City Officials Discuss EFC & Gateway at Work Sesssion
By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff
October 20, 2010
The City Council and the Planning Commission discussed plans for the East Falls Church metro area (EFC) and the Gateway project at Monday night’s joint work session. The Council then held a separate session on financial and legislative issues.
City staffer Elizabeth Perry briefed the officials on Arlington’s ongoing EFC planning efforts. A draft of the County’s plan for the area is scheduled for release in February 2011.
Mayor Nader Baroukh cited three major concerns for the City: the design for the west entrance to the station on N. Washington St. (Lee Highway), the availability and access to parking, and the coordination of traffic flow around the site. The mayor stressed that Falls Church should continue its dialogue with Arlington, share its concerns, and start developing positions on the key issues.
The Gateway discussion followed on that of the previous joint session of October 5. City manager Wyatt Shields identified three significant areas for review: affordable housing opportunities, the fiscal impact of the project, and the extent of first floor retail.
Akridge has increased its cash offer to the City from $1.17 to $1.3 million, but has reduced the number of affordable dwelling units (ADUs) from 13 to 8. Based on yesterday’s discussion the City appears to be looking either for a mix of cash and units or straight cash. No consensus emerged, however officials recognized that it would be better to secure cash as early as possible, given the greater potential it would have in the current market. If the cash were received later in the course of development then an escalator clause would be necessary for the City to achieve equal value.
The ownership structure of the Gateway will affect its fiscal impact. Condominiums are preferred, but under the developer’s proffer it would retain the right to rent all units, including ADU’s, an arrangement similar to that now in place at Pearson Square (410 S. Maple Ave.). Tax revenue would thus vary from $535,000 to $690,000, exclusive of current receipts.
Mr. Shields said that some office building tenants might be unwilling to accept retail on the ground floor for security reasons, especially if they were to occupy the entire office space. However, all members of the Planning Commission felt that first floor retail was essential for the Gateway, given its proximity to EFC. The mayor and other Council members who spoke on the issue concurred. Two of the commissioners cited a need for visible surface parking, possibly along Gresham Place.
After the joint session the Council was briefed on the FY 2011 budget. Acting CFO Melissa Ryman reported that BJ’s, which has now opened, is expected to generate $330,000 in sales and cigarette tax revenue during the remaining nine months of the fiscal year. However, if the tax rate were held at the current $1.24 for the full year, there would be a potential shortfall of $1.4 million. The current year end projected fund balance would be $4 million.
Councilwoman Johannah Barry stated that later billings will reflect a tax rate several cents higher than the current one and that this had not been made clear to Falls Church residents by the previous Council. However, Mayor Baroukh said that a graduated approach to the rate had been the proper way to proceed last spring and that the potential for another increase was built into the budget, though no firm figure could be set at this time. Mr. Shields said that the City would not know until November if it would be necessary to increase the rate.
The Council quickly reviewed Falls Church’s legislative program for the 2011 General Assembly session. The City’s three priority positions are dangerous weapons in City facilities, non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, and photo red traffic signal monitoring systems. All likely will face an uphill fight in Richmond.
The session concluded with a review of the Council’s various work plans for the current term.
Councilmen Dave Snyder and Ron Peppe were away Monday evening, as was commissioner J. Robert Meeks. Next Monday’s Council meeting probably will be limited to a work session as not enough members will be present for a quorum.
By George Bromley
October 20, 2010