Updates from Letty – February 17, 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,

This week’s post will be briefer ahead of a holiday weekend, but there are many links to read until my posts resume in March, including T zones following the Planning Commission’s unanimous vote this week and my thoughts. City Council will be back in session Feb 27 – I’m happy to hear from you in the meantime and you can also catch us at our monthly office hours next Wednesday.

Take care,

PS – If you haven’t come across it yet, remember that the Oak Bridge is closed for bridge reconstruction so you should find alternate car routes. Pedestrian and bike access will continue to be open through construction.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, the city has done a nice job compiling information on key Black figures in our local history as well as resources to learn more. I hope you’ll learn something new!

(2) T Zones

Get Informed: As promised, here are the slides and video recording from last week’s League of Women Voters info session. The city webpage dedicated to T Zones also houses all of the past materials. Out of all of the available materials, if you only have limited time to get informed, I would suggest reading the these slides as they do a good job outlining:

  • The original goals of modernizing the T zones (to expand housing variety in the city, improve transitions between lower and higher density districts, and encourage private investment in under-developed properties)
  • The evolution of the T zone recommendations: what can be built today –> what City Council referred out to the Planning Commission in May 2022 –> the recommendations the Planning Commission developed this winter along various parameters like types of allowed uses, setbacks, tree requirements, etc.*
  • Sharing the process to date and what’s ahead

*This is important because it’s been a common misconception about what development is already allowed under current T zones today. Yes, there are changes to encourage the kind of gentle density we want in T zones, but they are not as extreme as some fear and limited to less than 3% of the city’s land. For example, many of the proposed changes include greener requirements such as tree canopy (there is no tree canopy requirement today), bigger setbacks (how far the building is set back from the property line) vs no setback requirements today, height changes (45′ today to 50′ proposed), and allowable uses.

What Happened at the Planning Commission: Many thanks to the Planning Commission who held another lengthy session this week, listening to public comments and deliberating. They made further iterations to the recommendations based on public input, culminating in a 7-0 vote to send those recommendations onto City Council.

What’s Next: Staff will be reviewing the Planning Commission’s recommendations ahead of our March 6 work session, when it will be our turn to roll up our sleeves and consider the recommendations since last May. I expect that we’ll hold additional community engagement and town hall opportunities after that work session and before we cast another vote. I also expect that because the PC recommendations include items that were not included in our May vote, we will have a new first reading, refer out the changes again, before we have a final, second vote.

TL;DR: the process is far from over and the recommendations will continue to be refined.

Letty’s Thoughts: I’ve deliberately chosen to not comment while the proposal has been in the Planning Commission’s hands. (Prior to last May’s vote, I had written extensively about why I supported modernizing the zoning in these transition districts throughout the 5 work sessions in 2021 and 2022 – see this post and this post). That doesn’t mean I haven’t been listening – I have attended the listening sessions, public hearings, and read the comments. I am appreciative of the thoughtful consideration by the Planning Commission, our other boards and commissions that have weighed in, and extensive community engagement – this is the legislative process at work! As with all local government decisions, our job is a careful balance all the different constituencies – current residents, businesses, and how to meet the city’s long term vision and our responsibility to the next generation. Now that it’s back in our hands, I’ll be digging into the recommendations and will write more in the coming months.

What’s Coming Up:

Wednesday, February 22 – City Council Office Hours (9 am, City Hall)

Monday, February 27 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, March 6 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, March 13 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, March 20 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, March 27 – City Council Meeting*

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