Updates from Letty – July 20, 2018

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 a brief recess, it was good to be back in the saddle this week. We had a meaty work session, so a lot to read below to get refreshed and caught up at the midpoint of the summer.

The majority of our work session was a discussion on CIP projects and housing. Given our ambitious CIP and that I most often hear from citizens about new investments we’re making across the City, I hope you’ll click through to check out the latest updates on our projects, including the Library, City Hall, the long awaited reopening of the Van Buren bridge, bike share, turf project at Larry Graves, PARKING and more.

And of course, a milestone decision for a new high school occurred on Tuesday, with 1) the School Board selection of the finalist architect and contractor 2) unveiling of the design and 3) approval of the construction contract. The flyover video/virtual tour and narration really makes the design come to life, so take a few minutes to check it out and read on to learn the next steps as the process continues.

We’ve got a busy few weeks until our last meeting of the summer on August 13, when the final vote for Founders Row is currently planned. If you’re paying attention to that project, Boards and Commissions have been busy reviewing the project and submitting their comments to discuss at our work session on August 6 in advance of the August 13 public hearing and vote. Email us with your thoughts.



PS – I know it’s summer, but if you haven’t taken it yet, do give us your input on housing needs in the city here. Your input will be an important part of the community discussion on housing priorities: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CFC-Housing-Needs-Survey


What Happened This Week:

1) City Council Work Session

The majority of our discussion was on CIP (Capital Improvement Program) projects, especially in advance of votes requested at next week’s regular meeting. Includes:

  • $195K request for pre-construction work for the library renovation/expansion project. (We had previously approved $880K for architecture fees, out of the $8.7M bond approved at referendum.)  After the pre-construction phase, the project is planned to occur between Fall 2019-Fall 2020, which finishes earlier than originally planned due to a new option to close the library and renovate/construct in a single phrase. Besides saving time, there is also $300K cost savings by closing library. Staff is currently evaluating the options to move the library offsite and have a smaller collection available if the option to close and renovate is chosen.
  • Quarterly snapshot of other CIP projects (with red/yellow/green status) – click to read the latest on park updates like Big Chimney, Larry Graves turf field; transportation projects like bridges, traffic calming, bike share, and traffic signals. You will probably find your favorite project in this snapshot. Take note of the long awaited reopening of the Van Buren Bridge, which is now open to car and pedestrian traffic.
  • City Council Work Plan – separate from the CIP projects is the Council’s 2 year work plan of initiatives we’ve prioritized highly, some capital and some otherwise, based on our visioning and community discussions at the beginning of 2018. We also review this regularly.
Van Buren bridge, now open!

We also discussed our Housing goals, as the housing chapter of the Comprehensive Plan is being updated over the next 6 months. When we talk about housing, you may automatically think of affordable housing, which is already a misnomer. Most of the “affordable housing” in the city is actually workforce housing – which is for people who have jobs, but they may not be earning enough to afford market rate rents or have a downpayment. Interesting demographics and housing price facts from the presentation:

  • Median age fell from 40.4 to 38.9 from 2010-2016
  • 18% increase in families while there was 11% in Fairfax and Arlington Counties from 2000-2010
  • 12% increase of ages 1-24; 6% increase of 55-64 from 2010-2016
  • In 2002 the first million-dollar residential property was sold; by 2014 1 out of 5 properties sold for over 1 million dollars
  • The US Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Department considers households that pay more than 30% of their monthly income toward housing costs to be “cost burdened”. 38% of City renters and 25% of City homeowners are cost burdened by housing costs

Clearly, our demographics have shifted and housing prices have increased while wages for the lower earning segments have not kept up. We, and the rest of the DMV region, have an opportunity for more diverse housing types and more affordable housing, especially in light of the projected regional population growth. As a first step, in the coming month, I expect we’ll review an updated Affordable Housing Policy (which is the guideline for developers to meet in new projects) and we’ll consider ways to bolster our affordable housing fund so that it can be leveraged to help make more progress.

ICYMI from the spring, this was a good article about housing in the city, and how housing is really an economic development, transportation, and social issue and an important opportunity to reflect our community’s values.

Community input is important in the Comp Plan updates, so give us your input on housing needs in the city here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CFC-Housing-Needs-Survey

2) Parking! Have you noticed the new on-street parking spaces being added in our downtown? We expect 25 new spaces to be added around the 100-200 block of Park Ave and N. Maple; new signs are going up and paint marking the new areas will be on the ground by end of month. While I have been a strong advocate for making our small city more walk and bike friendly, I have heard the citizen and business feedback that we could use more accessible parking for out-of city-visitors, patrons, and residents who may not be able to walk or bike. On street parking is usually a win-win: it adds parking at a low cost that is visible and more accessible than surface or garage parking lots that helps our business community; it has a traffic calming effect by slowing down cars, which is a common concern I hear on Park Ave; and creates a sense of safety for pedestrians by buffering them from car traffic.

