Newsletter

The Fairfax County Police Department is about to bring its public records request system a little closer to the 21st century.

Starting early next year, the many people who request Fairfax County police records every year through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will be able to pay the attached fees online, the county’s FOIA office confirmed to FFXnow.

Currently, the FCPD and nearly all other county departments and agencies require a physical check sent by snail mail for FOIA fees, which cover the costs of labor, copying, and other expenses incurred in the process of obtaining and delivering requested records.

With the new system, records requesters will fill out an online form with their contact information and details about their FOIA request before submitting an electronic check through a secure checkout screen.

“This new process is still being finalized, but we are confident that certain high-volume FOIA agencies (like the FCPD) will be able to collect FOIA fees electronically in early 2022,” Amanda Kastl, the Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs’ countywide FOIA officer, said by email.

The county introduced the online fee portal in August 2020 for the countywide FOIA office, which handles complex requests and ones that involve multiple departments. The office also oversees the overall FOIA process, including standardizing fee collection and processing.

Kastl says her office partnered with the Fairfax County Department of Finance to develop, test, and implement the new system after seeing an increased desire for the ability to pay fees electronically from those requesting records.

The COVID-19 pandemic also played a role, since FOIA staffers were working remotely, which made it harder to process checks.

According to Kastl, the online portal was intended to make the FOIA process simpler and more efficient for both the community and staff, and so far, it has paid off.

“We have received positive feedback from requesters on the convenience and efficiency of submitting payments electronically,” she said.

While online payments are now accepted for everything from grocery shopping to federal taxes, Fairfax County appears to among the vanguard in Northern Virginia when it comes letting people pay FOIA fees electronically.

The only other jurisdiction with an online option is the City of Falls Church, which allows requesters to pay fees through an e-check and credit card payment portal under the “general billing” category.

Arlington County instructs requesters to pay via check, and FFXnow’s sister site ALXnow says that’s also the case for the City of Alexandria. Loudoun County has an online portal for submitting and tracking requests, but it’s unclear whether the system can also be used to pay fees.

The Prince William County Attorney’s Office says it does not have an online system. FOIA payments are normally made by check to the specific department that’s the subject of the document request.

The Town of Vienna does not have any electronic payment options and isn’t planning on implementing one anytime soon, since the number of FOIA requests it receives is “very low,” according to Vienna Police Department public information officer Juan Vasquez.

For now, Fairfax County is only planning to expand its online payment system to the police department, which consistently receives the most public record requests of any county agency.

According to the county’s annual FOIA report for fiscal year 2021, which ran from July 1, 2020 to June 30 of this year, the FCPD received 5,716 requests — more than twice as many as any other agency. It also assessed $40,926 in fees, which is about as much money as the next nine top agencies combined.

Police reports tend to be among the most requested documents, along with complaint records, salary information, and emails and text messages, according to reports from fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

Notably, the amount of FOIA fees collected by the county has declined from $109,710 in FY 2019 to $94,253 in FY 2020 and $86,758 in FY 2021, even though the number of records requested has increased over that same time period.

Kastl notes that one records request with over $15,000 in fees from FY 2019 contributed to the discrepancy, but she says agencies have also become more willing to grant fee waivers to people experiencing hardships under the county’s One Fairfax policy, which directs the government to consider racial and social equity issues in its decision-making.

In addition, county staff have been providing more FOIA responses by email during the pandemic instead of in person or by mail, reducing the amount of processing time for staff and assessed fees, according to Kastl.

“The pandemic taught us the importance of improving efficiency through utilization of innovative IT solutions — from a cloud-based countywide FOIA request tracking application to search-friendly digitization of more and more public records,” Kastl said.

0 Comments
Trees along Nutley Street in Vienna. The town has 76 trees on the meridian and plans to replace dozens of invasive Bradford pear trees (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Town of Vienna leaders agreed to replace dozens of trees on Nutley Street after a citizen raised concerns about several invasive ones there.

The citizen, who wishes to remain anonymous, is giving $20,000 to the town, which agreed yesterday (Monday) to replace 27 Bradford pear trees (also known as Callery pear trees). The trees, which produce white flowers and can reach 60 feet in height, frequently choke out native plants when birds eat and spread their fruit.

“South Carolina…actually offers a bounty on people…bringing Bradford pears in,” Bob Robinson, a member of the town’s Conservation and Sustainability Commission, told the Vienna Town Council during the meeting.

The town will replace the Bradford pear trees with trees native to Virginia, including black gum, honey locust, and willow oak.

Vienna Parks Maintenance Superintendent Jeremy Edwards said the replacement trees will start with a height of around 7 to 9 feet, noting that other smaller trees planted there two years ago are now about 10 feet tall. Once they adapt to the soil, the newcomers will grow much larger, he said.

Town officials also discussed putting up signage when crews replace the trees to help inform the public.

According to Leslie Herman, the town’s parks and recreation director, it will take about a month in between removing and replanting trees. The town will replace the trees by the end of fiscal year 2023.

The money will be used to “dismantle and remove the existing Bradford/Callery Pear trees that are currently located on the Nutley Street median. The donation will then be used for stump grinding, purchase, delivery, and planting the native trees, mulching, and other services,” according to town staff.

If money remains, the town will use it to replace Chinese pistache trees on Nutley Street with Virginia native trees and then Linden trees that are in poor health.

0 Comments

This coming spring, Tysons residents and visitors will be able to scale a rock wall, host a Zoom meeting, and grab their morning coffee all in one place.

The Manassas-based Vertical Rock Climbing and Fitness plans to open a second gym in the Best Buy-anchored shopping center at 8461 Leesburg Pike, near The Boro and the Spring Hill Metro station, as the Washington Business Journal reported in August.

The new, 12,000 square-foot facility will contain not only rock walls for bouldering, a form of rock climbing that doesn’t use ropes, but also a ground-floor coffee shop and coworking space that will be open to both gym members and the general public.

“Coffee and climbing go together,” Vertical Rock co-owner and CEO Ian Colton told Tysons Reporter. “A lot of climbers like coffee, and we personally have a huge affliction for coffee. We want to make sure we come up with a premium coffee shop, and it’s reflected in the layout and design we’re bringing to the table.”

Called Basecamp Coffee Roasters, the coffee shop will essentially operate like a separate business that just happens to share the same building.

While options like online ordering will be available for those looking to grab a cup of coffee on the go, Colton envisions a Central Perk-like hangout spot that encourages people to linger, catching up with friends or on work — possibly after breaking a sweat at the gym upstairs.

“We want to make this atmosphere as friendly, inviting, and engaging as we possibly can,” he said. “…With the new normal of not necessarily working in an office and a lot of remote school, where the new norm is to be able to kind of social distance but also be there and present, this facility can give you all of that.”

The inclusion of a coffee shop is one way that Vertical Rock is adapting its concept to the more urban environment that drew the company to Tysons after launching in Manassas in 2012.

Where the Manassas center features 55-foot-tall rock walls with ropes for climbing, the smaller Tysons facility will focus exclusively on bouldering, with walls ranging from 14 to 16 feet in height and 14 inches of floor padding for protection.

The shift reflects the more limited amount of space available in an increasingly dense area like Tysons. Vertical Rock spent about five years looking for a location in the Fairfax County area before finding the Leesburg Pike space, according to Colton.

Bouldering also gives users more flexibility since, unlike rope-based rock climbing, it can be done solo, requires minimal equipment, and allows participants to move at their own pace, Colton says.

The Tysons facility will accommodate different ages and levels of experience, from beginners to athletes training for the Olympics, which featured sport climbing as an official event for the first time this year.

“All you need really is a chalk bag and a pair of climbing shoes, and you can get in and you can climb,” Colton said, noting that those items and other climbing gear will be available for rental or purchase.

Vertical Rock Tysons started pre-sales for its gym passes in November. It will offer one-day, monthly, annual, and flex passes.

Colton anticipates starting occupancy in mid-April, though the COVID-19 pandemic has had “a huge impact” on getting the facility in place. A sign posted to the site door still suggests that it will open this December.

Aware that people may still be wary of exercising indoors, Colton says Vertical Rock is designing the site to be spacious and making equipment and operational investments to create the safest possible environment.

“I think the biggest thing we’re really trying to bring to the table is a community-focused facility, and that being something that caters to local Fairfax County,” Colton said. “We want to continue the engagement for healthy and new ways of staying physically fit and connecting you to the outdoors, and that’s really been our mantra since we opened up.”

0 Comments

Santa Warren won’t arrive at Tysons Galleria for another 11 days, but he’s already making waves.

With his scheduled appearances on Dec. 18 and 19, Warren will be the first Black man to serve as Santa Claus for Neiman Marcus at Tysons Galleria’s winter holiday festivities, which kicked off on Nov. 26 with a visit from another Santa who assisted with curbside deliveries.

After years of white Saint Nicks dating back to its 1988 opening, the department store made a conscious effort to diversify its roster for this holiday season, citing its ongoing work to become “more inclusive and representative of our global community” in a recent media alert.

“We want to continue to connect with our customers and find ways to ensure our store represents our community,” Neiman Marcus Tysons Vice President and General Manager Kathy Leigh said by email. “This year our team brainstormed ideas [that] led us to hire the wonderful Santa who we are delighted to have join us at Neiman Marcus Tysons Galleria.”

To find the right candidate for the role, Neiman Marcus turned to Santas Just Like Me, a North Carolina-based company founded in 2013 to increase the representation of people of color in the Santa industry.

An event photographer, minister, and self-professed Christmas fanatic, Santas Just Like Me founder Stafford Braxton says his goal is to make the company all-inclusive, but the easiest way to market its work turned out to be emphasizing Black Santa “so that people would know what I am.”

Since recruiting Warren as the original Black Santa, Braxton has added five other men, and he remains on the lookout for Hispanic, Asian, and other kinds of individuals who would be interested in putting on the red suit. Even white Santas would be welcome.

The only criteria? A naturally white beard.

“I want to be able to provide all the different cultures a Santa that looks like them,” Braxton told Tysons Reporter. “That’s my heart’s desire.”

When Neiman Marcus reached out last month about a gig at its Tysons Galleria store, Santas Just Like Me quickly accepted the offer, excited by the prospect of breaking new ground as the venue’s first Black Santa. Read More

0 Comments

Morning Notes

Venus spotted behind clouds over The Boro (photo by ERTRIPP9/Twitter)

County Board to Vote on New Electoral District Map — “The Board of Supervisors’ last full meeting of 2021 will include an agenda of district-specific and countywide proposals. The major items up for consideration are redistricting of the Board of Supervisors and School Board districts as well as expansion of tax relief for seniors and people with disabilities.” [Patch]

Wet Snow Possible Tomorrow — A cold front headed for the D.C. region could bring the first measurable snowfall of the season. Forecasts suggest up to an inch of accumulation is likely, with a ceiling of 3 inches, and the precipitation isn’t expected to stick around long, though the timing could cause some trouble in coinciding with the morning commute. [Capital Weather Gang]

Falls Church Shuts Down New Taco Restaurant — The popular Arlington-based food truck La Tingeria has occupied its new brick-and-mortar site at 626 S. Washington Street in Falls Church for less than a month, but the city plans to revoke its certificate of occupancy, citing complaints about customers parking in nearby residential neighborhoods. [ARLnow]

Santa Hitches Ride in Mosaic District Autonomous Shuttle — “Santa Claus gave Rudolph and the other reindeer a night off as he rode to his Target appearance in the latest driverless technology, RELAY. Santa waved happily to the crowds in Mosaic as his sleigh, aka the autonomous shuttle,  wound its way down District Avenue.” [Department of Economic Initiatives]

Kansas Gives Preview of Capital One Hall Show — “Carry on all you wayward classic rock listeners! Kansas is ready to rock the brand new Capital One Hall in Tysons, Virginia, on Dec. 19…The band will perform the full “Point of Know Return” album, as well as other huge hits.” [WTOP]

Photo by ERTRIPP9/Twitter

0 Comments
An illustration of a coronavirus (via CDC/Unsplash)

Like the rest of the country, Fairfax County continues to see increasing levels of COVID-19 transmission.

The county is now averaging about three times as many new cases per day as it was less than a month ago, with a seven-day average of 189.4 cases today (Monday), according to Virginia Department of Health data.

In comparison, the county was averaging 58.7 cases a day for the preceding week on Nov. 10. That day was the first time the weekly average dipped below 60 cases since the delta variant started becoming prevalent in late July.

Including the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, the Fairfax Health District reported an additional 131 COVID-19 infections today, bringing its total for the pandemic to 97,999 cases, 4,201 hospitalizations, and 1,227 deaths.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over past 180 days as of Dec. 6, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of Dec. 6, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Locally, the ongoing coronavirus surge comes without any apparent assistance from the omicron variant, which has been detected in 17 states so far, including Maryland. Virginia is monitoring the relatively new variant but has not identified any cases involving it yet.

While initial reports suggest the omicron variant may not produce severe illness like the delta variant, concerns that it might be more transmissible and less susceptible to the immunity granted by vaccines prompted the Fairfax County Health Department to strengthen its recommendation that all adults get a booster shot six months after their primary vaccinations on Thursday (Dec. 2).

“Taking measures to reduce the spread of infection, including getting a COVID-19 vaccine, is the best way to slow the emergence of new variants,” Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said in the blog post.

So far, more than 238,000 Fairfax Health District residents have gotten a booster or third dose, including 63.5% of adults between the ages of 75 and 84, according to the FCHD vaccine data dashboard.

908,544 residents — or 76.8% of the population — have received at least one vaccine dose, including 86.8% of adults, 89.4% of adolescents aged 12-17, and 36.2% of children aged 5-11.

Representing 68% of the population, 804,239 residents are fully vaccinated, including 78.8% of people 18 and older.

Providers in the Fairfax Health District have administered over 1.9 million vaccine doses. If the current weekly average of about 7,440 doses per day holds, the district could potentially reach 2 million doses around the one-year anniversary of when the county received its first shipment last December.

Photo via CDC/Unsplash

0 Comments

A unique documentary is coming to McLean with a message about the danger and injustice that Black people face in America — in the past and present.

The McLean Community Center is making the virtual reality experience “Traveling While Black” available to visitors for free in its lobby from Dec. 15 through Feb. 12.

“As we near Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month events, we hope our patrons will take the time to come learn with us and become change agents in creating the world that Dr. King envisioned in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” MCC executive director Daniel Singh said in a news release.

Providing 360 degrees of footage, the movie, which debuted in 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival, draws on a half-century of civil rights struggles for justice, framed through a conversation at D.C. mainstay Ben’s Chili Bowl.

“‘Traveling while Black’ is a term people use to illustrate that in America when you are Black and you are going from point A to point B, you are always at risk,” director Roger Ross Williams said in a statement. In 2010, he became the first Black director to win an Oscar, awarded for his short subject documentary, “Music by Prudence.”

“Traveling While Black” features Samaria Rice, who lost her 12-year-old son, Tamir, when police killed him in Cleveland in 2014 while he was playing in a park with a toy gun. The Justice Department said on Dec. 29, 2020 that there was insufficient evidence to file charges against officers.

The movie also includes civil rights leader Courtland Cox. Among his efforts to bring racial equality, he worked to create a political party in Lowndes County, Alabama, and helped people there register to vote in the 1960s. The county eventually elected its first Black sheriff in 1970.

People can sign up online for hour-long appointments at the McLean Community Center from noon to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays through Saturdays and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

0 Comments

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].

‘Tis the season for giving! Below is a list of local places to donate toys (new and unwrapped) as well as warm clothing and blankets for those in need.

There are always organizations looking for food, but I’ve covered that a lot over the years. This is a great way to get kids involved in learning about donating and helping others.

Toys

The Vienna police department is teaming up with other agencies for Santa’s Ride, where Santa on a motorcycle brings cheer to children in local hospitals. You can help by dropping off new & unwrapped toys and books to the Vienna Police Department, The Community Center or Town Hall by 8 a.m. on Monday, December 13.

Foster’s Grille also has a Toys for Tots donation box in the front of the restaurant.

Winter Warmth

My company, McEnearney Associates, has teamed up with Share of McLean and the City of Fairfax Police Department to collect warm clothing (gloves, jackets, scarfs, etc.) and blankets to distribute to those in need. The force will keep them in their car and be able to distribute to those they see in need when they’re out and about on shifts. Donation location is 1320 Old Chain Bridge Road Suite 350 McLean, Virginia OR you can email me and I’ll be happy to pick it up from you.

