Students at Pearson Square Nearly Double City’s Projection

Pearson Square apartments offer a great swimming pool -- and great Falls Church City schools. (Falls Church Times photo by George Southern)

Pearson Square apartments offer a great swimming pool -- and great Falls Church City schools. (Falls Church Times photo by George Southern)

By GEORGE SOUTHERN
Falls Church Times Staff

When City Council voted to rezone the largest remaining available commercial tract in Falls Church to allow construction of a high-rise residential condominium called Pearson Square, they believed that only 35 new students would be attending City schools.

Assuming education costs of roughly $20,000 per student, the annual expense to the City would be $700,000. That seemed OK, since City Council was told to expect some $1.4 million annual tax revenue from Pearson Square.

But the condo boom fizzled out, Pearson Square was sold to a real estate investment trust, the 230 condos became rental apartments, and anticipated tax revenue plummeted to some $500,000.

With the conversion to rental, parents of school-age children flocked to Pearson Square. By February 2009 there were 44 students – 25 percent more than expected.

As word spread, more parents moved in, and by the time student numbers were official for the 2009-2010 school year, the figure stood at 64 students – nearly double the projection.

At $20,000 per head, 64 students cost the City schools $1.28 million, or some $750,000 more than the tax revenue generated from the project.

Advertisement for Pearson Square apartments.

Advertisement for Pearson Square apartments.

City officials long seemed unaware of how badly skewed the Pearson Square projection would turn out to be. Dan Maller, who along with Hal Lippman represents City Council at the “Gang of 8” meetings with City Schools officials, wrote last March: “All considered, this report [of the projections] is a remarkable validation of the statistical prediction. . . .”

Maller was referring to last February’s report by the City’s Economic Development Office, which also provided data on the Byron and Spectrum condominiums, both on West Broad Street. All three properties originally were projected to house .15 students per condo unit.

The Byron has 90 condos, so the projection was for 13.5 new students. The actual number last February was 11, and as of October it was 10.

The Spectrum has 189 units, but most remain unoccupied. When fully occupied, the City projected that 28 students would live there. As of last February, with 27 units occupied, there were 6 students. The number as of October is 11 students.

The City did not supply projections for The Broadway, the other new condo on West Broad, but the figure of .15 students per unit can be assumed to apply there as well. The Broadway contains 80 units, and as of October only 6 students were resident – only half an estimated projection of 12.

As of October, there are a total of 91 students resident in the four new condominiums. This compares with a projection (at full occupancy) of 90.

School Superintendent Lois Berlin previewed the student numbers at an Oct. 8 “Gang of 8” meeting with City officials. “There are more students in Pearson Square than we thought there would be,” she said, but defended the projections by noting that there are less students than expected in some of the other new condominiums, such that it “balances out.”

Dr. Berlin did not disclose the occupancy rate of the Spectrum, which at 189 units is the second-largest new condominium. But the City’s Economic Development Office has reported that while as of August, only 37 units had been sold, under the developer’s new “rent to own” plan, an additional 26 units were expected to be occupied by the end of September.

If that number was reached, it means there were approximately 63 occupied units on October 1. Since there are 11 students attending school with a Spectrum address, the rate per unit is .17, or 13 percent higher than the City’s .15 projection.

This means that while the City’s projection of 90 new students may on the surface appear to be dead accurate, it is actually far off the mark since so many units remain vacant.

The figures at Pearson Square suggest that rental apartments are far more popular among parents than are owner-occupied condominiums. They also suggest that when an apartment’s student population reaches a critical mass, it becomes increasingly desirable for more parents with children to move in. Finally, it may be that the more secluded Pearson Square on two-lane Maple Avenue is more inviting to parents than are the other three condominiums on Broad Street, the City’s major 4-lane artery.

City officials did anticipate that conversion from condos to rental would attract more children to Pearson Square, and changed the .15 projection figure to .167 (an 11 percent adjustment). Using the adjusted projection, they planned for 38 students instead of 35, which would amount to an additional $60,000 annual education cost. In exchange, developer Atlantic Realty donated $100,000 for improvements to the “ArtSpace” facility at Pearson Square.

Pearson Square 2-bedroom apartments start at $2095 -- not much more than the monthly tuition the City charges students in City schools who reside outside City limits.

Pearson Square 2-bedroom apartments start at $2,095 -- not much more than the monthly tuition the City charges students in City schools who reside outside City limits.

