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Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert discusses sidewalk projects during a Nov. 1 town council meeting (via Town of Vienna)

The Vienna Town Council advanced several sidewalk projects to a final engineering design phase last night (Monday), even as another project continues to draw strong opposition from residents on the affected street.

Nearly every resident on Alma Street Southeast has signed a petition opposing a proposed project to add a sidewalk on the even-numbered side of their street between Delano Drive SE and Follin Lane SE.

The town council authorized a contract with an engineering firm to conduct final design work on that project and three others on Oct. 11.

A petition objecting to the project has garnered signatures from 10 of 12 residences on the street as of Sunday (Oct. 31). Resident Matt Sanders, whose property is on the corner of Alma and Delano, said he thinks the remaining homeowners will both oppose it.

Sanders tried to speak before the council’s vote on Oct. 11, but in a brief exchange, Mayor Linda Colbert said it wasn’t a public hearing.

“None of the residents on Alma and Delano have asked for or desire sidewalks. In fact they oppose it,” Sanders said by email. “The council appears to be hell bent on spending this money and installing sidewalks whether their constituents want them. Just because this money is available, doesn’t mean it has to be spent ramming sidewalks down the throats of residents.”

Town Feels Urgency Over Trust Fund Deadline

The current wave of sidewalk projects, including the one on Alma Street, is part of a push by the Town of Vienna to speed up work on its Robinson Trust Sidewalk Initiative, which is intended to expand the town’s sidewalk network.

The initiative is funded by a $7 million charitable trust that former Councilmember Maud Robinson left after her death in 2019. Among other conditions, the trust money must be spent by fall 2024.

While several projects have moved forward this year, none have reached the construction stage yet, in part due to neighborhood opposition that evidently has not abated.

In addition to the Alma project, Sanders says his property will be affected by plans to add sidewalk on Delano Drive Southeast, from Echols Street to the end.

That project is among five that were approved for final engineering design yesterday:

  • DeSale Street Southwest from Moore Avenue to Tapawingo Road and also to the end of the street
  • Melody Lane Southwest from DeSale Street to Lullaby Lane
  • Tazewell Road Northwest from Lawyers Road to Holmes Drive
  • Orrin Street Southeast from Delano Drive to Follin Lane

The town said the cost to prepare those engineering design reports is $46,700, based on a proposal from Urban. Read More

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A group of parents submitted over 5,000 signatures yesterday (Monday) to the Fairfax County Clerk of Court in a petition to recall Fairfax County School Board member Elaine Tholen, who represents the Dranesville District, over school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Open FCPS Coalition formed in the fall to protest Fairfax County Public Schools going virtual during the pandemic and has been campaigning to recall Tholen and two other school board members, Member-at-Large Abrar Omeish and Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen.

“I look forward to continuing to earn my constituents’ trust and support as we prepare to welcome all students in person five days per week,” Tholen said in a statement. “As a former classroom educator and now a school board member, I have always worked for my students’ well-being and to help them reach their utmost potential. I will continue to put our students’ best interests first.”

Recall supporters have a different perspective.

The petitions that citizens signed argue that, in supporting an all-virtual start to the most recent school year, the school board was not acting in children’s best interests. The petitions also allege the school board violated state and local laws and regulations guaranteeing students with disabilities a free, appropriate education.

“Just how far behind are our students? How will these deficits be met?” Zia Tompkins, a coalition board member and former school board candidate, said, raising questions about staffing and other issues. “Parents have been left in the dark about these issues and…as such have real doubts as to whether the Fairfax County school system is even serious about opening full-time in-person for the fall.”

The group met outside the Fairfax County Courthouse before a dozen supporters and leaders went inside to deliver the signatures.

While the Open FCPS Coalition describes itself as a grassroots, bipartisan group concerned with keeping politics out of schools, its largest funding contributions have come from former Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Snyder and N2 America, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing center-right policies in the suburbs.

The coalition’s largest expenditure has been for signature collection services from a center-right door-to-door voter contact firm, Blitz Canvassing LLC, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

The group hopes a judge will review the signatures as part of a trial that could ultimately lead to Tholen being removed from her position.

Open FCPS Coalition says only one school board member, Megan McLaughlin, advocated for reopening in a way it felt was consistent and a priority. But only three school board members were chosen for recall efforts because of the group’s limited resources.

Coalition board member Nellie Rhodes said Monday that work to recall Cohen and Omeish continues.

