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The chain restaurant Firebirds specializes in wood-fired grilling (courtesy Firebirds)

A chain restaurant dedicated to wood-fired grilling has its first Fairfax County location in the works.

Firebirds, which specializes in hand-cut steaks and seafood, is set to open in Franconia at Festival at Manchester Lakes (7027A Manchester Blvd, Unit 28), a shopping center at the corner of Manchester Blvd and Beulah Street.

A company spokesperson tells FFXnow that a summer opening is anticipated. The restaurant is expected to hire around 100 people for the new restaurant.

Like others across the country, the Franconia restaurant will have an open grill dubbed a “Firebar” as its centerpiece.

Here’s more from the company on what’s in store:

Firebirds takes pride in its scratch kitchen, offering bold flavors and hand-cut, aged steaks and fresh seafood, which are cooked over an open flame visible from the restaurant’s dining room. The new restaurant in Fairfax County will offer staples from its extensive lunch, dinner and weekend brunch menus and features the concept’s striking FIREBAR®. This restaurant centerpiece offers Bar Bite features along with a full liquor bar and Firebirds’ signature martini, the Double Black Diamond® Martini, which is a masterful infusion of fresh pineapple and New Amsterdam® Pineapple Vodka, garnished with a juicy fresh pineapple slice.

Founded about 23 years ago in Charlotte, North Carolina, Firebirds has changed hands multiple times in recent years, most recently getting acquired in March by Garnett Station Partners — whose other investments include Kona Ice and the world’s largest Burger King franchisee.

Firebirds now has 56 locations across 20 states and plans to expand, with Northern Virginia as one focus area, according to FSR Magazine. The company’s only existing Virginia location is in Richmond.

Anchored by Amazon Fresh, Festival at Manchester Lakes is also expected to welcome First Watch, the daytime cafe, next spring.

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The daytime cafe First Watch will open in Franconia and Fair Lakes in 2024 (courtesy First Watch)

First Watch is bringing its avocado toast and million dollar bacon to more spots around Fairfax County.

The fast-casual cafe, which serves made-to-order food and drinks for breakfast, brunch and lunch, will open at least two more locations in the county next year — with a third potentially also in the works.

First, a Franconia restaurant is on track to open next spring in Festival at Manchester Lakes (7027B Manchester Blvd), according to First Watch public relations manager Hunter Carpenter. It will occupy 4,500 square feet in a currently vacant corner building that once hosted Lucky’s Sports Theatre & Grill, per a site plan from property manager Regency Centers.

Carpenter also confirmed that First Watch will open at 12249 Fair Lakes Promenade Drive in fall 2024, replacing TGI Friday’s, as the Washington Business Journal reported this summer. The chain restaurant remains open for now, but its days are evidently numbered.

TGI Friday’s didn’t return a request for comment by press time.

“These restaurants will be our fourth and fifth locations in Fairfax County, respectively — and the newest additions to First Watch’s presence locally since its Bailey’s Crossroads opening in 2021,” Carpenter said.

With more than 500 restaurants nationwide, First Watch can also be found at Fair City Mall (9600 Main Street) in Fairfax and at Greenbriar Town Center (13027 Route 50) in Chantilly.

A permit currently under review by Fairfax County indicates that another cafe may be planned at Idylwood Plaza (7501 Leesburg Pike). The commercial alteration permit calls for a new storefront with interior and exterior wall demolition intended in part “to create a new covered patio area.”

Carpenter confirmed that First Watch has been “looking into new sites in the Falls Church area,” but no leases have been finalized yet. A public relations representative for Federal Realty, which manages Idylwood Plaza, said the company can’t provide any details until a lease is executed.

“[We] love the community and hope to grow there, but have not executed any recent leases yet and therefore have no new sites to announce at this time,” Carpenter told FFXnow. “We opened the doors to our first restaurant in Fairfax County nearly two decades ago, and we’re always looking for new ways to bring our take on breakfast, brunch and lunch to more of our neighbors.”

