Mayor Dave Tarter and City Manager Wyatt Shields Understand the Risks of $120 Million Debt
After WMATA January Development Surprise City Must Proceed Cautiously
Enormous Financial and Site Development Hurdles as Well as Unknowns Are Plentiful
By Mark Kaye JD, MBA
In a favorable development, communications with City Manager Wyatt Shields and Mayor David Tarter reveal both are on board with an ‘unofficial’ city policy of no construction of new George Mason High School until a deal inked on 10 acres of GMHS land slated for commercial development. It is recognized that the city cannot prudently take on $120M of debt – making FCC the highest debt per capita entity in NOVA – unless there is an acceptable land deal.
Mayor Not Adverse to a Formal “A Land Deal First” Action by Council
In view of the magnitude of the cost of the new GMHS – and myriad complexities of the 10 acre land deal – Mayor Tarter stated he is “not adverse” to a vote by the City Council to make this “unofficial” stance official City policy.
Shields Outlines GMHS Site Issues
A discussion with City Manager Shields highlighted the hurdles and complexities of the 10 acre land deal that is intertwined with the costly new GMHS. Shields stated that the next 12 months are crucial in determining whether “all the cards fall together in order.”
A Sampling of Known and Unknown Issues
- The City expects the Route 7/Haycock Road intersection will require more turn lanes and signals. The city applied for $15M in funds from the Northern Virginia Transit Authority. However, we do not know if the city will receive any such funds or when. If the City does not receive these funds it is unclear of who will pay for the needed road upgrades.
- A proposed new turn lanes and traffic light onto Route 7 from the 10 acres at the acres at the corner of Route 7 and Haycock will require study and review. Shields stated that City will initiate actions with Virginia Department of Transportation – the 1st step of a multiple step process. A source in Fairfax County with intimate knowledge of NOVA transportation matters said that preparation for the initial application is demanding AND may very well provoke reaction and opposition from Fairfax County and possibly the Federal Government.
- The City plans to launch the 1st step of a multi-layered RFP for the 10 acres on March 1, 2018. However, as of this date, FCC has not drafted its positions and its relying upon the somewhat ambiguous valuation estimate of $40M+ for the 10 acres. Many have noted the lack of clarity in how the $40M valuation was achieved by city consultants in view of other commercially zoned land in the city selling for less per acre.
- The 10 acres requires new or modified infrastructure: water, sewer, electrical and telecommunications. The City hopes to ‘cost share’ with a potential developer on infrastructure work as the proposed new GMHS will also require new or updated infrastructure. Presumably some or all of the GMHS infrastructure may cross the 10 acres. But the cost and magnitude of the infrastructure is yet another major unknown.
- Plans by WMATA to develop its 24 acres at West Falls Metro have made the development of the 10 acres more difficult. Layer on the possibility that UVA/Tech could exercise their option in 2021 to purchase the 4+ acres of land between GMHS and WFC – and there is yet another complexity that could impact adversely the value of the City’s 10 acres..
Accordingly, the prudent course outlined by Mayor Tarter and City Manager Shields seems to be the most logical and common sensical.