Tysons, VA

Forget the Tidal Basin. Fairfax County has a few prime cherry blossom-viewing sites of its own.

This includes Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Reston’s Van Gogh Bridge, and along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

The blooming, pink-tinged flowers have long served as a symbolic announcement of spring’s arrival in the D.C. area, but the sight might be especially welcome this year after a winter that proved challenging for reasons only partly related to the weather.

“It [always] gets quite busy here this time of the year,” Meadowlark park specialist Jeff Hill said. “But this year, there’s a slight edge of frenziness to it.”

Run by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks), Meadowlark is home to at least 60 to 80 cherry trees, a number of which are the same species as the ones at the Tidal Basin (Yoshino). The oldest ones were planted back in the late 1980s, while other cherry trees were planted more recently over the past several years.

Hill says that, particularly in the last four or five years, the trees have grown “exponentially in popularity.”

They are scattered throughout the 95-acre property, but mostly concentrated near the Visitor’s Center and down by the lakes.

According to Hill, the ones closer to the Visitor’s Center are already in bloom and are nearing their peak. The trees by the lakes just started to open earlier this week, so those blossoms should be nearing peak bloom as well by this weekend.

However, the recent cold weather could majorly impact them.

“Anything that’s in full bloom right now, will probably be affected the hardest,” Hill said. “Not only is it cold, they’ve been calling for pretty significant winds.”

However, he says that, since they haven’t fully opened up yet, the trees by the lakes “maybe able to skirt by” and remain on schedule to bloom come this weekend.

In terms of care, the staff at Meadowlark rarely interfere with the cherry trees aside from periodic pruning, monitoring for insects and fungi, and mulching.

“We try to leave things to be as natural as possible,” Hill says.

With the gardens expected to be very busy this weekend, Hill recommends visiting during the week if possible. Capacity limits are in effect, but since the grounds are so large, crowds should be minimized if people spread out.

“With the Tidal Basin so busy and popular, people are just looking for an alternative site,” Hill said. “[Meadowlark] is a great place because you have the water, you have the cherry trees…everything you need for a cherry blossom-style festival.”

As for the cherry trees near Van Gogh Bridge at Lake Anne in Reston, one is owned by the Waterview Cluster and the others by the Washington Plaza Cluster Organization.

Those trees date back to at least the early 1980s, according to the Reston Association, which does not own the trees, but occasionally prunes them to keep pathways clear.

The Van Gogh bridge was built in 1965 to link the Waterview and Washington Plaza clusters. It was designed by William Roehl, who also designed the nearby Swing.

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The weather is getting warmer and the sun is shining longer, but spring really arrives in D.C. when the thousands of cherry trees around the Tidal Basin start to bloom.

Organizers announced on March 1 that this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival will take place from March 20 through April 11. The National Park Service currently predicts that the flowers will be in peak bloom sometime between April 2 and 5.

With COVID-19 still posing health risks after mostly shutting down last year’s showcase, the 2021 festival has been reimagined in a less concentrated format with a combination of in-person and virtual activities that will encompass the entire D.C. area, including Fairfax County.

In addition to promoting regionwide events, such as the “Art in Bloom” sculptures and “Petal Porch Parade,” Fairfax County will host events of its own in coordination with the larger festival, many of them designed to showcase local gardens and parks or celebrate the coming of spring.

Supported by Visit Fairfax, the county’s official tourism organization, the festivities include:

  • Festival Central (March 20-April 11): The Fairfax County Visitor Center at Tysons Corner Center will provide free cherry blossom-themed souvenirs and information about the festival. It will also host its annual National Cherry Blossom Festival Day from 1-3 p.m. on March 27, which will feature a calligraphy demonstration.
  • The Science Behind Flowers (March 20-April 11): A program on botanical chemistry, invasive and native plants, ecological restoration, and other flower-related topics will stream online throughout the festival, courtesy of the Children’s Science Center.
  • Spring Fling Tour (March 27): Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon will have “special stations” throughout its nature trail “to build a fairy house” and provide Japanese tea at its meeting house.
  • Wabi-Sabi: Embracing Imperfection (March 28): Alexandria’s Green Spring Gardens will host a program on wabi-sabi, a Japanese philosophy focused on finding beauty in an imperfect natural world. Attendees will get tea samples and traditional sweets in an optional tea box. The event costs $12-24 and requires advance online registration.
  • Spring-Themed Drive-in Movies (April 3-4): Mosaic District is resuming its drive-in movie screenings with a pair of double features, starting with “Mary Poppins” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” followed by “Hop” and “42.” Tickets cost $28 per car and can be purchased online.
  • Community Market and Workshops (April 10): The Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton will feature cherry blossom-inspired artwork, a marketplace, and various workshops, including origami crafts, haiku contests, and Japanese drumming.
  • Plants & Design (April 10): Led by horticulturalist Bevan Shimizu, Green Spring Gardens will offer a virtual, hour-long program about Japanese-style garden design. The program costs $18 and requires advance registration.

Visit Fairfax also advises residents and visitors to take the opportunity provided by the festival to tour the county’s parks, including Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, which has a lake surrounded by more than 100 cherry trees.

Though the format is different this year, Visit Fairfax president and CEO Barry Biggar says the influx of tourism that typically accompanies the annual cherry blossom festival has long benefitted not just the nation’s capital, but also the D.C. region as a whole.

“The National Cherry Blossom Festival is one of the nation’s greatest celebrations of spring and Visit Fairfax has been a proud supporter for many, many years,” Biggar said. “…People may come because they are familiar with the blossoms along the Tidal Basin, but we encourage visitors and residents to also explore some of the wonderful cultural events and attractions, spacious gardens and parks, and beautiful cherry trees that exist beyond the city.”

The festival will kick off at 6 p.m. on March 20 with a virtual opening ceremony. A full programming guide can be found on the National Cherry Blossom Festival website.

Photo courtesy Visit Fairfax

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The Fairfax County Park Authority is one step closer to planning for more dog parks in the county due to an increase in demand and the authority’s currently limited offerings.

The county recently completed a draft report of a dog park study that was initiated in 2019 and conducted by the FCPA and Fairfax County Park Foundation. A survey soliciting feedback for the study attracted more than 4,600 respondents.

“The purpose of the study was to assess needs and priorities for dog parks throughout the county, and to adopt strategies for long-term planning, development and management of dog parks,” FCPA wrote in a statement.

The report calls on FCPA to construct at least one dog park by 2025 to meet service needs in the area and to implement revised guidelines and standards for future dog parks. Survey respondents most sought a new dog park in the planning districts of Upper Potomac and Bull Run.

The county currently has 13 public dog parks, 11 of which are owned and operated by FCPA.

The study recommends creating future parks based on geographic distribution and the overall goal of 20-minute drive access throughout the county and 10-minute walking access in densely populated areas. The density of licensed dogs in a given area would also be considered.

The study does not recommend any changes to existing dog park rules or operating hours.

Volunteering could also become a stronger component of managing dog parks. The report suggests using volunteers to manage existing and future programs more efficiently.

A virtual meeting on the draft report is set for Tuesday, March 23 at 7 p.m. A staff presentation on the findings and recommendations of the report will be followed by a public comment period.

Other recommendations related to operations and maintenance. While the county found that maintenance standards and practices are consistent with other jurisdictions, there is a need for more regular maintenance, particularly waste management.

The report also cites a need for more water sources, rule enforcement, and shade.

Comments will be accepted through April 23. They can be submitted by email to [email protected] or through the dog park study website.

Photo via DC Bulldog Meetup/Facebook, map via Fairfax County Park Authority

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved the construction of an apartment building with ground-floor retail in Merrifield.

The project replaces a 1980s-era, three-story office building at 2722 Merrilee Drive with a seven-story, 85-foot-tall residential building with retail and recreational amenities.

Proposed by Elm Street Development under the name Merrilee Ventures, the apartment building will have 239 residential units and 30 units for retail use.

On Tuesday (Jan. 26), supervisors approved the developer’s request to reduce the site’s existing parking by 18% because it is close to the Merrifield-Dunn Loring Metro Station.

The Merrilee building will have 294 parking spaces, including 264 set aside for residents. Merrilee Drive and a planned private street will also have on-street parking.

Elm Street Development is providing 20,000 square feet of passive and active open space, including a retail plaza, an outdoor fitness area, and an expanded streetscape along Merrilee Drive.

“One of the opportunities for Merrifield is to simply link the [Dunn Loring Metro station] to the extensive retail amenities in the established urban core,” McGuireWoods managing partner Greg Riegle, a representative for Elm Street, said on Tuesday.

He further described the project as “an opportunity to promote that connectivity and set a template for the walkable streets, pedestrian amenities, and reasonable street-level retail that will make it an increasingly interesting and amenitized walk.” 

During the meeting, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik lauded the project because it will enhance the pedestrian experience and provide open spaces, including a much-needed dog park.

“I am pleased it resulted in a high-quality urban design that maximized indoor and outdoor amenities and publicly accessible spaces,” she said.

Elm Street Development is still working with Providence District to find .45 acres of space to develop into an urban park. The company is unable to meet a standard in Merrifield’s comprehensive plan that requires urban park space in new developments.

Staff calculated that .63 acres of on-site park space would be required, but Elm Street Development said only .17 acres fit on the site. So, the developer is looking to make up the remaining .45 acres elsewhere. If it can’t find that space, the developer will contribute $500,000 to Fairfax County Park Authority for future urban park spaces.

Those who worked on the project told the supervisors that the project revealed challenges in the urban park standards within the Merrifield Suburban Center Comprehensive Plan.

When approving the Merrilee project, Palchik asked Fairfax County staff to find new ways to achieve the plan’s vision for urban parks.

“The challenge of meeting the urban park standard within the application brought to light needs that, when addressed, will help realize the comprehensive plan’s vision for additional park resources here in Merrifield,” she said.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously approved the project on Dec. 9 after deferring the decision for a week over concerns about the urban park space requirements.

Although concerns over parking and stormwater management were raised during the planning commission’s public hearing in December, no public speakers came forward on Tuesday.

Photo courtesy Elm Street Development, image via Fairfax County

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved developer Dittmar’s request to add a public park and some 480 parking spaces to Westpark Plaza.

The 2.9-acre site is located at 8401 Westpark Drive north of Leesburg Pike. The parking portion of the interim plans for the site will be in place for five years, while the park will remain during the first phase of redevelopment.

Dittmar’s grand plans to replace the demolished Best Western Hotel that previously occupied the site with two residential buildings, a new hotel, and retail were approved in 2018, but the project is currently idling.

Currently, the property is an asphalt parking lot that the Meridian Group used as a construction staging and parking while work on The Boro development was underway.

The plans for interim parking and a pop-up park have been in place since last summer. The Fairfax County Planning Commission approved the proposal on Dec. 9 before the Board of Supervisors gave the final green light on Tuesday (Jan. 26).

“It is the intent of Dittmar, the owner and applicant, to proceed with ultimate redevelopment,” Walsh Colucci senior land use planner Elizabeth Baker said during Tuesday’s public hearing. “They appreciate having these interim uses.”

The theme of the 16,500-square foot park will be an outdoor reading area, complete with a Little Free Library. It will also have space for food trucks, some phone charging stations, sidewalk chalk art, and other amenities, Dittmar says in its development plans.

The park will activate Westpark Plaza and complement the public spaces at The Boro to the north of the site, Alexis Robinson, a staff coordinator in the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, said during the staff presentation on Tuesday.

It will remain in place during phase one, which will primarily involve the construction of one of the two planned residential buildings with retail.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik called the outdoor reading room idea “unique and creative,” and she hopes it will inspire more interesting park concepts as the county plans for more public spaces.

“I believe this will be a great addition to the neighborhood,” Palchik said. “It will provide families a new opportunity to engage and be active outdoors, which as we have seen especially this year is in high demand.”

Image via Walsh Colucci

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The county is seeking to gauge the public’s support for pickleball, a new and rapidly expanding paddleball sport that combines elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis.

The Fairfax County Park Authority has launched an online survey to gauge support for new pickleball activities. The survey is open through Jan. 24. County officials say they’ve received multiple requests to expand the number of pickleball facilities in its parks, recreation centers, and community centers.

The game was invented in 1965 by two dads in Washington who wanted to entertain their kids and use an old badminton court.

A feasibility study is underway on how to address the desire for the sport, identify sites for possible improvements or new facilities, and develop criteria and design guidance used for selecting and constructing pickleball amenities.

Local pickleball players advocating for Fairfax County to develop more facilities devoted to the sport officially formed the Vienna Pickleball Club in June.

Now boasting 179 members, the group successfully convinced the Town of Vienna to turn the Glyndon Park tennis courts into hybrid tennis/pickleball courts when they underwent renovations earlier this year.

However, Fairfax County currently does not have any facilities specifically for pickleball. The closest dedicated facility is Pickleballerz, which opened in October in the Loudoun County portion of Chantilly.

The county’s feasibility study will be completed by the spring of 2021. Currently, the county has 15 parks with either a tennis or basketball court lined for pickleball. Within those parks, there are 28 courts available to play the game.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Fairfax County Park Authority is exploring the possibility of revising its master plan for Clemyjontri Park in McLean to allow for a proposed arts center from the McLean Project for the Arts.

Park Authority staff kicked off the process last week with a virtual public meeting on Dec. 17, when MPA Executive Director Lori Carbonneau presented conceptual renderings for the proposed arts center and detailed how it would align with Clemyjontri’s core mission of providing a playground for children of all abilities.

“We have a vision of a natural marriage of art and the outdoors that this center can create,” Carbonneau said. “It’s going to celebrate our natural heritage, and it’s going to offer a way to extend the vision [property donor Adele] Lebowitz had of creating a place where all can play.”

The overall plans for the arts center have not changed since the public’s first glimpse of the project in February. If approved, it would house three galleries, studio classrooms, staff offices, and an outdoor event space, potentially with gardens and public artwork.

However, what was initially envisioned as a campus with multiple pavilions has now been consolidated into a single building, a change that Carbonneau says came out of talks with prospective architectural and engineering firms that toured the park on Mar. 12.

In addition to lowering maintenance costs, having just one building would make security and cleaning easier, and MPA would only have to invest in one central heating, air conditioning, and ventilation system, a concern that emerged as the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of proper indoor ventilation.

Carbonneau and Park Authority staff emphasized that the project is still in its infancy, meaning that it’s too early to give concrete answers to many questions, including the potential cost to its impact on parking and traffic.

When asked about potential plans to address existing issues with crossing Georgetown Pike, Ryan Stewart, the chief of long-range planning for the Park Authority, said the agency will consult with the Virginia and Fairfax County transportation departments throughout the master planning process.

MPA would schedule arts center programming around peak park usage, with exhibition openings and other special events generally taking place between 7 and 10 p.m., according to Carbonneau, though the organization has not studied park usage beyond publicly available data.

“During COVID, any analysis would be unsatisfying because of the very different traffic patterns that we’re all experiencing right now,” Carbonneau said. Read More

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Westpark Plaza is about to get a little greener – and a whole lot more literary.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission voted on Dec. 9 to approve developer Dittmar’s request to amend its plans to allow for an interim public “reading park” and new vehicle storage.

The park and vehicle storage will occupy the 2.91-acre site at 8401 Westpark Drive north of Leesburg Pike until Dittmar starts construction on its massive, currently idling redevelopment plans, which call for two residential buildings, a new hotel, and retail.

At 16,500 square feet in size, the interim park will be a “multi-generational public park space designed around the idea of an outdoor reading room,” with food trucks, a Little Free Library, phone charging stations, sidewalk chalk art, and other amenities, Dittmar says in its amended development plans.

Walsh Colucci senior land use planner Elizabeth Baker told the planning commission last week that Dittmar developed the idea of a book-themed pop-up park in discussions with the Tysons Partnership, since its original proffers for the Westpark Plaza development included support for a planned future community library.

“We believe it’s going to be a fun addition to the Tysons park program,” Baker said.

The proposed new vehicle storage will contain approximately 480 total spaces, including 80 that could be utilized for commercial off-street parking, which was already permitted as an interim use for the site.

Previously occupied by a Best Western Hotel that was demolished in 2016, the 5.3-acre property is currently an asphalt parking lot that was used as a construction staging area while The Boro was under development.

Baker says the vehicle storage is expected to be on the site for up to five years, after which work on the Westpark redevelopment is supposed to commence.

“The applicant remains committed to the development as previously approved,” Providence District Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner said.

Image via Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh

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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 Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously agreed to defer its vote on the mixed-use development planned for Merrilee Drive after holding a public hearing on Wednesday (Dec. 2).

The planning commission will now decide whether to support the rezoning application for the project from Elm Street Development on Dec. 9.

Though he expressed support for the project, Providence District Planning Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner moved to push the decision back by a week after he and other members of the commission raised questions about the availability of park space in the development.

Located at 2722 Merrilee Drive on a site currently occupied by an office building, Elm Street’s project will feature 20,000 total square feet of open space, including a 0.17-acre public park space along the front of the building, two corner pocket parks, and a private dog park for residents, according to a county staff report.

However, the proposal still falls 0.45 acres short of the on-site park space that Fairfax County expects for developments in the Tysons area, including the Merrifield Suburban Center where the Merrilee project is situated.

“This is an exciting next opportunity to continue developing in the Merrifield area and to help more fully realize the suburban center vision for Merrifield,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “…I think you’ll agree that the park issues, particularly toward the end of the process, were particularly challenging to realize.”

The Tysons Comprehensive Plan requires that developments provide 1.5 acres of public park space for every 1,000 residents and one acre for every 10,000 employees. Under the urban parks standard, Merrilee would need 0.63 acres of on-site public park space.

Fairfax County Senior Planner Kelly Posusney says the failure to meet that standard was the biggest issue with Elm Street’s application when it was accepted for review in March.

County planning staff worked with Elm Street to add as much on-site park space as possible, but they ultimately reached the limit of what they could provide without adding height to the building or other undesired elements.

“Given the size of the development and the type of building, they just couldn’t do any more in terms of meeting the park need,” Fairfax County Park Authority Development Review Chief Andi Dorlester said.

The comprehensive plan does offer alternatives for projects that fall short of the urban park standard. Developers can provide at least 0.45 acres of off-site, publicly accessible parkland. If they are unable to find off-site park space, they can contribute $500,000 to the park authority for the future acquisition and development of park resources in the Merrifield Suburban Center.

According to McGuireWoods managing partner Greg Riegle, who represented Elm Street at the planning commission public hearing, the developer is now looking for properties that could be turned into park space and has committed to contributing $500,000 if the land isn’t found.

When Braddock District Planning Commissioner Mary Cortina expressed concern that the money would end up sitting unused in an escrow or proffer account, Riegle emphasized that the developer’s “strong preference” is to find park space, potentially by combining resources with other land owners as other development applications for the area come in.

“I think time is our friend,” Riegle said. “We’ve got a lot of good leadership in Merrifield and the Providence District, and we’re committed to finding a solution for all the reasons you stated.”

Photo courtesy Elm Street Development

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