Tysons, VA

Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors share numerous concerns about the environmental impact of the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project.

Based on an environmental assessment released in February, the board’s comments highlight everything from traffic and transit to stormwater management, along with recommendations to minimize the impact on trees, waterways, streams, historic properties and noise.

“The Board requests that VDOT continue to allow time for the public to provide feedback on the project prior to executing a final contract,” Chairman Jeffery McKay said in a letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine that the board is scheduled to approve when it meets today (Tuesday).

The project is intended to add more capacity to I-495 to take some of the cut-through traffic off nearby McLean streets, but without expanding the American Legion Bridge and I-495 on the Maryland side, some are concerned the express lanes will only push the bottleneck further north.

A traffic analysis found that generally, travel time along the Capital Beltway corridor will improve in both 2025 and 2045 once Maryland completes their managed lane system.

Until Maryland completes its improvements, the analysis predicted delays along general purpose lanes going north on I-495. In response, the board urged the Virginia Department of Transportation to shorten the time between the opening of the two projects.

“It is critical that VDOT address the temporary impacts of opening prior to Maryland’s managed lanes,” they said.

As part of the 495 NEXT project, VDOT has committed to building a major regional trail in accordance with Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan. The Board of Supervisors is requesting that the trail continue through Tysons instead of ending at Lewinsville Road.

They also urged VDOT to find money to promote transit access along the corridor, which will help reduce single-occupancy vehicle ridership and encourage sustainable transportation system.

Stormwater management ranks among Fairfax County’s top environmental concerns for 495 NEXT. Noting that flooding has particularly been an issue in the McLean area, the board wants VDOT to meet county requirements, rather than being grandfathered into lenient state standards.

“If meeting our local stormwater management requirements is not attainable, VDOT should implement requirements to the maximum extent practicable and provide documentation demonstrating that the technical requirements are not fully feasible,” McKay said in the letter. Read More

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About 250 more people are using Fairfax County’s emergency homelessness services this November over last November, and there are enough beds for just over half of them.

That number could increase as the federal ban on evictions draws nearer.

“As we look at potential rising eviction numbers, we need to be aware of the capacity for the homelessness system,” Fairfax County Health, Housing and Human Services Chief Strategist Dean Klein told the Board of Supervisors during a Health and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 24).

With COVID-19 cases rising, Fairfax County is dealing with increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness as well as the threat of rising eviction rates. Klein says rent assistance and partnerships with landlords will be critical for preventing evictions and keeping people in homes this winter.

“Our ongoing efforts to reach out to vulnerable populations is increasingly critical,” he said.

One step Fairfax County has taken is to form an eviction prevention task force with representatives from various county agencies, the county sheriff’s office, and the nonprofit law firm Legal Services of Northern Virginia.

Klein says he hopes to receive financial support from the Board of Supervisors next month. His staff anticipates spending at the same level as it is right now, which is about $600,000 a week.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said a board matter is in the works that would “give additional local support for our continuation of basic needs, which we know continues to be a concern for us.”

Although funding comes from a number of sources, some are set to run dry soon, adding to the sense of urgency.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency stepped in this year to pay for hotel rooms so that people experiencing homelessness could have a place to sleep safely during the pandemic. However, it is unclear how long FEMA will continue to provide funding, Klein says.

Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness Deputy Director Tom Barnett said the FEMA commitments are on a month-to-month basis and will last through the middle of December.

“We will continue to request extensions every month as they will support most of these expenses,” he said. Read More

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors indicated interest in a pilot program for electric-powered buses during its transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 10).

During the meeting, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny delivered an presentation that explained the “ins and outs” of electric vehicles and included a proposal for moving forward with a pilot plan.

The next step would be to return to the supervisors with a more in-depth financial plan that includes details such as when and where this would take place, and how long the demonstration would last, which could be in the early part of 2021, Biesiadny says.

“This is exciting,”said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay. “Clearly we need to jump into this area and we need to do it quickly.”

Providence Supervisor Dalia Palchick supported a pilot because it would help ensure the county implements these changes correctly.

“This is the future,” she said. “We need to stop going backward. I’m hopeful to see a plan not just to see a pilot but do a demonstration project, which in my mind, means ‘how can we move forward?'”

A pilot with four buses could cost between $3.8 million and $4.2 million, a gross cost that does not take into account sources of funding. Some money has been set aside through a bus replacement program, and there are grants available, Biesiadny said.

FCDOT has in-house and external expertise from Fairfax’s “ongoing partnership with Dominion Energy” and the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit team to draw from, said Tom Reynolds, the FCDOT Section Chief of Transit Services Division.

The pilot would help the department learn about the buses’ range and charging, how they perform during different seasons of the year and on various local and express routes, and what staff training needs to be done, Reynolds said.

“The sooner we do the pilot, the sooner we see the results of it, the sooner we can start to make longer-term decisions about some of the capital costs that would be necessary if we were to expand this,” McKay said.

When the county talks about costs, Palchik — who said she developed childhood asthma living in the area — and Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw emphasized the costs of treating asthma and the health impacts of poor air quality.

“In Virginia, we spend $87 million a year because of asthma hospitalization,” Walkinshaw said. “Fairfax County is lower, but Route One is higher. Annandale is higher. Other parts of the county are higher. It would be a small thing, but as we look at this pilot, we might want to look at locating it in parts of the county that have been hit harder by asthma.”

Fairfax County’s first effort to introduce electric vehicles into public transit came this year with the autonomous Relay shuttle now operating in the Mosaic District. That demonstration project is a partnership with Dominion Energy, Biesiadny said.

Photo via Electrify America; Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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This week, Fairfax County businesses received clearance to continue to outdoor dining, fitness, and exercise activities under social distancing rules with heated, enclosed tents this winter.

“Businesses have been able to install open-sided tents outside their storefronts since May, which allowed them to operate while maintaining proper social distancing and thus reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Fairfax County said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Oct. 20 to approve an ordinance amendment that will allow this trend to continue this winter with tents that have sides and heaters both inside and outside of the tents.

Previous permit requirements for heaters from fire officials have been relaxed to make the process much easier.

Under Fairfax County’s ongoing emergency ordinance, permits are not required for tents unless they are 900 square feet or larger in size.

“If an individual tent or a collection of tents is more than 900 square-feet, it needs to go to the fire marshal for a permit,” Fairfax County director of planning and development Barbara Byron said. “There is no fee for that permit.”

Tents must be fire-resistant, and heaters need to be rated, but there are otherwise no requirements, Byron told the county board.

Fairfax County says it made the decision to relax the permitting process “to reduce the stress on businesses working to revitalize the county’s economy while allowing county staff to devote their limited resources to maintaining continuity in government instead of processing an excessive number of applications.”

According to the county, this ordinance will last up to six months after the Board terminates the local declaration of emergency, which was issued on Mar. 17 by the Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County director of emergency management.

The county board adopted an emergency ordinance on May 28 that temporarily allows businesses to conduct outdoor dining and outdoor fitness or exercise activities without having to go through the lengthy application process that is normally required.

The original ordinance only permitted tents with all sides open. It was extended on July 14.

Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce board chairman Andrew Clark applauded Fairfax County for recognizing the challenges that restaurants and other businesses could face as the weather gets colder and taking action before winter arrives.

“We appreciate the county for realizing the need at the moment and acting accordingly,” Clark said.

Clark says that, thanks to the increased flexibility for outdoor dining and other efforts to accommodate public health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants in the Tysons area have started to see improved business, particularly with the first-ever Tysons Restaurant Week.

“That’s happening because the way restaurants are approaching the situation. They haven’t dropped the ball. They’re adhering to all the guidelines,” Clark said. “So, I think from what the restaurants are doing to the guidance the government has given, it’s given a framework for people to safely engage.”

Photo via Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce/Facebook

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Update on 10/28/2020 — This article has been corrected to clarify that the approved leases are only for necessary roof space, not entire facilities, and to note that Fairfax County is working with three contractors on its solar PPA initiative, not just Sigora Solar. The article also previously stated that the county will not bear any costs for the solar panels, but a county spokesperson says it would be more accurate to say the county will not bear upfront costs to design, permit, and construct the panels. 

Fairfax County inched closer to transitioning to renewable energy yesterday (Tuesday) when the Board of Supervisors authorized staff to lease roof space at the Providence Community Center and seven other county government-owned facilities so they can be outfitted with solar panels.

Providence Community Center will have rooftop solar photovoltaic panels installed on its main building at 3001 Vaden Drive, which operates as a government center for Providence District as well as a community meeting facility.

