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The Wilden Senior Housing Project Dies, Lacks Votes on F.C. Council

rogersjacksonyoungEffort Shut Down as Council Swing Voter Says ‘No’

The Wilden senior affordable housing project, pursued incessantly by the Falls Church Housing Corporation and its collaborators since 2007, officially died Wednesday when a statement from FCHC Board President Dr. Steve Rogers was issued exclusively to the News-Press. “We have ended our efforts,” Rogers’ statement said, and a request was made to City Hall that an item on the agenda for Monday’s F.C. City Council meeting on the subject be withdrawn.

Effort Shut Down as Council Swing Voter Says ‘No’

The Wilden senior affordable housing project, pursued incessantly by the Falls Church Housing Corporation and its collaborators since 2007, officially died Wednesday when a statement from FCHC Board President Dr. Steve Rogers was issued exclusively to the News-Press. “We have ended our efforts,” Rogers’ statement said, and a request was made to City Hall that an item on the agenda for Monday’s F.C. City Council meeting on the subject be withdrawn.

The failure of the Falls Church City Council to provide the needed support at a special meeting last week was given as the cause of the outcome. While a 4-3 vote prevented a specific motion to deny the FCHC and The Wilden Partners’ request at that four-hour meeting, it was when Councilman Lawrence Webb made it “crystal clear” in an e-mail and a blog post Friday that he would not vote for the needed measure that The Wilden Partners agreed continued pursuit of the effort was fruitless.

“I regret to inform you that today we have ended our efforts to redevelop and build the combined mixed use development for affordable residential and commercial office properties currently located at 350 and 360 S. Washington Street in the City of Falls Church,” Dr. Rogers said in his statement to the News-Press. “We are deeply saddened that we have not been able to achieve majority support among the members of the City Council who have made it clear that they will vote down our reasonable and necessary request to advance the timing of funds release for a portion of the City of F.C.’s loan currently approved to The Wilden.”

Rep. Jim Moran, the U.S. Congressman who was instrumental in marshaling over $4 million in federal stimulus funds to help finance the $17 million project, issued his own statement to the News-Press of his disappointment at the outcome Tuesday. “It’s disappointing the City Council decided against accepting federal money to expand housing opportunities for people who otherwise lack the financial resources to live in Falls Church,” Moran said in his statement. “I can understand their aversion to taking risk, but I’m not sure that was the principle motivation on the part of the majority.”

 

rogersjacksonyoung

DISCUSSING THEIR decision to terminate efforts to build The Wilden Senior Apartments in the face of unalterable opposition from the Falls Church City Council were (l. to r.) Falls Church Housing Corporation president Dr. Steve Rogers, executive director Carol Jackson, and developer Bob Young. (Photo: News-Press)

At Thursday’s meeting, spiced with considerable incidents of incivility from the audience, the four hours dedicated solely to the subject drew to a close when a motion by Councilman Ira Kaylin to explicitly disapprove the FCHC request for a modification of its earlier agreement failed by a 4-3 vote.

 

The vote drew audible gasps and catcalls from the audience as Councilman Webb surprised everyone by voting against the Kaylin motion, causing it to fail. With Webb’s vote, Vice Mayor David Snyder was joined by Council members Robin Gardner and Ron Peppe in winning the one-vote majority. Mayor Nader Baroukh, who was the only Council member to oppose The Wilden last March, was joined by newcomers Johannah Barry and Kaylin voting to deny the FCHC request.

But then Webb turned around and moved to table a follow-on motion to approve the FCHC request, and the matter was put over to next Monday’s Council meeting.

As FCHC spokesmen warned the Council, the next morning the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) withdrew the $4 million in federal tax credit assistance funds ahead of the July 30 deadline for assured utilization of the heavily sought-after resource.

Still, the VHDA funding was not completely dead. The VHDA liaison to the FCHC spoke by phone with Carol Jackson, executive director of the VHDA, late Friday morning to report that the VHDA’s chief said he wanted it to be a priority to find other ways to fund the project.

The real dagger, Rogers and Jackson told the News-Press yesterday, was Webb’s e-mail and blog comments that came later on Friday.

Commenting on a local blog, Webb stated he’d opposed the motion because he wanted to give the FCHC time to find alternative funding, but he added, “I made it clear to them (the FCHC in an email to Jackson-ed.) that if they are unable to come up with their own funding source that I would not support moving funding earlier than previously agreed to.”

“That is not an option for us,” Rogers said. “The FCHC Board of Directors is not willing to risk as collateral Winter Hill Senior Apartments which, we have been told by our lending sources, is our only potential option to bypassing the City’s advance of such funds.”

He added, “Our Wilden partnership deeply regrets that our specific and reasonable request set off a reprise of the same objections to the development heard in March. We must now see what is true. We are fighting an uphill fight in a vocal community that is ambivalent at best and hostile at worst about its need for affordable housing inside its City of Falls Church borders. This is the hand we have been dealt. We will no longer ‘fight City Hall’ to continue The Wilden at a social-fabric cost now too great for our fragile community.”

At issue at last Thursday’s special Council meeting was the FCHC and Wilden Partners’ request to the City for access to $1 million of the $2 million loan the City had agreed to provide for the project some three months earlier than agreed to in March. The modification was sought to assist in the acquisition of The Wilden’s adjacent property by developer Bob Young, who was part of the overall agreement committed to providing the necessary parking spaces for The Wilden in his own office building, which he proposed to call The McKeever Building.

(The late benefactor Bob Wilden and the late City Manager Dan McKeever were two of the strongest proponents of F.C.’s commitment to affordable housing).

However, despite the fact at issue was simply a matter of timing, City Manager Wyatt Shields issued a recommendation last week against the proposed change, being preoccupied with the security of the City’s fragile fund balance.

The risk factor associated with the change was overblown, some argued, given among other things Young’s proven track record, despite the recession and by contrast to other developers, as the leading developer in Falls Church, who has successfully filled all his new buildings, residential and commercial alike, with tenants.

In his statement to the News-Press, Rogers said, “Our thoughts at this turn of events have no adequate words at this time. It is a sad day for FCHC, our many dedicated partners and financing agencies, and our collective community. We are deeply sorry the tide turned before FCHC and our partners could have sailed into safe harbor where The Wilden and McKeever development would have been a lighthouse to many. Now we will never know. Good people will be free to debate as yet another ‘what might have been’ opportunity has left the scene unfulfilled.”

Former Falls Church City Council member David Chavern, a Republican and high-level official in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, denounced “the inconsistency between rhetoric and action,” adding, “For years and years, if not decades, the Council has said that it wants the development of more affordable housing in the community…The Council actively encouraged the FCHC to develop such projects. However, when push comes to shove, the City always backs away and leaves those projects for dead. The Council has set up a grinder that makes it impossible for the FCHC to succeed. If the community really doesn’t want any affordable housing projects, then I wish the Council would just say so and drop the charade.”