Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
By now, you may have read the headlines or heard the news that there were some “big signings” this week. Yes, there were some important votes – some of the biggest and most impactful to the city for years to come – by both the City Council and the School Board. Read on to understand what was approved this week, what’s deferred, and the work that is still ahead. Spoiler alert: lots more work ahead.
Also this week was the official grand opening of Capital Bikeshare in the city. As you might expect, I’ve received a pretty diverse mix of feedback, but keep it coming – we’re committed to monitoring and making adjustments as necessary. It’s worthwhile to note that the only stations west of us previously were in Tysons and Reston, but Capital Bikeshare continues to expand to more areas around us. No longer being in a bikeshare hole means we can be a destination and a midpoint – people can stop, dock, and eat/shop in Falls Church en route to somewhere else, which is a boost for our businesses and activities.
Speaking of bikes…if you haven’t left for work yet – it’s Bike to Work Day! It’s expected to be a gorgeous day, so consider hopping on that bike (or you can rent one now) and stop at the Falls Church pit stop at the W&OD/Little Falls for some good cheer and goodies on your way into work.
PS – Due to Memorial Day weekend, the May Town Hall has been rescheduled to Sunday, June 9. My office hours are still on: come see me next Monday May 20, 9 am at Bakeshop Falls Church.
What Happened This Week:
(1) West Falls Church Economic Development & GMHS Projects
The headline you may have heard is that City Council unanimously voted 7-0 for the West Falls Church project. Yes it was a momentous week, but that’s not completely accurate…here’s what we approved, what we didn’t approve, and what’s still to come. (See last week’s blog post for the explanation and links to the various plans, contracts, and acronyms as a primer.)
- We voted to authorize the City Manager to sign the Comprehensive Agreement. The City Manager has not yet signed the CA yet, but he now has the authority to do so when it’s ready. The core business terms of the economic development deal (the payments and timing of payments to the city, minimum and maximum square footages for various uses, the 99 year ground lease, etc) which are critical to the financing plan of the new high school, are finalized, but there remains legal items to work out.
- The first payment of $6.5M remains the same; the developer will pay $6.5M into escrow later in June, which will be broken upon resolution of matters under discussion with Fairfax County.
- We voted to defer the SEE (the application for entitlement and the conceptual plan) and the land subdivision and swapping of parcels between the general government and schools. As I alluded to last week, we expected to receive changes to the conceptual plan, hence the deferral so it can be thoroughly reviewed before a vote.
- The SEE changes were made in response to feedback we heard from boards and commission, Fairfax County, and our own input. The revised conceptual plan shaves nearly an acre from the development (so it can no longer be dubbed the 10 acre development project as it’s now only 9.4 acres):
- Removes the shared garage adjacent to MEH so the schools will use the land as a surface parking lot. The rest of the parking is re-distributed to underground parking and other above grade garages elsewhere on the site
- Splits the Phase 2 development in 2 sites, with the Phase 2 office building co-located with the Phase 1 office building, which should increase marketability with both office buildings on higher visibility Rt 7
- Re-orients the grocery store which adds retail frontage along Haycock and Rt 7 and minimizes the inward focus of the project
- Adds a new “woonerf” street in the development
- Pulls the hotel away from the GMHS plaza
- Tree canopy coverage was re-calculated and is actually closer to be 12-15%
- The unit counts, square footage, timing, etc and the land payments to the city does not change
- Expect that we’ll have opportunities for the boards and commissions and the public to learn further about these changes and comment before City Council votes on the revised SEE in July.
- In next week’s City Council work session – with a more complicated plan due to the escrow and deferral of the SEE – we’ll discuss a revised timing for bond issuance in order to finance the cash flow needed for school construction and other CIP items.
- Monday’s City Council authorization vote was a precursor to Tuesday’s School Board authorization vote for the Superintendent to sign GMP #1 (guaranteed maximum price) contract with the school construction company. It releases the first batch of sub-contractors for excavation, foundation, and framing. The total for GMP #1 is about $32M out of the $108M total hard construction costs. GMP #2 will need to be signed by the end of the summer for the balance of the construction costs – around $67M.
- If all goes as planned with the new GMHS site plan approvals (May) and building permit approvals (June) which our own Planning Commission is taking up, the groundbreaking for a new GMHS will be held on the last day of school, June 14 at 2 pm.
- As of now, the new high school is on track to open in 18 months – December 2020/Jan 2021 which allows the old GMHS to be vacated, demolished, and economic development to start summer 2021.
(2) Capital Bikeshare & Transportation Choices
As expected, we’ve gotten a lot of citizen engagement about bikeshare: some are thrilled with a new way of getting around town while some are upset about the location of the stations and the loss of parking spaces. Locations for the City’s bikeshare stations were selected using the City’s Bicycle Master Plan, a ridership analysis, input received from the public, and recommendations from a consulting firm. All of the locations were requested by members of the public and recommended by consultants.
In some locations, where there were previously 2 car parking spaces, 12 bicycle parking spaces are now provided, and offer an additional travel option that will help reduce demand for private vehicle parking. Giving people more ways to get to and from where they are going helps make more trips of all kinds possible. While some may not choose to bikeshare, others may enjoy the option and will take up one less private vehicle parking space when they do.
At the end of the day, besides car-free travel options being better for our health, the environment, traffic congestion – it’s also a social equity issue for me. Lower income residents may not be able to afford cars and the city’s investment in bike facilities of all kinds (bike lanes, bikeshare, bike racks, etc) makes it easier for everyone to get around safely. I am also all about choice! Remember, the Metrobus 3T was restored recently and we added 25+ on street parking spaces in the downtown last year which had a traffic calming side benefit. For citizens may not be able to walk or bike and need to drive, we want them to be able to find a space, so parking efforts will continue to be an important priority for me. And hopefully coming soon – more sidewalks connecting missing links for pedestrians and a policy for electric scooters too!
What’s Coming Up:
- TODAY – 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)
- Sunday, June 9 – Sunday Series Town Hall (2 pm, Community Center)