Updates from Letty – July 1, 2022

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 several weeks of my blogging hiatus, there’s a lot to catch up on – which means this post will have something for everyone: new public art around town, property acquisition, and the unglamorous but important City Council work plan which reflects our priorities for the coming 2 years. Also I’ll share a few tidbits on a perennially popular topic – economic development – and what’s opening when and where.

As we have just marked two years since “equity” was a daily headline, it’s worth noting the near completion of the long-awaited S. Washington multimodal project as an example of strides in transportation equity. Even though it’s nearby, S. Washington/Rt 29 has never been one of my running routes. I much prefer Park, Hillwood, and even Broad St. – all of which have a combination of wider sidewalks, shade from street trees, lighting, and/or a dedicated bike lane for extra room. It will take a few years for the trees to grow in, but the new investments will bring S. Washington closer in line with the commercial streetscape the rest of the city enjoys. I’ve heard fewer complaints from drivers about the new intersection geometry at Hillwood/Rt 29 as more have gotten used to slowing their speeds to make that turn. Having experienced it several times on foot, I can vouch that the shorter crossing distance and signalized intersection are vast improvements. Plus, the history panels at the “intermodal plaza” finally tell a more complete history about Falls Church than we have publicly done so far. We have more work ahead across all areas of equity, but let’s celebrate the wins. I hope you’ll get to check out the S. Washington improvements this summer.

City Council is off next week for the holiday and then we’ll resume weekly meetings until mid August when we take our summer recess. You can continue to contact us via email, speak to us during public comment in our Monday night meetings, or come see us in person at City Council’s office hours every 4th Wednesday at 9 am in City Hall. You can expect my next post in mid July .

Stay cool,

PS – ICYMI: trash and compost pick up is moving to Thursday next week due to holiday schedules

What Happened This Month:

(1) Healthiest Community

We’re honored to be ranked #2 again in US News and World Report’s Healthiest Community listing – we’ve held top spots since the inaugural rankings in 2018.

It’s worth diving into the methodology behind the rankings. We’re lucky to have many great things going for us – for example, many health indicators are tied to socioeconomic status. And our past investments in education and infrastructure are clearly paying off. However, it’s also worth noting our lowest ranking areas (housing, equity, and environment) are all areas we are actively working and need continued attention.

(2) New Public Art

A new mural unveiling at The Blacksmith Shop, called Hope for Tomorrow, was unveiled on Juneteenth a few weekends ago, made possible by the continued good work of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation. The Blacksmith Shop, a Falls Church landmark, is located on E. Fairfax Street and Douglass Street, behind The Falls Church Episcopal.

“The mural celebrates the site where the original wooden blacksmith shop once stood, and after being destroyed by fire, the current brick structure was built in 1932. The businesses in this location served the town for nearly a century. Robert Harmon, owner (left) and Henry Simms, manager and blacksmith (right), one White and one Black, operated the shop together for half a century. This mural honors their success in maintaining a thriving biracial enterprise in Jim Crow Virginia.”

And not public art per se, but, this new crosswalk outside of City Hall got a colorful facelift by community volunteers in recognition of Pride Month. And with promising new data that street art can improve pedestrian safety, I hope we’ll be able to do this in more places!

(3) Property Acquisition

This week, we authorized the City Manager to purchase 436 Sherrow Ave which is in the Tripps Run floodway and has experienced repeated flood damage. The property, which is adjacent to city land in Cavalier Trail Park, is also next to Oak St Elementary School so has potential for future expansions of outdoor school uses. Currently the intention is to demolish the home and remove a household from the FEMA designated floodway. The proceeds would come from the city’s capital reserves.

(4) City Council Work Plan

Every two years after a new City Council is seated, we have a retreat and planning session to discuss our priorities for the coming two years with the goal of producing a work plan, which then guides the work of staff and our boards and commissions. We spent time in work session a few weeks ago discussing the draft of the FY23/FY24 work plan (starts on page 6). My initial thoughts:

  • The work plans maps to the city’s 2040 Vision statement and 8 “core values” within the vision (Small-Town Character in an Urban Setting, Economic Sustainability, Environmental Sustainability, Inclusiveness and Social Sustainability, Education, Mobility and Accessibility, Public Health and Safety, Responsive and Accountable Governance)
  • This is a very ambitious work plan, with many long discussed initiatives coming to fruition during the two year time period, especially in transportation and stormwater (ex: new Broad St HAWK signals, W&OD crossings, Greenway Downs traffic calming project, sidewalk improvements, intersection upgrades at N. Washington/Columbia, S. Maple/Annandale, Oak St Bridge, a new green fleet program, 3 of Big 6 stormwater projects done)

The work plan will undergo further revisions, but in the meantime I’d welcome your input if these reflect the community’s priorities for the city. What’s missing? What’s not important to you? What should happen sooner than later?

(5) Economic Development Updates

  • Founders Row: A few weeks ago, we toured the newly completed Founders Row. Lots of photos to peruse here. It’s a beautiful mixed use project, with 60% of the residential units already leased since opening which means we’ve welcomed about 200+ new neighbors to Falls Church. Build out is underway for several of the announced restaurants (first will open this fall), more announcements coming soon, including the name of the theater operator once a lease is signed shortly. The theater is targeted for opening Memorial Day 2023. We’ll be discussing updates to the theater tax incentive agreement (the original version was approved in 2016 when Founders Row was approved) in our July meetings.
  • Notable new businesses opening soon: a new hydroponics store opened in West End Plaza, a small grocery store is planned at the former mattress store in the same development, Five Guys (former Einstein Bagels location) is opening any minute now – in July
  • Under construction: former Falls Church florist/Inns of Virginia still undergoing renovations, 603 W. Broad will be a Smoothie King with drive through
  • Wawa deal dead: per city staff, Wawa’s planned convenience store/electric vehicle charging stations due to data that their non gas stations were not performing as well and increasing labor costs. So the Stratford site is back on the market…

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, July 11, 2022 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, July 18, 2022 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, July 25, City Council Meeting*

Wednesday, July 27 – City Council Office Hours (City Hall, 9 am)

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