Updates from Letty – April 14, 2023

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

We’re in the middle of budget season and we voted to advertise the tax rates this week, but had lots of other business on our docket. I’ll share the latest on voting ward changes, our first look at a new development project on S. Washington/S. Maple, a potpourri of economic development news, upcoming community events on art and climate change, and the latest on the Great Falls/Lincoln signal outage that I’ve been fielding inquiries.

Our next meeting will be another hybrid meeting/work session on April 24 where we’ll hear public comment. I’ll also be holding my individual office hours next Monday, April 17 at 12 pm at Mr Browns Park and Ask the Council office hours will be Wednesday, April 26 at 9 am. I look forward to hearing from you.


What Happened This Week:

(1) FY24 Budget

Thanks to everyone who came out to speak to us about their budget priorities – we heard comments spanning transportation safety to human services to public art. We voted unanimously on the first reading* of the budget and CIP (see my budget post #1 and #2 for deeper dives on both) and advertised to keep the real estate tax rate flat, increase in personal property tax rate (we lowered the rate last year to offset the anomalously high car tax values; this year, even with an increase in the rate, the average car tax bill is expected to decrease), and small increases in the stormwater and sewer utility tax rates.

For the average homeowner with 2 cars, this is the approximate total impact:

*First reading establishes the “ceiling” for the budget and tax rates – both can decrease before the final vote to adopt the budget on May 8, but cannot go up without a new first reading.

Besides the entire budget website, here are a few specific resources I find most helpful:

  • There are great video overviews by department (budget video playlist)
  • One of the most interesting budget documents is to the running list of Q&A from City Council that gives you insight into the areas of the budget we’re probing and prioritizing.
  • FCCPS Budget

We’ll continue to hear from the community up until budget markup and adoption in May. There are multiple ways you can reach us – besides email and one-on-one meetings, see below for the schedule for the upcoming public hearings and next town hall on the budget.

(2) Voting Ward Changes

As I wrote last week, the City’s Registrar presented options on voting ward changes based on the need to re-balance the population sizes within each ward. This week, we reviewed a new option (option #10) with small boundary adjustments between Wards 2 and 3 and establishes the Community Center as the polling location for both Wards 2 and 3. State law does allow buildings to contain more than one polling place and the Registar also noted that we’ve had experience with that. With behavior shifts to early voting, voting on election day has become less crowded so he believes the Community Center would be able to accommodate both wards.

We voted 7-0 for these changes (in addition to increasing Election Officer pay) and will look hear additional public comment before the final vote on April 24. The Registrar advises that it would be ideal to get mailed notices prior the start of early voting on May 5 for the upcoming June primary, ahead of the General Election on November 7, 2023 and at least two, and possibly up to four, elections prior to the presidential election on November 5, 2024, allowing voters time to adjust to the change.

(3) Quinn/Homestretch Project

We had our first look at a new senior living and mixed use development project proposed at the site of the Quinn’s Auction Galleries and Homestretch buildings between S. Washington and S. Maple. As 25% of our population is 55+ and only growing, this project helps meet the need for more senior housing in the city and region. Some highlights:

  • 226 senior living residential units (140 independent living units, 55 assisted living units and 31 memory care units)
  • Medical office, ground floor retail, restaurant, civic space proposed for the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation
  • Large linear park and outdoor green space (34% landscaped open space, 18% tree canopy), LEED Gold, $1.75M in affordable housing contributions, and other community benefits proposed
  • Building height requested of 115′
  • Strong fiscal impact – $900K/year in net fiscal benefit, about $485K/acre (for reference, $500K represents about 1 penny on the real estate tax rate)

As this will go through the Special Exception process, expect much more public engagement to come. The project will be in front of the Planning Commission next week for a preliminary review with informal representation from boards and commissions. After that, we expect future submission based on our feedback and further work sessions before a first reading vote that would formally “refer” out the project.

(4) Other Updates

Tomorrow Saturday April 15, help us celebrate World Art Day – stop by the Farmers Market to learn about our arts and humanities organizations and check out the self guided Art Walk.

Next Thursday April 20 – join us at the Community Energy Action Plan Town Hall to learn about our sustainability efforts underway and share your thoughts on the creation of the Community Energy Action Plan. Meridian High School 7-9 pm (open house format – drop by anytime). Kids are welcome, and we’ll have an electric school bus, police cars, and more to check out.

Many spring ribbon cuttings to come – if you don’t yet subscribe to the city’s economic development newsletter, here’s your reminder! Chasin Tails and Roll Play Grill, the first of the Founders Row eateries have soft opened, with the much anticipated Ellie Bird opening today. Another great follow is the Founders Row page (if you’re on Instagram) where they’re hosting a number of fun events like live music and outdoor fitness programming.

Lincoln & Great Falls Signal Outage

As of Monday night, the City Manager reported that the city’s contractor has been out troubleshooting several times and has narrowed it down to a malfunction of the signal cabinet. Unfortunately the lead times for the replacement of the cabinet is still long – no longer 12+ months like during Covid, but definitely several months. That’s not acceptable to anyone, so we discussed creative alternatives – for example, raiding another intersection for parts, swapping the cabinet altogether, etc. While 4 way stops are shown to be safer for pedestrians (and I think we should have more of them), they work best when the intersection is squared off and has good visibility so all 4 directions can see whose turn it is – which Lincoln and Great Falls is currently not. I inquired about interim safety measures – like having extra traffic enforcement or bollards to square off the intersection.

Thank you for everyone’s continued patience and extra caution at this intersection – we’ll continue to get regular updates out to the community.

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, April 17 – Letty’s Office Hours (12 pm, Mr Browns Park)

Monday, April 24 – City Council Meeting*

Wednesday, April 26 – Ask the Council Office Hours (City Hall, 9 am)

Thursday, April 27 – Budget Town Hall #2*

Monday, May 1 – City Council Work Session – Final Budget Markup*

Monday, May 8 – City Council Meeting – Final Budget Adoption*

*every Monday (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings