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A notice of eviction (via Allan Vega on Unsplash)

Eviction cases continue to rise in Fairfax County as the millions of dollars in financial and legal support allocated during the pandemic run out, county staff say.

Without the nationwide eviction moratorium that ended in August 2021 and federal relief funds, the county’s eviction numbers could have been much higher during the pandemic, staff told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a housing committee meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 27).

However, residents are still struggling due to high housing costs and other challenges like inflation, stagnant wages and a lack of access to higher paying jobs, according to Aimee Garcia, access and economic mobility division director for Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS).

“We still are seeing rent be one of the largest needs across the community,” she said. “We are still seeing needs in regards to shelter, health, housing search…job search…inquiries around Medicaid, subsidized housing and dental.”

Last year, the number of eviction lawsuits (unlawful detainers), legal eviction notices (writs of eviction), and completed evictions were three times higher than in 2021, according to the county’s Eviction Data Dashboard.

In 2023, Fairfax County recorded a total of 7,618 unlawful detainers, 2,961 writs of eviction, and 963 evictions. Some of the most affected zip codes include Hybla Valley and Groveton (22306), Huntington (22303), Lincolnia (22312), McLean west of I-495 (22102), Herndon (20171), Annandale (22003), Bailey’s Crossroads (22041), and Lorton (22074).

Graph showing number of eviction cases in Fairfax County since 2020 (via Fairfax County)

Since the start of the pandemic, the federal government has provided billions of dollars in aid to assist community members with housing, food and other needs through the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Unlike most Virginia localities that used a state-managed online portal to distribute federal funding, Fairfax County chose to distribute rental assistance directly to residents using its internal social services agency, Coordinated Services Planning (CSP).

The agency initially faced challenges with a high volume of requests and slow processing times. In some cases, individuals waiting for rental and utility assistance through CSP experienced months-long delays.

However, over the past year, CSP Program Manager Luis Rey says the county has expanded access to legal aid, housing resources and rental assistance.

Now, in addition to calling a phone number, renters can submit applications online to CSP to determine their eligibility for rental aid — an option initially limited to landlords. The agency also introduced an estimated wait time and callback feature for applicants.

“They can leave the phone number and they’ll be called back to connect for an assessment,” Rey said.

Additionally, CSP works with the nonprofit Legal Services of Northern Virginia, the courts and Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office to help residents understand their options during the eviction process, Rey says.

Those efforts have helped mitigate the pandemic’s impact, according to Garcia. However, she noted that call volumes are still higher than they were pre-pandemic.

“We do continue to see new cases on a monthly basis at levels that are indicative of the continued need throughout the community,” she said.

To date, the county has distributed $150 million in rental assistance since the pandemic hit in 2020, according to county officials.

The county is still using ARPA funds for eviction prevention and rent assistance, but Deputy County Executive Chris Leonard warns the funds are dwindling, and more local funding may be needed starting next year.

“We’re going to utilize additional ARPA for FY 25,” he told the supervisors, referring to the fiscal year that will start on July 1. “…That will obviously be able to help us support the need, but it will also help us continue to monitor and figure out where we’re going to land with regards to what our need is out there for future rent assistance from the county and from our community partners.”

Photo via Allan Vega on Unsplash

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Fairfax County’s I-95 Landfill Complex (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 5:05 p.m. on 2/29/2024) Fairfax County’s supervisors believe that grassland birds deserve a safe nesting ground, even if it’s atop a former landfill.

The Board of Supervisors directed county staff on Feb. 20 to work with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia to identify areas within the I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton where mowing can be minimized to protect grassland birds during their nesting season.

Though the facility still provides waste disposal services, most of the landfill closed around the late 1980s to early 1990s, according to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck’s office.

Since then, the site has become a habitat for 100 species of grassland birds, including grasshopper sparrows, eastern meadowlarks, bobolinks and American kestrels.

