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After 15 years of treading water, the mixed-use development promised to residents of the MetroWest community south of the Vienna Metro station is finally inching closer to becoming a reality.

When it meets on Dec. 8, the Fairfax County Planning Commission is poised to approve revised plans that will enable developer Pulte Homes to construct 480 residential units across five buildings with a resident-only swimming pool, a public courtyard, and 35,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial uses, including retail and a daycare center.

“The overwhelming comment that I’ve heard in a lot of deliberations with the community is, ‘When are you going to be done?'” DLA Piper partner Antonio Calabrese, who represents Pulte, said at a public hearing on Nov. 3. “…We want to see the retail, we want to see the restaurants, we want to see the daycare, swimming pool, the amenities, the courtyard, and other things. So, we’re trying to achieve that objective.”

A rendering of the pool and courtyard that developer Pulte Homes has proposed for MetroWest (via Pulte Homes/Fairfax County)

The planned development will expand on the 500 townhouses and condominiums that Pulte has already built at MetroWest, which occupies 56 acres bounded by Saintsbury and Vaden drives to the north and west and Route 29 to the south.

Pulte has also built 206 units for residents 55 and older in The Atrium at MetroWest, and the developer Silverstone Senior Living added another 154 units with the opening of The Providence, an assisted living facility, in March.

Approved by Fairfax County back in 2006, the existing plans for MetroWest call for 2,248 attached residential units, 300,000 square feet of office, and 190,000 square feet of non-office commercial space.

However, the office buildings and 135,000 square feet of commercial space have yet to materialize, stalled by economic uncertainties and disputes between Pulte and fellow developer CRC Companies, which will construct the four buildings on the site closest to the Vienna Metro station.

As a result, the only dining option currently available to residents within walking distance is a takeout food service that The Providence opened to the public in October.

Though he didn’t elaborate on the conflict, Calabrese said last month that the developers were having “productive discussions” to resolve their issues before the planning commission votes on Pulte’s proffer amendments, which he argued will help advance both Pulte and CRC’s parts of the project.

“To be frank, there are a lot of factors that have held these properties hostage,” Calabrese said, citing the challenges facing the office market as one issue. “I think we now have before us a solution.” Read More

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Fairfax County housing officials want to assist religious congregations interested in using their existing buildings or land to help create affordable housing.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors talked about the idea at its housing committee meeting last Tuesday (Nov. 23). While in the preliminary stages of discussion, the proposed collaboration could help religious groups that need to sell vacant property to address struggling finances, officials suggested.

“A lot of these congregations are, especially the older ones, are facing economic and financial pressures, and they’re looking for a lifeline out of that,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said. “We’re in a little bit of a race against time here.”

He shared that developers are asking to buy excess land from religious groups and build million-dollar-plus homes on those parcels, thereby giving faith organizations revenue that would help them continue providing services to their congregations.

Senior Facility Could Serve as Model

Faith organizations have a model for one way to approach redeveloping their land through Chesterbrook Residences, an assisted living facility with a capacity for 109 residents that opened at 2030 Westmoreland St. in McLean in 2007.

The project used land donated by the Chesterbrook Presbyterian Church, which sought to create an assisted living facility for low-income seniors when it dissolved in 2000, according to a history provided by Chesterbrook Residences.

The $13.5 million project also involved a partnership with the Lewinsville and Immanuel Presbyterian churches and Temple Rodef Shalom. Local and federal grants provided $12 million, and the religious groups raised the remainder, Rabbi Amy Schwartzman said in a blog post.

“The National Capital Presbytery donated the land for this project. Without this gift, the cost would likely have been too burdensome,” Schwartzman wrote.

Other Options for Religious Groups

Places of worship could also pursue other strategies, such as retrofitting part of a building, while still maintaining a worship space.

They could demolish an existing structure to build a new one with both housing and worship space, according to Judith Cabelli, director of the county’s Affordable Housing Development Division.

“There might be a…parking lot on site that is much larger than the house of worship needs, and a multifamily building could be built on that parking lot, and then parking could be reconfigured,” she said.

But the complex and sometimes lengthy permitting approval process can create barriers.

Chairman Jeff McKay noted that congregations could also face development challenges, from stormwater management to zoning. Their buildings may be located in environmentally sensitive areas that limit development.

To address those concerns, county leaders are looking for ways to streamline the approval process, possibly working with an initial batch of congregations to help their projects succeed. If that route is pursued, the initial group could later be expanded to more congregations, McKay suggested.

Next Steps

County staff proposed providing a handout, a video, or another resource to help religious groups. Cabelli said the county envisions having community educational meetings and adding a “Faith in Housing” section to the Department of Housing and Community Development’s website.

An informational video could be launched in early 2022 with meetings to follow throughout the year.

Housing and Community Development Director Tom Fleetwood said he plans to continue examining possible approaches to bring back to the housing committee.

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Curiosity Doughnuts has left Whole Foods at The Boro (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Curiosity Doughnuts has closed its store located inside Whole Foods Market at The Boro.

The location closed last week due to “unforeseen circumstances” after operating there for years, serving ingredient-conscientious goods with colorful toppings and unique names.

“It’s been a great couple of years at this location and we appreciate all of our staff and customers immensely,” the owners said in a post on Facebook, noting that its locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are still in operation.

The store’s last day was Wednesday (Nov. 24), the day before Thanksgiving.

The company didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking to clarify what happened.

Curiosity Doughnuts also said it would close corresponding popups for its Tysons location but didn’t provide further details. It operated popups in a Whole Foods Market in Alexandria on the weekends.

The Boro — the mixed-use development emerging near the Greensboro Metro station — recently added coffee shop Bluestone Lane as its newest tenant. The restaurants Circa Bistro, El Bebe, and Caliburger are expected to open next year.

Meanwhile, an expansion that will extend The Boro to the north side of Westpark Drive is slated to add hundreds of residential units, a senior living facility, public parks, and more.

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Morning Notes

Warmer Winter Expected — “According to the National Weather Service (NWS), we will see above normal temps this winter w/ an equal chance of above, near, or below normal precipitation. We urge you to be prepared for #WinterWeater to keep you and your family safe!” [Ready Fairfax/Twitter]

Pandemic Prompts Change at Fairfax County Meals on Wheels — “Roycraft said that he, along with about 480 volunteers, used to deliver meals to elderly people in Fairfax County about three times a week. When the pandemic struck, this changed…But then, even as pandemic restrictions eased up, the county decided not to return to a volunteer-based delivery system.” [Fairfax Times]

McLean Student Bakes Way onto Food Network — “What started as a pandemic hobby has evolved into a small business for Finley, who estimates she has completed 20 orders to date, including cakes, cupcakes and cookies. Her skill caught the attention of the Food Network, which offered her the chance to compete in its Kids Baking Championship, premiering Dec. 27.” [WTOP]

Why Johnny Depp Sued Amber Heard in Fairfax County — “Despite the subtle language, the tenuous connection to Virginia, and the previous loss in court on a stronger claim, Depp sued Heard in Fairfax County — and has won four motions to dismiss in three years. On October 13, 2021, a Fairfax County judge ruled that because the processors and ink cartridges that delivered the words to the public were located in Virginia, Depp could sue Heard for libel in the state.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Local Church Collects Food Donations With Drive-Thru Nativity — For a second year in a row, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in McLean will hold a drive-thru Nativity event next week that will double as a food drive to support the nonprofit SHARE of McLean. Last year’s event drew over 1,000 cars and brought in enough donations to last the food bank two months. [Patch]

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After more than a decade on Church Street, Caffè Amouri has some competition in the Town of Vienna’s independent coffeehouse scene.

As shared by Vienna Business Association Executive Director Peggy James on the Vienna VA Foodies Facebook page, newcomer 29th Parallel Coffee opened its doors just down the road in Windover Square (106 Lawyers Road), the shopping center occupied by Plaka Grill and Papa John’s Pizza, on Nov. 21.

While they share a similar neighborhood-centered mindset, 29th Parallel differs in focusing on pour-over or hand-drip coffee and bringing in a variety of roasters, while Caffè Amouri roasts its own beans.

Co-owner Amir Khalil describes the shop as “counterculture” to chains like Starbucks, catering more to coffee connoisseurs who might prize craft over convenience.

“Everything is to-go, very fast. We take our time [with an] artisan kind of coffee,” Khalil told Tysons Reporter last week. “You come in, you order, and it takes a couple of minutes, but if you don’t have that [time], we have a different way to please that client.”

29th Parallel also has a coffee shop in Fairfax Station Square on Ox Road that opened in 2017.

The name comes from the 29th parallel south circle of latitude, which passes through countries like Brazil, Australia, and South Africa with strong coffee cultures. It also coincidentally nods to the business’ original Fairfax location on Route 29, according to Northern Virginia Magazine.

Like the rest of the food service industry, 29th Parallel has grappled with its fair share of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, surviving by pivoting to online ordering and reducing its operating hours to manage labor costs.

However, the team also saw an opportunity to expand. Drawn to Vienna’s small-town atmosphere, they landed a space previously filled by Oreck Vacuum.

“I think this is a great fit for the community here,” Khalil said.

Like its Fairfax Station counterpart, the Vienna 29th Parallel gets beans from a couple of primary roasters — in this case, Delaware-based Brandywine Coffee Roasters and Black & White Coffee Roasters from North Carolina, with Annapolis-based Ceremony Coffee Roasters as another mainstay.

Starting next year, the shop will also rotate through different guest roasters, including Corvus Coffee Roasters and, potentially, Norway’s Tim Wendelboe, who Khalil describes as “a rock star of coffee.”

In choosing its distributors and vendors, 29th Parallel emphasizes community-based, independent businesses as much as possible, even bringing in milk from Amish farmers in Pennsylvania.

“It’s just how the economy and money stays within the community,” Khalil said. “…Locals coming to support local coffee shops, and we support local distributors and all those things. It’s all connected.”

Currently in soft-opening mode, 29th Parallel operates from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Khalil expects to have a grand opening sometime around Christmas or New Year’s Day, after which the shop will expand to regular 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. hours and offer a full menu of beverages and food, including sandwiches and pastries.

The gradual rollout stems in part from the global supply chain issues that have disrupted industries from grocery stores to automobile manufacturers. For 29th Parallel, those issues have affected product deliveries as well as the construction process. Replacing the building’s HVAC system, for instance, took two months, according to Khalil.

In the meantime, Khalil hopes community members in Vienna and the surrounding area will stop by to see what makes 29th Parallel different.

“People really loved it over there [in Fairfax], and I’m hoping that is the case here,” he said.

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An illustration of a coronavirus (via CDC/Unsplash)

In many ways, this past Thanksgiving weekend looked much more normal than last year’s isolated celebrations.

COVID-19 vaccines enabled many people to gather again with family and friends. Black Friday shoppers returned in droves to local malls, and air travel reached a pandemic high of 2.3 million air travelers the day before Thanksgiving (Nov. 24) — only for that to be topped by 2.4 million travelers yesterday (Sunday), according to the Transportation Security Administration.

However, like a crotchety relative who overstays their welcome, the coronavirus still proved difficult to ignore, as reports emerged of a new variant of concern dubbed Omicron that was first identified in South Africa last week but has since been detected in at least a dozen countries, including Canada.

While no cases have been reported in the U.S. yet, and it’s unclear exactly what kind of threat Omicron poses, news of a new, potentially more transmissible variant comes as Fairfax County grapples with already climbing infection rates.

The county’s seven-day average hit a high for November on last Thursday (Nov. 25) with 141.6 cases — the highest weekly average since there were 143.4 new cases per day on Oct. 23, just before the late-summer Delta variant surge waned.

After a slight dip over the weekend, the addition of 149 cases today (Monday) has the weekly average sitting at 119.6 cases.

The Fairfax Health District, including the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has recorded a total of 96,651 COVID-19 cases during the pandemic. 4,189 residents have been hospitalized, and 1,226 residents have died, with one death reported in the past week.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Nov. 29, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of Nov. 29, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Citing an increased demand for testing amid the recent COVID-19 surge, the Fairfax County Health Department announced this morning that the county’s public library branches will soon serve as distribution sites for at-home test kits as part of a state-led pilot program.

Quantities are expected to be limited, but the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Card Home Test kits will be available for free at all 13 of Fairfax County Public Library’s community branches and its eight regional branches starting on Friday (Dec. 3).

The tests are conducted online through eMed. The results are reported within 15 minutes and automatically shared with the Virginia Department of Health.

“Libraries are trusted community hubs, and we are pleased to support public health initiatives like this partnership with the Virginia Department of Health,” FCPL Director Jessica Hudson said in a statement.

The Fairfax Health District averaged 3,861 testing encounters a day for the past week as of Nov. 25. The current seven-day positivity rate for all tests, including rapid antigen tests, is 4.2%.

“For people who have a hard time finding a test kit at a pharmacy or who can’t afford a kit, the new library program provides another opportunity to receive a test kit,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said.

COVID-19 testing is also still available from health care providers and clinics, and those who are exhibiting symptoms or have had contact with someone who tested positive can visit FCHD sites.

At the same time, vaccination rates continue to increase, with 883,825 district residents — 74.7% of the total population — having now received at least one dose. That includes 85.1% of people aged 18 and older and nearly 30% of children aged 5-11, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.

775,361 residents — 77.5% of adults and 65.5% of the population overall — are fully vaccinated.

65-74 year olds and 75-84 year olds lead the way in terms of vaccinations, with over 99% of both those age groups getting at least one vaccine dose. 51.3% of 75-84 year olds have gotten a booster shot, the highest rate of any age group, though more doses have been administered to younger residents.

Photo via CDC/Unsplash

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Laura Schwartz is a licensed Realtor in VA, D.C. and MD with McEnearney Associates in Vienna. You can follow Laura on Instagram at @LauraSchwartzRealtor or her Facebook page. Laura can be reached at 703-283-6120 or [email protected].

Okay, okay… I know you’re not at all thinking about your home right now as we enter the thick of the holiday season, but I’m here to remind you that your home needs love too!

There are so many lists out there of things to do to keep your home in tip top shape, but I’m going to give you the top 5 you really should do right now.

  1. Schedule your gutter cleaning (try Maple Leaf Gutter Cleaning or Gutterman Services)
  2. Clear leaves and debris from any drains around your house (think basement stairs)
  3. You were supposed to change your smoke detector batteries when we did the time change, if you forgot, check them! And also make sure you have a fire extinguisher in the house.
  4. Get your HVAC serviced (I use Mannix HVAC) and change your filters
  5. Winterize your hose bibs

Quick and easy little things really help keep your house running!

If you’re going to the Church Street Stroll tonight, have a great time!

Photo via Callum Hill/Unsplash
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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday, Nov. 29

  • Church Street Holiday Stroll — 6-8:30 p.m. at Historic Church Street in Vienna — Check out local businesses in this annual event, which will feature live music and a tree lighting led by Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert.
  • Celebrate the Lighting of the Trees — 6-7 p.m. at Mr. Brown’s Park (100 block of West Broad Street) in Falls Church — The City of Falls Church kicks off the holiday season with this annual tradition.

Tuesday, Nov. 30

  • Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights — 5:30-10 p.m. at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens (9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court) in Wolf Trap — Enjoy lights and holiday scenes in this annual transformation, which will stick around through Jan. 2. For those ages 2 and over, cost starts at $16.

Wednesday, Dec. 1

  • “Joy to the World: A Christmas Musical Journey” — 7 p.m. at The Alden at the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Ave.) — Enjoy twists on Christmas favorites with composer Damien Sneed, who has worked with late Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder, and more. Tickets are $30 and discounted to $20 for MCC district residents.

Thursday, Dec. 2

  • An Acoustic Christmas with Over the Rhine — 8 p.m. at The Barns (1635 Trap Road) at Wolf Trap — Married duo Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist come together for Americana and holiday tunes. Tickets start at $27, and availability is expected to be limited. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 3

  • McLean Holiday Art & Crafts Festival — 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday at the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Ave.) — Dozens of artisans participate in this juried show with items ranging from pottery to artisanal foods and more. Cost is $5 for the the entire three-day event.
  • “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” — 7-8:30 p.m. at the Vienna Community Center (120 Cherry St. Southeast) with performances throughout December — Based on the story by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, this musical from the Vienna Theatre Company will prepare you for the holiday season. Cost is $15, but shortened, kids-friendly matinees on Saturdays and Sundays are $10.

Saturday, Dec. 4

  • Holiday Gift and Craft Show — 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday at the Falls Church Community Center (223 Little Falls St.) — Over 50 crafters and merchants will sell baked goods, handmade items, and more. Entertainment and raffles will occur on both days, with a Children’s Holiday Shoppe on Saturday. Admission is $1, covering both days.
  • Holiday Gifting Event — 1-4 p.m. at Neiman Marcus in Tysons Galleria (2255 International Dr.) — The clothing department store kicks off its in-store holiday gifting season with a live DJ, a hot chocolate bar, an ornament and gift painter, and “passed bites” from its Epicure holiday sections.

Sunday, Dec. 5

  • Journey from Afghanistan — 4-5:30 p.m. on Zoom — Tysons Interfaith continues its “Oneness” series with three Afghani women who advocate for peace, development, and women’s rights. They will discuss their journey to the U.S. and their work. Free.
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Fairfax County housing officials are looking at ways to make affordable homes more of a reality for residents, as the value of land continues to jump.

The Board of Supervisors discussed last Tuesday (Nov. 23) how local government could help with not just affordability, but also wealth-building through homeownership, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said at the housing committee meeting.

