Newsletter
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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Fairfax County officials support the recent reinstatement of the federal eviction mortarium and plan to continue providing rental assistance to those in need.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — at the behest of President Bidenrenewed the ban on evictions through Oct. 3 in areas that have “substantial” or “high” community transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Fairfax County currently has “substantial” transmission, according to the CDC’s COVID data tracker.

County officials have expressed their support for the eviction mortarium, despite some debate over its legality.

“We are glad that the eviction moratorium has been extended, which will continue to provide peace of mind for families across the country,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay wrote in a statement.

Early this year, the county received $34 million for emergency rental assistance from a COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress late last year.

This allowed the county to launch a new Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program in early June aimed at helping not only residents, but landlords as well. Since the program launched, McKay says the county has distributed more than $8 million to 997 households through the ERA.

“In Fairfax County, we’re not dragging our feet,” McKay said. “We know our residents need assistance now, and we’re continuing to build upon our existing human services programs to meet the vastly increased need within our community.”

Help is still needed, though. Even with the federal eviction mortarium in place for most of the last 18 months, 668 writs of eviction and 1,562 unlawful detainers have been issued to county residents since July 2020, according to an Eviction Data Dashboard created by county staff.

Overall, the data shows that the threat of eviction is higher in areas hit harder by COVID-19.

According to the dashboard, the zip codes with the highest number of writs of eviction are 22102, which covers west McLean and parts of Tysons, and 22306 in Alexandria, covering the Groveton neighborhood and parts of the Lee District.

Late last year, Fairfax County created an eviction prevention task force to coordinate a countywide approach to helping keep people in their homes.

Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services Deputy Director Sarah Allen said in a statement that outreach to the county’s most vulnerable communities is ongoing:

Outreach efforts are underway, particularly to support our most vulnerable communities. Fairfax County agencies partner with numerous providers and are available at community events including vaccine equity clinics, health fairs and back-to-school events to ensure that residents are informed of the assistance and services available to them. We are also partnering with non-profit organizations, houses of worship and other faith-based organizations to reach communities in need.

Allen also notes that tenant and landlord checklists and a guide to the eligibility requirements for rent assistance are available in multiple languages, including Arabic, Amharic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

There’s another potentially complicating factor.

The eviction moratorium initially expired on July 31 and was extended on August 3. The CDC order says any eviction completed between August 1 and August 3 is not subjected to the order since it does not operate retroactively, meaning evictions completed during Aug. 1-3 are potentially valid.

However, Allen says the county does not know of any completed evictions during that three-day period.

“We are not aware of any evictions during that gap in time as there is still a court process required to evict,” writes Allen. “County staff is working closely with non-profit legal assistance organizations such as Legal Services of Northern Virginia for support and guidance around the eviction process.”

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Fairfax County could require all of its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when they return to offices this fall.

During their meeting today (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion brought by Chairman Jeff McKay directing County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate whether to implement a vaccine mandate for the county’s 12,000 government employees, who range from library staff to police and solid waste workers.

While the county has reported relatively high vaccination rates, with almost 80% of adults having gotten at least one dose, some people who are eligible for the vaccine are choosing not to get it because of “false information,” according to McKay.

“Getting vaccinated is an act of public charity,” McKay said. “It’s not just about protecting you, but protecting everyone that you work with, every county resident that seeks our services, and everyone that works in our community.”

McKay confirmed that Hill is currently developing a plan for county government employees to return to offices in September.

The board directed Hill to consider providing some exemptions from the vaccine mandate for “religious and medical purposes” as well as requiring face masks and weekly COVID-19 testing for employees who do not qualify for an exemption and continue to refuse to get vaccinated.

In introducing the motion, McKay cited the growing prevalence of the delta variant, which now makes up more than 80% of all new cases in the U.S. and an estimated 69.4% of cases in the mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Like elsewhere in the country, Fairfax County has seen a rise in cases throughout July.

McKay noted that the need to bring COVID-19 case levels back down is especially urgent as Fairfax County Public Schools hopes to reintroduce five days of in-person learning when the new school year starts in August.

“What is happening right now with the delta variant in our community is scary for so many people, and I know it’s scary for our public school system,” McKay said. “Keep in mind that there are thousands of kids in elementary school that don’t have the luxury of getting vaccinated, and we need to do it for them. We need to make sure that our schools can reopen fully and safely, and we all need to get vaccinated to ensure that that happens.”

The board’s move comes as the CDC is expected to announce this afternoon a reversal of its policy allowing unvaccinated people to go maskless indoors, as reported by The Washington Post and other national outlets.

David Taube contributed to this report.

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America won’t celebrate its 250th birthday until 2026, but Fairfax County has decided it’s not too early to start planning the party.

At the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (July 13), Gunston Hall Executive Director Scott Stroh presented a report on behalf of a seven-person work group with recommendations for how the county could observe the U.S.’s semiquincentennial anniversary.

Recommendations touched on thematic, organizational, and practical considerations, among them adopting the word “commemoration” to describe the anniversary, making sure it reflects the “fullest American story,” and issuing a countywide survey of residents about what they want out of the occasion.

Additionally, the work group recommends having an organizational structure, a marketing and promotional plan, and a preliminary multi-year budget set by the end of the year.

“This commemoration offers an important and compelling opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments and progress as a nation and community, but also opportunities to foster cooperation, facilitate conversation, and inspire actions so that all can equally enjoy the benefits of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Stroh said. “Fairfax County is distinctly positioned to lead this effort in Virginia.”

July 4, 2026 will represent 250 years of American independence from Britain, which is generally marked from the full adoption of the Declaration of Independence and formal start of the Revolutionary War. Both nationally and in Virginia, committees, organizations, and work groups are taking shape to start preparations for the anniversary.

Fairfax County is the only municipality in the Commonwealth to have initiated this effort to date, according to materials provided to the board.

“I’m glad we are leading by example,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said.

The board established Fairfax County’s work group in October 2020. It includes representatives from Visit Fairfax, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Fairfax County History Commission, and the City of Fairfax Regional Library.

Going forward, the work group suggested that it could become a “more formal planning entity,” one with a larger membership that’s more diverse and more representative of the county as a whole.

Stroh anticipates the planning and the commemoration itself will be paid for through a variety of methods, including county funds, grants, state money, and private support.

In general, the board seemed pleased with the report, but it didn’t take any action beyond accepting the report. Instead, a board matter outlining possible next steps will be proposed when the board next meets on July 27, McKay said.

McKay emphasized that the commemoration should be inclusive and tell a “fuller American story.”

“I think many of us have heard of this notion of erasing history or redoing history,” McKay said. “In fact, [it is] quite the opposite. We are trying to bring to light the entire history and how we do better in the future.”

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk made similar comments, saying his daughter recently remarked on many of America’s founders being slaveholders.

“That is a contradiction. That is a flaw,” he said, while reading off a portion of the report that positions commemoration as a chance to assess how the country is still striving to match its ideals with its actions.

“[This commemoration] is more than a chance, it’s an opportunity to actually do this,” Lusk said.

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Fairfax County will conduct a “comprehensive review” of the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At today’s (July 13) Board of Supervisors meeting, Chairman Jeff McKay proposed as a board matter to have County Executive Bryan Hill review how county agencies responded to the challenges of the pandemic, how operations were affected, and how operational changes impacted the community.

The review will take place in two parts. The board directed staff to deliver a report with conclusions, recommendations, and areas of improvement in February 2022, and a follow-up is anticipated since the pandemic is still ongoing.

The motion passed unanimously.

“We did an amazing job [dealing with the pandemic],” McKay said, but he acknowledged that a review is needed since “there’s much to be learned about the county’s response and how we can improve upon that for the future.”

McKay also noted that a review is already essentially under way, but this formalizes the process and sets a deadline on it.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn agreed with the effort and asked the county executive not to pull any punches.

“I ask the county executive not to shy away from identifying challenges…[particularly] those in the labor market that were attributed to the pandemic and what happened after,” Alcorn said.

As noted in McKay’s comments, more than 75% of Fairfax Health District residents 18 years or older have received at least one vaccine shot. That’s above both national and state averages.

However, the county continues to face some challenges in convincing those who are still hesitant to get vaccinated.

When it comes to addressing COVID-19’s economic impact, the county has provided assistance with rent, food, and other basic needs to more than 10,000 households and helped get permanent housing for 400 individuals who were experiencing homelessness when the pandemic began, according to McKay’s board matter.

The county has also distributed more than $52 million in small business relief funding through the RISE program and is offering $25 million in their PIVOT program.

While half of the RISE grants went to minority-owned businesses, those businesses still suffered “acutely” during the pandemic. What’s more, the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce recently said it felt neglected in the development of some of the county’s grant programs.

McKay said that getting a comprehensive report on Fairfax County’s COVID-19 response will help the county government “ensure we maintain the level of service and functionality our community expects” in any future large-scale crisis or emergency.

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A new report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) highlights some remarkable regional success in reducing homelessness. In Fairfax County, the numbers seemed to tell a different story, but county leadership says some of that is a result of the way the survey is conducted.

The annual study sends researchers across regional localities to collect a snapshot of how many residents are experiencing homelessness, and while not a comprehensive scientific count, it’s generally seen as a look at regional trends.

While neighbors like Arlington County and the City of Alexandria reported declines in their homeless population counts by 14% and 49%, respectively, Fairfax County is one of only two out of nine jurisdictions surveyed that saw its homeless count increase.

In Fairfax County, homeless population counts went from 1,041 in 2020 to 1,222 in 2021, a 17% increase. The only other D.C.-area locality to report a year-to-year rise in its homeless population was Prince George’s County, which increased by 19%.

Fairfax County claims on its website that the increase reflects an expansion of shelter capacity and services, rather than an increase in homelessness.

“The increase is primarily attributable to the increase in the community’s capacity to provide shelter with increased federal emergency funding associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the commendable efforts of service providers to care for unstably housed community members,” the Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness said.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay similarly credited the increase in the count to an increase in accommodations for people experiencing homelessness.

“This year’s data indicates an outstanding effort by our Housing staff and our community-based partners to respond to the unprecedented impacts of 2020,” he said in a statement. “By providing safe housing accommodations and a wide variety of supportive services to assist our most vulnerable neighbors along the path toward housing stability, we have been able to help our entire community.”

However, since at least 2017, the homeless population counts for Fairfax County have been gradually increasing, which McKay says is also indicative of an inadequate affordable housing stock.

Released in two parts across 2018 and 2019, the county’s Communitywide Housing Strategic Plan set a goal of producing a minimum of 5,000 net new affordable housing units within 15 years. 1,800 units are currently in the pipeline, according to McKay.

In his statement to Tysons Reporter on the homelessness point-in-time count data, McKay said:

Most importantly, it indicates that our work on the issue of housing — including emergency housing — must and will continue to be a critical priority for this Board. This is an essential component of our community’s crisis response system for those who need help in regaining a safe, decent and stable housing situation.

Housing is a foundational component in achieving positive outcomes in nearly every aspect of our lives and having thousands of our neighbors experiencing homelessness or struggling to remain in their homes is not something that we as a community will turn a blind eye to. This could be any of us. There are too many circumstances beyond our control which can cause that stability to be shaken through no fault of our own.

Photo via MWCOG

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A Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees member has resigned amid a brewing controversy over comments made by another trustee over the inclusion of diverse titles in the library’s catalog.

Darren Ewing, who represents the Dranesville District, resigned from his position after he stated the library’s catalog homepage was “completely one-sided” at a recent discussion among trustees.

In an email obtained by Patch, Ewing clarified that he did not intend to support the comments of Phillip Rosenthal, the Springfield District representative who is under fire for questioning why Muslim, Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ titles are featured in the catalog.

Here’s more from Patch on Rosenthal’s comments at the July 29 board meeting:

For example, he questioned why Muslim writers were featured but not Catholic, Mormon, Jewish or Baptist writers.

He also took aim at writers involved with the Black Lives Matter movement. On a similar category titled Race in America, Rosenthal said, “Black lives documentaries. Why don’t we have some white lives documentaries?”

And for the category labeled rainbow reads for teens, he said, “Why don’t we have the flipped side of rainbow books for teens?”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay is joining the NOVA Equity Agenda Coalition’s calls for Rosenthal’s resignation.

“Ultimately, while under the guide of inclusivity, the demand from Mr. Rosenthal serves as a form of division, perpetuating an “us versus them” mentality. It is important now more than ever that we uplift the voices of underprivileged and underrepresented persons in our society,” McKay wrote in an Aug. 26 letter.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity recommended Rosenthal as a trustee in 2018. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved his post.

Fran Millhouser, the chair of the Board of Trustees, has also publicly stated that comments made by Rosenthal and Ewing “do not reflect the collective policies or positions of the full board or of Fairfax County.”

We will not remove materials because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval,” she added.

The Board of Trustees is expected to discuss the issue at a Sept. 9 meeting at 7 p.m.

Photo via Jessica Ruscello/Unsplash

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Fairfax County’s top official, local police chiefs and elected officials for the City of Falls Church are stressing the importance of equity and justice as nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd continue.

A viral video captured Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

In a newsletter to constituents, Jeff McKay, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, stressed the county’s focus on equity with the One Fairfax policy, saying that he will soon announce ” a blueprint to double down on our commitments.”

“Angry and Disgusted”

McKay also addressed the recent protests in D.C. after reports on Monday of police using tear gas and rubber bullets to dispel protesters from the area around a church where President Donald Trump then posed for a photo.

“I’m angry and disgusted that today, for the third time in as many days, we saw peaceful protestors tear-gassed and shot with pellet guns as they chanted for peace and change,” McKay said.

McKay’s full statement:

To the Fairfax County Community,

Over the weekend, millions marched the streets across the United States mourning the death of George Floyd and rightfully protesting the injustices and systemic racism experienced by generations of African American men and women in this country.

I’m angry and disgusted that today, for the third time in as many days, we saw peaceful protestors tear gassed and shot with pellet guns as they chanted for peace and change. Simultaneously, COVID-19 continues to showcase and exacerbate the disparities that exist in our most vulnerable communities.

Now more than ever, we know it is the role of our local government to achieve true structural change in our communities. We in Fairfax County must honestly ask ourselves, what actions are we taking?; what voices are we lifting up?; and for me as your Chairman, are our policies affecting systemic change in our community?

We are lucky to live in Fairfax County. Our Government has a team of employees who dedicate themselves to making us better every day. Our residents are diverse and challenge us to do more. Each member of the Board of Supervisors believes that we can always improve.

It is our commitment to our diversity that created our One Fairfax policy, which makes equity a requirement and recognizes that disparity is a fact. The Board of Supervisors and School Board adopted it to ensure that it is intentionally applied to all the work we do – not just reflected on when we are in crisis.  In the coming days, I will announce a blueprint to double down on our commitments.

We have work to be done. In the days, weeks, and months ahead of us, we will continue to listen, encourage healthy dialogues, and have the courage to fight for what’s right.

“Undo Culture of Racism”

Falls Church’s City Council and City Manager Wyatt Shields released a joint statement, saying that they “re-affirm our values of fairness and equal opportunity for all.”

“Mr. Floyd’s death lays bare once again, a long troubling truth that minorities in this country disproportionately experience violent and fatal encounters with police,” the statement said. “It is a truth we all must confront.”

They said they are committed to working to “undo the culture of racism,” along with promoting justice and peace. The statement did not elaborate on how the city officials plan to tackle it.

Local Law Enforcement Weigh In

Local law enforcement heads have recently talked about the role communities play in shaping police departments.

A letter to the community from Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin stressed that community trust is the most “sacred” part of police work.

Gavin then shared how the city’s police department strives to reinforce equality: taking the words “citizen” and “resident” out of policies, focusing on diverse hiring and striving for inclusiveness with their practices. She also called for a structural change that goes beyond firing “bad actors.”

“When public servants fail us by abusing the authority invested in them by the community they have sworn to protect and serve, it destroys trust and partnerships, the fabric of our community,” Gavin said.

On Friday, Fairfax County Police Department Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. talked about the police department’s community policing efforts and addressed eroding trust in law enforcement.

“We shall have faith the local and federal justice systems will navigate toward justice for the Floyd family, the communities impacted, and our entire nation,” he said. “However, we must be mindful there is a healing process where righteous anger needs to be constructively exercised through the right to free speech.”

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

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COVID-19 Challenges — “The Town of Vienna Economic Development Office released results from its COVID-19 Business Survey highlighting how the Town’s businesses have been impacted by the pandemic.” [Town of Vienna]

Businesses Worried About Metro Shutdown — “Sol Glasner, CEO of the Tysons Partnership, says Metro has now all but assured that the comeback will be delayed in Tysons. He said he was disappointed and frustrated with how Metro handled the Silver Line shutdown.” [WAMU]

County Officials Speak Out on Silver Line Closure — Dalia Palchik, Jeff Mckay and Sol Glasner wrote this opinion piece: “The pivotal importance of Metro to Tysons makes the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s abrupt announcement of the summer closure of the Silver Line especially problematic.” [Washington Post]

New Governor Candidate — “Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy formally announced Wednesday that she is running for governor of Virginia in 2021.” [Inside NoVa]

Photo courtesy James B. Crusan III

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Northern Virginia officials stressed the importance of working together on their reopening plans during Gov. Ralph Northam’s press conference today.

Yesterday, Northam announced that he was pushing the reopening deadline for Northern Virginia localities to May 29.

Today Northam said that he is “comfortable” having the first reopening phase begin on Friday (May 15) for the rest of the state.

Jeff McKay, Fairfax County’s chairman, said that coordination with D.C. and Maryland leaders is key to determine when to reopen the D.C. area, which he called “one cohesive region.”

“It’s important that there not be huge variations in the roll-out of phases as we move forward so that we don’t unnecessarily confuse our business owners, confuse our residents and confuse our house of worships,” McKay said. “This virus does not know jurisdictional boundaries.”

Officials for Arlington and Loudoun counties along with the mayors of Alexandria and Falls Church also spoke at the press conference.

Libby Garvey, the chair for Arlington County, said that the Northern Virginia region is looking to meet the following criteria before reopening:

  • a downward trend of positive test results and hospitalizations for 14 days
  • sufficient hospital beds and intensive care unit capacity
  • enough personal protection equipment
  • increased testing and tracing

“The most responsible path forward for us is to maintain our current operating status until the phase 1 criteria laid out by the governor are met by Northern Virginia

Northam said that he has not heard about a desire to delay the first reopening phase from other regions in Virginia.

Image via Gov. Ralph Northam/Facebook

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