“These are all birds of concern because of declining grassland habitats,” Greg Butcher, the former director of bird conservation for the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, told FFXnow in an email.

The Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) currently has an agreement with the Audubon Society to permit bird monitoring at the landfill.

Recently, the environmental organization reached out to the board, urging the county to consider restrictions on mowing during the nesting season, from April 1 to mid-July, due to its potential to destroy nests and eggs and harm fledglings and adult birds.

However, since federal and state regulations require mowing for post-closure maintenance of the landfill, DPWES and the Audubon Society must collaborate with DEQ to devise a strategy that both preserves nesting birds and ensures access to the landfill cover and gas wells, while also maintaining proper drainage.

Representatives from DPWES and the Audubon Society are set to start discussions soon and aim to formulate a plan in the upcoming weeks, DPWES Deputy Director Eric Forbes told FFXnow in an email.

“We are anticipating about a month for the development and coordination of the pilot plan to try to be ready for this season’s bird nesting,” he said. “The pilot plan would include a map showing no mow areas, access pathways to our landfill infrastructure (gas wells and stormwater conveyance), and a schedule for mowing in non-peak nesting season.”

For its part, the Audubon Society plans to send volunteers to map the locations of the birds and their potential nesting areas, Butcher says. But he noted the organization doesn’t know yet how big the “no-mow” area will need to be.

It’s also unclear how much the project will cost, but the board asked staff to provide an estimate in a report.

The county’s future plans for the now-closed parts of the I-95 landfill include a solar panel array and a potential indoor skiing facility from the Tysons-based company Alpine-X.

In addition, a public park with trails, an amphitheater and other amenities is being developed on the former Lorton Landfill across the street at 10001 Furnace Road. Owned by Furnace Associates, Inc., the private landfill stopped accepting construction and demolition debris in 2018 and completed the closure process in 2021.

Correction: This story originally conflated the I-95 Landfill Complex with the privately owned Lorton Landfill. It has been updated to clarify that the two sites are different. Image via Google Maps

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FCPS Central Office in Merrifield (staff photo by James Jarvis)

Fairfax County Public Schools is seeking a solution to its ballooning student meal debt, which soared over the past year.

On Tuesday (Feb. 20), Fairfax County School Board members directed Superintendent Michelle Reid to get them more information on what options are available to prevent FCPS students from accumulating more debt due to their inability to pay for meals.

“So, in my view, we need to do some work to…put policies or procedures in place that, A) prevent the ballooning of this debt going forward, and B) expand access to lunches for kids, so we can feed more children and deter the potential practice — that may or may not be occurring — of holding children liable for the debt,” At-large member Kyle McDaniel said during the work session.

As of 2022, over one-third of FCPS students (34%) qualify for free and reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program, but FCPS Chief Financial Officer Leigh Burden said parents might not have realized that they needed to reapply after the end of a universal free school lunch program introduced during the pandemic.

The federal relief funds that paid for that program, which enabled all students to eat for free, ran out on July 1, 2022. FCPS reported an increase in students eating school food while the program was in effect.

Although schools are supposed to send out newsletters to parents with information about meal debt and free or reduced lunches, Burden recognized that families may be unaware of their accumulating balance.

She also emphasized that in some cases, families barely exceed the eligibility threshold for free lunches, making it difficult for them to clear their debt.

“So, we think those two things combined have contributed to the student debt rising so dramatically over the last two or three years,” she told the board during the work session.

About one-fourth of FCPS schools qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision program, which provides free lunch and breakfast to all students attending low-income area schools.

But elsewhere, students only qualify for free meals if their family earns less than 130% of the poverty level. Those with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level qualify for reduced-price meals.

For grades K-12, breakfast costs $1.75. Lunch is $3.25 for elementary schools, and $3.50 for middle and high school students.

Burden notes that meal debt has been steadily rising since she was hired six years ago. However, in the last few years, the debt has “skyrocketed” across the entire school system, she said.

