On Monday afternoon, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors signed off on the School Board’s plan to return 35.5 acres of land to a developer and receive $12 million dollars for capital improvement projects.
The supervisors voted unanimously at its Oct. 18 meeting to agree with the School Board’s proposal to declare the land, located on Huntsman Boulevard and the Fairfax County Parkway in the Springfield District, a surplus, giving the board a chance to do so when it meets on Thursday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. at Jackson Middle School.
"We're going to get together and make sure we're all on the same page. If we're going do this we have to all be together," said School Board member Cathy Belter (Springfield). She added that the Board of Supervisors' decision to conduct a public hearing before its vote was unprecedented, but the unanimous vote was a vote of confidence for the School Board.
"I think they wanted to have a buy-in on what's going on, and
obviously, they all felt they wanted to support whatever they thought the School Board was going to do," she said.
The vote Monday — at which only Supervisor Joan DuBois (R-Dranesville) was not present — followed a 90-minute public hearing which showed that some members of the public still has reservations about the School Board's plan to dispose of public land for its construction projects.
Ultimately, though, the Board of Supervisors came to the conclusion that the Pohick site merited disposal and wouldn't stand in the School Board’s way on the matter.
"The board is going to handle each of these cases on a case-by-case basis," said Chairman Gerry Connelly (D-At-large) prior to the vote.
The Board of Supervisors reached that decision since the land, dubbed the "Pohick site," has a deed which contains a reverter clause stipulating that if the FCPS does not use it for a secondary school of any kind, it must revert back to the developer in interest, Van Metre Homes of Burke.
That reverter clause, said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), makes the Pohick site a special case, different from the 13 other pieces of land the School Board is considering under the "Classrooms for Kids" program.
"If there is a reverter clause on the deed, there are no options," said Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) as the Board members commented prior to the vote.
THE POHICK site came to the School Board’s attention when FCPS was approached by Van Metre Homes in the spring with interest in the property. The original plan for the land had been for a secondary school for the south county, but with the decision made in 2001 to build the new high school in the new Laurel Hill area of Lorton, that land became surplus. Under the school system's "Classrooms for Kids," which is still in the works, the School Board will examine each of the similar unused parcels of land the school system owns to see what can be done with them. The $12 million from Van Metre for the Pohick site would be used to supplement the school system’s Capital Improvement Project and accelerate renovations or construction at several county schools, including Woodson High School in Fairfax.
McConnell emphasized one point — that the reverter clause means that neither the School Board nor the Board of Supervisors has much choice in choosing the fate of the Pohick land. She drove this point home when responding to Winnie Shapiro, chairman of the Fairfax County Park Authority Board, and the first speaker at Monday’s hearing. Shapiro said that "land in Fairfax County is almost more valuable than money" and exhorted the supervisors to "find a way to retain the land for public use."
McConnell responded directly to Shapiro’s remarks, questioning why the Park Authority would create "confusion" among the public by "going after a piece of land they knew they could not have."
Shapiro acknowledged she understood that "special circumstances" surrounded the Pohick site.
MANY PRIVATE citizens who spoke at the hearing, including eight members of various Parent-Teacher Associations in the Woodson High School pyramid, praised the Board of Supervisors and the School Board for the proposed return of the land to the developer.
Others, including many associated with the South Run Crossing community adjacent to the Pohick site, raised questions about the speed at which the School Board acted on this site.
"The real issue is that this has been kind of a stealth operation. There’s this feeling that this all has been decided, and the public has been left out," said Richard O’Brien, a resident of South Run Crossing who spoke at the meeting.
The Board of Supervisors pledged to investigate each of the 13 other parcels of land being considered as part of the Classrooms for Kids program as the need arises.
"I think every one of these pieces is going to different, but it looks as if this will be to everyone’s benefit to move this way," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock).
The board also affirmed its commitment to looking at other potential uses of school land, should the School Board consider declaring those surplus. One such use might come in the form of affordable housing, which Connelly repeatedly said might be an attractive option. Among those who spoke in favor of this option were Josiah Beeman of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board and Fran Steinbauer with Reston Interfaith Housing Corporation.