Tysons, VA

Fairfax County and the Virginia Department of Transportation are working on an agreement to include funding for Scotts Run Stream restoration efforts in McLean as part of the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said on Tuesday (Feb. 23).

McKay shared the news in a letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine that reiterates some of the county’s lingering reservations about the project, which seeks to extend the I-495 Express Lanes approximately three miles from the Dulles Toll Road interchange to the American Legion Bridge.

“In conjunction with the stream restoration project planned by the County, the additional funds received from the I-495 NEXT concessionaire will provide a more holistic approach to stream restoration that helps promote streambank stabilization, enhanced outfalls, and an overall improvement to Scotts Run,” McKay said in the letter, which was unanimously approved by the full board during its meeting.

The board raised concerns about the environmental impact of 495 NEXT, among other issues, in a letter to Valentine in early December, stating that runoff from the proposed project would affect almost 100 acres of wetlands, water, and land around Scotts Run and the Potomac River and exacerbate flooding issues in McLean.

The potential Scotts Run agreement and Maryland’s announcement last week that it has chosen a consortium led by Tysons-based Transurban for its Capital Beltway toll roads project have eased some — but not all — of Fairfax County supervisors’ anxieties about 495 NEXT.

Urging VDOT to coordinate with its counterpart across the Potomac as closely as possible, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust noted that, while last week’s announcement was a meaningful step forward, the actual realization of Maryland’s I-495/I-270 project remains far off.

“We have gone on record as saying that [495 NEXT] does more harm than good if we don’t get Maryland to move forward with their project,” Foust said. “They are making good progress. What happened last week, I think it was good news and very exciting, but they’re still not there yet.”

He also asked that McKay’s letter be amended to request more detailed renderings of planned ramps for the Dulles Toll Road interchange from VDOT, reiterating previously voiced concerns about the possible traffic and construction impacts on surrounding communities.

In addition, the Board of Supervisors wants VDOT to extend the shared-use trail included in the 495 NEXT project to Tysons, rather than ending it at Lewinsville Road, and fully fund one of the Tysons-Bethesda bus routes that have been proposed as a transit option for the I-495/American Legion Bridge corridor.

According to the board’s letter, the route would carry nine vehicles with an estimated initial cost of $5.2 million and annual operating costs of $2.2 million.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity cautioned against making too many demands of a project that already carried an estimated $500 million cost as of last March.

“Those requirements get paid by someone. They don’t get funded out of thin air,” Herrity said. “…Since these are just recommendations, I’m going to be supporting the letter, but I think we’ve got to be careful that we don’t push this project out of existence.”

Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who represents Hunter Mill District, said county leaders need to make their concerns about major projects like this known, especially since a private vendor will be involved.

“We have to make sure that the public interest and the environmental issues and everything else that’s important to the broader community is paramount,” Alcorn said.

VDOT issued the following statement to Tysons Reporter in response to the Board of Supervisors’ letter:

VDOT remains committed to continuing to work with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to listen to and address their feedback on VDOT’s I-495 Northern Extension Express Lanes Project. The issues identified by Fairfax County are important to VDOT and will continue to be an important part of the dialogue as we work together to solve one of the Washington Metropolitan Area’s most congested transportation links. Through the continued collaboration among the staff of VDOT and Fairfax County, VDOT is confident that a multimodal transportation solution can be put in place, which will improve travel and make a positive impact on our Commonwealth.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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A new bus route in Tysons is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday (Feb. 23) to move forward with a Phase IV-1 Mobility Analysis Study as a part of a Envision Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project being undertaken by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC).

Launched in October 2018, the project aims to connect the Mark Center in Alexandria to Tysons through Bailey’s Crossroads, Seven Corners and Falls Church along Route 7 via bus. Three phases of the study have already been conducted, with the most recent one completed in fall 2019.

