REPRISE: Separating Fact from Opinion

Falls Church Times Columnist

September 30, 2010

I just read the following comment in the Falls Church News-Press by City Councilwoman and former mayor Robin Gardner:

Although Mr. Southern’s piece is an opinion piece, he does tend to make his comments sound like fact. That, in turn, riles people up. When he makes it sound like he has facts, folks then think he must have gotten his data from someone inside the closed meeting.

So as a service to Ms. Gardner, School Board Chair Joan Wodiska, and any other riled-up readers who may need assistance, there follows a reprint of my Monday MAN ABOUT TOWN column, this time clearly delineating FACT from OPINION:

MAN ABOUT TOWN: What? Tear Down Our New School?

I couldn’t believe it the first time I heard the idea (FACT): tear down the still-unpaid $25 million Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School? (QUESTION) No way (OPINION)– it’s barely five years old! (FACT)

But after getting over the initial shock I began to rationalize that, indeed, it might make sense. (OPINION) And now it’s looking more and more like it actually might happen. (OPINION) The 60 acres that house MEH and George Mason High School, with their sports fields and parking lots adjacent to the West Falls Church Metro, constitute a gold mine. (FACT) You might as well build city schools there as in Times Square. (OPINION)

To visualize what that 60 acres could look like, hop the Metro to Vienna and just gaze: hundreds of apartments and condominiums. (FACT) If they like Vienna, wouldn’t they like West Falls Church even more? (OPINION) Not only is it two stops closer to the District, it’s also one stop from the junction with the upcoming Silver Line out to Tyson’s and Dulles. (FACT)

Sure, East Falls Church is desirable too – but with so many small property owners, it’s a developer’s nightmare. (OPINION) Whereas WFC offers the potential of obtaining 60 golden acres from a single owner. (FACT)

Should that owner sell?  Would that owner sell? Well — who needs money any worse than the Little (bankrupt) City of Falls Church? (QUESTIONS)

Maybe that’s why (OPINION) the City Council, the School Board, and the Planning Commission held a top-secret meeting last week to discuss land acquisition. (FACT) Because you can’t knock down the schools until new ones are built. (FACT)

Where to build? (QUESTION) The first criterion is that any new school has to be outside City limits – as bizarre as that sounds. (HISTORICAL FACT) We can’t afford to take any City land off the tax rolls. (IMPLICIT FACT)

The next requirement is for some serious acreage: enough for football and baseball fields, tennis courts, parking lots – all that. (FACT) But where in the world can you find that much land reasonably close to the City that could actually be purchased? (QUESTION)

There may be only one place – Hillwood Square, just behind Larry Graves Park and soccer field on Hillwood Avenue. (OPINION) The City already owns the soccer field [CORRECTION: See Barry Buschow’s comment below]. (CORRECTED INACCURACY) Combine that with Hillwood Square and you have a very nice piece of property – just about perfect for a middle and high school complex. (OPINION)

Hillwood Square Mutual Association is a cooperative of 160 families sitting on 19 acres. (FACT) The key word is “cooperative,” meaning that the residents don’t actually own their homes individually. (FACT) If they did, you could never get them all to agree to sell. (OPINION) But a majority of the cooperative could send the rest packing. (FACT)

Why would Hillwood Square residents want to sell? (QUESTION) They certainly didn’t back in 2002 when the City offered $4 million for 6 acres of undeveloped land. (FACT) And they still don’t, if you believe one website. (FACT) (Methinks they doth protest too much.) (OPINION) But maybe since the building boom fizzled, residents have decided to sell for a realistic price. (OPINION) The townhomes were built by the U.S. Navy in 1941 for workers at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, (FACT) so you can be pretty sure they don’t have granite counter tops. (OPINION) Any offer over $25 million should get their attention. (OPINION)

This is really a win-win-win situation. (OPINION) Hillwood Square owners win because they receive a far higher price for their aging properties than anyone else is likely to offer. (OPINION) The City wins by cashing in on the WFC land with proceeds to help build both a new middle and high school in a more suitable area than what we have now. (OPINION)

