Updates from Letty – May 26, 2017

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,

As we head into the holiday weekend, I’ll try be brief(er) with updates. The bulk of this week’s news are my thoughts on the City Hall renovation/expansion project if you haven’t caught up on the latest.

Mark your calendars and spread the word – June 5 and June 10! June 5th is a joint work session with the City Council and School Board – our first joint view of the school construction options and costs and June 10th is a community town hall about the campus effort. We had a terrific turnout in February’s town hall and heard from many citizens how valuable the information presented was. We’d love to continue engaging as many citizens as possible in this important community project and hope to see you on June 10th.

City Council is off this coming week (we don’t usually meet when there is a 5th week in the month) so I’ll also take a blogging break ahead of a busy June and July.


PS – If you aren’t already subscribed, the official City Focus on Falls Church e-newsletter is a great source of information, especially for this weekend’s Memorial Day festivities.


What Happened This Week:

City Council Meeting – TL;DR version:

1) The Mason Row/Founders Row developers were called out of town on Monday afternoon and couldn’t give their presentation about the change from hotel to age restricted apartments; new date pending.

2) City Hall renovation/expansion update – the construction cost estimates have come in 50% higher than budgeted. The total project cost is $17M (about 2.5 cents on the real estate tax rate), with $13M remaining to be spent on construction – however, the latest estimates came in $6.5M higher. Staff presented a high level view of the proposed changes to the design of the project in order to keep the $13M budget. The project still largely meets the goal of public safety improvements, however the reduction in costs and design changes means tradeoffs in parking, new square footage/space, and potential for incorporating the school’s central office in the future – which ultimately may offer some greater cost savings and efficiency.

Letty’s thoughts: In an environment where we have an ambitious CIP and tight operating budgets, I appreciate the efforts to keep the City Hall project to the original budget. However, I voiced some serious concerns with what we saw on Monday:

-The effort to accelerate the project (site plans in June, construction starting in October) to save on potential winter escalation costs feels rushed. The City Hall project task force, boards and commissions, and citizens have not been engaged on the proposed changes. Because the project does not require voter referendum (which is something that I’ve disagreed with) – I believe the bar for community engagement for this magnitude of expense should be that much higher. 

-The reduction in parking seems like a missed opportunity. If we’re going to go to the expense of building a garage, we should consider the needs of the entire civic center (Community Center, Library, City Hall) and weigh the costs of a garage that can be purposed for all three uses.

-Finally, after we receive the cost estimates for GMHS feasibility work (and TJ elementary expansion costs) on June 5th – we are planning to revisit the entire CIP in mid June. As part of that discussion, we’ll be looking at all capital projects to determine affordability of the CIP and any re-sequencing that needs to happen so we don’t overburden our tax base and take on too much debt and risk. It feels premature to push the City Hall project forward, ahead of those prioritization discussions that will be happening within a few weeks. For example – if we believe building a bigger garage with City Hall is important, we should consider a tradeoff elsewhere in the CIP in terms of scope or schedule.

3) We authorized the City Manager to proceed with a contract for a real estate advisory consultant for the economic development portion of the GMHS campus project (projected cost $56K). The 2 main deliverables: a) valuation report for the land (ie, what is the “highest and best use” value for a sale or lease transaction, subsequent tax revenue, and how much does that value change depending on the type of economic development we want and b) roadmap to take the property to market to maximize City value and minimize risk. Both pieces of information will be key before we make a final decision to proceed with the referendum or not at the end of July.

What’s Coming Up:

  • Today, May 26 – Economic Development Committee Meeting (930 am, Oak Room)
  • May 30 – School Board meeting on GMHS Campus Project (7 pm, Central Office)
  • June 2 – Wear orange in recognition of Gun Violence Awareness Day
  • June 5 – joint City Council and School Board work session on GMHS Campus Project (730 pm, Dogwood)
  • June 10 – Community Town Hall on GMHS (9 am, MEH Cafetorium)
  • July 24 – final City Council vote for referendum language