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Planning is underway for the redevelopment of Bowman Towne Court (via handout/Fairfax County Government)

Fairfax County is positioning itself to move forward with a proposal by developer Foulger-Pratt to build a new library and affordable units in Reston.

The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority will hold a public hearing next week to get input on a potential agreement with Foulger-Pratt for a redevelopment project called Bowman Towne Court, an area located at the intersection of Bowman Towne Drive and Town Center Parkway.

The agreement comes after Foulger-Pratt filed an unsolicited proposal in October of last year to build an apartment building for working families and a new Reston Regional Library on a 2.9-acre property in Reston. The plan also called for another building with affordable housing on the parking lot currently used by Reston District Station police officers and staff.

The county then issued a call for proposals in response to Foulger-Pratt’s submission. According to the draft agreement, a new 40,000-square-foot library is planned, along with roughly 350-unit affordable housing units in two buildings with structured parking.

The public hearing is set for Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center in conference room 11.

Copies of the draft interim agreement with Foulger-Pratt will be available at the meeting. The mixed-use development would be governed under the state’s Private-Public Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002, which requires additional provisions for official approval.

County officials note that a final agreement has not yet been determined. Community outreach is officially underway to court feedback on the proposal.

Here’s more from the county on how to provide feedback on the proposal:

Written comments may be submitted by email on or before Sept. 14 to Marwan.Mahmoud@fairfaxcounty.gov. Residents wishing to speak are encouraged to contact Avis Wiley at 703-246-5152, TTY 711, or by email at Avis.Wiley@fairfaxcouty.gov  Additional information or questions about the public hearing may be directed to Marwan Mahmoud at 703-246-5017, TTY 711.

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Gas-powered leaf blower (via Wikimedia Commons/Cbaile19)

With fall just around the corner, Fairfax County has begun to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers in favor of battery-powered blowers.

Last week, the county announced that its Park Authority and Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) are “in the process of phasing out gas-powered blowers” in favor of “exclusively purchasing” battery-powered blowers.

“Having a gas-powered leaf blower operating in your vicinity is like inviting someone to blow a cloud of potentially dangerous chemicals, dust, and other pollutants in your direction,” the county website says. “A gas-powered leaf blower produces exhaust containing both hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides both of which are components of smog.”

The county is encouraging all contractors and residents to follow suit, saying battery-powered equipment is quieter, cleaner, and can be more cost-efficient to operate.

In November 2021, the Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly passed a board matter introduced by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw that called for a stop to the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

In a statement to FFXnow, Walkinshaw said the county is “making good on that promise.”

Last year, the Board approved my motion to phase-out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn equipment on County-owned property. Now, I am pleased to say that we are making good on that promise by replacing the existing County inventory with electric blowers and incentivizing the use of electric equipment by our landscaping contractors.

Gas-powered leaf blowers can emit 23 times the carbon dioxide of a Ford F-150 and operate at noise levels that can cause hearing damage. This is about Fairfax County being a good neighbor to those living near our facilities and helping to accelerate a shift to electric landscaping equipment. I’m hopeful that incentivizing the use of electric equipment through our procurement process will encourage more local landscaping contractors to make that shift, giving residential and commercial property owners more choices in the marketplace.

Supervisors had hoped the county’s adoption of the ordinance would encourage the Virginia General Assembly to do the same. While other nearby localities have also taken up this issue in recent years, a recent House bill failed to get out of committee.

Fairfax County’s conversion may unfold gradually. Although the process started in December, there is no concrete timeline yet for when all the gas-powered blowers will be phased out, acting FCPA Public Information Officer Roberta Korzen told FFXnow.

“The gas-powered blowers will be phased out and replaced with battery-powered blowers at the end of their life cycle,” Korzen wrote in an email. A gas-powered leaf blower can last up to 10 years with proper maintenance.

The park authority currently has only seven battery-powered blowers, compared to more than 100 gas-powered ones. That number doesn’t include contractors.

It’s unknown how many gas-powered blowers are used by county contractors, but Korzen said the county “encourages the use of battery-powered blowers by its contractors.”

FCPA estimates it will cost about $150,000 to phase out the equipment.

“As funding and supply is available we are purchasing battery-powered blowers. We have made a few purchases to date. We are hoping additional funding will be available in the near future,” Korzen said.

