Tysons Corner, VA

As conditions worsen on GW Parkway, some McLean residents question when they will see repairs.

Charles Cuvelier, the new GW Parkway superintendent, told attendees at the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 10) that the parkway will need work to maintain structural integrity.

“After 60 years, the brick and mortar has become porous,” he said.

A community member at the meeting said that she finds the road frightening to drive on. In terms of repairs to potentially dangerous areas, the superintendent said that data about traffic and other roadway incidents are used to identify which areas of the roadway need immediate attention.

He noted that one of the worst areas in terms of damage is Route 123 near Chain Bridge.

In March, a giant sinkhole opened in the region, causing havoc and closures for those who frequent the roadway. To repair much of the road, crews will need to solidify the ground up to 50 feet under, Cuvelier said.

The next steps are unclear since community leaders rely on grants from the federal government for repairs, Cuvelier said. They will submit the next round of grants in 2020, and if approved, construction will likely begin in 2022 to be completed in 2023, he added.

Until now, the National Park Service and Virginia Department of Transportation have been relying on grants of $30 million or less for small maintenance projects, Cuvelier said. He referred to the funding allowance between federal and state funds as a “regional formula.”

Cuvelier said the National Park Service is working with VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to find solutions for repairs. When a community member asked if they could see the correspondence, he replied that they have nothing to hide and community members are free to file a Freedom of Information Act request.

Louise Epstein sits on the MCA board as the chair for the budget and taxation committee. She is also the president of her neighborhood homeowners association, which backs up to GW Parkway. 

“The problem is that we are relying, unfortunately, on hope. I’m sort of a cynic and I don’t like to rely on hope,” Epstein said, “Things are falling apart, and we need to figure out what’s going on.”

She added that she doesn’t think federal grant money will be enough to fix the problem, saying that the community needs to begin brainstorming new ways to come up with funding to fix the highway.

“We have to look for other ways to get that money sooner,” Epstein said.  

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The McLean Citizens Association would like a little more space between neighbors on corner lots.

Currently, homes built on corner lots fall under a special set of zoning parameters. While the zoning law says the home must be at least 25 feet from the front and side streets, homes can be built with as little as 12 feet between them and rear lots — though some in the MCA said there are lots with as little as 8 feet of distance.

The result are tiny back yards on homes built at an angle and very little space between the corner lot and their catty-corner neighbor.

In a resolution approved on Wednesday (Sept. 4), MCA calls for Fairfax County to change the regulations so the setback is at least 18 feet if at an angle or 25 feet if set squarely.

“In recent years redevelopers have increasingly been targeting corner lots in order to take advantage of Fairfax County’s unusual corner-lot rear setback requirement… by placing large houses with square footprints squarely onto corner lots, with only a rump ‘rear yard,'” the resolution said.

The resolution noted that the unique corner lot calculations mean homes on street corners can be 25 percent larger than interior lots within the same subdivision. The MCA said recent corner lot permits with inadequate setbacks have resulted in increased stormwater runoff, reduced natural light and reduced privacy.

It’s a problem county staff are aware of and have been making efforts to amend. As part of Fairfax County’s efforts to modernize its zoning regulations — called zMOD — the county has a section specifically about corner lot setbacks:

Corner lots need to provide the minimum front setback adjacent to both streets, but in the referenced districts, the rear setback can take the dimension of the side setback. For instance… a corner lot is required to provide a 35-foot front setback from the lot lines which abut each street, and a 15-foot setback from the lot lines which abut both adjoining lots, in lieu of providing a 25-foot setback from the rear lot line.

The zMOD document notes that in older residential areas experiencing redevelopment, older homes are being replaced with new homes that maximize the lot’s space, “leaving limited usable rear yard area.”

“Staff has received comments about this setback provision, noting that the additional lot width required for a corner lot as compared to an interior lot more than off-sets the additional front setback requirement,” staff said in the document. “The attached draft now requires that a 25-foot rear setback be provided.”

The MCA resolution also includes information about technical changes requested, like adjusting where the “front lot line” is located for the corner lots. But the resolution also encouraged Fairfax County to act more swiftly on the issue than the framework of the zMOD ordinance would indicate.

“County staff are aiming for public hearings in spring or summer of 2020 on the new Zoning Ordinance arising from zMOD, and effectiveness of the new ordinance is expected to follow enactment by an interval of some months,” the resolution said. “The MCA urges Fairfax County to enact and implement such reform by the end of the first quarter of 2020.”

Image via McLean Citizens Association

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Around half the attendees at last night’s McLean Citizens Association’s Planning and Zoning Committee meeting left abruptly after discovering that the contentious Newport Academy wouldn’t be discussed at the meeting.

Kim Tomsen, a McLean community resident since 1975, spoke up early in the meeting and began asking the committee about the future of Newport Academy, which would bring a for-profit mental health care facility into a McLean neighborhood.

Her concerns were quickly shut down by Rob Jackson, the committee’s chair, who said that Newport Facility was not up for discussion or on the agenda, since there was nothing “pending” on the matter.

In May, the zoning administrator determined that the facility is a congregate living facility, which is not permitted as a by-right use at the location. Newport Academy wants to appeal the decision.

Now, the fate of the Newport Academy is in the hands of the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals, which are not likely to make a decision until September when the board is back in session.

The committee proceeded to discuss various items on their agenda including home businesses and modernization of zoning ordinances before community members decided to voice their concerns. Tomsen was among the first of more than a dozen people to leave the room after realizing that none of her concerns would be addressed.

Tomsen and a handful of people that Tysons Reporter spoke to said they saw online that the committee would discuss Newport Academy.

The brief committee agenda posted online before the event outlined three topics for discussion that evening — none of them relating to the controversial Newport Academy or commercial housing in residential areas.

“Then it’s a waste of our time to attend,” Tomsen said to the committee members and attendees.

“If someone put that online, they misled you,” Jackson replied back to her.

A Facebook user named Tom Shen, the founding member of the “Fairfax County Rehab Facility Discussion” group, posted an update in the group Monday (July 290 evening asking members to “help protest against commercial housing in residence zones” by showing up to the Tuesday, July 30, meeting.

It is unclear if this was the only message online requesting the presence of people opposed to commercial housing in residential areas. Tysons Reporter reached out to Shen to ask about the post, but has not heard back.

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The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) unanimously voted to oppose a controversial series of group homes proposed in McLean.

The vote is the latest push in a fight led by neighbors against plans to open a series of new group homes in a residential neighborhood by McLean High School.

MCA voted last night (June 5) to oppose a special exception that would allow the Newport Academy, a for-profit therapy and rehabilitation program for teens, to open a facility at Davidson Road.

The group also voted to support Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson’s determination that the facility would not be permitted as a by-right use and would require approval from the Board of Supervisors.

MCA members shared a common sentiment at last night’s meeting: this is not the last time they expect to hear about Newport Academy.

“The MCA will revisit this case if new facts become available or circumstances of the proposed use change, including but not limited to additional facts becoming available about the proposed use at Kurtz Road,” the draft resolution said.

Rob Jackson, the chair of MCA’s Planning and Zoning Committee, said that the vote on the resolution is possibly the beginning, rather than the end, of MCA’s involvement in the Newport controversy.

“We’re just taking one bite of the apple,” Jackson said. “I think we need to wait to see where the next shoe drops.”

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The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) could finally be weighing in tomorrow night regarding the group homes controversy, but the fight may already be over.

A draft resolution planned to be discussed at MCA’s Wednesday (June 5) meeting would oppose a special exception that would allow the Newport Academy, a for-profit therapy and rehabilitation program for teens, to open a facility at 1620, 1622 and 1624 Davidson Road, located in a residential neighborhood near McLean High School.

But the proposed resolution comes late in the game — local residents started protesting the issue more than two months ago.

A grassroots group opposing a rehabilitation facility recently claimed victory, although the sourcing for that win remains unclear.

An administrator on the Davidson and Kurtz Road Rehab Facility Facebook page — a nearly 500 member group that had been a discussion board for residents opposed to the development — said last Tuesday (May 28) he received the following statement from the Newport Academy:

Newport Academy is the nation’s leading provider of mental health residential and outpatient treatment for teens and young adults. As such, we have received direct requests from parents, clinicians, insurance companies and other referral sources to bring our well-recognized adolescent mental health treatment program to the Northern Virginia market. To that end, we acquired multiple properties to extend our reach more formally into the McLean community. Although these group homes are fully legal and protected under the Fair Housing Act, as well as other applicable federal, Virginia and Fairfax County laws, Newport Academy has listened to the community’s feedback and has opted to modify its expansion plans by ceasing planned openings on Davidson Road.

Our commitment to service the Northern Virginia market remains intact. We look forward to opening these much-needed services in McLean in the near future and hope to keep the lines of communication open with the community and its elected officials as we seek to contribute in a positive way towards addressing the mental health crisis in the greater DC area.

After repeated calls to the main company line and to the group’s community liaison in McLean over a week, Tysons Reporter was unable to confirm the source of the statement.

Staff at Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s office said they received an identical statement, but could not get confirmation from the Newport Academy that they were the source.

Two weeks ago, Fairfax County Zoning Administrator Leslie Johnson wrote in a letter that the facility would not be permitted as a by-right use and would require approval from the Board of Supervisors. Foust had previously said he would oppose the development if it was brought to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.

The Facebook group shut down one day after the statement allegedly from the Newport Academy was posted, though some members have already started another splinter group to continue discussing the facility and other community concerns.

What will happen with the other proposed group homes not addressed in Johnson’s letter — like the one at 1318 Kurtz Road — remains unclear. The MCA resolution states that the group will revisit the facts regarding the Kurtz Road property.

The MCA meeting starts at at 7 p.m. in the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue).

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The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) is mulling a call for more local police funding in the face of rapid development in Tysons.

MCA is set to discuss the funding resolution at the group’s Board of Directors meeting this Wednesday (April 3). The proposal calls for increased funding to Fairfax County Police Department’s McLean District starting with the next county budget.

The station’s McLean name can be a bit misleading — the McLean Police District covers not just McLean, but Tysons, Merrifield, and the Wolf Trap area near Vienna.

In the Fairfax County proposed budget’s five-year staffing plan, police staffing in Tysons is scheduled to gradually increase in the urban areas, but the implementation of this staffing increase is set to be deferred from the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

The MCA resolution argues that the county needs to act more quickly:

County Police Department assesses that the McLean Station needed 6 more officers by 2019, 29 more officers by 2024 and a total of 65 additional officers by 2029 just to keep pace with the growth… given that it takes nine months for new officers to complete training, it is critical that the County take steps in the very near future to make a ‘down payment’ on implementation of the McLean Station staffing plan.

The resolution urges the Board of Supervisors to begin implementing the McLean Station staffing plan, including reassigning some newly-trained recruits to the McLean District’s “Tysons Urban Team,” starting later this year.

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While McLean residents are mostly satisfied with what’s in this year’s county budget proposal, the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) takes issue with one item that isn’t: body worn cameras.

A pilot program for body-worn cameras was implemented through 2018 and a report on the findings of the program are expected sometime this spring, but funding for the program is not included in the police budget for FY 2020.

At tonight’s MCA meeting, the board will vote on a resolution to recommend body worn cameras be included in the budget.

Equipping police officers with body worn cameras is beneficial to both police and the community. [Body-worn cameras] can accurately record law enforcement actions and thereby capture evidence pursuant to investigations, reduce the number of complaints filed against officers, and provide additional safety for our officers as they patrol the streets.  The cameras also increase transparency, accountability, and trust between the police and community, which has been an issue nationwide over the last several years and is particularly relevant to our community with the recent killing of Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police.

The killing of Bijan Ghaisar was controversial partly because videos from dashboard cameras released by Fairfax County Police that seemed to show no threat to U.S. Park Police when they shot Ghaisar.

Last year, on the anniversary of the shooting, the MCA approved a resolution pushing for more transparency in the investigation and praising the Fairfax County Police for releasing the video.

This isn’t the first time body-worn cameras have come up in budget discussions. At an earlier Board of Supervisors meeting on the budget, several board members expressed concern there was no funding identified for the program. Staff said at the meeting that they were waiting for the results of the pilot evaluation to add funding.

“The program has broad support, but actual implementation continues to drift to the right,” the MCA said in the resolution. “It is time to implement the program and, following completion of the [evaluation], we urge a cost-conscious [body-worn camera] implementation.”

Photo via Fairfax County Police

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It’s a little outside the usual area for weekend events, but volunteers are needed to help clean out the river access at Great Falls on Saturday.

If enough volunteers arrive to clear out the ravine in one day, the National Park Service will re-open river access from Great Falls on Sunday.

The National Park Service will provide trash bags, gloves, and pickers.

Volunteers should meet at the top of the ravine, near Overlook 3, and wear sturdy shoes.

Saturday (Feb. 9)

Meal Packing: 75K Meals for 75 Years (10 a.m.-1 p.m.) — To celebrate its 75th anniversary, the McLean Presbyterian Church is hosting a meal packing event. The goal is to pack 75,000 meals for people in need. Lunch for volunteers will also be provided.

Swolemates Bootcamp (10:30-11:30 a.m.) — The Tysons Sport & Health at 8250 Greensboro Drive is offering a free training session tomorrow morning. Non-members, as well as members, are invited to the free work-out event. The event is themed around partners, but singles are invited as well. The workout session will be followed by a raffle with dozens of prizes from local partners.

Supervisor and School Board Candidate Meet and Greet (1-3 p.m.) — Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and School Board candidate Alicia Plerhoples are hosting a meet-and-greet at 1815 MacArthur Drive in McLean. The event is aimed at getting feedback from residents of the Chesterbrook neighborhood on what the important issues are in the area.

I Love McLean Party (3-6 p.m.) — The McLean Citizens Association is hosting a celebration of all things McLean at the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Ave) with music from a local school choir and a meeting with various community leaders.

Sunday (Feb. 10)

Valentine’s Day Wine and Book Tasting (3-5 p.m.) — Bards Alley and The Vienna Wine Outlet are teaming up to host a romantic Valentine’s Day event. The sampling will be hosted at Bards Alley (110 Church Street NW) and is free, but RSVP is requested.

All You Need Is Love (7 p.m.) — Jammin’ Java is hosting its annual tribute to the Beatles and love songs in general. Tickets to the event are $16.

Photo via Facebook

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(Updated 9:30 a.m.) After a protracted battle with the National Park Service, Claude Moore Farm in McLean closed last year. While the lot currently sits fenced off, it’s still unclear what will happen to the farm next.

In December, the park service released a statement saying discussions on the park would begin in early 2019.

Early in the new year, the NPS will invite the community, the farm’s volunteers and any interested parties to share their vision for the park’s future. The public engagement process will help to determine what happens next and when. The NPS will listen to people’s ideas about how they would like to enjoy the park. Should the NPS offer farm activities, return the area to its natural state, provide connections to neighboring trail systems or something else altogether? The NPS will not pursue any kind of commercial development or sell the property.

But a month and a half into 2019, NPS representatives say no concrete plans for those meetings have been made yet.

“We look forward to beginning public engagement in the coming months,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, chief of public affairs for the NPS National Capital Region. “Since [December], our agreement has expired and we are actively working with the Friends organization on a safe and orderly close out, which includes the Friends removing personal property from the park.”

The NPS and the organization that managed the park, Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm, had a long history of sparring over administrative and financial oversight. A 2015 report demanding more oversight at the farm started the final round of conflict between the two organizations that ended with the NPS shuttering the park for good at the end of 2018.

But even if the NPS has nothing planned, the McLean Citizens Association said at a board of directors meeting on Wednesday that they are going to begin considering suggestions for new uses for Claude Moore Farm.

“The [farm] has closed, but members will plan to walk that space and look at the layout to consider potential uses,” said Ed Monroe, chair of the group’s Environment, Parks & Recreation Committee. “So if you have things you want to share, we’re open to receiving those.”

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(Updated at 10:50 a.m.) The McLean Citizens Association is one of the most active civic groups in the area, but it’s an organization largely unknown to many of the residents they represent.

At last night’s (Wednesday) Board of Directors meeting in the newly reopened McLean Community Center, President Dale Stein said the organization’s reliance on local print publications to get the word out about events and the ongoing priorities of the organization is insufficient. Local papers have been growing thinner and delivery has been inconsistent, resulting in less visibility for the association’s announcements, he said.

Stein said the organization is going to need to join the 21st organization and find new electronic methods of communication.

“It starts with electronics, but we may need to get more ambitious,” said Stein. “We’re already sponsoring community-oriented events, like the I Love McLean Party. It doesn’t address planning and zoning issues, it’s a feel-good event. But is there something else we can be doing?”

In the absence of a local government, the MCA is one of the most prominent local voices on McLean issues. Over the last few months, the group has spoken out on issues from the color of local streetlights to the shooting of a local resident by the U.S. Park Police.

But Stein said there have been several occasions where he’s been at public events around McLean where local residents had never heard of the organization. Other members of the Board of Directors shared similar experiences, where those the organization represents had no idea of its existence.

“We’re missing opportunities,” said member Linda Walsh. “We don’t provide conduits for people to know us and get concerns to us.”

The organization does have a Facebook presence, but only has some 330 “likes.” Its website, meanwhile, is rudimentary and not optimized for viewing on mobile devices.

Stein said part of the solution will involve forming closer partnerships with other local organizations. According to Stein, the group was approached recently by the McLean Project for the Arts about setting up a table at this weekend’s I Love McLean party. Stein and other board members said they would be inclined to allow the organization to set up — provided the MCA gets to set up a table at the hugely popular annual MPAartfest in October.

Also discussed: more external outreach via members with public relations experience.

The board voted to put together a small short term committee tasked with putting together a plan to improve communications with the community at-large.

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