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Big Personnel Changes Announced in F.C. Effort to Spur West End Plan

THOMAS JEFFERSON ELEMENTARY students did a modified rendition of the YMCA song for the F.C. City Council tonight to help draw attention to their Give Day activities slated for the Jan. 15 Martin Luther King Day holiday. The students will prepare 1,500 “power packets” for delivery to the Northern Virginia Food for Others, and have other projects for helping elementary schools in hurricane-ravaged Houston, Orlando and Puerto Rico. (Photo: News-Press)

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields announced at the City Council meeting Monday night a series of major shifts and additions to the City staff aimed at helping gain the maximum economic development punch from what’s now being called the “West Falls Church Project,” formerly known as the 10 acres set aside for commercial development on the George Mason High School campus. The City’s Economic Development and Planning Offices are merged under this plan, with current Planning Director Jim Snyder elevated to head up the recruitment of potential developers and tenants for the 10 acres, and current senior planner Paul Stoddard elevated to the position of planning director.

In addition, the consulting group of Alvarez and Marsal will be retained through the summer of 2019 to also work on finding the best developers and development plan for the project, while the Washington D.C. Deputy Mayor for economic development, Lee Goldstein, has been retained to be the manager of all the major decisions of the project. He will begin on Jan. 16. Veteran developer Bob Wolfe of J Street Consultants will be retained on a piece-work basis as “an advisor in key parts in the process.” Wolfe was on the Urban Land Institute team that first proposed the W. Broad at Haycock location for the City’s 10 acre development, and has also consulted for WMATA.

Shields said that the annual retreat of the City Council on Feb. 10 will be an opportunity for a major discussion of the changes and their impact, and a town hall forum on the project will be held in advance of that on Sunday, Jan. 28.

Councilman David Snyder commented that he was concerned about what he called “the absence of an aggressive outreach to the development community” in the moves, and he questioned the use of advisors who’ve also worked for WMATA, given the surprise revelation this week that WMATA has submitted plans to Fairfax County for a major development at the West Falls Church Metro station, adjacent the City’s property, without any prior notification to or conversation with the City.

Councilman Ross Litkenhous also expressed concern that these changes will leave the City adequately staffed to address other development plans and issue in the City, to which Shields said he feels “we are,” with more decisions to come on staffing.

Councilman Dan Sze said he “applauds the realignment,” and asked the role of deputy economic development office staff person Becky Witsman in this new arrangement, and Mayor David Tarter also expressed support for the moves, saying that Jim Snyder “will thrive in that role.”