2024-06-25 2:29 PM

F.C. City Council Delays Vote on West Falls Oversight Group

F.C. City Council shares their thoughts about the West Falls Community Development Authority. (Screenshot: News-Press)

The Falls Church City Council, after an hour-long closed session Monday, voted to defer action for two weeks on the creation of a proposed West Falls Community Development Authority (CDA) designed to fund infrastructure improvements on the 9.78-acre West Falls Gateway project with bonds funded solely by taxing stakeholders at the site.

The vote to defer was 5-0 with Council members Ross Litkenhous and David Snyder absent.

The move for the establishment of the CDA comes as the demolition of the old George Mason High School is almost completely done and the process of leveling the land is now underway.

The CDA is being set up with the help of value assessment advisor to the City, Ted Risher, who met with the Council in Monday’s closed session before the Council emerged to postpone action on the matter for two weeks.

It was explained that the reason for the deferral was simply that “more time was needed to pull together the various elements” of the deal.

The CDA is provided for in Virginia law to carve out a specific area within which participants can be taxed to pay for bonds the CDA can issue for the achievement of improvements in that area.

Shields, in comments to the open (virtual) meeting of the Council, stressed that while the City is instrumental in the establishment of the CDA, there is no “intrinsic risk to the City,” no liability of City taxpayers in general. “There is no responsibility of others in the Falls Church” outside participants in the 9.78-acre site,” he said.

As a technicality, the City will transfer title to the site to quasi-independent Falls Church Economic Development Authority (EDA) which will have the legal authority to execute a 99-year ground lease to all the parties of the West End Gateway Partners.

The draft nine-article incorporation paper to establish the CDA stipulates that “the affairs of the Authority shall be conducted by an authority board of five members,” all appointed by the City Council and serving “at the pleasure of the City Council.”

The formal office of the CDA is stipulated as the City Manager’s office at City Hall, and the authority “is organized for the purpose of “including but by way of illustration and not limitation, financing, funding, planning, establishing, acquiring, construction or reconstructing, enlarging, extending, equipping, operating, and maintaining public infrastructure improvements.”

In other developments this Monday:

  • Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields reported to the F.C. Council at its meeting Monday that the Commonwealth of Virginia has confirmed the City will be the recipient of a total of $18 million in federal relief dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that will come to the City in two phases, half this summer and half next.
  • That is a large infusion of new resources when measured against the fact that the City’s annual operating budget is barely over $100 million.
  • This is on top of $3 million the City is slated to receive from corporate giant Amazon as one of a series of gifts to jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia region in response to what Amazon hopes will be a warm welcome as it puts down a second major corporate headquarters in Pentagon City.
  • In an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, it was reported that Amazon’s commitment is for affordable housing near Metro stations, and singled out the plan for 657 apartments and 75 townhomes on WMATA land at the West Falls Church Metro station in Fairfax County.
  • Shields said that the City Council is expected to form a committee this summer, perhaps a “committee of the whole” Council, to mull the utilization of these funds, which come with incumbrances and must be deployed within four years. He said the lengthy documents accompanying the awards set forth four categories of accepted uses, and matters such as stormwater controls and other infrastructure measures are among them.
  • He expected decisions on these matters to come in the “July-August timeframe.”
  • Council member Phil Duncan expressed concern over the relatively low rate of Covid-19 vaccinations in the City, which stands at 55 percent fully-vaccinated. Shields echoed Duncan’s concern that he is “surprised by” the low rate, and said he and City staff will work to address it.
  • “We’re behaving as if the pandemic is over or close to it,” Duncan said, but noted the goal of achieving a 70 percent fully-vaccinated rate among adults by August 1 appears remote at this point.
  • (A full-page ad submitted by the City for publication in this week’s News-Press is seen as one step in response).
  • Shields said that the construction work on sidewalks and the roadway on S. Washington Street have been held up by supply chain disruptions related to the Covid-19 pandemic and that the problem has been solved by switching to a different company for the installation of new pavers now nearing completion on the west side of the intersection.

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