Morning Notes

Metro Extends Service Hours This Weekend — Starting Sunday (July 18), Metro will provide rail service until midnight for the first time since operating hours were reduced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transit agency approved a package of fare reductions and service improvements in June aimed at attracting riders as more offices are set to reopen in the fall. [The Washington Post]

Freedom Hill Park to Recognize Historic Carter Family — As part of an interpretive history project, the Fairfax County Park Authority is inviting the public to a traditional land ceremony and sign dedication at Freedom Hill Park in Vienna on July 31. The new signs will tell the story of the multiracial Carter family, whose accomplishments include establishing the First Baptist Church of Vienna and possibly spying for the Union during the Civil War. [FCPA]

Fairfax County School Board Elects New Chair — The school board unanimously approved Sully District representative Stella Pekarsky as its new chair for the 2021-2022 school year. Board members thanked Mason District representative Ricardy Anderson for her time as chair amid the pandemic and noted she will get some much-deserved time with her family. [FCPS]

Food Trucks Stop by Providence Community Center — “Come by the Providence Community Center tomorrow [July 16] from 11am to 1:30pm for some freshly made empanadas by @empanadasdemza! This will make for a great snack over the weekend so make sure you grab some extra to share with your friends and families!” [Supervisor Dalia Palchik/Twitter]

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The Providence District Council will co-host a town hall for community members to learn about and discuss Fairfax County’s advertised Fiscal Year 2022 budget on Monday (Mar. 8).

Scheduled to run from 7-9 p.m., the budget town hall will feature:

  • Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik
  • School Board Providence District Representative Karl Frisch
  • Fairfax County Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro
  • Fairfax County Public Schools Department of Financial Services Assistant Superintendent Leigh Burden
  • Providence District Council Jeff Agnew

The meeting will be streamed live online and on TV through Fairfax County’s Cable Channel 16. It will also be live-streamed on Palchik’s Facebook page.

Community members can email questions in advance to [email protected], or submit queries during the event by using the Facebook Live chat or calling a phone number that will be provided the day of the town hall.

Fairfax County will hold town halls throughout March to get public input on the county government and FCPS budgets for the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

The McLean Citizens Association already hosted a budget meeting on Monday (Mar. 1), but the Dranesville District will also get a live-streamed town hall at 7 p.m. on Mar. 22. For Vienna residents, the Hunter Mill District town hall will take place on WebEx and YouTube from 7-9 p.m. on Mar. 29.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will also hold public hearings on the advertised budget on Apr. 13-15 before marking it up on Apr. 27 and adopting a budget on May 4.

The Fairfax County School Board, which approved an advertised budget for the public school system on Feb. 18, will hold public hearings on May 11 and, if needed, May 12 after the county’s budget is adopted.

Released on Feb. 23, County Executive Bryan Hill’s advertised budget proposes a one-cent decrease in the county’s real estate tax rate but largely holds back on new spending. The Board of Supervisors will determine an advertised tax rate, which can be equal to or lower than the final adopted one, on Tuesday (Mar. 9).

Palchik says the drastic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all aspects of life, including public health, education, mental health, equity, and the economy, makes it especially important for the public to share its thoughts during the budget process this year.

“In the Providence District, where we have an almost equal split between residential and commercial real estate, we saw a decrease in the commercial assessments with the increases in residential rates,” Palchik said. “Your voice is critical in helping us fully understand the needs of our entire community before the budget is finalized.”

Photo via Google Maps

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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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It took an unprecedented shift to distance learning for Shrevewood Elementary School to drop below capacity for the first time since 2012.

After nearly a decade of parent and community advocacy, however, a long-term solution for overcrowding at the Falls Church-based school is finally in sight.

The Fairfax County School Board voted this week to repurpose the Dunn Loring Administration Center as an elementary school using $36.8 million in school bond funds.

That money had previously been earmarked for a new school in the Fairfax/Oakton area to lessen overcrowding at Mosby Woods and Oakton elementary schools, which has since subsided.

Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch proposed the plan last year after meeting with parents in the communities affected by the crowding.

“We’ve been pushed to the next year for so long,” Shrevewood Elementary PTA President Kate Coho said. “If we could get the ball rolling, that would be great.”

In the past, parents focused on a new boundary process to offset a mini-baby boom in the neighborhoods around Shrevewood.

Coho remembers that a mother began drawing attention to the school’s overcrowding about four years ago. The school was put in line to get a boundary study the following year, but FCPS dropped that provision from its capital planning program until Frisch put it back in last January.

“Then COVID-19 happened, so we’ve obviously been kicked down the road again,” she said.

Coho and fellow parent Jeremy Hancock, whose daughter is in third grade at Shrevewood, both embrace the Dunn Loring plan.

“A school boundary change has always appeared like the most likely or easy thing, but it’s encouraging that we have a longer-term solution,” Hancock said.

Coho said administrators have found creative ways to mitigate the crowding, but the school experience still suffers.

Some kids eat and play early or late in the day to avoid maxing out the cafeteria and the playgrounds. Sixth graders learn in seven temporary classrooms, and some elective courses like art and music are located out there, too.

School-wide activities are “basically impossible,” Coho said.

The 12-acre campus has no space for an addition or more trailers, which are located in the middle of the playground and extend all the way to a hill on the back-end of the school, she said.

The school was last expanded in 1998, when the building was updated to meet current design standards.

“Shrevewood ES has had a slight capacity deficit of 102% beginning in [School Year] 2012-13 and a substantial capacity deficit of 116% beginning in SY 2017-18,” FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said in an email.

Since 2012, the following work has been done:

  • 2013-14: Added temporary classrooms
  • 2015-16: Divided two classrooms into four classrooms
  • 2016-17: Added temporary classrooms
  • 2019-20: Assigned newly identified primary students to the enhanced autism program at Freedom Hill Elementary School instead of Shrevewood
  • 2019-20: Added additional parking

Moving special education programs would effectively free up a few classrooms, but it is “a tricky issue,” Coho said. “It is a difficult situation to put special-needs children in.”

Meanwhile, Hancock, who serves as president of the Falls Hill Civic Association, is also working with the Virginia Department of Transportation to address safety concerns on Shreve Road, which compounds the overcrowding issue.

Because the road’s big intersections and adjacent neighborhoods are designed for driving, there are no sidewalks or protections for pedestrians and cyclists using the Washington & Old Dominion bike trail.

Hancock argues that the chronic lack of parking — a symptom of overcrowding — could be mitigated by safe walking routes.

“It’s such a long term process,” he said.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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On Tuesday morning, the Fairfax County School Board approved a proposal to convert the Dunn Loring Administration Center into an elementary school.

All 10 board members who were present supported the measure. Two members were absent at the time of the vote.

The move is intended to relieve overcrowding at Shrevewood Elementary School in Falls Church and avoid the need to make multiple boundary adjustments.

“We want to limit the disruption to the community, and potentially facing several adjustments is not a path we want to go down,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch told the board.

Fairfax County Public Schools staff support the plan but want to avoid setting a firm timeline to keep their focus on returning to school, he said. Once planning starts, a new school could be ready in five years.

“This is one of the first steps that needs to be done to deal with the development going on in that area,” Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen said.

Today, the Dunn Loring center houses some special education services and programs for parents, but it previously served as an elementary school from 1939 to 1978.

Converting it back will cost $36.8 million in school bond funds. The school board will be using funds that were earmarked for a new school in the Fairfax/Oakton area, which was intended to lessen overcrowding at Mosby Woods and Oakton elementary schools.

The student populations at those schools have since dropped below capacity, Frisch said. Meanwhile, Shrevewood is “bursting at the seams” and could reach 120% capacity by 2025.

The school was first identified as slightly overcrowded in 2012, and became substantially overcrowded in 2017, FCPS spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said. Since 2012, the school has taken steps to ease crowding, such as adding space, trailers and more parking, she said.

Repurposing the Dunn Loring center is a more viable long-term solution than redrawing boundaries, Shrevewood Elementary PTA president Kate Coho told Tysons Reporter.

“Dunn Loring provides the long-term solution to the problem that’s only going to get worse in this immediate area, as we see housing continuing to go up,” she said.

At-large school board member Abrar Omeish said Shrevewood’s over-capacity is not as stark as schools like Glen Forest Elementary School, which has “more kids in trailers than in the building” and a 75% poverty rate.

“When people say that we focus more on schools that have more than the ones that don’t, I can’t refute that,” she said.

Hunter Mill Representative Melanie Meren said no solution will serve everyone, but this repurposing option is available now.

“I thought this would be a more straightforward conversation,” she said.

The Fairfax County School Board currently does not have any official policies dictating a public process for reallocating bond funds to different projects than the ones they were intended to support when approved by voters.

Frisch held two community meetings in December on the Dunn Loring repurposing proposal, one for the Shrevewood community and one for the Mosby Woods/Oakton area. However, the school board’s guidebook does not require those meetings or even a forum discussion for proposals to change how bond funds are allocated.

As part of the approval, the school board also directed its governance committee, which is chaired by Frisch, to look at developing a mechanism for a public process to ensure more clarity and transparency for future projects such as this one.

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Although Dalia Palchik has spent nearly all her life in Providence District, her first term representing the district on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors still threw her some curveballs.

Though she had some prior experience with the county government as Providence’s representative on the Fairfax County School Board, Palchik tells Tysons Reporter that she still had to get acclimated to the many departments, initiatives, and organizations, all while in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

“My next goal is to have us get away from acronyms,” Palchik joked.

More seriously, the supervisor says the pandemic has uncovered problems in Fairfax County that she believes can be tackled if the county commits to building trust in the community and working with established and respected local groups and organizations.

She says this year has revealed the vulnerability of communities that have less access to housing, good schools, and walking trails. Those populations also bear the brunt of economic depressions and climate change.

While it is important that the county has hard data showing these inequities, it needs to work “so much faster and harder to help not make those gaps even larger,” Palchik said.

Palchik also saw significant gaps in Fairfax County’s ability to communicate with people who speak Spanish. Upon becoming supervisor, she learned that the county had no Spanish-speaking person overseeing all communications with Spanish speakers.

“I was shocked, honestly,” she said.

For a few months, Palchik filled that role until it was taken over by a Spanish-speaking staff member who joined the county communications team this fall, she says.

As supervisor, Palchik also noticed a disconnect between the county’s operations and the needs of hyper-local communities, noting that many residents are more likely to think of Rhode Island when they hear the word “Providence.”

“They know that they live in Oakton, Falls Church, Tysons, Merrifield or Dunn Loring,” she said. “I think the big challenge is continuing to do things that support our whole county, while honing in at the community development level.” 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!

Monday (Dec. 28)

  • Providence District Coat Drive — The Providence District Community Center and James Lee Community Center are still accepting donations of new or gently used coats for local community members. Donors can call the location they are visiting ahead of time to ensure a contactless drop-off. The coat drive is ongoing until Jan. 31, 2021.
  • ESOL Conversation Group (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — The City of Falls Church’s English as a Second Language Conversation Group will host its weekly meeting for people looking to practice their English. Request a Zoom invite by emailing Marshall Webster at [email protected]

Tuesday (Dec. 29)

  • Falls Church Writers Group (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — Writers looking to give and receive feedback on their work can join this group hosted by the City of Falls Church. You can email [email protected] to get an invite to the Zoom meeting.

Thursday (Dec. 31)

  • New Year’s Eve Dinner — 5 p.m. at Blend 111 (111 Church St. NW) — The Vienna restaurant Blend 111 is offering a five-course tasting menu to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Both indoor and outdoor dining are available, and there will also be a “Spanish-themed” carryout option for people who would prefer to eat at home.
  • Flashback to the ’80s — 8 p.m. at Jammin’ Java (227 Maple Ave. E) — Doors open at 7 p.m. for this New Year’s Eve party in Vienna with DJ D, who will play classic hits of the 1980s from Prince and Madonna to The Cure and Billy Idol. There will also be a “Name that Tune” contest, prizes for ’80s outfits, and a midnight champagne toast. Tickets cost $35, and tables come with a two-item minimum purchase. Guests should adhere to social distancing protocols and wear masks at all times except when eating or drinking. You can purchase tickets through Jammin’ Java’s website.
  • Be Safe and Bubbly (Dec. 31-Jan. 2) — all day at the Hyatt Regency (7901 Tysons One Place) — The Hyatt Regency at Tysons Corner is offering a promotional package for guests who would like to celebrate the new year from the comfort of a hotel room. The $175 package includes $75 of credit per day for in-room dining from Barrell & Bushel, along with parking and a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine. Reservations can be booked through the Hyatt using the promo code 85936.

Sunday (Jan. 3)

  • “Sit and Sip” Meet and Greet (Online) — 10 a.m. — The Junior League of Northern Virginia is inviting prospective new members to a Zoom call to learn more about the organization, which aims to empower women through volunteerism and focuses specifically on addressing childhood obesity. During the call, current members will share their experiences and answer questions. People can RSVP through this link.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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Monday Morning Notes

Falls Church Middle Eastern Restaurant Officers Discount for Guests Who Voted — “Sheesh Grill [in] Falls Church (8190 Strawberry Lane Ste 4) will offer diners who present their ‘I Voted’ sticker a discount off their meal from Oct. 26-Nov. 3.” [Sheesh]

Locals Help Science Teacher Clear Daniels Run Elementary Courtyard — “On #VolunteerFest weekend, students from Fairfax and Lake Braddock high schools help a science teacher clean up a courtyard at her school, Daniels Run Elementary.” [Twitter]

Tysons Chamber of Commerce Urges Greater Business Collaboration — “The chamber now is focusing on “business verticals” that encourage companies in complementary industries to purchase services from each other, said Andrew Clark, the chamber’s new board chairman.” [Inside Nova]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Update on 10/28/2020 — This article has been corrected to clarify that the approved leases are only for necessary roof space, not entire facilities, and to note that Fairfax County is working with three contractors on its solar PPA initiative, not just Sigora Solar. The article also previously stated that the county will not bear any costs for the solar panels, but a county spokesperson says it would be more accurate to say the county will not bear upfront costs to design, permit, and construct the panels. 

Fairfax County inched closer to transitioning to renewable energy yesterday (Tuesday) when the Board of Supervisors authorized staff to lease roof space at the Providence Community Center and seven other county government-owned facilities so they can be outfitted with solar panels.

Providence Community Center will have rooftop solar photovoltaic panels installed on its main building at 3001 Vaden Drive, which operates as a government center for Providence District as well as a community meeting facility.

The other facilities that the county board approved to be leased to Sigora Solar following a brief public hearing are:

  • The Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The Pennino Building (12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The North County Government Center (1801 Cameron Glen Dr., Reston)
  • Reston Community Center (2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston)
  • Springfield Warehouse (6800 Industrial Road, Springfield)
  • Noman M. Cole Pollution Control Plant lab building (9399 Richmond Highway, Lorton)
  • I-66 Transfer Station, workers’ facility building, and truck wash building (4500 West Ox Road, Fairfax)

The eight facilities are among the first locations approved for solar panels as part of Fairfax County’s extensive solar power purchase agreement initiative, which was announced on Dec. 10 as the largest by a Virginia municipality at that point. Contracts were awarded to Sigora SolarSun Tribe Solar, and Ipsun Solar.

The three solar providers will design, permit, install, and operate rooftop solar panels at all facilities participating in the program, which also includes facilities owned by Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County Park Authority, and Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Under the PPA, Fairfax County will not bear any upfront costs for the design, permitting, or construction of the solar panels, Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination director Kambiz Agazi says.

Instead, the county will purchase on-site electricity from the solar providers.

The solar PPA is expected to help Fairfax County reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and its electricity costs, though county staff could not yet provide specific numbers for how much the installation of solar will reduce emissions or how much money the county is expected to save.

“We will have an approximation as soon as we have a permitted design,” Agazi said. “We hope to have that in the next three to four months.”

The eight facilities that were the subject of yesterday’s public hearing are among 113 possible projects in the first phase of Fairfax County’s PPA. A request for proposals issued by the county in 2019 listed a total of 247 facilities across the initiative’s two planned phases.

County staff say they will return to the Board of Supervisors in the future to get approval to lease the 18 other county government-owned facilities in the first phase of the PPA.

Image via Flickr/Minoru Karamatsu

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How often should a homeowner have to reassure the county that their granny flat is a granny flat?

That is one of many questions facing Fairfax County as it continues working toward the first major overhaul of its zoning ordinance in 40 years.

Providence District Planning Commissioner Phil Niedzielski-Eichner attempted to answer some of those questions in a discussion with the Providence District Council on Oct. 14 that also touched on development and housing.

The importance of the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project, or zMOD, has become increasingly apparent as housing affordability challenges persist and more people work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Niedzielski-Eichner says.

“We want, on the one hand, to increase the opportunity for people to afford to live in the community,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “We want to allow for the potential of people working out of their homes. We want to recognize that that’s an evolving reality. At the same time, we’re sensitive to protecting the neighborhood and don’t want it to cause parking problems and other neighborhood issues.”

Among the biggest proposed changes to the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance are new regulations for accessory living units, which generally known as accessory dwelling units but got a name change in Fairfax to avoid confusion with affordable dwelling units.

Defined as “subordinate living spaces with areas for eating, sleeping, living, and sanitation,” ALUs are currently only allowed in Fairfax County if an occupant of the unit or the principal dwelling is 55-plus years old or has a disability.

Under Fairfax County’s most recent draft zoning ordinance, which has been available for public comment since June 30, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors would have the option of eliminating the age and disability requirements for an accessory living unit.

The draft ordinance also outlines a new process for homeowners to get approval for an ALU.

Currently, homeowners currently have to attend a public hearing if they want to add an ALU, but the proposed zoning ordinance allows property owners to instead apply for an administrative or special permit that would need to be renewed every five years.

Niedzielski-Eichner says county staff is considering requiring renewal every two years instead of five, as they try to acknowledge concerns about the potential impact of accessory living units on neighborhoods without overly burdening property owners.

“We already know that people are doing accessory living units outside of the context of permitting or any regulation,” the Providence District planning commissioner said. “If we make it so difficult that people don’t want to enter into the process, then we lose the ability to influence the quality of that process and how it’s implemented.”

The Fairfax County Planning Commission’s land use process review committee is scheduled to have a discussion on zMOD this Thursday (Oct. 22) at 7:30 p.m.

Other land use and zoning challenges facing Fairfax County, especially a district like Providence that spans urbanizing centers like Tysons and older neighborhoods like Mantua, include expanding the availability of affordable and workforce housing, and ensuring that county services and infrastructure keep pace with development.

Niedzielski-Eichner says he has advocated for the county to become more data-driven when making decisions, such as altering policies around ALUs, that could potentially change the character of a neighborhood.

“It’s all about community confidence,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “I feel that we have to do those things so that the community will come along with the policy and have confidence that it follows their best interests.”

Image via Providence District Council

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