Started in Pacific Grove, California, in 1983, First Watch emphasizes its use of fresh ingredients and seasonal dishes that change five times a year based on “the position of the sun,” according to its website.

“This ever-evolving menu has included items like the Crab Avocado Toast, Barbacoa Quesadilla Benedict, Elote Mexican Street Corn Hash and Watermelon Wake-Up fresh juice, among many others,” Carpenter said.

The menu also includes classic breakfast foods like omelets, eggs benedict and pancakes, along with sandwiches, salads and quinoa bowls. Available drinks include a juice bar, iced coffee and cocktails for brunch.

According to Carpenter, some of the most popular menu items are avocado toast, lemon ricotta pancakes and the aforementioned Million Dollar Bacon, which is hardwood-smoked and baked with brown sugar, black pepper, cayenne and a maple syrup drizzle.

Both Franconia and Fair Lakes restaurants “are still in the construction and design phases,” he said. The dining rooms will have an “urban farm” style that combines “the rustic feel of a farmhouse with the modern elements of an urban loft.”

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Police say these ATMs were damaged in a reported theft attempt and an armed robbery in Lincolnia on Nov. 7 (courtesy FCPD)

Fairfax County police are investigating potential connections between some recent ATM break-ins and armed robberies in the Lincolnia area.

Officers responded to the TD Bank in Pinecrest Plaza at 6566 Little River Turnpike around 3:08 a.m. yesterday (Tuesday) after getting a call that three people were attempting to “forcibly access” the ATM, according to a news release from the Fairfax County Police Department.

The individuals were reportedly unsuccessful, as officers found that the ATM was damaged but no money had been stolen, police said.

However, just minutes later at 3:13 a.m., police were called to the 7-Eleven at 4818 N. Beauregard Street — just outside the Plaza at Landmark shopping mall — for an armed robbery, according to the FCPD.

“The suspects entered the store, implied they had a firearm and threatened the employee,” police said. “The suspects gained access to two separate ATMs at the business and left with an undisclosed amount of money.”

The FCPD believes the incidents were related, and detectives are investigating whether they might also be connected to a pair of ATM thefts, one of them involving a firearm, that occurred in Kingstowne last Thursday (Nov. 2).

On November 2 at 3:42 a.m., three suspects entered the 7-Eleven at 6147 Franconia Road in Kingstowne. The suspects displayed a firearm and stole money from the ATM. That morning, an employee reported someone attempted to steal money from the ATM at the Burke and Herbert Bank at 5519 Franconia Road. Detectives are investigating to determine if these cases are connected to the overnight incidents.

Alexandria police also responded to two robberies on Nov. 2 where the suspects reportedly took ATMs. In one case, they showed a handgun in the process.

The FCPD told FFXnow that “as of now,” it doesn’t have any information on the Alexandria incidents, but it is “diligently pursuing all leads to ensure the safety of our community.”

“Our dedicated detectives are collaborating closely with our regional law enforcement partners to thoroughly investigate any potential connections,” the FCPD said.

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Franconia District school board candidate Marcia St. John-Cunning (courtesy Marcia4Schools)

(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) Marcia St. John-Cunning no longer needs to run as a write-in candidate to become the Franconia District’s next school board representative.

The former Fairfax County Public Schools interpreter and family liaison re-qualified for the general election ballot yesterday (Wednesday) after a county judge let her submit two more pages of signatures supporting her petition for candidacy.

Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner told Fairfax County General Registrar Eric Spicer to accept the 17 signatures “as if [they were] filed with the registrar in March 2023,” according to the order shared on Twitter shared by Bryan Grahm, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, which has endorsed Marcia St. John-Cunning.

The Fairfax County Office of Elections confirmed her reinstated candidacy with a notice on its website. A spokesperson said the general registrar had no comment beyond that notice.

“We are pleased by today’s order and elated to see her reinstated as a qualified candidate for School Board,” Graham said in a statement last night. “Marcia St. John-Cunning is an exemplary candidate who has worked in our local schools and knows the families of Franconia. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee will be using the next week to ensure Marcia wins this election.”

