Updates from Letty – January 19, 2024

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,

Happy snow day (again)! We had a marathon 5 hour work session to start our year, so I’ll do my best to just keep it to the highlights while you’re having a quieter (or noisier if you have kids underfoot) snow day. Learn about two new initiatives – Greening of Lincoln and Tinner Hill Historic & Cultural District – and one continuation of a project that has been undergoing the review process since early 2023 – Quinn/Homestretch senior housing project.

If you enjoy history, read on – did you know that Falls Church was originally much larger before we adjusted our southern boundary line to exclude much of the original Tinner Hill community and gave up 1/3 of the land?

Two reminders:

  • Here are the city’s snow removal policies – let’s keep sidewalk access safe for everyone and look after neighbors who may need help with shoveling or getting around.
  • Today is the start of Restaurant Week! Don’t let a little snow stop you from planning your visits to our great local restaurants.

I look forward to your input and questions – we’ll welcome public comment via email and at our next meeting and there are several office hours opportunities in the coming weeks noted at the end of my post.

Stay warm,

What Happened This Week:

(1) Greening of Lincoln

We heard a briefing on concepts and objectives for a new project called Greening of Lincoln, which is aimed to address traffic calming, safety, accessibility, and stormwater issues for the Lincoln Ave neighborhood. Although the idea originated in 2021, the project is in early phases – funded with a combination of federal and state grants totaling nearly $8M – and has aggressive deadlines related to the funds. Some potential concepts in the design as it stands now:

  • Extending continuous sidewalk along Lincoln Avenue
  • Adding/updating crosswalks
  • Narrowing roadway at critical points by widening sidewalks, extending curb and gutters, and adding bump outs
  • Reducing roadway speed to 20 mph
  • Ensuring ADA accessibility of all sidewalks and intersections
  • Mitigating flooding and improving the storm drainage
  • Adding bioretention areas to filter and improve drainage of stormwater runoff
  • Increasing green space and tree canopy
  • Reducing impervious surface area by adding permeable pavement

We also reviewed the public engagement schedule. If you’re interested in the project – expect town halls and walking tours scheduled for February 2024, with the design mostly locked down by May 2024 and construction contract awarded before the end of 2024.

Letty’s Thoughts: this is an exciting project to tackle some longstanding concerns I’ve heard from residents and also have personally experienced (my first home in Falls Church was on Lincoln Ave). I offered comments on several tricky, askew intersections (Lincoln/Oak, Lincoln/Great Falls) where there are poor sightlines and long pedestrian crossing distances that would be ideal to address. I also thought we should take the opportunity to improve bike connectivity and infrastructure and plan for additional maintenance costs of the new bioretention areas. Stay tuned as the design gets refined based on more community discussion.

(2) Tinner Hill Historic & Cultural District

Also new to City Council was a proposed amendment to our Comprehensive Plan to create a Tinner Hill Historic and Cultural District. The designation is largely honorific – it doesn’t change zoning, permitting, taxes. However, the district designation would enable important strategies, such as heritage tourism, public art, branding, and other ways to promote its history and activate the district. Expect the draft of the amendment to be discussed and commented by our boards and commissions before it’s back in front of Council for adoption in late spring 2024.

A bit of history from an excerpt of the Comp Plan amendment that is important to share:

“Falls Church became a township within Fairfax County in 1875. At this time, the town boundary included the entirety of the Tinner Hill neighborhood and surrounding area to the south. With this area included, 37 percent of registered voters at the time were African American.

In 1887, the town government moved the boundary line northward and excluded much of the Tinner Hill community from Falls Church. This reduced the African American population to 15 percent of the
total registered voters. In 1890, the Falls Church Town Council voted to cede its other majority African American districts to Fairfax County. This resulted in over one-third of the land that made up the town being retroceded to the County”

In 1915, the Town Council also passed intentionally racist legislation that would prohibit African Americans from purchasing any new property within the town’s boundaries, which is what led to the founding of the first rural branch of the NAACP to fight this legislation.

Read more about the history of Tinner Hill and civil rights movement in Falls Church.

Letty’s Thoughts: As we celebrate the city’s 75th anniversary, it’s a good time to reflect thoroughly on our history even before we became an independent city. I thought the language in the Comp Plan amendment is one of the most truthtful acknowledgments of our history that I’ve seen to date in a city document. It’s important to know our history in order to be able to condemn it, learn from it, and commit to doing better going forward.

(3) Quinn/Homestretch Project

We had our 4th work session on the Quinn/Homestretch redevelopment proposal this week (April 2023, July 2023, November 2023 were our other work sessions). As a quick reminder, the project is located between S. Maple and S. Washington with 233 senior housing units, spanning from independent living to assisted living to memory care, above commercial uses and medical office space – totaling 115′ in height with an adjacent 40K square foot park/open space (an impressive 69% open space and 19% tree canopy across the 1.9 acre site). Besides the new park, other voluntary concessions like affordable housing, and addressing housing and care for our aging population of seniors – the annual net fiscals are also quite strong at ~$900K/year so the project is compelling on many fronts. You can refer to my April and July posts for more background.

Since our first reading/referral to boards and commissions in August 2023, there have been two re-submissions in response to feedback from our boards and City Council. The latest re-submission includes some reduction in massing on Maple Ave, other architecture changes, and additional negotiations in the community benefits offered by the project. Pending updates to our final comments this week, the project is currently scheduled for a vote at our February 12 meeting.

(4) Miscellaneous

And ICYMI, we honored and served on MLK Day and visited Alexandria at an innovative new business and met regional friends. You can follow my Facebook page for more informal updates during the week.

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, January 22, 2024 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, January 29, 2024 – Letty’s Office Hours (12 pm, Northside Social)

Saturday, February 3, 2024 – City Council Retreat

Monday, February 5, 2024 – City Council Work Session*

Wednesday, February 7, 2024 – Ask the Council Office Hours (9 am, City Hall)

Monday, February 12, 2024 – City Council Meeting*

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