- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2008

School safety is a concern of every parent. For one group of parents in Fairfax County, the worries couldn’t be greater. Efforts to generate revenue by the city of Falls Church, have them, rightfully, up in arms over plans by the Young Development Group to erect a 65-foot, 110-unit hotel and parking structure. Sounds like economic progress, right? Not so fast. Not only is the developer asking the city to re-zone portions of the project that are not commerical zones and allow it to expand its height above current restrictions, but the project would be built directly butted up to the St. James Catholic School. I would be a massive hotel and parking garage — right next to an elementary school. The parents argue: “Quite simply, the hotel poses an unacceptable safety risk to the elementary school children attending St. James … a hotel with an adjacent parking garage and the possibility of a restaurant serving alcohol, is not an appropriate neighbor for an elementary school.” You don’t say!

Not only is it not good public policy, but there are real safety concerns the parents’ group articulates well in its appeal to the city: “Virginia crime statistics show that, across the state, there is a significant amount of crime that occurs in hotels … there were 5 murders, 141 aggravated assaults, 78 forcible rapes, 19 forcible sodomies, 11 sexual assaults, 37 forcible fondlings, and 215 violent robberies in hotels and motels. As dangerous as hotels can be, parking garages pose even more of a crime threat.”

Imagine your children walking to school — next to a hotel. Daniel Maller, a city councll member, told us that he too is a parent but has gotten assurances from the police department that they “have not found anything that supports this being a problem.” Maybe that’s because building a hotel next to school is extremely uncommon. The parents point out: “Of the approximately 50,000 hotels or motels in the U.S., only a very small percentage [are] located within close proximity to an elementary school.”

Also flawed is the city’s sole reason for erecting this new structure. Mr. Maller told us that it is “to generate revenue.” So, not only are they putting progress over people, but common sense has gone out the window.

St. James students have even written letters to the local paper imploring the city to consider their safety. “I would like to say a new hotel near the school is a horrible idea because the huge cranes that are working next to our playground could easily fall and kill or hurt one of the children,” said one.

Alarming is that the Falls Church City Council has already passed the developer’s plan at its first reading. But it’s not the final say. Tonight, the public has an opportunity to be heard at the planning commission’s second hearing before the council’s final vote on May 27. Let’s hope the council comes to its senses and considers a more suitable place for economic progress that doesn’t include endangering children.

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