Updates from Letty – December 15, 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,

It’s been a bittersweet week with welcomes, farewells, and a dramatic end to our last City Council meeting of 2023 and the last with the current City Council. Our final meeting was interrupted by a power outage – it took mobile hotspots, extension cords, and much ingenuity in order for us to finish city business around 130 am. We cast several important votes, with a fitting theme around “public interest” – I’ll share more about our decision on the disposition of a barn, budget guidance for the coming year, and sidewalk accessibility.

In the spirit of giving back during the holiday season and beyond, I’m also cribbing a great list that the MHS PTSA put out on ways you can help our local community:

  • Falls Church Homeless Shelter has many opportunities to help! See their website for more information.
  • Welcoming Falls Church, an organization creating welcoming spaces for newcomers to our community, has opportunities throughout the year. Please reach out to help here
  • Aurora House, a residential counseling center for girls, has opportunities to volunteer in various ways. Please see more information here
  • Food For Others helps combat food insecurity in our community. They have opportunities for families such as the Power Pack Program and assisting with food distribution at their warehouse and in the community. See their website for a full list of opportunities. 
  • Homestretch helps to address and reverse the root causes for homelessness for families. They have a wish list here.

This will be my last post as we head into winter recess; the new City Council will be seated when our meetings resume on January 8. Wishing you a peaceful and healthy holiday season – I’ll see you in 2024!


What Happened This Week:

(1) Welcomes & Farewells

We opened the meeting with a moment of silence for the passing of Carol DeLong, who was the first woman mayor of Falls Church. Our community is indebted to her for her remarkable record of service to the city and accomplishments which have left a lasting legacy, like affordable housing, our first W&OD bridge, and the farmers market. On a personal note, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have had a personal relationship with Carol this past year and will be thinking of the Duncan and DeLong families.

We (Erin, Justine, and I), as the newly elected Council members, also took our oaths of office. We look forward to welcoming Erin and Justine as the next generation of leaders to a new, historic City Council with six women on the dais in 2024. It’s been an honor to have served Falls Church; thank you for your continued support – entrusting me with the huge responsibility and opportunity to keep working for you and future generations.

We also shared emotional farewells with Dave Tarter and Phil Duncan. Under Dave’s steady hand, Falls Church has thrived and transformed. Phil’s eternal optimism for Falls Church has been a key ingredient in the progress we have made. To me, leadership is not the pomp and circumstance of the ribbon cuttings, speeches, the big votes – it’s all the behind the scenes work, all the extra hours of effort and time no one gives you credit for but those of us up here know. We know who puts in the hours and pours their heart into this job, the sacrifices that are made – and I am so lucky to have learned and served with Phil and Dave.

We also celebrated and said goodbye to Police Chief Mary Gavin at the end of the week, who after 38 years of service, is retiring. It was evident from all the accolades from her colleagues and peers in the region (and beyond) that Chief Gavin has been an exceptional leader in public safety. She has been key in redefining the profession and setting the tone and culture for FCPD. It’s cliche to say she leaves huge shoes to fill, but it’s true.

Then we had to get to the business on our agenda!

(2) HARB (Historic Architectural Review Board) Appeal

We continued the hearing on the decision whether to allow a barn to be razed at 1011 Fowler from our first meeting on the matter two weeks ago. (At the advice of the City Attorney, I didn’t write about the item at the time.) Appeals from HARB decisions to the City Council are rare – this was my first in my 8 years and was a departure from the items typically in front of us. The matter had to do with a barn that the city considered historic – which the owner originally intended to move and preserve in order to finance repairs to the main house which is historic. But after getting additional estimates from structural engineers who deemed it unsafe and unlikely moveable, the owner preferred razing the barn. In the end, we decided by a 5-2 vote to allow the barn to be razed.

Letty’s Thoughts: Between 30+ pieces of evidence/documents and testimony from the applicant and HARB (and some of us also did a site visit), we thoroughly considered the case and whether it was in the “public interest” to preserve the barn. (Throughout the two hearings and new evidence, there were questions raised about the legitimacy of whether the barn was actually historic and therefore protected – but we were advised that it was legally outside of the scope of the appeal and we couldn’t base our decision on that.) We appreciate that HARB’s job is to protect historic structures and like all of the volunteers on our boards and commissions, I am grateful for their time and dedication to their mission. For me, in this case – the evidence presented about the cost and feasibility of even moving the barn from the professional experts outweighed the public interest of preserving a 1890s barn that was largely destroyed and rebuilt in the 1970s especially if our primary house, which is historic, was at risk.

(3) Budget Guidance, Sidewalk Accessibility

Among other votes – we also cast two others that I consider important in the theme of “public interest”: budget guidance for the upcoming FY25 budget cycle and sidewalk accessibility.

Budget decisions are among the most important votes we cast every year. As the stewards of taxpayer money, it’s one of the primary ways we advance policies and decisions that represent our collective values. The “budget guidance” document is meant to guide the budget development by the schools and City Manager over the next few months, ahead of when we’ll see the presented budget in March. By a 6-0-1 vote, we adopted this year’s budget guidance – which includes language for options for a tax rate reduction while funding core services, deployment of our very healthy reserves and one time funds, WMATA funding, and sustaining priorities in previous years such as walkability and bikeability improvements. As background if you missed it, see my post from last week with the early financial forecast for the city. We’re currently projecting 8% revenue growth, a big contrast to the rest of the region that will be facing much tougher budget decisions.

We also had a closed session on a long-standing sidewalk accessibility issue on the 400 block of Broad St and then voted 7-0 to authorize the City Manager and City Attorney to take all steps necessary to complete a sidewalk expansion and utility pole undergrounding project, either through a voluntary process or a quick-take condemnation. Eminent domain decisions are never taken lightly by us, and I do hope the voluntary route prevails. In this case, the obstruction has been an egregious accessibility issue in our commercial corridor and in the spirit of public interest, it was important we take action.

What’s Coming Up:

City Council Meeting – January 8, 2024*

City Council Work Session – January 16, 2024*

City Council Meeting – January 22, 2024*

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