City Council’s Mega $120 Million Bond: No Development Plan = No Clue
Bumbling Council Approach Will Mainly Benefit Developers
“Duncanomics” In Full Flower with George Mason Development
By Mark Kaye
Kaye is an analyst and holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and a JD from Georgetown University
Payment of the debt on the proposed MEGA $120 Million new GMHS is based largely on a flimsy idea to sell 10 acres of George Mason High School land to a developer – with the likely outcome being the creation of 1,000 new apartments and 100+ new school students. School Board rejection of less expensive alternatives has boxed the City into a ridiculously precarious situation where it has to sell off irreplaceable land in a hare-brained attempt to mitigate (but not avoid) very large homeowner tax increases. The financial fallacy of this approach has been covered in various Falls Church Post articles.
Developer Influence Is Readily Apparent
Now the City Council’s apparent policy is to benefit land developers by locking the City into a non-existent negotiating position by issuing the first tranche of school bonds before concluding a land deal with developers!
Council members Phil Duncan, David Snyder and Letty Hardy, in conjunction with the School Board and other Council members, have stated $18 Million architectural and engineering bonds will be issued before concluding a land deal with developers. The remainder of the ‘construction’ bonds of $102 Million will be issued after the land deal and by that time the city’s control of the project will be next to nil.
Letty Hardy and City Manager Wyatt Shields publicly stated that additional bond issuances and school construction would not start until after a land deal is concluded. But, once the $18 Million bond for architectural/engineering work is issued at that point developers now have the City locked into an absurdly poor negotiating stance. This is the same school board that has allowed GMHS to fall into accelerated decline due to under funding of maintenance and repairs. The Board has stated over and over that we need the $120 Million GMHS now and it will be pushing for any land deal in order to get their its project built. The City will be trapped between the school board and a developer. Guess who loses on this deal? Yes. Our kids and homeowners will be the losers.
How to Define “Duncanomics”
Phil Duncan cannot stop helping developers to help themselves. His strong support of the Kensington Nursing Home is a prime example. It takes up the major portion of a block on our main thoroughfare and contributes less than a penny on the tax rate. This stupendous example of Duncan’s financial expertise comes on the heels of, at the time school board chair, Susan Kearney, the former superintendent and Duncan colluding to tear down city hall to make way for a school. The nexus of the plan was to permit Kearney’s developer husband to build city office space in his to-be-built commercial buildings–the so-called “Kearney Plan.” It failed because The Post outed the three colluders based on a Freedom of Information (FOIA) document. But Duncan was not finished, again from FOIA information, he worked with a developer whose idea was to tear down our Library and replace it with apartments. In a nutshell that’s “Duncanomics”–the major benefit goes to the developer.
Saving Dollars for the Classroom and Homeowners
Less expensive GMHS options were suggested at the request of the school board and we know from data presented in the Falls Church Post that other jurisdictions such as Arlington County and Fairfax County are building/renovating larger high schools for much less. Experiences of other Virginia cities and counties clearly show that we can have a new or renovated GMHS for less taxpayer dollars and preserve the option of what we want to do with the 10 acres of land at GMHS. The proposed $120 Million school bond and announced City Council strategy clearly show that there is no beneficial citizen or student beneficial game plan.
The Council and Board’s “plan” makes sense only if our citizens want a project at GMHS that consists of a 1,000 developer enriching apartments that has a school as an appendage–and 30 years of onerous debt whose negative impact will, ironically, fall hardest on the students.