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Lusk takes part in a ceremony celebrating WISH (via Fairfax County government)

Supervisor Rodney Lusk will recommend renaming “Lee District” to “Franconia District” at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).

“The time has come to change the name of Lee District,” Lusk said on Twitter over the weekend.

In a statement and video posted to his social media channels, Lusk explained that more than two years of discussions with the community revealed to him that an “overwhelming majority” of participants supported the name change.

He believes that the name Franconia is the right choice to replace Lee.

“Franconia is a name that is synonymous with our community,” he wrote. “From Franconia Road, the Franconia Springfield Metro, the Franconia Museum, and the Franconia Governmental Center, the name Fraconia has always been central to our identity. It is also a name that memorializes a place and not a person.”

Lusk will introduce a board matter at Tuesday’s meeting asking his fellow supervisors to vote in favor of the name change.

Back in March, the county’s Redistricting Advisory Committee recommended renaming both the Lee and Sully Districts due to the names’ historical ties to the Confederacy and slavery.

However, the committee’s report noted that the historical record is “somewhat inconclusive” about if the Lee District is actually named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee or another member of his family. Despite that, the committee still believed the name needs to change due to the confusion it could cause if left in place.

The committee also recommended a name change for the Sully District. That is named after the Sully Historic Site, a plantation once owned by Richard Bland Lee.

“Lee named the land he inherited Sully in 1789 and for twenty years under his charge the Sully Plantation was the location of commercial activity and profit from the kidnapping, human trafficking, and abuse of over one hundred lives — men, women and children,” the report read.

Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith tells FFXnow they are still in the “process of gathering community feedback.” She says they held its first meeting to discuss a change earlier this month and “doesn’t want to rush” the process. There’s currently no timeline for when a name change recommendation might occur for the Sully District.

Lusk’s recommendation has already gotten at least one show of support so far, from state Sen. Scott Surovell (36).

At that moment, it’s unclear if a majority of the Board of Supervisors will vote along with Lusk to change the name from the Lee District to Franconia District, but Chairman Jeff McKay has signaled his support for such a move in the past.

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The scene of a crash that injured six people in Oakton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Neighbors are frustrated by a lack of safety improvements in recent years in Oakton’s Blake Lane corridor, where a driver struck three pedestrians, killing two, earlier this month.

At a virtual community meeting last night (June 23), many people who live on and close to Blake Lane expressed anger at state and county officials for what they describe as inaction despite extensive advocacy efforts. One resident said they’ve been asking for improvements since one particularly bad crash 20 years ago.

“There’s a lot of anger and frustration in our community right now,” said one neighbor. “…There’s anger that we’ve been warning VDOT for years how dangerous this road is, and we’ve gotten a lot of signs but don’t feel like we’ve made much progress other than that. If we don’t address this, more people are going to die. I’m sure of it.”

Hosted by Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, the meeting saw police, transportation, and schools representatives discuss potential solutions to help make Blake Lane safer near several schools, including Oakton High and Mosaic Elementary.

Vehicle speed, lack of safe pedestrian crossing areas, and educating young drivers are the big concerns that local agencies and residents hope to address.

The 18-year-old driver involved in the fatal June 7 crash was charged with involuntary manslaughter Tuesday (June 21). Police revealed that he was driving 81 miles per hour in a 35-mile-an-hour zone.

There have been 114 crashes on Blake Lane since 2017, according to data presented by the Fairfax County Police Department. Six of them involved pedestrians, and two crashes involved bicyclists. While 31 resulted in injuries, the June 7 crash is the only one that has been fatal.

Just over a quarter — 31 crashes — involved a “young driver,” between the ages of 15 and 20 years old.

Where Blake Lane intersects with Five Oaks Road, where the June 7 crash occurred, there have been 12 total crashes since 2017, including two involving pedestrians and four involving a young driver.

Crash statistics for the Blake Lane at Five Oaks intersection (via Supervisor Dalia Palchik/Facebook)

The county and state officials proposed potential measures but cautioned that many permanent changes are subject to reviews, audits and studies. Read More

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Renderings of “Devonshire,” a townhome development to built in Franconia (via Fairfax County)

An application to build a new townhouse development on Beulah Street, a mile from the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, was filed with Fairfax County last week.

Beazer Homes is looking to bring a 26-unit development called Devonshire to the corner of Beulah Street and Alforth Avenue, according to a rezoning application was sent to the county’s planning and development department last Friday (June 17).

Devonshire would include a 1,500-square-foot “tot lot,” public plaza space, a picnic area with grills and tables, and a walking trail. A new private street and a sidewalk will be constructed, connecting the development to Beulah Street.

Each house is anticipated to have a deck and a 200-square-foot private yard, the renderings show.

Renderings of “Devonshire,” a townhome development to built in Franconia (image via screenshot/Fairfax County)

The development’s total area of land appears to be about 3.3 acres, though about half of it will be open space. The lot also contains five single-family homes that were built between 1934 and 1950, per a note in the application. Those homes are expected to remain.

Since Devonshire would have fewer than 50 units, it does not need to adhere to the county’s Affordable Dwelling Unit requirements. However, Beazer Homes notes in the application that it “will consider a contribution to the Housing Trust Fund.”

This appears to be Beazer Homes’ sixth development in Northern Virginia, though only its second in Fairfax County.

With the development in the permitting stage, it remains unclear when construction will start and might be completed. FFXnow reached out to Beazer Homes, but didn’t receive an answer prior to publication.

With its close proximity to the Metro station, that area of Franconia is set to see a lot of development and changes in the coming years.

Plans for a multi-million dollar expansion of the Inova HealthPlex on Walker Lane could be approved later this month. If it is, construction would potentially start in late 2023 and be completed in 2027.

Franconia is also slated to get a new 90,000-square-foot building that will house a government center, police station, and library. Construction was expected to begin this summer and be completed in 2024.

The medical campus would be located less than a mile from Devonshire, while the county government facility would be essentially across the street.

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A Fairfax Connector bus leaves the Dunn Loring Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax Connector is set to start its electric bus pilot program by the end of the year.

The county-run bus service plans to introduce eight electric buses by December, according to a presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ transportation committee last week.

Phase one of the pilot program will run out of the West Ox bus division, which serves routes in the western and central portion of the county. Initially, electric buses will be tested on four routes. Phase two is expected to begin in 2023 and will include four additional buses on routes in the southern portion of the county.

No exact timetable was given for how long the pilot program is anticipated to last, but it will likely follow other neighboring localities and run about two years.

Planned routes for the Fairfax Connector electric bus pilot (via Fairfax County)

The hope is to transition the entire Fairfax Connector fleet to 100% zero emission buses by 2035. This deadline is based on the county’s established goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.

Staff identified several challenges that they will closely monitor, including ensuring there’s no reduction in service as a result of the transition. Several supervisors noted during the meeting that slower service, a reduction of routes, or constant maintenance taking buses offline could lead to fewer riders.

There are also technology limits to consider and whether the electrical grid will meet the energy requirements needed for large bus fleets.

According to the county’s Chief of Transit Dwayne Pelfrey, two thirds of current Fairfax Connector routes exceed the battery capability of electric buses. Coupled with potential issues with cold weather and hills, like Alexandria experienced late last year, electric buses may not completely meet the needs of the Fairfax Connector just yet.

That, in turn, could push potential riders back to single-occupancy vehicles, negating the emission reductions that many hope electric buses will provide.

Pelfrey also noted that obtaining buses has been increasingly difficult between supply chain issues and manufacturers not being ready to “pivot” to producing electric vehicles.

The used bus market is difficult to navigate as well, though the county did purchase 10 used buses out of North Carolina that will be transitioning to electric and 12 hybrid buses from WMATA.

A rendering of what a Fairfax Connector electric bus might look like (via Fairfax County)

Considering the county’s goals and the current price of gasoline, though, staff and board members believe the issues are worth navigating. While capital and infrastructure costs may be higher for electric buses, fuel and maintenance costs would be significantly lower over a 12-year period, according to a graph presented by staff.

