Tysons, VA

The McLean Citizens Association would like a little more space between neighbors on corner lots.

Currently, homes built on corner lots fall under a special set of zoning parameters. While the zoning law says the home must be at least 25 feet from the front and side streets, homes can be built with as little as 12 feet between them and rear lots — though some in the MCA said there are lots with as little as 8 feet of distance.

The result are tiny back yards on homes built at an angle and very little space between the corner lot and their catty-corner neighbor.

In a resolution approved on Wednesday (Sept. 4), MCA calls for Fairfax County to change the regulations so the setback is at least 18 feet if at an angle or 25 feet if set squarely.

“In recent years redevelopers have increasingly been targeting corner lots in order to take advantage of Fairfax County’s unusual corner-lot rear setback requirement… by placing large houses with square footprints squarely onto corner lots, with only a rump ‘rear yard,'” the resolution said.

The resolution noted that the unique corner lot calculations mean homes on street corners can be 25 percent larger than interior lots within the same subdivision. The MCA said recent corner lot permits with inadequate setbacks have resulted in increased stormwater runoff, reduced natural light and reduced privacy.

It’s a problem county staff are aware of and have been making efforts to amend. As part of Fairfax County’s efforts to modernize its zoning regulations — called zMOD — the county has a section specifically about corner lot setbacks:

Corner lots need to provide the minimum front setback adjacent to both streets, but in the referenced districts, the rear setback can take the dimension of the side setback. For instance… a corner lot is required to provide a 35-foot front setback from the lot lines which abut each street, and a 15-foot setback from the lot lines which abut both adjoining lots, in lieu of providing a 25-foot setback from the rear lot line.

The zMOD document notes that in older residential areas experiencing redevelopment, older homes are being replaced with new homes that maximize the lot’s space, “leaving limited usable rear yard area.”

“Staff has received comments about this setback provision, noting that the additional lot width required for a corner lot as compared to an interior lot more than off-sets the additional front setback requirement,” staff said in the document. “The attached draft now requires that a 25-foot rear setback be provided.”

The MCA resolution also includes information about technical changes requested, like adjusting where the “front lot line” is located for the corner lots. But the resolution also encouraged Fairfax County to act more swiftly on the issue than the framework of the zMOD ordinance would indicate.

“County staff are aiming for public hearings in spring or summer of 2020 on the new Zoning Ordinance arising from zMOD, and effectiveness of the new ordinance is expected to follow enactment by an interval of some months,” the resolution said. “The MCA urges Fairfax County to enact and implement such reform by the end of the first quarter of 2020.”

Image via McLean Citizens Association

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Three cafeterias in Tysons office buildings are being investigated as part of a Cyclosporiasis outbreak.

Since May 1, 2019 there have been 39 confirmed cases of Cyclosporiasis in Virginia, according to the Virginia Health Department.

According to a press release:

  • Capital One Building at 1600 Capital One Drive
  • Valo Park Building at 7950 Jones Branch Drive

Valo Park is home to the corporate headquarters of newspaper giant Gannett.

The source of the outbreak has not been found, but health officials warned that the illness could be contracted by consuming food contaminated with feces or stool that contains the parasite.

Symptoms can begin one week after exposure to the parasite, and typically include explosive diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, aching muscles, and a low-grade fever. Symptoms can last days or a month for some, but others can be a carrier of the parasite and experience no symptoms.

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A clerical error has left Sweet Leaf Cafe in McLean in a three-year legal fight to not be zoned as a residential property.

The restaurant is currently operating in violation of zoning code. A non-residential use permit had been issued for the site for retail sales, but not to operate what the zoning law refers to as a fast-food establishment.

At a July 17 meeting, the Board of Zoning Appeals deferred Sweet Leaf’s appeal to Oct. 23, making this the 12th time the issue has been appealed since early 2016.

County staff said Sweet Leaf is pursuing a parking reduction to fall in-line with the zoning ordinance but has hit a few snags.

According to Fairfax County spokesperson Brian Worthy:

Sweet Leaf needs a non-residential use permit for a restaurant, and this is the current issue involved in the zoning appeal. However, the restaurant cannot get this permit until it applies for a parking reduction that the Board of Supervisors must approve. Therefore, the July 17 Board of Zoning Appeals public hearing for this case was deferred because the applicant is working to apply for the reduction. The business requires at least 14 parking spaces based on zoning rules, but the site can only physically accommodate the existing 12 parking spaces. If this reduction is approved, the applicant can get its non-residential use permit. Previous public hearings were deferred at the applicant’s own request.

While Sweet Leaf works with the county government to find a solution, staff said the restaurant has been allowed to continue operating.

“Sweet Leaf has been allowed to stay open without the non-residential use permit for a restaurant because they are working to acquire the proper zoning permit,” said Fairfax County Public Information Officer Crystal Santos. “Unfortunately, a previous administrative error allowed the restaurant to operate as a retail establishment for zoning purposes. However, Sweat Leaf has been subject to all health regulations and licensing requirements related to owning and operating a restaurant in Fairfax County since they opened in 2009.”

Prior to Sweet Leaf, the space was operated under a similar food use for seven years, according to Sweet Leaf owner Andre Matini.

“Sweet Leaf completed all the proper paperwork and was issued a zoning permit… to operate as a food use,” Matini wrote in an email. “We are not exactly sure what has transpired since we opened over ten years ago but this issue seems to be an oversight by the issuer… Unfortunately, this has been an extremely costly process for us.”

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said it was an innocent error and staff has been working to make sure the restaurant can continue operating and obtain the proper zoning.

“Basically it’s come down to a parking issue,” Foust said. “[Staff] is continuing to search for a solution. They think they have one, and it’s a little creative, but they’re trying to work through it.”

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Sometimes you just need to get some work done outside of the office.

At Tysons Reporter, we’ve spent a lot of time on the road around the area. So if you need to stop in, grab some coffee, and get some work done somewhere in the Tysons area, here are some places we go:

Stomping Ground in Tysons

Stomping Ground in Tysons Galleria is the second location for the popular coffee-and-biscuits eatery in Alexandria. The location in the third-floor Taste of Urbanspace food hall brings the original location’s signature dishes to Tysons, but also expanded with a new evening menu and Southern cocktails — meaning you won’t have to leave to find a happy hour once work is over.

The coffee is top quality and, being at the Galleria, there is rarely a shortage of parking and seating space. The expansive interior of the food hall has ample tables and outlets. There are food options available around the food hall, though like much of the high-end retail at Tysons Galleria, they tend to be pricier than the average lunch. The music near Stomping Ground also tends to be louder than optimal for interviews or phone calls.

Star Nut Gourmet in McLean

Star Nut Gourmet is a café tucked away just off the main drag in McLean at 1445 Laughlin Ave. As a result, it’s very accessible to other locations around McLean and has more parking and interior space than some of the other nearby options, like the Starbucks.

There’s plenty of seating inside and the music is kept at a manageable volume. But the café is more designed with meetings and socializing in mind than work, so outlets can be scarce.

Caffe Amouri in Vienna

Caffe Amouri boasts quality coffee and atmosphere in equal measure. The coffee shop at 107 Church Street NE has other dining options but focuses almost exclusively on coffee. Inside, the walls are lined with classic rock albums and coffee accouterment. The space is small, but with adequate seating — except for that time Vienna had no Starbucks and the coffee shop was overwhelmed with under-caffeinated customers.

Caffe Amouri also positions itself as a community gathering place, with the front walls of the cafe plastered with flyers and advertisements for local classes and activities. The cafe itself also hosts classes for various coffee-related activities, like teaching the fundamentals of brewing.

There are only a handful of parking spots in a very small lot behind the building, so time visits carefully to avoid peak hours and be prepared to make a tight U-turn if the lot is full.

Rare Bird in Falls Church

Rare Bird at 230 W Broad Street specializes in coffee, but offers a well-rounded menu featuring a variety of teas and food. Space inside the cafe is limited, but if you can find seating, the mellow atmosphere caters to the mid-day laptop typist.

But parking for Rare Bird can be a nightmare, with restrictive parking in every block surrounding the building and confusing, and sometimes contradictory, signs directing visitors to phantom “public lots.”

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With a new commercial center in the works next door, Virginia Tech is ramping up its plans to expand its Falls Church campus.

The Virginia Tech campus is just south of the West Falls Church Metro station, an area with extensive redevelopment in the pipeline for the next few years.

The new facility will mix academic uses, commercial uses, and some residential facilities, according to the Washington Business Journal.

The project will expand the existing academic program and a new national center for smart design and construction. A new mixed residential and commercial complex is also part of the school’s designs for the area. The project would also relocate Hitt Contracting Inc. to a new on-site headquarters.

During a meeting with faculty and staff members, school officials said the programs for the expanded campus are still being developed with the goal of finding a distinct focus for the campus apart from the Virginia Tech locations in Arlington and Alexandria.

Photo via Google Maps

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Despite having a cameo on next Wednesday’s (July 31) Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) agenda, County staff say the American Legion noise issue in McLean is settled.

The American Legion Post 270 at 1355 Balls Hill Road had some trouble over noise complaints from residential neighbors. But in February, the Post received a favorable ruling from the BZA allowing them to continue to host events.

The docket for the BZA says the Board will consider an appeal an original ruling against the American Legion post. Crystal Santos, public information officer for Fairfax County Government, said the County won’t challenge the BZA’s February decision.

“In February the Board of Zoning Appeals ruled that the American Legion could have private parties hosted by non-members,” said Santos in an email. “Following that decision, the American Legion submitted a second appeal to have the Zoning Administrator’s original determination that these parties are not allowed, overturned. Since the County will not appeal the February BZA decision, the second appeal is moot and the county is requesting for it to be dismissed.”

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said there are still some upset residents, but he hopes the American Legion can continue working with them to resolve the sound complaints in a neighborly fashion.

“From a procedural standpoint, nothing to fight about,” Foust said. “They have new leadership at the American Legion… everyone is still hoping for a kumbaya moment to solve the issue.”

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A long-empty, one-story building at 8200 Leesburg Pike near the PetSmart in Tysons could soon become an interior-design showroom.

New signs around the property say the location will be converted into a showroom for Porcelanosa, a Spanish tile distributor and retailer.

The company sells a variety of tile types, from natural appearances to more mosaic-type designs, but also has suites available for bathrooms and kitchens.

The location had previously been a TitleMax loan business but has been vacant since at least 2017.

No permits for the showroom could be found on the Fairfax County website, but signs outside the lot said the showroom will be opening sometime in 2020.

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The new Wawa in Vienna may not be a gas station, but it will have a bank of electric car chargers.

The Wawa will be located at 465 Maple Ave W, formerly a Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage that’s sat vacant for over a year.

The store will include eight 250 kilowatt Tesla charging posts and two 430 kilowatt Tesla charging cabinets, according to permits filed with Fairfax County.

The chargers will be the first Tesla chargers in Vienna. There are currently three in Tysons with a fourth listed as opening somewhere near the Greensboro Metro station sometime in 2019.

Wawa also received permits for new signage around the building.

The new location is part of a new series of Wawas throughout the D.C. area, including locations in Columbia Heights, Tenlytown and Adams Morgan.

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Much of the roads affected by the flash floods two weeks ago have been fixed, but two routes through McLean remain out of commission and will require long term repairs.

Kirby Road and Swinks Mill Road at the eastern and western edges of McLean respectively are both blocked off at roughly the halfway point where the roads were severely damaged by floodwaters.

Replacing the damaged bridges will take several months, according to Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) spokesperson Ellen Kamilakis.

A part of Kirby Road has been broken off with much of the supporting infrastructure underneath completely swept away. According to a press release from VDOT:

  • A segment of road just south of Claiborne Drive was washed away. The remaining asphalt in that location has been undermined.

  • Asphalt on the approaches to the deck of the VDOT bridge over Pimmit Run was damaged, but temporarily repaired the same day. The bridge also has damage to the guardrails and abutments (the “legs” that support the bridge deck) and retaining wall.

  • Pimmit Run will need to be realigned to its original location.

  • The sanitary sewer line and underground utilities were affected.

  • Damage to VDOT infrastructure is not preventing access to any homes.

  • Note: A privately owned and maintained bridge across from Claiborne Drive was severely damaged and homeowners are evaluating repair options.

Meanwhile, at Swinks Mill Road the asphalt on the bridge was completely destroyed, with the guard rail and large chunks of the road visible warped and scattered down the creek bed. According to the VDOT press release:

  • Several hundred feet of asphalt approaching the bridge on both sides was damaged.

  • Asphalt on the bridge deck was destroyed. Also, the bridge has sustained damage to the guardrails, abutments, and retaining wall.

  • Bridge scour (removal of sand and gravel from around the abutments) was observed.

  • Debris was observed in Scotts Run.

  • Damage to VDOT infrastructure is not preventing access to any homes.

Currently, VDOT said surveys are underway for the planned realignment of both streets. Preliminary design work has started for both bridges and road repairs, according to the press release.

Removal of debris is expected to continue alongside more extensive survey work at both locations. Once bridge designs are finalized, VDOT said the bridge and road repair plans will be put out for construction bids.

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The squat brick building at 1300 Chain Bridge Road is about to become a bank once again.

Renovations are underway to turn the brick building into a JP Morgan Chase Bank.

The location had previously been a drive-through Wachovia, then a Wells Fargo, but has sat empty for at least a year.

The bank is aiming for an opening sometime in the fall but has no more specific date ready yet.

Construction crews are still at work at the project — which has a largely gutted interior — and permits in the window say work will involve installing new air devices and ductworks.

It will be the only Chase bank in McLean but far from the only bank. There are roughly 17 banks currently scattered around downtown McLean, possibly because studies say McLean residents tend to be very wealthy and frugal.

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