St. John-Cunning is competing against Republican-endorsed candidate Kevin Pinkney to succeed current Franconia District Representative Tamara Derenak-Kaufax, who is retiring after 12 years on the Fairfax County School Board.

Though she obtained the Democratic endorsement without contest, St. John-Cunning faced two legal challenges by Republicans who argued that petition errors should’ve stopped Fairfax County General Registrar Eric Spicer from certifying her candidacy. A September lawsuit by the Fairfax County Republican Committee that took issue with the lack of dates by some signatures was dismissed.

However, a complaint filed by the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee and two voters in that district found traction with Gardiner, who ruled on Oct. 25 that 11 of St. John-Cunning’s submitted signatures were invalid because her address was wrong on one page of her petition.

The invalidation of those signatures left St. John-Cunning short of the 125 needed to qualify.

St. John-Cunning called the ruling “unprecedented” in an announcement on Saturday (Oct. 28) that she would run as a write-in candidate. With early voting underway since Sept. 22, more than 3,000 Franconia District voters had already cast a ballot, her campaign said.

According to the FCDC, St. John-Cunning’s legal team argued in court yesterday that the signatures should’ve been challenged before the filing deadline on Aug. 18, noting that she had gotten more signatures but didn’t submit them because the registrar said they weren’t necessary to qualify. Her candidacy was originally certified back on March 7.

In a statement, St. John-Cunning called Gardiner’s reinstatement of her candidacy “justice for the 3,000 residents who already exercised their constitutional right to vote.” Read More

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Franconia District school board candidate Marcia St. John-Cunning (courtesy Marcia4Schools)

(Updated at 11:10 a.m. on 10/30/2023) The Democratic-endorsed candidate for the Fairfax County School Board’s Franconia District seat has been disqualified due to an error on her petition to get on the ballot.

The Fairfax County Office of Elections has posted a notice on its website informing voters that Marcia St. John-Cunning was disqualified yesterday (Wednesday) by a Fairfax County Circuit Court order. A judge ruled that her petition was invalid because of an error in her address on its front page.

St. John-Cunning, a former Fairfax County Public Schools interpreter and family liaison, is competing against Republican-endorsed Kevin Pinkney, a lawyer, to succeed Tamara Derenak-Kaufax, who announced in January that she wouldn’t seek reelection after 12 years on the school board.

(Correction: The spelling of Kevin Pinkney’s name has been fixed.)

Though the school board races are nonpartisan, candidates can get political party endorsements. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) allowed registered members to vote for its endorsements for the first time this year, though St. John-Cunning’s bid for support in the Franconia District was uncontested.

The complaint that led to St. John-Cunning’s disqualification was filed by the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee and two voters in that district, who argued that Fairfax County General Registrar and Director of Elections Eric Spicer should’ve invalidated her ballot petition over the address error, Patch reported.

Judge Richard Gardiner ruled that Spicer “violated his non-discretionary ministerial duty” by not invalidating the seventh page of St. John-Cunning’s petition, according to his order.

“The pages denoted as ‘4’ in the lower right corner does not have her address on the front page,” the order said. “Therefore, this petition page and the signatures on the front and back page are invalid as a matter of law.”

Eleven signatures were deemed invalid, putting St. John-Cunning below the 125 signatures needed to get on the ballot, according to Patch.

A previous lawsuit that took issue with six signatures on her petition was dismissed.

The Fairfax County Republican Committee and an attorney for the plaintiffs praised Gardiner’s ruling as “a clear victory for the rule of law.”

“The public’s confidence in the integrity of our elections depends on the law being applied consistently to all candidates, regardless of party or position,” the attorney, Trey Mayfield, said. “It is the duty of Election Registrar and County Electoral Board to ensure that elections are managed with uniform, law-based standards. They should do so without the courts having to order them to perform those obligations.”

The FCDC, however, blasted Gardiner and the Virginia Department of Elections for disqualifying its supported candidate, stating that the ruling disenfranchises the over 3,000 Franconia District voters who’ve cast a ballot since early voting for the Nov. 7 general election began on Sept. 22. Read More

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The Franconia-Springfield Bypass will add a bridge to accommodate VRE and Amtrak trains (via Virginia Passenger Rail Authority)

(Updated at 6 p.m.) A project to enhance the capacity of a key rail line through Fairfax County is chugging along, thanks to a major infusion of federal cash.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority has been awarded $100 million in federal funds to design and build a bridge that will allow Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak trains to cross over tracks approaching the Franconia-Springfield station (6880 Frontier Drive), Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced yesterday (Thursday).

The bridge will relieve congestion and open up the possibility of additional passenger and freight service on the railway, which is one of Virginia’s busiest, according to the senators.

“Passenger rail is a vital connector for so many Virginians — carrying people to their work, their families, and their travel plans,” Warner and Kaine said in a joint statement. “We’re thrilled to see this funding make rail safer and more efficient for Virginians by addressing a critical chokepoint in a vital location, alleviating congestion for hundreds of Virginians every single day.”

Under development since 2021, the Franconia-Springfield Bypass will consist of a roughly 1-mile-long bridge that will carry passenger trains over two existing tracks for CSX freight trains just south of the rail station, VPRA officials said at a neighborhood meeting in July.

The bridge will have just one track, but it will be built to accommodate a future second track.

The project is part of a larger push by Virginia to improve its rail service between Fredericksburg and D.C. Other projects include an extension of a third track that currently starts in Alexandria for about six miles from Franconia to Lorton.

“Expanding passenger rail as an alternative to interstate travel is critical as traffic congestion in Northern Virginia continues to grow at an unsustainable rate,” VPRA Executive Director DJ Stadtler said. “Building the Franconia-Springfield Bypass will allow us to expand our state-supported rail service by alleviating train interference at the most congested point in Virginia…The bypass is key to providing Virginians with reliable, consistent, and convenient passenger rail service.”

According to VPRA, engineering on the bypass is scheduled to begin this year, with construction potentially kicking off in 2024 and finishing in 2026. VPRA has budgeted $405 million overall for the project, a spokesperson says.

The new federal funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Joe Biden signed into law on Nov. 15, 2021 and a fiscal year 2022 spending package, Warner’s office said.

Map via Virginia Passenger Rail Authority

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Rita’s Italian Ice sells over 70 flavors of the frozen treat (courtesy Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard)

Though the heat of summer is waning, Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard hopes Franconia residents are still in the mood for some chilled desserts.

The Pennsylvania-based chain will hold a grand opening tomorrow (Thursday) for its new shop in Hayfield Shopping Center (7592 Telegraph Road), which is anchored by Planet Fitness and Goodwill.

Starting at 5 p.m., the first 50 people to line up for the event will receive coupons for a full year of free treats from that location. All customers will get slight discounts of $4 and $5, respectively, for a small Italian ice or a small gelati, which combines layers of Italian ice and frozen custard.

The grand opening will also feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6 p.m., with merchandise giveaways and photo opportunities with the company’s mascot, Ice Guy, lasting from 5-7 p.m.

Rita’s Franconia franchise is owned by Terrain and Toya Davis, Kingstowne residents who wanted to “bring positive energy and a family-friendly atmosphere to their own backyard,” according to a press release.

The Davises partnered with Rita’s for their first franchise after frequenting the business as customers. Rita’s also has locations in Fairfax, Vienna and Chantilly, but the opportunity to bring it closer to home proved enticing.

“We desired a business opportunity that fostered a culture of family, community, and fun,” Terrain and Toya Davis said in an emailed statement. “By opening a Rita’s Italian Ice & Custard we’ve achieved that goal. Our guests are families spending quality time together and creating memories. We are able to engage with and give back to our community.”

