Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
Back to school and back to business! We resumed City Council business with a lengthy work session this week and expect we’ll have a busy fall schedule as we march towards the November election and GMHS bond referendum vote. I encourage you to set aside time to get educated about November’s election. Beyond state elections, we have consequential local decisions too – four City Council and School Board seats are up each and a $120M GMHS bond referendum. And already, we have two opportunities for you to jump into fall as a well-informed citizen!
(1) Today at 530 pm – GMHS Tailgate – to kickoff the high school football season, I and other members of City Council will be at the Athletics Booster’s community tailgate event this afternoon. We will be available to field questions and hear your thoughts about the GMHS project and bond referendum. Open to everyone!
Virginia law prohibits us (us = general government staff, school staff, and electeds) from advocating for or against referendums or use any public dollars to do so – but you’ve got my commitment to get the facts into the hands of voters in as many opportunities and channels as possible. Below, I’ve included a current schedule of candidate and referendum sessions to put on your calendar; I expect more will be scheduled in the coming weeks. I’ve also scheduled office hours this fall (including happy hour next Friday!) and always happy to meet one on one or with your neighborhood or group in my personal capacity – just reach out to me.
PS – Fun outing recommendation – do you know the history of Falls Church? The public is invited to review and comment on draft panels that will be installed in the S. Washington transit plaza. Each panel describes the history of our city – you can view them online or you can stroll by Falls Church Arts (the ground floor of the Kensington building) to see the panel drafts in person. An educational and fun outing on a beautiful weekend! Email the firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback.
What Happened This Week:
City Council Work Session Highlights:
(1) Miller House – recall the Miller House proposal involves the construction of a group home for 4-5 disabled adults with preference for City residents, where the City would lease the land at 366 N. Washington St. to a non-profit for $1 to build such a home. After the selected builder/operator, Community Residences Inc, ran into financing issues last year, we’ve been delayed. The new proposal involves the City selling the land for $1 with covenants restricting the use to group home and a clawback provision should the group home operation end, which enables CRI to secure financing. I am excited that we have path forward and I appreciate the hard work of staff getting to a comparable plan – Miller House will meet an unmet need in our community on a vacant, underutilized parcel that was thoroughly evaluated to have no other use. We’ll be voting on the terms of the agreement next Monday and a home could be complete by Spring 2019.
(2) GMHS Campus Update – work on the GMHS Campus project has continued over the summer, and we discussed with the consultants on the commercial workstream their proposed timeline and recommendations to develop the 10 acres, should voters approve the GMHS bond referendum in November. As this could be the most important and most complex project undertaken in the City, we want to be well prepared with a detailed plan for the coming years. The roadmap provides the steps the City should take in an 18 month period following the November vote assuming referendum passage, in order to market and successfully sell or lease the 10 acres. At a high level – we would complete land entitlement (ie, zone the land) by Q1 2018, we issue an RFP in two phases – in Q1 and Q2 of 2018, we select a master developer in Q3 2018 with negotiations for 9 months culminating in a long term lease or sale agreement in Spring 2019. You can see that some of these timelines are in a parallel path with school construction timelines. If the bond passes – school design would occur in 2018, school construction would occur 2019 – 2021, after which groundbreaking for commercial development on the former GMHS footprint could begin.
The key risk remains that the City would be issuing bonds for the full cost of the school (up to $120M) before the commercial development revenue is available (we expect $40-45M from a land transaction and $3M annual tax yield). The timing and terms of the commercial development and having a thorough risk assessment and mitigation plan will be critical.
For more information – the City page for the GMHS campus project is a good repository of materials on the school options and financial work done to date, including a new “white paper” (scarier than it sounds) that describes the financing plan and tax rate projections.
(3) Railroad Cottages – we had a check in discussion on the outstanding items identified at the last discussion on the cottage project. Staff has received a draft license agreement with the park authority, which involves permission for the developer to install grass pavers on additional right of way on the W&OD trail to essentially widen access on Railroad Ave. We also discussed the status of handicap and overflow parking and stormwater issues. We continue to receive neighborhood feedback, and I’ll be carefully weighing the concerns with the benefits of the cottage housing before our vote on Monday.
What’s Coming Up:
- Today at 530 pm – GMHS Tailgate and Informal Meet & Greet (GMHS fields)
- This Sunday, September 10 at 4 pm – GMHS Bond Referendum Q&A and Info Session (GMHS Auditorium)
- Monday, September 11 at 730 pm – City Council Meeting (City Hall)
- Sunday, September 17 at 3 pm – Oxford Style Debate on School Bond Referendum (Falls Church Episcopal)
- Monday, September 18 at 730 pm – City Council Work Session (City Hall)
Planning ahead for other election-related forums…
- Wednesday, September 27 at 7 pm – City Council Candidate Forum (American Legion)
- Wednesday, October 25 at 7 pm – School Board Candidate Forum (American Legion)
Letty’s Office Hours
- Friday, September 15 at 5 pm – Clare and Don’s
- Sunday, October 1 at 9 am – Cafe Kindred
- Monday, October 16 at 9 am – Happy Tart
- Tuesday, October 31 at 9 am – Rare Bird