Parents who have spent the last year calling for a five-day return to school for Fairfax County Public Schools students are circulating petitions to remove three Fairfax County School Board members.
“Our petitions are all about the board ignoring science, dismissing the wishes of parents to have kids in school, and putting politics (unions) before our children,” the Open FCPS Coalition group tells Tysons Reporter. “We have people of all walks of life — young and old, with kids and without kids signing. People were afraid to sign at first because they didn’t want to get involved. But as more time passed, and people got disappointed about the school board lying to us, they started signing.”
They admitted that the campaign faces long odds. According to Ballotpedia, Virginia has seen just one successful recall campaign in at least the past decade, with the majority of efforts — including one against former Mason District School Board representative Sandy Evans — failing to reach a circuit court.
This parent coalition has been around since November and started distributing petition templates to other counties around that time. But the momentum did not pick up until mid-February, members said.
“December and January, people still weren’t getting out much and if they were, it wasn’t to come and sign a petition,” the group said. “Many people who sign now sign because of other things that they are frustrated with, but we are just glad people are recognizing our efforts.”
The Open FCPS Coalition describes itself as a bipartisan organization.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, donor records show that its largest gifts have come from former Republican governor candidate Pete Snyder and N2 America Inc., a conservative group that has been vocal in school reopenings. Its largest expenditure has been for signature collection services, an expense that went to a center-right door-to-door voter contact firm with ties to N2 America.
“Anyone who wants to donate is welcome to…If the Dem party wants to donate we surely will take it,” the group said. “But it seems that though many Dems have signed and silently support, some are afraid to stand up for open schools. Thankfully we have Dems in our group who are bold and brave and know that nothing about the recall is personal or about politics. It is about what is moral.”
Coalition members aimed to collect enough signatures to recall at least one school board member by the end of this school year, which concluded on Friday (June 11).
The coalition chose Cohen, Tholen and Omeish after watching school board meetings and determining only one member had a record of voting and speaking that prioritized reopening over other issues: Braddock District representative Megan McLaughlin, according to the group’s website.
So, members narrowed down their targets to the two members who were elected with the fewest number of votes — Cohen and Tholen.
“Based on this discovery, the voters in their districts would likely provide the most support for the removal effort,” according to the website.
When reached for comment, Tholen said she centers all her work and decision-making on what is best for students.
“I am busy at this point fulfilling my job as a school board member,” she said. “I am closing out this school year, celebrating our class of 2021, planning for summer programs and preparing for fall when we will welcome all students in person five days per week.”
Cohen, meanwhile, said that her “focus is, has been, and always will be ensuring our students have the best opportunity to be successful in our schools.” Read More
The Fairfax County Planning Commission gave the green light yesterday (Wednesday) to a once-more revised version of a plan to revitalize downtown McLean.
“This amended plan is an important and hopefully major change for the future revitalization of the aging and somewhat dated downtown McLean business and shopping area,” Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder said.
Their unanimous vote came after commissioners made some last-minute changes to the plan in response to nearly two dozen people who aired their criticisms, both general and targeted, during a public hearing last month.
The changes incorporate some of that feedback, specifically on parking and building heights. One change responds to commissioners, who had some concerns regarding a mechanism to review the plan’s progress in 10 years or when 1,660 residential units have been built — whichever comes first.
Commissioners struck a section recommending changes to parking as well as a proposal to close the intersection of Center Street and Old Dominion Drive, which will remain open until a rezoning application is filed and reviewed.
They also clarified a section on building heights surrounding Franklin Sherman Elementary School and McLean Baptist Church such that the buildings abutting them cannot be more than 40 feet tall.
Finally, they recommend only triggering the review once 1,660 residential units have been developed, rather than after 10 years, which Ulfelder described as “an arbitrary time limit.” The revised McLean Community Business Center plan goes into greater detail about what the review could look like and the opportunities for community input ahead of any decision about adding more residences.
Will it be enough to attract developers?
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Ulfelder said.
The commission unanimously supported a follow-on motion directing the county to run a pilot project aimed at making McLean more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly with streets designed to slow down traffic.
“The pilot could include techniques like narrower vehicle lanes, the addition of on-street parking, time-of-day parking, and interim changes to road configurations,” Ulfelder said.
He suggested that the pilot’s scope encompass the area along Old Dominion Drive from Beverley Road to Corner Lane and along Chain Bridge Road from Old Chain Bridge Road to the Tennyson Drive and Ingleside intersections.
His recommendations include some ideas that were struck from the CBC plan’s parking management section.
Ultimately, Ulfelder said the current comprehensive plan has “proved to be too inflexible and unwieldy for landowners and potential developers,” while the proposed plan takes a “new approach that supports change and development while maintaining aspects of the CBC that the residents of McLean love and value.”
He thanked county staff for their work on weekends and after business hours to talk with residents, attend meetings, and continuously revise the plan.
“I think people don’t understand the commitment and sacrifice staff makes on these efforts,” he said.
Better traffic circulation, accessibility, and amenities are some potential changes that could come to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and National Park Service unveiled a proposed amendment to the park’s general management plan during a virtual public meeting on May 25.
“In general, the goal, in very broad strokes, is to improve the visitor experience,” Wolf Trap National Park Acting Superintendent Ken Bigley said. “In keeping with the preservation mandate of the National Park Service, we want to preserve the natural beauty and the character of this very special space…This is exactly where you come in as members of the public.”
The upgrades will focus on improving amenities, accessibility, safety, and security features; addressing long-documented site challenges, such as transportation access, pedestrian circulation, and stormwater management; addressing deferred maintenance areas; improving the visitor experience, and expanding opportunities for year-round park use.
The approximately 130-acre park located on former farmland has three outdoor venues: the Filene Center, the Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods, and the Meadow Pavilion, each served by a collection of structures that could be removed, rehabilitated, or upgraded. Other structures could also be added.
Concession buildings in the Filene Center area are outdated and could get upgrades, according to the presentation.
A food services building will be rebuilt to provide concession services, restrooms, and a deck area, while a service building will be replaced with two new buildings that will provide concession service, a security screening area and restrooms, and a rooftop-accessible picnic area.
The plan recommends rehabilitating a building to provide offices, a catering kitchen, restrooms, and a cabin to house U.S. Park Police and work as a space for park ushers.
Existing trailer offices would be removed.
Other additions include a security perimeter and a new pedestrian tunnel.
Architects are also looking at parking, traffic, and circulation. The three options being considered all widen the Main Circle Road to add a bypass lane for vehicles that need to access certain lots or parts of the park, while removing existing parking around Main Circle Road.
Option A would retain more trees than Option C, while Option B could incorporate a parking garage, the location of which has not been vetted, according to the presentation. Read More
It was the second deferral for the plan to guide development in downtown McLean, which has been developing over the last three years. The hotly debated plan was originally slated to go before the commission for a public hearing in April but was deferred to May. During that time, further revisions were made to the final draft.
Now, the planning commission will make a decision on June 9 ahead of a Board of Supervisors meeting set for June 22.
“A lot of hard work has been put into this,” Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder said. “I think those revisions help with some of the issues that have arisen since the original staff report. But we’re going to hear from the community there are still differences of opinion about the proposed language.”
Nearly two dozen speakers voiced their opinions at the commission’s public hearing last week, and a majority had criticisms of certain aspects of the plan or the plan in its entirety. Among the demands were more stringent stormwater protections, more surface parking, and a lower cap on residential units.
Covering a 230-acre area between Dolley Madison Boulevard, Chain Bridge Road, and Old Dominion Road, the draft plan is meant to incentivize developers to come to McLean and build more residential density in exchange for public open space and other community amenities. The plan also no longer prescribes specific uses for specific properties.
The plan divides the downtown area into Center, General, and Edge zones, each with height requirements. It allows for up to 3,850 residential units in McLean, which currently has 1,280 units.
Robert Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association, said the organization opposes the newest draft plan on the grounds of parking and stormwater management.
“Some changes made, and we are pleased with some of them, but [those] two major issues remain unaddressed satisfactorily,” he said.
The MCA previously recommended removing the entire parking management section because “its intention is to make parking scarce, not plentiful,” he said. It also recommended restoring old language with more specific and protective stormwater requirements.
Barbara Ryan, a citizen and credentialed sustainable landscape designer, said each subsequent draft has diluted stormwater management requirements. She called for restoring a requirement that new development retains one inch of water and imposing a volume limit on runoff, rather than requiring a reduction.
“The focus needs to address flooding and streambed erosion concerns, particularly as we are seeing downstream erosion in Pimmit Run,” she said.
Responding to earlier input, county staff recently added a provision stating that the plan will be reviewed either in 2031 or when 1,660 units are built or in development, whichever comes first. That would result in 2,360 total units in McLean, which is a few hundred more than the current upper limit of 2,175.
But planning commissioners were skeptical of the 10-year timeframe.
“One of the issues in development years is that 10 years is in the blink of an eye,” Ulfelder said. “I think this is necessary and appropriate, but it’s not clear to me what we’ll know in this timeframe unless the developers are hanging outside the CBC waiting for this plan amendment to be passed — salivating, waiting to put together some blocks of land, particularly in the center zone.” Read More
A list of possible new names for Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (Route 50) could be ready as soon as this December.
On July 13, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors could approve about 25 members for a task force to examine the possibility of renaming the highways and appoint the group’s chair.
The group would recommend whether to rename those streets and what new names to consider this December. A public hearing and decision could come in early 2022.
“Approximately 30 organizations and individuals have expressed an interest in participating,” Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny said yesterday (Tuesday). “14 organizations and individuals declined to participate.”
This schedule was announced one year after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked Black Lives Matter protests nationwide. In Fairfax County, the movement prompted the board to consider renaming streets and structures with Confederate names.
Biesiadny and his staff presented their recommendations to the board’s land use policy committee for how to move forward with renaming Route 29 and 50 as well as streets and subdivisions.
“I think the schedule is good and compact,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “If we can get the recommendations by the end of the year, that would be helpful.”
The two thoroughfares are the first locations to be considered for new names after the Fairfax County History Commission compiled a list of street names, monuments and public spaces with Confederate ties.
The group identified more than 26,000 streets and places, which was first narrowed down to 650 well-known Confederate officers and locally-known Confederates and again, down to 150 assets confirmed to have Confederacy-associated names.
Some supervisors urged staff to keep coordinating with Fairfax’s neighbors.
“If it’s possible to be on the same page as Arlington and Loudoun, that’s great,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said. “We shouldn’t be driven by their process, but that seems to be like a viable secondary goal.”
He also suggested the task force develop a naming plan that reduces confusion for local businesses.
“One of the things I have heard from businesses in and around the Kamp Washington intersection is that the status quo is very confusing,” Walkinshaw said.
Route 50 has four names depending on the location, Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn explained to Tysons Reporter in December.
In Loudoun County, it’s John Mosby Highway, and in Fairfax County, it becomes Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway. Route 50 then becomes Fairfax Boulevard in the City of Fairfax, where it intersects with Route 29, also known as Lee Highway. East of the city, Route 50 turns into Arlington Boulevard once it’s back in Fairfax County. Read More
Fairfax County student Pranav Choudhary started watching school board meetings on YouTube in middle school.
Now, the rising senior at Langley High School is the next student representative to the school board.
Elected by the countywide Student Advisory Council to serve a one-year term, beginning July 1, he will participate in board meetings as a nonvoting member, filling the position currently held by Nathan Onibudo, a senior at South County High School. He will be the school board’s 51st student representative.
Choudhary aims to be a voice for students on issues affecting his peers, including how Fairfax County Public Schools delivers instruction to students enrolled in different programs and supports students struggling with their mental health or who have disabilities.
He also hopes to carve out more spaces for students to use their voices.
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’d better pull over a chair and sit yourself down to make your voice heard,” he said. “[That’s] why I want to expand student voice opportunities across the county.”
He has experience amplifying student voices as a member of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council and as the co-founder of Virginia Teen Democrats.
“We didn’t see a space for teens in the Democratic Party of Virginia and in Virginia Democratic politics,” he said. “VATD has taught me how to organize [and] how to make sure that everybody is pulling their weight.”
Choudhary argues that student voices will be critical to overcoming the educational gaps that FCPS sees based on race, socioeconomic status, and English language proficiency.
He says FCPS should also examine differences in the kinds of experiences students get depending on whether they’re in the Advanced Academic Program, general, and honors education, such as the extra field trips available to AAP students.
“We often talk about equity in this broad, intangible sense, but we don’t talk about what that means and what that looks like,” he said.
He also sees room for more student participation in deciding what services schools must provide to students with disabilities — codified in an Individualized Education Plan — a conversation mostly directed by parents, teachers, and specialists.
“There is a lack of students’ voice in the IEP process,” he said. “Ensuring everyone can be heard and that their individual needs are met is beyond vital.”
That also means “proactively monitoring the environment in which students are being put day-to-day” to look for signs of depression and suicide, he says. Read More
Residents will have a new opportunity this summer to express their thoughts on Dominion Energy’s long-delayed effort to rebuild the Idylwood Substation at Shreve Road in Falls Church.
The State Corporation Commission has scheduled a hearing for June 10 at 7 p.m. after Fairfax County requested one in response to a new construction schedule that Dominion proposed earlier this year.
“My office and Fairfax County have strongly advocated for a new public hearing due to Dominion’s substantially delayed construction schedule,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said in a newsletter. “This will be an opportunity for the community to convey concerns and frustrations.”
Dominion will replace the existing substation that was built in the 1950s with a new “gas insulated substation” that accommodates growth in the area without expanding the substation’s footprint, a Dominion Energy spokeswoman said during a community meeting earlier this year.
The project dates back to 2014, but the timeline for completion has kept getting pushed out.
“The length of construction time estimated by the company has tripled — from three years in 2017 to now almost nine years in total,” the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said in a response to Dominion’s application to the SCC for a new in-service date. “The ‘end date’ that the residents were looking forward to — the date by which the daily disruption to their lives would be over — has jumped from mid-2020 to the end of 2026.”
During the virtual community meeting on Jan. 27, the Dominion spokesperson attributed the project delays to the permitting process, as well as an adjustment in scope and staffing changes. It is also a complex project, she said.
“Since Idylwood Substation is in an important area, it is necessary we keep most of the equipment energized while we work to keep reliable power in the Northern Virginia area,” her presentation said. “To perform this safely, we must work in limited space and even temporarily relocate certain equipment at times to install new equipment.”
This year, Dominion plans to tackle updating the building and begin construction on the first phase of a permanent brick wall along Shreve Road.
In its response submitted to the SCC on Feb. 23, the Board of Supervisors expressed appreciation for the status updates over the last eight months but said maintains its concerns “about the lack of urgency in the company’s commitment to actually completing this project.”
“The disruption and uncertainty of this process has taken a daily toll on the Idylwood community for years in the past and is now projected to continue for years in the future,” the board said. “The community deserves another chance to be heard publicly, especially given the radically different construction estimation that the company is now requesting this Commission approve.”
Here are the details for participating in the upcoming public hearing :
Telephonic Public Hearing Details:
Date: June 10, 2021 at 7 p.m.
To submit testimony:
To access audio for the hearing:
Roots Provisions & Grocery, a new restaurant-grocer in McLean, is preparing for a grand opening the first week of June.
The eatery had its soft opening a week and a half ago in Suite E at 8100 Old Dominion Drive, where LoKL Gourmet used to be. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., Roots serves breakfast foods, espresso drinks, smoothies, sandwiches, salads, and bowls, the chef and business manager Anne Alfano says.
She says she is still in the process of getting the bar staffed and learning what the community is looking for.
“A lot of people want to drink and have a neighborhood spot where they can enjoy an elegant glass of wine with some small bites,” she said. “I’m confident the community will be receptive, but it’s about making sure this is done right.”
Roots Provision and Grocery has “a little bit of everything” in a large space that the business manager describes as friendly and cozy with high ceilings, exposed brick, and cute patio tables.
The eatery sells baked goods from D.C.-based Bullfrog Bagels, Hyattsville, Md.-based Lyon Bakery, and Fairfax-based Simply Desserts. It also offers açai bowls and breakfast burritos. Lunch options include sandwiches, from brisket sandwiches to black bean burgers, and vegan bowls.
“It’s very exciting to see it materialize,” she said. “We had a successful Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with breakfast and lunch sales, and we’re looking to expand sales into the evening later this week when our bar program becomes more permanent.”
Roots received its liquor license a few days ago, and Alfano aims to debut the bar later this week, extending hours of operation to 9:30 p.m. On the weekends, the bar will open at 11 a.m. and serve mimosas and Bloody Marys in addition to weeknight cocktails.
“The bar manager has crafted a beautiful cocktail program, and we also have beers, elegant wines, and tapas,” Alfano said.
Customers can order a classic margarita with house-made guacamole and chips, a Negroni with marinated olives, or a glass of wine with a burrata salad drizzled with honey and balsamic glaze. Roots also has a “gooey grilled cheese and tomato soup dip,” she says.
Alfano says the choice to feature local artisans and make things from scratch is how Roots sticks to its mission of serving unprocessed foods. The grocery offers local dairy, eggs, pastas and other goods.
As COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift in Virginia, she says Roots still carries hand sanitizer and takes proper cleaning precautions.
Photos courtesy Anne Alfano
The Falls Church City Public Schools School Board unanimously approved a $53.6 million operating budget for the 2022 fiscal year on Tuesday (May 11).
The budget, which includes $43.8 million in revenue from the City of Falls Church, is balanced, provides wage increases for staff, and meets budget guidance from the city, according to school staff.
“The budget is, in my estimation, a celebration,” FCCPS Superintendent Peter Noonan said during the school board meeting.
At this time last year, FCCPS and the school board were “cutting hundreds of thousands of dollars” from the budget and unable to increase staff compensation, Noonan noted.
“As we moved through the budget this year, we’ve been able to accomplish some things that were a long time in coming, and it does represent a turning point in the COVID-19 crisis that we’ve been in,” the superintendent said.
For the third year in a row, the budget meets a directive from Falls Church City to limit any increase in city transfer funds to no more than 2.5% over the current budget and to avoid increasing the real estate tax rate, according to the school division.
Overall, the budget marks a 3% increase from the current budget with support from a $470,000 increase in state funding, thanks to “a substantial jump in sales tax revenue,” FCCPS says.
Federal revenue, primarily for special education, will increase by $32,000.
The budget includes a “well-deserved” step increase for eligible employees, averaging 2.5%, as well as a 1.5% cost of living adjustment for all staff, Noonan said. The budget also accounts for a projected 2.4% increase in health insurance costs.
“We are able to take care of staff and faculty,” he said. “This not only helps our employees but it helps us grow salary scales, which will ultimately impact our ability to continue recruiting staff. We remain competitive in the region, and we have great benefits as well.”
The current fiscal year 2021 budget eliminated salary increases for staff due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
With the new budget, FCCPS will hire a school counselor to lower the ratio of students to counselors in response to new state legislation. New positions have also been added for an additional social worker, an English-Language Arts coordinator, and three more custodial staffers for the newly opened high school, which was recently renamed Meridian High School.
School Board Chair Shannon Litton lauded FCCPS for the completion of the high school campus project.
“We know that that was an incredible feat that it is completed on time and on budget,” Litton said. “I think in the midst of this year it’s gotten overlooked, but it was honestly an incredible thing you’ve accomplished.”
Meanwhile, FCCPS projects enrollment to go up by 101 students from Sept. 30, 2020, bringing the total population up to 2,605 students.
“FY 2021 enrollment was lower than we projected,” a staff presentation said. “However, we are already seeing enrollment recovery and are expecting to have a further increase in enrollment next year.”
The budget also includes funding to continue replacing school-issued electronic devices every four years at the middle and high school levels.
Budget reductions include:
- Base pay for current employees was adjusted to reflect turnover this year and projected turnover next year, resulting in savings of ~$475,000
- Discontinued retirement program benefits saved the division nearly $93,000
- FCCPS saved $100,000 by adjusting its contracts with neighboring jurisdictions for some instructional services to better reflect how much those services are used
Photos via Falls Church City Public Schools
The arduous journey toward a re-imagined West Falls Church Transit Station Area is drawing to a close with the last two approvals slated for this summer.
“I want to thank the entire team for two-and-a-half years of dedicated work on behalf of the Dranesville district,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said during a community meeting on Tuesday (May 11). “This has been a long, difficult process, and as a consequence, the product is much better. The time was well spent. The product is good — and getting better — and we still have some time.”
The development plan will go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on June 16 and the Board of Supervisors on July 13. The plan was narrowly approved by a task force that voted 5-3-1 earlier this month.
When the proposed plan was presented to the community for the first time on Tuesday, however, some residents expressed concerns about traffic along Haycock Road, pedestrian safety, and distance from Virginia Tech’s property.
“I’m not anti-development, but I’m really concerned,” one attendee said. “I’ve been trying to get our streets to be safer as they’re crowded with cars.”
Predicting that the new I-66 exit ramp will pour traffic into the new community, she asked staff to find a way to make it inconvenient to “pop out onto Haycock Road” for those looking to get to Tysons, DC or Arlington “as fast as possible.”
“I know every area is screaming for sidewalks, but one thing you could do is paint the speed limit or look at other creative, inexpensive ways that communities have found to reduce the speed and the number of cut-thru cars, and make better buffers and calming measures for people who live here, pay taxes and are part of the community,” she said.
The draft plan includes language directing the county to develop a West Falls Church Active Transportation Plan with recommendations for transportation improvements that will increase connectivity, fill in missing or inadequate facilities, and promote walking and bicycling.
“County staff are working on this,” county transportation planner Tim Kutz said. “A follow-up motion will be approved after the plan amendment goes forward and we’ll be reaching out in the fall to continue engaging with you. Getting your perspective is going to be critical in developing recommendations to increase active transportation in the area.”
The plan includes mitigation measures for what people perceive as “bad traffic,” with signal timing, new signals and reconfigured intersections, county planner Bryan Botello said.
Residents worried there was little to ensure the local government implements those changes, but staff said these changes will happen when developers come into the picture.
“The improvements approved are recommendations that would happen when the development team is actually going to the rezoning and development review stage,” senior transportation planner Bob Pikora said. “The comprehensive plan informs what we will be doing in the zoning and review phases, but the developments will be up to the development team.”
More landscaped buffers and green spaces have been added to the plan, according to staff.
New plans have not materialized for the Virginia Tech property after the university nixed a project to expand its Northern Virginia Center with a design school and other facilities. But some task force members were keen to get a buffer between the campus and nearby housing.
“We’ve added an additional landscaped buffer between Virginia Tech and the Villages condominium, and added additional language that strengthens the buffer, and creates a linear park,” Botello said.
Housing will be separated from Virginia Tech by landscaped buffers, a pedestrian walkway, a road and streetscaping, according to the plan.
The new plan envisions a sequence of parks through the area instead of the courtyard featured in the current comprehensive plan.
“There are really a lack of options for accessible parks south of I-66, so it was certainly a priority for us when we were drafting the plan,” Botello said, noting that the park areas shown below could take the form of pocket parks, urban greens, or a civic plaza.
A recreational park is envisioned at the northeast corner of the study area, at the corner of Haycock Road and Metro Access Road.
Images via Fairfax County