The special bid evaluation group of Falls Church leaders completed by last Friday an arduous and detailed review of the submissions from six highly qualified prospective developers of the 10-acre commercial use parcel of the West End Project. The group made their recommendations for trimming the finalists to three to the Falls Church City Council in a closed session last Monday night.
Monday’s meeting marked one of the first times the Council has gone behind closed doors and out of the public’s eye since it began the latest effort to put together the best teams for the construction of a new high school and the highest and best use of the commercial site.
But obviously it was because proprietary information having to do with dollars and cents was included in the conversation. Still, original plans to emerge from that meeting and open the process for a Council vote on the evaluation group’s recommendations was delayed to this coming Monday.
So, the suspense continues. The announcement of the group’s recommendations for a top three will be made Monday and an open debate among Council members and their vote on the final three will come at that time.
According to News-Press sources, the process has been intense and time consuming for all involved, with criteria provided by the City’s consultants, Alvarez and Marsal, for purposes of making evaluations being detailed and extensive.
The members of the evaluation group — Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan, City Manager Wyatt Shields, Letty Hardi of the City Council, Erin Gill of the School Board and Bob Young of the Economic Development Authority — met together in a lengthy session before a consensus was reached for its final recommendations.
Sources indicated there is a clear top choice, and among the other five, two others were agreed on to be included in the three recommended options.
At its work session preceding its closed session Monday, Council members were concerned that late insights from the Economic Development Authority regarding matters of density, the newly-constituted Affordable Housing Policy Working Group and the Environmental Sustainability Council (ESC) be included in the evaluations, and in the Request for Detailed Proposals (RFDP) that the three finalists will be tasked with responding to.
The affordable housing policy being sought calls for six percent of all residential units to be affordable at 60 percent of the average median income and in perpetuity.
The ESC recommended goals are to reduce stormwater runoff as much as possible, keep greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum, and prepare for the physical impacts of climate change. The ESC, in a letter from its chair Cory Weiss, wrote, “Doing nothing in these areas will have costs. Not explicitly addressing stormwater and climate change in the RFDP is not a cost-free option and is likely not the least cost option for the City. If we don’t design this site to be sustainable and climate-resistant, City taxpayers will bear the externalized cost of that decision.”
“A lot of those 10 commercial development acres will be going from pervious to impervious, there will be a challenge to extend a ‘net zero’ energy use at the new high school to the commercial area, and we need to be mindful of how improving conservation will result in higher assessments on the buildings,” Council member Ross Litkenhous said.
“We need to make sure we are taking advantage of the topography of the site. The commercial area sits on a hill,” said Councilman Dan Sze. He reminded his colleagues that the area will produce 20 percent of the entire City’s net value.
Mayor David Tarter said he is concerned for how the phasing of the commercial part will work. “Are they going to build all residential and then announce that’s all?” he asked. He was also concerned for the amount of conference meeting spaces proposals for a hotel would account for.
Council member Hardi said that, with the timetable calling for the three finalists to respond to the RFDP by mid-August and the Council’s final choice for a development partner by mid-October, the public input opportunities to the process would proceed after motions for special exceptions are made and addressed between Oct. 18 and May 19, 2019, when a final deal is wrapped up.
That deadline is set to allow for the construction of the new high school to commence on schedule, followed by the demolition of the old (current) school facility, and among other things figuring out who will be responsible for that demolition has yet to be established.