Fairfax County is currently set to keep its real estate tax rate the same as last year, but some local residents accused county leadership of trying to disguise a tax hike for local residents.
During a meeting on Tuesday (April 11), the Board of Supervisors held a public hearing for the fiscal year 2024 tax rate, which is likely to hold steady at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value.
The staff report notes, however, that holding the tax rate steady is effectively an increase in the tax bill for most residents. According to the report:
It should be noted that the total increase in assessed value of existing properties is expected to be 5.68 percent, including an increase of 6.97 percent for residential real property and an increase of 1.65 percent for non-residential real property. As a result, most property owners would experience an increase in their real estate tax bill even if the tax rate remains unchanged.
The tax rate drew the ire of some locals in the public comments, who said the relatively low attendance at the meeting was another sign that the public didn’t fully understand what the tax rate would mean for their bills.
“In his March 7 email, the Chairman said the advertised rate of $1.11 is unchanged from last year,” said Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers’ Alliance. “That statement is in violation of the Virginia Code, which states that previous years’ rate must be lowered to offset an increase in assessments.”
He claimed that the rate should be lowered to $1.05 and accused the County leadership of underhanded dealing when it came to the tax rate.
“A good rule of thumb for homeowners is that when supervisors say they are reducing the tax rate, expect a tax hike,” Purves said. “This is because the Supervisors only reduce the rate when there is an assessment increase and the rate is never reduced enough to offset the assessment increase.”
Purves said that, even as someone aware of the ins and outs of the budget process, it was still frustratingly difficult to find out when the public hearing on the proposed tax rate was being held. Others said they had similar challenges finding out when the budget hearings would be held.
“These taxes are a significant financial burden for businesses and homeowners alike,” said Justin Mastrangelo. “While I understand what you’re trying to do behind the increase, it can be difficult for many of us to absorb the cost.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay previously called the budget forecast a “real mixed bag” and indicated to FFXnow that he would support a reduction in the tax rate, though the board hasn’t signaled how much of a drop is under consideration.
Others at the public hearing noted that inflation and changing real estate markets would, as Mastrangelo said, put much of the costs onto county residents.
The tax rate is open to feedback until May 2, 2023. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote and adopt the FY 2024 budget on May 9.
All kids under the age of 12 will soon be able to ride the Fairfax Connector for free.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday (Tuesday) to change the bus system’s policy to allow any child 12 or younger to ride for free when accompanied by a paying adult.
The vote closes a gap in the county’s transit policy that left children between ages 5 and 12 paying for bus fare, while younger kids and high school students can ride for free.
Hunter Mill Supervisor Walter Alcorn said the change is part of an ongoing effort to expand the number of riders who can ride Fairfax Connector fare-free — without going fully free like neighboring Alexandria.
“This is a nice step forward,” said Alcorn. “…As we move forward with identifying populations that really should get free fare, we should do that, and just as a reminder, we have some other things coming in terms of reduced fare. So, this is one of a number of initiatives we’re doing in terms of our bus fare strategy.”
Chairman Jeff McKay said one of the long-term benefits of getting more children riding Fairfax Connector is familiarizing a new generation with mass transit.
“This is great,” McKay said. “Not only is it for people who need it — in this case it’s free fare for children — but we’re also building a population and educating a population on how to use mass transit. It’s an investment in the future, and we’ve certainly seen that with the student bus pass program.
Calling the new policy “fantastic,” he thanked county staff for proposing the change and “the speed at which they got this to the Board for approval.”
The new policy will take effect on May 1.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is going to take a second stab at its ambitious Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project (zMOD) after Virginia’s Supreme Court struck down the prior approval.
The county’s zMOD overhaul involved a variety of sweeping changes to the zoning ordinance, from loosening limits on accessory dwelling units to changes in regulations governing flags and flagpoles.
