Updates from Letty – October 6, 2023

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,

This will be a popular post – hot off the presses is the “report card” on mixed use development in Falls Church. This is a recurring topic of interest and one with a fair amount of misconceptions, so I’ll share the latest data and takeaways. And renderings of the proposed indoor/outdoor restaurant at the Stratford site and lots of news about businesses we’re excited to welcome soon too. I’ll also do a quick recap of our City Council work session topics – bike master plan, demography study, and budget amendment – as those will all be important topics in the coming months and as we get ready to start next year’s budget process in December where we’ll want community input.

With Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday and City Council away at a state-wide conference this weekend, we will be back in the saddle on October 16 so these posts will be on a mini-break too.

On the campaign front – we’re a month out from Election Day. I’ve gotten reports of my yard signs getting stolen, so if yours has gone missing (or you’d like a sign), let me know and I’m happy to get you a replacement. You may have seen me doorknocking and delivering signs on bike as I’ve re-started my personal challenge to go carbon-light as much as possible. Also, links to a few more forums and a new candidate questionnaire available online to get you informed before you vote.

Happy long weekend!
Letty

What Happened This Week:

(1) Mixed Use Development “Report Card”

Our monthly Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting yesterday was jam-packed with good information and discussion (Council members serve on various committees of the full City Council in addition to our regular Monday night meetings, all accessible to the public.) The full deck from EDC is available here.

Of most interest is the “report card” on the fiscal impact of mixed use development – the 9 mixed use projects opened in the past 20 years in Falls Church. In addition to fiscal analysis and projections we do for every project, we also go back and look at all the projects already built and continue to monitor their financial performance (vs original uses and vs the original projections) in order to learn and update the fiscal model going forward. This analysis is done every 2 years or so with the last update in 2020. Key takeaways from the 2022 data:

  • Mixed use development nets $4.5M annually to city revenues (that’s net of service costs). $4.5M is equivalent to about 9 cents on the property tax rate. In other words – instead of the current $1.23 tax rate, the tax rate would be $1.32 if we didn’t have these projects. In 2020, the total annual fiscal impact was $4M, but it’s important to note it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to the 2022 data (the tax rate is now 12.5 cents lower and pupil costs are higher).
  • Post development gross revenues from mixed use projects ($12M) is 13X more than what was generated on those parcels previously ($970K) – about 23 acres to date, not to mention we’ve welcomed more shopping options, restaurants, affordable housing, new streetscape with bigger sidewalks and undergrounded utilities, contributions to various community needs, and new neighbors and patrons for our small businesses in each project.
  • Based on 2022-2023 school year data (the 2023-2024 data is not yet published), pupil projections have come in at or below the original projections, with the exception of Pearson Square. Out of ~2500 kids in FCCPS, 218 lived in mixed use buildings as of June 2023 (less than 10% of total students). While we’d welcome more families to attend our terrific schools, mixed use development to date has not “crowded” our schools.
  • Commercial vacancy – another misconception is we have abundant commercial vacancies. In reality, while we have some high profile vacancies (eg, former Baby Target space) – our vacancy rate is comparatively low, especially in the face of a tough office and retail market. 87.5% of the commercial spaces in the 9 buildings are leased, owned, or occupied.
  • Out of the 9 projects, it’s important to note that 4 of the 9 projects are exceeding original net fiscal projections and 5 projects that are not, with various explanations (Pearson Square – high service costs; Northgate – assessed value decreased, leading to decreased revenues; 455 at Tinner Hill – ground floor vacancy of Target; Founders Row 1 – commercial businesses had not opened in 2022 due to Covid delays)

(2) Development and Business Updates

Also noteworthy from the EDC meeting is news about various openings – 2024 will be a big year! Highlights from the full presentation:

  • Check out the renderings for the proposed indoor/outdoor restaurant project at the Stratford site, led by the owners of Dominion Wine and Beer. We’re thrilled to see a great adaptive reuse, especially further investment from a successful local business and will be a big regional draw.
  • The wine/beer garden at the Meeting House has an announced partner (Victura Park, which may be a familiar name if you visited their pop up concept at the Reach at the Kennedy Center during Covid)
  • Broad and Washington has a target opening data of 2024 – May/June 2024 for residents and November 2024 for Whole Foods.
  • About 30% of the ground floor space is available at Founders Row and theater construction is underway, with planned opening in late 2024.
  • Save the date: with so many new food destinations, we’ll have our first city-sponsored restaurant week on January 19-28 2024.

(2) Work Session Highlights

Congrats if you’ve made it this far and still reading 🙂 While these work session topics are far less headline-grabbing than T Zones or business openings, these are important. As always I include links for you to dive deeper if you’d like, but I’ll call out the highlights:

Bike Master Plan – our original bicycle master plan was adopted before my time on City Council in 2015, so it’s clearly time for a refresh. We reviewed the scope and timeline for the upcoming refresh, which the community can expect to occur over the next 6 months with planned adoption in March 2024. Absent from the 2015 plan is actual infrastructure and implementation recommendations, so I’m personally excited that the next master plan will prioritize and propose 3-5 bike routes for implementation, hopefully in time for FY25 budget discussions in the spring.

Demographer Study – also underway is updated demographics projections for Falls Church, which was last done in 2018. Besides population projections, the scope of the study will include changes in employment changes post Covid, net in/out migration, household formation changes in neighborhoods, and more – all of which informs our priorities, capacity planning for city and school infrastructure, and setting housing goals. We’ll expect the study to be done at the end of 2023, again in time for next year’s budget.

Budget Amendment – as I wrote in last week’s update, we’ll end FY23 with a $5.2M surplus, with $4.1M available for City Council discussion after revenue sharing with the schools and meeting our fund balance policy. This week, we had a preliminary discussion on potential uses – for various unfunded needs and project shortfalls. Based on community input I hear from my office hours and doorknocking, affordability/tax burden and transportation safety – improvements to sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic calming – are the top concerns so I’ll continue to advocate for those.

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, October 16 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, October 23 – City Council Meeting*

Tuesday, November 7 – Election Day

Monday, November 13 – City Council Meeting*

*Mondays (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings

Voter Guides & Endorsements:

Forums:

Thanks to our friends at the CBC for compiling a handy calendar of upcoming forums where you can meet and hear from the candidates: