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F.C. Council Votes Monday On Affordable Housing Plan




The Falls Church City Council will vote Monday on whether or not to approve a package of measures that would enable a plan to built 174 new affordable housing units in the City’s downtown area.

The Falls Church Housing Corporation (FCHC) has spearheaded the ambitious plan, drawing in critical support from Homestretch, Inc., a local non-profit dedicated to transitioning homeless families into homes.

The plan is the latest attempt by the FCHC to construct a building devoted to affordable housing units in the City. An earlier plan, by the West End Park on W. Broad St., failed to get government-backed tax credits in 2006 because pressure from neighbors caused the Council to downsize it to the point it could not pass muster with the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA).

VHDA support for the current project, in the form of 4% or 9% tax credits, would add from $12 to $16 million to help cover the construction cost of the $35 million, seven-story planned building.

That, plus $2 million from the City’s Affordable Housing Fund and the donation of land from Homestretch, a $4 million proffer from City Center developer Atlantic Realty, the leveraging power of the FCHC and the promise of greater income from other FCHC properties, would pay for the project.

But the VHDA has strict deadlines for applications, which must meet rigorous standards to have a chance for approval.

This is what is compelling the Council to act quickly and provide a final vote this Monday. It held two work sessions this week leading up to the vote, one slated for last night to assess the review of the plan by the Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission, shorthanded at its meeting last Monday, failed to recommend approval of the project by being deadlocked in its vote, 2-2.

While issues of parking and holding Atlantic Realty to its $4 million promise were problematic for some on the Planning Commission, a strong showing of opposition to the project appeared from members of the Winter Hill Community Association.

Led by Bernadette Fancuberta, president of the board of directors of the association, representing 194 household units, residents complained of the consequences for their land values and neighborhood parking. Their concern was for a collateral feature of the FCHC project, involving the conversion of 83 Winter Hill apartments that it owns into renovated, affordable homes for sale to first-time home buyers.

This conversion will provide critical funding for the larger project, but has raised concerns from many Winter Hill neighbors.

Planning Commissioner Ruth Rodgers said she felt it was “unfair” to place an “undue burden” on the Winter Hill residents, which will also be impacted by the construction of the City Center, and with the construction of Pearson Square.

She also said the deadline pressure made for poor planning by ignoring details. In her opposition to the plan, she was joined by Commissioner Melissa Teates, who said, “It is scary going forward with too many unanswered questions,” and said the notion of putting affordable housing all into one building “bucks the trend” that seeks to blend affordable housing into different projects and neighborhoods.

Chair of the meeting John Lawrence said he’d “reluctantly” vote for it, noting “the Council will have a lot to fix before second reading, or it will be irresponsible.” Commissioner Suzanne Fauber voted yes, but said that the offer from Atlantic Realty “must be clarified.”

Despite living with the Winter Hill Community Association President Fanchuberta, new City Council member Nader Baroukh stated at last Monday’s work session that, in consultation with the city attorney, he did not deem it a conflict of interest to participate in this Monday’s vote.