“During the years that all meals were free, we were serving 160,000 meals a day, whereas now, we’re back to about 110,000 [meals],” Burden said. “I mean, think about that: 50,000 students more were eating each day who now aren’t.” Read More

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EYA is seeking to build 174 single-family homes on the former Topgolf site in Kingstowne (via Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Planning Commission has teed up an approval of a residential development that could replace Rudy’s Golf and Sports Bar in Kingstowne with nearly 200 single-family homes.

Commissioners voted unanimously on Feb. 14 to recommend approval of the development proposal for 6626 South Van Dorn Street, which once hosted a Topgolf before Rudy’s opened in 2022.

The decision came weeks after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a comprehensive plan amendment to increase the housing density allowed at the proposed site from three to four units per acre to 10 units.

The Maryland-based housing developer, EYA Development, initially proposed a much larger project in 2015 that would’ve added 275 residential units and up to 70,000 square feet of retail. However, the developer had to revise its plans multiple times in the face of opposition before finally securing community support.

The latest plan would transform the 17-acre property into 174 single-family homes, 18 of which will be designated as affordable, and create several acres of public park space.

Most attendees at last month’s Board of Supervisors public hearing on the comprehensive plan amendment expressed support, but there were still some holdouts, notably the Franconia Land Use Committee. Speakers argued that the proposed increase in density was inappropriate for the site, citing concerns over traffic congestion and environmental impact.

But when Franconia District Planning Commissioner Daniel Lagana questioned Cooley LLP lawyer Mark Looney about potential traffic concerns last week, the developer representative countered that the property owner has the right to lease out the former Ruby Tuesday restaurant at any time — a move that could generate more traffic than the proposed development.

“Were that restaurant operating at its full capacity with, let’s say, two fast-food-type restaurants, it would have significantly more daytime traffic, as well as higher peak hour traffic in both the morning and evening along South Van Dorn Street,” Looney said.

Looney noted that EYA plans to construct a new underground detention vault, replacing the existing one that’s over two decades old, and multiple bioretention facilities — also known as rain gardens — to capture and purify the majority of stormwater runoff flowing into the Potomac River.

“So, everything that will leave the property at the end of the day will be much slower and much cleaner than the what the storm water is today,” he said.

The Franconia Land Use Committee was absent from the planning commission hearing, where nearly 10 individuals supported the development.

Toward the end of the hearing, Lagana praised EYA for its persistence in working with the community to design something he described as “truly remarkable” and “forward-thinking.”

“Working with this coalition of groups and building this broad alliance of people that were engaged in this for three and a half years…gave you the type of design that you needed to have for this site,” Lagana said. “I mean, it really led to the great solution that we have before us today, which I think is just a beautiful site design.”

The commissioner, however, called the actions of the Franconia Land Use Committee members “unbecoming of any appointed body in this county.”

“We reduced the [number of homes] to 100 units, we improved stormwater, we improved [affordable dwelling units] — I mean, the list goes on and on and on and on, and we’re still dealing with these, I think, fictitious problems that kept coming up,” he said. “And I just want to say the amount of frankly, vitriol and hostility personal hostility that was directed at the applicants at some points was absolutely unacceptable.”

The next public hearing on the rezoning application will take place before the Board of Supervisors on March 5, according to the county website.

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Aerial view of Route 29 corridor study area (via Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is asking commuters for feedback on changes they would like to see along the Route 29 corridor.

The department recently launched a survey asking commuters how often they travel Route 29, the duration of their travel, and the mode of transportation they use.

The survey focuses on a 2.9-mile stretch of Route 29 near Fairfax City between Buckleys Gate Drive and Jermantown Road. The survey will help the county identify multi-modal solutions to support increased development in the area, according to Fairfax County Transportation Planning Section Chief Michael Garcia.

The county is seeking to shift away from the interchanges, road widenings and other auto-focused improvements currently recommended for the corridor.