The other facilities that the county board approved to be leased to Sigora Solar following a brief public hearing are:

  • The Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The Pennino Building (12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The North County Government Center (1801 Cameron Glen Dr., Reston)
  • Reston Community Center (2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston)
  • Springfield Warehouse (6800 Industrial Road, Springfield)
  • Noman M. Cole Pollution Control Plant lab building (9399 Richmond Highway, Lorton)
  • I-66 Transfer Station, workers’ facility building, and truck wash building (4500 West Ox Road, Fairfax)

The eight facilities are among the first locations approved for solar panels as part of Fairfax County’s extensive solar power purchase agreement initiative, which was announced on Dec. 10 as the largest by a Virginia municipality at that point. Contracts were awarded to Sigora SolarSun Tribe Solar, and Ipsun Solar.

The three solar providers will design, permit, install, and operate rooftop solar panels at all facilities participating in the program, which also includes facilities owned by Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County Park Authority, and Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Under the PPA, Fairfax County will not bear any upfront costs for the design, permitting, or construction of the solar panels, Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination director Kambiz Agazi says.

Instead, the county will purchase on-site electricity from the solar providers.

The solar PPA is expected to help Fairfax County reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and its electricity costs, though county staff could not yet provide specific numbers for how much the installation of solar will reduce emissions or how much money the county is expected to save.

“We will have an approximation as soon as we have a permitted design,” Agazi said. “We hope to have that in the next three to four months.”

The eight facilities that were the subject of yesterday’s public hearing are among 113 possible projects in the first phase of Fairfax County’s PPA. A request for proposals issued by the county in 2019 listed a total of 247 facilities across the initiative’s two planned phases.

County staff say they will return to the Board of Supervisors in the future to get approval to lease the 18 other county government-owned facilities in the first phase of the PPA.

Image via Flickr/Minoru Karamatsu

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Former Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco got a shout-out from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during its regular meeting today (Tuesday).

Led by Chairman Jeff McKay and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the board adopted a resolution recognizing DiRocco for her 17 years of service to the Town of Vienna, a tenure that included stints on the town council, planning commission, and transportation safety commission prior to her three terms as mayor.

“It’s been a pleasure to serve the town of Vienna, and I know it’s in capable hands now,” DiRocco said when accepting the recognition.

DiRocco first became mayor in 2014, when she was appointed to the position following the death of Mayor Jane Seeman before winning an election for the seat later that year.

As mayor, DiRocco prioritized enhancing Vienna’s environmental sustainability, walkability, and financial responsibility. She oversaw the construction of a new community center and the installation of a mini-roundabout at Park and Locust Streets to help relieve traffic backups.

DiRocco also shepherded Vienna’s contentious efforts to cement Maple Avenue as the town’s central corridor by establishing a Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) Zone designed to support redevelopment and mixed-use projects.

DiRocco announced last December that she would not seek a fourth term as Vienna’s mayor, completing her final term on June 30.

In their joint board matter requesting the proclamation for DiRocco, McKay and Alcorn commended the former Vienna mayor as “not only an incredible asset to the town, but to Fairfax County as a whole.”

“Her accessibility to Vienna residents, her ability to work with all sides on tough Town issues, and her diligent advocacy for the Town – always with a smile on her face – means she will be a mayor we will all miss,” McKay and Alcorn said.

Alcorn commended DiRocco for advocating the Town of Vienna’s behalf when working with the county on projects like an agreement to increase public parking for Patrick Henry Library and the town’s new police station.

“Towns have this kind of unique setup where we’re reliant on counties for schools and human health services, but we also have this independent side,” DiRocco said. “I greatly appreciate Fairfax County in the ability to provide the support and partnerships we really needed in certain times, but also to honor our independence.”

The resolution acknowledging DiRocco’s work as mayor was followed by a similar proclamation recognizing Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel, who is not seeking reelection in November.

The Board of Supervisors also presented Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th District) with a Virginia Association of Counties Achievement Award, which recognizes “excellence in local government programs.” Watts received the award for advocating for the Virginia General Assembly to grant counties more taxing authorities.

The public presentations were the first ones delivered by the Board of Supervisors since March, when the board temporarily shifted to electronic meetings due to public health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image via Town of Vienna

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The Board of Supervisors approved the receipt of a $58,212 compensation package to Fairfax County as reimbursement for this summer’s shutdown of stations along the Silver Line at the meeting on Sept. 29.

The planned shutdown had been in the works pre-COVID, but the nature of the closure changed when the pandemic hit.

“On December 11, 2019, WMATA announced the temporary closure of three Orange Line Metrorail stations west of Ballston Station during Summer 2020,” staff said in a report. “This temporary closure is part of a large construction project to rebuild 20 outdoor station platforms. The Summer 2020 shutdown was originally planned to impact four stations: Vienna, Dunn Loring and East Falls Church. Access to West Falls Church Station would be restricted but was going to remain open during the project because, it is equipped with three tracks and two platforms that can be reconstructed, one at a time. The West Fall Church Station was supposed to be the western terminus of the Orange Line during the summer months.”

