The Fairfax County Police Department’s drone unit has taken on new responsibilities and added a full-time drone program manager.
The drone unit now conducts more detailed work with the FCPD’s helicopter program, according to an FCPD news release. Among other tasks, the drone unit complements the helicopter program in crime scene and crash scene investigations, FCPD Second Lieutenant Brad Woehrlen wrote in a statement to FFXnow.
“Longer sustained operations illustrate how the drone program compliments the helicopter; the helicopter will go up initially and be able to more immediately provide input to the officers on the ground, and the drone team will take over to provide situational awareness to the officers and command,” Woehrlen wrote.
FCPD started using drones, also called unmanned aircraft systems, in 2019. Drones have since been involved with tasks including crime scene documentation, crash scene reconstruction and felonious suspect searches, per a public log of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) missions. The full list of permitted use cases for drones is outlined in a program manual.
“In a much longer term, as staffing improves, the vision will include a full-time team that is on the street with the equipment able to respond to calls as they come out,” Woehrlen wrote.
The drone program manager, the unit’s newest addition, trains pilots, works on airspace waivers and updates equipment and software, among other responsibilities.
“Because drones are classified as aircraft by the (Federal Aviation Administration) there is a significant amount of management required, which is part of the reason a full-time position was created,” Woehrlen wrote.
The police department’s use of drones is governed in part by the program manual. Among other policies, drones cannot fly beyond the visual line of sight of their operators and operators must “take all reasonable precautions to avoid inadvertently recording or transmitting images of individuals and areas uninvolved with the mission,” per the manual.
“Reasonable precautions” can include only using the drone’s live transmission rather than recording footage during an operation, according to the manual Drones also cannot be used as weapons.
Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have raised concerns about the privacy implications of drone use by police departments.
Protecting community members’ privacy is “an utmost priority,” Woehrlen wrote. He cited the program manual, directives for the FCPD’s helicopter unit and an additional privacy training that he said drone pilots are required to pass before operating missions or investigations.
“We also currently use software that logs our flight tracking, including the camera angle, which provides oversight of pilot activity and a record for any allegations of inappropriate usage,” Woehrlen wrote.
Nearby, Arlington County public safety agencies are working to develop and put in place a UAS program, police spokeswoman Ashley Savage wrote in an email to FFXnow.
“The program is not yet operational and additional information will be shared with the public as we get closer to the program’s launch,” she wrote.
In Loudoun County, the sheriff’s department also uses drones, according to a police spokesperson.
The FAA issued rules for drone operators in 2016. According to a March 2020 report from the now-defunct Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, more than 1,500 U.S. state and local public safety agencies have obtained drones.
Lobster crab ravioli, Azerbaijani plov, lamb vindaloo, bubble tea and much more are on the menu for Fairfax City’s second annual Summer Restaurant Week.
Promotions start this coming Monday, Sept. 4 and run through Sunday, Sept. 10 at more than 30 locations, listed on the Fairfax City Restaurant Week website. Diners can explore $25 brunch and lunch menus and $40 dinner menus, plus two-for-$10 deals at participating establishments.
“It’s an invitation to sample and dine in the company of friends, inside or outside, in every corner of our city. It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year,” City of Fairfax Mayor Catherine Read said in a press release.
Though this is only the program’s second summer edition, Fairfax City has hosted restaurant weeks for six years. The Fairfax City Economic Development Authority and the Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce are co-sponsoring the festivities.
The businesses participating in next week’s event include:
Audacious Ale Works, Baku Delicious, Bellissimo, Bollywood Bistro, Cameron’s Coffee & Chocolates, Capital Ale House, Curry Mantra, Draper’s Steak & Seafood, Dolce Vita, El Pollo Rico, Hamrock’s Restaurant, Jas & Fam Caribbean Flavor, Kim’s Kitchen & Bar, Marumen, Meokja Meokja, ONE Bar & Grill, Ornery Beer Company Public House, Patriots Pub and Grill, PJ Skidoos, Red Hot and Blue, Roots Natural Kitchen, The Auld Shebeen, The Wine House and Vivi Bubble Tea.
Commonwealth Brewing Company, Mackenzie’s Tunes & Tonics, My Empanadas, Ned’s New England Deck and Old Dominion Pizza Company are all participating in the summer restaurant week for the first time.
Local foodies can also partake in the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s Summer Restaurant Week through Sunday (Sept. 3). Several Fairfax County restaurants are participating in that promotional campaign, which involves the whole D.C. area.
In October, the Virginia Department of Transportation will put together recommended improvements for the portion of Burke Centre Parkway where a fatal crash occurred last month.
The recommendations will come after VDOT staff can review the official police investigative report on the crash in September. The department is also planning to conduct studies on potential speed limit changes and the feasibility of a traffic signal in September and October.
The exact dates when the recommended improvements will be presented and implemented are to be determined, VDOT Assistant District Administrator Steven Welch said at a virtual community meeting about the parkway Tuesday night (August 15).
The timeline for implementation can depend on the nature of the changes. A median closure would take less time put in place than a new traffic signal, for example, Welch said.
“The range is really wide,” he said.
Welch also recapped safety improvements made on Burke Centre Parkway in the last three years, which include removing the flashing yellow arrow from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the intersection of Burke Centre Parkway and Roberts Parkway and adding pedestrian warning signs at four crosswalks.
More than 70 people attended the virtual community meeting, which Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw hosted in the wake of the July 18 crash that killed 17-year-old Rebekah Zarco and hospitalized three other teens.
The bulk of the roughly hour-long meeting featured questions and comments from community members, including on the possibility that the July crash involved cars racing.
“In the days after the crash, we did hear there may have been vehicles racing,” said Second Lt. Ian Yost, a crash reconstruction unit supervisor in the Fairfax County Police Department’s traffic division.
Police say 42-year-old Burke resident Jose Angel Zelaya, who was arrested on Aug. 1 and has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, was driving at almost double the 40-mph speed limit when he crashed into the car of teens.
District 37 State Sen. David Marsden said he was intrigued by the potential connection to racing. He said he has submitted a bill to the General Assembly to deal with loud vehicle muffler noise.
“Certainly loud mufflers don’t cause people to race, but it certainly is indicative of some desire to be aggressive with your car, at least its noise and perhaps its speed,” Marsden said.
Some community members asked about the possibility of adding speed cameras. Under a 2020 state law, Fairfax County can place speed cameras in school and construction zones. A pilot program with cameras outside eight schools has been underway since February.
“Where we are right now is we recently started the school zone pilot program,” Walkinshaw said. “I anticipate we’ll want to expand that to other schools around the county and use that to learn and maybe advocate for additional authorities from the General Assembly in Richmond to do more.”
Multiple community members also brought up the possibility of adding a median barrier at the intersection outside the Burke Centre Shopping Center where the crash occurred.
At the meeting, FCPD officers also provided a brief overview of the department’s recent traffic safety efforts, including the summer “Road Shark” campaign and recent traffic enforcement on Burke Centre Parkway.
FCPD’s motor unit issued 440 citations while conducting “high visibility enforcement” on the roadway between July 24 and July 29, according to a presentation at the meeting.
Community members who have questions or comments about Burke Centre Parkway can contact Walkinshaw’s office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-425-9300. The FCPD says anyone who may have witnessed something related to the July 18 crash can contact its crash tip line at 703-280-0543.
Image via Google Maps
As the new school year approaches, young readers can celebrate summer reading this Sunday (August 13).
The Fairfax Library Foundation will bring a second edition of its Children’s Summer Reading Festival to the Chantilly Regional Library (4000 Stringfellow Road) from noon to 3 p.m.
Admission is free, and children and families can enjoy face painting, a bounce house, food trucks, a mini zoo and other attractions. The event doesn’t require tickets, but attendees who reserve a spot via Eventbrite can get a festival tote bag while supplies last.
In early June, Lorton Library (9520 Richmond Highway) hosted more than 1,200 attendees at the inaugural edition of the festival, according to an FLP press release. At the event, more than 240 children registered for Fairfax County Public Library’s summer reading program.
This Sunday’s date is a rescheduling — Chantilly Regional Library was originally slated to host the festival in late June. Families can also attend an outdoor screening of Frozen at the library Saturday night (Aug. 12).