“There have been development proposals in the corridor and trying to accommodate the Comprehensive Plan recommendations for interchanges may not be in harmony with how the area has developed and will continue to develop,” Garcia told FFXnow.

Instead, his team is working with Fairfax City and the Virginia Department of Transportation to study low-cost multi-modal solutions, such as bicycle and pedestrian upgrades, with the goal of preserving future mobility and accessibility in the corridor, as well as enhancing public spaces.

Garcia says the feedback collected from the survey will play a crucial role in shaping county staff’s recommendations for transportation improvements. Interested participants can fill out the survey online or leave a recorded message at 703-890-5898 (Project Code 3941) by Friday, March 1, 2024.

FCDOT will present the results at a virtual public meeting on Tuesday, March 12, at 7 p.m., per the study website.

Garcia noted that FCDOT’s study of this Route 29 section is “timely,” since the county is in the process of updating its plan for the Fairfax Center area, which spans about 5,500 acres between Centreville and Fairfax City bounded by Route 50 and 29.

As authorized by the Board of Supervisors last year, the county’s Department of Planning and Development is currently reevaluating its vision for the “core area” that includes Fair Oaks Mall and the Fairfax County Government Center.

Building on past reviews of the area-wide and low-density residential neighborhood goals, this third phase of the planning study will include a transportation analysis and consideration of additional housing on the Reserve at Fairfax Corner Apartments site. The property owner, Equity Residential, has requested more density at 11727 Fairfax Woods Way for a 405-unit residential building “to complement” the existing apartments.

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Coates Elementary School in Herndon has been prioritized for a boundary adjustment (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County Public Schools is attempting to streamline its approach to managing capital projects to reduce costs and overcrowding in schools.

The school board approved a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) last Thursday, Feb. 8 for fiscal years 2025-2029 with multiple amendments intended to help lower costs, speed up select school renovations, meet green energy goals and enhance the process for tracking infrastructure projects.

The $1.3 billion, five-year plan allocates funding for the following projects:

  • Construction of the planned Dunn Loring Elementary School
  • A new wing to Justice High School
  • Relocation of modular buildings
  • Renovation of 18 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools
  • Acquisition of land for one new high school

The revised CIP highlights a need to address overcrowding and capacity issues within the school system, with many schools nearing a critical tipping point.

Coates Elementary School in Herndon, for instance, is currently operating at 131% of its student capacity — a figure projected to rise to 172% by 2028. Crowding has been an issue for over 10 school years, according to the CIP.

At the moment, eight elementary schools, one middle school and eight high schools are operating beyond capacity, even though student enrollment has dipped from pre-pandemic levels and is expected to level out over the next five years.

Several other elementary schools, including Parklawn in Lincolnia, Mantua and Bailey’s, are expected to surpass student capacity in the coming years, per the capital plan. The same is true of Irving, Kilmer and Glasgow middle schools and Westfield, Centreville, McLean, Woodson, Robinson and Chantilly high schools.

The school board voted last week to add Coates and Parklawn as priorities for boundary adjustments, even as several members argued a more comprehensive approach to overcrowding issues is needed.

Parklawn is 96% capacity right now, but it’s projected to reach 112% by the 2028-2029 school year. It will still trail McLean’s Kent Gardens Elementary School, which will be at 113% capacity even after boundary adjustments were approved last year.

“The problem that I see, while we’re fixing these two tonight, if we don’t fix the process and fix other schools, we’re going to have Coates and Parklawns popping up like hotcakes across Fairfax County, and I don’t want to be in that position,” At-Large School Board Representative Kyle McDaniel said.

The board tasked Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid with formulating a “facility infrastructure policy” and establishing a system to track projects to be presented to the board later this year.

“I see an eagerness on this board, which I’m very excited about, to really look holistically and comprehensively at our infrastructure needs, our funding, and really get sort of our hands wrapped around the policies that relate to infrastructure, but also an overarching policy that guides our decisions regarding infrastructure,” Mason District School Board Representative Ricardy Anderson said.

Board members also asked Reid to propose options for funding capital projects.

Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren expressed an interest in initiatives such as “swing spaces” — pre-existing facilities that students and staff can temporarily relocate to during construction.

“The benefit of that is that renovations could go quicker, which means they could also cost less money,” she said.

Over in neighboring Arlington County, a plan to turn an elementary school into a swing space got nixed last year after an outcry by current and future parents.

Reid is expected to present cost-saving options and the facility infrastructure policy to the school board on April 25. Additionally, she is scheduled to submit a plan for tracking infrastructure projects on May 7.

Image via Google Maps

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Cars head south on Richmond Highway (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Public art and social spaces will be key to transforming southern Richmond Highway into a community, a panel of local land use experts says.

Last week, the consulting nonprofit Urban Land Institute (ULI) presented recommendations at the Hybla Valley Community Center for how to foster economic growth in the corridor, while preserving its cultural identity through “placemaking.”

Placemaking highlights the unique aspects of a community, including its people and history, which encourages activity and “helps to make the space vibrant,” Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) Executive Director Evan Kaufman told FFXnow in an interview.

“Obviously, you can go to any corporate strip mall across the country, and you’re not really going to find a sense of place,” Kaufman said. “You’ll probably find an Applebee’s, Wendy’s, and Home Depot, which are great. Those provide services, but they’re not really telling a story of the community.”

After spending two days studying four miles of the corridor from Jeff Todd Way to Lockheed Blvd, the assembled panelists proposed creating community spaces for socializing — like parks and event venues — and enhancing the area with public art and more greenery.

The full findings will be detailed in a report that’s expected in the next six to eight weeks, according to the SFDC, which worked with the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development to finance the study.

ULI will also conduct follow-up surveys to track the implementation of the panel’s recommendations.

Designated as a focus area for commercial revitalization since 1986, the Richmond Highway corridor has seen those efforts intensify in recent years, as the county and Virginia Department of Transportation prepare to widen the road and add bus rapid transit service.

With some community members fearing negative impacts from the road widening project in particular on traffic, pedestrian safety and local businesses, the ULI study aims to identify strategies that can stimulate economic growth and improve the area’s quality of life.

In the short term, the consultant’s panelists recommended establishing a visitors center and using signage to guide visitors and residents to businesses affected by construction. Panelists also proposed using landscaping, pop-up activities and murals to beautify shopping plazas and make commercial areas more inviting. Read More

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The intersection of Cedar Avenue, Chain Bridge Road and Jenny Lynne Lane in Fairfax City (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) This week, Fairfax City kicked off a project to build a new 530-foot sidewalk on Chain Bridge Road’s east side, connecting Old Town Fairfax with the Northfax areas.

On Monday (Feb. 5), construction crews began work on the new eastern sidewalk from Jenny Lynne Lane to Kenmore Drive, with plans also to relocate a pedestrian crossing at Cedar Avenue from the south to the north side to make pedestrians more visible to motorists..

Slated for completion in July, roadwork is scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week, with reduced hours on Friday. Off-road construction will occur from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday, avoiding weekends.

The east Chain Bridge Road sidewalk improvement project was approved in 2021 and was paid for using a total of $430,000 in federal and local funds.

A public hearing is planned for summer 2024 to discuss allocating another $9.25 million for additional improvements along the western edge of Chain Bridge Road, which extends from Taba Cove to Warwick Avenue.

In 2020, the city applied for SmartScale funding, which is allocated by the state for transportation projects, for this initiative.

The improvements along the west side of Chain Bridge Road would include improvements to pedestrian crossings at five intersections, upgrades to two bus stops, a new drainage system, new street lighting, and the construction of a retaining wall.

Image via Google Maps

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A Japan-based ramen chain is gearing up to open a new location in Lincolnia this summer.

Founded in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010, Kajiken is expanding its footprint with an outlet in Pinecrest Plaza at 6550K Little River Turnpike. The restaurant is scheduled to open within the next six months, according to the franchise owner, Maryland-based IVEA Restaurant Group.

The 3,100-square-foot space was filled for the past two decades by Foxfire Grill, a popular establishment that closed its doors on Oct. 31, 2023. Owner Terri Fox told Annandale Today that Edens, which owns Pinecrest Plaza, doubled the rent.

Foxfire Grill’s suite has been cleared out, but Kajiken doesn’t appear to have started its buildout yet. As of last week, no signs had been posted to announce its impending arrival.

Known for its abura soba, a “soupless ramen” dish featuring buckwheat noodles served with oil instead of traditional broth, Kajiken has locations all over the world, including 37 in Japan, 20 in China, five in Singapore, five in New Zealand, and now three in the U.S.

IVEA CEO Edward Yo told FFXnow the company launched its first U.S. franchise in Baltimore, Maryland, before moving into markets in Chicago, Illinois, and San Mateo, California.

Per its website, the company is planning to expand to five additional locations in Rockville, Maryland; Manhattan and Flushing, New York; Bellevue, Washington; and Richfield, Minnesota.

While this will be the first Kajiken location in Virginia, IVEA is no stranger to the region.

In addition to Kajiken, the restaurant group operates dozens of other Asian-inspired eateries throughout the D.C. area, including Genki Izakaya, Urban Hot Pot and Southeast Impression.

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Aerial view of GMU’s Fairfax Campus with proposed multi-purpose ballpark location outlined in red (via George Mason University)

George Mason University is poised to complete the construction of a functional cricket field at its Fairfax campus by the end of this summer and a new ballpark by 2025.

During a virtual town hall meeting on Monday (Jan. 29), GMU staff and Sanjay Govil, owner of the Washington Freedom cricket team and a founding investor in Major League Cricket (MLC), outlined the project and listened to feedback from local stakeholders.

The project is still in the planning phase, but GMU’s governor-appointed Board of Visitors gave the university the green light last month to start talks with Washington Freedom about a ground lease for a multi-purpose ballpark.

“I think it’s a great win-win situation in terms of giving us what cricket has to offer and giving GMU what it needs for a state-of-the-art baseball facility,” Govil said during the town hall.

As part of a multi-year plan to redevelop and enhance its three main campuses in Fairfax, Manassas and Arlington, GMU proposed consolidating the athletic facilities on its 190-acre Fairfax West Campus, which is northwest of the Ox Road and Braddock Road intersection and currently houses the GMU Field House, several fields and courts.

In November 2022, Mason announced it would collaborate with MLC to study the possibility of a multi-purpose facility that could host international-level cricket games and the university’s baseball team.

Marvin Lewis, assistant vice president and athletics director at GMU, said the athletic facilities on the west campus are outdated and lack essential stadium features like a video board and lights that he noted are common at peer institutions.

“They have video boards, they have lights, and so it makes it even harder to recruit and compete at a high level without those amenities at our ballpark,” Lewis said.

Because GMU is a relatively young institution, the athletics department doesn’t have the “donor capacity” to raise the funds needed to upgrade its facilities, including the new multi-purpose stadium, he added.

“So, to make improvements, we have to think creatively and utilize partners in the community to help us meet our strategic objectives,” Lewis said.

As part of its agreement with GMU, Govil said Washington Freedom would fully fund the new stadium’s construction.

According to a presentation shared by the university, the proposed stadium will accommodate 7,000 to 10,000 spectators on a 15-acre site between Braddock Road and Campus Drive, adjacent to the parking lot.

The possibility of thousands of new spectators traveling to watch cricket matches and baseball games alarmed many town hall attendees, who expressed concerns about traffic and questioned the university’s approach. Read More

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