Tysons, VA

Fairfax County Records Third Pedestrian Death of 2021 — Police reported on Friday (April 9) that Falls Church resident Ramakant Bhusal, 36, was struck by a car while crossing Arlington Boulevard near the Graham Road intersection. Speed and alcohol do not appear to be factors for the driver. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Construction to Begin on Marco Polo Development — Starting today (April 12), the sidewalk in front of 245 Maple Avenue W. in Vienna will be closed for approximately five months “to allow for safety and proper right-of-way during construction.” The mixed-use Vienna Market development was approved to take over the former Marco Polo site in 2019. [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Inova Seeks Volunteers for COVID-19 Vaccine Site — “Fairfax County has received a request to recruit volunteers to help provide assistance to the Inova Stonebridge COVID-19 Vaccination Center in Alexandria, which provides COVID-19 vaccines predominately for individuals who reside and/or work in Fairfax County.” [Fairfax County Government]

Fairfax County Holds Virtual Budget Public Hearings This Week — Community members can weigh in on the county’s proposed FY 2022 budget and capital improvement program on Tuesday through Thursday (April 13-15). The Town of Vienna and City of Falls Church are also holding budget meetings this week. [Fairfax County Government]

Ramadan Begins Today — Agora Tysons (7911 Westpark Dr.) is one of several restaurants in the D.C. area offering halal-friendly options for carry-out and delivery in lieu of extended holiday hours during the Muslim holy month. [Dine After Dark]

Mosaic District Displays COVID-19 PSA — “Many thanks to @mosaicdistrict for showing our #COVID19 Spanish language PSA on the big screen reminding folks on the importance of wearing a mask, washing your hands & employing physical distancing.” [Northern Virginia Regional Commission/Twitter]

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Metro will maintain its current rail and bus service levels under a proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board of directors’ finance committee approved yesterday (Thursday).

Since February, Metrorail has been operating at 80% of its service levels prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted a nearly 90% drop in ridership. Metrobus has been operating at 85% of its pre-pandemic service levels after seeing a less pronounced decrease in ridership.

The $4.7 billion operating and capital budget proposed for FY 2022 is being supported by $722.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding, including $193.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that Congress enacted in March.

Those funds have enabled WMATA to avoid making the significant service and personnel cuts that had been on the table even after the passage of the second coronavirus relief bill in December. Among the possible cuts was the closure of 19 Metro stations, including the McLean and Greensboro stations.

Tysons Partnership, the nonprofit group that has been overseeing the implementation of Fairfax County’s vision for Tysons, welcomed the news that those potential cuts have been averted.

“After a very uncertain time, we are pleased the federal government provided ample funding for WMATA to cover operating costs for the near future and that Tysons Metro stations will remain open,” Tysons Partnership President and CEO Sol Glasner said. “Now, we and the region need to focus efforts on returning to riding Metro as economic recovery efforts get underway and more retail and hospitality businesses return to normal operations.”

However, the proposed budget will delay funding for service on the long-anticipated second phase of the Silver Line, which expands the transit system from Reston into Loudoun County.

Previously scheduled to open this fall, Silver Line Phase 2 will now begin operations in January 2022 at the earliest as the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority works to resolve ongoing construction issues. MWAA said in March that it will be ready to hand over the project to Metro by Labor Day.

“We are preparing to welcome back customers as part of a return to normalcy, and welcome new customers who have long awaited the convenience of the Silver Line and new stations serving their communities and workplaces,” Metro General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “I am especially looking forward to beginning rail service to Dulles Airport as people resume travel to and from the nation’s capital as one of the great destinations in this country.”

Metro’s proposed FY 2022 budget also includes the transfer of five bus routes to Fairfax Connector, which will assume operations of the routes in July in conjunction with a host of other service changes concentrated around Tysons, McLean, and Falls Church.

WMATA says it received more than 22,400 responses during the public comment period on the FY 2022 budget, which lasted from Feb. 20 to March 16. That is the most comments the transit agency has gotten on a budget proposal in the past 10 years.

WMATA’s board of directors is scheduled to give final approval to the proposed FY 2022 budget on April 22. The fiscal year will begin on July 1 and last until June 30, 2022.

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With tax season in full swing and Fairfax County plugging away at its latest budget proposal, you may wonder where exactly your tax dollars go.

Fairfax County is hammering out the details of its spending for the 2022 fiscal year, which is expected to gross more than $8.5 billion. But your tax dollars go to a smaller piece of the pie that encompasses funding for county government operations and contributions to Metro and Fairfax County Public Schools.

