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Proposed Sign Ordinance Change Could Impact Tysons Corner Center

Fairfax County is currently mulling over changes to its sign ordinance that has schools, local realtors, and Tysons Corner Center concerned.

At a Planning Commission meeting last week, the commission deferred a decision on the new sign regulations until Jan. 16 to allow for more discussion on the impact of the ordinance.

Currently, county staff are reviewing changes to the zoning ordinance to make the language “content neutral.” The change is in response to the United States Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, which ruled that localities that define sign categories based on the message expressed, or content-based, is unconstitutional unless it furthers a compelling governmental interest.

Rather than allow free reign for Fairfax residents of businesses to erect signs regardless of content, a proposed amendment would tighten sign regulations across the board.

The proposed changes to the sign ordinance are wide-ranging but often minor corrections. One of the biggest changes is that one freestanding building identification sign is permitted for each detached building and such signs must be limited to identifying the name of the building or the individual enterprises located therein, the address, trademark or identifying symbol of the building occupant.

For instance, a real estate sign pointing to a nearby open house, but placed at the entrance to a subdivision, would be prohibited.

One of the proposed changes alters the definition of a sign from something “visible from the public right-of-way or adjoining property” to “visible from any street.” It’s a relatively small change, but any tampering with language in county ordinances could have a ripple effect. According to the staff documents, for instance, a representative of Tysons Corner Center expressed concerns about the impact of the change.

Tysons Corner Center currently has sign exemptions, allowing exceptions to current county rules, but these exemptions are based on the existing definitions of visibility from the public right-of-way or adjoining properties. As a result of these concerns, staff said new language was written into the proposed ordinance to allow greater flexibility.

According to county staff, minor signs — formerly referred to as temporary signs — were the largest challenge in the zoning ordinance rewrite.

“While staff acknowledges that the proposed language could negatively affect some developments that are currently exempt from regulation, we continue to recommend the language found in the draft text as it provides the closest level of regulation as the current provision.”

A representative from real estate investment company Macerich, which owns Tysons Corner Center, said at the meeting that the company had a laundry list of concerns but has been working with county staff to whittle those issues down. Another local realtor at the meeting said the new ordinance could push open house signs and corner signs off of local lawns and into already-crowded street medians.

The sign ordinance changes also sparked concern with the inclusion of language that would remove government exemptions from sign ordinances.

“Staff has received comments from both Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), neither of which is in favor of eliminating the current exemption status. Of particular concern to the Park Authority is the limitation on the size, number and location of minor signs permitted for non-residential uses in a residential district. These signs are used to announce summer concert series, camps and other activities at the parks. The schools have raised concerns with the proposed height of permitted freestanding signs for non-residential uses in residential districts which is proposed to be limited to 8 feet in height.”

As a result, staff said at the Planning Commission meeting that there would be modifications to the ordinance allowing some exceptions for schools and parks.

Planning Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner said at the meeting he was generally in favor of holding Fairfax County government to many of the same sign regulations as the public.

“There’s something to be said with us being able to model our behavior consistent with what we expect from the private sector,” said Niedzielski-Eichner. “There is a different benefit to be realized to the public with the park authority and public school [having] latitude with signs, but frankly I’m comfortable with them doing it within a regulatory context… not unfettered.”

Photo via Flickr/Alan Levine

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Best Hours and Routes to Avoid Holiday Traffic at Tysons Corner Center

Tysons Corner Center estimates 3.65 million shoppers are likely to visit the mall during this year’s holiday season.

With the crush of shoppers filling parking lots and local roads, the mall and I-495 Express Lanes operator Transurban put together some suggestions for spending more time shopping and less time parking.

The best time to shop, we’re told, is before noon from Monday through Thursday, between Dec. 10-20. On Dec. 21, winter break for many local schools starts and lasts until Jan. 4, meaning even the mornings at the mall are more likely to be crowded.

The fastest suggested route into the mall is to access to eastern garage near Barnes and Noble using Westpark Drive. Shoppers are also encouraged to use the Jones Branch Connector, which partially opens this weekend.

Transurban, naturally, recommends the Express Lanes as a time-saving option.

“Shoppers driving to the mall can save time by taking the 495 Express Lanes and using Westpark Drive for direct access to Tysons Corner Center,” said Elisa Bell, a marketing director for the company.

Metro is also an option. The Tysons Corner Metro station connects to The Plaza, which is connected to Tysons Corner Center.

If you want a take a car but don’t want to park, services like Uber and Lyft can get you there — just “ask your driver to enter the Center near the entrances to Rt. 7 or International Drive off Fletcher Street to avoid time in traffic around the Center,” according to the mall.

Valet parking is available for $12 near Coastal Flats outside the Bloomingdale’s. A portion of valet proceeds are also donated to the Northern Virginia Family Services. The “Front and Center” parking in Garage C, meanwhile, is closest to the mall and costs $7. Both of these parking options earn shoppers discounts at mall stores and restaurants.

For those who don’t mind a longer walk, Garage B and C are both still free.

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Morning Notes

New French Bistro Coming to Mosaic District — “Brothers Ian and Eric Hilton are betting third time’s a charm for the Mosaic District space where both RJ Cooper’s Gypsy Soul and Mike Isabella’s Requin Brasserie imploded. The restaurateurs behind Chez Billy Sud, Marvin, and around a dozen other bars and restaurants will open a French bistro in the Fairfax development by early summer.” [Washingtonian]

How to Prevent Clogged Pipes — “Avoid clogged pipes this holiday season — don’t pour fats, oils and grease down the drain. Wipes pots and pans clean before rinsing them in the sink. Cooking oil can be recycled at the I-66 transfer station and I-95 landfill complex.” [Twitter]

Holiday Hours for Tysons Malls — “Many malls will be offering extended hours in the days before Christmas, including Tysons Corner Center and Tysons Galleria.” [Patch]

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Residential Towers Proposed to Replace J.R.’s Stockyards Inn

One of Tysons’ oldest remaining restaurants could be demolished to make way for a new residential development.

An application submitted to the Fairfax County Department of Planning and zoning this summer proposes replacing J.R.’s Stockyards Inn, a two-story restaurant that’s occupied 8130 Watson Street for the last 40 years, with a new large-scale residential development. According to the application:

“After many years of successful community restaurant services, it is time to advance the transformation of this part of Tysons by pursuing a new vision for the Subject Property for future generations.”

The residential mixed-use building proposed for the site, designed by KGD Architecture, would consist of adjoining 11-story and 23-story towers. According to the application, the new building would be part of an ongoing effort to revitalize the older retail-commercial area near the Tysons Corner Center mall and set a precedent for future redevelopment in the area.

According to the architect’s website, the project would include 291 luxury apartments, 5,300 square feet of ground floor non-residential uses, and a 200-seat children’s theater. The proposal says the new building will also have three levels of below-grade parking and one level of podium parking.

J.R.’s Stockyards Inn, one of the first restaurants in Tysons to open outside of Tysons Corner Center mall, closed its daily restaurant operations in 2011 to focus on banquet and catering operations.

The proposal is currently under review by Fairfax County government staff and no hearing for the project has been scheduled so far.

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Where to Ice Skate In the Post-Tysons Corner Center Rink Era

The Tysons Corner Center ice skating rink won’t be coming back this year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still options to put on those skates and hit the ice.

Ranked by proximity to the Tysons Corner Center, site of the former rink, these are your skating alternatives throughout the region:

  • SkateQuest (1800 Michael Faraday Ct) — An indoor ice-skating rink 8 miles/12 minutes away in Reston. The skating rink offers public skating sessions over the weekends and during lunch on Wednesday and Friday. SkateQuest also has various types of skating classes and pick-up hockey games Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.
  • Fairfax Ice Arena (3779 Pickett Road) — An 8 mile/15 minute drive south of Tysons.
  • MedStar Capitals Iceplex (627 N Glebe Rd) — An 8 mile/15 minute drive to Arlington’s Ballston neighborhood, though that time estimate could vary considerably with traffic on I-66. Like SkateQuest, the rink offers public skating on weekends as well as pick-up hockey games.
  • Reston Town Center Ice Skating Pavilion (1818 Discovery St) — A 10 mile/13 minute drive from Tysons to Reston Town Center, if you’re willing to take the Dulles Toll Road. This is the closest choice for those looking for the outdoor plaza skating experience.
  • Pentagon Row Outdoor Ice Skating (1201 S Joyce St) — A 13 mile/20 minute drive from Tysons, this Arlington ice skating rink bills itself as the largest outdoor rink in Northern Virginia and the second largest rink in the state.

Photo via Facebook

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Morning Notes

FCPD Reports Increase in Hate Crimes — “County police have documented 77 crimes and incidents motivated by racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other kinds of bias in 2018 so far. With one month remaining in the year, Fairfax County seems to be on pace to end 2018 roughly in line with 2017, which saw 87 hate crimes and incidents, a two-thirds increase from 2016.” [Fairfax Times]

Fairfax Flags at Half-Mast for Bush — “The U. S., Virginia and Fairfax County flags are lowered in respect and memory of President George H.W. Bush. The flags will remain at half-staff until sunset 30 days from the day of his death on Nov. 30.” [Twitter]

Candle Caution Urged for Hanukkah Celebrations — “While the use of open-flame candles can add ambiance to a holiday and provide ‘warmth’ to a home, battery-powered candles are a safer alternative and one our firefighters and paramedics highly recommend you use.” [Fairfax County Fire & Rescue]

Santa Snapper Sells Spiffy Shoes — Andrea Smith’s current job is taking photos of children with Santa Claus at the Tysons Corner Center mall, but her passion is beautifying old and unwanted sneakers and boots. [Washington Post]

High Student Debt Hurts Regional Home Sales — “Prospective buyers in the local region could afford to purchase 71 percent of homes in the market if they do not carry student debt, but only 62 percent if they carry an average level of debt.” [InsideNova]

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Tysons Agenda: Events Around the Area This Week

Tysons Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in the Tysons area.

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

Wednesday, Nov. 28

Winterbock Ugly Sweater Tapping Party
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (7861 Tysons Corner Center)
Time: 6-8 p.m.

The Tysons Corner Center restaurant will be tapping into its Winterbock, a German-style beer, at an ugly sweater party. Proceeds of the party and Winterbock sales through December will be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation

Friday, Nov. 30

10th Annual Virginia Women’s Business Conference
Sheraton Tysons Hotel (8661 Leesburg Pike)
Time: 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

The conference is a one-day event for women in the area to make business connections. The keynote speaker will be Michelle Poler, founder of the Hello Fears social movement. Tickets are $349 for general admission or $499 for the VIP upgrade.

Saturday, Dec. 1

Annual Norwegian Christmas Luncheon/Julefest
Seasons 52 (7863 Tysons Corner Center)
Time: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

The Norwegian Christmas celebration, hosted by Norwegian heritage group Lakselaget DC, will include live musical guests and a lunch with Norwegian Kransekake for dessert. Tickets are $40 per person.

Pictures with Santa
Tysons West (1500 Cornerside Blvd)
Time: 1-4 p.m.

Selfies with Santa, or a free professional photo, are available at the Tysons West shopping center. Hot chocolate, cookie decorating, and holiday crafts will also be available.

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Name Debate: Tysons or Tysons Corner?

Much like “The Facebook” became just “Facebook,” what was founded as Tysons Corner is now just Tysons — at least, according to the federal government.

Compared to issues like traffic or a lack of affordable housing, it can seem like a small or pedantic difference, but Drew Sunderland, Director of Communications at the Tysons Partnership, said the effort to rebrand the rapidly urbanizing area between McLean and Vienna as “Tysons” — to “drop the Corner,” so to speak — is part of working towards building a cohesive identity.

“Rebranding Tysons is a core element of our charter,” said Sunderland. “Historically, Tysons Corner is synonymous with the [Tysons Corner Center] mall. It’s a vital anchor, but in terms of the greater community, the mall is a component but it’s not limited to the mall… it’s surrounded by millions of square feet of new development. It’s vital to understand that Tysons is more diverse than just a suburban mall.”

It’s an issue that’s even drawn heated feelings. There is at least one anonymous Twitter account waging a one-user-war on the “Corner” using the hashtag #dropthecorner.

Virginia Case, Chair of the Board for the Tysons Chamber of Commerce, said the change from Tysons Corner to Tysons is part of the area shedding its image as a small suburban community.

“[We tend] to think of it in the way you think of one named people being celebrities,” said Case. “Cher. Madonna. Kesha. It works well for us to be Tysons.”

For advocates of the change, there’s been progress. In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau, with some urging from the Tysons Partnership and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D),  changed the designation of Tysons Corner to Tysons. Sunderland said the census, labeling Tysons a place identifiable as a settled concentration of population but not incorporated under state laws, is the most official recognition in existence.

The change has had a ripple effect, altering the names on federal mapping agencies and, by extension, its designation on mapping services that use that data like Google Maps. New developments, like The Boro, almost exclusively refer to the area as Tysons.

While many prominent voices in the Tysons area, like the Tysons Chamber of Commerce, are all on board with “Tysons,” at least one local group said they still believe there’s value in the “Tysons Corner” name. Though the group would only speak off the record, a representative said Tysons Corner still has brand recognition.

Other news outlets, for instance, often use Tysons Corner when referring to the area. Some online sites like Twitter, when asking for your address, autofill “Tysons” to “Tysons Corner.”

There’s also the issue of Tysons sharing the name with other established brands. When looking up information on Tysons the news is often saturated with scandals involving Tysons chicken or former boxer Mike Tysons’ ongoing efforts to start a marijuana farm.

“People are always going to mistake your brand,” said Case. “Even my grandmother, whenever she was taking a plane, would take ‘a bluejet.’ We really do look at this place being a landmark.”

Case pointed to Paris as a somewhat bold comparison to Tysons, noting that there is a Paris, New York and a Paris Hilton, but the Paris that claims the landmark status is the one in France.

“Tysons Corner sounds sleepy,” said Case, “not like a prominent urban center.”

Case and Sunderland both noted that the name change can sometimes be an uphill battle. Case said most often the confusion comes from people who were from the area when it was still called Tysons Corner and are returning. But when they actually see how the area has changed, Case said most people she talks to understand that the area has outgrown the old name.

“You’re always going to have pushback when you embark,” said Sunderland. “People won’t necessarily understand the purpose behind the change. But if you look out the window, Tysons is a city. There are major high rises. There’s incredible density. We’re a city.”

Photo (top) via Fairfax County Fire and Rescue/Twitter

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Black Friday Mall Theft Leads to Pursuit and Crash in Tysons

Four women were arrested this past Friday, accused of stealing items from a store at Tysons Corner Center and then leading police on a chase the ended in a multi-vehicle crash.

The incident happened around 10 p.m. on “Black Friday,” one of the biggest shopping days of the year and a time when roads around Tysons are often jammed with traffic.

Three of the women allegedly “ran out of the Zara store with bags of merchandise,” then “got into a car and sped away from the area.” A police pursued ensued, ending “when the driver hit several other cars that were stopped at a red light,” according to Fairfax County Police.

The suspects, all of whom are between the ages of 18 and 20, are alleged to be part of a theft ring that has stolen from several businesses in the area, according to an FCPD crime report, below.

GRAND LARCENY / PURSUIT: 1961 Chain Bridge Road (Zara), 11/23/2018, 10:05 p.m. Three women ran out of the Zara store with bags of merchandise. They got into a car and sped away from the area. Officers attempted to stop the car, but the driver disregarded the officers’ attempts to stop them. The pursuit ended when the driver hit several other cars that were stopped at a red light, and all occupants were arrested.  No one was injured. Caprice Davis, 18, of Capitol Heights, MD, was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Keva Iracks, 19, of Washington, D.C., was charged with two counts of grand larceny, larceny with intent to distribute, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Germaine Johnson, 20, of Gaithersburg, MD, was charged with obstruction of justice, providing false identification to law enforcement, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, grand larceny, and larceny with intent to distribute. Daysha Robinson, 20, of Washington, D.C., was charged with felony child endangerment, grand larceny, and felony speed to elude. The group was responsible for stealing from multiple businesses in the area.

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Morning Notes

Shoppers Pack Local Malls — Despite the popularity of online shopping, the holiday season is still a busy one for local malls. Shoppers packed Tysons Corner Center on Friday, and National Public Radio was there interviewing mall-goers about why they decided to brave the crowds rather than shop in the comfort of their own home. [NPR]

Teens Suspected of Marco Polo Arson — Police believe a pair of teens deliberately set the empty former Marco Polo restaurant in Vienna on fire. The teens are also suspected of separate acts of vandalism, arson and making fake bomb threats, according to WJLA’s Tim Barber. [Twitter]

Council Worried About Bike Corral Taking Up Parking Space — Members of the Vienna Town Council “voted unanimously Nov. 19 to table their decision about potentially relocating a bicycle ‘corral’ on Church Street until other alternatives become available,” because the proposed place for the corral to be relocated would eliminate a parking space. [InsideNova]

More on Falls Church Murder-Suicide — “Officers responded to the 7300 block of Parkwood Court at 10:48 after a relative discovered 51-year-old Judith Garcia Gonzales de Gudiel and her husband 60-year-old Ever Gudiel dead. Preliminarily, it appears Gudiel attacked Garcia, causing trauma to her upper body before hanging himself.” [FCPD]

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