Email Newsletter
Amazon wants to use a greenhouse in Fairfax County for plants at The Helix in Arlington (via Amazon)

The greenery proposed for Amazon’s second headquarters in Arlington is so extensive that the company needs a greenhouse to keep it going.

According to plans submitted to the county, Amazon hopes to convert Meadow Farms Nurseries and Landscapes (10618 Leesburg Pike) in Great Falls into a greenhouse to provide a “permanent operation to provide for the continuous maintenance of the extensive landscaping elements” at HQ2. The concept is called Project Wren.

The company’s second headquarters is being built in two phases. The first phase — Metropolitan Park — includes two 22-story buildings, and 2.5 acres of open space. The second phase — PenPlace — includes 3.2 million square feet of office space and about 94,500 square feet of retail.

Its signature building is “The Helix” — a glassy, twisting structure that is intended to be as green as possible in both color and nature.

“The greenhouse will help ensure a ‘Year Five on Day One’ experience for the interior and exterior horticultural program elements at HQ2,” the application materials say.

The company expects the project will require between five to 10 employees. In line with the delivery-based nature of the business, Amazon expects to have weekly and monthly trips from sprinter vans and tractor-trailers to box trucks to keep the facility operational.

The greenhouse — which would not be open to the public — would include hanging plants, full-size trees, and living green walls.

Although Amazon expects to retain most of the existing greenhouse, it needs the county’s blessing to add a new hoop house structure to store larger trees that do not fit in the existing 15,200-square-foot facility.

The company believes the structure does not significantly expand the approved greenhouse use for the site.

A spokesperson for Meadow Farms told FFXnow that the nursery, which is on Great Falls side of Route 7 near Wolf Trap, plans to close next month. The company will consolidate operations to its other locations in Leesburg, Herndon, Chantilly and Fredericksburg.

Amazon did not return multiple requests for comment from FFXnow over the last several weeks.

0 Comments
Preliminary plans call for a park at the site of the Lorton landfill (via Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Planning Commission has given the green light to preliminary plans to convert the closed Lorton Landfill into a public park.

Dubbed Overlook Ridge Park, the park would house the highest point in Fairfax County, hiking trails, picnic areas, an amphitheater, bathrooms and bird sanctuaries.

But concerns about the safety of the site — particularly issues related to methane gas — dominated the discussion at a meeting on June 15. Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina led a line of questioning concerning whether the landfill was determined safe for park use and what parameters were used to come to that conclusion.

County officials and representatives from the Fairfax County Park Authority repeatedly stated that the site was deemed safe for use as a park, according to an analysis by a third-party consultant hired by applicant and property owner Waste Management.

David Kaasa, district manager of the Lorton Landfill, said the applicant would ensure that safety is a top priority.

“If it’s not safe for me to go up there, then we’re not sending anyone up there,” he said.

The applicant is working on a shared agreement to sort out unidentified issues related to the site. A similar plan was discussed in 2007 but stalled due to a number of issues.

County officials encouraged the applicant to determine if there’s a way to avoid potable water at one of the bathrooms at the park. Commissioners also wondered if access to drinking water could be provided at the top of the park — including installation of a water line or a well.

Waste Management’s plan includes two main access roads, a cultural garden and overlook, an amphitheater with benched seating, and 120 parking spaces.

If the planning process moves forward, the park would open to the public as early as 2025. The application has to clear several more steps before official approval, including a site plan. The landfill officially closed in 2021 after operations ceased in 2018.

Despite the possibility of hiccups, Kaasa said the applicant intends to move forward with the proposal.

“Waste Management is committed to this project and its obligations at the landfill both locally and at the state level,” he said.

Mount Vernon District Commissioner Walter Clarke said he is eager for the park to open to the public.

“It’s really amazing up there so once it’s built and if it does come to fruition, we should all please make an effort to enjoy that park,” Clarke said.

0 Comments
A map depicts the location of a proposed floodwall in Belle Haven (via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

A floodwall in the Belle Haven community could help address Northern Virginia’s flood risk.

A recent study looked at the west bank of the Potomac River from Arlington to Prince William County for solutions to improve resiliency and reduce risks to human health and safety, economic damages, and disruption of critical infrastructure, according to a presentation.

While there were multiple options, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found a 5,600-foot-long floodwall in Belle Haven and a 2,500-foot-long floodwall along the Arlington Water Pollution Control Plant on S. Glebe Road were the most feasible.

The total cost of both would be $52.6 million, which includes a 45% contingency on costs, and is estimated to reduce about $66 million in potential damage.

The proposed Belle Haven floodwall would begin around Golf Course Square and extend down Boulevard View before turning west. Then, an earthen levee would be constructed and end near Westview Dog Park, according to the Feasibility Report and Environmental Assessment by Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

A map shows the potential flooding of Belle Haven by 2030 (via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

A map of Belle Haven shows that by 2030, the flood risk could extend to the Belle View Shopping Center, Belle Haven Country Club and other parts of the community.

The Belle Haven floodwall would have permanent aesthetic and recreation impacts, as well as stream impacts, according to the presentation. The floodwall would be about 6 feet tall on average.

During construction, there would also be temporary stream impacts. Mitigation would be required for permanent stream impacts.

A rendering shows what a 6.5 foot floodwall could look like in Belle Haven (via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The public can comment on the study through Thursday, June 30, by emailing the project team at DC-Metro-CSRM-Study@usace.army.mil. The Corps of Engineers will respond to comments and revise the report between July and September, determing if this is the preferred option by November.

After further study, design — which hasn’t been funded yet — wouldn’t begin on the project until at least 2024.

The study was conducted as Northern Virginia has seen damaging storms over the years, to include the Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane of 1933, Hurricane Agnes (1972), Hurricane Fran (1996), Nor’easter (1998), Hurricane Floyd (1999), Hurricane Isabel (2003), Hurricane Irene (2011) and Hurricane Sandy (2012).

Hurricane Isabel resulted in extreme water levels and caused millions of dollars of damage to residences, businesses and critical infrastructure, according to the study.

0 Comments
A 7-acre property bordering Accotink Creek in Annandale was bought at auction (via Google Maps)

A local environmental nonprofit is concerned that a recent sale of a 7-acre forested property near Accotink Creek could lead to its development.

A public auction was held last week for seven lots near Woodburn Road and Accotink Creek in Annandale, the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) and the Fairfax County Parks Authority confirmed to FFXnow.

However, despite both organizations participating in the auction, neither were the winning bidder.

The property was owned by a small family foundation for years before “falling into tax delinquency,” which forced them to sell, according to NVCT. The property was initially set to be auctioned off in October, but it was canceled in hopes that another solution could be found. Ultimately, none was.

NVCT Executive Director Alan Rowsome says the foundation served as “good stewards” of the property and often worked with local organizations to preserve the forest, while also allowing appropriate public recreation.

The land is full of intact forest that buffers Accotink Creek and home to a segment of the county-managed Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail. The property is also in a floodplain and a county-designated resource protection area (RPA).

RPAs are environmentally important lands that “protect water quality, filter pollutants from stormwater runoff, reduce the volume of stormwater runoff, prevent erosion, and perform other important biological and ecological functions,” according to the county website.

Rowsome calls the property a “rarity” in the D.C. region for the density of the forest, its natural resources, and its importance to the ecosystem. NVCT was hoping to purchase it to keep it intact and work with the park authority on other preservation efforts.

The park authority was interested in the land for “natural habitat, possible cultural resources, possible trail connections,” FCPA spokesperson Judith Pedersen said in an email.

But neither were able to purchase the lots, leaving the future of this section of Annandale forest in doubt.

“We do not know who purchased the properties,” Pedersen wrote. “We do not know if the purchaser(s) intend on developing the properties.”

The buyer’s identity won’t be known publicly for several weeks, stirring anxiety about its intentions.

Since the land is designated an RPA, any development or “land disturbing activity” generally requires county approval. Removal of native vegetation is also not allowed, and the use of pesticides and fertilizer are “strongly discouraged.”

But Rowsome remains worried, since the bidder spent a lot of money on the property. He estimates it was three to four times the amount that NVCT and the Parks Authority were able to bid.

“These properties are not developable…but somebody still bid a very high amount on each lot anyway,” Rowsome says. “So, a developer still bought them, despite the county’s affirmation of them not being buildable and [could] try to work different angles to release some of those restrictions.”

Rowsome allows that the buyer “could be a do-gooder citizen” whose intentions are aligned with NVCT and the park authority and “thought they were being helpful.”

Since it could be weeks or even months before the fate of the property becomes clear, Rowsome says he’ll be patient and remain optimistic that rare county natural resources can be protected.

“The story of this property is not over yet. We’re still going to work diligently and with the assumption that [the property] will eventually be protected in some way or another,” he said. “And we will work in good faith with anybody who is willing to do that.”

0 Comments
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean is known for its creeks and streams (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

With summer on the horizon, visitors are expected to flock to Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean, but the Fairfax County Park Authority is warning now: leave the coolers, alcohol, and swimming suits at home.

The park authority and Fairfax County Police Department will step up enforcement of the nature preserve’s rules starting this weekend (May 28-29), a move that has become routine in recent summers.

“The Fairfax County Park Authority will be working collaboratively with the Fairfax County Police Department to ensure only permitted activities take place in this natural area, that people can recreate safely, and that the rules as they apply to alcohol and use of the preserve are observed,” the FCPA said in an announcement on Wednesday (May 25).

Visitors might be ejected from the park and prohibited from returning in the future if they violate the following policies:

No coolers are allowed. No alcohol or glass bottles are permitted in Scott’s Run. Bags will be checked at parking lot trailheads. Enforcement will be stepped up at the waterfall area. The beauty of the falls masks its peril. This area is subject to dangerous currents, and submerged rocks can combine with those currents to make entering the water a deadly decision. Rain upstream can raise water levels astonishingly quickly.

No swimming, wading or boating allowed at Scott’s Run. Crowds in the water threaten the many invertebrates and the remarkable and rare plant species that call the preserve home. Parking is limited to 50 cars in the designated parking areas. No parking is permitted in adjacent neighborhoods or along the roadway leading to the park. Dogs must be on a leash while in the park.

Located at 7400 Georgetown Pike, Scott’s Run Nature Preserve encompasses 385 acres between Georgetown Pike and the Potomac River.

With its scenery and relative seclusion from traffic and other signs of development, the park draws approximately 600 visitors per day annually, but those numbers climb to about 1,000 people a day during the peak season, which is typically summer until early fall, according to FCPA spokesperson Judith Pedersen.

Scott’s Run — the river that bisects the park and feeds into the Potomac — gives the park “one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic,” the FCPA said in a 2017 blog post.

The park authority said a perception persists of the preserve as a “safe swimming hole,” despite people getting trapped in the past by high waters and the dangers swimming poses to the environment. The agency also bans alcohol and glass bottles to discourage revelers and littering.

“The park draws people because it is remote and beautiful, but some visitors take advantage of that to drink alcohol illegally and to leave the site trashed,” the FCPA said in the blog post. “Trash is a blight that ruins the next visitor’s park experience and that eventually floats downstream in the Potomac River into the Chesapeake Bay, causing pollution and impacting wildlife.”

0 Comments
An electric vehicle charging station at the Herrity Building in Fair Oaks (staff photo by David Taube)

Fairfax County hopes to rely entirely on electric and non-carbon-emitting vehicles by 2035, but projected costs could become an obstacle.

While the county government already has electric vehicle charging stations across several parking garages, future installations could require double or triple the current estimated cost of $75,000 per site, Kambiz Agazi, the director of the county’s Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination, reported on Tuesday (May 17).

“Cost estimates have been upended by the pandemic-related market disruptions” to construction, he told the Board of Supervisors during its environmental committee meeting, adding that staff are tracking Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant possibilities.

According to the staff presentation, county sites slated to get electric vehicles or new charging stations within the next year include the Public Safety Headquarters, a maintenance facility on Jermantown Road, and the Herndon-Monroe parking garage.

County staff are also evaluating police stations for a pilot project that could start at two stations.

Fairfax County’s planned electric vehicle projects for 2022 (via Fairfax County)

Meanwhile, the county is finally starting to see some progress on the dozens of solar energy projects it has in the works.

Solar panels could be added to the Sully Community Center this summer. A third party could also install panels on the Lorton Community Center, but a lease wasn’t finalized at the time of the presentation.

In addition, the county is spending nearly $3.9 million on projects to improve energy efficiency at the Cub Run and South Run RECenters as well as the Fairfax City Library. Upgrades include lighting, electricity, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Construction is currently underway on those three projects and is expected to finish this year. The changes will reduce the facilities’ annual costs by $153,000 per year and reduce their carbon dioxide equivalent by approximately 1,245 tons, according to the county.

That translates to removing nearly 271 vehicles from the road per year.

0 Comments
Vehicle surrounded by water in a flooded roadway (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County has a plan to help address the local effects of climate change, which already contributes to storms and other challenges that have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

The draft Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan for Resilient Fairfax is now open for public comment through June 15. The county’s Board of Supervisors could approve it in September or October this year.

“In the coming months, we will also develop carryover funding proposals to ensure that any urgently needed resilience action is taken in a timely manner,” said Allison Homer, a planner with the county’s Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination, at the board’s environmental committee meeting today (Tuesday).

The plan proposes short- and long-term solutions that could potentially cost up to $9.5 million. They include launching a climate resilience education program, implementing a flood-risk reduction plan, exploring possible retroactive physical capital improvement projects for communities, and more.

In addition to these step-by-step solutions, other goals call for protecting natural resources and restoring urbanized environments. For example, the county notes it could further encourage buildings to add vegetation to roofs and pursue other strategies.

“Resilience planning is critical because we are already experiencing these hazards through temperature changes, stronger storms, and increased flooding, among other hazards,” the draft report says. “These climate impacts are projected to increase in both intensity and frequency, impacting our neighborhoods, businesses, infrastructure, public services, the local economy, cultural resources, and natural environments.”

Per the report, four severe weather events from 2010 through 2019 produced more than $25 million in damages:

  • The North American Blizzard (2010) resulted in a $2 million loss
  • Tropical Storm Lee (2011) cost the county $10 million in repairs to bridges and roads
  • Hurricane Sandy (2012) cost the county more than $1.5 million
  • July 2019 raining and flooding cost $14.8 million, including $2 million in damages to Fairfax County government property

“Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were eliminated globally today, the county would still continue to see some level of climate change in the future due to the level of global gases already emitted,” the report says. “Therefore, in all future scenarios, it is important to become resilient to climate change effects.”

Among its solutions, the draft plan recommends creating a climate fund with $100,000 to $500,000 for county-led climate projects, leveraging the money as a local match for state, federal and other grants.

It also proposes county incentives and assistance programs that reduce heat-related climate risk. That could involve updating development design guidelines and providing direction on building materials and other ways to cool properties.

Work on the Resilient Fairfax plan began in February 2021, and county staff have collaborated with regional authorities, state and federal agencies, utilities, developers, and representatives from environmental, religious, nonprofit, civil rights and residential as well as business groups.

“I think we are doing the right thing, which is to anticipate where things might go,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, who chairs the environmental committee.

As part of the process, the county conducted a survey of community members’ climate-related concerns in November, drawing over 600 responses.

An audit found the county is undertaking several initiatives already, but the report said those efforts can be strengthened.

In addition to written comments, another public meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. May 24 virtually for people to provide feedback.

Photo via Fairfax County

0 Comments

An eco-friendly alternative to lawn-mowing in the shape of teddy-bear-like four-legged creatures has arrived in Fairfax County.

The Fairfax-based LambMowers uses a flock of roughly 11 sheep to mow lawns in the county. Cory Suter, who graduated with a phD in economics, jump-started the company in order to allow sheep to eat weeds instead of poisoning the soil and ecosystem with herbicides.

“One of many things I learned through my studies is that modern society was treating the soil and clean water upon which all life depends like it was dirt,” Suter said. “Rotational grazing on Silvopasture land is one great way of building back dark carbon-rich soil, a rapidly depleting resource. Suburbs with their mix of trees and grass can be very effective at sequestering carbon when managed thoughtfully.”

He moved to Fairfax in 2014 and sold his green roofing company, which was based in Philadelphia, before he started the business.

Suter sections off a portion of his clients’ property to contain the sheep so they can do their work — which they do best in the morning.

The main challenge of this age-old lawn care method: the sheep like to eat shrubs, flowers and plants that clients actually want to keep. The sheep also don’t do a perfectly even mowing job.

But the environmental benefits and cuteness factor have attracted several clients in the county.

For one, the sheep’s poop — what Suter calls a “low odor biodegradable fertilizer” — and its pee is a nutrient-rich form of plant fertilizer.

“The poop dissipates into the soil after a good rain or is consumed by microscopic and insect life in a healthy ecosystem,” he said.

A county spokesperson tells FFXnow that lamb-mowing services are classified as landscape contractor services to mow grass and, as a result, do not require any type of special permit. The workers — the sheep — do need to be kept on a minimum of 2 acres to meet the county’s zoning ordinance.

Suter’s typical client has dogs or kids and doesn’t want them overexposed to toxins like pre-emergent herbicides. Others let their weeds grow out of control in their beds or have stopped mowing their backyards for a bird-friendly way to take care of landscapes.

