Updates from Letty – May 27, 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,

Despite many awful things in the world, the tragedy in Uvalde hits differently. Many of us have elementary-aged children (my own 4th grader quietly noted that he also has 19 kids in his classroom and 2 teachers) and the accidental lockdown at the secondary campus a few weeks ago is still fresh in our minds. It also hits differently because it’s evident that this gun violence epidemic is largely a collective, and uniquely American, choice. We can make choices to live differently so everyday activities like going to school or the grocery store is not an opportunity to be gunned down. Falls Church, along with our neighbors across Northern Virginia, made our public places gun-free zones, using new authority granted by Richmond in 2020. And we’d love to be able to take more action that makes sense for Falls Church, but our local authority is limited by Virginia’s preemption laws. This year, the new General Assembly unsuccessfully tried to roll back that authority, which is a good reminder that if you believe in common-sense, widely supported gun laws, advocacy needs to happen at all levels government and we need to vote in every election. There is a pragmatic path forward.

I still believe there is much good in the world. And because we could all use more good news, I’m going to deliberately start there, along with other city business this week. Read on about:

  • Kids are leading the way
  • Progress on police transparency
  • The latest on the city’s finances
  • The first of several votes on changes to Transitional Zoning, as part of our continued work for more diverse housing opportunities in the city

And ICYMI, we were thrilled to welcome a special guest to Falls Church last week.

Have a safe Memorial Day weekend – it’s the city’s 40th celebration this year and if you have out of town visitors, here are parking reminders.

Take care,

What Happened This Week:

(1) Kids Leading the Way: Public Art Walk, Eden Center, If I Were Mayor Essays

Falls Church Art Walk: during this long weekend, discover our growing collection of public art throughout Falls Church on a new self-guided walking tour. Curated by the Arts and Humanities Council of Falls Church, art walks are organized by neighborhood and distance/duration, to encourage exploration and engagement with both familiar and undiscovered art installations throughout The Little City. The initial inventory of public art was made possible by the CBC’s youth reps serving on the Rec and Parks Advisory Board and Economic Development Authority (we just swore in a new batch of youth reps this week) and a great example of cross board and commission collaboration.

Eden Center Historical Marker: perfectly timed with Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, the Eden Center received a state historical marker that recognizes Vietnamese-American immigrant history, which the result of a winning submission from two Mary Ellen Henderson Middle Schoolers to a state-wide contest last year. We’re proud to have the Eden Center, an important economic and cultural hub, in the city.

If I Were Mayor Essay Winners: Falls Church is also proud to have two winners in the Virginia Municipal League’s annual If I Were Mayor essay contest. Read the inspiring essays from students across Virginia.

(2) Police Body Cameras

In our meeting this week, the Police Department announced that body-worn cameras have now been deployed to all police officers, which was one of the recommendations from the Use of Force Review Committee (UFRC) we commissioned following the murder of George Floyd. The body cams work in tandem with the in-dash car cameras which have been in place for years (see photo below), or independently as we observed in the demo. This important milestone from the UFRC report will continue adding transparency, accountability, and public confidence in the police profession.

(3) FY22 – 3rd Quarter Financial Update

To continue the good news, we heard a brief financial report on the end of the 3rd quarter and projections for the end of the fiscal year. Most local taxes, except hotel taxes (which can serve as a proxy for post-pandemic economic recovery) have re-bounded and exceed pre-2020 levels. The CFO also projects to end the fiscal year at the end of June with a ~$2.5M revenue surplus, but we’ll know for sure when we close out the books and we receive the year-end report in October.

(4) Transitional Zones

By a 5-2 vote, we moved the current draft of the zoning changes for Transitional Zones (aka T zones) to be referred to various boards and continue the public engagement process. A few key points to address the top FAQs I’ve been fielding:

  • There is no imminent redevelopment proposal or specific project in any of the current T zones – the changes proposed affect the underlying zoning rules.
  • The two main changes expand the allowed uses on those T zoned parcels to include residential uses like condos and townhomes (two housing types that haven’t been built in Falls Church in 15+ years) and expand the lot coverage and setbacks to make those projects economically viable given high underlying land costs.
  • Conditional vs by-right: housing in T zones would be a conditional use, which means it would require a “special use permit” and still have City Council approval and other oversight. Current T zone rules have other by-right uses that would still be governed by a site plan review and approval.
  • The draft zoning change also expands a few neighborhood-serving commercial uses to be allowed in T zones that staff believes fit with the intent of buffering/transitioning between higher density/intensity commercial areas (eg, Broad St) and residential neighborhoods.

With this referral, staff has outlined a multi-month process where there will be further community outreach and public meetings in the Planning Commission, Housing Commission, and Environmental Sustainability Council. So this is far from done. As with most projects, I expect further refinement and changes to the working draft during this referral process, so we look forward to hearing from the community. The proposed schedule from the staff report is below.

What’s Coming Up:

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*

Wednesday, June 22, 2022 – City Council Office Hours (4th Wednesdays, 9 am)

Monday, June 27, 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