As expected, we had a meaty work session this week covering our annual financial audit, West Falls Church economic development (formerly known as the 10 acres on the GMHS Campus), and a preview of the design contract for the $8.7M library renovation/expansion project that will be up for a vote next week.
Two opportunities for citizen engagement coming up:
- Tomorrow – our Richmond representatives, Delegate Simon and Senator Saslaw, are holding a town hall on Saturday morning 1/20 (10 am, Community Center) to share their priorities and hear from you. The 2018 General Assembly is already in session and with the change in the makeup of the GA, we hope the legislation coming out of Richmond will be more favorable to Northern Virginia.
- Next Sunday, 1/28 (2 pm, Community Center) – GMHS construction & West Falls Church economic development town hall. The Superintendent and City Manager will jointly present updates with Q&A at the end. We plan for these town halls to be regular events so we can continue to engage the community. This is especially important one in advance of issuing the first RFP (called RFCP – request for conceptual proposals) for development of the 10 acres, planned for March 1.
You may have also read my letter to the editor in this week’s Falls Church News Press about affordability. As the Council’s liaison to the Housing Commission, the letter was meant to kickoff a series of articles that will run the next several months to educate the community about housing issues and make the case for greater housing diversity and affordability. My letter was edited down in the FCNP, so you can read my full letter here.
What Happened This Week:
(1) FY17 CAFR – Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. This is the annual audit of the City’s financial statements by an independent auditor. The quick summary is that we got a thumbs up from the auditor, with no major issues cited. The entire CAFR can be quite a read, but there are several sections that are worth your time.
- Introduction letter from the City Manager and CFO that summarizes economic trends in the region, economic development efforts, and key projects (pages iii – vii). A few factoids:
- We’ve benefited from $545M in new development
- The mixed use projects have contributed $10.6M in gross revenue and $3.8M new revenue annually
- Office space averages $23/sq foot with a vacancy rate of 8.3% (vs regional vacancy rate of nearly 20%). Retail vacancy rate is even lower at 2.3%.
- Unemployment in Falls Church is 2.6% (vs VA at 3.5% and national at 3.9%)
- Auditor’s comments/findings (pages 150-151) – the main finding this year was a comment on segregation of duties in the city’s Finance Dept and in the Schools. The City Finance Dept issue was due to the CFO vacancy and since the hiring of the new CFO, the comment has since been resolved.
- “Operating Indicators” and various statistics and data from past 10 years (pages 134 to 144) – includes data on the top taxpayers and employers, per capita income, and statistics on everything from crime, accidents, youth sports participants, to library circulation and trash and recycling collection. For example, I found it interesting that DWI arrests in 2017 were half of 2014’s and there was been a general downward trend in recent years, despite increases in population.
(2) West Falls Church Economic Development
- Our real estate advisors Alvarez and Marsal presented an update on the economic development workstream for taking the 10 acres to market. We will be taking a two-step RFP process: RFCP = request for conceptual proposals to solicit interested developers who will then be shortlisted before moving into the 2nd phase RFDP = request for detailed proposals. While we’ve discussed the schedule as ambitious, our A&M advisor said we’re currently on track and felt good about the feasibility of hitting the milestones. Key dates in the next 6 months:
- Now – March 1st – over the next few weeks, the draft RFCP will continue to be developed, with input from the community. Note the town hall on 1/28. There will also be a concerted marketing effort in February to increase awareness and interest in the development community in advance of the issuance of the RFCP on March 1st.
- Summer-Fall 2018 – after receiving the responses to the RFCP in May, we’ll be evaluating their qualifications and shortlisting the respondents before issuing the RFDP in June 2018 with the selection of final developer later this fall.
- Letty’s thoughts – we’re all taking the next 18 months seriously and understand both the opportunity and responsibility we have ahead of us. A few areas I’ll be keeping an eye on:
(1) Regional coordination, and better yet – cooperation, is key. We should have learned what it means to be good neighbors, so you’ll hear me push on this regularly. Know that there are staff level discussions that have occurred the past year with our neighbors, but I’ll want to see those efforts elevated and ramped up.
(2) Transparency – staff is recommending the PPEA process and there will be confidentiality requirements to uphold the competitiveness of the procurement process. You’ll continue to hear me to push to share as much as we’re able to legally disclose so that the community can weigh in on the development of the 10 acres.
(3) Risk mitigation – before we issue school construction bonds in June 2019, we’ll need to make sure we have built in mitigation steps to ensure the city’s financial position is protected. For example, one concept that was discussed is an idea of a non-refundable $10M upfront payment for the full payment for the land transaction. The actual terms will be subject to the market and negotiation, but know that the processes for school construction and economic development are being structured in a way to minimize risk.
- Zoning amendment recommendation – as part of preparing the 10 acres for the RFP process, staff is recommending we re-zone the campus property from R1-A (default zoning since the land was brought into FC borders) to B-2. Also recommended is a special two-step special exception process. TL;DR version – the combo B-2 + two step process recommendation is based on the desire to balance flexibility with control – being able to signal to the developer community the kind of development we’d like to see there (FAR/floor area ratios of 2.5-4.0, 1.2-1.5 million square feet of space, maximum 15 stories) coupled with control and risk mitigation. After Council further weighs in, the recommended zoning change would go to the Planning Commission and School Board for review.
(3) Library – next week we’ll be asked to approve a $880K contract as the first step in the library renovation and expansion project. As a quick refresher, the current budget for the project is $8.7M to renovate the current footprint of the library, bring it into ADA compliance, and add 6600 square feet for public and storage space, bringing the total square footage to 25,100 square feet. If approved next week, the design process is expected to last the next 18 months with construction occurring June 2019-June 2021. The process is quite lengthy considering the scope of the project (same time was GMHS construction), as it’s been the desire of the library board to keep the library open during renovation.
The tax rate impact for the project is approximately 1 penny on the tax rate (the proposed FY19 tax rate increase of 6 cents by the City Manager includes 4 pennies for GMHS + 2 pennies for other CIP projects like the construction of City Hall and Library.
What’s Coming Up:
TOMORROW – 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 (2 pm, Community Center)
Monday, January 29 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am, Rare Bird)