Reston, VA

Housing options have been limited, but local agents say the real estate market in Fairfax County is staying active as it continuously adapts to the pandemic

While COVID-19 is having an impact on the market in a variety of ways, housing inventory was already limited in the area before the pandemic.

“It’s really hard to find a single-family home or even townhouse. Many of the homes get multiple offers because inventory is so low,” said Laura Schwartz, a real estate agent with McEnearney Associates, Inc.

Schwartz – whose focus is in Northern Virginia – describes a market in which buyers have to be “willing to get aggressive” in their efforts to win a bid for a home. She also points out that the pursuit of homes has resulted in a fair number of ‘coming soon’ properties receiving pre-market offers, sight unseen.

Preparation has taken a key role in entering a seller’s market. Having a pre-approval in hand, pre-offer inspections, escalation clauses and other ways of making an offer competitive have become crucial necessities.

The buyer’s activity is something echoed by Dave Adams, a realtor for Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. Adams, who, along with his wife JoAnne, specializes in northern Virginia and the DC Metro area, continues to see homes coming onto the market without COVID-19 seriously impacting home availability or supply.

Adams has witnessed buyers remain active, as low-interest rates have settled in. As a result of the rates and limited housing supply, Adams said that most listings have seen multiple offers above the list price, as well as many contingencies being waved.

After three months of decreased sales compared to last year in Fairfax County, the county has enjoyed a resurgence of home buying as sales increased in July (+4.52%) and August (+14.55%), according to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR).

“The traditional spring market has been delayed to the summer months, and the pent-up buyer and seller demand that began in in late spring continued full force into July,” NVAR 2020 President Nicholas Lagos said in August.

Supply or buying tactics are not the only affected areas of the market. The methodology of showing homes to prospective buyers has taken on new challenges.

On the seller’s side, there is no general rule of thumb for behavior. Each seller will maintain their own particular reasons and inclinations for how homes are shown, as well as how long the property is listed.

Adams points to the cultivation of a greater digital presence in aiding the home buying process – specifically, increased virtual showings and video conferencing to ensure the safety of all parties.

“The highlight of our year was quickly adapting and setting up our business to thrive in a pandemic,” Adams said.

“We have always embraced state-of-the-art technology; however, the way we used it changed.”

Schwartz highlighted the restrictions of physical showings. Many instructions curtail the list of individuals allowed to tour inside homes to those on a contract and the agent. This has restricted kids or other family members from joining home tours, and has resulted in parents having to take turns touring homes.

Remote learning responsibilities and people working from home have also required a greater bit of flexibility on all parties to allow for homes to be shown to prospective buyers.

“You just need to be prepared to act, be in constant communication, and know your must-haves so you’re comfortable taking action,” Schwartz said.

File Photo

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As fall descends on the area, the Reston Farm Garden Market is set to bring its annual Fall Festival back to the community.

The festival will be held each Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and is planned to begin on Friday, Sept. 25, and run through Nov. 1 at the Reston Farm Garden Market (10800 Baron Cameron Avenue)..

The hours for the festival will run from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. The festival days will be broken into five 90-minute ticketed sessions with a 30-minute period between each to allow for staff to clean and sanitize the area.

Tickets are $20 per child, which includes the entry for one adult. An additional ticket for one more parent or guardian will cost $5. Siblings or children age 2 and under are free with a paid child’s ticket. All tickets must be purchased in advance online at the garden market’s website.

The festival will include a variety of activities, including several moon bounces, an inflatable corn maze, a petting zoo and train rides. Additionally, local food trucks will be a part of the event during the weekends.

“We are so excited to have been able to pivot successfully during the pandemic and equally excited to be able to offer the Fall Festival to our supportive community,” a statement read from Lowell and Bonita Weinstein, owners of the Reston Farm Garden Market.

In addition to disinfecting play areas between sessions, COVID-19 safety practices will include a limited number of guests per timed session, as well as temperature checks prior to entry. Face masks will be required for all guests 10 years of age or older.

The Garden Market will remain open for full-service business during the festival, and will not require a ticket.

Photo courtey John Lovaas

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A new addition is on its way to help visitors engage with the Buoyant Force sculpture in Reston Town Square Park.

This week, an interactive feature named the Buoyant Oracle is expected to be installed and available for visitors at artist Sue Wrbican‘s 50-foot steel sculpture. Buoyant Force was placed in the park on Jan. 31.

The Buoyant Oracle is designed to simulate “what an interaction with an inanimate object may feel like and provides a sense of fun by provoking our imagination,” according to Jaynelle Hazard, the executive director and curator for the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE).

By scanning a QR code marked by a blue sign with a speech bubble next to the sculpture, visitors will be able to interact with an evolving cast of guest oracles and narratives over the next five years. Through the Buoyant Oracle, visitors will be able to learn about the history, fabrication process and Wrbican’s philosophy behind the sculpture.

Visitors will also be able to view never before seen photos from throughout the fabrication process, gleam a behind-the-scenes view as if they were looking inside the sculpture, learn about the paint color choices and view details about the sculpture.

An aside to the goal of the project is to provide a light-hearted opportunity for engagement during this time while allowing for social distancing.

“It means a great deal to GRACE to be able to offer this experience to the community,” Hazard said. “In a moment where in-person art viewing may not feel comfortable to many but is missed by all, activating our monumental 50-foot steel outdoor sculpture, Buoyant Force, in a new and innovative way can fill that void and more to visitors.”

In tune with the surrealist tradition and the paintings of Kay Sage that inspired Wrbican’s design of the sculpture, the experience will offer different readings of paired poetry and remixed images of the artwork.

From the inception of the project – which is GRACE’s largest installation to date – the intention was to build out community programming related to the installation, according to Robert Goudie, board chair of GRACE.

“Serendipitously, Ben Stokes, husband to our then-executive director and curator, Lily Siegel, saw this as an opportunity to explore interests he has as an assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University and director of its Playful City Lab, which investigates the power of playful tactics to advance equity, strengthen the sense of place, and build strong communities,” Goudie wrote in a statement.

“Through the incredible pro bono contributions of Ben and Playful City Lab, the QR code project is what beautifully resulted.”

Photos courtesy Sue Wrbican

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A virtual public hearing to learn about and discuss a proposed replacement for the bridge on Hunter Mill Road (Route 674) over Colvin Run is set for Wednesday, Sept. 16.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) project team is set to begin its presentation at 7 p.m., and team members will be available to answer questions after the presentation of the proposal until 8:30 p.m.

The proposed plan for the bridge – which was built in 1974 – has construction beginning in spring 2021.

Under the plan, the new bridge will replace the one-way, 16-foot-wide lane with a two-way crossing with 11-foot lanes. Plans also include a three-foot-wide grass median.

Additional items within the project include an improved trail crossing south of the bridge and abutments for a new trail bridge over Colvin Run that the county will construct at a later date.

The proposed plan for construction will maintain the existing traffic operation while the new bridge is built. During the first phase of the plan, one lane of the new bridge will be built to the east of the existing bridge. The subsequent phases will shift traffic to the newly constructed bridge while the existing bridge is demolished before the second lane of the new bridge and the median are built.

An inspection of the bridge – which carries an estimated 8,500 vehicles a day – conducted by VDOT in February deemed its condition to be deteriorating rapidly. The condition rating for the substructure of the bridge is currently a three – the condition rating scale is based from zero to nine – which is considered to be in serious condition. The superstructure for the bridge shows significant corrosion of steel girder webs and flanges.

The bridge was strengthened on a temporary basis on Feb. 28 with additional wooden beams added between the bridge’s I-beams. While the load rating of the bridge was reduced from 19 tons to 10, the width of the bridge was also reduced from a 16-foot-wide lane to 10 feet.

Previous improvements to the bridge were made in 2012 and 2016 to maintain the integrity of the structure.

While initial costs were estimated at $3 million in February 2019, the proposed plan is anticipated to cost $5.1 million. The project will be financed with state funding through the State of Good Repair program that will cover $4.7 million of the project, while Fairfax County funding is estimated at $408,000, according to VDOT’s project update in May.

Interested persons may register for the virtual meeting at virginiadot.org/huntermillcolvinrun. Anyone wishing to participate offline, without registering, may call 877-309-2074 (use access code 635-767-879) to listen in.

Any comments following the meeting on Wednesday regarding VDOT’s plan for this project must be submitted by Sept. 28, 2020, on the project website, or by mail to Mr. Vicente Valeza, P.E., Virginia Department of Transportation, 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030, or by emailing [email protected] Emails should reference “Hunter Mill Road over Colvin Run Bridge Replacement” in the subject line.

Photos courtesy VDOT

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Nearly two years following the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s unanimous approval of the Reston Midline project, construction has started on the mixed-use development.

As a part of remodeling the 17.5 acres located east of Wiehle Avenue and south of Sunset Hills Road, EYA has broken ground on a portion of the property that will house 115 townhomes. EYA has plans to produce 80 of the new townhomes by early 2021 while the remaining 35 will roll out in a second phase, according to the Washington Business Journal.

The project will eventually encompass 1.8 million square feet of new development across four blocks. It will also be developed in conjunction with the Chevy Chase Land Co. and JBG Smith Properties.

Further development plans include an independent living facility with 127 units, as well as an eight-story building with 325 multifamily units on the northern block of the site. The site plans also feature an eight-story building with 225 multifamily units, and a 14-story office building and further retail space.

The development will also extend to two major road improvements. Reston Station Boulevard will be extended from Wiehle Avenue to Michael Faraday Drive, and new lanes will be constructed Michael Faraday along the front of the development.

Additional construction will provide a new crosswalk and pedestrian signals at the intersection of Sunset Hills Road and Michael Faraday Drive to provide a connection to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. A high-visibility crosswalk at the intersection of Reston Station Boulevard and Wiehle Avenue will facilitate a pedestrian connection to the Silver Line Metro station.

The developers also will dedicate 29% of the site as open space, which will include dog parks, play areas for children and various public amenities.

No timetable has been set for the development of the remainder of the project.

The site originally was developed with four low-rise office buildings and surface parking that were constructed from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.

Photos by Jay Westcott

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Music has a way of transcending the limited simplicity of words, and it often invokes a greater depth of emotion.

It is with music that Reston native Kelsey Burch, a music teacher at Coates, Sunrise Valley and Vienna elementary schools, is finding her solace as she has navigated an arduous journey through cancer and recently going into remission.

While on this journey, Burch’s passion for music has led her to launch an effort to raise $14,000 on GoFundMe to commission two pieces of music – one of which is a Grade I piece for her elementary students – from composer Brian Balmages, who has agreed to take on the projects.

“It’ll be huge. I mean, the one for my students, it’s just something I always wanted to do. Cancer makes you think about life is short and if I don’t do it now then it won’t happen,” Burch said.

The second piece is what Burch hopes can be a tale of her journey through cancer.

“In the middle of the night, I was thinking about it and then was like, why don’t I do something about my cancer journey? And it made me think of it because Brian wrote a piece that premiered in February called ‘Love and Light’ for a flute player in the Army Band who had a stillborn baby,” Burch said.

“So that’s kind of what spurred me, and I could commission something about what I’ve been through with the heartache and the joy of going through a cancer diagnosis and naturally being in remission.”

In March, Burch was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. Along with a tumor in the colon, the cancer had metastasized in her lymph nodes, liver and abdominal wall.

She underwent the treatment with support from her husband, Rob, her family and an extended group of friends and colleagues. The emergence of COVID-19 didn’t allow for Burch to have visitors with her during each treatment. But the immediate support from her family and friends, to Zoom calls and Facebook Messenger conversations, to a surprise of 100 birthday cards in June, the well wishes and her support group stayed with her through it all.

“People I haven’t talked to for years, from college or people I grew up with, were messaging me and saying they’re thinking about me and supporting me,” Burch said.

“You know, I was getting all these gifts in the mail, and I feel like the support has been overwhelming and I feel like if anything, I’ve gotten closer with all my friends and family during this time, rather than further away. So that’s been wonderful.”

After four months of treatment and eight rounds of chemotherapy, Burch received the news that she was in remission. She has continued to undergo maintenance chemotherapy treatment for what she assumes will be for life, and will undergo a CT or PET scan every three months to check for any signs that cancer has returned.

With her cancer in remission and a determination to share her journey through music and provide a commissioned piece for her students, Burch is looking toward the future. She is also looking to share the experience in one of the most effective ways she knows.

“I think it is hard to pick specific words to explain what it’s like, and I think that’s why I want music to explain that,” Burch said. “(Having) my journey be explained through something so creative is, I think, more than I can do with words. I can write my journal and give you my thoughts, but I feel like music is what’s really going to showcase everything I’ve been through.”

If the fundraising goal is met, the timeline for the Grade I piece would have it delivered by the spring, while the piece written to tell Burch’s journey would be set for a year and a half from now.

More information regarding Burch’s GoFundMe for this cause can be found here.

Photos courtesy Kelsey Burch

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As Fairfax County Public Schools students are learning virtually during the 2020-2021 academic year, renovations are moving forward at Herndon High School.

The renovation’s second phase was mostly completed during the summer, according to Herndon High School assistant principal Jim Hannon. The school’s main gym was expanded by roughly a third, while the renovation of the auxiliary gym was completed alongside the construction of new locker rooms, a weight room and art rooms.

“To start this school year, if we weren’t in the virtual world we are in right now, we’d have students in the new areas that were completed in phase two,” Hannon said. “Those areas include both upstairs and downstairs, first floor and second floor, the completion of the wings that were for math, ESOL, social studies and English.”

Very few outstanding items remain from phase two of the renovation before its final completion. Among these is the installation of the main gym’s new bleachers, due to supply line issues caused by some vendors temporarily shutting down as a result of COVID-19.

Despite a few hang-ups in the supply chain, the renovation process has progressed into phase three. This includes an opportunity to begin work early on the student’s dining portion of the cafeteria that otherwise would have been relegated to weekend and evening work during phase four due to the presence of students in the halls. The renovation of the kitchens for the cafeteria, however, will be included in phase four of the renovation process.

The completion of the second phase follows the introduction of a new wing to the back and front of the building, as well as a new library, main office, and administrative and counseling office. The first phase, which was completed in the fall of 2019, also included a new entrance, 65 classrooms, a gourmet foods room, science labs and additional classroom spaces.

The progress of the renovation has also allowed the school to move approximately 60-65 school personnel from outdoor trailers into the freshly renovated or constructed spaces, according to Hannon.

Following the removal of the trailers, the renovation process will begin on the parking lots as well as the school’s tennis courts as a part of phase three.

Other plans during this phase include a new wrestling and gymnastics room and renovating the school’s performing arts area, which includes the auditorium, and rooms for the orchestra, band and chorus.

Phase three will take place during the majority of this school year, Hannon said. The exact completion date of the project has not yet been determined.

The final phase of the project will include renovating the existing cafeteria to feature a food court design, as well as updates to the tennis courts, the stadium press box and concession stands.

As part of the project, the school will undergo a complete renovation with new plumbing, HVAC, fire alarm and protection systems. Also, the campus will include a new bus loop, more parking, bike racks and improved stormwater management. The renovation project in total includes 138,558 square feet of additions and modifications to expand the school to 431,000 square feet, according to the webpage for Grunley Construction Company, Inc.

“Hopefully when we move back in the building, we’ll have very few classes still outside in the trailers. And the majority of those are going to start being removed in September and October,” Hannon said.

Photo via Jim Hannon

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