Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
This has been a tough week. For anyone who would like support in dealing with trauma, The Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7. Call: 1800-838-8238 or Text: 804-793-9999.
In Falls Church happenings, we had a joint dinner with the School Board this week, but no official City Council meeting or work session. So this week’s update will be a bit different than typical. I’m pulling out FAQs from older posts, ie a “best of” round up for new readers out there. While I feel like I may be a broken record on some topics, I know there are new residents, people just tuning in, or most people don’t live and breathe city business like we do and may like a refresher. If you have a new neighbor or friend, consider passing this along to them too.
This morning, for early birds out there – at 730 am at the School Board office, we’ll be convening the monthly Campus Coordinating Committee where we continue hashing out shared issues across the new high school and the economic development projects. I hear the sun may finally come out this weekend, so let’s dry out and enjoy the newest businesses that opened in the Little City.
PS – As you make your (non-rainy) fall plans, besides Farm Day next weekend, consider joining another Falls Church tradition in October: the annual Halloween Window Painting, a fun volunteer, community-led effort. Click the link to find out how you can decorate our downtown with Halloween spirit and window art. Another option to beautify the city is to help in our fall Community Clean up on October 13 – the city will provide you reflective vests, gloves, and trash picker-uppers.
What Happened This Week:
(1) Sunday Series Town Hall / GMHS Updates – there were two opportunities this week to learn and provide input on the new high school project. If you couldn’t attend, the video and materials from the Sunday session are now online. You can continue to submit comments and feedback to NewGMHS@fccps.org. The schematic design will be finalized in October with a community meeting for architect review of all design changes and enhancements.
Meanwhile, City Council and the evaluation committee are continuing to review the two detailed proposals we received for the adjacent 10 acre parcel, with deliberations occurring over the next month, with a target to sign an interim agreement in November so we can begin negotiations with the finalist master developer. Continue to share your thoughts about the development proposals with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
(2) New Businesses
Last weekend, we had four new small businesses opening in the city! As you recall from last week’s blog post about our fiscal year report out, local taxes do contribute a sizable portion of our revenues. So support your local small businesses. Check out Stemtree, Cafe Famille, back in town MoBu Kids, and Dominion Wine & Beer’s new upstairs bar/tasting room.
(3) FAQ & Fact vs Fiction Round Up
You can find the full version of my original posts below or search my blog archives for specifics, and I’ve pulled out a few highlights below. (Note that these are directly copied from their original publication date 1-2 years ago, so I haven’t updated with the latest figures, but the answers largely hold.)
Mixed use development is a money loser for the City
Fiction. This is the City’s 2017 report on the mixed use projects. It’s subjective whether you like the aesthetics of the new mixed use buildings or the new businesses that opened or really miss what was replaced, but objectively – the facts are clear. 7 out of 8 mixed use projects are fiscally net positive for the City. Note: the numbers are annual net figures, not gross. Pearson Square continues to be the outlier, as an outcome of the conversion of the condos to apartments during the housing crisis. Also take note of the cash contributions made to schools, parks, library, etc from each project and the value generated by the parcels, pre-development – you’ll see that many of the properties were underperforming and under-utilized spaces.
New development is flooding the school system with students
Fiction. It’s a common misconception that our school capacity issues are due to mixed use development. This is the latest data on students by housing type – you’ll see that we have diversity in housing types and the majority of the students and growth in student enrollment originate from existing housing stock (ie, single family home turnover, townhomes, older apartment buildings) that we cannot control. What we can control is whether we build mixed use and the mix of uses within mixed use. And I believe we can continue to thoughtfully build mixed use in a way that it’s a net financial benefit, adds housing diversity, bring new options for dining, shopping, and services without radically changing the character of the Little City.
Budgets are growing uncontrollably and we will have enormous debt.
Fact and Fiction. Yes if the referendum passes, with the adoption of the full CIP, we will have the highest debt per capita in the region and will also be exceeding our of 12% cap for debt to expenditures policy. Unless we agree to do nothing with GMHS, even the cheapest repair, renovate and expand option would impact this metric. We have been preparing the bond rating agencies and consulting with our financial advisors about the possibility of this once in a generation expense to minimize the risk of a credit downgrade.