When COVID-19 hit, Metro expanded those plans to include reconstruction work on all five Silver Line Metro stations, including West Falls church, to connect to Phase II of the Silver Line.

In total, nine stations were impacted.

The compensation is meant to help cover some of the costs to Fairfax County, like supplemental bus services, providing customer service and fare card loading services at the stations as Metro users were sent to buses.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Fairfax County officials are celebrating the success of the Mosaic District, with a refunded bond sale making its way back to the county coffers.

At the Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday, the Board approved a refunded portion of a bond. According to the staff report:

Based on market conditions as of August 31, 2020, a refunding bond sale of $57.2 million is estimated to generate net present value savings of $18.8 million or 33% of the refunding bonds. Debt service payments are programmed in Fund 70040, Mosaic District Community Development Authority. It is expected that annual TIF revenues generated in excess of annual debt service requirements, administrative costs, and deposits to the surplus fund will be retained in the County’s General Fund, including additional savings realized from the refunding bond sale. It is also noted that the reduction in debt service accruing from the refinancing will reduce the potential need to collect the special assessment on owners in the District to cover debt service.

Board members were enthusiastic about the economic sustainability of the Mosaic District and pointed to the commercial area as a positive return on investment.

“This is a very exciting day, that we’re able to refinance and see quite a bit of saving from these bonds that were high risk bonds,” Providence Supervisor Dalia Palchik said, “and we’re hoping they will now be rated and we’ll be able to see reinvestment in the greater Merrifield area.”

Dranesville Supervisor John Foust called the Mosaic District a “success story” for Fairfax County.

“It’s a grand slam home run, and now the financial rewards are starting to flow,” Foust said. “It’s all coming together.”

Chair Jeff McKay also highlighted another small bit of news for the Mosaic District — that the planned self-driving shuttle is getting closer to reality.

“Palchik and I recently heard, on a small fun note, relay self-driving vehicle has been cleared by the Feds to start accepting passengers,” McKay said. “So, many great things are happening in Mosaic, none of which would be happening without the work this board did on establishing to Mosaic District in the first place.

For Vice Chair Penelope Gross, it was a surprising turnaround from when the Mosaic District had first been proposed.

“When Gerry Connolly brought up the issue of Mosaic and we all looked at him like ‘are you crazy?” but he had a vision of what had to be done and it worked,” Gross said. “He was convinced, as Providence district supervisor, that this was going to be a boon for the community. It took 20 years, but it really has paid off.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is considering a move to allow closed or partially-closed tents for outdoor dining in Fairfax County as temperatures continue to dip in the coming weeks.

At a board meeting on Tuesday, Board Chairman Jeff McKay proposed an emergency ordinance that would allow restaurants and fitness businesses to set up the tents.

“This is an important step we can take to safely help our local restaurants through this difficult time,” McKay wrote.

Currently, restaurants and fitness businesses are allowed to  use outdoor areas, including portions of parking lots and sidewalks. That ordinance is set to expire six months after the county’s state of emergency ends.

A public hearing on the matter is set for Oct. 20.

Photo via Melissa Walker Horn/Unsplash

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Outside of the occasional bomb threat, life in the southern corner of the Leesburg Pike and I-495 intersection is pretty quiet. The Board of Supervisors is hoping the new Mint Cafe can help bring a little life to the area — but not too much, because they’re not permitted to have live entertainment or music.

The new cafe is planned to replace the first floor of the vacant United Bank at 7787 Leesburg Pike, while the office use on the second floor will continue. The new cafe was unanimously approved at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

“Replacing a vacant business will help to rejuvenate this prominent location,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “The planting of 16 new trees will help to spruce up this property.”

The block along Ramada Road currently features an office building and The Westin Tysons Corner.

The cafe is planned to be a primarily late-evening venue, meaning it won’t impact the notoriously atrocious rush hour traffic along that stretch of Leesburg Pike.

Palchik said the cafe will fit in well with other planned uses in the area, including a planned Residence Inn by Marriott planned to fit behind the cafe.

“A new restaurant and retention of an office use on the second floor will fit well with the pending construction of a new hotel behind this property,” Palchik said.

There’s no word yet on how soon Mint Cafe plans to open.

Photo via Google Maps, rendering via Fairfax County

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