Updates from Letty – March 11, 2022

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,

With the unwanted two year anniversary of Covid this weekend, it seems like we’re finally approaching some sort of new normal. The updated CDC metrics and guidance on masks is welcome to allow us to dial up/dial down mitigation as needed. As long as we remain in low or moderate levels per the CDC metrics, masks are no longer required, but welcome, in city facilities.

Speaking of “new normal”, I’ve noted a few times that construction at both ends of the city will begin this spring with the Broad & Washington project and the West Falls project adjacent to the schools’ secondary campus. To manage everyone’s expectations, the new normal in Falls Church will be messy and disruptive at times for the next two years. But on the other side – we’ll welcome two new grocery stores, including a Whole Foods, restaurants, a new permanent home for Creative Cauldron, a hotel, an office building, the first condos built in the city in 15+ years, 50+ units of permanently affordable housing, new gathering spaces, and improved stormwater and environmental conditions on site and in adjacent neighborhoods. With every development, we continue to revitalize the city, diversify our tax base, and welcome new neighbors. Economic development is part of the reason why we were able to lower the tax rate ahead of schedule last year, even during a global pandemic, and afford the new capital infrastructure across the city.

From our work session this week, three main topics:

(1) Founders Row 2’s latest submission – as you recall, this project is proposed to replace the shuttered Rite Aid and carpet store at Broad and West.

(2) $10M “Smart Cities” grant we received. In partnership with Virginia Tech, some very cool technology will be coming to the city.

(3) Library hours reduction – thank you for the feedback I’ve received. I’ll share more on my thoughts and next steps.

We’re about two weeks out from the presentation of FY23 budget, so do note the schedule below for the public meetings and town halls where you’ll be able to engage.


PS – Also take note of two upcoming programs hosted by several of our boards and commissions: a safe biking infrastructure webinar by the ESC and CACT and a racial equity workshop by HSAC.

Demolition prep underway for the Broad & Washington project. In ~two years, this corner will have a
Whole Foods, housing, restaurants, a plaza, and a new home for Creative Cauldron.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Founders Row 2 (And Founders Row 1)

This week, we reviewed the changes to the Founders Row 2 project, which were in response to neighborhood and board and commission feedback. This back and forth negotiation and iteration is typical of most development projects and one of the reasons why we value community engagement – the resulting project is much better after incorporating your feedback! Of note:

  • Affordable housing: Our current policy is 6% of units should be set aside for households earning 60% AMI (area median income). Besides maintaining the commitment to double that – 12% affordable housing (34 of the 280 units), Founders Row 2 will be the first project that offers a few units that serve “deeply affordable” income levels as low as 40% AMI, which is about $50K for a family of 4. This is significant!
  • Stormwater: also notable is improvements in stormwater. A common misconception is that runoff worsens when redevelopment occurs because of additional impervious surface created. In the case of this site, there was already a lot of impervious surface with the asphalt parking lots and buildings. The developers are now proposing 20% improvement in stormwater conditions for the current data on a 10 year storm. Which means that if built, the project will capture/improve stormwater by 20% over what is there currently, which should be better for the surrounding neighborhood too.
  • Pedestrian, tree, green space improvements – a new north-south path is proposed on the western side of the project, in response to feedback from the neighborhood and our boards review. This allows better bicycle and pedestrian connectivity to the W&OD and adds important trees and green space, bringing the tree canopy to 14% and open space to 28% on site.
  • Other changes are detailed in the staff report and developer presentation.
new proposed pedestrian/cyclist path

While we’re on economic development, we did also discuss the continued progress at the Founders Row 1, including the latest news that 7 total restaurants have been announced and a “letter for intent” for a movie theater operator. We also heard a request from the developers to renew and expand the theater tax incentive that was originally approved in 2016, given the conditions for movie theaters have dramatically changed since then. We don’t take lightly tax incentives, so we’ll have independent financial and legal analysis before we decide to grant further incentives to secure a theater.

(2) Smart Cities

Last year, the city was awarded a $10M grant to pilot “smart cities” technology with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) around the developments proposed near the West Falls Church Metro station. Some proposed concepts include systems to make it easier for visitors to find and pay for parking, sync up traffic signals for better traffic flow, improve access to transit, and adaptive street lighting. We are early in the project, with more details can be found here.

(3) Library Hours

We wrapped up the meeting with a discussion on the reduction in library hours that the Library Board recommended that went into effect this week. While our library remains open 7 days a week albeit with shorter hours (54 hours/week) and is open more than neighboring libraries and the national average (43 hours/week), I’ve heard disappointment from many in the community.

Letty’s thoughts: I’m disappointed that the change occurred without much City Council consultation and outside of the budget process where priorities across the city are supposed to be assessed and considered. I expect that we’ll have discussion at the upcoming FY23 budget process that begins in a few weeks, where other options to address the staff concerns can be further discussed – such as reducing programming in favor of adding back in operating hours or additional budget dollars.

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, March 14, 2022 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, March 21, 2022 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, March 28, 2022 – City Council Meeting (Budget)*

Thursday, March 31, 2022 – Budget Town Hall #1

Monday, April 4, 2022 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, April 11, 2022 – City Council Meeting (budget first reading vote)*

Monday, April 18, 2022 – City Council Work Session*

Thursday, April 21, 2022 – Budget Town Hall #2

Monday, April 25, 2022 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, May 2, 2022 – City Council Meeting (budget adoption)*

*every Monday (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm at City Hall and livestreamed. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings