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A Metrobus at the West Falls Church Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County is expanding its student Metrobus pass program to four new schools in the fall, letting more students ride the bus for free.

Starting in September, students at Annandale High School, Falls Church High School, Marshall High School, and Davis Center will be able to get a pass that allows them to ride Fairfax Connector, the City of Fairfax CUE, and the Metrobus for free.

The bus pass can only be used on certain routes in Northern Virginia and in between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The county launched a program in 2015 letting all Fairfax County Public School students ride Fairfax Connector at no cost. A year later, the City of Fairfax CUE was added to that program. In 2018, a pilot program was approved allowing students at Justice High School to also ride certain Metrobus routes for free.

The program is intended to give students more independence as they go to and from school, participate in after-school activities, and work jobs.

The Metrobus pilot is now ramping up with a memorandum of understanding going before the Board of Supervisors later this month. The county is also working to hire a new coordinator to oversee the program and order new cards to distribute to students.

A launch event will be held at Marshall High School in September.

Since the program began more than seven years ago, students have taken over 2 million trips on local buses, according to data presented by staff at the board’s transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (June 14).

Since April of this year, students have made up nearly 8% of all Fairfax Connector ridership.

“Students are proving to be some of our most loyal customer base,” Kala Quintana, Fairfax Connector’s head of marketing, said.

For the Metrobus pilot program, the county noted that about half of Justice students had and were actively using the specially-designed Smartrip card.

The county hopes that, by the end of the 2022-2023 school year, 8,500 students from 30 high schools, 23 middle schools, and nine centers for students with different needs and abilities will be using the bus pass.

When the program launches at the four new schools later this year, a form will be available on the FCPS website that students’ parents can sign and turn into the school so their kid can get a bus pass.

While members were okay with the process for the foreseeable future, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said he would eventually like to see students’ identification, bus pass, library card, and other services all consolidated on one card.

The board also discussed doing more outreach to students who don’t attend FCPS, like those who are homeschooled and attend private institutions.

“The fact that we had this Covid break and kids weren’t even going to school and we have these kinds of ridership numbers…and demand is a proven testament to the vision we had for this at the very beginning,” McKay said. “It’s a program that all of our kids in FCPS, middle and high schoolers, can take advantage of.”

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) Juneteenth will be celebrated across Fairfax County and the nation Sunday and Monday this year.

Last year, President Joe Biden signed into law Juneteenth, June 19, as a federal holiday. This year, the holiday will be observed on Monday (June 20).

The date has been commemorated to mark the end of slavery, recognizing that on June 19, 1865, news that the Civil War was over and the enslaved were now free reached Galveston, Texas.

It has been celebrated since but only became a federal holiday last year. See a listing below of what will be open and closed in Fairfax County on Sunday and Monday.

Government

Fairfax County government offices will be closed Monday (June 20) in recognition of the Juneteenth holiday, but some facilities are open and schedules vary. Fairfax County Public Schools will also observe the holiday Monday for all personnel.

The library system’s branches will be closed on Sunday and Monday. Animal Control will still have its regular Sunday hours, and is closed, as it normally is, on Mondays.

The Circuit and District courts will be closed Monday.

The Town of Herndon offices will be closed Monday.

Parks Authority

All Parks Authority rec centers, nature centers, historic sites, visitor centers and the Green Spring Gardens Horticultural Center will be open Sunday. The Green Spring Gardens Historic House will be closed. But on Monday, the historic sites — Colvin Run Mill and Sully Historic Site — will be closed.

All Neighborhood and Community Service facilities will be closed Saturday (June 18) through Monday. Reston Community Center Hunter Woods and Lake Anne will be open Monday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Herndon Community Center will be closed Monday. But Herndon Centennial Golf Course will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., weather permitting.

Transportation

Fairfax Connector will operate on a holiday weekday service schedule on Monday. Its stores and customer service center will be closed. Human Services Transportation (FASTRAN) will not operate on Monday.

On Monday, Metro will operate buses on a Saturday supplemental schedule, but trains will run from 5 a.m. to midnight, following a “normal” schedule aside from the ongoing closure of certain Orange Line stations due to platform work, according to a news release.

Trash

The county advises residents to contact their trash and recycling collector directly for service schedule changes due to the holiday.

The I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will be open for their normal hours.

Town of Herndon recycling will be collected Tuesday (June 21) since it is normally collected Monday.

Photo via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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Morning Notes

A heron flying above Lake Audubon in Reston (photo by Marjorie Copson)

County Seeks Feedback on Covid Response — While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, Fairfax County is starting to evaluate how it handled the crisis. The county government is conducting two surveys — one for the community and one for businesses — to gather feedback on people’s experiences. The surveys are available online and at county libraries until July 5. [Fairfax County Government]

Fairfax City Community to Weigh in on Street Renamings — “Fairfax City Council is hosting a public hearing at its regular meeting Tuesday night to solicit feedback on a proposal to rename 14 streets in the city whose current names are associated with the confederacy, slavery or the ‘Lost Cause.'” [Patch]

Trash Pile Fire Extinguished in Lorton — “Units are on scene of a large outside trash pile fire in the 9800 block of Furnace Road, Lorton. The fire is contained but crews are working to fully extinguish it.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Learn the History of Juneteenth — Author and University of Maryland history professor Dr. Richard Bell will discuss the history and significance of Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the U.S. As of last night (Monday), there are still openings for the hour-long, virtual presentation, which will start at 6:30 p.m. and requires advance registration. [FCPL]

Lincolnia Fire Started by Unattended Cooking — A townhouse fire in the 4500 block of Southland Avenue on Friday (June 10) displaced five people and caused approximately $77,747 in damages. Investigators determined that the fire was started accidentally by “unattended food cooking on the stove” in the kitchen. [FCFRD]

Vienna Eases Rules for Roofs Over Decks — “The Vienna Town Council voted tonight to amend the zoning ordinance to enable homeowners to upgrade their outdoor living space by putting a roof over up to 400 square feet of a deck under certain conditions. For more details, visit http://viennava.gov/zoning.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

County Urges Vigilance for Signs of Child Abuse — “Fairfax County is asking community members to be on the lookout for possible signs of abuse and neglect, now that kids are out of class…Twana Johnson, assistant program manager, child abuse & neglect prevention services at the Department of Family Services, says as child supervision declines during summer months, so do calls to the hotline.” [WDVM]

FCPS Program Teaches Kids How to Ride Bicycles — “33 schools participate in the program, including both elementary schools — which typically have 30 bikes and 40 helmets on hand at a given time. [Safe Routes to Schools coordinator Sally] Smallwood estimates 10% to 20% of FCPS students in grades three to eight do not know how to ride a bike.” [ABC7]

It’s Tuesday — Rain in the morning. High of 83 and low of 72. Sunrise at 5:44 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A sewer project could affect an area near the Vienna Metro station along I-66 (via Fairfax County)

A sewer infrastructure project in the Vienna Metro station area is in the works, anticipating future needs in northern Fairfax County.

The Accotink Gravity Sewer Improvements Project will upgrade existing facilities that are projected to be insufficient, county staff say.

“In order to prepare the sewer system for the future needs, we really need to go forward with this project,” said Department of Public Works and Environmental Services project manager Thomas Grala during a virtual meeting for the public about the project on Tuesday (May 24).

According to a presentation, the county’s current total sewer capacity is approximately 90 million gallons per day, but by 2045, the area will need to accommodate a projected 120 million gallons per day, a 33% increase.

The Accotink Gravity project’s design phase could begin this summer and finish in the spring of 2023. The design phase will finalize the exact route of the sewer. Construction could begin in the fall of 2023 and end two years later.

Additional public meetings, including those with smaller groups such as homeowners’ associations and businesses, are expected in the future.

The existing Accotink gravity sewer starts by James Madison High School, passes through Nottoway Park, continues to Nutley Street, goes underneath I-66, and passes south under routes 29 and 50.

“It’s been working fine and many people walk along these routes…as pathways,” said Andrew Casolini, a project manager with Whitman, Requardt & Associates, a firm headquartered in Baltimore that the county selected to partner with on the work.

He noted during the public meeting that the system was initially installed in 1963 and upgraded in 1978.

The new project is estimated to cost approximately $37 million and would be covered by existing user fees and availability charges.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently agreed to raise sewer fees by about $38 on average starting July 1, and those annual rates are slated to continue increasing.

Meanwhile, the board is also considering switching an existing “growth-pays-for growth” policy, where developers’ costs would be shared by residents and other property owners.