Instead of charging by the hour, he requires a $150 minimum payment when he brings his trailer of sheep to a client’s yard. The cost is $275 on weekends and evenings.

Suter also offers other eco-friendly gardening services and advice so that his clients “feel they got more than their money’s worth of value.”

He says that most clients have scheduled a follow-up appointment after reviewing the results.

A workforce expansion is on the horizon for the business. Most of the sheep are expecting or have recently delivered babies.

“Bringing sheep to eat the weeds instead of poisoning the soil and ecosystem with herbicides is what sets LambMowers.com apart from other landscaping companies, whose employees have shorter lives on average due to exposure to broad-leaf toxins,” he said.

0 Comments
Fairfax County Public Schools is considering additional funding for electric school buses, among other priorities (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County Public Schools didn’t get all the money it wanted, but its next budget still has room to address some key priorities, including staff compensation and efforts to reduce the system’s carbon footprint.

Adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (May 10), the county’s new budget for fiscal year 2023, which starts on July 1, trimmed $10 million from the $112.6 million increase in transfer funds sought by FCPS, officials reported to the school board earlier this week.

According to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, the reduction was part of an agreement with the county government to cut their respective budgets “just a bit…in a collective effort to support affordable housing in the county.”

“[That] is a major priority for the county and for the school system too, as many of our employees face rising housing costs to be able to live and work here,” Brabrand told the school board at the work session on Tuesday. “We are still in very, very good shape.”

FCPS officials said they will address the $10 million deficit by eliminating one of 17 planned professional development days.

The roughly $3.3 billion budget contains $12.7 million in placeholder funds to address any state-required expenditures and a market study requested by the school board last year that examined salaries for family liaisons and transportation workers.

With the study completed and no new requirements expected from the state, which is still negotiating its budget, those funds have been freed up to boost recruitment and retention, environmental initiatives, and other needs, as recommended by Brabrand.

Staff development and compensation

Brabrand’s recommendations devote about half of the available funds — $7 million — to employee recruitment and retention, including $4.3 million to extend all salary scales by a step.

The budget already covers a 4% market rate adjustment and step increases for eligible staff, but many veteran employees have reached the top of their scales. According to staff, FCPS offers fewer salary steps than other divisions, putting it at a disadvantage at a time when schools are struggling to find teachers, bus drivers, and more.

“Employees at the top of their respective scales may have enough to retire, but they’re still relatively young, productive, and provide value to FCPS and its students,” Assistant Superintendent of Financial Services Leigh Burden said. “We want to keep those staff members, and extending the salary scale one additional step is a way to do that.” Read More

0 Comments
Bamboo (photo via Fairfax County)

Property owners and tenants in Fairfax County will soon be required to contain running bamboo, and the local park authority is no exception.

The Fairfax County Park Authority, which oversees 23,000 acres of land, says it has an estimated 204 acres or more of bamboo. The new ordinance, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, introduces the possibility of fines for people who get a complaint for letting running bamboo spread beyond their property.

“We’ll be working with code compliance as well as our neighboring properties to achieve compliance in the eyes of the ordinance,” John Burke, the park authority’s branch manager of natural resources, said Wednesday (April 27) during a park authority committee meeting.

Burke said the FCPA has been removing and monitoring bamboo over the years, but it could have more than estimated. The invasive plant can spread as much as 15 feet horizontally per year, according to the county.

The park authority has been removing two to three bamboo sites per year, but it can be expensive.

At Gilbert S. McCutcheon Park in Fort Hunt, FCPA removed about an acre of bamboo in two patches, and it cost about $35,000 — almost entirely due to herbicide treatment costs during 2021 and 2022.

Jim Zook, an at-large member of the park authority board, called for more education about not planting the species. Virginia gave municipalities the authority to ban it in 2017 but still lets customers purchase it.

Prior to adopting the running bamboo ordinance in March, Fairfax County supervisors said it isn’t perfect, but officials say they will try to work with property owners to help them meet requirements before imposing fines.

Ron Kendall, the park authority board’s Mason District representative, questioned where the park authority will find the money to support compliance.

According to Burke, the McCutcheon park example was atypical, but there could be other complications.

“Eradication countywide may not be possible or likely,” he said. “We may have to have some serious discussions with neighboring landowners about…eradicating bamboo versus trying to contain it.”

Burke estimated that the park authority receives around 10 to 20 bamboo complaints per year from neighboring homeowners, involving either problems spreading from park property to homes or concerns about bamboo adjacent to park property.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list