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Columbia Pike between Backlick Road and Tom Davis Drive (via Google Maps)

A stretch of roadside along Columbia Pike referred to as a “disaster” in a recent meeting — near where four people were struck by a driver last year — could be getting some safety-focused upgrades.

On Monday (Jan. 23), Fairfax County presented plans for a “Complete Streets” overhaul for a section of Columbia Pike from Backlick Run to Tom Davis Drive. The project involves the construction of a new 6-foot-wide sidewalk and a high-visibility crosswalk at Tom Davis Drive, along with ADA-compliant curb ramps and a 6-foot-wide strip of landscaping.

In terms of “Complete Streets” projects, the Columbia Pike one is fairly limited in scope: it only affects the southern side of the street and doesn’t include any bicycle upgrades. Staff emphasized that what was presented was just the first phase.

Area of improvements planned for Columbia Pike (via Fairfax County)

“[This project] has been discussed for a long time,” said Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross. “It looks simple on paper, but when you look at the various land use parcels that need to be included it becomes a much broader kind of proposal. I am anxious to learn what the design is going to look like now…Now we’re really getting down to the nitty gritty so some decisions can be made.”

The Complete Streets project will also cut down on the number of curb cuts — areas where vehicles cross over the sidewalk to get in and out of parking. While limiting vehicle access can be frustrating for retail along a street, Gross said the reduction in curb cuts shouldn’t impact businesses too severely.

“Right now it is chaotic for pedestrians and vehicles alike in that section,” Gross said. “There are too many curb cuts. It really shouldn’t affect access to businesses because there will be other curb cuts available. The basic idea is much safer for everyone.”

James Albright, a member of the county’s Trails, Sidewalks and Bikeways Committee, said he was excited to see improvements coming to Columbia Pike.

“I appreciate this project because this sidewalk is a disaster. It’s not safe,” Albright said. “This has been an area of concern.”

But Albright also expressed concern that the county was doing nothing for cycling along Columbia Pike, with no additional bicycle facilities planned as part of the overhaul.

Turner acknowledged that bicycle lanes were not proposed as part of the phase 1 improvement. Transportation Planner Nicole Wynands said Columbia Pike is a relatively narrow, four-lane road without much wiggle room to include bicycle lanes.

The project is currently scheduled to continue design through summer 2025, with construction running from 2026-2027.

Photo via Google Maps

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Fairfax County police car lights flashing (file photo)

Fairfax County police have arrested a 40-year-old woman from Alexandria who allegedly stole a vehicle with a girl in the backseat on Sunday (Jan. 15).

According to police, the woman was connected to a second vehicle theft incident in the 6200 block of Little River Turnpike in Annandale that occurred around 6:50 p.m. yesterday (Wednesday).

Officers in the area for a separate investigation were approached by a driver who said their 2012 Honda Pilot was stolen while they were inside a restaurant. They had left the SUV running.

“The victim returned, and the SUV was missing,” the Fairfax County Police Department said.

A 2012 Honda Accord was stolen from a parking lot in the same block around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. That car had a 6-year-old girl in the backseat, who was waiting while her stepfather went into a restaurant to pick up food, police reported.

The girl was located in D.C. less than an hour later and reunited with her family, but police didn’t find the stolen sedan.

According to the FCPD, the driver of the stolen SUV tracked a phone that had been left in the vehicle and traced it to the 80 block of South Bragg Street, just inside Alexandria’s city limits. Officers were notified just before midnight yesterday.

“Our officers and the City of Alexandria Police Department found the vehicle and saw a woman exit the SUV,” the department said. “The woman, Tanisha Hall, was immediately taken into custody.”

The officers also located the missing Accord nearby and “discovered evidence linking Hall to the abduction.”

Hall has been charged with two counts of grand larceny, abduction, credit card theft, obstruction of justice, and giving a false identity to law enforcement officers. She is being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bond.

The FCPD says that anyone with information about the two incidents can contact its Major Crimes Bureau at 703-246-7800, or submit anonymous tips through Crime Solvers by phone (1-866-411-TIPS) and online.

Police have seen an increase in vehicle theft calls around the county, often involving Hyundai or Kia models, according to the FCPD.

“Our officers and Auto Crimes Enforcement Unit have increased their presence throughout the county. We are also asking for our community’s help to reduce auto theft,” the department said, advising people to park in well-lit areas, lock all doors, and never leave their vehicle unattended, among other tips.

Redevelopment of the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Annandale is planned (via Fairfax County)

(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Annandale’s Eastgate Shopping Centre, home to The Block food hall, is slated for a partial redevelopment.

Insight Property Group is seeking Fairfax County’s permission to transform a part of the existing center on John Marr Drive into a mixed-use apartment building with retail and amenities in an effort to “transition the site into a more vibrant, mixed-use, and community-centered asset,” according to the application.

To move forward with the proposal, the county would have to rezone the shopping center from commercial uses to a use that allows residential and mixed-use projects.

“This diversified and more balanced mix of uses will ensure the Eastgate Shopping Center continues to contribute positively to and be a resource for the community,” the application says.

The proposal could transform the largely automobile-centric form of the center, which was built in 1973 and is anchored by K Market International. Although the center has seen new tenants — like The Block — the applicant says significant retail challenges remain.

Insight wants to rezone roughly three acres on the northern portion of the property for the residential component of the site. The building would be six stories tall and include up to 280 residential units. A little over 11,200 square feet of ground-level retail uses are planned.

The developer says the team is excited to put forward a plan that will “serve as an impetus for additional revitalization in the core of Annandale,” according to the application.

“The proposed development has also been designed to facilitate future redevelopment of the remainder of the shopping center,” the application says. “A new street grid, pedestrian corridors, and urban park spaces are being located for potential expansion in the future and to ultimately serve as a central open space amenity with the future build out of the remainder of the Eastgate Shopping Center.”

The proposal is in the early phases of the county’s multi-step approval process. It has not yet been accepted for review.

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Fairfax County police car (file photo)

(Updated at 11:25 a.m. on 1/7/2023) A collision involving a box truck and a bicyclist on Columbia Pike in Annandale last night (Thursday) sent the latter to the hospital.

The crash occurred near the John Marr Drive intersection around 6:52 p.m. It was initially reported to Fairfax County’s dispatch center as a large box truck hitting a motorcycle, but that was later corrected to “a box truck versus a bicyclist,” according to scanner traffic.

“Turns out the bicyclist drove full speed into the truck,” Fairfax County Police Department spokesperson Tara Gerhard told FFXnow.

The bicyclist suffered a head injury and was transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital by an ambulance, a responder told the dispatcher.

A police road block was set up on Columbia Pike around the box truck while the scene was cleared.

While scanner traffic suggested that the bicyclist was seriously injured, Gerhardt says the injuries were not deemed life-threatening. As a result, no summary of the crash indicating what led up to the collision was available.

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A local recording studio owner is putting money where his music is to help the industry thrive in the area.

Dave Mallen opened Annandale’s Innovation Station Music about six years ago in his house near Little River Turnpike. Now, he’s launching an annual grant to help locals record and promote their new music.

He says there are plenty of great musicians here in the D.C. area, but many need more resources to thrive.

“We have a ton of talent right that is homegrown,” Mallen told FFXnow. “[Innovation Station] is an incubator for local talent. I’m trying to get people to reach further and push the envelope with their music.”

The “Pay It Forward Grant” is for $2,000 and will be awarded annually to one applicant who demonstrates a vision and a need for assistance. The money can be used to record at Innovation Station. The deadline to send an application and work samples is Jan. 31.

“I’m trying through my…business to do the things that I think the local government, local arts councils, and other institutions should be doing, which is directing a whole more money to the local independent music scene,” Mallen said.

There are grants available through several local public-private organizations, but those are often aimed at venues, theaters, and established institutions with “name recognition,” said Mallen.

He also hopes that by supporting local artists, independent music venues will also come back.

“There’s quite a lot of talent and folks are not necessarily…well known because there aren’t a ton of outlets for people to play anymore,” he said.

