Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
This week’s content is especially pertinent especially if you are interested in the Community Visioning session last Saturday, are a patron of the library, or pay close attention to capital projects and the budget. Read on to find out more about how to provide input on the City’s vision and the library project and its proposed referendum.
What Happened This Week:
(1) Community Visioning
We had good turnout and discussions at last Saturday’s Community Visioning session, which was the first of several opportunities to engage with the community on the future of the City and update the Comprehensive Plan. Thank you to everyone who set aside a Saturday morning to learn and provide input! If you missed it, the video is now available. We had 3 guest speakers discussing placemaking, demographics, and real estate development realities and then breakout sessions to collect input from smaller groups. A summary report and the documents from the session will be posted soon, but I’ll pull out a few takeaways that I thought were especially salient.
- Demographics changes in the City – the City grew by 18% in the last decade – one of the highest percentage gains in the Northern Virginia (second to Loudoun County). What’s interesting in the population increase is the distribution and changes in the city’s age cohorts. The Baby Boomer and the Youth population contributed all of the growth, whereas the Millennial/Gen X population decreased in that timeframe. Of 22 jurisdictions in the DC area, Falls Church ranks 14th in the Millennial age grouping (18% of population; US average is 20%, Northern Virginia 22%). We rank 4th in Baby Boomers (30% of population, US and Northern Virginia averages ares 26%). Our demographics have real implications on the future of the city – current and future tax base, planning for cost of services, making sure we meet and grow with the needs of our population as it ages, and more.
- Tax Base – another good reminder about why the City has been on a long journey to seek commercial development and revitalization. Besides scale disadvantages, our commercial properties are a low % of the overall tax base, especially when compared to neighboring jurisdictions, which puts more burden on residential homeowners and renters.
- Dot Exercises – there were two “dot exercises” where attendees had to vote with dot stickers to 1) prioritize the current 6 components of the City’s Vision Statement (Community Character, Commercial Redevelopment, Education, Transportation, Environment, Diversity in Housing) and 2) prioritize which other places/main streets appeal the most to him/her. The Values exercise yielded nearly even votes across all 6, which underscored the community’s desire for those principles to be balanced. However, in the main streets exercise – there was a clear majority who did NOT want Falls Church to look like a Tysons or Ballston, with most of the dots centered around Old Town Alexandria, Shirlington, Falls Church, and Mosaic – all of which are actually somewhat different from each other but represents smaller scale, height, and arguably more character and charm, than Tysons and Ballston.
- If you missed Saturday’s session, I encourage you to watch the video to listen to the guest speakers, look at the documents, and look for more opportunities later in the summer and fall. There should be an online survey, a follow up meeting in Sept/Oct, and other smaller meeting opportunities around town to provide input.
(2) City Council Work Session
Library Referendum – The majority of our work session was a discussion with the Library Board of Trustees on the library renovation and expansion project. Like most other capital projects in the city, the library one has been long discussed and in planning for nearly 10 years. The current project is based on a master plan proposed in 2013, which suggested a replacement library of 33,000 sq feet at a cost of $18MM, which was rejected by the Planning Commission and a more modest expansion for $8MM was suggested instead.
- What is the current proposal: The current $8.3MM project proposes either an east or west expansion of 6600 sq feet (currently the total library is 18,500 sq ft) to add children and young adult space, larger meeting space, study spaces, and addresses failing HVAC and elevator issues and ADA accessibility. The project does not include any addition of parking. The expansion is expected to add 15-20 years to the building lifespan and capacity.
- Timing: the project is proposed to undergo design in FY18 and construction in FY19, with construction lasting 18 mos – 2 years.
- Fiscal impact: the annual debt service impact for the bond, if passed, is about $600K/year – which is roughly 2 cents on the property tax rate. The aggregate amount of the bonds, including financing fees, is expected to be over 10% of the general fund budget, hence necessitating referendum.
- Alternatives: in the past, the library has been proposed to move from its current location to the ground floor of a new development, in the bigger 31,000 sq foot version that would be more of a 50+ year solution.
- Letty’s quick thoughts: my family and I are big personal fans of our library and would love to see the current facility’s issues addressed. A Trustee’s comment on Monday night about the library being the “heart and soul” of the City resonated with many, including myself. Given many competing capital projects, I believe it’s important for voters to weigh in November on whether they would support the expansion in the form of a bond and ensuing tax increase. Also, given that Mt. Daniel was our most recent significant bond issuance, I think it’s also important to learn from that project – I asked on Monday night to confirm 1) that the referendum and bond language allows the funds to be used at a different location should an alternative plan come to light and 2) that we would only issue debt after all required approvals and permits have been completed.
- Next steps: The first reading on the ordinance to place the referendum on the ballot will be next Monday June 27th, and the 2nd reading will be July 11th. The ordinance requires a majority of 2/3rds of Council, ie 5 votes in favor, per the City Charter. Public comment is welcome at both meetings, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to reach all of City Council.
- To learn more: http://www.fallschurchva.gov/670/Master-Plan-Expansion
What’s Coming Up:
(1) Play Streets Pilot – TODAY! Celebrate the last day of school at the 2nd Play Streets pilot from 130-4 pm on Pine Street between Lincoln Ave. and Highland Ave.
(2) Library 2016 Needs Survey – more responses are needed to plan and provide better library services for the community. The results will be posted on the library’s website and public bulletin boards. Take the Survey via SurveyMonkey
(3) City Council Meeting – Monday, June 27th – the agenda has been posted and includes a discussion with WMATA Acting COO Jack Requa and Chair of the Board Jack Evans and the Library referendum ordinance discussed in work session this week. This is a regular meeting, so public comments on the agenda items or other topics are welcome.
(4) SafeTrack – speaking of WMATA, to help you prepare for the next phases of the SafeTrack changes, the Coalition for Smarter Growth has provided a useful one stop shop webpage with links on alternatives including bus, bike, walk, carpool and telecommuting.
(5) Concerts in the Park – one of my family’s favorite summer traditions started last night at Cherry Hill. Pack a picnic and enjoy live music in the park. The schedule runs through the first week of August.