Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
Without much fanfare, we returned to City Hall for our first in person work session. Next week will be our first regular meeting – which are when we hold public hearings, take comments, and cast votes. The public is welcome to attend in person at City Hall (masking and distancing required) or join us virtually and still be able to give live public comment. (In contrast, work sessions cover topics that are “incubating”, ie ones that need discussion and iteration until they’re ready for a vote. I personally find it more helpful to have community input at the earlier work session stages, rather than right before a vote, which is typically when we get a flurry of emails or comments.)
This week’s post will briefly highlight topics from our work session – social equity and outdoor dining code – and also several development projects in the queue, Founders Row 2, One City Center, and West Falls Church (aka the 10 acres at the former high school site). Founders Row 2 is up for a 1st reading vote (I’ll explain what that means) and One City Center is a work session topic next week. Take note of several community meetings at the bottom of the post too.
Keep those comments and questions coming.
PS – Speaking of development, there are new traffic signals, lanes, and sidewalks opening up with Founders Row nearing completion. Traffic engineers are working on signal timing and other tweaks to get it right, but still be extra vigilant with the new traffic patterns around Broad/West/W&OD.
What Happened This Week:
(1) Social Equity
Last spring, we asked our Boards and Commissions to assess their respective areas and make recommendations on how to further social and racial equity in Falls Church. We discussed the ideas again, some of which are underway and some of which will need resources and funding. Ideas include: translate documents in multiple languages, review historical markers, racial equity training, add art that celebrates more women and minorities, assess whether park dollars are distributed equitably across the city, change pension plan investments with an eye to social impact and sustainability, bring all sidewalks in full ADA compliance…
This is an opportunity to harness the energy from last summer’s racial equity reawakening and drive change in Falls Church – take a look at the recommendations and let us know your thoughts.
I am grateful to our boards for their thoughtful recommendations – there is no shortage of ideas. Larger jurisdictions have stood up a racial equity office with staff to pursue these ideas. As that is harder to do here with limited staff, another option is to charter a standalone Social Equity Commission with citizens – this merits dedicated focus and a sustained effort. We should move beyond talking about the ideas to prioritizing them and action.
I also think there are recommendations we should accelerate given timeliness with current events. When Founders Row opens this year, we’ll have 30 affordable dwelling units (ADUs) to add to our housing stock. The city currently requires ADU applicants to be US citizens or green card holders. If we relax that requirement, we have an opportunity to welcome refugees, asylum seekers, and others into our community. (To be clear, the current ADU waiting list would stay in place, so no one would “skip the line” – they’d only have the ability to get in line.) Similarly, we require board and commission members to be able to vote in Falls Church, which excludes residents who serve in the US military and are registered elsewhere, residents with work visas, etc. I believe if you live in the city and want to participate in government, you should be able to volunteer your time.
(2) Outdoor Dining
City staff has been working on a recommendation so the new outdoor dining created during COVID can stay after a process for businesses to seek an official review and approval. (During the state of emergency, we granted temporary flexibility for businesses to add signage, outdoor dining, and fast carryout zones. That temporary zoning will expire in January 2022.) As currently proposed, the application would only be required if the additional outdoor dining takes up a parking space or there is amplified music.
There is general consensus among City Council to enable the temporary changes to become permanent – which is great news. I’d rather have outdoor dining as a safe, revenue producing option over an unproductive parking spot. We also haven’t received complaints about the parking spaces some of the outdoor dining displaced, as I think some have adapted in the past 18 months and changed their behavior to use street parking, parked in garages, or used another mode of transportation. (Remember, a parking consultant analyzed our parking in 2019 and concluded that we don’t have an acute parking shortage other than a few peak periods.)
I look forward to supporting an outdoor dining application process that is easy for businesses to understand and navigate, with short turnaround time and low cost for businesses.
(3) Economic Development Updates
Founders Row 2 – after several work sessions this past summer, Founders Row 2, the mixed use development project at the former RiteAid and carpet store sites, is on our docket for a 1st reading consideration next Monday. (For those who have followed development projects in the past, they typically require two votes – the first vote is a referral to our boards and commissions so they can review in their respective meetings, give comments, and we collect more public input. Afterwards, the project is typically further negotiated, revised, and resubmitted before City Council casts a final, 2nd vote.)
A recap: we first discussed the project in March, then there was some preliminary workshop discussions with our boards and commissions in the spring, the project was resubmitted this summer based on that feedback, and a walking tour was held with the neighborhood this summer. As I wrote about last week, the project is offering a different mix of “voluntary concessions” (the community benefits a developer offers in return for the special exception). While voluntary concessions aren’t the only consideration in whether a project should be approved, it’s helpful to be able to compare the entire basket of concessions over time to ensure we’re negotiating a good deal for the city and we’re continuing to raise the bar. See here for the comparisons across projects.
Based on our discussions and input from the neighborhoods so far – I expect the key topics about FR2 will be about its commercial uses, transportation concerns at the corner and Ellison, environmental improvements. Given that it’s the same developer as Founders Row 1, some reasonably want to see progress at Founders Row 1 too. I’d welcome your thoughts about the project – either email me directly or all of us as public comment.
One City Center – the One City Center project at the southwestern corner of Broad and Washington, is not up for a vote, it’s coming back for a work session next Monday after our first one in April so we’ll get to see revisions based on that feedback. There is also a walking tour and a virtual community meeting scheduled for next week if you’d like to join in.
West Falls – good news at the 10 acre project at the former high school site. Following our final site plan approval in August, we received updates this week with a possible groundbreaking in April 2022, announcement of the hotel brand, and other early leasing updates. See below.
What’s Coming Up:
Saturday, Sept 25 at 1-3 pm – Berman Park Community Meeting
Monday, Sept 27 – City Council Meetings every Monday (except 5th Mondays) at 7:30 pm
You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings
Wednesday, Sept 29 at 3-430 pm – One City Center Walking Tour
Thursday, Sept 30 at 6-730 pm – One City Center Virtual Community Meeting
Elections 2020 – General Election on Tuesday, November 2
Thursday, Sept 30 at 730 pm – League of Women Voters & VPIS virtual candidate forum – City Council Candidates
Thursday, Oct 7 at 730 pm – League of Women Voters & VPIS virtual candidate forum – School Board Candidates
League of Women Voters – vote411.org voter guide