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Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center in Idylwood (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Less than two years after overhauling its plan for the West Falls Church Metro station area in Idylwood to allow more development, Fairfax County needs to make a relatively limited but critical revision.

During its meeting last Tuesday (March 21), the Board of Supervisors authorized a study of an amendment to the comprehensive plan for the West Falls Church Transit Station Area (TSA) that would allow more office on Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center at 7054 Haycock Road.

The amendment would also reduce the amount of institutional space proposed for the 7.5-acre property, reflecting changes to developer Rushmark Properties and the construction company HITT Contracting’s plan to expand the campus.

“The rezoning application by HITT Contracting and Rushmark Properties proposes a decrease in the planned institutional use by 120,000 square feet and an increase in general office use by approximately 62,000 square feet,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said in his motion asking the board to authorize the study.

Plans to redevelop Virginia Tech’s Idylwood campus have been percolating since 2018, when the university received an unsolicited bid from Rushmark. HITT got involved a year later, seeking to relocate its headquarters to the site.

That original pitch also called for a new academic building and a design and construction research center, along with an additional 250,000 square feet of office space, 500 residential units and 50,000 square feet of retail.

However, Virginia Tech announced on Feb. 28, 2021 that it and HITT had agreed not to move forward with the project. Despite that termination, the proposed development was still incorporated into the new West Falls Church TSA plan approved by the Board of Supervisors on July 12, 2021.

The plan allows 1,720 dwelling units, 301,000 square feet of office use, 48,000 square feet of retail, and 160,000 square feet of institutional use across the TSA, including on the adjacent Metro station property.

Rushmark and HITT put forward a new redevelopment plan last fall that would replace the existing Northern Virginia Center with a 283,000-square-foot office building, up to 440 residential units, and a 2,000-square-foot retail pavilion.

The newly requested plan amendment will be considered at the same time as that rezoning application, which is scheduled for a public hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on June 7.

According to Foust, the use changes won’t affect the 2.5 floor area ratio now allowed on the Virginia Tech site or the overall development limits for the TSA.

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Heming, a 410-unit apartment building at Scotts Run in Tysons, will include 82 affordable dwelling units (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a new policy last week that could offer incentives to developers to replace the affordable housing lost to new development.

The new policy wouldn’t just require a one-to-one replacement of units set aside as affordable — known as committed affordable units — but would incentivize the replacement of those that were naturally affordable — meaning market-rate affordable.

In effect, if a new development brings units to a site previously affordable for those making less than the area median income, the developer would be offered incentives to include an equal number of affordable units in the new development. Those incentives could include additional density, building height and financial assistance.

The sole voice against the new amendment at the meeting last Tuesday (March 21) was Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who said the county can’t subsidize its way out of the regional housing crisis. According to Herrity:

The requirement to replace market-rate affordable units could inhibit the delivery of much needed housing, especially if incentives fail to cover the cost of the preserved affordable units. It’s a lot of those incentives that are basically making housing unaffordable for many of our residents, because those incentives are paid by our residents. Our young adults and our seniors are priced out of housing. We’re not going to be able to do enough government-subsidized housing to fix this problem. Where we need to start is reducing the cost of housing. I’m not going to be supporting this, that’s probably no surprise to the board, but I think there are better ways to attack this problem.

The rest of the board, though, was enthusiastic in its support of the new policy.

“This is a good next step for us,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “The issue is: how do we ensure this distribution of housing is countywide? I think this starts to tackle that issue by highlighting and identifying where those issues and where those needs are. I’m looking to support far more housing that’s affordable in many other areas.”

Storck said the policy is part of the county’s commitment to ensure residents can afford to stay in the county even as overall housing prices continue to rise.

“I have a statement that I say often and my staff will probably roll their eyes when I say this again: we need to make sure we leave no one behind,” Storck said. “If you’ve lived in our community for a while, we need to make sure there are options for you. To get those options, we need to build more housing.”

The policy change was approved in a 9-1 vote.

Following adoption by the Board of Supervisors, staff will work to put together a draft of new guidelines in May and present those to the board later this summer.

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Fairfax County set height limits for flag poles, among other changes, with its zoning ordinance modernization in 2021 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A day after neighboring Arlington County made waves by ending single-family exclusive zoning, Fairfax County saw its own zoning reforms reversed two years after they were approved.

The Virginia Supreme Court declared the county’s Zoning Ordinance Modification Project (zMOD) void yesterday (Thursday) because the new code was adopted at a mostly virtual meeting — a ruling could have consequences for other actions taken during the first years of the pandemic, as noted by Inside NoVA, which first reported the decision.

