Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
It was a busy week of City business and this week’s lengthy updates reflects that. It should interest a wide variety of folks, including many topics that are critical to the planning of the future of the City. Read on for latest updates on upcoming park renovations, GMHS campus planning, economic development (several new businesses opening soon!), the Fellows Property and other land use/zoning items. A note about the land use topics – I’ve learned a lot about land use the past few months (and still much more to learn) and it’s a complicated topic, so I’ve attempted to simplify those updates for those seeking to better understand all of the nomenclature, how it works, and links for more reading. I’ve heard many opinions about the future of the City – how we should use land, what sort of economic development we should have, where we should have schools and park space. I encourage you to set aside time to read the land use topics we covered this week and check out the links, which is good foundation knowledge. And join your neighbors at next Saturday’s Visioning Meeting where we’ll have a community discussion on many of these topics!
As always, I hope you find the updates valuable and I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Have a great summery weekend and hope to see you at the Tinner Hill Blues Festival events around town!
What Happened This Week:
(1) City Council Work Session – June 6, 2016
- Recs and Park Discussion
- Big Chimneys Park – The Rec and Parks Advisory Board joined us for the first part of our work session and majority of that time was focused on renovation plans at Big Chimneys Park, located on Annandale Road behind Winter Hill. Based on the ideas received from the public, board, and staff – the park has the potential to be a fantastic upgrade to our park system: re-grading and stormwater work to address the swampy conditions, new playground equipment for wide range of children, open green space, paths, and a raised crosswalk so pedestrians can safely get to the park. More detailed planning and continued community input sessions will occur this year; procurement would begin in 2017; construction beginning in 2018 and target opening Fall 2018.
- Cherry Hill Park – the Rec and Parks Director also reported out that there are imminent plans to replace the playground equipment at Cherry Hill and also make it ADA friendly/accessible. Expect more public engagement to seek your input as that proceeds.
- Dog Waste Stations – dog waste stations are coming back to the City parks! A pilot program just started in conjunction with an Eagle Scout project to install 6-8 dog waste stations at Berman, Madison, and Cavalier Trail parks. If the pilot is successful, the rollout of dog waste stations across the entire park system will occur. This pilot receptacles will allow neighbors to add bags for others to use, so if you are a fellow dog walker – take advantage of the new amenity, don’t take more bags than you need, and contribute bags for others to use to help the program be successful.
Eagle Scout project installation in progress at Madison Park
- Land Use & Zoning Topics
- 604 S. Oak St / Fellows Property – we discussed an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan for 604 S. Oak St (also known as the Fellows Property) across from TJ Elementary to Parks and Open Space use with a school flag in the Future Land Use Map within the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan (aka Comp Plan), last updated in 2005, is the primary policy document that outlines the community goals and aspirations for development and growth for the next 20 years – including transportation, land use, recreation and housing. The Future Land Use Map is also a planning document; the designation to Parks and Open Space does not change the current zoning of R1-A (residential) nor does it set in motion any acquisition of land. Zoning is the legal mechanism that stipulates which land uses are allowed. The FLUM shows how the City would like to plan land use in the future. 604 S. Oak, at almost 2 acres, is one of the last large undeveloped land parcels adjacent to current school/park/public buildings within our 2 square mile city. This will be placed on our 6/13 agenda for a formal vote and referral out to Boards and Commissions.
- 116 Great Falls St Re-zoning Application – we also discussed the re-zoning and subdivision of 116 Great Falls St (corner of N. Maple and Great Falls) and Columbia Baptist requested by the residential property owners and the church. While the Planning Commission can approve subdivisions, re-zonings are ultimately approved or denied by the City Council. The goals of the homeowner applicants are to be able to sub-divide their property to allow a second house to be built and the church would like to add parking to their property. Staff had 3 options and recommended the one that involved rezoning from R-1A (residential) to T-1 (transitional) with covenants to protect the historic houses on those parcels. I believe we should take re-zoning applications seriously, and this underscores the importance of the Future Land Use Map. Given that the Future Land Use Map designates N. Maple as residential, I think its residents have a reasonable belief that it would remain residential and a change to T-1 would represent a departure. I expressed those concerns in the meeting and my bias is to go with a split re-zoning option that maintains N. Maple as residential, protects the historic houses and residential character, while still accomplishing the goals of the applicants.
