Newsletter
Now-closed Container Store at 8508 Leesburg Pike (photo by Michelle Goldchain)

After this weekend, the former Container Store in Tysons will no longer be known as just “the former Container Store.”

The county-owned, 19,260-square-foot site with 95 parking spaces at 8508 Leesburg Pike is being transformed into a community hub and venue for local events through a collaborative effort between Fairfax County, Tysons Partnership, and Celebrate Fairfax Inc.

Tomorrow (Friday), Celebrate Fairfax and participating vendors will host another Tysons Block Party from 4 to 8 p.m., during which a new name will be announced for the venue. The name was chosen based on an online poll that Celebrate Fairfax conducted across its social media accounts.

“Activating this site is part of a multifaceted community building process in Tysons that recognizes the importance of placemaking,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “Having spaces like the one at 8508 Leesburg Pike in Tysons allows us to build social infrastructure, in addition to the built infrastructure that continues to grow.”

Singer Caz Gardiner is scheduled to perform at the event with a collections of vendors such as Settle Down Easy Brewing Co., Zainy’s Flyin’ Grill and Hangry Panda present.

In addition to a new name, the site will get a facelift in the near future with a mural by artist Rodrigo Pradel. Before work begins on the mural, however, Tysons Partnership is soliciting the community for input on the design with an online survey.

“The upcoming events in this space, including the Tysons Block Party and the mural live painting event, are just two of many opportunities for the Tysons community to share experiences, and make new connections, right here in Tysons,” Palchik said.

“This site can be a leader in facilitating in-person experiences, and a model for placemaking around our county,” she added.

After the Container Store relocated to 8459 Leesburg Pike in 2018, the county acquired the site in 2019 for $16.6 million with an eye toward utilizing it to support community innovation and entrepreneurship.

The county received a variety of proposals for the use of the site prior to the pandemic, including a suggestion from development officials to use it for community events.

However, during the pandemic, the building was adapted for emergency use. Over the past year, it has been used as a storage site for personal protective equipment, and it was designated as a hypothermia shelter from Dec. 1 through April 1.

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County Recognizes 9/11 Anniversary — For those who missed it, watch the remembrance ceremony that Fairfax County held on Saturday (Sept. 11) to mark 20 years since the 9/11 attacks. The Town of Vienna commemorated the occasion with a ceremony of its own, and the McLean Community Center posted a “Taps” tribute with comments from local faith leaders.

Virginia DMV to Resume Walk-in Services — “Beginning Oct. 5, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles customers may choose to schedule an appointment for service or opt for walk-in service on alternating days at all 75 customer service centers…During the pandemic, [the] DMV began operating by appointment only as it reopened offices in May 2020 after a temporary closure due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.” [Inside NoVA]

Robbery Reported in Mosaic District — A man told Fairfax County police on Sept. 4 that an acquaintance had assaulted him and taken his property in the 2900 block of District Avenue in Merrifield. Police arrested the suspect, who fled the scene of the assault, on Sept. 7 and charged him with robbery and malicious wounding. The victim went to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. [FCPD]

Lee Highway Renaming Task Force Meets Tonight — The Confederate Names Task Force appointed to determine whether Fairfax County should rename Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (Route 50) will hold its second meeting at 7 p.m. today (Monday). The meeting will be virtual and can be followed online, on Channel 16, or by phone at 703-324-5300. [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]

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Labor Day weekend has almost arrived, unofficially bringing summer to an end with an occasion to recognize the achievement of workers and the labor movement.

For students, the weekend has already begun, since Fairfax County Public Schools has designated both today (Friday) and Monday (Sept. 6) as holidays.

With Labor Day falling on Monday, many public facilities and services in Fairfax County will be closed or have altered schedules to accommodate the federal holiday. Here are some of the changes that residents in the Tysons area should keep in mind:

Fairfax County Government

Fairfax County Courts

Town of Vienna

City of Falls Church

County Libraries and Recreational Facilities

Public Transit

  • Fairfax Connector buses will operate on a Sunday schedule for Labor Day. Check the transit system’s website for the specific routes that will be in service.
  • Metro will operate from 7 a.m. to midnight throughout Labor Day weekend, with trains serving 87 of 91 stations normally on the Red, Blue, and Silver lines and scheduled maintenance on the Orange, Yellow, and Green lines.
  • On Labor Day, Metrorail, buses, and MetroAccess will follow a Sunday service schedule with off-peak fares and free parking in effect all day.

