The launch of the new decade commences for the City of Falls Church government on Monday, Jan. 6, when the City Council will convene to elect a new mayor and vice mayor in the Council chambers of the new City Hall.
Incumbent Mayor David Tarter is expected to be returned for a fourth two-year term following his re-election to the Council in November, even though the top vote getter in that election was second-term Council member Letty Hardi.
If elected as expected on Monday night, Tarter will have tied the all-time Falls Church record for election by his Council colleagues as mayor, matching the four-term service of Carol DeLong in the 1980s. DeLong, who along with her husband Chet, remains active in local politics and is the mother-in-law of current Council member Phil Duncan.
Given how well the current City Council has been functioning together in the last period (all three incumbents ran for re-election in November and all three won), there is also no reason to believe that anyone on the Council is in the mood to change up their choice for vice mayor, either, meaning Marybeth Connelly will likely be given another two years in that role.
January will shift into high gear shortly after the Monday meeting whose agenda is limited to electing the mayor and vice mayor, and a work session on proposed changes to the natural resources chapter of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
City Manager Wyatt Shields is expected to provide the Council with an update on a proposed Fiscal Year 2020 City operations budget amendment to address the rising estimated costs for the renovation and expansion of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.
It is expected that by mid-month, a “guaranteed maximum price” (GMP) for the effort will be forthcoming from the chosen architectural-engineering firm of BKV Group, Inc. and then at its Jan. 27 meeting, the Council will entertain a budget amendment to either meet, or not, the GMP.
With some budget surpluses derived from better-than-expected performances in the FY19 operating budget and a delayed debt service payment on the $125 million new high school bond, the pro-library advocates will be urging the Council to approve the GMP so the project, approved by voters in a bond referendum in 2017, can begin. Plans are already made for a temporary relocation of the library to the now-vacated classroom trailers at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School site on S. Oak.
Also this month, the Council is expecting receipt of the detailed site plan for the 10.3 acre West End Development Project with its seven buildings and wide promenade through the middle of the site. The Council was given an advance look by developers EYA, Hoffman and Regency at the architectural plans for the buildings last month, with the proposed plan presented to use an “warehouse industrial look.” Those plans were met with mixed reviews.
It is not yet known whether modifications to those plans will appear by the time the formal submission of the site plan comes to the Council sometime later this month, but in any event, it will not be until August or September before the Council is expected to approve whatever the site plan may look like by then, following extensive reviews by the public, members of City volunteer boards and commissions, and of course, the Council itself.
The Council is also anticipating receipt of further details on the proposal by the Insight Group for the development on 2.3 acres on the northeast corner of E. Broad (Rt. 7) and N. Washington (Rt. 29), which was reactivated this fall after an earlier approval was scotched by the arrest and conviction of developer Todd Hitt on investment fraud charges.
Winning another special exception approval from the City Council will have to overcome concerns that the new plan has no office space (the earlier iteration was to have considerable office space filled by Hitt’s own company), additional residential and the utilization of City-owned parking behind existing restaurants Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Thompson Italian, both of which would be sorely squeezed by the project.
The big plus side for the project is a signed lease for 50,000 square feet from Whole Foods, Inc., the grocer who has a track record of bringing a lot of collateral development in its wake because of its reputation for organic and other healthy food offerings.
The Council will spend the day on Saturday, Jan. 25, at its annual “retreat” at a location yet to be determined to mull its bigger picture goals and priorities for the coming year. There it is expected to provide guidance to City Manager Wyatt Shields on priorities it wants to see in the coming budget deliberation process for the Fiscal Year 2021 City operating and capital improvement budgets that would go into effect on July 1. The operating component of that will top $100 million for the first time in the City’s history as revenue growth in the past year has led jurisdictions in the region at above 3 percent.
Meanwhile, the Falls Church School Board and Superintendent Peter Noonan will be crafting their own request for an annual transfer of funds from the City that will be folded into the overall budget for the coming year. Shields’ budget recommendations, taking the School Board request into account, will come to the Council in mid-March, with a vote on the final version of the budget due in late April.
Shields told the News-Press in an interview Monday that City Hall will also be taking a keen interest in the upcoming legislative session in Richmond, because the new majority there (the Democrats won control of both houses and have the governor’s mansion, as well) will mean that a lot of the City’s legislative priorities will stand a better chance of passage.
Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester is in charge of handling the City’s interests there, and Shields said he expects there will be a number of trips to Richmond by City staff and its elected officials.
Finally, new leadership on the neighboring Fairfax County Board of Supervisors — specifically, the election in November of Dalia Palchick to replace the retiring Linda Smyth in the Providence District adjacent the City — has already been explored to divine new opportunities for collaboration. The City already has good long-term relations with neighboring Fairfax Supervisors Penny Gross in the Mason District and John Foust in the Dranesville District.