After nearly two years of discussions and 15 meetings, a study group has voted in favor of ditching three pedestrian crossing options offered by a developer of an approved mixed-use development near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station.

TF Cornerstone plans to transform an aging office park east of Wiehle Avenue between Sunrise Valley Drive and the Dulles Toll Road into a 1.3-million-square-foot development called Campus Commons. The county approved the project in late 2019 — but how the development will connect to Metro and provide safe passage to pedestrians remains a significant concern.

The developer proffered to encourage the formation of a study group that would assess three proposed pedestrian overpasses or identify another crossing option at the crossing of Wiehle Avenue at the Dulles Toll Road ramps at the northwest corner of the site.

All of the study group’s members voted against the developer’s proposal for a pedestrian overpass. Instead, a major of the 17-member group voted in favor of an underpass — an option that would up the cost of the project.

The study group did not vote on a singular option to address the issue and instead provided a general sense of preferences voiced by members and other community members.

The report noted that while the developer’s proposal for an overpass would be developer-funded, the option presents design, utilization, and maintenance concerns.

The first developer-proposed option would include a ramp and stairs on the west side of the road and elevators and stairs on the east side. The second bridge option would include elevators and stairs on both sides. The third option would include a ramp on the west and egress into the building on the east side.

An underpass would utilize the existing grade, provide the shortest consistent crossing time, and provide easier ADA access, according to the report. But cost and feasibility due to surrounding utilities remain a concern.

The pedestrian crossing was a major sticking point in the approval process in 2019. Residents and some county officials raised significant safety concerns about the issue.

At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday, Hunter Mill District Supervisor formally accepted the group’s findings. The board now has one year to select the best and most feasible option. If the county for pedestrian crossing. If it does not select one of the three options proposed by the developer, the developer will provide $1.65 million towards another solution.

Additionally, the board will determine if an at-grade crossing at Wiehle Avenue and the Dulles Toll Road eastbound ramps should be provided by the developer. This proffer is separate from the grade-separated crossing options discussed above.

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Solar panels on house (via Vivint Solar/Unsplash)

On the heels of last week’s sobering United Nations climate change report, Fairfax County is beginning to implement its first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), which sets goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Fairfax County staff delivered a final update of the CECAP to the Board of Supervisors during its environmental committee meeting on July 20. The board is expected to accept the report when it meets on Sept. 14.

The CECAP provides an inventory of current greenhouse gas emissions and recommends actions that the county and individuals can take to mitigate future emissions in order to achieve carbon neutrality within three decades.

“A lot of times, people feel like this problem is so big and out of their hands, that they feel like they can’t make a difference,” Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination Senior Community Specialist Maya Dhavale said. “I feel like it’s very timely that Fairfax County has been putting this plan and report together…We’re able to provide residents, business owners, and individuals in Fairfax County a path forward.”

Dhavale, who spearheaded the project, says staff have already begun the process of implementing the plan. That starts with community outreach, public education, and a review of existing county policies to determine how they line up with the proposed plan.

First proposed in 2018 and initiated in early 2020, the CECAP report was developed by a working group composed of environmental advocates, business representatives, civic association members, and other citizens.

As an overarching goal, the work group proposed that Fairfax County become carbon-neutral by 2050 with an 87% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels.

The Board of Supervisors has already pledged to make county government operations — including building and facility energy use and transportation — carbon neutral by 2040 in conjunction with an updated operational energy strategy adopted on July 13.

The county’s recent push to prioritize environmental initiatives comes as the U.N. continues to sound the alarm on climate change as a crisis that’s already in motion and will only get worse without a substantial shift in human behavior.

In its latest report released on Aug. 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that human activities are directly responsible for a roughly 1 degree Celsius climb in the global surface temperature from 1900 to 2019, contributing to retreating glaciers, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Even if future emissions are kept very low, global temperatures will continue going up until at least the mid-21st century and could very likely still be one to 1.8 degrees Celsius higher than 1900 levels by the end of the century, according to the report.

“Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions,” IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai said in a news release. “Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate.”

In their report, the CECAP working group says the impact of climate change on Fairfax County is already evident in declining snowfall, more extremely hot days, heavier rainfall, and increased incidences of mosquito and tick-borne illnesses. Read More

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Exterior of brick housing in Reston (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Fairfax County officials support the recent reinstatement of the federal eviction mortarium and plan to continue providing rental assistance to those in need.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — at the behest of President Bidenrenewed the ban on evictions through Oct. 3 in areas that have “substantial” or “high” community transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Fairfax County currently has “substantial” transmission, according to the CDC’s COVID data tracker.

County officials have expressed their support for the eviction mortarium, despite some debate over its legality.

“We are glad that the eviction moratorium has been extended, which will continue to provide peace of mind for families across the country,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay wrote in a statement.

Early this year, the county received $34 million for emergency rental assistance from a COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress late last year.

This allowed the county to launch a new Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program in early June aimed at helping not only residents, but landlords as well. Since the program launched, McKay says the county has distributed more than $8 million to 997 households through the ERA.

“In Fairfax County, we’re not dragging our feet,” McKay said. “We know our residents need assistance now, and we’re continuing to build upon our existing human services programs to meet the vastly increased need within our community.”

Help is still needed, though. Even with the federal eviction mortarium in place for most of the last 18 months, 668 writs of eviction and 1,562 unlawful detainers have been issued to county residents since July 2020, according to an Eviction Data Dashboard created by county staff.

Overall, the data shows that the threat of eviction is higher in areas hit harder by COVID-19.

According to the dashboard, the zip codes with the highest number of writs of eviction are 22102, which covers west McLean and parts of Tysons, and 22306 in Alexandria, covering the Groveton neighborhood and parts of the Lee District.

Late last year, Fairfax County created an eviction prevention task force to coordinate a countywide approach to helping keep people in their homes.

Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services Deputy Director Sarah Allen said in a statement that outreach to the county’s most vulnerable communities is ongoing:

Outreach efforts are underway, particularly to support our most vulnerable communities. Fairfax County agencies partner with numerous providers and are available at community events including vaccine equity clinics, health fairs and back-to-school events to ensure that residents are informed of the assistance and services available to them. We are also partnering with non-profit organizations, houses of worship and other faith-based organizations to reach communities in need.

Allen also notes that tenant and landlord checklists and a guide to the eligibility requirements for rent assistance are available in multiple languages, including Arabic, Amharic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

There’s another potentially complicating factor.

The eviction moratorium initially expired on July 31 and was extended on August 3. The CDC order says any eviction completed between August 1 and August 3 is not subjected to the order since it does not operate retroactively, meaning evictions completed during Aug. 1-3 are potentially valid.

However, Allen says the county does not know of any completed evictions during that three-day period.

“We are not aware of any evictions during that gap in time as there is still a court process required to evict,” writes Allen. “County staff is working closely with non-profit legal assistance organizations such as Legal Services of Northern Virginia for support and guidance around the eviction process.”

via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County Public Safety Headquarters (via FCPD)

The Fairfax County Police Civilian Review Panel, a citizen-led board intended to help with police accountability, is getting an executive director.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the change on July 27 at the urging of the review panel, which is facing increasing caseloads and seeking to gain investigatory powers.

“We’re thrilled that this new position will help us maintain our independence,” Civilian Review Panel Chair Jimmy Bierman said, thanking Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who chairs the board’s public safety committee.

Established in December 2016, the civilian review panel reviews Fairfax County Police Department investigations into civilian complaints with allegations that a police officer abused their authority or engaged in misconduct.

While the panel can make recommendations regarding law enforcement policies and practices, it was not granted the authority to conduct its own investigations.

The review panel, which consists of nine volunteers, documented in February its need for an executive director in an annual report and a four-year review, a document that Bierman spent three months of 40-hour weeks to develop.

The executive director will help the panel document and summarize investigations. Currently, the panel reviews police investigations in person and writes lengthy, time-consuming reports, which means its efforts are heavily dependent on its chair’s schedule.

Bierman, an attorney, likens the change to a congressional committee relying on staff to help draft materials or a federal judge using legal staff to write bench memos.

“It adds to the professionalism of the panel,” he said. “We want to be fiercely independent.”

Since its creation, the review panel has also relied on staff in the office of the independent police auditor, which will now send one position to the panel for the executive director.

Bierman says the staffing switch will help the panel maintain a good working relationship with police by ensuring the independent police auditor’s resources are not overtaxed.

The change to the panel comes after the Virginia General Assembly adopted a law last year that officially permitted localities to create police oversight boards with the power to investigate incidents, make binding disciplinary determinations, and more.

Bierman says the law shows the Commonwealth is serious about supporting independent oversight bodies for police.

The new executive director won’t have independent investigatory powers, but the position could lay the groundwork for the Board of Supervisors to update the panel’s bylaws to give it more authority, as allowed by the new state law, according to Bierman.

The person hired for the new position will be paid $100,000 to $150,000 per year and report directly to the board of supervisors. Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity was the only supervisor to oppose the measure.

“I voted against this motion because I didn’t support the original motion to form the Civilian Review Panel as we had an Independent Police Auditor, which is where most significant reviews and recommendations for reforms have come from,” Herrity said in a statement.

On Sept. 28, the board of supervisors’ public safety committee is slated to hear a presentation about the review panel along with recommendations on further reforms in line with the panel’s four-year review. Read More

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Fairfax County residents in need of Department of Motor Vehicle services are finding they need to book an appointment months in advance.

In response to those reported concerns, the county Board of Supervisors agreed on Tuesday (July 27) to contact the state to see how it will address wait times.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said residents have reported that they’re traveling as far as three hours away to South Hill to get DMV services.

“Given that DMV services are essential, Fairfax County residents should not have to wait over a month or be forced to go to other parts of Virginia for an appointment,” Herrity said.

The DMV introduced the appointment system when it reopened sites in May 2020 after a pandemic-induced shutdown. During that time frame, it has also added more online capabilities to help reduce foot traffic.

“We are not yet where we need to be, but we are proud of the progress we’ve made from implementing a brand new appointment system in the height of a global pandemic a little more than a year ago,” DMV spokeswoman Jessica Cowardin said in a statement.

On a recent visit to a DMV center in Tysons, Great Falls resident Barbara Martin found the experience quite different compared to when walk-ins were allowed, which would result in dozens of people crowding into the building.

Martin booked her appointment about a month and a half ago and said she was relieved to be there, expressing appreciation for the staff’s attention to details.

With no DMV centers in the immediate Reston/Herndon area, the closest location for residents is the Sterling center (100 Free Court), which reopened in August 2020. The department also opened a new customer service center in Sterling (22360 S. Sterling Blvd., Unit D112) this past January.

“By installing an appointment system we have become more efficient, transactions are conducted quickly and customer wait times have been minimized,” Cowardin wrote. “And appointment availability will continue to increase as we are able to hire and train employees and emerge more fully from the pandemic, which is still ongoing.”

Chai Chala of McLean says he lucked out and only had to wait 10 days for an appointment at the Tysons DMV center (1968 Gallows Road), which he visited to register a new car.

“The experience was really nice,” he said, adding his only complaint was the sun’s heat.

Since reopening, the DMV added several services to its website that can save customers a trip to a physical building.

In September, it introduced two-year renewals for driver’s licenses and ID cars by online and mail, and in November, it began online renewals for commercial driver’s licenses. As of February, it also now offers drivers the ability to replace licenses and permits that were lost or stolen.

Customers can also get appointments with DMV Select partner officers, which conduct vehicle-related transactions, as well as DMV Connect, a team of mobile workers whose regular stops include the Fairfax County Government Center.

Cowardin said the DMV intends to keep the appointment system for the foreseeable future, noting that the vast majority of transactions conducted since May 2020 have been conducted remotely.

“During the pandemic, customers shifted the way they conduct business with DMV in that more customers are now conducting DMV business by service delivery methods other than the [customer service centers], such as mail, internet, online dealers or DMV Select partners,” she noted.

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The union that represents Fairfax County government workers is advocating for collective bargaining rights (courtesy SEIU Virginia 512)

One in seven Fairfax County employees can’t afford an adequate standard of living in the county where they work, a report released last week by a Richmond-based think tank found.

Published on July 21 by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI), which advocates for public policy that advances racial and economic justice in Virginia, the “Rebuilding Stronger for Fairfax County” report comes as county leaders continue discussions on a collective bargaining ordinance for public employees.

Comparing government workers’ salaries to the cost of living and what their private-sector counterparts earn, the study authors say their findings support the need for collective bargaining, where employee unions can negotiate compensation, working conditions, and other terms of their employment.

“The fair and clear standards provided by unionization particularly help Black and Latinx workers,” TCI Research Director Laura Goren said in a statement. “Women, who make up the majority of local government workers, would also particularly benefit from collective bargaining.”

Using the Economic Policy Institute’s family budget calculator, TCI determined that a single person would need an annual income of at least $57,052 to afford a “modest yet adequate” standard of living in Fairfax County, including housing, transportation, health care, taxes, and other necessary expenses.

A family with one parent and two children would need to earn at least $106,395 a year.

According to the report, however, the bottom 20% of Fairfax County’s workforce in terms of salary, including part-time employees, make between $40,000 and $60,000 annually, leaving them unable to support themselves.

Only the top 20% of workers, who earn under $120,000, can cover the cost of living for a family of three.

The findings came after TCI released a similar report on Loudoun County, where one in five county workers can’t afford an adequate standard of living. The Board of Supervisors there voted on July 20 to proceed with crafting a collective bargaining ordinance.

According to TCI, public employees in Virginia are typically paid 29.9% less than what they would get in the private sector, a gap that widens to 33.4% in Northern Virginia. When pension and health care benefits are considered, the difference in compensation narrows slightly to 28% for the Commonwealth as a whole.

As the cost of living has risen, so have turnovers and vacancies, which went from 3.4% of all Fairfax County government positions in fiscal year 2007 to 8% of all positions in FY 2016, according to a county “lines of business” review of employee compensation.

While it won’t close the gap between public and private wages, the TCI report says giving public workers the ability to collectively bargain would help address inequities, boosting pay by 5 to 8%.

“This report provides rigorous research that backs up what essential workers have always known to be true,” Tammie Wondong, president of SEIU Virginia 512’s Fairfax County chapter, said. “Having a seat at the table through collective bargaining allows us to advance equity and build an even stronger community where every working family can thrive.”

SEIU’s Fairfax County Government Employees Union Chapter, which represents more than 2,000 workers, has been advocating for a collective bargaining ordinance since the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation giving localities that authority in 2020, though the law didn’t take effect until May 1 of this year.

County staff released an initial draft ordinance on May 25, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has been debating the scope and details of the proposal for the past two months. The most recent draft came before the board’s personnel committee on July 20.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay echoed Wondong’s sentiments, saying the TCI report confirms that collective bargaining will reduce inequity, support quality jobs, and improve county services.

“I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken to ensure a great county workforce, including a $15 living wage, paid family leave, initiatives to increase workforce housing, and a strong retirement system,” McKay said. “Collective bargaining will further help us attract and retain great employees to ensure we continue delivering quality public services for our community.”

Fairfax County Human Resources Director Cathy Spage said at last week’s committee meeting that when the board meets on Sept. 14, county staff will ask it to authorize a public hearing on the proposed collective bargaining ordinance on Oct. 5.

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Fairfax County could require all of its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when they return to offices this fall.

During their meeting today (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion brought by Chairman Jeff McKay directing County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate whether to implement a vaccine mandate for the county’s 12,000 government employees, who range from library staff to police and solid waste workers.

While the county has reported relatively high vaccination rates, with almost 80% of adults having gotten at least one dose, some people who are eligible for the vaccine are choosing not to get it because of “false information,” according to McKay.

“Getting vaccinated is an act of public charity,” McKay said. “It’s not just about protecting you, but protecting everyone that you work with, every county resident that seeks our services, and everyone that works in our community.”

McKay confirmed that Hill is currently developing a plan for county government employees to return to offices in September.

The board directed Hill to consider providing some exemptions from the vaccine mandate for “religious and medical purposes” as well as requiring face masks and weekly COVID-19 testing for employees who do not qualify for an exemption and continue to refuse to get vaccinated.

In introducing the motion, McKay cited the growing prevalence of the delta variant, which now makes up more than 80% of all new cases in the U.S. and an estimated 69.4% of cases in the mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Like elsewhere in the country, Fairfax County has seen a rise in cases throughout July.

McKay noted that the need to bring COVID-19 case levels back down is especially urgent as Fairfax County Public Schools hopes to reintroduce five days of in-person learning when the new school year starts in August.

“What is happening right now with the delta variant in our community is scary for so many people, and I know it’s scary for our public school system,” McKay said. “Keep in mind that there are thousands of kids in elementary school that don’t have the luxury of getting vaccinated, and we need to do it for them. We need to make sure that our schools can reopen fully and safely, and we all need to get vaccinated to ensure that that happens.”

The board’s move comes as the CDC is expected to announce this afternoon a reversal of its policy allowing unvaccinated people to go maskless indoors, as reported by The Washington Post and other national outlets.

David Taube contributed to this report.

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Fairfax County strategic plan meetings are in a fourth phase before being introduced to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. (via Fairfax County)

The Countywide Strategic Plan meant to establish a community-driven vision for Fairfax County for the next 10 to 20 years is edging closer to an expected adoption by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The county hosted a community update and feedback session on Wednesday (July 21) to gather feedback about potential indicators for success among nine priority areas listed in the proposed 56-page strategic plan.

It was part of the fourth phase of engagement initiated by the county. Two rounds were held in 2019 before the process was paused in 2020 to evaluate COVID-19 impacts. Two additional phases were added for 2021, with the third survey phase wrapping up in April.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to take action in October, according to countywide strategic plan coordinator Aimee Brobst, who led the meeting.

While there are no outreach plans to solicit direct public comments on the final text before it is presented to the board, Brobst said community engagement will continue after the plan is adopted. At that point, the county’s approach will “likely shift” to a more targeted focus on each priority area in addition to seeking feedback on the plan as a whole.

“We definitely want to use the feedback that we’re collecting here for the purpose of informing the strategic plan,” Brobst said. “But as we look forward, beyond even when the plan is adopted by the Board of Supervisors, we want to make sure that this isn’t something that stops once the plan is adopted, and we are being very thoughtful and very intentional about hearing from as many people as possible as we move forward.”

The nine priority areas of the plan include:

A poll to gauge attendees’ preferred focus areas within those categories found particular interest in access to cultural and recreational opportunities; economic stability and mobility for all people; financial sustainability and trustworthiness; and access and utilization of services.

Other top indicators were air, water and land quality; housing affordability and quality; career-based training and early childhood education; accessibility, affordability and equity for mobility and transportation; and reliability and security of critical infrastructure.

County staff noted that the plan is meant to be flexible with the ability to adapt over time, serving as a template to help the board determine its priorities and understand what community members think is important.

Acknowledging the rather sparse attendance at the meeting, Brobst said that the shift to virtual meetings over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the county to rethink and expand the tools it uses to engage the public.

“In addition to everything we’re doing that we think makes sense — using every channel that we have available to us as the county — we are very open to adapting,” Brobst said. “…One of the things we definitely wanted to do as part of this process is not necessarily do things just the same way as they’ve always been done in terms of doing only in-person meetings or doing just surveys or long-form surveys.”

A form for general questions or feedback for the plan is available at the bottom of the strategic plan page on the county’s website.

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American Flag (Photo via TechPhotoGal/Pixabay)
American flag (via TechPhotoGal/Pixabay)

America won’t celebrate its 250th birthday until 2026, but Fairfax County has decided it’s not too early to start planning the party.

At the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (July 13), Gunston Hall Executive Director Scott Stroh presented a report on behalf of a seven-person work group with recommendations for how the county could observe the U.S.’s semiquincentennial anniversary.

Recommendations touched on thematic, organizational, and practical considerations, among them adopting the word “commemoration” to describe the anniversary, making sure it reflects the “fullest American story,” and issuing a countywide survey of residents about what they want out of the occasion.

Additionally, the work group recommends having an organizational structure, a marketing and promotional plan, and a preliminary multi-year budget set by the end of the year.

“This commemoration offers an important and compelling opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments and progress as a nation and community, but also opportunities to foster cooperation, facilitate conversation, and inspire actions so that all can equally enjoy the benefits of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Stroh said. “Fairfax County is distinctly positioned to lead this effort in Virginia.”

July 4, 2026 will represent 250 years of American independence from Britain, which is generally marked from the full adoption of the Declaration of Independence and formal start of the Revolutionary War. Both nationally and in Virginia, committees, organizations, and work groups are taking shape to start preparations for the anniversary.

Fairfax County is the only municipality in the Commonwealth to have initiated this effort to date, according to materials provided to the board.

“I’m glad we are leading by example,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said.

The board established Fairfax County’s work group in October 2020. It includes representatives from Visit Fairfax, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Fairfax County History Commission, and the City of Fairfax Regional Library.

Going forward, the work group suggested that it could become a “more formal planning entity,” one with a larger membership that’s more diverse and more representative of the county as a whole.

Stroh anticipates the planning and the commemoration itself will be paid for through a variety of methods, including county funds, grants, state money, and private support.

In general, the board seemed pleased with the report, but it didn’t take any action beyond accepting the report. Instead, a board matter outlining possible next steps will be proposed when the board next meets on July 27, McKay said.

McKay emphasized that the commemoration should be inclusive and tell a “fuller American story.”

“I think many of us have heard of this notion of erasing history or redoing history,” McKay said. “In fact, [it is] quite the opposite. We are trying to bring to light the entire history and how we do better in the future.”

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk made similar comments, saying his daughter recently remarked on many of America’s founders being slaveholders.

“That is a contradiction. That is a flaw,” he said, while reading off a portion of the report that positions commemoration as a chance to assess how the country is still striving to match its ideals with its actions.

“[This commemoration] is more than a chance, it’s an opportunity to actually do this,” Lusk said.

via TechPhotoGal/Pixabay

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From balcony drainage issues and parking lot potholes to cracking across various retaining walls, an engineering firm has identified multiple infrastructure issues with Lake Anne Village Center, contributing to months without hot water for residents earlier this year.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn visited the community for a meeting on Wednesday (July 14) that drew over 40 people.

Possible solutions that he discussed included the Lake Anne Reston Condominium Association (LARCA) giving up an asset, such as a parking lot, or development rights to Fairfax County in exchange for financial assistance from the county.

“This is the cultural heart of Reston,” Alcorn said of Lake Anne, noting that the village center is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The private community was created by Reston founder Robert Simon, with construction starting in 1963. But issues with the aging infrastructure have left residents looking to the county for help.

LARCA President Jason Romano told Reston Now that residents have had hot water after crews troubleshooted areas and the condo association used some $300,000 in its reserves to replace its system.

“This is not a quick fix,” Romano said after the meeting. “It’s not like your hot water at home breaks. You go call a plumber; you might be out of water for a day or two.”

The consulting firm Samaha Associates shared its findings after a pair of engineers reviewed the village center’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing infrastructure, spokesperson Lisa Connors said in a statement.

The firm identified one safety issue, finding that some planters on the decks of the Heron House have exposed rebar, so county staff notified the management company and communicated the issue with residents, Alcorn’s office said.

At the meeting, Michael Schaefer, whose wife is on LARCA’s board, shared concerns over management issues, pointing to the partial collapse of the 12-story Surfside high rise in Miami on June 24, killing at least 97 people with others still missing.

“We do have gallons and gallons and gallons of water flowing from the cracks that are in the pipes…here,” he said.

Romano said the newly replaced water system is using a fraction of the water that it previously utilized.

“We shouldn’t be having any more leaks,” he said.

The engineering analysis of visible infrastructure could have cost estimates by the first week of September. Further details would require proposals from contractors.

Suggesting that sensing technology might be used to detect potential problems underground, Alcorn said he’s looking to address the infrastructure issues, help revitalize Lake Anne, and improve the sustainability of LARCA, which he said needs restructuring.

He added that he’s trying to make sure fixes are made now so there isn’t another conversation like this in the near future.

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Rendering of office building proposed for Reston Gateway Block D (via Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the alteration of Boston Properties’ plans for Reston Gateway to swap previously designated retail and parking space for offices after holding a public hearing on Tuesday (July 13).

The decision came two months after the county planning commission approved the proposal to amend the mixed-use development’s site plans and proffer conditions in May.

Mary Ann Tsai with the county’s department of planning and development noted on Tuesday that “no change is proposed to the approved overall gross floor area, or FAR, of the development.”

Submitted to the county in October, the application suggests replacing retail space and garage parking with offices and a screened level of above-grade parking. It will transfer up to 78,000 square feet of office space to Block D from parcels earmarked for Fannie Mae and and Volkswagen’s North American headquarters.

“The big move with this application is to take four stories of above grade structured parking and essentially turn them into office space,” Cooley partner Mark Looney, a legal representative for Boston Properties, told the board.

The Reston Gateway development design blocks (via Fairfax County)

“That office space is coming from other blocks within the existing development where there was office space allocated to them, but they were being developed with less than what the maximum potential was,” Looney said.

Boston Properties, the developer of the multi-phase development, also proposed providing additional design elements on the street level as a part of this application. These elements could include façade articulation, decorative materials, and additional lighting.

Looney added that, while the developer thinks it has made “great strides,” further discussion and work will still need to be had to address these potential changes with Public Art Reston, Town Center Design Review Board, and Fairfax County planners.

Looney said this application is designed to shift square footage “into what used to be an above-grade structured parking facility to improve to overall design of the building itself.”

Located adjacent to the impending Reston Town Center Metro Station, Reston Gateway will expand the town center by 4.4 million square feet of development when finished, adding 2.2 million square feet of offices, 93,000 square feet of retail, 2,010 residential units, and a 570-room hotel.

The first phase, which encompasses the Fannie Mae and Volkswagen buildings, is currently under construction and expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2021.

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Fairfax County is looking at imposing a tax on single-use plastic bags (via Daniel Romero/Unsplash)

Fairfax County took a first step yesterday toward potentially taxing plastic bags used by grocery stores and other retailers.

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 yesterday (Tuesday) to direct county staff to draft an plastic bag tax ordinance, but even supporters of the measure allowed that there remains some uncertainty around how exactly the tax would be implemented if approved.

“Let’s definitely try this, but we may end up back in the General Assembly in the foreseeable future to try to get clarification,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said, noting that the county is subject to the Dillon rule. “…This is probably a prime example of when we probably need a little more flexibility, but I’m all for it.”

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation during its 2020 session giving localities the authority to impose a five-cent tax on disposable plastic bags, starting on Jan. 1, 2021.

Roanoke became the first jurisdiction to take advantage of the new law when it adopted an ordinance in May that’s set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

Under House Bill 534, which was identical to Senate Bill 11, cities and counties can tax each disposable plastic bag provided to customers by grocery stores, convenience stores, and drugstores. The tax would not apply to plastic bags designed to be reused, garbage bags, bags used to hold or package food to avoid damage or contamination, and ones used to carry prescription drugs or dry cleaning.

The legislation allows retailers to retain two cents from the imposed tax on each bag until Jan. 1, 2023, when the amount that goes to retailers drops to one cent.

That “dealer discount” provision is intended to help offset additional expenses retailers might incur from adjusting their operations, but it also puts added pressure on localities to adopt an ordinance as soon as possible, according to Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

“We want to start the process of the ordinance review, looking at the language, the public input, because the clock literally is ticking,” McKay said.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Virginia Department of Taxation has not yet released guidelines clarifying what a plastic bag tax ordinance should look like, leaving questions around the definition of a grocery or convenience store, how the tax will be enforced, and other issues, County Executive Bryan Hill told the board in a Nov. 30 memorandum.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who introduced the board matter on Tuesday, said the draft guidance that county staff has seen and provided input on through the Northern Virginia Regional Commission will clear up many of those questions.

He hopes the guidelines will be finalized soon so county staff can incorporate them into the ordinance that they have now been directed to draft and present to the board in September.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, the lone Republican on the board, opposed the board matter, taking issue with the timing of the proposal. Read More

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Map of Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway running through Fairfax County (Photo via Fairfax County)

(Updated at 9:20 a.m. on 7/15/2021) Fairfax County is convening a “Confederate Names Task Force” specifically charged with making a recommendation about renaming the county’s portions of Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway.

The Board of Supervisors approved the appointment of the 30-member task force on Tuesday (July 13).

The task force’s mission is to review the names of Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (Route 50) to determine if the roads should be renamed and, if so, what the names should be. A county-appointed facilitator will also work with the task force.

The roadways currently bear the monikers of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

This is a direct result of the work done by the county’s history commission to identify and inventory every place in the county named after a Confederate. The 539-page report noted that there were about 157 streets, parks, monuments, subdivisions, and public places in the county bearing names with ties to the Confederacy.

The most prominent were Lee Highway, about 14 miles of which runs through the county around Merrifield, Fairfax, and Centreville, and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway. About 8.5 miles of that roadway runs through the county, including Chantilly and near Fair Oaks Mall.

“In Fairfax County, our diversity is our greatest strength and it’s important that we honor and celebrate that diversity,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in the press release. “We cannot ignore what the Lee and Lee Jackson Memorial Highway names represent in our community and especially to our African American neighbors. The Confederate Names Task Force, which includes a diverse group, will examine and make recommendations on how both roadways can better reflect our values as we chart a positive path together for the future.”

The task force will meet monthly, starting later this month or early August, according to the agenda for the board meeting. The meetings will be open to the public, and the task force will seek input from the public prior to making a decision.

The group is expected to provide a recommendation to the county board by “the end of calendar year 2021.”

The task force is chaired by Sully District Planning Commissioner Evelyn Spain, who will be joined by 29 other members, including historians, civic organization leaders, homeowners’ association members, residents, professors, and faith leaders.

Spain says reevaluating the use of Confederate street and place names is necessary if Fairfax County wants to be inclusive and respectful of its increasingly diverse population.

“Naming highways after Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson celebrates men who fought a war against the United States to perpetuate slavery,” Spain said in a statement. “One Fairfax requires us to look at these issues through an equity lens to understand how these names have negatively impacted our community and people of color as well as how Confederate names adversely impacts them today…I’m honored to be a part of the Confederate Names Task Force as we work toward building a more inclusive and equitable Fairfax County.”

If the task force recommends changing the names of the roads, the county will have to undergo a somewhat complicated process to actually make it happen — much like it was when Arlington renamed its portion of Route 29 and Alexandria renamed Route 1, which had been named after Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

If changes are recommended, the task force would need to provide two to five alternate names for each road. Then, the county board and task force will hold at least one public hearing to allow for comment about the potential change.

After the public hearings, the board will then vote on whether to take the task force’s recommendation. A timeline laid out back in May projected that could happen in early 2022.

If the board votes to change the highway names, it would then submit a resolution to the Commonwealth Transportation Board requesting the changes while also committing to paying for the signage.

If that’s approved by the Commonwealth, the board has to pass a budget item for the cost of the signs, and an interdepartmental working group would set up a timeline for the actual switching out of signs and, finally, officially changing the roads’ names.

The working group will also coordinate with other jurisdictions on their name changes.

via Fairfax County

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The Fairfax County seal adorned on the Fairfax County Government Center (via Machvee/Flickr)

Fairfax County will conduct a “comprehensive review” of the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At today’s (July 13) Board of Supervisors meeting, Chairman Jeff McKay proposed as a board matter to have County Executive Bryan Hill review how county agencies responded to the challenges of the pandemic, how operations were affected, and how operational changes impacted the community.

The review will take place in two parts. The board directed staff to deliver a report with conclusions, recommendations, and areas of improvement in February 2022, and a follow-up is anticipated since the pandemic is still ongoing.

The motion passed unanimously.

“We did an amazing job [dealing with the pandemic],” McKay said, but he acknowledged that a review is needed since “there’s much to be learned about the county’s response and how we can improve upon that for the future.”

McKay also noted that a review is already essentially under way, but this formalizes the process and sets a deadline on it.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn agreed with the effort and asked the county executive not to pull any punches.

“I ask the county executive not to shy away from identifying challenges…[particularly] those in the labor market that were attributed to the pandemic and what happened after,” Alcorn said.

As noted in McKay’s comments, more than 75% of Fairfax Health District residents 18 years or older have received at least one vaccine shot. That’s above both national and state averages.

However, the county continues to face some challenges in convincing those who are still hesitant to get vaccinated.

When it comes to addressing COVID-19’s economic impact, the county has provided assistance with rent, food, and other basic needs to more than 10,000 households and helped get permanent housing for 400 individuals who were experiencing homelessness when the pandemic began, according to McKay’s board matter.

The county has also distributed more than $52 million in small business relief funding through the RISE program and is offering $25 million in their PIVOT program.

While half of the RISE grants went to minority-owned businesses, those particular businesses still suffered “acutely” during the pandemic. What’s more, the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce recently called out the county for their belief that they were neglected in the development of some of the grant programs.

McKay said that getting a comprehensive report on Fairfax County’s COVID-19 response will help the county government “ensure we maintain the level of service and functionality our community expects” in any future large-scale crisis or emergency.

via Machvee/Flickr

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Morning Notes

Lake Anne Plaza with crane in background (via vantagehill/Flickr)

New Laws Take Effect in Virginia — A host of new laws passed by the General Assembly take effect today (Thursday), including the legalization of simple marijuana possession, the abolition of the death penalty, and a requirement that drivers change lanes when passing bicyclists. The fine for littering is now $500, up from $250, and it is now illegal to intentionally release a balloon outside. [Patch]

Police Community Forum Tonight — The Fairfax County Police Department’s Reston District Station will hold a virtual community information forum at 7 p.m. today that will include discussion of trends, upcoming events, and officer and case highlights from the past month. Send questions to [email protected] [RA/Twitter]

Republican Challenger to Ken Plum Will Be on BallotVeteran Matt Lang will officially appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot as the Republican candidate for the 36th House District, which includes Reston and is currently represented by Del. Ken Plum. The State Board of Elections approved his candidacy upon appeal yesterday (Wednesday) after his application was initially blocked by a late filing certification. [Virginia Public Access Project]

Changes to Permitted Agritourism Activities Approved — “Fairfax County supervisors, despite objections from some local residents and environmental groups, on June 22 approved new ‘agritourism’ rules that will allow certain by-right commercial operations in agricultural settings…Allowable activities include farm tours, harvest-your-own activities, seasonal festivals and attractions, events, hiking, horseback riding and other activities, historical and cultural endeavors.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

via vantagehill/Flickr

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