Reston, VA

The Fairfax County Board of Directors authorized the advertisement of the Zoning Ordinance Modernization (zMOD) project as recommended by the county’s staff during its meeting Tuesday.

This move will allow sufficient time to advertise the project before a planning commission public hearing on Jan. 28, 2021, and a Board of Supervisors public hearing on March 9, 2021, according to the authorized administrative request.

The zMOD project has been included on the Zoning Ordinance Amendment Work Program since 2016. The goals of the project “are to modernize the county’s zoning ordinance, to make the regulations easier for all stakeholders to understand, and to remove inconsistencies, gaps, and ambiguities” that have been incorporated into the current ordinance since its adoption in 1978, according to an executive summary of the project.

During a Hunter Mill district town hall on Monday, Department of Planning and Development planners Carmen Bishop and Casey Judge provided four reasons behind the update of the zoning ordinance:

  1. Unintuitive format and structure
  2. Outdated land uses and regulations
  3. Legal jargon and antiquated language
  4. Inconvenient on cellphones, tablets and other devices

The current zoning ordinance encompasses more than 1,200 pages. The project proposal includes streamlining the different regulations to make it user friendly, complete with hyperlinks throughout the document as well as tables and graphics that consolidate information.

The language within the current zoning ordinance may also convert to a “plain English effort,” according to Judge.

Though the board authorized the progression of the project, citizens are asking about the language and stipulations in the latest draft of the project.

On Nov. 25, a letter from Reston Association President Julie Bitzer to Hunter Mill district Supervisor Walter Alcorn listed areas of concern “that directly affect the Association and the larger Reston community.”

Among the areas of concern Bitzer listed is the timing of review and approval of the project. Bitzer raised issue with the “inadequate” amount of time to review and comment on the 741-page draft of the new ordinance before the planning commission hearings in January.

During the town hall Monday, similar concerns were heard about the speed in which the project is moving. Bishop and Judge assured the project has been discussed with people from all Fairfax County districts over the last two years.

During the town hall, which marked the 89th meeting about zMOD in the county, it was also explained that the project has been released in installments for over a year while some adjustments were made based on feedback from community engagement.

However, it was reiterated that the county is willing to continue meeting with the public to address concerns or continue to make adjustments based on feedback.

“We want the community engagement. The project has benefitted so much from the input that we have gotten, and so I don’t want to minimize the impact that citizens have already had on this project,” Bishop said.

“But we’re happy to continue the meetings and to continue to fine tune the document.”

Among the other concerns heard during the town hall and expressed in Bitzer’s letter were adjustments to accessory living units (ALU) and home based businesses.

The concerns specifically revolved around potential parking and traffic issues, and how proposed changes to ALUs and home based businesses may coexist with the rules set by homeowner’s associations (HOA) in the area.

Through the zMOD proposal, Judge assured that the project works to recognize “the residential character of these neighborhoods and making sure we don’t have people coming and going all day long.”

The proposed standards for the home based businesses include limiting each to two customers or clients at a time and six per day. The businesses will still require appointments only, each spaced 15 minutes apart. Each home based business will also be required to designate one parking space.

In Bitzer’s letter, she communicated specific concern about the option to remove the requirement that a person with a disability or a person 55 years or older live on the property to obtain a permit for an ALU. Bitzer expressed a belief that this adjustment may have “drastic unintended consequences,” including increased density and conflicts over parking and access.

During the town hall, it was clarified that dwellings with ALUs will be required to provide one additional off-street parking space for an interior unit approved with an administrative permit in addition to the off-street spaces already designated for the dwelling.

Another proposal stipulates that ALUs must meet health department approval and applicable regulations for building, safety, health and sanitation.

It was also clarified that each HOA will retain its covenants that will take precedent over the county’s regulations.

The final area Bitzer addressed in her letter was a point of support on behalf of the Reston Association for the proposed change requiring “the disclosure and showing of all easements on properties, regardless of easement width, on rezoning and entitlement plans being submitted for review.”