Also open to adults, FCPL’s summer reading program runs through Aug. 18, and it’s still possible to register. Participating readers have already exceeded the 50,000-book goal for the community by more than 30,000 books.
Participants in the summer reading program can earn virtual badges for completing reading goals. After readers meet their goals, they can get a coupon sheet with offers from businesses and the Fairfax County Park Authority.
In the future, Fairfax County property owners planning to redevelop rental properties may be able to replace affordable housing units on-site with units in nearby locations.
Under drafted administrative guidelines, the county would only provide the option if it’s not “financially feasible” for the property owner to maintain the affordable units on the existing site.
The off-site housing “must be within a one-mile radius of the original property location to the extent practicable,” according to the draft guidelines.
County staff would also evaluate whether the new units are in a comparable location, including whether tenants would have similar access to major roads and transit, county facilities such as schools, and commercial areas.
The county is now aiming for one-for-one replacement of affordable housing units when there is redevelopment, per a March amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.
Specifically, the policy intends to preserve rental multifamily housing units that are either committed affordable — meaning rents are restricted to certain income levels — or market affordable — meaning they’re accessible for households that earn up to 60% of the area median income, even without rent or income restrictions.
The county’s Department of Housing and Community Development is developing draft administrative guidelines for the policy. The ability to move preserved affordable units off-site is outlined in the latest draft, presented to the Board of Supervisors housing committee Tuesday (Aug. 1).
Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw expressed reservations about the feasibility of the 1-mile radius.
“I find it hard to believe that there would be many property owners that would be able to make that work,” he said.
Meghan Van Dam, director of the HCD’s affordable housing development division, acknowledged that in certain circumstances, the 1-mile radius could be a challenge.
“In general, we looked at the 1-mile radius thinking about what might be walkable, what might be reasonable in terms of if you do have support networks in place in your community, how could you access those, where would they be located,” Van Dam said.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who cast the only vote against the comprehensive plan amendment in March, remained skeptical of the policy.
“It increases housing costs, period,” he said.
A final version of the guidelines could be adopted as soon as September. The guidelines will be discussed for a potential vote at a board public hearing on Sept. 26.
County staff also plan to update the county’s Relocation Guidelines, which provide information about how developers of rental and mobile home properties can assist tenants displaced by development. Those guidelines were last updated in 2012.
Growth in Fairfax County is focused in Tysons, the Dulles Suburban Center and other mixed-use areas.
In addition, growth in multifamily housing units outpaced growth in single-family housing between 2010 and 2023, and office space continues to lead the way in non-residential development potential, county staff said in a presentation at the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s policy plan committee meeting on July 13.
Development in mixed-use “activity centers” like Tysons, the Dulles Suburban Center, the Reston Transit Station Areas and the Richmond Highway Corridor lines up with the concept for future development outlined in the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.
“The plan has a lot of flexibility built in now and plenty of options for new residential development to occur,” Andrea Dorlester, the county’s principal planner, said in the presentation.
The presentation served as a preview of a “State of the Plan” report that will provide a progress update on the county’s planning efforts between January 2011 and December 2022. Building off a similar evaluation from 2012, the report is slated for release at the end of the summer.
The county can support residential growth through at least 2045, according to the comprehensive plan and a forecast from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Overall, the comprehensive plan notes potential for 182,000 additional dwelling units, with 91% of those units being multifamily housing. The MWCOG forecast projects an 80,000-unit increase by 2045, per the presentation.
At the meeting, Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina noted that addressing affordability in housing is challenging.
“We know we have a housing problem, we say we have growth, but what is being built is not necessarily addressing affordability,” Cortina said.
Between January 2011 and December 2022, the majority of amendments to the comprehensive plan added to planned new housing.
“Several site-specific plan amendments serve to provide for affordable housing, affordable housing for seniors [and] assisted living,” Dorlester said. “And there were some notable conversions from commercial to planned residential with new planned townhouse neighborhoods replacing portions of old strip shopping centers.”
Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder asked whether permitting a “missing middle” approach like the one adopted by neighboring Arlington — where the county would allow some smaller multifamily units in areas that now only allow single-family housing — could provide an opportunity for additional residential growth.
That would require a policy change, but in the context of the State of the Plan, Fairfax County planner Clara Johnson said that with plan amendments, the county is seeing redevelopment of shopping centers and along major transportation corridors.
