As the county officially approves paying an additional $40 million to finish the Silver Line Phase II, fare evasion continues to irk supervisors.
At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the county followed through on the transportation committee’s recommendation last month to pay an additional $40.25 million to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) for the completion of the Silver Line Phase II.
As noted at the Sept. transportation committee meeting, the board didn’t have much choice in the matter. In July, MWAA agreed to increase the budget for the extension by $250 million which will be largely shouldered by Dulles Toll Road users. Because the original project agreement calls for Fairfax County to pay about 16% of the overage, the county owed an additional $40.25 million.
Last month, Board Chair Jeff McKay expressed his frustration about paying even more money for the much-delayed project but noted that it was a “requirement” and the county didn’t have the flexibility to not pay it “without significant negative consequences.”
At yesterday’s meeting, though, McKay struck a slightly different tone by focusing on the Silver Line Phase II’s potential to be a “game-changer” for the region.
“We can’t understate the importance of this project to the long-term success of Fairfax County,” McKay said. “It’s a major milestone.”
There remains no set date for when the line will be ready for riders, though Metro confirmed to FFXnow yesterday that it’s on track to open by Thanksgiving with the go-ahead to add more trains.
The supervisors also took a few moments at this week’s meeting to discuss Metro’s plans to stop fare evasion. Earlier this month, Metro announced it was ramping up enforcement and will be testing new station fare gates that are more difficult to jump over.
Metro estimates that fare evasion has cost the agency about $40 million this year, or nearly a quarter of its budget gap.
Several supervisors noted that they were pleased there was finally movement on better enforcement of fare evasion. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said there are certainly “equity issues” when it comes to enforcement, but “it has to be a level playing field.”
However, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust called fare evasion the “least of [Metro’s] challenges” in terms of securing long-term funding for a system that could be facing a $500 million funding gap next year.
“They need a plan that goes way beyond [dealing] with fare evasion,” said Foust.
(Updated, 4:10 pm) Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity has gotten his first challenger in next year’s Board of Supervisors race.
Albert Vega, the co-founder of the local tech business Building Momentum, announced earlier this week in a press release and video that he’s set to run in the Democratic Primary in June 2023 for the Springfield seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
He’s the first Democrat to submit a statement of organization for that seat, the Fairfax County Board of Elections confirmed to FFXnow.
The primary winner will likely take on the incumbent and Republican Pat Herrity in the general election in November 2023.
Vega is the chief technology officer for Alexandria-based Building Momentum who also spent time in Afghanistan working with the United States Army. He’s using his tech experience as one of the main driving points for his candidacy.
“There are few counties as large or as sophisticated as Fairfax County. With all of the benefits that affords our residents, there comes a set of challenges that are equally as large and sophisticated,” Vega said in a press release. “As our county increasingly relies on new and emerging technologies to solve those challenges, our Board needs a voice that understands those technologies first hand and has spent an entire career solving problems from the battlefield to the classroom.”
Vega told FFXnow that he decided to enter the race now, a full 9 months before the primary and 14 months before the general, because he learned the value of “starting early” from his time training Marines.
“During my time supporting our troops in Afghanistan and years training Marines locally and abroad, I learned first-hand the importance of starting early, having a plan, and adapting often to changing circumstances,” he wrote FFXnow in an email. “That’s exactly how I’m approaching this campaign. Also, following redistricting we have many new residents who call Springfield home. I want to be the first candidate to knock on their door and welcome them to our District.”
He noted that his campaign’s priorities are affordable housing, public safety, local jobs, and protecting the environment.
In Vega’s comments to FFXnow, though not mentioning the incumbent by name, he criticized Herrity for his values not being in sync with the rest of the county or Springfield.
“More times than I can count, I’ve seen the Springfield Board seat used to spout partisan talking points and cast votes in opposition to board items that are consistent with our County’s values and harmful to Springfield,” Vega said. “For example, the recent lone vote was cast against a plan to reduce single use plastics, which frequently wind up in our watersheds such as the Occoquan. Often the supervisor takes no vote at all and leaves the room. Springfield needs a voice on the Board that is actually at the table.”
Herrity first became Springfield District Supervisor in 2007, having won three other elections since. In his latest election in 2019, Herrity narrowly defeated his Democratic opponent by only 441 votes.
Vega isn’t the only candidate announcing their intentions to run in 2023 now. In June, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk announced he’d be seeking reelection next year.
If it were up to a majority of local business and property owners, the Fairfax County portions of Routes 29 and 50 would simply adopt those numbers as their official names.
County staff revealed yesterday (Tuesday) the results of a survey asking business and property owners located on Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial highways (Route 50) what their preference for new names would be.
The survey provided five options for each road, but in each instance, the original route number won out, staff said at the Board of Supervisors transportation committee meeting.
For Lee Highway, about 55% of the 86 respondents chose Route/Highway 29 as the preferred new name. For Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, more than 60% of the 62 respondents chose Route 50.
Several board members agreed that, in terms of efficiency and continuity, reverting back to the road number is probably the best route.
“Frankly, I’m not surprised by the responses to the name changes, if we were to move forward with those,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said, adding later that “in terms of implications on businesses and people who live along these corridors…that would be the least intrusive and, frankly, easiest for drivers and commuters.”
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik suggested the board consider aligning the roads’ names with neighboring jurisdictions to prevent further confusion among those driving in the region.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity asked whether the survey included a question about if the businesses and property owners wanted name changes at all. Staff said it didn’t due to a previous task force determination that the names should be changed.
The ongoing process of changing the names of the two major thoroughfares in the county began in 2020 when the Fairfax County History Commission unveiled a report that showed about 150 public sites in the county were named after Confederate figures or symbols.
Then, a task force was appointed specifically to review renaming Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial. That group recommended late last year to rename the two roads, and earlier this year, alternate names were recommended to the Board of Supervisors.
Outreach to businesses and property owners along these corridors was the next step.
Now, the Board of Supervisors needs to approve new names, commit to the costs associated with the changes, and submit a request to the Commonwealth Transportation Board. At this time, it’s unclear when all of that might happen.
The survey also inquired that if the name changes would result in any financial expenses for the businesses. For both highways, more than 70% of respondents answered yes, citing potential expenses related to legal documents, signage, and marketing.
In response, the committee discussed ways to help or reimburse businesses on these expenditures when the name changes do happen including a grant system and a reimbursement program.
Regardless of the final names, the county is responsible for paying the cost of updating signage and way-marking. The staff determined the overall cost could range from $1 million to $4.2 million.
The price will depend on which names are selected, with the cost increasing for longer names.
County Officials React to Oakton Crash — Multiple Fairfax County elected officials expressed devastation at news that two Oakton High School students have died after a vehicle crash in Oakton yesterday (Tuesday). Crisis support services are available for students, according to school board members. [Twitter]
Fire Reported at Prosperity Flats Apartments — “Fire sprinklers extinguished a fire Tuesday night at a high-rise apartment building in Dunn Loring, according to a 6:58 p.m. post on the Fairfax Fire & Rescue Department’s official Twitter account. Fire units were called earlier to the apartment building in the 2700 block of Dorr Avenue after eighth floor residents reported seeing smoke.” [Patch]
Fairfax County Marks Pride Month — “Today, the Board of Supervisors proclaimed June 2022 as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. We urge all county residents, employees and elected officials to celebrate our LGBTQ+ community, and to stand up, speak out and show support for those who face prejudice and discrimination.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]
Police Set Up Car Parts Theft Task Force — “The Fairfax County Police Department has created a Catalytic Converter Task Force to investigate the theft of the converters and any organized regional rings behind the increase in thefts…From January to April this year, 333 catalytic converters were stolen in Fairfax County, compared with just 27 similar thefts over the same period in 2021.” [Patch]
Major Broadband Investment Announced in Springfield — Virginia will receive $219.8 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to expand broadband access, Sen. Mark Warner announced yesterday at Northern Virginia Community College’s Springfield campus. The American Rescue Plan Act funds will be allocated to local governments through grants and could improve access in an estimated 76,873 locations. [Mark Warner]
New FCPS Budget Supports Virtual Mental Health Services — “As part of the $3.3 billion budget, school board officials allocated $500,000 for telehealth mental health services for students. The Virginia county is still in the early stages of identifying a vendor for the services, but county officials said program possibilities include access to physical and behavioral health providers and mobile services that would allow students to use their devices for symptom management or tracking.” [WTOP]
Fairfax City Moves Back Fourth of July Celebration — The City of Fairfax will hold its Independence Day Evening Show on July 5 at Fairfax High School due to a shortage of licensed pyrotechnicians. The city says its fireworks vendor has canceled more than two dozen contracts, an issue that has also affected the Town of Vienna. [Fairfax City]
New Urgent Care Clinic Opens in Lorton — Anderson Orthopaedic Clinic has opened a new weekend urgent care clinic in its Lorton office (10716 Richmond Highway, Suite 101) to help patients with acute bone and joint injuries. The clinic, which has also has offices in Fairfax, Arlington, and at Mount Vernon Hospital, accepts both walk-in patients and appointments. [M2 Orthopedics]
It’s Wednesday — Rain in the evening and overnight. High of 82 and low of 69. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:34 pm. [Weather.gov]
Karen Johnson commutes two hours each way to get to work in Fair Oaks, leaving at 5 a.m. from her home in Fredericksburg.
