City Council Axes $2 Million in Affordable Housing Funds

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.

September 14, 2010 


8 Responses to “City Council Axes $2 Million in Affordable Housing Funds”

  1. Mike Smith, Falls Church on September 14th, 2010 8:35 am

    The vote to defund the $2,000,000 was purely symbolic. My understanding is that the plan was to borrow the money, so this vote has no practical effect on the operating budget. Killing the Wilden in July did have a real effect, this vote is merely purging the last bit from the financial plan (ie, budget). I’ll leave it to the better informed in the community as to whether this is good or bad symbolism.

  2. William Barratt, Falls Church on September 14th, 2010 10:15 am

    What is historic about the house at 311 Grove Avenue?

  3. Mary Sanford on September 14th, 2010 2:11 pm

    I know it’s just a blurb at the end of your story, but I want to comment on the City Treasurer encouraging online bill payment. If you have more than one car, you should know it is impossible to pay the bills in one transaction or even register both vehicles under a single payment account UNLESS the cars are identically titled. As it happens, the two cars we own are not; my name is listed first on one car, and my husband’s is listed first on the other, although we both are listed on both cars and share the same address.

    What this means is that I had to create two separate payment accounts and pay two transaction fees (that’s 80 cents) to take care of the two bills than to send both in one envelope (44 cents and the few seconds it would have taken to write a check).

    If this had ended with me being out 36 cents (minus a couple cents for whatever it cost to print the checks, I suppose), I would have not have bothered posting this comment. HOWEVER…the payment website, run by a company aptly named “Invoice Cloud,” offers the opportunity to sign up for auto-pay. Never worry about missing another payment deadline. Convenient, except that once one registers, the auto payments aren’t shown in one’s list of scheduled payments. Not wanting to be a scofflaw, I subsequently “manually” scheduled payments for each car, at which point it was impossible to tell if I was scheduled for duplicate payments. The reason I couldn’t tell was that the website generates an account number, required to sign back in, that is different from any account number printed on the bill from the City.

    Confused? I was. It took me about 20 minutes on the phone with the Treasurer’s office to get those account numbers and to confirm that I would be paying my property taxes only once on October 5th. And now I’ve spent another 10 minutes or so warning those of you who might experience a similar situation. I’m all for saving trees, but I regret having followed Ms. Kaye’s recommendation on this one. There has got to be a more efficient way.

  4. Gordon Theisz, City of Falls Church on September 14th, 2010 2:14 pm

    Having attended the meeting, I think your summary is good, but the headline is misleading. Something akin to “Council Meeting Addresses Multiple Controversial Topics” would be more appropriate.

    While the fireworks between the Councilpersons regarding affordable housing was interesting to those interested in drama, the other issues discussed, especially the HARB appeal, were much more meaty in terms of long term impact and content.

    The HARB appeal holds particular significance since the Council upheld the idea that a homeowner could not create the need for demolition of an historic property through neglect. Council also supported the housing ordinance requirement that a structure can’t be razed without being marketed at fair value for a year. I later learned that the applicants had previously requested to demolish their home a decade ago, something that did not come up in the discussion.

    I also think the E. Columbia issue was very interesting in terms of process and safety. The second reading on the daylighting concluded step 1 of a years-long struggle to begin mitigatation of flooding related to piped streams.

    You also missed the proclamations for the police department regarding pedestrian safety and domestic violence. The pedestrian safety effort being launched by the police is particularly timely given recent questions regarding the WOandD trail crossings.

  5. William Henneberg, City of Falls Church on September 14th, 2010 6:00 pm

    With regards to the daylighting of the Hamlett Tract in Rees Park, I have one question that hasn’t been brought up. When a natural stream is inundated with storm water from near by impervious surfaces, the banks of the stream get undercut and there is an increased amount of sediment loss and possibly vegetation loss. This is one of the reasons natural streams are replaced with storm pipes or concrete bottoms and banks in urban settings, to preserve the banks and sediment. Was this considered in discussions to returning the stream to a more natural setting? I’m assuming it was but I would just like to know how planners go about accounting for this.

  6. Melissa Teates, City of Falls Church on September 14th, 2010 11:19 pm

    Mr. Henneberg,

    I can answer some of your questions. The new stream will be engineered to be “natural,” but will be built to withstand erosion and to slow the water (fast water increases erosion). Plantings will also be used to stabilize the banks. Further, the current pipe will actually remain in the ground and be available for overflow in case of a large rain event.

    The current pipe is no longer large enough to contain the flow during rain events leading to flooding of the park and adjacent yards. This solution should stop that flooding.

  7. William Henneberg, City of Falls Church on September 15th, 2010 8:59 am

    Thanks for the answer Melissa, sounds like a good plan. I’ve definitely had to “island hop” between small patches of dry ground during heavy rains in that park.

  8. Gail R Opitz on September 15th, 2010 9:00 am

    “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.”

    Save the fees and still pay online! Most online banks and credit unions have free Bill Payer. Schedule the payment, in advance, for the due date (or any day before). Easy way to pay any bill from the city.

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