Unfortunately for the Board of Supervisors, the Virginia Supreme Court voided the 2021 approval of zMOD because the meeting where it was approved and prior public hearings were held virtually, which it said violated the county’s Virginia Freedom of Information Act requirements.
The ruling raised questions about development and land use decisions made in the wake of the zoning code update, though Virginia passed a new law last year that loosened restrictions on virtual public meetings.
Tomorrow (Tuesday), the board is set to start the public hearing process to give zMOD approval another go. An administrative item at the board’s meeting for tomorrow would grant “authorization to advertise public hearings on the readoption of the zoning ordinance.”
According to the docket:
If the Board’s 2021 adoption of the zMOD Ordinance was void, so was the contemporaneous repeal of the 1978 Zoning Ordinance (as amended), leaving that earlier Ordinance still in effect. As a result, new public hearings are required for reconsideration of the zMOD Ordinance as previously adopted on March 23, 2021. And while subsequent Zoning Ordinance amendments are not addressed in the opinion, staff recommends that they be included as part of the complete Zoning Ordinance being considered.
Unsurprisingly, the county executive is recommending that the board authorize advertisement of public hearings for an ordinance it already approved in a 7-3 vote on March 23, 2021.
If the advertisement of public hearings is approved, those will come at the May 3 Planning Commission meeting and the May 9 Board of Supervisors meeting, meaning zMOD could be reapproved less than two months after the original approval was struck down.
Fairfax County could be putting a little more money into a program that aims to make paying taxes in the county easier.
At a budget committee meeting on Tuesday (March 28), the Board of Supervisors got a briefing on the fiscal year 2023 third quarter review, looking over how staff are proposing to use a net $51.2 million in available funding.
Most of that new funding comes from interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve to rein in inflation. That resulted in an additional $37.58 million for the county, which also saw an increase of $11.23 million in revenue from personal property taxes.
The lion’s share of that funding is going to capital projects, like courtroom renovations, but county staff have proposed using $18.96 million for information technology (IT) improvements that could, in part, go into effect by the end of the year.
The one most residents will likely notice is an upgrade to the county’s tax payment systems. While a precise timeline for what will be a multi-year overhaul is still being worked out, staff said the $4 million proposed in the FY 2023 third quarter review would give the program a substantial boost.
“This gives us a good downpayment to get the work started,” said Jay Doshi, director of the Department of Tax Administration. “[The IT Department] has been not only partnering with us, but reaching out to vendors who will offer services to get us to where we’d like to be.”
IT staff said the plan is to have some improvements in place by this fall for residents filing property taxes.
“We’ve relied for a long time on people mailing in checks, paying an exorbitant fee with their credit card, or standing right outside this hallway,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I think this is a short-term improvement but will have long-term benefits…I’m glad to hear at least the beginning parts to this, some of the pieces our citizens will experience, will be forthcoming as soon as this fall.”
Other notable allocations in the third-quarter review include $400,000 to help the Fairfax County Park Authority clear running bamboo, $4.1 million to cover increased overtime costs for Fire and Rescue personnel, and a total of $1.75 million for road and parks signage related to the Route 29 and 50 renamings.
The removal of the names Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway has to be voted on by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which has the authority to name state roads, Fairfax County Department of Transportation spokesperson Robin Geiger confirmed.
The board met earlier this week, but the topic wasn’t on its agenda.
“The allocation of funds is in preparation of the approval of the name changes,” Geiger said.
Some transportation projects on the horizon have sparked excitement among the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors over potential transit improvements.
Visualize 2050 is a federally-mandated long-range transportation plan with an emphasis on projects that adhere to new emission reduction goals.
In a meeting of the Board of Supervisors Transportation Committee earlier this month, staff said the county has six projects it’s considering adding to Visualize 2050. The projects have to be considered regionally significant.
- Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
- Orange Line Metrorail Extension
- Yellow Line Metrorail Extension to Hybla Valley
- I-495 Southside Project
- I-95 Counterflow Express Lanes
- Seven Corners
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said the inclusion of Route 7 BRT is a positive step, helping take the project from the conceptual stage to something being actively planned.
