Updates from Letty – Feb 19, 2016

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

This week’s City Council work session was all about the big H – Housing. We had a large citizen turnout – representatives from the Housing Commission, Human Services Advisory Council, the faith community, and family members came out in support of the discussion on the Miller House.

The TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version is below and the full updates follow:

  • West Broad Area Plan – continued discussion and feedback for the next iteration
  • Miller House – a proposal to bring back a group home to the City of Falls Church for people with disabilities.
  • Comprehensive Plan – Staff provided a report on the state of housing in the City and questions to consider as they start drafting the updates to the Housing Chapter of the Comp Plan.
  • Affordable Housing Annual Report
  • Legislative Update – a mixed report of good and bad news on legislation coming out of Richmond

What Happened This Week?

At Tuesday’s Council worksession, the majority of the meeting was focused on housing-related topics, which are of special interest to me given my liaison role to the Housing Commission and my belief in the importance of affordability and diversity in Falls Church.

1) West Broad Area Plan 

Legal discussion – after the last discussion where we heard from many property owners with concerns about the latest draft of the West Broad Small Area plan, the City Attorney confirmed that the small area plans do not confer or change property rights; only zoning maps reflect legal property rights. The small area plans are meant to be a proactive planning tool for the City to signal the kind of commercial development it would like to see, but doesn’t bind the City or the property owner to propose or approve projects that come forth.

Compromise map – we had a discussion about a compromise map that could bridge the feedback we’ve heard from the community and the desire to be less prescriptive about building heights and allow more flexibility to evaluate projects individually. Of note from the discussion is a request to better understand how much density we should have to elicit the kind of development we want (with features like 20′ setbacks, bikeshare, and underground parking, for example, that are expensive for the developers) while being careful about a canyon-like effect on Broad St. Given the cost of land, tearing down and replacing 2-3 story buildings with similar heights have not been economically viable for most property owners.

2) Miller House

Staff gave an update on the Miller House, proposed to be a 5 bedroom group home on S. Washington St for people with disabilities, with FCC residents getting priority. The Miller House is city owned building and land, located between Sunrise Retirement and Christ Crossman Church. It was formerly a group home, but has been vacant since 2008 and in disrepair. There was a community taskforce who considered alternative uses of the property and the taskforce recommended a group home given the latent demand in the City. There was also economic assessment to gauge interest from developers, and the City’s Economic Development Office concluded that it had limited commercial potential as a standalone site. After a two-phase PPEA process, the City narrowed down proposals to one and there will be a public hearing on the proposal on 3/14/16. The proposal would include a $1/year lease for 40 years to the non-profit agency constructing and managing the home and be exempt from property taxes. Services for residents would be funded via Medicaid. I support bringing back a group home for the City to meet unmet needs of our residents, but in upcoming meetings, we’ll need to clearly understand any financial impacts for the City beyond the lease and taxes.

miller house aerial miller house

3) Housing Report – we received a report on trends in housing, demographics, and income in the City (headlines: median age has dropped from 40 to 37 with the influx of families, increasingly wealthy and well educated residents, and increasing home prices and rents) and those trends’ sobering implications on pricing out renters, first time homebuyers, and seniors. We discussed the importance of diversity in the City and broadening the toolbox beyond the current use of ADU rental units we negotiate as part of new developments (examples – cash contributions to the housing fund, rent freezes, home buyer program, workforce housing, zoning changes, regional partnerships).

4) Affordable Housing Reportstaff’s annual report was available for review and much of it was discussed in #3 above.

5) Legislative Update – City Manager provided an update on key bills and topics we are tracking and working in the state legislature – includes bills on reinstating school bus stop arm camera, development proffer restrictions, I-66 compromise plan announced by the Governor last week.

What’s Coming Up

  • Think Solar – this weekend with sunny and spring-like temperatures is a good time to consider solar energy. The City recently adopted the 2016 Solarize NOVA program – open to businesses and residents in the City of Falls Church, from mid-March to mid-May this year. It Includes a free site assessment and a free home energy check-up and discounted prices and affordable financing for solar power installations. A 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit is also available for both business and residential installations. Questions may be directed to Kate Walker, Environmental Programs Coordinator.
  • Saturday Feb 20 at 9 am, City Council Retreat @ TJ Library – Our retreat will be focused on setting priorities for the City and updating the two year work plan that drives the work of the City. The entire retreat is open to the public. We’ve also invited representatives from the Boards and Commissions to join the discussion given their shared role in accomplishing City’s priorities.
  • Sunday Feb 21 at 3 pm, The League of Women Voters Event @ Community Center – the League of Women Voters is hosting a 4 person panel discussion on real estate development, offering perspectives from government, developers, retailers, and local residents. The past LoWV events I’ve attended have been very informative, so this looks to be a good discussion.

Happy Friday!