Tysons, VA

As the Town of Vienna puts together its legislative agenda for the upcoming session in Richmond, the proposed policies are a mix of addressing the new crises and trying to make progress on old issues.

One of the largest pieces of new policy proposed is eliminating penalties for late payments for those who lost their income during the pandemic.

According to the legislative agenda, the town is requesting:

Waiver of penalties and interest; refunds; taxpayers suffering job loss or business closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Waives penalties and interest for six months for taxpayers who suffered a job loss, business closure, or reduction in business operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The waivers apply to sales and use taxes and all local taxes that were due during a period in which the job loss, closure, or reduction in operations occurred and income taxes for such taxpayers for taxable year 2019. For a taxpayer who made penalty and interest payments prior to the effective date of the act, the Department of Taxation or his locality shall refund such payments to the taxpayer.

Other proposals raised during the discussion included a proposal from Councilmember Nisha Patel to put some of the school reopening planning in the hands of local government rather than solely for the school board.

Proposed legislation that would incorporate a system of checks and balances in Virginia so that school closings are not only determined by the school board. Local government should have a say in school closures during emergencies so that the power not only resides into the teachers union and school board.

The change would force school board to engage with local governments when making decisions about major school closures.

“As many of you all will remember, when the local schools were closed it was done on short notice without any notice to the Town of Vienna or other local governments,” said Town Attorney Steve Briglia. “Councilmember Patel has suggested that when there’s such a major school closing, that it’s not just closed by the school board… The fact that there was no notice or public discussion was of concern.”

One of the returning issues has been a push from localities to try to overturn a requirement for local governments to publish notices in newspapers rather than on their own websites or other sources. The proposed change has been fought by the Virginia Press Association, but Briglia said every time the Town of Vienna needs to run a notice it costs around $500, and they sometimes have to run twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce/Facebook

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When Andy’s Pizza had to close, along with dozens of other restaurants and stores in Tysons Galleria, co-owner Emily Brown figured it would be around three to six weeks before they reopened. Seven months later, the restaurant has reopened, but the local pizza spot that had a steadily growing business at the start of the year is now fighting for survival.

“We worked really hard to build what was starting to take off,” Brown said.

Brown said shutting down was the right decision, but it was still hard on small businesses. Even with Andy’s Pizza officially reopening around two weeks ago, Brown said the office lunch crowd that was a mainstay of the business has all but disappeared.

“90% of our business was lunch, and the happy hour was starting to take off, all from offices,” Brown said.

Andy’s Pizza was one of the restaurants that helped launch Taste of Urbanspace in Tysons Galleria in 2018, a replacement to quick collapse of Isabella Eatery that put together smaller outlets of beloved restaurants and food vendors throughout the region.

Throughout late 2018 and 2019, restaurants like Stomping GroundDonburi and Andy’s Pizza built a community on the upper floors of the mall and established a dedicated local following. Andy’s Pizza even launched a pop-up with Stomping Ground’s Del Ray location. But that community is now in jeopardy as the local hospitality and office markets remain devastated as a result of the pandemic. Read More

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Over the past week, Fairfax County recorded its highest seven-day average for COVID-19 cases since mid-June, a potentially worrying development as the weather turns colder and forces more activities indoors.

Fairfax County’s weekly average for new COVID-19 cases hit 118 on Oct. 14, its highest since the county averaged 126 cases over seven days on June 13, according to the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health.

While the seven-day average has dipped back down in subsequent days to 85 cases on average as of Sunday (Oct. 18), Fairfax County joins the rest of Virginia in seeing an upward trend in cases in October, even if its numbers remain significantly lower than those seen in other parts of the state.

On top of reporting two new deaths, both of them on Oct. 17, Fairfax County added 598 COVID-19 cases during the week of Oct. 13-19. The Fairfax Health District has a cumulative total of 22,916 cases, 617 deaths, and 2,239 hospitalizations.

