Updates from Letty – May 20, 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,

After a week off, there’s a lot to share.

We had our second big groundbreaking yesterday in 3 weeks – this time at West Falls, the nearly 10 acre development project adjacent to the secondary schools campus. On the other end of the city, the demolition and site clearing work for the Broad and Washington project is well underway. Note some nighttime road closures and detours for the demolition, starting Sunday. The next few years will be messy and disruptive, with two big projects underway at both ends of the city. Everyone’s patience will likely be tested! Besides the tax benefits to the city, the projects will bring new shopping, dining, entertainment options, hotel, office, improved stormwater and green spaces, and a mix of housing to meet the region’s housing supply shortfall, and more.

Read on for more info on two related topics from our work session this week: continued work on T zones to encourage infill and missing middle housing, which is up for a first reading and referral vote next week and a new affordable homeownership program.

A few to-dos:

(1) Today is bike/walk to school or work day. You can meet up at our local BTWD pit stop at West End Park until 9 am.

(2) Tomorrow is the first city-wide yard sale and swap. This is not a city sponsored event, but I love the idea of a convenient, sustainable, and community-minded way to get rid of stuff and pass it to others. Walk or bike to shop tomorrow! Email fccyardswap@gmail.com or see instructions on how to participate.

(3) Ask the Council – after great turnout last month, we’re going to make “office hours” a regular thing. We’ll be holding office hours on the 4th Wednesday of each month at 9 am at City Hall (next one is 5/25). Come see a mix of City Council members in an informal setting to ask questions or share ideas or feedback with us directly.

(4) Do you live in Broadmont or care about safer/better walking? If you haven’t seen the call for public comment on our latest transportation grant application yet, you can help Falls Church win $22M to improve N. Washington. See here. Your voice matters when it comes to competing for these limited regional transportation dollars. Comments are due Sunday, 5/22.

Stay cool,

What Happened This Week:

(1) West Falls Groundbreaking – the trees?

The West Falls project was set in motion with the 2017 referendum to build a new high school and the accompanying plan of financing to offset the $120M price tag. Yesterday’s groundbreaking represents the culmination of years of visioning, analysis, community engagement, planning, and negotiations even long before 2017. While it’s been a long time coming, even for those of us who expected it, seeing the trees felled and site clearing work at the corner of Haycock and Rt 7 in the past week has been stark.

If you don’t receive the schools’ Morning Announcements, I thought the information about the trees and how we’re honoring memories and legacies of beloved community members was helpful, so I’m sharing it below. It’s also worth mentioning that the tree canopy of the re-developed site will exceed the 15% target set for the site.

When all of the trees came down last week on the old high school campus, the new vistas and open spaces were surprising, even to those who expected it. This has been part of the plan all along. To redevelop the site, the trees had to be removed.  Look for new trees around the secondary schools. Their spring leaves are emerging this month. These trees will eventually provide a large canopy on the campus. The commercial development will have new trees planted in several years.  It will take time, but ultimately, the new trees will fill much of the space.

Before the campus was vacated, FCCPS staff and volunteers took photos to archive the “in memory of” items on the campus.  Though the trees planted in memory of beloved community members are gone, the priceless memories are preserved in two ways. The Legacy Grove in front of Meridian High School has a place for all those memories to be engraved on bricks alongside new trees.

The online Legacy Kiosk has a section called “In Memoriam” to recognize individuals whose families purchased trees and other elements on the old campus that have been removed. You can check out the Legacy section of  mustangs.touchpros.com to see the stories.”

MHS Trees

(2) Transitional Zones

We had our 5th work session in the past year to discuss proposed zoning changes allowed in our Transitional Zones, also known as T Zones. T zones are meant to transition between taller and denser commercial uses and residential neighborhoods. I hope it’s evident we take all zoning changes seriously based on the number of discussions we’ve had, especially as T zones make up about only 3% of the total land in the city. I’ve written extensively about this before, so I’ll link to one of my previous posts with my thoughts on T zones.

Because there is so little land in T zones, I don’t view T zone changes as a mechanism to encourage affordable housing, but more to create smaller scale infill development and housing diversity in a city dominated by single family homes and apartments, with a lack of options in between (aka “the missing middle”). This is not a radical idea unique to Falls Church – Brookings Institute also offers good insight and data into how “gentle density” can help address the housing crisis while benefiting the environment and economic sustainability – the article is well worth your time. And the White House also announced this to be a priority this week, with this notable quote:

“One of the most significant issues constraining housing supply and production is the lack of available and affordable land, which is in large part driven by state and local zoning and land use laws and regulations that limit housing density. Exclusionary land use and zoning policies constrain land use, artificially inflate prices, perpetuate historical patterns of segregation, keep workers in lower productivity regions, and limit economic growth. Reducing regulatory barriers to housing production has been a bipartisan cause in a number of states throughout the country. It’s time for the same to be true in Congress, as well as in more states and local jurisdictions throughout the country.

A first reading vote to refer the T zones proposal is on our docket next Monday, and if passed – staff has proposed a schedule of Planning Commission meetings and community engagement to happen over the next few months before any final votes occur.

Current T-1 and T-2 zones in purple circles

(3) Homeownership Program

In work session this week, we also spent a lot of time digging into a new affordable, first time homeownership program using $3.4M grant dollars from Amazon. With home prices skyrocketing the past year and certainly outpacing wage growth, I realize that homeownership has become even more unattainable for many so this is an important priority. There are more details still to be worked out, including ensuring we keep the program costs as low as possible so more of the grant dollars go towards actual housing. Here are highlights, including key policy considerations:

  • Households earning between 50-120% of Area Median Income would be eligible. The city has been maintaining a waiting list of interested and eligible households, ahead of the program being launched.
  • Up to 18 homes could be purchased, ideally with a mix of housing types so we create affordable options for families of all sizes
  • A non profit developer would purchase homes at market prices, rehab as necessary, and re-resell at an affordable price using a revolving fund
  • Households would be eligible for downpayment and financing assistance from various state and federal programs
  • Restrictive affordability covenants would be in place, keeping the unit affordable, for at least 99 years
  • Appreciation would be capped, so future sale prices remain affordable
  • Equity sharing – when sold, the capped appreciation/equity would be shared between city and the homeowner perhaps a 75 (homeowner)/25 (city) split or so, allowing wealth creation opportunity for the homeowners and so the city can seed the next opportunity

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, May 23, 2022 – City Council Meeting*

Wednesday, May 25, 2022 (9 am) – Ask the Council Office Hours

Monday, May 30, 2022 – Memorial Day Parade & Festival are back!

Monday, June 6, 2022 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, June 13, 2022 – City Council Meeting*

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