The fourth phase that the board approved Tuesday is “to evaluate and determine the mobility benefits and impacts resulting from the proposed BRT from Tysons to Seven Corners,” according to the board’s agenda package. The study will also identify right-of-way concerns and any other potential issues along the proposed project corridor.

The mobility analysis study will add about 3.5 miles to a micro-simulation model that the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) developed to evaluate current and future traffic conditions from Tysons to the City of Falls Church.

Last year, NVTC got a $560,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to fund the Phase IV-1 study. The state will cover half of the cost, while the localities involved in the study will collectively match the remaining $280,000.

Under a memorandum of agreement that the Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday, Fairfax County will contribute $140,000 to the local match. The funds will come from state aid held in trust at NVTC.

In the first phase of the Envision Route 7 study, NVTC assessed the existing issues and opportunities to improve the Route 7 corridor. The study team then determined that a BRT system from Mark Center to Tysons — via the East Falls Church Metro Station — could be a viable transit solution before conducting a conceptual engineering study.

NVTC says on the project website that the mobility analysis study is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

Working with the Virginia Department of Transportation, FCDOT is supplementing NVTC’s project with a Route 7 BRT study of its own that focuses specifically on Tysons from the Spring Hill Metro station to the I-66 interchange. The county says it will host a public meeting on its study in early March.

Image via NVTC

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Trash collectors in Fairfax County will not pick up leaves, grass clippings, and other yard waste stored in plastic bags when the collection season begins on Monday (Mar. 1).

After holding a public hearing, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 on Tuesday (Feb. 23) to officially prohibit the use of plastic bags for yard waste by amending its Solid Waste Management Ordinance, a move that supporters say is necessary to reduce pollution and make the county more environmentally friendly.

“To reverse climate catastrophe, each of us must make many small and large steps,” Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions Board Chair Eric Goplerud said when testifying at the public hearing. “Banning plastic bags to contain yard waste is a step that the Board of Supervisors can take to lead our community to care for our common home, the Earth.”

Fairfax County began transitioning away from using plastic bags for yard waste last year, encouraging residents to use compostable paper bags or reusable containers instead.

In an update to the board’s environmental committee on Oct. 27, county staff reported that about 51% of homes surveyed during the 2020 yard waste season were still utilizing plastic bags, but Fairfax County Director of Engineering and Environmental Compliance Eric Forbes says he is “hopeful and confident” that the bags can be eliminated after the past year of education and outreach.

Now that the ban has been approved, the county’s solid waste management program is encouraging private trash and recycling collection companies to notify their customers that waste in plastic bags will no longer be collected.

“We do not anticipate a hundred percent success rate in the beginning, but we will continue our outreach and collaboration with industry to help our community to reach compliance with the new requirements,” Forbes said.

Forbes acknowledged that compostable paper bags are slightly more expensive to buy than plastic bags. County staff found that paper bags designed to carry yard waste cost about 50 cents per bag, whereas plastic bags cost around 30 cents.

Yet, the overall cost of utilizing plastic may be greater, since the material is difficult to extract and can damage equipment during the composting process, pushing up costs for collectors and, by extension, customers, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says.

While paper bags are preferable to plastic, Forbes noted that residents can avoid the costs of yard waste removal altogether by managing it on-site with backyard composting or allowing grass clippings to decompose on their lawn, a practice known as grasscycling.

McKay says he got 75 emails on the proposed ban, with an even split between supporters and opponents, but he believes it is time for Fairfax County to join the rest of the D.C. region, where some jurisdictions have required paper bags or reusable containers for more than a decade.

“We ultimately just have to decide whether we think this is a good idea or not,” McKay said. “…I think clearly, based on the testimony that we’ve heard today, based on where everyone around the region is, and frankly, based on where the science is, this is something that we must do now to help with our environmental challenges.”