Kudos to city staff for analyzing the streets and finding opportunity to add 25 spaces, including street width measurements and simulation with the new spaces to ensure emergency vehicles could still access the streets safely.

New parking spaces on N. Maple

Expect more to come in the topic of parking. As car use and parking patterns continue to evolve, I believe this is a good opportunity for us look at low-cost, low-risk opportunities to make all modes of transportation easier. I think there are further opportunities with better parking signage and wayfinding, shared parking arrangements, technology, and more – which should help minimize the towing that occurs when people accidentally park in private lots.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on other parking opportunities – email me!

3a) GMHS

The big milestone with the campus project this week was the School Board’s selection of Gilbane/Stantec/Quinn Evans as the finalist contractor/architect/designer for a new GMHS. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the video with a virtual tour and the design, including proposed floor plans, fields, and buildings.

The School Board also approved the $108M construction contract on Tuesday night, and City Council will be taking up the same contract at our meeting next week. (Yes, the bond referendum was for $120M so that will be the maximum total cost as approved by voters. $108M will be for construction costs only and the additional $12M is planned for furnishings, bond costs, etc).

So what’s next?

Before the school design is finalized in October, there will be a series of meetings to get community input on the design, including sub-committees focused on specific areas of the school design (sign up for sub committees below):

  • August 5th – 2:00 p.m. – George Mason High School
    Full Design Presentation Gilbane Construction, Stantec, and Quinn Evans Architects
    Community reaction, and comments
  • September 6th – 7:00 p.m. – George Mason High School
    Update of the August 5th meeting incorporating internal and community recommendations received.
    Subcommittee Breakout Sessions in classrooms.
    Report out will follow.
  • September 23 – 2:00 p.m. – George Mason High School
    Midpoint meeting for General Public. Update of prior meetings
    Subcommittee Breakout Sessions in classrooms.
    Update on the City Economic Development RFDP
  • September 26 – 7:00 p.m. – Joint PTA/PTSA Meeting – George Mason High School
    Midpoint Meeting – Duplicate of Sept 23rd meeting (no Subcommittee breakout sessions)
    Questions & Answers
  • TBD: Mid-October – 7:00 p.m. – George Mason High School
    Final meeting.
    Architect review of all design changes and enhancements


3b) West Falls Church Economic development

Meanwhile, we’re awaiting the detailed proposals from the 3 shortlisted firms for the 10 acre economic development (Comstock WFC, EYA, and Rushmark WFC), due on August 22. Between August and October, we’ll be selecting the top ranked developer. When the top respondent is chosen in Oct 2018, we’ll enter into what you may hear as an Interim Agreement (formerly called Exclusive Rights Agreement) which begins the negotiation process for the 10 acres. You can expect a very public process after the top respondent is selected, similar to other land use/economic development projects in the city where there will be public hearings, public comment, board and commission review and discussion, etc. That process takes us through May 2019, when we will enter in a master development agreement with the terms of the lease or sale of the land and the conceptual development plan finalized.

May 2019 will be a pivotal month, as that is when there is a key linkage between the economic development project and the high school project. In order to proceed to school construction in summer 2019, a signed comprehensive agreement on the land transaction will need to occur; otherwise, school construction would not proceed and the next set of bonds would not be issued.

In summary, here’s where we are (red) on both projects:

Here’s where we are (red):

School Milestones:

  • January 17, 2018  – Initial RFP Proposals Due
  • February 13, 2018 – Short List of Proposals Determined
  • February 22, 2018 – Detailed RFP issued to 3 finalists
  • May 17, 2018  – Detailed Proposals Due
  • July 2018 – Select Design Team / PPEA Contract Approval
  • July 2018 – June 2019 – School Design & Engineering
  • July 2019 – School Construction Begins
  • July 2021 – School Construction Complete (Gilbane estimates that school construction could complete 6 months earlier than planned and students could move back after Winter Break of 2020-2021)
Economic Development Milestones:
  • February 2018 – Comp Plan Revisions, Marketing of 10 acres, Culminating in Issuance of RFP for Economic Development
  • May 2018 – Short List of Respondents Determined
  • May 2018 – Bond #1 for Architecture & Engineering ($10M)
  • June 2018 – RFDP for Economic Development
  • Oct 2018 – Select Top Ranked Respondent & Negotiations Commence
  • May 2019 –  Sign Master Development Agreement, followed by land and site approvals for development
  • June 2019 – Bond #2 for Construction ($60M)
  • Sept 2020 – Bond #3 for Construction ($50M)
  • Fall 2021 – Commercial Development Begins on former high school site


What’s Coming Up:

  • Save the date: Sunday, September 23 – Sunday Series Town Hall (2 pm, GMHS Auditorium)