“We’re seeing this imbalance of more expensive properties and more need in the community,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said.

Exacerbating the problem of affordable housing is a disparity among different ethnicities in Fairfax County. County data found that, for one period, 44% of Black people and 48% of Hispanic/Latino residents owned homes, compared to 67% for Asians and Pacific Islanders and 76% for whites.

On top of that, two-thirds of the homes in Fairfax County that low and moderate-income residents could afford are occupied by residents making about 80% of the area median income and above, according to a county presentation.

Community Land Trusts Proposed

Now, the county government could pursue a new strategy that mirrors what communities across the country have done: community land trusts, where a nonprofit owns the land and maintains housing as affordable into perpetuity.

Under a potential pilot program, the land could be held by the county’s housing authority, which would reduce the price of homes by taking out land costs, Department of Housing and Community Development Director Tom Fleetwood said.

The county identified a property adjacent to the James Lee Community Center in West Falls Church as one possible site but stressed that no final decision has been made. The presentation acted as an initial brainstorming session to further refine proposals.

The board requested more information from county staff, including how such a proposal would affect property taxes, how other communities have fared with such initiatives, and what would be the best resale formula allowing homeowners to sell while maintaining the properties’ affordability.

Currently, the county has an array of affordable housing programs that involve rental units as well as for-sale properties, which come with conditions like limits on the sales price.

However, housing prices continue to climb, and 67% of low-income households in Northern Virginia have to spend more than half their income on housing costs — the highest rate of any large metropolitan area in the country, according to the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.

Gross said it seems like the region is fighting a losing battle, where it’s common for someone to pay $500,000 more than the assessed value of a property.

Board Expresses Interest in Idea

The county has touted the potential of using its available land for affordable housing efforts, but there’s still room to grow.

Fairfax County owns at least $50 million worth of assessed properties for over 100 parcels that could be used for commercial, residential, or other uses, not including properties in floodplains and land already in use.

At least $10 million in assessed property is listed as vacant but nonbuildable. It wasn’t clear if other restrictions, such as environmental issues, setbacks, and prior plans, limited the use of those properties.

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk wondered if the county could quantify available parcels for the community land trust-like initiative.

“It’s a very large number of sites. I can’t quantify it for you, but only a small percentage may be appropriate for this,” Fleetwood said.

Chairman Jeff McKay said he thought the proposal presented was an excellent idea to see how it would work and examine how the county could tweak it in the future.

County leaders also noted that while new housing stock is important, they’re also looking for ways to improve existing homes.

Lusk suggested reexamining the threshold for the county’s existing affordable housing initiatives. Its first-time homebuyer program, for instance, is currently limited to people making up to 70% of the area median income.

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Morning Notes

FCPS Settles Lawsuit Over Treatment of Students with Disabilities — “Three disability rights organizations…and the families of six students with disabilities had sued in 2019, alleging that students with disabilities in Fairfax schools experienced discrimination, trauma and physical harm through the excessive and improper use of seclusion and physical restraint. As part of the agreement reached Tuesday [Nov. 23], Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) will ban all seclusion practices and curtail its use of physical restraint by the next academic year.” [The Washington Post]

Black Friday Shoppers Return to Tysons Corner — Traffic and sales at Tysons Corner Center were roughly on par with 2019 for Black Friday, according to a senior marketing manager for the mall. She said the return of pre-pandemic crowds wasn’t surprising, since the shopping center has seen a steady increase in traffic over the past three weeks. [WTOP]

Fire and Rescue Department Offers Hanukkah Safety Tips — “Hanukkah starts this evening [Sunday] and runs through December 6. It is a joyous time, so please ensure you and your loved ones stay safe as the holiday season is the peak time of year for home candle fires. Get in S.T.E.P. (Safety Takes Every Person) With FCFRD This Holiday Season and candle with care!” [FCFRD]

McLean Rotary Club Recognizes Front-Line Service Workers — “Under the leadership of president John McEvilly, the Rotary Club of McLean has initiated a new program — ‘Dignity of Work’ Award. According to former McLean Rotary President Lynn Heinrichs, who chairs the initiative, the award ‘is designed to recognize and promote the great people working in the McLean community.'” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Retirement Puts Vienna Tree Assessments on Hold — “Due to staffing shortages stemming from a retirement, the Town is temporarily unable to conduct tree assessments on private property.  Tree assessments on private property are expected to resume in March 2022 after appropriate staffing levels have been restored.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

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