Newsletter

Morning Notes

McLean House Fire Started by Candle — An unattended candle placed near combustibles started a fire in the living room of a single-family home in the 1500 block of Dominion Hill Court on Saturday (Jan. 8). No injuries were reported, but the fire displaced two residents and resulted in approximately $919,500 in damages. [FCFRD]

Former School Board Member Named to Key Education Position — Elizabeth Schultz, who represented Springfield District on the Fairfax County School Board from 2012 to 2019, has been appointed by incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin to serve as Virginia’s assistant superintendent of public instruction. Schultz has opposed protections for transgender students and appeared on Fox News to decry teaching that acknowledges racism. [Virginia Mercury]

No Return of Metro Trains in Sight — “Metro riders can expect the current level of limited rail service to continue for three more months after the transit agency’s top official said Thursday that Metro wants to focus on finding the ‘root cause’ of a defect that has sidelined more than half its rail cars since mid-October.” [The Washington Post]

Tysons Startup Launches “Smart” Grocery Delivery Box — “HomeValet, a D.C. Metro area-based startup that has developed a temperature-controlled smart box for grocery deliveries, is now releasing its smart home product to the public and expanding its partnership with Walmart.” [TechCrunch]

FCPS Superintendent Lines Up New Job — Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand will serve as executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, a nonprofit that provides support to and advocates for the state’s superintendents. Brabrand will leave FCPS on June 30 and assume his new position in July. [PR Newswire]

Relocated Jinya Ramen Bar to Open in March — “Local franchise owner Sam Shoja says the Mosaic District ramen shop outgrew its current space. The new corner location will allow for a large semi-enclosed outdoor patio with fire-top tables and an indoor Japanese whiskey lounge.” [Washingtonian]

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A nonprofit is looking to build affordable housing in Tysons by the Spring Hill Metro station (via KGD Architecture/Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Planning Commission gave the go-ahead yesterday (Wednesday) to a 175-unit housing development in Tysons that will be restricted to lower-income residents.

The nonprofit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) has proposed building a 175,000 square-foot residential complex with green space and a three-story, partially underground parking garage at 1592 Spring Hill Road.

“APAH is thrilled to bring to forward this innovative model of high-quality, scalable, urban, affordable housing within ¼ mile of metro, jobs, planned green space, amenities proving that affordable housing can be done in the highest areas of opportunity in the Region,” APAH President and CEO Carmen Romero said in an email.

With the rezoning approval, the affordable housing developer will apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding. It declined to say how much it will seek and whether getting the credit is mandatory for the project, though the nonprofit says it’s confident it will advance. An application is due in March.

APAH will build 35 three-bedroom units, 105 two-bedroom units, and 35 one-bedroom units, all available to individuals and families who earn 30% to 60% of the area’s median income.

“This is a project that is the exact type of Metro-accessible, affordable housing that the county wants to attract, and it’s something that has been difficult to achieve,” attorney Scott Adams, representing the developer, said during the planning commission’s public hearing.

The building will have solar energy on its roof and ground-floor services for residents. It could feature up to 5,000 square feet of retail uses, though Adams suggested the current project might not include any retail business.

While the approved application shows a park at the property, APAH says it intends to build additional affordable housing with a retail element. Plans show a future building listed as C5.

The property is part of Dominion Square West, a plan to redevelop 7.6 acres of parking lots and car dealerships along Spring Hill Road with residential and office buildings.

At least one dealership, however, will remain for the foreseeable future after the land was sold in September to the owner of Ourisman Automotive, which currently occupies the parcel.

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The U.S. Supreme Court (via Geoff Livingston/Flickr)

(Updated on 1/14/2022 at 4:40 p.m.) The Fairfax County School Board has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a former student’s sexual assault lawsuit, a move that could reshape how the federal law against sexual violence in schools is interpreted.

A petition filed by the school board on Dec. 30 argues that public school systems can’t be held liable for sexual harassment and assault unless officials knew an assault took place and could have prevented it.

The lawsuit was initiated in May 2018 by a former Oakton High School student, identified as Jane Doe, who says Fairfax County Public Schools mishandled her report of being sexually assaulted by another student on a school band trip in 2017.

The school board is now seeking to reverse an appeals court’s order of a new trial in the case.

“Funding recipients are rightly held liable when their own conduct intentionally causes harassment,” the petition says. “But Title IX liability rightfully does not, under this Court’s precedents, extend to situations where a recipient does not actually know of harassment or when its actions cause no harassment.”

Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in public education programs and activities. Doe’s lawsuit argues that FCPS violated the law by ignoring reports of her assault, discouraging her from taking legal action, and failing to ensure her safety.

A U.S. District Court jury found in August 2019 that a sexual assault took place and harmed Doe’s educational experience, but the school board couldn’t be held liable under Title IX, because officials didn’t have “actual knowledge” that the assault had occurred.

Jury members’ reported confusion over the term “actual knowledge” — whether school officials need direct evidence of an assault or just a report of one — led Public Justice, the nonprofit representing Jane Doe, to appeal the case to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

A three-judge panel ruled in June that a sexual assault report meets the legal standard and ordered a retrial.

However, FCPS asked the appeals court to stay its order for a new trial in September, signaling that it planned to petition the Supreme Court.

In a statement to FFXnow, FCPS maintained that the school board “could not have foreseen the assault, did not cause it, and could not have prevented it”:

Fairfax County Public Schools is committed to upholding Title IX and firmly believes that every student deserves an education free from harassment or discrimination. The decision to pursue this legal avenue has nothing to do with challenging this critical civil rights law.

The question in this case is only about whether Congress intended America’s public schools, and the teachers that work in them, to be held financially responsible for student-on-student misconduct that they had no way to foresee and did not cause.  We believe the law should be applied the same way nationwide, and only the Supreme Court has the power to restore that uniformity.

To fail to challenge the Fourth Circuit’s ruling would be to let down public school educators the length and breadth of the U.S., and especially in Virginia, during a time when they need support more than ever. In addition, to roll over in the face of costly and unfair lawsuits would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars and would set a worrying precedent for school divisions facing similar lawsuits now and in the future.

However, Public Justice says the school board’s position is at odds with its claims to support students’ safety and civil rights, essentially suggesting that schools can only be held liable for sexual violence if it reoccurs.

“[FCPS] has now asked the Supreme Court to gut crucial protections for Jane Doe, for Fairfax students, and for young survivors across the country, pushing a misinterpretation of Title IX that the U.S. Department of Justice has called ‘absurd,'” Public Justice staff attorney Alexandra Brodsky said by email. “We are confident, though, that the Court will deny the cert petition and Jane will have the chance to be heard by a jury.”

Brodsky added that Doe isn’t seeking to hold FCPS responsible for the assault itself, but rather, for how it responded to her report.

Public Justice has not filed a response to the school board’s petition yet. The Supreme Court docket shows that a motion to extend the deadline for a response to April 8 was granted on Tuesday (Jan. 11).

Shatter the Silence Fairfax County Public Schools, a nonprofit that says it was founded by survivors, parents, and FCPS students, has launched a petition demanding that the school board drop its appeal.

“We the citizens demand that FCPS withdraw the baseless appeal in Doe v. Fairfax County School Board and appropriately respond to sexual assault in school,” the petition says. “Since FCPS continues its culture of cover-up and indifference, we ask the Virginia Attorney General and the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation into FCPS and bring accountability once and for all.”

Photo via Geoff Livingston/Flickr

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A rendering of the proposed new Tysons Fire Station #29 from the southeast (via Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has submitted plans for its Tysons Fire Station and Bus Transit Facility project.

As shared at a public meeting in November, the project will relocate Fire Station 29 from Spring Hill Road to the 8300 Jones Branch Drive site now occupied by Fairfax Connector’s West*Park Transit Station, which will be replaced with a smaller, one-story building with offices and a commuter waiting area.

The new two-story, 20,000 square-foot fire station will have a garage with five engine bays as well as storage and administrative space, including offices, a kitchen, an exercise room, and bunk rooms for workers.

With Tysons becoming more populous and developed, county leaders say the station is needed to meet anticipated future demand for emergency services.

“The existing station is 3-bay only, outdated and having limited room on site for expansion,” a statement of justification said. “This project provides the opportunity to serve the Tysons area with a 5-bay fire station, replacement transit station and a new access to the [Dulles Toll Road].”

To build the facilities, the county board wants to remove the 4.2-acre parcel from a proffer agreement with a developer that limited its use to a bus station, kiss-and-ride lot, or mass transit facility, according to the application submitted on Jan. 4.

In response to traffic circulation concerns raised by some county staff, project manager Jun Li said that maintaining a clear separation between vehicles and pedestrians has been a design priority.

The conceptual plan for traffic circulation at the Tysons Fire Station and Bus Transit Facility (via Fairfax County)

The overhauled site is expected to produce fewer trips during peak hours than it does now, because the number of bus bays for passenger loading will be reduced from seven to five, and shift changes for fire station personnel will occur outside of peak hours.

A traffic study approved by the county and state transportation departments estimated that the fire station will see a total of four trips per hour, based on projections of how many calls the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will receive in the area.

The proposed plan allocates 46 parking spaces to the fire station and eight spaces for the bus facility, including two spaces each designated for people with disabilities. The transit station currently has 40 parking spaces total.

According to Li, the new bus facility is envisioned more as a transfer station, rather than a park-and-ride lot, so the county doesn’t anticipate a lot of cars or bicycles at the site.

However, the county is considering adding a shared bicycle and pedestrian lane along Jones Branch Drive and has committed to providing 8-foot-wide sidewalks on Jones Branch and Spring Hill Road.

The facility will feature electric charging stations for both buses and cars. The county hopes to reduce energy and carbon emissions by at least 30%.

“We are also in process of studying net zero,” Li wrote.

The application notes, though, that the project as proposed would eliminate all existing tree cover.

“As the project moves along, more effort will be investigated for preserving the tree canopies as much as possible when getting into design details,” the statement of justification says. “Given the lack of tree preservation, the balance of the tree canopy cover requirement would need to be met with new on-site tree planting.”

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An orange line shows the proposed route of the new Washington Gas line (via Google Maps)

Opposition to a natural gas pipeline planned for Pimmit Hills resurfaced yesterday (Wednesday), as residents voiced concerns about safety and other issues at a Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals public hearing.

Washington Gas has sought to upgrade its infrastructure in the area since 2012, but citizen appeals have stalled the project, which will turn a 3-mile line along Route 7 into a 5-mile route circling around Tysons.

In video testimonies submitted to the zoning appeals board, Pimmit Hills residents expressed fears of gas ruptures and a potential explosion affecting homes where the new pipeline could be built.

The appeals board postponed a decision on the matter to Feb. 2 due to a lack of time. Video testimony is scheduled to be heard at that time along with additional questioning, staff comments and rebuttals.

Dubbed the Tysons Strip One Project, the proposed pipeline would replace a nearly 70-year-old, 14-inch-wide line with a new, higher pressure one that’s 2 feet in width.

While it will distribute gas to homes, the new pipeline won’t directly hook up to residences, according to a lawyer representing Washington Gas.

The case before the appeals board was initiated by four homeowners who objected to the county’s finding from July 23, 2021 that the project doesn’t need special exception approval. A staff report agreed with zoning administrator Leslie Johnson, saying the residents’ appeal lacked merit.

Residents Christina Chen Zinner, Kurt Iselt, Sarah Ellis, and Lillian Whitesell argue that there should be more oversight of the utility work.

“The [Fairfax County Board of Supervisors] is not even being allowed…to exercise its discretion and protect its…constituents,” Evan Johns, an attorney for the group, said.

Light or Heavy Utility Facility?

The case before the zoning appeals board hinges on a disagreement over whether the pipeline should be considered a light or heavy utility facility.

The residents’ attorneys argue that it’s a heavy utility facility, which isn’t permitted by Pimmit Hills’ residential district.

County staff see the pipeline as a light utility facility, which is exempt from zoning regulations when in a Virginia Department of Transportation right-of-way and intended for consumer distribution.

“A heavy utility use is a major component of an infrastructure system,” Johnson said. “I think it’s clear that it’s not a heavy utility facility.” Read More

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County Police Bust International Burglary Ring — “The pattern was quickly becoming familiar to Fairfax County police: an expensive home; Asian or Middle Eastern residents; a rear door or window smashed; and jewelry and luxury goods taken but expensive electronics left untouched.” [The Washington Post]

I-66 Lane Closures in Vienna Start Tomorrow — I-66 East will be reduced to a single travel lane approaching Cedar Lane in Vienna during overnight hours, starting at 10:30 p.m. tomorrow (Friday). Lasting until 5 a.m. Thursday (Jan. 20), the closures will allow workers to install bridge beams for a new access ramp to the future I-66 Express Lanes. [VDOT]

FCPS Turns to College Students for Substitute Teachers — Fairfax County Public Schools has opened substitute teaching positions to college students in a response to high vacancy rates. The school system’s substitute teacher fill rate is typically about 80%, but it has hovered around 70% during the pandemic, dropping to 55-60% during the current COVID-19 surge. [WTOP]

Original Fairfax County Chief Fire Marshal Dies — “It is with great sadness that the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department announce the passing of retired Fire Administrator, and first Chief Fire Marshal, Willis H. “Bill” Burton, Jr. Chief Burton passed away peacefully of natural causes, surrounded by family, on Sunday, January 9 at the age of 91.” [FCFRD]

Electoral Board Gets New Member — “Christopher P. Henzel was recently appointed and sworn in by the Fairfax Circuit Court as a member of the Fairfax County Electoral Board for a three-year term. He replaces Steve Hunt, whose term ended after serving eight years on the board.” [Fairfax County Government]

McLean Central Park Revision Meeting Set — “The public is invited to attend an information meeting on the McLean Central Park Development Concept plan on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held online so that members of the public can participate safely and conveniently from their homes.” [FCPA]

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Person counts dollar bills (via Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash)

A pilot program that will give monthly cash assistance to select low-income residents is in development in Fairfax County.

While eligibility criteria, payment amounts, and other details are still being determined, the county has allocated $1.5 million to the effort from its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, as noted in a stimulus update to the Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee yesterday (Tuesday).

First proposed at a health and human services committee meeting on June 29, the pilot will help people improve their financial situation by providing an additional, flexible source of income, county staff say.

“At its core, it’s an economic mobility initiative, but it’s also an anti-poverty initiative, and it’s certainly innovative,” Deputy County Executive Chris Leonard told the board last summer.

If it implements the pilot, Fairfax County will join a nationwide experiment with basic income programs that has also drawn in Arlington County and Alexandria. Research from around the world suggests the initiatives boost people’s happiness, health, and economic stability without limiting employment.

Fairfax County plans to model its pilot on the nonprofit UpTogether, which gives underserved individuals and families access to cash investments through an online platform that doubles as a social network.

UpTogether’s emphasis on trusting recipients to make their own decisions and building community deviates from traditional social services, which deliver vital resources like food or housing but often come with conditions, such as work requirements.

Fairfax County is looking at the nonprofit UpTogether as a model for its proposed basic income pilot program (via Fairfax County)

It’s the difference between helping people survive poverty and giving them the tools to escape it, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay explained, suggesting families, particularly those with young children, as a possible target population for the pilot.

“Part of what I think our obligation to do is to stop this generational poverty that seems to happen everywhere in the country,” McKay said. “If you’re going to break the trends of generational poverty, you somehow have to get to the youth.”

