Note: The item below is a reprint of an article from The Washington Business Journal, originally published in February, 2015, by Michael Neibauer. It is being reprinted here in the interest of providing information to citizens regarding the Urban Land Institute proposal for the high school site.
In late 2013, thanks to a boundary adjustment with Fairfax County, the 2.2-square-mile city of Falls Church expanded by 34.6 acres — providing a big opportunity for the quaint community to add more than 1 million new square feet of mixed-use development.
Just over a year later, a panel of planning experts from the Urban Land Institute-Washington has released its suggestions on how that development should be framed, keying on the Greek concept of an agora, a place “where academy and commerce meet.”
“Overall, panelists celebrated the development potential within this study area,” per the fresh ULI report, the result of two days of meetings in October. “If executed properly, redeveloping the study area so that it meets the vision set forth by the panel will have wide-ranging implications, not only for the city of Falls Church, but also for the larger metropolitan Washington region.”
The land, bounded by West Broad Street, Haycock Road and Falls Church Drive, includes the decade-old Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, the 60-year-old George Mason High School, and the existing athletic fields and parking lots.
The Falls Church government owns roughly 10 of the 34 acres, and the school board 24.8. The city intends to develop its piece with a mix of commercial and residential uses, while the school board is in the earliest stages of planning a new $100 million high school campus for 1,500 students.
The ULI panel’s proposed development program, a multiphase, 10-year effort, totals 1.15 million square feet. It includes a health club, movie theater, restaurants and retail, 130,000 square feet of general office and medical office, 500 multifamily units, 140 active adult apartments, 80 condos and a 110-room hotel.
Annual net revenues at build-out are projected to range from $3.7 million to $4.9 million, largely from real property, sales, meals and hotel taxes. The benefits will come too late to pay for the new school up front, but the revenues can be applied to the school-related debt.
“The city seeks to encourage high-quality commercial development on all or a portion of the 10.39 acres that will help economically support the cost of replacing the existing George Mason High School with a new high school that will serve the city for the next 50 years,” the nine-member panel, led by George Mason University’s Robert Wulff (formerly of B.F. Saul), wrote in its report.
With regard to the school, the ULI panel suggested a 320,000-square-foot complex featuring a four-story academic tower, two gymnasiums, a theater and a pool. Its concept was largely drawn from the District’s recently-opened Dunbar High School.
The city, on Feb. 13, released a request for proposals for a consultant to craft a vision for commercial development and a new school on the 34 acres. The consultant will be required to study the market, urban design and transportation options, to develop a consolidated concept plan and to present its findings to the community.
The new acreage is just a piece of a larger challenge Falls Church faces. Despite its regular ranking as one of American wealthiest jurisdictions ( No. 1 in 2014, per Forbes), Falls Church maintains upward of 300 acres of commercially and industrially zoned land that it would like to see redeveloped, said James Snyder, Falls Church planning director. Shopping, employment and housing benefit consumers and residents and grow the tax base, Snyder said. Parking lots produce little of use.
There has been progress. Ground has broken on a new 60,000-square-foot Harris Teeter and 282 residential units at 301 West Broad Street, from Rushmark Properties and Falls Church Development. At 540 and 580 S. Washington St., Lincoln Properties is developing the Reserve at Tinner Hill, to include a Fresh Market grocery store, 224 apartments, 10,500 square feet of commercial space and a 7,000-square-foot plaza.
Falls Church, Snyder said, will ask ULI to perform a similar analysis of its portion of Seven Corners, including the Eden Center