My Public Comments
I closely follow the work of the City Council and its Boards and Commissions.
See below for some examples of when I've weighed in on recent City decisions and why.
T-Zones: Promoting Properly Scaled Development and Public Engagement
I support development that is appropriately scaled and thoughtfully designed, and that takes into account increased demands on the City's infrastructure and workforce. The City Council has approved multiple mixed-use projects that are underway -- at Broad & Washington, Founders Row II, and West Falls -- that will add over 1,200 new housing units, a new hotel, and over half a million square feet of office and retail space. We must stay attentive to ensure both the progress and success of those projects and to gauge their effect on the City as a whole.
Together with other residents who favor appropriately scaled development with proper City oversight, I've spoken out about the details of a proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance for transition districts. The "T-zones" encompass 58 parcels, including four historic properties and several nonprofit entities, located primarily on Park Avenue west of the library and on North Washington Street between Park Avenue and East and West Columbia Streets. I opposed the plan to allow increased "by-right" construction of much bigger buildings that cover 80% of a lot, up to 50-feet high, with minimal setbacks and no tree canopy requirement. If the text amendments that Council approved in a first reading last year had passed as drafted, the pedestrian-friendly streets, such as Park Avenue, that play an important role in our community life would have fewer mature trees, less sunlight reaching street level, more traffic, and an increased sensation of being squeezed between City streets and building walls.
Instead, our group of City residents proposed a more modest amendment that would permit increased density in T-zones -- such as by-right quadplexes and townhouses subject to Council review -- that would add to the diversity of the City's housing stock while attending to stormwater and tree-canopy needs and maintaining walkable, green streets for all residents, including those already living in denser housing.
See 53:51 for my comments on the amendments to transition zones, as initially referred out by City Council, at the first public listening session eighteen months after Council began its work
See 32:05 for my comments on fact-based decision-making informed by the City Arborist and stormwater staff, meaningful public engagement, and having a cohesive design for Park Avenue
See 58:56 for my comments on the amended ordinance for transition zones that City Council ultimately approved (in a 5-2 vote) with broad by-right provisions
Eden Center: Protecting An Important Immigrant Cultural Destination
Small, local businesses, including family- and immigrant-owned businesses, are important to our community, add interest and diversity to our City, and contribute to our sense of place. As a Council member, I will be clear-eyed about the economic impact of redevelopment on our small businesses, most of which cannot afford the high rents of many new developments.
The issue arose recently in the context of the East End Small Area Plan. A small area plan is an official planning document that serves as a declaration of a City's future land use plans and a guide to future development. The draft East End SAP as considered by the City Council and City Boards and Commissions called for the transformation of the East End (the area where Hillwood Avenue, East Broad Street, and Wilson and Roosevelt Boulevards converge) into a series of large mixed-use and smaller infill buildings. Although the draft SAP also emphasized preserving the Eden Center, the City's vision, which had been developed without adequate outreach to the Vietnamese community, would have put the over 115 immigrant-owned businesses in Eden Center at risk of displacement from construction disruptions, reduced customer parking, and higher rents.
I was proud to be among the speakers--mostly young Vietnamese Americans--who spoke out against the planned SAP changes as threatening a cherished place for thousands of Vietnamese families across the mid-Atlantic region. If the City is serious about preserving small businesses and wants to avoid repeating the history of "Little Saigon" in Clarendon, where Vietnamese businesses were displaced by redevelopment, it must take concrete action to protect this cultural gem.
See 1:18:30 for my listening session comments on supporting the Vietnamese community at Eden Center in the face of redevelopment pressures
See 21:20 for my comments on further efforts to improve the East End Plan and the landlord's obligation to address infrastructure issues at Eden Center
Pearson Square: Preserving Existing
Affordable Dwelling Units
Everyone benefits when a community includes residents of different backgrounds and income levels. But the City has become more affluent in recent years and the number of dedicated affordable dwelling units has diminished. I will start work now to preserve the roughly 100 units at Pearson Square and The Fields that will expire in the next 5 years.
I recently urged the City Council to take action to preserve dedicated affordable rental units at Pearson Square, which are some of the largest such units in the City and the next that are set to expire. The issue came up because the owner of Pearson Square sought an amendment to its "special exception" from the City Council to permit it to rent what was supposed to be a street-level retail storefront to a tenant who wanted to use it as an office space.
I support small business and office space in our increasingly expensive City, but I also saw an opportunity for the City to take incremental steps to preserve important affordable dwelling units when renegotiating with the owner. Unfortunately, a Council majority voted to approve the owner's application to amend its contract without pushing more forcefully for a modest extension to any of the affordable units or a contribution to the City's affordable housing fund. I view the Council's action as a missed opportunity to use the full leverage of its approval process to secure more community benefits when renegotiating this contract.
(link to Falls Church City Webcasts)
See 4:55 for my comments on preserving the affordable dwelling units at Pearson Square that are the next such units to expire in the City
See 2:04:25 for my comments encouraging the City to seek an extension of even one unit for one year (or roughly $15k) before approving Pearson Square's application
Park Avenue: Saving the City's Mature Tree Canopy
I've spoken out about the losses and threats to our mature trees, which are vital to the experience of living in Falls Church as well as to the imperatives of stormwater management, air quality, heat mitigation, and of course, carbon capture and climate change. I've urged the City Council to fund an updated tree inventory on City property and rights-of-way and to ensure the City Arborist has the staff and resources to effectively preserve City trees.
I've also raised tree-related concerns about the $11 million "Great Streets" project, which spans Park Avenue from N. Washington Street to the library. Despite the significance of the project and Park Avenue's central role to our downtown's success and our civic life, the project has moved forward with minimal public involvement or opportunity to review design plans. In fact, it was only after my public comment that the City Manager informed Council for the first time that the City had submitted 60% design plans to VDOT without ever circling back to the Council or public following last summer's "walking tour," even though plans are largely cemented at the 60% phase. When the City finally made the plans available, I quickly reviewed them and raised concerns that dozens of mature trees will be lost.
To be clear, we must have accessible sidewalks and streets. But there has been no opportunity to explore whether the plan prioritizes adherence to a uniform streetscape to the detriment of existing trees or includes expenditures for advanced tree-saving techniques among the costs comprising the $11 million project.
See my comments at 44:59 on adequately funding the City Arborist to preserve and maintain the City's trees and the need to be forthcoming with information on the
Park Avenue Great Streets project
Letter to the Editor
Falls Church News-Press, 4/27/23
See our 4/27/23 letter to the FCNP about preserving mature trees on
Park Ave in the Great Streets design