Tysons, VA

The McLean Citizens Association will continue discussing the possibility of turning McLean into a city for the foreseeable future.

The MCA board of directors approved the creation of a new community governance committee on Jan. 6 that has been tasked with studying the potential benefits and issues that would arise if McLean became independent of Fairfax County.

Chaired by William Henneberg, the ad hoc committee has been given a five-year charter that will last through December 2025, though it could be disbanded sooner if its work is finished before then.

“We’ve got a lot of investigation to do to identify issues, benefits and costs, etc.,” MCA President Rob Jackson said in an email to Tysons Reporter. “We have no preconceived notion that becoming a city or some other governmental entity is the best course. We are a ways from drawing any conclusions.”

Jackson initially proposed calling the committee a “City of McLean committee,” but the board agreed the adopted name would better reflect the open-endedness of the committee’s mission, helping avoid confusion.

“We have a lot of different things to investigate, first of all, but also a lot of other choices, including town status within Fairfax County or increased use of the sanitary district or a new county. There’s any number of things,” MCA corresponding secretary Paul Kohlenberger said.

Jackson introduced the idea of forming a committee to look at whether McLean should become a city during the board’s Dec. 2 meeting, but the question has been raised multiple times in the past.

According to Jackson, MCA previously explored issues related to McLean’s governmental structure in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’70s.

As Fairfax County’s population has surpassed 1.1 million people, community members in McLean have wondered whether a smaller form of government would give residents greater control and be more responsive to hyper-local concerns, such as infrastructure maintenance, zoning, and schools.

A moratorium on the creation of new cities in the Code of Virginia will expire on July 1, 2024.

While MCA has informally discussed the idea of turning McLean into a city with other local community groups in the past, the community governance committee will only explore the question internally for now.

“We would, of course, be open to communications with other community organizations that are also interested in investigating which form of government best serves our community,” Jackson said.

Photo via McLean Citizens Association/Facebook

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The McLean Citizens Association approved an extensive resolution on Wednesday (Jan. 6) laying out its views on Fairfax County’s proposed zoning ordinance overhaul.

The Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project, or zMOD, represents Fairfax County’s first major zoning code update since the original document was adopted 40 years ago. A draft was released on Nov. 24, and the planning commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal on Jan. 28.

MCA expressed general support for the goals of the zMOD initiative but takes issue with several provisions that ease limitations in residential districts and enable more uses through administrative permits instead of the special exceptions process, which requires public hearings and neighbor notifications.

“The administrative permit is pervasive in the county’s proposal as a way to eliminate the need to notify neighbors and for the county staff to solicit neighbors for granting the permit,” MCA board member Steve DelBianco said.

In its resolution, MCA states that it supports the draft ordinance’s framework for allowing newer commercial, public, institutional, and community uses — such as solar power facilities, electric vehicle charging stations, and data centers — that didn’t exist when the zoning code was created.

The organization, which serves as an unofficial town council for McLean residents, is also glad that the ordinance will not supplant or negate agreements between homeowners’ associations and other private parties.

The resolution also notes that the draft ordinance includes a proposal put forward by MCA that will require residences on corner lots to have rear setbacks of at least 25 feet.

However, MCA opposes provisions in the zMOD proposal that would allow property owners to obtain an administrative permit for home-based businesses, accessory living units (ALUs), food trucks, and special for-profit events hosted by home businesses in residential districts.

The organization argues that those uses should need to be approved through a public process, though it could potentially withdraw its objection regarding food trucks if Fairfax County establishes clear standards regulating their operations in residential neighborhoods.

Fairfax County currently only permits ALUs if an occupant of the unit or the main dwelling is at least 55 years old or has a disability. MCA opposes removing that requirement.

Under the draft ordinance, the size limitations for ALUs would expand from 35% of the main structure area to either 800 square feet or 40% of the principal structure. Those restrictions could be exceeded if the ALU fully utilizes the floor area of a basement or cellar.

MCA believes exceptions should only be allowed for ALUs in cellars or basements if they are occupied by a family member who is 55 or older, or who has a disability.

MCA Planning and Zoning Committee Chair Scott Spitzer emphasized that the committee is aware that home-based businesses are becoming more common, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic pushing more people to work from home.

However, MCA does not think the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors should consider allowing home-based businesses to get up to four customers at a time or up to eight customers on-site in a given day, arguing that businesses should be limited to two customers at a time and six customers in one day.

The zMOD draft ordinance proposes that home-based businesses have one designated parking space available per customer.

“The idea here is to not permit large groups that would exceed that designated parking place,” DelBianco said. “…We are trying to balance here the expectations of the neighbors who bought homes in a residential district versus trying to be supportive of those who want to earn money out of a home-based business.”

Video of MCA’s discussion of the zMOD resolution is currently on its Facebook page and will be posted to its website.

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Measures to curb public safety concerns and improve how the criminal justice system can serve the community are being implemented in Fairfax County.

That was the message Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano shared during a public forum with the McLean Citizens Association on Wednesday (Dec. 16).

Before responding to audience questions, Descano highlighted three top agenda items: the implementation of body-worn cameras by police, providing appropriate resources for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, and general criminal justice reform.

Descano said the Fairfax County Police Department’s body-worn camera program should be mostly in effect by the end of 2021, estimating that the program will include roughly 1,200 cameras.

“I really do feel that body-worn cameras are essential to creating trust in the community,” Descano said. “They are a great tool for evidence. They are a great tool for police accountability. Quite frankly, they’re also, in many ways, a tool to make sure that our police aren’t being accused of things they did not do. So, it really is a win-win-win all the way around.”

He pointed to the indictment of Fairfax County police officer Tyler Timberlake on three misdemeanor counts of assault and battery in July and other high-profile cases as examples of the difference that body cameras could make in holding police accountable.

According to Descano, footage from the cameras will be stored and transmitted in an integrated system from a server run by the company Axon Enterprise. The footage must be kept according to timeframes established by the Virginia Public Records Act.

He also said the footage is meant to be available to exonerate or prosecute people accused of alleged crimes, protecting innocent people and detecting evidence of crimes to ensure the criminal justice system produces the “right outcome.”

Descano also noted that one “flip side” of the program is that it will add to prosecutors’ workload, since they have an “ethical obligation” to review all evidence in cases they prosecute. He estimated that body-worn cameras will add roughly 89,000 hours of video footage to the approximately 60,000 hours of footage from cruiser dash cameras that must also be reviewed. Read More

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Tuesday (Dec. 15)

  • Kanopy Film Discussion Group (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — For its December meeting, Falls Church City’s Kanopy Film Discussion Group will talk about the movie Driveways, which stars Hong Chau and the late actor Brian Dennehy. Email Pete Sullivan at [email protected] to request a link to the Zoom meeting.

Wednesday (Dec. 16)

  • MCA Virtual Public Safety Forum (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — The McLean Citizens Association will host a discussion on criminal justice issues with Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano. To view the event on Zoom, register here. It will also be streamed live on the MCA Facebook page.
  • Vaccinate Virginia Town Hall (Online) — 7 p.m. — The Virginia Department of Health will host a statewide town hall with community and medical leaders to answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Check the VDH website for the panel speakers and a full listing of the TV news stations that will broadcast and livestream the event.

Thursday (Dec. 17)

  • Middle School Book Club (Online) — 4 p.m. — The Mary Riley Styles Public Library in Falls Church is inviting kids in grades 6-8 to discuss March Book 1, the first part of the late Rep. John Lewis’s graphic novel series about the Civil Rights Movement. Email [email protected] to reserve a copy of the book that will be available for curbside pick-up at the library (120 N. Virginia Ave.).
  • Holiday Pop-Up Market (Dec. 17-20) — 5-8 p.m. at Vienna Shopping Center (136 Maple Ave.) — Local artisans will sell jewelry, art, and other handmade gifts at a pop-up market organized by the Town of Vienna and Vienna Shopping Center. Shoppers can reserve a time online or walk in, and admission is free. Hours vary depending on the day.
  • Clemyjontri Park Public Meeting (Online) — 7 p.m. — The Fairfax County Park Authority will share updates on its master plan revision for McLean’s Clemyjontri Park. Potential changes include the development of a new arts center for the McLean Project for the Arts. Participate online or via telephone by calling 855-925-2801 and entering the access code: 8950.

Friday (Dec. 18)

  • Mayor’s Walk — 9:30 a.m. at Vienna Town Hall — Chat and stroll through town with Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert, who holds this event once a month.
  • Networking Effectively (Even Online) (Online) — 10:30-11:30 a.m. — The Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce will host a free webinar on how small and mid-sized businesses can strengthen connections, improve engagement, and leverage their networks. Register online to receive event details.
  • Virtual Holiday Bingo Fun (Online) — 1:30-2:30 p.m. — Town of Vienna Program Coordinator Kathy Blevins will lead an hour of bingo through Zoom. Winners will receive prizes from local businesses, according to the event page. Email [email protected] by Thursday (Dec. 17) to register.

Saturday (Dec. 19)

  • Free Food Distribution — 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Merrifield (8122 Ransell Rd.) — The First Baptist Church of Merrifield will host a drive-by food distribution event. Each car or household can take one produce and one non-perishables box. Organizers request that everyone wear a mask and respect social distancing requirements.
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The McLean Citizens Association will hold a virtual public forum with Fairfax County’s head prosecutor in two weeks to discuss criminal justice policy and reform.

According to the event announcement, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano will be present to speak about several justice issues including:

  • The Fairfax County Police Department’s body-worn camera program
  • The 2020 Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Resources Report
  • His request for additional funding to expand staffing for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney and its implications for enforcement of criminal laws in Fairfax County
  • An update on criminal justice reform legislation from the 2020 Virginia General Assembly’s special session and what the policy changes mean for Fairfax County

The virtual forum will take place Wednesday (Dec. 16). at 7 p.m.

Those who wish to attend can watch on MCA’s Facebook page or register on its website.

Photo via McLean Citizens Association/Facebook

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What if McLean became a city?

While the question is largely hypothetical at the moment, the McLean Citizens Association will consider whether it might be worth exploring more seriously during tonight’s board of directors meeting amid the usual committee and liaison updates.

The discussion will be led by MCA President Rob Jackson, who says the idea of McLean leaving Fairfax County and turning into a city has cropped up in casual conversations among members of MCA and other community nonprofits in the past.

“A number of people expressed the belief that Fairfax County is simply too large to respond to the needs and wishes of the million-plus people who live here and that smaller local government might better serve the diverse needs of the residents,” Jackson said in an email to MCA members.

Right now, the clearest obstacle to a City of McLean is state law, which has suspended the creation of new cities in Virginia since 1987.

Under Section 15.2-3201, the Code of Virginia states that “no city charter shall be granted or come into force and no suit or notice shall be filed to secure a city charter” until July 1, 2024 at the earliest. The statute also prohibits cities from pursuing annexation proceedings against counties.

A bill seeking to make an exception to the ban on new city charters for towns with more than 50,000 people died in committee during the Virginia General Assembly’s 2020 session.

Though the moratorium will be in place for another three years, Jackson says he thought it would be worthwhile to bring up the idea of McLean becoming a city again after previous discussions faded away once the COVID-19 pandemic took center stage.

For Jackson, the interest in exploring the possibility of forming a city stems mainly from a desire for McLean residents to have more control instead of having to compete for attention in a county with more than 1.1 million people, citing issues like overcrowding at McLean High School, land use decisions, and the upkeep of sidewalks and trails.

As a city, McLean would be responsible for developing its own comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. It would also maintain road infrastructure within its boundaries and have independent governance over public services like law enforcement and schools.

“It’s about controlling your own destiny,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of frustration in some areas with the county maybe is not as responsive as it needs to be on some things to meet local needs…I think just the ability to have more self-determination, more ability and responsibility to make decisions would probably be attractive to a lot of people.”

Tonight’s MCA discussion will focus on whether to work with other community groups, such as the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce or local parent-teacher associations, to form an ad hoc committee that would study the benefits and challenges of establishing a city. The meeting will be streamed live on Facebook starting at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s just kind of exploring things, reaching out to other groups and begin to explore, to get some information,” Jackson said. “This may turn out to be something that just wouldn’t work, but until you look at it, you never know.”

Staff photo by Catherine Douglas Moran

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Fairfax County is inviting community members to provide feedback on its draft comprehensive plan for the McLean Community Business Center (CBC) at a virtual open house at 9 a.m. on Saturday (Nov. 7).

Hosted by the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development, the open house will give members of the public an opportunity to learn about the latest work of the McLean CBC Task Force and share their thoughts on a draft plan for the future of McLean’s downtown area.

A group of 21 residents, local business leaders, and civic association representatives appointed by Dranesville District Supervisor, the McLean CBC Task Force has been meeting since May 2018 with the goal of developing recommendations regarding land use, transportation, public facilities, and other characteristics of the CBC.

Spanning about 230 acres between Chain Bridge Road, Dolley Madison Boulevard, and Old Dominion Drive, the CBC serves as a downtown district for McLean, and the conversation around the draft comprehensive plan has been driven by debates about density and how to balance development with open space.

Based off a Vision Plan finalized in December 2018 and released on Oct. 5, the latest draft of the comprehensive plan states that the CBC is being “planned to provide for the needs of the immediate surrounding community and not the regional needs at the scale found in [nearby] Tysons.”

The McLean Citizens Association, which has two representatives on the CBC task force, plans to hold a special meeting of its board of directors on Nov. 18 that will exclusively focus on the CBC comprehensive plan.

In an email to members ahead of the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, MCA President Rob Jackson notes that the association traditionally does not take positions on comprehensive plan revisions until they are final, but the board decided to organize a special meeting after “a number of members” petitioned for one.

In addition to taking a preliminary vote on whether it wants to take a position now, the board will hear from committee chairs on the issues they would like to be considered in the comprehensive plan and determine which items to include in a draft letter to Foust.

“We are focusing on only big items to increase our chances of influencing the county, recognizing that an organization with a long list of priorities effectively has no priorities,” Jackson said. “Further, submitting a long list provides motivation for the county to toss us a couple of bones, while we are ignored on big items.”

Community members can join Fairfax County’s open house on Saturday by registering via WebEx. The county’s planning staff is soliciting comments and questions regarding the McLean CBC study at [email protected].

Photo via Supervisor John Foust/Twitter

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As the Tysons plan reaches its 10-year anniversary, Supervisors John Foust and Dalia Palchik spoke candidly to the McLean Citizens Association last night (Wednesday) about some of the challenges facing the Tysons plan today.

While many of the issues were Tysons-specific, they are also challenges the entire region faces as Northern Virginia becomes more urbanized:

  • Walkability
  • Schools
  • Affordable Housing

For some of these, the recent pandemic has both brought the issues into focus and helped present new opportunities.

“One of my favorite topics is walkability,” Palchik said. “[We’re] looking now at how we make Tysons more walkable.”

Palchik pointed to a recent success in temporarily closing a section of Tysons Blvd to allow for more cycling and walking. Palchik pointed to it as a step in the right direction, but said it also took a lot of work to make it happen.

“It took a month to get Fairfax and the Department of Transportation to agree on a location,” Palchik said. “I hope to see more flexibility to create a sense of place.”

Palchik pointed to the planned pedestrian and bike bridge going over the beltway as another upcoming walkability success. Tysons is also slated for more investments to connect the blooming city’s street grid.

“Sometimes, new streets can feel in conflict with existing conditions, but [we’re] trying to make it more walkable,” Palchik said. “Change can be hard, but we’re looking at the upsides and really listening.”

Palchik and Foust both repeatedly praised the foundation of the Tysons plan, but said there are things that need tweaking.

“One issue that continues to bother me is the fact that we don’t have a plan for delivering school facilities in Tysons yet,” Foust said. “We have gotten a proffer of land for an elementary school. That’s an issue that’s going to head up, going forward.”

Palchik said the county needs to be more flexible on how schools are built, for example, building smaller schools with less grade levels than traditional elementary, middle, and high school models.

“We’ve been working on proffers, because the county can’t buy land,” Palchik said. “We’re looking at being more flexible, knowing this area is urbanizing. Can we get five acres? Can portions of development be dedicated to classrooms?”

Foust said another issue that’s really been prevalent during the pandemic is the lack of affordable housing in the area.

“Our challenge is delivering housing for 80% below and 60% below [Area Median Income],” Foust said. “We’re working on that challenge to increase the amount of housing that is truly affordable.”

COVID-19, Foust said, has hopefully helped to highlight the role essential workers play.

“COVID, if nothing else, has opened up our eyes to who is truly our essential workers, and they’re not the people making the income that can put you in a luxury apartment in Tysons,” Foust said. “They’re the kind of people working in the department stores and grocery stores, the service providers, and they deserve to live in the community where they work.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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In an update to the McLean Citizens Association, School Board members Elaine Tholen and Karen Keys-Gamarra outlined some changes coming up as Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) begins to take a look at long-term planning again.

One of the biggest topics in the area before the pandemic was a proposed realignment of McLean’s high school boundaries.

According to FCPS:

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is considering a boundary adjustment to provide capacity relief to McLean High School. Currently, McLean HS has more than 2,350 students in a building with design capacity of 1,993 students. Enrollment at McLean HS is projected to increase in the next five years.

Langley High School, which is close in proximity to McLean HS, recently completed a renovation that increased its design capacity to 2,370 students. Current enrollment at Langley is 1,972. Enrollment at Langley HS is projected to remain the same or decrease in the next five years. FCPS is not planning to recommend moving students out of Langley HS as part of this boundary adjustment.

Those plans got put on the back burner as FCPS dealt with the response to the pandemic, but Tholen said those plans are starting to come back.

“We don’t have specific dates around the McLean/Langley boundary change,” Tholen said. “That’s something that we had started working on at the end of last year and through community comments have incorporated Cooper [Middle School] and Longfellow [Middle School] into that process. We anticipate that we will be moving forward with that so we can have something in place for next fall.”

School Board members also said that the Board had told Superintendent Scott Brabrand that the proposal to change admissions the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology needed more data.

“the goal is to make sure those students who rise to the top will not be overlooked while giving oppurtunities to those schools that have previously not participated,” Keys-Gamarra said.

The McLean Citizens Association had previously criticized FCPS for the speed with which it introduced the merit lottery proposal, saying that the process needs more transparency and community engagement.

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In 2010, a plan was approved to help turn Tysons into a fully fledged city. Now, the McLean Citizens Association is planing to talk to County leadership and learn about how those plans have progressed.

The MCA is hosting a conversation tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7:30 p.m. with Fairfax County Supervisors John Foust and Dalia Palchik on how Tysons has changed over the last ten years since the new Comprehensive Plan was adopted.

“The session, moderated by MCA President Rob Jackson, will be in person at the McLean Community Center and live-streamed on our Facebook Page,” the MCA said in a press release. “Prior reservations are required for admission to the in-person session, and all county COVID-19 guidelines, including the wearing of masks at all times, and social distancing will be enforced.”

Each supervisor is scheduled to share their thoughts on how Tysons has changed, followed by a question and answer session and some closing remarks.

Attendance of the in-person event is for MCA members only, though anyone can view the Facebook livestream. No more than 50 people will be allowed in-person, including speakers and support personnel. Registration for the in-person portion can be made online.

Questions should be sent in advance of the session to [email protected]

Image via Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

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