Tysons, VA

Morning Notes

Merrifield Fire Station Renovation Underway — “Renovation at Station 30, Merrifield, coming along nicely. Reno includes a 440 sq ft addition. Station remains totally operationally during this time w/trailer for personnel in back. Truck 430 temporarily at Station 34. Current estimated occupancy is first quarter of 2022.” [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department/Twitter]

Vienna Reminds Locals Not to Put Yard Waste in Plastic Bags — “Vienna residents, please be aware of this new rule. Place yard waste – that’s grass clippings, leaves, weeds, vines, and other such materials – loose in reusable containers or in paper bags made specifically for yard waste and available at hardware stores.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Northern Virginia Office Vacancy Tops 20% — “As a whole, per CBRE, Greater Washington posted 1.4 million square feet of negative absorption over the past quarter, compared to a more modest 129,713 square feet of positive absorption in the first quarter of 2020.” [Washington Business Journal]

McLean Community Center Plans Environmental Action Event — “The McLean Community Center is hosting what it calls an ‘environmental action event’ for local residents on Saturday, April 17 from 9 a.m. to noon.” [Sun Gazette]

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Morning Notes

Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Abolish the Death Penalty — Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation yesterday (Wednesday) that made Virginia the 23rd state to eliminate the death penalty. The move reflected a “dramatic shift” for a state that has recorded the second-most executions in the U.S. Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) celebrated the new law as “one of the most consequential votes” he’s cast in his 12 General Assembly sessions. [Associated Press]

Inova Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Site to Open Next Week — The mass vaccination facility that Inova Health Systems is setting up in Alexandria will open next Monday (March 29), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says. The site has the capacity to vaccinate about 12,000 people per day and “will be particularly helpful to those in South County.” [Chairman Jeff McKay]

Judge Sets Hearing for Park Police Shooting of McLean Resident — U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton has scheduled a status hearing for April 23 to determine whether the two Park Police officers charged in the 2017 fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar “can be criminally prosecuted by the state of Virginia…or whether they fall under amnesty for federal officers from state criminal laws.” [The Washington Post]

Virginia Senator Discusses Experience with COVID-19 — “During a Senate health committee hearing earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine made a surprising admission: Long after contracting COVID-19, the Virginia Democrat is still experiencing strange symptoms. Kaine revealed last May that he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies following an onset of symptoms in March.” [U.S. News]

Falls Church Native Develops Website to Help Navigate Vaccine Registration — 20-year-old Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology graduate Eric Lin worked with a classmate at Harvard University to design a website called COVID Vaccines Info Guide that “would act as a one-stop-shop that provides comprehensive information for all 50 states.” [Falls Church News-Press]

McLean Resident Opposes Proposed Comprehensive Plan Changes — A Dominion Woods resident argues that Fairfax County’s proposals for revitalizing downtown McLean would overburden schools and create longer commutes by inviting an influx of new residents with “little upside” for existing residents. He says residential construction should be capped at 960 units over the next 10 years, high rises should be prohibited on properties next to Franklin Sherman Elementary School, and additional traffic studies should be conducted. [Connection Newspapers]

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After a two-week delay, the Fairfax County Planning Commission voted on March 17 to support a proposed senior living facility in McLean.

Tri-State Development Companies secured a recommendation from Fairfax County planners in February to build on the 3.23-acre site at 1638 and 1642 Chain Bridge Road. The project would replace the existing single-family dwellings with 35 independent living units, five of which are expected to be sold as affordable.

The commission previously deferred making a decision on the project after a public hearing on March 3. Speakers voiced concerns about the heights of the units, potential traffic congestion, stormwater runoff, and the impact of a proposed clubhouse and patio on an immediate neighbor of the site.

Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder recommended that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors grant Tri-State’s special exception request after addressing several of the issues raised at the public hearing.

Ulfelder said the building heights would range between 36 and 40 feet, exceeding the 35 feet permitted in a R-3 zone, to allow for certain roof structures of the units to fit the surrounding neighborhoods.

“In addition, due to the typography of the site, the homes are set at a lower grade level than the surrounding homes,” Ulfelder said. “As a result, the roof heights are actually roughly comparable to the neighboring properties.”

In response to suggestions that a traffic signal be installed at the intersection of Chain Bridge and Davidson Road, Ulfelder noted that a traffic analysis predicts the facility would generate only 85 vehicle trips per day — fewer than what would be generated by a by-right development. The analysis also projected fewer than 10 trips in either the morning or evening peak hour.

He added that Virginia Department of Transportation traffic analysis done as part of the ongoing McLean Community Business Center Comprehensive Plan study concluded that a signal at the Chain Bridge/Davidson intersection might not be warranted for 20 years.

Ulfelder said the applicant has nonetheless “agreed to reserve space near its entrance for the installation of a future traffic signal if it is warranted.”

He said that the stormwater runoff concerns were addressed by Tri-State’s commitment to install a new stormwater system on the site that would exceed what is required by the county and state.

“This will result in the detention of storm water on site and should result in an improvement for the downstream neighbors with less storm water being released from the site during rain events,” Ulfelder said.

Ulfelder also addressed the construction of the proposed clubhouse and patio, which was a concern for Bobbi Bowman, who lives in a property that abuts the site.

According to Ulfelder, Tri-State has flipped the clubhouse’s layout, moving the patio to the west side of the building, where it will be blocked from Bowman’s property. He also said hours of use for the patio would be restricted, with no music allowed outdoors and no happy hour or cocktail parties.

“I believe these changes adequately address the neighbor’s concerns about the possible impact of the patio on her peaceful and quiet enjoyment of her property,” Ulfelder said.

Mary Cortina, who represents Braddock District, was the only commissioner to oppose permitting the project.

While she expressed an appreciation for its design, stormwater retention plan, and amenities, Cortina argued that the site is not large enough for the number of proposed units and would create too much density without “adequate buffering to the surrounding neighborhood.” She also worried that the high density would result in insufficient tree preservation.

“It’s not neighborly to remove all the trees and max out the site, even if it is beautifully designed and serves a priority segment,” Cortina said. “Fairfax County has a wave of senior developments to accommodate, but if we want them to incorporate into existing neighborhoods, they need to meet the setbacks and the other standards in the zoning ordinance to fit into the neighborhood.”

Tri-State’s proposal will go before the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing on May 4 at 3:30 p.m.

Map via Fairfax County

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LoKL Gourmet has been permanently closed for less than a month, but a new restaurant promising a similar Whole Foods-style market with a local focus is already preparing to fill the void that the McLean shop left behind.

Roots Provisions & Grocery will take over Suite E at 8100 Old Dominion Drive, according to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority’s database. With an effective date of March 10, the restaurant’s application for a liquor license is currently pending.

Anne Alfano, the chef and business manager for Roots, says it will be an “elevated” fast-casual restaurant with an emphasis on healthy ingredients. Like Lokl Gourmet, its menu will consist of sandwiches, soups, salad and vegan bowls, and assorted breakfast options.

The venue will also contain a bar that serves beer, wine, and cocktails as well as a grocery section with everything from freshly farmed milk and eggs to pasta, charcuterie, and baked goods, such as cake pops and croissants.

“My goal is to take the former concept of Lokl Gourmet, but make it cleaner, make it healthier, and a little bit more pleasing to the eye,” Alfano told Tysons Reporter.

A notice on the LoKL Gourmet website indicates that the eatery struggled financially throughout 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but managed to persevere until the end of February, thanks to support from its landlord, vendors, and community.

“Our team of food enthusiasts hope to have an opportunity to serve you in the future,” the message to patrons says. “But for now, our restaurant and bar are now closed and we will not be reopening at this location for the foreseeable future.”

The LoKL Gourmet team encourages customers to continue supporting local businesses and locally-sourced foods and products, which were at the heart of the gourmet market’s appeal since it opened in 2015.

In addition to offering a similar menu, Roots will retain some of Lokl Gourmet’s employees and its goal of fostering a neighborhood-friendly environment. The new restaurant’s name reflects the owners’ close ties to McLean, according to Alfano.

“It’s owned by people who live in McLean…who grew up in McLean and live in McLean,” she said. “They’re trying to keep it in the neighborhood, trying to keep the neighborhood vibrant, trying to contribute and give back.”

While the permitting process makes it hard to pin down an exact date, the Roots team hopes to open in April, when the weather will be warmer and COVID-19 vaccinations are expected to accelerate both locally and nationally.

Alfano says they will comply with all health protocols, including mask requirements, and there will be robust curbside pick-up and delivery options, along with an outdoor patio with limited seating.

“We’re in the midst of a major vaccination campaign, and people are eager to go out into the warm weather,” Alfano said. “…I think it’s a great time to open a restaurant right now.”

Image via Google Maps

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Some big changes are coming to McLean, and Dranesville Supervisor John Foust says he supports many — but not all — of them.

During a “Good Morning, McLean” breakfast hosted by the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce yesterday morning (Thursday), Foust highlighted ongoing redevelopment work to the downtown area and Chain Bridge Road, but expressed caution about proposed zoning changes.

He repeated his support for the McLean Commercial Business Center revitalization plan despite some vocal opposition, saying it encourages development while protecting those who do not want McLean to become the next Tysons. The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan on April 28, and it will go before the Board of Supervisors on May 18.

Foust also spoke favorably about Tri-State Development’s proposal to build a 35-unit senior living facility with townhouses on a Chain Bridge Road site that would otherwise fit nine single-family homes. Earlier this month, the planning commission deferred a decision on the plan until next Wednesday (March 17).

“It’s exactly what McLean residents are looking for who want to downsize but don’t want to leave McLean,” Foust said. “Fundamentally, it’s a good application, and I think it’ll probably get approved.”

The project has received some pushback from nearby residents who say the project extends the business district into their residential area and will cause transportation and parking problems.

Foust acknowledged these complaints, adding that a dedicated left turn lane at the Chain Bridge and Davidson Road intersection could be needed to account for car and foot traffic. Ultimately, though, he believes it is better than the alternative for developers.

“Building nine houses would’ve been miserable,” he said.

McLean is also bracing for the potential impact of Fairfax County’s Zoning Ordinance Modernization project. Most of the changes proposed by county staff are “non-controversial” and will simplify frustrating ordinances, Foust said.

But he opposes a few elements that have also consternated the public, including proposed regulations on flags and changes to the permits required to operate a business from home.

Foust says loosening customer and signage rules for home-based businesses could lead to more businesses in residential areas.

“Staff prepared, I think, a very liberalized version,” he said. “I’m not excited about the direction staff is trying to take this.”

Outside of development and zoning issues, Foust says that, as chair of the Board of Supervisors’ economic initiatives committee, he has been focused on how Fairfax County will recover from the COVID-19 pandemic once it’s over.

The committee will receive a presentation on Tuesday from a consultant that the county hired last year to develop recommendations for its road to recovery. Right now, about $15 million are earmarked for implementing recovery programs, but Foust predicts “that number will increase dramatically” when Fairfax County receives federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

According to Fairfax County, that sum could be $222.56 million, although the exact amount has not yet been confirmed by the federal government.

In the meantime, the vaccine process is picking up, even with more than 103,000 people currently on Fairfax County’s waitlist.

“We’re getting through it,” Foust said. “…I get so frustrated sometimes with the failures we’ve encountered, the bumps in the road, but when I step back and look at what staff and others are accomplishing, it’s just amazing.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The fate of a potential senior living facility in McLean has been put on hold.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission deferred a decision to permit an independent living facility for adults 60 and older on Chain Bridge Road on March 3. The decision on the project is now scheduled for March 17 during the commission’s meeting, which will start at 7:30 p.m.

Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfedler proposed deferring the decision in order to address issues presented during the March 3 public hearing.

Tri-State Development Companies secured a recommendation from Fairfax County’s planning staff in February for the development of the 3.23-acre site. The company has proposed replacing existing single-family dwellings at 1638 and 1642 Chain Bridge Road with 35 independent living units.

When presenting the staff report, Fairfax County senior planner Kelly Posusney noted that 15% of the dwellings will be provided as affordable, 55% of the site will be open space, and 90 total parking spaces would be provided via private garages attached to the individual dwellings and surface parking in the development.

McGuireWoods managing partner Greg Riegle, who represents Tri-State on the project, said the development would feature on-site management to assist residents with day-to-day living and amenities like fitness programs and entertainment.

“A commitment to provide the services, amenities and access to care appropriate to an aging population drives almost everything about this application,” Riegle said.

While there was some support from the public during the March 3 public hearing, many also raised questions and concerns about the potential for the project to increase traffic in the community, the development’s height, proposed setbacks, noise and light pollution, and storm water management.