He cites Vienna’s Jammin Java as the only venue now catering to the scene, particularly after Epicure Cafe suddenly closed earlier this year. With the advent of streaming music and consumers not really paying for music anymore, the need for venues where artists get paid to perform live is even more essential, he said.

This isn’t the first time he’s awarded grants to local musicians. Previously, after a break-in at his studio, Mallen provided grants to two Maryland-based musicians who now both have albums coming out in early 2023.

He also co-founded the DMV Music Alliance, a nonprofit aimed at bringing together musicians from across the region to better develop and promote the local music scene. Read More

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Annandale High School (via Google Maps)

For the first time, the Fairfax County School Board has approved a contract to install rooftop solar panels on a school building, a move both board members and advocates said has been a long time coming.

Under a solar power purchase agreement (PPA) that the board authorized Thursday (Nov. 3), Annandale High School will receive solar panels as a pilot program to give Fairfax County Public Schools “a working knowledge of these installations,” Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson said before the vote.

While FCPS has 10 schools with solar panels, those serve more as educational tools than power sources. Coupled with the recent addition of electric school buses, the Annandale project represents a notable step in the school system’s efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and adopt renewable energy.

“Moving this pilot forward and committing to its expansion across the entire school division is an essential part of meeting the board’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2040,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch said. “…To address the climate crisis, every level of government must act. Tonight’s vote is further proof that our board is committed to doing that.”

After conducting a physical inspection of Annandale High, vendor Ipsun Solar will begin the panel installation sometime in late 2023 or early 2024, an FCPS spokesperson told FFXnow. A follow-up inquiry about that timeline didn’t get a response by press time.

FCPS is also working to advance projects at Chantilly High School, Thoreau Middle School, Hayfield and Robinson secondary schools, and Terreset and Mason Crest elementary schools before the end of this year, according to Frisch and Anderson.

“Schools were selected by the vendors based on a number of categories that contribute to the campus’ overall solar viability. These categories included the roof type, the roof age and solar generation capacity,” Anderson said, noting that Annandale High was proposed as the pilot site “because of its high solar generation potential.”

The approval comes more than a year after the school board agreed to advance a solar program in May 2021 and almost three years after Fairfax County launched its solar PPA initiative in December 2019.

Touting the initiative as the largest undertaken by a locality in Virginia, the county awarded contracts to three different vendors to bring rooftop- and canopy-mounted solar panels to an initial slate of 113 sites, including 87 school buildings.

In a power purchase agreement, the solar provider owns the panels and is responsible for the installation, operation, and maintenance costs. The buyer — in this case, FCPS — carries no upfront costs but must still pay the provider and Dominion Energy or another utility for the electricity.

For Annandale High, Ipsun will charge $0.102 per kilowatt hour for the electricity generated over a 25-year period, with the rate increasing 2% annually after five years of operations. FCPS estimates that the payments will total about $2.2 million, saving it between $11,000 and $22,000 in energy costs per year, on average.

“They’re going to save a lot of money on this one school over the life of the contract. Now, multiply that over, you know, the next hundred schools, and we’re saving a lot of taxpayer dollars,” said Susan Stillman, an at-large executive committee member for Sierra Club Virginia.

Multiple school board members praised Stillman and Solar on Our Schools — a student advocacy group formed by James Madison High School students with Stillman’s support in 2015 — for pushing FCPS to pursue solar energy projects.

The school system’s first solar PPA contract took longer to arrive than hoped, largely due to conflicts that led the county to terminate its contract with original rooftop vendor Sigora Solar, but Stillman says she’s now “just excited that they’re going to get started.”

She and fellow environmental advocate Scott Peterson, the co-founder and vice chair of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, both credited Superintendent Michelle Reid and acting Assistant Superintendent for Transportation and Facilities Chuck Fanshaw for breaking “the logjam” to make the agreement happen.

“This shows the public and students, who are going to have to live in a climate-changed world, that FCPS cares about the young people that they’re educating,” Stillman said.

Photo via Google Maps

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Holmes Run Stream Valley Park (via Google Maps)

Five MS-13 members have been sentenced to life in prison yesterday for kidnapping and killing two teens at Annandale’s Holmes Run Stream Valley Park in 2016.