And most important is that Fairfax County wins big time, because without support from Fairfax the deal would never happen. (FACT) All that WFC school property is in Fairfax County, and right now it’s all tax exempt. (FACT) Selling it to private developers would generate windfall tax profits for the county, (FACT) so they should fall all over themselves to promote a Hillwood Square sale to the City in exchange. (OPINION)

What’s not to like? (QUESTION) Well, I still cringe at the thought of seeing bulldozers knocking down our brand new $25 million middle school. (FACT) In hindsight it was a bad idea to build MEH where they did. (OPINION) But at the time it seemed the best, if not the only, alternative. (OPINION) After all, the City already owned the land. (FACT)

Maybe they’ll decide to hang on to MEH and just sell the high school and sports fields. (OPINION) You’d lose the synergy of having the two schools together, but it might make economic sense. (OPINION)

On September 30 the City Schools will conduct their annual assessment of students – how many there are, and where they live. (FACT) Then they’ll update their estimates of how soon we have to build more school facilities. (FACT) Stay tuned. (OPINIONATED ADVICE)

September 30, 2010 


10 Responses to “REPRISE: Separating Fact from Opinion”

  1. Colonel Mustard on September 30th, 2010 5:54 am

    Well said, George! (OPINION, with tongue planted firmly in cheek!)

  2. Bruce Swenson, Falls Church on September 30th, 2010 9:21 am

    There is an additional benefit to selling the school land at West Falls Church metro to developers. The development there would stimulate redevelopment of large blocks inside city limits: the west end triangle and Giant shopping center. Perhaps the city could also work with Fairfax to find a place to relocate the city property yard from the west end. Our inability to relocate that city facility has been one of the significant impedements to redeveloping the triangle.

  3. Manny Little on September 30th, 2010 9:44 am

    Good job, thank god we now have a paper for the city of Falls Church! “The truth is out there”

  4. FXC Resident on September 30th, 2010 10:13 am

    Geez. If Falls Church wants to remain an independent city, it needs to stop planting its non-revenue-producing facilities outside its boundaries. I do believe most other cities — and to call Falls Church one is pretty laughable — take the good with the bad and keep their schools, etc. within their boundaries.

  5. Mike Smith, Falls Church on September 30th, 2010 2:12 pm

    George (fact), Man About Town (opinion) when are you going to stop riling people up? (question) Never (fact)

    Sometimes I agree with you, sometimes not (fact), but it is always grand to have someone out there pushing folks outside their cozy cocoons (opinion).

  6. Lindy Hockenberry City of Falls Church on September 30th, 2010 7:52 pm

    George—I think you protest too much—too much. (opinion)

  7. FCC resident on September 30th, 2010 9:07 pm

    George- I DON’T think you protest too much (opinion). Your opinions and your facts are very much appreciated – very much (fact)

  8. Michael Irvine on September 30th, 2010 10:21 pm

    FXC Resident, most other cities aren’t 2.2 square miles in area. We have a very unique set of challenges here in Falls Church, and as a result, to stay sustainably independent, our schools must continue to be located, for the most part, outside our borders.

    The truth is that moving GM and MEH to Hillwood Square would be a good thing for pretty much everyone involved. We’d get new schools and funds from the property sale. Fairfax would get a lot more tax money from the West Falls Church property than they do now. And that development could very well help bring economic activity across Haycock into Falls Church.

    We all win. So if this really isn’t what the School Board is considering and this article is totally inaccurate, as has been suggested, the question I have is: why not consider it?

  9. Richard Donnely on September 30th, 2010 11:12 pm

    I find this back and forth quite tiresome, childish, and quite frankly a bore!!!

    Everyone (on all sides and even the sidelines) simply look at what they write, how they react, what comments they make, what rationale they use, what information they rely on, and treat others with civility! All sides!!!

    Now make up and play nice!

    Let us move on!!!

  10. Dudley McDonald Mechanicsville, VA on October 1st, 2010 11:52 am

    I’ll merely assume the fact that you used “red and black’ was a subtle support for the GMHS Mustangs!! (Those are still the school’s “colors”, right?)

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