Morning Notes

Lake Anne Plaza (Photo via vantagehill/Flickr)

Multiple Vehicles Broken Into in Town of Herndon — On Saturday, someone broke into at least eleven vehicles and took items. All vehicles were unlocked. [Herndon Police Department]

County Executive and Health Director Honored by Park Board — The Fairfax County Park Authority Board honored Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill and the health department’s director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu with the Chairman’s Choice Awards. [Fairfax County Government]

Statewide Showcase of Bands Comes to Herndon HS — Herndon High School will host the kick-off of the annual marching band competition season at a special event n Saturday. Over 25 bands from the region will perform throughout the day. [The Pride of Herndon]

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A new pizza restaurant is opening in Lake Anne plaza by early December.

And it’s owned by Yasser Baslios, an Egyptian immigrant who first began as a dish washer at the restaurant shortly after he came to the United States with little to nothing in 1998.

Baslios, who comes from a family of businessmen, plans to open Deli Italiano at 1631 Washington Plaza. The restaurant has other locations in Leesburg, Sterling, Great Falls, Arlington and Burke.

He believes that business is about giving back — not just making money. He also benefited from this ethos when he started working as a dishwasher at the Deli Italiano location in Great Falls as a dishwasher.

With no language, savings, or support, Baslios said he was keen to learn everything. Staff would help him learn English by assigning him ten words daily to help learn the language. He says the previous owner, who retired in 2002, offered him leadership opportunities after seeing his desire to learn and grow.

Arriving in hopes of better financial means, Baslios did not immigrate to the United States to become a dishwasher. He left his work as a teacher and businessman in Egypt in search of better opportunities.

The Reston location will be much smaller than other locations, but Baslios hopes that won’t have any bearing on community partnerships and business.

“We’re really excited to be part of the community. We don’t just say that. We mean that,” Baslios said.

The business donates meals on Christmas and Thanksgiving and also organized a pie drive, Baslios said.

He hopes to continue to use his business to touch lives, just as it bolstered his.

The Coptic Christian, who often refers to his faith and ideals, saved up enough to support his family after he moved up the ranks at Deli Italiano. His humble start as a dishwasher in 1999 — one year after he immigrated to the United States — continues to inform his business practices.

“To me, this is not a job. It’s about touching people’s lives. It’s a mission.”

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A business acting as a trading post for outdoor gear is ramping up for a big unveil in Herndon.

The newly formed Good Wolf Gear looks to buy and sell camping goods, pet products and other items at Herndon’s Sunset Business Park (287 Sunset Park Drive);

The business is focused on backpacking, camping and hiking gear and features brands such as Arcade Belts, Cotopaxi, Gregory, National Geographic Maps and Rumpl.

It’s been operating by appointment only but will have its grand opening from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16. Once open, it will have store hours fr0m that same timespan Tuesdays through Saturdays.

“When people ask why we decided to open Good Wolf Gear, the truth is that we were inspired by our friends: they helped set up our first tent; they shared their scary stories around the campfire; and they let us dig into their Dutch Oven breakfasts while we struggled to get our contacts in,” owners Margaret Kim and Tana Sarntinoranont say on the Good Wolf Gear website.

The owners say   they created Good Wolf Gear for those friends and anyone else willing to share those experiences while helping people become better stewards of nature. That’s why they prefer reselling items — to keep them from landfills.

“I hope we can inspire people to connect with a part of nature they never even knew existed,” store manager Spencer Horn says in a news release. “Ultimately, we’re storytellers, and we want to inspire others to become storytellers as well.”

Resellers can get 25% of the resale price in cash or 50% of the resale price in store credit.

“Good Wolf Gear’s goal is to build community through sustainability,” the company says. “Has your toddler outgrown her kid carrier? Trade it in for credit towards her first pair of hiking boots, and tell us about the adventures you’ve shared. Has your family pup learned to stay on the trail? Stop by for a local trail map and get advice on favorite hikes from other dog owners.”

Photos via instagram.com/goodwolfgear

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An entity that launched to serve those in need over 50 years ago is celebrating its successes and looking at what’s ahead in order to help others.

What began as religious organizations coming together, the outreach once known as Reston Interfaith has evolved into community centers providing everything from recreational needs to social services, a 24/7 70-bed homeless shelter, over 100 affordable homes and more.

“The single-most-important thing we built is a reputation for reliable, low-drama services to our neediest neighbors,” said Larry Schwartz, chair of Cornerstones’ Board of Directors.

The homeless shelter now bears the name of Embry Rucker, a businessman turned pastor who sought to avoid building churches and instead focus on social services.

As the region changes, the nonprofit expects to double the housing stock it owns, which currently allows people to live in affordable housing while capping families’ costs at 30% of their income.

The Reston-headquartered organization has grown with its donors and volunteers, where before the COVID-19 pandemic it had around 6,000 people helping annually. Their efforts range from aiding Thanksgiving food drives to helping out with winter clothing campaigns.

During the pandemic, the organization also obtained $1.6 million in CARES Act relief to people in need, Schwartz said.

The pandemic was a factor in delaying the organization’s celebration of its 50-year milestone, causing a fundraising gala to be held during the organization’s 51st year now in 2021. It will take place virtually and in person on Sept. 30.

The organization is also highlighting its progress throughout the decades with a gallery of photos capturing key moments, including the opening of the Laurel Learning Center (11484 Washington Plaza West, Suite 200 in Reston) and its expansion with an infant and toddler day care named after former Reston Interfaith CEO Connie Pettinger.

As the cost of childcare can cost over $12,000 per kid before they reach preschool, Cornerstones scholarships and Fairfax County assistance help families get the support they need.

“The families can afford quality childcare while they’re outside the home trying to build the home,” Schwartz said.

Cornerstones’ Herndon Neighborhood Resource Center (1086 Elden St.) at the Dulles Park Shopping Center serves as a one-stop-shop for social services ranging from financial counseling to legal services for immigrants and job training as well as housing a health care center.

While the organization has its roots with religious groups, it changed its name in 2013 as it’s sought to be more inclusive with businesses, civic and community organizations, foundations and other supporters. Nevertheless, the group noted the new name, Cornerstones, is one that “has meaning in many of our faith traditions,” a letter by CEO Kerrie Wilson said.

Currently, Wilson describes Cornerstones as being at the front end of responding to eviction challenges amid the pandemic and helping families stabilize and ensure they have the support they need.

She noted that policies put in place years ago as a country have influenced how people are stuck in poverty and created barriers for home ownership.

“We will continue to serve on the frontlines,” she said, “But I think the biggest additional change and emphasis for us has to be the work in changing policies and systems that will let us truly end hunger and ensure that all families … have that first chance at home ownership.”

Photo via Cornerstones/Instagram

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Fairfax County Public Schools has asked a federal appeals court to postpone an ordered retrial of a former Oakton High School student’s sexual assault lawsuit, setting up a possible escalation of the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The school system plans to file a petition for a writ of certiorari requesting that the Supreme Court take up the case, according to Public Justice, the nonprofit legal organization that represents the student, who has only been identified as Jane Doe.

Public Justice told FFXnow that it learned about those intentions Monday morning (Sept. 20), though it’s still holding out hope that the Fairfax County School Board will opt not to file the petition.

The law firm warns that, if FCPS files a petition and the appeal is accepted, it could set the stage for a reevaluation of Title IX protections against gender discrimination, which have traditionally been used to address school-based sexual violence, by the same court that allowed Texas to essentially ban abortions earlier this month.

“Fairfax would be asking them to severely undermine students’ civil rights,” Public Justice staff attorney Alexandra Brodsky, the plaintiff’s counsel, said. “I think there’s a real question for Fairfax families whether they want the legacy of Fairfax schools to be undermining equality and safety for students.”

Filed in May 2018, the lawsuit argues that FCPS violated Doe’s Title IX rights by failing to ensure her safety and provide support after she reported that an older, male student sexually assaulted her when they were on a bus during the five-day school band trip.

The school board’s Sept. 9 regular meeting agenda includes a closed session to consult with legal counsel about the case, known as “Jane Doe v. Fairfax County School Board et al.”

FCPS confirmed that it has requested the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to stay its June 16 ruling ordering a new trial in Doe’s lawsuit over school officials’ response to her report of being sexually assaulted by a fellow student during a band trip in 2017.

With one judge dissenting, the three-person panel reversed a U.S. District Court jury’s verdict in favor of FCPS, arguing that the lower court had failed to accurately define for the jury the legal standard to determine if the school system had “actual knowledge” of the reported assault.

“As the divergent opinions of the Fourth Circuit show, the issues in this case could have nationwide and potentially far-reaching implications,” FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult said in a statement. “For that reason, we have asked the court to stay or suspend the effective date of its ruling, pending further review.”

FCPS said it had no further comment at this time, including on whether it plans to petition the Supreme Court.

According to Doe’s original complaint, school officials ignored multiple reports from other students about her assault, never offered medical attention or counseling, discouraged her from reporting the incident to police, and imposed no consequences on her assailant, who continued attending their shared band class.

The district court jury in Alexandria affirmed in August 2019 that Doe had been sexually assaulted and deprived of educational opportunities as a result, but they found FCPS couldn’t be held liable for its response because they didn’t have evidence that officials knew for a fact that the assault had occurred.

Jurors’ reported confusion over whether reporting sexual harassment can be considered giving school officials actual notice or knowledge of an assault formed the basis of Doe’s appeal to the Fourth Circuit, which held oral arguments in January before ruling that the jury had used the incorrect legal standard.

FCPS later requested a rehearing en banc, which would bring the case in front of the full appeals court. The 15 appellate judges denied the petition 9-6 on Aug. 30, a close decision that inspired two judges to release dissenting opinions — a rare move, according to the Associated Press.

According to Brodsky, FCPS currently has 90 days from the date of the rehearing denial to file an appeal to the Supreme Court, but that would change if the stay of the new trial is granted.

“The next step should be to take this case back to trial and for a jury to hear our client’s story and have the opportunity for the first time to rule on it under the correct legal standard,” Brodsky said, adding that Public Justice is “confident that that’s where this case is headed” after the rehearing petition was denied.

Brodsky says she’s less surprised by FCPS seeking a delay than by the argument it’s using to do so.

As stated in the majority opinion written by Judge James Wynn, the school board’s rehearing petition included a new argument that “Title IX does not make clear that schools may be held liable for their response to a single instance of sexual harassment, no matter how egregious.”

In other words, schools can’t be held legally responsible for reported sexual harassment under Title IX if it doesn’t recur, since they couldn’t have prevented the initial incident.

While the position found support among the dissenting judges, who expressed concern that “retroactively” imposing liability could open schools to “a deluge” of lawsuits, Wynn rejected it as a “strawman” that would amount to giving schools a “free rape.”

He stated in his opinion that Doe’s lawsuit seeks to hold FCPS liable for its response to her assault, not for the assailant’s actions. He also noted that the stance is “at odds” with the case that the school board presented during oral arguments.

“When a student’s education is disrupted because of their school’s failure to address sexual assault, that’s enough to state a Title IX claim. That’s what the Fourth Circuit said,” Brodsky said. “That’s what the majority of appellate courts across the country have said, and if the Supreme Court were to adopt the alternative rule, that would really give schools an excuse to withhold the support that students need in the wake of violence.”

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County firefighters use a hose and ladder in a drill outside the Vantage Hill condominiums (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Flood Watch in Effect — A flood watch is in effect though the afternoon today. So be on the lookout for potential flooding. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department]

Herndon Man Allegedly Uses Belt to Restrain Student — A music teacher from Herndon tried to restrain a disruptive student with his belt at an elementary school Sept. 15 in Fauquier County, police said. The 23-year-old was charged Monday with assault, battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and he was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. [Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office]

Reston Multicultural Festival Returns — The annual festival, which is organized by Reston Community Center, returns to Lake Anne Plaza on Saturday. [WUSA9]

Feedback on Bus Service Sought — The county’s Department of Transportation is seeking the public’s feedback as it explores ways to improve the Fairfax Connector’s bus service. [Patch]

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McNair Elementary School students pick up lunch on their first day of school for the 2021-2022 academic year (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools is revising a number of procedures around COVID-19 contact tracing, quarantining, and pausing, even as it maintains that case numbers remain proportionally very low in schools.

School officials are actively exploring their options for expanding student vaccination requirements, including a possible mandate once the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorize it for kids 5 and older, which could happen as early as the end of October.

However, FCPS would have to wait for the Virginia General Assembly to act before it can require COVID-19 vaccinations for all students under state law, which gives authority for determining mandatory school immunizations to the legislature and a state health regulatory board.

“If I had [the power to do this], I’d recommend right now to this board mandatory vaccinations for our students upon full authorization from the FDA,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said at a school board work session yesterday (Tuesday). “If we have the burden of educating kids, it should be determined by officials closest to schools who should be vaccinated and not vaccinated and not wait for the state to give us permission to do so.”

At the moment, officials said they are in talks with legal counsel about expanding the existing vaccine mandate for high school student athletes to other secondary school extracurricular activities, such as theater programs.

According to Brabrand’s presentation to the school board, 0.33% of staff, students, and visitors — 677 individuals in total — reported testing positive for COVID-19 from Aug. 13 to Sept. 15. Only 24 cases involved transmission within one of the 198 schools and offices in the county, Brabrand said.

Since Aug. 1, 936 cases have been reported to FCPS, according to the school system’s case dashboard. Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu told the Board of Supervisors at a health and human services committee meeting yesterday that the county is seeing 30 to 40 cases among students per day on average, with some days going as high as 50 cases.

While Addo-Ayensu also said the majority of transmission has occurred in the general community, not in schools, each case has a ripple effect as additional staff and students who might have been exposed to the virus have been subjected to isolation, quarantine, or in-person learning pauses.

Between Aug. 13 and Sept. 15, 2,905 students — or 1.6% of the student body — have been paused, meaning they were COVID positive or a potential close contact and had to remain out of school during contact-tracing investigations. Nearly half were elementary school students.

1.8% of staff, or 502 individuals, have been paused as well during that time period.

“We know the impact of the pause…is significant,” Brabrand said. “We are working with health partners and the Fairfax County Health Department to minimize the length of time that students are out, while maintaining a safe environment.”

In addition, the time it takes to complete contact tracing and “close” a case has increased significantly over the last month as more cases have come in, keeping more students out of school longer.

In mid-August, most cases were closed within four days with an average of 2.5 days. Now, in mid-September, the average duration has jumped to nearly 10 days, with 78 cases taking 12 days or longer, according to data provided by FCPS.

To speed up the process, FCPS has instituted several measures, including hiring individuals to help with COVID management and implementing a vaccination verification survey intended to let students who are both asymptomatic and vaccinated return to classes sooner.

Schools no longer need to provide seating charts and other information to the county health department, which has also started notifying families about pauses via both email and phone after communication issues led some students to break COVID-19 protocols.

FCPS officials also confirmed that they’re developing new methods to support students when they are being paused, including one-on-one check-ins every 48 hours and live streaming lessons.

A number of school board members raised concerns about the extra work this will create for staff and teachers on top of the other challenges that have emerged with the resumption of five days of in-person  learning.

Brabrand responded that these processes should hopefully be only temporary as school and health staff work to shorten the length of contact-tracing investigations.

“If we are in the situation we are [currently] in at the end of the calendar year, then we will need to revisit our assumptions about how we are operating as a school district,” he said when asked about calls for more virtual learning. “We are back in-person and we are doing all we can to stay, but we need to see about the results over the last few months to inform additional General Assembly action.”

In terms of vaccination rates, 87% of staff responded a survey from FCPS about their vaccination status. 96.8% of respondents said they are vaccinated.

FCPS is requiring all employees to get vaccinated by late October.

About 83.5% of residents 12 to 17 years old have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to health department data, but FCPS confirmed to FFXnow that it doesn’t currently have statistics specifically for its students.

FCPS didn’t immediately respond when asked if it plans to survey parents and students like it did for staff.

“Education as we know it will forever change if we can’t get our kids and staff vaccinated,” Brabrand said at the work session.”I strongly believe that vaccination is going to be the way out of this pandemic.”

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An electric vehicle charging station already installed in Reston (Photo via screenshot/Reston Association)

As more and more drivers shift to sustainable vehicles, a design review board for the Reston Association is looking to formalize requirements for what electric vehicle charging stations must have outside homes and businesses.

Following a public hearing, the board agreed yesterday (Tuesday) to review process and design standards. Interior charging stations, such as those in garages, are immune from the existing and proposed rules.

“Reston Association will more than likely be one of the first associations to have a design guideline that is strictly related to electric vehicle charging stations; so we’re really happy about that,” said Cam Adams, the association’s director of covenants administration.

The proposed standards will eventually go before the RA Board of Directors for approval. A board operations committee could review the matter in October.

The association has previously noted that such charging stations already require design review board approval. But it has no formal criteria, which was part of the reasoning for creating the standards.

The new measure calls for restricting stations to 6.5 feet in height, limiting a station to have two bollards — those vertical posts used along interstate express lanes — with a same height restriction and prohibiting wooden pedestals as well as cables/cords from extending over paths, among other criteria.

It also calls for several preferences, such as using parking blocks over bollards.

About 7% of U.S. adults have an electric or a hybrid vehicle, an adoption rate that’s slower than China and Europe, according to the Pew Research Center.

The proposal says projects would require an applicant to obtain neighbors’ signatures. It also says a panel of the design review board would then review applications and apply the guidelines.

Existing stations that received design review board approval would be grandfather in, according to the association.

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PassionFish (Photo by PassionFish)

A local employee was selected as employee of the year during this year’s RAMMYS.

The awards, which are organized by Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. Fully vaccinated guests attended the in-person ceremony over the weekend at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Ruben Avila of PassionFish in Reston Town Center was named employee of the year by a panel of judges. But more than half to the awards were based on public votes.

The awards honor the accomplishments of organizations and individuals integral to the local foodservice and restaurant community.

A complete list of the winner is available online. Silver Diner, which has a location in Reston, was recognized for being a technology trailblazer.

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The Fairfax County School Board discusses a first-year interim report of a two-year review of the district’s special education program (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools is conducting the first public review of its special education services since 2013 after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted traditional learning with remote classes that disproportionately affected students with disabilities.

Presented to the school board at a work session yesterday (Tuesday), findings from the first year of the review highlight families’ frustrations with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process and suggest the school system disproportionately disciplines special education students, especially Black and Hispanic children.

Requested by the school board in December 2019 and officially launched on Nov. 10, 2020, the interim report states explicitly that the review “does not address special education programming during COVID-19.”

The contracted firm — the Arlington-headquartered nonprofit American Institutes for Research — said FCPS decided to focus on collecting data for normal school operations.

On the positive side, surveys of both staff and parents found that 87% of the over 18,500 parents who responded “agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the quality of teaching staff in their child’s school,” frequently noting the caring nature of instructional staff and expressing appreciation for employees.

The review showed that, from 2016-2021, FCPS had about nine or 10 students per special education teacher, a lower ratio than the state average of 15-to-1. The district has also taken steps to improve communication with school staff, including by appointing an assistant ombudsman for special education in 2019, the report said.

While researchers stressed that this is an initial update and the conclusions aren’t final, the report found several areas of concern:

  • Families voiced a lack of transparency and accountability about Individualized Education Program goals and progress
  • Suspension and expulsion rates were higher for certain races than others
  • Parents suggested that the IEP process for getting student input on post-high school transition plans “may be driven by compliance rather than student needs”
  • Novice teachers lack preparation to work with students with disabilities, an area that researchers are investigating further
  • Staff reported feeling overwhelmed by case management, paperwork, and meeting duties, affecting FCPS’ ability to effectively recruit and retain teachers
  • The amount and quality of communication between parents and staff varies by school
  • A sampling showed more than a third of IEPs had no written evidence of parent input

“‘It’s so sad.’ That’s what I wrote all over this document,” Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson said.

An interim report for a special education review compared suspension rates for students with disabilities and other students (via American Institutes of Research/FCPS)

In addition to discussing how to address the issues raised by the report, school board member after school board member raised concerns about the review process, urging researchers to be specific in their recommendations by looking at subgroups and other factors. Officials suggested broad takeaways could dilute matters and not help families.

“My fear overall about this is that this is a one-sized-fits-all special ed audit,” Laura Jane Cohen, the board’s Springfield District representative, said.

Researchers responded that they used a random sampling to collect their preliminary findings. They also noted constraints with interviewing kids, while expressing a willingness to consider changes.

The firm said it will go more in-depth during the second year of a $375,000-plus contract issued in October 2020.

FCPS Auditor General Esther Ko reminded the board that it has a fixed contract and the firm will work at no cost for three more months after its second year. If the board wants more changes, though, it could amend the contract or open another bidding process to look at other topics.

The board requested that Ko to evaluate possible changes to the review with American Institutes for Research for its audit committee to go over later.

Currently set to be completed next summer, the review will make recommendations to FCPS for how to improve services for students with disabilities and their families.

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Morning Notes

Working at Lake Anne Plaza (Photo via vantagehill/Flickr)

Senior Movie Day Returns — Reston Association’s senior movie day returns to Bow Tie Cinema in Reston Town Center today. Doors open at 9:15 a.m. and the movie — Queen Bees — begins at 10 a.m. The event began in 1994 and was paused roughly 18 months ago due to the pandemic. [Reston Today]

Police Chief Issues Alert After Overdoses — The Fairfax County Police Department’s police chief alerted the community yesterday after six people overdosed in one morning in Falls Church. All six adults ranged from 23 to 35 years of age. [Fairfax County Police Department]

County Community Transmission Still High — COVID-19 transmission in the county is still high, although more than 62 percent of the county’s population is fully vaccinated. The county’s health department offered an update to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this week. [Fairfax County Government]

An Update on Early Voting — So far, more than 2,600 people have voted in person so far during the first three days of early voting. Three voting sites are open during weekdays in the county. [Fairfax County Government]

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East Elden Street (Image via handout/VDOT)

The widening of Elden Street from four to six lanes  — a roughly $40.6 million project — is expected to begin in late 2022.

The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to widen the street between Herndon and Fairfax County parkways. Along the street, bike lanes are planned from Monroe Street to Herndon Parkway, in addition to cycle tracks from Herndon Parkway to Fairfax County Parkway.

VDOT will also replace culverts over Sugarland Run with a new bridge to improve stream flow and reduce flooding. Overhead utilities along Elden Street will be buried between Monroe Street and Fairfax County Parkway.

Right-of-way acquisition kicked off in 2019 and is expected to wrap up by the end of the fall, according to Murphy.

Construction for the underground utility duct bank will begin in late 2022. But the actual widening, bicycle improvements, and construction of the bridge won’t kick off until early 2025, according to Mike Murphy, a spokesman for VDOT.

“The costs and schedules are estimates and subject to change as the design progresses and schedules are refined,” Murphy wrote in a statement to Reston Now.

Most of East Elden Street is a fore-lane undivided road. Few dedicated left-turn lanes result in major backups and traffic congestion. Changes are expected to improve access to businesses and the future Herndon Metrorail Station.

A host of other pedestrian and road improvements are planned in the Town of Herndon. In May, the town council awarded a contract to the Ashburn Construction Corp. for a new signal and sidewalks at the Elden -Monroe Street intersection.

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A local mental health practice is on the move.

Dr. Goldberg & Associates plans to open move into a larger location by Nov. 1, a business representative tells Reston Now.

The mental health and psychological services business has five locations, including one in Reston, McLean and Vienna.

It’s currently housed in a smaller office at 1800 Faraday Drive, Suite 206. The practice’s office manager says the new location — 11495 Sunset Hills Road, Suite 202 — is much larger than the current Reston location.

The practice will have seven treatment rooms. The current location only has one location. The clinic is still waiting for building permits from the county to continue with the renovation project.

More information about the practice is available online.

Photo via Dr. Goldberg & Associates/Facebook

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A Food Lion in Herndon (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County’s new plastic bag tax, set to take effect on Jan. 1, drew both support and opposition from the supermarket industry.

Food Lion and MOM’s Organic Market took opposite stances on the issue before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the change last Tuesday (Sept. 14), imposing a 5-cent tax on each disposable plastic bag provided at grocery stores, convenient stores, and drug stores.

“While Food Lion strongly supports responsible stewardship and waste reduction efforts, complying with a patchwork of varying local single-use bag restrictions in the Commonwealth negatively impacts Food Lion’s ability to serve our customers and implement uniform brand strategies for waste reduction and recycling,” the company said in a letter shared by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, the only board member who voted against the measure.

Headquartered in Salisbury, N.C., Food Lion has one store in Fairfax County, located in a shopping center in Herndon.

The company’s director of operations, Eric Sword, said in the emailed statement to the county that the business recycled 6,914 tons of plastic in 2020, among other recycling efforts, and it’s working to meet a parent company goal to make all plastic packaging fully reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.

“Food Lion is supportive of broad-based efforts to reduce customer usage of both paper and plastic bags, and the brand continuously works to raise customer awareness of the value of using reusable bags,” the letter said.

However, Sword wrote that he believes the change will shift consumer behavior almost entirely to paper bags, even though the company seeks to encourage reusable bags for customers.

Meanwhile, a MOM’s representative noted during the Sept. 14 public hearing that their business voluntarily banned plastic bags over a decade ago and uses paper and compostable bags.

“We banned plastic bags 15 years ago because it was the right thing to do for the environment and the communities we call home,” Alexandra DySard, the company’s environment and partnership manager, said in video testimony.

The Rockville, Maryland-based supermarket, which has stores in Herndon and the Mosaic District in Merrifield, favors alternatives to a plastic bag that many people might only use for 12 minutes, DySard said.

“Plastic manufacturers are misleading consumers to believe that bags are being upcycled into benches and decks when the truth is the majority of plastic bags are being sent to landfills, incinerators, ending up in our waterways, or being shipped out of sight to third-world countries,” DySard said.

She also noted that D.C. saw a 72% reduction in plastic bags found in streams after its ban took effect in 2010.

FFXnow contacted other grocery chains in the area for comment, including Giant, Safeway, and Harris Teeter, but did not receive responses by press time.

The Board of Supervisors ultimately approved the new tax 9-1, as advocates likened it to a fee that people can avoid and expressed hope that the move will encourage consumers’ environmental stewardship.

“Plastic bag taxes are proven in jurisdictions across the nation,” said Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who introduced the measure. “This measure will reduce plastic pollution and the modest funds collected will be reinvested into litter prevention and to providing reusable bags for low-income community members.”

Herrity dissented, saying in newsletters sent to constituents before and after the vote that now is not the time to add another tax.

“Instead of instituting a rigorous education campaign — one that encompasses how to recycle and dispose of multiple forms of trash — the Board is taxing residents into compliance,” Herrity said, suggesting the county needs to “create more ways for people to recycle and more materials to educate them on how they can” do so.

The county hasn’t allocated the future tax revenue to a specific purpose yet, but state law permits it to be used for pollution and litter mitigation, educational programs about reducing waste, and reusable bags for residents who receive federal food assistance benefits.

The tax doesn’t apply to:

  • multiple bags sold in packages, such as those for garbage, leaves or pet waste
  • plastic bags used solely for certain food products such as ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, produce, unwrapped bulk food items, or perishable food items
  • plastic bags with handles designed for multiple reuse
  • plastic bags for dry cleaning or prescription drugs

With the board’s vote last week, Fairfax County was the first Northern Virginia locality to institute a plastic bag tax, but neighboring Arlington County and the City of Alexandria quickly followed suit, adopting their own ordinances on Saturday (Sept. 18).

Photo via Google Maps

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Weber’s Pet Supermarket in Fox Mill Shopping Center (via Google Maps)

A pet food store is switching locations after being at Fox Mill Shopping Center for a decade.

Weber’s Pet Supermarket plans to move from 2599 John Milton Drive to 2280 Hunters Wood Plaza in Reston.

“We’re excited about the move, and we’re hoping people follow us,” owner Deb Clark said. “And we hope we’re able to grow in that location.”

The county processed a permit for the new building Aug. 4, but it didn’t appear to be finalized yet as of yesterday (Monday), according to a county database.

Clark said the move was due to the rent, and they’ll move to a smaller footprint but still have a dog wash. The Fox Mill lease ends this month.

The company is putting in shelving with its own crew and making other updates, and they hope to open in early October if possible.

Originally known as the Feed and Grain store, the business launched in 1979, its website notes, and the company has other locations in Fairfax, Chantilly and McLean.

Photo via Google Maps

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