The county is now operating under its previous zoning ordinance, which had been in place since 1978, according to the zoning administration division’s website.

“We are currently evaluating the Virginia Supreme Court decision and considering our options,” Tony Castrilli, the county’s director of public affairs, said. “In the meantime, the 1978 Zoning Ordinance is presently in effect and available for reference on the County website.”

In a 29-page opinion, Justice Wesley Russell sided with four residents who argued that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act’s open meeting requirements by not holding an in-person public hearing or vote.

The county contended that an ordinance adopted on April 14, 2020 gave it the flexibility to hold public meetings on the zoning update and other subjects electronically during the Covid state of emergency.

The Supreme Court disagreed that the ordinance allowed the county government to conduct all regular business electronically, finding that the zoning update doesn’t qualify as “necessary to ensure the continuation of essential functions and services.”

“The modification of a 40-year-old zoning ordinance after a five-year revision process does not satisfy this standard,” Russell wrote. “It is not a time-sensitive matter, and its adoption is not and was not necessary to allow the County to continue operations.”

The residents behind the lawsuit — David Berry, Carol Hawn, Helen Webb and Adrienne Whyte — filed a complaint in Fairfax County Circuit Court on March 5, 2021 seeking to prevent the board from adopting zMOD at a public hearing on March 9, 2021.

The circuit court denied the request and ultimately dismissed the complaint on Sept. 9, 2021, stating that it had been rendered moot by the adoption of zMOD on March 23, 2021 and that the county board’s emergency powers gave it the authority to act at an electronic meeting. Read More

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The Fairfax County Courthouse (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

In response to calls for additional legal assistance, Fairfax County is poised to establish a self-help resource center in the library of its courthouse complex.

At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (March 21), the board approved a board matter that would allocate $96,000 in fiscal year 2024 to support the project. The board matter was proposed by Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Chairman Jeff McKay.

Reportedly the first of its kind in the state, the center would provide legal information, referrals, forms and resource materials on topics related to court issues. The board matter states that it would serve as an alternative option for people who can’t afford legal services and don’t have pro bono help available.

“In my District, we have had constituents contact my office desperate for legal differential last hey are unable to obtain legal aid services. In one instance, a child custody case, the parents had no idea what to expect at their court hearing and thus were not able to prepare for or understand the court process,” Lusk said in the board matter.

First pitched by the Fairfax Bar Association, which runs the law library, the proposal is being led by Fairfax County General District Court judges Susan Stoney and Dipti Pidkiti-Smith.

A 2019 study by the bar association found that the cost of hiring an attorney and the belief that cases can be handled alone are among the top reasons litigants didn’t have a lawyer.

“Access to justice for self-representative litigants is a significant issue facing the legal community today,” the board matter said.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity noted that the challenge is not limited to “Black and brown communities.”

Responding to Herrity, McKay emphasized that the board matter specifically refers to economically challenged residents and other communities who are most in need.

He said that statement was “absolutely factual” and “all encompassing.”

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Afternoon rush-hour traffic clogs up Dolley Madison Boulevard at the Ingleside Avenue intersection in McLean (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County could be taking some notes from New York City and Portland as it tries to turn back the surge of recent pedestrian fatalities.

The Board of Supervisors directed the Fairfax County Department of Transportation on Tuesday (March 21) to review turn-calming measures from other jurisdictions, discuss options with the Virginia Department of Transportation, and come back to the board’s transportation committee with an analysis of how that can be implemented.

“Over the past several years, this Board has taken significant steps to prioritize pedestrian safety,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “Despite these efforts, there were still sadly 32 pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County on our roads in 2022, the highest number since consistent statistics started being collected in 2010.”

As FFXnow reported last week, FCDOT’s Trails, Sidewalks and Bikeways committee (TSB) delved into the issue and asked the Board of Supervisors to prioritize additional safety measures along major arterial roadways throughout Fairfax County.

“The first is a turn calming, like in New York, San Francisco and Portland,” McKay said. “These programs can reduce turning speeds and thus pedestrian fatalities.”

Left-turn calming aims to reduce turning speeds, eliminate sharp turns, and create “hardened centerlines” that use rubber speed bumps to slow drivers.

McKay said county staff’s report on turn-calming should also include an estimate of the cost.

The second item is a request that no crosswalk at the site of a pedestrian fatality be eliminated unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

The question of eliminating crosswalks took some board members by surprise until Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw explained that the TSB letter references the planned elimination of a crosswalk at Braddock Road and Kings Park Drive in West Springfield.