Elmer Zelaya Martinez, Ronald Herrera Contreras, Henry Zelaya Martinez, Pablo Velasco Barrera, and Duglas Ramirez Ferrera were each handed six terms of life imprisonment as well as two 120-month terms by U.S. District Court Judge Rossie D. Alston, Jr., the Justice Department announced yesterday.

A federal jury convicted the men in July for the brutal murders of a 17-year-old Falls Church resident — identified by prosecutors by the initials E.E.E.M. — on Aug. 18, 2016 and a 14-year-old Alexandria resident, identified as S.A.A.T., on Sept. 26, 2016.

“This is a profoundly disturbing case involving gang members taking the lives of young members of our community,” Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said. “We are proud to work with our federal partners on cases like this to keep Fairfax County and surrounding communities safe.”

Ranging in age from 24 to 31, the men attacked and stabbed E.E.E.M. over 100 times after meeting him at Holmes Run park, because they “erroneously suspected” that he was a member of the rival 18th Street gang, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

On the night of August 28, 2016, the gang lured E.E.E.M. to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park in Fairfax County under the pretense that there was going to be a gang meeting there. Instead, in a wooded area of the park, gang members restrained, attacked, and killed E.E.E.M., stabbing and chopping him more than 100 times with knives, a machete, and a pickaxe. Afterwards, the gang broke one of E.E.E.M.’s legs so that his body would fit into the pre-dug hole that was nearby.

Prosecutors say S.A.A.T. was killed in a similar manner based on an unfounded suspicion that he was a police informant:

The gang told S.A.A.T. that there was going to be a gang meeting later that night and encouraged him to attend. Not long thereafter, S.A.A.T. went outside in his pajamas, telling his mother he was just taking out the trash. Eventually, several gang members picked up S.A.A.T. and drove him to the same park where they had killed E.E.E.M. The gang members restrained, attacked, and killed S.A.A.T., stabbing and chopping him with knives, machetes, and a pickaxe. They also filmed the murder with a cell phone so that they could prove to gang leaders in the United States and in El Salvador that they deserved to be promoted in rank. Once S.A.A.T. was dead, the gang broke his legs and tied him up with his own pajama pants so that he would fit into the shallow grave that was dug for him that night.

Police didn’t find the remains of the two teens until March 2017 after they received a tip that prompted a two-day search of the area, according to news reports at the time. The park was also the site of murders by different MS-13 members in 2013.

The five men sentenced yesterday were all convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder in aid of racketeering activity, conspiracy to kidnap, murder in aid of racketeering activity, and kidnapping resulting in death.

There was a total of 17 defendants in the case, including nine people who pleaded guilty before the trial earlier this year, according to the DOJ.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Jessica Aber called the life sentences a “fitting” response to “appallingly violent murders” that resulted in “wrecked families and fear-stricken communities.”

“They will protect the public from these five defendants, send a message to other members and associates of MS-13 that there will be severe consequences for committing violent crimes in furtherance of their gang’s illicit activities, and provide a measure of justice for the victims and their families,” Aber said in a statement.

Image via Google Maps

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Trees line Avenir Place in Dunn Loring (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County planners want to cultivate more tree-lined streets, but to make that a reality, some more leeway for developers may be needed.

With a proposed pilot program, the county’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will let developers in more urbanized areas count street trees as part of their 10-year tree canopy requirements — an option already offered in Tysons.

Credits would be awarded in tiered rates designed to encourage high-quality trees, while recognizing that some sites can’t meet the county’s existing standards, staff told the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s environmental committee last Thursday (Oct. 6).

If approved, the pilot will involve Tysons; transit station areas in Reston, Herndon, West Falls Church, Springfield and Huntington; and the county’s community revitalization districts in McLean, Lake Anne, Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, Lincolnia, Merrifield, Springfield and Richmond Highway.

“Street trees have a lot of requirements for soil volume, for underdrains, for watering, and so, fundamentally, they’re very expensive to install,” JoAnne Fiebe, who manages the county’s revitalization program, said. “We count them as some of the most important trees that we can plant, particularly in areas that are urbanizing, yet we currently don’t give them credit in most areas.”

According to Fiebe, Fairfax County’s “treeless areas” like Annandale and the southern Route 1 corridor tend to more urban, hotter and home to its lowest income residents, raising equity issues.

Trees can also provide a critical buffer between streets and sidewalks. To illustrate the safety issues that come without that buffer, Fiebe showed an image of Maple Avenue in Annandale, where a driver hit four pedestrians, including a DPD employee, and killed one of them in May.

Maple Place in Annandale, where a pedestrian was killed in May, has no buffer between the street and sidewalk (via Google Maps)

“I’m not saying that street trees would’ve prevented that incident, but they create this visual friction as you’re driving that just encourages you to look around you and slow down,” she said. “I can’t help but think that if we had designed this road differently, we would’ve had a different outcome.”

The county’s public facilities manual generally requires tree planting areas to be at least 8 feet wide and over 4 feet away from any “restrictive barrier.” At least 700 cubic feet of soil must be provided, with about 500 cubic feet added for each additional tree in the pit.

Under the proposed tiered system, developers would get 1.5 credits toward their tree canopy coverage if they meet all of the requirements and a full credit if they at least meet the soil standards.

The pilot would give developers partial credit for street trees if the planting area is at least 5 feet wide, 17.5 feet long and 3.5 feet deep with 300 cubic feet of soil provided per tree. They would also have to maintain and replace the trees “in perpetuity.” Read More

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Southbound I-495 approaching the exit to Gallows Road (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) Virginia State Police are investigating a fatal motorcycle crash that occurred on I-495 South in the Annandale area last Friday (Sept. 23), the agency announced today (Thursday).

According to police, 25-year-old Carlos Javier Velez Mantalvo from Orlando, Florida, was riding a 2006 Honda CBR600 motorcycle, going south on I-495 early that morning.

Near the Gallows Road exit, which leads to the Inova Fairfax Hospital campus, Velez Montalvo “rapidly” reduced his speed, “lost control and laid the motorcycle down in the roadway,” state police said.

“The operator then slid across the pavement away from the motorcycle,” VSP said in a news release.

Police responded to the crash at 2:02 a.m. Velez Montalvo was transported to the nearby hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries.

Police say he was wearing a helmet when the motorcycle crashed.

Photo via Google Maps

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A Fairfax County police SUV with lights on (file photo)

A 19-year-old man from Annandale died Saturday (Sept. 17) after being shot during what police describe as a “confrontation” outside the Woodlawn Garden Apartments.

Darlin Ariel Diaz Flores was reported shot at 9:34 p.m. by a community member who heard a gunshot and found him laying on a sidewalk in the 8400 block of Graves Street, the Fairfax County Police Department said yesterday (Sunday).

When officers arrived at the scene, they found Diaz Flores suffering from gunshot wounds to the upper body, according to police.

“Officers provided life-saving measures and Daiz Flores was transported to Fairfax Hospital with injuries that were considered life threatening,” the FCPD said in its blog post. “Flores was pronounced deceased at 10:22 p.m.”

A preliminary investigation indicates Diaz Flores was with a group of friends outside a nearby apartment when an argument began with a passerby, escalating into gunfire. Police say the suspect was described as a Hispanic man, and he was wearing a black hoodie and black pants at the time of the shooting.

The FCPD is also investigating a separate shooting that occurred in Annandale on Sunday.

According to a tweet from 5:43 p.m., police found a man with a gunshot wound to his lower body in the 3300 block of Woodburn Road, near Inova Fairfax Hospital. The man was hospitalized with injuries initially considered life-threatening.

The victim’s condition was later upgraded, but he remains in the hospital, as of yesterday evening.

If anyone has information about the incidents, the FCPD advises calling its Major Crimes Bureau detectives at 703-246-7800, option 2. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Solvers by phone (1-866-411-TIPS), text (type “FCCS” plus tip to 847411), and online.

“Anonymous tipsters are eligible for cash rewards of $100 to $1,000 dollars if their information leads to an arrest,” the FCPD says.

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