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Senate Could Tie Metro Funding to McLean Station Name — “A Virginia Senate bill would withhold at least $166 million pledged to Metro unless the transit system adds the name of Capital One bank to the McLean rail station. The legislation would rename the Silver Line station as “McLean-Capital One Hall,” a reference to a performance venue the bank is building a quarter-mile from the site.” [The Washington Post]

Fairfax County Equity Task Force Presents Recommendations — The Chairman’s Task Force on Equity and Opportunity released its recommendations yesterday (Tuesday) for how Fairfax County can address systemic racism and other forms of inequality. Suggestions include ensuring access to early childhood education and increasing the availability of affordable housing. [Fairfax County Government]

Fairfax County Releases Revised Countywide Strategic Plan — “Following a year of pause and then refinement due to COVID-19, County Executive Bryan Hill unveiled his proposed strategic plan to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 23. The strategic plan lays out a community-based vision for the next 10 to 20 years and features nine priority areas to advance that vision.” [Fairfax County Government]

Town Hall Meeting Scheduled on West Falls Church Project — The City of Falls Church will hold a virtual town hall on Mar. 2 to provide updates on its West Falls Church Gateway project. The mixed-use development has been delayed as its developers revise the terms of their agreement with the city. [City of Falls Church]

Vienna Metro Bike/Pedestrian Improvements Meeting Rescheduled — A virtual public information meeting on a project to improve bicycle and pedestrian accessibility around the Vienna Metro station has been rescheduled for Mar. 18. The meeting was originally expected to take place today (Wednesday). [Virginia Department of Transportation]

Falls Church Pharmacy Provides Free Insulin to the Uninsured — “Through this pilot initiative NOVA ScriptsCentral will provide insulin for free to uninsured patients being treated at one of its 16 safety net partner clinics in Northern Virginia.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is aiming to formally update its Workforce Dwelling Unit (WDU) policy to provide more affordable rents for local workers as rents continue to increase across the region.

The proposal, which will come before the board for a public hearing and a vote today (Tuesday), offers greater flexibility to developers and has a particular focus on the Tysons Urban Center.

Under the proposed policy, developers in Tysons would have two options for meeting their workforce dwelling unit requirements:

  • Make 13% of the units WDUs, with a breakdown of 2% at 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI), 3% at 70% AMI, and 8% at 80% AMI
  • Or make 10% of the units WDUs at 60% AMI

Adopted in 2010, Fairfax County’s current Tysons WDU policy gives developers a 20% density bonus if they commit to making 20% of their rental units affordable at various income levels for at least 50 years.

Fairfax County Housing and Development Director Tom Fleetwood says expectations for WDU commitments in Tysons are higher than in the rest of the county “because of the density available in the Tysons Urban Center.”

The Board of Supervisors initiated a review of the county’s workforce dwelling unit policy last July after a task force convened in March 2019 found that the policy was, in effect, allowing market-rate units to be considered WDUs by including units at 100 and 120% of the AMI, which is currently $126,000 for a family of four in the D.C. area.

The task force recommended amending the policy so that it can more effectively serve its purpose, which is to provide more affordable housing in the county’s urban and mixed-use centers, like Tysons.

“We conducted a housing strategic plan process over the last two or three years, which identified, sort of these lower incomes as being in the greatest need,” Fleetwood said. “While at the same time, the higher income tiers that were served under the original version of the WDU program really were closer to the prevailing market rents here in Fairfax County.”

About 1,600 WDUs have been introduced in Fairfax County under the current policy, according to Fleetwood.

Based on a county staff report released in Janaury, the proposed amendment lowers the household income levels included in the rental WDU program from a maximum of 120% AMI to 80%. It also now includes households at 70% and 60% of AMI in the program.

It also updates the policy to allow developers outside of Tysons to get a 12% density bonus by offering 8% of their rental units as WDUs, a drop from the current 12% threshold. 4% of the units should be at 80% AMI, 2% at 70% AMI, and 2% at 60% AMI.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the proposed policy changes be approved when it met on Feb. 3.

The amended policy that the Board of Supervisors is voting on today also includes revisions to update data, rework outdated terminology, and remove references to programs that no longer exist.

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(Updated at 10:35 on 2/12/2021) Fairfax County government workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 will now receive $2,000 in hazard pay, an increase from the $1,500 that county staff initially recommended in January.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the one-time bonuses on Tuesday (Feb. 9) before directing staff to look for additional funding to cover bonuses for all employees.

“It has been something to watch the response of our county employees over the past year to this pandemic,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said after introducing the motion. “To be able to do this and have the resources available to reward these employees and thank them is absolutely critical.”

While the board expanded the program to include limited-term employees as well as merit employees, it backed staff’s suggestion of using the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health COVID-19 risk assessment to determine workers’ eligibility for hazard pay.

When the proposal first came to the board during its budget committee meeting on Jan. 12, some supervisors expressed concern about leaving out workers who could contract COVID-19 while on the job but don’t meet the VOSH standards for their risk level to be classified as “high” or “very high.”

The board planned to vote on hazard pay on Jan. 26, but the decision was postponed so that county staff could continue talks with the Fairfax County government employees’ union, SEIU Virginia 512, and other workers’ groups, which were advocating for hazard pay to be available to all employees.

Because the hazard pay comes from CARES Act relief funds, Fairfax County staff say federal guidelines dictate that the money must be limited to employees whose duties involve physical hardship directly related to pandemic emergency response efforts.

The approved proposal will cost an estimated $9.2 million, keeping it within the $10 million allocation that the Board of Supervisors set aside from the county’s coronavirus relief fund for hazard pay.

A broader hazard pay plan would have to use county funds, which McKay previously told Tysons Reporter would be “unlikely” to happen with the fiscal year 2022 budget. County Executive Bryan Hill will present an FY 2022 budget proposal to the board on Feb. 23.

The Board of Supervisors instead hopes to find the money for more bonuses in its FY 2021 budget through a third-quarter review that will be approved when the FY 2022 budget is marked up on Apr. 27.

“I think this is exactly the type of environment that we’re in right now that contributes to making bonuses a practical, doable solution to really value the work of all of our county employees at a time when we can’t do all of the things we’d like to do,” McKay said.

For the FY 2021 third-quarter review, staff have also been asked to evaluate the county’s leave programs and determine if new options can be provided to employees who have been unable to take advantage of existing programs due to the nature of their job.

SEIU Virginia 512 Executive Board President Tammie Wondong says the union was glad that Fairfax County ultimately included limited-term employees in its hazard pay plan, but more still needs to be done to ensure all workers are fairly compensated during the pandemic and beyond — something she argues can only be guaranteed if the union gets collective bargaining powers.

“We are headed in the right direction, because the fact is we were heard, and we got their attention,” Wondong said. “That’s the most important thing, that they heard us and they responded. It’s not fixed. We’ve still got a lot more work to do, but…now we’re able to continue to lift our voices and talk about how it continues to impact us, with the pandemic that’s going on and how people are risking their lives just to be out there.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has endorsed county efforts to expand food scrap drop-offs to more farmers markets and evaluate a possible curbside collection pilot program.

Such collection opportunities would mark a step toward the county’s ambitious goal of making schools and government operations zero waste by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2040.

The board asked the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services last summer to research and report options for bringing an internal compost pilot — an employee-led food scrap recycling program called the Fairfax Employees for Environmental Excellence — to the public.

Fairfax County Director of Engineering and Environment Compliance Eric Forbes told the board during its environmental committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday) that DPWES has “a number of pilot programs” and the county “has been discussing working toward organics diversion for quite a while.”

Food scraps, which can be composted and converted into nutrient-dense soil, make up 30% of what gets thrown away in the county. Diverting this potential resource represents “the next rung on the ladder for our community,” Forbes said.

The county unveiled composting drop-off sites at the I-95 Landfill Complex & I-66 Transfer Station in November. He said these sites have rescued about 4,500 pounds of food scraps so far. People can also bring food scraps to farmers’ markets or hire one of four vendors in the county that offer curbside organics collection services.