County Trash and Recycling

  • Labor Day will not affect trash and recycling collections for county customers. However, the customer service center will be closed in observance of the holiday.
  • The I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will both be open.
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Morning Notes

Prepare for Remnants of Hurricane IdaTropical Depression Ida is expected to hit the D.C. area today (Wednesday). A Flash Flood Watch will take effect this morning, and Gov. Ralph Northam has already declared a state of emergency. Fairfax County says to avoid flooded streets, remove valuables from basements, and ensure storm drains and gutters aren’t clogged, and Falls Church City residents can borrow sandbags until 3 p.m. [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

County Grants Program Now Accepting Applicants — Fairfax County’s new Active and Thriving Community Grants Program opened its application portal yesterday (Tuesday) and will accept applicants until 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 14. Approved on July 27, the program will allocate $10 million in federal relief money to select small businesses and nonprofits negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. [Fairfax County Government]

FCPS Ready to Help Afghan Refugee Students — “[Annandale resident] Tahir is awaiting the arrival of his wife and other children, who were among thousands of Afghans who fled after the Taliban takeover earlier this month…When his family arrives, one of his priorities will be enrolling the children in school. A spokesperson for Fairfax County Public Schools said faculty and staff are already helping Afghan refugees enroll their children and providing them with additional support to help students adjust to their new environment.” [Inside NoVA]

Longtime Falls Church Crossing Guard Retires — “It was almost like any other day as Audrey Luthman greeted students heading to school Tuesday morning. She’s helped Falls Church students cross the roads safely since 1971, but her work has come to an end…City of Falls Church officials and families gathered Tuesday morning to celebrate Luthman’s 50 years of service and retirement.” [Patch]

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A Fairfax County-owned property along Balls Hill Road slated for a traffic improvement project at the intersection with Old Dominion Drive (staff photo by David Taube)

Faced with challenges from providing affordable housing to mitigating flooding, Fairfax County has its hands full, but it’s currently armed with vacant property assessed at tens of millions of dollars.

Currently tax-exempt, the properties could be used for commercial development, environmental preservation, housing projects, recreation, or stormwater drainage, among other purposes.

“There is a critical shortage of affordable housing options in Fairfax County,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said when asked about what the county should do with its vacant properties.

The total financial value of vacant, county-owned properties exceeds $50 million, as calculated based on a public records request and assessments in an online county database for over 100 parcels that could be used for commercial, residential, or other uses.

It wasn’t immediately clear if other restrictions, such as environmental issues, setbacks, and prior plans, limit the use of those properties.

The $50 million-plus figure includes at least $10 million in assessed property that was listed as vacant but nonbuildable, but it excludes properties in floodplains as well as parcels already in use, such as parking lots, parks, or school areas.

One of the largest vacant property acquisitions is across from the Fairfax County Government Center: a 2.6-acre property bordered by Legato Road and Post Forest Drive that cost around $50 million in 1994. It currently has an assessed value of around $11,450.

“One of the elements of the County’s Housing Strategic Plan is to utilize vacant parcels as well as to repurpose land, such as existing parking lots, to increase the supply of housing,” Foust noted by email.

Created in 2018, the Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan calls on Fairfax County to make vacant or underutilized, publicly owned land available for affordable and mixed-income housing “to expand housing options without direct public financial subsidy” through public-private partnerships.

Currently, the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority has three such properties that are slated to be developed through public-private partnerships:

The county’s more sizable vacant lots include five adjacent properties along South Van Dorn Street in Franconia that occupy around 3.7 acres located near Thomas A. Edison High School.

The county also has a 9.63-acre parcel near the Innovation Center Metro station that will eventually open in Herndon as part of the much-delayed Silver Line extension.

Foust says part of the property includes a community playing field, but its proximity to the Metro station could make it a candidate for future affordable housing.

“Placing affordable housing on the site could be a good use of the land,” he said. “If that came about, the playing field would need to be relocated.”

In McLean, the county has two properties in a residential neighborhood at 7135 and 7139 Old Dominion Drive that have been assessed at a combined $2.06 million. They are slated for a traffic improvement project at the intersection of Old Dominion and Balls Hill Road. The project is currently in the design phase.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a Washington Business Journal story about affordable housing that land is the county’s “single most useful tool.”

“Reallocation of Board-owned property can occur in a number of ways,” McKay said in a statement. “However it is often at the request of a County agency and is followed by an extensive review of the property. Within the last year, the Board was proud to authorize the transfer of two properties to the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority for the potential creation of affordable housing.”

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Packages received by the ADAMS Center to help Afghan evacuees (courtesy ADAMS Center)

(Updated at 9:35 a.m.) Hurunnessa Fariad knows what it’s like to be an Afghan refugee.

She fled Afghanistan with her family in the 1980s while the country was under Soviet occupation. While the circumstances were certainly different three decades ago, her emotions upon seeing another exodus in the wake of the Taliban’s recent takeover are comparable to her own experiences.

“The sentiment of leaving your home, leaving everything behind…and coming to a country where you don’t know anything, you don’t know the culture, you don’t know the people, you don’t know who’s going to help you — it’s terrifying,” she said.

Today, Fariad works as outreach coordinator at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society — also known as the ADAMS Center — in Sterling. It’s the second-largest Muslim community in the country and serves people across Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

She also serves as the center’s Afghan lead, working with Lutheran Social Services to help those who have evacuated Afghanistan to make a new home in the U.S., joining many non-profit and faith-based organizations across the region.

The ADAMS Center is currently collecting funds to help with both immediate needs, such as gift cards to Target or Walmart that can be used to purchase basic items, and long-term needs for housing, jobs, and education.

Fariad says the center was collecting individual items, like toiletries and hygiene items, but they got “inundated” and need time to sort through all of the donations.

“The funding is going to keep going on for a while because there’s so many people coming in that they’re going to need help,” she said.

Additionally, the ADAMS Center is putting together a list of local residents who speak Dari and Pashto and can act as translators. They are sharing that list with both Virgina Gov. Ralph Northam’s office and the federal government.

As of yesterday (Tuesday), more than 6,000 people and 44 dogs have arrived at Dulles International Airport in the last week, according to an email from state officials to local partners.

Currently, new arrivals are temporarily being housed at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly. They were previously housed at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale as well.

A Fairfax County spokesperson confirmed that the county is providing support for resettlement efforts, primarily assisting with health, human services, and public safety needs.

“Currently, the county is supporting a Department of State operation for people evacuated from Afghanistan and arriving at Dulles International Airport. Some of these individuals are being supported temporarily at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly,” the county spokesperson wrote. “The center has the capacity to support more than a thousand individuals.”

The Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management also helped set up cots at Northern Virginia Community College, according to The Washington Post. Community members are being asked not to go to any of these hosting sites.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay visited the Dulles Expo Center yesterday, saying in a newsletter that he was “touched to hear the human side of what we are seeing on the news.”

“While we can’t be sure how many people will ultimately relocate to Fairfax County, I want to be clear that we look forward to welcoming all who want to join our diverse community,” he wrote. Read More

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All Fairfax County government workers will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the county announced today (Friday).

Employees who don’t get vaccinated, including those who request an exemption for medical or religious reasons, will be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing to remain employed.

The timing of when the mandate will take effect remains unclear, as the announcement says only that it will begin this fall.

“We know vaccinations save lives and that these vaccines are safe and effective,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “Throughout the pandemic we have focused on measures to keep our employees and our community safe, and this is another key piece of that effort. As one of the largest employers in Virginia, and one that has successfully and consistently stressed to our residents the importance of being vaccinated, we must practice what we preach.”

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on July 28 to direct County Executive Bryan Hill to explore the possibility of a vaccine requirement while developing an official return-to-office plan for the county government.

Fairfax County Public Schools announced this morning that it will require employees to get vaccinated, starting in October, though the new school year will begin on Monday (Aug. 23).

“We join organizations including Fairfax County Public Schools, public universities, privately held companies, and our federal and local governments, taking these measures to help protect employees and the public from this significant health threat,” Hill said in a statement. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Fairfax County has focused on policies and procedures that support the health and well-being of our staff and the community, and we will continue to do so.”

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Rooftop solar panel on house (via Vivint Solar/Unsplash)

On the heels of last week’s sobering United Nations climate change report, Fairfax County is beginning to implement its first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), which sets goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Fairfax County staff delivered a final update of the CECAP to the Board of Supervisors during its environmental committee meeting on July 20. The board is expected to accept the report when it meets on Sept. 14.

The CECAP provides an inventory of current greenhouse gas emissions and recommends actions that the county and individuals can take to mitigate future emissions in order to achieve carbon neutrality within three decades.

“A lot of times, people feel like this problem is so big and out of their hands, that they feel like they can’t make a difference,” Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination Senior Community Specialist Maya Dhavale said. “I feel like it’s very timely that Fairfax County has been putting this plan and report together…We’re able to provide residents, business owners, and individuals in Fairfax County a path forward.”

Dhavale, who spearheaded the project, says staff have already begun the process of implementing the plan. That starts with community outreach, public education, and a review of existing county policies to determine how they line up with the proposed plan.

First proposed in 2018 and initiated in early 2020, the CECAP report was developed by a working group composed of environmental advocates, business representatives, civic association members, and other citizens.

As an overarching goal, the work group proposed that Fairfax County become carbon-neutral by 2050 with an 87% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels.

The Board of Supervisors has already pledged to make county government operations — including building and facility energy use and transportation — carbon neutral by 2040 in conjunction with an updated operational energy strategy adopted on July 13.

The county’s recent push to prioritize environmental initiatives comes as the U.N. continues to sound the alarm on climate change as a crisis that’s already in motion and will only get worse without a substantial shift in human behavior.

In its latest report released on Aug. 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that human activities are directly responsible for a roughly 1 degree Celsius climb in the global surface temperature from 1900 to 2019, contributing to retreating glaciers, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Even if future emissions are kept very low, global temperatures will continue going up until at least the mid-21st century and could very likely still be one to 1.8 degrees Celsius higher than 1900 levels by the end of the century, according to the report.

“Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions,” IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai said in a news release. “Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate.”

In their report, the CECAP working group says the impact of climate change on Fairfax County is already evident in declining snowfall, more extremely hot days, heavier rainfall, and increased incidences of mosquito and tick-borne illnesses. Read More

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Morning Notes

Flash Flood Watch in Effect — The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Watch for Fairfax County and the rest of the D.C. area through 10 p.m. today (Wednesday). Multiple rounds of heavy showers and thunderstorms could drop up to one to two inches of rain per hour, leading to rapid rises in streams, creeks, and poor drainage areas. [NWS]

Metro to Require Employee Vaccinations — Metro workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing in a new policy that General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld announced in an internal memo yesterday (Tuesday). 45% of the transit agency’s 12,000-person workforce is fully vaccinated, falling short of the 70% goal set by Metro leaders earlier this month. [The Washington Post]

County Seeks Input on Hazard Mitigation Plan — The Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management has partnered with other jurisdictions across the region to update the Northern Virginia Hazard Mitigation Plan, which aims to reduce or eliminate the dangers posed by flooding, tornadoes, and other disasters. A survey to help the county identify potential risks and prepare for them is open until Sept. 20. [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

Fire Station Makes Department History — “For the first time in the history of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in Virginia, the day-to-day operations of a fire station are being run entirely by women. Capts. Felicia Barnes, Katja Lancing and Emily Murphy all work at Kingstowne Fire Station 37 on Telegraph Road.” [WTOP]

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Mazdas in a Fairfax car dealership lot (via Obi Onyeador/Unsplash)

Fairfax County residents who drive used cars may get a higher vehicle tax bill this year than they were anticipating.

An unusual rise in the value of used cars will result in an average tax increase of $25 for about 12% of county residents, primarily those who own vehicles valued at $20,000 or less, the Fairfax County Department of Tax Administration (DTA) said in a news release yesterday (Tuesday).

“This COVID thing is really making an impact on everything here,” said Juan Rengel, director of the DTA’s Personal Property and Business License Division. “What’s happening with vehicles [is] we are experiencing an increase of about 5% in vehicle values of used cars. Typically, used cars depreciate in value year over year. That’s not the case this year.”

According to Fairfax County, the increase in assessments stems from a reduced supply of vehicles due to global shortages in automobile parts, particularly microchips, and an uptick in demand for used cars over newly manufactured cars from both customers and dealerships.

People holding onto their used cars instead of selling them, low turnover in fleets for rental car companies, and dealerships compensating for the shortage in new vehicles by filling out their lots with used ones are all putting pressure on the used car market, driving up prices, Rengel says.

He added that low interest rates have also been a factor, enabling more people to obtain loans to purchase cars.

Like the rest of Virginia, Fairfax County calculates a vehicle’s assessed value based not on the purchase price, but rather, on the market value of its specific year, make, and model over all the sales for that vehicle as of Jan. 1.

“Whatever the car value is as of January 1, that’s what we use,” Rengel said.

Vehicle taxes can be appealed if the owner believes their vehicle has been overassessed based on body damage, rusting, or high mileage, according to the DTA.

Fairfax County’s current vehicle tax rate is $4.57 per $100 of assessed value. Personal property tax bills will start to go out in the mail soon, with payment for existing and new vehicles registered in the county prior to July 1 due on Oct. 5.

Rengel notes that Virginia partially relieves the tax burden on owners by subsidizing a portion of the first $20,000 of assessed value for vehicles utilized for personal use. This year, the state will pay 57.5% of the tax bill, though owners are required to certify to the county annually that their vehicle remains qualified to receive the subsidy.

According to Rengel, Fairfax County projects that it will collect $496.7 million in personal property tax revenues this year, all of which will go into the county’s general fund that supports schools, public safety, human services, and other government functions.

Though it’s unusual for car values to go up over the course of a year, the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic means vehicle taxes could increase again next year.

“If things continue the way they are, we can see prices going up again in 2022, but of course, we’re speculating for 2022 at this point,” Rengel said.

Photo via Obi Onyeador/Unsplash

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