Reston, VA

After hours of passionate public input at their meeting Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed a ban on carrying guns on county property.

The Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance 8-1, immediately taking effect and applying to County buildings, parks, recreation and community centers.

The state law that let Fairfax County ban guns on public property, is something that Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the county has been asking for decades. Similar bans were implemented in Alexandria, Arlington, and Falls Church.

“There is also a lot of fear in this community about guns,” McKay said. “So while gun rights advocates are concerned for their own safety, you have to understand there [are] a ton of people in this county worried about guns — period.”

In April, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a new gun control law enabling local governments to ban guns on public property and spaces. The bill followed a charged legislative session in Richmond, where armed pro-gun protesters showed up to the state capital as the legislature was considering proposed gun control measures.

One of the drivers of the ban on guns on public property was a 2019 shooting in Virginia Beach, where a gunman killed 12 people at a municipal building.

Before the vote, many speakers at the public hearing testified about the fear they have about guns and how state and local officials need to enact strong gun control measures to prevent a similar mass shooting from happening in Fairfax County.

Martina Leinz, president of the Northern Virginia chapter of Brady United Against Gun Violence, urged the Board of Supervisors to pass the ordnance saying there is a history of armed protesters showing up at gun control events on public spaces in Fairfax County, which she said was a form of intimidation.

“These should all be safe spaces that allow for the free and open exchange of speech and ideas without threat or intimidation by those carrying firearms,” Leinz said.

Pat Herrity, the lone Republican on the Board of Supervisors and the lone vote against the ordinance, spoke for the many pro-gun residents who testified at Tuesday’s public hearing, saying that ordinance was about politics not about public safety.

“I don’t believe a ban on guns makes Fairfax County public places or our citizens any safer and for me, that’s the benchmark,” Herrity said.

The Board of Supervisors immediately voted on the ordinance after over five hours of public testimony on the bill, to Herrity’s dismay, who said the board should have waited to vote, so it could take the ordinance up in committee to review public comments before passing it.

Additionally, the ordinance will require county buildings to post signs at entrances alerting people of the ban on guns and ammunition in public spaces, something that some pro-gun advocates pointed out could be irrelevant to any potential criminal.

“Do we really think a mass shooter is going to turn around when they see a ‘no guns allowed’ sign,” Grant Kendall, who testified against the ordinance, said. “Will criminals, already committed to doing much worse be deterred? No, of course not and it’s ridiculous to think so.”

The ordinance has exemptions for those in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, those participating in collegiate sporting events, police officers or educational county programs. The ordinance will also exempt the Bull Run Shooting Center, a public gun range in Centreville.

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Fall cleanup (Photo via Town of Herndon website)

Herndon residents looking to throw away any unwanted pieces of furniture, car parts, appliances or other large items will have the opportunity to do so Oct. 21 to 23, during the city’s annual Fall Clean-up.

The Fall Clean-up allows Herndon residents to avoid a trip to the dump by having a day where sanitization workers will collect large trash items. Items for collection should be left on the curbside before 6 a.m. on any day from Oct. 21 to 23, but no earlier than 24 hours before pick-up, according to a press release from the town.

While many large appliances, furniture and other items are available for pick up during the annual clean up, loose yard waste, auto parts heavier than 50 pounds, large quantities of building materials household hazardous items and electronic waste such as computers, televisions, printers and stereos will not be picked up, according to the press release.

Those with questions can contact the Reston Department of Public Works at (703) 435-6856 or email [email protected]

Photo via Town of Herndon website

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With many businesses shutting their doors for good during the COVID-19 pandemic, cigar aficionados will have a new place to get their tobacco fix in when Cigar Town opens a new store in Herndon next week.

The shop, located at the Franklin Farm Village Center, will hold its grand opening on Sept. 21 becoming the fourth store for the family-owned chain of cigar shops in Fairfax County.

