Updates from Letty – August 11, 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,

For our last meeting of the summer, it was a marathon 5 hour session covering the Great Streets project, T Zones, and the Quinn/Homestretch development project. Many thanks to the public who joined us or wrote to us, including many new voices. (If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts on topics from our agenda or otherwise, you have multiple options: email us, join us virtually or in person during our Monday night regular meetings, come to my individual office hours, or come to the “Ask the Council” office hours*. I also often hold one-on-one meetings with residents, civic groups, neighborhoods, and HOAs if yours might be interested.) Read on for how those topics went and my thoughts on each – including the latest on the much anticipated fix for Great Falls/Lincoln intersection and new restaurant announcements.

This will be my last post until September as we enjoy the final weeks of summer and prepare for back to school. I’ll also be preparing for my re-election campaign. Save the date for my campaign kickoff on Sunday, September 3 at Madison Park. Come say hello over coffee, share your thoughts on priorities for the city, and bring friends, family, and neighbors before the fall gets busy! In the meantime, you can request a yard sign to show your support. Thank you!


*Note that our monthly Ask the Council sessions are moving to the 1st Wednesday of the month. The next one will be Wednesday, September 6.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Great Streets (aka Park Ave) Project

Nearly 10 years in the making, we received an update this week on the Great Streets project ahead of when the 90% plans will be developed and finalized. The intent is to update Park Ave into a “civic great street” from Virginia to N. Washington by widening sidewalks, undergrounding utility lines, planting more street trees, adding street furniture, bike facilities, and raised intersections at Little Falls, Virginia and raised crosswalk at N. Washington. Also, the 4 way stop intersection at Maple/Park Ave would be realigned with bumpouts to improve sightlines. This presentation by the consultant has detailed renderings and street cross sections. As currently scheduled, right of way acquisition and various approvals will begin this fall (which is often the longest poles in the tent) before construction begins in 2026 (!)

Letty’s thoughts: Following the walking tour held last summer, there were 2 major pieces of feedback I heard: concern about loss of trees and lack of dedicated bike lane on Park Ave. This week, we heard that after further analysis, there is no expected tree impact which is great news. On the bike facilities front, what is recommended is a “super sharrow” or a bike boulevard where bikes and auto traffic share the roadway as Park is expected to see reduced car volumes and speeds with the design changes proposed and this keeps on street parking spaces. I recognize this is not the gold standard of a protected dedicated bike lane that many bike advocates would love. As such, I asked about other design changes and physical cues like roadway treatments that would further help. Based on our questions this week, it sounds like there is still an opportunity for small design changes like adding on street bike parking and bike boxes that could still fit within the project schedule, budget, and scope.

(2) T Zones

This week, in our 24th public meeting on the topic, we voted 5-2 to refer out the revised T Zone code for input before a final second reading scheduled on September 11. (For those who have been following the topic, you may recall we actually already voted once in May 2022 – a “first reading” to refer it out to boards and commissions for feedback. Because the proposal was heavily revised based on community feedback, a new first reading had to be taken.)

An important concept that I’ve written about before, but bears repeating, is called “filtering” (that’s an article with good meta analysis that links to various studies done on filtering). I’ve heard many concerns that T Zone projects will create housing that is not “affordable enough”, or what I’ve called “capital A affordable” as defined by HUD area median income standards (like the inclusionary zoned units inside our new buildings that have rents permanently subsidized) therefore we shouldn’t allow it. However, housing experts talk about the importance of adding housing supply at all price points because of filtering – that even market-rate housing helps the entire spectrum as housing is a chain.

From a recent Atlantic article about homelessness that describes filtering well: “What does the median price of a house mean to someone who is about to be evicted from an overcrowded apartment he shares with extended family? A lot, actually. A housing chain connects low-income housing, middle-income housing, and high-income housing. When new market-rate units are first made available and people move into them, that frees up space in the homes they previously lived in, which are usually older. When new housing isn’t brought to market, high-income residents turn to older units, bidding up the price. In turn, middle-income workers turn to lower-income housing units, and everyone at the bottom crowds together in a dwindling stock of affordable housing until someone loses their spot.”

Letty’s thoughts: I’ve written a lot about T Zones so for the sake of efficiency, I’m going to link to my last two posts before and following the walking tour in July. As I’ve said in my comments – the policy intent to modernize T Zones has been consistent for over 2 years: the goal is to have a zoning mechanism that encourages small scale, infill development to balance the development scale across the city (aka, not everything needs to be multi-acre, mixed use projects), diversify our housing stock to encourage middle size and middle price point housing, and see reinvestment in T Zones which have largely been underutilized and fallow for decades. The proposal has evolved from when we first took up the issue in 2021 and we’ve spent countless hours (24 meetings so far) to strike the balance between community and market feedback to get the details right. I look forward to the final round of feedback from the Planning Commission over the next month.

(3) Quinn/Homestretch Project

We also voted 6-0 to refer the Quinn/Homestretch redevelopment project onto boards and commissions for their feedback over the next 2 months. As it stands – between strong fiscals, meeting a housing/service need for the growing boomer and senior population, the 50% open space via the addition of two parks/promenades, and revitalization along S. Maple to add more customers and foot traffic (as evident by the demise of baby Target) – there’s a lot to like about the project. There are still some issues to be resolved (I’ve also written about my thoughts on the project back in July) and expect those to be addressed through the development process.

(4) FAQ Potpourri

Aside from opening date of The Meeting House (which I wrote about in July as an example of adaptive reuse), the two other FAQs I’ve been fielding this summer is the status of the Lincoln/Great Falls malfunctioning signal and what/when new retail and eateries are opening. And we have news on both fronts:

  • The City Manager reported that the new signal cabinet for Lincoln/Great Falls has been delivered and is in the process of being programmed before it can be installed in the near future. (Likewise, the one at Maple/Broad has also been on the fritz – that one is now delivered and will be fixed imminently too.) The supply chain/manufacturing delays were the main cause of the delays so this is terrific news.
  • In our last Economic Development Committee meeting at the end of July, we heard the latest on leasing/openings at Founders Row. A steakhouse has been signed as the restaurant anchor (purple space #15 in the map below). Here is a list of what’s opened, what’s under construction, etc at Founders Row.
  • West Falls also announced the first three eateries plus a daycare/preschool at the development adjacent to the secondary school campus.

What’s Coming Up:

Sunday, September 3 – Letty’s Campaign Kickoff (Madison Park, 10 am)

Tuesday, September 5 – City Council Meeting*

Wednesday, September 6 – Ask the Council Office Hours (City Hall, 9 am)

Monday, September 11 – City Council Meeting*

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