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Morning Notes

Tysons Area Hit With Spree of Gas Station Burglaries — One or more individuals forced entry and took merchandise from three different gas stations in the Tysons area between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m. last Thursday (Nov. 18), according to the Fairfax County Police Department’s latest weekly recap. A fourth station — a Shell at 2084 Chain Bridge Road — experienced a break-in, but nothing was taken. [FCPD]

Vienna Town Council Approves Election Changes — “It was a pill they didn’t want to swallow, but Vienna Town Council members approved a resolution Nov. 15 asking the General Assembly next year to alter the town’s election schedule so all Council members’ seats will be up for two-year terms starting in November 2023.” [Sun Gazette]

Man Arrested in Falls Church Sexual Assault — “City of Falls Church Police said that Alexander McKnight, 31, was arrested in Maryland on Thursday night. McKnight has been charged with rape and malicious wounding, among other charges, police said. He has no fixed address, a news release stated.” [Patch]

Wolf Trap National Park Releases Environmental Assessment on Improvements — “To better meet the needs of current and future visitors, we’ve proposed several changes to the park’s general management plan — the plan that guides park management decisions. You’re invited to submit your feedback from Nov. 18 through Dec. 30.” [National Park Service]

Tysons Library Book Sale Seeks Volunteers — “Volunteers are being sought to assist with the Tysons Library Friends quarterly book and media sale, to be held Dec. 3-5 at Tysons Pimmit Regional Library. Donations of books and media for the sale also are being solicited, with proceeds benefiting the library and related activities.” [Inside NoVA]

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Vienna restaurant Blend 111 converted part of its parking lot into a back patio to continue serving patrons during the pandemic (courtesy Blend 111)

Theresa Ayotte likes outdoor dining as a general concept, but her support wavers when those diners sound like they’re hanging out in her backyard.

Ayotte’s house sits behind the complex at 111 Church Street that contains Blend 111 and Bazin’s on Church, two of the 22 restaurants that have taken advantage of Vienna’s temporarily relaxed rules for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She and her husband Howard Uman were among several Wilmar Place NW residents who urged the Vienna Town Council to limit outdoor dining for restaurants next to residential properties at a public hearing on Monday (Nov. 15) about making the simpler permitting process permanent.

“The noise from dining is intrusively loud and constant,” Ayotte told the town council. “…We have tolerated it for the past 18 months as our way of supporting the community during the pandemic, but we are totally opposed to it becoming a permanent fixture in our neighborhood.”

The town council agreed to postpone a vote on outdoor dining until its next meeting on Dec. 6 so they can discuss lingering questions about the zoning ordinance amendments, including how to address potential conflicts over issues like noise and parking.

“I have no issue at all with outdoor dining when backed up against commercial,” Councilmember Nisha Patel said. “I think when you’re backed up against residential, we do need to listen to the residents, but we also do need to support our businesses, and I do think there’s room for compromise.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Town of Vienna required a conditional use permit for outdoor commercial activities like food service, a roughly three-month-long process involving a $1,500 fee and reviews by both the planning commission and board of zoning appeals.

First proposed on Oct. 11 and supported by the planning commission earlier this month, the new ordinance would let restaurants use a patio, roof garden, or off-street parking spaces for outdoor dining with just a review by a zoning administrator.

The outdoor dining spaces would still need to meet certain conditions, primarily related to maintaining accessibility for pedestrians and people with disabilities, and all furniture and tents must be approved by the Vienna Board of Architectural Review.

Dining areas in parking lots have to be set up so that they could easily be converted back into parking, and restaurants would be limited to 20% of their required spaces, though businesses on Church Street could utilize more spaces with the town council’s approval.

“Some of the restaurants within the Church Street Vision buildings, they have a different parking standard, so 20% of their required parking is, in some cases, one parking space,” Vienna Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Michael D’Orazio explained. “You’re not able to utilize that very well.”

While much of Monday’s nearly two-hour public hearing focused on the Wilmar Place residents’ noise concerns, council members, restaurant owners, and even some of those residents expressed appreciation for the expanded availability of outdoor dining during the pandemic. Read More

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Morning Notes

Silver Line Phase 2 Ready for Metro — The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is handing the long-delayed project over to Metro after reaching substantial completion on construction. Metro says it needs another six months to complete testing and prepare for riders, suggesting the five new train stations could open in May 2022. [Reston Now]

Vienna Signs Off on Police Station Furniture — “Vienna Town Council members on Nov. 1 agreed to ride a Fairfax County Public Schools contract and buy $162,188 worth of workstations from Interiors by Guernsey to serve all 51 employees at the new police headquarters building.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Daylight Saving Time Ends Sunday — “Remember, we move our clocks back one hour early Sunday morning! You also need to remember that when you change your clock, our firefighters and paramedics want you to check your smoke alarms to ensure they are working.” [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department]

Tysons Bowlero Holds Grand Opening — After getting a soft launch in October, the new Bowlero at Tysons Galleria will hold an official grand opening celebration starting at noon tomorrow (Saturday). The party will include free bowling, arcade play, food specials, and giveways. [Bowlero/Facebook]

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The Town of Vienna will hold a public hearing on Nov. 15 to receive feedback about possible changes to how many years a councilmember will serve.

It comes after a new state law ended all local May elections, shifting them to November. The Fairfax County Office of Elections previously said the move will improve voter turnout and save the town from paying certain election-related expenses.

Town council members and the mayor currently serve for two years, with three council seats opening every year and mayoral elections coming on even-numbered years.

Vienna residents will be able to weigh in on options the town has been considering for amending the elections section of its charter at the public hearing. They can also share their own ideas.

“Other options can be submitted by the general public,” town attorney Steven Briglia said at a town council meeting on Monday (Nov. 1). “It’s not limited to any one of the options [that have] been sort of discussed.”

Proposals have included the following:

  • No changes to the two-year term length
  • Three-year terms for the 2022 election before switching to four-year terms in 2023 and all elections thereafter
  • Three-year terms for 2022, then switch to two years for all seats with the 2023 election and subsequent elections
  • Two-year terms for three council seats and four-year terms for the other half of the council as well as the mayor

In the last scenario, candidates for the town council would choose whether they want to run for two years or four years.

Councilmember Chuck Anderson said the idea was inspired by an approach used by college boards. The council asked Briglia to investigate whether it would actually be allowed.

The proposals stem in part from a suggestion that the town should hold its elections on odd-numbered years. Councilmember Ed Somers said that would prevent the local races from getting caught up in national elections.

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Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert discusses sidewalk projects during a Nov. 1 town council meeting (via Town of Vienna)

The Vienna Town Council advanced several sidewalk projects to a final engineering design phase last night (Monday), even as another project continues to draw strong opposition from residents on the affected street.

Nearly every resident on Alma Street Southeast has signed a petition opposing a proposed project to add a sidewalk on the even-numbered side of their street between Delano Drive SE and Follin Lane SE.

The town council authorized a contract with an engineering firm to conduct final design work on that project and three others on Oct. 11.

A petition objecting to the project has garnered signatures from 10 of 12 residences on the street as of Sunday (Oct. 31). Resident Matt Sanders, whose property is on the corner of Alma and Delano, said he thinks the remaining homeowners will both oppose it.

Sanders tried to speak before the council’s vote on Oct. 11, but in a brief exchange, Mayor Linda Colbert said it wasn’t a public hearing.

“None of the residents on Alma and Delano have asked for or desire sidewalks. In fact they oppose it,” Sanders said by email. “The council appears to be hell bent on spending this money and installing sidewalks whether their constituents want them. Just because this money is available, doesn’t mean it has to be spent ramming sidewalks down the throats of residents.”

Town Feels Urgency Over Trust Fund Deadline

The current wave of sidewalk projects, including the one on Alma Street, is part of a push by the Town of Vienna to speed up work on its Robinson Trust Sidewalk Initiative, which is intended to expand the town’s sidewalk network.

The initiative is funded by a $7 million charitable trust that former Councilmember Maud Robinson left after her death in 2019. Among other conditions, the trust money must be spent by fall 2024.

While several projects have moved forward this year, none have reached the construction stage yet, in part due to neighborhood opposition that evidently has not abated.

In addition to the Alma project, Sanders says his property will be affected by plans to add sidewalk on Delano Drive Southeast, from Echols Street to the end.

That project is among five that were approved for final engineering design yesterday:

  • DeSale Street Southwest from Moore Avenue to Tapawingo Road and also to the end of the street
  • Melody Lane Southwest from DeSale Street to Lullaby Lane
  • Tazewell Road Northwest from Lawyers Road to Holmes Drive
  • Orrin Street Southeast from Delano Drive to Follin Lane

The town said the cost to prepare those engineering design reports is $46,700, based on a proposal from Urban. Read More

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Rendering of new Vienna police station (via Town of Vienna)

The Vienna Town Council approved increasing a contract yesterday (Monday) for construction on the police department’s new station.

The council agreed to allow up to $67,680 more in response to a “pre-construction design phase that took longer than expected and several unknown condition incidents that arose during construction,” according to a board item.

In January 2019, the town council approved a nearly $304,000 contract with construction management firm Downey & Scott with a 5% contingency of just over $15,000.

The firm reported that it had $64,456.24 in additional expenses. It broke down the costs in terms of staff pay, which ranges from $98.73 per hour for a construction inspector to $135 an hour for project executive Bill Downey.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the town council awarded over $3,000 more than what the company documented. A message seeking clarification from the Town of Vienna wasn’t immediately returned. A town official later wrote that the additional amount is a 5% contingency, allowing the town to address “additional unforeseen circumstances that arise in the construction process without having to go back to Council for approval.”

Police Chief Jim Morris said the increases were due to a soil issue, a gas line, and challenges on Center Street that he described them as unforeseen issues.

“All of those took Downey & Scott expertise and time to rectify,” Morris said. “Whether it be meeting with utilities, meeting with town council, meeting with town manager, they were heavily involved in rectifying those situations for us, on the town’s behalf.”

Downey said many of the changes were related to unforeseen soil conditions as well as relocating unmarked utilities.

A letter from the company said that over $30,000 of the increased expenses came from staff costs for Downey and project manager Kevin Fallin after requested changes from Vienna officials and COVID-19 disruptions added eight months to the project’s pre-construction phase.

The firm also reported $34,000 in staffing costs, plus $627 in mileage reimbursement, that were related to the re-alignment of a storm sewer at Center Street, design management, and other costs for a gas line relocation and soil issues.

Morris said the additional expenses could be paid with unused money in a 2018 capital improvement plan.

Prior to the funding approval, the project had $708,000 left in the town’s $1.1 million contingency fund, Fallin told the town council.

“Vertical construction is well underway, so a lot of the unknown conditions that we might typically encouter, we have surpassed that in terms of construction,” Fallin said regarding his confidence that the budget will stay within the contingency. “We feel good about where we are currently.”

Morris noted that contractors are currently calculating cost estimates for a proposed solar canopy and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which could both be implemented as part of the project or as subsequent tasks.

Construction on the new police station at 215 Center Street South began in early 2021.

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Compensation increases for employees and real estate tax cuts for residents are on the table, as the extra money keeps rolling in for the Town of Vienna.

In addition to receiving $8.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds this summer, the town ended the last fiscal year (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) with $900,000 in surplus revenue, staff told the Vienna Town Council in a conference session on Monday (Oct. 18).

“We’re in this position because we cut our budget. We cut our revenues to deal with the pandemic. We had to cut our expenditures,” Finance Director Marion Serfass said. “But then our revenues came in in some key areas pretty darn close to what we had budgeted, so that gave us a nice surplus.”

According to town staff, Vienna got higher-than-expected revenue from sales taxes, business licenses, zoning permit fees, and state and federal revenues in FY 2020-2021. In addition, position vacancies helped keep costs down.

Vienna’s budget committee presented three options for allocating the surplus funds.

Scenario 1

The town could follow its traditional practice of putting half of any surplus in a rainy day fund and using the other half to cover currently unfunded priorities:

  • $125,000 to fix pay compression for 41 employees
  • $175,000 for street paving work
  • $50,000 for tree maintenance and beautification
  • $100,000 to address 2022 budget corrections

Scenario 2

Because the rainy day reserve is already above where it needs to be, town staff proposed instead “returning” some money to employees and taxpayers. If the town allocates all $900,000 in the current fiscal year, it could:

  • Cover the unfunded priorities above, except paving would get just $75,000
  • $280,000 to give residents a half-cent tax rebate
  • $270,000 to give employees a 3% salary increase starting on Jan. 1, 2022

Scenario 3

The town could also hold $550,000 to spend next fiscal year, while still covering the unfunded priorities now:

  • $280,000 to reduce the real estate tax rate by half a cent
  • $270,000 to increase employee salaries by 3% starting on July 1, 2022

Serfass noted that the surplus could be spent on any priorities, but she suggested paving and tree maintenance because the town council had previously floated those as areas that could use more money.

“Here’s some things that fall into the category of things we wanted to do but haven’t had enough money to do them,” she said. “We could always put more money in paving. We’re only getting the index of ‘fair’…We know we have issues with trees.”

The council gave its support for funding those needs as well as holding money for a tax rate reduction in July instead of an immediate rebate.

“I know it’s not much either way, but I think [a rate reduction] has more value than mailing somebody a pretty small check,” Councilmember Ed Somers said.

The council proved skeptical, however, when it came to the proposed 3% salary increase, since it would be a recurring expense paid for with a one-time surplus.

“If you are using long-term money for short-term gain, I have never seen that work,” Councilmember Steve Potter said, adding that he would be more comfortable offering bonuses or another incentive to help recruit and retain workers.

According to Michelle Crabtree, Vienna’s human resources director, other jurisidictions have seen some success in using bonuses to recruit employees, particularly police officers and commercially licensed drivers.

“We’ve had a high turnover in public works,” she said. “We’ve lost eight people this year, and seven of them said it was one hundred percent because they could find more money elsewhere.”

Noting that Vienna is hardly alone in having labor challenges, Councilmember Nisha Patel said she would support bonuses targeted toward the positions facing the biggest hiring and retention issues.

“If we have additional funds that can go to staff, maybe we should use those more wisely to attract and retain, as opposed to just spreading it out,” Patel said.

The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on the surplus funds on Nov. 15.

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Morning Notes

McLean Soccer Field Conversion Reaches Completion — “The Fairfax County Park Authority, in collaboration with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and McLean Youth Soccer Association, will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the grand opening of Holladay Field in McLean, Virginia. The celebration begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.” [FCPA]

Town of Vienna Downsizes Planning Commission — “Seeking to bring the Vienna Planning Commission’s membership in line with those of similarly sized nearby jurisdictions, the Vienna Town Council on Oct. 11 agreed to reduce the commission’s size from nine members to seven…Three Planning Commission members have departed this year.” [Sun Gazette]

Celebree School Tysons to Hold Grand Opening — “Celebree School, a preschool and infant and toddler care center, is celebrating its grand opening in Tysons with a fall festival on Saturday, Oct. 16. The preschool and child care center announced its opening in September at Valo Park, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean.” [Patch]

Fairfax County Urges Flu Shots — The Fairfax County Health Department is encouraging everyone 6 months of age and older to reduce their risk of contracting the seasonal flu by getting vaccinated, ideally before the end of October. Public health nurse Alisa Brooks talks about what people should know about this year’s flu season in a YouTube video. [FCHD/Twitter]

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Delano Drive SW is on deck to get a new sidewalk as part of a project on Alma Street SE in Vienna (via Google Maps)

The Vienna Town Council is moving forward with engineering work on four potential sidewalk projects, even as one homeowner opposing a proposed sidewalk floated the possibility of legal action.

The council voted 6-1 yesterday (Monday) to approve final engineering designs for sidewalks to piece together missing sections using trust money that must be spent by fall 2024. Councilmember Nisha Patel was the lone dissenting vote, citing safety concerns for one project.

The money comes from the Maud Ferris Robinson Charitable Trust that the town created with more than $7 million that the former councilmember left after her death in 2019 to pay for sidewalks.

With the vote, the council authorized Vienna’s public works department to enlist the contracted engineering firm Urban for final design work on four projects:

  • Alma Street SE: from Delano Drive SE to Follin Lane SE, on the side of the street with even-numbered houses (budget: $38,050)
  • Blackstone Terrace NW: from Lawyers Road NW to Holmes Drive NW, even-numbered houses (budget: $25,300)
  • Charles Street SE: from Locust Street SE to Branch Road SE, odd-numbered homes (budget: $19,300)
  • Symphony Circle SW: from the cul-de-sac to Melody Lane SW, odd-numbered homes (budget: $19,050)

Matt Sanders, of 610 Delano Drive Southeast, wrote a letter to the town about the issue, saying he would retain an attorney if the town “approves the installation of a sidewalk in front of my house.”

“While I’m not opposed to sidewalks in general, in my case, I stand to lose 50% of my driveway and one parking space,” he wrote. “I purchased my home specifically for the two-car garage and the ability to fit two cars in my driveway.”

During Monday’s town council meeting, town engineer Robert Froh suggested expanding part of the width of the driveway at the town’s expense, but a section by the home would have to be done by the homeowner. It wasn’t immediately clear if such an adjustment would address Sanders’ concerns, which also involved privacy due to pedestrians being closer to his garage.

Meanwhile, Patel’s worries stemmed from the Symphony Circle sidewalk project, which she described as a partial sidewalk that would not extend to the end of the cul-de-sac.

She said a vehicle may be unaware that the sidewalk as proposed would end, requiring pedestrians to go into the road.

“I think that’s very dangerous,” Patel said, adding that a blind spot on the corner could cause a vehicle to hit a little kid.

The sidewalk could be extended in the future, even during the design of the project, town officials said. The extension is currently blocked by two trees that a developer preserved, but the town could remove them.

The council defeated Patel’s motion to revisit Symphony Circle later, but it approved a motion to extend an engineering study involving the road.

Public Works Director Michael Gallagher said the proposals presented on Monday were concepts, and further engineering could address issues as the work progresses.

Photo via Google Maps

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Vienna Inn’s outdoor dining tent

The tents and patios for outdoor dining that have popped up in shopping center parking lots around Vienna could be here to stay.

The Town of Vienna is now considering whether to permanently adopt the more relaxed permitting process that enabled restaurants to set up outdoor dining spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under a zoning ordinance amendment proposed by town staff, restaurants would be able to obtain a permit for outdoor dining through an administrative review instead of the existing conditional use permit process, which involves a planning commission review, approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals, and a $1,500 fee.

The change will help restaurants not just by speeding up the process, but also by giving them the security to invest in more durable tents, seating, heaters, and other equipment, Vienna Business Association President Peggy James says.

“I think this will be key to business and restaurant survival,” James said, noting that while indoor dining has picked up recently, many people likely won’t feel comfortable eating inside in public for a long time.

The Vienna Town Council first approved the current emergency ordinance waiving certain regulations on outdoor commercial activities on June 1, 2020.

The ordinance has been extended several times since, but after Gov. Ralph Northam let Virginia’s state of emergency expire on June 30, the town won’t be able to keep the measure in place past its Dec. 30 end date.

Vienna has approved outdoor dining set-ups for 22 restaurants during the pandemic, according to town staff.

While the emergency ordinance included other activities, the proposed zoning ordinance amendment is specifically for outdoor dining. It will let restaurants serve diners at ground level outside their building with the following conditions:

1. Outdoor dining may only be allowed with issuance of a permit after plans showing proposed dining are submitted to the Zoning Administrator for review.

a. To-scale plans shall show location of any outdoor dining furniture or structures.
b. All permanent structures and permanent exterior modifications shall be subject to review by the Board of Architectural Review. Permanent changes may also be subject to Site Plan Control Provisions under Article 25.

2. Outdoor dining furniture and equipment cannot block pedestrian access or interfere with ADA accessible routes to and from buildings and public facilities.

3. Outdoor dining area must be clearly delineated by cordon, marking, or other means and must be protected from vehicular traffic to the extent possible.

4. Parking spaces located directly outside a restaurant may be used for outdoor dining with a temporary permit to be reviewed and issued annually by the Zoning Administrator. Such use of parking spaces are subject to the following conditions:

a. No more than 20% of the required off-street parking for a restaurant may be utilized for outdoor dining. Additional spaces may be allocated for restaurants located with buildings developed under Sections 18-87.4 and 18-87.5 after review by the Zoning Administrator.
b. Outdoor dining cannot be located in any designated fire lanes.
c. Only non-permanent structures, such as tents, are allowed to take up said parking spaces and parking spaces must be able to be easily converted back to be used for parking.
d. No ADA accessible parking spaces may be used for outdoor dining

The town council is scheduled to request a Nov. 15 public hearing on the proposed amendment when it meets tonight (Monday).

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