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Morning Notes

Vienna bookstore Bards Alley is participating in the town’s holiday decorating contest (photo by Amy Woolsey)

I-66 HOV Change Starts Today — “The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) reminds travelers that starting Monday, Dec. 5, vehicles will need three or more occupants to qualify as a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) on I-66 in Northern Virginia. This change from HOV-2+ to HOV-3+ will apply across the entire I-66 corridor in Northern Virginia from Haymarket to the D.C. line.” [VDOT]

FCPD Officer Arrested for DUI — “An officer assigned to the Mount Vernon District was arrested in Prince William County for driving under the influence. The officer was off-duty and driving his personal vehicle at the time of the arrest. PFC Nathan Jones, an 8-year veteran, has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an Internal Affairs Bureau investigation.” [FCPD]

Driver Crashes Into Vienna Restaurant — “Maple Ave Restaurant in Vienna was impacted by a vehicle crash Thursday, according to the owners…No injuries were identified from the crash. A photo showed the damage to the outside wall, which just missed the restaurant’s main gas line.” [Patch]

Remains Found in Centreville Identified — With help from the private genetic testing lab Othram, Fairfax County police have identified Sharon Kay Abbott Lane as the woman whose skeletal remains were found at the base of a cedar tree in Centreville on Dec. 6, 1993. The department is now looking for information that may help find a suspect in her killing. [WTOP]

FCPS Announces Snow Day Plan — “Like last year, the first five inclement weather days will be traditional ‘snow days’…Once these five days have been taken, FCPS will use the flexibility provided by the General Assembly to have unscheduled virtual learning days, wherever possible, to maintain continuity of learning.” [FCPS]

Police Turn to Student Recruiting — “On Monday nights, after most students are long gone from the tiled halls of West Potomac High School, one classroom is left open. It’s the room where Capt. Wilson Lee and other Fairfax County police officers meet about 35 high school students in the public safety cadets program — a pipeline, officials hope, that will one day fill their dwindling ranks.” [The Washington Post]

Squirrel-Focused “Storybook” Trail Opens in Chantilly — “This new trail at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park combines the opportunity for a healthful walk, the chance to share and interact with your favorite little one, and it provides a cost-free outdoor adventure. Your child will love running like a squirrel from sign to sign along this 0.15-mile path to read a story about a squirrel and a chipmunk in their natural habitat” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Voting Underway in Vienna Holiday Decorating Contest — “Now through Friday, Dec. 9, at noon, vote for your favorite holiday display! Snap a photo of a display, share it on social media using #ShineBrightVienna and tag us at @TownofViennaVA & @ExploreViennaVA for a chance to win gift cards!” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Groveton School Gets Winter Clothes Donations — “A local group of crocheters put smiles on the faces of many Mount Eagle Elementary School students Nov. 14 when they delivered over 400 handmade hats, scarves and mittens to the school. According to school principal Jean Consolla, the children were allowed to pick out their new winter accessories during the first recess, with staff getting second dibs.” [On the MoVe]

It’s Monday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 49 and low of 31. Sunrise at 7:13 am and sunset at 4:48 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Barton Hill Recreation Area in Reston is slated for upgrades (via Google Maps)

Upgraded lighting is no longer a component of upgrades to the Barton Hill tennis courts in Reston.

Reston Association will not challenge the Oct. 26 vote by the Fairfax County Board of Appeals upholding an earlier decision to require additional approvals before lights can be installed at the facility.

Board of Appeals member Daniel Aminoff emphasized that the county’s current ordinance does not specifically indicate that lighting-related upgrades are considered exceptions to a requirement for an amendment to Reston’s existing Planned Residential Community (PRC) plan.

“Had the Board of Supervisors intended to include lights, they would have specifically delineated in that case,” said Aminoff.

The board agreed with a county zoning administrator that a PRC plan amendment is required for the proposed upgrades in addition to a site plan.

RA had argued that it only needs a sports illumination plan to move forward with 23 LED light poles, which would stand 26 feet tall. RA also said the approved development plan for the area describes the courts as a recreational area and, as a result, allows for greater flexibility in planning.

The project will still include refurbishment and replacement of the existing tennis courts. RA’s board removed roughly $381,000 from its budget after the lighting component was dropped, according to RA spokesperson Mike Leone.

Leone declined to provide a response on the association opting not to appeal the county’s decision.

The proposal includes renovation of four courts and striping for tennis and pickle ball. RA previously anticipated the project would be ready by the end of the year, but the new timeline has not currently been finalized.

