Updates from Letty – August 12, 2016

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,

As summer winds down, City Council met twice for its last two meetings of the summer this week. We voted on a number of important topics in our regular meeting on Monday, so if you’ve been following the Fellows property, revitalization districts, towing fees, or others that have been discussed in earlier work sessions, read on for the outcome of the final votes. We also convened in a joint session with the School Board to re-start the campus planning work and I share my thoughts below on moving forward.

We are now in our annual summer recess (we resume meeting on Tuesday Sept 6) so my blog posts will also be on hiatus until then. In the meantime, I have two asks:

1) Take the City Visioning survey – this takes 10-15 minutes and is a great way to provide your input on the sort of development and businesses you’d like to see here, transportation needs, and other priorities for the future of the City. Read on for more opportunities to engage in the visioning work below.

2) If you have ideas on moving forward with the GMHS//MEH campus project, I want to hear from you. Many of you have sent me feedback the past few months, so feel free to copy and paste and re-send. Over the next 4-6 weeks, we’ll be figuring out a roadmap and community input will be very valuable to us.

Thank you for all of the great questions and feedback I get every week.

Happy August,



What Happened This Week:

Mon Aug 8 – City Council Meeting

(1) “Super Penalty” ordinance passed 6-0. As you recall from my earlier blog post, the “super penalty” is another tool that assists the City Treasurer’s collection efforts and brings our fee structure in line with neighboring jurisdictions. The current late penalty for personal property tax bill delinquencies is 10%, and the ordinance allows for an additional penalty of up to 15% once the delinquency passes 60 days. The ordinance also updates fees for bounced checks and adds late fees for other bills such as parking tickets. The main change from work session and first reading vote is that meals tax delinquencies will not be subject to the additional 15% penalty. Given that meals taxes are collected on a monthly basis, staff recommended that it was not necessary collections tool. The new fee structure will be in effect for tax bills due this fall; the Treasurer has outlined a detailed communication and public outreach plan to ensure residents and businesses are aware.

(2) Towing ordinance passed 6-0. The base rate towing fees in Falls Church will increase from $100 to $135, plus additional fees for nights, weekends, and holidays. We had no discretion on this ordinance as the General Assembly passed state-wide legislation that mandates that the City set the new fees.

However, expect more work to come in the area of parking and towing. I believe this is an important economic development issue; as such the Economic Development Committee (EDC) of City Council will take this on. I expect we’ll focus on signage, education, and exploration of more shared parking so that we can continue to attract economic development and support new retailers and restaurants opening in the next year.

(3) 604 S. Oak St/Fellows Property Comp Plan updates  – passed 5-1. As discussed in our meeting in mid June, the proposed amendment reclassifies the parcel to parks and open space and adds a school symbol in the Future Land Use Map and Comprehensive Plan. We had referred out the amendment to the Planning Commission, School Board, and Parks and Rec Advisory Board and all 3 bodies recommended approval. As a point of clarification – the vote was not a vote for eminent domain as has been discussed in the community. The change in the Comp Plan does not start any acquisition process for the Fellows property nor for any nearby properties (via a sale, eminent domain proceedings, or otherwise). It also does not change any property’s zoning, which is what ultimately conveys property rights and legally specifies what can be developed there. I consider changes to the FLUM and Comp Plan very seriously – I have met with several neighbors, listened intently to public comments and reflected on the emails and letters receive and weigh that input with long term needs in the city.

(4) Revitalization Districts – we voted 6-0 to amend the Comp Plan to add revitalization districts, small area plans, and UDA (Urban Development Area)  “layers” in our commercial corridors. The technical designation of the areas as revitalization districts provides the City protection from the new proffer legislation by the General Assembly which would impact the City’s negotiating ability in future development; designation of the entire city as a UDA enables us to secure future transportation funding. Again, the underlying zoning for these areas does not change, so for property owners within these areas – your property rights do not change.

(5) Rules of Procedure – the Government Operations committee of City Council and the City Attorney have been reviewing nationwide best practices for codes of conducts and rules of procedure for elected officials. The recommendation from the committee was to amend the Rules of Procedure that we adopted in January 2016 to include new language that would allow members to express their personal views, make public statements, (or write blog posts!) in their individual capacity, but not speak on behalf the rest of Council unless authorized. After much discussion and feedback, we voted 6-0 to table the item so more work could be done in committee.

(6) Misc:

-Give your input to the City Visioning Process – if you have ideas for the future of the Little City or missed the chance to attend the community meeting earlier in the summer, there is now an online survey to collect your input, which is open through August 24. Be on the lookout for “pop up” community meetings around town the rest of August and another community meeting in October where we’ll have guest speakers and opportunity to share your thoughts. This input gathering phase will culminate in an update the City’s Comprehensive Plan this winter which guides priorities, infrastructure investments, and future development over the next 25 years.

-The Play Streets program is out of pilot mode and officially live. To find out more which streets are eligible or apply to host one in your neighborhood (it’s free to apply and events are open to all City residents), you check out the City website or email for the application which will be on the City website soon.

-During public comment, Carol Luten, a citizen activist on gun violence awareness, shared that on Sept 25, there will be live music concerts across the US in remembrance of victims of gun violence. Several local businesses have already signed on to host a Falls Church event – check out this website for more details and email Carol Luten for more information.

Tues August 9 – Joint School Board City Council Work Session

  • A stakeholder engagement firm gave a presentation on public decision making processes. The good news is that we are not alone in grappling with an expensive and complex public infrastructure project and adjacent economic development, and the consultant shared examples of approaches used in other localities.
  • The group discussion centered around identifying questions/decisions needed and the pre-requisite items that need clarity before starting any project.
  • Letty’s thoughts: 
    • While the Mt. Daniel decision is still outstanding for another month, it is challenging and irresponsible to do much substantive planning of the GMHS/MEH site. The Mt Daniel outcome could have domino capacity issues on other school buildings, determine if we have any acreage at the site available for development, and create financial impacts.
    • Organize ourselves – while we wait, I believe we should start to organize ourselves and the work that needs to happen irregardless of the Mt. Daniel outcome so that we use the interim time wisely. Given the unwieldiness of getting 14 members of both bodies together, I’d like to see a more efficient working group/steering committee form who can engage more regularly and be accountable to the full elected bodies. This smaller group can work with staff to start to outline the key issues and re-establish the relationships with Fairfax, WMATA, UVA/VT, nearby property owners. There was much debate on hiring a consultant at this point or not, and I believe a steering committee and a consultant are not mutually exclusive approaches. I would be supportive of bringing in project management expertise who could facilitate decision-making and provide outside, neutral perspective.
    • Affordability – we need agreement on how much school we can afford. And if we’re willing to pay for more than what we can afford, what are the financial levers (bonds/taxes, reserves, grants, partnerships, commercial development* and if the latter, what kind of development?) 
    • School options – I also heard a lot of feedback from the community that you’d like to see more robust options priced out for phased, modular, renovation approaches vs new build and details of the school program – and provide a meaningful opportunity for community discussion on those options and tradeoffs. We also should revisit costs on community amenities like a pool (nice to have vs must-have?) and any synergies with other public capital projects.
    • *Commercial development options – one of the challenges of the PPEA process was the lack of transparency into the details of the commercial development in the bids we received. In the new process – whatever form it takes – I would like us to take the opportunity to “shop” the site, ie put feelers out for development possibilities different than the mixed use development typically seen and then engage the community for input.


What’s Coming Up:

Sept 6 – City Council work session

Sept 12 – City Council regular meeting

Sept 17 – Fall Festival

Sept 18 – Falls Church Education Foundation Run for the Schools