City Officials Pan Hotel Design, Mull Future of Child Development Center

May 17, 2011 by · 5 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

May 17, 2011

Planning commissioners and City Council members were not impressed with the latest design for the proposed Hilton Garden Inn (706 W. Broad St.), which was presented at last night’s joint work session.

Officials felt more brickwork was needed and that the overall design inappropriate for a city as old as Falls Church.  “I don’t think you could have built this down in Fredericksburg,” said a disappointed Lindy Hockenberry. 

Commission chair Melissa Teates called the facade “unacceptable, especially on Broad Street.”  “I’m not happy with the [building’s] sides but can live with it; the front has to look different,” she said.  “I don’t think it meets our design guidelines.”   Mayor Nader Baroukh concurred, stating that he thought the design needed a significant amount of work. 

As now proposed, the hotel will offer 110 rooms and 121 parking spaces.  It is expected to generate $540,000 in tax revenue.  A two story office building on Park Avenue, which was not part of the original 2008 proposal, has been dropped.

City Manager Wyatt Shields said he hoped the project will be submitted for first reading on June 13.   If a special exception amendment and rezoning are approved by the Council, the project would be referred to boards and commissions for review and returned for second reading on July 25.

The Council and the Planning Commission also reviewed a request by owners of first floor space at The Byron (513 W. Broad St.) to allow professional and office use for space designated for retail.  The area involved is on the far right side of the structure and has never been occupied since the building opened in 2006.

Retailers have considered the space unattractive because it is far removed from the building’s non-resident parking spaces and has a narrow front.  The parking problem cannot be corrected as residents have assigned spaces, while the commercial and retail spaces are shared.

The mayor asked the applicant’s attorney to furnish information on the efforts to market the space and whether the owner would consider joining it with the adjacent space, previously occupied by Verizon.  Mr. Shields said that the matter may be ready for Council action next Monday, assuming a prompt response to the mayor’s request.  

The joint work session concluded with a discussion of a homeowner’s request that the City vacate 1,638 square feet of unimproved space at the end of Park Place near the State Theater.  Mr. Shields recommended the Council approve the vacation, however Mr. Baroukh expressed some reservations, given that the City might build a parking facility near the location.  Planning Director Jim Snyder said that his staff would review the matter. 

CDC Future  –  The Council then was briefed on the status of the Child Development Center (201 S. Cherry St.).  The building, which was built by private funds, has been leased to Easter Seals for nearly 50 years.  The current 25 year, dollar-a-year lease is expiring in November, but the leasee would prefer an extension until at least the summer of 2013 so it could secure another facility.  Easter Seals would be willing to pay $50,000 annually for the space. 

City Schools have asked to assume control of the property in July 2012 in order to house the preschool education programs currently located at Mt. Daniel.  This option also would free space to permit the relocation of  the Falls Church Community Center preschool program.  Other options include leasing the facility to another day care provider or another commercial user, selling the property for residentinal use, or converting the space to City government offices.

School Superintendent Lois Berlin told the Council that waiting an additional year to acquire the property would result in “underserving” of students.  Pre schoolers now are receiving three hours of classes instead of the more desirable five.  She said that two trailers at Mt. Daniel are used for half day pre school, but that an additional class was needed due to the increase in special needs students.

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder called for more analysis of the options, including possibly combining government and school use.  “A dollar a year is history” he said, stressing the need to obtain the maximum value of the property for taxpayers.  

Mayor Baroukh asked Mr. Shields for an updated staff report on the issue, ideally by next Monday.  School Board member Kieran Sharpe advised that the Board also would discuss the question at Tuesday’s meeting and submit input.

TJ Renovation Status  –  Mr. Sharpe and Dr. Berlin advised the Council that there will be a public forum on the renovation at the school on May 26 at 7:00 pm.  Ceremonial groundbreaking will be held on June 13 at 9:30 am.  The School’s Architecture Selection Advisory Committee will begin to review the RFP and design.

3rd Quarter Financial Report  –  CFO Richard La Condre reported that the City revenues were at or higher than budgeted and that expenditures are running at or close to budget.  He advised that the projected fund balance would be $4.9 million at the end of the fiscal year, an increase of a little over $900,000.

Economic Development Incentive Policies  –  A draft resolution has been prepared for referral to City boards and commissions for comments.  Final Council action will occur in June.  

Closed Session  –  The work session concluded shortly before 10:00 pm.  The members then withdrew for another conference on the water refunds case.

Video of the public meeting is available at the City website.

ZOAC Report and Hotel Plan Reviewed at SRO Work Session

March 9, 2011 by · 17 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

March 9, 2011

Residents stood inside and outside the Dogwood Room Monday night as the Falls Church City Council and Planning Commission were briefed on the report  of the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC) and the status of the long dormant plan for a hotel on West Broad Street.

John Murphy, chairman of the ZOAC, summarized the report’s 19 recommenations, which already have created considerable public debate.  He said that although the original intention was to commission a complete rewrite of Falls Church’s zoning code, the committee and City staff did not recommend the contractor’s draft as the basis for a new ordinance.    

Mr. Murphy felt that the most necessary revision to the code would be to change the process of commercial development, so projects that are approved by the Council at second reading are beyond the conceptual stage.  Concerning residential zoning, he said the Committee’s recommendations were intended to  preserve the character of neighborhoods and to provide a greater mix of housing types, while retaining a sense of harmony with surrounding properties.  Noting that zoning changes are inherently personal and can impact property values, the ZOAC chairman acknowledged that some of the recommendations are controversial and that some of them might change. 

New planning director Jim Snyder said the report and the contractor’s draft of the zoning code would help in formulating the City’s comprehensive plan.  Mayor Nader Baroukh concurred and suggested Mr. Snyder work with the Planning Commission to develop an appropriate work plan.

The ZOAC’s proposals for the commercial sector may not generate wide discussion, but several of the nine residential recommendations are clearly controversial, as shown by the strong public turnout Monday evening and at the previous Council meeting on February 28.  In the latest contribution to the debate, ZOAC member Mike Novotny distributed a a four page handout that proposed revisions to four of the residential recommendations.  Councilwoman Robin Gardner summed up the coming conflict as one pitting the rights of the homeowner versus the rights of the community. 

Hilton Garden Inn  –  First proposed in 2008, the plan has been revised to include a small office building and some changes to the hotel site at 706 W. Broad St.  The project will require an amendment to the previously granted special exception, which remains in effect.

Rich Palmer of Gosnell-Palmer Holdings LLC, the franchisee, provided a presentation on the 110 room hotel and the two-story office building which will face Park Avenue.  Changes include a reduction in the number of parking spaces from 119 to 114 and the removal of the ramp between the two levels of the parking garage.  Twenty of the spaces will be set aside for 800 W. Broad St.  The proposed plan calls for a reduction in the available daytime parking space from 75% to 64%.  Mr. Palmer said he did not expect the garage to be heavily used.

The project is expected to generate $568,000 in revenue for the City.  Vice Mayor Dave Snyder estimated that it could reduce the tax rate by as much as four cents, assuming that Falls Church realizes the projected additional revenue generated by guests and conference attendees.

Some planning commissioners criticized the rear elevation of the office building and the location of trash containers and a generator.  Others thought that the hotel’s style was “boilerplate” and called for a design that was more suited to the City’s character.

Council members questioned the parking plan and the lack of connectivity between levels of the garage.  Mayor Baroukh recommended close reading of the franchise agreement, emphasizing that he did not want to see the hotel “flipped”  ten years from now into a lower status facility.  He recommended additional staff work on the project before moving forward.   

Auditors Report  –  Billy Robinson and Jason Hartman of Brown, Edwards briefed the Council on the recently completed FY 2010 audit, formally the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

The audit, which was due in December, was delayed for several reasons, including a change in audit firms, a backlog due to the absence of a CFO for several months, and the difficulty in determining the impact of the water system lawsuits filed against the City.   The auditors called for a prior period adjustment on a supplemental retirement plan and recommended that the City’s financial department regularly review School Board and Economic Development Authority minutes, in addition to those of the Council. 

Safe Routes to School (SRTS)  –  City planner Wendy Block Sanford presented the SRTS application to the Council.  The City is requesting $500,000 in federal funds from the Virginia Department of Transportation for infrastructure improvements that will upgrade walking and biking routes to schools.  SRTS is one of  the three elements of the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan.

