Tysons, VA

The City of Falls Church is getting $3.75 milli0n in grants for affordable housing initiatives from Amazon.

In response to concerns about the anticipated impact of its second headquarters in Arlington on the region’s housing prices, Amazon pledged $75 million over five years to affordable housing in Northern Virginia. These funds are being managed by Virginia Housing, the Commonwealth’s entity for helping provide affordable housing, the city said.

“Ensuring affordable access to housing for all is a key priority for the City Council and our community as a whole,” City of Falls Church Mayor P. David Tarter said in a statement. “We are delighted that Virginia Housing has awarded this grant and appreciative to Senator Dick Saslaw (VA-35) for his efforts to bring this important program to the City.”

Falls Church will get $3.4 million for a new affordable housing homeownership program and $350,000 to extend the availability of nine committed affordable apartments at the Read Building (402 W. Broad Street).

“Homeownership has been increasingly out of reach for many, and this is an innovative first step to reverse the trend,” Councilmember Letty Hardi said, calling the grant “a major step forward for the city.”

The NHP Foundation will manage the homeownership program with support from the city’s Housing and Human Services Department. Once the program is established, the city says it will take about one year for NHPF to purchase, rehabilitate, and resell the homes.

With the $3.4 million, the city estimates that 18 qualified first-time home-buyers will be able to purchase rehabilitated homes between $425,000 and $525,000. The program will make use of Virginia Housing special lending programs and mortgage credit certificates, as well as local down payment assistance, according to the city.

“We’ve already received several calls from interested homebuyers, so we’re excited to get the program established,” Falls Church Housing and Human Services Deputy Director Dana Lewis said in a statement.

The city says it expects most qualifying homes to be condominiums, but single-family homes and townhouses could also be eligible.

NHPF currently manages the Winter Hill Apartments in the City of Falls Church.

The remaining $350,000 in grant funds will subsidize rent prices for nine workforce units at the Read Building until Dec. 31, 2032. These units are reserved for qualified renters, including Falls Church City Public School teachers and staff and City of Falls Church government employees.

“In the City, there is a gap between what many households can afford and available rental and ownership homes,” Nancy Vincent, director of the City’s Housing and Human Services Department, said. “These grant funds help address the diverse housing needs of the City’s current and future populations.”

City officials suggested these solutions during a city council meeting on Nov. 9, building on a consultant’s report that outlined ways for the city to expand its affordable housing supply.

Virginia Housing is managing these grants through its REACH (Resources Enabling Affordable Community Housing in Virginia) program, which supports affordable and accessible housing as well as revitalization and preservation efforts.

Gov. Ralph Northam first announced the investment by Virginia Housing in 2018.

Image via Google Maps

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Falls Church High School (FCHS) wants to set up a permanent food pantry to help students who might otherwise go hungry, but to ensure a steady, reliable supply of food, it needs the community’s help.

It is the latest school in Fairfax County to partner with the nonprofit Food for Neighbors, which collects groceries donated by community members through its Red Bag Program to feed middle and high school students.

Falls Church High School will participate in its first Red Bag collection day on Mar. 6, when volunteers will drive by donors’ houses to pick up bags of groceries. With more than 100 families at the school relying on food assistance, the FCHS PTSA is making a final push to recruit donors.

Food for Neighbors Falls Church Area Manager Paula Prettyman says that, as of yesterday afternoon, 91 new donors have signed up for the Red Bag Program since FCHS joined just a few weeks ago. She hopes to get 100 new donors in the Falls Church area before the deadline for the Mar. 6 event arrives at midnight today (Wednesday).

“We don’t know yet how much food that is going to be for the Falls Church pantry, but it will be significant,” Prettyman said.

Falls Church High School first established a food pantry back in 2017 after receiving a grant and starting a partnership with the nonprofit Britepaths, according to Gina North, who serves as a special projects officer for the FCHS PTSA.

However, organizers had to suspend the pantry’s operations when schools closed last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, since students were no longer around to stop by and pick up food.

With the pandemic contributing to increased food insecurity around the county, the FCHS PTSA reached out to Prettyman for guidance to restart their food pantry. Prettyman also serves as vice president of the Luther Jackson Middle School PTA, which has been working with Food for Neighbors to help stock its own pantry since 2018.

Partnering with Food for Neighbors allows Falls Church High School to not only relaunch its pantry, but to expand it by appealing to the community outside of school parents and taking some of the burden of collecting and distributing food off of school staff.

