Updates from Letty – January 20, 2016

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,

After last week’s light agenda, our City Council work session this week was packed with several meaty topics – traffic calming, streetscape standards, Fairfax Water storage tank, and financial policies. Also, you may be hearing of plans to redevelop Merrill House, which was a high level topic in this week’s EDC meeting (Economic Development Committee) so I’ll share what was presented by Merrill House’s owners.

For those who missed the Falls Church events celebrating MLK Day, here are photos from Tinner Hill’s March for Unity, news coverage, and video of the panel discussion. It was wonderful to see many familiar and new faces (over 550!) marching for unity, peace, and love. I was proud to see Falls Church be such a welcoming community and co-host of the successful event, underscoring the importance of inclusive values and the power of local activism – good reminders for this weekend and beyond.



What Happened This Week:

City Council Work Session

  • Traffic Calming – the CACT (Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation) joined us for a discussion on the status of traffic calming. We reviewed the projects in the queue, differences between traffic control vs traffic calming, light vs heavy solutions, typical timeline for a case, and ongoing funding. We provided guidance that we wanted to see as many projects done as possible, which may mean implementing more light solutions that can still create modest safety improvements. With the newly allocated $200K from last fall’s budget amendment, we should expect 5 traffic calming projects to be completed in the next 18 months.
  • Streetscape Standards – the streetscape task force was chartered 6 months ago to recommend standards for our streetscape (aka, the design of our streets – everything from sidewalk widths, street lamps, benches, street trees, sidewalk materials, etc.) With walkability and economic development being priorities for City Council – the accessibility, safety, and aesthetics of our sidewalk and streets are important to get right. The summary of the task force recommendations begin on page 2 of this memo with the full document available here. This will come to City Council for formal adoption next month, and the standards would apply to all future projects.
  • Water Storage Tank – representatives from Fairfax Water returned to discuss the replacement water tank located near the Eden Center, which continued to be met with concerns by us. The new water tower is proposed to address water pressure and quality issues for the eastern part of the City and Fairfax County. However, the new height (the tower would be the 2nd tallest owned by Fairfax Water) would require a special exception approval by Falls Church. We continued to push for alternatives that would have less impact on our community.
  • Financial Policies – after deferring the vote in December on adoption of the new policies (see this blog post for the recap of what would change), we discussed if/when we would be ready to adopt them. Personally, I see the adoption of new financial policies as separate from GMHS campus decisions that could trigger the use of the policies. Nevertheless, I understand the concerns from some of my colleagues and citizens that policy adoption now de-facto chooses an option for GMHS. So expect the current policies to be re-affirmed next week ahead of the FY18 budget season and we will revisit financial policies again in the spring, when I expect we will be closer to a path forward for GMHS.

Economic Development Committee Meeting

  • Merrill House  – the big topic at this month’s EDC (the subcommittee of City Council, focused on economic development) was a proposal to redevelop Merrill House. Built in 1964 with 159 apartments, the owners argued that Merrill House was at the end of its useful life and most systems in need of serious repairs. Four high level redevelopment options were presented: 1) renovations 2) by-right townhome development 3) mid rise apartments with an age restricted component 4) mid rise apartments with 1-1.5 acres for a potential school, park, or other community amenity. The mid rise options would require a special exception-like approval from City Council. Redevelopment of high density residential has not been a priority for City Council, and none of the options presented had positive fiscal impact to the City based on the early analysis done. While housing diversity is important to me, we should also consider displacement concerns and rental affordability of any of the options balanced with what the owners could end up doing as a by-right redevelopment.

What’s Coming Up:

  • Vote for next year’s decal!  The annual Vehicle Decal Design Contest is underway; voting is now open and closes on 2/9. Voting is limited to City residents and employees of the City government and schools. The winner will be announced at the 2/13 City Council meeting.
  • Monday 1/23 – City Council Meeting. Agenda posted; topics include financial policies (see above), 116 Great Falls Re-zoning.
  • Tuesday, 1/24 – 9 am – GMHS Campus Working Group (Dogwood Room, City Hall)
  • Wednesday, 1/25 – City Council Goes to Richmond (Virginia Municipal League Lobbying Day)
  • Thursday, 1/26 – Mason Row Open House – The developers of the Mason Row project at West and Broad Streets are holding an open house at 730 pm in the Community Center.
  • Saturday 2/4 – Community Town Hall on GMHS Project 
  • Monday, 3/13 – City Manager Presents FY18 budget