Updates from Letty – May 21, 2021

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,

This week’s post will be all about West Falls Church. If you’ve been by the Rt 7/Haycock intersection recently, you will have seen that the demolition of the old high school is nearly complete – making way for the 10 acre project that is integral to the financing of the new high school (this is an old post that will help you get caught up).

(1) Our 10 acre project is part of a broader plan for that area, spanning both city and county land – read on to see how it’s envisioned to tie together, including a coordinated mix of uses, a street grid leading to better Metro access, and open space. A common concern I hear is the perception of lack of strategic planning when it comes to development, so this is a good example of behind the scenes work that is happening.

(2) We’ll also be voting next week to form a Community Development Authority (CDA) in that area, so I’ll explain in layman’s terms what that means, why, and implications.

I loved the great turnout at my office hours this week. If you couldn’t make it and have topics on your mind, I’m happy to schedule separate time or hear from you via email. I will have office hours again on Monday June 21 and then plan to take an extended blogging break the rest of the summer. I’ll post briefer updates on my Facebook page, so tune in there.

Take care,

PSA: the June 8 democratic primary election is quickly approaching and you can do early voting at City Hall on weekdays from 9-4 and Saturday June 5 from 9-5. There are a lot of candidates for Governor, Lt Governor, and Attorney General. Vote411.org is my go-to spot to read candidate statements and get informed.

What Happened This Week:

(1) West Falls Church – Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan Update

While we have been reviewing the site plan for our 10 acre site, Fairfax County has been updating their Comprehensive Plan with the help of a citizen task force for the two parcels of land adjacent to ours – the Virginia Tech parcel (7.5 acres) and the WMATA parcel (24 acres) – all together representing about 40 acres. Ahead of the County’s vote on the plan this summer, we received an update from their planners and the developers this week.

So that you have a sense of what could be developed next door – in general, the amendments call for more density and a mix of uses at both parcels, due to the prime location next to transit. For the WMATA site, the proposed text amendment includes the following recommendations: between 105,000 and 120,000 square feet of office use, between 10,000 and 30,000 square feet of ground floor, community-serving retail or active ground floor uses, maximum of 900 dwelling units, including approximately 80 townhomes. The VT site includes the following recommendations: maximum of 440 multifamily residential units, approximately 18,000 square feet of retail use, up to 181,000 square feet of office use, up to 160,000 square feet of institutional use. This will be complementary to the uses planned at our 10 acre site – additional residents and workers who will patronize the businesses in our 10 acre development and add to the overall vibrancy. You can compare the mix and amount of uses across the 3 sites below:

New residents, workers, and buildings across 40 acres also means that we will need to ensure there is thoughtful transportation planning (not just for cars but also pedestrians and cyclists), connections between the sites, and good urban design like street trees and green space, while keeping in mind the educational uses at our middle and high schools next door. Rest assured that coordination among staff for city, schools, county, VT, WMATA and the developer teams has been ongoing throughout the planning processes for these sites. I’m excited to see that the “commons” proposed at the 10 acre site will extend with a road through the other two parcels, leading to more direct access to West Falls Church Metro station. It will be about a 0.4 mile walk from Rt 7 to the metro station. The mix of open space and parks proposed across the 40 acres will also be welcome amenities.

(2) Community Development Authority

Next week, we’ll be voting on the creation of a Community Development Authority (CDA), which was part of the agreement for the development of the 10 acre site to help finance the infrastructure. It’s been under discussion since the original comprehensive agreement was underway a few years ago; we also recently spent many closed sessions to ensure we understand the implications and risks.

What is a CDA, and why do we need one? A CDA can finance projects within a district by issuing tax exempt bonds and then requesting the locality impose special taxes or a special assessment on properties in the district to pay the debt service on such bonds. (Bond issuance will be a separate Council approval down the road). Paying for infrastructure on a large development site via a CDA is more advantageous to a developer than other financing options. As such, it’s not uncommon – other examples in the region include the Mosaic CDA (Fairfax County), Ballston Quarter CDA (Arlington County), and the Short Pump Town Center CDA (Henrico County).

The proposal is that the CDA be compromised of a 5 member board: one City Council Member, one EDA Member, one Staff Member, one City Resident Member, one Member suggested by the Developer – all to be appointed by the City Council.

The current intent is that the CDA will issue $12-15M in bonds, with the proceeds funding some of the costs of infrastructure for the site, such as streets, the commons, and underground utilities located in the public right of way. The public improvements will be owned by the City after construction, but some may be maintained by the developer under maintenance agreements with the City.

What are the risks? After much negotiation, the bonds issued by the CDA will not be backed by the City of Falls Church, either legally or morally. There will be no fiscal impact or legal recourse related to the debt service on the bonds. However, if the West Falls project fails or is abandoned by the developer, the City may be exposed to future legal or other consulting costs in a workout situation, so it’s in our interest that there is never a default on the bonds issued by the CDA.

What’s Coming Up:

City Council Meetings every Monday (except 5th Monday) at 730 pmcurrent draft schedule of meetings and agenda items

You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings