SATURDAY, 3/16: Affordable Housing Expo at MEH

March 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The 2013 Northern Virginia Housing Expo, showcasing affordable housing opportunities throughout the region, will occur Saturday March 16 from 10am-2:30pm at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.  The Expo is hosted by Fairfax-based nonprofit AHOME in cooperation with the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA), the City of Falls Church, the City of Alexandria, the counties of Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun, and the Towns of Herndon and Manassas. Read more

Mayor Hails Northgate Groundbreaking

July 15, 2011 by · 2 Comments 


July 15, 2011

Yesterday, Mayor Nader Baroukh and other City officials participated in the groundbreaking of the Northgate.  First proposed by Hekemian & Company over seven years ago, the project is located at former site of the Pearson Funeral Home at the corner of N. Washington and E. Jefferson St.

“After enduring – we all hope – the worst days of the recession, we can celebrate the start of construction and the transformation of this property, which is important to the City’s image and its economic health,” said the mayor. 

The Northgate is intended to help enliven the North Washington area of Falls Church City.  The project is a short walking distance from the East Falls Church Metro Station and regional access that will connect the City to Dulles Airport via the new Silver Line.  As a transit-oriented development, the Northgate will produce 95 new apartments and 10 rental town homes.  Seven of the units will be designated as affordable dwelling units. 

The project also offers 15,000 square feet of office space and nearly 23,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.  “We all have a stake in seeing the Northgate become a hub of commercial activity with appeal to both the immediate neighborhood and customers from outside the City,” Mr. Baroukh said.

The mayor expressed his gratitude to the residents of the East Jefferson Street neighborhood and to all City residents who participated in the evolution of the project by providing input during each phase of its review and approval process.  He also thanked Chris Bell of Hekemian and City staff under the direction of City Manager Wyatt Shields and the late Dan McKeever in guiding the Northgate from concept to reality.

City Council members Johannah Barry, Lawrence Webb, and Ira Kaylin, Economic Development Authority Chairman Dave Tarter, Planning Commission chair Melissa Teates, and many other officials also attended the groundbreaking ceremony.

The Northgate was approved by the Planning Commission and the City Council in 2007.  Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2013.  

The architecture of the Northgate will be unique in the City.  The design, by MV+A Architects of Bethesda, will reflect materials and features common in buildings along Connecticut Avenue in NW Washington, DC.

The site is the location of a presidential visit to Falls Church.  Exactly one hundred years ago next week, President William Howard Taft spoke on the stairs of the former home of Dr. Tunis Quick to a gathering of about 300 Falls Church residents.  The president was on his way to the site of the first battle of Bull Run to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that event. 

His visit will be reflected in an historic marker on the site.  There also will be a marker that explains the history of the site from its colonial origins through its most recent function as a long-standing Falls Church business location.

City Council Holds First Session of 2011

January 4, 2011 by · 7 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

January 4, 2011

The Falls Church City Council held a brief public work session Monday evening, then withdrew behind closed doors to discuss legal matters pertaining to the City’s water system. This was the third time in less than a month that the Council has convened in camera  on the subject.  Several claims for overcharges have been filed against Falls Church by Fairfax County customers in the wake of a judicial decision that the system’s rates constituted an unconstitutional tax.

Most of the open session was devoted to aspects of affordable housing.  City staffers Pam Doran and Kevin Denton briefed the Council on the proposed Moderate Income Home Purchase Program (MIHPP), which would provide loan assistance to qualified first-time home buyers of up to 20% of the purchase price towards the purchase of a home.

Gateway project developer Akridge has offered Falls Church either  a cash contribution of $1.3 million or eight affordable dwelling units.  According to Ms. Doran, the cash would enable the City to provide loans for at least 14 to 20 households.  This assumes that not all of the loans would require the maximum loan amount. 

Ms. Doran cautioned that implementation of the program would be dependent upon the availability of sufficient staff resources.  Potential staff cuts would force Housing and Human Services employees to focus on existing programs.  Details of the MHIPP are available in this memorandum. 

The Council also discussed the FY 2012 budget calendar.  Town hall meetings were scheduled for Saturday morning, January 29, and Monday evening, January 31. 

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder chaired the meeting in the absence of Mayor Nader Baroukh.  Councilwoman Robin Gardner also was absent Monday evening.

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.

City Council Axes $2 Million in Affordable Housing Funds

September 14, 2010 by · 8 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

September 14, 2010

Last night the Falls Church City Council voted, 3-2, to strike $2 million in affordable housing funds from the FY 2011 Capital Improvements Program.  The funds, originally appropriated in FY 2008, had been encumbered in March 2010 through the City’s financial committment to the Wilden project, which was subsequently cancelled.   Mayor Nader Baroukh and Council members Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin supported the measure.  Vice Mayor David Snyder and former mayor Robin Gardner dissented.

Ms. Gardner viewed the vote as a defining moment as to where the Council stood on affordable housing, but Ms. Barry and Ms. Kaylin did not concur, citing the City’s fiscal situation as the reason for their votes.  Mayor Baroukh agreed with the newcomers, noting that “preliminary [financial] numbers do not paint an optimistic picture.”  The mayor, Ms. Barry, and Mr. Kaylin all stated their votes should not be construed as opposition to affordable housing programs.  Prior to the final vote, Mr. Snyder moved to keep the funds in the budget, but this measure was defeated, 3-2, with only Ms. Gardner supporting.     

Carol Jackson, executive director of the Falls Church Housing Corporation, Michelle Crocker of the Nothern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, and Don Brobst, chairman of the Falls Church Housing Commission, all spoke in favor of retaining the funds in the budget.   Mr. Brobst recommended deferring a decision until the next Council session on September 27.  Ms. Gardner later introduced a motion to postpone action until that date but it was not seconded.

In other business the Council unanimously upheld a decision of the Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) to deny an application to demolish a house at 311 Grove Avenue.  After reviewing the case the Council determined that the Board’s decision was not contrary to law and was supported by the preponderance of evidence.  The structure was designated historic in 1988.

The Council approved first reading of an ordinance on traffic fines, which includes an increase in the maximum penalty for handicap space violations from $250 to $500.  The Council passed a resolution to apply for approximately $300,000 in Regional Surface Transportation Program funds which will help implement the pedestrian plan now in preparation.  Also approved was a resolution authorizing $43,500 for the purchase of a triangular strip of land behind Sherrow Avenue to improve flood control and drainage in Hamlett/Rees Park.  All three measures passed unanimously. 

Two East Columbia Street residents spoke against the City’s practices in implementing traffic calming measures in their neighborhood.  City Manager Wyatt Shields stated that the normal Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation process had not been followed in the instance cited.  The controversy centered on the re-installation of speed humps.  Mayor Baroukh recommended referring the matter to a Council work session for review.       

Dr. Gordon Theisz charged that City’s zoning department is “broken”, citing several instances where code violations had been ignored.  Mayor Baroukh referred the matter to Mr. Shields for action and also asked the Council’s Government Operations Committee to assist the city manager to see that the zoning code is properly enforced.   

Treasurer Kathy Kaye encouraged residents to pay personal property taxes on-line at the City website.  She reported that $16,000 had been collected using this method since Friday.  There is a 40 cent charge to effect a funds transfer (less than a stamp) and a 2.9 percent credit card convenience fee. 

Mr. Shields announced that a regional drought watch now is in effect and recommended residents “take common sense measures to reduce water usage.”  Mr. Shields noted that the Falls Church City farmers’ market had been ranked No. 1 in the nation for markets of its size and the best market in Virginia.   He invited everyone to attend the Property Yard open house this Saturday, September 18.

Councilmen Lawrence Webb and Ron Peppe were absent from last night’s session.

Community Development and Housing Program Grants Available

August 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The City of Falls Church expects to have available approximately $82,000 of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds and approximately $47,500 of HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program funds, as of July 1, 2011, to assist City residents with low- and moderate incomes. These funds may be used for housing development, rental assistance, social services, economic development, and public services.

The City is soliciting proposals to be considered for funding. Proposals for funding must be submitted in the format provided by the City of Falls Church in order to be considered. Proposal packets are available by calling (703) 248-5005; TTY 711 or by visiting the City’s website at (click on News & Announcements).

All proposals must be postmarked and received by the Housing and Human Services Division, 300 Park Ave., by noon Friday, September 17.

City staff and the Housing Commission will review submitted proposals. Final funding recommendations will be announced at a City Council Public hearing in late November 2010. For more information, call 703-248-5005 (TTY 711).

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