Updates from Letty – May 5, 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,

With the budget behind us, we resumed our regular meeting schedule. This week, we held a walking tour of the proposed Railroad Cottage project followed with a work session on cottages, discussion of the Q3 financial report, and Council work plan/priorities. The community turnout at the walking tour was one of the largest I’ve seen to date – clearly many interested citizens and concerned neighbors of this new and different housing type! Read on for my thoughts and observations from the tour and highlights from the work session. We are scheduled to take a first reading vote on Railroad Cottages next Monday.

Also – I’ve fielded a few questions re: Mason Row (now renamed Founders Row by the developers). The project team has submitted an amendment to the project, substituting the hotel with 72 age-restricted apartments for 55+ in its place. The movie theater is still part of the proposal. We have not yet considered the amendment and are currently scheduled to have a work session about the change in mid May. If you’re interested in seeing the amendment, the documents are all available on the project webpage.

If you have questions or thoughts regarding either project, I’d love to hear them before we take action.



What Happened This Week:

(1) Railroad Cottage Walking Tour & Work Session

We met at the site of the proposed cottage development for a walking tour. While we’ve seen the site layout on paper and I’m familiar with the neighborhood and W&OD, for me, it was important to see the current conditions of Railroad Ave, see a visual representation of the footprint of the cottages (1000 sq feet), relation and spacing to each other, the carport, and how the project would fit into the neighborhood. If you are interested in the project, Railroad Ave is easily accessible – it’s adjacent to the W&OD, just west of the pedestrian bridge.

The project is intended to add diversity to our housing stock in the City – targeted at seniors/retirees who would like to downsize and looking for an option beyond an apartment or condo.

cottage 2
Railroad Cottage proposal (Railroad Ave, W&OD, homeless shelter, Fairfax Water offices, the City’s property yard, and vehicle body shop businesses to north, Fowler St to the west, and Ellison St to the south)

Quick Facts:

  • 1.25 acres, 3 lots to be consolidated
  • 10 cottage units, each approximately 1,500 square feet and 1.5 stories with condominium ownership
  • 1 common house (same size as cottages) for hosting social gatherings and guests of cottage residents
  • Age restricted to 55+ (allowed under the federal law from 1995 – Housing for Older Persons Act), with proposal from developer to add a deed covenant to further prohibit residents under the age of 18
  • Carport for 10 spaces and 3 visitor spaces
  • Front porches, a boardwalk connecting the cottages to promote sense of community
  • Expansion of the width of Railroad Ave by 6 ft (total width of 18 ft) to provide enough space for emergency vehicle access and turnaround
  • Subject to stormwater mitigation, landscaping, and buffering requirements
  • LEED silver or equivalent
  • To proceed, the project requires a Special Exception approval by City Council, as we outlined in the new zoning ordinance several months ago. Alternatively, the developer can subdivide the 1.25 acres into 4 standard-sized lots and build 4 regular sized single family homes, by right.
Footprint of cottages, with person for scale


I did spend time reviewing concerns I’ve received from citizens and online petitioners and asked a series of questions during the work session to clarify the project; I found that the project proposal addressed the majority of the concerns. The two key follow ups I expect are a better understanding of the mechanics and enforcement of the age restriction and comparison of the cottage proposal vs what could be built by right (4 single family houses)  in terms of various community impacts, fiscal benefit, etc.

We’re scheduled to take a “first reading” vote on the Railroad Cottage proposal at our regular session next week, May 8, If approved at first reading, it means the project is referred out to Boards and Commissions for further review in May and June in order to make recommendations back to City Council for a “second reading” vote.

(2) Q3 Financial Report

  • The quick headline from the Q3 report is that we may be looking at a budget shortfall at the end of FY17 this summer – as much as $450K (due to projected $800K in revenue shortfall) and we’re paying close attention to the budget in Q4.
  • The revenue shortfall is largely attributed to building permit revenues not coming in with a delay in Mason Row, real estate taxes being less than projected (largely due to commercial properties where we didn’t have enough info at time of assessment), and slight shortfalls in sales tax and business licenses.
  • On the plus side, personal property taxes and meals tax revenues have been coming in above forecast – keep shopping and dining locally!

(3) Council Work Plan

Finally, we reviewed our 2 year work plan which was developed at the beginning of 2016 when the current Council was seated. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list of the City’s projects, but more a reflection of the key priorities of the current Council – items such as transportation, school facilities planning, placemaking/downtown improvements, and inclusivity.


What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, May 15 – City Council Work Session
  • Monday, May 22 – City Council Regular Meeting
  • Monday, May 22 – Save the Date! Volunteer Appreciation Reception at Cherry Hill Farmhouse (630-730 pm) – more details to come, so stay tuned!
  • Tuesday, May 30 or Monday, June 5 – joint City Council and School Board work session on GMHS; Broad & Washington project
  • Saturday, June 10 – Town Hall on GMHS