Photo via Google Maps

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Fairfax County Public Schools

Fairfax County Public Schools could require parental notifications for class materials deemed sexually explicit, but in a deviation from the state, the proposed policy directly addresses concerns about censorship, specifically for LGBTQ-related content.

Introduced at the Fairfax County School Board meeting last night, the policy requires teachers to maintain lists of books, videos, and other instructional materials with “sexually explicit content.” Schools must notify parents at least 30 days before the materials are used and provide alternatives if sought by a parent or student.

“Schools shall defer to parents to determine whether the use of an instructional material with sexually explicit content is appropriate for their child,” the policy states.

As noted by staff, FCPS already has a policy and regulations governing selections of print and electronic materials, including guidance for notifying parents and fulfilling requests for access to the materials or alternatives.

The draft policy generally incorporates a model developed by the Virginia Department of Education, as dictated by Senate Bill 656, which requires school boards to adopt rules specifically for sexually explicit content by Jan. 1, 2023. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Glenn Youngkin on April 6.

However, FCPS has added one clause stating that:

This policy shall not be construed to require or provide for (1) the censoring of books in public elementary and secondary schools, or (2) the designation of instructional material as sexually explicit based solely upon the sexual orientation of the characters contained therein.

The school system told FFXnow it has no comment on the proposal “at this stage,” but the clause seems intended to quell fears that the new requirements could be used to limit access to materials that feature or deal with issues related to LGBTQ people.

Unveiled in early August, the VDOE model policy defines “sexually explicit content” in accordance with the state code:

(i) any description of or (ii) any picture, photograph, drawing, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting sexual bestiality, a lewd exhibition of nudity, as nudity is defined in § 18.2-390, sexual excitement, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse, as also defined in § 18.2-390, coprophilia, urophilia, or fetishism.

Virginia Code section 18.2-390 includes “homosexuality” in its definition of sexual conduct, raising concerns that LGBTQ people will be treated as inherently sexual and not suitable for students. The 1,750 public comments submitted on the policy also included praise for it as a step forward for “parental rights.”

The Pride Liberation Project, a student-led advocacy group that started in Fairfax County, was among the critics of the state-proposed policy, but the language added by FCPS has eased its concerns.

“We are grateful to see FCPS clarify that our existence is not sexually explicit,” the group told FFXnow. “Nothing about our existence as Queer students is inherently sexual, but SB 656 threatens to mislabel our community. We hope other school districts follow FCPS’ lead and protect the limited Queer representation in our classrooms from censorship attacks.”

Still, the proposed FCPS policy doesn’t go as far as ones adopted by neighboring districts in warding off potential attacks on LGBTQ materials.

Loudoun County’s school board approved a policy on Wednesday (Nov. 30) that protects materials based on the gender identity of characters, as well as sexual orientation. A policy that went before the Arlington school board last night removes references to section 18.2-390 from its definition of “sexually explicit content.”

FCPS faced questions about material selection last year, when parents complained that there was graphic sexual content in the novel “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and Maia Kobabe’s memoir “Gender Queer,” which both have LGBTQ protagonists.

Initially pulled from library shelves, the books were restored after review committees determined the claims were unfounded and that their literary merits justified making them accessible to students.

A decade-old fight over Toni Morrison’s classic “Beloved” also became a talking point in Youngkin’s 2021 campaign to become governor. Legislation inspired by that attempted book ban got vetoed in 2016 but served as a precursor for the new state law.

FCPS Pride, an LGBTQ advocacy group for employees, expressed concern that teachers will “self-censor” material out of fear of complaints or harassment.

“No good can come from reducing our curriculum to a few books that make absolutely nobody uncomfortable,” FCPS Pride said in a statement. “Our hope is that, after enacting this policy, FCPS will take legal action on behalf of the right of all students to an education that includes and welcomes them.”

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A public art piece inspired by the connectivity and energy of atoms has been erected in Reston Town Center’s Hyatt Park.

Called “Vidustria,” the installation is drawn from the word “vigor” and the Latin term “industria,” or energy. It’s the brainchild of students from South Lakes High School’s STEAM Public Art Program.

Local officials and sponsors gathered last Friday (Nov. 25) to celebrate the work’s installation.

“We started this project over three years ago…and then something called the pandemic intervened,”

Tysons Warren, Hyatt Regency’s general manager, also approved using the site to renew the project for future art projects. Hyatt allowed the project team to use the space and power — to light up the artwork — at night.

Robert Goudie, Reston Town Center Association’s executive director,  said the project would not be possible with community partners. For example, power Service ran electric and secured conduit and writing for free and Commercial Concrete poured six concrete piers to secure the installation, along with bolting the beams to piers. Yellowstone Landscaping helped transport and install the sculpture at no cost.

“It has been an amazing community effort, supporting the dedication and commitment of dozens of students under Marco’s inspirational leadership over almost three years, interrupted by the pandemic, to make this happen,” Goudie said.

The structure is made from aluminum composite panels, acrylic panels, LED lights, screws, spray paint, vinyl print and wood. The sculpture features figures in motion on one side and a collection of human irises floating like celestial bodies on the other.

Here’s more from Reston Town Center Association describing the art work:

Atoms are minuscule particles, fundamental building blocks which combine to create all tangible objects in this universe. Alone, they are nothing. Together, they are everything. People, especially the students who made Vidustria, can be compared to these atoms due to their interconnectivity, a recurring theme within this sculpture. However, atoms have one deficiency: they do not compose energy, only maer. This is where the students of South Lakes High School have the upper hand. The unique, individual energy that each person has put into Vidustria is what elevates this artwork above the molecular foundations of the cosmos.

On one side of the sculpture is a series of figures in motion, while on the other side, a set of human irises, floating as if they’re celestial bodies. Both of these representations are meant to be universally recognizable. Interconnectivity is intertwined with one’s humanity, by simply inhabiting a body and perceiving this world (whether visually or not), people naturally gravitate toward one another based on these shared experiences. It should be easy to see yourself in Vidustria, to acknowledge the relationships you forge with other people and the energy that these relationships establish.

The school’s STEAM Club has created many art installations in Reston, including several projects on Lake Thoreau. It’s run by SLHS art teacher and local artist Marco Rando.

The sculpture will likely remain on the site until the spring of 2024.

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The Koons Chevy auto dealership at 2000 Chain Bridge Road (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The developer behind Reston Station and Herndon’s stalled downtown redevelopment has turned its sights to Tysons.

Comstock is seeking to replace the massive Koons Chevy and Chrysler dealerships at 2000 and 2050 Chain Bridge Road near the Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) interchange with a “vibrant, mixed-use, multi-block neighborhood,” according to a new application.

Submitted on Oct. 27 as part of Fairfax County’s Site-Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) process, which considers possible land use changes to the comprehensive plan, the proposal says the new development would be 85% multifamily residences and about 15% retail. Open space and amenities would also be provided.

“The Nominator respectfully suggests that this infusion of residential mixed use is needed to redress the balance of uses in Tysons, specifically in the office-heavy area in and around the Greensboro Metro Station Transit Station-Mixed Use area,” DLA Piper Senior Land Use Planner Brian J. Clifford said in a statement on Comstock’s behalf.

A concept plan in the application depicts a single multi-level retail building on one block and another with four residential buildings. Heights range from 175 feet to 400 feet, increasing as the buildings get closer to Route 7.

Comstock says the adjacent interchange where Chain Bridge (Route 123) passes over Route 7 needs to be replaced with an at-grade intersection. The developer argues that would allow Boone Blvd to be extended into the Koons property across Route 123, stating that the road can’t be constructed as currently planned by the county.

The Tysons Koons auto dealership property could be redeveloped with retail (in red) and housing, in yellow (via Comstock/Fairfax County)

“The proposed location of the Boone Boulevard/Route 123 crossing is too close to the steep slope of Route 123 as it heads south from this interchange and would create an inherently dangerous situation,” the application says. “There simply isn’t enough distance to add a major intersection at the location depicted in the Comprehensive Plan’s street grid maps.”

The 14-acre property consists of two parcels that have been developed with the Koons dealership since 1975. Fairfax County property records show that Home Depot purchased the Chevy dealership for $30 million on Jan. 8, 2021.

The site was previously owned by Sherwood Tysons LLC, a company belonging to descendants of Tysons namesake William Tyson, according to the Washington Business Journal. The Chrysler portion of the dealership is owned by an affiliate of the Caldow family, which is also related to Tyson.

With the owners’ consent, Comstock intends to consolidate the two parcels. The Tysons Comprehensive Plan designates them as residential mixed-use — where housing should make up 75% or more of the overall development — and transit station mixed-use, which calls for a mix of retail, office, residential and other commercial uses, leaning toward 65% office and 20% residential overall.

The application argues more residential development is needed around the Greensboro Metro station, which is currently 70% office space despite a reported 20% vacancy rate.

“With the office market in a state of flux thanks to the COVID-driven changes in work location and commuting patterns, maintaining an office-heavy focus in this area risks delaying significant investment in redeveloping the existing auto dealership,” Clifford wrote.

Clifford’s statement describes the plan amendment application as a “placeholder” while county officials reevaluate the current and future mix of land uses in Tysons. Comstock declined to comment on the proposal for now, saying it “would be happy to discuss this down the road at a later date.”

The Koons redevelopment is among 75 SSPA nominations that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will weigh for possible acceptance on Tuesday (Dec. 6). Other sites up for consideration include Fallfax Center in Idylwood and Reston’s two golf courses.

“It is the Nominator’s intention to proceed to rezoning as quickly as possible and overlap that rezoning with as much of the Evaluation Phase of the SSPA process as is practicable,” Clifford said.

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A man walks by trash bins next to the curb (via Trinity Nguyen on Unsplash)

(Updated at 1:25 p.m.) The service and staffing challenges plaguing trash collectors throughout Fairfax County have prompted one company to call it quits, leaving thousands of residents in limbo with little notice.

Haulin’ Trash LLC has permanently shuttered, informing customers by email Wednesday (Nov. 30) that it will cease operations effective yesterday.

“We have faced many challenges over the past several weeks that we simply cannot overcome. This decision has not only affected our customers but it has affected dozens of employees and their families,” owner Bobby Frazier said in the message, apologizing for the resulting inconvenience.

Frazier said that the “keys to the business” will transferred to a court-appointed trustee “over the next couple of weeks,” who will be in charge of giving out credits or refunds.

Started in 2017, the Leesburg-based company served around 3,000 customers in the county, including homeowners’ associations and 1,800 single-household customers, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) says.

The county has over a dozen private, licensed haulers that serve about 90% of residents and businesses. The rest get waste collection services from the county government.

DPWES says its Solid Waste Management Program contacted Haulin’ Trash on Tuesday (Nov. 29) after receiving “a surge in resident complaints about missed collections.” The company told staff that it was “experiencing operational and financial difficulties,” but said it was looking at options to address the reported concerns, according to the county.

A day later, though, Haulin’ Trash notified the county that it had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and would close on Dec. 1. An email sent to customers on Nov. 30 said plans to “catch up” on missed collections proved impossible because it had only four trucks — half its fleet – available.

Shared with FFXnow today, the email has a timestamp of 4:29 p.m. The announcement that Haulin’ was permanently closing went out at 9:39 p.m. that same day. The company didn’t return a request for comment.

While sudden, the closure doesn’t appear to be a total surprise to Haulin’ customers. One told FFXnow that the company’s service “had degraded to almost nothing this month,” while an Oakton resident said it missed three consecutive pickups in their neighborhood in November.

“The delayed/missed pickups have caused trash/recycle bin(s) and yard waste bag(s) sit on the curbside/street for weeks,” the resident wrote in an anonymous tip. “As a result, the neighbor looks disorganized with unpleasant smell, trashes littering on street, in storm drainage, on lawn(s).” Read More

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Morning Notes

Sunlight behind a peaked, glass roof at the Vienna Metro station (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Suspect in Mount Vernon Fatal Shooting Arrested — Fairfax County police arrested Kyjuan Omar Braxton Trott-McLean, of Mount Vernon in the 3800 block of Colonial Avenue yesterday after a brief vehicle pursuit. The search for Trott-McLean took nearly two months after police identified him as “a suspect in the Oct. 2 killing of Brandon Wims, 31, of Maryland.” [The Washington Post]

Lego Discovery Center Groundbreaking Soon — “A new Lego Discovery Center is set to open in Springfield Town Center in Summer 2023. Officials from PREIT (the parent company of Springfield Town Center) and Merlin Entertainments will break ground on the project next week, with a ceremonial brick drop to signify the beginning of the new space.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Zoë’s Kitchen Has Closed in Vienna — “A sign posted at the restaurant notified customers of the closure as of Nov. 30. Zoës Kitchen, which was acquired by CAVA in 2018, has one remaining Northern Virginia restaurant in Ashburn. CAVA has a Vienna location down the road from the closed Zoës Kitchen.” [Patch]

Mount Vernon HS Football Coach Steps Down — “Monty Fritts, who coached the varsity football team at Mount Vernon High School for the past seven seasons, officially ended his coaching career Nov. 16…[Fritts] will continue serving in his role as assistant director of student activities at Mount Vernon” [On the MoVe]

Virginia Reports Season’s First Flu Death — “Sadly, a child (5-12 years old) in Virginia’s Southwest region died from complications associated with influenza. To protect the family’s privacy, VDH will not provide any further information regarding this death.” [VDH]

Annandale Skate Park Renovation Completed — “The newly refurbished and expanded Wakefield Skate Park is open to the public. The site is open daily from dawn until 10 p.m. and is already bringing out loads of skateboarders eager to enjoy the new amenities.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

McLean Cybersecurity Company to Go Public — “McLean cybersecurity solutions firm Cycurion Inc. is going public early next year via a merger with the special purpose acquisition company Western Acquisition Ventures Corp. Cycurion…expects to raise about $113 million in the deal and intends to use the proceeds to acquire smaller companies and eventually triple its headcount.” [DC Inno]

Winter Market Showcases Local Small Businesses — “On Fridays, December 2nd, 9th and 16th, the Winter Market will be held from 4:30pm-8pm. On Saturdays, December 3rd, 10th and 17th, the Winter Market will run from 12pm-5pm. The Winter Market series will be held at Celebrate Fairfax’s community hub, The PARC at Tysons…The venue hosts over 10,000 square feet of indoor space transformed into a winter wonderland and offers free parking.” [Celebrate Fairfax]

GMU Partners with Amazon Web Services — “Amazon Web Services, which bases its east coast operations in Herndon, is working with Fairfax-based George Mason University on developing a new project-based curriculum and coursework focused on data centers for engineering students…The curriculum will officially launch through its bachelor’s degree programs in electrical and mechanical engineering in 2023 at the school’s main Fairfax campus.” [FCEDA]

It’s Friday — Clear throughout the day. High of 49 and low of 30. Sunrise at 7:11 am and sunset at 4:48 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by David Taube)

With the 2022 elections now in the rearview mirror, five Fairfax County supervisors have already confirmed that they will be seeking re-election in 2023.

All 10 Board of Supervisors seats will be on the ballot come Nov. 7, 2023, along with the entire school board, General Assembly members, and other local elected offices.

While individuals can’t submit paperwork to the county’s office of elections until after Jan. 1 to make their candidacy official, a number of incumbents have already confirmed their plans.

Seeking Reelection

Board Chairman Jeff McKay intends to run for reelection next year, a spokesperson told FFXnow.

“His campaign will make an announcement soon,” the spokesperson said.

First elected to the position in 2019, McKay previously represented Lee District, which is now known as Franconia District. He has been a vocal advocate for local authority, and in recent months, he has clashed with the state on abortion-related protests and policies limiting transgender student rights.

Over the summer, Rodney Lusk announced he will seek a second term in McKay’s former seat. In 2019, he became the first African American man elected to the Board of Supervisors, per his website.

He told FFXnow at the time that his second-term priorities will be similar to his first term, when he emphasized access to affordable housing, school funding, pedestrian and bicycle safety, criminal justice reform, and food insecurity.

This Saturday (Dec. 3), Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck is set to launch his own re-election campaign. He’s running for his third term on the board after first getting elected in 2015 following a stint on the Fairfax County School Board.

On his website, he highlights as achievements his work to reduce crime, the opening of a number of new county facilities in the Mount Vernon District, the continued revitalization of the Richmond Highway Corridor, and the saving of River Farm.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn told FFXnow in an email that he’s been raising campaign funds and does “intend to run for re-election in 2023,” as suggested by his newly updated campaign website.

This would be Alcorn’s second term. He was first elected in 2019 after serving on the county’s planning commission.

During his first three years in office, he has opposed development of Reston National Golf Course, supported affordable housing initiatives and, perhaps most notably, helped get the Silver Line Phase II on track to opening as the chair of the board’s transportation committee.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw also confirmed that he will be seeking a second term next year:

Serving on the Board of Supervisors is an incredible honor. We’ve accomplished a lot in the last three years. We navigated a global pandemic, created new community-building events like our children’s concert series and Braddock Bark festival, sent hundreds of editions of our email newsletters, and helped answer questions and solve problems for thousands of constituents. I look forward to taking that record of responsive, collaborative leadership to the voters in 2023.

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Fairfax County police are investigating a robbery scheme where fake gold jewelry is offered for cash (via FCPD)

The Fairfax County Police Department is investigating a “cash for gold robbery scheme” involving three Maryland residents who forced a driver on the Capital Beltway (I-495) to give them money for jewelry that was likely fake.

The driver encountered the three individuals while driving home on Oct. 29 near the exit to Bethesda, where he saw them standing on the side of I-495, police said in a news release published today.

The victim stopped to provide aid. A woman said the stranded group needed money to continue their travels. She showed the victim a watch and gold jewelry. She requested cash in exchange for the items. The woman convinced the victim to drive to an ATM. Two men in a black SUV followed the victim and woman. The victim began driving and quickly realized this was likely a scam. The victim stopped in a parking lot and exited his car. One of the men from the other vehicle exited their car and told the victim to sit in the driver’s seat while he drove the victim to obtain money.

The man was driven to four locations around the Tysons area, where the trio forced the man “through intimidation” to withdraw money until his bank accounts were empty, according to the police.

Once the trio left him, the man called 911.

The FCPD says the perpetrators of the scam were identified as 39-year-old Magdalena Mazil, 36-year-old Hagi Voinescu, and 23-year-old Romeo Voinescu — all Baltimore residents — after an officer came across them in a gray Chevrolet Tahoe that “appeared to be disabled” on the Dulles Toll Road near Route 7 in Tysons on Nov. 3.

The officer searched the vehicle and found “large amounts of fake gold jewelry,” police said.

Mazil and Hagi Voinescu were arrested by Baltimore City detectives on Nov. 22, but Romeo Voinescu remains “outstanding,” according to police.

All three individuals are facing charges of abduction and four counts of robbery. The FCPD also obtained warrants for Hagi Voinescu for preventing a person from calling 911.

“Two additional warrants for preventing a telephone call were obtained for Magdalena. An additional warrant for driver failing to report an accident was issued for Romeo,” police said.

Police believe the trio may be connected to other crimes in the area.

“We’re asking anyone with information about the suspects or who may have encountered the suspects to contact us,” the FCPD said.

Detectives can be contacted at 703-691-2131. The department also accepts anonymous tips by phone (1-866-411-TIPS), text (type “FCCS” plus tip to 847411) and online through Crime Solvers.

The FCPD offers cash rewards of $100 to $1,000 to tipsters who provide information that leads to an arrest.

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

With a high office and commercial vacancy rate and over 1,000 locals experiencing homelessness, Fairfax County is considering a zoning change that could use one problem to help solve the other.

The proposal would allow unused commercial spaces, including office and hotel space, to be used as emergency shelters for those experiencing homelessness.

The new zoning would let private entities — namely nonprofits that work with those experiencing homelessness — operate emergency shelters in vacant or underutilized commercial or industrial properties.

“Special exception use would permit repurposing of a commercial building in a commercial, Industrial, or in some Planned Districts with approval by the Board,” a staff report on the change said. “Commercial building includes buildings designed or used for office, hotel, retail, institutional, or industrial purposes.”

In a presentation to the Board of Supervisors housing committee on Nov. 22, staff said there is currently no “emergency shelter” use in the county zoning code.

In addition to creating an emergency shelter use, the zoning change would add a “permanent supportive housing” use for housing that provides assistance and supportive services, like transportation and training, to residents. Supportive housing is reserved in the zoning ordinance for those making below 60% of the area median income.

The presentation didn’t include information on incentives to get private property owners to open their space up for use used as emergency shelter, but board members still expressed enthusiasm for the idea.

“We’ve had similar conversations to this before, but I think we’re in a different situation right now,” said County Board Chair Jeff McKay, “not only with what we know about homelessness but that we also, unfortunately, have a higher number of vacancies because of Covid. I think it’s time to have a conversation about adaptive reuse.”

The proposed changes are part of a general push by the county to reevaluate how it tackles homelessness, particularly by increasing the availability of permanent and supportive housing instead of relying on temporary shelters.

The last point-in-time count, conducted on Jan. 26, found 1,191 people experiencing homelessness in the county, a decrease from 2021 but higher than the numbers reported in the most recent years preceding the pandemic. About 50% of the individuals counted were Black, even though only 10% of the county’s population falls in that demographic.

During the initial months of the pandemic, the county enlisted hotels as temporary shelter for individuals who were experiencing homelessness or otherwise lacked space needed for isolating or quarantining due to Covid.

Photo via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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