Local Commentary

Editorial: Paying for the School, And Much More

Granted with careful caveats insisted upon by Falls Church’s Economic Development specialist Becky Witsman, the numbers attached to Monday’s unanimous City Council approval of the first big hurdle for dense development of 9.45 acres on which its old George Mason High School footprint now sits are truly eye-popping. There has so far not been any serious hiccup in the breakneck undertaking by the City, its school system and their chosen development teams to extract a maximum value — social and fiscal — from the acreage the City obtained just five and a half years ago as part of the payment it received from Fairfax County in exchange for the ownership of its water system.

Monday’s vote was decisive, a sure commitment by the City and the development team of EYA, PN Hoffman and Regency Centers for the buildout at a floor-to-area ratio (FAR) of 3.6 of the acreage proximate to the West Falls Church Metro station. With the unanimous, enthusiastic vote by the City Council, the development team began crowing with a jointly-crafted press release issued Tuesday, quoting key figures, such as PN Hoffman founder and CEO Monty Hoffman stating, “Last night’s decision signals an important step in our ambitious plan to enhance the Falls Church community by building a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood in the west end of the city.”

With that press release came the newest moniker for the project, “Little City Commons.” The “Little City,” of course, is the official slogan for the City of Falls Church, but there is nothing “little” about this project. It will add 1.3 million square feet of mixed use development to Falls Church, and even as the 4.3 acre Founder’s Row project is digging out deep holes at the intersection at Broad & West St. this very moment, the “Little City Commons” is twice the size of that considerable effort.

As well, a necessary precondition for the “Little City Commons,” the construction of a brand-new, state of the art high school, is now also underway on the practice athletic fields at the George Mason campus. Once that project is completed, with the target of December 2020, the existing Mason building will be demolished, making way for the “Little City Commons” construction to begin around January 2021. This “do-si-do” has been rehearsed often enough at public meetings and in print such that anyone paying attention has to be familiar with it by now.

But the real whopper is this: initially, it was the wildest hopes of those developing this plan that the economic yield from the plan would come somewhere close to actually paying for the cost ($120 million) of the new high school. But now, with very preliminary projection of an annual net yield to the City of $6,941,421. Were anything near that to materialize, then the overall project would do far more than pay for the new school, it would be a powerful net cash cow for the City’s operating future.

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