Updates from Letty – December 13, 2019

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,

‘Tis the season for project deadlines, packed calendars, ribbon cuttings, and meetings galore. And some oaths of office and holiday parties for good measure. This week, I was officially sworn in for my second term that begins in the new year. I am grateful for the opportunity to represent you – keeping you informed and engaged, which in turn helps me better serve the community. In this final post of 2019, I’m going to go broad instead of deep – giving you the 5,000 ft view on a wide array of topics so you’re well prepared for the neighborhood holiday party 😉 Make sure you click through to the links to my previous posts or other sources if you’d like to go deeper. Read on for updates on:

  • Parks
  • Preview of West Falls Church project’s architecture
  • Budget & affordable housing
  • Transportation – Rt 29 and Shreve Rd coalitions, Metro closures in 2020, scooters
  • LGBTQ rights & legislative priorities
  • Stormwater
  • What’s on deck for January 2020

We’ll be back to work on January 6 and my first office hours of 2020 will be on January 13. Wishing you a peaceful holiday season and a happy, healthy 2020.


What Happened This Week:

(1) Parks Double Header

Over the weekend, we officially cut the ribbon at Howard Herman Stream Valley Park and broke ground at Big Chimneys Park. Big Chimneys is now closed as construction starts on the park renovation, with stormwater work being the first phase. Expect the park to be closed until summer 2020, when it will re-open with new playground equipment, upgraded trails, lighting, and more.

(2) WFC Project Architecture Preview

We had a second preview of the site plan for the West Falls Church project, this time about the architecture. Expect the official site plan to be submitted in January where there will be further public meetings and comment opportunities throughout the review process. If you’d like to hear the developer’s presentation, it starts at approximately 1:18 in our meeting video.

I think this is a good first turn on architecture and look forward to the actual submission, Overall it was well-received in our joint work session with the Planning Commission and the EDA. Architecture style preferences are pretty subjective, but a few specifics are worth noting:

  • More modern, “warehouse”, geometric feel blended with homages to traditional Falls Church with use of brick, especially closer to Rt 7 and Haycock
  • Each building looks unique but still ties together like a neighborhood
  • Note green roofs on much roof square footage in the overhead view below (shaded green); the developers hope to exceed the original 20% commitment of coverage

Below are a few snapshots of early architecture renderings of various buildings:

(3) West End Small Area Plan

While the 10 acre project above is clearly a big part of the western half of the city, there is more in West Falls Church. This week, we also looked at the draft of the West End sector’s “small area plan” which also includes the Gordon Road Triangle and Falls Plaza (Giant shopping center). For new readers or those who wonder what sort of strategic plan exists that guides development in the city – small area plans are it. Four small area plans have been done to date, with the newest fifth one now focused on the West End.

Draft vision: The West End is a vibrant gateway into the City of Falls Church. Residents and visitors are immersed in a welcoming and inclusive community. Building upon activity already underway, investment supports the area’s economic vitality, enhances safety and walkability, and affirms the City’s commitment as an urban sustainability leader.

Public feedback is welcome on the vision and the draft chapter.

(4) FY21 Budget Guidance & Affordable Housing

Without much fanfare, we adopted FY21 budget guidance directing staff to create budgets within the forecasted 3.1% organic revenue growth, ie no increases in tax rates. See last week’s post for more discussion on what went into the forecast and considerations. In January and February, the schools and Planning Commission will work on their budget and the CIP respectively, which then gets incorporated into the City Manager’s presentation of the budget to City Council on March 9, lots of work session and deliberation, and then finally budget adoption at the end of April.

What hasn’t gotten as much attention is that for the first time in a long time, we’ve also asked that the budget include options to fund affordable housing. The Housing Commission has a timely op-ed this week with their recommendations. (The op-ed does not yet show up online, so you can find it on page 7 of your hard copy or the e-issue.)

(5) Transportation – Rt 29 and Shreve Rd advocacy, 2020 metro closures, scooters

Shreve Road & Rt 29 Improvements – If you live near Rt 29 or Shreve Road (or just travel on these roads and share these citizens’ desires to see safety and walkability improvements), you should be aware of these two grassroots working groups. This week, I joined Fairfax County citizens at their town hall about Shreve Road and city & county residents at the Rt 29 community meeting. Kudos to these citizens for coming together and pushing for improvements. As I said to both groups – don’t underestimate the power of active and organized citizens, especially important in winning regional grant money! Two planned improvements for Shreve and Rt 29 that we’ve been leading:

2020 Metro Closures – It was announced this week that Metro will close East Falls Church, Dunn Loring, and Vienna stations next summer for platform reconstruction – with West Falls Church remaining open as the last stop on the orange line. Clearly this will be very impactful to our area and commuters who live further west. More discussion to come. We’ve asked that we hear about alternative options, like shuttles that Metro provided when planned shutdowns happened elsewhere so you can start planning.

Scooters – we received a lot of public comment this week about scooters. This week, we voted to *not* take action on the ban of scooters on sidewalks while staff works out inconsistencies in the code and will revisit in early 2020. We’ve already adopted the pilot program. As I’ve written in the past – scooters are likely coming this spring, whether we adopt a pilot program or sidewalk ordinances are not, due to General Assembly legislation that permits private scooter companies to launch in localities. I’ve also shared my views that I believe a blanket ban of scooters on sidewalks does not make sense. Stay tuned!

(6) Legislative Priorities & LGBTQ Rights

As expected, we adopted a comprehensive legislative agenda this week which will serve as the foundation for our lobbying efforts in Richmond. We also took the final vote on prohibiting discrimination for LGBTQ citizens for housing and cable TV franchisees’ employment. This is based on a more liberal interpretation of discrimination on the basis of sex. With the change in the General Assembly and seeing the list of already “pre-filed” legislation, I look forward to seeing this protection broadened and more inclusive in 2020.

(7) Stormwater – task force & backflow preventers

We appointed 8 members to the Stormwater Task Force this week and also passed the backflow preventer assistance program that will provide City matching funds up to $2,000 for property owners to install a sewer backflow preventer at homes that have experienced sewer backflows.

What’s Coming Up:

Budget Amendment – I expect this will be our first big issue to tackle in January. Did you miss last week’s post about the much-talked about budget surplus? This week, we received a lot of public comment about the library project, which will be up a vote in late January. With the project expected to be 25+% over the original $8.7M budget (final numbers coming in now) – the staff recommendation is that we use the surplus for the budget shortfall. Speaking for myself only, this has been a frustrating project and will be a tough vote. At each update we’ve received the past year, the cost estimates have continued to escalate.

Re-hashing the reasons why the library project is important is not constructive. Just like we’ve invested in infrastructure all over the city, no one is debating that the library needs work. However, as you would expect of us as the financial stewards of the city, any project that comes in way above budget, even before it has started, merits thoughtful deliberation. My key considerations:

  • With City Hall nearly complete and likely additional costs, I’ve asked that we have a thorough lessons learned before we undertake the next project to ensure the issues are not repeated. We need assurances that this project will be different. The lessons learned discussion is scheduled at our January 6 meeting.
  • Prioritization & tradeoffs – if we fund the library budget overage, what are the tradeoffs with other priorities that can’t get funding? We’ve also heard loud citizen input requesting more stormwater and traffic calming, among other priorities like sharing the surplus for school needs. Alternatively, if we stick to the original $8.7M budget, what are those tradeoffs on the library scope?

2020 meetings so far…

  • Monday, January 6 – City Council Organizational Meeting & Work Session (730 pm)
  • Monday, January 13 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am, Bakeshop)
  • Monday, January 13 – City Council Meeting (730 pm)
  • Saturday, January 18 – Senator Saslaw & Delegate Simon Town Hall (10 am, GMHS)
  • Saturday, January 25 – City Council Retreat / Planning Meeting
  • Monday, January 27 – City Council Meeting (730 pm)