Updates from Letty – October 18, 2019
Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
This is an important update, especially for the Broadmont and Hillwood neighborhoods: for people who vote at Oakwood Apartments (now called Falls Green), your voting location will be moved to the Community Center on November 5th, due to delayed construction at Falls Green. (Citizens who typically vote in the Community Center will still vote there, so we will have two wards at the same location.) The city is working through logistics and further communication, including a mailing to every resident and signage leading up to and on Election Day. And of course, you may qualify for in person absentee voting, so voting early could be a good option. For now – please share far and wide to ensure we get the word out.
While our agenda was brief on paper, we continued discussion on the two hot topics around the city – traffic calming and stormwater. We were also asked to authorize a library moving contract, ahead of receiving the final GMP (guaranteed maximum price) which we expect in December/January so we can make a final decision on how to proceed in light of the budget overruns. Next week, we’ll be holding another work session on scooters – which will be starting a pilot by the end of the year. I’ve appreciated hearing the many different perspectives on all of these topics, including the $2.5M budget surplus, while canvassing and at my office hours. Be sure to email us or speak at a meeting, so your voice is heard.
PS – in campaign news, we’ve finished 2 candidate forums this week, with 2 more next week. If you can’t attend in person, voter guides are a great resource. Besides the Vote411.org voter guide by the League of Women Voters, VPIS has also published responses to their questionnaire. See the schedule for the remaining 2 weeks til Election Day below.
What Happened This Week:
(1) Traffic Calming & Ped Safety
After hearing from the Noland/Midvale neighborhood about their traffic concerns during public comment, the City Manager presented an update on the city’s plan to address speeding and cut through traffic. If you’d like more info on how the Neighborhood Traffic Calming (NTC) process works, how to get started, or see examples of the traffic calming implemented the past few years – the slides are *very* informative.
- $175K in current budget is allocated to the next top ranked project – Annandale/Gundry in Winter Hill
- N. West traffic calming work underway, with bump outs at N. Oak Street and crosswalks at Greenwich and Highland
- Staff proposes to address the backlog in the Neighborhood Traffic Calming by bundling all 7 streets in queue to use $630K federal grant money we secured. Also proposed is a more nimble process with less design and back and forth deliberation and instead, a traffic engineer would meet the neighborhood in the field to sketch out solutions and then schedule the work. The streets include:
- Great Falls & Little Falls Streets
- Noland Street: E Columbia to Broad Street
- N. Oak Street: N. West Street to City line
- W. Greenway Blvd: Washington St to Seaton Lane
- W. Jefferson St: Maple Ave to Little Falls St.
- S. West Street: W Broad St to Parker Ave
- W. George Mason Rd: Washington St to Seaton Lane
- 8 additional projects are in the petition stage – where residents have submitted a request to the city and is still securing 51% support in their neighborhood.
- Letty’s thoughts:
- Since 2016 when we allocated dedicated money in the budget to traffic calming, 6 projects have been complete. However, this is a growing problem and there is clearly pent up demand for more traffic calming. It’s our responsibility to ensure these needs are addressed with quick short term responses like police enforcement and signage, while funding longer term solutions.
- While grant money is always good, I am concerned about the speed and restrictions in using federal money. I would propose instead a combination of local dollars and grant money to accelerate the projects and clear the backlog. The budget surplus is a perfect opportunity to deploy against this top citizen request, saving the slower federal grant for the lower ranked projects.
- We’ve also heard from adjacent streets so need to ensure we address those streets together so we don’t create a “whack-a-mole” issue where traffic moves to another street.
- Sidewalks – we have no specific budget allocation or process for new sidewalks yet I keep getting new requests from many streets. I propose a similar bottoms-up process as NTC where we allocate dedicating funding for sidewalks, neighbors can secure support from their neighborhood, and compete for dedicated funds each year.
(2) Stormwater Update
In response to the severe July flooding event and more frequent severe weather, the city’s stormwater response is happening in several ways – in house engineering work to address smaller, limited scope issues and a broader analysis and engineering on 6 different study areas that have experienced repeated flooding over the years. In addition, an additional resource is being hired and a citizen task force will be chartered (discussing at next week’s meeting) to be involved with this work.
Letty’s thoughts – besides climate change, another potential root cause of more regular flooding may be residential redevelopment that increases impervious surfaces leading to more run off. I’d support more stringent on site water retention requirements for residential redevelopment and incentivizing the preservation of mature trees – which help absorb more water than newly planted, young trees. Unfortunately, there are limits imposed by the General Assembly as to how far local governments can go in regulating what homeowners do on their property with respect to trees – ie, we can’t forbid clear-cutting unless a tree is designated a “specimen tree” or in a RPA (resource protection area). For now – any redevelopment or project that disturbs a certain sq ft of land requires a grading plan, approved by the city arborist, that specifies 20% canopy coverage, either via preservation or new plantings, within 10 years. That implies that big trees can be cut down and replaced with smaller trees that achieves that canopy, but small trees clearly don’t have as many ecological and stormwater benefits.
(3) City’s AAA bond rating
If you didn’t see yet – we received our second, in a row triple-A bond rating for the largest bond ever to be issued by the city ($127M) as a result of years of preparation, prudent financial policies, and operating budget discipline. This matters because it helps us secure the lowest interest rate possible. Coupled with a very favorable interest rate market right now, the lower rate will mean the city will pay $30M less in total principal + debt service over the life of the debt.
(4) Library Update
Finally, by a 4-2 vote, we authorized $287K for a moving and book storage contract for the library renovation/expansion project. This has been a frustrating project and a tough vote for us. At each update we’ve received the past year, the cost estimates have continued to escalate – with the most recent update at 25% over budget, about $2.5M over the $8.7M approved budget – and this is several months away from having a GMP (guaranteed maximum price) which would be ready in December. The higher costs pose a serious challenge for us. When a project that hasn’t even started is 25% over budget, do we stick to the $8.7M budget and reduce scope, do we add to to budget and figure out how to fund it in light of many other competing priorities, or another approach? While I understand that a moving contract is on critical path, it felt irresponsible to me to authorize expenses with no final price in sight – so I was one of the dissenting votes.
With City Hall nearly complete and likely additional costs, I also asked that we have a thorough lessons learned report out before we undertake the next project to ensure the issues are not repeated.
I’ve heard from many of you about the library project already – but as always, I’d value hearing from more voices.
What’s Coming Up:
Rt 29 Community Meeting (not city-affiliated) – if you’re interested in participating in an effort to envision and advocate for improvements along Rt 29 on both the Fairfax County and Falls Church sides, there is a community meeting next Thursday, Oct 24.
- Monday October 21 – City Council Work Session (730 pm, City Hall)
- Sunday, October 27 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am, Cafe Kindred)
- Monday, October 28 – City Council Meeting (730 pm, City Hall)
- Tuesday, November 5 – Election Day