Updates from Letty – January 12, 2018

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 was a busy week with meetings nearly every evening this week , so I will cut to the chase! Read on for the two key updates: work is ramping up for the GMHS Campus Project (now rebranded as the West Falls Church project to be more coherent for the development community) and our vote on the long-discussed 604 Oak St, commonly known as the Fellows Property. Our work session next Tuesday will be a big one – our consultants will present an update on economic development, including the marketing plan and first look at the RFQ for the 10 acres, which will be issued at the end of February.

Save the date: Sunday January 28 (likely afternoon) will be the first of many town halls about the West Falls Church project and plans for a new GMHS. The City Manager and Superintendent will give the community updates on progress since last November’s referendum, the roadmap forward, and how the community can stay involved.

Next Monday, most of us have a day off for MLK Jr Day. Will you consider a day “on” instead, working toward Dr. King’s vision of a better world? We heard from the 5th grade ambassadors about the annual GIVE Day project. If you’re part of the elementary school community, consider lending a hand next Monday 10 am -12 pm to make disaster relief packages and power packs. Donations are also welcome and needed. Finally, join the community in the 2nd annual march for unity, healing, and racial justice at 1 pm, beginning at the Tinner Hill arch, followed by a program at the Falls Church Episcopal. Last year’s event was a wonderful opportunity for community solidarity and reflection.

Finally, I’ll be holding office hours on Monday, January 29 at 9 am at Rare Bird Coffee if you’d like to stop by and chat about what’s on your mind.



What Happened This Week:

(1) West Falls Church Economic Development Project & GMHS Campus

  • We approved the creation of the Campus Coordinating Committee chartered to facilitate decision-making on shared areas, while preserving the autonomy of the school construction and economic development workstreams. Examples of topics that would be managed by this Committee: design of the interface areas between school and development, parking, public information/communication. Also expect more information to come on the creation of subcommittees/task teams focused on important areas like transportation, marketing, procurement, etc – those task teams will also have roles for citizens – this is a true community endeavor and we want to leverage your expertise!
  • The City Manager announced several personnel changes to prepare for the project, including the lead PM for the economic development work who will be joining the City next week, realignment of the Planning and Economic Development offices, and consultants on an ad-hoc basis. We also approved the contract for Alvarez and Marsal who will continue to serve as our lead commercial real estate advisor.
  • WMATA Development – I’ve been fielding questions about the WMATA development proposal to Fairfax County that was reported in the local press – what it means, what are the implications, why were we surprised and excluded from the proposal.

    Letty’s thoughts: 

    What WMATA has submitted is not an actual project proposal, but proposed revisions to the Comp Plan for their land in Fairfax County to the Fairfax planning department, which is a lengthy process (this is Fairfax County’s process which is why land within City limits wouldn’t be included). If approved, an actual project would be at least several years away. As I have written previously, we have been in touch with Fairfax County, the universities, and WMATA about our plans for the GMHS Campus and economic development – staff has had several meetings with Fairfax just in the past few months to discuss our plans. So while we weren’t consulted on this specific submission, WMATA’s proposal is in line with what we’ve been encouraging them to do – which is to take advantage of the underutilized metro station, encourage transit oriented development, and increase ridership, so we’re generally glad to see it happen. At a high level, it calls for mixed use development of 80/20 ratio of residential to commercial and indicates several areas where there would need to be coordination with the City (access on a road to Rt 7, building heights, shared parking, etc).

    All in all, I think the WMATA requested comp plan change signals that they’re moving it up the priority list among their many other priorities across the region. This helps pave the way to work together and underscores the opportunity to maximize value for everyone in that area – us, Fairfax, WMATA, and the universities, especially now that WMATA is ready to move forward. I believe it’s important to bring all the parties together to develop a more comprehensive and coordinated development plan. In the long run – even if we end up with separate, independent projects – having more residents will help achieve critical mass for that area and be beneficial to businesses and buildings on our 10 acres.

    Here’s the actual submission: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/planning-zoning/site-specific-plan-amendment-process/nominations/pc17-dr-001

  • What can you expect in the next few years with the project?
    • School Milestones:
      • January 17, 2018  – Initial RFP Proposals Due
      • February 13, 2018 – Short List of Proposals Determined
      • February 22, 2018 – Detailed RFP issued to 3 finalists
      • May 17, 2018  – Detailed Proposals Due
      • July 2018 – Select Design Team / PPEA Contract Approval
      • July 2018 – June 2019 – School Design & Engineering
      • July 2019 – School Construction Begins
      • July 2021 – School Construction Complete
    • Economic Development Milestones:
      • February 2018 – Comp Plan Revisions, Marketing of 10 acres, Culminating in Issuance of RFQ for Economic Development
      • May 2018 – Short List of Respondents Determined
      • May 2018 – Bond #1 for Architecture & Engineering ($10M)
      • June 2018 – RFP for Economic Development
      • Oct 2018 – Select Top Ranked Respondent & Negotiations Commence
      • May 2019 –  Sign Master Development Agreement, followed by land and site approvals for development
      • June 2019 – Bond #2 for Construction ($60M)
      • Sept 2020 – Bond #3 for Construction ($50M)
      • Fall 2021 – Commercial Development Begins on former high school site

(2) Other

  • Fellows Property – we voted 5-2 to authorize the City Manager to initiate eminent domain on the 2 acre site on 604 Oak St, which was subdivided into 7 parcels last year, with the intent of constructing 7 single family homes. The property has been a long discussed property, dating as far back as 2005 in the City’s open space acquisition plan as it’s one of the few large parcels of open space remaining. Several purchase offers were made to the property owner, based on a 3rd party appraisal-based price

    Letty’s thoughts: Eminent domain is a serious step that we don’t take lightly; we carefully considered individual property rights with the city’s long term needs before casting our votes. I supported the motion with the consideration of our growing population, desire to increase open space ratio which is lower than our peers, and need for potential school use in the future. Given that the property will be sold one way or another and its use will change – as either 7 houses or a park – eminent domain proceedings will be a way to arrive at a price fair to the owners and the city.

  • We made our biennial appointments to Council Committees and liaisons to Boards and Commissions and regional bodies.
  • Approved at 2nd reading the out of state license fee.

What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, January 15 – MLK Jr Holiday & City Day of Service
  • Tuesday, January 16 – City Council Work Session
  • Saturday, January 20 – Delegate Simon & Senator Saslaw Town Hall on 2018 General Assembly (10 am, Community Center)
  • Monday, January 22 – City Council Meeting
  • Sunday, January 28 – West Falls Church Project & GMHS Town Hall
  • Monday, January 29 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am, Rare Bird)