Riegle said the project team is working on storm water management concerns by making downstream improvements. The plans also include on-site storm water management facilities to control an increase in runoff, addressing inadequate pipe capacity and flooding of properties downstream.

He added the proposed height of the residential units would not exceed 50 feet. The project overview lists the height of the units as between 36 and 40 feet, “depending on the style of roof.”

Multiple community members called for further evaluation of the development’s possible impact on traffic. Resident Elizabeth Yu requested that a traffic signal be installed at the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and Davidson Road, which runs perpendicular to the project site.

However, Riegle said an analysis performed by the project applicant and VDOT guidelines showed the project does not warrant installation of a signal.

Tri-State’s request to reduce the required 50-foot yard setback to between 27 and 34 feet, depending on the side of the lot, was a particular point of concern for Bobbi Bowman, the abutting neighbor to the site. She specifically requested that a proposed clubhouse, outdoor dining area, and fire pit be relocated from an area adjacent to her property to another location on the site.

“This clubhouse restaurant is essentially a business located adjacent to my home and my very low-density and quiet neighborhood,” Bowman said. “The clubhouse with its noise, and lights and happy hours is even closer to my home and our neighborhood because the applicant has asked to shrink the setbacks.”

Riegle said the clubhouse will be 83 feet from the common property line and the outdoor dining area 88 feet from the neighboring building, but he added that the issue is still being addressed.

“I think we can do some things with landscaping or the special arrangement to potentially improve that,” Riegle said. “We’ve conveyed that to the resident and we will continue to work on that between now and when this application is brought back for decision.”

Map via Fairfax County

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Route 7 Construction Leads to Gas Leak — Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department units were dispatched to the 9100 block of Leesburg Pike yesterday afternoon (Monday) when workers “struck a large gas line,” resulting in an outside gas leak. A building at that address was vacant, and the incident did not affect traffic. [FCFRD/Twitter]

McLean Resident Helps Neighbors Get COVID-19 Vaccine — “Over the past week and a half, [Katja] Hom has helped more than 30 people get vaccination appointments at Safeways in McLean, Arlington, Vienna and other parts of Northern Virginia.” [Patch]

Virginia Tech to End Therapy Program at Falls Church Campus — “The master’s program in marriage and family therapy (MFT) will end in August 2023, the university told the Washington Business Journal. The program’s clinic, at 7054 Haycock Road, which provides low-cost mental health services to low-income residents and training opportunities for students, will also shut down.” [Washington Business Journal]

Fairfax County Police Hit With Civil Rights Violation Lawsuit — “A Black man who was Tasered and punched by a White Fairfax County police officer without apparent provocation in 2020 filed a federal lawsuit Monday claiming his civil rights were violated, he was subject to excessive force, and he was falsely arrested.” [The Washington Post]

ViVa Vienna Organizers Hopeful for Memorial Day Weekend Event — Organizers of the Town of Vienna’s annual ViVa Vienna festival hope to hold the event on Memorial Day weekend as usual, after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam raised the attendance limit on outdoor amusements from 250 to 1,000 people. The festival will likely still operate a little differently to accommodate social distancing protocols. The town will determine a date on Apr. 5. [Sun Gazette]

Fairfax County Board Chair Praises New Federal COVID-19 Relief Package — “Glad to see that the Senate support Americans through @POTUS’s American Rescue Plan. With the $350B to state/local govs, we can continue to provide the assistance our residents need.” [@JeffreyCMcKay/Twitter]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Safeway grocery store on Chain Bridge Road in McLean will soon be no more.

Tysons Reporter received several tips from readers about the impending closure after “going out of business” signs advertising sales popped up last week at the Safeway located at 1330 Chain Bridge Road.

A Safeway spokeswoman confirmed that the store is expected to close on April 30.

This is the only store that Safeway is closing in its mid-Atlantic division, which includes Virginia, D.C., Maryland, and Delaware, says Safeway Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Beth Goldberg.

“Closing a store is always a tough decision, but we sometimes have to make those decisions so we can invest appropriately in other areas of our business,” she said. “Like all retailers, we are constantly evaluating our store portfolio and look at every angle of the business. This includes our real estate.”

The parent company, Albertsons, will still have 111 Safeway stores in the D.C. area after this one closes, she said.

“We have no immediate plans to close any other locations,” she said.

A Lidl will be taking its place.

DMV-area retail-only real estate brokerage firm H&R Retail, which owns the Safeway property on Chain Bridge Road, now lists the German supermarket chain as a tenant. The chain, which is expanding its footprint in Northern Virginia, is known for its low prices.

Lidl spokesperson Chandler Ebeier confirmed to Tysons Reporter that the grocery retailer “will be opening a store in this location in the future, but it is too early to offer specifics at this time.”

“We look forward to serving the community in the future,” he said.

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Fairfax County Creates Tool to Get Off Vaccine Waitlist — People who registered for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through the Fairfax County Health Department but ended up getting doses from another provider can now go online to take themselves off the waitlist. The county says canceling unnecessary registrations will speed up the queue and provide a more accurate picture of who’s waiting for an appointment. [Fairfax County Health Department]

Tysons Tech Company to Go Public With Merger — “Tysons analytics firm Qomplx Inc. is gearing up to go public through a merger with a blank-check company tied to the CEO of mattress juggernaut Casper Sleep Inc. (NYSE: CSPR). The local company, which provides an artificial intelligence-enabled risk management platform, among other products, has agreed to combine with Tailwind Acquisition Corp. in a deal that values Qomplx at $1.4 billion at $10 per share, the companies said Monday…The deal is expected to close in mid-2021.” [Washington Business Journal]

Garden Club of Fairfax Schedules 2021 Home and Garden Tour — “After last year’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Garden Club of Fairfax will hold its 2021 Home and Garden Tour in McLean. The tour is planned between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 20. Due to the pandemic, the tour will emphasize outdoor gardens to allow for social distancing. Masks will be required, and interiors of homes will not be available due to COVID-19 restrictions.” [Patch]

McLean High School Wins Press Freedom Award — “Two Fairfax County public schools — Chantilly High School and McLean High School — are among 14 schools nationwide selected as recipients of the 2021 First Amendment Press Freedom Award. This is the seventh consecutive award for Chantilly High, and the fourth award for McLean High. The award recognizes private and public high schools that actively support, teach, and protect First Amendment rights and responsibilities of students and teachers, with an emphasis on student-run media where students make all final decisions of content.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

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In response to a new wave of public feedback, Fairfax County staff has revised its drafted plan to revitalize the McLean Community Business Center.

The changes include harder caps on building heights, guarantees for syncing development to public school capacity, and more specific environmental requirements — all concerns that some community members and civic associations have recently raised.

Staff discussed the changes during a virtual open house on Saturday (Feb. 20).

The draft plan is currently under review as it winds through county processes. It will go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission for a public hearing on Apr. 28, followed by a May 18 Board of Supervisors meeting when county leaders will vote on whether to adopt the plan.

McLean Citizens for Right Size Development (Right Size McLean), a coalition of local neighborhood associations, welcomed the changes.

“We were encouraged to see the proposed changes to the maximum heights by zone and that the plan would spell out the maximums in linear feet, reducing the allowable height of the land parcels that abut Franklin Sherman Elementary School along Chain Bridge Road to 40 feet,” Right Size McLean member Linda Walsh said.

Walsh says the group was also glad to see that the new draft sets stronger environmental goals, especially for tree canopies and stormwater quality and quantity.

The McLean CBC study process began in 2018 when consultant StreetSense worked with members of the McLean community to draft a 10-year “Vision Plan.” Since then, a task force appointed by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust has worked with county staff to create a Comprehensive Plan spanning 25 years.

According to Foust, task force members, and staff, downtown McLean will become a vibrant, biking- and walking-friendly downtown that creates a real sense of place. The plan envisions a total of 3,850 residential units in the district as well as traffic pattern changes and streetscape updates.

The community business center will be divided into three zones: Center, General and Edge, with corresponding heights for each. The most recent draft does not change height caps for buildings in each zone, but it does specify maximum heights in feet as opposed to the number of stories.

Buildings cannot exceed 92 feet (or seven stories), although one building in the Center zone will be allowed to reach 128 feet (or 10 stories). The developer who is awarded the tallest building will be responsible for creating the two-thirds-acre public plaza envisioned in the plan.

General zone buildings surrounding the Center zone can reach 68 feet (five stories). The county did not make any changes to the Edge zone in the most recent draft. Read More

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