“I think it’s really exciting that we’re considering this and I would support BRT 7, “Palchik said. “It brings dedicated bus lanes. We’re talking about reducing congestion and using these roads to more easily have multimodal. I think it’s not super helpful when buses get stuck in traffic for people to give up their cars and opt for the bus.”
The Route 7 BRT proposal would eventually connect Tysons to Alexandria on a new route designed to prioritize public transit. Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said she’s hopeful districts between the two major stops will also benefit.
“Certainly Route 7 BRT will go all along Route 7, coming from Alexandria [in one direction] and Tysons [from the other],” Gross said. “I’m hoping that [Mason District] can be the golden spike.”
Elsewhere in county planning, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk advocated for Metro’s Yellow Line extension down into Hybla Valley.
“That’s in alignment with what we’re doing with bus rapid transit and our Embark Richmond Highway study,” Lusk said. “The goal is that we eventually get to the extension of that Metro line. I just want to advocate for that and put a plug so that it can be considered.”
County staff said there will be two public meetings on the Visualize 2050 plan in April before the project works its way through the bureaucratic process, eventually heading to plan adoption sometime in December 2024.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently honored a local police district that help crack down on a string of car thefts earlier this year.
At a meeting last week, the Board of Supervisors recognized the Franconia District Police Station and the Fairfax County Police Department’s Auto Crimes Enforcement Team.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said Lorton has seen a rash of vehicle thefts this year.
“Car thefts are on the rise around the region including an apparent coordinated effort around Lorton in January targeting Kia and Hyundai vehicles,” Storck said. “In January alone, 33 vehicles were stolen in Fairfax County.”
Lorton in particular had nine vehicles stolen, Storck said. In response, police increased their presence in the neighborhoods and were able to make two significant arrests in January.
“The Lorton community had a significant number of autos being stolen and the community was very frustrated,” Storck said. “They were teenagers regrettably but fortunately they were then stopped.”
Beyond just the issue of vehicles being stolen, Storck said there were concerns about the stolen vehicles being used in other crimes.
Chairman Jeff McKay said his own car had been stolen years ago and shared the sense of frustration and unease that can bring.
“As someone who had their own car broken into many years ago, I can tell you, the victims of that…feel personal violation,” McKay said. “I don’t think anyone understands what it feels like to have your car stolen. It’s not the same as other crimes committed against persons, but that particular crime against property is a personal intrusion that not only has an effect on people, but has the potential to give the wrong impression about the safety of a community.”
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said his hope is not only that community members feel safe, but that the crackdown instills a wariness in criminals.
“This is just another example of the quality of our force,” Herrity said. “When we see an issue, we go out and get in front of it and solve it. I think it sends a message we need to send not just to our community… but the message it sends to the bad guys: if you come to Fairfax County, we’re going to get this solved.”
Image via Google Maps
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a new policy last week that could offer incentives to developers to replace the affordable housing lost to new development.
The new policy wouldn’t just require a one-to-one replacement of units set aside as affordable — known as committed affordable units — but would incentivize the replacement of those that were naturally affordable — meaning market-rate affordable.
In effect, if a new development brings units to a site previously affordable for those making less than the area median income, the developer would be offered incentives to include an equal number of affordable units in the new development. Those incentives could include additional density, building height and financial assistance.
The sole voice against the new amendment at the meeting last Tuesday (March 21) was Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who said the county can’t subsidize its way out of the regional housing crisis. According to Herrity:
The requirement to replace market-rate affordable units could inhibit the delivery of much needed housing, especially if incentives fail to cover the cost of the preserved affordable units. It’s a lot of those incentives that are basically making housing unaffordable for many of our residents, because those incentives are paid by our residents. Our young adults and our seniors are priced out of housing. We’re not going to be able to do enough government-subsidized housing to fix this problem. Where we need to start is reducing the cost of housing. I’m not going to be supporting this, that’s probably no surprise to the board, but I think there are better ways to attack this problem.