Walkinshaw explained VDOT intends to move the sidewalk to a safer location.

“The plan is to eliminate that entire signalized intersection and move the crosswalk to a different and safer location, where it’s separated from the turns from Kings Park Drive onto Braddock Road,” he said.

Hunter Mill Supervisor Walter Alcorn noted that, in addition to turn-calming and prioritizing crosswalks, the county also has an ongoing speed camera pilot program.

“I would also note that we are doing our speed camera pilot, which is also getting underway,” Alcorn said. “It underscores that this is really a tough problem…We need to look and see what else can we do to make our streets safer.”

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SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax President Tammie Wondong advocates for better worker compensation at a public hearing on proposed Board of Supervisors pay raises (via Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will get its first salary increase in eight years, starting next January.

The current board voted 8-2 last night (Tuesday) to raise the pay to $123,283 for a supervisor position and to $138,283 for the chairman — slightly lower than the ranges that were proposed on March 7.

Based on staff calculations, the approved increase for board members is in line with what general county employees received, on average, in merit and market rate adjustments since the board last got a raise in 2015, according to Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.

“Supervisor compensation should be set at a level that would enable anyone to serve regardless of personal circumstances. To advance that goal, I think, is appropriate,” Foust said before putting the motion up for a vote.

The vote came after a public hearing that lasted over two hours, with some speakers becoming emotional as they shared stories of how they’ve struggled with the area’s rising cost-of-living or how employee vacancies and hiring challenges have affected county services, from parks to support for foster care families.

Aside from one Braddock District resident who suggested they would “not be out of line,” considering inflation over the past eight years, all the speakers voiced opposition to the originally proposed raises that could’ve increased supervisor salaries up to $130,000 and the chairman’s up to $145,000.

“Too many are just getting by, and others are on the verge of falling into crisis,” Carolyn Bivens said. “Respectfully, in my opinion, the case has not been made for making the Board of Supervisors positions full time. More importantly, a 35 to 45% increase would be viewed as tone-deaf in this environment.”

Some said they support the board getting pay raises, but the amounts advertised were “insulting” when the county is only proposing 2% market rate adjustments for workers in its next budget, rather than the 5% that was forecast.

Other jurisdictions in Virginia are advertising MRA increases of up to 6-9%, according to Fairfax Workers Coalition Executive Director David Lyons.

He acknowledged that Virginia law requires a different process for adjusting the compensation of elected officials than for other public employees, but the proposal created a perception “that you care more about yourselves than you do your workers.”

“What we do have is a shortage of human service workers. We have a shortage of cops. We have a shortage in solid waste collection that is causing the county to contract out good jobs,” he said. “And in the case of all these jobs, citizens will suffer as the vacancies grow, as the quality drops and as real experience keeps going out the door. That’s why this proposal struck people as wrong.” Read More

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Outside 1st Stage in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors got a first look last week at a new plan that it hopes can help turn the county into a hub for the arts.

At an economic initiatives committee meeting on March 14, Fairfax County Arts Committee Chair Leila Gordon said the new Master Arts Plan shows that some of the county’s revitalization zones — like the one in the works for downtown McLean — need to do more to prioritize the arts and add more supporting facilities.

“Beyond what are traditionally characterized as ‘major arts venues,’ the County needs multiple other support facilities and spaces to complement existing arts venues,” a presentation on the plan said.

Those arts-supporting uses include creating residential zoning for live/work studios, more small-scale venues, and better temporary use of vacant facilities.

Supervisors at the meeting shared positive feedback on the plan, but many had individual areas they wanted to see more fully explored.

“We’re not doing public art well in this county at all, regardless of how many times we’ve tried to do it,” said Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross. “On Richmond Highway they’ve had some success with some murals, but trying to get permits for murals and trying to explain to the planning and development department that this is not a sign…that’s a wonderful way to grab people really quickly.”

Gross said as the process goes on, she’d like to see more public art worked into the plan.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik expressed hope to see more descriptions of how art uses should be managed and governed.

“We can build the spaces, we can permit the spaces, we can transform the spaces, but I think the question is…place-based governance,” Palchik said. “We are a large county. We have a lot of initiatives as well as priorities. We can build all the spaces we want, but they have to be run, they have to be activated, they have to be managed.”

Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said the arts across Fairfax County are currently plagued by waste and unequal distribution, two topics he hopes to see the plan tackle.

