By David Tarter
With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror and 2022 rapidly approaching, the News-Press asked that I give readers a preview of the new year here in Falls Church. Although the past one has been challenging, the pandemic hasn’t slowed City progress on important community priorities. These include:
Continued Economic Development — The 10-acre West Falls project (next to the high school) should break ground this spring and will be the City’s largest. The development promises to be a regional destination with hotel, office, a retail promenade, senior living and residential uses, along with convenient access to the West Falls Church Metro Station. When fully built out, the project’s tax revenue alone (not including ground rent payments) will be over $5 million per year (that’s over eleven cents on the tax rate)!
Likewise, Insight’s Washington and Broad project should begin demolition this spring and will provide a full-service Whole Foods, a new home for Creative Cauldron — our award-winning local theater, and a new high of 10 percent on-site affordable units. The project will provide a strong retail anchor for this important intersection.
These and other developments in the pipeline will continue the City’s steady and measured growth and provide new vibrancy and energy to our downtown – all the while providing a growing stream of tax revenue to support our schools and City services, and laying the groundwork for further reductions in the tax rate.
Infrastructure — Upgrading our aging (and at times, failing) infrastructure has been a top priority of City Council. To ease the burden of these costly expenditures on our tax payers, we have actively sought (and obtained) federal, state and regional grants and funding from other sources like the America Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) to cover these critical improvements.
To address neighborhood flooding, City Council recently appropriated $7.4 million for extensive storm water system upgrades, including major projects on West Columbia, Shadow Walk, Hillwood and Sherrow Avenue. Work should begin next year and provide much needed relief to affected areas. More to come.
Sidewalks, traffic calming and pedestrian and bike safety continue to be major priorities with a number of significant projects underway or expected to get underway in the near future.
The South Washington Street improvements are nearly complete and are a major boost to this commercial area. The upgrades include wider sidewalks, street trees and lights, crosswalks, utility undergrounding and new markers telling the City’s history. The $9 million cost was paid by state and federal grants.
Likewise, a “Great Streets” grant will allow similar upgrades for sidewalks, streetscape, and utility undergrounding along Park Avenue from the Library to the State Theater. Preliminary design and community engagement are set for next year.
Other upcoming projects include new flashing light “Hawk” crosswalks along Broad Street, new walking trails in Berman Park, more marked crosswalks, bike lanes, and a tripling of the annual budget for “missing link” sidewalks connections.
Equity — We continue to reexamine our policies to ensure equity and social justice City-wide. The City is implementing the recommendations of the Police Use of Force Review Committee and has joined the Government Alliance for Racial Equity to help implement best practices. We have asked all of our Boards and Commissions to re-examine the way we do business through the equity lens. Next year, we are putting our $3.7 million Amazon Reach grant to use promoting affordable homeownership, and we have recently purchased three quadplexes to provide more housing opportunities in the Virginia Village area. Our efforts to ensure equity are not one-time, but will be on-going.
Sustainability — Climate change and environmental sustainability continue to be areas of action. Our schools continue to lead with plans for solar cells on the roofs of the middle and high schools putting Meridian on the path to becoming a net zero facility. The Dan Sze Sustainability Dashboard honors one of the City’s leading voices on the environment and will provide real time sustainability data to future generations of Meridian learners. The system will also be adding two new electric school buses. Similarly, the police are beginning their transition to clean energy with the purchase of three new electric police vehicles. Recent developments in the City have been LEED Gold, continuing our efforts to ensure that private development does its part as well. We are also working on our Community Energy Plan, which will provide a long-term City roadmap to implement the goals of the Paris Accord.
There are many more exciting developments for 2022 than will fit in an 800-word column. Stay tuned to the News-Press for more updates regarding our progress. My colleagues on City Council: Marybeth Connelly, Phil Duncan, Letty Hardi, Debbie Hiscott, Ross Litkenhous, Dave Snyder and I (and soon newly elected Caroline Lian) are honored to serve you and look forward to a safe and successful new year.