Updated 4:50 p.m. to correctly attribute a quote to Martin Smith.
The McLean Citizens Association wants to see significant changes to the downtown revitalization plan slated to go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission this month.
Members of this board focused their criticisms of Fairfax County’s most recent draft plan to update the McLean Community Business Center on parking, building height, overall density, stormwater management, and schools.
The MCA passed a resolution on April 7 opposing the document unless the county made a number of changes, including:
- Reduce language encouraging underground and on-street parking in favor of language protecting surface parking
- Guarantee that a developer’s proposed building height includes all above-roof features
- Require a 10-year review midway through the plan’s proposed 20-year vision with regard to increasing density
- Eliminate language that encourages “innovative solutions” to school overcrowding if, as density increases, schools need to expand
Multiple board members said the resolution contains emphatic language in the wake of the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance Modernization project. That initiative encountered vocal opposition from many homeowners’ groups, including MCA, but was ultimately approved 7-3 by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
“We took a softer, more positive approach on zMOD and I’m not sure it got us anywhere with zMOD,” MCA board member Jen Jones said. “I think this is just as important as that was, and I think taking a stronger stance makes a lot of sense.”
Martin Smith, who opposes the McLean CBC plan completely, likewise voiced support for the resolution but said he wished the language were even stronger.
“I support this because I think it’s clear that we don’t like the fact that they haven’t responded to our previous suggestions, and I just think we have to make a stronger statement,” he said.
But some members said the resolution contained language that was too strong.
“I think that this is a document which we agree with on very many points,” board member Ron Bleeker said. “There have been some very good points which have been raised and should be considered. Whether this requires us to say we oppose the entire document, I think may not be the best approach.”
Fairfax County staff recently revised its drafted plan to revitalize downtown McLean in response to a wave of public feedback.
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and Fairfax County staff say they plan to further engage with the MCA.
“The provisions of the proposed comprehensive plan are very good, but we have time to make them even better before the plan is presented to the Board of Supervisors for approval,” Foust said. “The MCA’s resolution is helpful, and each of their recommendations will be considered as the language of the draft plan is finalized.”
Leanna O’Donnell, planning division director of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development, said her department is reviewing the resolution and will be reaching out to discuss the MCA’s concerns.
The draft will go before the Planning Commission on April 28 and the Board of Supervisors on May 18.
Photo via Fairfax County
Fairfax County’s government workers union urged the Board of Supervisors yesterday (Tuesday) to adopt a fiscal year 2022 budget that includes increased compensation for employees, whose year-long pay freeze would be prolonged if the county’s proposed budget takes effect.
The testimony came during the first of three public hearings on the advertised FY 2022 budget that have been scheduled for this week. There will also be hearings at 3 p.m. today and tomorrow (Thursday).
Service Employees International Union Virginia 512, which represents social workers, librarians, maintenance staff, and other general county government employees, says that its top priorities for the new budget are ending the pay freeze and establishing rules for collective bargaining.
“For over one year, we have worked tirelessly to keep the community running,” SEIU Virginia 512 President Tammie Wondong said. “We have done everything we can to keep Fairfax families healthy and safe, even when we have not been healthy and safe ourselves. Today, we are asking that you recognize and value county employees in this year’s budget.”
Wondong acknowledged that the county has made an effort to support employees during the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding leave options and providing hazard pay. The board is also considering offering one-time bonuses in the FY 2021 budget as part of its third-quarter review, which will be approved on April 27.
However, the union argues that that remains insufficient compensation for employees who are essential to maintaining county services but often struggle with the rising costs of housing, healthcare, and other needs.
Fairfax County Health Department employee Jenny Berkman-Parker said in a video that played during the public hearing that the most recent evidence of the ongoing pay freeze’s impact on her family came in the form of an email from her son’s university, which announced that it will raise tuition costs by 5% next year.
“I was trying to be understanding the first year. The second year is definitely more stressful,” she said. “…Now that we’re having pay freezes for two years in a row and we’ve had pay freezes in the past, my income is no longer keeping up with the cost of living.”
Fairfax County Public Schools employees would also have their pay frozen again under the advertised FY 2022 budget. The Fairfax County School Board requested a 3% pay raise for all employees, but that was not incorporated into the county’s proposal, which increases funding for the school system by just $14.1 million.
The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, which represents all non-administrative FCPS staff, said in a press release issued on Monday (April 12) that 60% of respondents to a poll it conducted reported living paycheck to paycheck. Three out of four respondents said they have considered leaving for another school district due to the pay freeze.
“These statistics should not be the case in one of the wealthiest districts in the Commonwealth,” FCFT President Tina Williams said. “…Our district and county must do better.”
County Executive Bryan Hill’s proposed budget largely limits spending in response to the ongoing demands of the pandemic and uncertainty about the county’s future recovery.
When he presented his proposal on Feb. 23, Hill told the Board of Supervisors that it would cost more than $55 million to fund the county’s employee compensation program, including almost $30 million for a 2% market rate adjustment. Read More
A planned overhaul of The Madeira School won the uncontested endorsement of the McLean Citizens Association last week as it moves towards the Fairfax County Planning Commission for review.
The Madeira School is an all-girl’s private school at 8328 Georgetown Pike in McLean founded in 1906. While not looking to expand its student population, the school is hoping to expand and renovate some of the outdated buildings.
The centerpiece of the proposal is the removal of the site’s existing science building so it can be replaced with a new structure with upgraded classrooms. Other additions include a stables building, a new residential hall, and new faculty housing.
In an article on the school’s website, school administrators say the new classrooms will replace outdated 1970s facilities that don’t meet the school’s needs and are difficult to maintain.
“Replacing Madeira’s current science facility is a critical need — and not only because our curriculum has outgrown it,” the school said. “We are limited by our current building, constructed in the 1970s, which is extremely costly to maintain, has an insufficient number of classrooms, antiquated laboratories, structural flaws, and inflexible spaces. The new building will elevate the program for Madeira’s engaged students and signals a bold new standard.”
With very little discussion, the McLean Citizens Association voted to approve a resolution endorsing the school’s application to amend its existing special exception permit during a board of directors’ meeting on April 7.
The Madeira School’s application to the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning states that it is seeking the following modifications and improvements:
- Removal of the existing Biedler Science Center building, elimination of a previously approved but unbuilt addition to the building, and construction of a new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) building. Construction of this building will be key to upgrading all of the School’s classrooms, because it will relocate several existing math classrooms out of the Schoolhouse I building, leaving a block of space that can be spread around both Schoolhouse buildings for reconfiguring and upgrading purposes.
- Removal of the existing Stables building, including elimination of a previously approved but unbuilt addition, and removal of the existing Gaines Hall Indoor Riding Ring building, and construction of a new Stables building, riding arena, and hot walker’.
- Removal of the existing two-story residence known as the “Farmhouse,” to be replaced by a new two-story, 5,000 square foot residence.
- Removal of the existing residence known as the “Laurels,” to be replaced with six units for faculty housing. The proposed faculty housing will be four-story two-over-two stacked townhouses. The density for such units has been reallocated from previously approved faculty housing units that were not constructed to their maximum approved square footage.
- Removal of the existing Health Center, to be replaced with eight units for faculty housing. The proposed units will be four-story two-over-two stacked townhouses. The density for such units has been reallocated from previously approved faculty housing units that were not constructed to their maximum approved square footage. The Health Center function will move into the current studio arts building.
The proposed improvements and uses are accessory to the existing primary use as a private school of general education with an enrollment of more than 100 students. None of these projects will encroach into the existing RPA. All previously approved structures that have not yet been constructed are deemed to be approved pursuant to the previous approvals and are depicted
The Planning Commission hearing for the project is scheduled for Wednesday, April 28.
Image via Madeira School
The McLean Citizen Association (MCA) will host a public safety forum on criminal justice reform on April 21 at 7 p.m. According to an MCA flier, the event will feature a panel to address issues such as “police use of force, oversight, accountability and reform.”
Panelists for this forum will include:
- Adrian Steel, former member of the Fairfax County Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission and the inaugural chair of the Fairfax County Police Civilian Review Panel
- Fairfax County Fraternal Order of Police President Brad Carruthers
- Fairfax County Coalition of Police, Local 5000, President Sean Corcoran
- Fairfax County NAACP President Karen Campblin
- Current Civilian Review Panel Vice Chair James Bierman
- Fairfax County Independent Police Auditor Richard Schott
If time permits, there will be a question-and-answer session for the public to talk to the panelists.
The future of policing and public safety has become a top concern in Fairfax County in recent months as the county searches for a new police chief to succeed Edwin Roessler, who retired in February after eight years in the position. Deputy County Executive for Public Safety David Rohrer is currently serving as the county’s interim police chief.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who chairs the board’s public safety committee, held a public input session on Tuesday (April 6) where community members shared their thoughts on what the county should look for in its next police chief.
This will be the McLean Citizens Association’s second public safety forum in the past five months after the group hosted a discussion with Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano on Dec. 16.
MCA also passed a resolution in July 2020 condemning the actions of a white Fairfax County police officer who tased a Black man and knelt on his neck.
In that resolution, MCA urged county leaders and the Fairfax County Police Department “to provide additional and ongoing training to FCPD officers regarding racial neutrality and identify and take rigorous disciplinary action…of officers who have a history of…using unjustified force or abusive conduct towards African Americans and other minorities,” amongst other requests.
Registration is required to attend the upcoming forum. An email with the Zoom link will be sent to all registered guests. Guests may also view the live streamed event on the MCA Facebook page after the meeting is complete.
Photo via McLean Citizens Association/Facebook
The time for community members to weigh in on Fairfax County’s FY 2022 advertised budget has arrived.
The McLean Citizens Association hosted a public meeting on Monday (Mar. 1) so residents could discuss the proposed budget with Fairfax County Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.
Mondoro kicked off the meeting by discussing highlights of the budget, including the county executive’s recommendation to decrease the real estate tax rate by one cent and building on the $200.2 million the county received through the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund.
During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, attendees asked if the value of commercial properties could change as leases end and some businesses migrate to smaller workspaces.
“We’re on the edge of a pretty significant paradigm shift in terms of the ways people think about office space,” Mondoro said, adding that the office and retail component of the budget is going to need to be evaluated on an ongoing basis.
While anticipating that the value of the properties will continue to decline, he offered a bit of optimism that a balance of teleworking and in-person work will be found in coming years that could help improve the value of office space.
Mondoro also said that all markets in the area are down and “the negativity is pretty much across the board” in terms of decreases in non-residential revenue.
“There are still differences based on where the buildings are located,” Mondoro said. “Those that are more appealing in non-pandemic years are more appealing now.”
Foust argued that, while Fairfax County should focus on building up its commercial base, it also needs to reduce its reliance on real estate taxes as a source of revenue.
“We have a fundamental structural problem in that we rely so heavily on real estate taxes,” Foust said. “…Other revenue sources will need to be established in order to make the revenue more dependent on economic activity and economic success as opposed to owning a home for 20 years, which has appreciated significantly more than your income has increased.”
Audience questions also touched on the possible impact of existing and future federal financial aid.
Fairfax County received $200.2 million from the CARES Act after it was signed into law last March to cover expenses incurred due to COVID-19. The advertised budget does not assume additional stimulus funds, but county staff is monitoring another potential round of payments that could come from a new package currently being negotiated in Congress.
Mondoro tempered anticipation that more federal aid could be used to help lower the property tax rates or fund public services like affordable housing or schools, noting that the money is non-recurring and comes with stipulations regarding how it can be spent.
Foust reiterated Mondoro’s words of caution, though he said the county will take a look at all possibilities.
“There may be one-time charges in the budget we can pay through the federal funds,” Foust said. “Last time we were told, we were told that we cannot replace funds. Everything we spent had to be in addition to what we had previously planned to spend and could not be used to pay for things that we had previously planned to spend [on].”
Image via McLean Citizens Association
The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) board of directors passed a resolution last night (Wednesday) in support of an indepedent living community for seniors that has been proposed for Chain Bridge Road.
Under the name Tri-State Chain Bridge LLC, the McLean-based Tri-State Development Companies has applied for a special exception from Fairfax County to construct a facility with 35 attached condominium units and a 3,600 square-foot clubhouse on a 3.2-acre site at 1638 and 1642 Chain Bridge Road across from Davidson Road.
“The MCA supports this Application because of the desirable and unique situation of the Property for this kind of housing and because it meets an expressed need of the senior residents of McLean,” the MCA resolution says.
However, MCA’s support of the project comes with some conditions.
The community group recommends that Tri-State commit to paying for the installation of a traffic light at the Chain Bridge and Davidson intersection if Virginia and Fairfax County transportation officials ever determine that one is needed.
Tri-State’s statement of justification to Fairfax County states that “a signal is not warranted” for that intersection. A traffic impact assessment found that the proposed facility would generate approximately seven trips during morning peak hours and nine trips during the evening peak, producing an estimated total of 85 daily trips.
MCA board member Winnie Pizzano, who lives near the proposed development site on Westmoreland Street, suggested setting a limit on how long the developer could be obligated to pay for a potential traffic light.
“I’d like to have a light there. It would make a big difference. But I’m not convinced that there’s enough traffic flowing up Davidson,” Pizzano said. “…In the long term, you’re asking this association to pay for a light, the need for which may be generated by other communities that could be built along there.”
The board discussed Pizzano’s proposal, but it was not incorporated into the final resolution.
Other conditions attached to MCA’s support of the project include requirements that Tri-State contract with a transportation service to facilitate outings for residents of the independent living community and a healthcare provider so residents have around-the-clock access.
“The applicant should be bound to stronger covenants to better assure that the contemplated services for seniors will in fact be provided and that the age limitations are enforced,” MCA Planning and Zoning Committee Chair Scott Spitzer said.
A Fairfax County planning staff report on the Tri-State project is scheduled to be released on Feb. 9 before the proposal goes before the county planning commission for a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 24.
Image via Google Maps
A proposal to build a wireless communications tower next to a fire station in Vienna is about get a vote of confidence from the McLean Citizens Association.
The unofficial town council of McLean will discuss a resolution supporting the project when its board of directors meets at 7:30 tonight (Wednesday).
“The Application is consistent with and furthers the goals and objectives of the [Fairfax County] Comprehensive Plan, and will provide improved communication services without undue impact on the surrounding community,” a draft of the proposed MCA resolution says.
The Reston-based cell tower developer Milestone Communications submitted plans to Fairfax County in October for a wireless tower on the Wolf Trap Fire Station site at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Beulah Road.
According to Milestone’s plans, the tower will consist of a 114-foot-tall pole with antennas, topped by a two-foot lightning rod, and it will be surrounded by an eight-foot-tall chain link fence. The facility is expected to occupy 2,500 square feet within the 11.5-acre site, which is owned by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Milestone says all existing structures and open space will be preserved, and the impact of the unmanned facility on neighboring properties will be minimal, noting that the structure will be screened by existing trees.
“There will be no noise or fumes emitted and only 1-2 maintenance vehicle visit sper month maximum,” the plan submitted to Fairfax County says.
The tower will be initially outfitted with Verizon wireless cables and antennas, though designs show that it will be able to accommodate at least four more wireless carriers in the future.
In order to pursue the project, Milestone has asked Fairfax County to grant a special exception and a proffer condition amendment to permit telecommunications facilities on the site, which is zoned for low-density residential use.
The project also has to be approved through the county’s 2232 review process, which determines whether proposals for public facilities are in accordance with the county’s comprehensive plan.
The MCA board of directors notes in its draft resolution that Milestone held a virtual town hall to present the project to the community and has agreed to provide additional buffering to further minimize the visual impact in response to community comments.
MCA says it supports the Milestone tower because it will “improve the cell phone capacity and coverage levels in the areas surrounding the property and would also work with existing neighboring Verizon sites to handoff signals for wireless transmission of voice and data.”
“This will improve customer service including Internet connectivity speed and voice connectivity, resolve customer complaints in the area, and help address increasing demand for quality wireless service so that the service does not further degrade,” the MCA resolution says.
The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the Milestone tower on May 12, and a hearing before the Board of Supervisors has been scheduled for June 8.
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
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.
Measures to curb public safety concerns and improve how the criminal justice system can serve the community are being implemented in Fairfax County.
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