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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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If you’re a government worker in Fairfax, chances are you might get two Mondays off in a row.

Next Monday (Jan. 21) is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and government offices will be closed.

Also closed:

  • Fairfax County Public Schools
  • School-Age Child Care
  • Fairfax County Libraries
  • Fairfax courts

Historic sites managed by Fairfax County Park Authority will also closed, but all RECenters and nature centers will be open.

If you’re looking for activities to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., on Sunday, Jan. 20, local hip hop and arts group B-Fly Entertainment will host “Liner Notes,” a performance that includes the music of the civil rights movement, at the McLean Community Center.

“Collide with music’s past and present through jazz standards, hip hop samples and actual liner notes from musicians of the civil rights movement in this multimedia concert experience,” B-Fly wrote on its Facebook page.

The show will be held in the center’s newly renovated Alden Theater at 1234 Ingleside Ave. Tickets are $25 for the general public or $15 for McLean residents.

Courtesy photo

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Fairfax County government offices are opening at 10 a.m. today as VDOT crews continue to work to clear roads around Northern Virginia.

Most highways and main routes around Tysons appear to be clear. VDOT says it is working to clear neighborhood streets, some of which remain snow-covered.

“We’re focusing on neighborhood streets today,” the agency said on Twitter. “If you haven’t seen us yet, don’t worry, you will. If you’re clearing your driveway today, please pile snow to the right or it may get pushed back. No one wants to shovel a driveway twice.”

County courts opened on time today and trash collection started after daybreak, according to Fairfax County. Vacuum leaf collection has been suspended. Fairfax Connector service is operating on a Saturday schedule, with some delays expected.

Fairfax County Public Schools, meanwhile, are closed today, as is the federal government.

Officials are urging residents to completely clear snow from their cars before driving and to be careful on the roads.

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Morning Notes

VDOT Pre-Treating Roads — VDOT has been spreading brine on roads and highways in anticipation of accumulating snow this weekend. [Twitter]

Resources for Furloughed Feds — “Thousands of federal workers, contractors, vendors and service providers in our county are being impacted by the partial federal shutdown… Whether it is food, financial assistance or other needs, we can provide you with the resources to get you and your family through this difficult time.” [Fairfax County]

AT&T Offering Flexible Payment Options — “AT&T says it is offering flexible payment options to Mid-Atlantic customers affected by the government shutdown. ‘Just because the government shut down, doesn’t mean that your phone, TV, and internet should stop working too,’ the company said in an email.” [FairfaxNews]

Local Summer Camp Guide — “It’s winter, it’s cold, and the kids still have many months left in the school year. But as many parents know, this is the time of year when many families look ahead to summer months and how the kids will spend it.” [VivaTysons]

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Fairfax County is putting together a comprehensive plan for public safety in the county’s use of unmanned aircraft, and is looking for public feedback.

The Fairfax County Unmanned Aircraft Systems program is a proposal to incorporate drones into government operations, with a particular focused on public safety. The draft says examples of drone usage includes:

  • Search and rescue
  • Flooding assessments
  • Pre- and post-disaster damage assessments
  • Crash reconstruction
  • Fire incident/scene management and investigations
  • Hazardous materials responses
  • Wildlife estimation

The draft also says the drones would not be used to conduct random surveillance activities or to harass individuals.

Six public meetings are scheduled to discuss the issue with representatives of the Office of Emergency Management, county attorney’s office, police and fire and rescue department. Presentations at each of the meetings are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

  • Jan. 14, 2019 (6:30-8:30 p.m.)
    Mason District Governmental Center (Community Room)
    6507 Columbia Pike, Annandale
  • Jan. 16, 2019 (6:30-8:30 p.m.)
    South County Governmental Center (Room 221C)
    8350 Richmond Highway, Alexandria
  • Jan. 23, 2019 (6:30-8:30 p.m.)
    McLean District Governmental Center
    1437 Balls Hill Road, McLean
  • Jan. 24, 2019 (6:30-8:30 p.m.)
    Sully District Governmental Center
    4900 Stonecroft Blvd, Chantilly
  • Jan. 28, 2019 (6:30-8:30 p.m.)
    Reston Community Center – Hunter Woods
    2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston
  • Jan. 30, 2019 (6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.)
    Braddock Hall – Kings Park Library
    9002 Burke Lake Road, Burke

Public comments can also be submitted to [email protected] before close-of-business on Feb. 8 to be included in the written record.

