjacent the land in question) — “for some sort of energy project or center for energy sustainability research.”
It should be a “bigger concept,” he said, being as it is right next to the Metro. He added that Falls Church “community values” should be combined with “whatever the market can come up with.” He said, “We don’t want to limit, but to broaden the scope and to be open to creative scenarios.”
Falls Church School Board member Phil Reitinger agreed that “the broadest possible approach” be taken to encompass “whatever wider visions there are out there for the region.”
Bob Young of the City’s Economic Development Authority said, “This represents a unique opportunity going beyond this generation.”
Falls Church City Planning Director Jim Snyder said that one element to be included in seeking input from potential developers should be “where on the site the 10 acres for development should be.” He also suggested that a special taxing district be established to help with potential infrastructure costs, and he also suggested a phased development approach that takes in surrounding properties on a more gradual basis.
Whereas it was an operating assumption to now that the best site would be that adjacent the intersection of W. Broad (Route 7) and Haycock Road, there have been others who’ve suggested locating the site nearer the West Falls Church Metro station, which is adjacent the property, might produce a higher yield.
That might involve land that is now used for the high school football field, which might require finding temporary homes for the high school sports teams that use that field. On the other hand, as undeveloped land, it could be susceptible to immediate commercial development, whereas other scenarios (such as the Rt. 7 at Haycock) might require waiting for two years to be made available for development.
City Manager Wyatt Shields added that a request for proposal include whatever the group decides it may want in the form of an aquatic or performing arts center to supplement the high school or multi-use campus concept. He also suggested a “full service hotel” might be a desired component.
Planning Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry suggested a focus be on the development of an educational campus linking the university facilities with those of the high school and middle school.
Meanwhile, the City’s Planning Department has scheduled a public meeting and forum for Saturday, March 25, at 8:45 a.m. at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School cafetorium to discuss commercial development on the campus site, part of its “small area plan” series.