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A Fairfax County Office of Elections ballot drop box from 2021 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 9:10 p.m.) In Fairfax County, the battle for control of Congress starts tomorrow (Friday).

The county will open three early voting sites and start mailing out absentee ballots for the Nov. 8 general election, which will decide three seats in the House of Representatives as well as the Town of Herndon’s leadership.

Turnout is tough to predict, but early voting and voting by mail “seem to be growing in popularity” after Virginia made both options available to all in 2020, Fairfax County Office of Elections spokesperson Brian Worthy says.

Nearly 70% of registered voters participated in the last midterm elections in 2018, but no individual House race saw a turnout over 37%, according to Worthy. Last November’s election, which anointed Glenn Youngkin as Virginia’s governor, drew a 60.2% turnout.

“Because the Office of Elections always prepare for high turnout, they will be ready to manage turnout greater than the recent gubernatorial election,” Worthy said.

He says the county has filled all of the 2,300 election officer positions needed for Nov. 8, but there is always a demand for bilingual poll workers, especially people who speak both Korean and English.

What’s New This Year

Voters may see different candidates than they anticipate on their ballot, thanks to last year’s redistricting process, which altered federal and state electoral boundaries in Virginia.

Polling sites will stay the same for 96% of voters in the county, but everyone should double check their district through the Virginia Department of Elections before voting in person, Worthy says. There have also been a few precinct changes unrelated to redistricting.

To limit confusion, the county elections office sent every voter a mailer with information about their legislative districts and polling place earlier this year.

“The office will be mailing voters a sample ballot with this same information, and the state is also sending a redistricting mailing to voters,” Worthy said.

In addition, Virginia will now let new voters register and cast a ballot up to and on Election Day. The General Assembly approved the change in 2020, but the law won’t take effect until Oct. 1.

While the new flexibility will be welcome for anyone who misses the Oct. 17 deadline, election officials don’t recommend waiting until the last minute to register. Voters who register Oct. 18 or later will get provisional ballots to allow “additional time to verify” their paperwork, according to WTOP.

Provisional ballots aren’t reviewed until after Election Day, and the state electoral board determines whether each of them can be counted.

“Because same day registration is a new law, the Office of Elections is uncertain of the impact, but they are prepared to manage a large number of same day registrants at early voting sites and polling places on Election Day, as well as to process these registrations,” Worthy said. Read More

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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County has issued a call for innovators to pitch solutions that work toward carbon neutrality and clean energy.

Pitch and Pilot,” a county-led innovation challenge, aims to find and pilot new projects that improve energy efficiency, increase renewable electricity use, and encourage the use of electric vehicles.

The winning team will have the chance to pilot their proposal in the county.

The pitch competition is sponsored by the county, George Mason University, and Smart City Works, a local nonprofit organization.

“Finding answers that increase energy efficiency and shift from a carbon-based to a carbon-neutral economy is a central goal in Fairfax County’s Strategic Plan,” event organizers wrote in last week’s announcement. “The county is courting solutions because the county’s first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) calls for carbon neutrality within the community by 2050, with a 50% cut in carbon emissions by 2030.”

An orientation is slated for Sept. 15. The contest concludes with a public pitch contest on Oct. 19. The deadline to submit a two-page concept is Oct. 3.

Smart City Works aims to empower communities to solve urban challenges and improve economic growth through technological innovation.

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

Labor Day weekend is upon us, heralding the imminent return of pumpkin spice lattes and everything fall.

Fairfax County government offices will be closed in honor of the holiday, but some facilities will remain open. 

Government

Government offices for Fairfax County, Fairfax City, and the towns of Herndon and Vienna will be closed on Monday, although some facilities may remain open.

Fairfax County Public Schools will also observe the holiday. All libraries will also be closed.

Trash and recycling 

Fairfax County advises residents to contact their trash and recycling collector directly for any service schedule changes due to the holiday.

Transportation 

Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess will operate on a Sunday schedule. Because of the holiday, customers will benefit from off-peak fares, and parking will be free all day. 

There’s also another reason to celebrate: Labor Day is the last day of closures at five Orange Line stations.

Fairfax Connector will operate on a Sunday schedule.

Courts

The county’s circuit and general district courts will be closed due to the holiday. Juvenile and domestic relations courts will also be closed.

Recreation

All recreational centers will be open for regular hours with the exception of the George Washington Rec Center, which is closed for the day.

All historic sites will be closed, alongside county-run nature centers. Frying Pan Farm Park is open, but its visitors center is closed. Green Spring Gardens will be closed to the public.

Photo via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

An end may be in sight for the local state of emergency that Fairfax County has had in place since the COVID-19 pandemic upended government operations and daily life in March 2020.

“A County Executive agenda item regarding ending the Local Emergency Declaration that was established to support response and recovery related to the COVID-19 pandemic will go before the Board of Supervisors at their next meeting on Tuesday, September 13,” Fairfax County Director of Public Affairs Tony Castrilli said in a statement.

The local state of emergency was declared on March 17, 2020 and expanded the county’s ability to adapt its operations, mobilize resources and apply for funding to address the public health crisis, which shut down schools, parks, and other public facilities just a day earlier.

In addition to enabling more virtual services and meetings, the declaration paved the way for the county to temporarily suspend its permitting requirements for outdoor dining and fitness activities with an uncodified ordinance first adopted on May 28.

Originally set to expire after 60 days, the ordinance was extended that July and then revised in October 2020 to allow closed tents with the weather turning colder.

As approved by the board on July 27, 2021, the eased outdoor dining rules will remain in effect until 12 months after the local emergency declaration ends.

Fairfax County will be one of the last Northern Virginia jurisdictions to lift its state of emergency, following in the footsteps of Loudoun County, Prince William, Alexandria, and Arlington.

With the vote still a month away, county staff are reviewing the details and implications of potentially ending the emergency declaration.

In Alexandria and Arlington, the return of pre-pandemic regulations for outdoor dining frustrated some restaurant owners, while the towns of Vienna and Herndon have developed new policies to permanently streamline their processes.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says he anticipates “minimal challenges” if Fairfax County ends its state of emergency:

For more than two years, the Board of Supervisors has worked nonstop to manage the County’s path through these extraordinary times. When the specifics of the recommendation to end the state of emergency are presented, we expect minimal challenges to implement should the Board decide to do so. I worked to have state legislation passed that allows Fairfax County to keep our uncodified ordinance in effect 12 months after the end of a local state of emergency, permitting for instance expanded outdoor dining to continue. We have also worked with County staff for many months to plan for this transition and ensure it is seamless, including proactive outreach plans for any impacted businesses.

Covid cases have been in decline for over a month now in the Fairfax Health District, which is averaging 249 cases per day for the past week, as of yesterday (Monday).

The district, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, had recorded a total of 10 cases when the county declared its local state of emergency.

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Fairfax County’s seal on the Fairfax County Government Center building at 12000 Government Center Parkway (file photo)

Local entrepreneurs now have a direct line to do business with Fairfax County.

On Aug. 1, the county launched an online portal that allows businesses to pitch a business idea, product or service to county agencies, departments and Fairfax County Public Schools. County agencies and departments can in turn take advantage of pitches that have already been vetted within the portal.

Wendy Lemieux, marketing coordinator for the Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives, says the program — which had a soft launch at the beginning of the month — is intended to increase supplier diversity.

By providing a consistent, business-friendly point of entry, organizations can now share information about their products and services with county agencies that may be potential customers,” Lemieux said. “This exposure will allow staff to see opportunities and reach out directly if they are interested. Electronic submission and circulation is intended to level the playing field and increase the opportunity for supplier diversity.”

The submission process for prospective vendors includes attending a free workshop, completing a form, and undergoing a review. Pitches are routed to county staff for review, and each submission is available to purchasing staff through the portal for one year.

The portal is for vendor-submitted proposals and does not conflict with the county’s legally mandated procurement process.

County officials hope the pitch process will boost equity for prospective suppliers by creating a standard and efficient process with relevant county staff.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted that many local businesses and entrepreneurs may be able to take advantage of the new portal.

“This portal offers a streamlined and user-friendly way to present business ideas, products, or services for consideration to county agencies, departments, and FCPS,” McKay wrote in a statement.

The soft launch of the program began Aug. 1. So far, no projects have been selected yet.

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Morning Notes

People walk by Caffi Field, a football field in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Driver in Fatal Franconia Crash Charged With Manslaughter — Sara Flores, 20, of Lorton was charged with involuntary vehicular manslaughter yesterday morning (Thursday) for a May 12 crash in Franconia where she allegedly drove into a telephone pole, killing a passenger. Police had already obtained a warrant charging Flores with driving under the influence. [FCPD]

Developer Pleads Guilty in Teen’s Death — “The owner of a Virginia construction company that specializes in luxury homes pleaded guilty Wednesday to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 16-year-old boy who was killed while working for his company in 2019. Thomas Digges, of Digges Development Corporation, operated the Fairfax County job site where a trench gave way and buried Spencer Lunde, of McLean, on July 23, 2019.” [NBC4]

Two Displaced by Fair Oaks Townhouse Fire — A fire at a three-story townhouse in the 12000 block of Dorforth Drive on Wednesday (Aug. 10) was caused by improperly discarded smoking materials, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department says. The fire displaced two residents and resulted in approximately $175,000 in damages. [FCFRD]

One Rescued From Annandale House Fire — “8/11/22 at 1:08 a.m., in 3800 block of Gallows Road. One occupant trapped on 2nd floor was rescued by #FCFRD crews via ladder. Fire contained to basement. No injuries. NO smoke alarms found in home! Cause: improperly discarded smoking material. Damages $16K.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

County Names New Planning and Development Director — Fairfax County has appointed Tracy Strunk as director of its Department of Planning and Development, where she succeeds Barbara Byron, who retired earlier this year. Strunk’s career for the county goes back to 1998 and includes work as a planner and a member of the team that helped develop the Tysons Comprehensive Plan. [Fairfax County Government]

Fairfax County Public Schools Creates Program to Help Hire Teachers — “[Catherine] Coulter is entering her first year teaching in Virginia’s largest school system as a teaching resident, a newly-created position aimed at placing qualified teachers in classrooms while they take the final steps toward receiving a specific certification.” [WTOP]

Expansions and Renovations in Progress at FCPS — “Most students and teachers have taken the summer off, but Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has been busy with its usual tall order of school renovations and additions. Improvements now are in progress at these schools in the Sun Gazette’s readership area” [Sun Gazette]

Falls Church Development Nears Movie Theater Lease — “Developers of the new Founder’s Row mixed use development…announced through a new filing with the City that it is ‘in the final stages of securing a lease with Paragon Theaters,’ noting that ‘Paragon will operate a seven-screen movie theater, including an IMAX-similar screen with a total capacity of approximately 600 seats.'” [Falls Church News-Press]

Fairfax Shopping Center Gets New Mural — “If you’ve been by the Giant at Scout on the Circle recently you might have noticed some color appearing on the walls! The Abstract Expressionist painting on the corner of the building is by Steven Johnson. Johnson is a Indiana biased artist, who recently made his art available in the public domain.” [City of Fairfax/Facebook]

It’s Friday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 81 and low of 68. Sunrise at 6:21 am and sunset at 8:09 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Sun glare with clouds (via Ritam Baishya/Unsplash)

With the D.C. area’s summer heat in full swing, local organizers worry that there are too few options for unhoused residents in the county to cool down.

Last month, the Fairfax County NAACP approved a resolution calling on Fairfax County to improve heat relief services for low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness in the county.

“Summer temperatures and storm frequencies are increasing due to climate change, thus homeless people are at greater risk of health impacts and even death,” says the resolution approved by the civil rights organization’s executive committee on July 28.

Potential solutions proposed by the resolution include a pilot program like D.C.’s heat emergency plan, better communication of hours and locations for the county’s cooling centers, vouchers to families for motel rooms, and distributions of water bottles, personal fans, and sunscreen at government centers.

In response to the resolution, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Health and Human Services Committee directed the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide the county’s current heat emergency plan.

In a memo dated July 29, DHHS listed a number of options available for cooling down. It also agreed to “enhance our efforts” and enact more “immediate action” for the county’s unhoused residents in need of relief from the August heat and humidity:

This work includes addressing transportation access gaps, evaluating both the variety and coordination of supply disbursements (both direct provision and at our cooling sites), considering the use of hotel vouchers in the event overflow shelters are at capacity, and providing a more robust communications plan as well as additional opportunities to provide direct communication outreach to individuals in need.

Additionally, NAACP officials tell FFXnow that a committee will meet tomorrow (Aug. 12) to discuss more solutions and ways to better help those in need.

Mary Paden, who chairs the NAACP’s Fair and Affordable Housing Committee, says she’s encouraged by the county’s willingness to listen and work with the group. But action needs to happen now, considering there are likely plenty of very hot days still left in the summer.

“Many [unhoused residents] are older and sick and are more affected by the heat than a younger, healthier person,” Paden said. “It took deaths for the hypothermia program to get set up in the winter…and you wonder if we have to wait for a death to get really serious about taking care of people in the heat.” Read More

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Trees at the corner of Jefferson Manor Park off Telegraph Road (photo by Brandi Bottalico)

Fairfax County is looking to grow a tree planting program that has resulted in 139 trees being planted along the Richmond Highway corridor since last year.

The “Residential Tree Planting Pilot Project” is a county-run program, in partnership with the D.C.-based nonprofit Casey Trees, providing free trees to residents in census tracts with low tree canopy coverage.

The three tracts targeted for the pilot program are all along the Richmond Highway corridor and within the Mount Vernon and Franconia Districts.

Since April 2021, residents living in those areas have planted 139 free trees on their properties. While a bit short of the 150-tree goal, the county has deemed the pilot program enough of a success to make it a “recurring program,” per an update to the Board of Supervisors last month.

The aim of the permanent program is to expand the tree canopy in other census tracts. A less expansive tree canopy often coincides with more “economically vulnerable neighborhoods,” Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson Sharon North wrote FFXnow in an email.

With that consideration, the program will be targeting census blocks in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County during its next planting cycle said North.

Money for the program will come out of the county’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund and will be managed by a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The fund’s current balance is $208,000, North said. Any additional funding recommendations will go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as part of its annual budget process.

Nearby localities like Arlington have similar programs to increase tree canopy in neighborhoods where it’s insufficient, which contributes to heat and temperature increases.

Back in 2021, Fairfax County staff identified 4,000 single-family and multi-family addresses within the three census tracts that would benefit from increased tree canopy.

Casey Trees devised a marketing campaign that sent out letters and greeting cards advertising the availability of free trees to those residents, who ultimately planted 139 trees.

That’s about a 3.5% success rate — higher than the industry average of 2%.

A majority of the trees planted were medium to large, including shingle oaks, river birches, hackberry trees, and honeylocust ‘shademasters.’

“Larger trees provide more shading, cooling, stormwater control, and related benefits over their smaller counterparts,” Casey Trees said in a report. “Not just to the property where the tree is planted but also to the neighborhood at large.”

The pilot program cost the county about $60,000, approximately $11,000 in marketing materials and close to $49,000 for the actual trees. It cost $350 per planted tree.

The report also provided a few recommendations to help grow the program.

Proposals included increasing the number of trees provided to one particular lot from three to five, noting that “residents often requested more,” as well as sending out arborists for site visits to increase education and displaying “free tree” yard signs in eligible neighborhoods.

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Rain collects around a storm drain (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is considering making all existing and future development built to lessen flooding risks from huge, 100-year event storms, as opposed to a 10-year storm.

The risk of flooding in the county is rising due to climate change, staff told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors environmental committee late last month. While preventing flooding is impossible, its impact can be mitigated, they said.

Under the staff proposal, the county would require all future development to have proper drainage, pipe conveyance, and safety measures to accommodate a 100-year storm event adjusting for climate change.

The proposal is part of the county’s Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan, which was approved last September.

A “100-year storm event” is defined by the U.S. Geological Survey as one that “statistically has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year.” It brings about 8 inches of rain over a 24-hour period, according to the latest data.

With climate change expected to produce stronger storms and increased flooding, that figure is likely to be adjusted in the future.

Part of the proposal is that new development would be required to be built to adjust for predicted sea level rise and severe weather risks.

Currently, all developments must accommodate a 10-year storm event, which is the 10% chance of 4.5 inches of rain falling in a 24-hour period.

In the last decade, Fairfax County and the D.C. region have experienced several flood-level storms. In 2011, Tropical Storm Lee dumped 7 inches of rain in three hours. In 2019, nearly 5 inches came down in some parts of the county, and just last month, nearby Montgomery County experienced extreme flooding from more than 5 inches of rain.

For existing structures, like houses, the plan is to “mitigate” flooding through regulation, public infrastructure projects, and recovery programs.

“There’s no right answer about what flood risk is acceptable because there’s no such thing as zero risk from flood,” Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Deputy Director Ellie Codding said. “What we can do is design infrastructure to a reasonable point and to educate the public and be ready with resources for recovery.”

With water typically passing through residential properties from upstream, a channel or flood path blocked by a fence, debris or an unpermitted addition can exacerbate flooding, preventing water from flowing where it was designed to go.

Almost all flooding in the county happens in basements, Codding said, so understanding and preventing this is a shared responsibility of residents and the county.

“With participation from residents and businesses, the county alone can’t achieve a meaningful level of flood risk reduction,” she said.

Of course, all of this will come with a cost, one that might be supplemented by increased taxes.

While board members agreed with the overall assessment, several noted that educating homeowners will be an important and more cost-effective component.

Chairman Jeff McKay said homeowners associations or community groups that own and manage stormwater facilities and common areas (like ponds) may not know how to maintain those.

“I’m increasingly concerned about the smaller subdivisions and lack of information, assistance, and oversight to even maintain stormwater facilities that they put in with their development,” McKay said.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw noted that some responsibility needs to fall on contractors, who might be doing home renovations or repairs. They are either not educated themselves on good practices or not passing that knowledge on to their clients.

With the board’s consent, county staff are expected to present a “proof-of-concept” study with cost estimates next spring, followed by a flood mitigation plan later in 2023.

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A Fairfax County-owned electric vehicle charger at the Bulova Center for Community Health in Merrifield (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County’s growing supply of electric vehicle charging stations is available for the public to use, but that service will now come at a cost.

Under a retail fee plan approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last Tuesday (Aug. 3), members of the public and county employees using their personal vehicles will be charged 30 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) while electricity is being delivered.

A $2 per hour “dwell-time fee” will be imposed if the vehicle remains connected to the station more than 10 minutes after it’s fully charged.

Capped at $25 per session, the dwell-time fee is intended to discourage drivers from taking up a parking space when they don’t need the charging station, “freeing the space for other potential users,” according to a county staff report.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, the board’s environmental committee chair, said the fees will make the stations available to the general community while prioritizing the county vehicles they’re primarily designed to serve.

“Every county has had to wrestle with, ‘How do we provide this kind of infrastructure for county vehicles, but also, how do we provide this for the public at large?'” Storck said. “I know many of us have been getting calls and questions and emails and people desiring more ability to charge their vehicles at county facilities. This clearly will move us in that direction.”

According to staff, the county has over 20 electric vehicle chargers covering 40 spaces at six sites, including the Fairfax County Government Center, the Pennino Building, the Herrity Building, the Public Safety Headquarters and the Bulova Center for Community Health.

Charging infrastructure was added at the Sully Community Center in July, and stations at the Herndon-Monroe and Innovation Center Metro station garages are also in the works, Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (EEOC) Deputy Director Susan Hafeli told the board last week.

A total of 49 stations with over 80 spaces will be in place by the end of 2022, she said.

According to the staff report, the adopted charging fee is comparable to commercial providers. As of June, Electrify America was charging 43 cents per kWh for non-members and 31 cents per kWh, plus a monthly $4 fee for members in Fairfax County. Read More

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