Q: Why are you building more apartments? We don’t need more housing in the city.
A: Both of the newest buildings – West Broad and the Lincoln are 90+% occupied. The demand is there. There won’t be endless development of apartments because we’re constrained within 2.2 square miles and real estate trends are cyclical. I also think we’re not yet “maxing” out the amount of housing in the city. I also believe that given our location in Northern Virginia and the various accolades that are putting us on the map, we’re going to continue to experience population growth and therefore have housing needs. And to the point above, our city needs a more balanced demographic in order to be sustainable and independent, and small apartments have attracted a younger demographic to the city.
Q: Traffic is going to be terrible! We can’t have more development.
A: Yes this project will add some traffic, but to quote Monday night, it would be “a teaspoon in the large bucket” given that vast majority of traffic on our streets are cars coming/going through town. Did you know that nearly 1 million cars pass through the city each month? Only a small percentage of those are actually City of Falls Church residents. For the Broad and Washington project – the traffic consultant stated the the new project would add 3% to the total trips in the city.
Q: Ground floors are always vacant – why are we building more mixed use, only for them to be vacant?
A: While there are a handful of high visibility vacant spots, Falls Church has low vacancy rates, and much lower than our neighbors. Per the 2017 CAFR we reviewed in January, office has a vacancy rate of 8.3% (vs regional vacancy rate of nearly 20%). Retail vacancy rate is even lower at 2.3%. For new buildings, it often takes time for leases to be signed and a building to be fully occupied. One concession that Broad and Washington is offering – that I hope future projects will consider too – is a greater level of tenant improvement/fit out for their retail spaces (VC #3v). From the recent projects, we learned that a barrier to leasing space is the cost involved in building out the space. The Broad and Washington project will make it more affordable for a business to sign a lease in the building, therefore hopefully filling up faster too.
Q: There will be so many students in the building – why are we adding more students to our schools?
A: Contrary to common belief, only 8.5% of students (234) live in the new mixed use buildings, out of 2700 kids in FCCPS. Every year, the “where students live” chart comes out as a collaboration between FCCPS and the city. Pearson Square is the anomaly where the large condos turned apartments have a lot of pupils and offer clear lessons learned. The majority of kids live in existing neighborhoods or older developments, that are frankly still somewhat affordable. We can’t prevent the natural turnover that happens in neighborhoods – my own bus stop has ballooned over the years too.
Also of note is that there was relatively flat enrollment this year – only a 1.3% increase. Within that, we saw typical growth everywhere except a *decrease* in pupils living in older apartments – I suspect due to cyclical state department deployments, but I haven’t seen the analysis from the schools to confirm.
“Where Pupils Live” chart: https://www.boarddocs.com/…/Student%20Ratios%20per…
Q: How does this project help my tax rate?
A: With every project we scrutinize the net fiscal benefit (which weighs operational costs against revenues). Broad and Washington will have some children, and we welcome them! (Between 41-61 pupils based on actual per unit ratios we’ve seen in other projects.) However the service costs are more than offset by revenues, resulting in a net fiscal benefit of $800k-$1.1M/year + additional capital contributions, $2.2M cash to the schools and additional to parks and library. That fiscal benefit is the equivalent of 2+ cents on the tax rate and allows us to provide school and city services without raising taxes as much as we might otherwise need to.
See here for the fiscal comparison of past mixed use projects in the past 15 years.
What’s Coming Up:
- TODAY, September 28 – Campus Coordination Committee (730 am, School Board Offices)
- Wednesday, October 3 – City Council Work Session (730 pm, Community Center)
- Tuesday, October 9 – City Council Meeting (730 pm, Community Center)
- Thursday, October 11 – VDOT meeting on the design of the W&OD Trail Bridge over Lee Hwy (630 pm, Yorktown High School)
- Monday, October 15 – City Council Work Session (730 pm, Community Center)
- Sunday, October 21 – Sunday Series Town Hall (2 pm, Community Center)
- Monday, October 22 – City Council Meeting (730 pm, Community Center)