In the near future, the county is looking to expand collection opportunities at farmers’ markets run by the Fairfax County Park Authority, FRESHFARM, and Central Farm Markets. These three organizations have expressed interested in working with the county, according to Forbes.

The county is also mulling over a curbside collection program, which would let residents mingle food scraps and yard waste in their green bins. Through an inter-county agreement, the food scraps could be taken to a facility in Prince William County.

“I like the idea of regional players taking the responsibility,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “I appreciate Prince William stepping up to build their own food scrap recycling.”

Still, Braddock District Supervisor James R. Walkinshaw told Forbes the county should “aggressively” promote backyard composting. He said doing so is especially important if the county finds that a curbside collection program would increase emissions.

“I want to make sure we do that analysis before moving forward with expansion of curbside,” he said.

Likewise, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay said he appreciates the pilot programs and partnerships, but there needs to be more communication with the “average Joe homeowner.”

Forbes said his staff is looking to purchase electric vehicles for trash collection. As for educational opportunities, he said the county publishes lots of educational material and presents ways to eliminate food waste at homeowners’ association meetings.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik encouraged the county to look for year-round and seasonal farmers’ markets near apartment buildings.

“I want to make sure we are looking at equity through this issue,” she said. “Families will be happy to participate as long as we look at some of the barriers that exist.”

Photo via Seth Cottle on Unsplash

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved the construction of an apartment building with ground-floor retail in Merrifield.

The project replaces a 1980s-era, three-story office building at 2722 Merrilee Drive with a seven-story, 85-foot-tall residential building with retail and recreational amenities.

Proposed by Elm Street Development under the name Merrilee Ventures, the apartment building will have 239 residential units and 30 units for retail use.

On Tuesday (Jan. 26), supervisors approved the developer’s request to reduce the site’s existing parking by 18% because it is close to the Merrifield-Dunn Loring Metro Station.

The Merrilee building will have 294 parking spaces, including 264 set aside for residents. Merrilee Drive and a planned private street will also have on-street parking.

Elm Street Development is providing 20,000 square feet of passive and active open space, including a retail plaza, an outdoor fitness area, and an expanded streetscape along Merrilee Drive.

“One of the opportunities for Merrifield is to simply link the [Dunn Loring Metro station] to the extensive retail amenities in the established urban core,” McGuireWoods managing partner Greg Riegle, a representative for Elm Street, said on Tuesday.

He further described the project as “an opportunity to promote that connectivity and set a template for the walkable streets, pedestrian amenities, and reasonable street-level retail that will make it an increasingly interesting and amenitized walk.” 

During the meeting, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik lauded the project because it will enhance the pedestrian experience and provide open spaces, including a much-needed dog park.

“I am pleased it resulted in a high-quality urban design that maximized indoor and outdoor amenities and publicly accessible spaces,” she said.

Elm Street Development is still working with Providence District to find .45 acres of space to develop into an urban park. The company is unable to meet a standard in Merrifield’s comprehensive plan that requires urban park space in new developments.

Staff calculated that .63 acres of on-site park space would be required, but Elm Street Development said only .17 acres fit on the site. So, the developer is looking to make up the remaining .45 acres elsewhere. If it can’t find that space, the developer will contribute $500,000 to Fairfax County Park Authority for future urban park spaces.

Those who worked on the project told the supervisors that the project revealed challenges in the urban park standards within the Merrifield Suburban Center Comprehensive Plan.

When approving the Merrilee project, Palchik asked Fairfax County staff to find new ways to achieve the plan’s vision for urban parks.

“The challenge of meeting the urban park standard within the application brought to light needs that, when addressed, will help realize the comprehensive plan’s vision for additional park resources here in Merrifield,” she said.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously approved the project on Dec. 9 after deferring the decision for a week over concerns about the urban park space requirements.

