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The new Herndon Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Add another Silver Line Phase II ribbon-cutting to the list, with the Town of Herndon planning its own celebration on Wednesday (Nov. 16).

On the extended rail line’s first full day of service, the town will celebrate with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Herndon Metro station. The event is scheduled for 8 a.m. at the entrance of the station at 585-A Herndon Parkway.

Newly re-elected Mayor Sheila Olem, State Senator Jennifer Boysko, and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust are all scheduled to speak. Members of the Herndon Town Council are expected to be in attendance as well.

The ribbon cutting will also feature music from the Herndon High School band.

This ceremony is just one of several events coming next week to commemorate the opening of the long-delayed, three billion-dollar Silver Line Phase II.

On Tuesday (Nov. 15), the line will officially start running following an opening ceremony at Dulles International Airport. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is expected to be in attendance as Silver Line Phase II officially starts services at the Washington Dulles International Airport station.

Metro will be giving away “Wonka-style ‘Silver Tickets‘” as well as pennants to commemorate the opening.

Then, at 2 p.m., the Fairfax County Department of Transportation will hold its own ceremony at the Innovation Center station. Another ribbon-cutting will follow at the Reston Town Center station at 3:30 p.m.

After opening day, the Town of Herndon will have its own celebration the next morning on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

FCDOT is also planning a family day at the Innovation Center station from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19. Attendees will be able to learn about the transit, walking and bicycling options at the station while enjoying music, food trucks and other activities, according to an event flyer.

Free parking for that event will be available in the station’s garage.

For riders who want to be on the inaugural train, the first eastbound train going to D.C. is expected to depart the Ashburn station at 1:54 p.m. However, the deadline to nab a ticket by entering Metro’s social media and email contest is fast approaching at 5 p.m. today.

The first full-length westbound trip traveling from Largo to Ashburn is scheduled to depart Downtown Largo at 12:51 p.m., arriving at Wiehle-Reston East at 2:02 p.m. before proceeding on the new section of the line.

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Voting at Cunningham Park Elementary School in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated, 3:35 p.m.) With most incumbents running away to victory, it appears that Fairfax County’s voter turnout for the general election this year will fall short of the 2018 midterms.

About 53% of registered, active county voters took part in this year’s midterm elections, per Fairfax County election officials. That’s about 16 percentage points off from the midterms four years ago. It’s also lower than last year’s gubernatorial election, which had a 60% turnout.

In total, 391,361 ballots have been counted so far in Fairfax County, election officials said.

Turnout numbers remain unofficial. Ballots put into drop boxes will be counted today, while additional mail ballots can continue to arrive until noon Monday (Nov. 14).

Absentee mail and in-person voting rose this election cycle compared to 2018, with 130,350 residents voting early this year — just under 18% of active, registered voters in the county. That’s about 44,000 more people than in 2018, when 12% of voters made their decisions early.

Last year, 174,641 county residents, or about 24% of voters, cast ballots by mail or early in person.

With Fairfax County staying reliably blue, the lack of competitive Congressional races on the ballot may have contributed to the lower turnout compared to other recent elections. Based on the preliminary results, all but one local incumbent — Herndon Town Councilmember Signe Friedrichs — appears to have held their job.

Don Beyer (D) secured victory in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District with 73% of the vote with most precincts reporting. The district includes about 282,000 residents of Fairfax County, where Beyer secured 69% of the vote — about three percentage points lower than what he got in 2020 and 2018.

The re-elected Congressman tweeted out a statement just before 9 p.m. last night, thanking voters for “again putting their confidence in me.”

In the 11th Congressional District, Gerry Connolly (D) won his eighth term in office with 66% of the vote overall, with all but two precincts reporting.

The 11th District is almost entirely in Fairfax County, covering about 585,000 residents. That includes Lorton, Burke, Fairfax, Chantilly, Vienna, Tysons, Reston, and most of Springfield and Herndon.

Like Beyer, Connolly didn’t fare quite as well this year in Fairfax County as he did in 2020 and 2018, with 66% of the vote compared to over 70% in both of those election cycles.

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Updated at 3:50 p.m.With polls open for another three hours, Fairfax County has hit 45% turnout for the midterm elections, including 28% today, as of 3:48 p.m.

Earlier: With Election Day 2022 now underway, more than 200,000 Fairfax County residents have already voted.

That includes approximately 130,000 residents who voted early — a 66% increase from the last midterm election in 2018 — and about 72,000 votes cast in person on Election Day, as of 10 a.m.