Image courtesy Fairfax County

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With the emergency approval of a COVID-19 vaccine expected before the end of the year, county officials are one step closer to getting ready for mass vaccination planning.

At a meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 1), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to accept a $500,000 state grant for the county’s mass vaccination program. Funds will be available through the state’s $22 million Coronavirus Relief Fund, which will be used to create a statewide program to distribute the vaccine, once it is available.

Two companies — Pfizer and Moderna — are awaiting emergency authorizations of their vaccines in the United States.  The U.S. Food and Drug and Administration expected to authorize the approvals in mid-December.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee on immunization practices voted earlier this week to make the first priority group health care workers and long-term care residents.

The county’s program also allocates roughly $14 million to help local health districts like the Fairfax Health District prepare for mass vaccination efforts. The grant must be used for facility rental costs, hiring for temporary positions, travel costs, printing, signage, and other expenses related to operating vaccination clinics.

Fairfax County Executive Brian Hill said his health department is actively working on a vaccination plan for the county “as we speak.” He noted that the county’s plan will depend heavily on the state’s strategy and other conditions, including who will receive the vaccine first.

“Once we know the particulars, we will have a plan in place per the Virginia Department of Health guidelines,” Hill said.

A county-based mass vaccination workgroup has been meeting since mid-June to discuss vaccination plans.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn urged the county to provide information on how the plan would be administered. He added that lines for the H1N1 vaccine program rivaled the lines the county recently saw for early voting.

“I just want to make sure we see what the plan is particularly as it relates to logistics,” he said.

Funds from the state grant must be spent by the end of the month, after which point unspent dollars will revert back to the state. However, county staff noted that the federal government could extend the date for the overall program. Acceptance of the grant requires no local match.

State officials are also considering other funding sources to support next year’s vaccination program. The Virginia Department of Health estimates that the program will cost $120 million.

Virginia is expected to get a little over 70,000 doses in the first shipment from Pfizer.

“When our turn comes, my family and I will have no hesitancy about getting vaccinated and I strongly encourage every Virginian to get the vaccine. That is our only path to getting back to that near normal,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a press briefing yesterday (Wednesday).

Image via Unsplash

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in its meeting Tuesday unanimously approved the construction of a new bridge on Hunter Mill Road  over Colvin Run.

Construction of the bridge is planned to begin in spring 2021, with a completion date set for the summer of 2022.

The bridge is projected to cost $5.5 million and will be primarily funded by Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) through the State of Good Repair program. The cost was initially estimated by VDOT at $3 million in February 2019, and was anticipated to cost $5.1 million in VDOT’s May 2020 update.

Fairfax County will contribute $408,000 for pedestrian improvements south of the new bridge. The county’s contributions will fund the construction of a splitter island, median refuge, and rectangular rapid flashing beacons.

The new bridge will have two 11-foot lanes and include a three-foot-wide grass median that will match the existing roadway. It is also been designed to allow a future trail crossing over Colvin Run south of the bridge and abutments for a new trail bridge over the creek.

Traffic operations will be maintained while the bridge is built. The current one-lane bridge was built in 1974 and was ruled to be deteriorating rapidly by VDOT after an inspection in February of this year. The bridge averages 8,500 vehicles crossing it daily, according to VDOT.

The bridge was repaired in 2012 and 2016 to maintain the integrity of the structure. Further improvements were made in February to temporarily strengthen it by adding wooden beams between the bridge’s I-beams.

The construction of the bridge falls in line with the Fairfax County Transportation Plan that the Board of Supervisors adopted in 2006.  Adoption of this project came after an initial public information meeting with VDOT in April 2018, virtual public involvement in May and June of this year, and finally a virtual design public hearing in September.

During the public hearing in September, VDOT received 28 combined written and oral comments: 22 in favor of the project as presented and six supporting the project with various modifications. There were no objections to the project during the public hearing.

Photo courtesy VDOT

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors praised election workers and volunteers yesterday (Tuesday) for their work on the 2020 general election, which presented local voters with new opportunities and unprecedented obstacles.

With voters turning out in record numbers, Fairfax County’s election staff had to adapt to the logistical challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic on top of implementing a slew of new state laws to improve voting accessibility, including the introduction of no-excuse absentee voting and the elimination of photo identification requirements.

“There’s no doubt we had an amazing year,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “[The election staff] came through with flying colors, and we definitely have to recognize that and appreciate that.”

While this year’s 79.4% turnout rate fell short of the 82.5% high mark set in 2016, the 605,023 ballots cast for the Nov. 3 general election were the most in Fairfax County history. There were also about 80,000 more active registered voters than in 2016 and only 25,667 inactive voters, compared to 64,041 in 2016.

Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Katherine Hanley confirmed again in a presentation to the Board of Supervisors that absentee voting drove turnout this year, with only 186,253 people voting in person on Election Day, an even lower number than election officials predicted.

By contrast, there were 414,381 absentee votes. The county received 222,003 by-mail absentee ballots, including approximately 85,000 that were returned through a drop box, and 192,398 people voted in person before Election Day at one of 15 early voting locations.

Fairfax County also had 4,389 provisional ballots.

According to Hanley, the Fairfax County Office of Elections contacted 2,113 voters about small issues with their mail ballots. 1,315 of those voters fixed their ballots, a 63% cure rate.

One thing that surprised election officials was the 17,633 ballots that were either surrendered or goldenrod, meaning that it was never received, lost, or left at home by the voter.

“That’s a much bigger number than we thought there would be,” Hanley said.

Because COVID-19 both triggered and coincided with so many changes in Virginia’s election policies, it is difficult to tell whether 2020 was an anomaly or a harbinger of long-lasting shifts in voter behavior, Hanley says.

Voters throughout the county consistently reported long lines and wait times once early voting commenced at the Fairfax County Government Center on Sept. 18, even after 14 satellite locations opened on Oct. 14.

While election officials tried to accommodate the crowds by extending voting times, they could not add more satellite locations, because Virginia law now requires localities to establish satellite voting locations by ordinance. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance establishing its locations for the Nov. 3 election on July 14.

Though the social distancing protocols necessitated by the pandemic will presumably not be a factor in future elections, Hanley says Fairfax County needs to expand early voting opportunities by adding more satellite locations and offering longer hours or more days for people to vote.

Hanley also recommended that the county review its curbside voting procedures, which caused some confusion this year, and its process for reporting preliminary election results, which took longer than usual because 6,100 ballots returned in drop boxes on Election Day had to be counted by hand after the polls closed.

“None of this will matter if the computer systems are not improved,” Hanley said, adding that the Virginia Department of Elections is in the process of upgrading or replacing the VERIS system it uses to manage voter registration and track ballots.

It will also be up to the state to make changes like the ballot drop boxes, voter notification process for curing errors, and prepaid postage for mail absentee ballots permanent. Those were temporary measures enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in response to COVID-19.

“I think ballot drop boxes are something we need to encourage the General Assembly to extend into the future, because they really did have the effect we wanted them to have,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said.

In order to support many of these proposals long-term, Fairfax County will need to devote more money and staff to its election operations, Hanley cautioned.

She says she was “pleasantly surprised” by how many people stepped up to assist with this year’s general election, but it was more challenging to recruit workers for the satellite locations than for Election Day.

The county office of elections ultimately had 3,827 Election Day officers with 140 people in reserve for possible late cancellations, 260 election pages from 30 different schools, 265 early voting officers, 160 officers and three staff members to manage the central absentee precinct, and more than 300 people to handle by-mail absentee ballots.

“We were given a pretty much unlimited budget, and we exceeded it, because we did have other funds coming in,” Hanley said. “We’re going to have to make some judgments with you all about the most efficient way to serve this need and also be responsive to the taxpayers as well.”

Photo via Fairfax County government

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Amidst national calls for transparency and accountability in policing, the Fairfax County Police Department is launching a new interactive data dashboard.

The tool, which is based on Geographic Information System mapping, houses data including arrests, citations, warnings and police department training and policies. FCPD will debut the new platform at a series of virtual town halls beginning on Nov. 18.

“We look forward to implementing this additional layer of accountability and leveraging data analytics to continue to strengthen trust and confidence in your police department,” FCPD wrote in a statement.

The department says the tool was designed based on community input.

“Our new GIS-based data dashboards were designed with input from stakeholders and we will continue to. Have healthy discussions with each of you concerning police policies and operations in all communities,” wrote FCPD Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. in a letter to the community on Oct.  16.

A renewed focus on FCPD’s operations is expected in early 2021 when a team of researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is expected to complete an academic analysis of FCPD’s data and its relationship to core operations today.

The review was initiated at the direction of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the county’s Independent Police Auditor.

Researchers at UTSA are studying the department’s culture after a study released in 2017 found that roughly 40 percent of all use-of-force incidents involve a Black individual.

Across the country, similar conversations about transparency in policing have resulted in reform and additional policy directives.

Recent arrest data released by the departments shows some evidence of disproportionate policing in the county. The data indicate that Black individuals make up roughly 39 percent of all arrests last year. Black residents account for 9.7 percent of the total population.

FCPD officers arrested 34,330 people in 2019, 57 percent of which were white. White residents make up roughly 61 percent of the total population.

In 2017, a study found that roughly 40 percent of all use-of-force incidents involve a Black individual.

Roessler Jr. says his department is grateful for “the additional layer of accountability” provided by the data sets and the ongoing academic review.

“Together, we shall continue to leverage data analytics to build trust,” he said.

FCPD plans to host virtual town halls with district station commanders to discuss training and policies related to the data sets. The complete schedule, including links to the meetings, is below:

All meetings will be recorded and released the public at a later date.

Image via FCPD, Fairfax County Government

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The installation of a “Watch for Children” sign is planned at Pinoak Lane in Reston in order to help calm residential traffic in the area.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the mitigation technique at a board meeting on Nov. 17, according to draft meeting materials.

The project is expected to cost $400 as is part of the county’s Residential Traffic Administration Program (RTAP). The program allows the county to install similar signs at the primary entrances of residential neighborhoods or in areas where there are areas where more children may congregate, including playgrounds, community centers, and daycares. 

In a memo, county staff noted that the community wants the sign to be installed. Each request is reviewed by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, which verifies that proposed signs will not conflict with any other traffic control devices.

Once the sign is approved by the board, installation is expected by the end of the year.

Image via Google Maps

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Fairfax County is considering adopting an ordinance banning the use of plastic bags for yard waste and instead encouraging residents to transition toward greener alternatives.

Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during its environmental committee meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 27), the proposed ordinance states:

Yard waste shall be set out in paper yard waste bags, reusable containers, other storage devices as approved by the Director, or bundled with string as instructed by the collection provider and shall not weigh more than fifty pounds. Yard waste shall not be placed in plastic bags.

The Board of Supervisors voted on Feb. 25 to begin phasing out the use of plastic bags by both customers of private companies contracted to collect yard waste and residents in the county’s solid waste collection areas.

County staff with the Solid Waste Management Program worked with community and private haulers to encourage customers to use compostable paper bags or reusable containers instead for this year’s yard waste season, which began in March and ends in December.

A survey of more than 5,500 homes in Fairfax County found that plastic bags were still utilized in 51% of yard waste set outs in the evaluated Census tracts. 31% of set outs were done with reusable containers, 11% with plastic bags, 6% as an uncontained yard pile, and 1% with compostable paper bags.

“It’s been a transition yard waste season, essentially, to help homeowners, and people that are generating yard waste that have properties get used to not being able to use plastic,” Fairfax County director of engineering and environmental compliance Eric Forbes said. “We didn’t have a ban. This yard waste season is really a transition year.”

Seven other jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area already discourage or prohibit the use of plastic bags for yard waste collection. Loudoun County, for example, has required paper bags or reusable containers since 2002.

Fairfax County’s current ordinance regulating yard waste collection only dictates that it be “set out in bags, reusable containers, or in piles as instructed by the company which will be collecting them.”

Fairfax County staff anticipate formally requesting a public hearing on the proposal to amend and readopt the ordinance in January 2021, with an actual hearing expected to take place in February. If everything goes according to schedule, the new ordinance will be implemented in March in time for the next yard waste season.

“In March of 2021, as long as the ordinance change is adopted, implementation of the new ordinance will begin, basically banning plastic bags from the yard waste recycling stream,” Forbes said.

Forbes says homeowners should prepare their yard waste first by grasscycling, then composting if they have enough space, and finally compiling the waste in a reusable container or paper bag for curbside collection.

“Grasscycling is actually cutting the grass back into the lawn or mulching your leaves back in the lawn,” Forbes said. “And then backyard composting would be the next best alternative for those residents that have the space.”

If neither grasscycling or composting is an option, yard waste can be placed in reusable containers or paper yard waste bags for curbside collection, which are available at the big box stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s or Walmart, he said.

Additional information on yard waste management can be found on Fairfax County’s Public Works and Environmental Services website.

Photo via Fairfax County government

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Fairfax County should attempt to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and eliminate all waste from county government and school operations by 2030, the Fairfax County Joint Environmental Task Force (JET) recommends in a new report.

Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 20 and the Fairfax County School Board on Oct. 22, the report urges both boards, along with the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Regional Housing Authority, to commit to producing net-zero carbon emissions from their energy usage by 2040.

To achieve this goal, the task force suggests that Fairfax County aim to cut its carbon emissions in half from 2019 levels by 2030, while transitioning to renewable sources to generate 25% of its energy by 2030 and 50% by 2040.

The task force also recommends reducing the total amount of energy used by all county facilities by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2040, and requiring all new county buildings and major renovation projects meet net-zero energy standards starting in 2021.

Other recommendations proposed by the JET include:

  • Fairfax government and schools should aim to produce zero solid waste by 2030
  • The Fairfax Connector bus fleet should transition to electricity or other non-carbon-emitting fuel sources by 2030, with the Fairfax County Public Schools fleet and non-bus vehicles following suit by 2035
  • The county government and schools should develop resources to educate students and adults about job options in “green” industries, including renewable energy, green building, resource and wildlife management, and stormwater management

“The JET’s ambitious goals and recommendations send a powerful message that our county and school system are committed to doing what it takes to protect our environment and address the threat of climate change,” Providence District School Board member Karl Frisch said.

Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions executive director Meg Mall, one of nine community members on the JET, says her environmental advocacy group is “pleased that strong goals have been incorporated” into the task force’s report and hopes to see continued collaboration not just between different county agencies, but also between Fairfax County and the general public.

“FACS has been a strong advocate for the adoption of aggressive goals in the county’s climate mitigation and adaptation work,” Mall said. “…The county must lead by example within its own operations while concurrently working toward community-wide goals.”

The Board of Supervisors and school board formed the JET in April 2019 to coordinate county government and schools efforts to address climate change, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability issues.

While the threat of climate change has loomed for decades, its urgency became newly apparent when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in 2018 that found the world must achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and potentially avoid the most drastic impacts of climate change.

In addition to creating the JET, Fairfax County signaled that it intends to prioritize climate issues by establishing the new Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination in July 2019 and awarding contracts to solar providers in December to install solar panels at more than 100 publicly owned facilities.

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the JET recommendations and get updates on the solar power purchase agreement initiative, the development of a Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), and the county’s yard waste collection bag policy during its environmental committee meeting today at 11 a.m.

Staff photo by Catherine Douglas Moran

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This week, Fairfax County businesses received clearance to continue to outdoor dining, fitness, and exercise activities under social distancing rules with heated, enclosed tents this winter.

“Businesses have been able to install open-sided tents outside their storefronts since May, which allowed them to operate while maintaining proper social distancing and thus reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Fairfax County said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Oct. 20 to approve an ordinance amendment that will allow this trend to continue this winter with tents that have sides and heaters both inside and outside of the tents.

Previous permit requirements for heaters from fire officials have been relaxed to make the process much easier.

Under Fairfax County’s ongoing emergency ordinance, permits are not required for tents unless they are 900 square feet or larger in size.

“If an individual tent or a collection of tents is more than 900 square-feet, it needs to go to the fire marshal for a permit,” Fairfax County director of planning and development Barbra Byron said. “There is no fee for that permit.”

Tents must be fire-resistant, and heaters need to be rated, but there are otherwise no requirements, Byron told the county board.

Fairfax County says it made the decision to relax the permitting process “to reduce the stress on businesses working to revitalize the county’s economy while allowing county staff to devote their limited resources to maintaining continuity in government instead of processing an excessive number of applications.”

According to the county, this ordinance will last up to six months after the Board terminates the local declaration of emergency, which was issued on Mar. 17 by the Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County director of emergency management.

The county board adopted an emergency ordinance on May 28 that temporarily allows businesses to conduct outdoor dining and outdoor fitness or exercise activities without having to go through the lengthy application process that is normally required.

The original ordinance only permitted tents with all sides open. It was extended on July 14.

 

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Three incumbents have been reelected to Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors

The three board members — William Keefe, William Penniman, and Vicky Wingert — were selected based on the 2020 RCC Preference Poll. The appointments are then made by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at the request of the Hunter Mill District Supervisor.

Wingert had the most votes (1,623) of the five candidates seeking the position. Keefe received 1,536 votes while Penniman secured 1,190 votes. Lorri Zell trailed behind Penniman with 1,092 votes while Neils Pemberton secured only 376 votes.

Here’s more from RCC on the newly elected board members:

William Keefe, an RCC Board member from 2007-10 and again since 2014, has been active in the community as a member of Reston Association’s Board of Directors, the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee, Reston Youth Baseball and Reston Youth Basketball. He was named a Best of Reston awardee in 2017. 

William Penniman has served on the RCC Board since 2006. He previously served as the Board’s secretary and treasurer and is active in the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee, Reston Comprehensive Plan Task Force, former Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force and the Sierra Club. 

Vicky Wingert has been a resident of Reston since 1973 and has served on RCC’s Board since 2011. She has served as president of the Reston Historic Trust, founder of Friends of Reston and on the Reston Association Board of Directors. She was named a Best of Reston awardee in 2000 and a Simon Fellow in 2017.

Photo via Charlotte Geary

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Fairfax County inched closer to transitioning to renewable energy yesterday (Tuesday) when the Board of Supervisors authorized county staff to lease Reston Community Center and seven other county government-owned facilities so they can be outfitted with solar panels.

Providence Community Center will have rooftop solar photovoltaic panels installed on its main building at 3001 Vaden Drive, which operates as a government center for Providence District as well as a community meeting facility.

The other facilities that the county board approved to be leased to Sigora Solar following a brief public hearing are:

  • The Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The Pennino Building (12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The North County Government Center (1801 Cameron Glen Dr., Reston)
  • Springfield Warehouse (6800 Industrial Road, Springfield)
  • Noman M. Cole Pollution Control Plant lab building (9399 Richmond Highway, Lorton)
  • I-66 Transfer Station, workers’ facility building, and truck wash building (4500 West Ox Road, Fairfax)

The eight facilities are among the first locations approved for solar photovoltaic panels as part of Fairfax County’s extensive contract with Sigora Solar, which was announced on Dec. 10 as the largest solar power purchase agreement initiative by a Virginia municipality at that point.

As the PPA service provider, Sigora Solar is responsible for designing, permitting, installing, and operating rooftop solar panels at all facilities participating in the program, which also includes facilities owned by Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County Park Authority, and Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Under the PPA, Fairfax County will not bear any costs for the design, permitting, or construction of the solar panels, Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination director Kambiz Agazi says.

Instead, the county will purchase on-site electricity from Sigora.

The solar PPA is expected to help Fairfax County reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and its electricity costs, though county staff could not yet provide specific numbers for how much the installation of solar will reduce emissions or how much money the county is expected to save.

“We will have an approximation as soon as we have a permitted design,” Agazi said. “We hope to have that in the next three to four months.”

The eight facilities that were the subject of yesterday’s public hearing are among 113 possible projects in the first phase of Fairfax County’s PPA with Sigora, which could ultimately include a total of 247 facilities based on a request for proposals that the county issued in 2019.

County staff say they will return to the Board of Supervisors in the future to get approval to lease the 18 other county government-owned facilities included in the first phase of the PPA.

Image via Flickr/Minoru Karamatsu

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As winter approaches, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has taken steps to provide safe temporary hypothermia prevention shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness.

The Board approved an emergency ordinance on Tuesday, Oct. 6, authorizing the establishment of several county-operated temporary shelters between December 2020 and March 2021.

“It cannot be understated how critical this program is, and has been over the years, for thousands in our community who otherwise would have had no defense against the icy grip of winter,” Fairfax County Chairman Jeffrey McKay said in a press release.

“COVID-19 has dealt us all a challenging hand, and this measure is just another example of how we are continuing to use outside-of-the-box thinking and planning to ensure that we can still come through on behalf of those who need our help the most in our community.”

Fairfax County has partnered with houses of worship and nonprofits in years past to provide shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness. Those efforts have allowed people who enter the shelters to receive meals and other assistance.

Due to COVID-19 and protocols advised by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many houses of worship are closed or functioning in a limited capacity that will not allow for the same shelter options as previous years.

As a result of the protocols now in place, the board has identified seven county-owned sites that can be utilized for the Hypothermia Prevention Program and offer shelter. These include:

  • Lincolnia Senior Center (4710 North Chambliss Street, Alexandria)
  • Braddock Glen Wellness Center (12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • Gerry Hyland Government Center (8350 Richmond Highway, Alexandria)
  • North County Human Services Building (1850 Cameron Glen Dr., Reston)
  • Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Pkwy, Fairfax)
  • Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • Pennino Building (12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)

“The County’s Hypothermia Prevention Program provides a critical, life-saving service for our county’s most vulnerable residents,” Tom Barnett, Deputy Director for the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, said in a press release.

“Last year, through an outstanding community partnership effort, we were able to provide 49 sites to serve an average of 215 guests each night who had no place else to go. Through this action, we can begin planning contingencies to ensure that everyone who needs a warm place to stay and access to supportive services can find it.”

The North County Human Services Building – which is serviced by Cornerstones – is the lone site of the seven that was used in this capacity last year. However, services will be altered at the site as two rooms will be utilized instead of one to allow for 100 square feet per person, according to Maura Williams, Cornerstones’ Division Director for Housing and Community Services.

“This additional space means we need to hire twice as many staff as normal to manage two rooms,” Williams said. “There has been some discussion about providing 24-hour services for the hypothermia program this year, but no firm decision. It really depends on our staffing capabilities.”

Williams also said Cornerstones’ staff will continue to implement the new COVID-19 procedures it has utilized at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. Those procedures include temperature checks, health screenings, hand sanitizer, gloves, face masks, face shields, sneeze guards and social distancing.

A press release from the county says many of the chosen locations are currently closed to the public or operating at a reduced occupancy that will allow for “a safe, warm location where individuals who are homeless can stay overnight.”

A public hearing is planned for November for the Board to receive public comment on this ordinance. Additional information about the hearing will be posted online as further details are finalized.

For more information about the hearings and how to contribute comments, visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is seeking to extend the timeline to rebuild Reston Regional Library as part of a longstanding redevelopment project.

The board authorized a request to the Circuit Court to extend by two years the authority to issue the library bonds for replacement of the Reston Regional Library. The request extends the bond from eight years to 10.

The Board moved forward with the request “due to a combination of Reston Association and Fairfax County development requirements” that has caused delays in the library replacement and larger Reston Town Center North redevelopment project, according to Hunter Mil District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

The request was endorsed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors during its Sept. 29 meeting.

The board envisions redeveloping the property from a hodgepodge of parcels into a vibrant and urban a mixed-use project that helps transition Reston Town Center to the existing development. Planning is underway but no firm plans have yet been determined.

County voters originally approved the issuance of bonds in 2012 for a total of $25 million for Public Library Facilities. The bonds included renovations at Pohick Regional ($5 million), John Marshall Community ($5 million), Tysons Pimmit Regional ($5 million) and Reston Regional ($10 million) libraries.

According to the board’s agenda on Sept. 29, “all work has been completed and bond funds expended” for each library, except the Reston Regional Library.

The board’s approved proposal includes using the $10 million bond funds in conjunction with the larger redevelopment plan for Reston Town Center North, where the Reston Regional Library is located.

In addition to the library, the proposal calls for the replacement of the Embry Rucker Shelter, North County Human Services Center, and the creation of community and open space, as well as common infrastructure.

Alcorn said other factors might cause the overall project to be delayed, but that he doesn’t think the bond extension will.

“While there are any number of other issues that could affect the completion timeline, the $10 million of general obligation bond financing for the library is not one of them,” Alcorn wrote in a statement.

Fatimah Waseem contributed reporting to this story.

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Solar panels could be coming soon to the rooftop of Reston Community Center.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will host a public hearing to discuss the issue on Oct. 20 at 3:30 p.m.

Sigora Solar hopes to install solar panels to generate on-site electricity on several county sites, including RCC’s Hunters Woods location (2310 Colts Neck Road).

If approved by the board, Sigora Solar would sign a solar power purchase agreement with county entities. The company would design, install, permit and operate the rooftop solar panels and sell the generated electricity to facilities like RCC at a fixed rate.

In meeting materials, county staff indicated that the agreement would allow the county to purchase on-site renewable energy “with little or no upfront or operational costs.”

“As the average cost of utility-delivered electric power is expected to increase over time, the savings are expected to increase, as well.”

Sigora Solar has locations in Virginia and North Carolina.

Photo via Unsplash

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At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting today (Tuesday), the board will consider an ordinance to approve shelters. The move would also authorize a streamlined process to approve temporary changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, the county has identified four hypothermia shelters, including the North County Human Service building (1850 Cameron Glen Drive). Three other backup locations have been identified in Fairfax.

If approved, the county would be able to set up facilities as a place for transient overnight housing.

The county’s Housing Crisis Response System serves more than 1,000 people who seek shelter from cold every winter. The program operates from November through March.

In previous years, the county has taken support from faith communities.  But due to the pandemic, many faith organizations are either unable to take part in the program or can participate with significantly reduced capacity.

The county is anticipating more demand due to the pandemic. The ordinance would also streamline the approval process, which would otherwise be time-consuming and highly individualized.

The Board of Supervisors has expressed its desire to remove unnecessary obstacles to businesses that seek to stay in business while following state and other governmental COVID-related requirements,” according to meeting materials.

The meeting is set to begin at 2 p.m. today.

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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