With the third of three boundary meetings for the Andrew Chapel elementary-school site scheduled tonight, Dec. 4, school officials are expected to present a boundary “scenario” that will pull together a consensus from the community on where the lines should be drawn.
Under the Fairfax County School Board’s process, boundaries are arrived at after several meetings where parents meet and propose reasons to put certain communities in certain schools.
But the attempt at balancing the interests of Great Falls, McLean and Vienna communities nearest the Andrew Chapel site were struck an unexpected blow when facilities planners revealed that a rezoning now in the pipeline could assign 152 more schoolchildren to the Langley High School Pyramid.
West*Group, the applicant, says it was initially told the proposed residential development on the northwest quadrant of Westpark Drive and Park Run Drive in Tysons Corner would be assigned to the Marshall High School pyramid, with Westbriar as the elementary school.
But at 4 p.m. on Nov. 20, planning and zoning staff received an amended assignment to the Langley pyramid, with Spring Hill as the elementary school.
THAT REVELATION, DUBBED “the 4 o’clock big bang,” has commanded the attention of many parents who have participated in meetings promoted as the proper channel between school facilities planners and the people they serve.
“Nobody anticipated a 1,300-unit building right in the middle of the situation,” said Jan Pascoe, a former PTO president at Spring Hill Elementary, who has five children ages 2 to 12.
“How can there be a true sense of planning and districting going on?” she said.
“The consequences to the school population and traffic in Tysons are going to be immense. This is a huge decision that needs to be made.
“The timing is very bizarre. It makes me think government needs to notice that things are happening from the left, from the right, from behind and from above. The average citizen feels attacked; bamboozled.
“There is no reason to stick to a predetermined deadline if you are going to anger the citizens. Perhaps we should take a little more time on this,” said Pascoe, who heads up the parent planning committee at the new Andrew Chapel school site.
“WHEN AN ISSUE is introduced at 4 o’clock on the day of the hearing, usually you at least give some more time to get to the bottom of it,” said Dranesville District Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn.
“The issues that were being raised [at the Planning Commission hearing on Nov. 20] were significant,” Mendelsohn said. “Here’s an exact case where we don’t have to do something. We don’t have to approve this rezoning.”
But Nora Callahan, another Spring Hill parent who has been acting as a liaison with the new school community, is less worried.
After Dranesville School Board representative Janie Strauss assured her that an administrative action could move the new school from the Langley to the Marshall High School Pyramid, she said, “I kind of chilled out about that and have been focusing on other things, like Thanksgiving.
“She was consistently adamant that this is not going to happen in our district,” said Callahan. “I haven’t gotten too wigged out because Jane was very confident.”
Instead, Callahan said she is focusing on the three proposals for boundaries that were presented Nov. 20.
“Proximity is an issue,” she said. “There are people who are disappointed that [on Oct. 9] they asked us for feedback, and what they listed as the first and second priorities were proximity and travel time.
“But what they presented as options didn’t really line up with what we had laid out, in terms of priorities,” she said. “I feel like we wasted some time looking at options that weren’t practical.”
But facilities planners say the plan they will present at McLean High School tonight will jell all the ideas introduced previously to find a solution that will minimize disruption and displace as few children as possible. The meeting is scheduled from 7:30-10 p.m.
Some parents are also examining the figure of 152 — the number of new students that facilities planners say will be generated by four high-rise apartment buildings with 1,296 units and another 58 single-family attached townhouse units.
“Most people I have talked to think that number sounds incredibly low,” said Callahan.
“I am quite certain the community and the School Board will want to know how the facilities staff arrived at that, and how many [students] they project at the elementary, middle and high-school levels,” Strauss said in an interview. “Obviously we are in trouble if we under-project and have no room for children,” she said.
“I lived through the McLean One Hundred mistake,” said Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn. He joined the Fairfax County School Board as an appointed member in 1993, after McLean One Hundred had already been assigned to Spring Hill Elementary with a predicted enrollment of 10 children from the new subdivision.
“The first three homes gave us 10 kids,” said Mendelsohn.
“That’s when we started seeing the overcrowding at Spring Hill. They were always behind the curve.”
LAST WEEK, STRAUSS asked School Board superintendent Daniel Domenech to conduct a study to recommend a school community, other than Spring Hill, that could absorb the new development.
“There is no room at either Spring Hill or Andrew Chapel for this development,” she said. “If the Board of Supervisors approves this [rezoning], we should take this opportunity to do an administrative transfer to another school community that has more room.
“On the books it is commercial property. “Since this is vacant land, we can do an administrative transfer,” she said.
But that can’t happen until after the land is officially rezoned.
“I also asked the superintendent and Mr. [Stuart] Gibson (Hunter Mill) as chair to write a letter to the Board of Supervisors indicating that if they intend to bring forward other rezoning applications in the Tysons community that would result in residential housing, we need to discuss the possible acquisition of a [new] school site,” she said.
“Our current Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is based on current zoning. If there are dramatic changes, we have to go back to the table and adjust our zoning,” she said.
Strauss said Andrew Chapel will be almost full when it opens. While Westbriar Elementary [in Vienna] is not overcrowded, she said, “it is a small school. There is a limit to how many children you can put in there.
“In fairness to the Westbriar community, our facilities staff needs to review all the elementary schools in the Tysons area in order to recommend where this development should be placed, particularly for the elementary boundary,” Strauss said. “I believe there is additional space at Kilmer [Middle] and Marshall [High] schools.”
