Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
We are coming down to the wire with the West Falls Church projects. We had a 5 hour work session this week to discuss the latest development plans and the comprehensive agreement (the legal contract between the city and the developers). We are still targeting a vote next week, followed by the school’s signing of one of their contracts. I’ve continued to reiterate the commitment made by City Council before the 2017 referendum: before we issue any bonds for construction and before the new high school proceeds, we need to have a signed development deal which is a critical part of the financing plan for the $120M school.
If you’re confused or need to get caught up on the WFC project, read on! To say this is a complicated project is an understatement. Besides being the biggest project ever in the city, with many moving parts and dependencies, everyone has been working double and triple time to negotiate the deal terms and the conceptual design on a very ambitious timeline. We’ve continued to collaborate with our neighbors, schools, stakeholders, and our own boards and commissions, so the plans have been evolving based on balancing that collective input. Knowing that everyone else isn’t living and breathing this like we are, below I’ve tried to summarize and provide new links to keep you informed. I expect at next Monday’s meeting, we’ll discuss another modification to the concept that better responds to the feedback we’ve heard.
ICYMI – did you know that this week has been International Composting Awareness Week? And next week is a big week for bicycling! Join us for the official grand opening of Capital Bikeshare next Monday night. And next Friday is Bike to Work Day – you can join the festivities at our Little Falls pit stop.
What Happened This Week:
(1) West Falls Church Economic Development project, aka the 10 acre project
A quick refresher and background:
- Why 10 acres? The high school and middle school land was brought into city limits by a voluntary boundary adjustment in 2013 as part of the resolution to the water system dispute. The agreement included a provision that 70% of the land remain in school use for 50 years from 2013 and up to 30% (about 10.4 acres) can be used for any other legal use. As various task forces explored how to renovate or build a new high school, the best option was determined to open up the 10 acres for economic development to help partially offset the cost of financing a $120M new high school. The plan was approved by voters in the Nov 2017 referendum. The webpage for the WFC project has many more details on how we got here, including archived materials on the financing plan, tax rate projections, etc.
- Two part approval process: We are using a different and new to us approval process with this project. While we are approving part of the project now so the financial terms can be finalized in order to proceed with school construction, the land for development won’t be available for development until mid 2021, after the new high school is built and the old high school is demolished. As such, the approval we give now is for the conceptual plans and a more detailed package will be reviewed and approved over the next year.
- SEE? SESP? CA? What’s happened so far and what’s next:
- Following an extensive RFP process, the EYA/PN Hoffman/Regency team was selected last year with a development plan for a 99 year ground lease that includes office, retail, residential centered around a green commons area.
- In February, we referred the first part of their development application (Special Exception Entitlement, or SEE), which contains the high level plans such as commitments on uses, height ranges, density, and conceptual drawings, out to boards and commissions for their input.
- In parallel, the city team has been negotiating the Comprehensive Agreement which is the legal document with the financial and deal terms. After a final CA is executed, the issuance of bonds to finance construction of GMHS can proceed.
- The second phase of the approval occurs with the SESP (Special Exception Site Plan), which includes more details like finalized building designs and architecture, to come next year. After SESP approval, the private development would then start construction in the fall of 2021 after the new GMHS is complete.
Warning, links to lots of documents to follow. I share this for the wonks who want to analyze the details, the ones who want photos and renderings to see how the city’s western gateway will transform, and everyone else just to understand the breadth and depth of what’s involved in getting to this first round of approvals.
- Updated developer presentation – includes the site layout, street cross sections, new roads, etc. Includes modifications based on board and commission feedback, like tree canopy which is now 12-15% of the site. *I expect we’ll see an update to the conceptual plan on Monday*
- Voluntary concessions – these are the commitments the developer makes that accompanies the application. The VCs include important community benefits like affordable housing, environmental standards, transportation improvements, etc.
- Comment matrix – for every comment received from Boards and Commissions and community groups on the application we reviewed in February, the developer has provided responses.
- Placemaking and amenity plan – unlike the admittedly boring contracts and staff reports, this one is full of images representing the vision for the site, everything from landscaping, art, lighting, etc to make the development a special place. Worth a click.
- Comprehensive Agreement – legal contract between the City and the developers, including the financial and deal terms and 99 year ground lease. A more simplified summary/outline of the CA is also available.
(2) Bikeshare installation
Installation and activation of the City’s stations finished this week. You can now see our stations on the CaBi network and rent one of those red bikes. Capital Bikeshare is area’s most popular bicycle-sharing system, with 500+ stations, which means now we can provide another transportation option to get to, from, and around Falls Church and better connect us to the region. This is an informative blog post with links to help you get started. Please join us for the official ribbon-cutting and launch on Monday, May 13, at 6:30pm at the station at Park Pl & N. Washington Street (near the State Theater and Clare n Don’s).
(3) International Composting Awareness Week
This week has been International Composting Awareness Week. How do you compost? Falls Church offers three great options for composting: consider the curbside compost program, backyard compost if you have the space (look for a free workshop to get started), or collect your food waste and drop it off at the bins behind the Community Center.
A handy tip: our local Target also offers separate collection for food waste and compost and plastic bags. (Remember, no plastic bags, wraps, films, etc in your wheeled recycling tote!) The other places I’ve seen plastic bag recycling are Harris Teeter and Giant.
What’s Coming Up:
- Monday, May 13 – Capital Bikeshare grand opening (630 pm, Park Place & N. Washington)
- Monday, May 13 – City Council Meeting (730 pm, Community Center)
- Friday, May 17 – Bike to Work Day
- Monday, May 20 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am, Bakeshop Falls Church)
- Monday, May 20 – City Council Work Session (730 pm, Community Center)
- Tuesday, May 28 – City Council Meeting (730 pm, Community Center)