Updates from Letty – February 17, 2017

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,

A variety of interesting, important updates this week – cottage housing, progress on GMHS campus work, and school budget. Also remember that I’m holding “office hours” this morning at Rare Bird (230 W. Broad) from 9-10 am. If you have questions or would like to chat about city topics like GMHS or budget – stop by, I’d love to see you!



What Happened This Week

(1) City Council Meeting – the two key items were adopted this week:

Cottage Housing ordinance – as you may recall, this new zoning establishes an age restricted residential cottage housing development option through the special exception process for certain R-1A (a type of residential zoning) parcels. The policy intent is to create more diverse housing stock in the City to meet the needs of empty-nesters, seniors, and retirees, other than apartments, condos, or larger homes. To be clear – this is not approval of a specific project, but the approval of new zoning to allow for such development in the future. Similar to other development projects, any application would go through the special exception process, requiring a formal approval by City Council on a project by project basis. This progressive housing policy is one of the first on the east coast and supports the value that we aim to be community for all generations.

Since first reading and previous work sessions last year, staff has continued to revise the ordinance based on feedback from the community and Board & Commission review. The staff report does a nice job outlining the feedback received and the modifications made in response. While the adopted ordinance isn’t perfect, my take is that the changes largely refine and narrow the applicability of the program. Some highlights:

-Language to make the cottage zoning a pilot program, allowing no more than 1 cottage project per year and sunsetting after 3 years to allow us time to monitor the use of the ordinance.

-Limit of 18 cottages per development

-Added requirement to house guest parking within the development. As it stands, the resident parking requirement for cottages is the same as what’s required for traditional single family houses that are located in R1-A parcels. It’s reasonable to assume that cottage residents who are downsizing housing may also be downsizing vehicles. There is also a requirement that cottage parcels be located within 500 ft of the “revitalization areas” of the City (ie, the commercial corridors) to discourage car use and replace with transit, walking, and biking.

Economic Development Working Group – we also adopted a resolution chartering a working group focused on economic development potential for the GMHS campus site. Similar to the working group focused on school construction options, this new working group will consist of 2 City Council members, 2 School Board members – but with the addition of 2 Planning Commission and 2 EDA  (Economic Development Authority) members. Their role over the next 90 days will be to confirm the economic development potential and siting, develop ranges of commercial uses/densities and corresponding land values and tax yields, understand pros and cons of land sale vs lease – ultimately informing the two elected bodies about the economic development that could go on the campus site. Expect this new working group to be underway in the next week; their meetings will also be open to the public.

Talented Teens – we were joined Monday night by Liv Scappa 7th grader and honorary mayor for the evening. Liv was one of the winners of the state-wide “If I Were Mayor” essay contest. You can read her essay here. Also, the finalists and winner (10th grader Annika Britton) of the Car Decal Art Competition was announced at our meeting. Look for her awesome design coming to car near you next fall!



(2) FY18 School Budget Development

The three PTAs hosted a FY18 school budget overview and Q&A session this week, and I attended wearing my FCCPS parent hat. If you haven’t seen the school budget documents so far, I encourage you to take a look at the two documents (linked below) which show the items that can be funded without a tax rate increase and the items that are “below the line” that could necessitate a tax rate increase. The budget guidance issued to both the City Manager and School Board in December projected revenue growth around 2.5-3% (see this blog post). Based on real estate assessments that came out this week and other revenue numbers, the guidance remains in that range. The Superintendent crafted the budget spreadsheet based on a 2.7% increase ($1.71M more than the FY17 budget) which will fund step increases for professional staff, salary scale adjustments to support staff and leadership/admin positions, starts a new 4 year lease for computers, restores materials and supplies budget, adds additional funds to contingency, adds 1 bus driver and 2 custodians, among other items.

If you have input on items “below the line” that should be in the school budget request, the School Board takes public comment during their meetings and also can be reached by email. Expect the School Board to adopt their budget next Tuesday night, 2/21 which will then be turned over to the City Manager to incorporate into the entire City budget. The City Manager makes the full city budget presentation to City Council on 3/13.

FY18 Prioritized Requests – note that items “below the line” start at the bottom of page 3
FY18 Requests Justification & Impacts

Here is the schedule of City budget meetings, including a newly scheduled Town Hall on Saturday, 3/18.


(3) Campus Working Group

The GMHS Campus Working Group resumed meetings this week. Our discussion centered around two main topics:

-We reviewed the concept and schedule for a feasibility study where we’d issue a RFP for an architect to evaluate the construction options and ultimately produce renderings and cost estimates by this summer to prepare for a November 2017 referendum. So far the cost estimates and options have been generated largely in house so a feasibility study would help validate the ideas. After the feasibility study is done, we then would issue conceptual design RFP (pre referendum) and detailed design RFP (post referendum) for school construction. This 3 phase approach is different than other school construction procurement processes used in FCCPS to date.

-Dr. Schiller also briefed the group on potential opportunity areas to pare down the school program to make it more affordable, including an option where the gyms and newest part of GMHS could be saved and renovated.

Expect more discussion on both of these topics in upcoming School Board, City Council, and Working Group meetings.


What’s Coming Up

  • Thursday, February 23 – GMHS Campus Working Group (9 am, School Board Offices)
  • Friday, February 24 – Budget and Finance Committee Meeting (8 am)
  • Friday, February 24 – Economic Development Committee Meeting (930 am)
  • Monday, February 27 – City Council Meeting (730 pm)
  • Monday, March 13 – City Council Meeting – City Manager presents budget (730 pm)
  • SAVE THE DATE – Saturday, March 18 – Budget Town Hall (10 am)