Tysons, VA

On one of her final days in office, Laurie DiRocco took a moment to reflect on her accomplishments as Vienna’s mayor.

DiRocco was first elected to the Town Council in 2009 and has been the mayor since 2014, according to her town bio. She has lived in the town since 1995.

Going back 20 years, DiRocco said that serving on the Town Council or as mayor wasn’t on her radar when she was working in finance, but decided to run for mayor at the request of her predecessor.

Her key efforts included environmental sustainability, town walkability and financial responsibility, she told Tysons Reporter earlier this week.

Under her leadership, the town built a brand new community center that met the mark for a LEED Gold Certification, meaning that the center was built keeping in mind the highest standards of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

This building was the first in the town to meet such high standards, according to DiRocco.

DiRocco said her focus on sustainability also applies to commuters and pedestrians.

“A big thing for me was walkability. I walk all the time. I love to run and bike and wanted to improve that in the town,” she said.

To encourage exploration of the community and relations with her constitutes, DiRocco would organize Friday morning walks. Each week, people were invited to join her at 9:30 a.m. to take a roughly 3-mile walk — giving them the chance to personally meet DiRocco and check out sites around the town. Roughly 10-20 people would take her up on the offer each week, she said.

“Some people would stop by because they wanted to talk to me in a casual environment,” she said. “But I also had some regulars.”

Thanks to funding from Maud Robinson, a former council member, DiRocco said that the town was able to install miles of sidewalks during her term.

To ease traffic in the town, DiRocco noted that a roundabout at Locust Street SE and Park Street was “wildly successful” in eliminating traffic jams for commuters. “That was a nice little transportation project that I’m proud of,” she said.

DiRococo has been active in the Black Lives Matter rallies around town, posting photos and videos showing community members kneeling in allyship to the Black community on her personal Facebook page.

“I thought they were really powerful,” she said, noting how “peaceful and well thought out” the protests were.

DiRocco said that “there hasn’t been an issue within our police station,” but that nearby localities have had issues with police brutality and racial injustice.

For Vienna specifically, she said that the Town Council began examining how policing happens in Vienna. About five years, the town started work on the conception plans for the upcoming police station.

Though a subject of controversy around town, DiRocco said that the plans for the new station include more involvement from the community to rethink the relationship between police and the community.

“We have an opportunity to make changes,” she said.

Following in DiRocco’s footsteps, Linda Colbert, who was first elected to the Town Council in 2014, is the incoming mayor.

“She has a knowledge base of how things operate,” Di Rocco said. “She really cares about the town, the people and the community. It’s about her love for Vienna, not political purposes.”

The two leaders have already met to talk about the position, according to DiRocco.

DiRocco said she’s confident that Colbert will continue many of the popular traditions, such as the town’s volunteer recognition — which DiRocco said she has expanded upon during her time in office.

Photo via Laurie DiRocco/Facebook

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Updated at 10:45 a.m. — Corrects reference to Lake Braddock Secondary School.

As the Fairfax County public school system prepares for the fall, some teachers’ unions are expressing concern about how safe in-person learning might be during the pandemic.

To accommodate both families and teachers, FCPS asked both groups to fill out a form by July 10, stating whether they would prefer to stick with a distance learning plan or return to the classroom. After this date, many teachers will find out if they will be required to return or stay at home.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and Fairfax Education Association released a press release calling for increased transparency and a clearly outlined health plan for reopening.

Though teachers are allowed to request a full-time remote-learning position, this cannot be guaranteed according to the current plan.

“Teacher placements will be contingent upon student enrollment numbers in the online program; teacher placement decisions will be tiered by individual teacher’s medical need, family medical need, and preference,” FCPS documents said.

Additionally, teachers with medical conditions that increase the risk of COVID-19 will be given “flexible leave and telework assignments,” the plan said.

David Walrod, who teaches 7th grade at Lake Braddock Secondary School, said as a member of the teacher’s union that he wishes teachers would get of choice of whether or not they work remotely.

“Personally I’m hoping that I get a remote position because personally I don’t feel that they will be able to keep schools as safe as they think they are,” he said, adding that he is also concerned for his own young daughter.

“Our educators are overwhelmingly not comfortable returning to schools. They fear for their lives, the lives of their students and the lives of their families,” Tina Williams, the president of Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said in the press release.

At the school board meeting last Tuesday (June 23), the board members discussed various concerns and options for reopening.

Melanie Meren, the Hunter Mill District representative on the board, spoke on behalf of teachers during the meeting. “We cannot skimp on [personal protective equipment],” she said. “We need to advocate for that if we don’t have the funds.”

Not everyone will be satisfied with whatever is ultimately decided, Karl Frisch, who represents the Providence District, told his fellow board members.

Frisch said that he’s spent almost 100 hours with local families, community members and stakeholders discussing options for the upcoming school year. “There is no perfect solution to this problem,” he said. “We must consider any contingency that may come and meet us.”

FCPS officials have said that input from local health and state health officials will inform reopening plans.

Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board earlier this month that he is worried about the realities of social distancing in schools and wants to prevent staff from resigning over safety concerns.

FCFT’s press release called for teachers and educators in the county to speak up about their concerns.

Walrod said that he hopes Fairfax County will adopt a new model like the one for a school district in Pennsylvania where all students and staff will be working and learning remotely for 75 days into the school year until the school board members have a clearer understanding of COVID-19.

Walrod said that there is a chance parents will overwhelmingly want their kids to take advantage of distance learning so there will be less of a demand for in-person lessons.

Kimberly Adams, the president of the Fairfax Education Association, said in a press release that the group is advocating for remote learning until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is available.

“All staff should be provided the ability to continue virtual instruction as long as there is community spread of this virus,” Adams said. “We will continue to make every possible effort to assist FCPS in developing a plan that keeps health and safety first.”

Photo courtesy Dan Dennis on Unsplash

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For people seeking a summer activity, the McLean Community Center has organized an all-ages scavenger hunt.

The MCC Super Summer Scavenger Hunt promises participants the chance to complete 100 challenges with a team of four to 10 people, according to the website.

Each challenge consists of taking photos, geocaching, finding specific items and other such activities, the page said, adding that each task will be worth a variety of points.

“Teams earning at least 30,000 points will be entered into a grand prize drawing,” the website said.

Participation is free but only 125 teams can participate. The first 50 teams to register will receive a goodie bag, according to the page.

The challenge will run from July 1-Aug. 17. Group captains, who must be 16 or older, can register the teams online.

Team members will need a cell phone to document their findings.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

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The expansion plans for the Capital One Campus in Tysons may turn out differently than originally expected after the developer approached the Fairfax County Planning Commission last night with new ideas.

Major proposed changes to the plan include the elimination of the planned hotel and the addition of new office space and real estate, which Gregory Riegle, the lawyer representing Capital One, said was requested because of changes to the market.

“Candidly, the hotel industry in Tysons and the Northern Virginia area had a number of challenges in terms of oversupply even before the pandemic. The intervening circumstances have only exacerbated those realities,” Riegle said.

“The overall master plan of the campus remains the same,” Stephen Gardner, a senior planner with Fairfax County, said, adding that the amount of office space will jump to 67%.

Two buildings would slightly decrease in height if this adjustment is approved, while another building would increase its height to 305 feet, which is equivalent to roughly 28 stories, Gardner said. Open space on the campus would remain the same.

The building with the increased height would include 328,974 square feet of extra floor area.

After a brief discussion, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to favorably recommend the changes to the Board of Supervisors. The county board is set to consider the proposal on July 14.

It is unclear which businesses might take over the additional retail spaces provided by the proposed changes.

“Progress is continuing irrespective of situations with the pandemic and associated issues,” Riegle said, adding that the Wegmans is expected to be completed later in 2020, while the performing arts center will likely be done in 2021.

Image courtesy Fairfax County Planning Commission

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A Vienna woman decided to take advantage of free time to help women around the D.C. area that are either suffering from homelessness or domestic violence while also supporting a regional Black-owned eatery.

Alexandra Sorrell, a recent Virginia Tech graduate, doesn’t start her new job until October and said she couldn’t stand the idea of sitting idly by while other people are in need. So Sorrell decided to organize a GoFundMe to purchase full-price meals from Puddin’ for women at both the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter and N Street Village facilities.

Both of these non-profits focus on helping women and children in the area by offering housing, counseling and advocacy, according to their websites.

“It’s hard to find things to fill your time and I felt so guilty sitting at home while so many people are suffering, especially now with the pandemic and Black Lives Matter,” she said.

Though Sorrell thought about assisting community members around Vienna, she recognized that there was a more immediate and extreme need in D.C.

One of Sorrell’s family friends is an emergency room nurse in a regional hospital and told her that they have seen record numbers of domestic violence and child abuse cases.

“I was trying to address as many areas of struggle as I could,” she said.

Puddin’, which is owned by Toyin Alli, serves Southern-style comfort food, according to the food truck’s website. Sorrell chose the truck from a recommendation of a staffer at N Street Village.

Sorrell told Tysons Reporter that she wanted to do more than provide canned food meals. Through Puddin’, she is able to connect recipients with meals they could enjoy.

She added that she wants to help replicate the joy that she feels when she is able to enjoy a nice meal with some friends.

As of this morning, the campaign has raised $1,760 out of $2,500. If the campaign doesn’t raise the full amount, Sorrell said she would donate the rest from the signing bonus from her new job.

The campaign will run through Aug. 1, according to the GoFundMe.

“My fear is to be ever complacent,” Sorrell said, adding that she hopes other people will assist with outreach and take advantage of free time to help others.

Photo via Puddin’/Facebook

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In response to demands for police reform in the City of Falls Church, the City Council is seeking residents to serve on its new Use of Force Review Committee.

The committee members will be responsible for meeting bi-weekly from August to November to rethink police force policies and procedures, engage the community for diverse perspectives, report findings and make recommendations, according to a press release.

Volunteer applications are due July 5 at 11:59 p.m.

Councilmembers are ultimately responsible for choosing the candidates, and upcoming committee members can expect to be officially appointed on July 27, the press release said.

Here’s more from the press release:

The recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the loss of many other Black lives, have left our nation anguished and outraged. The Obama Foundation and the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance have called on mayors and other city officials to pledge to take actions to review and reform police use of force policies and procedures. Mayor Tarter and City Council have committed to follow the precepts of the pledge and look forward to the UFRC’s recommendations.

People who want more information about the position can contact the city clerk’s office at 703-248-5014 (TTY 711).

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After construction-related closures, commuters can expect several Silver Line stations to reopen ahead of schedule, according to a press release from the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.

On Aug. 16, WMATA plans to reopen the McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, Spring Hill and Wiehle-Reston East stations along with the West Falls Church station.

“Assuming the platform work continues at its current pace, the remaining three west-of-Ballston stations (Vienna, Dunn Loring, and East Falls Church) are expected to reopen around Labor Day,” the press release added.

The timely completion of the projects can partially be contributed to the drop in ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the press release said, adding that ridership is down 90% from this time last year.

“Metro has been working to efficiently use track access time during a period of historically low ridership,” the press release said. “Earlier this year, the transit agency combined Orange Line platform reconstruction and Silver Line signal integration into a multi-month summer shutdown of the nine rail stations west of Ballston”

Free shuttle busses will replace trains until the stations reopen, the press release said. “However, Vienna and Dunn Loring customers will be able to connect to Metrorail at West Falls Church, rather than Ballston.”

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After temporarily closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Pizza Hut location in Vienna has shuttered permanently.

The location previously at 541 Maple Ave W. said on its Facebook page that it is “permanently closed,” but there was no post explaining why. Additionally, the location’s page was removed from the list on the eatery’s corporate website.

Just last year, the chain closed more than 500 locations nationally, according to USA Today.

People hungry for pizza in the area can check out a variety of other pizza parlors near Maple Ave, such as Lombardi’s and Church Street Pizzeria (115 Church Street) and the newly opened PizzaRoni (235 Maple Ave E.)

Photo via Pizza Hut/Facebook

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Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that Virginia is on track to enter Phase Three next Wednesday (July 1). 

“That gives us about three and a half weeks in Phase Two, where we have been able to follow the data,” Northam said, adding that he wants people to keep wearing masks and follow guidelines to avoid recent spikes on other states.

During his press conference today, Northam and state health department officials said that Virginia is seeing a decline in cases and hospitalizations.

Phase Three guidelines will:

  • allow social gatherings with groups of 250 or less
  • lift the restrictions on non-essential retail stores
  • allow fitness centers and pools to open at 75% capacity
  • reopen child care facilities
  • restaurants may resume full capacity though people must stay six feet apart

Still, things such as overnight summer camps for kids will not be allowed, Northam said. Northam said that the “safer at home” recommendation is still in place for people who are immunocompromised, and remote work is encouraged.

Other changes include public access to online data from nursing homes and long term care facilities throughout the state, according to Northam. This data includes the number of cases and number of deaths, one of Northam’s advisers said.

“Now that there are more cases in the facilities, we can release the information without compromising the confidentiality,” he said.

To track and limit the spread of COVID-19 in care facilities, Northam also announced that $56 million will be available for testing of both residents and care-takers.

Image via Facebook Live

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After area hospitals began to see the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Vienna company LaserShip decided to donate its services to help deliver personal protective equipment and other necessities to several Inova locations.

For medical workers, PPE can save lives by limiting the contact healthcare professionals have with people who might be carrying COVID-19. Josh Dinneen, LaserShip’s VP of Commercial Development, said the company decided early on in the pandemic to help deliver this equipment at no cost to the medical centers.

“We are just managing it, getting it where it needs to go for them,” Dinneen said. “Whatever we can do to leverage what we have in our resources, we need to do it in this time of crisis.”

As a “last-mile delivery service,” the majority of LaserShip’s business comes from medical supply and e-commerce, Dinneen said, adding that it made sense for them to help community members in need.

During this three-month partnership, which will likely be renewed in July, Dinneen said the company has delivered life-saving supply to three Inova Hospitals and 10 additional affiliated medical centers  — including Inova Alexandria, Inova Fair Oaks and Inova Fairfax hospitals. 

“What’s good for the community now will be good for us in the long-run,” he said.

Dinneen said the company chose to affiliate with Inova because they have coordinated on things like blood drives before.

Though LaserShip began with shipments to hospitals and medical centers nearly every daily when the partnership first began in April, Dinneen said that demand has lessened somewhat, and now they are only sending drivers out once or twice a week.

Going forward, LaserShip will also be helping Food For Others, a Merrifield based organization that helps community members facing food insecurity.

“We’ve offered to come in and do some logistics advice,” he said, adding that the company is also helping the organization with food delivery.

Photo courtesy LaserShip

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