“This has another organization that kind of specializes in this helping us, and it’s wider reaching,” North said. “There’s people in my neighborhood who have signed up that don’t have kids in Falls Church anymore. It’s just another way to give back to the community.”

For the Mar. 6th collection, Food for Neighbors will accept all shelf-stable food with family-sized items encouraged. People can also help by donating $30 to $75 for virtual red bags, which provide enough food to feed eight students for a weekend.

While she doesn’t know by how much, North says the number of Falls Church High School students who need food assistance has definitely gone up during the pandemic, with some students working during the day on top of attending school to support their families.

Having adequate, reliable access to food is critical for students’ academic success as well as their general physical and mental well-being, North says, citing her past experience as an elementary school special education teacher.

“I’ve seen firsthand when I have kids who I know didn’t eat breakfast or didn’t eat dinner the night before, they can’t focus on what I’m trying to teach them,” North said. “I used to keep snacks in my desk just for those occasions, because they need their basic needs met in order to take advantage of the education that’s being provided.”

Photo courtesy Paula Prettyman

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The City of Falls Church should establish independent processes for reviewing use-of-force incidents involving police officers and sheriff’s deputies, a committee tasked with evaluating the community’s relationship with local law enforcement found.

In a report released on Feb. 10 and reviewed by the city council last night (Monday), the Falls Church Use of Force Review Committee recommended that the city create a citizen review board and identify an outside organization to manage internal affairs investigations by the City of Falls Church Police Department and Sheriff’s Office.

“The implementation of an independent review of use of force incidents will mitigate the potential risk
inherent in the current system,” the committee said in its report. “An independent finding will not face the same level of legal challenges or public scrutiny because the process will be clear, the reviewers will not be in the officer’s supervisory chain, and the board will be transparent.”

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation during its special session last year giving localities the authority to establish civilian bodies with oversight over local law enforcement agencies, though the law will not officially be effective until July 1.

If Falls Church pursues the review committee’s recommendations for independent oversight, it would follow in the steps of Fairfax County, which created an independent police auditor and civilian review panel in 2016 to evaluate select Fairfax County Police Department investigations.

The committee also recommends that the City of Falls Church allocate funds to increase staffing for the police department, noting that the agency has contained about 33 positions since the 1970s despite a roughly 56% rise in the city’s population in recent years, including a nearly 20% increase between 2010 and 2019.

In addition to adding more full-time officers, the report suggests hiring a full-time certified trainer who could help train police officers and sheriff’s deputies on use-of-force practices and procedures, bias reduction and restorative justice, and management of situations involving vulnerable populations, such as individuals with mental health challenges, people with disabilities, and non-English speakers.

The committee argues that failing to staff law enforcement and public safety agencies at levels commensurate to the population they serve “is a significant risk,” resulting in personnel who have less time to train and receive insufficient organizational support to perform their duties.

Other recommendations in the report include: Read More

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Today is the first day of hybrid learning in the City of Falls Church, and for some, it’s an introduction to the recently unveiled new George Mason High School.

Falls Church City Public Schools streamed a virtual ribbon cutting on Sunday (Feb. 21) to open the school and thank everyone involved in the process of completing this project.

“This has been a long time in the making,” FCCPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan said. “I just want to thank everybody for your continued support for the last decade or more, making sure we were on track.”

The $108 million project to construct a new high school began in earnest with a bond referendum passed in 2017 to finance the construction. Workers broke ground on the endeavor in June 2019.

Among the features of the new five-story school are a black box theatre, a green roof, fabrication and robotics labs, a gym with an elevated running track, a main gym, and an auditorium. It also includes counseling offices, a café, library and media services, and maker space.

“My friends and I have been watching the schools go through this process of building a new high school since we were in elementary school, and it’s really wonderful seeing the final product,” said Elisabeth Snyder, a senior and the Falls Church City School Board’s student representative. “I can’t wait to learn in this building, and I know students are going to have a wonderful time learning in this building for generations to come.”

The new building is designed for a student capacity of 1,200 to 1,500.

The new high school was built next to the existing one. The school now connects to the adjacent Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.

“Education has always been the crown jewel of our community and always will be,” City of Falls Church Mayor David Tartar said. “And this school will ensure for years and generations to come, students will be coming and learning the most important lessons in life here in this building.”

The old high school is set for conversion into a mixed-use development known as Little City Commons.

The names of the high school and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School are still subject to change after the city school board voted on Dec. 8 to rename both. The decision came after some community members advocated for the changes following protests against racial injustice and police brutality last year.

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Falls Church City is acquiring a Virginia Village apartment building on Shirley Street with the goal of preserving the units as market-rate affordable housing.

The City of Falls Church Economic Development Authority unanimously voted on Feb. 17 to enter into a contract to purchase the property at 302 Shirley Street for $925,000.

According to a presentation given to the EDA, there were nine other bidders for the property, which is 2,560 square feet in size and has four one-bedroom apartments. The competition required that the city act quickly to take advantage of the opportunity, Falls Church EDA Chair Robert Young says.

“The EDA has taken a strong position in the last year or such that its members believe that Affordable Housing is key part of economic development, especially in a small city like Falls Church,” Young said in a statement to Tysons Reporter. “This opportunity arose over a weekend and it quickly became clear it would be necessary to move quickly if the city/EDA was to have any chance of acquiring this asset.”

Young is also president of the property developer The Young Group, which he says put the building under contract to give the EDA and Falls Church City “sufficient time to properly consider the purchase.”

The building is currently fully leased, but three out of the four tenant leases are scheduled to terminate on May 31. Once the sale is complete, the existing tenants will be allowed to remain until the end of their leases, and the city will consider options for future property uses with a commitment to maintaining the units as affordable housing.

According to the presentation, the current rents for the one-bedroom apartment units are below 60% of the area median income.

If the sale is completed, this will be the second Virginia Village property owned by the City of Falls Church, since the city already owns the apartment building at 208 Gibson St. near Big Chimneys Park. That building is managed by a property management company for use by a nonprofit, and the rents are around 40% AMI, according to Young.

The city’s plans for the Shirley Street property will be in line with its South Washington Street Small Area Plan, which states that the Virginia Village neighborhood should either be preserved or redeveloped with replacement affordable housing incorporated into the new development.

To cover the purchase and operating costs, the EDA is utilizing $1.3 million in land banking funds, including $100,000 in transferred coronavirus relief funds.

Falls Church’s land banking program allows the city to sell a property to a developer for redevelopment. Previous purchases made through the program include a property in the mixed-use Rushmark development that now contains the West Broad apartments and Harris Teeter.

“Opportunities to acquire property consistent with the EDA’s land banking program are rare,” EDA Vice Chair Brian Williams said. “In this case, the City will be able to preserve affordable housing units in what is an important part of the South Washington Street small area plan. The EDA is pleased to help the City make progress in this area.”

Photo via Google Maps

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City of Falls Church community members will soon get an opportunity to share their thoughts on how the city should address the issue of affordable housing.

The League of Women Voters-Falls Church and Citizens for a Better City are co-sponsoring a series of public forums to discuss the state of affordable housing in the city called “Affordable Housing Falls Church: Problems & Prospects.”

The first of three forums will be held on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m. A public Zoom link will be posted on the LWV-Falls Church website.

A panel of four longtime Falls Church leaders will be speaking at the forum:

  • Former Mayor H. Alan Brangman
  • Former Mayor Brian O’Connor
  • Former Falls Church Housing Corporation leader Katharine Emmons
  • Developer Robert Young, president of The Young Group

The panelists will discuss the efforts that have been made over the last 40 years to address the availability of affordable housing in Falls Church.

The other two forums will focus on current developments and possible options for the future. The dates of those discussions will be released at a later time.

“At this pivotal time, we look forward to engaging with an expert panel to understand past efforts to build affordable housing in the city, as we work toward offering more affordable housing options here,” Allison Brown, the co-president of the League of Women Voters-Falls Church, said.

The need to create more affordable housing has become a priority for Falls Church and other Northern Virginia communities since Amazon announced in 2018 that it would build its second headquarters in Arlington, leading housing prices to rise throughout the region.

The City of Falls Church commissioned and published a study in October 2020 that outlined possible options for creating and sustaining affordable housing. Some of the proposed options include financial incentives for landlords, utilizing Amazon REACH funds to extend affordability, and encouraging the production of accessory homes.

“With a decades-long record of only limited success in affordable housing efforts in our city, and now faced with the added question of more diversity in such housing, a public discussion to promote citizens’ awareness of the need to increase the supply is timely and long overdue,” Citizens for a Better City President Hal Lippman said.