The coalition’s website says it has over two-thirds of the 4,000 signatures needed to recall Cohen, which if obtained, would represent over 10% of the total number of people who voted in her election — the threshold required for a recall to be considered in Virginia.

After shifting entirely to virtual learning on March 13, 2020, FCPS began phasing in some in-person learning in October, but the process was put on hold when COVID-19 cases started to surge around Thanksgiving.

Students began 2021 in remote settings before the school board approved the return of a hybrid model — where students could opt for two days of in-person classes or to remain all-virtual — starting on Feb. 16. FCPS expanded its in-person offerings to four days for some students in April.

Open FCPS Coalition board member and Vienna resident Hemang Nagar says he ended up taking his daughter, who is on the autism spectrum, out of school in the fall because of the distress virtual classes caused her. He said she used to love school but would cry whenever he opened the computer.

“Virtual learning was an utter disaster for her and so many like her,” he said.

His daughter, who is now 10, returned to her elementary school when in-person classes restarted in February.

“They pretend to care but never put their words into action that does any good for any students,” Nagar said of the school board members that the coalition is targeting for recalls.

FCPS plans to resume a five-day in-person week for students this fall.

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Parents who have spent the last year calling for a five-day return to school for Fairfax County Public Schools students are circulating petitions to remove three Fairfax County School Board members.

They are Springfield District representative Laura Jane Cohen, Dranesville District representative Elaine Tholen, and At-Large Member Abrar Omeish.

“Our petitions are all about the board ignoring science, dismissing the wishes of parents to have kids in school, and putting politics (unions) before our children,” the Open FCPS Coalition group tells Tysons Reporter. “We have people of all walks of life — young and old, with kids and without kids signing. People were afraid to sign at first because they didn’t want to get involved. But as more time passed, and people got disappointed about the school board lying to us, they started signing.”

They admitted that the campaign faces long odds. According to Ballotpedia, Virginia has seen just one successful recall campaign in at least the past decade, with the majority of efforts — including one against former Mason District School Board representative Sandy Evans — failing to reach a circuit court.

This parent coalition has been around since November and started distributing petition templates to other counties around that time. But the momentum did not pick up until mid-February, members said.

“December and January, people still weren’t getting out much and if they were, it wasn’t to come and sign a petition,” the group said. “Many people who sign now sign because of other things that they are frustrated with, but we are just glad people are recognizing our efforts.”

The Open FCPS Coalition describes itself as a bipartisan organization.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, donor records show that its largest gifts have come from former Republican governor candidate Pete Snyder and N2 America Inc., a conservative group that has been vocal in school reopenings. Its largest expenditure has been for signature collection services, an expense that went to a center-right door-to-door voter contact firm with ties to N2 America.

“Anyone who wants to donate is welcome to…If the Dem party wants to donate we surely will take it,” the group said. “But it seems that though many Dems have signed and silently support, some are afraid to stand up for open schools. Thankfully we have Dems in our group who are bold and brave and know that nothing about the recall is personal or about politics. It is about what is moral.”

Coalition members aimed to collect enough signatures to recall at least one school board member by the end of this school year, which concluded on Friday (June 11).

The coalition chose Cohen, Tholen and Omeish after watching school board meetings and determining only one member had a record of voting and speaking that prioritized reopening over other issues: Braddock District representative Megan McLaughlin, according to the group’s website.

So, members narrowed down their targets to the two members who were elected with the fewest number of votes — Cohen and Tholen.

“Based on this discovery, the voters in their districts would likely provide the most support for the removal effort,” according to the website.

When reached for comment, Tholen said she centers all her work and decision-making on what is best for students.

“I am busy at this point fulfilling my job as a school board member,” she said. “I am closing out this school year, celebrating our class of 2021, planning for summer programs and preparing for fall when we will welcome all students in person five days per week.”

Cohen, meanwhile, said that her “focus is, has been, and always will be ensuring our students have the best opportunity to be successful in our schools.” Read More

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The Fairfax County Planning Commission deferred a decision on the McLean Community Business Center comprehensive plan until June during a meeting last Wednesday (May 26).

It was the second deferral for the plan to guide development in downtown McLean, which has been developing over the last three years. The hotly debated plan was originally slated to go before the commission for a public hearing in April but was deferred to May. During that time, further revisions were made to the final draft.

Now, the planning commission will make a decision on June 9 ahead of a Board of Supervisors meeting set for June 22.

“A lot of hard work has been put into this,” Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder said. “I think those revisions help with some of the issues that have arisen since the original staff report. But we’re going to hear from the community there are still differences of opinion about the proposed language.”

Nearly two dozen speakers voiced their opinions at the commission’s public hearing last week, and a majority had criticisms of certain aspects of the plan or the plan in its entirety. Among the demands were more stringent stormwater protections, more surface parking, and a lower cap on residential units.

Covering a 230-acre area between Dolley Madison Boulevard, Chain Bridge Road, and Old Dominion Road, the draft plan is meant to incentivize developers to come to McLean and build more residential density in exchange for public open space and other community amenities. The plan also no longer prescribes specific uses for specific properties.

The plan divides the downtown area into Center, General, and Edge zones, each with height requirements. It allows for up to 3,850 residential units in McLean, which currently has 1,280 units.

Robert Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association, said the organization opposes the newest draft plan on the grounds of parking and stormwater management.

“Some changes made, and we are pleased with some of them, but [those] two major issues remain unaddressed satisfactorily,” he said.

The MCA previously recommended removing the entire parking management section because “its intention is to make parking scarce, not plentiful,” he said. It also recommended restoring old language with more specific and protective stormwater requirements.

Barbara Ryan, a citizen and credentialed sustainable landscape designer, said each subsequent draft has diluted stormwater management requirements. She called for restoring a requirement that new development retains one inch of water and imposing a volume limit on runoff, rather than requiring a reduction.

“The focus needs to address flooding and streambed erosion concerns, particularly as we are seeing downstream erosion in Pimmit Run,” she said.

Responding to earlier input, county staff recently added a provision stating that the plan will be reviewed either in 2031 or when 1,660 units are built or in development, whichever comes first. That would result in 2,360 total units in McLean, which is a few hundred more than the current upper limit of 2,175.

But planning commissioners were skeptical of the 10-year timeframe.

“One of the issues in development years is that 10 years is in the blink of an eye,” Ulfelder said. “I think this is necessary and appropriate, but it’s not clear to me what we’ll know in this timeframe unless the developers are hanging outside the CBC waiting for this plan amendment to be passed — salivating, waiting to put together some blocks of land, particularly in the center zone.” Read More

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The Vienna Town Council voted Monday night (April 26) to authorize sidewalk engineering studies for nine stretches of streets throughout town.

The studies — and construction costs down the road, if the council approves the projects for implementation — will be funded by the Maud Ferris Robinson Charitable Trust. Robinson, a former councilmember, left more than $7 million to the town after her death in 2019 to pay for sidewalks.

The vote raised the number of Robinson-funded projects in the design phase to 14. In addition, two projects were approved for construction, and the town will seek the thumbs-up for construction on another two projects in less than a month, according to Department of Public Works Director Michael Gallagher.

The approval comes as town officials and pedestrian advocates call for more action on sidewalk projects, pointing to the dwindling time the town has to spend the bequeathed funds. Vienna has until fall 2024 to use the bequest.

“Time is ticking,” Mayor Linda Colbert said.

As of early 2020, the town had roughly 85 miles of sidewalk. The Robinson trust focuses on filling in missing patches of sidewalks that weren’t already planned or likely to be funded through other grants.

Public opposition previously led the Vienna Town Council to defer six projects. This time, the council forged ahead despite a number of speakers who voiced concerns.

More than 30 people participated in the council’s public hearing on the Robinson trust initiative. The attendees were split on the issue, voicing broad concerns — losing lawn space or mature trees — as well as ones related to specific stretches of road.

With the exception of Councilmember Nisha Patel, who abstained, the full town council joined Colbert in voting to approve the following streets for sidewalk engineering studies:

  • Alma Street SE: even side from Delano Drive SE to Follin Lane SE ($60,000)
  • Birch Street SW: odd side from Battle Street SW to Plum Street SW ($70,000)
  • Blackstone Terrace NW: even side from Lawyers Road NW to Holmes Drive NW ($40,000)
  • Charles Street SE: odd side from Locust Street SE to Branch Road SE ($25,000)
  • Cherry Circle SW: both sides from the cul-de-sac to Cottage Street SW ($30,000)
  • Elmar Drive SE/SW: west side from Park Street SE to Desale Street SW ($60,000)
  • Oak Street SW: odd side from Center Street S to Birch Street SW ($70,000)
  • Symphony Circle SW: both sides from the cul-de-sac to Melody Lane SW ($65,000)
  • Timber Lane SW: odd side from Tapawingo Road SW to Harmony Drive SW ($50,000)

The town also approved construction spending for sidewalks along Pleasant Street SW from Courthouse Road to Maple Avenue and on Cabin Road SE from Branch Road to Glyndon Street.

Colbert said the town will continue accepting written comments and will work with residents. She described sidewalk projects as part of the government’s obligation to support public safety, since they help many residents travel, from people with strollers to older individuals and people with limited mobility.

“A community with sidewalks is healthy. It’s friendly. And most importantly, it is safe,” Colbert said. Read More

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When former Vienna Town Councilmember Maud Robinson died in 2019, she set aside much of her estate to pay for sidewalks throughout town.

At the time, town staff projected that the money would fund 22 stretches of sidewalk totaling about 3.3 miles. Vienna would front the costs for these projects and accept the trust in the form of reimbursement.

Two years later, the town council has approved four eligible roads but have deferred six others in response to objections from neighbors, who have argued that the sidewalks are unnecessary, would encroach on precious driveway space, affect their trees, or place a burden on residents to maintain them.

At this rate, those close to the initiative are feeling the pressure of a deadline. Vienna has until fall 2024 to use up the Maud Ferris Robinson Charitable Trust.

Town staff estimate it could take up to two years after a street is identified to complete a project, and no construction has started, meaning no money can be transferred. A few town council candidates have also highlighted the importance of using the bequest.

“We are remaining optimistic [but] we do know we need to hit the accelerator button on that a little bit,” Vienna Public Works Director Michael Gallagher said.

The town is poised to take a step forward soon, with several sidewalk projects set to go before the Vienna Town Council next Monday.

Two are designed and ready for construction, which would cost nearly $320,000 combined, and there will be a public hearing for nine other projects.

Those nearing the construction phase are Cabin Road SE from Glyndon Street to Branch Road and Pleasant Street SW from east of Maple Avenue to Surveyors Court. Another two could be ready for final approvals in May, according to Gallagher.

The nine slated for a public hearing and the first round of approvals are:

  • Alma Street SE — Delano Drive to Follin Lane
  • Birch Street SW — Battle Street to Plum Street SW
  • Blackstone Terrace NW — Holmes Drive to Lawyers Road
  • Charles Street SE — Locust Street to Branch Road
  • Cherry Circle SW — Cottage Street to end
  • Elmar Drive SE/SW — DeSale Street to Park Street
  • Oak Street SW — Birch Street to Center Street
  • Symphony Circle SW — Melody Lane to end
  • Timber Lane SW — Tapawingo Road to Harmony Drive

Even though it seems like it’s moving slowly, Andrew Jinks, Vienna’s transportation engineer, says the timeline will still be shorter because the town will not have to do the time-consuming work of navigating state and federal regulations.

“That is a significant benefit,” he said. Read More

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Updated at 7:30 p.m. — The superintendents of Fairfax County and Arlington public schools say the Virginia High School League should mandate diversity and inclusion training for all high school athletes, coaches, and officials after allegations of racism at a football game between Marshall and Wakefield high schools led to escalating tensions.

Stating that their divisions “embrace diversity and strongly condemn hate speech and racial intolerance of any kind,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand and APS Superintendent Francisco Durán called the incident “an opportunity to take a step back and discuss how actions have consequences and that our words can deeply hurt others.”

“This situation has deeply affected both school divisions, our families, students, and our respective communities,” they said. “In recent days, it has provoked strong emotions in both communities, and has become divisive by pitting schools against one another. This is not about one team versus another; it is about our students and how we can come together to support them and take necessary actions to ensure this situation does not repeat itself. Our students deserve better.”

Brabrand and Durán added that FCPS and APS will both “provide training and education for our athletes, coaches, and staff so that, together, we are all working to support students.”

The full statement can be found on the Fairfax County Public Schools website.

Earlier: Members of Marshall High School’s football community, including the coach, players, and parents, are refuting previously reported accounts of racist taunts against the Wakefield High School football team.

On Wednesday (March 17), Wakefield students came forward detailing their experiences in which they allege being called the n-word and “boy” during a game against Marshall High School on March 5. One student said he was spat on.

Wakefield players and parents have started a campaign calling for accountability from school athletics officials, including a petition demanding “an immediate apology” from Marshall and its football program that has garnered almost 5,000 signatures.

Arlington Public Schools confirmed that an incident occurred, and Fairfax County Public Schools said it had investigated and is addressing the reports, but in the last 24 hours, Marshall community members have issued statements and written letters disputing the Wakefield players’ accounts.

