Present at Monday night’s meeting of the Falls Church City Council meeting when the team of EYA, PN Hoffman and Regency Centers was chosen to spearhead a $500 million development of 10.3 acres at the City’s West End was a man who’s been involved in Falls Church politics longer than anyone else in the room, the developer’s land use attorney, former F.C. City Manager David Lasso.
Lasso’s tenure in Falls Church goes back to the 1980s when he was first hired as the City Attorney. In the 1990s, he became the Interim and then full time City Manager. He’s had his law practice in the City in recent years and with his wife, Judge Karen Henenberg and sons Kenneth and Benjamin, has been a long-time resident of the City. It was when he was the City Manager in the mid-1990s, long before the City embarked on its mixed-use development drive, that Lasso was quoted in this newspaper saying the George Mason High School land, by its proximity to the West Falls Church Metro station, was “the most valuable real estate on the eastern seaboard.”
What he, and the rest of us, saw at the Council meeting Monday night could be the opening salvo of the realization of just that vision, especially if, over time, Falls Church’s 10.3 acres becomes married to the adjacent Virginia Tech Graduate Center site and WMATA’s 24 acre surface parking area by the Metro station, which it now wants to develop.
Back in the mid-1990s, a vision for the Mason High site was much more of a pipe dream because, for one, the land was in Fairfax County and anything done there would be totally subject to county wishes, and, for another, the county had a deliberate policy of keeping the land around that Metro station undeveloped.
For Falls Church, a huge breakthrough developed three years ago, when after years of painful litigation over the vast Falls Church-owned water system that penetrated deep into Fairfax County, the City agreed to sell the system to the county for an enormous financial gain to the County. In addition to cash payments, the county agreed to pay for the system by altering the boundary line with the City to bring all 39 acres of the George Mason High campus into the City limits.
Some were surprised that the county was willing to do this, except that it coveted acquiring the water system so much. But the upshot was to set the stage for what has happened since. With solid citizen support — the $120 million school bond referendum last November passed with a solid majority support of more than 64 percent — the City has moved with dispatch to build a brand new state of the art high school, and follow on that with the West End Economic Development that might someday be called a “miracle,” especially as last week’s Amazon deal makes it even more viable.