Tysons, VA

Santa will once again grace Falls Church City with his presence this December, but he will have a lighter sleigh in tow.

The City of Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department announced on Nov. 19 that its Santamobile – a fire truck festooned with colorful string lights and other decorations – will not distribute candy canes and safety literature when it tours the area this year due to the health risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to the current pandemic, our event coordinators have decided that although we will still have Santamobile this year, it will be modified to avoid in-person interaction, in order to protect the safety of our staff and the public,” the FCVFD said.

As in previous years, the Santamobile will first set out on Dec. 15 with stops in each of the city’s neighborhoods over the next four nights before venturing into neighboring Fairfax and Arlington counties. Each night will go from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., and the last day of the event will be Dec. 23.

Here is the Santamobile’s current schedule for its tour through Falls Church City:

  • Dec. 15: South of W. Broad Street in the St. James Cemetery and Virginia Forest neighborhoods to Seaton Lane and S. Oak Street south of the Tripps Run bridge
  • Dec. 16: North of W. Broad Street, including Little Falls Street
  • Dec. 17: South of W. Broad Street from the Tyler Gardens and Virginia Forest neighborhoods south of Seaton Lane as well as streets north of the Tripps Run bridge
  • Dec. 18: The Little Falls neighborhood and streets east of Washington Street, including the Madison Park and Whittier Park neighborhoods
  • Dec. 19: Broadmont neighborhood and streets on the north side of Hillwood east of Cherry Street

A map of the vehicle’s planned routes can be found on the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department’s website at fallschurchfire.org/santamobile.

“Please note that routes are subject to change based on road conditions including parking, traffic, and construction,” the FCVFD says.

Any changes to the Santamobile schedule will be posted to the FCVFD Facebook page, which will have a link to a SantaTracker. The department says questions about the Santamobile should be directed to [email protected], not its fire station.

The FCVFD says that the Santamobile will not be able to respond to requests for private drive-by visits.

In addition to bringing holiday cheer to families around the city, the annual Santamobile serves the function of raising awareness about fire safety, according to the FCVFD.

This year, the department’s public education team is asking community members to fill out an online survey about what safety presentations might be most useful to them. The survey can be found on the FCVFD website at fallschurchfire.org/public-education-survey.

Photo courtesy City of Falls Church

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The Women’s Center in Vienna will be able to continue providing critical mental health services for the foreseeable future, thanks to a $50,000 donation from Major League Baseball.

Located on Park Street with a second facility in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit announced today (Wednesday) that it is one of 11 organizations to receive a Healthy Relationships Community Grant from MLB and the MLB Players Association as part of a philanthropic initiative that the professional sports league and players’ union launched at the beginning of 2020.

“We are very grateful to be partnering with MLB and MLBPA for the first time, especially during such a tumultuous time,” The Women’s Center CEO and Executive Director Rachna Singal Krishnan said.

Founded in 1974, The Women’s Center offers mental health counseling, supports for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, clinical training, and education and career services to over 1,600 low-income, uninsured people in the D.C. metropolitan region annually.

On its website, The Center says it relies on philanthropic support in order to provide subsidized and free services to the community. Its mental health services are also partly funded by Fairfax County, and it is a co-founder and member of the Fairfax County Domestic Violence Action Center.

The MLB and MLBPA grant will help The Center make up for revenue lost from other funding areas, Singal Krishnan says.

“This $50,000 award has made it possible for us to continue to operate at full capacity this year and provide life-saving services to people who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic,” The Women’s Center communications specialist Rebecca Ballinger said.

MLB and the players’ association started the Healthy Relationships Community Grants initiative “to address positive relationship health” with a focus on nonprofit programs that address mental health resiliency among vulnerable populations, youth relationship skills, and domestic violence, according to MLB.

For the initiative, MLB and MLBPA have committed to allocating $3 million to U.S. nonprofits and global non-governmental organizations across 2020 and 2021. Grants are given out on a quarterly cycle with a maximum award of $50,000.

So far, the initiative has distributed a total of $1.5 million to 32 organizations around the U.S., according to a press release from The Women’s Center.

The 11 grant recipients for the third quarter of 2020 also includes the Oakton-based Northern Virginia Family Service, which provides assistance with basic needs like housing, food, and healthcare. NVFS specifically received the grant for its multicultural mental health services.

Photo via Google Maps

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Fairfax County Public Schools may have to consider extending the school year into the summer of 2021 to help students who have fallen behind while trying to learn virtually this year.

FCPS Assistant Superintendent of Finance Leigh Burden raised the possibility during a joint Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County School Board meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 24) that focused on projections for the county and school system’s Fiscal Year 2022 budgets.

While some have managed to adapt to online education, a report released by FCPS this week confirmed fears that many students have struggled to learn during a year of uncertainty and disruptions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has largely kept school doors closed since March.

Conducted by the FCPS Office of Research and Strategic Improvement, the study found that failing grades increased by 83% from the first quarter of 2019-20 to the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, making up 11% of all marks given to students since the year started on Sept. 8.

The uptick in “F” grades was especially pronounced for students with disabilities, who saw an 111% increase, and English-language learners, who saw a 106% increase.

“All groups showed increases in the percentage of F marks received during Q1 of the current year as compared to the prior year, indicating that more students were failing courses during the (primarily) virtual instruction period than had occurred when instruction was delivered in-person,” ORSI said in its report.

Members of both the school board and the Board of Supervisors expressed support for the idea of adding a fifth quarter to this school year to make up for lost learning, but given the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County, exactly when FCPS will be able to provide in-person instruction to all students again is difficult to predict.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck says he will be advocating for an extended school year for in-person learning.

“I think there’s no other way to make up for what our students have lost over the past year,” Storck said. “…We need that time to help them recover their learning, and the educational needs are unmet, particularly of our neediest students. That student-teacher bond, we need to help reaffirm and build that back.”

Karen Corbett Sanders, who represents the Mount Vernon District on the school board, agreed that this option should be discussed now so the costs can be taken into account as the county prepares its budget for the next fiscal year.

“We cannot continue to surprise our community with new initiatives on how we’re addressing this pandemic. It would be better for us to upfront address this,” Corbett Sanders said.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand is scheduled to release a proposed FY 2022 budget on Jan. 7, though the county and school board will not adopt final budgets until May.

The possibility of a summer school expansion is among several potential expenses not incorporated in the fiscal forecast presented on Tuesday.

Other unfunded expenditures on the FCPS side include $5 million for 50 additional English Learner teachers, $3.5 million to add technology support specialist positions at 51 elementary schools, and $2.8 million to cover the final year of a three-year plan to raise instructional assistant salaries.

Several school board members emphasized that mental health services, employee compensation, improvements in technology access, and supports for students with disabilities and English-language learners should be priorities for funding.

“Supporting our children with learning losses due to COVID-19 and looking at creative ways to measure what those losses are and creative ways to alleviate that is going to take staff time and resources,” Dranesville District School Board Member Elaine Tholen said. “So, we need to pay attention to that.”

Photo via Fairfax County government

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About 250 more people are using Fairfax County’s emergency homelessness services this November over last November, and there are enough beds for just over half of them.

That number could increase as the federal ban on evictions draws nearer.

“As we look at potential rising eviction numbers, we need to be aware of the capacity for the homelessness system,” Fairfax County Health, Housing and Human Services Chief Strategist Dean Klein told the Board of Supervisors during a Health and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 24).

With COVID-19 cases rising, Fairfax County is dealing with increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness as well as the threat of rising eviction rates. Klein says rent assistance and partnerships with landlords will be critical for preventing evictions and keeping people in homes this winter.

“Our ongoing efforts to reach out to vulnerable populations is increasingly critical,” he said.

One step Fairfax County has taken is to form an eviction prevention task force with representatives from various county agencies, the county sheriff’s office, and the nonprofit law firm Legal Services of Northern Virginia.

Klein says he hopes to receive financial support from the Board of Supervisors next month. His staff anticipates spending at the same level as it is right now, which is about $600,000 a week.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said a board matter is in the works that would “give additional local support for our continuation of basic needs, which we know continues to be a concern for us.”

Although funding comes from a number of sources, some are set to run dry soon, adding to the sense of urgency.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency stepped in this year to pay for hotel rooms so that people experiencing homelessness could have a place to sleep safely during the pandemic. However, it is unclear how long FEMA will continue to provide funding, Klein says.

Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness Deputy Director Tom Barnett said the FEMA commitments are on a month-to-month basis and will last through the middle of December.

“We will continue to request extensions every month as they will support most of these expenses,” he said. Read More

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Fairfax County Public Schools will host a community meeting to discuss a potential boundary adjustment for McLean High School at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 7, Dranesville District School Board Representative Elaine Tholen said in a newsletter sent out on Tuesday (Nov. 24).

The proposed boundary adjustment is intended to address overcrowding at McLean High School, which currently has 2,292 students in a building designed for 1,993 students, according to FCPS.

With enrollment at McLean High projected to increase over the next five years, FCPS has been exploring the possibility of moving the school’s boundary to instead send some students to Langley High School, which increased its capacity to 2,370 students after being renovated in 2018.

As of this October, Langley High School has 2,004 enrolled students.

Plans to adjust McLean High’s boundaries have been in the works since at least early 2019. FCPS even held two boundary scope community meetings last December, but the process was put on hold as the Fairfax County School Board’s focus shifted to challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tholen says FCPS staff will use the upcoming community meeting to present information and options for the boundary adjustment to community members, who will then give feedback that will be shared with the school board.

Public input from the previous meetings convinced the school board to expand the study’s scope to include the boundaries for Longfellow Middle School and Cooper Middle School as well as McLean and Langley High, according to Tholen.

“If we move forward with a boundary adjustment, the plan will be for students to move from their elementary school to Cooper and then to Langley, or to Longfellow and then to McLean,” Tholen said.

In the meantime, FCPS hopes to “increase the comfort and efficiency of educational spaces” at McLean High School by replacing trailers on the school’s tennis courts with a modular unit that has 12 classrooms and restroom facilities.

Tholen says the unit has been placed at the school and will be ready for use in late December, though whether any students will be allowed to use it at that point remains to be seen.

FCPS staff has also been working with staff from Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s office, Providence District staff, and members of the McLean Citizens Association “to enhance data analysis for Tyson’s area development and the impact on schools.”

“We are fortunate to have John Foust as a member of that work group,” Tholen said. “I will be working with these groups to look at our next steps for further capacity work at McLean High School and the surrounding areas.”

Photo via McLean High School PTSA

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and with that brings closures around the county. Let’s take a look at what’s open, and what’s closed.

All Fairfax County government offices will be closed on Nov. 26 and 27 for the holiday. 

The Fairfax Connector will operate on a Sunday service on Thursday and a holiday weekday service on Friday. 

Fairfax County Public Schools provided seven-day meal kits for Thanksgiving week, which were available for pickup through Nov. 24. 

All Falls Church City government offices will be closed on Nov. 26 and 27. Thursday trash and recycling will be picked up today. 

The Town of Vienna offices will also be closed on both Nov. 26 and 27, and there will be no waste collection on those days.

The McLean Community Center will be closed on both Thanksgiving and the Friday after. 

All Fairfax County parks will be closed on Thanksgiving, but all RECenters will be open until noon, and they will run normal hours on the day after Thanksgiving.

Photo by Shoeib Abolhassani/Unsplash

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Tysons Partnership Celebrates Tysons Corner Metro Station Renaming — “This is an important step forward in the effort to unify the Tysons brand and foster a cohesive sense of place across our rapidly urbanizing neighborhoods…The new station name reflects our new urban, transit-oriented reality.” [Tysons Partnership]

Post Office Collection Box Thefts Reported in Vienna — “The incidents impacted collection boxes at Church Street and Lawyers Road, which is near the Vienna U.S. Postal Service location at 200 Lawyers Road NW. According to the police department, the most recent incident occurred overnight on Nov. 22 to 23.” [Patch]

Falls Church City Councilmember Participates in Vaccine Trial — “Falls Church City Council member David Snyder, who has served on the Council since 1994, announced last week that he participated in a trial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Tysons-based Alarm.com Concludes Virginia’s First Tech Apprenticeship Program — “Alarm.com recently wrapped up the first state-sponsored apprenticeship program for a tech company in Virginia. It included 10 weeks of technical instruction at Northern Virginia Community College, and nine months of on-the-job training.” [WTOP]

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As the holidays approach, Tysons Galleria has announced that it will display a new interactive art installation called “Warm for the Winter.” The installation serves as a coat drive to benefit Alexandria’s Volunteers of America and their donation initiatives.

Through this initiative, Tysons Galleria is collecting new coats, scarves, and gloves for Northern Virginia families in need from Nov. 20 until Dec. 11. The art installation was designed by Richmond-based artist Noah Scalin and utilizes the donated coats before they are given to the families, according to a press release from Tysons Galleria.

“It has been a challenging year for so many, and we are excited to be part of this initiative to support our local community,” Tysons Galleria Senior General Manager Rich Dinning said.

Volunteers of America has helped underserved people for 125 years, the press release says. According to CEO Mike King, the partnership was a “natural fit” since Brookfield Properties — the real estate company that owns Tysons Galleria — is one of the largest mall operators in the U.S.

“Our goal is to collect as many donations in as many communities possible, and we are able to maximize those efforts through their shopping centers across the country,” King said. “We look forward to working with them in the coming weeks and look forward to the opportunity to give back to American families this holiday season.”

Scalin will design a custom installation with more than 3,000 coats that will be displayed through Dec. 31 before the coats are donated to those in need. Scalin’s work is interested in reorganizing the noise of American culture into recognizable signals by “illuminating people, moments, and objects that should be prioritized over the distracting spectacle of society,” according to the release.  

Community members can donate new coats, scarves, and gloves at collection points throughout the mall near Maggianos, PF Chang’s, and on the lower level near J. Crew. Organizers are requesting new items because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Photo by Joshua Hanson/Unsplash

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The mixed-use development that Elm Street Development has envisioned for the Dunn Loring Center remains on track for realization.

In a report released on Nov. 18, Fairfax County staff recommends that the county planning commission approve the developer’s application to rezone the two-acre site at 2722 Merrilee Drive for planned residential mixed-use zoning.

Located less than half a mile from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, 2722 Merrilee Drive is currently occupied by a three-story office building that was originally constructed in 1984. The site is zoned for an I-4 medium intensity industrial district.

Under the name Merrilee Ventures L.C., Elm Street Development first submitted a proposal for turning Dunn Loring Center into a mixed-use development to Fairfax County on Dec. 9. The application was accepted on Mar. 5.

The developer proposes transforming the existing office building into a seven-story, 85-foot building with 239 multifamily residential units across five floors.

The bottom two floors will consist of an above-grade parking structure with 294 parking spaces – 264 for residential use and 30 for retail use – as well as two loading spaces, a trash enclosure, and a bike storage room, according to the Fairfax County staff report.

Amenities proposed for the development include an expanded streetscape along Merrilee Drive, a retail plaza adjacent to the nearby mixed-use apartment building Halstead Square, public open and park spaces, a dog park for residents in the building’s northwest corner, and other private indoor and outdoor spaces for residents, such as a pool, grilling stations, and a fitness center.

The project will occupy 235,235 square feet total with a floor area ratio of 2.70.

“The proposed development would contribute to the revitalization and development of the Merrifield Suburban Center and Transit Station Area through the provision of high-quality design and pedestrian facilities that are appropriate to the ‘Main Street’ designation of Merrilee Drive,” county planning staff say in their report.

In addition to seeking to rezone the site, Elm Street has asked Fairfax County to approve the proposed reduction of 18% of the property’s existing parking.

“Fewer parking spaces than would be required in the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance will be necessary to accommodate future on-site parking demand because of the site’s proximity to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro Station,” the engineering consultant Gorove Slade says in a parking reduction study prepared on May 19. “A parking reduction would not adversely affect the surrounding areas.”

Elm Street says on-street parking will be provided on Merrilee Drive and on a proposed private street that could eventually be extended to connect Merrilee with Dorr Avenue to the west.

Fairfax County staff say the planning commission should approve the parking reduction request “based on the proximity of the development to mass transit facilities.”

According to the report, Elm Street has committed to making 16.6% of the residential units in the new development workforce dwelling units. A third of those units will be priced at 80% of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area’s area median income, a third will be at the AMI, and the last third will be at 120% of the AMI.

Since the existing property has few existing trees, the developer has proposed adding about 8,962 square feet of tree canopy coverage, which Fairfax County staff says would exceed the county’s comprehensive plan requirements.

In another proffer, Elm Street has said it will contribute $12,262 to Fairfax County for each of the 27 new students that the Dunn Loring Center development is expected to add to the public school system. Children who live in the development will attend Shrevewood Elementary, Kilmer Middle, and Marshall High Schools.

The full staff report for the Merrilee proposal can be found through Fairfax County’s land development system.

A Fairfax County Planning Commission public hearing on the Merrilee application has been set for 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 2, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing on Jan. 26, 2021 at 3:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy Elm Street Development

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The COVID-19 pandemic’s shake-up of the 2020 winter holiday season continues, disrupting traditions normally fueled by a spirit of sharing and togetherness.

The Woman’s Club of McLean, a nonprofit focused on community philanthropy, said on Sunday (Nov. 22) that its annual Holiday Homes Tour has now been canceled for the first time in 53 years due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Holiday Homes Tour is the main fundraiser for the Woman’s Club of McLean, raising over $1 million for various causes since the club was founded in 1958 by local women looking to support their community through volunteering.

Charities currently supported by the club include the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center, Second Story, the McLean Volunteer Fire Department, Friends of Pleasant Grove Church, the Vinson Hall transitional housing project, and Share Inc.

“It’s the only means of raising an adequate amount of money to meet the needs of the community,” Woman’s Club of McLean President Cecilia Glembocki said when asked about the importance of the Holiday Homes Tour.

The club has maintained much of its usual charitable support this year, but it has retained about 50% of the funds it raised with the 2019 Holiday Homes Tour so that it will have some money to donate in 2021.

The 2019 Holiday Homes Tour took place on Dec. 5 and opened four decorated homes in the McLean area to visitors. Tour visitors could also join the club for lunch and holiday shopping at a marketplace set up in the Trinity United Methodist Church on Route 123.

The Woman’s Club says it hopes to stage the Holiday Homes Tour or another major fundraising event next year.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust voiced his support for the club and its homes tour.

“It’s a tradition in McLean,” Foust said.

Photo courtesy Women’s Club of McLean

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