Tysons Corner, VA

The Fairfax County Police Department wants to roll out a new, urban-style service model that police leaders believe will help scale back crime as Tysons continues to grow.

“We have a whole new idea for how to police Tysons,” Major Bob Blakely told the county’s Planning Commission at last night’s Capital Improvement Program presentations.

Blakely said that the police department is hoping to add a new police station close to Tysons’ “main arteries.” He said police expect to receive land for the facility and construction assistance from a local developer, in an arrangement commonly known as a “proffer,” exchanging approval of a development for a public facility.

Unlike a traditional police station, the one for Tysons would serve as a “walk-up type facility” with reduced hours of operation, Blakely said.

Police would also have unique options to get around Tysons. “We’re trying to remove the idea of these big cruisers trying to get through traffic,” he said.

Instead of police cars, police would rely on segways, scooters and smaller vehicles to move around without getting stuck in the congestion.

Planning Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner called the new Tysons policing proposal a “relevant, urgent need.” In response to Niedzielski-Eichner’s question about timing, Blakely said he’d rather see it sooner rather than later.

“When we look at the statistics, it shows we need to get ahead of the curve instead of behind it,” Blakely said.

Ultimately, Blakely stressed that pairing new technologies and innovations with the urban environment will help police respond faster and provide better service to the community.

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Local citizens and county supervisors have been putting pressure on the police to embrace body-worn cameras, particularly after funding for the devices wasn’t included in this year’s county budget proposal.

But Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler told Tysons Reporter that the budget decision isn’t about priorities: it’s about timing.

Roessler said that it wouldn’t make sense to include body-worn cameras in the budget until an ongoing study of the recently completed pilot program, which among the findings would include a projected cost for the program, is completed and presented to the public this summer.

In 2014, Roessler put together a steering group to look at body-worn cameras, which put together a list of policies — like when officers should activate, or deactivate, the cameras and what footage to release or withhold.

“Sometimes it might be a child having a mental episode, and we don’t want to broadcast those things,” Roessler said.

Roessler said one of the biggest parts of the equipment cost will likely be digital storage, which Roessler said would give the program $4 million annual budget. An estimate from Fairfax County staff in response to a question from Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust estimated a $6 million total recurring cost.

In 2017, as other large agencies in urban jurisdictions were starting to purchase body cameras and get them onto the streets, the program went through pilot testing in Fairfax County.

“A lot of agencies were just purchasing equipment and rolling [it] out onto the street without research,” said Roessler. “My proposal was to pilot the project at several district stations with different demographics and different calls for service so we could get good samples for how these work in different circumstances.

The other big part of the pilot Roessler thought was critical was collaborating with American University for a study of the results of the project. While other departments, like D.C. and Boston, had pilot programs with research, Roessler said he was not satisfied with the level of academic rigor.

“I was not satisfied with results from Boston or D.C.,” Roessler said. “I believe that I have a responsibility to conduct a study with the highest levels of academic rigor… I’ve decided to do it this way because it’s the right thing to do.”

Roessler said there were instances where departments would not fully enforce their proposed body worn camera policies during the pilot phase, which he said would result in biased samples.

But the study won’t be completed and ready for presentation in time for the current budget season. With the FY 2020 budget starting in July, Roessler said funding body-worn cameras would be more likely to come up in next year or the following year’s budget discussions.

“In a June public safety meeting, I will present the American University findings of the project and the potential scope of cost so the [Board of Supervisors] can make informed decisions,” Roessler said.

At the March 6 meeting, the McLean Citizens Association voted to table the resolution to implement the body worn camera program until the results from American University are published.

“We want to get it right, said Roessler. “Other departments rushed it, got it wrong, and it cost taxpayers millions because they have to take cameras back and start all over. “

Roessler said the department is also working with the commonwealth attorney’s office on navigating the workload and costs from body cameras. Not only would the cameras add hours of footage for the commonwealth attorney’s office to sort through during court cases, but Roessler said how long files will be kept in costly digital storage.

But despite the costs, Roessler said he believes there are advantages for both police officers and the public with body-worn cameras.

“Clearly, body-worn cameras won’t solve everything,” said Roessler. “They won’t give a 360-degree view, but it does help for accountability. Until I understand the scope of the cost, we do have a lot of priorities and the cost may depend on the projection for the county budget.”

Photo via Fairfax County Police

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While McLean residents are mostly satisfied with what’s in this year’s county budget proposal, the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) takes issue with one item that isn’t: body worn cameras.

A pilot program for body-worn cameras was implemented through 2018 and a report on the findings of the program are expected sometime this spring, but funding for the program is not included in the police budget for FY 2020.

At tonight’s MCA meeting, the board will vote on a resolution to recommend body worn cameras be included in the budget.

Equipping police officers with body worn cameras is beneficial to both police and the community. [Body-worn cameras] can accurately record law enforcement actions and thereby capture evidence pursuant to investigations, reduce the number of complaints filed against officers, and provide additional safety for our officers as they patrol the streets.  The cameras also increase transparency, accountability, and trust between the police and community, which has been an issue nationwide over the last several years and is particularly relevant to our community with the recent killing of Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police.

The killing of Bijan Ghaisar was controversial partly because videos from dashboard cameras released by Fairfax County Police that seemed to show no threat to U.S. Park Police when they shot Ghaisar.

Last year, on the anniversary of the shooting, the MCA approved a resolution pushing for more transparency in the investigation and praising the Fairfax County Police for releasing the video.

This isn’t the first time body-worn cameras have come up in budget discussions. At an earlier Board of Supervisors meeting on the budget, several board members expressed concern there was no funding identified for the program. Staff said at the meeting that they were waiting for the results of the pilot evaluation to add funding.

“The program has broad support, but actual implementation continues to drift to the right,” the MCA said in the resolution. “It is time to implement the program and, following completion of the [evaluation], we urge a cost-conscious [body-worn camera] implementation.”

Photo via Fairfax County Police

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A meeting on Thursday (Feb. 28) will take a look at how the county budget will impact McLean.

The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) is hosting the meeting in the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Ave.) and put together a list of top issues facing the area. The rundown includes items that are McLean specific and issues like the long-term economic viability of the Metro system.

According to the MCA, questions up for discussion include:

–  Trade-offs between self-imposed county bond limits, county operating expenditures, and local taxes?
–  The impact of development and demographic trends on costs for county-provided services, including schools?
–  Below market salaries for many teachers?
–  Unusually generous pension plans for county and school system employees?
–  Overcrowding at McLean High School and other schools?
–  Metro and other transit maintenance, repairs and expansion, especially in future years?

The budget, which was presented as a draft to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, highlighted the growth and challenges associated with new development in Tysons and the surrounding localities.

One of the topics of discussion, the overcrowding of McLean High School, has been particularly contentious. The School Board killed a proposal to redistrict McLean High School to send some students to the under-capacity Langley High School.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and County Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro are planned to be in attendance to discuss the budget.

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Whether you have opinions on development, the environment or any other local issue, Fairfax County wants to know what you think the county should look like in the years to come.

The county has put together a short survey to gather public feedback on its new strategic planning process. It asks the public to rank their priorities and describe their vision for the county’s future.

The goal of the strategic plan is to put the county’s various individual plans — on topics ranging from health and human services to economic success, into one aligned — coordinated project.

The strategic planning process will take place for most of the year. The first phase of the process — developing an initial work plan — was completed in January. The community engagement phase is scheduled to run through March and will involve sifting through feedback to identify 7-10 public priorities, which will divided among teams that will work on the priorities throughout April.

A series of public meetings will also allow locals to voice their feelings about priorities for Fairfax County. One meeting is planned for Tuesday, Feb. 26 at the Little River Glen Senior Center (4001 Barker Court) south of Vienna. Another is planned for March 6 at the James Lee Community Center (2855 Annandale Road) in Falls Church.

Photo via Twitter

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Bamboo may be a favorite of pandas and homeowners looking for a screen around their property — but it’s also an invasive species that can quickly grow out of control, and Fairfax County is struggling to figure out what to do about it.

An effort led in part by Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth is examining what to do about bamboo in Fairfax County. According to Jack Weyant, director of the Department of Code Compliance, the county is putting together an educational flyer to let homeowners know about the risks of bamboo, but is also in the first stages of considering more stringent ordinances.

The plant was first introduced to the Mid-Atlantic region in 1882 as an ornamental decoration. Sprouts of the plant can grow 12 inches a day and roots can travel 20 feet away from the original clump, according to the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.

Patches of wild bamboo can be found throughout the county, including the Pimmit Run Trail in McLean.

The plants can dominate sites, creating a monoculture that can crowd out and ultimately displace native vegetation. The plant can cause extensive property damage to decks, pool liners or even building foundations.

Getting rid of bamboo is far more difficult than growing it. Justin Roberson with the Fairfax County Park Authority said the best way of eliminating bamboo is to cut down the shoots and treat the stumps with herbicide, a process that needs to be repeated over multiple growing seasons. Digging into the ground and breaking up the roots could make the problem worse and spread the plant even further.

In 2017, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation authorizing localities to regulate bamboo to existing ordinances regulating grass. The code specifies that the bamboo being regulated is any type characterized by “aggressive spreading behavior.”

Current Fairfax County code regulates grass height to not exceed 12 inches, but whether or not Fairfax County opts to regulate bamboo the same way is still up for consideration.

At an environmental committee meeting on Feb. 12, Weyant said locations around the country have a variety of approaches, from requiring property owners to maintain or contain bamboo to a full-on ban that requires owners of existing bamboo to get rid of it.

So far, Weyant said Fairfax has focused on education and has a flyer in the works explaining the hazards of the plant that will be ready for release sometime within a month. But the county is looking at how a hypothetical bamboo ordinance could be put into place.

“Any potential ordinance would be complaint-driven,” said Weyant. “We need to talk about whether or not to prohibit the planting of new bamboo and how to enforce that. We could allow it to remain but require the property owner to maintain it and we could issue violations to someone who we did get a complaint.”

Running enforcement for bamboo complaints could be complicated and costly, and according to staff documents, there are concerns the fines imposed as penalties to violators would not be significant enough to support the inspection and enforcement process. There are also risks that control of bamboo could lead to unintended damage to the nearby trees, which efforts to remove invasive plants are designed to protect in the first place.

“The last thing we want to make clear is that don’t want to get the county into taking measures to remove bamboo such as we do with a grass ordinance,” said Weyant.

Mason District Supervisor Penelope Gross, chair of the environmental committee, said the county would continue with education and move into regulations only if necessary.

“This is a thorny one to try and address,” said Gross. “Going to education is often the first and least onerous approach. Let’s do the education and see what happens.”

Photo via City of Fairfax

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Tysons is quickly becoming one of the largest contributors to, and one of the largest demands on, the Fairfax County budget.

The FY 2020 Fairfax County Advertised Budget, presented at a Board of Supervisors meeting today (Tuesday), was met with praise from supervisors for keeping the county steady without raising the tax rate.

The budget will maintain the real estate tax rate of $1.15 per $100 of assessed value. The average Fairfax resident will see their tax bill increase by approximately $149.

But the county still experienced $162.83 million in revenue growth at the current 3.04 percent tax rate, much of which was driven by growth in Tysons.

The budget noted that prime real estate markets in Fairfax are spaces near the Silver Line, which has helped position Tysons as a financial powerhouse of the county. The completion of the 975,000-square-foot Capital One headquarters building was the majority of the County’s 1,191,000 square foot increase over 2017’s office space inventory. According to the budget documents:

Lease rates for new space are adjusting to market conditions as many tenants are taking advantage of favorable rates, and others are looking to capitalize on market conditions by consolidating operations in newer space near Metro stations. Submarkets along and near the Silver Line – Tysons Corner, Reston and the Herndon area – are especially well-positioned to take advantage of this trend. More than 54 million square feet of new office space is in the development pipeline countywide.

But the budget documents also show some of the demands Tysons is putting on the budget.

The Fairfax County Police Department is facing internal budget struggles, particularly as it works to adapt to urbanizing areas like Tysons. According to the report:

Keeping pace with urbanization to include Tysons, the Metro Silver Line extension, Springfield Town Center, South County development, and other micro-urban development countywide, will continue to challenge the Department for decades to come. Providing basic police service in urbanized areas requires different policing modes and resources than traditional methods in the suburban model the Department has been using for many decades

The report said that the department’s five-year staffing plan will include meeting the urbanization demands in Tysons with expanded police services. The budget has 16 additional uniformed positions planned for FY 2021 in the county’s long-term staffing plan.

One area of disappointment from supervisors was the lack of funding for body-worn cameras. A pilot program was implemented through 2018 and a report on the findings is expected in the first quarter of FY 2019, but officials expressed concerns that the program was not in the police budget for FY 2020.

The increasing population and density in Tysons are also putting a strain on the local parks. According to the budget:

Collectively, the major rezoning applications approved in Tysons since 2010 generate a need for eight new athletic fields under the maximum approved development levels. The equivalent of two athletic fields have been built and currently serve Tysons area users.

The budget does note, however, that new athletic fields have been proffered — funded by developers as a condition of approval — including a baseball diamond near Westgate Elementary School and a 2.3-acre park near the Tysons Galleria.

While the growth in Tysons is likely to put some strain on Fairfax County Public Schools, plans to address that overcrowding are currently not funded.

Each supervisor said they will be holding budget meetings in their communities over the next few weeks. Supervisor John Foust from the Dranesville District said the McLean discussion will be held on Feb. 28 at the McLean Community Center at 7 p.m.

The budget is scheduled to be adopted on May 7.

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Morning Notes

VDOT: Slow Down, Beware of Slick Spots — “[VDOT] crews worked overnight to treat roads and will continue to do so today, as needed. If you can delay travel until the sun comes up, great. If not, please assume that all surfaces are icy. Your commute *will* take longer today. Reduce speeds, no heavy braking, and use your headlights!” [Twitter]

Fairfax County Government Open on Time — “Fairfax County Government offices are open on Wednesday, Jan. 30, however employees have been granted unscheduled leave. Employees are reminded that they should notify their supervisor if they elect to use unscheduled leave. Emergency service personnel should report as scheduled.” [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

Fairfax Connector Running Extra Service — “To accommodate passengers who are reporting to work later than usual this morning due to inclement weather, Fairfax Connector will operate extra service on the following routes today: 394, 395, 599, 698, 699.” [Twitter]

Wind and Wind Chill Warnings — Fairfax County is under a Wind Advisory through 6 p.m. tonight; wind gusts of up to 50 mph could result in downed trees and power lines. A Wind Chill Advisory will go into effect at 9 p.m., as whipping winds and falling temperatures cause wind chills to dip to -5 to -10 degrees. [Weather.gov, Weather.gov]

Prison Sentence for Fraudster — “A woman was sentenced in Alexandria federal court to 15 years in prison for defrauding over 50 victims out of more than $5.4 million. Among the victims was a 71-year-old McLean woman with cancer.” [Patch]

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One month into the government shutdown, Fairfax County is starting to feel the squeeze.

Accordingly, state and local governments have started enacting measures to try to give relief to furloughed workers. On Jan. 14, Virginia’s Department of Social Services announced that SNAP (food stamp) recipients will receive the February food benefits in January.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is also hosting its third hiring event tonight (Wednesday) to give furloughed workers a chance to work as substitute teachers. The event is set to run from 5-7:30 p.m. at the FCPS administration building in Merrifield (8115 Gatehouse Road).

“We always have a need for substitute teachers,” said John Torre, public information officer for FCPS. “On average, we hire 900 to 1,100 subs every day. For furloughed workers, we are expediting the hiring process and many of those who attended the first two events have already been placed in schools as substitute teachers.”

At yesterday’s (Tuesday) meeting, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors even considered delaying the Feb. 15 deadline for car tax payments.

But Professor Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University, warned that delays in payment collection could have a ripple effect on county services. According to Shafroth:

“There will be significant and hard issues in a county affected by thousands of residents abruptly working without pay — issues such as the county’s needs to try and fill in the gaps in emergency services (inability to pay utility bills, purchase enough food, get a child to the doctor, etc.). I know the county has already considering steps to delay some car tax payments — sort of a double whammy, because it would reduce revenues to the county, even as it is providing desperately needed services over and beyond its adopted budget. The impact will be disproportionate in Fairfax county, because that is the home to nearly 20% of all federal workers in our region.”

Shafroth said there are roughly 5,000 families that rent in Fairfax, and there are concerns inside the county government that those families could be evicted if they’re unable to pay rent or unable to access work, pharmacies or groceries if they’re not able to continue making car payments. In providing relief for these vital services, Shafroth says the county government will have to do triage on the services at risk for families of federal employees and work with providers to continue those services.

“That is, without any uncertainty how long the President’s shut down will last, the county is under pressure to put health and safety of its citizens first,” said Shafroth. “That will impose hard choices on the county’s leaders: in effect, the White House is shifting a fiscal burden to the county: will that mean the county will have to consider higher fees and taxes? What will it cost to help an estimated 5,000 families at risk of losing rental assistance?”

Among the services at risk, Shafroth said free and reduced-price meals at public schools could eventually be on the chopping block and other necessities for low-income residents.

“Because there is a disproportionate number of families who either work directly or by contract for the federal government, the county is projecting the potential hole in housing assistance payments could total as much as $5 million a month — in this bitter weather, that is hardly an option,” said Shafroth. “Fairfax County will find itself not only overwhelmed by demands for public service — especially those involving lives at risk — but all coming even as revenues will be depleted from receiving less in sales and use taxes, and other revenues: the candle will be burned at both ends.”

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority has also compiled a list of services provided for employees affected by the shutdown:

  • Hotline available for assistance: Individuals in need can contact Fairfax County’s Coordinated Services Planning staff at 703-222-0880 (TTY 711) for assistance in connecting to resources. This service is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The multilingual staff can assist callers in multiple foreign languages.
  • Unemployment benefits: Federal government employees who have been separated from their job due to the shutdown and have questions about benefits should contact the Virginia Employment Commission. The phone number for the Customer Contact Center is 866-832-2263.
  • Free lunch program: FCPS announced on Jan. 8 that meals for breakfast and lunch will be provided to all students regardless of their ability to pay, and unpaid balances will be allowed to build up without immediate repercussions for the duration of the shutdown.
  • Northern Virginia Community College: NOVA’s Workforce and Economic Development Office is offering a free (non-credit) class to furloughed federal employees and contractors. Employees can choose from select Business & Management, IT & Computer Skills, and Professional Development classes. Some classes have prerequisites and proof of federal employment is required. Call 703-878-5770 or visit the web site for further information.
  • George Mason University’s School of Business will hold career skills workshops — free to furloughed workers and government contractor employees affected by the shutdown — on Jan. 31 at its Arlington campus.
  • Child Care Assistance and Referral Program: For families in the CCAR program with a 12-month eligibility, those without income can request that child care co-payments be lowered. CCAR staff are available discuss their ongoing child care needs. Call 703-449-8484 or email [email protected].
  • School Age Child Care: Families impacted by the federal government shutdown may continue to use services and apply for a reduced fee and/or develop a payment plan. Alternatively, families may request temporary inactive status, which allows families to maintain a child’s enrollment in SACC. Call 703-449-8989 or email [email protected]fairfaxcounty.gov.
  • Free Connector Bus Rides: Fairfax Connector will provide free rides system-wide for federal government employees affected by the government shutdown who are still required to report for work. Eligible riders must present a federal photo ID to the bus operator. For schedules and route information, estimated arrival times, and more, sign up for email and/or text alerts through Fairfax Connector BusTracker.
  • Reston Community Center is waiving summer camp fees for children of families affected by the shutdown.
  • Pet Supplies: The county Animal Shelter has pet food and a limited amount of other supplies available for furloughed federal employees. The supplies are available during shelter business hours and no is appointment needed. For information, call 703-830-1100 or email [email protected]gov.

Photo via FCPS

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A small fumble involving a seemingly dead committee is pushing the Tysons Galleria Macy’s redevelopment plan back a few months.

According to Russell Forno, a land use planner with a law firm representing Tysons Galleria, gaining permission from Fairfax County for new signage would be a significant step for the mall in its efforts to negotiate with new tenants.

Going into the Jan. 16 Planning Commission meeting, everything seemed set for approval. Staff had recommended approval of new signs and there was no vocal opposition. But Forno requested that the approval be pushed back to March.

The mall, we’re told, had failed to get the approval of the Tysons II Design Review Committee, a group so obscure the only other Google search result is a 2015 staff report requesting a sign change. The staff report includes an attached document called the Tysons II Sign Manual, which says:

All signs shall be approved by the Tysons II Design Review Committee before any required submission to Fairfax County for permits… This review will continue to help maintain oversight to ensure signage coordination within Tysons II and prevent impair the planned unit nature of the development.

The document includes some very specific requirements. All illuminated signs must be black in daytime and white at night and all ground floor signs must have individually fabricated letters and symbols only, not enclosed signs.

The application from Tysons Galleria indicated that the committee no longer exists, but a letter from the apparently deceased committee seemed to confuse the subject.

“I’ll be honest, there was a little mix-up,” said Forno. “Reviews with this committee are forthcoming. The applicant and committee have agreed to meet within the next 30 days. [We ask you] to defer action until March.”

Planning Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner agreed and led the Planning Commission in a vote to push the decision back to March 13 to allow the Tysons Galleria time to consult with the Tysons II Design Review Committee.

Meanwhile, the Planning Commission also approved new signage for the Tysons-based Mitre Corporation and approved Reformed Theological Seminary’s move into an office building on the southern edge of Tysons.

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