Photo via Flickr/Joe Loong

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The plan for downtown McLean will break it into three zones, but local residents want to make sure it doesn’t become a second version of Tysons.

After a year of meetings with the community, contractor Streetsense presented its final vision for the McLean Community Business Center (CBC) last night (Monday) in Longfellow Middle School.

In Streetsense’s final proposal, the McLean CBC would be broken into three categories: center, general, and edge.

Colin Greene, Director of Planning at Streetsense, said the center zone could be occupied by either retail or residential spaces with a few offices. Buildings in this area would generally go up to seven stories, though Greene said those could be up to ten stories if they offer open space benefits.

In the general zone, Greene said the building heights could go up to five stories tall, with an emphasis on scaling development down as it approaches the edge zone, which would primarily consist of two or three story residential buildings.

“We expect and recommend that that [scale of residential development] continues,” said Greene. “Redevelopment would need to be in-kind and similar in scale and size.”

The map at the meeting showed the center zone in dark purple, with the general and edge zones in lighter shades.

The new plan puts McLean’s downtown center at the corner of Elm Street and Beverly Road, a corner whose most notable occupant today is the “Wok & Roll” Chinese restaurant. But the proposal would see the corner eventually developed with towering new residential and office buildings with retail frontage.

This new plan would also require substantial infrastructure improvements, including road improvements for Elm Street and Beverly Road and converting the nearby Center Street into a pedestrian avenue.

Several of those in attendance at the meeting had concerns about the level of density in the new downtown McLean, particularly with the proposal of a seven or ten-story office building in the heart of the CBC. More than one McLean local said they didn’t want to see the downtown turned into another Tysons.

Robert Moll, a McLean resident, said he looked at the sudden expansion of development in downtown Bethesda, Maryland, and said he didn’t want to see this happen to McLean.

“The CBC is not going to compete with Tysons for office space,” Greene said. “There is a low need for offices [here]. We don’t foresee a long or deep demand for office use.”

Green said most of the office space proposed for downtown McLean would be replacing existing, aging office buildings rather than adding new office capacity.

One local resident said that many of his neighbors and other members of the community would have liked an option for things to remain the same in McLean rather than see any new development, but many in the audience vocally opposed this idea.

“I’m out and about all the time and I get a lot of feedback on when I’m not getting something done,” said Supervisor John Foust. “One [bit of] feedback I get a lot is that we’re not doing enough to make McLean a place people can come together. That’s what they tell me they want in McLean. It’s not a scientific survey, but there’s support for doing something good but not overboard.”

After the presentation, those in attendance browsed the final plan spread across several boards in the back of the room.

“There are some real positive things here,” said Rob Jackson, chair of the McLean Citizens Association’s planning and zoning committee and a member of the CBC task force. “I like the focus on Elm Street and Beverly Road and putting the focus there. But I still have questions about where cars are going to park when people come for this pedestrian area.”

Walkability, even since the early meetings, was one of the most talked about topics for McLean residents at the CBC meetings.

“We enjoy walking everywhere,” said Frank Peterson, a local resident, “so we fully support the comment that this effort should integrate pedestrian-friendly ways to get around.”

Foust said working through the parking and pedestrian issues related to the McLean CBC study are going to be a priority as committees begin to meet in January to start looking at how to turn this vision plan into a reality.

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Nine months after morning prayer service was cancelled, the McLean Islamic Center (MIC) won approval from the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals last week for extended hours and the cap on worshippers was removed.

Originally, the MIC was restricted to ten worshippers in attendance at prayers before 9 a.m. An anonymous complaint earlier this year led to an inspection that found the facility in violation of that cap.

The changing regulations now base attendance on the the 92 parking spaces available in the lot, which were not completed when the first regulations were implemented. The center can also offer morning prayers between 4-9 a.m.

“We were very excited that the county was able to come to the decision that they were on Wednesday,” said Sultan Chaudhry, president of the MIC Board of Directors. “This was something that our congregation had been looking forward to for more than nine months now. We’re happy that they were able to look at all of the data and analysis from county staff and come to a decision that allows us to freely practice our religion in Fairfax County.”

Chaudhry said MIC is committed to being respectful and courteous to the neighboring Carrington subdivision, who during the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting reiterated concerns about early morning noise from the center, particularly from cars locking and unlocking in early hours.

According to Chaudhry, morning prayer service resumed the day after approval was granted.

“It was great,” said Chaudhry. “We had about 20 vehicles come and about the same number of worshippers. There was a feeling of energy and relief, and there was a feeling of gratefulness to god, to the county, and to our interfaith partners and supporters that stood with us.”

Photo via Facebook

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(Updated at 11 a.m.) Enjoy the free street parking in Tysons while it lasts, because its days may be numbered.

At a Fairfax County Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) discussed plans to hire a professional parking consultant to explore parking management in Tysons and nearby Reston.

“The intent is to pilot parking management in these areas and expand to other areas as appropriate,” said Henri Stein McCartney, a transportation planner with FCDOT

McCartney said the goal of the study is to determine whether to implement on-street parking restrictions in Tysons and if so, what form those restrictions will take.

“The goal is timely turnover of spaces to encourage space availability,” said McCartney. “Numerous studies show motorists will circle [the] block searching for free on-street parking. [Parking restrictions] reduce number of cars searching for on-street parking. If paid for parking implemented, revenues could enforce parking rules.”

The study would also look at whether to implement paid parking or time restricted parking. Paid parking could take the form of a mobile kiosk or an app, like ParkMobile.

The second option would be time restricted parking, which could either be free or paid. However, McCartney said timed parking often requires more intensive enforcement efforts, with officers needed to monitor timed parking zones.

McCartney said FCDOT had not yet determined how much revenue paid parking could generate in Tysons.

FCDOT staff said the first area of study will be Tysons. Both the county’s comprehensive plan and urban design guidelines call for some form of “managed parking on future grid streets” in Tysons. FCDOT is apparently eyeing the new streets constructed at Boro development as some of the first “managed streets” in Tysons.

Implementation of paid parking in areas like the Reston Town Center has been controversial, to say the least.

McCartney said the study will have to also make sure the parking restrictions don’t push cars into the neighborhoods surrounding Tysons.

“This is inevitable, but it’s something we need to walk into very carefully,” said Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity. “Parking fees drive behavior. We have the real life example of Reston when they implemented those fees and all the angst it created… and loss of revenue.”

Herrity emphasized that any study of paid parking will have to involve close communication with the business community.

“The mistakes made in the past can be a helpful learning process,” said Supervisor Cathy Hudgins.

Hudgins said one of the biggest lessons from the Reston Town Center parking fiasco that should be applied to Tysons is specifying the goals of parking management, like whether the paid parking is a way of raising revenue or managing transportation.

Even before the recommendations come in, the committee seemed supportive of some form of paid or timed parking restrictions. From Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova:

“Tysons is an urban area that is being developed. It’s important that we manage the parking. In most urban areas that is done. The last thing you want to happen would be people to park on the streets all day long as employees and then customers and people doing business in Tysons don’t have a place to park for a relatively short period of time. It is a complicated issue and we’re doing the right thing starting with a consulting study.”

The study will be measuring on-street and off-street parking supply and demand and model future demand based on approved development plans. In the end, it will recommend appropriate strategies and an implementation plan.

FCDOT staff said an update on the study will be given between six to nine months later, but the recommendations won’t be available for at least another year.

The estimated cost of parking study is $100,000.

Image via Fairfax County Department of Transportation

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“Nothing in your hands. Obey commands.”

The Fairfax Police Department has released a short video via Facebook Live giving instructions on what to do if you find yourself in an active shooter situation.

Lt. Brian Ruck, a police officer from the Franconia District, said most shootings are over in around 10 minutes, ending either in “self termination” or law enforcement intervention. Ruck said most shootings are a single shooter, though law enforcement often gets reports of a second shooter in the chaos as a shooting starts.

Ruck encouraged people to follow the “Run, Hide, Fight” policy recommended by the Fairfax County Police Department.

“It’s a decision based model,” said Ruck. “Every situation is different, dynamic and complex. Unfortunately [we] can’t give viewers an exact answer to what they should do.”

If possible, Ruck says anyone in an active shooter situation should do their best to flee the area.

“Running away from bad situation is ideal,” Ruck said. “But they may have to hide if they can’t. Barricade the door. The last phase is fight. If you have to fight for your life, that’s what you need to do.”

Even once the police arrive, that isn’t always a guarantee of safety. In November, security guard Jemel Roberson was killed in Chicago by police who mistook him for the shooter. Ruck said it’s important to when police show up to empty your hands, show them to police officers and obey commands.

“Get on the ground and have nothing in your hands,” said Ruck. “Expect them to shout at you and have weapons drawn. People see that and it’s traumatic, but officers are going in with intention of stopping a threat… Nothing in your hands. Obey commands.”

If you’re hiding, Ruck says to remain in hiding until the police come and find you.

In the meantime, Ruck encouraged people to be aware of escape routes, hiding spaces, and potential weapons around them.

“Play the ‘what if’ game,” said Ruck. “If I had to fight for my life right now, what around me could I use to defend myself? How could I get out of here? What’s an alternate exit? Not just at work, do it at home with your kids.”

Ruck also encouraged anyone who knows of someone who shows signs of mental distress and might become violent to contact the police. Ruck said a common misconception is that police’s only response is to arrest the person in question. Ruck said police could also help respond to a mental crisis and get the person to care they need.

“We’re told frequently afterwards that people saw the signs, that there was someone exhibiting certain symptoms,” said Ruck. “These people were projecting this and no one called… if you see something, say something.”

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Fairfax County is currently mulling over changes to its sign ordinance that has schools, local realtors, and Tysons Corner Center concerned.

At a Planning Commission meeting last week, the commission deferred a decision on the new sign regulations until Jan. 16 to allow for more discussion on the impact of the ordinance.

Currently, county staff are reviewing changes to the zoning ordinance to make the language “content neutral.” The change is in response to the United States Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, which ruled that localities that define sign categories based on the message expressed, or content-based, is unconstitutional unless it furthers a compelling governmental interest.

Rather than allow free reign for Fairfax residents of businesses to erect signs regardless of content, a proposed amendment would tighten sign regulations across the board.

The proposed changes to the sign ordinance are wide-ranging but often minor corrections. One of the biggest changes is that one freestanding building identification sign is permitted for each detached building and such signs must be limited to identifying the name of the building or the individual enterprises located therein, the address, trademark or identifying symbol of the building occupant.

For instance, a real estate sign pointing to a nearby open house, but placed at the entrance to a subdivision, would be prohibited.

One of the proposed changes alters the definition of a sign from something “visible from the public right-of-way or adjoining property” to “visible from any street.” It’s a relatively small change, but any tampering with language in county ordinances could have a ripple effect. According to the staff documents, for instance, a representative of Tysons Corner Center expressed concerns about the impact of the change.

Tysons Corner Center currently has sign exemptions, allowing exceptions to current county rules, but these exemptions are based on the existing definitions of visibility from the public right-of-way or adjoining properties. As a result of these concerns, staff said new language was written into the proposed ordinance to allow greater flexibility.

According to county staff, minor signs — formerly referred to as temporary signs — were the largest challenge in the zoning ordinance rewrite.

“While staff acknowledges that the proposed language could negatively affect some developments that are currently exempt from regulation, we continue to recommend the language found in the draft text as it provides the closest level of regulation as the current provision.”

A representative from real estate investment company Macerich, which owns Tysons Corner Center, said at the meeting that the company had a laundry list of concerns but has been working with county staff to whittle those issues down. Another local realtor at the meeting said the new ordinance could push open house signs and corner signs off of local lawns and into already-crowded street medians.

The sign ordinance changes also sparked concern with the inclusion of language that would remove government exemptions from sign ordinances.

“Staff has received comments from both Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), neither of which is in favor of eliminating the current exemption status. Of particular concern to the Park Authority is the limitation on the size, number and location of minor signs permitted for non-residential uses in a residential district. These signs are used to announce summer concert series, camps and other activities at the parks. The schools have raised concerns with the proposed height of permitted freestanding signs for non-residential uses in residential districts which is proposed to be limited to 8 feet in height.”

As a result, staff said at the Planning Commission meeting that there would be modifications to the ordinance allowing some exceptions for schools and parks.

Planning Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner said at the meeting he was generally in favor of holding Fairfax County government to many of the same sign regulations as the public.

“There’s something to be said with us being able to model our behavior consistent with what we expect from the private sector,” said Niedzielski-Eichner. “There is a different benefit to be realized to the public with the park authority and public school [having] latitude with signs, but frankly I’m comfortable with them doing it within a regulatory context… not unfettered.”

Photo via Flickr/Alan Levine

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