Unlike their other stores, the new Cigar Town shop in Herndon will have a walk-in humidor and a public smoking lounge that will be open to costumers who want to sit back and smoke a cigar after purchasing one from the shop’s wide assortment, according to Hassan Hamdan, who helps manages the stores along with his uncle and father.

While social distancing concerns could keep cigar aficionados away from the store Hamdan said, he hopes the perks for the Herndon store will attract a new customer base. Following health guidelines, the shop will require costumers to wear a mask before entertaining and will limit capacity for the smoking lounge Hamdan said.

Cigar Town signed the lease for the shop in January before the pandemic and has had to push back the grand opening by a few months because of the economic downturn from the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamdan said.

“I mean, the challenges are obvious — they’re financial,” Hamdan said. “Just opening a store takes a lot of money for construction, a lot for product, a lot for advertising — all of that has kind of been scaled back and slowed down.”

Cigar Town was originally started by the Hamdan family over 20-years-ago slowly expanding their business of cigar shops with locations now in Tysons, Fairfax and Reston. While Hamdan said some costumers have been opting to purchase their cigars online and to smoke them at home, he said family’s business is banking on costumer-loyalty built over decades in Northern Virginia.

“We have lived in Fairfax and Herndon since 1987, so hopefully we’ve developed some skills in building a customer base,” Hamdan said. “We’re going to have to apply them now.”

Photo via Cigar Town

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Reported crimes in Herndon were at a three year high in 2019, according to a new report from the Herndon Police Department.

In 2019, there were 833 reported crimes in Herndon, an uptick from the 791 crimes reported in 2018.

The crimes with the greatest one-year increase were auto theft, aggravated assault and destruction of property according to the report. In 2019, there were 25 reported auto thefts, more than in the previous two years combined.

Steve Pihonak, a captain with the Herndon Police Department, called auto thefts a “crime of opportunity,” saying there is a growing trend in the town with criminals taking advantage of people who leave their cars idling.

“Auto thefts are often what we call a ‘crime of opportunity,’ and these are not easy for officers to predict or police against,” Pihonak said in a statement. “For example, out of the 25 auto thefts in Herndon in 2019, 11 of them occurred when the cars were left running. Additionally, five more cases occurred when the car was left unlocked with the keys in the car. In one other case, the vehicle was left unlocked.”

To prevent auto thefts and other crimes, Pihonak said people should follow a “9 p.m. routine” where residents should remove valuables from their cars at night. Additionally, residents should close their garage door, lock their front door and leave a light on at night, Pihonak said.

Aggravated assaults increased from three reported cases in 2018 to 29 in 2019. The reported three cases in 2019 are an anomaly according to Lisa Herndon, a spokeswoman for Herndon Police said, who pointed to the fact that there were 21 reported aggravated assaults in the town in 2017.

She said police don’t know what accounted for the low number of reported aggregative assaults in Herndon in 2018.

Destruction of property crimes increased from 77 reported incidents in 2018 to 188 in 2019, which is closer to the 2017 total of 132.

As reported crimes are at a three-year high, arrests are at a three-year low, with just 575 arrests in 2019, compared to 688 in 2018 and 837 in 2017.

In contrast, there were fewer reported incidents of assaults 165 reported cases in 2019 compared to 190 in 2018, drug and narcotic crimes with 93 incidents in 2019 compared to 118 in 2018.

But whether it’s an uptick or drop in reported crimes, it is not a reflection of a trend, Herndon said.

“There’s naturally going to be an up and down,” Herndon said of reported crimes in the town. “To speak specifically to a one year change isn’t really getting the whole picture.”

Photo via HPD

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With COVID-19 induced budget cuts looming, Metro officials are considering pushing back the beginning of service for the Silver Line expansion to July 1, 2021.

The Metro Board of Directors will meet Wednesday to vote on a slate of proposed cuts, including postponing the beginning of service on the newest addition to the Silver Line, as Metro officials grapple with lost revenues from declining ridership during the pandemic.

