Updates from Letty – November 22, 2019

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,

‘Tis the season for thankfulness, so I’ll kick off this week’s post with a thank you for this engaged community and the regular input I receive from you, most recently about scooters. As expected, there are many strong opinions about scooters. It’s somewhat comforting that we’re all grappling with the same challenge across the region as we aspire to be less auto-centric. No one has the perfect answer where scooters should be ridden. Arlington, Alexandria, and the City of Fairfax all have scooter programs underway and Fairfax County just adopted their program this week. See last week’s post for my thoughts. We will take the final vote on an ordinance to ban scooters from sidewalks (or not) on December 9, so you have plenty of time to write in and/or give public comment at our December 9 meeting. I value hearing diverse points of view, even if my vote may not align with your position in the end.

With two remaining meetings this year – besides scooters, we have two other meaty topics in 2019: we’ll be kicking off the FY21 budget and the legislative priorities for our General Assembly delegation before their session starts in January. And as evident by this week’s work session topics (trees, sewer backflow, and CIP updates) – evergreen issues like traffic calming, stormwater, and the growing list of other budget items competing for funding are never far behind.

We’ll be back to work after Thanksgiving. I hope you’ll join us at the annual downtown lighting event on Monday December 2 to kickoff the holiday season!

Happy Thanksgiving,

PS – Top FAQ this week is about the news of Whole Foods’ signed lease at the Broad and Washington project that has been on hold. We learned of the news at the same time it was announced publicly on Monday. As the plan will be pretty different than what was approved in 2018 with different implications for the immediate neighborhood, I expect that there will another round of public meetings and approvals after the revised plans are submitted to the city.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Trees – everything you wanted to know…

In our work session with the Urban Forestry Commission (fka Tree Commission), we discussed ideas to preserve mature trees. As the first Tree City USA in Virginia, we are proud of our tree-lined streets and high tree canopy. Trees are also an important intersection with stormwater concerns: mature trees soak up more rain water and reduce erosion better than newly planted young trees. Some important call outs that you may not know:

  • A common concern I hear is that the city allows too much clear-cutting in residential redevelopment. Virginia is a strong property rights state and the General Assembly expressly grants us limited powers with respect to a property owners’ trees. For example: city approval for tree removal is only required if:
    • Commercial development
    • Residential redevelopment that disturbs more than 2500 square feet – requiring a grading plan*
    • Project is in the RPA (resource protection area)
    • Specimen tree
  • When a grading plan* is submitted, the city’s authority is to require the property’s combined preserved + replacement trees to achieve 20% tree canopy coverage in 10 years – which is actually stricter than other localities which require 20% canopy in 20 years. A property owner may choose the specific trees and works closely with the city arborist and urban forester in the plan. Bonds, paid in advance, are required to ensure the trees are planted.
  • Our city-wide tree canopy coverage is about 43%, which exceeds most jurisdictions in the region and has been holding steady.
  • Despite this good news, staff estimates we lose 5 mature trees per lot and with an average of 30 single family by right redevelopments each year = we lose 150 mature trees total per year.
  • So how can we encourage more mature tree preservation? Besides public education, one idea is to ask the General Assembly to give us more flexibility in counting trees towards stormwater requirements, which may incent more preservation.

(2) Sewer Backflow Prevention Program

If you experienced sanitary sewer backflow in your home when there are heavy rainstorms (or just curious what that means), read on –

The City will be adopting a program to offer assistance with the cost of backflow preventer devices for residents who have experienced a basement back up through a sanitary sewer connection, such as shower, toilet, or floor drain. Modeled after a similar program in Alexandria, the terms propose cost sharing and other requirements for reimbursement. I’m glad to see we’re moving quickly on this and suggested a sliding scale for cost sharing for our needier residents.

(3) CIP & Work Plan

Finally, we received a quarterly update on the CIP (Capital Improvements Plan – ie, big projects that cost more than $150K and have a useful life of 10+ years) and our City Council work plan which gives you a good view into the breadth of projects and priorities on our plate. Some notable highlights, based on questions I often field:

  • Big Chimneys Park – the Winter Hill neighborhood has been patiently waiting for the project to start. The contract
    issued for play equipment purchase; construction contract expected to be signed this week, and ground breaking to be scheduled in early
  • Fellows Property – the nearly 2 acre site across the street from TJ Elementary was purchased over the summer. The city is evaluating bids for the demolition of former home on site and a park master plan process to hear from the community will begin in February or March.
  • S Washington & Transit Plaza – you may have recalled that there was a lot of utility undergrounding and street work last year on S. Washington. Right of way acquisition is finally complete and more grant funds were secured to fully fund the project. Construction is expected to resume summer 2020.
  • W&OD Dual Trails – the project is on track and expected to start in 2020.
  • Many other transportation projects – such as traffic calming, intersection improvements and bridges are in the update.

What’s Coming Up: