Updates from Letty – November 17, 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,

No rest of the weary, indeed. On the tails of the election (was it just last week??), we resumed city business with a long meeting on Monday and have packed weekly agendas ahead of our winter recess in mid December. Lots to cover this week, so grab a cup of coffee and read on.

Are you ready for tolling on I-66? I’ll also give you the updates on City Hall, Broad and Washington project, timelines for the GMHS campus, and two always popular reports – the “where students live” chart (one source of much debate for mixed used development) and an update on new business openings in the city. Besides the heavily anticipated openings of several restaurants and Target, I think you’ll be excited to see other names who will be making the Little City home (spoiler alert for fellow parents – a new urgent care center option in FCC!)

Also, mark your calendars:

-We’ll be lighting up downtown Falls Church on Monday, November 27 at 6 pm to ring in the holiday season. This has been a personal passion of mine to make our city more distinctive, welcoming, and supportive of our businesses during the shopping season. Stay tuned for some new, festive surprises this year!

-I’ve scheduled my last office hours of 2017 for Tuesday, December 5 at 9 am at The Happy Tart so I hope you’ll drop by and share what’s on your mind.



What Happened This Week:

  • Are you ready for I-66 Changes? – If you expect to be traveling on I-66 during rush hour, even if you will qualify for HOV-2, you should get at EZ Pass Flex Here are other quick facts to prepare:
    • Dynamic tolling begins 12/4, for travel inside the Beltway during rush hour (eastbound in the am, westbound in the pm).
    • Note that the rush hour windows have been expanded
    • Single drivers, who were previously restricted from using I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hour, can now travel by paying a toll
    • If you’re carpooling as HOV-2+, you can use I-66 for free and you can toggle your transponder as such on the EZ Pass Flex
    • Check out the rest of the VDOT presentation online, with updated renderings on the new W&OD bridge over Lee Hwy, a direct ramp from I-66 eastbound to West Falls Church Metro, and eastbound lane widening to be constructed 2018-2020.



  • City Hall Project Tour – we started our regular meeting this week with a tour of the key components of the City Hall project. The project will have a final vote by the Council at our 11/27 meeting when we approve the construction contract and guaranteed maximum price. As you may recall, the project consists of public safety improvements like a secure parking garage, a unified entrance, improved access between east and west wings, and ADA and other code updates – with the entire project totaling about $17M ($12M new debt, which would be bond financed and have a tax impact of ~2 pennies on the tax rate – included in the tax rate modeling for the Full CIP that Council adopted this past July). If approved, construction begins this winter and various City Hall functions would be relocated around town as needed during construction.
  • Broad & Washington Project – by a 5-2 vote, we approved the Broad & Washington project at first reading – 2 years after its initial submission – which means it will be in the hands of our boards and commissions to review and comment during December and January. Letty’s thoughts: While the project needs more work, I supported advancing the project because I believe the developers have made good progress since our last round of comments and the class A office building, a permanent home for Creative Cauldron, and the fiscal impact ($800K-$1.1M net annual benefit) are promising. A first reading approval is not an unfettered green light – projects continue to change between first and second readings based on board and commission review, so I expect the developers to continue progressing with the same level of diligence in the months to come. Next steps: after B&C comments are received and reviewed, we expect a new project submission in the mid Feb timeframe, with a final action/2nd reading decision currently planned for April 2018.
  • GMHS Timeline – so what is next after the referendum? For the next 16 months, the key workstreams will be the design process for the school and marketing for commercial development. You can see the one page summary below that both the school and development workstreams will issue RFPs in two phases where there will be opportunity for the public to review and discuss. For example, if you care about the building a sustainable school (check out the ESC’s report from their excellent green schools panel last month) – the RFP stages are the time to get involved and make your voice heard.
    • Next Monday November 20 – City Council Work Session – we’re expected to discuss comp plan changes for the campus area, draft governance structure, budget, and the first school RFP. Public is welcome to attend, but no public comments are normally taken.
    • November 30  – the first school RFP (Request for Proposals for Qualifications) will be issued, to quickly see what firms are interested in working on this project. not to be confused with the Design RFP that will be issued in February.
    • December 13, 730 pm at GMHS Mustang Cafe – the 1st Campus Project Interactive Briefing. It will be the first of several meetings to update our progress and gather civic input as we continue to fine tune the plans that were the basis of the referendum.
    • The key milestone in the future is May 2019 – when we target finalizing a master developer agreement for the 10 acres before school plans and construction contracts are signed and bonds are issued for the school. A more detailed school timeline is available too.



  • Students by Dwelling Unit & Weldon Cooper enrollment projections – if you missed my Facebook post with the links to this new data, I’ve reposted here:

I get asked this, sometimes several times a week, so I wanted to post as soon as it was available. This wasn’t discussed at the School Board meeting last night, so this is strictly my analysis of the results. The regular debate about mixed use development in our city revolves around service and capital costs of increased residents and pupils and the net benefit to the city. Every year, FCCPS puts out a “students by dwelling type” chart that is a key source of input in our fiscal model run for each project.

Here is this year’s draft, with data as of November 2017 with some really interesting results: 1. The 2017-2018 school year saw a net increase of 1.2% growth (+32 students), much more modest than previous years. FCCPS now has ~2700 students.

2. SFH growth was +1.6% (+26)
Townhomes, +4% (+14)
older apartments -7% (-35)
older condos -4% (-2)
new mixed use condos +2% (+1)
new mixed use apartments +11% (+19)

3. The dramatic decrease in students at older apartments does not yet have an official explanation – anecdotally, we hear that the state department families move in and out cyclically, and this may have been an off year.

4. The 11% growth in students in mixed used apartments can be directly attributed to the Lincoln building coming online, which we anticipated. Both 301 W. Broad and Lincoln buildings are now fully occupied at 95+% occupancy, I believe.

5. Important note re: the buildings that came online and their original pupil projections, which are arguably conservative now that we have real data:
301 W. Broad projections 35-61 pupils (actual 27)
Lincoln at Tinner hill projections 26-45 pupils (actual 19)

In general, with this modest enrollment growth, this is a good year to catch up on capital projects underway and will be clearly important as we discuss operating budgets.

One year does not make a trend, so also check out the updated Weldon Cooper long range enrollment projections for FCCPS that was also presented at the School Board meeting last night. It maintains healthy growth in FCCPS due to demographic, regional, and birth rate trends with close to ~3500 students in 15 years. Note that the K-2 estimates give us more breathing room before hitting the 660 negotiated capacity cap at the expanded Mt. Daniel (about 10 years of capacity), which is good news.

  • New Business Alert! Check out the economic development office’s business bulletin with newly signed leases and soon to be opened retailers and restaurants around town. As you prepare for the holiday season, its’ a good reminder to shop and dine local!


What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, November 27 at 730 pm – City Council Meeting
  • Monday, December 4 at 730 pm – Joint City Council & School Board Work Session – FY19 Planning
  • Tuesday, December 5 at 9 am – Letty’s Office Hours (The Happy Tart)
  • Monday, December 11 at 730 pm – Last City Council meeting of 2017
  • Wednesday, December 13 at 730 pm at GMHS Mustang Cafe – the 1st Campus Project Interactive Briefing. It will be the first of several meetings to update our progress and gather civic input as we continue to fine tune the plans that were the basis of the referendum.