Updates from Letty – March 18, 2022
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 City Council meeting was brief, but it was notable that it was our first in person + mask optional meeting in 2 years! Lots of other activity and news outside of our meeting – read on for more info on:
- 2022 real estate assessments and my thoughts (remember, this is not your tax bill – your final bill is your Assessment x Tax Rate. We’ll be setting the tax rate through the budget process this spring.)
- Parking changes in the downtown
- Highlights from our Monday meeting, including how you can advocate for traffic calming/pedestrian safety requests
Among other spring activity around town, you may have noticed the long-awaited wayfinding signs are starting to be installed. While the installation has had a few hiccups that are being fixed by the contractor, it’s great to see the designs come to life – they are clear and easy to read, help navigate to parking and landmarks, and welcome visitors with a unified brand. Stay tuned for the final product in a few weeks.
PS With warmer weather finally here, I’m resuming in person office hours. Catch me at Mr. Brown’s Park on what should be a sunny morning next Monday, March 21 at 9 am.
What Happened This Week:
(1) 2022 Real Estate Assessments
The full press release is available here; here are my highlights:
- Overall assessed value increased over 11%, driven by large appreciation in residential sales prices (you have likely seen it play out in their own neighborhoods). This is the first double digit growth in assessed values since the housing boom in the 2000s. This is also a much bigger increase than what we expected from the preliminary budget forecast we received in December.
- Residential assessments are up almost 14% – with single family homes, townhomes, and condos all growing in value.
- Multifamily property (ie, apartments) grew about 12%, which actually counts towards our commercial tax base.
Letty’s thoughts: I recognize that high property assessments are a double edged sword – it’s a testament to the investments we’ve made in making Falls Church a great place to live and the economic development we’ve undertaken to grow our tax base. But I also know that high property assessments can be a big tax burden especially to lower and fixed income families. High real estate prices represent an even higher barrier to live in the city than it already was. When we issued budget guidance in December, we had already directed the City Manager to provide tax rate reduction options of 0-4 cents. (Recall we had reduced the tax rate from 1.355 to 1.32 last year.) I had also requested the City Manager and Treasurer to consider expansions to the low income senior and disabled tax relief program so target relief to those who will be burdened the most.
This year’s budget process, more than ever, will be an important time to analyze needs across the city and fund the priorities we’ve long discussed (these were my priorities), making things like affordable housing and employee compensation even more important, especially in light of the high inflationary environment. While there is still some uncertainty with state revenues like the grocery tax, I’m hopeful we’ll be able “do it all“ while balancing fiscal responsibility to taxpayers.
(2) Downtown Parking Changes
If you have to drive to downtown Falls Church, take note of parking and street changes in preparation for the construction work for the Broad & Washington (aka Whole Foods) project. New public parking has been added, per a new agreement negotiated with Kaiser Permanente. The Kaiser garage is now available for public parking on all weeknights and weekends.
Nearby, both City Hall and the garage behind the 4Ps are already open for public parking on all weeknights and weekends. This is a good map of public parking available downtown. Better yet, you can bike or walk downtown!
(3) Meeting Highlights
Traffic Calming – of note is we’ve heard from the Great Falls and Lincoln Ave neighborhood with concerns about traffic calming and safety of the crosswalks near Lincoln Park. I’m grateful that staff is quickly mobilizing to address the issues and a longer term plan for stormwater improvements + redesign of Lincoln Ave is in the works as well. (The long term Lincoln project just got additional funding, along with electric school buses, thanks to Congressman Beyer’s advocacy for Falls Church in the new federal omnibus spending bill.)
If you have traffic calming or pedestrian safety issues, the Neighborhood Traffic Calming program is how we prioritize and fund bottoms up resident requests. The CACT (Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation) is our volunteer board and commission on all things transportation; they meet monthly and can help advocate for you and prioritize NTC solutions. Of course, you can also contact all of City Council with your concerns.
West Falls Project – there are a lot of complex, legal documents in this week’s agenda packet for the West Falls project, including documents to convey land to the developer and EDA. As you may recall, the economic development plan for the 10 acre site involves a 99 year ground lease to the developer to help offset the cost of the new high school. In Virginia, cities can only be involved in leases up to 40 years, with no limits for economic development authorities. Because of that prohibition, the city has to convey the majority of the land (7.65 acres) to the city’s EDA to be the legal party involved in the lease and 1 acre to developer for the condo building, with the remaining acres reserved for Phase 2 of the project.
What’s Coming Up:
Monday, March 21, 2022 (9 am) – Letty’s Office Hours at Mr. Brown’s Park
Monday, March 21, 2022 – City Council Work Session*
Monday, March 28, 2022 – City Council Meeting (Budget)*
Thursday, March 31, 2022 (noon) – 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 (7 pm) – 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. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings