Tysons, VA

Virginia has awarded the Town of Vienna close to $50,000 so that it can assist residents and businesses struggling to pay their water and sewer bills due to economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Vienna Town Council voted yesterday (Monday) to formally accept the $49,290 grant from a coronavirus relief fund that the Commonwealth of Virginia established using federal CARES Act money to help municipal utility customers experiencing economic hardship as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

The grant funds must specifically go toward overdue utility payments incurred between Mar. 1 and Dec. 30 of last year.

Town of Vienna Finance Director Marion Serfass told the council that the town has identified about 59,000 water and sewer customers who might be eligible to receive funds.

“We’re now going through the process of reaching out to customers and trying to get them to accept the funds, because we really want to give those funds away,” Serfass said.

The town sent out letters to individuals and businesses that meet the grant criteria. Staff members will also call customers to ensure all of the funds are distributed by the grant’s Jan. 29 deadline.

Vienna coordinated with Fairfax County to apply for the state grant in November.

The grant can cover up to 5% of the administrative expenses related to allocating the funds, but Serfass says the Town of Vienna will only need to use a fraction of that amount to cover postage costs.

In order to receive relief, customers must show that they are dealing with economic challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it is because they have been laid off or lost hours, are unable to work because they have contracted or at a high risk of contracting the disease, or have to stay home to provide childcare.

Serfass says the process of contacting eligible residents and businesses has been “slow-going,” but she is confident that the town will be able to distribute all the grant funds in time.

For residents of Fairfax County and the cities of Falls Church and Fairfax, Fairfax Water has extended the application window for its COVID-19 municipal utilility relief program to Jan. 15. The deadline to apply for payment assistance was previously Dec. 30.

Photo by Pan Xiaozhen on Unsplash

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The Town of Vienna has hired the real estate consulting firm Streetsense to conduct a market study and formulate an economic development strategy that the town can use to support and attract businesses.

The Vienna Town Council approved the $100,000 contract last night (Monday). Half of the funding comes from Fairfax County through an Economic Development Support Fund grant.

For the market study, Streetsense will be responsible for analyzing Vienna’s commercial market and proposing policies, programs, and strategies that could improve its competitiveness and address challenges, such as vacancy rates.

The study will be used to create the economic development strategy, which “will provide a roadmap to guide business recovery, better support existing businesses, and bring in complementary new businesses,” the town says in a news release.

“Streetsense has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to retail and other businesses,” Vienna Economic Development Manager Natalie Monkou said. “We’re confident that not only does the Streetsense team have the skill set to complete the market study and strategy development, but that they also understand the need for inclusivity and have the capability to assist the Town in reaching out to Vienna’s diverse businesses and business stakeholders.”

Streetsense was chosen for the project out of 13 teams that responded to a request for proposals that Vienna issued in October. Five finalists were then chosen for interviews by a four-person selection committee that consisted of three town staff members and an economic development professional from the Town of Herndon.

Streetsense will partner with fellow consultant RCLCO Real Estate Advisors to conduct the market study, a process that will include a kick-off meeting, site visits, a survey of consumers and businesses, and conversations with stakeholders.

In its proposal to the Town of Vienna, Streetsense says its analysis will focus on the physical environment of the town’s commercial areas, local economic conditions, demographic and market data, and the town’s administrative capacity and resources.

The need to develop a clear economic development strategy has emerged as a priority for the Town of Vienna after its attempt to encourage redevelopment and mixed-use projects by establishing a Maple Avenue Commercial zone floundered.

The town hired Monkou as its first economic development manager in November 2019, and it is currently working to update its zoning code with Code Create Vienna, a process that is expected to be completed towards the end of this year.

Streetsense says that Vienna is at a “critical juncture” in its evolution, particularly in light of the economic challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Town is in need of a forward-thinking, clear, and actionable roadmap to guide business recovery and resilience efforts, as well as key investment decisions in the coming years,” the consulting firm said in its proposal.

According to the Town of Vienna, the market study and economic development strategy are both expected to be finished this summer.

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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In many ways, the Town of Vienna epitomizes the classic vision of a suburb with a main street surrounded by a sprawl of single-family houses, but the town’s effort to overhaul its zoning code for the first time in half a century could change that.

The town’s future could instead look more like the cottage-style housing that a pair of developers proposed to the Vienna Town Council during its work session on Monday (Dec. 14).

The first proposal came from Sekas Homes, which is looking at turning the Vienna Courts condominiums at 127-133 Park Street NE into a residential complex with 13 townhouses and 10 two-story, cottage-style duplexes.

For the second proposal, the homebuilder JDA Custom Homes wants to potentially redevelop the buildings at 117 and 121 Courthouse Road SW as a cottage-style subdivision with 12 units, either duplexes or detached houses.

Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert says the need to explore different housing options became apparent during the contentious, ultimately unsuccessful effort to establish a Maple Avenue Commercial zone, which was intended to encourage redevelopment and mixed-use projects.

According to Vienna’s Comprehensive Plan, which was last updated in 2015, its housing stock is comprised of 82.2% single-family houses, 7.6% townhouses, and about 10% multi-family units, including apartments, duplexes, and condos.

“With the MAC, there was a lot of discussion about what other kind of housing does Vienna offer for people who want to stay here, who don’t want a single-family house, or younger people,” Colbert said. “I know that conversation has been around for a while.”

According to Vienna Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning Michael D’Orazio, cottage homes offer a middle ground between condos or apartments and traditional single-family houses. They are smaller than traditional single-family units and can take the form of either detached houses or duplexes.

Cottage houses are also generally built around a central common area with parking separate from the main residence. They often appeal to people who want to downsize or age in place, since they are typically set up so residents can mostly live on one floor.

The Railroad Cottages in Falls Church are among the most prominent examples of cottage housing in Fairfax County.

D’Orazio said that Vienna’s comprehensive plan currently does not permit cottage housing, but it does mention village housing as an option for transitional areas between residential neighborhoods and commercial districts. Read More

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The renovation of Louise Archer Elementary School is finally beginning to take shape.

The Vienna Town Council heard an update on a potential site plan and timeline during a work session on Monday (Dec. 14). The timeline moves up the completion of the project to mid-2024.

Fairfax County Public Schools design and construction lead Eric Brunner, who serves as coordinator for the project, presented the update alongside Architecture, Inc. senior project manager Brad Pierce.

The renovation project is currently in a planning and design phase that Brunner expects to be completed by mid-2021. Permitting will be the next step and should run through the spring of 2022, followed by a two-year construction process.

The projected completion of construction has moved up a year ahead of expectations. FCPS told the Vienna Planning Commission in May that construction would take three years and finish in 2025.

The potential site plans include nearly doubling the size of the school to around 103,000 square feet. The majority of the new square footage will come from a new second-story addition that will be constructed behind the existing school.

“A lot of the space is already on the site that we’re just making permanent,” Brunner said.

The current site plan concept also includes repurposing the current cafeteria for the library, adding a stage off of the school gymnasium, and creating a community room that may be utilized for community meetings. A new cafeteria and kitchen will be built “from the ground up,” Brunner said.

The current interior of the community room will be preserved as much as possible while displaying some history of the school, Pierce added.

Additional site concepts include expanding the bus loop, increasing the stormwater management system, and expanding the parking lot to about 106 available spaces, according to Brunner. The plan also shows a new playground and new basketball courts.

The project will remove temporary facilities — two trailers and a 66-foot by 180-foot modular classroom — that exist on site as construction progresses. The Town Council approved the continued use of the trailers for two years on June 15. The Board of Zoning Appeals voted on June 17 to permit continued use of the modular classroom for five years.

The modular classroom on the south side of the school will be replaced with a kiss-and-ride parking lot for student drop-off. The lot will run off the current three-way stop at the intersection of Nutley Street and Knoll Street Northwest, which Brunner said could potentially be permanently converted into a four-way stop.

According to the latest FCPS proposal, the renovation will be done in phases to allow for minimal interruption for students during the construction process. The new two-story addition would be built first, while students stay in the existing sections of the school.

Students would then move into the new addition upon its completion, allowing for renovation of the existing school to be completed.

John McGranahan, a partner with Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, which represents Fairfax County Public Schools, said the group would like to reappear before the council with another progress report before officially submitting an application for the project.

Photo via Google Maps

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Monday Morning Notes

New COVID-19 Restrictions Take Effect in Virginia — “On Monday, new COVID-19 restrictions went into effect in Virginia, including a curfew that with exceptions requires people to stay home between midnight and 5 a.m.” [ABC7-WJLA]

Snow Expected to Hit Mid-Atlantic Region This Week — “A major winter storm is set to wallop the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast on Wednesday and Thursday…But for the immediate Washington area, a messy mix of precipitation is more likely than a major snowstorm.” [The Washington Post]

Vienna Hopes to Be a Trailblazer with New Holiday — “The Vienna Town Council on Dec. 7 unanimously adopted a resolution to recognize Liberty Amendments Month, which will honor the ratification of the U.S. Constitution’s 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th amendments.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Haycock Elementary School Teacher Publishes First Book — “Allison Kelly, an ESOL teacher at the school, published her book, “There’s Spaghetti on My Ceiling: And Other Confessions of a Reformed Perfectionist,” just in time for the holiday season. A mother of two McLean High School graduates, she writes about balancing life as a Fairfax County Public Schools parent and teacher.” [Patch]

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The Vienna Police Department plans to join several other local law enforcement agencies in forming a Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) that will investigate shootings, in-custody deaths, and other situations where a police officer could face criminal charges.

The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously last night (Monday) to approve a memorandum of understanding that outlines the responsibilities, organizational structure, and basic procedures that the CIRT will follow.

Police chiefs in the region came together to develop the CIRT as a tool to enable departments to share resources and to establish a more independent process for investigating incidents where an officer inflicts death or serious injury.

“We don’t even have that capability to do that ourselves right now,” Vienna Police Chief Jim Morris said regarding the concurrent criminal and administrative investigations that are required after a use-of-force incident. “…This would solve that problem for us. It would also solve the problem of making sure you have independent, unbiased investigations.”

Under the CIRT MOU, which will take effect on Dec. 15, each agency will appoint a detective and a supervisor to serve on the team for two-year terms. The team will be governed by a board of directors that consists of the heads of the participating departments.

The team can be activated by a police chief when a critical incident occurs in their jurisdiction. Team members from the department under investigation would not participate in that criminal investigation, though they could act as a liaison officer.

Incidents that could trigger CIRT’s involvement include intentional and accidental shootings, in-custody deaths, police officer suicides, crashes where a vehicle is used as deadly force, and any action by a law enforcement officer during the performance of their duties that results in a death or life-threatening injury.

Vienna Police Chief Jim Morris emphasized that the CIRT is not meant to fill the same role as a citizen review board, which allows members of the public to provide input and evaluate police policies and procedures.

Instead, the CIRT will be responsible for conducting interviews, gathering evidence, and other aspects of a criminal investigation so that the case can be turned over to a prosecutor, who then decides whether to bring charges against the officers involved in the incident.

Morris says Vienna currently doesn’t have any formal written policy dictating how its police department would handle a criminal investigation in these situations. If the town opted out of CIRT, it would need to develop an arrangement with the Fairfax County Police Department so that there is a process in place if a critical incident occurs in Vienna.

“In this day and age especially, we need something in writing for these investigations,” Morris said.

Including the Town of Vienna, 11 Northern Virginia agencies have agreed to participate in the CIRT: Read More

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After a three-week delay, the Vienna Town Council has approved plans to demolish a house that once belonged to the late Mayor Charles Robinson and his wife, the late former Councilmember Maud Robinson.

The council voted unanimously yesterday (Monday) to permit the Tysons Service Corporation to raze the single-story residence at 124 Courthouse Road SW after town staff determined that the existing building cannot be repurposed.

“The residential structure, detached garage, and outbuildings are not in condition to be reused or modified,” Vienna Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman said.

According to the Sun Gazette, the Robinsons moved into the house in 1951, and portions of its structure date back to at least 1870.

However, the three-quarter-acre property has been vacant since Maud Robinson died in March 2019. The Town of Vienna purchased it in December 2019.

The town council had been scheduled to make a decision on the house’s fate during its Nov. 16 meeting, but members decided to postpone the vote after a member of Historic Vienna, Inc., a group dedicated to preserving and promoting the town’s history, asked them to consider saving the oldest parts of the property.

The council ultimately agreed with town staff that, despite its sentimental value, the house is not worth saving since it does not meet modern accessibility standards and is assumed to have asbestos based on its age, though a survey conducted on Jan. 17 found less than 1% of the substance.

“Certainly, we had two very prominent people living there that mean so much to our town, but demolishing their house will not do anything to their memory,” Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert said. “We can still do other things to honor them in our town, so I do think it’s time, I think, for safety, and it just makes sense that it’s time to do that.”

The Tysons Service Corporation, which has been hired for the demolition, estimates that the work will cost between $25,405 and $28,000, depending on any additional work that is needed, according to Herman.

In addition to knocking down the house, the contractor will be responsible for getting rid of any asbestos and turning off sewer and water services in the property line.

The project costs also include the installation of a construction entrance and silt fence, the transportation of till dirt to level out the site, and the addition of grass seed and straw to undisturbed areas.

The Town of Vienna has not yet developed plans for what it will do with the site once the house is demolished.

“Tonight, we’re just looking at demolishing the structure, and then we can move on and have work sessions and have further discussion,” Colbert said.

Photo via Google Maps

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Vienna residents and employees who are struggling to make housing and utility payments due to COVID-19 may be eligible for help.

Through its new CARES Fund, the Town of Vienna will provide $100,000 in assistance to residents and workers for up to one month of housing expenses and gas and electric bills. The program is first come, first served, and recipients do not need to repay the town, which will allocate the funds through direct payments.

“As the health crisis continues to linger, some families are finding it increasingly difficult to hold on financially,” Vienna Economic Development Manager Natalie Monkou said in a statement.

“The Town has been fortunate to have received CARES Act funding through Fairfax County that has helped us weather, to some degree, the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” Monkou said. “We want to share what we’ve received with those most in need and provide assistance to those who live and work in Vienna.”

The town may contribute up to 5% for administrative costs, making the entire appropriation worth up to $105,000. The Vienna Town Council approved an agreement establishing the fund on Nov. 2.

“We know the funding is limited, so we’re trying to target to help as many people as possible. That’s why it’s limited to up to one month for housing and utilities,” Monkou told the town council on Nov. 2.

The Vienna CARES Fund will be administered through Fairfax County, and the direct payments will be made by the Committee for Helping Others.

Although her office does not have a list, Monkou told the town council that staff “will be working to target residents and business workers who fit the eligibility criteria.”

Recipients must earn less than 60% of the area median income and must provide proof of income, mortgage or rental agreement, and utility billing.

Those who do not live in Vienna may be eligible if they live in Fairfax County and work for a business in Vienna with a valid business license.

The eligibility process could be quick, if applicants have the needed information on hand and can upload it, Monkou said, adding that for those who do not meet eligibility, there are other programs at the county level.

During the meeting, Mayor Linda Colbert told Monkou she was glad this program could work out.

“I know it’s not the end-all for the group of people we’re going to help, but I think it matters and it’s important that we’re doing this,” she said.

Interested Vienna residents and business employees must contact Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning at (703) 222-0880 to be screened for eligibility before being referred to the Committee for Helping Others for assistance.

For more information about this program, email [email protected]

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Friday Morning Notes

Former Town of Vienna Mayor’s Home Spared for Now — “A sprawling home previously owned by a late former Vienna Mayor Charles Robinson Jr. and his wife, late former Town Council member Maud Robinson, will not be demolished just yet. The Vienna Town Council unanimously agreed Nov. 16 to postpone until Dec. 7 its decision on a contract to raze the home.” [Sun Gazette]

Falls Church’s PAE Inc. Buys Up Intelligence Services Provider — “The Falls Church defense contractor will acquire Arlington-based intelligence services provider Metis Solutions LLC for $92 million in an all-cash deal, executives from PAE said Monday.” [Washington Business Journal]

McLean High School Students Named Finalists for Journalism Awards — “Student journalists who work on McLean High’s The Highlander news publication have been named finalists in several 2020 National Scholastic Press Association individual awards categories. Being named a finalist in any of these categories means these student journalists are among the top 10 in the nation.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Falls Church City School Board Veteran Dies at 87 — “In his adopted home of Falls Church, Jerry [Barrett] served for eight years each on the boards of the local school system and Northern Virginia Community College.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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What does the word ‘invite’ mean?

That question occupied the bulk of a Vienna Town Council discussion on Monday night regarding a proposal to invite Vienna restaurant lenders, owners, landlords and tenants to brainstorm ideas to support businesses this winter in light of the economic instability caused by COVID-19. The event is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Nov. 12 at the Vienna Community Center gym and will be moderated by Peter Sparber, a Vienna resident.

The proposal passed 5-2, with Mayor Linda Colbert and Councilmember Ed Somers voting against it.

During the town council meeting, Colbert, Town Manager Mercury Payton, and the council members debated whether it is legal or proper for the town to hold an invite-only event not moderated by a town official.

Councilmember Ray Brill, who requested the town council take up the motion, said time is of the essence and the word “invite” must stay to gather together stakeholders.

“Winter is coming and there is nothing that we can do to stop it,” Brill said. “We need to listen to residents and other business folks to learn their point of view and navigate the COVID-19 crisis.”

Colbert worried about the town hosting an event but ceding control of the conversation. She said this gathering should remain in the private sector.

“I think it comes down to how some of us view the word invite,” Colbert said.

She said that if she invites people to a party, it is her party and she runs it. Similarly, if the town invites stakeholders, that makes it an official function. She said she would support a motion without the word “invite.”

Many members tweaked the proposal’s language. Like Brill, Councilmember Chuck Anderson, whose amended motion was ultimately approved, said the word “invite” needs to stay.

“I want the gravitas of the town to be part of the attempt to get people there,” he said.

His changed motion states: “This gathering is not an official function of the Town of Vienna. The town is not proposing any specific legislative action as a result of this meeting and Town Council members may observe, but will not participate in the discussion.”

Councilmember Dr. Nisha Patel offered another compromise to change “invite” to “encourage a conversation.”

Brill countered that encouragement occurs on social media. In order to have an honest dialogue, he only wants those who are invited to show up.

“We change from the word ‘public forum’ to ‘meeting,’ we run the risk of no one showing up because they don’t talk in person,” he said.

Patel said she understood the dilemma and supported the event.

“I think we should help make this a possibility for them,” she said. “We are all interested in helping them, that’s not a question.”

Photos via Vienna Town Council

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