F.C. Council Displays Strong Support for Miller House Plan

Although no action was scheduled and taken Monday night, the Falls Church City Council expressed positive support for proposed plans to convert a City-owned home on N. Washington St. known as the Miller House into a group home for five persons with disabilities.

If approved by the Council in late April after a period for public comment, the plan would create the first such group home for intellectually disabled persons in 20 years. In the early 1970s, there were three such homes in the City.

The most important need for families with disabled offspring is for housing, stated City resident and former Planning Commission resident Mark Gross at Monday’s hearing, especially as both children and parents age. A number of the City’s disabled persons who grew up in the City schools’ inclusion programs are now in their 30s.

Former Falls Church Vice Mayor Hal Lippman said it would be very important for children with disabilities raised in Falls Church to remain in the communities where they grew up and with families nearby.

Ed Salzberg, long-standing member of the City’s Economic Development Authority, and Irene Williams also spoke in support of the project. Williams noted that there are 20 persons attending a support group in the City for parents of children with intellectual disabilities. She added that Virginia is 41st among 48 continental U.S. states in providing for services, but suggested that in the City, it may not be unrealistic to envision a mid-rise to address the need.

The Rev. Michele Morse, pastor of the Christ Crossman United Methodist Church, said that the Miller House project was originally her church’s idea. The house is bounded by that church, one side, and the Sunrise Retirement Home on the other, foreclosing any chance that it would be rolled into some kind of a land-merger deal for a larger commercial development, even though it is on a commercial “transitionally”-zoned strip.

Julio Idrobo, chair of the Falls Church Housing Commission, spoke out in support of the plan. The City is currently unaffordable to many people, he said, adding, “It is the responsibility of the community to provide for and protect these people. If the community doesn’t do it, no one else will.”

Mayor David Tarter concluded the hearing by saying, “The Council can support this. We will be happy to advance this cause.”

The plan would be for a “public-private educational facility,” as provided for by state legislation passed in 2002 (the “PPEA”), built in partnership with the Community Residences, Inc. (CRI), to raze the existing structure, construct a group homel for five persons with disabilities, and provide services to those individuals.

The CRI won out over two other groups that presented proposals to the City for the project. It has a newly-constructed group home, the Lincoln Street Home, in a residential neighborhood in Arlington County that houses five residents from the recently-closed Northern Virginia Training Center.

The plan that CRI presented to the City includes 1,500 square feet on the 7,514 square foot site for landscaped green space, including a street tree. There will be separate bedrooms for each resident, a common gathering room, dining room and kitchen, and space for meetings. It will be designed to serve low to moderate income persons at or below 80 percent of the area median income. There will be tenant selection plan that will give priority to Falls Church residents.

In terms that are now being hammered out with CRI, the City will lease the property to CRI for an initial 40 year period of $1 per year. CRI shall agree to demolish the existing building and build the new facility that will be open no later than June 30, 2017.

The City will continue to own the property, thus maintaining its tax exempt status. CRI will agree to staff and operate the group home and to provide high quality services during the entire term of the lease at no cost to the City.

The project has been three years in the making to this point. The Miller House site has been owned by the City since 1973 and was previously used as a group home. But it has been vacant for several years and an inspection of the structure by City staff yielded a recommendation that it be demolished.