Ms. Sanford advised that 75% of the 500 parents who had responded to a survey would allow their children to walk or bike to school if conditions improve.  Currently, Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School has a no walk policy, primarily due to the configuration of its drop-off area.  This would be redesigned upon receipt of SRTS funds.  Other recommended measures, all which have community benefits, include:  

>   New sidewalks on primary routes to schools
>   Raised sidewalks at several Broad St. locations
>   Median refuge at N. Oak St. and N. West St.
>   Speed limit signs at four locations
>   Traffic control devices at four locations
>   Re-alignment of intersection of West St. and W&OD Trail

Ms. Sanford said that the purpose of SRTS is to improve, not extend the walking areas.  Students who live beyond an established walking zone would still be bused.

The Council informally agreed to approve a resolution endorsing the application at next Monday’s meeting.

Video  –  A recording of the work session is available at the City website.

Proposed changes to ZOAC Recommendations [PDF]

Falls Church Wins $3 Million Bond for TJ Expansion

March 3, 2011 by · 11 Comments 


March 3, 2011

The Virginia Department of Education has awarded Falls Church a $3 million Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) to expand Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.  QSCBs provide near zero interest construction loans to local school districts across the United States.  Falls Church was one of only 33 school divisions in Virginia to secure awards in the $229 million round.

“We are thrilled by and grateful for the state’s decision,” said School Board Chair Joan Wodiska.  “A year from now, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School will hit capacity.  Our City needed the tremendous financial opportunity and assistance afforded through a QSCB to meet growing student populations, create a 21st century learning community, and eliminate trailers.”

The award will help ensure that the City will have adequate school facilities capable of providing a world-class education to every student.  The QSCB will save taxpayers approximately $1.3 million in interest charges, compared to a similar project funded through traditional municipal bond efforts.

FCCPS’ winning application focuses on:

>  Right-sizing the Thomas Jefferson cafeteria so it meets the needs of the City’s growing student population;
>  Adding 12 new classrooms to the current facility;
>  Removing trailers from the current TJ site;
>  Providing wireless Internet at TJ, while also providing free Wi-Fi to low-income students to support learning outside of the school building.

“By working together – the School Board, the City Council, the Planning Commission, and the Long Range Financial Advisory Group – produced a decisive victory for City residents,” Ms. Wodiska said.  “The School Board’s strong leadership to secure this QSCB award demonstrates our firm commitment to be effective stewards of both our children’s education and our City’s dollars.  I am proud of our work and deeply grateful for everyone’s contribution to produce this community victory.”

Since the full amount requested ($5.95 million) was not awarded, the Board, Council and Planning Commission will need to discuss how to supplement the QSCB award to achieve a project that addresses the capacity needs at TJ Elementary.  Detailed planning for the TJ expansion project will begin immediately.  School officials expect construction to be completed for the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

Zoning Controversies Dominate City Council Session

March 2, 2011 by · 18 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

March 2, 2011

The Falls Church City Council will not begin to review the report of the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC) until March 7th, but residents were out in force Monday evening to comment on the report’s recommendations.  City zoning administrator John Boyle also came under fire from many ZOAC supporters. 

Art McArthur, representing 70 petitioners, led off by stating that six of the ZOAC’s nine residential recommendations restrict, reduce, or eliminate some existing property rights.  He said that the Committee now was against releasing the contractor’s revision of the City’s zoning code, a project he maintained had cost $500,000.

Calling the ZOAC report slanted and disingenuous, Mr. McArthur said that 20% of the document was devoted to the issue of substandard lots (one less than 60 feet wide or created after a larger lot was divided into two separate parcels).  He concluded by pointing out that two members of the Council live on such lots and that one of them would not have been able to improve their property several years ago if two of the ZOAC’s recommendations had been law.

Several residents seconded Mr. McArthur.  David McGuire, who had bought property with the intention of developing it, said the issue was not one of lost opportunity if the recommendations are implemented, but real money.  

Charlie Albright said most of the ZOAC changes and the enforcement of front yard averaging will lower the value of properties and the tax base.  Diane Edwards, a substandard lot owner and realtor, agreed.  She said all 984 substandard lots in Falls Church will have their taxes reduced if the ZOAC’s recommendations are approved, resulting in a loss of income to the City. 

Anne Durgan said that the new homes built by incoming residents on her street had helped strengthen, not weaken, the neighborhood’s sense of community.   

