Officials from Falls Church and Fairfax County are expected to sit down sometime this summer to discuss the possibility of Falls Church's annexation of some land just west of the city, including the George Mason Junior-Senior High School property.
George Mason, located at the intersection of Leesburg Pike (Rte. 7) and Haycock Road, sits just outside the city property line on one of the most valuable parcels of land near the West Falls Church Metro station.
While city officials will not say how much property they would like to annex or specifically why they are interested in boundary adjustments, they agree that they would prefer to have the city's only high school located within the city's borders.
"This is not a new idea," said Falls Church City Council member Elizabeth Blystone. "I think we always felt it would be nice to have the schools in the city."
While the city owns the 42 acres on which the school is located, it does not control zoning on the land because it sits in Fairfax County.
Last July, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors set limits on building heights around the West Falls Church Metro station just north of the school to six stories, according to Pamela Nee, a Fairfax planner. Nee said the board's action would restrict development on the school property to a height of about three stories.
Some Falls Church residents speculate that city officials want to annex the school property in order to change the zoning to a higher density. The city would then be able to sell the land to a developer for more money than it could at its present zoning. The residents say city officials would use the funds to build a new city high school on the 17-acre site of the former Whittier School, as recommended by a consultant late last year.
But Hal Glasser, a planner for Falls Church, said he doesn't believe the city wants high density zoning near its western border. "While the city would have an eye towards its tax base, it would be totally out of character for the city to liberalize zoning," he said. "If anything, the city would look at controlling development."
The pending discussions between the city and county were set in motion in April. At the direction of the City Council, Falls Church City Manager Anthony Griffin contacted Fairfax County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert about the possibility of negotiating a number of issues involving both jurisdictions.
"I perceive and have council support that this may be an opportunity to resolve a lot of differences the county and the city have had," Griffin said.
Lambert told Griffin he was interested in the idea and asked for a list of issues to be discussed.
Although Griffin declined to be specific about what else besides the George Mason property would be on the list of discussion material being prepared by the Falls Church city staff, he said the city might ask to buy the Whittier site from Fairfax. Griffin said also that the city might be willing to sell its water system to the county.
Fairfax County politicians have long complained that the city, which supplies water to 10,000 of its own residents and about 100,000 nearby county residents, keeps its tax rate low with water revenue from county customers. The water rate in Falls Church is about 56 percent higher than the rate the Fairfax County Water Authority charges its approximately 800,000 customers.
Last spring, the Fairfax County Water Authority offered to buy the Falls Church system for $5.7 million in cash or $575,000 a year over a 50-year period, but the city rejected the offer.
"We didn't feel their offer began to approach the value of running the system," Griffin said.
Lambert, who said he would be receptive to discussing purchase of the water system, said he is awaiting word from Griffin.
"The ball's in his court,"Lambert said.
Falls Church Mayor Carol W. DeLong had no comment on discussions with Fairfax other than that she expects them to "progress gradually."
"The council regards this as delicate intergovernmental negotiations," she said. "It's going to be a little bit like a minuet."