Tysons, VA

Santa will once again grace Falls Church City with his presence this December, but he will have a lighter sleigh in tow.

The City of Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department announced on Nov. 19 that its Santamobile – a fire truck festooned with colorful string lights and other decorations – will not distribute candy canes and safety literature when it tours the area this year due to the health risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to the current pandemic, our event coordinators have decided that although we will still have Santamobile this year, it will be modified to avoid in-person interaction, in order to protect the safety of our staff and the public,” the FCVFD said.

As in previous years, the Santamobile will first set out on Dec. 15 with stops in each of the city’s neighborhoods over the next four nights before venturing into neighboring Fairfax and Arlington counties. Each night will go from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., and the last day of the event will be Dec. 23.

Here is the Santamobile’s current schedule for its tour through Falls Church City:

  • Dec. 15: South of W. Broad Street in the St. James Cemetery and Virginia Forest neighborhoods to Seaton Lane and S. Oak Street south of the Tripps Run bridge
  • Dec. 16: North of W. Broad Street, including Little Falls Street
  • Dec. 17: South of W. Broad Street from the Tyler Gardens and Virginia Forest neighborhoods south of Seaton Lane as well as streets north of the Tripps Run bridge
  • Dec. 18: The Little Falls neighborhood and streets east of Washington Street, including the Madison Park and Whittier Park neighborhoods
  • Dec. 19: Broadmont neighborhood and streets on the north side of Hillwood east of Cherry Street

A map of the vehicle’s planned routes can be found on the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department’s website at fallschurchfire.org/santamobile.

“Please note that routes are subject to change based on road conditions including parking, traffic, and construction,” the FCVFD says.

Any changes to the Santamobile schedule will be posted to the FCVFD Facebook page, which will have a link to a SantaTracker. The department says questions about the Santamobile should be directed to [email protected], not its fire station.

The FCVFD says that the Santamobile will not be able to respond to requests for private drive-by visits.

In addition to bringing holiday cheer to families around the city, the annual Santamobile serves the function of raising awareness about fire safety, according to the FCVFD.

This year, the department’s public education team is asking community members to fill out an online survey about what safety presentations might be most useful to them. The survey can be found on the FCVFD website at fallschurchfire.org/public-education-survey.

Photo courtesy City of Falls Church

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and with that brings closures around the county. Let’s take a look at what’s open, and what’s closed.

All Fairfax County government offices will be closed on Nov. 26 and 27 for the holiday. 

The Fairfax Connector will operate on a Sunday service on Thursday and a holiday weekday service on Friday. 

Fairfax County Public Schools provided seven-day meal kits for Thanksgiving week, which were available for pickup through Nov. 24. 

All Falls Church City government offices will be closed on Nov. 26 and 27. Thursday trash and recycling will be picked up today. 

The Town of Vienna offices will also be closed on both Nov. 26 and 27, and there will be no waste collection on those days.

The McLean Community Center will be closed on both Thanksgiving and the Friday after. 

All Fairfax County parks will be closed on Thanksgiving, but all RECenters will be open until noon, and they will run normal hours on the day after Thanksgiving.

Photo by Shoeib Abolhassani/Unsplash

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Monday Morning Notes

Routine Maintenance Closes Parts of Clemyjontri Park — “While some sections are closed, others will remain open and the work will rotate throughout the playground from Sat., Nov. 21 through approximately Fri., Dec. 4, 2020.” [Fairfax County Park Authority/Twitter]

Tysons Sheraton Liquidation Sale Shows Impact of Pandemic — “[Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association Eric] Terry estimated 20 Virginia hotels closed on a temporary basis during the pandemic, and although most have since reopened, the outlook is bleak. More hotels may follow the Sheraton’s path.” [DCist]

Social Distancing Santa Offers Sense of Normalcy — “The Wells were among a stready stream of families entering Santa’s Headquarters at Tysons Corner Center Friday night with a reservation in hand for their annual picture with Santa Claus.” [ABC7-WJLA]

Pandemic Pushes Key Retailers out of Founders Row Project — “Business casualties from the coronavirus pandemic hit home for the City of Falls Church, with major retailers in hybrid theater-restaurant Studio Movie Grill and City Works restaurant both backing out of their commitment to the Founders Row Development due to financial troubles.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Friday Morning Notes

Former Town of Vienna Mayor’s Home Spared for Now — “A sprawling home previously owned by a late former Vienna Mayor Charles Robinson Jr. and his wife, late former Town Council member Maud Robinson, will not be demolished just yet. The Vienna Town Council unanimously agreed Nov. 16 to postpone until Dec. 7 its decision on a contract to raze the home.” [Sun Gazette]