“Our players, coaches, and parents refute these allegations whole-heartedly,” Coach Jason Strickland said in a letter to the school community. “I believe our players, coaches, and parents because I did not witness nor have I been shown actual proof of these accusations occurring.”

Following up on the letter, an FCPS spokesperson said Strickland’s response addresses a “highly charged situation.”

“Families, students, and community members are upset and emotions are high. Regretfully, harsh words and accusations on social media have also contributed,” she said in a statement. “It would not be unusual for a coach to want to communicate directly with his or her players and their families about an intense matter that been publicly escalated by multiple parties.”

Parents of students at Marshall also penned a statement that refuted every claim made by the Wakefield community and criticized media reports for being one-sided.

“We at Marshall High School are defending the players of the Marshall Statesmen football team for remaining strong and resilient regarding the allegations of racism and other slanderous remarks by Wakefield High School players,” the statement said. “There is no culture of racism and bigotry at Marshall High School on the football team.”

They also said Wakefield students called Marshall students the n-word and other derogatory names. Further, they added, Marshall students had to wear masks, so they could not spit on students. Coach Strickland confirmed that Marshall was enforcing mask-wearing during the game. Read More

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After a large amount of local consternation over the group homes for a rehab facility proposed near McLean High School, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and other local officials are putting together a meeting to clear things up.

The Newport Academy, a therapy program for teens with mental health or addiction problems, recently purchased three residential homes (1620, 1622, and 1624 Davidson Road) in McLean with the intent of using them as a treatment facility.

Another project is also planned for 1318 Kurtz Road in the Salona Village neighborhood.

The meeting is planned for Wednesday, April 24 at 7 p.m. in the McLean High School Auditorium (1633 Davidson Road).

Foust is expected to be joined at the meeting by a pair of local state lawmakers, Dels. Rip Sullivan and Kathleen Murphy. Representatives from Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and from Monroe LLC  — the company that runs the Newport Academy — are also planning to attend, to explain the new facility.

According to Foust’s office:

The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the operations of the homes, licensing and permitting authority, relevant legislation and regulations, and resident concerns. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and provide comments.

Photo via Google Earth

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A teen-focused rehab center is planned to open across from McLean High School and some nearby residents are not pleased.

The Newport Academy, a therapy program for teens with mental health or addiction problems, recently purchased three residential homes (1620, 1622, and 1624 Davidson Road) in McLean with the intent of using them as a treatment facility.

An employee at the Newport Academy confirmed that a new center is planned for McLean, but that the facility is still going through state and medical licensing.

The employee said the new facility is several months away, at least, from opening. But the company does have at least 18 jobs listed as available for the site, from an executive director to tutors and chefs.

A discussion group was started on Facebook on April 4, with some neighbors expressing concerns on everything from increased street traffic to drops in home values. A few others pushed back against the concerns and said they hoped neighbors would avoid “Not In My Back Yard” syndrome.

In an email to local residents, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust wrote that group homes in residential neighborhoods are typically considered “by right” uses, meaning there’s no requirement of public notice and no zoning approvals needed from the county.

Foust also noted that the Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against individuals because of a handicap or disability and that the Code of Virginia requires local zoning ordinances to consider a “residential facility in which no more than eight individuals with mental illness, intellectual disability, or developmental disabilities reside, with one or more resident or nonresident staff persons, as a residential occupancy by a single family.”

While the group’s license application is still pending before the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Foust said approval would hinge on qualifications and quality of care, not local land use concerns.

Photo via Google Maps

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Falls Church Police are investigating after a teacher at a city elementary school discovered vandalism involving a swastika.

Police say the vandalism took place at Mt. Daniel Elementary School (2328 N. Oak Street). A teacher found a bit of fabric at the school’s playground canopy cut in several places, including one set of cuts in the shape of a swastika.

Investigators believe the playground was defaced sometime between 1:30 p.m. Friday (Feb. 22) and 12:30 p.m. yesterday (Monday). The canopy was removed immediately and the city’s school superintendent notified parents, they added.

“The City of Falls Church takes acts of anti-Semitic vandalism very seriously,” Police Chief Mary Gavin said in a statement. “Our community will not stand for this unacceptable crime of hatred. We urge anyone with information to reach out to us immediately.”

Falls Church Police are asking anyone with information on the incident to contact the department at 703-248-5053.

There have also been other reports of a swastika spray-painted on a drainage tunnel near the intersection of McLearen Road and West Ox Road in Fairfax County, but it’s unclear if the incidents are related in any way.

Photo via Google Maps

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