Grala said the project is one of a series of upcoming efforts, such as a $110 million project in Tysons to create a new 5.5-mile-long pipeline for future growth that could be completed by the summer of 2026.

Photo via Fairfax County

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A patriotic person-shaped sign spotted in Pimmit Hills (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Memorial Day weekend is upon us. While there will be plenty of activities to keep Fairfax County occupied, the holiday also means closures and schedule changes on Monday (May 30) for many public facilities.

Public schools

  • All Fairfax County Public Schools and offices will be closed for the holiday, with classes resuming on Tuesday (May 31).

Fairfax County offices and facilities

Fairfax County parks

  • All county rec centers will be open as usual until 6 p.m., except for the George Washington Rec Center.
  • Colvin Run Mill and the Sully Historic Site will be closed.
  • The E.C. Lawrence, Hidden Oaks, Hidden Pond and Huntley Meadows nature centers will be open from noon to 5 p.m.
  • Riverbend Park’s visitor center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Frying Pan Farm Park’s farm and indoor arena will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the visitor center will be closed.
  • Green Spring Gardens will open its horticultural center between noon and 4:30 p.m., but the historic house will be closed.

Public transit

County trash and recycling

  • The Department of Public Works and Environmental Services doesn’t list any impacts to trash and recycling collections for county customers, but those who get service from a private company are advised to contact them directly.
  • DPWES administrative offices will close.
  • The recycling and disposal centers at the I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will be open.

Town of Herndon

  • Town offices and the Herndon Community Center will be closed on Monday.
  • Recycling typically collected on Mondays will be picked up on Tuesday instead.
  • The Herndon Centennial Golf Course will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Town of Vienna

  • Town offices will be closed.
  • The Vienna Community Center will have more limited hours, operating from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Sunday (May 29) and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Monday.
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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.

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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

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Wesley Housing’s The Arden apartments, currently under construction near the Huntington Metro station, is a recent recipient of Fairfax County’s annual federal funding from HUD (via Fairfax County Housing and Community Development)

Fairfax County has gotten a little help from the federal government for its efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing.

The county was awarded a total of $8.9 million in grants and other funds by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced on Friday (May 13).

The funding comes from three different programs:

  • $5.9 million in Community Development Block Grants, which can be used for housing construction, homeowner assistance, infrastructure, economic development, and other community projects
  • $2.5 million from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which supports partnerships with nonprofits to provide affordable housing and direct rental assistance to low-income individuals
  • $515,135 from the Emergency Solutions Grant program, which funds emergency shelters, services for people experiencing homelessness, and homelessness prevention programs

The county typically receives approximately $8.5 million each year from those programs, according to the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says federal funds “are critical” to helping the county achieve its affordable housing goals, which was recently doubled to 10,000 new units by 2034.

“I thank Senators Warner and Kaine for helping us to advance housing opportunities for veterans and their families, providing supportive housing for those with special needs, enabling older adults to age in place, and much more,” McKay said. “Fairfax County is working every single day to ensure that everyone here access to a safe, secure, and affordable home.”

With the block grant and HOME funds, the county says it has been able to create or preserve over 800 affordable housing units, along with 220 affordable rental units, in the past five years. Projects that have benefitted include Wesley Housing’s The Arden in Huntington, the new Lee District Community Center, and a planned acquisition of 12 condominiums by the nonprofit Pathway Recovery.

According to Housing and Community Development spokesperson Benjamin Boxer, the new funds will be allocated in accordance with the county’s Five-Year Consolidated Plan and the related One-Year Action Plan, which set housing goals and establish services for older adults, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and households earning 30% or less of the area median income.

The newest One-Year Action Plan, which is currently under review and will take effect for fiscal year 2023 on July 1, calls for funding for 13 different projects, ranging from rental assistance vouchers to home repairs for seniors and people with disabilities in Falls Church and Herndon.

Overall, Virginia will receive $114.7 million from HUD.

“All Virginians deserve access to safe and affordable housing, but rents and home prices have skyrocketed across Virginia in recent years,” Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement. “We’re glad that this funding will go to supporting the construction of new affordable housing units and help Virginians access more housing options.”