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November 1, 2009 

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7 Responses to “Students at Pearson Square Nearly Double City’s Projection”

  1. Andy Rankin on November 1st, 2009 9:25 pm

    This is interesting information – I wish it had been available last month. At the October EDA meeting, the consultants who developed the model that the City uses for predicting the fiscal impact of new development came in to talk to us. During that meeting they noted an interesting phenomenon in the City – that even new apartment construction ends up having a net positive impact on the City’s revenue.

    If the info above is accurate then this clearly isn’t the case for Pearson Square – you have it costing the City over $750k per year. In February we were told that all of these developments were making money for the City. Based on your info, even back then Pearson Square kids were costing $880,000 – or $380,000 more than the $500k you say Pearson Square generates in tax revenue. So, either the EDA got bad info back in February or the info in this post isn’t correct.

    And while we’re on this – can anyone explain why converting from condos to apartments would change the tax revenue from $1,400,000 to $500,000? That’s a drop of almost 65%. Are apartments taxed differently? Does the property value (and therefore the taxes generated from it) drop 65% because of the conversion?

    You’re right that apartments are more attractive to families with school kids than condos – although I don’t think we needed Pearson Square to tell us that. I’m not sure how you come to the conclusion that once an apartment building gets a certain number of school kids it becomes more desirable to parents with kids. I can see that that might be true – but how does Pearson Square show this? The final conclusion in that section, that Pearson Square’s location played a roll in the number of kids there, doesn’t make tons of sense – you’re comparing it to condos, not other apartments.

    If it’s true that apartment buildings are big money losers (not just relatively less revenue generating than other kinds of development) then I think the City clearly needs to dig in its heels to prevent any future apartment construction.

  2. Carol Jackson on November 2nd, 2009 1:25 am

    Would be interesting to know how many of the current Pearson Sq families with kids relocated from other FC City addresses. I know of a few personally and think that might be a part of the stats which would help to balance out any overall City Schools increase in any one year or even several years. Did the School pop grow by 64 kids?

  3. Mary Lynn Hickey on November 2nd, 2009 7:30 am

    My family is one of those who moved to Pearson Square after selling our home also in FC City and I know of several other families in the building who have done the same. Now I’m curious for some analysis of City schools population increases from single familiy homes so we can appreciate this information in context.

  4. NDH on November 2nd, 2009 9:14 am

    Statistics can be analyzed to make them say anything. . .I have my own little stat at the end my comment. What troubles me are your generalizations based on your stats. . . The figures at Pearson Square suggest that rental apartments are far more popular among parents than are owner-occupied condominiums. They also suggest that when an apartment’s student population reaches a critical mass, it becomes increasingly desirable for more parents with children to move in. Finally, it may be that the more secluded Pearson Square on two-lane Maple Avenue is more inviting to parents than are the other three condominiums on Broad Street, the City’s major 4-lane artery. . . I could make several suggestions myself.. . 1) the figures at Pearson Square suggest parents of school aged children prefer living next door to a park. . .parents prefer living in a building with which is located an ArtSpace offering summer activities and after school activities, parents prefer to live within walking distance of historic sites, including Tinner Hill, The Falls Church, the State Theater, the Henderson House! Could it be that Pearson Square stats suggest renting parents prefer living in diverse communities (ie the many ethnic restaurants/markets on Hillwood/Lee Hwy) !!! – Pearson Square parents prefer living near the best burgers in Northern VA – Elevation Burger. . . Person Square parents prefer living near where they can have their cars repaired (3 repairs shops within walking distance!) Now for my little stat: Drop in visitation at the historic Henderson House has increased by 500% since the new building opened (all requesting tours and/or information). By the way what is the average income of those “apartment renting parents” who live in Pearson Square?

  5. Tony Starks on November 2nd, 2009 10:32 am

    Interesting data but Carol and Mary Lynn are right. The stats on “new students” would be a better stat to evaluate. They both mention people moving from homes they have owned to Pearson Square but I assume some might have even moved from other City apartments to the new building.

  6. Andy Rankin on November 2nd, 2009 12:31 pm

    Any idea if the houses that were sold were bought by families with school kids? How would we factor that into the stats!

  7. Carol Jackson on November 3rd, 2009 12:02 am

    Andy,

    Don’t worry about compartmentalizing the school pop. Just look at the overall school enrollment comparisons from year to year, knowing FC City is a finite number of houses–single family, condos or rentals. If the enrollment is going up, then that’s the challenge we all share to afford. In all recent years, it’s my understanding that more new kids come into the City from the turnover in single family homes–seniors/empty nesters selling to families–than any influx of apartments will ever create.

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