In total, that represents about 27.5% of registered active voters in the county.

That remains short, so far, of county turnout during the 2018 midterms, when close to 70% of registered, active voters in the county voted.

Early voting ended Saturday (Nov. 5), and about 130,000 county residents had voted by then, either by mail or in person, Fairfax County General Registrar Eric Spicer told FFXnow in an email. Overall, that represents about 18% of the 736,000 active registered voters in the county.

That’s about 44,000 more people than 2018. Since that time, however, early voting rules and habits have changed significantly. Virginia introduced no-excuse absentee voting in 2020, leading the county to add more early voting sites with longer hours, and permanently approved ballot drop boxes last year.

In 2020, 414,000 residents voted early due to traditional high turnout related to a presidential election and the ongoing pandemic. Last year, about 170,000 residents cast a ballot early in the House of Delegates and gubernatorial elections.

This year’s early voting numbers suggest the shift in voting behavior from the last midterm election cycle has continued.

In Fairfax County, 76,000 vote-by-mail ballots were requested, representing close to 10% of registered voters, Spicer said. About 67% of those ballots, or 48,000, were returned by the end of early voting.

Residents can continue to return their mail-in ballots at a drop box at any polling place.

While Fairfax County doesn’t have any races attracting significant national attention like 2021’s gubernatorial race, every seat in the House of Representatives is on the ballot this year.

The county has three congressional districts: the 8th, 10th, and 11th.

The 11th Congressional District includes 586,000 Fairfax County residents, the most of any of the districts. The 8th has 282,000 residents in the county while the 10th only holds 14,500 residents.

Incumbents Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton, and Gerry Connolly are all Democrats and all favored to win against their respective Republican challengers, Karina Lipsman, Hung Cao, and Jim Myles.

The Town of Herndon is seeing competitive races, though, for mayor and town council. Incumbent Mayor Shelia Olem is running against councilmembers Sean Regan and Jasbinder Singh.

Election officers told FFXnow that, anecdotally, voting has gone smoothly so far this morning with precincts getting steady streams of voters.

However, the lead-up to Election Day saw a few hiccups. Late last month, voters in Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna got a letter directing them to an incorrect voting location. The county blamed the state for the error with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors calling for an investigation into what happened.

Last week, the county received approximately 11,000 voter registrations that were delayed in being sent over by the state. This was on top of nearly 12,000 other delayed registrations that were finally sent over at the beginning of October.

The county’s elections office said on Nov. 3 that it had successfully processed all of the registrations.

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Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney’s Bond Data Dashboard (via Fairfax County)

A new data dashboard shows Fairfax County prosecutors are sometimes asking for more detainments of defendants than judges.

The Office of the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney (OCA) released a dashboard in October with data comparing how often and under what circumstances prosecutors are asking for pre-trial detainment and release to a judge’s recommendations.

“We’re trying to become a more data-driven office,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano told FFXnow. “We’re using this information that we’re collecting here for internal improvements, internal trainings, restructurings, and changing of our processes.”

He acknowledged that too often decisions in the justice system lack transparency and are done without the public’s knowledge.

“We want to let the community know what is going on in their justice system,” he said. “I think this system is a black box to many people. We want to change that.”

Courts and prosecutors diverge on when to detain defendants

The dashboard only covers bond review hearings, where a county prosecutor makes a recommendation to a judge that a defendant either be detained or released before their trial.

Descano said that involves “a small percentage of our cases,” though he was unable to provide the exact percentage compared to the total number of cases handled by the county.

The dashboard also only has data from a six-month period between Jan. 1, 2022 and June 30, 2022.

According to the provided data, decisions by the OCA don’t always neatly line up with the self-described “progressive” prosecutor reputation that Descano ran on in 2019, nor do they clearly affirm detractors’ perception of the office as “soft on crime.”

While prosecutors and courts generally align on non-violent misdemeanors and felonies, the OCA recommended detainment for violent felonies 20% more often than the courts, including cases involving cash bail. Descano called that the number one “disagreement” between his office and judges.

As the dashboard notes, the OCA and courts don’t always agree on when a perpetrator is a “danger to family or household member.” Descano said those disagreements generally relate to domestic violence cases, particularly those involving strangulation.

“We take those really seriously because data has shown that if an intimate partner strangles somebody, they’re seven times more likely to actually murder them,” Descano said.

The OCA also recommended detentions for sex offenses at higher rates than the courts. For felonies, it asked for detainment 89% of the time, while the judges recommended it 52% of the time. For misdemeanors, OCA asked for detainment 58% of the time, with judges agreeing in only 25% of cases.

“It shows me that some judges may not see the same dangerousness to those types of crimes that we do or may value it differently,” Descano said. “We’re not putting this out data to try to slam judges or anything. If anything, it shows [how] different actors in the system view different types of accusations.” Read More

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The future Reston Town Center Metro station will open on (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 3 p.m.) It’s official: the first train on phase two of the Silver Line extension project will take off at 1:54 p.m. from the Ashburn Metro Station on Nov. 15, Metro announced today.

The train will travel the full 11.4-mile extension from Loudoun County to Downtown Largo in Maryland.

“The start of passenger service will commence following a grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting at the Washington Dulles International Airport Station to recognize this generational infrastructure investment,” Metro announced.

The opening will be preceded by a grand opening celebration that day. Only 100 customers will have a chance to receive a “Silver Ticket” to join Metro General Manager Randy Clarke and other officials for a preview ride before passenger service begins.

Here’s how to enter for the ticket:

Share your favorite memories with us on social media by tagging us on Twitter @wmata, Instagram @metroforward, and on Facebook @Metro Forward and use #YourMetroMemory. Customers can also email us at csvc@wmata.com with the subject line: Silver Ticket Metro Memory. Submissions must be sent by 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 10. Customers will be notified by noon, on Monday, November 14. Metro will select 50 customers plus a guest who will receive a “Silver Ticket” departing Wiehle-Reston East at 1:15 p.m. direct to Ashburn where the train will officially begin passenger service.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is expected to attend that event at 11 a.m.

The first full-length westbound trip will depart from Downtown Largo at 12:51 p.m. to Wiehle-Reston East and the six new stations. Trains will run every 15 minutes from end-to-end.

Once the Silver Line opens, Metrobus 5A and the Silver Line Express Bus will be discontinued the next day.

While Dulles Airport will get the big ribbon-cutting, Fairfax County is planning to celebrate the Silver Line extension’s long-awaited opening next week in Reston as well.

County officials will gather at the office building at 1950 Opportunity Way, which overlooks the new Reston Town Center station, on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 3:30 p.m.

“Join elected officials, business leaders and community members to celebrate the long-awaited opening of the Silver Line station at Reston Town Center,” a flyer invite to the event says.

Attendees will also be able to ride the new Reston Town Center shuttle and get information on the new Fairfax Connector bus routes that will start running that day. The new lines will run between the Reston Town Center, Herndon, and Innovation Center Metro stations.

Fatimah Waseem contributed to this report.

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The Department of Moto Vehicles office in Tysons (staff photo by David Taube)

(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) Fairfax County is considering automatically filing vehicle tax returns for residents in the future, potentially saving more than 70,000 residents money.

At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, elected officials authorized a public hearing for Dec. 6 to discuss a possible county code change that would eliminate a step for residents when registering a vehicle.

Currently, when a resident registers a motor vehicle, trailer, or semitrailer, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) notifies the county. Then, the county’s Department of Tax Administration (DTA) sends “a courtesy letter” to the resident reminding them to separately file a tax return within 60 days.

If the resident doesn’t register in that time, they face a 10% penalty on top of their owed personal property taxes.

Approximately 72,000 residents do not file tax returns for their vehicles in a timely fashion on an annual basis and are subject to the 10% penalty, a DTA spokesperson told FFXnow by email.

On average, that’s about 54% of residents who either bought a new vehicle or moved one into the county, they said.

If approved, the proposed change would eliminate that extra step. The county would automatically file the personal property tax return on the resident’s behalf within 30 days.

(Correction: This story initially said the DMV would automatically file tax returns for residents, but a Fairfax County spokesperson clarified that the filing would be done by the county itself.)

The amendment would also get rid of the 10% late penalty “if the vehicle is timely registered with the DMV,” notes the staff report. If approved, the change would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

“This proposed change will make it easier for taxpayers, as well as help them avoid unnecessary penalties,” the DTA spokesperson said. “Many taxpayers who buy a new vehicle or move one into the county don’t understand that they are required to separately file a personal property tax return in addition to registering it with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.”

The proposed amendment would also clarify that taxes on trailers and semi-trailers would be prorated based on when ownership changed during the calendar year.

Getting rid of the late penalty would result in a loss of about $2.4 million in revenue for the county on annual basis.

“The potential loss incurred is a small fraction of the revenues generated from the personal property tax,” the spokesperson noted.

In the current fiscal year 2023, though, the net loss would be about half of that since the change in code would not be retroactive, with January marking the halfway point of the fiscal year.

The adopted 2023 budget already reflects the potential $1.2 million loss, per the staff report.

Personal property tax assessments climbed for about 90% of local vehicle owners this year, prompting the Board of Supervisors to approve relief in the form of a 15% reduction in taxes.

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Metro map of service changes starting Nov. 6 (via WMATA)

The six Metro stations south of Reagan National Airport are reopening this weekend with Blue Line service replacing the Yellow Line service.

Braddock Rd, King St-Old Town, Eisenhower Ave, Huntington, Van Dorn St, and Franconia-Springfield stations will all reopen on Sunday (Nov. 6) after being closed for nearly two months. The stations were initially scheduled to reopen two weeks ago, on Oct. 23.

The closures were needed to connect the new Potomac Yard station to the main rail system, though that station’s opening was also pushed back to next year.

When service restarts this weekend, the two Yellow Line-only stations will see some changes to their normal operations.

With rehab and construction still ongoing on the Yellow Line bridge and tunnel, all trains coming and going from Huntington and Eisenhower will run with Blue Line service and be routed through Rosslyn. Trains will run every 15 minutes along the whole line, per Metro.

This is scheduled to continue until at least May 2023, when it’s expected the rehabilitation will be completed.

Most shuttle service at those stations will also stop starting Sunday, but Metro will continue to provide limited-stop shuttles that cross the Potomac during weekday rush hours. In addition, parking will no longer be free at the Van Dorn Street, Huntington, and Franconia stations.

The end of the station closures continue a week of good news for Metro.

On Halloween, the transit service announced that the long-awaited Silver Line Phase II is finally set to start service on Nov. 15. Then, Metro said that train service will increase over the next two months with the long-sidelined 7000-series trains getting back on the tracks.

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Workhouse Arts Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Bunnyman Brewing is looking to return to the source of its legendary namesake by conjuring up a second location at Lorton’s Workhouse Arts Campus.

The Fairfax-based brewery is in the midst of negotiating a lease to move into 4,500 square-foot space at the county-owned Workhouse Arts Campus in Lorton, Bunnyman co-owner Sam Gray confirmed to FFXnow.

At yesterday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors authorized a public hearing for Dec. 6 in regard to the county leasing property to the brewery.

If approved, this would be Bunnyman’s second location and Gray said the hope would be to open at 9514 Workhouse Way prior to Halloween 2023.

Over the summer, construction began on a $6.3 million renovation of two buildings at the Workhouse campus, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Board Chairman Jeff McKay noted at the time that the county hoped a restaurant or brewery would move into those buildings.

Bunnyman is now poised to take over one of the refurbished spaces, known as Building W-13 — a fitting turn of events, since the brewery is named after a local legend that involves the Workhouse Arts Center, which was once the Lorton Reformatory.

As one version of the story goes, Clifton had an asylum in the early 20th century, but the small town’s residents didn’t like the idea of having patients there. So, it was shut down, and all the patients were put on a bus destined for the Lorton prison. However, the bus crashed before reaching its destination.

The authorities were able to reapprehend every inmate — except for one who was never found, leaving only gutted, half-eaten bunnies as clues.

One Halloween night years later, a group of kids hanging out under the Colchester Overpass near Fairfax Station supposedly saw a flash of light. The next morning, police find the kids gutted and half-eaten, like the bunnies left by the inmate.

There is likely no more than a kernel of truth to the story, but Gray — a retired Fairfax County firefighter — grew up with it and thought there was no better name for his brewery.

“It’s the legend we grew up with that was purely Fairfax. Anyone that grew up in the area could relate,” he said. “We are proud of our area and it was the most relevant, fun historical symbol that made sense.”

The Building W-13 renovation is expected to wrap up soon, possibly letting Bunnyman’s ownership move into the space by February. If that happens, Gray says he could have the brewery open by next fall.

The plan is to brew drinks on-site, but on a smaller scale than its main location on Guinea Road in Fairfax. There will also be a “limited fun in-house food selection,” along with cider and possibly wine.

The lease with the county calls for an 18-month rent abatement and is expected to generate about $109,000 on a yearly basis for the public coffers, per a staff report.

As for the other renovated building on campus, dubbed Building W-15, the county continues “to seek a prospective tenant,” according to staff.

Gray is excited that his brewery has the opportunity to move into such a unique and historic space.

“We…believe the corridor and Laurel Hill/Lorton area is set for good future growth,” he said. “Part of the Bunnyman legend is the prison and we look forward to being part of that growth.”

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Providence Community Center (file photo)

The Providence Community Center is set to be renamed after former Fairfax County Board Supervisor and House Delegate James M. Scott.

At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Providence Supervisor Dalia Palchik introduced a board matter initiating the process of renaming the Providence Community Center in Oakton after Scott.

Scott was a longtime county supervisor before being elected to the House of Delegates by a single vote in 1991. He’s known locally as a supporter of human rights, affordable housing, and school-based daycare centers. Scott also founded the nonprofit Celebrate Fairfax, according to Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross.

In addition, he’s the namesake for two county awards: one that recognizes achievement in building design and planning and the other for “community spirit.”

As a state delegate, he pushed for letting people register to vote by mail, at DMVs, welfare offices, and employment centers. He also got a bill passed that required gubernatorial candidates to appear and personally endorse the content of their political ads as a means to reduce negative campaign advertising.

He was also an “early proponent of making the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday,” per Palchik’s board matter. Scott died in 2017.

During the discussion, a number of supervisors chimed in about Scott’s impact and legacy in the county.

“I think about Jim a lot, I really do. He was definitely ahead of his time in a lot of ways…Above all, he cared about community,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said. “To put his name on a community center is such a wonderful thing.”

Chairman Jeff McKay noted that when he first met Scott, he was introduced to him as “Mr. Community.” Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity also applauded the renaming.

“He was from a different time — a better time, I would say, in terms of the Board of Supervisors,” Herrity said. “He was really about community and getting things done for the citizens of Fairfax County… I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate than naming the community center after him.”

While the approval of Palchik’s board matter starts the process of renaming the community center, it remains unclear officially when it will actually happen.

“We will be working with the Dept. of Neighborhood and Community Services on developing a timeline,” a spokesperson for Palchik’s office wrote FFXnow in an email.

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Proposed “Ring Road” street changes at Seven Corners (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County has come up with a plan to improve Seven Corners and will be explaining it to residents next week.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) is holding two virtual meetings on Nov. 8 and 9 to update and ask for feedback from residents on its findings from the Seven Corners Phasing Study.

The four-phase plan will build a “Ring Road” that the county believes will improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, as well as relieve traffic congestion, in the Seven Corners area, particularly where Route 7, Arlington Blvd (Route 50), and Wilson Blvd all meet.

The first phase is to build a Ring Road on the west side of the interchange between Arlington Blvd and Route 7. The Ring Road will then be extended to the south side, and the central interchange will be reconfigured above Arlington Blvd where Route 7, Wilson Blvd, and Sleepy Hollow Road meet. The final phase will complete the Ring Road on the east side of the interchange connecting Wilson and Roosevelt Blvds.

The interchanges in and around Seven Corners are known to be confusing and dangerous. As recently as August, it was the site of a tragedy when a driver veered off the road and fatally hit a pedestrian in a nearby parking lot.

The Seven Corners study dates back a decade when a community task force first started discussing the future of the area.

The task force proposed recommendations in 2015 that were adopted into a plan amendment approved by the Board of Supervisors. At that time, FCDOT committed to a “phasing analysis” to determine how and in what order improvements were to be made.

In June 2020, FCDOT started conducting this analysis looking into “future transportation conditions; incorporated feedback received from previous rounds of outreach; and worked with various stakeholders to identify a recommended phasing approach.”

In Feb. 2021, a community meeting was held to update residents on that work and, again, in November.

Now, a year later, FCDOT is reaching back out to the public for a final round of feedback for the phasing study, which is expected to be completed by early next year.

However, there’s no set timeline yet for the project’s engineering and design phase, which is “dependent upon funding,” FCDOT spokesperson Robin Geiger told FFXnow in an email.

“The County has applied for Smart Scale funding from the Commonwealth for the first phase of the project and expects to hear early next year whether funding has been awarded,” Geiger said.

The county will also apply for federal funding as well. Once funding from local, state, and federal become available, design, utility coordination, and right-of-way acquisition will commence.

Once funding is awarded, Geiger said it should be expected that Phase 1 will take two years to construct.

The timeline for the other three phases is hard to predict at this point since they are “contingent upon the availability of funds.”

“We will continue to apply for funding progressively based on construction start for each phase,” Geiger said.

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