Updates from Letty – January 13, 2023
Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
Happy 2023! Your City Council is back in session, and we hit the ground running with a library tour, regular meeting, and work session all in one night. There are a number of good topics to share – affordable housing, outdoor dining and parking requirements, and our quarterly work plan review which covers the latest on transportation and infrastructure projects that many of us anxiously await. Read on.
Two admin PSAs:
(1) While new year’s resolutions are still top of mind, consider adding civic volunteerism to your 2023 goals. We have vacancies on our boards and commissions – including Rec and Parks and Transportation, which I know are high priorities for many readers. Whether you have professional experience or just interest, our boards are a low effort way to contribute and in a small city like ours, they can have real impact!
(2) Office hours: I’ll be holding my office hours at Cafe Kindred next Wednesday Jan 18 at 12 pm. The full “Meet the Council” office hours will be the following Wednesday Jan 25, at 9 am in City Hall. With the MLK Jr holiday, our next meeting will be January 23, so office hours are a good informal option to catch us.
Hope to see you in action on Monday during our city-wide Day of Service to honor the legacy of Dr. King. There are many opportunities to participate, including the annual Tinner Hill march and the PTAs’ GIVE Day Project which is taking donations.
What Happened This Week:
(1) Affordable Housing
This week, we made official the plans to extend the affordability covenants at the Read Building for 9 “teacher workforce units” in the 26 unit building. As you may recall, affordable housing units inside our mixed use buildings all have expiration dates up until Founders Row’s, when we began to negotiate affordability covenants in perpetuity. Using some of our Amazon grant dollars, we approved the use of $350K to extend the affordability period for 10 years. ($350K was calculated based on the difference between affordable rent vs market rate rent x 10 years.)
Letty’s Thoughts: This marks the first time we’ve been able to stop affordable housing from expiring and we should be looking to do more. It’s far more efficient to preserve existing affordable units than to only build new – so this kind of creative preservation strategy should be pursued in our other mixed use buildings (for example, Pearson Square’s affordable units will expire in 2027) as well in our market rate affordable buildings. In order to meet our affordable housing needs, preservation needs to be in conjunction with new production – we will continue to push for the new bar of 10%+ affordable units inside future mixed use buildings and a long term redevelopment strategy at Virginia Village.
(2) Outdoor Dining
In work session, we discussed staff’s proposal on a process to allow businesses to continue or add outdoor dining (recall that the expansion of outdoor dining into parking lots was temporarily allowed during our Covid-19 state of emergency). Outdoor dining was a creative lifeline for restaurants during the pandemic and has proven to be a win-win for businesses and the city since then. While we have authority to govern the use of parking spaces, local zoning, and noise, there are additional state/federal codes such as accessibility, fire code, and sanitation rules that cannot be relaxed by us.
- As proposed, businesses who already have approved outdoor dining during the pandemic would not need to reapply. Staff would review existing permits and inspect for the state and local code compliance. If there are no issues, a new outdoor dining permit would be issued followed by annual inspections.
- For new outdoor dining uses, staff is proposing a simple one time, no fee application and a 2 week review period.
Staff also proposed a related code change to relax commercial parking requirements for buildings with 20K square feet or less of gross floor area. Because many of the outdoor dining expanded into parking lots, current parking requirements have to be reduced or eliminated in order for the outdoor dining to stay and be permanent.
Letty’s Thoughts: I support as easy, low barrier-to-entry process as possible for businesses to keep or add outdoor dining while balancing important compliance for things like ADA and fire safety – I look forward to the final staff recommendation. As for parking requirements – I welcome this discussion. Previous parking studies and our actual experience from the past 2.5 years have shown us that the parking spaces converted to outdoor dining during Covid haven’t been missed. Staff has also done additional analysis showing that for these small buildings, there is plenty of surface parking that enables us to consider relaxing the requirement (see graphic below). Besides spurring economic development, eliminating parking minimums is also one of the best ways to impact climate and transportation policy at the local level. We’re not alone – this is a good article on the national trend and even our immediate neighbors are considering similar modernization in parking requirements.
(3) City Council Work Plan
Every two years when a new Council is seated, we develop a new work plan with our top priorities and every quarter, we review the status of those projects. The current work plan shows a broad and ambitious set of initiatives, especially in the area of transportation safety as we consistently hear that is a top priority from the community. Our work plan review is one of my favorite topics because these projects are real ways to see your budget dollars at work, represent tangible manifestations of our 2040 vision for the city, and will be enjoyed by our residents, businesses, and visitors for years to come.
ICYMI – at the end of December, the city also published a 2022 Year in Review which reflects on the accomplishments of the previous year.
What’s Coming Up:
Wednesday, January 18 – 12 pm – Letty’s Office Hours (Cafe Kindred)
Monday, January 23 – City Council Meeting*
Wednesday, January 25 – 9 am – “Meet the Council” City Council Office Hours
Monday, February 6 – City Council Work Session*
*every Monday (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings