Reston, VA

After getting into a new groove of providing four days of in-person learning, Fairfax County Public Schools has officially announced its plans for the fall.

The school system will offer all students five days of in-person learning in the fall and a limited virtual program for students with documented health needs.

Roughly 109,000 students and staff have returned to school buildings this school year. According to the school division, nearly 85,400 students attend in-person instruction, and more than 80% of those go at least four days a week.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 transmission rates remain less than 1% — even after schools reduced social distancing to three feet.

“We are excited to welcome all students and staff back to our buildings for the in-person experiences that we all missed this fall,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said. “We are encouraged and hopeful that learning in the fall will look as close to normal as possible.”

Families who intend to send their kids back for five days of in-person instruction this fall will not have to do anything. Those who want to use next year’s virtual option need to apply by May 21 and include a certification of need penned by a licensed medical professional.

The virtual option is an accommodation for the pandemic and will likely not be offered beyond the 2021-22 school year, according to FCPS.

“While we are busy planning for the fall, we do recognize that some students, in very limited circumstances, may have a documented health or medical need for virtual instruction,” Brabrand said. “Today’s announcement will help ensure that we are able to continue to serve all.”

A new law requires Virginia’s school divisions to provide five days of in-person learning to families who want it this fall. No school districts are not obligated to provide a virtual option.

FCPS joins several neighboring jurisdictions in offering an in-house virtual program to students, including Arlington Public Schools, Alexandria City Public Schools, and Loudoun County Public Schools.

Unlike FCPS, which sees virtual learning as a COVID-19 measure, APS intends to one day permanently incorporate this option into its offerings.

The FCPS Virtual Program will be primarily taught by county teachers and accommodate students with special education needs and those who require English language learning services, but not all specialized programs or courses will be available.

Some courses will instead be offered through the statewide Virtual Virginia platform. FCPS officials initially proposed supporting students who need to remain online by continuing to utilize concurrent learning, where teachers provide instruction to in-person and virtual students simultaneously, but the school board decisively rejected the idea, citing teachers’ frustration with the additional workload.

School officials will decide case-by-case whether virtual students can participate in activities or athletics.

“We will see you in August,” Brabrand said.

Image via FCPS/Twitter

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Morning Notes

One Life Fitness Workers Put Out Sauna Fire — Fairfax County Fire and Rescue units responded to a “small fire” in the One Life Fitness Reston sauna room yesterday, but maintenance workers put out the blaze before firefighters arrived. An employee told Reston Now that the fire just caused some damage to the wood. It was the first day the sauna had been turned on in more than a year. [Patch]

CVS Allows Walk-in Vaccine Appointments — CVS Health is now offering COVID-19 vaccinations to walk-in appointments and same-day scheduling at all stores in Virginia, joining Giant, which started allowing walk-ins at its pharmacies on Monday (May 3). There are five CVS stores in Reston and three in Herndon. [Patch]

D.C. Judge Vacates National Eviction Moratorium — A D.C. judge ruled that the CDC lacks the authority to institute a nationwide moratorium on housing evictions, but even if the ruling ultimately stands, experts say it likely won’t have an immediate impact on D.C. area tenants. Virginia has a patchwork of protections but no statewide ban.” [DCist]

Air and Space Museum Reopens in Chantilly — Yesterday, the Udvar-Hazy Center became the first Smithsonian museum to open since last fall, when the institution largely shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New additions include a display commemorating the late Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins and an X-Wing Starfighter from the most recent “Star Wars” movie. [WTOP]

South Lakes Girls’ Basketball Celebrates Recent Success — “#WCW In the past 2 seasons, your Seahawks went a combined 22-1 in Liberty District competition, & won back to back championships for the 1st time since 1985-1986.” [South Lakes Girls Basketball/Twitter]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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For the Reston Historic Trust & Museum, survival over the past year has been all about embracing the future to explain the past.

Located at Lake Anne Plaza, the small, one-room community museum first opened its doors in 1997. It tells the story of Reston, from its beginnings in the early 1960s to today, through a variety of artifacts, informational boards, and a 1982 three-dimensional map of Reston that hangs on the right side of the room.

The museum is currently open to visitors and has been since July after closing for four months due to the pandemic.

Aside from a few social distancing stickers and minor aesthetic changes, the museum’s outward appearance hasn’t changed all that much in the past year, Reston Museum Executive Director Alex Campbell told Reston Now on a recent Tuesday morning visit.

“We used to have a couple of more chairs here,” Campbell said, pointing to a gap on the gray carpet. “That’s probably the biggest difference in terms of the interior space.”

However, the museum has transformed considerably since March 2020 in terms of how it presents its material.

“There was always this discussion of a digital presence, but it would have looked different if we had been here,” Campbell said.

She’s been leading the museum since 2018 and admits that the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for innovation.

Like many other cultural institutions, the museum shifted programs online to their YouTube page. Its website got an update to include virtual exhibits, like “Women Pioneers of Reston,” and let visitors browse collections and the archives from home.

The biggest undertaking, however, was moving the museum’s most well-known item — the 1982 map — online. The map came from the old Reston Visitor Center and was moved to the museum when it first opened.

“It’s very outdated and, obviously, updating the actual map would be incredibly difficult to do,” says Campbell. “And to a certain extent, it’s kind of nice. It’s this sorta time capsule.”

For example, the map still shows Reston Town Center surrounded by mostly green trees, and there’s no Metro station along Wiehle Avenue.

Looking to connect the past to the present, the map went digital. Visitors can now visit the webpage, click a particular point on the map, and be taken to another landing page with photos and written history.

“Those [photos] are all from our archives, they’re all historic photos of Reston,” Campbell said. “They show the change over time and a little bit more than just a point on the map.”

She says all of this allows the museum to reach more people and tell the story of Reston better, with the assistance of several grants — including $10,000 from Virginia’s tourism corporation and $4,000 from Virginia Humanities.

While visitation has been down about 50% from pre-COVID times, Campbell has noticed one encouraging trend that could stem from the museum’s increased online presence.

“Since November, 70% of our visitors have never been here before,” she said.

Campbell theorizes it could also be related to folks looking for new activities to do close to home.

Either way, the museum appears to be drawing in new people who are, in turn, learning more about Reston.

As vaccines become more plentiful, the weather warms, and some semblance of normalcy returns, the Reston Museum plans to use the lessons it has learned from the past year to move forward into the future.

A recent survey has shown that people still want an increased digital presence going forward, Campbell says, since it provides a chance to reach individuals who may not be physically close by.

“We had people in California take that survey and was like, ‘I don’t live here, but I used to live here,'” she said. “We are reaching a different group of people.”

That being said, there’s still a ton of benefit to being at the museum in person.

The weekend of May 2 was the first time that the museum had a volunteer to greet visitors and answer questions since March 2020. In addition, in-person events tend to lend themselves better to conversations between guests.

“We were losing a lot of the community connection with just chatting with people,” Campbell said.

Going forward, Campbell expects the museum to find a balance between fostering a sense of community with in-person activities and reaching more people beyond Reston with a digital presence.

This includes planning several talks into the fall that will have at least a digital component, including an event next week about Reston’s village centers. The museum is also exploring the possibility of again doing outdoor events in Lake Anne Plaza in the late summer and fall.

Either way, Campbell is proud of the lessons the museum has learned during this very difficult time.

“It was a very uncertain time, a very scary time,” says Campbell. “But [the Reston Museum] has come out of this doing all right… we’ve actually found ways to expand beyond this physical location.”

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved subleasing the Ellmore Farmhouse in Herndon to the nonprofit ServiceSource on May 4.

The sublease will last 29 years as part of Fairfax County’s Resident Curator Program, which aims “to preserve historic properties by offering long-term leases to qualified tenants who agree to rehabilitate and maintain these historic resources in accordance with established preservation standards,” according to the county.

The decision followed an advertised public hearing on the motion that did not draw any comments from the community.

In accordance with the terms of the resident curator program, ServiceSource will rehabilitate the two-story, 3,300 square-foot house at 2739 West Ox Road while maintaining time-appropriate aspects of the property that was built in 1891.

“During the 29-year term of the sublease, ServiceSource will rehabilitate the building by making ADA compliant improvements, and incorporating green building designs in a manner that respects that late 19th-early 20th century heritage of the structure,” Fairfax County Facilities Management Department Assistant Director Mike Lambert said, reading a staff report to the board.

ServiceSource provides housing, employment, and other support services to people with disabilities and their families. The nonprofit has been in line to take over the Ellmore Farmhouse since 2019.

ServiceSource plans to use the historic property as a “Community Integration Center” that will offer employment for up to 15 adults through an on-site café and handicrafts specialty store.

“This is a really nice property, historic property. This is, I think, another good example and good use of the resident curator program,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said. “[I’m] very pleased this is going forward. I would note I think the resident curator program is still very much a work in progress, but very happy this particular site is working out that way.”

Originally built in 1891, the farmhouse sits on four-and-a-half acres within Frying Pan Farm Park. It is one of six properties in the resident curator program, which is managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Three of the other properties are under rehabilitation — the Hannah P. Clark House in Lorton, the Stempson House in Lorton, and the Turner Farmhouse in Great Falls. The other two RCP properties to be re-advertised are the Ash Grove House and Lahey Lost Valley, which are both located in Vienna.

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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Here is a really important question: What do sellers want in today’s housing market?

Low inventory and low interest rates mean there aren’t a lot of homes for sale, but there are lots of buyers looking to make a move. Sellers are receiving multiple offers above list price, but what do sellers want beyond escalated sales dollars?

1. High earnest money deposits and large down payments

The earnest money deposit shows the seller you’re serious about purchasing. This money is sent to the title company as part of the offer and held in an escrow account before closing. It’s also known as a “good faith deposit” and protects the seller if you back out of the contract. Typically, it’s about 1-3% of the sales price, but if you want to win a contract these days, consider offering more, even as much as 10-15%.

A large down payment also shows the seller you’re serious and have the funds to back up your offer. Sellers worry about buyers’ financing falling through, and these two strategies can help ease their minds.

2. A “clean contract”

This means no contingencies — home inspection, appraisal and finance contingencies all waived. Sellers don’t want to have to negotiate for repairs from a home inspection report and deal with the hassle of having minor problems repaired. Consider waiving the home inspection and purchasing a home warranty to cover the cost of repairs that may arise once you own the home.

Additionally, waiving the appraisal means you’re willing to bring additional funds to the closing table if an appraiser deems the home is worth less than your offer amount. You can shift dollars from your down payment to cover this gap.

Lastly, waiving the financing contingency means you’re confident in your ability to obtain a loan. If you feel secure in your job/financial situation, this may be a good option, but please talk to your lender first.

And don’t forget: Listing agents and sellers do not want to see any mistakes on the sales contract. Be sure your agent is detail-oriented and, of course, read the contract yourself before signing!

3. A quick close

Sellers want their money and to move on! Most transactions can close in as little as 30 to 45 days depending on title work and lender procedures. Check with your lender about pre-underwriting your loan to close quicker — this can be a huge plus!

Lynn Cooper is a licensed REALTOR in Virginia with McEnearney Associates in McLean. Whether buying or selling, Lynn is 100% committed to her clients before, during, and after the transaction. Connect with Lynn at 202-489-7894, [email protected] or @lynncooperrealestate.

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a balanced budget for fiscal year 2022 yesterday (Tuesday).

It includes some funding adjustments that the board incorporated into the proposed budget during the board’s markup session last week.

The newly adopted budget supports a 1% pay increase for county employees, a 2% raise for Fairfax County Public Schools employees, and 15% salary supplements for staff in the Office of the Public Defender and state probation and parole officers.

“While there were many constraints on this year’s budget, I am tremendously proud of what this Board was able to accomplish,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said. “My goal was to look for balance in lowering the tax rate, with the understanding of skyrocketing property assessments, while also supporting our County employees and teachers and furthering our priorities in education, affordable housing, environmental protection, and community resources. I am pleased we were able to achieve that.”

The proposed budget from February did not include pay increases for employees, whose pay was frozen in this year’s budget. The new 1% pay increase comes after Fairfax County employees advocated for salary bumps last month.

“The 1% wage increase and one-time bonus come as a response to union members making it clear that two years of frozen pay for essential county workers was unacceptable,” SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax Chapter President Tammie Wondong said. “We appreciate the approved change. That being said, the concessions fall short of the agreed-upon pay plan and workers are falling behind.”

The county employees’ union will now focus on its push for Fairfax County to adopt a collective bargaining ordinance. A new state law permitting localities to establish collective bargaining procedures took effect on May 1.

McKay said last week that county staff is drafting an ordinance that will be discussed at the board’s personnel committee meeting on May 25.

“Meaningful collective bargaining is the only way workers can ensure that the county keeps their promise on our pay plans so that we have the resources to provide the best services to the Fairfax community,” Wondong said.

The increase will be funded using $20 million that County Executive Bryan Hill had recommended setting aside in an “Economic Recovery Reserve.” As the county looks to rebuild, it will instead lean on the $222 million in federal relief funds it expects to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“The redirection of this reserve does not exacerbate budgetary challenges in FY 2023,” the final budget document reads. “With this reserve, funding just shy of $30 million is available to be utilized for employee pay in FY 2022.”

Here are some other highlights:

As proposed in February, the real estate tax rate will decrease from $1.15 per $100 of assessed value to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value. Personal property tax rates and stormwater fees will remain the same, at  $4.57 per $100 of assessed value and $0.0325 per $100 of assessed value, respectively.

As considered during the budget markup last week, the refuse disposal fee will decrease from $68 to $66 per ton, but the refuse collection fee will increase from $370 to $400 per household. The rate was reduced from $385 last year because of a reduction in yard waste collection services during the pandemic.

Funding for county government operations and contributions to Metro and Fairfax County Public Schools, or general fund disbursements, totals $4.53 billion. That marks a slight increase from the advertised $4.48 million, and an increase of $55.40 million over the current fiscal year’s disbursements.

More than half of those disbursements (52.6%, or $2.38 billion) support Fairfax County Public Schools. This includes $2.17 billion for operations, $197.12 million for debt service and $13.10 million for school construction.

Fairfax County will create 109 additional positions in FY 2022 to staff new facilities, such as the South County Police Station, a new 61,000-square-foot police station and animal shelter, and the Scotts Run Fire Station. Positions are also being added for the county’s opioid task force and Diversion First initiative.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano says the budget marks an important first step toward solving Fairfax’s “longstanding justice crisis,” adding that the 15 new positions his office has been allocated will enable prosecutors to take on more cases.

“As the budget takes effect in July and we fill those, we will be able to expand our caseload to encompass all cases other than minor traffic infractions,” the Commonwealth Attorney’s office said. “We are already scaling up our caseload now and are prioritizing cases that contain an indication of violence between now and July.”

Descano says his office will complement its expanded case load with a “growing use of diversion and alternative sentencing to ensure we are keeping the community safe in a manner that accords with our values.”

Additional staffing alone won’t solve the problem, however. Descano says a multi-year investment is needed to address the “chronic shortcomings that plagued our system,” including a culture of producing as many convictions as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Charts via Fairfax County

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Southgate Community Center is getting a new name.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday (Tuesday) to approve Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn’s suggestion that the community center be renamed after his predecessor, Catherine Hudgins, who retired from the board at the end of 2019.

The board directed staff from Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services, which operates the facility, to “work with the community” and report back with a plan for implementing the change.

Located at 12125 Pinecrest Road, the Southgate Community Center provides a variety of recreational, cultural, and educational programs, along with access to county and community resources. Recently, the facility has hosted regular COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

According to Alcorn’s board matter, Hudgins was instrumental in establishing Southgate as an essential community facility during her nearly two decades as supervisor.

“It was her vision and dedication that has made Southgate Community Center the success that it is,” Alcorn said.

The full board matter is below:

Mr. Chairman, for two decades, Cathy Hudgins tirelessly served our communities in Hunter Mill District, from 2000 until 2019 when she retired from the Board of Supervisors. She was a community builder with a passion for improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods that are often overlooked. One of Supervisor Hudgins’ biggest accomplishments and one that is a lasting legacy is the re-creation of the Southgate Community Center as a County-owned facility in Reston in 2006.

From the day this renewed facility’s doors opened, Southgate Community Center has been a mainstay of the surrounding neighborhoods, providing residents of all ages a place to meet, learn and play. There is a gymnasium, teen center, computer lab, multi-purpose rooms, and other accommodations. Children in need have been fed, pro bono legal advice has been given, English lessons have been provided, COVID vaccinations delivered, and teens have had a safe place to go after school.

Supervisor Hudgins worked tirelessly to negotiate the land lease with the Reston Association, secure the financing, review the building design, monitor its construction, and support the center’s program activities. It was her vision and dedication that has made Southgate Community Center the success that it is.

Therefore, Mr. Chairman, in honor of Cathy’s passionate and successful efforts, I move that the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) work with the community to re-name Southgate Community Center in recognition of Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins, and I further request that NCS to report back to the Board about the name change and an implementation plan.

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Morning Notes

New Police Chief to Speak at Public Input Session — Community members will get their first chance to talk to new Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis at 7 p.m. on Thursday (May 6). Local civil rights groups have criticized Davis’s past record and a hiring process they say lacked transparency and public involvement, prompting the county board to issue a statement last night reaffirming its support for Davis. [Supervisor Rodney Lusk/Twitter]

Fairway Apartments Sold to Swedish Investor — Swedish investment firm Akelius has acquired Fairway Apartments, a 346-unit apartment community near Reston Town Center, from JBG for $93 million. Akelius says it plans to add new washers and dryers, renovate some kitchens and bathrooms, and make other minor upgrades to the property, which is 97% occupied. [Bisnow]

More Spots Open for Tour de Hunter Mill — More registrations are now available for the Tour de Hunter Mill bicycle ride that will take cyclists through Reston, Vienna, and Tysons on May 15. The event has expanded in response to Virginia easing restrictions on public gatherings that day, according to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn’s office. [Walter Alcorn/Twitter]

Herndon IT Firm Acquired by McLean Contractor — “McLean, Virginia-based government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton will acquire Herndon, Virginia-based Liberty IT Solutions LLC for $725 million. Liberty IT Solutions has about 600 employees…Its work includes IT modernization projects for government agencies and in the health care industry.” [WTOP]

Nonprofit Food Pantry Distribution Helps 260 Local Families — “We’re happy to have assisted 260 families from the Herndon, Springfield, Chantilly, Alexandria, and Centreville area with groceries, toiletries, fresh produce and store gift cards to help with pantry staple purchases.” [Cornerstones/Twitter]

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Giant pharmacies are now offering walk-in COVID-19 vaccine appointments on Monday and Tuesday mornings at all 25 of their locations in Fairfax County.

Giant Foods announced yesterday (May 3) that all of its pharmacies across the D.C. region are allowing for walk-in vaccine appointments from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays. This includes 25 locations in the county, a Giant spokesperson confirms to Reston Now.

Walk-ins are available for those looking to receive either their first or second dose. For people receiving a first dose, pharmacists will help schedule an appointment for the second dose.

There’s a limited supply available for walk-ins at this time, and appointments are still required for those looking to receive the vaccine at 9 a.m. or later.

Vaccines are being provided at no cost, but Giant is asking residents to bring their health insurance card and driver’s license to their appointment.

Patients will not be denied access to the vaccine if no health insurance is provided, Giant confirms.

Residents can check what vaccine is being offered at specific pharmacies before walking in or making an appointment.

Currently, everyone 16 years and older is eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been approved for adults 18 years and older.

Giant pharmacies that were previously offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are once again doing so, a spokesperson tells Reston Now.

This comes after Fairfax County and Virginia paused the use of the vaccine in mid-April for over a week to review reports of a few patients developing very rare blood clots after receiving the vaccine.

The pause was lifted on April 23 after both the FDA and CDC expressed confidence that the vaccine was safe and effective.

“Upon review of available data, the FDA and CDC both agreed that the known and potential benefits of the Janssen vaccine outweigh the risks in individuals 18 years of age and older,” Giant says on its vaccine information webpage.

The Fairfax County Health Department told Reston Now last week that they are aware the pause may make some hesitant about taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but the county still gets inquiries from who residents prefer it, since it requires just one dose and provides immunity more quickly than the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

A glance at the list of what specific Giant pharmacies in the county are offering reveals that more are providing the Pfizer vaccine than the other vaccines. Johnson & Johnson is being offered at the second most pharmacies, with Moderna being offered at the fewest number of locations.

Photo via Giant Food

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Updated at 4:10 p.m. — The National Weather Service has now upgraded Fairfax County to a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, advising people to move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a building.

In effect until 4:45 p.m., the warning was issued at 4:01 p.m. after a severe thunderstorm was spotted near Middleburg. The storm was reportedly moving east at 30 miles per hour.

Here is the full alert:

The National Weather Service in Sterling Virginia has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for…
Southeastern Loudoun County in northern Virginia…
Northwestern Fairfax County in northern Virginia…
Northeastern Fauquier County in northern Virginia…
Northwestern Prince William County in northern Virginia…

* Until 445 PM EDT.

* At 400 PM EDT, a severe thunderstorm was located near Middleburg, or 8 miles west of Brambleton, moving east at 30 mph.

HAZARD…60 mph wind gusts.

SOURCE…Radar indicated.

IMPACT…Damaging winds will cause some trees and large branches to fall. This could injure those outdoors, as well as damage homes and vehicles. Roadways may become blocked by downed trees. Localized power outages are possible. Unsecured light objects may become projectiles.

* Locations impacted include…
Reston, South Riding, Herndon, Vienna, Broadlands, Lowes Island, Brambleton, Dulles International Airport, Ashburn, Oakton, Sterling, Chantilly, Wolf Trap, Great Falls, Countryside, Middleburg, Arcola, Belmont, Aldie and Sterling Park.

Earlier: Fairfax County is currently under a Severe Thunderstorm Watch, with scattered showers anticipated throughout the D.C. area this afternoon.

The alert will be in effect until 8 p.m. The National Weather Service says that a thunderstorm could potentially hit after 5 p.m.

“Some storms could be severe, with large hail and damaging winds,” the NWS forecast for Reston says.

With a 60% chance of precipitation, between a tenth and a quarter of an inch of rain could fall this afternoon, and another quarter to half inch could come in the evening.

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