Local Commentary

Letters to the Editor for August 6 – 13, 2008

Letters to the Editor for August 7 – 13, 2008

Snyder Assails Rushed Vote on FCHC Plan Editor


The end doesn’t justify the means. That’s true in life and it is especially true in government. Yet, violating that important teaching is exactly what is about to happen with regard to the Falls Church Housing Corporation’s (FCHC’s) proposal to build 170 publicly subsidized dwelling units, using more than $20 million in public subsidies, over the life of the project. It is set for final approval on August 11. While we all support reasonable and effective affordable housing measures, the people have a right to have meaningful input in our decisions, even for something as positive as affordable housing. Yet, our citizens are being effectively denied that right with respect to the final version of one of the largest City projects in recent memory.

This FCHC subsidized housing project has been a moving target, extremely difficult for the citizens to track and comment effectively on. Some of that movement has occurred as recently as the August 4th work session. New information was disclosed, including that complicated new documents regarding another piece of property to be added to the project using public funds and that FCHC will maintain $7 million in equity, even though they are asking for a $6 million up front subsidy (composed of taxpayer dollars and developer “community benefits”) and an on-going public subsidy of $1 million annually for at least 15 years. The new property is being treated factually as part of the project but kept technically separate from it, thereby avoiding formal Planning Commission and citizen review as part of an amended Special Exception. And nowhere is there a financing package for voters to see to determine whether the project should move forward on a cost/benefit basis.

It also came out on August 4th that existing FCHC tenants, long time residents of the City, will be forced to move into the high-rise or lose their existing homes, which raises many issues of fairness and inconsistency with widely accepted housing policies. Yet even as the project displaces current citizens, many future beneficiaries are of it are not our citizens, though the need for the project is justified on alleged current citizen needs.
Whatever the merits of the proposal, the process has not allowed effective community input on the project as set for final approval. The end doesn’t justify the means.
Dave Snyder
F.C. City Council

Major Issues Still Unresolved In FCHC Plan


Next Monday the Council will vote on the Falls Church Housing Corporation project with major issues still unresolved and most of the Planning Commission concerns unaddressed and they are not small.
ARC $: Atlantic Realty pledged $4.2 million to the FCHC project if the City chose cash over ADUs by September 30. However, if the City chooses cash and then FCHC can’t get financing, what happens? When asked, the City Attorney said it was fair to assume that the City could get the units. I find any discussion of $4.2 million that starts with “it’s fair to assume” to be unbelievable. We have no written commitment as to what happens to that money (our money) after 30 September. A senior City official this week said that “Atlantic doesn’t want to do a letter” and that he’s comfortable with that. I’m extremely uncomfortable with that.
Parking: The Planning Commission said to fix the parking deficit and do not “leave it to site plan.” We now have a new parking proposal, which, instead of fixing a seriously under-parked project keeps the same number of spaces as before. We have a solution that solves nothing.
Winter Hill: We asked that the City get a written commitment to keep Winter Hill (WH) affordable housing. We still have nothing, and FCHC can sell it to a developer as they have admitted several times. One observer at this week’s session noted that, in effect, the City’s money will subsidize whatever developer eventually buys the WH land, whether or not we get any ADUs in there. Good point. Is that what our money is for?
WH Equity: And finally, we learned this week that FCHC has $12m in WH equity, but they’re only using $5m for this project. They’re asking the City to use almost 100% of its CIP money for affordable housing, while putting up about 40% of their own WH equity.

John D. Lawrence, Vice Chair
Planning Commission