Updates from Letty – December 2, 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 we wrap up the calendar year, the last few weeks will be packed with city business. This week’s City Council meeting was full of interesting, important topics. Read on for my recap of a briefing VDOT gave us on the I-66 lane widening/tolling project that is happening right at our borders and bound to have impacts on the Little City if not your commute; commercial tax incentive programs; and cottage housing. The Campus Working Group also had a productive work session yesterday on an affordability analysis for the GMHS/MEH project.

We have two City Council meetings left this year – next Monday’s work session and a regular meeting on 12/12. For those especially interested in money matters, next Monday’s meeting will be all things financial and a good one to attend or watch afterwards:

(1) Our first joint work session with the School Board where we’ll discuss an early view of the FY18 budget outlook

(2) Affordability analysis of GMHS/MEH and the rest of the Capital Improvements Program (CIP – ie, large projects like City Hall and Library). The key questions we’re trying to present a clear picture are: “what can we afford” and “what are the risks and implications of trying to afford more”. Ultimately, the past several weeks of working group meetings will help frame up a set of options (ie, renovate, build new, phased construction, etc) for community discussion and both bodies will choose/vote on an option to move forward with a project in early 2017.

(3) Proposed revisions to current financial policies to prepare for the ambitious CIP

(4) CAFR Presentation (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) – this is the annual audit of the FY16 books

Feel free to reach out with follow up questions or feedback.


What Happened This Week:

City Council Meeting – Highlights

(1) I-66 briefing

  • As you may have seen, the construction for toll infrastructure on I-66 has been underway. Dynamic tolling will begin next summer. Widening the eastbound lanes from the Beltway to Exit 71 (Ballston) is also proposed, with plans to start construction in 2018 and new lanes opening in 2020.
  • Key impacts to Falls Church – deteriorating noise walls on the northern border of Falls Church are planned to be replaced as part of the widening project, new ramp configuration at Exit 69 (Lee Hwy/Washington/Sycamore), and a new bridge for the W&OD-Lee Hwy intersection  similar to the existing one on Broad St. Great news for pedestrians, commuters, and bikers who use that busy intersection!
  • We continued to express concerns about the diversion impacts of tolling I-66, and the risk of local streets like Rt 7 getting bailout traffic.
  • VDOT is hosting a public hearing on the project next Thurs, 12/8 (Mary Ellen Henderson Cafetorium – 630-830 pm.) You can also find the full presentation materials here and more general project information here: http://inside.transform66.org/

(2) Commercial Property & Technology Zone Business Tax Programs

  • As has been discussed at length in previous work sessions and passed at first readings, the Commercial Property Tax Abatement and Tech Zone BPOL Abatement ordinances were up for a final vote this week. Since our initial discussions, both were sent out for review by Boards & Commissions and the Chamber of Commerce, who were all supportive of the program changes.
  • As a quick recap – the ordinances recommended changes to both programs which haven’t been updated in 20 years. Overall, the goals of the tax incentive programs are to promote higher commercial density, encourage land consolidation, increase inventory of office space, and ultimately expand the commercial tax base. The changes to the Commercial Property Tax Abatement program actually make it harder to qualify for the program (requiring minimum 10,000 square feet of new/improved space) while increasing the incentives. Only the improved value of all commercial developments would qualify for real estate tax abatement, while the underlying land value and existing building value would still be subject to taxes. Similarly, the Tech Zone program changes updates the definition of a “technology” business to current best practices, limits the benefit to businesses in the business districts, while extending the BPOL tax abasement period from 3 to 5 years to encourage longer term leases and businesses to stay in the City.
  • We did have extensive discussions about the possibility of adding a sunset clause, but that amendment ultimately failed. Staff has committed to an annual review of the programs, so we will be able to regularly monitor their use and effectiveness. Future City Councils can also amend or discontinue the programs as needed.
  • Both ordinances passed with 7-0 votes.

(3) Cottage Housing

  • We granted first reading with a 6-1 vote to a proposed ordinance that would establish a new zoning to allow for residential cottage housing (cottages defined as small, single family dwellings clustered around a common area). To be clear, this doesn’t approve a specific cottage project – it just creates the option so future projects could be reviewed and approved under the Special Exception development process.
  • In general, I’m supportive of creating more unique housing options, especially to retain retirees and support generational diversity in Falls Church.
  • Given the new type of housing, there are many applicability criteria and standards under consideration: minimum of 45,000 square feet in area (equivalent of four residential lots), age-restricted housing, 2 dwelling units per 10,000 sq. ft (i.e. 9 dwelling units for a 45,000 sq. ft. lot), maximum square footage of 1,000 square feet, maximum height of 1.5 stories, clustered parking to minimize curb cuts, landscape buffers, low impact design.
  • Next steps: the cottage housing ordinance will be referred out to all Boards & Commissions for review and input before coming back to City Council in 2017.

What’s Coming Up:

  • Mon, 12/5 – City Council Work Session, 730 pm (Dogwood Room, City Hall)
  • Tues, 12/6 – Economic Development Authority Retreat – for those of you with an interest in economic development, the public is welcome to attend the EDA’s annual retreat where they’ll be discussing priorities for the coming year. (Viget Headquarters, 105 W. Broad St, 5th floor). Email edo@fallschurchva.gov for more info.
  • Thurs, 12/8 – Campus Working Group Meeting, 9 am (Dogwood Room, City Hall)
  • Thurs, 12/8 – Inside the Beltway I-66 Public Hearing, 630-830 pm, hosted by VDOT – this will be an opportunity to review preliminary design plans to widen I-66 eastbound in a 4 mile stretch, from the Beltway to Exit 71  (Mary Ellen Henderson Cafetorium)
  • Mon, 12/12 – City Council meeting (last one of the year), 730 pm
  • Thurs, 12/15 – Campus Working Group Meeting, 9 am (FCCPS Central Office)
  • Monday, 1/16/17 – Save the Date! Martin Luther King Jr Day – this week, we declared MLK Jr Day as a City-wide Day of Service. Stay tuned for various service opportunities and ways to contribute to the community in honor of Dr. King’s legacy.