Next week I’m going to do my Holiday List map again! If you want to make sure an address is included, please email me [email protected] or you can find me on social media @GuidingYourMove!

0 Comments

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, Dec. 6

  • Santa on the Antique Fire Engine — 5:30-6 p.m. daily throughout December — Jolly Old St. Nicholas spreads the holiday cheer, distributing candy canes, on daily runs with the McLean Volunteer Fire Department.

Tuesday, Dec. 7

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas: Live On Stage — 7:30 p.m. at Capital One Hall (7750 Capital One Tower Road) — A new touring production featuring actors who sing music and dance comes to Capital One’s new performance venue. Tickets start at $39.50.

Wednesday, Dec. 8

  • Holiday Tea & Sweets — 12:30-2 p.m. at St. Mark Catholic Church (9970 Vale Road) — Kick off the holiday season with treats and people ages 55 and up. Cost is $10.
  • Virtual Health & Care Job Fair (Online) — 1-4 p.m. — Inova, Sunrise Senior Living, and more than 30 other employers from the health and caregiving industries will participate in this free job fair hosted by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and Work in Northern Virginia. Register online in advance.

Thursday, Dec. 9

  • Secret Things — 7:30 p.m. at 1st Stage Theatre (1524 Spring Hill Road) — A journalist investigates mysterious tips in her hometown involving Mexican-Americans and Judaism. Tickets are $50 with steep discounts available. The show runs through Sunday (Dec. 12).

Friday, Dec. 10

  • Mayor and Town Council Holiday Reception — 4-6 p.m. at Vienna Town Hall (127 Center Street S) — Enjoy refreshments while engaging with Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert and the town council in an informal, festive setting.
  • Disney in December — 7 p.m. at George C. Marshall High School (7731 Leesburg Pike) — The school’s student choir performs songs from Disney movie classics.  Shows also take place on Saturday at 1:30 and 7 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 11

  • Story Time with Santa — 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Boro Park (8350 Broad St.) — Holiday stories, photos, hot cocoa, and more fill this free event, along with a Toys for Tots donation drive. The nonprofit Turning the Book will have a pop-up book store on the site from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Holiday Market — 12-5 p.m. at The PARC (8508 Leesburg Pike) — Take care of your holiday shopping list at this pop-up market of local artisans and small businesses from Celebrate Fairfax. The event is free, but food, drinks, and the merchandise aren’t. The market is indoors, so masks are required.

Sunday, Dec. 12

  • Psychic Connections in Criminal Investigations — 1-2 p.m. at Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library (7584 Leesburg Pike) — Meet Noreen Renier, a psychic investigator who has been featured on shows from “Larry King Live” to Court TV’s “Psychic Investigators.” A book signing follows her talk. Masks are required for the free event.
0 Comments

Developers broke ground last week on a project to construct new townhomes on part of Graham Park Plaza.

The project will bring 177 townhomes to the West Falls Church shopping plaza at 7271 Arlington Boulevard. The developer committed to having 22 of those in Fairfax County’s affordable dwelling unit program.

It’ll also redevelop the area with public greenspace, improved sidewalks, and bicycle facilities.

Bethesda-based developer EYA, which is also involved in several other projects in the Falls Church area, has sold 40 townhomes so far, and the next phase of sales will occur early next year, a spokesperson said.

“This project supports one of our key strategic objectives, to provide attainably priced homeownership options in a well-designed, walkable neighborhood,” Evan Goldman, an executive with EYA, said in a news release.

The three-story townhomes with an option for a fourth-story loft start in the mid-$600,000s.

Goldman participated in a groundbreaking ceremony last Wednesday (Dec. 1) with Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, and others, including representatives of property management firm Federal Realty, which has retained part of the plaza.

Federal Realty previously owned the entire plaza but sold 8 acres on the western side for $20.25 million in March to make way for the townhouse project. Several buildings on the eastern half of the plaza, including a Giant grocery store, were slated to remain for retail.

McKay said revitalization projects take a lot of creativity.

“It’s not just another development,” he said. “It’s revitalization and transformation of a part of the county where we need to continue that momentum.”

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list