Tysons Corner, VA

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is working to create a scooter program before scooter companies are allowed to zoom around however they please starting next year.

Legislation passed during the General Assembly session in January allows localities to regulate scooters and motorized skateboards, however, the localities have until Jan. 1, 2020 to take action to implement any regulations. After that date, the scooter companies can operate locally as they see fit.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said there is a “sense of urgency” to create scooter rules on the county level.

“[The county has] to have an ordinance in by the end of this year or it becomes the wild, wild west,” Foust said.

Scooters, an increasingly popular alternative transportation option, are already in use in the county.

Staff from the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) and the Department of Cable and Consumer Services presented a scooter program proposal to the county board during the Transportation Committee at yesterday’s meeting (Tuesday).

Chris Wells, the bicycle and pedestrian program manager for FCDOT, said that companies see scooters as an attractive form of alternative transportation.

“Fortune 500 companies are requesting this,” Wells said.

County staff suggested that proposed scooter program limit each company to 250 scooters, set the speed limit at 15 miles per hour and not restrict the devices to specific geographical areas of the county, according to the presentation.

Foust raised concerns about the 15 mph speed limit — “To me, it’s too fast” — and requested a demonstration.

The program would be regulated by the Department of Cable and Consumer Services.

When creating the proposal, county staff reviewed ordinances and pilot programs in nearby jurisdictions like Arlington, the City of Fairfax, the City of Alexandria and D.C., partly to possibly provide consistency around the area.

“The research is showing these are a type of transportation device used by a more diverse population,” Wells said, adding that “Tysons and Reston would be a great place for scooters to fit into the infrastructure.”

Overall, the board voiced support for the proposal.

Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay said he supports the program as a traffic calming tactic, although he said that “scooters are probably floating around somewhere” after major flash flooding earlier this week.

“It does send a message that we are a county that is trying to promote transportation,” McKay said.

While the scooter program is tentatively scheduled to go before the board during the December meeting, Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said she wants to see the board vote sooner on a scooter program proposal.

“I’m supportive of what’s on the table,” Chairman Sharon Bulova said, adding that the board can always amend an ordinance. “I think what staff is proposing sounds like a good way to get us started.”

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors mostly expressed support for implementing body worn cameras for the county’s police department following presentations about the results from a six-month-long pilot program.

Chief of Police Edwin Roessler Jr., Richard Bennett from American University and Deputy County Executive David Rohrer presented the results of the study to the county board during yesterday’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

The results of the study arrived almost a year after the pilot program, which was rolled out in the Mason, Mount Vernon and Reston district stations from March-September 2018, ended.

Bennett summarized the 119-page report by researchers at American University, which yielded mixed — yet generally positive — results.

Funded by the Koch Foundation and American University, the study randomly assigned half of the police officers in the three districts to body worn cameras and collected data from surveys, focus groups and ridealongs from both officers with and without the cameras. The researchers also talked to community members

While officers who wore the cameras during the pilot slightly increased their level of interest in the cameras by the end of the pilot, Bennett said that most officers said in focus groups and surveys that the cameras would not change how they work or how civilians’ react.

However, Bennett noted that people had slightly fewer complaints against the officers who wore the cameras, than ones who did not.

During the presentations, the police chief made a pitch for the county to implement the program. “I’m confident that [the county] should approve the program,” Roessler told the committee. “The IT infrastructure can be built up at the other facilities.”

The nearly $30 million proposed program would issue 1,210 body-worn cameras that would be phased in over three years with a five-year contract for equipment, licensing and storage. Body worn cameras would come to the McLean District during the second year of the program, according to the timeframe in the presentation.

About $10 million would be needed for contract costs, while $20 million would go toward staffing, with new positions needed at the police department, Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Department of Information Technology.

While some of the supervisors raised concerns about if the high cost outweighed the proposed program’s benefits, most of the supervisors expressed support for implementation.

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The fairly routine annual approval of taxicab certificates at yesterday’s (June 25) Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting instead marked the end of an era as the county approved no certificates.

Every odd-numbered year, Fairfax County government reviews taxicab applications and gives out new permits based on assessed need. But this year, staff found that there was a decline in demand by nearly 25 percent, meaning no new certificates would be needed.

“I was not at all surprised by the number of taxicab certificates,” said Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross. “This is so different than years ago.”

“There was always competition,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova agreed.

Staff noted in a memo last April that the taxicab market was experiencing a sudden decline.

According to staff:

The County’s taxicab market was experiencing a period of unprecedented contraction due to widespread customer acceptance of transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft… The memorandum noted that as of April 2018, the County’s fleet size had dropped from 654 to 453 taxicabs due to operators’ relinquishment of 201 taxicab certificates. Since that April 2018 memorandum, operators have relinquished an additional 85 certificates, bringing the current Fairfax County taxicab fleet to 368 vehicles.

While taxi cab numbers fell, the memo noted that TNC registrations skyrocketed with 16,000 active registrations in Fairfax in 2016 compared to 654 taxicabs. But in 2017, the requirement for Uber and Lyft drivers to register with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles was repealed, so the current number of TNCs active in Fairfax County is unknown.