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A lifeguard at The Water Mine in Reston (via Fairfax County Park Authority/YouTube)

The popular Water Mine at Lake Fairfax in Reston is officially closed for the season after its pool filtration system failed.

The closure at the Water Mine Family Swimming’ Hole was announced yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon by the Fairfax County Park Authority, which cited “mechanical failures beyond our control.”

The closure includes this coming Labor Day weekend (Sept. 3-4) and an event for dogs scheduled for Sept. 10 is also cancelled.

“We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you next season,” FCPA wrote in a statement.

An FCPA spokesperson told FFXnow that the park authority was aware before the summer season began that The Water Mine’s 25-year-old filtration system was in need of replacement. The agency has started to plan that project with the goal of implementing it before the facility reopens in 2023.

“However, based on the information we had prior to opening this season, we made the decision to open this very popular facility for the public until this recent mechanical failure made it impossible to continue to stay open,” the park authority said.

The emergency closure comes just two weeks after staff shortages forced the water park to operate with reduced hours. It was closed from Aug. 15 through 20 due to a lifeguard and staff shortage.

Its last day is typically the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Per the park authority, The Water Mine admitted 3,358 people over Labor Day weekend in 2021, equaling $50,000 in revenue. It had sold 347 advance tickets for the weekend this year.

The park authority confirmed that those pre-sale tickets will be refunded.

Despite the mechanical and staffing challenges, the FCPA says the facility “had a great season, serving thousands of families throughout the summer.” Starting with Memorial Day weekend on May 28, the 2022 summer season drew a total of 87,000 visitors.

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report. Screenshot via Fairfax County Park Authority/YouTube

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A grand opening for the new Sully Community Center is set for Sept. 17 at noon, celebrating the conclusion of a nearly $22 million project by Fairfax County. 

County board members and county officials will celebrate the opening of the nearly 36,000-square-foot center, which is located on five acres at the intersection of Wall Road and the Air and Space Museum Parkway in Chantilly. 

The facility is the new home for the Sully Senior Center, which formerly operated in leased space in Chantilly. It also includes a 4,000-square-foot healthcare suite managed by HealthWorks for Northern Virginia. 

“I am pleased the new Sully Community Center will be opening to provide a wide array of accessible programs and services for the surrounding communities,” Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said in a statement to FFXnow. “The exciting addition of the healthcare suite will provide closer accessibility to primary healthcare for those who have faced barriers in healthcare access.”

Programs include after school classes, facility rentals, fitness classes, gym sports, and meeting spaces. The Fairfax County Park Authority is also offering specialty camps, garden plots, school-aged child care, youth camps and recreation services.

Smith noted that the county’s partnership with the park authority also resulted in additional gym space and pickleball courts. 

The center cost roughly $22 million to construct. Overall costs are pending because the project is still being finalized, a county spokesperson told FFXnow.

Construction on the project began in October 2020.

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Mount Vernon Woods Park sign (via Fairfax County Parks Authority)

Mount Vernon Woods Park is set to add a playground, picnic shelter, multisport court, a field, and a skate park.

Design work is underway on the county-owned, 7-acre park on the southeast side of Huntley Meadows Park in Hybla Valley. The proposed improvements are based on the park’s 2015 master plan, which calls for a number of additions including a playground, a half-court, a skate park, on-site parking, a pavilion, and an open playing field.

The project is set to cost $2.5 million, which will come from the 2020 park bond, Fairfax County Parks Authority (FCPA) spokesperson Judith Pedersen told FFXnow in an email.

More detailed designs will be presented at a public meeting set for Sept. 8 at Mount Vernon Elementary School just south of the park.

The community will have a chance to comment on the designs both at the meeting and via email until Oct. 10.

The master plan was developed seven years ago to upgrade the 1960s-era park. The goal was to build “new, active facilities to be located in the park closer to Fielding Street to help create a more active and family-friendly park.”

A “neighborhood-scale skate park” is proposed in the southeast corner of the park with features for “both experienced and less-experienced users,” per the plan. This would be only the third county-maintained skate park.

Also proposed is a multi-use half court that could be used for activities like “basketball practice, one-on-one games, four square, hopscotch, or as an area for young children to practice riding a scooter or bike.” A fitness cluster, interpretive signs, and an open playing field are also part of the 2015 plan.

The master plan notes the need to upgrade access to the park as well, which currently doesn’t have easy pedestrian access, on-site parking, and out-of-date facilities.

FCPA has hired the engineering consulting firm Kimley-Horn, which has experience in the county, to assist with the development of the plans.

The designs that will be proposed next month to the public “generally follow” the approved 2015 Master Plan and any differences are “very minor,” Pedersen said.

A construction timeline and schedule will also be presented at the meeting in September.

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A new playground will be ready to go in December (via FCPA)

A new playground is on the horizon for Horsepen Run Stream Valley Park in Herndon. 

The Fairfax County Park Authority is expected to begin construction to replace the aging equipment. Demolition of the existing playground will begin the week of Sept. 19, according to FCPA. 

The new playground should be completed by the end of November and be ready for use this December.

The equipment — which is faded and rusting in many areas — has only seen minor repairs and upgrades since it was originally installed in the 1990s.

“The equipment has now exceeded its life expectancy and no longer meets currently safety guidelines,” the park authority said. 

The project is expected to cost $180,000, an estimate that includes the design, layout, drainage and demolition of the existing playground.

The project will also improve an accessible route from the Fairfax County Department of Transportation trail to the playground. 

While construction takes place, access will be available from Ashdown Forest Drive. Residents should expect construction traffic entering and exiting the park entrance to that location. 

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A one-day beautification project at Lake Fairfax Park is planned next month (via Virginia Tourism Corporation)

A one-day beautification project is slated to take place next month at Lake Fairfax in Reston.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is seeking volunteers for a community stewardship celebration at Lake Fairfax Park on Sept. 24.

After a community celebration — which will feature a light breakfast and remarks by local officials — volunteers will begin beautifying the park.

Naturalists will be on site to help volunteers plant trees near the park’s core areas, remove invasive plants, and help with other beautification efforts.

“This is a great way to give of yourself and be part of something much larger,” the park authority said.

Volunteers can sign up online as individuals or as groups. Individuals 15 and under must be accompanied by an adult.

The event is in honor of National Public Lands Day, which falls annually on the fourth Saturday of September and encourages volunteers to help out on public lands.

The park is located at 1400 Lake Fairfax Drive and the event is part of FCPA Executive Director Jai Cole’s last stop on her parks tour this year.

Photo via Virginia Tourism Corp.

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A deer in a wooded neighborhood park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A September hunt intended to control the local deer population in Tysons Forest has been canceled.

Voicing safety concerns, residents and other community members near the 33-acre Tysons Forest — also known as Old Courthouse Spring Branch Stream Valley Park — successfully campaigned to get it removed from a list of areas marked for deer hunting.

South of Route 7, Tysons Forest was one of 112 parks selected for the 2022-2023 archery season under the Fairfax County Deer Management Program. Overseen by the Fairfax County Police Department, the program is a partnership between the Fairfax County Park Authority, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and local landowners.

According to resident Jack Russell, the community became concerned about the hunt due to the park’s proximity to a daycare center.

The county allows archery as the primary tool to thin out high-density deer herds. According to the program’s website, bows and arrows have proven to be safe, with no bystanders injured by an archer hunting deer in the Commonwealth since Virginia began tracking those injuries in 1959.

However, in an Aug. 27, 2014 letter, then-Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Joseph Ward told a Fairfax resident that there have been five hunting incidents involving archery since 1960, most recently in 1996. According to the letter, none of them involved deer hunting.

Still, the narrowness of Tysons Forest and the nearby daycare center was enough for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to cancel the planned hunt.

“I want to thank Supervisor Alcorn and Dr. Katherine Edwards for their understanding,” Russell told FFXnow. “Fairfax County and the Board of Supervisors really listened to the concerns of the residents and were helpful in preventing a potential problem in Tysons Forest.”

While Tysons Forest will be researched to determine its viability for future deer hunts, the overall archery program will kick off on Saturday, Sept. 10, with eight parks added to the list of approved sites. The 2021-2022 program had 103 parks, totaling 21,236 acres.

According to Dr. Katherine Edwards, FCPD’s wildlife management specialist, new parks are suggested and evaluated for inclusion in the hunt each year where deer densities are above carrying capacity and pose conflicts.

Edwards says smaller parks close to residential areas have been added in recent years, since they have become movement corridors and refuges for deer.

According to Edwards, the hunts were established to address deer-related conflicts by controlling populations throughout the county. Conflicts include vehicle collisions, environmental damage to parkland and forested areas due to over-browsing by deer, residential complaints about property damage, and public health concerns about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Another emerging disease of concern for wildlife professionals is Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal, neurological disease that affects deer populations in Virginia.

The county’s archery season ends on Feb. 18, 2023.

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Once McLean resident Lauren Taylor learned how to identify invasive plants in Fairfax County’s parks, she couldn’t stop noticing them.

They take a variety of forms, from shrubs like Japanese barberry — distinctive for the red coloring and spatula-like shape of its leaves — to creeping vines such as wintercreeper and English ivy that essentially strangle trees.

Inspired by a trip to help build a national park in Chile’s Patagonia region in 2014, Taylor is among the over 3,000 volunteers who help clear invasive plants each year from the Fairfax County Park Authority’s 24,000 acres of land at 65 different sites under its Invasive Management Area (IMA) program.

“I love to hike and camp, and I was oblivious that everything I was walking by was invasive,” Taylor told FFXnow on a walk through McLean Central Park. “It turns out that everything that’s green is not good, and it was breaking my heart to realize that all of this that you see is destroying our ecosystems and harming our wildlife.”

With an annual budget of $300,000 and just one full-time staffer, the IMA program’s daunting mission seems almost Sisyphean when individuals can walk into a Home Depot or their local nursery and buy the same plants that volunteers are trying to root out.

After spotting wintercreeper, Japanese barberry, and other invasive plants at the Home Depots in Hybla Valley and Merrifield, Taylor launched a Change.org petition earlier this summer urging the company to end sales of all species listed as invasive in the U.S.

The petition had accrued nearly 50,000 signatures, as of last night (Monday), garnering support from advocacy organizations like Blue Ridge PRISM, Plant NOVA Natives, and the Urban Forest Alliance, according to a news release.

While major chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s aren’t alone in selling these plants, Taylor says she wanted to “start at the top and get the 800-pound gorilla to agree to do the right thing,” noting that Home Depot has ceased sales of plants identified as invasive in California since 2015.

“At least 35 plants that Home Depot is selling have been identified as invasive in one or more parts of the United States,” Taylor said. “So, Home Depot, I’m sure they sell hundreds, if not potentially thousands of different [units] of plants. We’re only asking them to stop selling 35.”

Home Depot says it adheres to Department of Agriculture regulations for each state, including for online sales. Breeders have also developed some sterile versions of popular plants so they can be grown without spreading.

“We follow the Department of Agriculture’s guidelines and their definition of what’s invasive and where, and we comply with that,” Home Depot spokesperson Margaret Smith said. Read More

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A lifeguard at The Water Mine in Reston (via Fairfax County Park Authority/YouTube)

While school doesn’t officially start until Aug. 22, The Water Mine at Lake Fairfax will wind its summer operations down a week early this year, beginning Monday (Aug. 18).

The Fairfax County Park Authority is temporarily closing the popular Water Mine Family Swimming’ Hole due to lifeguard and other operational staff shortages at the location. The closure will last from Aug. 15-20.

After that, for the last three weeks of summer, tthe park will only be open on weekends, with Sunday on Labor Day weekend (Sept. 4) as its final day of the year.

The issue is part an industry-wide labor shortage faced by FCPA and other county agencies. The park authority typically recruits more than 600 summertime hires to staff summer camps, pools, and other park sites.

The decision was made due to safety concerns.

“We understand this decision is disappointing. However, it’s safety, safety, safety first,” FCPA Park Services Division Director Cindy Walsh said.

Walsh said many lifeguards are going back to school earlier or going on vacation, leaving the Water Mine with fewer guards than it has had in previous years.

The Water Mine is located at 1400 Lake Fairfax Drive in Reston. It typically operates from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Earlier this summer, the American Lifeguard Association estimated that staffing shortages would affect a third of the pools in the country. Reston Association closed two pools for multiple days last month.

Screenshot via Fairfax County Park Authority/YouTube

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