Other residents, including some substandard lot owners, defended the Committee.  Many sharply criticized rulings made by Mr. Boyle, which they believed ignored the current code.     

“The ZOAC is not trying to change anything,” said Richard Knodt.  “They’re just trying to preserve what exists.  We have deviated from the law as is written.  To take the lawless decisions made by the zoning administrator and make that the law would be a grave error.”  His wife Jane spoke against building substandard lots out to a maximum and for maintaining the existing codes for averaging front yard setbacks.

David Gogal said that recent decisions had made the zoning ordinance meaningless.  “I don’t think you need to have these fairly large detached, almost town homes to create a new community” he said.  “Older homes don’t have to be torn down and replaced with two.”

Dr. Goron Thiesz echoed Mr. Gogal’s criticism.  “Zoning law requires averaging of front yards.  That the zoning administrator offers a plan without averaging shows his continued disregard of this provision of the law,” he said.  “The zoning department needs to follow the law as written.”  Dr. Thiesz also accused the administrator of issuing a recent ruling on a lot coverage violation six years after construction as “retribution, not enforcement.”

Former Councilman Dan Maller said that property rights had been diminished by the zoning decisions.  “The focus of the ZOAC report was to take a stand to protect the neighborhoods of Falls Church,” he said.  “Zoning is a process where the City decides, not an individual property owner.  The City decides what the rules are and we would like those rules enforced.” 

Keith Thurston, a former planning commissioner, said that the zoning code was being totally misinterpreted.  “If you have a zoning administrator who changes their opinion and enforces it differently, you essentially have no code,” he said.  Mr. Thurston attributed the problem partly to the fact that Falls Church’s property records go to Arlington County for recordation and through “coaching” owners or developers are being told how to change the deed, allowing them to say they are two separate property owners.  

Mayor Nader Baroukh thanked the speakers but stressed that the objective of the March 7th work session would be to define the next steps in the process, rather than an opportunity for the Council to begin discussion of the ZOAC  recommendations.  The mayor referred two of the zoning complaints to the city manager and city attorney for review.

City Manager’s Report  –  Wyatt Shields noted that Jim Snyder, the new planning director, is now on board.   He served many years in Arlington County, dealing with both current and long range planning, and later in the private sector.   Mr. Shields thanked Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester for her service in the interim prior to Mr. Snyder’s appointment.

During the comments segment Mr. Shields mentioned that the Easter Seal’s lease on the Child Development Center building on Cherry Street is expiring later this year.  City schools may be interested in obtaining the building after November. 

Sewer Rates Rising  –  The Council approved second reading of an ordinance raising sewer rates (6-0, Ms. Gardner absent), the first increase since 2005.  The increase is necessary primarily to meet the capital costs of treatment upgrades required to protect Chesapeake Bay.  The current commodity charge for sanitary sewer is $5.91 per 1,000 gallons.  The charge now will rise to $7.25.  A quarterly fixed charge of $5.00 also will be instituted.

“No one likes raising costs but we can’t allow infrastructure to degrade,” observed Vice Mayor Dave Snyder.  “It’s the responsible thing to do.” 

Naming Ordinance  –  With Mr. Kaylin abstaining, the Council approved the first reading of a measure that would strike a 1990 ordinance that mandated buildings, parks, or other properties owned or controlled by Falls Church could not be named after any living person. The new ordinance would not apply to school facilities.

Mr. Kaylin explained that he had no intention of depriving anyone of the honor. He said he was simply suggesting that it would be good practice to impose a waiting period of two or three years after a person was no longer working for the city.

Regional Surface Transportation Program (RSTP)  –  The Council approved a resolution endorsing the City’s application for an RSTP project for FYs 2013-17 to construct additional pedestrian and bicycle improvements.  Approximately $300,000 per year is anticipated to be allocated to the City during that period.  The City was awarded the same amount in FY 2012 for implementation of pedestrian, bicycle and traffic calming improvements. 

The FY 2013-17 request is for additional funds for this project.  They will enable the City to continue to implement transportation improvements as outlined in its Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan.

FY 2011 Budget Amendment  –  The Council approved second reading of an ordinance authorizing a $125,000 increase to the water fund’s expenditure budget to cover legal fees and $50,000 to general fund expenditures to purchase a vehicle for the fire marshal. 