Falls Church’s PAE Inc. Buys Up Intelligence Services Provider — “The Falls Church defense contractor will acquire Arlington-based intelligence services provider Metis Solutions LLC for $92 million in an all-cash deal, executives from PAE said Monday.” [Washington Business Journal]

McLean High School Students Named Finalists for Journalism Awards — “Student journalists who work on McLean High’s The Highlander news publication have been named finalists in several 2020 National Scholastic Press Association individual awards categories. Being named a finalist in any of these categories means these student journalists are among the top 10 in the nation.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Falls Church City School Board Veteran Dies at 87 — “In his adopted home of Falls Church, Jerry [Barrett] served for eight years each on the boards of the local school system and Northern Virginia Community College.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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The results of a recent survey on whether to rename Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School triggered surprise, anger, and tears during a Falls Church City Public Schools School Board meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 17).

A majority of respondents — 56% overall — support keeping the names Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, two key historical figures from Virginia who publicly supported an end to slavery, while privately enslaving Black people. For George Mason, 26% support a name change, and for Thomas Jefferson, that population is 23%. The rest had no opinion.

K12 Insight, a consultant hired by the school board, surveyed parents, staff members, students in grades 6-12, and community members from Oct. 14 to 28 to gauge whether they want to see new names for the schools. For both schools, three-quarters of the community members who responded wanted to keep the names, and the margins were smaller for parents, students, and staff.

The discussion to rename the schools began on June 30. With the survey results back, school board members have scheduled a vote on whether to move forward with the name changes for Dec. 8.

Those who support changing the names cited the fact that the men participated in slavery and urged the school to embrace social change and support students who may feel marginalized.

Those who voted to keep the names responded that slavery was a norm at the time that should not disqualify these men from being honored.

School Board member Lawrence Webb, the only Black person on the board, said during a work session on Tuesday that he was surprised by the results of the survey.

“There are a lot of folks who are progressive and supportive of community relations,” he said. “I’m sort of bothered by how folks have couched this conversation of ‘This is something that was acceptable at the time.'”

Webb disagreed with those who characterized a school name change as a waste of resources. The amount of money would be “nominal,” and for George Mason, the timing would coincide with an ongoing project to build a brand new high school.

According to FCCPS, renaming George Mason would cost an estimated $96,760, and renaming Thomas Jefferson would cost around $13,500. The K12 Insight survey cost $8,500. Read More

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The City of Falls Church’s Use of Force Review Committee has created a survey to gauge public perception of and experiences with the city’s police department and sheriff’s office. The survey will be open until Friday, Dec. 4 at 5 p.m.

According to a press release from the city, the survey aims to provide anecdotes to help the UFR Committee inform their work and provide recommendations to the City Council based on responses. 

The survey results will be available on the UFR Committee’s website once evaluated.

The Falls Church City Council established the UFR Committee in June amid nationwide protests of police brutality prompted by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minn.

The committee is part of the city council’s commitment to the Reimagining Policing Pledge, which urges localities to review use-of-force policies, engage the community, report findings to the community, reform the use of force policies, and seek community feedback. 

The committee is made up of seven community members, five City employees, and one Falls Church City Public Schools employee. 

The National Institute of Justice says the use of force by law enforcement officers becomes necessary and is permitted under specific circumstances, such as in self-defense or in defense of another individual or group. 

However, there is no universal definition of force. For instance, the release states that the International Association of Chiefs of Police has defined force as “the amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.”

A “National Consensus Policy and Discussion Paper on Use of Force” that 11 different law enforcement leadership and labor organizations, including the IACP, published in 2017 and updated this year states:

Officers shall use only the force that is objectively reasonable to effectively bring an incident under control, while protecting the safety of the officer and others. Officers shall use force only when no reasonably effective alternative appears to exist and shall use only the level of force which a reasonably prudent officer would use under the same or similar circumstances.

The Falls Church City Police Department’s use-of-force policy says “force may be used to the extent reasonably necessary in light of the circumstances confronting the officer and deadly force shall not be employed except as a last resort in any situation in which such force is justified.”

The Fairfax County Police Department defines force as a “physical strike or instrumental contact with an individual, or any significant physical contact that restricts an individual’s movement,” excluding the act of escorting or handcuffing a person who is showing little or no resistance.

