Updates from Letty – July 29, 2016

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,
While City Council has only had one regular meeting since my last update, the past two weeks been packed with other City business. We had a joint dinner meeting with the City of Fairfax and Town of Vienna to celebrate the Solarize campaign and share learnings, a town hall meeting on the library capital project, the Fairfax County Planning Commission hearing the Mt Daniel application last Thursday, City Hall tours last weekend, and various boards and commissions have continued to meet through the summer. I was also in Richmond for a conference for newly elected officials and met other newbie Council members across Virginia. And of course, the news of the summer so far has been the Harris Teeter grand opening!
We will pack in a lot ahead of our August recess – City Council will meet for its last regular meeting of the summer on Monday August 8th, followed by a joint session with the School Board to re-start the GMHS/MEH campus project on Tuesday August 9th.
Your input needed – When you have a few relaxing moments in between the beach, pool, or strolling around town, there are also several opportunities for citizen input: a bike routes meeting next week, a walkability survey, and a housing affordability survey. Finally, if you have an opinion on towing in the City – I’d like to hear from you. We are poised to make a change in City code imposing higher towing fees (from $100 to $135); this is a change we are compelled to do by a new Virginia law. While we have no power to change the fees until the General Assembly meets again, hearing your feedback on issues with towing, signage confusion or visibility, examples of predatory towing, etc can help us figure out how to improve parking in the City and balance the needs between businesses, property owners, and customers/visitors. Read on for more information about this proposed towing fee change, and I look forward to hearing from you.
In a little city like ours, one voice does make a difference, so let yours be heard!
Stay cool,
Harris Teeter mascot welcoming Falls Church shoppers
What Happened This Week (and Last Week):
Regional meeting with Fairfax and Vienna. The City of Fairfax hosted us to celebrate the success of the Solarize NoVA campaign. It was a good opportunity to meet our Council counterparts and build relationships. While Fairfax and Vienna are not our immediate neighbors, as small jurisdictions, we have much in common. Of most interest was the discussion on economic development and tour of Fairfax’s new town square/park. For anyone who may be visiting or passing by the City of Fairfax, I encourage you to check out the park. It shows the potential of how public investment in a park and green space can enliven a downtown. I’m really looking forward to seeing the planning for our own downtown pocket park get underway (City Council approved it in the CIP this spring and the Economic Development Authority is funding the $550K project).
Library Town Hall & Vote – if you missed the town hall meeting last week, the video is available for viewing. There are also several documents that provide an overview of the $8.7MM project on the City website. If you didn’t read/hear the news yet, on Monday night – City Council did pass 6-0 to approve putting the library project up for referendum vote this November. Our unanimous vote does not approve the project – voters will ultimately be the decision makers in whether to proceed or not. I appreciate all of the input and questions I’ve received to date. As a matter of principle (and as I stated at first reading), I believe citizens should be able to weigh in on all capital investments of significant amounts, so I supported this being on the November ballot. Between now and then, I encourage you to be an informed voter – understand the project and its financial implications before you vote yes or no.  Stay tuned for several other opportunities to learn about the project this fall.
Mount Daniel – the Fairfax County Planning Commissioners heard the application for Mt. Daniel expansion last Thursday. The video is also available (begins at 0:49 or so). I believe we put our best foot forward; many thanks to  everyone who came out and gave public comment or sat in the audience through a very long meeting to show support. Originally, a decision was to be issued at last night’s meeting, but we heard yesterday afternoon that it would be further delayed until its September 14th or 15th meeting, after the Planning Commission returns from its August recess.
City Council Meeting
  • The main business in this week’s meeting was the Library referendum, which we passed 6-0 as discussed above.
  • We also passed at first reading the ordinance on late payment penalty fees that I wrote about in my last blog post. If the ordinance passes 2nd reading next month, the new late payment penalties would be applicable for this fall’s personal property tax bills.
  • Towing ordinance
    • We discussed a proposed ordinance that would help us comply with newly passed Virginia code that allow tows companies to charge higher fees. Under prior state law, the City could allow tow companies to charge any fee with a cap of $135. The city code currently allows a hookup and initial towing fee of up to $100. The change in the statutes mandates that the City set the fee at $135, and that an additional fee of $25 must be allowed for 24 night, weekend, or holiday towing. We opposed this change during the legislative session (Letty’s thoughts: I believe this is an area where rates should be regulated locally, and I am concerned that an increase incents more predatory towing), but ultimately the bill passed the General Assembly.
    • Police Chief Gavin also cited a period of steady decreases in towing from 2012 (797 tows) to 2015 (204 tows), with an alarming jump this year (277 tows so far already).
    • I believe towing, especially predatory towing, is a serious economic development issue, and one where we must balance property owners’ interest with the public good. Ultimately, I think we need to be clearer with signage and education about public parking locations, provide shared public parking such as the Kaiser lot, and reduce predatory towing. I also loved the idea tossed around for a parking app for the City.
    • Several of us spoke with concerns about the towing fee increase, but ultimately with no discretion in changing the legislation and the risk of not having an enforceable ordinance at all, first reading of the new fees passed 5-1.
What’s Coming Up:
Calling all bicyclists! Bike Routes Workshop Wednesday, August 3 from 630-830 pm, City Hall, Dogwood Room. Interested citizens are invited to attend and give input on the marking options for these routes: Hillwood Ave, S Cherry St to W Annandale Rd and Roosevelt Blvd, Wilson Blvd to Roosevelt St. If you can’t attend, you can email your comments.
Walkability Survey – the CACT (Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation) has put together a Walkability Survey to assess the walkability of the City’s main commercial corridors on Broad and Washington Streets. The survey is focused on the condition of sidewalks, ease of crossing streets, and comfort and appeal of the walking experience. Whether you are a regular walker, a neighbor, or have feedback or issues on a specific block or intersection – I encourage you take the survey. You can bookmark the survey and take it the next few times you’re out and about. (Kids are welcome to help out too!) Your input ultimately helps target improvement efforts to the areas with the greatest needs.
Housing Survey – as part of the update to the Comprehensive Plan, the Housing Commission is looking for input on the status and need for affordable housing in the City. Did you know that housing is considered “affordable” when households pay no more than 30% of their gross monthly income for their rent or mortgage, including utilities? The survey will be open through next Sunday August 7th.
City Council Meetings – our last meeting of the summer will be on Monday August 8th at 730 pm followed by a joint session with the School Board on Tuesday August 9th at 730 pm to restart the campus planning work. Agendas will be posted next week, but I expect the main topics for the City Council meeting will be 2nd readings on several topics that have been discussed recently: revitalization districts, future land use map change for 604 S. Oak (Fellows property), late payment penalty fees, and the towing fee increase.