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Combatting climate change will be an all-hands-on-deck effort, and at least one private company in Fairfax County has promised to do its part to help.

HITT Contracting, a construction contractor headquartered in Falls Church, announced a commitment on Feb. 11 to become carbon-neutral by 2023. The company pledged to reduce its reliance on carbon after starting to track its emissions in 2018 and learning that its operations generated 19,173 carbon-equivalent metric tons of greenhouse gases.

“Environmental stewardship is at the core of all we do. After tracking and understanding our greenhouse gas emissions, we could not ignore the effect our operations have on the environment,” HITT Director of Sustainability Isaiah Walston said. “By reducing our carbon footprint and moving toward carbon neutrality, we can positively impact our workforce, clients, and society as a whole.”

Walston acknowledged that carbon neutrality is not the same as eliminating all carbon emissions, but says the company sees this as a starting point and is “committed to taking further steps to reduce our emissions in the future.”

HITT’s emissions reduction strategy will involve purchasing primarily U.S.-based carbon offsets in locales where it operates. It has also pledged to focus on making its office and on-site operations efficient and sustainable even as it plans to expand.

The company also says in its press release that it will continue tracking its corporate emissions and present annual feasibility studies on its reduction practices.

“The commitment to becoming carbon neutral is our next major investment in fighting climate change,” HITT CEO Kim Roy said. “Making the world a better place through our work is a core value that aligns with our clients and partners. It’s simply the right thing to do as a good corporate citizen.”

Fairfax County commended HITT’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint, as the county pursues similar green aspirations.

“The Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination is pleased to see local business leaders, like HITT, taking steps to address climate change,” OEEC Deputy Director Susan Hafeli said. “The business community has a large role to play in addressing greenhouse gas emissions, and Fairfax County is fortunate to have numerous examples of companies making strides in sustainability planning and action.”

Reducing emissions is especially critical for building operations and construction, which collectively account for 38% of all carbon dioxide emissions globally, according to a United Nations report published in December.

Hafeli says Fairfax County will look to businesses, as well as community organizations and individuals, to help drive emissions down as it develops its first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), which will set goals and strategies for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the impacts of climate change.

The county is also developing a Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan to address and identify risks and areas of concern in the county that could eventually be impacted by climate change.

Fairfax County will hold two community meetings next week to discuss the CECAP. The first meeting on Feb. 23 will focus on energy issues, while the second on Feb. 25 will center on transportation, waste, and development.

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Presidents Day is just around the corner on Monday (Feb. 15), and the federal holiday will bring a few closures of public buildings in the Tysons area.

Fairfax County Government:

Fairfax County Courts:

  • The Fairfax Circuit, General District, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District courts will be closed all day on Feb. 15.

Town of Vienna

  • Town offices and the community center will be closed.
  • The holiday will not affect waste collection. Residents scheduled for pick-up on Mondays can place their waste by the curb as normal.

City of Falls Church:

  • All city offices and services, including City Hall and the Mary Riley Styles Public Library, will be closed. The community center will be closed except for scheduled evening basketball clinics. The city council’s work session has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 16.

 Public Schools:

County Libraries, Recreation Centers, Parks:

  • All Fairfax County library branches will be closed.
  • All Fairfax County RECenters will operate at their regular hours.
  • Colvin Run Mill and Sully Historic Site will be closed on Feb. 15.
  • The E.C. Lawrence, Hidden Oaks, Hidden Pond, and Huntley Meadows nature centers as well as the Riverbend Park visitor center will be open from noon until 4 p.m. on Feb. 15.
  • The McLean Community Center will be closed Feb. 15.

Public Transit:

  • Connector buses will operate on a Holiday weekday service plan. Check the link for details on specific routes.
  • WMATA Metrorail service will operate from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. on Saturday, from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. on Sunday, and from 5 a.m.-11 p.m. on Monday.
  • WMATA Metrobus will operate on a Saturday service schedule.

County Trash and Recycling:

  • There will be no change in the county’s trash and recycling collection, but Fairfax County Public Works and Environmental Services administrative offices will closed.
  • The recycling and disposal centers at the I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will be open.

Photo by Lucas Sankey via Unsplash

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The Marriott TownePlace Suites Falls Church hotel is under new management as Sonesta Simply Suites Falls Church (205 Hillwood Ave).

The pandemic has hit Fairfax County’s hospitality industry hard, resulting in a huge loss in revenue and widespread lay-offs. But one hotel brand called Sonesta International Hotels has steadily been acquiring hotels during unprecedented drops in travel.