Under General Order 540, the FCPD says that force should only be used “to the extent it is objectively reasonable to defend oneself or another, to control an individual during an investigative or mental detention, or to lawfully effect an arrest.”

Falls Church City police are responsible for investigating crimes and public safety-related calls, while the City of Falls Church Sheriff’s Office handles court security, prisoner transport, and civil and criminal processes, such as evictions and seizures. Deputies also assist with traffic enforcement, emergency response, and security for city events like parades and festivals.

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The City of Falls Church wants to expand its stock of affordable housing, but exactly how it should achieve that remains up for debate.

One option currently under consideration is updating the zoning ordinance’s special exception section, which has become a reliable tool for encouraging mixed-use development.

Under a preliminary proposal presented to the Falls Church City Council on Monday (Nov. 16), the criteria for evaluating possible development projects would be amended to incentivize the inclusion of affordable housing units, allow for smaller structures, and better reflect the current state of the commercial real estate market.

“With the economy changing and obviously the future of work and commercial space probably looking pretty different, I do think it’s time for us to modernize this,” City Councilmember Letti Hardy said. “…I know this is something that’s really important to the city and not something we want to take lightly.”

The special exception provisions in Falls Church’s zoning code permit mixed-use development and taller building heights than what is otherwise allowed in underdeveloped commercial areas that the city identified as sites that could be revitalized in its 2005 Comprehensive Plan.

The so-called Planning Opportunity Areas, including downtown Falls Church and West Broad Street, were officially designated as revitalization districts in 2016.

To qualify for consideration under the special exception provision, development proposals must be consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, show a significant net increase in the site’s new commercial square footage, and generate positive net new commercial and residential revenue.

Developers can get an exemption from the latter two criteria if at least 75% of the residential units in their project qualify as affordable housing.

The special exception provision has facilitated the completion of 10 mixed-use projects in Falls Church since 2003, all but one of which have brought in revenue for the city. Four more are now in the works, including Founders Row, the West Falls Church redevelopment, and the Broad and Washington project.

However, there have also been projects that fell through because they were unable to meet the code’s criteria without adding height and density that drew objections from surrounding neighborhoods.

Falls Church Planning Director Paul Stoddard says a proposed development at Tradition Place collapsed in 2016 after the developer started making the building taller to compensate for the net commercial square footage requirements and concessions to the city that were under discussion.

A Park & Lee development application submitted in 2017 failed to obtain approval after facing similar obstacles.

“Because there was some existing commercial [area] on the property, they were not able to meet that net increase in commercial in order to get through without making the project more dense, which was an issue for the community surrounding it,” Falls Church City Senior Planner Shaina Schaffer said.

In addition, none of the special exception projects approved by the city have met the threshold of 75% affordable housing needed to forgo the requirement for adding commercial space, which is less in demand now, especially for traditional office and retail uses.

To address these issues, the Falls Church planning staff is recommending that the city council amend the zoning ordinance so that projects only have to provide new commercial space, rather than adding to the existing square footage. They also say the 75% affordable housing threshold should be reviewed to see if it should be lowered to be more feasible.

Councilmember Debora Hiscott suggested that city staff should reach out to contacts in the developer community to get a sense of what percentage of affordable housing would be palatable for them.

“If we want to know what will bring [affordable housing] in, I think who better to ask than the people who’d be bringing it in?” Hiscott said. “Then we can make decisions from there whether it’s palatable for our community, whether it meets our goals, and brings in that revenue.”

Photo via City of Falls Church Government/Facebook

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The winter holiday season is approaching, and while the usual fun festivities will likely be altered to protect humans during the COVID-19 pandemic, dog owners should also be aware of hazards that may threaten their furry friends as the temperature drops and house decor increases. 

Luckily for Falls Church residents, the local Dogtopia has seen major success since its opening at the end of the summer. The store sold higher than average pre-sales, hitting about 25% above the company’s threshold to determine success, according to Dogtopia Falls Church owner Jim Hannesschlager. 

“We’re really, really excited and a little bit bullish on the potential here for this location, but also the brand in Northern Virginia,” Hannesschlager said. The store is one of two new businesses that have opened in Falls Church since the pandemic. 

Hannesschlegar explained that, during the cold winter months, dogs are especially in need of extra exercise and socialization to compensate for the extra food at Thanksgiving dinner, weather that inspires a slower pace of life, and the general feelings of excitement from the holidays. 

“It heightens our senses,” Hannesschlegar said. “When a dog has heightened senses…just like a human, those heightened senses and that potential anxiety and energy needs to be let out.” 