Although concerns over parking and stormwater management were raised during the planning commission’s public hearing in December, no public speakers came forward on Tuesday.

Photo courtesy Elm Street Development, image via Fairfax County

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved developer Dittmar’s request to add a public park and some 480 parking spaces to Westpark Plaza.

The 2.9-acre site is located at 8401 Westpark Drive north of Leesburg Pike. The parking portion of the interim plans for the site will be in place for five years, while the park will remain during the first phase of redevelopment.

Dittmar’s grand plans to replace the demolished Best Western Hotel that previously occupied the site with two residential buildings, a new hotel, and retail were approved in 2018, but the project is currently idling.

Currently, the property is an asphalt parking lot that the Meridian Group used as a construction staging and parking while work on The Boro development was underway.

The plans for interim parking and a pop-up park have been in place since last summer. The Fairfax County Planning Commission approved the proposal on Dec. 9 before the Board of Supervisors gave the final green light on Tuesday (Jan. 26).

“It is the intent of Dittmar, the owner and applicant, to proceed with ultimate redevelopment,” Walsh Colucci senior land use planner Elizabeth Baker said during Tuesday’s public hearing. “They appreciate having these interim uses.”

The theme of the 16,500-square foot park will be an outdoor reading area, complete with a Little Free Library. It will also have space for food trucks, some phone charging stations, sidewalk chalk art, and other amenities, Dittmar says in its development plans.

The park will activate Westpark Plaza and complement the public spaces at The Boro to the north of the site, Alexis Robinson, a staff coordinator in the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, said during the staff presentation on Tuesday.

It will remain in place during phase one, which will primarily involve the construction of one of the two planned residential buildings with retail.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik called the outdoor reading room idea “unique and creative,” and she hopes it will inspire more interesting park concepts as the county plans for more public spaces.

“I believe this will be a great addition to the neighborhood,” Palchik said. “It will provide families a new opportunity to engage and be active outdoors, which as we have seen especially this year is in high demand.”

Image via Walsh Colucci

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A review panel charged with providing community oversight of local law enforcement has challenged the results of an investigation by the Fairfax County Police Department for the first time since it was formed in 2016.

The Fairfax County Civilian Review Panel delivered a report in October that disputed the FCPD’s findings that racial bias did not play a role in an interaction between a Reston District Station police officer and an African American man that took place in Herndon in 2019.

Because six of the nine-member panel disagree with the outcome of the police investigation, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed the police department to address the panel’s requests for the next steps. The matter was discussed at a board meeting on Tuesday.

The panel received a complaint of racial profiling in May 2019 from a man who said he felt that he had been targeted by a Fairfax County police officer and suspected of trespassing “for no reason at all.”

According to the investigation file, the officer began following the man’s car when he turned at a red light in Herndon and stared at the officer. When he ran the car’s license plate and it matched with a woman in Virginia Beach — what he knew to be “a source city for illegal substances” in Fairfax County — his suspicions grew and he followed the man into his apartment complex in Herndon.

The officer approached the man and asked him for his identification, where he lived, and other identifying information. In the complaint submitted to the county, the man said he was shaken by the encounter, which he recorded on his cell phone, and was “extremely frightened and nervous.”

According to the report, the officer stayed in the parking lot for a few more minutes after he verified the man’s identity and ran the license plate again.

The man, whose name was not released, said he felt the incident was racially motivated because the officer believed he did not live in the apartment complex and stood in a manner that hindered his ability to get out of his car. No force was used in the incident.

In official comments to the panel, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler said that while the officer exhibited a series of “poor, cascading assumptions and judgments that were wrongly based on his training,” there is no evidence that race was a factor in the incident.

He acknowledged that FCPD said the encounter indicates that there are some elements that need to be “train[ed]-away.”

“We can’t just keep going to proactive patrol training,” Roessler told the civilian panel during the course of its investigation. “I pray that you are understanding that, as your chief, I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.” Read More

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