While service for the second phase of the Silver Line, which would connect the Wiehle-Reston East Station through Dulles International Airport to Ashburn, was slated to begin in the Spring, financial troubles now mean the Silver Line’s expansion opening has been delayed again.

Due to declining ridership from the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said he is projecting a $212 million budget shortfall, worse than what WMATA officials originally projected in their spring budget estimates.

Wiedefeld also said he anticipates WMATA will run out of federal funds from the CARES Act, which Congress passed in March to provide economic relief to localities during the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening budget woes. With more federal funding unlikely coming WMATA will need to make cuts, Wiedefeld said.

“What we have found since we developed our pandemic plan in, as you recall, in the spring that the recovery pace is much slower than we assumed when we approved the budget in the spring,” Wiedefeld said.

If approved, the delay in opening service for the expansion of the Silver Line is anticipated to save Metro $53.8 million in its operating budget for the current fiscal year, according to projections from WMATA.

The Silver Line expansion is the second phase of Metro’s plan to extend rail service from D.C. into Loudoun County, to give riders around the region quicker transit access to and from Dulles International Airport. The first phase of the Silver Line began service in 2014 with five new stations in Fairfax County.

Along with the delayed opening of the Silver Line expansion, Metro has also proposed saving money by restoring bus fares, which were suspended during the pandemic, increasing the number of turn-backs and cutting hours for rail service, ending service at 9 p.m Monday through Thursday.

“Some of these actions in one form or another may need to be taken into ensure we can finish the year on budget without the need for additional jurisdictional or federal funding,” said Joe Leader, Chief Operating Officer for WMATA.

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The potentially harmful green sludge that suddenly emerged, covering large swaths of a Reston lake is finally subsiding.

Thanks to cooling weather, rain and less sunshine the algae bloom which has covered Lake Thoreau for weeks is now on the decline and the lake is mostly clear, according to Mike Leone, Reston Association’s spokesman.

In mid-August, algae started to cover parts of Lake Thoreau causing the RA to tell nearby residents to avoid contact with the lake as the algae is “potentially harmful.”

RA staff pointed to the hot summer sun as a contributing factor and the RA’s recent attempt to clear the lake of an invasive plant species as potential reasons for the recent algae bloom. Now that the weather has cooled and some recent rainfall has poured freshwater in the lake, the algae bloom is subsiding Leone said.

“Essentially, the situation on Lake Thoreau is not necessarily as bad as it was like three or four weeks ago when we were in the height of the summer,” Leone said.

Management of the algae is something that RA staff is tracking closely with experts frequently examining the lake. Now that the lake is mostly clear, a treatment option to remove the algae may not be necessary anymore, Leone said.

“If the lake is very clear, it is likely that treatment is not necessary,” said William Peterson, the watershed manager for RA in a statement. “However, you also do not want to treat during a large algae bloom because killing the algae could decrease the dissolved oxygen in the lake, potentially leading to a fish kill.”

The direct cause of the bloom has not been determined, but the association’s attempt to clear the lakes of hydrilla, an invasive plant species, could be a factor. Removing hydrilla from the lake left more nutrients available for algae, potentially causing the latest algae bloom.

Before RA tried treating the lake with herbicide to kill the hydrilla, RA stocked the lake with grass carp, a freshwater fish that eats the plant. But the fish were not enough to clear the lake of hydrilla, leading to other treatment options.

Lab results from the lake confirm the algae specie that covered the lake was Dolichospermum planctonicum, also known Anabaena, which could cause  skin irritation or make someone nauseous if exposed to it.

Algae grows when it is exposed to sunlight and nutrients, which often flows into lakes as runoff. While algae is a normal part of the aquatic ecosystem, some types of algae can make people sick if they are exposed to it causing the most recent concern over the algae bloom at Lake Thoreau, which has had previous algae blooms, particularly during summer months.

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When Gov. Ralph Northam issued his stay-at-home order in March, Maura Williams, a social worker at a Reston homeless shelter said she knew “this is going to change everything that we’re doing.”

