Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
Today is a big day! Besides being the last day of school for FCCPS students, today, at 2 pm, is also the groundbreaking for our new high school. In fact, it’s been a big week: the comprehensive agreement for the West Falls Church project was signed, the new downtown park officially opened, the rainbow pride flag was raised outside of City Hall for the first time, and some new pets could soon be legal in Falls Church homes.
This was one of the most fun blog posts to write (and I hope you’ll find it an informative and feel-good post to read as well) because while seemingly disparate topics – this week’s news represents long journeys that have culminated in awesome accomplishments, some with more miles to go. Nonetheless, those successes are all the sweeter when you see the many years of hard work and perseverance start paying off.
What Happened This Week:
(1) West Falls Church Project – Comprehensive Agreement Signed
After authorizing the City Manager to sign the agreement in May, the legal contract for the WFC Development Project and land transaction was officially signed this week. As you recall, a signed economic development deal is a key milestone before proceeding with debt issuance and construction of the high school as the land payments are a core part of the financing plan we outlined out before the 2017 referendum. The project has come a long way since the referendum, just over 18 months ago – notwithstanding the long nights and deliberations in getting to a solid option and financing plan to bring to referendum that started even before my term on City Council.
The business terms have largely remained the same as when we selected the EYA/PN Hoffman/Regency team last year – including a 99-year ground lease beginning in 2021 and a two phase development project on 9.4 acres with total payments of $34.5M to the city in Phase 1 and then a Phase 2 payment of $10M or appraised value, whichever is higher – for a total of $44.5M. The project will include a mix of commercial uses, including a grocery store, restaurants, retail, office space, residences, a hotel, civic spaces, and a center green space called “The Commons.” See more details in this week’s press release.
With the CA now signed, we’ve turned our attention back to the project conceptual plan, or the Special Exception Entitlement (SEE) application which establishes building heights, permitted uses, plan layouts, and other project details. We had deferred the vote on the SEE approval until 7/8, anticipating that there would be some revisions we wanted further staff, board and commission, and community review. This week, there were two public meeting opportunities for discussion of the SEE in the monthly Sunday Series town hall and a community meeting with boards and commissions. City Council is planned to discuss the project at our 7/1 work session before the 7/8 vote. You can continue to email questions and comments to us and/or come to our regular meetings and speak during public comment period.
(2) Downtown Park Opens
A large crowd joined us to officially open the new downtown park this week. Much kudos to the Economic Development Authority for championing the idea for many years and funding the creation of the pocket park in the heart of downtown Falls Church. As the liaison to the EDA, it has been really rewarding to contribute ideas and see the park come to life that is already drawing visitors. A few more improvements are still to come, but in the meantime – don’t forget to submit your park name nominations before 6/21 and check out the free events in June.
(3) Pride Flag Raised at City Hall
In recognition of LGBTQ Pride Month in June and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, I was proud to have advocated and secured a unanimous vote to fly the rainbow pride flag in front of City Hall for the first time. The pride flag will fly for the duration of June and every June going forward. Our support for LGBTQ equality is not new, but I believe our gesture to fly the flag in the heart of the city is an important and visible affirmation of our values as a welcoming and inclusive community.
(Thank you to the 5th graders who interviewed me last month for their Exhibition project on LGBTQ equality, which prompted me to think about how we can do more as allies!)
(4) Lions, Tigers, and Bears – Oh My! Hedgehogs, Chinchillas, and Hermit Crabs
The final bit news this week was also the culmination of a lot of grit and hard work, this time by a GMHS student activist. After many months (years?) of discussion, we unanimously voted on an updated exotic animal ordinance at first reading to allow new animals to be kept as pets in Falls Church, such as hedgehogs, chinchillas, hermit crabs, turtles, tortoises which have been technically illegal. This GMHS student showed an amazing command of the topic, researched and followed the changes in Fairfax and Arlington, lobbied the City Council for a change with strong arguments, and built a coalition of other supporters (with custom t-shirts!) who rallied for the ordinance update.
Despite staff’s recommendation against updating the ordinance, I found the argument to expand the allowable pets very compelling. The fact that our larger neighbors – Arlington, at 15 times, and Fairfax, at 80 times, our size – had already thoroughly researched and updated their ordinances, having consistent animal ordinances felt like a low risk decision and appropriate to be responsive to our constituents’ long-standing request.
Don’t go out and add that hermit crab to your family just yet! A second reading/final vote is planned on 6/24 before the ordinance change becomes law.
What’s Coming Up:
- TODAY – Friday, June 14 – GMHS Groundbreaking (2 pm, GMHS)
- Monday, June 17 – City Council Work Session (730 pm, Community Center)
- Monday, June 24 – City Hall Grand Re-Opening (6 pm, City Hall)
- Monday, June 24 – City Council Meeting (730 pm, City Hall)
- Monday, July 1 – City Council Work Session (730 pm, City Hall)
- Monday, July 8 – City Council Meeting (730 pm, City Hall)