Sonesta acquired the TownePlace Suites in Falls Church and 97 other hotels affiliated with Marriott in October because the hotelier had fallen behind on payments, according to the properties’ owner, Service Properties Trust (SVC).

A Massachusetts-based real estate investment company, SVC says it ended its 26-year relationship with Marriott last fall after attempting and failing to collect $11 million in missed payments from the hotel chain. SVC owns a 34% share of Sonesta.

“We believe that the rebranding of these hotels with Sonesta will benefit SVC as an owner of Sonesta, create greater flexibility in managing these hotels through these challenging market conditions and have a positive impact on this portfolio’s performance in the future,” SVC President and CEO John Murray said in a statement last fall.

The international hotel chain lost 122 hotels, which had collectively generated only $2.6 million in eight months, the press release said.

Sonesta took over the management of 98 of the 122 hotels. The remaining 24 hotels were sold for more than $150 million.

“This is a momentous time for the company, underscoring the continued growth and amplifying the long-term success of Sonesta and its branded hotels,” Sonesta says on its website.

Sonesta has experienced 350% growth in less than six months, and will soon have 300 operating properties across seven brands operating in North and South America, Egypt, and St. Maarten, according to a press release from Sonesta.

The D.C. area saw hotel occupancy rates drop below 50% last year, Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar previously told Tysons Reporter. Fairfax County saw $9.1 million in hotel revenue in May 2020, compared to $70 million in May 2018, and that figure did not include related services, such as catering.

Sonesta’s growth comes amid early signs of recovery in the hard-hit hotel industry, including a sudden spike in occupancy rates ahead of the Inauguration last month. Still, travel is not projected to bounce back fully until 2024.

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The Falls Church City Council took a notable step earlier this week in its effort to increase affordable housing.

The city council unanimously approved a resolution on Monday (Feb. 8) to reduce some of the voluntary concessions attached the city’s Broad and Washington mixed-use project in exchange for a commitment from the developer Insight Property Group to provide more affordable housing.

“I’m very excited about this project,” City of Falls Church Mayor David Tarter said. “The possibility of having increased affordable housing and raising the bar in that area is one I think is very exciting for our community.”

In its initial voluntary concessions agreement, Insight said that 18 of the 339 residential units planned for Broad and Washington would be available for below market value. Nine studio efficiency units would be at prices affordable for households making 40% of the area median income (AMI), and the remaining nine would be two-bedroom units for households making 60% AMI.

The voluntary concessions agreement also included an option to trade off other cash proffers that were proposed for schools, stormwater funds, and Bikeshare facilities, as well as a concession for libraries and park and recreation.

The newly approved resolution permits city staff to ask for 15 additional affordable studio units at 80% AMI, making 10% of the units in the Broad and Washington project available at some level of affordability below market rate, according to City Manager Wyatt Shields.

“What we’re getting in Broad and Washington is probably the richest mix and largest contributions in [voluntary concessions] across the board,” Councilmember Letty Hardi said. “So, while we can always do better, I do want to make sure people understand that we are getting a lot from this project.”

The resolution reduced Insight’s funding obligations to school capital costs by $2.3 million and to libraries and parks and recreation by $153,000 to allow for the increase in affordable housing.

While the project received unanimous approval, Councilmember David Snyder voiced concern with the manner in which the additional affordable housing was procured.

“My preference had always been that we not rob Peter to pay Paul, that we would add this on and use our leverage with developers,” Snyder said. “I want folks to understand that, yes, I support an increase in affordable dwelling units. This is not at all my preferred or desirable approach to funding them. I think we had other opportunities that were not taken.”

The Falls Church Planning Commission gave its support to the Broad and Washington project on Dec. 2 after a public hearing, but the group encouraged the city council to explore options for adding more affordable housing to the mixed-use development.

The city council voted on Jan. 25 to approve a comprehensive plan amendment, special exception, and the sale of a parking lot on Park Place to pave the way for Insight’s project.

The development plans call for a 56,000-square foot grocery store — likely Whole Foods — on the ground floor and mezzanine levels. At least 6,500 square feet of ground-floor space will be dedicated to other retail, sales, and restaurants, while 5,000 square feet has been set aside for the arts group Creative Cauldron.

A site plan for the development is expected in June, according to Shields.

Image via City of Falls Church

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