Observing the taxicab industry’s decline, the Board of Supervisors also expressed concerns over the impact on accessible rides for persons with disabilities. By code, wheelchair accessible vehicles must number 4 percent of the overall taxicab fleet, but declining numbers of taxis meant a declining requirement for accessible cabs.

“What is the effect on accessible cabs available?” Gross asked. “This board spent a lot of time years ago to ensure that the holders of certificates had a percentage of accessible taxis available. This seems like it throws it all into a cocked hat.”

Staff said that the current requirement was for 15 total wheelchair-accessible cabs, but there are currently 28 in service in Fairfax. Staff noted that Uber and Lyft both have accessible cab options, but that there was no authority to regulate their requirement in the transportation network. Bulova directed staff to work with consumer protection to examine how to mitigate the impact of the decline of taxis on transportation accessibility.

File photo

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Tysons is now set to get a new senior living facility in two towers behind the Tysons Galleria.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the senior living complex known as The Mather during the board’s meeting yesterday (Tuesday).

The Mather is a part of Cityline Partners LLC’s Arbor Row project near Tysons Galleria, which includes the completed Nouvelle residential building and The Monarch, and plans to transform the back of Tysons Galleria along Westpark Drive into a suite of mixed-use buildings.

Slated to open in 2023, The Mather plans to seek a LEED Gold designation for the building and will be the first Life Plan Community in Tysons, according to a press release from Mather LifeWays, an organization that creates senior living programs and places.

“The Mather will offer apartment homes with SMART home technology, amenity-rich community spaces and luxury of a different kind for those who wish to plan ahead to live life to the fullest,” Mary Leary, the president and chief executive officer of Mather LifeWays, said in a press release.

The one- and two-bedroom room aparments in The Mather will start at $650,000, according to the press release.

Image via Fairfax County Planning Commission 

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Police, fire and emergency response agencies might not be the only ones who will be using unmanned aircraft in Fairfax County in the future.

Back in May, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, which proposes to incorporate drones into government operations with a particular focus on public safety.

Now, the county board has decided to not limit unmanned aircraft to only public safety uses.

At yesterday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved a new procedure for non-public safety departments and agencies, including the Fairfax County Park Authority, to obtain the board’s permission to also use the drones.

Interested agencies will need to tell the board why they want to participate in the program, and, after reviewing the request, the board will then take a vote.

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook suggested adding the approval process for the drone program expansion.

Photo via Flickr/Joe Loong

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As the Tysons-Pimmit Library continues its quarterly book sales, the library might get a new place to help store some of its books.

Fairfax County is looking to lease a property it owns to the Friends of Tysons-Pimmit Library, the non-profit that provides funding for the library.

“One of the primary methods for the Friends to raise this funding is to hold ongoing book sales at the library as well as much larger book marketplaces on a quarterly basis,” according to county documents.

The nonprofit plans to construct a 199-square-foot brick-faced building next to the library “to assist in their preparations for the book sales,” according to the county. The shed would store books and materials needed for the book sales.

The county’s Board of Supervisors OK’d today (Tuesday) to let residents know about a public hearing on the matter, which is set to be held on July 30 at 4 p.m.

Photo via Friends of the Tysons-Pimmit Library

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A proposed senior living facility in Tysons is heading to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for a public hearing tomorrow (June 25).

The Mather, a proposed two-story senior living complex, is a part of Cityline Partners LLC’s Arbor Row project near Tysons Galleria, which includes the completed Nouvelle residential building and The Monarch.

The development would transform the back of Tysons Galleria along Westpark Drive into a suite of mixed-use buildings.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission greenlighted the senior living facility earlier this month despite concerns over the project’s height, size and open space.

Image via Fairfax County Planning Commission 

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Updated 2:45 p.m. — Bulova’s Office noted that the interview does not represent an endorsement of the Kurtz Road property and that an official letter from the Zoning Administrator is still pending.

What started as residents upset over a series of group homes slated to move into a residential cul-de-sac has ballooned into a contentious issue that could set precedent in Fairfax County.

The Newport Academy, a for-profit therapy program for teens with mental health or addiction problems, wanted to turn its three purchased homes (1620, 1622, and 1624 Davidson Road) into a treatment facility. The plan hinged on the buildings being a by-right use, meaning no zoning approvals would be required, but a letter from Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson said this wasn’t the case.

The issue seemed settled. The Facebook group that had been the bastion of local resistance disbanded. But yesterday, Fairfax County staff confirmed that Newport Academy had filed an appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).

Outgoing Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova weighed into the discussion to lay out next steps and take a stance on the issue.

TR: We received confirmation that Johnson’s decision is being appealed to the BZA – does it end there or could it move up to the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors?

Bulova: If they deny it — if the BZA says “no, county staff is correct” — then they could file a special exception, which is what she said they needed to do. I’m assuming BZA will agree with county staff, but that doesn’t mean it’s over for them because they could file a special exception. Then it would go to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

They’re appealing this decision probably because they don’t want to move forward with a special exception faced with the kind of opposition they’re getting from the community.