“There’s also a lot of waste in the arts,” McKay said. “When props are done, they’re trashed. When costumes are done, they don’t get stored. I know there are a lot of private arts organizations — dance schools are familiar with this — that spend a lot of money on props, a lot of money on costumes, and when the show is over, they go in the trash.”

McKay said the Master Arts Plan is a chance to organize the local arts community and get organizations on the same page when it comes to sharing resources. McKay said he hoped to see a “huge inventory” of items that can be recycled across multiple shows. From the county leadership side, that may involve financing storage space.

“One thing we should be looking at in terms of facilities [is] if the county can provide a centralized warehouse of arts materials,” McKay said. “There is quite a bit of waste in the arts and it doesn’t need to be that way. A lot of high school theater groups do the same rotating shows but a lot of times, they’re starting from scratch for props, and finding out they’re discarded from another school that did the same show. That can be very costly.”

McKay also said part of the plan should focus on distributing arts venues around Fairfax County, noting that many arts spaces are being built where there is already an abundance of facilities.

According to a draft plan, there are several potential venues in the works, including proposed arts centers at Reston Town Center and in downtown Herndon, but a lack of funding is cited as an obstacle in multiple cases.

“Unfortunately where [there’s] the greatest art advocacy is where there are already facilities,” McKay said. “There are parts of the county that just don’t have the same access. Looking at that through gap analysis is going to be really important.”

The plan also notes that cost and availability limitations lead many organizations in Fairfax County to use venues not intended for arts programming, like schools or churches, or to go outside the county.

The Master Arts Plan for cultural facilities is under review and will be fully released sometime this spring. A broader Public Art Master Plan is scheduled for completion in early 2024.

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Fairfax County Government Center (file photo)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors isn’t holding a public hearing on its proposed salary increases until Tuesday (March 21), but some county workers have already made their opposition known.

A union representing over 2,000 county government employees criticized the proposal as a blow to workers, whose projected pay raises aren’t expected to be fully funded in the county’s next budget.

“Despite our calls for wage fairness for county employees, it appears the County has another priority — raises for politicians,” SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax President Tammie Wondong said. “A meager 2% raise combined with the crushing weight of wage compression has left us feeling devalued. When employees have to work multiple jobs to get by or can’t afford to live in the county, it’s clear change is needed.”

With 33 years of work for the county under her belt, Wondong says the disparity between what the board is considering for itself compared to employees illustrates the need for “a union contract to achieve pay fairness.”

The Board of Supervisors approved collective bargaining in October 2021, but the Fire and Rescue Department is the only unit to officially elect a union representative so far.

Put forward by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust on March 7, the raises would push the salaries for board members up from $95,000 to $124,000-130,000 per year and from $100,000 to $140,000-145,000 a year for the board chair.

The high end of those ranges would amount to pay bumps of nearly 37% for supervisors and 45% for the chair. Both positions last got raises in 2015.

Foust, who’s retiring at the end of December, says higher compensation will encourage candidates to run for supervisor, a position that carries full-time commitments but is treated as a part-time job in Virginia.

As I leave, I know it is critically important that we continue to attract great candidates from all backgrounds and stages of life to serve on the Board. The opportunity to serve is itself very rewarding. However, I believe it is in the best interest of the County that Supervisor compensation be set at a level that will enable anyone to serve regardless of their personal circumstances, and not just those who are wealthy or have other sources of income. I believe that increasing Supervisor pay for the first time in 8 years will advance that goal. I recognize that others have raised concerns and I look forward to the public hearing that will be held on March 21.

“I hope that through my service I have demonstrated that I care very much about the residents and employees of Fairfax County,” he said in a statement to FFXnow.

However, the challenge of affording housing, child care and other living expenses that some supervisors mentioned during their March 7 meeting also poses an obstacle to other county workers, like teachers and police, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President David Walrod said.

About 1 in 7 Fairfax County employees can’t afford to live where they work, according to a 2021 analysis by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI), a Richmond-based think tank. Read More

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The intersection of Gallows Road and Cottage Street in the Dunn Loring area (via Fairfax County)

(Updated at 1:30 p.m. on 3/20/2023) Fairfax County is in the midst of deciding where nearly $25 million in funding for pedestrian and bicyclists improvements will be allocated.

After combing through more than 2,000 possible projects, staff have develop a draft list of prioritized projects, according to Michael Guarino, head of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s capital projects division.

At a Board of Supervisors transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (March 14), Guarino said the county is using spatial analysis tools to help sift through roughly 2,800 unfunded projects and project requests. The list was then further pared down by examining network connectivity and trip generators.