Between 2015 and 2019, Fairfax County’s poverty rate consistently hovered around 6.9%, even though the median household income climbed from $113,208 to $128,374 during the same time frame, according to the most recent demographic report.

As of 2019, 8.3% of county residents younger than 18 lived in poverty.

In a statement to FFXnow, McKay said the worsening of existing wealth gaps and racial disparities during the coronavirus pandemic illustrates the need for a new approach to addressing poverty.

“Fairfax County is currently engaging with nonprofits, philanthropy, and residents with a lived experience of poverty to explore how a model of direct cash assistance could be included as a complement to our other investments in basic needs to demonstrate the value of investing in the initiative and self-determination of our residents, and where access to resources is determined by strengths,” he said by email.

The $1.5 million in ARPA funding covers the pilot design process, which is expected to take about a year and includes data compilation, participant recruitment, and work with community members.

Additional funds could come from philanthropic partners and seed money allocated to the county’s Human Services Council, an advisory group of board-appointed citizens that has helped develop the pilot, according to county staff.

The county is working with the Virginia Department of Social Services and Department of Medical Assistance to ensure the cash assistance won’t count as income when deciding eligibility for Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and other services.

The goal is to avoid pushing participants over the “benefits cliff,” where people move out of the income threshold to qualify for certain services but still don’t earn enough to cover the loss of benefits.

“This allowance provides Fairfax with the opportunity to fully consider the needs of the most needy people in our community as we consider the target population for this project,” Fairfax County Department of Family Services Director Michael Becketts said.

More information about the basic income pilot will be available later this month, McKay’s office says.

Photo via Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

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Earl Green, the executive chef at 29 Diner, plates an order at the Vienna Moose Lodge (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

As the 29 Diner recovers from a devastating fire in the fall, a community organization in Vienna has teamed up with the historic Fairfax restaurant’s cooking staff to revamp its menu and run catering and charitable campaigns.

The Vienna Moose Lodge #1896 welcomed the diner’s executive chef, Earl Green, to work on Monday (Jan. 10) in a temporary setup to provide meals to lodge members through events like all-you-can-eat breakfasts on Sunday mornings.

“Most of the members who are on the board have been into the diner at one time or another in the last 10, 20 years,” the lodge’s president, Dan Sullivan, said. “I’ve been going there since I was in high school.”

The collaboration began when lodge board member Scott Flesch reached out to 29 Diner owner John Wood in the wake of the fire that destroyed the diner’s kitchen two days before Thanksgiving.

Wood said the kitchen was a total loss, but his insurance company gave him the go-ahead to proceed with a rebuild. Work will require gutting and reconstructing the kitchen, and the dining room needs fire, soot, and heat remediation.

“Our community just has rallied around us in support,” Wood said.

Local teachers started a GoFundMe that raised over $60,000 in 30 days, and the Salvation Army delivered a mobile kitchen to the restaurant at 10:30 a.m. the next day after the fire.

The business has provided 100,000 free meals over the last two years to the community, including those living in domestic violence shelters, health care workers, and veterans, Wood said.

Through the new partnership, the Vienna Moose Lodge — a fraternal organization that provides social events for members and supports philanthropic groups — has hired Wood and Green as paid workers. Four other diner staff members will also get interim work.

The diner had been using the Salvation Army’s mobile cooking unit temporarily to run operations, but it needed something more stable.

Wood expressed appreciation for the lodge’s support. He will run his catering business out of its hall at 9616 Courthouse Road in Vienna starting this month as part of a rental agreement.

He also plans to continue campaigns recognizing community heroes, such as an ongoing a suicide prevention effort.

As for 29 Diner’s Fairfax Boulevard location, Woods hopes to reopen on July 20, which would coincide with the diner’s 75th anniversary.

Meanwhile, the lodge has welcomed the temporary staff to its kitchen after previously relying on volunteers.