Luckily, socialization and exercise are two top services that Dogtopia provides to dogs, with education close behind. The dog daycare provider has resources for dogs who need a space for open play during the cold seasons.

When taking dogs on walks outside in the cold weather, however, owners should be cognizant of their dogs’ fur, Hannesschlegar says. Dogs with thicker hides like huskies should be fine to go on cold-weather walks, while dogs with thinner hides, such as greyhounds, may need a coat to wear. 

Hannesschlegar also advised buying dog-friendly snow-melting agents for driveways and sidewalks once it starts snowing.

“First thing a dog does, just like a baby, anything that’s weird, new, or painful goes right into their mouth,” Hannesschlegar said. 

When it comes to hazards around the house, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends keeping wires and ornaments out of reach, making sure candles are never left unattended, and avoiding mistletoe and holly as well as noisy toys such as poppers. Even creating a quiet room or space for pets can ease their anxiety in high-energy settings.

Photo via Jim Kalligas/Unsplash

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Metro Seeks Public Input on Name Change for West Falls Church Station — “As of April 2020, The University of Virginia (UVA) no longer has a presence near West Falls Church. Accordingly, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is requesting that ‘UVA’ be removed from the station’s name in maps and signage.” [WMATA]

Fairfax County Prosecutors Charge Four Men in Burglary Ring — “Most of the suspects lived in New York, but police said they traveled to Virginia to carry out roughly 40 burglaries between October 2018 and February 2020 in homes in Oakton, Fair Oaks, McLean and other locations.” [Washington Post]

McLean Filmmaker Presents Short Film Inspired by McLean Bible Church Trip — “The Other Side seeks to raise awareness for Ethiopia’s abandoned children crisis through narrative film, and the team is currently seeking partners for the development of a feature-length version of the film.” [McLean Connection]

American Legion and Rotary Clubs Laud Service of Veterans in McLean — “The annual event, sponsored by American Legion Post 270 and the Rotary Clubs of McLean and Tysons Corner, began outside in the rain at McLean High School and ended in one of the school’s gymnasiums.” [Inside NOVA]

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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Falls Church City Public Schools will revert to online-only classes for the shortened week leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, FCCPS Superintendent Peter Noonan announced on Monday (Nov. 16).

Students already attending in-person classes at Mount Daniel Elementary School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School will continue doing so, but the one day of in-person learning that had been scheduled for next week will instead be virtual for all students.

Athletics and other activities at Henderson Middle School and George Mason High School have been suspended for the week of Nov. 23 to 27, which was already truncated since Thanksgiving is on Nov. 26. FCCPS will also not provide daycare in any of its buildings that week.

“Today’s data we received from the Virginia Department of Health and Fairfax County Health District is not moving in a good direction,” Noonan said in a letter to families. “While we remain in the moderate category overall, we are continuing to see a rise in the NOVA region data and our home community.”

The five-school system joins its much larger Fairfax County counterpart in reevaluating its plans to provide in-person classes for students after seeing a steady rise in COVID-19 case rates both locally and statewide.

The City of Falls Church has not reported any new COVID-19 cases since it saw four on Nov. 11, but school officials are concerned by trends in Northern Virginia, including an average 7.6% test positivity rate across the region’s four health districts and a rate of 17.6 new cases per 100,000 people as of Nov. 16.

After closing its campuses on Mar. 13 when the novel coronavirus pandemic first hit the area, FCCPS has been phasing groups of students into a hybrid learning model with in-person and virtual instruction since approximately 80 special education and English-language-learning students returned on Oct. 6.

Kindergarten and third-grade students started hybrid learning on Nov. 10. Plans to start in-person classes for elementary school students in first, second, fourth, and fifth grades today were not affected by Noonan’s announcement about Thanksgiving week.

Unlike Fairfax County Public Schools, which reported its first outbreaks last week, FCCPS has not seen any outbreaks since starting in-person instruction, but as of Nov. 16, two staff members and one contractor have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the FCCPS COVID metrics dashboard.

Noonan says the city school system is currently planning to resume hybrid learning after the Thanksgiving break. He urged community members to follow public health guidelines, including avoiding travel unless absolutely necessary and limiting celebrations to household members.

“This temporary pause is vital for our collective school community,” Noonan said. “It provides time and space to ‘hunker down’ and stay in our family configurations to slow and stop the spread of COVID…If we all do our part, we will be able to continue to ‘dial-up’ and reopen schools.”

Photo via FCCPS/Facebook

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