Updates from Letty – January 26, 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,

After last week’s long work session, it was a reprieve to have light official business on our meeting agenda. I’ll share my thoughts on two other worthy topics that were also on our agenda: board and commission vacancies and accessory dwelling unit legislation in Richmond.

Speaking of Richmond, City Council will be heading south next week to advocate for our priorities that we adopted last year. I had shared a few highlights in one of my November posts – but as is often the case with the General Assembly once it’s in session, the bills and hearings are fast and furious so we’ll be trying to stay on top of it all.

You have a final few days to take advantage of Restaurant Week – you have through Sunday to try some new spots and support our small businesses during these quieter winter months. There has been so much great promotion and publicity about our amazing food scene, and apparently the secret is out! Check out who made the Washingtonian “Very Best 100” list (interestingly, 2 at Founders Row, 2 at Eden Center and 2 along Rt 29).

Happy eating,

PS While there is no City Council meeting next week due to the 5th Monday, join me at my first office hours of 2024 on Monday, January 29 at 12 pm at Northside Social.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Boards and Commissions

Long time readers will know that I often plug vacancies on our local and regional boards to anyone who would like to dip their toe in civic engagement. Here’s a quick 101 to de-mystify the process a bit to encourage you to consider joining one.

The time commitment for most boards is usually 1x/month for a few hours and it’s a great way to contribute your personal passion or professional expertise. Check out the current vacancies and the full list of opportunities. The majority of our boards are advisory – ie, they advise and make recommendations to the City Council on their some popular local government topics such as housing, transportation, trees – and then some not-so-common topics like historic architecture and solid waste. We also have regional boards where Falls Church has a seat, often in the areas of human services. And finally some boards are quasi-judicial and actually cast votes and make rulings, such as the BZA (Board of Zoning Appeals) where zoning appeals are decided and the BOE (Board of Equalization) where real estate tax appeals are decided. On City Council where we’re expected to be generalists – our boards and commissions offer us subject matter expertise and bring current industry thinking, which often improves each decision we make.

Letty’s Thoughts: One of the best parts of this City Council gig has been serving on the Appointments Committee where we get to “interview” candidates (it’s really an informal conversation for 15-30 minutes) and recommend their appointment to the full City Council to make the final decision. I have been grateful and wowed by the breadth and caliber of residents who want to share their time and experience to better our city. It’s also one of the hardest parts of the job for a few reasons – we try to diversify the make up of our boards (that’s a reason why we’re pursuing a charter amendment again this year), turn them over occasionally to add new perspectives and succession plan, and sometimes we have more candidates than open positions. All of which means we sometimes make hard decisions. Personally, I always look for residents who are open-minded, aren’t single issue board members, and want to improve our community with a broad, forward-thinking vision. We always offer to find other spots for anyone who wants to serve if their first choice can’t be accommodated at this time.

(2) Accessory Dwelling Units

We also discussed SB304, which is a bill patroned by our new Senator Saddam Salim in the General Assembly that requires localities to allow for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single family zones. (Not to be confused with affordable dwelling units – which are the dedicated affordable units we negotiate to be included in new mixed use developments.) This is not the first time we’ve discussed the concept of ADUs – as we’ve been working on diversifying our housing stock, ADUs got a mention in the update to the Housing Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan which was updated and adopted in 2019 and in the most recent City Council two year workplan which was adopted in 2022. The Planning Commission also discussed a draft scope and approach for accessory dwelling units, which includes a helpful comparison of our current rules vs neighbors who have all adopted ADU ordinances, key considerations, and proposed public engagement process.

At the end of our discussion – while some of us would support the bill as written, we did not oppose the bill and recommended further study.

Letty’s Thoughts: land use and zoning decisions are typically owned at the local government level, so I expect some fellow local governments to oppose this bill. That said, it should be telling that there is a state-wide bill to encourage housing production – there is a real housing crisis and we all need to be doing more to increase the supply of diverse and affordable housing. And if regionally and across Virginia, we all address housing together – it reduces the pressure for any one locality to add all of the supply and further helps regional issues like transportation and climate change. Even Governor Youngkin has discussed housing as a key issue that impacts Virginia’s economic competitiveness and attributes our housing issues to local governments’ regulatory burdens that restrict supply, permitting and approval processes that slow and prevent development, and restrictive land use decisions that control what property owners can build. This is simply not a partisan issue.

For those who worry about loss of local control – as written SB304 has a clause that includes broad parameters for each locality to regulate considerations such as massing, heights, impervious coverage, stormwater requirements, etc. By setting broad guardrails at the state level and allowing localities to customize what might work in their communities, this isn’t a one-sized fits all policy.

What’s Coming Up:

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

Saturday, February 3, 2024 – City Council Retreat (9 am – 2 pm, Library)

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