Local Commentary

Final Vote on T-Zone Changes Expected This Monday

The Falls Church City Council is slated to hold its first public business meeting of the fall next Monday night, Sept. 11, and its promises to be a barn burner, so to speak. At the top of the agenda is a second and final reading of an ordinance to revise the transitional zones ordinance that has been the source of considerable controversy over almost two years of consideration.

The revisions are designed to allow for the addition of some modest new housing in the so-called “T-zones” to address the City’s need for a diversity of housing options. A preliminary OK for the changes were approved by the Council by a 5-2 vote last month (Connolly, Liam, Hardi, Duncan and Shantz-Hiscott voting in favor) and the Planning Commission was slated to vote on the matter at its meeting last night (check the FCNP website for results).

Most of the opposition has come over the two years and 26 public meetings on the subject from neighbors to the properties that could be modified by passage of the ordinance to allow for some modest additional housing projects, such as at maximum some “two over two” four-plexes. Development experts predict that if passed the ordinance would result in a small handful of new projects, but that they would offer the City an option significantly below the price of what single family homes in the City are now bringing (the average now reported to be $982,000).

Still, joining lately in the mobilization to oppose the change are members of the St. James Church, who’ve inundated the Council with emails objecting to it on a variety of grounds that, some Council members said at a work session this Tuesday, failed to grasp some of the key issues and some modifications to the ordinance made in recent months.

Housing allowed for in the t-zones by the ordinance if it passes Monday would be a minimum of 700 square feet and a maximum of 1,800, with a maximum of 51 units per acre and 10 percent mandated as “affordable.”

“It is time we stopped calling the developers of housing the bad guys in this,” Council member Marybeth Connelly said at this Tuesday’s work session. “They are not. They are partners with whatever the City decides to do,” she said.

In another major development considered at the work session this week that will be acted upon by the Council Monday is for a preliminary reading for an ordinance that would authorize the use of photo monitoring devises to enforce speed limits in active school zones in the City, with a $100 fine amount for violations.

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation allowing localities to use speed cameras in school and work zones, being areas within 600 feet of school access points.

Following a speed study, according to Captain Steve Rau of the F.C. Police Department, the department plans to deploy two fixed point speed cameras to cover the school zone located on the 800 block between Oak and Spring Streets of West Broad Street, near the St. James School.

Rau reported that “similar to the roll out of the City’s existing photo-monitoring systems (the school bus “Stop Arm” and traffic signal “Red Light” cameras), the police department will work with the City’s Office of Communications on a public information campaign prior to enforcing the speed camera violations. The maximum fine would apply for vehicles going 11 miles per hour over the limit and citations would be for violations that occur during student arrival and dismissal hours on a school day.

In addition to costs estimated at $8,000 per month, the program also includes budgeting for an additional .75 full-time equivalent sworn officer.

City Manager Wyatt Shields also told the Council this week that new 20 mile per hour speed limits in residential areas of the City will begin to be enforced this fall. Also, three “hawk” signals will arrive later this month that enable pedestrians to activate red lights at intersections along Broad Street.