The rest of the board, though, was enthusiastic in its support of the new policy.
“This is a good next step for us,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “The issue is: how do we ensure this distribution of housing is countywide? I think this starts to tackle that issue by highlighting and identifying where those issues and where those needs are. I’m looking to support far more housing that’s affordable in many other areas.”
Storck said the policy is part of the county’s commitment to ensure residents can afford to stay in the county even as overall housing prices continue to rise.
“I have a statement that I say often and my staff will probably roll their eyes when I say this again: we need to make sure we leave no one behind,” Storck said. “If you’ve lived in our community for a while, we need to make sure there are options for you. To get those options, we need to build more housing.”
The policy change was approved in a 9-1 vote.
Following adoption by the Board of Supervisors, staff will work to put together a draft of new guidelines in May and present those to the board later this summer.
(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) The Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) is investigating a crash in Seven Corners where they say a pedestrian was killed.
Police said a driver struck an adult woman at 6:18 a.m. in the intersection of Wilson Blvd and John Marshall Drive in Seven Corners. She was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced deceased.
The driver remained on scene, according to FCPD, and the scene is being investigated by the Crash Reconstruction Unit.
Based on a preliminary investigation, police say that the pedestrian — identified as Ana Julia Acosta De Ostorga, 58, of Falls Church — was crossing Wilson Blvd “in an unknown direction, in or near the pedestrian crossing” when she was hit by a 2003 Honda Accord driver traveling west.
The FCPD hasn’t identified the driver but says “speed and alcohol do not appear to be factors for the driver in the crash.”
Westbound Wilson Blvd reopened around noon after being shut down between John Marshall Drive and Peyton Randolph Drive.
This appears to be the first pedestrian fatality in Fairfax County this year. According to the FCPD, four pedestrians had been killed on county roads by this time in 2022, which saw 32 pedestrian deaths by the end of the year — the highest number since at least 2010.
Officers are on scene of a fatal pedestrian crash at Wilson Blvd & John Marshall Dr in Seven Corners. Adult female taken to hospital & pronounced deceased. Driver remained on scene. Detectives from our Crash Reconstruction Unit are responding. Please use an alternate route. pic.twitter.com/iJBzLH3YNM
— Fairfax County Police (@FairfaxCountyPD) March 24, 2023
Image via Google Maps
Fairfax County could be taking some notes from New York City and Portland as it tries to turn back the surge of recent pedestrian fatalities.
The Board of Supervisors directed the Fairfax County Department of Transportation on Tuesday (March 21) to review turn-calming measures from other jurisdictions, discuss options with the Virginia Department of Transportation, and come back to the board’s transportation committee with an analysis of how that can be implemented.
“Over the past several years, this Board has taken significant steps to prioritize pedestrian safety,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “Despite these efforts, there were still sadly 32 pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County on our roads in 2022, the highest number since consistent statistics started being collected in 2010.”
As FFXnow reported last week, FCDOT’s Trails, Sidewalks and Bikeways committee (TSB) delved into the issue and asked the Board of Supervisors to prioritize additional safety measures along major arterial roadways throughout Fairfax County.
“The first is a turn calming, like in New York, San Francisco and Portland,” McKay said. “These programs can reduce turning speeds and thus pedestrian fatalities.”
Left-turn calming aims to reduce turning speeds, eliminate sharp turns, and create “hardened centerlines” that use rubber speed bumps to slow drivers.
McKay said county staff’s report on turn-calming should also include an estimate of the cost.
The second item is a request that no crosswalk at the site of a pedestrian fatality be eliminated unless there is a compelling reason to do so.
The question of eliminating crosswalks took some board members by surprise until Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw explained that the TSB letter references the planned elimination of a crosswalk at Braddock Road and Kings Park Drive in West Springfield.
Walkinshaw explained VDOT intends to move the sidewalk to a safer location.
“The plan is to eliminate that entire signalized intersection and move the crosswalk to a different and safer location, where it’s separated from the turns from Kings Park Drive onto Braddock Road,” he said.
Hunter Mill Supervisor Walter Alcorn noted that, in addition to turn-calming and prioritizing crosswalks, the county also has an ongoing speed camera pilot program.
“I would also note that we are doing our speed camera pilot, which is also getting underway,” Alcorn said. “It underscores that this is really a tough problem…We need to look and see what else can we do to make our streets safer.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors got a first look last week at a new plan that it hopes can help turn the county into a hub for the arts.
At an economic initiatives committee meeting on March 14, Fairfax County Arts Committee Chair Leila Gordon said the new Master Arts Plan shows that some of the county’s revitalization zones — like the one in the works for downtown McLean — need to do more to prioritize the arts and add more supporting facilities.
“Beyond what are traditionally characterized as ‘major arts venues,’ the County needs multiple other support facilities and spaces to complement existing arts venues,” a presentation on the plan said.
Those arts-supporting uses include creating residential zoning for live/work studios, more small-scale venues, and better temporary use of vacant facilities.
Supervisors at the meeting shared positive feedback on the plan, but many had individual areas they wanted to see more fully explored.
“We’re not doing public art well in this county at all, regardless of how many times we’ve tried to do it,” said Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross. “On Richmond Highway they’ve had some success with some murals, but trying to get permits for murals and trying to explain to the planning and development department that this is not a sign…that’s a wonderful way to grab people really quickly.”
Gross said as the process goes on, she’d like to see more public art worked into the plan.
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik expressed hope to see more descriptions of how art uses should be managed and governed.
“We can build the spaces, we can permit the spaces, we can transform the spaces, but I think the question is…place-based governance,” Palchik said. “We are a large county. We have a lot of initiatives as well as priorities. We can build all the spaces we want, but they have to be run, they have to be activated, they have to be managed.”
Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said the arts across Fairfax County are currently plagued by waste and unequal distribution, two topics he hopes to see the plan tackle.
“There’s also a lot of waste in the arts,” McKay said. “When props are done, they’re trashed. When costumes are done, they don’t get stored. I know there are a lot of private arts organizations — dance schools are familiar with this — that spend a lot of money on props, a lot of money on costumes, and when the show is over, they go in the trash.”
McKay said the Master Arts Plan is a chance to organize the local arts community and get organizations on the same page when it comes to sharing resources. McKay said he hoped to see a “huge inventory” of items that can be recycled across multiple shows. From the county leadership side, that may involve financing storage space.
“One thing we should be looking at in terms of facilities [is] if the county can provide a centralized warehouse of arts materials,” McKay said. “There is quite a bit of waste in the arts and it doesn’t need to be that way. A lot of high school theater groups do the same rotating shows but a lot of times, they’re starting from scratch for props, and finding out they’re discarded from another school that did the same show. That can be very costly.”
McKay also said part of the plan should focus on distributing arts venues around Fairfax County, noting that many arts spaces are being built where there is already an abundance of facilities.
According to a draft plan, there are several potential venues in the works, including proposed arts centers at Reston Town Center and in downtown Herndon, but a lack of funding is cited as an obstacle in multiple cases.
“Unfortunately where [there’s] the greatest art advocacy is where there are already facilities,” McKay said. “There are parts of the county that just don’t have the same access. Looking at that through gap analysis is going to be really important.”
The plan also notes that cost and availability limitations lead many organizations in Fairfax County to use venues not intended for arts programming, like schools or churches, or to go outside the county.
The Master Arts Plan for cultural facilities is under review and will be fully released sometime this spring. A broader Public Art Master Plan is scheduled for completion in early 2024.