Totaling $4.48 billion, the general fund disbursements money comes from taxes — primarily real estate and personal property taxes, but also taxes on hotels and retail sales — as well as fees for licenses and permits. About $1.6 billion of this bucket sustains the operations of all county departments.

Real estate taxes paid by individuals and businesses contribute about $3 billion (or 68%) of the money needed to support county departments, schools, Metro, and debt services. In fact, residents’ property taxes make up about 74% of the county’s real estate tax income. The rest comes from commercial properties, such as apartments, offices, retail spaces, and hotels.

While homeowners could see their real estate tax rate lowered by one cent to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value in the upcoming budget, they will likely still see their bill increase due to rising property values. The one-cent reduction, however, will bring in $27 million less than if the current rate remained in place.

The county, meanwhile, is contending with falling commercial property values for its income from non-residential real estate taxes, a nationwide phenomenon.

But where does this tax revenue go?

After schools, which receive slightly more than half of the general fund disbursements, the county’s next two largest allocations go to public safety, including police and fire, and health and welfare, including family and neighborhood services.

Within those areas, much of the recurring spending is tied to personnel, both existing staff and requests for additional hires. The county government says an additional 109 positions are needed to staff new facilities and continue initiatives previously funded by grants and stimulus funding.

County Executive Bryan Hill’s proposed FY 2022 budget devotes $11.91 million to fund 46 positions to continue implementing the police department’s body-worn camera program and to staff the South County Police Station, a new 61,000-square-foot police station and animal shelter, and the Scotts Run Fire Station.

There is also additional funding to support the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, which Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said last year is in a state of crisis and needs more staff, especially to handle the body-worn camera program.

The proposed budget adds seven positions to the county’s opioid task force and five positions for the Diversion First initiative.

Police and fire are the biggest drivers of the public safety budget, each accounting for around 41% of expenses, or $219 and $218 million, respectively. Overall, public safety accounts for 33% of the total general fund direct expenditures of $1.6 billion. Fairfax County lands in the middle of Virginia localities for how much it spends per person on public safety ($671 per person). Read More

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Morning Notes

Virginia Extends Tax Deadline — Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (March 19) that the state taxation department will extend deadline for filing and paying individual income taxes from May 1 to May 17. The move came shortly after the IRS and Treasury Department pushed the deadline for federal income tax filings and payments from April 15 to May 17. [Virginia Governor’s Office]

Bicycling Still Hazardous in Tysons, Study Finds — A market study commissioned by the Tysons Partnership found a lack of the protected bicycle lanes and connections between neighborhoods and streets needed to make the area friendlier to cyclists. Nearly 10 miles of road in Tysons rank in the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s most dangerous category, compared to just two miles receiving the highest bikeability rating. [Greater Greater Washington]

Vienna Police Arrest Man Suspected of Burglary — The Vienna Police Department arrested a 58-year-old man on March 15 after receiving calls about a man “pulling on doors, possibly trying to enter businesses in the area” and later entering a resident’s home while they were sleeping. Police are looking for assistance in identifying jewelry and other property that the man allegedly stole. [Vienna Police Department]

CDC Updates Social Distancing Guidance for Schools to Three Feet — “Fairfax Superintendent Scott Brabrand said Friday in a message to parents that the new guidance was “very encouraging,” but under review. He said he will meet with principals and county health officials next week to work on the issue.” [The Washington Post]

Dranesville District Budget Town Hall Tonight — Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust is holding a virtual town hall at 7 p.m. to discuss Fairfax County’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget. The meeting will be televised on Channel 16, streamed online, and streamed live on Foust’s Facebook page. [Supervisor John Foust/Facebook]

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Morning Notes

Cases over Bijan Ghaisar’s Death Stall in Court — A federal judge assigned to oversee a criminal case and civil lawsuit against U.S. Park Police officers for the 2017 fatal shooting of McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar “has made no moves to hold any hearings on the cases or provide a pretrial briefing and discovery schedule.” The officers were indicted by a Fairfax County grand jury in October but are seeking to have the cases moved to federal court. [The Washington Post]

Statewide Tornado Drill Scheduled for Today — Virginia will conduct a tornado drill at 9:45 a.m. today (Tuesday) as part of its first-ever Virginia Severe Weather Awareness Week, which started yesterday and will last through March 19. The alert will be issued through NOAA Weather Radio stations as well as local radio, TV, and cable outlets. [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