Appointments  –  Laurence J. Dorr and William Henneberg were reappointed to the Tree Commission.  Their new terms will run from April 1 to March 31, 2014.  

Peter Adriance was reappointed to the Environmental Services Council.  His term will run from March 1 to April 28, 2014.  

M.T. Gutmanis was reappointed to the Housing Commission to term from January 1 to December 31, 2013.  

Rena Marsh was appointed to the Falls Church Cable Access Advisory Board.  Her term will run from November 1, 2010 to October 31, 2013.   

Closed Session  –  After the public meeting adjourned the Council conducted a closed session concerning a legal matter.

Video  –  A recording of the public session is available at the city website.

MONDAY 1/3: Planning Commission

December 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Monday at 7:45 p.m. the Planning Commission meets the first and third Monday of each month in City Hall Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, 300 Park Avenue. (Except in January, February, and September when one or more meetings are held on Tuesday because the regular meeting date is a holiday.)

If you are seeking information on a particular development proposal, then click here and look under “2009 Agendas” and check the packages posted for Planning Commission meetings. If you are unable to find the information desired, please contact the Planning Division on 703-248-5040.

Council, Planning Commission Continue Gateway Discussion

October 28, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

October 28, 2010

Lacking a quorum for a regular meeting, the Falls Church City Council held a work session with members of the Planning Commission last Monday evening during which they discussed voluntary concessions for the 200 unit Gateway project (500-520 N. Washington St.).  Project developer Akridge, which is seeking rezoning and two special exceptions for the site, is proposing 10 concessions.  The City officials and staff reviewed each draft proposal in conjunction with Akridge’s Mike Gill.

Affordable Housing  –  The developer’s contribution will be 8 affordable dwelling units (ADUs), $1.3 million in cash, or a combination of the two.  The proposed value of the individual ADUs would be $162,500 if the City were to select a mix of units and cash.

Mayor Nader Baroukh noted that clarification was needed as to how many of the ADUs would be either one bedroom or two bedroom.   Planning Commission chairman John Lawrence advised that it was the City’s option as to the mix.  Mr. Gill said that the projected ADU mix would follow that of the project, which is 70% studio/one bedrooms and 30% two bedrooms. 

If rented, the rents for ADUs would be based on 60% of the HUD median income as determined by the Housing Commission for the next 15 years.   If sold, the developer would agree to sales prices of $187,410 for one bedrooms and $221,173 for two bedrooms in accordance with the 80% HUD median income.

Pedestrian Oriented Design Elements  –  Akridge will provide streetscape improvements along a dedicated 20 feet right-of-way including brick sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, refuse and recycling receptacles, stormwater management, street furniture, utility undergrounding, and other features set forth in the adopted N. Washington streetscape plan.  The mayor asked the Commission to review the details of the developer’s proposal to assure sufficient pedestrian width.  Commissioner Melissa Teates advised that the 20 feet width had been “really vetted out.”   

Transportation Improvements  –  Gresham Place will be widened to two lanes to facilitate right turns.  After the issuance of building permits the developer will provide a $150,000 contribution to upgrade the traffic signal at Gresham and N. Washington and to improve stream and stream bank on Four Mile Run.  Contingent on VDOT approval, Akridge will provide a raised median running along the centerline of N. Washington from Gresham to E.  Jefferson St.  Mr. Gill noted that this was a City request.  The developer also will effect various repairs and improvements to Gresham and E. Jefferson at the end of construction.

Mr. Lawrence referenced the issue of two parking spaces on Gresham.  City manager Wyatt Shields advised that they were not currently part of the concession and that the issue was still to be discussed between the City and the Gresham HOA.

The mayor noted that there previously had been a contribution assigned to the now terminated GEORGE bus system and suggested that the developer consider a cash proffer for transportation improvements, ideally toward the west gateway/entrance to the Metro station.   Commissioner Lindy Hockenberry concurred and suggested other developers along N. Washington be encouraged to offer similar support.  

Stream Improvements  –  In order to reduce the pollutant load on the adjacent Four Mile Run the developer will remove any contaminated soil from the site and provide stormwater management which is currently lacking.  The office building will have a green roof and the residential building will utilize cisterns.   Mr. Shields stated that all the recent mixed-use projects have provided improved stormwater management but that the concessions provided here “raised the bar” even higher. 

