School Board's Land Sale

A Bad Deal for the Public

The Board of Supervisors has approved the School Board's bad public policy to sell the Pohick site for private development. The School Board completed the act Oct. 21 by declaring the Pohick site surplus ["Fairfax Schools to Sell Plot, Hasten Construction," Metro, Oct. 22].

By this act, the School Board will be saying to a developer that we have no use for these 35 acres of prime real estate, you can build on it, but we would like you to give us a $12 million donation.

How did we get to this position of turning over public land for private development in this era of overdevelopment and traffic gridlock, and at the same time floating bond referenda to acquire public land? Quite simply, it is poor public governance, caused by a closed process that excluded active public involvement. Every school of public administration in the country should document these events. It is case study bad.

It would be hard to top this example of poor governance. It involves all the major actors, with the exception of the public. Their involvement is through exclusion.

This is Jay Leno "Headlines" bad. I can see Leno reading the headline: "Fairfax Officials Approve Building Houses on Public Lands to Cut Down on School Facility Needs."

I can just hear Leno turning to Kevin Eubanks and saying, "If you move in there, you have to put your kids up for adoption."

The problem started with the School Board. It entered into closed-door negotiations with a single developer to give back the Pohick site for a donation. I say donation, because under the deed granting the Pohick site to the School Board, the land would return to the developer without compensation once the School Board declared the land surplus.

Why the closed sessions? Because the School Board asserted it had to protect its "bargaining position" and invoked Virginia law. These laws were written to protect the public body in open-market sales, not in closed-door negotiations with an individual developer.

In any case, the School Board had to hold a public hearing, under the law, and had to reveal its grand plan, which it did in a press release. Unfortunately the press release inaccurately located the Pohick site, adding further to the exclusion of the public.

The Park Authority, which had an interim use agreement with the School Board on 13 of the 16 properties listed for sale, had to read about the School Board's plan in the paper along with everyone else. The Board of Supervisors held a self-described courtesy public hearing and endorsed the School Board's plan in a busy session.

This process has essentially excluded the public from participating. There are alternatives to the policy our public officials are advocating.

Their policy frankly doesn't make any sense. An informed citizenry can propose options far superior to those presented. There is no reason to rush this decision. The School Board can keep the Pohick site in its present state as long as it wants to. After Oct. 21, however, when the School Board declares this property surplus, a development "by right" will kick in, and houses could technically start going up on Friday.

This precious resource will be lost forever, and we will get just what we need -- more houses and more gridlock.

Richard O'Brien