Updates from Letty – October 19, 2018

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,

For folks interested in parks and transportation/walkability projects around town, you should pay attention to the City Council work session we had this week. Our main discussion focused on the the renovation of Big Chimneys Park, which has been long discussed for a revamp, and the project’s budget shortfall. Walkability has also been one of this Council’s top priorities – the list of projects and grant applications we reviewed this week are a view into the breadth of work we’re trying to tackle. Investments in parks and walkability are both important to me (and as I suspect, important to many other families and citizens), so do let me know how we’re doing and the level of investment in both areas.

We have another Sunday Series Town Hall on Sunday at 2 pm in the Community Center. Come hear the latest updates on both the GMHS school design and the economic development proposals and ask questions. If you missed last month’s, you can catch the video on YouTube.


PS – spotted in the Little City this week: did you know that there are over 20 reasons you can vote absentee? In person absentee voting is open until Saturday November 3 and available all weekdays and a few upcoming Saturdays.



What Happened This Week:

(1) Big Chimneys Park Update

Quick background: the original master plan for Big Chimneys Park dates back to 2007. As part of the construction of 301 W. Broad / Harris Teeter project, $1M was earmarked for the renovation of the park – to include updates to outdated play equipment, ADA entrance, larger paths through the park for pedestrians, lighting along the paths, and raised crosswalks and traffic calming on Annandale Road near the park entrance. In 2016, community meetings were held to discuss the needs of the neighborhood and since 2017, several round of designs and cost estimates happened. As the liaison to the Rec and Parks Advisory Board this year, I’ve seen firsthand the board and staff grapple with rising costs of construction, the cost of the stormwater work estimated to be $300K, and the tradeoffs to attempt to bring the project into budget. Among other items, the streetscape and crosswalk items were removed from the scope, with the plan to address in FY2020 when traffic calming grant money comes in.

Current situation: this week, we were presented a Big Chimneys Park design that would require an additional $350K, even with a reduced scope, or an option to renovate the park in 2 phases. Or we could delay the park renovation altogether until the funds for the full scope were available.

Letty’s thoughts: long time blog readers will know my thoughts on the CIP we’ve undertaken. I’ve been wary about taking on too many projects at the same time and the general need to be fiscally conservative knowing that we have ambitious construction underway / planned at Mt Daniel, City Hall, GMHS, library, etc with rising construction costs and economic uncertainty ahead. However, I believe this project should proceed and we find the additional funds. With the long commitment to the neighborhood that this park would be updated with new equipment, stormwater work that’s much needed, and lighted pedestrian walkways increasing connectivity between new neighborhoods and improving safety – I believe Big Chimneys is an important part of our city and the 1/3 of the city’s residents who live within 1/3 mile of the park deserve the update. Phasing the project doesn’t make sense to me, as the items deferred are important to do together with phase 1 or risk wouldn’t get done at all. I’ve tried advocating that the City’s stormwater funds be available for that work. (Unfortunately, there is a long queue of projects for stormwater money and in the prioritization process, parks generally rank low because of the lower risk of flooding impacting private property.) Other options I asked about including using end of year surplus from higher revenues (about $600K) which was planned to go towards reserves, or expected development proffers.

If you have thoughts on Big Chimneys park, you should let us know – you can email us or come to our meeting next Monday night and offer public comment.

(2) Transportation 

We previewed transportation grant applications that we’ll be asked to endorse and reviewed the current plan of transportation, including walkability, projects across the city. I’ve often written about the importance of our walkability improvements – as I believe it’s important for economic development, transportation congestion, improved accessibility for all, and just overall higher quality of life for a small city like ours. While we often discuss one off pedestrian issues and Neighborhood Traffic Calming, which is an important way for us to be responsive to citizen concerns – I was reminded this week of the breadth of all transportation projects over the next 5 years – totaling $74M, of which $5M comes from local funds. The corollary is that because so much of our transportation work is grant-funded, we do end up being tied to grant funding cycles, delays, and associated overhead in applying and using those funds.


What’s Coming Up: