Tysons, VA

The next week promises to be an unusual one, with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Inauguration Day prompting government buildings and services in the Tysons area to close or change their operations.

With the Washington, D.C., region bracing for potential violence before President-elect Joe Biden gets sworn into office, the City of Falls Church is taking the most aggressive approach, closing public facilities from MLK Day (Monday, Jan. 18) through Inauguration Day (Wednesday, Jan. 20) Jan. 18-20.

The Mary Riley Styles Public Library will not provide curbside pick-up services starting on Sunday through Wednesday, but the community center will still hold scheduled activities and programs on Tuesday.

“Closing City facilities to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday is out of an abundance of caution for the Inauguration Day activities,” Falls Church City Police Chief Mary Gavin said. “Doing so allows our officers to prepare and react to events within the City and the region, if a response is needed.”

Fairfax County and the Town of Vienna will both close government offices, including the Vienna Community Center, on Monday and Wednesday, but operations will be normal on Tuesday. Waste collection services will also continue as usual for both county and town residents.

Fairfax County Public Schools is observing MLK Day and Inauguration Day as holidays with no classes or meal service for students who get food through the school system. Bus routes and Grab and Go locations will provide three days of meals today and two days’ worth on Tuesday, when meal kit sites will also be open.

While the McLean Community Center will be closed on MLK Day as well as Inauguration Day, MCC has been commemorating the civil rights leader with its annual MLK Day Celebration, which is taking place online this year with a book talk, podcast discussion series, and storytelling community service project.

People looking for more active ways to mark the MLK Day holiday can visit a Fairfax County RECenter or park, which will be open with the exception of historic sites, the Frying Pan Farm Park visitor center, and the Green Spring Gardens historic house.

The National Park Service is also holding its first fee-free day of the year on Jan. 18, providing free admission to all of its venues, including Great Falls Park in McLean.

The two occasions will affect transit service as well.

Fairfax Connector will operate according to a holiday weekday schedule on Jan. 18. The county bus system announced on Wednesday that it is temporarily suspending service for two routes that go into downtown D.C. through Jan. 20 due to road closures related to the presidential inauguration.

For MLK Day, Metro will operate rail and buses on a Saturday schedule. Trains will run every 15-20 minutes on all lines except for the Red Line, which will have trains every 12-15 minutes. Stations will be open from 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Off-peak fares will be in effect all day, and parking will be free at all facilities.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced on Jan. 13 that it will close several stations and detour bus routes in downtown D.C. starting today through Jan. 21 to accommodate a security perimeter for the inauguration.

Photo via René DeAnda on Unsplash

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More than 40% of Fairfax County residents 16 and older are now in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine following Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s expansion of eligibility requirements.

People age 65 and above, and people between the ages of 16 and 64 with high-risk medical conditions can now register to receive the vaccine as part of phase 1b. Prior to Northam’s announcement yesterday, these groups were part of the next phase of the vaccine’s administration.

But county officials say it may take months to get through phase 1b, which prioritizes people age 75 and above and essential frontline workers like school staff, police, and grocery store workers.

The ability to schedule appointments will depend on the supply of vaccine available,the county wrote in a statement yesterday. The vaccine supply in the U.S. is still very limited and is expected to increase gradually over the next months.

Although it may take weeks before vaccines are formally administered, the Fairfax County Health Department will begin registering individuals in the newly-eligible group on Jan. 18.

Northam expects all Virginians to be vaccinated by the middle of the summer.

“This means about half of Virginia is now eligible to receive the vaccine. That’s a major logistical effort, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.

So far, the state has received 943,000 doses of the vaccine and administered roughly 242,000 doses. On average, the state is administering 12,000 doses daily — far from the governor’s long-term goal of 50,000 doses. Overall, the state is receiving 110,000 doses of the vaccine per week.

Northam is also encouraging schools to reopen, noting that six months of data from schools around the state suggests that schools can reopen if appropriate safety protocols are in place. The newly-released guidance creates a five-step program to guide decision-making on reopening.

The county plans to launch an online form to register for the vaccine today via its vaccine webpage. Residents should be able to schedule a time themselves based on eligibility, availability of appointments, and vaccine interview, according to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

The health department introduced a pre-screening form on Monday (Jan. 11) to allow people to pre-register for the vaccine. Residents can also call the county’s vaccine hotline at 703-324-7404 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and on weekends between 9;30 a.m. and 5 p.m. The department will contact individuals who complete the pre-screening form depending on vaccine supply and appointment availability.

Demand for the vaccine flooded the county’s call lines on Monday, prompting local elected officials to encourage the county to improve its communications strategy.

Meanwhile, Walgreens is offering rapid antigen testing across select locations in the state. The new partnership with the Virginia Department of Health, which was announced yesterday, allows adults and children age three and above to receive a test. Walgreen’s testing site is located in Centreville at 13926 Lee Highway.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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Friday Morning Notes

Virginia Issues New Guidance to Support Schools Reopening — “A school division’s capacity to successfully implement mitigation strategies AND local community disease data should be factored into school operations plans…As local school and health leaders evaluate and adjust instructional offerings in 2021, they must carefully balance the risks associated with operating during a pandemic and the long-term effects of students not attending school in person.” [Virginia Department of Education]

Vienna Planning Commission Kicks Off Comprehensive Plan Review — Virginia law requires localities to review their comprehensive plan every five years. Planning commissioners don’t expect this new review to be as extensive as the Town of Vienna’s last update in 2016, but some sections, such as the chapter dealing with economic development, could be in need of revision. [Town of Vienna]

Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office Starts COVID-19 Vaccinations — “Today was the day! We are so very grateful to get the COVID-19 vaccine. @VDHgov @fairfaxhealth #FairfaxStrong” [Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office/Twitter]

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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Greater Merrifield Business Association (GMBA) President Billy Thompson is stepping down from the position after leading the nonprofit for seven years.

A lifelong Vienna resident and realtor with Samson Properties, Thompson guided the GMBA through a period of significant change, as Fairfax County seeks to transform Merrifield from a largely industrial area to a suburban center anchored by mixed-use developments like the Mosaic District and Halstead Square.

The GMBA, which provides support and resources to local businesses, says Thompson will continue serving as an active member on its board of directors.

“GMBA thanks Billy for his dedicated leadership and vision for Merrifield over the past 7 years,” the association said today (Thursday) in a newsletter. “GMBA wouldn’t be where we are today without the unique optimism and energy he brought to GMBA.”

Thompson’s successor will be Kevin Warhurst, vice president of the Merrifield Garden Center.

Acknowledging the challenges that the local business community has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Warhurst says his goal as the business association’s incoming president is to build off the work it has already done to shape Merrifield as a community and make it an integral part of the local economy.

“As we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, there is no doubt that our organization will face some challenges in the months ahead,” Warhurst said. “…But there are also many opportunities to strengthen our existing relationships, and build new ones as we seek to grow our association moving forward. I look forward to facing those challenges together, and creating opportunities to better serve our members and our community.”

Photo via Greater Merrifield Business Association

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Drivers on eastbound Route 7 in the McLean area should prepare for a lane shift and other traffic changes starting on Tuesday (Jan. 19), the Virginia Department of Transportation announced yesterday (Wednesday).

The eastbound lane on Leesburg Pike between Lewinsville Road and Jarrett Valley Drive will be shifted north toward the median, and direct access between Route 7 and two side streets — Laurel Hill Road and Old Ash Grove — will be temporarily closed.

Until late 2021, drivers to and from Laurel Hill Road, Old Ash Grove, and Glenridge Court will instead need to use the service road between Old Ash Grove and McLean Bible Church (8925 Leesburg Pike) to get to and from Route 7.

The intersection of Laurel Hill Road and the service road will be converted into a three-way stop intersection for the duration of the closure.

“All residences, businesses and other public facilities will remain accessible,” VDOT said.

The lane shift and side street access cut-offs are necessitated by VDOT’s Route 7 corridor improvement project, which is widening the highway from four to six lanes, adding shared-use paths, and making intersection improvements on the seven-mile stretch of road between Reston Avenue and Jarrett Valley Drive.

The changes will “increase capacity, improve safety and traffic flow, and enhance mobility for cyclists and pedestrians,” according to the project website.

The project carries a total estimated cost of $313.9 million, and construction is not expected to be finished until July 31, 2024.

While construction is ongoing, the speed limit on Route 7 has been reduced to 45 miles per hour in active work zones between Reston Avenue and Jarrett Valley Drive.

“Please use caution and be alert to work zone signs, potential flagger or police direction, and watch for traffic shifts,” VDOT says. “Slow-moving vehicles and equipment may be entering or exiting the road.”

Images via Google Maps, VDOT

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The Town of Vienna has launched an online survey asking renters and homeowners what they think of various potential changes to the town’s residential zoning laws.

The 10-minute survey will be open through Feb. 19. Questions can be submitted to [email protected].

It is the first survey to gauge support or opposition to specific changes that have been proposed as a part of the town’s effort to simplify and update the Town’s subdivision and zoning ordinances.

“We will share all the results on our website, and they will be shared with [a] consultant, as well as the planning commission and the town council,” Vienna Principal Planner Kelly O’Brien said in a virtual meeting on Wednesday (Jan. 13). “This is really getting the overall thoughts of the community.”

Town planners said they are starting with a focus on residential zoning, since a majority of Vienna is residential. More surveys, forums, and meetings are slated for this year to gauge approval for changes to residential and commercial codes.

The initiative is facilitated by Code Create Vienna, the town’s online engagement platform for the zoning code and subdivision ordinance update. The process began in the summer of 2020 and will end in the winter of 2021, when the consultant ZoneCo will present a new code for zoning and subdivision.

Survey questions cover topics such as adding front porches and accessory living units, increasing the space allotted for back patios, requiring open spaces for multifamily dwellings, and building age-restricted cottage housing.

“This is ongoing, iterative process,” O’Brien said. “You don’t have to wait for special meetings.”

ZoneCo recommended these and other potential changes to the Vienna Town Council during a work session on Dec. 3.

Residents can also share their thoughts by taking a more general survey or writing down suggestions for zoning changes, such as preserving outdoor dining, that they come up with while walking or biking around town. Town planners have been hosting regular webinars on specific topics as part of Code Create Vienna’s Lunch & Learn series.

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Tysons Partnership leaders touted the success of Fairfax County’s initial investment in the nonprofit stakeholder group while making the case for a new round of funding to county leaders on Tuesday (Jan. 12).

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors nominated the Tysons Partnership, which was formed in 2011 to help implement the Tysons Comprehensive Plan, for a $1 million award from the county’s Economic Opportunity Reserve fund on Dec. 1.

The organization previously received $1 million in economic opportunity funds from the county in December 2019.

“The Tysons Partnership has been a prudent investor of those initial funds and are here today to request an additional investment to further advance a community-led vision in conjunction with the county,” Tysons Partnership Chairman Josh White said.

According to White, the partnership raised $630,000 in private funds to match Fairfax County’s contribution between the third quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, resulting in a total investment of $1.26 million.

The partnership has allocated about $1 million so far, primarily to develop materials that define Tysons as a brand. It has also organized focus groups, community surveys, and virtual events, highlighted by the State of Tysons panel on Dec. 10.

White told the Board of Supervisors during its budget committee meeting that the Tysons Partnership has deferred spending about $250,000 intended to support community events and place activation initiatives that have been put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The partnership is returning approximately $370,000 in unmatched funds to Fairfax County. That money will go back into the county’s economic opportunity reserve fund to be redistributed.

If the board approves a new $1 million investment, the funds will go toward marketing, research and data analysis, transportation and mobility projects, and community events, like holiday markets or craft fairs, Tysons Partnership President and CEO Sol Glasner says.

The organization is also collaborating with Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik on a working group focused on finding ways to make the partnership more effective and sustainable.

Glasner says the working group, which held its kick-off meeting yesterday (Wednesday), will deliver its recommendations to the county board and the Tysons Partnership board of directors by the end of this year, with the goal of implementing all of the proposals by January 2023.

The Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to approve the $1 million in economic opportunity reserve funds for the Tysons Partnership when it meets on Feb. 23.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says investing in the partnership will be critical for the future growth of the Tysons area.

“The activities that the Tysons Partnership will need to be engaged in, while they may not be ideal in this pandemic environment, they will be necessary as a part of our economic recovery when we get to that point,” McKay said. “So, I would make the case that this has never been more important than now.”

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Fairfax County workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 could receive a one-time hazard pay bonus of $1,500 if county leaders approve a proposal put forward on Tuesday (Jan. 12).

Fairfax County Director of Human Resources Cathy Spage told the Board of Supervisors during its budget policy committee meeting that about 4,000 county employees would be eligible for the bonus, giving the proposal an overall estimated cost of $6.5 million.

If approved, the funds would come out of $10 million in CARES Act coronavirus relief money that the county had set aside earlier for hazard pay, according to Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget Director Christina Jackson.

“I think there’s a strong desire on the board to move forward with something,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I know there’s still some lingering debate on some pieces of this, but I think the principle here is one that is strongly supported.”

Under the county’s proposal, the hazard pay bonus will be available to workers whose exposure risk level is rated high or very high based on Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) standards established by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.

Adopted on July 15, the VOSH COVID-19 risk assessment puts workers in very high, high, medium, and lower risk categories based on their work environment, their proximity to people known or suspected to be infected, their ability to maintain social distancing, and other factors.

The bonus will only be open to merit employees, because the lack of standard schedules for non-merit employees would make it “problematic” to include them, according to Jackson.

Several board members raised concerns about employees being excluded from getting hazard pay despite risking infection by the novel coronavirus as part of their job. For instance, the VOSH standard classifies school settings, restaurants, and construction sites as medium risk.

“There have been outbreaks on construction sites. We know that it happens,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said. “Based on what I’ve read of the VOSH medium-risk categories, some of them probably make sense. Some of them make me a little bit concerned in terms of how they’re categorizing folks.” Read More

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Thursday Morning Notes

Fairfax County Public Schools to Start Vaccinations on Jan. 16 — “All FCPS employees will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine as a part of the Virginia Department of Health 1b group of other essential workers. All FCPS staff who wish to access the vaccine will have the opportunity to receive their first dose in the next three weeks.” [FCPS]

Metro Announces Inauguration-Related Service Changes — Metro will close 13 stations starting Friday (Jan. 15) through Jan. 21. Trains will operate according to a Saturday schedule, bypassing the closed stations, and 26 bus routes will be detoured around the security perimeter that law enforcement authorities have put in place for the Inauguration on Jan. 20. [WMATA]

Airbnb Cancels Reservations in D.C. Area — “Today, in response to various local, state and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C., we are announcing that Airbnb will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. metro area during the Inauguration week.  Additionally, we will prevent any new reservations in the Washington, D.C. area from being booked during that time by blocking such reservations.” [Airbnb]

Tysons-based Alarm.com Debuts No-Touch Video Doorbell — The video doorbell uses “video analytics to ring itself whenever it sees someone standing on your mat. That design eliminates the need for anyone to physically press a button, and the built-in camera and microphone let you talk with them through your phone without opening the door.” [CNET]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) hosted a virtual public meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 12), with transportation leaders from Virginia and Maryland to address questions and comments about its transit and transportation demand management study for Interstate 495 and the American Legion Bridge.

The study’s focus is to “develop and prioritize transit options and travel demand management for bistate travel across the bridge,” DRPT Northern Virginia Transit Planning Manager Ciara Williams says.

Tuesday’s meeting specifically focused on proposed recommendations to expand bus service through the corridor that the study team first unveiled in November.

Williams presented three investment packages divided into baseline, medium and high designations based on their ability to improve productivity, equity and connectivity.

The baseline package focuses on two main route connections that would provide peak-period service from Tysons to Gaithersburg and Bethesda in Maryland.

The medium package features additional routes, increased frequency, and a Bethesda-Tysons route with off-peak service. It also adds service to Silver Spring, Germantown, Frederick, L’Enfant, and Arlington.

The high package offers all-day bus service, additional route connections, and even more frequency. It has an expanded scope that includes Dunn Loring, Reston, and Dulles.

DRPT Chief of Public Transportation Jennifer DeBruhl emphasized that the study is being conducted in coordination with partners at the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Association.

“This study is really about the art of the possible,” DeBruhl said. “…We’re looking forward to continuing to work with them…to put together a really seamless network that we can develop and enhance as funding resources become available to do that.”

During a question-and-answer portion of the meeting, community members questioned the exclusion of a Dulles route from the baseline and medium packages.

According to DeBruhl, there wasn’t “much demand” seen in a connection to Dulles, but transportation leaders can reevaluate the possibility, either as part of the current study or in the future.

“This evaluation of transit options in the corridor doesn’t end with this study,” she said.

Members of the public also asked about the ability to accurately predict the potential traffic patterns that transit may create over the American Legion Bridge when transit currently does not exist there.

“This is, in a lot of ways, a very technical modeling effort to try to assess and predict the demand and willingness of individuals to shift from that single-occupant vehicle to a transit option if it’s made available and competitive from a time perspective,” DeBruhl said.

With DRPT now working to finalize its recommendations, Williams noted that no decisions have been made yet on which transit agencies would operate the proposed routes.

The public comment period for the study will be open through Feb. 1. DeBruhl anticipates that a final study report will be published in March.

“This study has covered a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time, but it is our goal to bring this study process to a conclusion before we get to far into the spring,” DeBruhl said.

Comments on the study may be made online, by phone at 703-253-3324, or by sending a letter addressed to Ms. Ciara Williams at DRPT, 1725 Duke Street, Suite 675 Alexandria, VA 22314.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott; slide via Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation

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