Underground Parking  –  Officials expressed strong interest in keeping the commercial part of the garage open to public access after business hours. 

School Capital Cost Contribution  –  The developer will offer $6,746 for each sale condominium unit and $7,511 for each rental apartment unit.  Mr. Shields stated that payments should be made at issuance of certificate of occupancy, rather than via installments.  The mayor recommended studying whether there should be adjustments in the model used to derive these figures.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Criteria  –  Akridge agrees to a design that will enable the office building to receive LEED Silver status for the office building and LEED certified for the residential building.  This would be guaranteed by a performance bond as LEED certification isn’t achieved until two or three years after project completion.   Mr. Shields said the developer has resisted attempting to achieve LEED Gold for the office building or LEED Silver for the residential.  Mr. Gill stated that there are very few structures achieving these levels of certification in Virginia.  

Phasing  –  This assures that no certificate of occupancy (CO) for residential units will be issued until the CO for the office building has been issued by the City.  The mayor asked the City attorney to see if there was a way to “shore up” the language of this concession and that on residential ownership structure.  

Residential Unit Ownership  –  Each unit will be taxed as a separate lot of real estate.   The developer and future condo unit owners will have the right to rent each unit.  Mr. Shields noted that the value of rental versus condominium properties can ebb and flow over time and that there was no guarantee that condos would always achieve a higher value.

Street Level Retail Uses  –  Akridge agrees to reserve 4,000 gross square feet in the office building and 2,000 gross square feet in the residential building for retail and service uses.   CommissionerTeates felt the frontage space should be dedicated to retail, with service space off to the side.  Commissioners Lawrence and Hockenberry expressed concern about the developer’s listing of prospective uses for the space.   Mayor Baroukh agreed that the uses need to be better defined and encouraged the Commission and City planning staff to provide guidance to the Council.

The project’s request for special exceptions will need a resolution which will require one Council reading.  The zoning change application will require an ordinance which will involve two readings.   The mayor observed that the earliest date of a first reading would be November 8, but said he did  not want to have a second reading during the holidays.  Mr. Lawrence advised that the Commission could hold a project work session on November 15 and a public hearing on December 6.      

Councilwoman Johannah Barry reiterated her view that some of the concerns of E. Jefferson St. residents had not been satisfactorily resolved.  She advised that the E. Jefferson neighborhood association will be meeting with Mr. Gill in the next couple of weeks. 

Video of the meeting is available on the City website.

City Officials Discuss EFC & Gateway at Work Sesssion

October 20, 2010 by · 13 Comments 

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.

Council Discusses Election Date Switch, Looks at Gateway

October 5, 2010 by · 9 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

October 5, 2010

Last night the Falls Church City Council held a sometimes contentious discussion on the issue of moving the date of local elections, long held in May but recently switched to November.  In January 2010 the Council voted, 5-2, to approve an ordinance which shifted the election to the fall, starting in 2011.  However, the majority of the current members yesterday voiced their support for a public referendum on the question and the possible repeal of the ordinance.

Councilwoman Robin Gardner, who voted for the change, was the sole voice in opposition.  The former mayor vigorously defended the previous Council’s decision to make the switch, citing the advantages of higher voter participation and lower administrative costs.  She stated that 32 Virginia jurisdictions had made such a change.  May turnout in Falls Church has declined in the last decade from percentages in the low 30s to 24 percent last spring.  It costs approximately $18,000 to hold the bi-annual election.

Ms. Gardner said that the City had already received approval for the change from the U.S. Deparment of Justice (DOJ) and would have to resubmit any subsequent change.  Vice Mayor Dave Snyder, who opposed the move, did not see this as a problem and saw no point in speculating as to how DOJ would react.

Undaunted, Ms. Gardner maintained that the Council had been elected specifically to make such decisions and that a reversal would “let down a whole group of constituents in the community.”  She later stated that the City had “done a bad job in communicating to minority voters” and asked, “Have you seen information in Vietnamese?  In Spanish?”       

Mr. Snyder countered, saying that the question was better decided via a referendum than by the Council and that the previous action had “usurped the right of the people.”   He saw no substance in suggestions that May elections had resulted in anyone being disenfranchised and stated, “I think democracy is worth $18,000.”