- Revitalization Areas – the Virginia General Assembly recently passed legislation restricting proffers for economic development, and the City and neighboring jurisdictions like Fairfax County have been working on plans to mitigate the impact. Proffers and voluntary concessions are generally a developer’s financial payments or other concessions to the City to defray costs associated with development. For example, Mason Row’s VCs included capital contributions for schools, affordable housing, transportation improvements, and library. One of the carve outs of the new proffer legislation would exempt areas designated as “revitalization areas“, adjacent to Metro stations, or densities above 3.0 FAR. As such, the Planning division is proposing to a change in the Comprehensive Plan to designate our commercial areas (most of which are already undergoing Small Area Planning work) as revitalization areas. From a resident perspective – there is no impact; this technical designation does not change zoning or land use and simply serves as coverage for the state legislation so future development projects can still allow proffers.
- For those of who would like to learn more or are curious what your neighborhood’s land use maps look like – here are interesting links for further reading:
(2) Economic Development Authority – June 7, 2016
As the Council liaison to the EDA, I attended their monthly meeting this week. The EDA’s function is to advise City Council on economic development issues and promote further economic development in the City. A wide range of topics was discussed this month, including the idea of a BID (Business Improvement District – a defined area within which businesses are required to pay an additional tax (or levy) in order to fund projects within the districts boundaries) or other means like increasing transient occupancy tax (hotel tax). With continued operating budget pressure and expected big capital needs in the next few years, the EDA’s desire is to find dedicated funding sources for beautification and maintenance projects in our downtown so we can keep encouraging more commercial activity.
Also of note from the EDA meeting is June’s Business and Real Estate Bulletin that City staff compiles, which highlights new business openings, construction work, etc in FCC. Notables include the grand opening date for Harris Teeter, Rare Birds Coffee Roaster, Northside Social II, a billiards and darts option in town, and several exciting family-friendly businesses – a second location for Jumping Joeys and Kids First Swim School this fall.
What’s Coming Up:
(1) This Weekend – the 23rd annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival, a weekend of blues music for all ages, kicks off today. Many events at Cherry Hill Park, Farmers Market, Community Center, Library, and the State Theater. Tickets are required for some activities, so check the website for details. All blues, all over town, all weekend!
(2) City Council Meeting – Monday, June 13th – we have a packed meeting agenda for next Monday. Highlights include 2nd reading of the Development Fees topic we covered a few weeks ago and a discussion on GMHS/MEH campus planning. The School Board did not take action at their meeting week – whether to proceed with the next phase of the RFP or to discontinue and “de-couple”. If you need to catch up, the video recording of our last joint work session is available for viewing and last week’s blog post included a recap. In order to proceed with Phase 2 of the current process or to stop – both bodies have to vote to proceed; if one or both bodies vote to discontinue, the current process stops. I encourage you share your thoughts with us – you can speak during public comment next Monday or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(3) Housing Forum– the Housing Commission, another Board and Commission, meets next Tuesday June 14th at 6 pm and is also hosting a special Housing Forum at the community room in Winter Hill Apartments, 330-B South Virginia Avenue, immediately after their meeting. The goal of the Housing Forum is to discuss goals for housing, regional trends, and get feedback on housing priorities that will serve as inputs to updates on the housing chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.
(4) Get involved! Want to get involved with impactful work like park projects, affordable housing, human services, or excited about bringing in new businesses? Or have a skill that could benefit the City? Joining a Board or Commission is a great way to get involved and give back to your community. Learn more about the other Boards and Commissions, check out upcoming vacancies, and how to apply.
(5) Next Saturday, June 18th 845 am-12 pm – Community Visioning Workshop @ The Falls Church – What should the Little City look like and feel like as we look ahead 25 years? Join your neighbors, City officials, staff, and guest speakers for a presentation and workshop to help update the City’s Vision; we’ll seek your input on community character, commercial redevelopment, transportation, and financial stability. You can RSVP to attend this one or be notified of future events.
(6) Bring Bike Share to FCC – some good news, but still need everyone’s help! We did get the good news that the City, pending final state level meetings, will receive $500K in funds for operating costs of bikeshare from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC). We still have a $2MM capital grant request that is outstanding to be decided by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). The NVTA met last night and there was opposition to our bikeshare request as we’re competing against large highway projects in the region that typically get more attention and funding. You can email the NVTA at FY2017Program@TheNoVaAuthority.org with your support before their final vote in July.
(7) Concerts in the Park – one of my family’s favorite summer traditions are these Thursday night concerts at Cherry Hill. Pack a picnic and enjoy live music in the park. The schedule has just been published, so mark your calendars.