“We’re looking forward to some different foods,” Sullivan said, noting that his favorites from 29 Diner include shrimp and grits and a dish with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and pork chops. “In the end, hopefully he will show us and the new staff that we’ll eventually hire in the future to continue…his good food going forward.”

Founded in 1958, the Vienna Moose Lodge is part of the Moose International Fraternity, which started in 1888 in Louisville, Kentucky, and now has over 1 million members across 1,500 lodges in the U.S., Canada, and Britain.

The Vienna lodge has seen a significant growth in membership in recent months, adding 122 members since April to reach 405 people, according to Sullivan.

“I can anticipate we’ll sign up some new members just because John has come to help us,” he said.

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Meet Thor O’Connell, a domestic short-hair definitely worthy of Mjölnir, and his long-haired companion, the benevolent Czar O’Connell.

Here’s what 4Paws Rescue Team has to say about Thor:

Thor and his bonder companion Czar arrived at 4Paws looking for their new forever home after their beloved Daddy recently died of COVID-19.

Thor is 7 years old. He is timid, but warms up after a while and loves to have his back and ears scratched. Thor loves to jump and chase wand toys.

Thor never interacted with dogs before and is not accustomed to being around children. He is vaccinated and neutered, will be microchipped before going to his forever home and tested negative for FIV and Feline Leukemia.

Please email us if you’re interested in adopting Thor and his bonded companion Czar. Be sure to include your phone number in your message. Please limit inquiries to the Greater Washington, DC area, except for barn cats.

According to the nonprofit, Czar is about 4 years old and “timid at first, but eventually becomes very friendly once he feels that his surroundings are safe. He loves to roll on his back and be combed.”

Like his buddy, Czar has not interacted with dogs before and isn’t used to being around children. He has also been vaccinated and neutered, will receive a microchip before going to a new home, and has tested negative for FIV and Feline Leukemia.

Could your home be the Valhalla Thor and Czar are seeking? If so, 4Paws Rescue Team can be contacted at [email protected]

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Fairfax County could designate different times and days for when tennis and pickleball players can use its shared courts.

That is one of the changes under consideration by the Fairfax County Park Authority after its board approved a pickleball study report in December that highlighted concerns about the two sports competing for limited court space.

“This information would be posted onsite and is aimed at reduced conflicts between players of both popular sports,” Park Authority spokesperson Judy Pedersen said by email.

Intended to gauge demand for new facilities and illuminate existing issues in the county, the pickleball study kicked off with an online survey in December 2020.

The survey ultimately drew over 1,800 responses, 600 of which mentioned locations where people experienced conflict between pickleball use and another recreational activities, particularly tennis.

Respondents reported encountering often crowded courts, and one person recalled being told by a tennis player at Kemper Park in Oakton that the courts were for “tennis only,” even though the pickleball group had eight players.

In response to the sport’s growing popularity, Fairfax County has added 19 pickleball courts to existing tennis courts over the last 18 months. In November, two pickleball-only courts opened at Wakefield Park in Annandale.

With those additions, the FCPA now has 52 outdoor courts outfitted for pickleball, on top of six indoor courts in its recreation centers — a total similar to other similarly sized jurisdictions, according to the report.

However, the report also noted that the park authority has fewer facilities with six or more dedicated pickleball courts compared to other providers.

It recommended that the county create at least two pickleball-only facilities with at least six courts for large group drop-in play and tournaments, either by repurposing underutilized facilities or building new ones.

The FCPA is already looking at Lewinsville Park in McLean as a possible site for adding pickleball courts or converting the existing tennis courts into shared-use facilities.

Site constraints, the proximity of other facilities, and accessibility for populous areas in the county are among the factors that the county is taking into account when deciding potential court locations, according to Pedersen.

“Although we may potentially use park bond dollars in the future for the design and construction of pickleball-only facilities that could be used by larger groups, these projects would compete with the many other Park Authority projects, initiatives and capital needs of the entire park system,” Pedersen said.

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