The zip code 22042, which contains West Falls Church south of Route 29, remains the most heavily affected part of the Tysons area, adding 28 cases over the past week for 1,173 cases overall and 3,497 cases per 100,000 persons in a population of 33,537 people.

Though COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County have ticked up in October compared to late September, the county has not yet seen another surge in transmissions like the one that hit this spring, which peaked with a weekly average of 303 cases on May 31.

Since that spring surge, Northern Virginia in general has been reporting lower case rates than the rest of the state, with a moving seven-day average of 238 cases as of Oct. 19 compared to 799 cases on average for all other regions.

As a whole, Virginia recorded a seven-day moving average of 1,037 on Oct. 19, and the state has added 7,258 COVID-19 cases over the past week for a statewide total of 166,828 cases. Virginia has reported 11,882 hospitalizations and 3,457 deaths.

With public health experts predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen this winter as the weather gets colder, Fairfax County officials are discouraging people from engaging in trick-or-treating, indoor costume parties, and other traditional celebrations for Halloween this year.

“In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” Fairfax Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said. “For people who are more likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19, celebrating virtually or with members of your own household may be the safest way to enjoy the holiday.”

Image via CDC on Unsplash, Virginia Department of Health

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Fairfax County Public Schools could expand in-person learning to more students starting next week based on current health data, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand says in a presentation that he will deliver to the county school board at its work session tonight (Thursday).

Virginia Department of Health data indicates that Northern Virginia has started seeing a slight uptick in reported COVID-19 cases in October, with 314 cases reported on Oct. 15 for a seven-day moving average of 248 cases. However, the burden and extent of community transmission in the region is still considered low as of the week that ended on Oct. 10.

Coupled with efforts to implement mitigation strategies recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and prepare staff for instructional and operational changes, Fairfax County’s current health metrics support FCPS continuing to phase in in-person learning, Brabrand’s presentation says.

After introducing in-person instruction for select specialized career preparation classes on Oct. 5, FCPS is planning to expand in-person learning to some of its early childhood special education services, including its preschool autism class, on Oct. 19.

Under Brabrand’s tentative timeline, FCPS will continue phasing cohorts of students – mostly younger students and students with special education needs – into in-person classes throughout the rest of the year before introducing hybrid learning for all students in early 2021.

For hybrid learning, students can choose to remain completely online or to receive two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction. This phase will start on Jan. 4 for grades three to six and on Feb. 1 for grades seven through 12.

“We believe in-person instruction is best to meet our students’ academic, social, and emotional needs,” Brabrand’s presentation says. “We want to phase students back to in-person instruction as safely, efficiently, and as early as possible. All phase-in decisions will be made with student and staff safety as the highest priority.” Read More

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After conditions stabilized in July and early August, the sliding average of COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County is slowly on the rise.

Although the increase is best described as an uptick, the weekly average of new cases hit a count of 105 yesterday (Monday). Following a dip in July, the rolling weekly average of new cases hovered in the 90s.

In October, the health district also hit the highest number of new daily cases since June 7 when 399 cases were reported. State data show 185 new cases were reported on Oct. 8. 

Overall, there have been 22,089 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County, 2,195 hospitalizations, and 599 deaths.  After a slowdown in the rate of new cases per week in June and July, the number of weekly cases grew slightly in August and September. The weekly average for both months hovered around 424 cases. In June and July, that number hovered in the low 300s.

The West Falls Church area south of Route 29 has seen the highest case count in the Tysons area, with that zip code (22042) recording 1,145 COVID-19 cases to date. At 3,414.1 cases per 100,000 people, it has the sixth-highest case rate in Fairfax County, according to county data.

With four additional cases since early September, Dunn Loring remains disproportionately affected by COVID-19 with the 10th highest case rate in the county. Despite having a population of just 2,362 people, the 22027 zip code has reported 75 cases, or 3,175.3 per 100,000 people.

Despite these numbers and the size of the jurisdictions, Fairfax County’s case rate is somewhat low compared to other jurisdictions and health districts. As of today (Tuesday), the case rate is 1,919. Alexandria’s case rate is 2,512 while Arlington’s is 1,772.

Statewide, the number of COVID-19 cases is nearly 160,000, with 3,361 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

County health officials continue to urge residents to get tested if symptoms develop or if exposure is possible.

Image via CDC on Unsplash, Virginia Department of Health

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When the novel coronavirus pandemic upended Americans’ daily lives in March, Great Falls resident James Ye turned to a 110-year-old organization for guidance: the Boy Scouts.

Now a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Ye joined Boy Scouts of America Troop 55 when he was in fifth grade and has since accumulated about 1,000 hours of community service.

Ye says the values espoused by the Scout Oath and Law, which include volunteering, were on his mind when he saw a Facebook advertisement seeking volunteers for the Volunteer Fairfax Donations Collection Warehouse.

“During national historic crises, Scouting organizations have always jumped into action, sort of helped out in emergency response,” Ye said. “…I think the coronavirus is another example of a historic national disaster, and being a Scout, just doing your duty to your country, I wanted to be a part of that.”

Led by the nonprofit Volunteer Fairfax, the warehouse is Fairfax County’s hub for organizing masks, food, and other resources for community organizations as part of its COVID-19 emergency response.

At first, Ye mostly helped Volunteer Fairfax emergency response manager Tejas Patel maintain an inventory of the donations passing through the warehouse, but his duties later expanded to include greeting and contacting donors, doing research, and sharing content on social media.

Ye, who amassed 190 service hours at the warehouse, is one of thousands of local community members who have contributed to Fairfax County’s pandemic emergency response as volunteers.

Fairfax County reported on Oct. 6 that close to 3,000 volunteers have collectively spent 96,006 hours since Mar. 17 helping various county services, including the police and fire departments, public libraries, and Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.

In addition, more than 1,000 individuals have signed up for the Fairfax Medical Reserve Corps, which assists the Fairfax County Health Department in emergencies. With 521 volunteers now onboarded, 233 people have contributed 4,392 volunteer hours since Mar. 1, doing everything from managing medical supply donations to assisting at community testing sites and back-to-school immunization clinics. Read More

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Tysons Corner’s first Restaurant Week kicks off next Monday and runs Oct. 12 through Tuesday, Oct. 20.

Guests can eat in or take home food from fixed-price lunch and dinner menus that were designed specifically for Restaurant Week and showcase classic dishes, seasonal options, and fan favorites. The Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce is hosting the event.

Restaurateurs say they hope the week will bring customers back to their establishments after they experience the coronavirus precautions that have been put in place. They also hope that patrons who work and eat lunch in town but do not live there return to Tysons as a destination for foodies.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has obliterated the food service industry, with 37,000 jobs lost in Fairfax County, according to a recent report. The findings are the first step in a recovery strategy commissioned by Fairfax County and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.

Even after restaurants reopened, customers remain uncomfortable dining out.

“We realized that we can’t just open our doors and hope people go through them,” Dane Scott, the managing partner of Seasons 52, said.

Restaurants are taking extreme safety measures, Chamber of Commerce Chair Andrew Clark says.

“The irony is that restaurants are probably the cleanest places in town, but it will take a while for people to assimilate,” he said.

Tony Bass, the general manager of Urban Plates, is ready to change how people view Tysons with Restaurant Week.

“What I’m excited to show is that Tysons is a destination for food,” he said.

People who are dining for the first time since the pandemic started will see that things in the restaurants look different.

At Urban Plates, customers can still observe chefs making their food in the open kitchen, but can no longer approach the chefs, Bass said.

P.F. Chang’s has poured money into presentation, said operating partner Eric Padilla. The plateware is new, and dishes are served with a new flair.

“You’re not able to go to the movies, so we want to put on a show in the dining room,” he said. “Dinner is the main show: Come in, relax, have a good time, and take your mind off what’s going on.”

Scott, who sits on the Chamber of Commerce, said it has stepped up to care for Tysons’ businesses.

When Clark took over as chair this summer, he implemented some new initiatives. The chamber filmed a documentary on food safety and later threw a whisky-tasting event outside American Prime, complete with temperature checks and mask monitors.

Clark credited Restaurant Week taking off to volunteer photographers, videographers, printers and graphic and designers.

“There’s no money to be made,” he said. “They just love the community.”

Image via Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce

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An overwhelming majority of Fairfax County Public Schools teachers say they are not confident in Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) reopening plan, according to a survey conducted by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.

The federation released the results of three surveys Tuesday evening during a press conference. The data paint a stark picture for county teachers, who report fearing for their health and that of family members, working far beyond their contracted hours, and feeling the effects on their mental and physical health.

The message from the Federation of Teachers is clear: Members want the school district to delay reopening until the FCPS plan improves communication, provides specific metrics, and offers every teacher a virtual option, a few hallmarks of the teachers’ 11 requirements for a safe reopening.

“Our position has always been, and continues to be, that we want kids back in school as quickly as possible, but that means as safely as possible,” said Tina Williams, president, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.

FCPS did not return Tysons Reporter’s request for comment.

The response comes one week after Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand presented his reopening plan to the county school board. Under the proposed plan, about 6,700 students could return to school in October, with more trickling in throughout the year if conditions improve. Members criticized the lack of hard numbers and concrete metrics, especially regarding school closures after outbreaks.

Of the 1,300 teachers who responded, 85.7% are not confident in FCPS reopening plan, and 70% feel unsafe returning, while 21% said they are “unsure.” About 27% said they would consider taking a leave of absence, while 26% were undecided.

Some teachers who are older or have conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, or who live with family members who are high-risk, said they face an ultimatum to work or leave because their applications for accommodations were denied. Read More

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If you’ve been to absentee in-person voting and the lines have seemed particularly long, you’re not alone.

Fairfax voters have been lining up at 12000 Government Center Parkway to cast their ballots early and avoid election day crowds, only to find themselves in long lines with other early voters turning up in record numbers.

Some said the numbers seemed to swell yesterday after the debate, but Public Information Officer Brian Worthy said the numbers have been pretty consistent.

“At least to me, it doesn’t seem like the lines are any longer, and I’ve been here at the Government Center for every day of early voting since it began,” Worthy said.

Worthy said COVID-19 precautions have made wait times longer than usual.

“Since the start of early voting on Friday, Sept. 18, we have had two polling places open in the Government Center, and… we’re limiting the number of people in at any one time for the safety of both voters and poll workers,” Worthy said. “Similarly, we’re keep the line outside because it’s safer for voters to wait there rather than inside the building. As result of COVID, voting is taking longer.”

A county employee at the location said despite the long lines, it was a fraction of what the line was like on previous days.

Two voters, Karen and James Shaver, said they watched the debate the previous night. They described it as “loud” but said it didn’t sway their vote.

In addition to the long lines, voters have endured harassment and attempts to keep people out of the building from supporters of President Donald Trump.

Worthy said the lines should be alleviated by plans to open up satellite facilities for voting later this month.

“We’re opening additional early voting sites on Oct. 14,” Worthy said. “We’ll have 14 additional locations open that day (including the Government Center) with a total of 15 starting on Saturday, Oct. 17.”

Voting facilities in the Tysons area include:

  • McLean Governmental Center (1437 Balls Hill Road)
  • Providence Community Center (3001 Vaden Drive)
  • Tysons Pimmit Library (7584 Leesburg Pike)
  • Thomas Jefferson Library (7415 Arlington Blvd.)

Jay Westcott contributed to this story

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