Two stories recently published in the Virginia Weekly about the proposed rezoning of the Chiles tract contained several errors which have been brought to our attention by Fairfax County Supervisor James M. Scott. The Chiles Tract is in the Providence District, which is represented by Scott, not by Supervisor Thomas M. Davis. Secondly we reported that Supervisor Davis was approached by Fairfax school board Chairman Ann P. Kahn with a proposal that 10 acres of the land be given to the schools. The idea was that the developer would donate the land to the schools in return for an agreement from the supervisors to rezone the property for commercial development. Although Kahn favors acquisition of the land for school use, she says she did not discuss the matter with Davis. Scott makes the point that the school board did not ask the supervisors to rezone the tract but only requested that if the rezoning takes place, that the 10 acres be granted to the schools. Scott also takes exception to a statement that the school board was trying to get "something for nothing" in acquiring the land, noting that it is not unusual for the county to obtain donations from developers of land for schools and other public uses. In addition, Scott denies that he was "lukewarm" to the proposal that the schools receive the 10 acres of land. He said he favors first dedicating the land to the county and then, if needed, to the schools.
Despite what the pundits say, the Fairfax County School Board is trying to prove you can get something for nothing.
What the school board wants is 10 acres of one of the most valuable pieces of property in the county, the 178-acre Chiles Tract at the southeast corner of one of the busiest crossroads in Fairfax County, Rte. 50 and the Beltway.
School board Chairman Ann P. Kahn confirmed last week that the school board had discussed with the county Board of Supervisors the possibility of acquiring the 10 acres, now under contract to a Canadian development firm.
But Kahn emphasized that the only way the school board could afford the land would be if the development firm, Cadillac-Fairview of Toronto, agreed to donate the land to the school system.
"We don't have the money to buy it all," Kahn said.
Current plans for the Chiles Tract include no proposals for a school site, but intense commercial and residential development that would include 1.9 million square feet of office space, a 500-room hotel and several hundred townhouses.
Cadillac-Fairview is seeking a major zoning change, from low-intensity development to commerical. The proposal formally comes before the county Planning Commission April 9 and before the supervisors April 27. Already, the development plans have generated much controversy among surrounding residential neighbors, and at meetings with the developers last spring area residents objected strongly to the proposals.
Kahn said the school board has suggested to Supervisor Thomas G. Davis III, who represents the area where the Chiles Tract is located, that the supervisors consider approving the zoning change in exchange for a commitment from Cadillac-Fairview to donate 10 acres to the school system.
Alton C. Hlavin, head of facilities' services for the schools, said the primary reason the school system wants the land is to give it flexibility in possibly expanding Falls Church High School, adjacent to the Chiles Tract on Jaguar Trail. Hlavin conceded that enrollment at schools that now serve the area is static or declining, but he said there may be a need in the future, particularly at the intermediate level, for more classrooms.
Kahn said the school board has "no immediate need for the land," and she said it may never have to use it at all. Even so, she agrees with Hlavin that the school system needs "flexibility."
"As long as the Chiles tract was undeveloped, we always had the option of obtaining the land. Now, that option is in jeopardy," said Kahn.
Hlavin said the school system already had received complaints that it is trying to take valuable land off of county tax rolls and getting involved in a "land grab." He denies both assertions.
All the school wants, Hlavin repeated, is "flexibility."
Martin D. Walsh, an attorney for Cadillac-Fairview, said he is aware of the school board request for elbow room on the Chiles site. And he said he has given them an answer:
"No. We can't do it," he said. "I know 10 acres of flood plain acreage, which limits the intensity of development possible and thus handicaps Cadillac-Fairview's plans. "We need all the acreage we can get," said Walsh, adding that the developer will have to spend $15 to $18 million in road improvements at the site to comply with county standards.
Barring postponements, the final decision on the Chiles Tract will come after the two public hearings next month.
And unless the supervisors tell Walsh's clients that their rezoning application rides strictly on the donation of the land, Walsh said the school board will end up emptyhanded.
Undeterred, Hlavin said, "It's worth a try."