In addition to running the brick-and-mortar store, which introduced itself to the community with a soft opening in June, the franchisees plan to introduce a food truck that will support events throughout Northern Virginia.

“The endless ‘Thanks for opening!’ we receive from guests is a real testament that partnering with this unique business originated in Philly was a great decision!” the Davises said. “It truly feels amazing to spread a little joy with each treat we serve.”

Launched in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, in 1984, Rita’s Italian Ice began life on former firefighter Bob Tumolo’s front porch, according to its website. Named after its founder’s wife, the company has expanded with franchises in more than 30 states.

Operating year-round with outdoor seating for eight customers, the 1,300-square-foot Franconia shop is open from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, extending its hours to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Like at other locations, the Italian ice is made fresh on-site and rotates daily through over 75 flavors. The menu also includes frozen custard, gelati, thick concretes, milkshakes and frozen drinks.

Those who miss out on tomorrow’s giveaways will have another opportunity to get free Italian ice. The company has an annual tradition of offering free cups on the first day of spring, which will fall on March 19 in 2024.

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Rose Hill Plaza (via Google Maps)

Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk is asking the owner of Rose Hill Plaza to lower the number of residential units and increase retail space in its next redevelopment proposal.

The six-decade-old shopping center located off Franconia Road is slated for significant redevelopment but has met some community opposition in terms of how exactly that will be done and what the new center will include.

In response, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted in April to essentially defer the proposed plans to allow owner Combined Properties to “further engage” with the community.

The developer’s preliminary proposal submitted on Oct. 25, 2022 envisioned adding a six-story, mixed-use residential building with 56,000 square feet of retail and green space to the shopping center.

Now, Lusk is asking for specific changes to that initial plan based on “community feedback” after meeting with Combined Properties twice since April, he said in a recent newsletter. Lusk said he was set to meet with the developer again shortly.

“My message to them will be the same as it has been in the previous two meetings,” Lusk wrote. “My expectation, based on community feedback, is that the next version of their proposal should significantly lower the amount of proposed residential units and significantly increase the proposed amount of retail space.”

Lusk said he believes Combined Properties will follow this request, but if not, the proposal will be deferred once again until “I believe [it’s] ready for public consideration.”

He anticipates the new proposal to be ready by the fall or early winter. If so, the Board of Supervisors could then approve a review by staff and remove it from Tier 3 of the county’s 2023 Comprehensive Plan Amendment Work Program.

Eventually, public hearings will be scheduled, sending the plan to the board for approval — potentially by the end of the year, Lusk noted.

However, some residents oppose reducing the amount of housing proposed at Rose Hill Plaza. The YIMBYs of Northern Virginia — a budding regional group that advocates for “more and denser housing” to make housing more affordable, per its website — said it is “disappointed” in Lusk’s request in a statement to FFXnow.

Rose Hill faces the same crisis that most of NoVA faces: working class residents – including essential workers like teachers, nurses, and government employees – cannot afford to live in the area. We remain excited by plans to upzone and develop the Rose Hill development with newer retail, more green space, and hundreds of new residential units. We are disappointed to hear that Supervisor Lusk has recommended deferring the project until the plans include more retail and less housing. The two need not be mutually exclusive: by building up, there’s plenty of space for more retail and more housing.

The group said that while a “vocal subset” of locals may oppose more housing, the idea has support from plenty of others who don’t have time to speak up, use English as a second language or are currently “priced out” of living in Rose Hill.

“Building a place people want to live and linger in is more important than an arbitrary amount of square footage assigned to retail,” local resident Alexis Glenn said. “Retail space will remain empty if we continue to scale back the housing needed to support it. Rose Hill will never be able to support the kind of high-quality retail and services the community desires if there isn’t a significant increase in housing.”

On the other side of the argument is the Rose Hill Coalition, a group of private citizens fighting against reducing retail at the shopping center. Founder Sharada Gilkey says the group is “neither encouraged nor discouraged” by Lusk’s statement, which she says came after she and the Rose Hill Civic Association talked to the supervisor last month. Read More

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Power outages in Belle Haven on Aug. 14, 2023 (via Dominion Energy)

Nearly 9,000 people in Fairfax County are without power after this afternoon’s storms, the most intense of which have moved on into Maryland.

