Tysons, VA

Meetings to decide the fate of the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center kicked off last night in Falls Church.

About two dozen people gathered last night at the Falls Church City Hall (300 Park Avenue) for the first of three regional meetings to get input on what should happen to the facility.

The center currently serves Falls Church, Arlington and Alexandria as a detention facility for kids deemed a flight risk while awaiting trial or a danger to themselves or others. But since juvenile incarceration rates have fallen more than 72%  since 2006, according to a spokesperson for the Moss Group, the center no longer fills its 70-bed capacity. 

Community leaders commissioned a study by the Moss Group to evaluate the efficiency of the center and options for its future.

Currently, there are 27 kids held in the facility, Johnitha McNair, the executive director of the center, said. Options include closing the center, remodeling it or simply cutting down on staff and bed size.

Attendees included curious community members from Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church, board members who run the center, representatives from the NAACP, members of the Falls Church City Council, an American University student and professional child advocates.

A spokesman from the NAACP said he is concerned about what will happen if the center is closed, noting that the numbers may rise and fall throughout the years, potentially leaving the three cities in a conundrum if incarceration rates rise again.

Several attendees brought up issues not with the capacity issues of the facility, but rather with how the facility is run and how the physical design might impact the kids being held within.

Attorney Juliet Hiznay, who has been practicing law in the realm of education law and has experience helping children with special needs, said she toured the facility in 2018 and was disheartened by what she saw. She said she doesn’t think that the detention center can be repurposed without extreme structural changes.

“My concern is not about the goodwill of the people running the facility, but the physical limitations of the facility itself,” she said, adding that the cell-block structure of the center is poorly designed for kids. “I find it hard to believe it could be repurposed for any type of therapeutic intervention.”

Hiznay said there were few windows in the facility that allowed for suitable sunlight, limited mobility within in the center, very few opportunities for kids to get exercise and fresh air and that the kids she interacted with seemed desperate for attention.

McNair, the center’s director, countered a few of Hiznay’s statements through, saying that kids in the detention center have “ample” time to play outside and interact with one another. NcNair also said that there are at least two 12″ by 48″ windows in each cell room and that kids are kept busy throughout the day with activities such as group therapy, social rehabilitation programs and reentry initiatives.

There was discussion throughout the evening about redesigning the center to include a more open “dorm-style” floor plan that are seen in other detention facilities, which would stop queuing when kids try to enter new rooms, but experts at the meeting expressed potential security concerns around this idea.

Moss Group representatives at the meeting said they work with an architect who can advise city officials on their options to remodel the center.

“We work very hard to recognize that our clients are children,” McNair said at last night’s meeting, adding that she hopes to keep the center in operation and is open to structural changes that would allow the center to rethink its approach by making programs more focused on mental health and constructive development.

Mental health and the ability to better assist kids that walk through the center’s doors came up several times throughout the meeting.

McNair said that the staff noticed that a lot of the young women were acting up around 8 p.m. when they were supposed to go to bed. After some thinking, they realized that this was because bedtime was when a lot of the girls in the center experienced abuse at home and were possibly experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

“We already know the percent of kids going into these facilities with trauma and mental health issues are very high,” Hiznay told Tysons Reporter in an interview after the public hearing.

Now, two more similar public hearings will be held in Alexandria (Lee Center Exhibit Hall, 1108 Jefferson Street) next Wednesday (Nov. 20) from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and in Arlington (Central Library Auditorium, 1015 N. Quincy Street) next Thursday (Nov. 21) from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

People who cannot attend the meeting can fill out an online survey.

The final report from the Moss Group is set to come out in January. The Alexandria, Falls Church and Alexandria governments will review it in February and March. It is unclear when a final plan for the center will be announced.

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The Falls Church City Council clashed over whether or not to allow motorized scooters on city sidewalks.

Councilmembers voted unanimously on Tuesday (Nov. 12) to continue working on the plan that would allow motorized scooter companies to take a test drive in Falls Church. But the vote was split 4-3 when it came to banning people from using such mobility devices on sidewalks, with the exception of Routes 29 and 7.

The safety of scooter riders and pedestrians was the top concern for city councilmembers as they discussed the implications of banning scooter riders on sidewalks.

Councilmember Phil Duncan, who voted in favor of banning scooters from sidewalks, said that cars should be mindful of scooters on the road and that riders should use bike lanes whenever possible.

Duncan noted a finding from the staff report, which claimed that scooter riders ranked sidewalks as their least favorite place to ride.

The city council decided to allow exceptions on Routes 29 and 7 based on safety findings from a staff report.

Councilmembers Letty Hardi, Ross Litkenhous and Marybeth Connelly voted against the ordinance to ban scooters on sidewalks.

“Preventing people from riding where they feel safe would just make this mode of transportation a non-starter. It would make this pilot pointless,” Hardi said.

Councilmember Connelly echoed Hardi’s concerns, but pushed for a compromise.

“We are assuming we are protecting the walkers on the sidewalks by saying ‘no scooters,’ but not protecting the scooter riders, who are also our neighbors, by saying they must ride always in the street,” she said.

Instead, she suggested adding another ordinance into the plan that would require scooter riders to give pedestrians the right of way on sidewalks. The city attorney present at the meeting noted that this was a viable idea but would require further discussion.

The city attorney suggested staff could work on a more efficient plan that would take her concerns into consideration.

“We have to have some assumption that the people in Falls Church who are using the scooters are not idiots,” Connelly said. “We have to rely on the judgment of the people using the scooters.”

The Falls Church City Council will review a second reading of the ordinance at their upcoming meeting on Dec. 9.

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As the January deadline looms, the Falls Church City Council discussed proposals for e-scooters before state laws take effect and the city loses its chance to create regulations.

Concerns arose at both the Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 City Council meetings, including potential funding issues, underage use, parking and the upcoming pilot program. The pilot program would be limited to two scooter vendors, leaving companies to compete for a one-year trial period, Councilmember Ross Litkenhous said.

If implemented, the program would allow 14 scooters per 1,000 people into city limits. On average, the scooters would cost users $1 to unlock and a $0.25 per-minute fee, according to statistics gathered from Arlington and Alexandria.

On average 20% of e-scooter users ride them for social or entertainment purposes, while roughly 20% use them for shopping and errands. Another 20% use them to commute to the metro. Scooters could help to solve the first-to-last mile commuter problem, an expert brought in by the City Council and Councilmember Phil Duncan said.

There was some talk at the Oct. 21 meeting about using scooters to raise revenue for the city, by adding on taxes and unlocking fees. The city would charge each vendor an $8,000 permitting fee, regardless of fleet size, according to city documents. But no one seemed to have a concrete answer to the total profits.

“It would be interesting to see how much we can get out of it without impacting the demand,” Litkenhous said.

Councilmember Dave Snyder took another perspective, saying that it might cost the city more money. He said that police would be distracted by monitoring people, ensuring they are following laws and guidelines while riding the scooters.

Parking was yet another major focus of the conversations.

Several people suggested corrals, while others said that they encourage people to lean them against polls that are out of the way of pedestrians and cars. All of the councilmembers agreed that measures should be taken to ensure that they are not being left in the way of traffic or parked illegally in yards.

“Parking is going to be one of the major sources of complaints we will get, so we should prepare for that,” Councilmember Letty Hardi said.

Going forward, the Falls Church City Council will continue to discuss potential implementation plans before they make a final decision. At the next City Council meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 12), councilmembers are expected to discuss a first reading of the new ordinance regarding motorized scooters and shared mobility devices.

“I really think the success of this pilot is going to hinge on good communication,” Hardi said. “Lowering the bar to explain this won’t be perfect, [but] is important.”

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The three incumbents for the Falls Church City Council — David Tarter, Phil Duncan and Letty Hardi — won reelection yesterday.

The city announced the official results today, saying that 45% of the 9,910 active, registered voters in the city voted in the election.

“The last ‘off-year election’ (with no federal or gubernatorial races on the ballot) was Nov. 3, 2015, where 42.1% of active voters participated,” the press release said.

Here are the results for the City Council race:

  • Letty C. Hardi: 31.1%
  • David Tarter: 30.3%
  • Philip Duncan: 25.2%
  • Stuart Whitaker: 12.5%

The councilmembers will be sworn in on Monday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Council Chambers (300 Park Avenue). The City Council will then vote on the mayor and vice mayor on Monday, Jan. 6.

For the city’s school board, Philip Reitinger was re-elected and will be joined by newcomers Susan Dimock and Laura Downs.

Here are the results for the school board race:

  • Laura Downs: 31.5%
  • Susan Dimock: 30%
  • Philip Reitinger: 24.1%
  • Douglass Stevens: 13.7%

Democrat Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was newly elected as the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church.

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An annual campaign in the City of Falls Church this month encourages locals to spend money locally.

The Falls Church #LiveLocalFC campaign invites community members to take advantage of stores and services within city limits while participating in social media challenges for prizes through the end of November.

There is a bingo card online that participants can complete and post on social media with the #LiveLocalFC hashtag to qualify them for weekly prizes, though it is not clear what the prizes will be. The bingo card presents challenges such as “meet a local business owner,” “have food delivered” and “support a non-profit.”

Residents are encouraged to have 20% or more of their shopping or monthly spending happen within the city.

Councilmember Ross Litkenhous began the campaign along with other councilmembers and the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce.

“Last year we kicked off the live local campaign,” Litkenhous said. “Those efforts really paid off.”

The city manager and chief financial officer said the sales and meal tax revenue from last year following the campaign exceeded expectations by over $750,000, according to Litkenhous.

The initiative offers other benefits, including economic development in the city, a boosted sense of community, increased funding for schools and infrastructure, easement of traffic, reduction of pollutants into the environment and creation of jobs, according to a press release.

November was chosen as #LiveLocal month because the holiday season is around the corner and many people are starting to shop for gifts, Litkenhous said.

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In an ongoing effort to address flooding issues in the city, the Falls Church City Council approved a stormwater task force earlier this week.

The task force will work with city staff to update the list of priority projects for stormwater improvements in the Watershed Management Plan — sanitary backflows are not in the task force’s scope of work, according to the resolution.

More from the resolution:

What is envisioned with this task force is a rigorous, yet transparent set of criteria that will be used to grade projects. The mindset of the members of the task force must be to help the City as a whole grapple with the problems of flooding. The end result should be a ranking of projects in order of the most cost effective stormwater improvements that will protect the most people.

The task force will report to the City Council, City Manager Wyatt Shields said at the meeting on City Council meeting on Monday (Oct. 28).

Staff recommends that the task force consists of up to seven members, saying in the resolution that a larger size might make scheduling and attending meetings more difficult.

“There could be a liaison but we were not envisioning a city councilmember [on the task force],” Shields said.

Mayer David Tarter suggested that the task force include at-large members to prevent “regionalism” on the taskforce.

“I suspect that having people from each of the districts is probably a good idea,” Mayor David Tarter said. “If someone’s not represented, then they may feel like their interests aren’t being represented.”

The task force’s members are set to be determined before the end of the year.

“The idea is for the deadline for applications to be in mid-November so that we can get them to the Appointments Committee and then to City Council,” Shields said, adding that the goal is to get the appointments finalized by December.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the task force on Monday.

The task force is expected to end on July 1, unless extended by the City Council.

“There will be open meetings. Hopefully, a lot of the public will come to them so they can see the decision-making process,” Shields said.

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(Updated 10/25/19) The City of Falls Church is a 10-minute drive from rapidly expanding Tysons, but members of the Falls Church City Council want to maintain the feeling of a small community while still capitalizing on innovation and growth.

The City of Falls Church operates as an independent entity under the Falls Church City Council while Tysons still has no official governing body of its own, outside that of Fairfax County.

Councilmember Ross Litkenhous said that Falls Church wants to stay unique and its small population and efficient city council allows the city to stay “agile.”

“We are by no means trying to keep up with anybody,” he said.

Tysons Reporter talked to the councilmembers, seeking their input about the future of Falls Church.

“Always Been a Cut-Through”

Several councilmembers said the city is already seeing increased traffic thanks to Tysons’ urban sprawl.

The increase in traffic was brought on by the tolls on I-66 and the increasing popularity of apps like Google Maps, Litkenhous said.

Litkenhous worked in commercial development for 10 years before becoming a councilmember.

Councilmembers were originally told by the Virginia Department of Transportation that the addition of freeways tolls around the area would not impact traffic flow, he said, but people started driving through the city to avoid the tolls.

Now, the city is faced with concerns about pedestrian and bicycle safety that come with more traffic. Litkenhous cited several incidences concerning the safety of residents, especially kids.

There have been a few pedestrian deaths in the last few months in the Falls Church area, which are spurring discussions with officials.

But, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly noted that it is important to remember that “Falls Church has always been a cut-through” and a “crossroad” in the Northern Virginia area.

“Mini Tysons”

In August, the city broke ground on a new project that focuses on improving pedestrian access and traffic flow near the upcoming George Mason High School.

The $15 million infrastructure investment will make the area safer and open up accessibility to the future mixed-use retail space, Cindy Mester, the Falls Church Assistant City Manager, said.

The mixed-use retail space is being developed by the same people who built the Wharf in D.C., Mester said, adding there will be a grocery store, a senior living facility, an arts center, restaurants and retail shops in the development.

Mester referred to the upcoming space as Falls Church’s own “Mini Tysons.”

Enticing Techies

When it comes to the evolution within the city’s limits, Litkenhous supports the idea of Falls Church evolving as a tech hub.

“Here in Falls Church, we’ve had a chance to capitalize on the indirect spinoff [of Tysons],” Litkenhous said.

With the new startups and tech companies in Tysons, it allows local high school students to take on fellowships or internships with innovative and entrepreneurial companies, according to Litkenhous, further encouraging students to pursue STEM-related fields.

With the new startups and tech companies in Tysons, it allows local high school students to take on fellowships or internships with innovative and entrepreneurial companies, according to Litkenhous.

Though Litkenhous said he would love to have some of these companies move into Falls Church, he realizes offices are limited and added that a co-working space within city limits would be a solution. “We can’t work in a vacuum here and we recognize that,” he said. 

A Stroll in a New Direction 

Unlike Tysons through, Litkenhous said Falls Church focuses on small businesses and walkability within city limits. “We’ve got Tysons beat on walkability by a mile.” 

Last year, the City Council started the “Live Local Campaign,” sparked by Litkenhous, which encourages people to eat, play and spend money within the city’s limits.

Councilmember Phil Duncan said he keeps tabs on local businesses moving into the city and tries to support them by attending grand openings.

“I think there’s a good mix of big names and more local, family-run businesses,” he said, adding that some businesses that would have previously passed up Falls Church might realize that it is a new market.

“This whole area will become a great American city,” Duncan said.

Coming up in November, the city will host its second “Live Local Campaign” to encourage people to spend money within the community by eating at local restaurants and shopping for holiday gifts from small companies.

Both Litkenhous and Connelly said they want people to follow in their example and take advantage of all the dining and shopping options within the area.

Ultimately, Mester said she thinks the people in Falls Church help to make it special and unique.

“We have a caring and wonderful workforce,” she said. 

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As election season heats up, debates give voters a chance to hear from candidates and learn more about pressing issues that matter to them most.

Throughout October, there will be several public forums around the area hosted by community organizations.

Wednesday, Oct. 16: Providence District candidates

The Providence District Candidate Forum will take place from 7 -9 p.m. at the Providence District Community Center (3001 Vaden Drive). This is an opportunity to meet the candidates running for the Providence District School Board and Providence District Supervisor seats. This event is hosted by the League of Women Voters in the Fairfax Area.

Thursday, Oct. 17: Dranesville District candidates

The League of Women Voters-Fairfax Area will host a forum at the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue). Speakers will include those running for Dranesville District Supervisor, Dranesville District School Board Member and House District 34, which represents Great Falls, parts of McLean and the Wolf Trap area. It starts at 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 24: Falls Church City Council candidates

Attendees will be able to hear from the four candidates vying for three seats on the Falls Church City Council starting at 7 p.m. at the Falls Church American Legion Hall, Post 130 (400 N. Oak Street).

The candidates are: Phil Duncan, Letty Hardi and David Tarter — incumbents — and Stuart Whitaker. Former candidate Thomas Cash dropped out of the race in August.

Wednesday, Oct. 30: Dranesville District candidates

The McLean Citizens Association will hold a forum at the McLean Community Center with the candidates running for Dranesville District Supervisor, Dranesville District School Board Member and House District 34. The event starts at 7:30 p.m.

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The Mary Riley Styles Public Library in Falls Church is reporting $2 million in unforeseen expenses for its upcoming renovation project.

The city is working to revamp the history room and add 3,174 square feet, along with new features to the aging Mary Riley Styles Public Library (120 N. Virginia Avenue). Voters approved the estimated $8.3 million budget in fall 2016.

Currently, the total estimated budget for the project is $10.8 million and has a shortfall of $2.1 million, Project Manager Joel Timmins said.

“So far we have spent $1.3 million,” Timmins said.

At a Falls Church City Council meeting last night (Monday), representatives of the library project said that unexpected costs stemmed from streetscape design, LEED Silver certification, added security measures and other areas.

Mark Manetti from BKV Group said that the upgraded library will be about two points short of receiving LEED Silver certification and that the team might need to purchase off-site credits to reach the 50-point minimum.

“To spend that kind of money to buy off-site credits is kind of anathema. Are there things we could do here to achieve LEED Silver?” Councilmember Dan Sze said. “Is it more tinkling with the HVAC? Is it more insulation?”

“I would have a preference to on-site energy reductions, efficiencies, et cetera as opposed to buying off-site credits,” Mayor David Tarter said.

Timmins said that the city’s Planning Commission said that the project needs a streetscape and the arborist recommended irrigation, which added costs.

Manetti added that the team didn’t realize initially that the project would need a streetscape design.

City Manager Wyatt Shields said that the library’s board and staff were primarily focused on the library when determining the original budget estimates for the project.

“I should have raised my hand and said we need to expand this to do the full site and the streetscape,” Shields said.

Shields added that he should have escalated the consultant’s estimate in 2014.

“Working with a 2014 number is difficult and not realistic or practical,” Shields said.

“What we asked the voters to approve for this particular project for generally what we wanted to do both in terms of expanding square footage and all of the stuff that comes along with it — forget cost escalation, forget tariffs, forget all of that — it just never seemed to comport,” Councilmember Ross Litkenhous said.

Litkenhous said he is frustrated that the referendum for the voters was $8 million instead of a higher number.

“If the referendum had said $12 million or $14 million, it probably still would have passed,” he said. “At the end of the day, there is going to be a cost overrun and it’s going to be significant.”

The total cost should be determined within a few weeks, Timmins said. Construction is slated to start by February. The library is scheduled to reopen March 2021.

Councilmember Phil Duncan said that he’s “fairly satisfied with what we’re paying.”

“The more I talk — the more all of us talk — the more expensive it gets,” Duncan said.

Image via City of Falls Church

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A park in the City of Falls Church will now honor the city’s oldest business and the family behind it.

Located in the 100 block of W. Broad Street, “the park has generally been known as a downtown plaza, but is now a popular gathering place in the heart of the City in need of a name to identify it for publicity and place-making,” according to city documents.

The Falls Church City Council unanimously voted to name the park “Mr. Brown’s Park” to honor Brown’s Hardware (100 W. Broad Street)and the three generations of Browns that go back to 1883.

A survey of locals showed “overwhelming community support to reference Brown’s Hardware,” according to city documents.

“This park was first created in the 1960s and was significantly renovated this year using funds provided by the Economic Development Authority (EDA),” according to city documents. “The park is currently being used for events such as live music, yoga lessons, and children’s entertainers.”

Jim Snyder, the city’s economic development director, told the council that the park, which was built in 1966, is well used and needs restoration.

Synder also said that the park might get a mural on the wall. “It’s been painted, so we have a blank canvas,” he said.

In response to Councilmember Dan Sze’s question about funding for signage and a gateway to the park, Snyder said that signage will cost about $10,000.

A grand reopening of the park to celebrate the new name will take place on Monday, Sept. 30.

“I think it’s a great name,” Sze said.

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