“We’re using technology as best as we can. I think are areas where we can do it more. Overall, the process is working the way we want it to, it’s just taking longer than we want it to,” Guarino said.

The decision is part of the county’s $100 million commitment to support active or non-motorized transportation access and safety improvements.

The first $5 million in funding, approved in November 2022, included $2 million for trail maintenance, $2.7 million for crosswalk projects, and $200,000 for a safe routes project near Bush Hill Elementary School. An additional $100,000 was allocated to speed feedback signs for the Fairfax County Police Department.

As part of the next cycle, $2.3 million for crosswalk projects has already been approved, along with $400,000 to repair and replace existing rapid flashing beacons through fiscal year 2028.

Board members lauded staff for the methodology used to create the draft list.

“It was very well done the way you pulled this all together,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said.

The county plans to seek additional money for pedestrian intersection improvements at Blake Lane and Bushman Drive in Oakton as well as Beverly Road at Old Dominion Drive and Elm Street at Old Dominion Drive in McLean after missing out on a federal grant.

The county did not receive the Safe Streets and Roads for All grant due to a lack of needed data to back up claims for the need for the projects, along with the projects not being ready to build yet, Guarino said.

Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross noted that some projects can take years to come to fruition. She said it took nearly 37 years to install sidewalks on Sleepy Hollow Road — a project that is currently under construction.

“It wasn’t all the county’s fault,” Gross said, adding that an iterative process will ensure that projects are shovel-ready.

The proposed list of active transportation projects includes: Read More

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Army headquarters at Fort Belvoir (via Fort Belvoir/Facebook)

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is no stranger to renaming things, from roads to magisterial districts. But now, the board is leading a push not to rename a site associated with slavery.

In a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (March 7), Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck raised the topic of Fort Belvoir’s potential renaming. The base is named for the Belvoir plantation that once occupied the site.

In a final report last year, a Department of Defense Naming Commission recommended that Fort Belvoir be renamed. According to the Association of the United States Army:

One final matter involves Fort Belvoir, Virginia, named for a plantation that once occupied the land. Belvoir has ties to the Confederacy but was not named in 1935 in direct commemoration of the South. The commission was not given authority to rename Fort Belvoir, which was previously known as Fort Humphries, but the commission believes it should have a new name. The report “strongly encourages” the defense secretary and Army secretary to review the history of the installation, noting it was the site of the celebration of Confederate Memorial Day.

While Fairfax County and other localities have routinely renamed locations, the Fairfax County History Commission expressed concerns about the Naming Commission’s report for a few reasons, from questions about historical inaccuracies to uncertainty about the effect on how Black history should be represented at the fort, according to Storck.

“Any action taken by the army should be transparent, based on evidence, and include local community and stakeholders,” Storck said. “Removing the name Belvoir may reduce the likelihood that these stories of the enslaved African Americans and free Black residents who lived on the base will be told.”

Storck proposed that the Board of Supervisors recommend the Fairfax County History Commission’s report be sent to the Secretary of the Army and the Naming Commission Historian voicing their concerns. The proposal was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said concerns about the renaming came up in a recent meeting with the base commander. Whatever the ultimate decision is, McKay said the process around the name change should be more transparent and should involve Fairfax County.

“I had an opportunity to sit down with the base commander for quite some time and this was the subject of conversation,” McKay said. “I know it’s created a lot of angst for Fort Belvoir. I think it’s important as this consideration is being made — not by the county — but that county input is part of the decision process.”

A public affairs officer from Fort Belvoir told FFXnow that any consideration of renaming the base will be open and transparent and the Fort Belvoir leadership has already started moving forward on renaming four streets honoring Confederate leaders:

The Naming Commission encouraged the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army to review the relevant historical facts and consider renaming Fort Belvoir. The Army will begin an open and transparent process to consider renaming the installation.

The redesignation of Beauregard Road, Stuart Street, Lee Road, and Johnston Road fit within the legislative mandate of the Naming Commission. Fort Belvoir has already begun consulting with the local community, through the Fairfax County History Commission, to recommend name changes for the four streets currently named after Confederate leaders.

In October 2022, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III concurred with all of the Naming Commission’s recommendations, including redesignating nine Army installations with names that are rooted in their local communities and that honor American heroes whose valor, courage, and patriotism exemplify the very best of the U.S. military.

Fort Belvoir is standing by to assist in that effort as requested.

Photo via Fort Belvoir/Facebook

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