Updates from Letty – July 17, 2020

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,

This week’s post will be a little different than typical. Our meeting this week was pretty cut and dry and we have a packed work session on Monday, so instead of recapping this week – I’m going to spend more time on the upcoming topics, some of which I know will have much community interest. Here’s your early opportunity to weigh in.

Three TL;DR takeaways for you:

  1. West Falls Church Project – as expected, we voted 6-0 to refer to boards and commissions this week on the site plan submission and amendments to the previous plan. Expect those meetings to occur over the summer with recommendations due to us before we take a final vote. Last week’s post included more information about the plans, including the links if you missed it.
  2. Stay vigilant about COVID-19Northern Virginia is seeing positive trends, but the Hampton Roads area and other states have a worrisome resurgence in COVID cases. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of staying vigilant – especially with mask wearing (see latest guidance affirming the benefit of masks) and social distancing. In addition to the country’s first workplace safety standards, the Governor has announced that he is hiring 500 investigators for surprise visits to Virginia businesses to ensure adherence to the rules. And the Virginia Department of Health has launched an online system to report violations of masks and other restrictions. Education comes first (and I’ve largely seen and heard good diligence by our Falls Church businesses and their patrons), but I’m glad to see Virginia step up with more active enforcement.
  3. Next week’s meeting is a weighty one – of particular interest to many of you: Broad and Washington project, federal COVID funding allocation, and gun legislation. Read on for more info and share your thoughts with me ahead of our meeting.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Take care,

PS if you missed last week’s Black Lives Matter event held by MEH students, you can still see the signs from the memorial at the Community Center tennis courts. Our next generation of activists continues to give me hope!

What’s Coming Up:

Our work session agenda for Monday, July 20

(1) Broad & Washington Project

The original project was approved in 2018, but has been re-submitted with changes, including a Whole Foods instead of an office building as the commercial component, a larger design that proposes buying the city parking lot off Park Place, and still incorporates new space for Creative Cauldron.

The online agenda has many other documents to review if you’re interested. A few I’ll point out, based on the feedback I’m hearing from the community:

Note that because it’s a pretty different proposal from what was approved in 2018, it would go through the city’s development process from the beginning. In order to move forward, it would start with a public hearing, a first reading vote to refer to boards and commissions, board and commission meetings with official comments, and a second reading/final vote with lots of opportunity for community input throughout.

(2) Gun legislation

As I wrote about previously, the Virginia General Assembly this year passed historic commonsense gun legislation, that has been a long-standing priority for the citizens of Falls Church. (This is a good overview of 10 new gun laws that are in effect, as of July 1st.) HB 421, in particular, allows local jurisdictions to ban guns in public places. We’ll be discussing options to prohibit the possession, carrying, or transportation of firearms in buildings owned, leased, or used by the City as well as in parks, recreational or community facilities owned or used by the City.

There are several options for consideration – from keeping the ordinance as is to banning open carry in some limited buildings, to banning both open and concealed carry in all public buildings and facilities.

I’d love to hear the community’s input and would encourage you to read up on the research as well. (A common concern I’ve already received is that mass shooters will target gun-free zones. The data from the past 10 years shows that 10% of mass shootings occurred in gun free zones, with the majority happening in private homes.)

(3) CARES funding recommendation

The City received $1.27M in Federal CARES relief money, meant to cover costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic incurred from March through the end of 2020. We’ll be reviewing staff recommendations on how to allocate the money – such as emergency rent relief, food assistance, PPE, business grants, technology upgrades to enable virtual public meetings, school reopening costs. CARES funding cannot be applied to cover revenue shortfalls – only direct costs related to the pandemic. As expected, we have more costs than funding so some items will have to be covered by the already tight city budget.

(4) West End Small Area Plan (encompassing West End, Gordon Road Triangle, School Parcels) – small area planning is meant to be a guide for future development. That doesn’t mean what’s in the plan will happen immediately or exactly as envisioned, note that it’s a long range planning document that incorporates the city’s vision, goals for the area, and concepts for redevelopment. For all the concerns I’ve ever heard that development in the city seems to happen haphazardly, this is actually the 5th small area plan that’s been developed. See here for the completed ones.

Vision: the West End is a vibrant gateway into the City of Falls Church. Gathering spaces and a mix of uses, including the Falls Church City Public Schools’ campus, immerse residents and visitors in a welcoming and inclusive community. Continuing investment builds upon activity already underway and supports the area’s economic vitality, enhances safety and multimodal transportation connections, and affirms the City’s commitment as an urbanenvironmental sustainability and resilience leader.

The West End small area plan was first started a year ago, and the next draft is planned for discussion next week.