As of 5:30 p.m., 8,971 Dominion Energy customers in the county had lost power, according to the real-time tracking database PowerOutage.US.

The most sizable outages have cropped up in Belle Haven along the Route 1 corridor, where 3,429 customers have lost power, and near Kingstowne along Beulah Street in Franconia, where 1,895 customers are affected, according to Dominion Energy’s outage map.

Per the map, Dominion has confirmed that the Franconia outage was caused by the storm, which produced high-speed winds that  prompted a Tornado Warning from 4:18-4:33 p.m. Crews are currently working on the incident, potentially restoring power between 5 and 10 p.m.

Causes for the most significant outages in the Belle Haven area are still pending investigation, but crews are now assessing the damage, according to Dominion. The estimated time of restoration ranges from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Power outages have also been reported in West Springfield and Mantua.

While there hasn’t been any confirmation of tornadoes, wind gusts reached 58 mph at Reagan National Airport, according to the Capital Weather Gang.

A Flash Flood Warning remains in effect until 7:45 p.m. Some flooding was reported in Springfield and the Alexandria area, where 2 to 4 inches of rain had fallen as of 5 p.m., the National Weather Service said.

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Rendering of the proposed Gateway sign at the Commuter Parking facility on Old Keene Mill Road (via Fairfax County)

(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) An extra $150,00 is being requested to add a “unique lighting feature” to the colorful “Springfield” welcome sign set to be installed on a pedestrian bridge near Old Keene Mill Road later this year.

At last week’s Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk proposed that the board consider spending $150,000 from the fiscal year 2023 carryover adjustment on a lighting feature to “complement” a welcome sign going up on the pedestrian bridge near the new Springfield Commuter Parking Garage.

The lighting would be part of a branding project to install colorful welcome signs at four different sites around the greater Springfield area in the fall. It’s being done to “raise the visibility and reputation of Springfield as a great place to live and do business,” per the project’s website.

One of the signs will be on the pedestrian bridge connecting the commuter parking garage to Springfield Plaza. The bridge and garage are expected to be completed in December.

The requested lighting feature would illuminate the pedestrian path underneath the bridge, known as the Frontier Drive underpass.

However, an extra $150,000 is needed for the feature, which was not part of the initial planned project. Lusk is requesting that the money be allocated from the FY 2023 Carryover Budget, which has a balance of about $203 million (which is slightly more than last year).

“This lighting feature will improve the connection with the Franconia- Springfield Metrorail station while also improving pedestrian safety and comfort,” Lusk’s board matter said. “This installation is beyond the budget of the initial gateway project, so additional funds are being sought to complete the gateway system for Springfield.”

Lusk noted in a follow-up statement to FFXnow that the extra lighting is needed for safety and security and to enhance the signage visually.

The priority for the lighting is to provide increased pedestrian safety beneath the underpass. The new lighting will enhance visibility and security for pedestrians who are walking from the Metro to the Springfield Towne Center. Additionally, the lighting will be designed to highlight the new Springfield Branding elements including color and design from the Springfield logo and new gateway signage. The preliminary design intends to project lighting on the columns of the underpass providing a brighter, more well-lit space with color.

A public hearing and board action on the package is scheduled for Sept. 26. Other items suggested for consideration by individual supervisors include funds to continue an economic visioning study for Lake Anne in Reston.

If the Springfield lighting feature is approved for inclusion, then the final design work and construction would move forward.

Construction on the gateway signs is now underway and expected to finish between October and December, according to Lusk’s office. However, the Frontier Drive underpass lighting is more likely to come along next year, depending on when funding, the final design and permits are secured.

“The lighting installation for the Frontier Drive underpass is conceptual at this time, and subject to change,” a spokesperson for Lusk’s office said.

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