Editorial: No Height Limit Should Be Imposed

May 10, 2018 9:31 AM0 comments

There’s really no doubt about it. The roster of development teams that has stepped up to compete for the West Falls Church economic development project is like a team that, metaphorically speaking, could take LeBron to a Game 7. But of course they’re not going to be working together that way, but instead to compete among themselves for a spot in the winner’s circle come next October.

How good are they going to be? The public will get a first glimpse of that when the bids are posted to the City of Falls Church website next Tuesday. These are initial conceptual bids, but they have to be good enough, and detailed just barely enough, to successfully compete through the first phase of the selection process, when 11 senior City officials and their professional consultants finish a month-long process of pouring over the pages — presumably with all members of the City Council doing likewise — to rank them and vote to proceed with at least three of the six.

The purpose of that “down select” process is to relieve the bottom three of the kind of serious investment of time and capital it would take them to provide a second set of bids, these far more specific and detailed, that will be sought once the three finalists are chosen in less than a month. With their selection will come the next ask by the City’s team for specifics, in terms of everything from financing, phasing, architecture, proposed density, balance of residential, commercial and retail and more.

A review of those will result in the final selection. We would strongly urge a diligent public to keep up with this process every step of the way, including remaining mindful of the context of the construction of an all-new high school next door, and the competition that now part of the mix coming from WMATA’s sudden intention to develop its own West Falls Church Metro station property with a new-found haste next door.
The City’s consultants, Alvarez and Marsal, have indicated that criteria in the selection process include qualifications and experience, financial capability, project approach and financial approach.

Let your favorite City leaders know what you think! A public town hall will be held on Sunday afternoon, May 20.

This Monday, the City Council will decide an initial important step, having the benefit of an early look at the first six bids. That will concern the permissible height limit, if any, of buildings at the site. The City staff’s recommendation is for a 15-story limit, above the about 115 feet (about 11 stories) currently permitted in the zoning code.

But we don’t understand why there should be any height limit at all on that site. Wouldn’t it be better, if the purpose is to maximize revenue yield, to let the bidders propose what they think would work best?

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