Falls Church City Council Gives Initial Approval to New Noise Ordinance — The city council voted 7-0 to give a preliminary “OK” to a measure that would permit up to 75 decibels of sound up to 10:30 p.m. in business and industrial areas on Friday and Saturday nights. Dates for a public hearing and final approval have not yet been scheduled. [Falls Church News-Press]

Fairfax County Chairman Criticizes Proposed Metro Cuts — Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says that Metro’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget would be “frustrating and could be harmful in both the short- and long-term to Metro and our Northern Virginia economy,” especially in Tysons. Federal relief funds are expected to stave off the cuts, but they have not been officially taken off the table yet. The public comment period ends today at 5 p.m. [Inside NoVA]

James Madison High School Kicks off Renovation — “We have officially kicked off renovation season! Fencing was installed in our main parking lot today. Changed traffic patterns and relocated parking spaces are just the start of what spring will bring us!” [@JamesMadisonHS/Twitter]

McLean Private School Rallies Support for Food Drive — Students, parents, faculty, and staff at The Langley School all chipped in for a three-week food drive to support the D.C. nonprofit So Others Might Eat. The effort produced more than $5,000 in monetary contributions and more than 2,000 donated non-perishable food items. [Sun Gazette]

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Some big changes are coming to McLean, and Dranesville Supervisor John Foust says he supports many — but not all — of them.

During a “Good Morning, McLean” breakfast hosted by the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce yesterday morning (Thursday), Foust highlighted ongoing redevelopment work to the downtown area and Chain Bridge Road, but expressed caution about proposed zoning changes.

He repeated his support for the McLean Commercial Business Center revitalization plan despite some vocal opposition, saying it encourages development while protecting those who do not want McLean to become the next Tysons. The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan on April 28, and it will go before the Board of Supervisors on May 18.

Foust also spoke favorably about Tri-State Development’s proposal to build a 35-unit senior living facility with townhouses on a Chain Bridge Road site that would otherwise fit nine single-family homes. Earlier this month, the planning commission deferred a decision on the plan until next Wednesday (March 17).

“It’s exactly what McLean residents are looking for who want to downsize but don’t want to leave McLean,” Foust said. “Fundamentally, it’s a good application, and I think it’ll probably get approved.”

The project has received some pushback from nearby residents who say the project extends the business district into their residential area and will cause transportation and parking problems.

Foust acknowledged these complaints, adding that a dedicated left turn lane at the Chain Bridge and Davidson Road intersection could be needed to account for car and foot traffic. Ultimately, though, he believes it is better than the alternative for developers.

“Building nine houses would’ve been miserable,” he said.

McLean is also bracing for the potential impact of Fairfax County’s Zoning Ordinance Modernization project. Most of the changes proposed by county staff are “non-controversial” and will simplify frustrating ordinances, Foust said.

But he opposes a few elements that have also consternated the public, including proposed regulations on flags and changes to the permits required to operate a business from home.

Foust says loosening customer and signage rules for home-based businesses could lead to more businesses in residential areas.

“Staff prepared, I think, a very liberalized version,” he said. “I’m not excited about the direction staff is trying to take this.”

Outside of development and zoning issues, Foust says that, as chair of the Board of Supervisors’ economic initiatives committee, he has been focused on how Fairfax County will recover from the COVID-19 pandemic once it’s over.

The committee will receive a presentation on Tuesday from a consultant that the county hired last year to develop recommendations for its road to recovery. Right now, about $15 million are earmarked for implementing recovery programs, but Foust predicts “that number will increase dramatically” when Fairfax County receives federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

According to Fairfax County, that sum could be $222.56 million, although the exact amount has not yet been confirmed by the federal government.

In the meantime, the vaccine process is picking up, even with more than 103,000 people currently on Fairfax County’s waitlist.

“We’re getting through it,” Foust said. “…I get so frustrated sometimes with the failures we’ve encountered, the bumps in the road, but when I step back and look at what staff and others are accomplishing, it’s just amazing.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Following in the footsteps of his Fairfax County counterpart, Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields is proposing a one-cent reduction in the real estate tax rate as part of the city’s advertised fiscal year 2022 budget.

However, because of rising assessed values, the average homeowner will still experience a $291 increase in their tax bill next year.

Presented to the city council on Monday (March 8), the advertised budget increases city government operating expenses by 2.3% (or $946,567) and public schools funding by 2.5% (or just over $1 million).

“With vaccines rolling out, and springtime in the air, we need to maintain vigilance but certainly have optimism toward the future — and hopefully, this budget reflects that as well,” Shields said.

