County Will Notice that Multiple In-City Options Exist
Will New School Be “Around the Corner” of Major Mixed Use Development?
Other Legal and Safety Issues Will Confront Board and Council
School Year Starts Again Without Mt. Daniel Resolution
By Sam Mabry
Mabry is a former two term Member of the City Council and Vice Mayor. He ran unsuccessfully for the Council last year
The Falls Church News Press article on the School Board and City Council’s determination that there are several sites in the City that will accommodate another elementary school could provide a sense of relief for the Fairfax County Planning Commission–and the Fairfax County residents who live on N. Oak.
Why should the County give approval to the current plan to significantly enlarge Mt. Daniel when the City has identified at least three locations in the City where a school could possibly be be built?
The Madison Park Option
Notwithstanding issues that may concern parents regarding co-locating an elementary school in close proximity with a proposed major commercial and residential development, the impact on the residential areas bordered by Lawton and E. Columbia Streets on the north and east, merits consideration. The development project, identified on the city’s website as the “Washington and Broad Street” project, will extend as far east as Lawton Street and comprises the following:
Five-story mixed-use building with a ground floor retail use of approximately 67,000 square feet
Five-story residential multi-family rental apartments with 324 units
Four-story office building
Two-story above grade parking garage in addition to two levels of underground parking
Condemnation: The Legal and Financial Issues
The City Council has already taken action to bring the Fellows property on South Oak Street into the comprehensive plan as a school/park location, possibly as a precursor to a condemnation proceeding.
Moving forward with condemnation means the City could be in a legally contested process that will consume even more time and finances.
Transmission Gas Lines Adjacent to Madison Park and In City Hall Complex: Need for Risk Assessment and Reassurance on Safety Issues
Targeting Madison Park on Lawton Street as a possible site for a new school. creates a set of potential problems beyond any concerns about the development project.
Much like the ill conceived plan by Phil Duncan and Susan and Michael Keraney to tear down City Hall and place Mt. Daniel on that location, the Madison Park site is also adjacent to multiple high pressure natural gas transmission lines. In the case of the City Hall/Cherry Hill Park location, the lines actually traverse the property.
The natural gas transmission lines are no ordinary household leads–they are part of large diameter transcontinental gas pipelines that move hundreds of thousands of cubic fee of natural gas each day. Much more was known about them publicly prior to the events of September 9, 2011. I know that Washington Gas is prepared to speak with the proper authorities in City Hall to advise what steps if any must be taken to enhance safety during construction planning and certainly before actual groundbreaking.
Fairfax County Understands that Our Children Need Classrooms
Transparency is a hallmark of good government; but that does not necessarily extend to exposing our alternatives in such a way that it makes work easier for another agency of government to deny or modify an otherwise necessary and prudent favorable decision for Falls Church.
With that said, having worked with the County staff and Commission while a member of the Council regarding approval of the site plan for the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, I believe the Fairfax representatives will exercise prudent judgement when coming to a Mt. Daniel decision because school children are involved.
Moving Forward: Need to Be Less Peremptory
The Council and Board do not need to engage in rushes to judgement: This community supports its schools and has a long, proud history of doing so. With less rush and more patience, we would not be in the current situation–a growing student population and no near ready facilities.