TR: I saw in your letter to the residents that you have concerns about the facility. I was wondering if you could lay out what parts of this facility are concerning to you?

Bulova: I have been very supportive of group homes. I think they’re important, they provide an important service in our community, where people get the kind of support and help that they need, whatever the disability or need.

My concern about the Newport Academy is that this isn’t just a group home, this appears to be a little campus being developed out of a single family neighborhood. This is not a group home, but a [cluster] of individual homes being turned into a complex. That, to me, is a different situation than an individual group home where someone is able to live in a community and get the kind of supportive help they need.

The Kurtz Road [location] may be fine, but the Davidson ones are encircled and fenced in together. That’s something different

TR: In your experience as Chair, have there been other instances of projects or controversies like this?

Bulova: Group homes come up all the time, and back in the olden times group homes used to cause some concerns within a community. I remember back in the olden days, there were community days about the group home. Federal law stepped in and said “you can’t do that, group homes have to be treated like a family moving in.”

Generally, they are welcomed into the community. We’ve never dealt with something in my experience where someone seemed to have consolidated the properties and is trying to create a complex or campus of buildings. I’ve never seen this before. I see this not as being about a group home, but about something very different that changes, I think, the nature of the residential community.

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Amid a roar of traffic, a dozen Fairfax County officials gathered to break ground on an extensive Leesburg Pike (Route 7) widening project.

The ceremony was today (Thursday) at Capital Church on the border of the Hunter Mill and Dranesville districts, with their respective Board of Supervisors representatives Cathy Hudgins and John Foust present.

The project will involve adding a third lane to Leesburg Pike in each direction from Reston to Tysons. At the groundbreaking, officials highlighted the new shared-use paths and other improvements planned along the corridor to increase capacity, improve safety and traffic flow, and make life a little easier for cyclists and pedestrians.

“This project will enhance nobility…” said Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board, then laughed and corrected herself, “mobility, but [nobility] too, for cycling and pedestrians.”

The shared-use paths are planned to run along both sides of the road, with bridges and underpasses planned along the way and several other intersection improvements.

“It’s an important milestone many years in the making,” said Bill Cutler, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s district construction engineer. “It’s a 7-mile corridor and an important multimodal project, with 14 miles of multipurpose trail and access to the Spring Hill Metro station.”

During construction, off-peak lane closures are expected as the project works in segments. Final completion of the project is expected for summer 2024.

“If you’re sitting here wondering why we’re doing this, traffic seems to be going pretty well… it’s too late now,” said Foust. “In 2010, it was said that if Tysons was going to work, we needed to ensure that vehicles could get out of Tysons… This improvement will, I hope, make it much more attractive for drivers to stay on Route 7. Right now, we have a lot of cut-through traffic taking Georgetown Pike or Lewinsville Road trying to avoid traffic on Route 7. I think this will go a long way to addressing challenges with cut-through traffic.”

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The Fairfax County Planning Commission greenlighted yesterday (June 12) a proposed senior living facility in Tysons despite concerns from staff about the height, size and open space.

Fairfax County staff recommended denial of the proposed two-tower senior living complex called The Mather.

The proposed building would go 60 feet above the 225-foot maximum. “The excessive height combined with a narrow building footprint oriented diagonally results in a building mass that inconsistent with adjoining structures and overwhelms the street,” according to the staff report.

Staff also took issue with the developer wanting to move the open space from an area on top of the parking garage to a sloping area behind the parking garage.

According to the staff report:

The three major issues noted above are all interrelated and stem from the manner in which the continuing care facility is proposed to be integrated into the existing Arbor Row development. Staff does not object to the concept of a continuing care facility as a use, and in fact, recognizes the services provided by such a facility are both necessary and desirable within Tysons. However, the continuing care facility has been designed in a way that reflects the unique needs of the applicant’s specific business model, and does not reflect the urban design recommendations of both the Comprehensive Plan and the Tysons Urban Design Guidelines.

While Providence District Planning Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner called the proposal “one of the most complicated applications the commission will recall,” he ultimately brought forth a motion to approve the project.

Before the vote, Niedzielski-Eichner asked staff to address each of the three major concerns and allowed the applicant’s representative, John McGranahan Jr., to respond.

McGranahan argued that the recommended denial by staff was not considering the proposal’s height and size in the context of the surrounding neighborhood.

A staffer said that the mass of the building was considered to be out of context to the nearby buildings and that the applicant’s desire for more height for operational and financial considerations wasn’t enough justification to go above the maximum height.

Staff and McGranahan also disagreed on the relocation and redesign of the open space.

By the end of the back and forth, Niedzielski-Eichner said he was persuaded by the applicant’s reasoning.

Now that the proposal has a favorable recommendation from the Planning Commission, it heads to Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors.

The project is a part of Cityline Partners LLC’s Arbor Row project near Tysons Galleria, which includes the completed Nouvelle residential building and The Monarch. The development aims to transform the back end of Tysons Galleria along Westpark Drive into a suite of mixed-use buildings.

Image via Fairfax County Planning Commission 

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