Falls Church City School Board Chair Shannon Litton called the proposed $1 million funding increase for FCCPS “a bit better than we expected, given COVID-19.” The school division will also be receiving an additional $20,000 from the state and $31,000 from the federal government, she said.

Shields said the budget keeps revenues in line with forecasts from December without proposing a larger increase on residential real estate taxpayers. The city saw year-over-year increases in taxes on groceries and online sales, but a large decrease in revenue from hospitality taxes.

Highlights of the budget include funding for:

  • $145,000 for body-worn cameras and civilian positions to support the department, which is a first step in addressing recommendations from the Use of Force Review Committee
  • $200,000 in coronavirus contingency funds to address uncertainties, either revenue shortfalls or increased demand for services and assistance
  • $150,000 to develop a Parks Master Plan
  • $100,000 for the Affordable Housing Fund to supplement the $3.75 million Amazon REACH grant funds and leverage future developer contributions.

Shields has also proposed increasing stormwater management rates by 2%, or $4, for a median homeowner to pay for projects intended to address smaller-scale nuisance flooding. He anticipates that the city will need to increase rates by 10 to 15% for the next five years to fund six larger-scale stormwater management projects.

The advertised budget gives Falls Church City employees a 3% merit compensation increase, and a 3.5% step increase to uniformed police staff, but Shields told the city council on Monday that this small-scale growth is not sustainable in the long-term.

“My budget guidance for six years in a row was to keep non-personnel expenses flat,” he said. “So, it is really important to emphasize that after six years in a row of doing that — in addition to cuts made last year due to COVID-19 — our budgets are extremely lean.”

The city has about $3.94 million in unfunded needs across all departments, he said. These range from adding positions, including police officers, IT staff, and economic development staff, to maintaining public amenities, such as basketball and tennis courts and athletic fields.

Other highlights include:

  • A $500,000 decrease in debt service, as due to the cancellation of planned debt issuance during the current fiscal year and refunding prior bonds from 2013 and 2011 at lower interest rates.
  • A $4.5 million transfer from the 10-acre land at the George Mason High School campus to capital reserves.
  • Anticipated concessions from Founders Row for $1.8 million, which will also be placed in capital reserves.

In addition to flood mitigation, other public safety spending includes investments in sidewalks, paving — which Shields said has been underfunded since the Great Recession — and neighborhood traffic calming activities. State grants will pay for improvements to the Park Avenue “Great Streets” project, the Oak Street Bridge and the Washington and Columbia intersection.

The city will also receive funding through the Biden administration’s American Recovery Act.

“That congressional aid [is] needed and necessary, and we will use it very well for infrastructure and capital needs,” Shields said.

Community members will get a chance to learn about the budget and share their comments at a town hall from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday (March 11). Budget meetings will be held on March 22 and April 12, and there will be a second town hall on April 15 before the city council is slated to adopt the budget on April 26.

Photo via City of Falls Church Government/Facebook, charts via City of Falls Church

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Monday Morning Notes

Public Hearings on Metro Budget Begin Today — The Metro Board of Directors is holding virtual public hearings this week on the transit agency’s proposed FY 2022 budget, which could significantly reduce rail service and close 22 stations, including the McLean station. The first meeting starts at 11 a.m. today, and the hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday (March 10) will focus on changes in Virginia. [WMATA]

Police Report More Commercial Burglaries in Tysons Area — Between Feb. 27 and March 4, Fairfax County police responded to burglaries at Sunoco (8030 Lee Highway), Grand Mart (6326 Arlington Blvd.), Ba Le Bakery (2822 Graham Rd.), Exxon (2081 Chain Bridge Rd.), and Macy’s (8000 Tysons Corner Center). [Fairfax County Police Department]

Inova and UVA Open New Medical Campus in Fairfax — The University of Virginia School of Medicine welcomed its first class of 36 medical students to a new campus developed in partnership with Inova Health Systems. Students will primarily train on the Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, but they will have opportunities to work across the nonprofit healthcare system’s facilities. [Inside NoVA]

School Board Votes to Advance Solar Panel Program — The Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously to move forward with a program to install solar panels on school buildings in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and electricity costs. Discussions are currently underway for projects at three schools, but Fairfax County’s original request for proposals included 87 sites. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Deadline Approaching for McLean Community Center Governing Board Candidates — Petitions to become a candidate for a seat on MCC’s governing board must be submitted by 5 p.m. this Friday (March 12). There are three open seats on the board for adults and two for youth. [McLean Community Center/Twitter]

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The Providence District Council will co-host a town hall for community members to learn about and discuss Fairfax County’s advertised Fiscal Year 2022 budget on Monday (Mar. 8).