Adopted changes to the plan also reflect a transit-oriented approach, according to the presentation.
“In areas where transit is not available or planned, such as the downtown McLean Community Business Center, plan changes focused on improving walkability, creating new public spaces, implementing good urban design and creating bonus height or density incentives to promote revitalization and placemaking measures, such as provision of urban park spaces,” Dorlester said.
(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) Fairfax County has a new plan that could help inform arts venue development in the county for the next 20 years.
Adopted unanimously by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday (July 11), the 49-page Fairfax County Master Arts Plan: Facilities includes an inventory of the county’s arts venues, an examination of gaps in resources, options for funding new facilities and more.
Members of the county board said that, in the past, they have lacked some key information when trying to establish arts facilities.
“We were kind of operating under good guidance, but largely in the dark in terms of some of the technical components and what makes sense and where you do these in the county and in what types of communities, and so the work that the task force has done is amazing,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said.
The facilities plan takes into account the county’s strategic plan, adopted in October 2021. For example, its formulation involved “inclusive engagement,” which the facilities plan says was among the drivers of the strategic plan.
“Extensive analytical data was collected through interviews and personal discussion with a wide range of arts and community leaders, as well as residents of both majority and minority ethnic or racial makeup,” the facilities plan reads.
The facilities plan also aligns with One Fairfax, which is the county government and school board’s racial and social equity policy.
“Equity and diversity goals should be paramount in the development of venues that will support arts activities from ethnically diverse perspectives and approaches,” the plan reads.
Among the plan’s recommendations is an expansion of “support facilities,” which could include vacant buildings converted for temporary arts use and storage facilities for costumes, props and scenery.
A consultant’s study conducted in 2019 as part of the plan found that cost is the top consideration for local arts organizations when they decide what venues to use, leading many to go outside of the county or utilize facilities like churches and community centers that aren’t designed for the arts.
Marketing organizations, venues and specific events is also a challenge, tending to be “cost-labor-time intensive and drastically underfunded.”
The report also outlines funding possibilities for capital projects, including bond referendums, an entertainment tax and private donations.
The facilities plan came out of work by the Master Arts Plan Task Force, which formed in 2009. Before the board adopted the plan Tuesday, it passed a resolution recognizing the task force “for their achievements.” Members of the task force, including chair Leila Gordon, attended the meeting.
Gordon gave a presentation about the plan to the board’s economic initiatives committee in March. Even as the board accepted the plan at Tuesday’s meeting, members and Gordon noted the plan’s status as a “living document.”
“Now we have a solid plan for supporting the wonderful array of arts venues already available in Fairfax County as well as to realize the venues of the future that will continue to provide encouragement to artists and welcoming spaces for all to enjoy,” Gordon said at the meeting. “This is a living plan designed to achieve our goals while responding to change.”
The Fourth of July may be on a Tuesday this year, but Fairfax County residents can celebrate with fireworks starting this weekend.
On Tuesday, it’s possible to see the National Mall fireworks from locations along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. But fireworks shows will light up the skies around Fairfax County, too.
Here’s a roundup of fireworks events starting tomorrow (Saturday).
Saturday, July 1
- McLean Independence Day Fireworks Celebration at Langley High School (6520 Georgetown Pike): activities start at 6:30 p.m., free
- Lake Fairfax Fireworks at Lake Fairfax Park (1400 Lake Fairfax Drive, Reston): activities start at 12 p.m., $20 tickets at gate or free for bikers and pedestrians
- FireWorks at the Workhouse Arts Center (9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton): activities start at 6 p.m., $40 admission or free for bikers and pedestrians.
Sunday, July 2
- Vienna’s Independence Day Celebration and Fireworks at Yeonas Park (1319 Ross Drive SW): activities start at 4 p.m., free
- City of Fairfax Evening Show & Fireworks at Fairfax High School Stadium (3501 Lion Run): activities start at 6:30 p.m., free
- Falls Church Independence Day Fireworks & Celebration at Meridian High School (121 Mustang Alley): activities start at 6 p.m., free
Tuesday, July 4
- Town of Herndon Fireworks at Bready Park (814 Ferndale Avenue): activities start at 6:30 p.m., free
- An American Celebration at Mount Vernon (3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway): activities start at 9:30 a.m., event covered with regular admission of $26 for ages 12 and up, $13 for ages 6 to 11, and free for children 5 and under
- Fireworks & Fun at Turner Farm Park (925 Springvale Road, Great Falls): activities start at 6 p.m., free with suggested $20 per family donation
As homelessness increases in Fairfax County, affected residents can use revamped county resources to cope with extreme summer heat.
The county will activate its extreme heat response when the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory, excessive heat watch or excessive heat warning.
As part of the response, 47 county facilities are now designated as cooling centers and will provide supplies, such as water, sunscreen, insect repellant, body wipes, and bus passes, according to a presentation to the Board of Supervisors’ health and human services committee last week.
“Like in previous years, all county facilities that are open to the public can be used by residents to come in for cooling,” Jill Clark, health and human services policy and planning manager with Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services, said in the presentation.
The cooling center facilities include all libraries and community centers. In those locations, staff will be prepared to welcome residents in need, and there will be supplies and seating in designated spaces.
Supplies will also be available at shelters and drop-in centers and from outreach workers. Most of the supplies are single-use and/or lightweight and portable. The decision to supply single-use items, among other parts of the plan, came from feedback from a September 2022 survey of 81 unsheltered residents.
“In the responses, you could hear the challenges they experienced both in terms of discomfort and real negative health effects from the extreme heat, including nausea, shortness of breath, exhaustion, asthma attacks, inability to eat as well as sunburns and rashes,” said Tom Barnett, deputy director of housing and community development in the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.
The county will also aim to better notify unsheltered residents about heat advisories by using a new dedicated channel of Fairfax Alerts.
“We learned through the unsheltered residents survey that most respondents actually have a phone with internet access, and actually prefer getting information about resources and heat alerts via text messages and emails,” Barnett said.
To help residents get to cooling centers, drop-in centers or weather-related overflow sites, the county will offer free Fairfax Connector bus passes in the form of 3,000 postcards that cover two rides each. In addition, the county will provide pre-loaded Transportation Options, Programs & Services (TOPS) cards to assist unsheltered residents who cannot access Fairfax Connector buses.
These changes came out of recommendations from a workgroup that formed in August 2022 in response to concerns raised by the Fairfax County NAACP. The board received the workgroup’s recommendations in a March memorandum.
“The work group and its four committees included a robust membership across many different county departments as well as key partners and representatives from the homeless service providers, the faith community and advocates,” Barnett said.
Annandale diners could soon see more outdoor seating at Izakaya Khan in Seoul Plaza (4231 Markham Street).
To make room for year-round outdoor dining at the Japanese restaurant, the center will lose off-street parking spaces, dropping its total from 210 to 200 spots. In addition to removing nine regular parking spaces, Seoul Plaza will also remove one accessible parking space to make possible a new trash dumpster layout.
The parking reduction was unanimously approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (June 6).
The new outdoor seating area will be 494 square feet and seat up to 32 people, according to materials provided for the board meeting.
Under the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance, the board has the authority to reduce required off-street parking by up to 20% “subject to conditions it deems appropriate” if the applicant demonstrates that the parking reduction contributes to the goals of a commercial revitalization district.
Seoul Plaza is in the Annandale Commercial Revitalization District. Technically, the zoning ordinance required Seoul Plaza to have 250 parking spots, taking into account its gross square footage and the types of tenants in the shopping center. The 20% reduction will bring the required number of spaces to 200.
“Outdoor dining allows the restaurant to better cater to their customers and makes them more (competitive) with other restaurants that have outdoor dining,” county staff said in the meeting materials. “This shopping center already has a number of vacant tenant spaces so the continued viability of its existing tenants is imperative to the shopping center‘s continued economic viability.”
Although the BOS unanimously approved the request, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said it will be necessary to follow up “to see if it’s working the way we want it to work.”
In addition to Izakaya Khan, Seoul Plaza features restaurants including Seoul Soondae Restaurant and Release the Craycken.
More broadly, the county is developing new, permanent policies for outdoor dining following pandemic provisions that made it easier for restaurants and other eligible establishments to offer seating outside.
Photo via Google Maps