The county is also exploring using hydrogen as fuel, but that technology remains expensive and more costly than electricity.

The county has already started creating infrastructure in preparation for the pilot to begin in about six months. Electric chargers arrived in April and are currently being installed, a process expected to be completed within the month.

“We are just doing simply plug-in chargers,” Pelfrey said. “When we transition full garages…we will have to do something much, much more complicated from a construction and power standpoint.”

The county’s electric buses are expected to start being manufactured late next month, received by October, and put on the road by December.

Fairfax Connector is the largest bus system in Virginia with a fleet of more than 300 buses providing nearly 18,000 rides a day.

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Gum Springs in Fairfax County (courtesy New Gum Springs Civic Association)

Gum Springs, the oldest Black community in Fairfax County, is holding its Juneteenth celebration this weekend as it faces an uncertain future.

The New Gum Springs Civic Association (NGSCA) will celebrate Juneteenth with a community day tomorrow (Saturday), featuring roller skating, food, music, and words from the great-great-great granddaughter of the community’s founder, West Ford.

There will also be a performance by the Caribbean American International Steel Band, NGSCA President Queenie Cox tells FFXnow, along with a special playing of a song written by Dr. Cleve Francis, a cardiologist at Inova Mount Vernon. The doctor/country musician wrote the song in honor of the victims of the Buffalo mass shooting last month.

The event is being held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Park (8115 Fordson Road).

Gum Springs Community Day and Juneteenth Celebration 2022 (courtesy the New Gum Springs Civic Association)

West Ford founded the community of Gum Springs in 1833 on land that he purchased after being freed from slavery at Mount Vernon, where he worked under George Washington. There are also claims that Ford was the son of America’s first president, though Mount Vernon officials have denied that.

In the nearly two centuries since its founding, Gum Springs in the Mount Vernon District has become a well-known historically Black community, but it’s now at risk of disappearing.

“We are constantly being challenged,” said Cox, who grew up in Gum Springs and lives in the house her grandfather built in the 1940s. “This community is [under threat] of being dismantled, eliminated and minimized for its contribution to this [nation’s] history.”

Recently, longtime residents have protested changes they fear could erase the community’s history.

Last year, plans for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s long-gestating widening of Richmond Highway shifted, further encroaching on the borders of Gum Springs. The change left a number of residents feeling like their community is being unfairly targeted.

Another community group, the Holland Court Property Owners Association, has also set up within the borders of Gum Springs, a move that the NGSCA views as intentionally trying to minimize the community’s historical impact.

Cox calls those efforts disrespectful and wrong, noting that other Black communities in the region have experienced similar challenges.

“The steps that certain individuals within the community are taking are contributing to the vanishing Black communities, and it diminishes the contribution that those Black communities have made…to American history,” Cox said.

A Gum Springs Conservation Plan was developed in 2015 as an effort to work with the county to preserve the community. However, Cox says that plan hasn’t fully been reviewed by county staff or adopted by the Board of Supervisors in the seven years since.

Celebrations like the one coming this Saturday are important, because they bring people and awareness to the challenges that Fairfax County’s oldest Black community are facing, Cox says.

“The only way that Gum Springs is going to get the protection it needs is that we have to be very vocal and public about it,” Cox said. “Gum Springs has to fight harder in order to get what other communities in the Mount Vernon District has and continues to achieve.”

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A Metrobus at the West Falls Church Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County is expanding its student Metrobus pass program to four new schools in the fall, letting more students ride the bus for free.

Starting in September, students at Annandale High School, Falls Church High School, Marshall High School, and Davis Center will be able to get a pass that allows them to ride Fairfax Connector, the City of Fairfax CUE, and the Metrobus for free.

The bus pass can only be used on certain routes in Northern Virginia and in between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The county launched a program in 2015 letting all Fairfax County Public School students ride Fairfax Connector at no cost. A year later, the City of Fairfax CUE was added to that program. In 2018, a pilot program was approved allowing students at Justice High School to also ride certain Metrobus routes for free.

The program is intended to give students more independence as they go to and from school, participate in after-school activities, and work jobs.

The Metrobus pilot is now ramping up with a memorandum of understanding going before the Board of Supervisors later this month. The county is also working to hire a new coordinator to oversee the program and order new cards to distribute to students.

A launch event will be held at Marshall High School in September.

Since the program began more than seven years ago, students have taken over 2 million trips on local buses, according to data presented by staff at the board’s transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (June 14).

Since April of this year, students have made up nearly 8% of all Fairfax Connector ridership.

“Students are proving to be some of our most loyal customer base,” Kala Quintana, Fairfax Connector’s head of marketing, said.

For the Metrobus pilot program, the county noted that about half of Justice students had and were actively using the specially-designed Smartrip card.

The county hopes that, by the end of the 2022-2023 school year, 8,500 students from 30 high schools, 23 middle schools, and nine centers for students with different needs and abilities will be using the bus pass.

When the program launches at the four new schools later this year, a form will be available on the FCPS website that students’ parents can sign and turn into the school so their kid can get a bus pass.

While members were okay with the process for the foreseeable future, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said he would eventually like to see students’ identification, bus pass, library card, and other services all consolidated on one card.

The board also discussed doing more outreach to students who don’t attend FCPS, like those who are homeschooled and attend private institutions.

“The fact that we had this Covid break and kids weren’t even going to school and we have these kinds of ridership numbers…and demand is a proven testament to the vision we had for this at the very beginning,” McKay said. “It’s a program that all of our kids in FCPS, middle and high schoolers, can take advantage of.”

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A photo of a street sign on Lee Highway (file photo)
A photo of a street sign on Lee Highway (file photo)

If it were up to a majority of local business and property owners, the Fairfax County portions of Routes 29 and 50 would simply adopt those numbers as their official names.

County staff revealed yesterday (Tuesday) the results of a survey asking business and property owners located on Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial highways (Route 50) what their preference for new names would be.

The survey provided five options for each road, but in each instance, the original route number won out, staff said at the Board of Supervisors transportation committee meeting.

For Lee Highway, about 55% of the 86 respondents chose Route/Highway 29 as the preferred new name. For Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, more than 60% of the 62 respondents chose Route 50.

Several board members agreed that, in terms of efficiency and continuity, reverting back to the road number is probably the best route.

“Frankly, I’m not surprised by the responses to the name changes, if we were to move forward with those,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said, adding later that “in terms of implications on businesses and people who live along these corridors…that would be the least intrusive and, frankly, easiest for drivers and commuters.”

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik suggested the board consider aligning the roads’ names with neighboring jurisdictions to prevent further confusion among those driving in the region.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity asked whether the survey included a question about if the businesses and property owners wanted name changes at all. Staff said it didn’t due to a previous task force determination that the names should be changed.

The ongoing process of changing the names of the two major thoroughfares in the county began in 2020 when the Fairfax County History Commission unveiled a report that showed about 150 public sites in the county were named after Confederate figures or symbols.

Then, a task force was appointed specifically to review renaming Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial. That group recommended late last year to rename the two roads, and earlier this year, alternate names were recommended to the Board of Supervisors.

​​Outreach to businesses and property owners along these corridors was the next step.

Now, the Board of Supervisors needs to approve new names, commit to the costs associated with the changes, and submit a request to the Commonwealth Transportation Board. At this time, it’s unclear when all of that might happen.

The survey also inquired that if the name changes would result in any financial expenses for the businesses. For both highways, more than 70% of respondents answered yes, citing potential expenses related to legal documents, signage, and marketing.

In response, the committee discussed ways to help or reimburse businesses on these expenditures when the name changes do happen including a grant system and a reimbursement program.

Regardless of the final names, the county is responsible for paying the cost of updating signage and way-marking. The staff determined the overall cost could range from $1 million to $4.2 million.

The price will depend on which names are selected, with the cost increasing for longer names.

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The renovated Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale (courtesy of Hidden Oaks Nature Center)

Annandale’s Hidden Oaks Nature Center is reopening later this month after a months-long, nearly $2 million renovation and expansion.

The 53-year-old nature center, located on Royce Street and part of Annandale Community Park, closed its doors in February for a long-planned expansion and renovation.

The $1.7 million project gave Hidden Oaks a new classroom overlooking the woods, an updated outdoor play area with a safe, working water pump, a larger, remodeled pond, and ADA-compliant facilities, including restrooms. The funding came from the over $100 million 2016 Park Bond.

The facility is set to reopen to visitors on June 25 with a grand reopening celebration planned for July 16. The festivities will include entertainers from “American barbershop to Korean folk tunes to native Bolivian music and dance.” There will also be poems and thoughts from students on the “importance of environmental stewardship” as well as crafts and a puppet show.

When it opened in 1969, Hidden Oaks was the county’s first nature center. The last renovation in the early 1980s “fell woefully short of being able to meet the consumer demand and interest” even by the 1990s, when attendance was “dramatically rising,” Hidden Oaks staff tells FFXnow via email.

Prior to the pandemic, nearly 50,000 visitors and 7,000 school children per year were using the nature center.

With the new renovation, the center now has a glass-framed classroom “that overlooks a pond and the woods, inviting the outside in,” the Fairfax County Park Authority says.

The classroom includes a built-in kitchen that will be available for school groups as well as for private rentals. Additionally, there’s a new bilingual reading corner in honor of Hidden Oaks volunteer and retired county school teacher Jean Laub.

The updated Nature Playce, a wooded play area for young children, now has a workable water pump.

“Its non-pinch child-friendly features enable children of all ages to enjoy the wonders of water,” staff wrote.

There are also two new outdoor interpretive trails with signage in English, Spanish, and Korean.

The original small pond — popular with wood frogs, American toads, and spotted salamanders — was replaced with a pond nearly double its size to provide “more teaching area.”

Earlier this year, an Eagle Scout project created two temporary small pools in the front and rear of the nature center to create amphibian breeding areas so that they’d eventually migrate to the new pond.

“Between the two pools, the wood frogs returned in similar numbers while the American toads and the spotted salamanders balked at the substituted water source,” nature center staff said.

The project faced a number of minor challenges, including the placement of a beloved carved woodland sculpture.

Several years ago, a 130-year-old, 100-foot-tall tulip poplar behind the center was struck by two bolts of lightning, which severely damaged the tree but didn’t destroy its base. Instead of completely knocking the tree down, the county commissioned a chainsaw artist to turn it into a wood sculpture featuring native animals, like raccoons, a fox, an owl, and a turtle.

“Due to [the sculpture’s] prominent location in the rear of the nature center, the ability to bring construction vehicles to the far side of the center was limited,” staff said. “To alleviate tree loss, the vehicles entered in a relatively narrow space between the existing nature center and Nature Playce.”

Despite “multiple delays of material delivery,” the project was still completed roughly on time and within budget, staff noted. With Covid restrictions now gone and the renovations done, Hidden Oaks staff could move a number of programs back inside, but that isn’t the current plan.

“Due to the popularity of classes in the last few years, more of the center’s programming will continue to be focused outdoors,” staff said.

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Franconia-Springfield Metro station (via Google Maps)

Metro is asking the public to weigh in on changes coming to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station.

Officials are proposing to add three new bus bays and a layover facility, eliminate the pick-up/drop-off area, and reconfigure sections of road near the station as well as access to entrances to the parking garage.

Additionally, Metro is looking to add intersections with signals at Metro Access Road and Frontier Drive, along with one reconfigured intersection to help with traffic flow.

These changes are as part of the planned Frontier Drive Extension, a $180 million project from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Fairfax County. It will turn Frontier Drive into a large, four-lane divided roadway with a shared-use path and sidewalk.

The public can take a survey and provide written comments about the proposed designs until July 29 at 5 p.m. Residents can also weigh in at a virtual public hearing that Metro and VDOT will host on July 12.

The project’s intent is to better connect Frontier Drive and the Metro station to the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) headquarters as well as other parts of Springfield.

“The project aims to relieve congestion and improve access to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, the Springfield Mall and Town Center area, the General Services Administration (GSA) complex, the Northern Virginia Community College Medical Education Campus and the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) building on Springfield Center Drive,” reads VDOT’s project page.

It was first proposed back in 2017, but this is the first opportunity for the public to hear about proposed designs. Designs are expected to be approved by the fall, according to the project page, which doesn’t list a construction timeline yet.

The proposed changes and additions of three new bus bays comes amid decreased ridership for the Franconia-Springfield Metro station over the last decade.

Even prior to the pandemic, this particular Metro station saw quite a dip in riders. In 2011, there was an average of 7,600 daily entries into the station, according to Metro’s own data, but that was more than halved by 2019, when there was only an average of 3,400 daily entries.

When asked whether Metro hopes ridership might bounce back with the Frontier Drive changes and TSA headquarters’ move, a spokesperson was unable to provide comment by publication besides noting that any projections would be “highly uncertain due to unpredictable effects of the pandemic.”

Photo via Google Maps

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The Mosaic Skateland rink from summer 2021 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Lace up the skates and practice popping those wheelies, because the Mosaic District’s popular outdoor roller skating rink is returning later this month.

Mosaic Skateland is set to open on June 25 on Merrifield Center Town Drive, between the Barnes & Noble and Mexican restaurant Urbano and across from Bloomie’s. It will run through the entire summer, until September 25.

The “80’s retro style roller rink” will be open seven days a week and at least 11 hours a day. On Friday and Saturday nights, the rink will be open for more than 12 hours, from 11 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. Purchasing tickets in advance is recommended, and attendees can bring their own skates, though pairs will be available for rent.

Opening night will also be accompanied by a “Pride Celebration” with musical performances.

Additionally, all roller rink ticket sales during the Pride Celebration will be donated to the advocacy group FCPS Pride to help “ensure that all students, including trans and gender-expansive students are welcome, safe and respected in schools,” according to the event page.

A spokesperson from EDENS, the owner and developer of the Mosaic District, told FFXnow by email that it sees the partnership with FCPS Pride as “a terrific way” to support LGBT youth and “educate our community.”

“The Gay-Straight Alliance student groups have moved more to a Gender and Sexuality Alliance as being more inclusive of the whole community of LGBTQI+ and allies,” the spokesperson wrote. “Skateland brings the community together as one to celebrate Pride month representing the importance of total inclusion.”

EDENS is partnering with operator Rink Management Services Corporation (RMS), which claims it is the largest operator of ice skating facilities in the country.

RMS applied for a special permit to construct the rink on an annual basis back in April, as FFXnow reported. The zoning hearing isn’t scheduled until July, but it appears the rink will be allowed to operate earlier than that.

The Board of Supervisors agreed in March to grant RMS a 75% reduction in zoning fees as part of last summer’s emergency measure that lowered or waived some fees to help the hospitality industry during the pandemic. RMS paid a $4,093.75 fee paid back in March, rather than the $16,375 fee that the permit typically would’ve carried.

EDENS is asking that the permit be approved “for future years as well,” turning the roller skating rink — as well as an ice skating rink in the winter months — into a permanent fixture at the Mosaic District.

If approved, the roller rink will run for about three months each year, starting in the spring as opposed to summer, according to an April statement from RMS. The operator also hopes to run an ice rink during the winter, starting in early November and closing in late February.

The Mosaic District has seen plenty of activity in recent weeks, with the opening of Shake Shack and last week’s launch of its summer movie series “Films in the Park,” which has screenings every Thursday through the end of August.

Still to come this summer is the Middle Eastern restaurant Tawle, which will move into the former Jinya space as the ramen bar relocates to a bigger suite.

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