Scheduled to run from 7-9 p.m., the budget town hall will feature:

  • Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik
  • School Board Providence District Representative Karl Frisch
  • Fairfax County Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro
  • Fairfax County Public Schools Department of Financial Services Assistant Superintendent Leigh Burden
  • Providence District Council Jeff Agnew

The meeting will be streamed live online and on TV through Fairfax County’s Cable Channel 16. It will also be live-streamed on Palchik’s Facebook page.

Community members can email questions in advance to [email protected], or submit queries during the event by using the Facebook Live chat or calling a phone number that will be provided the day of the town hall.

Fairfax County will hold town halls throughout March to get public input on the county government and FCPS budgets for the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

The McLean Citizens Association already hosted a budget meeting on Monday (Mar. 1), but the Dranesville District will also get a live-streamed town hall at 7 p.m. on Mar. 22. For Vienna residents, the Hunter Mill District town hall will take place on WebEx and YouTube from 7-9 p.m. on Mar. 29.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will also hold public hearings on the advertised budget on Apr. 13-15 before marking it up on Apr. 27 and adopting a budget on May 4.

The Fairfax County School Board, which approved an advertised budget for the public school system on Feb. 18, will hold public hearings on May 11 and, if needed, May 12 after the county’s budget is adopted.

Released on Feb. 23, County Executive Bryan Hill’s advertised budget proposes a one-cent decrease in the county’s real estate tax rate but largely holds back on new spending. The Board of Supervisors will determine an advertised tax rate, which can be equal to or lower than the final adopted one, on Tuesday (Mar. 9).

Palchik says the drastic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all aspects of life, including public health, education, mental health, equity, and the economy, makes it especially important for the public to share its thoughts during the budget process this year.

“In the Providence District, where we have an almost equal split between residential and commercial real estate, we saw a decrease in the commercial assessments with the increases in residential rates,” Palchik said. “Your voice is critical in helping us fully understand the needs of our entire community before the budget is finalized.”

Photo via Google Maps

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The time for community members to weigh in on Fairfax County’s FY 2022 advertised budget has arrived.

The McLean Citizens Association hosted a public meeting on Monday (Mar. 1) so residents could discuss the proposed budget with Fairfax County Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.

Mondoro kicked off the meeting by discussing highlights of the budget, including the county executive’s recommendation to decrease the real estate tax rate by one cent and building on the $200.2 million the county received through the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund.

During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, attendees asked if the value of commercial properties could change as leases end and some businesses migrate to smaller workspaces.

“We’re on the edge of a pretty significant paradigm shift in terms of the ways people think about office space,” Mondoro said, adding that the office and retail component of the budget is going to need to be evaluated on an ongoing basis.

While anticipating that the value of the properties will continue to decline, he offered a bit of optimism that a balance of teleworking and in-person work will be found in coming years that could help improve the value of office space.

Mondoro also said that all markets in the area are down and “the negativity is pretty much across the board” in terms of decreases in non-residential revenue.

“There are still differences based on where the buildings are located,” Mondoro said. “Those that are more appealing in non-pandemic years are more appealing now.”

Foust argued that, while Fairfax County should focus on building up its commercial base, it also needs to reduce its reliance on real estate taxes as a source of revenue.

“We have a fundamental structural problem in that we rely so heavily on real estate taxes,” Foust said. “…Other revenue sources will need to be established in order to make the revenue more dependent on economic activity and economic success as opposed to owning a home for 20 years, which has appreciated significantly more than your income has increased.”

Audience questions also touched on the possible impact of existing and future federal financial aid.

Fairfax County received $200.2 million from the CARES Act after it was signed into law last March to cover expenses incurred due to COVID-19. The advertised budget does not assume additional stimulus funds, but county staff is monitoring another potential round of payments that could come from a new package currently being negotiated in Congress.

Mondoro tempered anticipation that more federal aid could be used to help lower the property tax rates or fund public services like affordable housing or schools, noting that the money is non-recurring and comes with stipulations regarding how it can be spent.

Foust reiterated Mondoro’s words of caution, though he said the county will take a look at all possibilities.

“There may be one-time charges in the budget we can pay through the federal funds,” Foust said. “Last time we were told, we were told that we cannot replace funds. Everything we spent had to be in addition to what we had previously planned to spend and could not be used to pay for things that we had previously planned to spend [on].”

Image via McLean Citizens Association

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