Tysons, VA

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand revealed his suggestions for a new name for Mosby Woods Elementary School to the Fairfax County School Board on Thursday (Oct. 22).

Listed in no particular order, the recommended names are:

  • Mosaic – a nod to the school’s proximity to the Mosaic District
  • Five Oaks – the name of the road where the school is located
  • Katherine Johnson – a mathematician who helped make spaceflight and the Apollo 11 moon landing possible as a “computer” for NASA
  • Mary McBride – a teacher who helped start a school near Fairfax Court House for the children of freed slaves after the Civil War
  • Barbara Rose Johns – a student civil rights activist who led a strike in protest of conditions at the all-black Moton High School in Farmville, Va., paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education

Brabrand compiled his recommendations based on input from the Mosby Woods community after the school board voted on Oct. 8 to change the Fairfax school’s name so that it no longer bears the moniker of John S. Mosby, who achieved prominence as a calvary commander for the Confederate Army.

Providence District School Board representative Karl Frisch and at-large member Karen Keys-Gamarra proposed renaming Mosby Woods Elementary School on June 18 with the support of descendants of Mosby.

Under the current FCPS regulation for renaming school facilities, the school board is required to provide a one-month period for public comment between the superintendent’s submission of recommendations for a new name and the board’s final vote on the new name.

Led by the region assistant superintendent and the school board members who represent the area where the school in question is located, the public comment period must include a community meeting, public hearing, and the acceptance of mail and electronic feedback.

The community meeting on the recommended names for Mosby Woods has been scheduled for Nov. 30, and a public hearing will be held on Dec. 2 before the school board has a deciding vote on the new name on Dec. 3.

Image via FCPS

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For the first time in its 48-year history, Second Story is going online for its most important fundraiser.

Scheduled for Oct. 27, the 2020 Beacon of Hope Fundraiser will give supporters a look at how the Tysons-based nonprofit has adapted to the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, whose impact has been felt most acutely by poor and marginalized communities like the youths and families that Second Story serves.

Taking the form of a video streamed live on YouTube from 12:30-1:00 p.m., the fundraiser will feature updates from Second Story CEO Judith Dittman on the organization’s current status and its plans for the future. Three youths will also talk about their involvement in the nonprofit’s programs, which provide housing, counseling, and other kinds of assistance to young people and families in need.

The planned virtual fundraiser will be a major change from Second Story’s traditional Beacon of Hope benefit, which is held in October every year and typically serves as the nonprofit’s largest fundraising event.

“This is such a new territory for us, but everyone’s been really working hard in making sure that people will understand what the needs are of the under-served population that we work with,” Second Story vice president of development Jade Leedham said.

The annual Beacon of Hope fundraiser is especially critical for Second Story this year, as the nonprofit attempts to fill more gaps in essential needs for its clients during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

While Second Story also serves Washington, D.C., and Maryland, it is primarily based in Northern Virginia with programs to support teenagers in crisis, and young adults and mothers experiencing homelessness. The nonprofit also has drop-in centers in the Culmore area of Falls Church, Annandale, and Springfield that provide after-school support to students.

Leedham says Second Story has seen a “huge” increase in the need for food. Distribution events held twice a week in Culmore have consistently drawn about 300 people per day, while a site in Springfield regularly gets 100 people coming each day.

Second Story has also been dropping off food for clients who are unable to attend the distribution events.

Other pressing issues include access to technology, as students risked being left out of schools’ shift to virtual learning, and rent support after about 70 percent of the youths in Second Story’s rapid re-housing program lost hours at their jobs or got laid off in the past year.

At the same time, Second Story has seen the number of people using its residential programs dip.

“[It’s] the nature of COVID,” Leedham said. “People are reluctant to leave or to go anywhere that’s not familiar to them or that they don’t know is safe or not.” Read More

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The McLean Governmental Center and Providence Community Center are among the most popular sites for early voting in Fairfax County after the county expanded early voting to 13 satellite locations on Oct. 14.

While voters have shown up in droves throughout the county, turnout has been especially high at those two Tysons-area sites, Mount Vernon Government Center in Alexandria, and Reston’s North County Governmental Center, according to county officials.

The Fairfax County Government Center, which has been open for early voting since Sept. 18, also remains popular, but the addition of the satellite locations has eased some of the pressure there after weeks of unusually long lines and wait times.

The wait time for voting in-person now generally ranges from 20 to 40 minutes, though it varies depending on the time of day and day of the week, Fairfax County public information officer Brian Worthy says, noting that mornings tend to be busier.

Sen. Mark Warner (D), who visited the McLean Governmental Center and other early voting sites in Northern Virginia on Saturday (Oct. 17), called the strong turnout “a great sign.”

“This is the first year we’ve had early voting, so I think maybe in future years, [we could think about] opening up additional sites earlier,” Warner said. “But I also think it’s a great sign of how healthy our democracy is if this many people are coming out to vote.”

Saturday represented the biggest turnout yet for Fairfax County. The nearly 11,000 early votes cast on Oct. 17 exceeded the biggest day for early voting in 2016, which came on the final day for early voting in that election, according to the county elections office.

Election workers at the McLean Governmental Center on Saturday told Tysons Reporter that the number of people arriving to cast ballots grew throughout the week, starting around 500 people and peaking at 800 people that Friday (Oct. 16).

Turnout continued to be brisk on Saturday, but the lines were shorter and moved more quickly, because some people instead went to Great Falls Library, which opened on Oct. 17 and is only available for early voting on Saturdays. Read More

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Fairfax County police are investigating a homicide that occurred early this morning in the Falls Church area near Dunn Loring.

The Fairfax County Police Department reported at 2:40 a.m. today (Thursday) that detectives were responding to the 2300 block of Watters Glen Court for a homicide investigation. The scene is reportedly contained with one person in custody and “no apparent threat to public safety.”

The victim and suspect are both adult men, and it “appears to be a domestic related incident,” according to the FCPD.

Tysons Reporter has reached out to the Fairfax County police for comment and will update this article as needed if more information comes in.

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Fairfax County inched closer to transitioning to renewable energy yesterday (Tuesday) when the Board of Supervisors authorized staff to lease Providence 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)
  • Reston Community Center (2310 Colts Neck Road, 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 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 will design, permit, install, and operate 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 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 in the first phase of the PPA.

Image via Flickr/Minoru Karamatsu

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Former Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco got a shout-out from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during its regular meeting today (Tuesday).

Led by Chairman Jeff McKay and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the board adopted a resolution recognizing DiRocco for her 17 years of service to the Town of Vienna, a tenure that included stints on the town council, planning commission, and transportation safety commission prior to her three terms as mayor.

“It’s been a pleasure to serve the town of Vienna, and I know it’s in capable hands now,” DiRocco said when accepting the recognition.

DiRocco first became mayor in 2014, when she was appointed to the position following the death of Mayor Jane Seeman before winning an election for the seat later that year.

As mayor, DiRocco prioritized enhancing Vienna’s environmental sustainability, walkability, and financial responsibility. She oversaw the construction of a new community center and the installation of a mini-roundabout at Park and Locust Streets to help relieve traffic backups.

DiRocco also shepherded Vienna’s contentious efforts to cement Maple Avenue as the town’s central corridor by establishing a Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) Zone designed to support redevelopment and mixed-use projects.

DiRocco announced last December that she would not seek a fourth term as Vienna’s mayor, completing her final term on June 30.

In their joint board matter requesting the proclamation for DiRocco, McKay and Alcorn commended the former Vienna mayor as “not only an incredible asset to the town, but to Fairfax County as a whole.”

“Her accessibility to Vienna residents, her ability to work with all sides on tough Town issues, and her diligent advocacy for the Town – always with a smile on her face – means she will be a mayor we will all miss,” McKay and Alcorn said.

Alcorn commended DiRocco for advocating the Town of Vienna’s behalf when working with the county on projects like an agreement to increase public parking for Patrick Henry Library and the town’s new police station.

“Towns have this kind of unique setup where we’re reliant on counties for schools and human health services, but we also have this independent side,” DiRocco said. “I greatly appreciate Fairfax County in the ability to provide the support and partnerships we really needed in certain times, but also to honor our independence.”

The resolution acknowledging DiRocco’s work as mayor was followed by a similar proclamation recognizing Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel, who is not seeking reelection in November.

The Board of Supervisors also presented Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th District) with a Virginia Association of Counties Achievement Award, which recognizes “excellence in local government programs.” Watts received the award for advocating for the Virginia General Assembly to grant counties more taxing authorities.

The public presentations were the first ones delivered by the Board of Supervisors since March, when the board temporarily shifted to electronic meetings due to public health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image via Town of Vienna

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How often should a homeowner have to reassure the county that their granny flat is a granny flat?

That is one of many questions facing Fairfax County as it continues working toward the first major overhaul of its zoning ordinance in 40 years.

Providence District Planning Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner attempted to answer some of those questions in a discussion with the Providence District Council on Oct. 14 that also touched on development and housing.

The importance of the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project, or zMOD, has become increasingly apparent as housing affordability challenges persist and more people work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Niedzielski-Eichner says.

“We want, on the one hand, to increase the opportunity for people to afford to live in the community,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “We want to allow for the potential of people working out of their homes. We want to recognize that that’s an evolving reality. At the same time, we’re sensitive to protecting the neighborhood and don’t want it to cause parking problems and other neighborhood issues.”

Among the biggest proposed changes to the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance are new regulations for accessory living units, which generally known as accessory dwelling units but got a name change in Fairfax to avoid confusion with affordable dwelling units.

Defined as “subordinate living spaces with areas for eating, sleeping, living, and sanitation,” ALUs are currently only allowed in Fairfax County if an occupant of the unit or the principal dwelling is 55-plus years old or has a disability.

Under Fairfax County’s most recent draft zoning ordinance, which has been available for public comment since June 30, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors would have the option of eliminating the age and disability requirements for an accessory living unit.

The draft ordinance also outlines a new process for homeowners to get approval for an ALU.

Currently, homeowners currently have to attend a public hearing if they want to add an ALU, but the proposed zoning ordinance allows property owners to instead apply for an administrative or special permit that would need to be renewed every five years.

Niedzielski-Eichner says county staff is considering requiring renewal every two years instead of five, as they try to acknowledge concerns about the potential impact of accessory living units on neighborhoods without overly burdening property owners.

“We already know that people are doing accessory living units outside of the context of permitting or any regulation,” the Providence District planning commissioner said. “If we make it so difficult that people don’t want to enter into the process, then we lose the ability to influence the quality of that process and how it’s implemented.”

The Fairfax County Planning Commission’s land use process review committee is scheduled to have a discussion on zMOD this Thursday (Oct. 22) at 7:30 p.m.

Other land use and zoning challenges facing Fairfax County, especially a district like Providence that spans urbanizing centers like Tysons and older neighborhoods like Mantua, include expanding the availability of affordable and workforce housing, and ensuring that county services and infrastructure keep pace with development.

Niedzielski-Eichner says he has advocated for the county to become more data-driven when making decisions, such as altering policies around ALUs, that could potentially change the character of a neighborhood.

“It’s all about community confidence,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “I feel that we have to do those things so that the community will come along with the policy and have confidence that it follows their best interests.”

Image via Providence District Council

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(Updated at 10:43 on 10/21/2020) Members of the public will get to ride “Relay,” Merrifield’s new autonomous, electric shuttle service, for the first time this Thursday (Oct. 22), the Fairfax County Department of Transportation announced on Monday.

The shuttle will transport its first public riders along its designated route between the Mosaic District and the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro Station at the conclusion of a celebration that will also feature comments by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D), and other officials.

Face coverings and observance of social distancing protocols will be mandatory for attendees.

“We’re all really excited about it,” Fairfax County Economic Initiatives Coordinator Eta Nahapetian said. “It’s been so hard with the pandemic. It’s so many less people [at the Mosaic District]. All the retail businesses are suffering, and this is actually, hopefully a really good opportunity for some good news.”

The first state-funded, autonomous, electric vehicle designed for public transportation to be tested in Virginia, Relay will operate free of charge from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays.

While the shuttle can accommodate up to 12 passengers, ridership will generally be limited to four people – three passengers and a vehicle safety operator – when it launches to ensure compliance with COVID-19 social distancing protocols.

Nahapetian says the county is considering whether to have some flexibility with the ridership cap for families or other groups who have been staying together in the same household during the pandemic.

Fairfax County first announced that it had partnered with Dominion Energy to pilot a driverless, electric shuttle in the Merrifield area on June 19, 2019.

Other partners on the project include Mosaic District developer EDENS and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which provided a $250,000 grant matched by $50,000 from Fairfax County. Dominion paid for the shuttle and related charging infrastructure, and Transdev is responsible for managing the operations and maintainance of the vehicle.

Since the Relay shuttle went on its first test run on July 28, Fairfax County and Dominion have tweaked the technology and enhanced the infrastructure along its route, adding more signs and engineering a traffic signal priority at the two intersections where it will cross traffic.

“We’ve been working through all those details during the past several months,” Nahapetian said.

The autonomous electric shuttle demonstration project is expected to last about a year.

In addition to using that time to gauge public opinion of its experiment with driverless vehicles, Fairfax County will gather data on the technology used in the pilot through an independent research study conducted by Virginia Transportation Research Council and Virginia Tech.

The county has also partnered with George Mason University’s School of Business for a separate study on “human factors” of the project, such as how the shuttle is being used and how it affects Merrifield’s economy.

Research on the Relay shuttle’s economic impact could be especially meaningful as it launches amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, which forced many restaurants and retail businesses in the Mosaic District and elsewhere to close earlier this year.

“Hopefully, there will be a lot of interesting technology findings and economic findings that come out of the project,” Nahapetian said. “Can we use this technology as a first-mile/last-mile [option]? We are so single-occupant-vehicle dependent. We need to change that.”

Correction: This article has been edited to state that the company responsible for managing the operations and maintenance of the Relay shuttle is Transdev, not Transurban as previously stated.

Photo courtesy Peggy Fox/Dominion Energy

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Over the past week, Fairfax County recorded its highest seven-day average for COVID-19 cases since mid-June, a potentially worrying development as the weather turns colder and forces more activities indoors.

Fairfax County’s weekly average for new COVID-19 cases hit 118 on Oct. 14, its highest since the county averaged 126 cases over seven days on June 13, according to the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health.

While the seven-day average has dipped back down in subsequent days to 85 cases on average as of Sunday (Oct. 18), Fairfax County joins the rest of Virginia in seeing an upward trend in cases in October, even if its numbers remain significantly lower than those seen in other parts of the state.

On top of reporting two new deaths, both of them on Oct. 17, Fairfax County added 598 COVID-19 cases during the week of Oct. 13-19. The Fairfax Health District has a cumulative total of 22,916 cases, 617 deaths, and 2,239 hospitalizations.

The zip code 22042, which contains West Falls Church south of Route 29, remains the most heavily affected part of the Tysons area, adding 28 cases over the past week for 1,173 cases overall and 3,497 cases per 100,000 persons in a population of 33,537 people.

Though COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County have ticked up in October compared to late September, the county has not yet seen another surge in transmissions like the one that hit this spring, which peaked with a weekly average of 303 cases on May 31.

Since that spring surge, Northern Virginia in general has been reporting lower case rates than the rest of the state, with a moving seven-day average of 238 cases as of Oct. 19 compared to 799 cases on average for all other regions.

As a whole, Virginia recorded a seven-day moving average of 1,037 on Oct. 19, and the state has added 7,258 COVID-19 cases over the past week for a statewide total of 166,828 cases. Virginia has reported 11,882 hospitalizations and 3,457 deaths.

With public health experts predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen this winter as the weather gets colder, Fairfax County officials are discouraging people from engaging in trick-or-treating, indoor costume parties, and other traditional celebrations for Halloween this year.

“In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” Fairfax Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said. “For people who are more likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19, celebrating virtually or with members of your own household may be the safest way to enjoy the holiday.”

Image via CDC on Unsplash, Virginia Department of Health

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McLean High School is one of three Fairfax County public schools that have canceled plans to serve as test centers for the SAT on Nov. 7.

One of the other schools, Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, has scheduled a make-up date for Nov. 21, but McLean’s next SAT test date is not until Dec. 5. The third school to opt out of the Nov. 7 testing date — Westfield High School in Chantilly — does not appear to be offering the SAT again until Mar. 13.

Fairfax County Public Schools says it is customary for individual schools to make their own decisions about hosting the SAT, because they are responsible for assigning staff to proctor the test.

“The three schools that cancelled in Fairfax County for November 7 cited various reasons for doing so, primarily due to staffing difficulties,” FCPS director of news and information Lucy Caldwell said in a statement to Tysons Reporter. “Fortunately, students are able to take the exams at any of the schools where it is offered.”

Higher education institutions have long used scores from standardized tests like the SAT to help determine student admissions, but skepticism of this approach has grown in recent years, with critics arguing that the tests tend to be culturally biased and favor students whose families can afford to pay for private tutoring.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, also known as FairTest, more than 1,630 four-year universities and colleges in the U.S. have made reporting SAT or ACT scores optional for fall 2021 admissions, including Fairfax’s George Mason University, which became the first public university in Virginia to adopt a test-optional policy in 2007.

Because of school closures and public health concerns triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association for College Admission Counseling released a statement on Aug. 26 urging public institutions to make standardized test scores optional for the 2021-22 admissions cycle.

“Inequities caused by COVID-19 disruption – loss of family income, secondary school closures, interruptions in the K-12 educational program – will worsen an already difficult situation for millions of students,” NACAC said. “In this critical time, public colleges must be mindful of their founding purpose of serving students and families and recognize that lifting testing requirements in 2020-21 will be in the students’ best interest.”

College Board, the nonprofit that oversees the SAT, asked colleges to provide flexibility by extending deadlines for receiving test scores, giving equal consideration to students who can and cannot submit scores, and recognizing that students who do submit scores may not have had the opportunity to take the test more than once.

After putting the SAT on hiatus in April, May, and June, College Board resumed administering the test in August, but the organization notes that “there is limited testing capacity in certain areas due to public health restrictions and high demand.”

FCPS high schools hosted an SAT School Day on Sept. 23. A list of schools that will be hosting the SAT on Nov. 7 can be found at fcps.edu/sat.

Students are required to wear masks, complete a health screening questionnaire, and register the exam ahead of time, rather than on-site, among other guidelines.

“Fairfax County Public Schools is committed to the health and safety of all staff, students, and parents/guardians,” FCPS says. “All testing procedures and safety protocols will be followed to ensure testing and cleaning practices meet current health department and division guidance.”

Photo via McLean High School PTSA

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