Mayor Nader Baroukh, who also voted against the change, dismissed Ms. Gardner’s charges of  disenfranchisement, calling them “a strawman or a red herring.” Newly elected members Johannah Barry, Ron Peppe, and Ira Kaylin leaned in favor of resolving the issue via referendum.  Councilman Lawrence Webb, who voted for the switch, was not present yesterday.

Ms. Barry advocated repealing the previous ordinance and rejected Ms. Gardner’s characterization of the DOJ as “the elephant in the room.”  Mr. Peppe said that he was surprised that Virginia law allowed the Council to change the date via ordinance.  He agreed with Ms. Barry and Mr. Kaylin that any referendum should be held in November.  Mr. Kaylin stated he did not believe voting rights issues should be delegated to elected officials. 

Any change in the date also would affect School Board elections.  The mayor asked City Manager Wyatt Shields to obtain feedback on the issue from the Board.  Mr. Peppe, who was its past chairman, said the School Board members had not been consulted during the previous change process.  

Two public hearings would be required before the Council could repeal the January 2010 ordinance.  A referendum on the issue could be held within a few months.  City attorney John Foster will determine if a November 2011 referendum could be scheduled nearly a year in advance.

Gateway Project

Prior to the election date discussion the Council held a joint work session with the Planning Commission on the Gateway mixed-use development.  An Akridge project first proposed in 2005, the Gateway would consist of two five-story structures at 500-520 N. Washington St., a 73-foot-tall office building and a 55-foot-tall condominium. 

The residential building will offer 200 units, about 140 studio/one-bedrooms and 60 two-bedrooms.  Akridge’s Michael Gill stated that the residential units likely will be sold in the $300,000-$400,000 range.  At an average of 825 square feet, the units will be considerably smaller than those in buildings such as the Byron (513 W. Broad St.), where the average residence is 1,600 square feet.  The lower price would not put the units in competition with single family homes and would be representative of the demographic expected to purchase in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

The project would have a 31 percent commercial, 69 percent residential ratio.  Parking would be below the entire site and contain 513 spaces.  The project would require a zoning change and approval of special exceptions for mixed use and building height.

The site currently generates $122,000 in annual tax revenue.  The Gateway is expected to provide net tax revenue of  $631,000 to $786,000 annually (inclusive of the current receipts).  According to Mr. Gill, the site would generate revenue sufficient to reduce the average City resident’s  property tax bill by $125.   

The question of affordable dwelling units (ADUs) versus a cash contribution remains at issue.  Members of both the Council and the Planning Commission stated they favored 13 ADUs over a cash contribution of $1.2 million.  In response to a question from Mr. Kaylin, the city manager stated that the cash could be used as part of a “buy-down program” which would enable people to buy the units at a reduced price.

Commissioner Melissa Teates suggested that some above-ground parking be available for commercial use.  Commissioner Michael Kearney recommended that the garage be open after hours to allow for potential retail or theater parking.

Most of the officials were pleased with the changes made since the project’s inception. However, Ms. Barry stated that the revisions seemed more substantial on the side facing Gresham Place than the one facing E. Jefferson Street.  Mr. Gill noted that the latest version eliminated any egress onto Jefferson, but Ms. Barry maintained such an exit had never been a viable option.   

Engineering Issues 

After the joint session, City engineer Bill Hicks briefed the Council on a plan to install approximately 2,500 feet of fiber optic communication lines through the City from Arlington County, along Roosevelt Avenue to Wilson Boulevard, and into Fairfax County.  Once the contractors complete their work, ownership of the lines will transfer to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  

Falls Church will receive approximately $9,000 annually for five years for granting this license.  Mr. Foster advised that the amount the City can receive is limited by state law.  The conduit dedicated to Falls Church is expected to be used in the City’s traffic signal system currently under development.

Mr. Hicks also recommended adoption of a resolution to direct Washington Gas to relocate the gas utility in the eastern side of the 400 block of North Washington Street (between Columbia Street and Jefferson Street) in order to install streetscape.  This would be done at no cost to the City. 

Council Retreat Follow-up

The work session concluded with a brief review of the work plans developed at the recent retreat.  The mayor asked City staff to work with the appropriate Council committees on the plans and asked Mr. Shields to develop a schedule for discussions at future work sessions. 

Due to the observance of Columbus Day, the next Council meeting will be held Tuesday evening, October 12, in the Council Chamber at City Hall.

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