Updates from Letty – April 8, 2016
Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
Next week’s City Council meeting agenda includes a number of important votes, so today’s update will focus on those key topics. With votes planned for the GMHS/MEH project, City Hall, West Broad Area Plan, W&OD Master Plan, and public comments on the budget – next Monday appears to be one of the busiest and most impactful agendas I’ve seen to date!
All of these initiatives represent significant investments in the future of the City and have big implications for our kids’ education, City facilities, our neighborhoods, and our tax rates. I hope you’ll take the time to read on so you are informed and have an opportunity to share thoughts or questions with us before Monday night or during public comment at the meeting.
Stay warm this weekend.
What Happened This Week:
(1) City Council Work Session
- Budget Q&A – most of our meeting was focused on a budget work session with Q&A on the schools and general government operating budgets. The Superintendent and City Manager provided documents in response to previously submitted questions from Council. I am still digesting the nearly 50 new pages of documents, but I encourage you to look at the questions we’ve asked and the information in the responses. The Q&A can be found here:
- School Budget Q&A
- General Government Budget Q&A
- I wanted to share the projected school enrollment figures that the Superintendent shared with us on Monday. A common FAQ I’ve heard in the community, as it relates to the campus project, is when we will reach 1500 enrollment at GMHS, the requested capacity for the new school? According to this chart, which includes natural population growth and new development projects* and forecasts to 2029-2030, GMHS will need capacity to accommodate 1156-1225 students in 2029-2030.
*The new development projections (at the bottom of the chart) include Rushmark (Harris Teeter), Lincoln at Tinner Hill, and Mason Row based on approved unit mix and historical student ratios observed + projections for 3 “placeholder” projects with the assumption that these future projects mirror Mason Row in size and unit mix.
- Neighborhood Traffic Calming – we started including Board and Commissions to join us at work sessions, and this week’s B&C was the CACT (Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation), who reiterated the need to fund the Neighborhood Traffic Calming program – which in the proposed FY17 budget has no further funding. We allocated $200K to the program last year and it’s a popular one – there are 9 projects in the queue and we only have staff and funds to work on 2 projects/year. As the city changes due to organic population growth and new development, I believe managing traffic impacts and ensuring the safety of kids and pedestrians in neighborhoods is the responsible thing to do. I hope we can make some tough tradeoffs to fund this program.
Pictured: traffic calming solution at Parker/Kent, one of the “heavier” solutions involving curb bumpouts. I hope we’ll be able to increase throughput of the program with quicker, “light” solutions in the future.
- Finally, we also discussed a few small updates to the W&OD Master Plan an the West Broad Area Plan based on previous work session discussions; both plans are up for final adoption votes this coming Monday. As a brief recap, the controversial plan to route the W&OD through Crossman Park was shelved to Appendix B in response to strong neighborhood concerns from Gresham Place. That decreased the total cost to $2.8MM, with the City’s share being $700K and estimated annual maintenance cost of $25K. In the West Broad Area Plan, there is updated language reflecting previous discussions on gateways that buffer neighborhoods from the commercial corridors on Broad St and the use of left turn signals that may help address the concern that we don’t have enough room for dedicated left turn lanes on most of Broad St.
(2) GMHS Town Hall #2
The 2nd Town Hall on the GMHS/MEH campus redevelopment project occurred on Wednesday night. If you have been unable to attend, the presentation and videos are available online. City Council and School Board are scheduled to vote next Monday and Tuesday to proceed with the next phase of the project, so I encourage you to set aside some time and look at the materials. What I’ve heard so far is that there was more information presented than expected and that the Q&A is especially valuable.
The key takeaways: the school cost is $112MM, no swimming pool, with a cost of 5-15 cents on the tax rate (the range is based on an Urban Land Institute study that suggests commercial development can lower the cost by 1/2 to 2/3 depending on the market conditions, the type of development – ie residential or commercial, and the density). The current timeline, which is quite aggressive, is the new school would open Fall 2019. While it seems far away, current elementary and middle schoolers will be one of the first to go to the MEH/GMHS new campus – they are very much impacted by this and of course the tax implications impact everyone.
If both School Board and City Council approve the process to move forward, below is the current timeline – culminating in a November 2016 referendum.
- Video from March 30 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
- Video from April 6 http://fallschurch-va.
What’s Coming Up:
(1)TOMORROW Saturday, April 9 – Budget Town Hall #2 in Council Chambers, City Hall – this is the last town hall before the final mark up of the budget on 4/18. Remember, the budget is set to be adopted in 2 weeks – on 4/25. Learn about the proposed tax increases of 2.5 cents on Real Estate, 16 cents on Personal Property (“Car Tax”), 10 cents on Cigarettes, and increases in the Stormwater and Sewer rates. At first reading last week, several Council members expressed the desire to keep the tax rate flat, which would require cuts from the budget as proposed. Also, a special presentation on the City Hall renovations project has been added to this Town Hall, so it’s a good opportunity to find out more about that. See my previous blog post about City Hall renovations and my desire for more community engagement, so I’m glad to see the addition to the agenda; see below for the links with more background on the project and fiscal impact.
(2) Monday, April 11 – City Council Meeting – this is a big meeting, with a packed agenda! We are scheduled to adopt and authorize a number of key initiatives:
- W&OD Master Plan
- West Broad Area Plan
- Authorization for architecture/design contract for City Hall renovation project – the authorization is for $225K and up to $1.1MM for the next phase of the City Hall project. To date, about $17MM has been appropriated with $1MM spent. $5.6MM of debt has already been issued and the remaining $11.3MM will be issued in FY18 and FY19, with estimated debt service increase of $820K for the first 3 years (about 2.5 cents equivalent on the tax rate) and then decline. A new one page fact sheet about the project is now available.
- Authorization to issue 2nd phase RFP for GMHS/MEH campus project – the actual RFDP will be posted on later today and available for public review. To proceed with this second phase, there is a cost of $310K ($500K was appropriated by City Council last year to support the campus planning work.)
- Budget Public Hearing #2