Several Tysons-area schools are already overcrowded, Strauss said, including Freedom Hill and Lemon Road elementaries.
For an administrative transfer, there is no formal process, Strauss said. After a School Board member makes a suggestion for a transfer, the staff studies it and makes a recommendation. The board could implement a transfer in February, along with four other boundary changes now in process in the county, Strauss said.
“It is within the School Board’s policies to assign vacant land without going through a boundary change process,” she said. “It is a simpler and faster process.”
But “because of the community’s concerns, we need to have a discussion with the various involved communities,” about the West*Park rezoning, Strauss said.
Neither she and Gibson nor Earnestine Heastie (Providence]) knew of any talks about potential proffers that were held with the affected schools, Strauss said.
Virginia has no law requiring that public facilities — such as schools, roads, police and fire stations, parks and storm-water detention facilities — be in place before development can begin.
“This is an interesting example of how the boundaries get to be so screwy,” said Strauss.
“For planning purposes, we are the tail of the dog. Schools have to come after the development is planned. We are not at the table for any of this. All these matters rest with the Board of Supervisors, by law.
“We come along behind, and ask, ‘What drunken sailor invented this one?’ We try to find space for kids. It is often an unusual patchwork of boundaries,” she said.
She said the School Board “is pleased the facilities staff provides information. The School Board has no opinion on whether development should go forward or not. That is not a part of our business."
ADRIENNE WHYTE, who chairs the McLean Citizens Association’s Planning and Zoning Committee, said a resolution opposing West*Group’s rezoning will be taken before the MCA’s board of directors on Dec. 4, concurrent with the School Board’s parent meeting at McLean High School.
In the application, West*Group originally proffered the following:
• $30,000 for bus shelters;
• Shuttle bus service for the residents to West Falls Church Metro and Tysons Westpark transit station;
• $1 million and eight affordable dwelling units for housing for underserved and homeless people;
• $50,000 to the Providence Trail Fund for projects to be approved by the supervisor, presently Gerald E. Connolly (D);
• A 1-acre linear park along the west property line;
• 4,000 square feet of public government office or meeting space in Tysons Corner, potentially, a new office for the Providence District supervisor, a police station, or government agencies, Connolly confirmed;
• $955 per unit for recreation, and $60,000 for a community arts program.
• Several telecommunications antennae
West*Group vice president Tom Fleury and Connolly said the proffers are generous.
But some citizens say they don’t address the public-facility needs that proffers are intended to bolster.
“The proffer package is inadequate and won’t mitigate the impacts on the community,” said Whyte. Her committee voted not to support the rezoning.
“West*Group has proffered only $50,000 that might go directly to school “capital improvements,” a sum that will not come close to mitigating the impacts of the estimated 152 additional students to be generated by the development, regardless of the school district to which they are assigned,” the P&Z Committee’s resolution reads.
Another $50,000 was earmarked for a scholarship for vocational school or college for a Marshall High School student.
The proposed MCA resolution says the other improvements to public facilities are “woefully insufficient.”
LYNN TADLOCK, DIRECTOR of planning and development for the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), said the $955 per unit “offsets only a portion of the impact” for recreational facilities.
An additional $513,525 would be required to meet increased demands of the new residents of the development, she said.
“The development plan currently does not show any proposed recreational facilities,” she said. “If no qualifying outdoor recreational amenities are provided, the applicant should dedicate $1,806,595” to the FCPA.
“The Park Authority strongly recommends that the applicant provide some recreational amenities on-site,” she wrote. “Outdoor plazas, pools and an indoor health club should be provided with a residential development of this scale. “
UNDER NEW CRITERIA that will go into effect next month, West*Group could be expected to pay as much as $1.14 million in cash to the public school system.
The cost of six new classrooms to accommodate 152 children is estimated by school officials at $2.12 million.
West*Group originally proffered $50,000 for wireless computer networking and mobile lab units at Westbriar; $100,000 for Kilmer Middle School’s special-education program, to be used at the discretion of the principal; and $50,000 for a scholarship to a Marshall High School student, contributions that total $200,000.
“I am curious about what a scholarship fund for public schools is, since we try to get [proffer] money for capital expenses,” said Lee District Planning Commissioner Jack Kelso, who abstained rather than vote for the rezoning on Nov. 21.
“That’s why these proffers are so deficient,” Mendelsohn said. “They don’t do anything for schools.”
“All three of those school proffers do nothing to ameliorate the impact of this development.”
That raises questions about the county’s new system of cash proffers for schools, Mendelsohn said.
“I think you’re going to see proffers going for everything but schools, because schools are so amorphous,” he said.
“The expectation is there, and the reality is they are getting nothing. This is an example.”
WEST*GROUP VICE PRESIDENT Tom Fleury was not available Tuesday for comment on their criticisms.
“I know that West*Group is touring, going to all the supervisors and visiting with them this week,” Kelso said.
Spokesmen for Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn said he met with West*Group representatives about the rezoning before it went before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Nov. 20.
STRAUSS SAID there is time to adjust to accommodate the development, which has been praised for its potential to bring high-density residences outside the Beltway to Tysons.
“We have been told it will take 10 years for [the development] to be completely built,” she said.
“The School Board can continue to do administrative transfers for land, as long as it is unoccupied. We can transfer again other pieces of land that have not been built on,” she said.
“If the highest priorities in the Tysons area are transportation and education, I would expect the proffers to reflect that. And they don’t,” Mendelsohn said. “Both of those areas are almost afterthoughts.”