Updates from Letty – April 8, 2022

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 are in the busy season now – a long work session this week and the first of two votes on the budget is scheduled for Monday. For those who are new to budget season in Falls Church – we take two votes on the budget. The first vote is to advertise the tax rates and public hearing dates. Those advertised rates represent the ceiling – after that, budget deliberations can make the budget smaller and tax rates lower, but cannot go above what we advertised unless we take another first reading vote. There are still over 3 weeks before the final/second vote on the budget – check out more opportunities to engage on the budget and share your thoughts with us. On Monday, you can make public comment either live in person in City Hall or virtually or send us an email in advance.

Aside from the budget, we also continued working on T zones (transitional zones) and how to encourage smaller-scale, infill development and “missing middle” housing, such as condos, which haven’t been built in the city in 15 years. Read on to learn more.

I’ll be taking a blogging break next week due to spring break, but stay informed on my Facebook page for shorter updates.


PS – ICYMI – news at the Virginia Tech grad center (partially city owned land, but located in the county) about a corporate headquarters and smart construction research center. This is an exciting development for the broader vision on the western gateway for the city. As more details become public, I’ll share.

What Happened This Week:

(1) FY23 Budget

This week’s work session focused on the CIP (Capital Improvements Program) which represents the big investments in the city that cost over $150K and have a useful life of 5+ years. You can view the entire CIP here and the presentation we received, but here are a few of my takeaways:

  • The past few years, the CIP was dominated by new and/or renovations of city buildings – Meridian High School, Library, City Hall and just before that, expansions at Mt Daniel and Oak Street Elementary. Nearly every city building has been built/renovated in the past 10 years. Now, the current CIP is much smaller, but still has 26 active projects in the current year and 65 projects in the 6 year outlook.
  • From the dashboard of the active projects and dollars being invested, you can see that transportation projects and utility projects are the biggest components in the CIP. Note that while city facilities and schools are now smaller slices of the CIP budget, we’re still paying off the debt from those recently completed projects, as they are funded with 20 to 30 year bonds. The good news is we’re coming off the peak of super high debt service in our budget, due to the large debt we took on for the big projects.
  • Finally, much of the stormwater and transportation projects are state or federal grant-funded, which means we’re able to accomplish more with a much smaller local budget impact. The tradeoff is that grant funds are more cumbersome to administer and may result in longer timelines.

If you missed last week’s budget town hall, the video is available. In addition, initial presentations of the budget are also posted. More public meetings on the budget are below.

You can also read my overview and my initial thoughts on the FY23 budget I posted in last week’s post.

(2) T Zones / Transitional Zones

We held our fourth work session discussion on how to facilitate smaller-scale, infill development in the city via Transitional Zones, or T zones – this time to review draft zoning text changes. The existing T-1 and T-2 zoning districts are located between mixed-use development and low-density residential development (like the “Goldilocks” of zoning – not too big, not too small). T zones represent about total ~30 acres of land, or less than 3% of the total land area in the City. Most are relatively small and require consolidation for redevelopment. T zones are also primarily located in N. Washington and Park Ave, many with several long term uses – such as various churches and Kaiser – so available parcels that would be redeveloped are likely limited.

We reviewed draft zoning language for allowed uses, height limits, setbacks and stepbacks requirements, building coverage limits – those limits would result in a “gentle density” kind of development smaller than buildings located in our commercial areas and transition into residential areas. We also discussed whether projects in T zones could be done “by right” or by a City Council approval process, similar to much bigger mixed use projects and if the adjustments to T zones would be done on a pilot basis.

There are 7 areas of T zones – circled in purple

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, April 11, 2022 – City Council Meeting (budget first reading vote)*

Monday, April 18, 2022 – City Council Work Session*

Thursday, April 21, 2022 (7 pm) – Budget Town Hall #2

Monday, April 25, 2022 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, May 2, 2022 – City Council Meeting (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