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Fairfax County officials celebrate the Merrifield Center’s renaming after former Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, pictured on the left (courtesy Taylor Holland/Office of Jeffrey C. McKay)

Fairfax County’s Merrifield Center has a new, slightly more descriptive name.

The Sharon Bulova Center for Community Health was officially christened at a dedication ceremony yesterday (Thursday), taking its name from the former Board of Supervisors chairman who helped develop the Diversion First initiative aimed at shifting people with mental health and substance use challenges to treatment instead of incarceration.

“Sharon is more than a mentor, she is a friend, and her legacy to Fairfax County is unmatched,” said current Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Bulova’s successor. “It is entirely fitting that this center, which is at the heart of our Diversion First initiative, is named in her honor.”

Located at 8221 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive, the facility opened in March 2015 to serve as a central hub for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, which provides emergency services and other supports for people who have mental illnesses, substance use disorders, and developmental disabilities.

As the board chairman from 2010 to 2020, Bulova oversaw Diversion First’s launch in 2016 as an effort to rethink the county’s approach to mental health after a police officer shot and killed Springfield resident John Geer in 2013 and sheriff’s deputies restrained and stunned Natasha McKenna, resulting in her death in 2015.

“It was their tragic deaths that sparked change,” Bulova said, acknowledging that it was a “pretty tense” time in the county. “Both incidents shown a stark light on the county’s need for reforms and policies regarding transparency, oversight, use of force, and criminal incident response, including and especially in cases involving persons suffering from mental illnesses.”

Focused on people involved in the criminal justice system for non-violent offenses, the initiative started primarily as a partnership between the CSB, police, and sheriff’s office. It has since expanded to include housing assistance and specialty veteran, mental health, and drug court dockets to address the specific needs of those populations.

Per a news release from McKay’s office:

Diversion First is designed to prevent repeat encounters with the criminal justice system, improve public safety, promote a healthier community and is a more cost effective and efficient use of public funding.

Since its founding in 2016, there have been more than 12,000 law enforcement transports to the now-Bulova Center where the Diversion First program is located. Over 8,600 people were under an emergency custody order and 3,540 additional transports were because an officer recognized that an individual in the community needed behavioral health services. Over 2,600 have been diverted from potential arrest. Of those transported to the MCRC by law enforcement, on average 80% do not have a repeat visit to the MCRC related to criminal justice involvement within a year. Over 80% of those diverted from potential arrest in 2019 were not incarcerated during the following year.

“Diversion First is a revolutionary concept that was and remains ahead of its time,” McKay said. “This remarkable facility and its community impact on a daily basis are a testament to the type of change that forward-thinking, innovative local government involvement can make.”

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Bailey’s Shelter and Supporting Housing (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County saw a slight drop with its annual January count of people experiencing homelessness, reversing a yearslong trend.

Released yesterday (Tuesday), the 2022 count recorded 1,191 individuals experiencing homelessness in the county, including those using shelters. Nearly one in four were chronically homeless, and over a quarter was under the age of 18, an increase from last year.

“This is a decrease of 3 percent (31 people) from the 2021 Point-in-Time Count, in which there were 1,222 people identified as experiencing homelessness,” the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness says on its website.

The homelessness reporting metric last dropped in January 2017 with a count of 964 people. Since then, the number has been increasing steadily, jumping from 1,041 in 2020 to 1,222 people last year.

Per the county, homelessness has disproportionately affected Black people:

The most significant disparity in the demographics of those experiencing homelessness on the night of the 2022 Point-in-Time Count is the disproportionate representation of people identifying as Black or African American. Although only 10% of the general population in Fairfax County identifies as Black or African American, 50 percent of the people experiencing homelessness on the night of the 2022 Point-in-Time Count identified as Black or African American. This imbalance has not improved over time.

Daytime drop-in homeless services provider The Lamb Center and affordable housing developer Wesley Housing are seeking to further help prevent homelessness by redeveloping Fairfax City’s Hy-Way Motel site (9640 Fairfax Blvd.) into a five-story building with 54 studio apartments, according to a news release.

“It’s good to see homelessness in the county trending down, but the long-term solution is supportive housing,” Lamb Center Executive Director Tara Ruszkowski said in a statement.

The project, which would have offices on the ground floor, would serve residents at or below 30% of the Area Median Income — currently $29,910 for a single person.

Photo via Fairfax County

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