Updates from Letty – July 15, 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,

I wasn’t planning on a blog post this week, but with two good news updates when summer is typically light on city news, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. Read on for three main topics: 1) good news on the transportation and 2) housing fronts, and 3) our first public discussion about the detailed plans and transactions for the the future of the Virginia Tech Graduate Center site. That property, between the schools’ secondary campus, the under-construction West Falls project, and West Falls Church Metro Station, is on partially city-owned land that was leased to Virginia Tech in the 90s (but located within Fairfax County).

We have a work session next week and several more meetings in August before we take our summer recess. Check out our current schedule – take note of a walking tour on August 1 where we’ll invite the community to walk Park Ave with us and discuss the Great Streets project. My next post will be back in your inboxes in August.

Take care,

PS – We have several opportunities to serve on a city board & commission – this is a low commitment way (1x/month meeting) to give back and get involved in a topic you care about or have expertise. We have vacancies on boards for the library, rec and parks, housing, arts and humanities, and more.

What Happened This Week:

(1) The Little City That Could

Last night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) approved the funding for their next set of projects that included a $22.5M grant application from Falls Church to improve N. Washington from Great Falls to Gresham. Wider sidewalks, a HAWK signal at Jefferson, and other intersection improvements are proposed. Thanks to emails from many of you in the spring, our project received the second highest number of comments for the entire region (157 comments!) – across 9 localities and 26 total projects. When it comes to winning transportation funds, individual voices do matter. Kudos to you and thank you! (That said – because funding cycles are so long, this project won’t get underway until 2026.)

This successful grant application builds on other NVTA grants we’ve won in the past few years, with dollars now at work improving the Haycock/Rt 7 intersection and then safer sidewalks along Shreve Road from the W&OD to Rt 7 which will be underway in the coming years.

(2) Affordable Homeownership

After much work and deliberation, this week we approved a developer agreement to launch an innovative affordable homeownership program in Falls Church. This is especially important, as it comes on the heels of news that Virginia continues to face a severe shortage in housing supply, leading to even higher prices and exacerbating our affordability issues further, especially in Northern Virginia. Using $3.4M in Amazon funds we won last year and $400K of city/local funds, we’re entering a partnership with non-profit NHP Foundation to buy homes in the city, rehab them as necessary, and resell them at an affordable price to first time homeowners. Originally the goal was to fund up to 18 affordable homes in the program, but due to escalating prices, that goal may need to be pared back.

Letty’s Thoughts: We’ve spent months noodling this program to get the details right and to lower the administrative costs (although still higher than any of us would like), so it’s a big milestone to get the agreement across the finish line. We haven’t had dedicated affordable homeownership opportunities in over 15 years when the last condo project, The Spectrum, was built. There are several unique features about the program: the ownership opportunities will be spread across the city, albeit market driven depending on where/when there are sales. My hope is that we’ll be able to find a diverse mix of housing types – small single family homes, townhomes, and condos – where we can create ownership opportunities. Also, there will be an equity sharing model – as the property grows in value at a capped rate, the equity will be split 75/25 between the homeowner and city, so that homeowners will have the opportunity to build wealth and some funds can be returned to the city for future programs. As homeownership has been out of reach for many – this is an important means of wealth creation in our continued strive for equity. Finally, unlike past programs – an affordability covenant on homes in this program will run 99 years with a provision to extend longer, which essentially means that the homes in this program will stay permanently affordable to future cycles of buyers.

(3) Virginia Tech Northern VA Grad Center

We also voted 7-0 at first reading to refer out the purchase and sale agreement (PSA) for the property owned by the city and leased to Virginia Tech.

As quick background, the Virginia Tech site is on 7 acres, with about 5 acres owned by the city and 2 acres owned by VT, both located within Fairfax County. The 5 acres were leased to VT, dating back to an agreement from the 1990s. Currently, the VT site has a 100K square foot office building and large surface parking lot. (Originally, UVA was also a tenant up until 2018 when VT bought out UVA’s interest.) Under the terms of the 1995 ground lease, VT has a purchase option for the 5 acre portion for $2.8M, however future uses would be limited to educational and government uses.

The plan was first announced in April, and this week we discussed the specifics of how the transactions will occur and net proceeds to the city – first, Virginia Tech would terminate the lease with the city, then sell both parcels to the city for $16.5M, then Rushmark (under a new LLC, Converge) would buy the combined 7 acres from the city for $25M in order to redevelop into a 240K square foot corporate headquarters for Hitt Contracting, including space the a new Virginia Tech Center for Smart Construction, and 440 residential apartments and ground floor retail. The net proceeds to the city would be $8.3M after deducting out the initial payment to VT. Both of these transactions would occur in a combined closing, on the same date and time (by March 2025) and after land use approvals from Fairfax County will be secured so there is greater certainty that the proposed uses above can proceed.

Pending the feedback from the referral at first reading, we’re scheduled to take a final vote/second reading on July 25 to proceed with the transactions.

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, July 18 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, July 25 – City Council Meeting*

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

Monday, August 1 – Great Streets Park Ave Walking Tour (7 pm)

Monday, August 8 – City Council Meeting*

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