Williams, who is the division director for housing and community services for Cornerstones, a non-profit that runs the Embry Rucker Community Shelter on Bowman Towne Drive in Reston, said when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, staff had to scramble to stay open.

As businesses were closing their offices and sending employees home, Embry Rucker which houses 24 single adults and 11 families, did not have the option to send its residents elsewhere — not without a plan at least.

“The homeless don’t have the option of staying at home,” said Greg White, chief operating officer of Cornerstones. “So I believed that we always have to provide staff to work with our unsheltered and homeless population.”

With much of the country still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession it caused, things have remained steady at Embry Rucker, staff said. The demand for their services has remained the same, even with the economic downturn, and staff has found ways to keep the shelter open during the pandemic.

Like many homeless shelters, Embry Rucker has had to implement social distancing measures including housing about half of their residents at a nearby hotel and having some staff work from home. Those who do work at the shelter are required to wear masks.

As is increasingly becoming the norm in many places, the shelter now requires temperature checks for those who enter and has contracted with an outside company to test residents who have symptoms for COVID-19. Residents who test positive, self isolate at a nearby hotel the shelter has partnered with.

Thanks to funding from the federal CARES Act, which Congress passed back in March to give temporary relief to Americans affected by the pandemic, the shelter has used the federal funds to provide rental assistance to those struggling to pay the bills in the pandemic induced recession.

But the ease in which the shelter has handled the pandemic could change quickly Williams said, whenever state and federal eviction moratoriums are lifted and landlords start removing tenants who have not paid their rent. So far, the shelter has seen an increase in its rental assistance program — something that has become a point of emphasis as many people in Fairfax County are out of work and are past due on their rent payments.

The federal funding the shelter received from the CARES Act will only last until the end of the year, a spokesperson for the shelter said, meaning it could become harder to help the ever-growing list of people behind on their rent and mortgage payments.

“I think we are maintaining now. I think we’re holding on, but I think we are all anticipating when the eviction moratorium is discontinued that we are defiantly going to see a very huge housing crisis,” Williams said.

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In the 10 years he has spent working on Reston non-profit Cornerstones’ annual Thanksgiving Food Drive, Nate King has never seen a year like this.

King, the donations and drives coordinator for Cornerstones, said the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created an increase in demand for food for families in need — one that he hasn’t seen in the past decade of working for the non-profit.

“The downturn in the economy has increased the number of families coming in for assistance to the emergency food pantry,” King said.
Due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, King said he anticipates about a 25 % increase in the number of families who will be receiving donations from stones during their annual Thanksgiving Food Drive.

Typically, Cornerstones provides food for between 700 to 750 families in Fairfax County just before Thanksgiving, but this holiday season King anticipates that number to jump to about 1,050 families as more families have gone to the Cornerstones requesting help.

“This far out-stripes the numbers we have seen in the past years,” King said.

With no end of the pandemic in sight, Cornerstone’s Food Drive will look a little different this year. King said Cornerstones will extend the Thanksgiving Food Drive to five days to give more time for those who wish to donate, to avoid crowding.

For the families receiving food, Cornerstones is combining their Thanksgiving Food Drive with their annual Gift for Kids Drive, which provides underprivileged kids with presents for the holidays. But this year, to cut down on crowding during the pandemic, Cornerstones is combining the events, giving families gift cards, instead of wrapped presents, along with a box of Thanksgiving food items.

King said Cornerstones will implement some social distancing measures this year by cutting down on the number of volunteers who will work at one time, requiring volunteers to wear masks and to undergo temperature checks and to do much of their work organizing food boxes outside.

This year, families will receive their food and gifts through a makeshift drive-through, where volunteers will drop the items off in cars, instead of having families go inside to collect them.

Food collection for the Cornerstones’ Thanksgiving Food Drive will take place on November 16 to 19, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Nov. 20, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Reston.

Those interested in donating to Cornerstones’ Thanksgiving Food Drive can find more information online.

Photo courtesy Cornerstones

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