Johnson, a child care center teacher, has tried to live in Fairfax County but can’t afford it, she said on April 12 at a budget hearing with fellow union members. She called on the Board of Supervisors to fund proposed raises to the county’s 11,000-plus merit workers.
“The pay we receive every two weeks is a stress day for me because it’s a balancing act,” Johnson said. “Rents are downright outrageous, and the cost of living has soared.”
With labor groups and workers raising concerns about the cost of living in Fairfax County, the average vacancy rate across the government was 15%, representing 2,125 openings, as of March 18, according to a budget question-and-answer response to Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw.
According to county staff, county government employees received nearly 8% in market rate adjustments (MRA) over a seven-year period when their compensation plan called for nearly 14%. Public safety got 11.5% in additional raises out of 16% planned, and general county employees got 10.5% out of 14.5% planned.
“It should be noted that the unfunded budget years for merit/performance/longevity increases in the last two years were due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” staff said in a response to Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity.
Service Employees International Union Virginia 512 President David Broder, whose union includes a chapter for Fairfax County government employees, said workers are asking the Board of Supervisors to adopt the pay plan in the proposed budget, which calls for 4.01% MRA increases, merit increases, and longevity raises.
“We’re not asking to get rich,” Johnson said. “But we’re just asking for you to fully fund the raises in the budget…this year so that we can do the job that we love.”
Advocacy groups and residents have pressed for the county to address a variety of priorities in its $4.8 billion general fund budget, from parks funding and affordable housing to relief for rising vehicle and real estate taxes.
Resident Jim McMahon said at a hearing on April 13 that he could face a $3,000 increase in his property bill due to a nearly 20% increase in his assessment, which came after an approximately 15% increase last year.
He asked the board to reconsider the budget, make up for spending increases by reducing other areas, and reduce tax rates. He noted that, thanks to a law from the 1970s, California caps annual assessments at 2% each year.
“They did that so that they could try to give residents the means to continue to be able to afford to live in California, and then they do an adjustment at the sale time to the level of the property tax to the current level,” McMahon said. “But for the residents who are there already, they’re trying to help them.”
The Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee will meet at 3 p.m. today (Friday) to discuss possible adjustments to the budget. The full budget markup is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday (April 26).
In a push to convince Fairfax County to fund the arts, one high school student put on a show.
The performance on April 13 provided a musical interlude after hours of in-person, phone, and video remarks across three days of budget hearings before the Board of Supervisors.
Student Christopher Tate, who attends Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington, only shared his name and spoke about himself when asked by the board after his performance, which drew applause.
“I play in the jazz band there. It’s really fun. I also play bass, and sometimes they’ll let me play cello,” he told the board.
He performed the prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.
The orchestra plays mainly in McLean and Great Falls. A. Scott Wood, the orchestra’s conductor, said in an email that funding from the county and the nonprofit ArtsFairfax have helped local arts and cultural organizations, especially during the challenging last two years.
Wood noted that Amadeus Concerts has frequently received funding from ArtsFairfax, notably the Operating Support Grant that involves a competitive process for receiving it. During the pandemic, Amadeus also received ArtsFairfax Emergency Relief and Recovery Grant and Fairfax County PIVOT funding.
“From my perspective, if the county were able to increase funding to ArtsFairfax grant programs so that every qualified organization could cover 15% of its expenses (and note that this still requires them to raise 85% percent from other sources!), it would represent a significant endorsement of the arts in general, which are so important for quality-of-life in the county,” he wrote in an email to FFXnow.
ArtsFairfax is funded by a combination of county and state money, federal grants, and private donations. For fiscal year 2021, which ran from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, about 70% of its revenue came from the county — 33% to cover operational costs and 37% to give grants to local arts nonprofits.
ArtsFairfax President and CEO Linda Sullivan asked the county to increase funding for arts grants, stating that despite facing significant challenges during the pandemic, the arts sector got just a fraction of the relief money awarded to the food, hospitality, and retail industries.
The advertised fiscal year 2023 budget currently being considered by the board allocates $1.1 million to ArtsFairfax, the same level of funding as the previous two years. Grant funding has remained at $550,000 since fiscal year 2020, according to Sullivan.
“The arts sector is being called upon to provide community engagement activities that not only benefit other sectors, such as retail and restaurants, but also offer the intangible social and emotional health benefits,” Sullivan said. “…We respectfully ask the county for a significant, one-time boost in nonprofit arts grants to support arts recovery and community activities, as other emergency relief sources will no longer be available.”
In addition to Tate’s performance, ArtsFairfax enlisted outgoing Fairfax County Poet Laureate Nicole Tong, the first person to hold that position, for a poem reading as part of its plea to the board.
Angela Woolsey contributed to this report.
Fairfax County government employees called on the Board of Supervisors to support workers with its new budget amid staff retention issues and financial pressures.
Union representatives discussed the impact of inflation and rising housing and health care costs on their members’ ability to live where they work during public hearings this week on the proposed $4.8 billion budget.
Leslie Houston, a learning disabilities teacher at Braddock Elementary and president-elect of the Fairfax Education Association, said some of her colleagues can’t afford to live and shop in the area.
“In education, we must be about the kids, but that is not possible if we are not taking care of the people who are taking care of the kids,” Houston said.
Janette Corcelius, a teacher who said she lives in the Mount Vernon District with her family, stated that she couldn’t afford to live there on her own even though she’s worked for Fairfax County Public Schools for six years.
“My situation is not unique,” she said. “This is a struggle Millenials and Gen Z come across when trying to live and work in this area. Affordable housing…support is necessary.”
The county’s advertised budget for fiscal year 2023, which begins on July 1, would fully fund the school board’s request, which would increase the transferred funds by nearly $112.7 million over last year.
For non-school government employees, the county budget proposes a 4.01% market rate adjustment, adding a 25-year longevity step and providing additional merit and performance increases.
Fairfax Workers Coalition Executive Director David Lyons said most workers are paid well below the midlevel of their pay scales, especially in the trades.
“We are no longer fully competitive in today’s marketplace,” he said. “You need to bring your workers up to scale.”
The Fairfax County Government Employees Union, a chapter of SEIU Virginia 512 that represents sanitation workers, social workers, child educators, and others, requested that the Board of Supervisors protect the plan’s pay increases and lower health care costs for workers.
“The past two years have been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced,” President Tammie Wondong Ware said. “Through it all, your county employees have been on the job, keeping everyone safe.”
Wondong Ware also noted that unions are expected to begin negotiating contracts with the county at the start of the new fiscal year. In a historic shift, the county board agreed last October to allow collective bargaining, but the county is still laying the groundwork to make that happen.
“We look forward to negotiating a contract which ensures…that every year, your workforce receives fair pay, affordable health care, safe staffing levels and healthy workplaces,” Wondong Ware said.
Karen Sheffield, chair of the Employee Advisory Council, which supports over 10,000 employees, said the group applauds the budget’s proposed compensation increases but felt the financial support could go further.
She said many workers are leaving the county government for jobs with better compensation and more options for work-life balance.
“Help us to curtail the exodus,” Sheffield said, calling for a 5.9% market rate adjustment.
The Board of Supervisors will determine how to address competing priorities that range from tax relief and calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to pay equity for the public defender’s office at a budget markup meeting on April 16.
The board will adopt the new county budget on May 10.
The outdoor roller skating rink that popped up on Strawberry Lane in the Mosaic District last summer could become a seasonal fixture — with a possible ice skating rink also in the works.
EDENS, the owner and developer of the Merrifield mixed-use community, has partnered with operator Rink Management Services Corporation to revive the Mosaic Skateland rink annually, starting this summer, according to a special permit application recently submitted to Fairfax County.
“The goal of this event is to create a fun activity that brings the community outside and active after a couple years of Covid-19 quarantine,” Rink Management Services said in a statement.
If the permit is approved, the roller skating rink will operate seven days a week from June 24 through Sept. 25, with about a week required to both set the facility up and take it down. It will allow one-hour sessions with up to 50 skaters each.
Instead of blocking off Strawberry Lane, the Mosaic District’s main thoroughfare, the rink will be located on Mosaic Town Center Drive at the District Avenue corner, adjacent to Barnes & Noble.
Like in 2021, this year’s Skateland will open during LGBTQ Pride Month. In an email, EDENS suggests following the launch day with a Pride celebration on June 25, including a donation to FCPS Pride, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ school employees.
After this year, the roller rink will shift to more of a spring event, running approximately 90 days each year from the beginning of April through the end of June, Rink Management Services suggests.
The company has also proposed introducing an ice skating rink at the Mosaic District during the winter.
The ice rink would run for approximately 120 days from early November to late February, and it could support holiday events as well as the annual Polar Plunge fundraiser for the Special Olympics, according to the application materials.
Because the rink will stick around longer than it did last year, a temporary event special permit is required from the county, which carries a $16,375 fee, according to Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik.
At Palchik’s request, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed on March 22 to grant EDENS a 75% reduction in zoning fees in accordance with an emergency measure adopted on July 27 that waived or reduced regulations and fees to assist the hospitality industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the ordinance only mentions indoor recreational facilities as eligible, Palchik made the case that the Mosaic skating rink proposal is “essentially the same” as the hospitality uses explicitly mentioned in the measure.
“The proposed skating rink is intended to add significant outdoor activities to an existing, established shopping and lifestyle center,” she said, adding that EDENS intends to use the proceeds from the rink to support a local nonprofit.
EDENS declined to provide further details about the skating rink plans.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said the amount of the permit fee “raised my eyebrows,” suggesting the board could examine whether to make changes.
“That seems excessive for something like this,” McKay said.
Sekas Homes plans to build 11 single-family homes on McKenzie Avenue in the Legato area of Fairfax.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the developer’s request to rezone the 6.5-acre property yesterday (Tuesday). The site currently houses three single-family units and is mostly covered with trees and vegetation.
The developer’s representative, Lori Greenlief of the law firm McGuireWoods, called the proposal a classic example of infill development that is compatible with the surrounding residential developments.
“Along with creating a compatible development, a goal of this development proposal was to deal with the topography on the site as well as the mature stance of the vegetation,” she said.
Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said the project provides features that can benefit surrounding neighborhoods, including open space.
“I am enthusiastic about this. I think it’s going to be a good project,” Walkinshaw said.
The board approved the project with little fanfare. A public street is proposed in the center of the property. Lot sizes will range between 13,000 to 21,200 square feet.
Each unit will have a two-car garage and driveways that can provide two additional parking spaces. A total of four parking spaces would be provided for each unit in addition to the driveway and garage.
The developer plans to contribute 0.5% of its projected sales price for each unit to the Fairfax County Housing Trust Fund.
The property is surrounded by single-family units with a child care center and Lee Plaza shopping center to the north.
Pike 7 Plaza in Tysons is officially getting a drive-thru restaurant.
Without discussion, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday (Tuesday) to unanimously approve property owner Federal Realty’s proposal for a standalone, one-story restaurant with a drive-thru in the shopping center’s southeast corner.
The new facility will build on Pike 7 Plaza’s efforts to support retail customers’ growing comfort with pick-up options, McGuireWoods land-use planner Michael Van Atta, who represented Federal Realty, said at the public hearing.
Van Atta told the Fairfax County Planning Commission in January that the restaurant’s tenant will be Shake Shack, though the burger chain has not returned FFXnow’s requests for comment.
Expected to be 3,600 square feet in size and 18 feet tall, the building will occupy a portion of the center’s parking lot, reducing it from 738 spaces to 674, according to the special exception application.
“We’ve worked closely with staff on the layout to ensure sufficient vehicular circulation [and] to maximize the pedestrian experience along Route 7, given the close proximity to the Metro as well,” Van Atta told the board.
The drive-thru will accommodate 11 to 12 vehicles at a time. It will be on the opposite side of the building from Route 7, also known as Leesburg Pike.
As part of the project, Federal Realty has committed to constructing a sidewalk from Leesburg Pike to the main shopping center along the restaurant’s entrance. Bicycle racks, stairs, and an accessible ramp leading to the new building will also be added.
The facility will include an outdoor patio with tables and chairs. The county approved a reduction in the setback along Leesburg Pike so that Federal Realty can add landscaping and trees to screen the seating area from the road.
Van Atta told the Board of Supervisors that Federal Realty is pursuing the project as a response to evolving retail trends, not as part of any larger development plans for Pike 7 Plaza.
“Ultimately, Pike 7 Plaza is a successful shopping center, and it’s not likely to pursue greater redevelopment in the near-future,” Van Atta said. “But this proposed restaurant will add another quality asset to the center in the near-term, while not precluding greater redevelopment activities envisioned by the Tysons Plan.”
The Tysons Comprehensive Plan designates Pike 7 Plaza for multifamily residential and office uses with an option to redevelop the site with mixed-use, mid-rise and high-rise buildings, according to a county planning staff report.
The report says the plan discourages freestanding, drive-thru uses like Federal Realty’s proposed restaurant in Tysons, but staff decided the restaurant would “be in harmony with the existing uses at the shopping center because there are existing freestanding restaurant, auto-oriented, and drive-through uses in the parking lot.”
Pike 7 Plaza currently has three freestanding buildings: a BB&T bank, an automobile services shop, and a block with MOD Pizza, Cava Grill, Honeygrow and a Chase bank.