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The McLean Volunteer Fire Department is planning to replace one of its ambulances (courtesy MVFD)

The McLean Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) is a step closer to obtaining a brand-new ambulance.

The department got the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous approval on July 25 to borrow up to $250,000 from a private lender to buy fire and rescue equipment.

Federal tax law allows volunteer fire departments to obtain loans for fire and rescue equipment “at a lower tax-exempt interest rate” if the financing is approved by “the elected body of the locality” served by the department, county staff said in the board meeting agenda.

The loan will supplement a $13,000 donation that the MVFD got in June from the Woman’s Club of McLean, a charitable group that organized a Kitchen and Garden Tour this spring as a fundraiser for the department.

The department also raised funds through Christmas ornament sales and other activities to pay for the new ambulance, which will cost a total of $335,000.

MVFD currently has two ambulances. Department officials previously told FFXnow that the new “state-of-the-art” vehicle will have a power load cot system and other upgrades that will make it safer and easier to use for paramedics.

The ambulance is expected to arrive late this summer or early fall, MVFD President Patricia Moynihan said.

After acquiring the ambulance, the department hopes to get a new fire engine. The approximately $500,000 cost will be split between MVFD and the county.

Fairfax County plans to remove hills that limit driver visibility on Lee Chapel Road (via Google Maps)

In the wake of a fatal crash earlier this year, Fairfax County intends to get rid of the hills that make Lee Chapel Road near Fairfax Station so harrowing to navigate.

Eliminating the two hills has emerged as “the most prudent” mid-term option for improving safety on the 1-mile stretch between Ox Road (Route 123) and Fairfax County Parkway, where two teens were killed and another seriously injured in a crash on Jan. 10, according to Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity.

To fund the project’s estimated $9 million cost, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed staff today (Tuesday) to take away $5 million from the planned Shirley Gate Road extension, which is fully funded but not expected to start construction until 2026.

“They are both very important projects…but I think it’s critical we move forward with Lee Chapel safety improvements, and this allows that to happen,” Herrity said, noting that county staff have said the shift in funding won’t delay the Shirley Gate project.

The county is working with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Del. Kathy Tran, state Sen. George Barker and other partners to fund the remainder of the Lee Chapel project and “restore full funding to Shirley Gate as quickly as possible,” Herrity’s joint board matter with Board Chairman Jeff McKay and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck says.

January’s fatal crash was the third on the scrutinized segment of Lee Chapel Road in less than 20 years, following deadly crashes in 2005 and 2015. The victims in all three crashes were teenagers.

Seeking to improve visibility for drivers, Herrity first proposed eliminating the hills in 2017 as part of a plan to widen the two-lane road to four lanes. The project was included in the county’s Transportation Priorities Plan (TPP) but got dropped after Virginia redirected regional transportation funds to Metro.

After January’s crash renewed calls for safety improvements from the community, VDOT and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation evaluated three options: remove both hills, remove just the larger hill or build the first leg of the Lee Chapel Road widening.

Removing both hills and constructing two 11-foot-wide travel lanes and a 6-foot-wide shoulder on each side of the road was “the alternative that appears to be the most prudent from a funding, timeline, and community support standpoint,” Herrity said.

“Only very preliminary design work has been done, so we are not at the level of design where we can say to what extent private and public property would be impacted, including trees,” Herrity’s office told FFXnow, noting that the $9 million cost estimate assumes VDOT will allow Lee Chapel to be fully closed during construction.

The proposal will be presented to the public at a town hall meeting with Tran and Barker in September, though the exact date hasn’t yet been settled. Read More

By the water at Reston’s Lake Anne Plaza (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 5 p.m.) The final phase of the economic visioning of the Lake Anne area is nearing.

At a meeting today (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors opened up a request for an additional $200,000 for the third phase of the project.

Consultant Street Sense is wrapping up the first phase of the Economic Visioning Study for the Lake Anne Commercial Revitalization Area. The study intended to build community consensus on a path forward for the area.

(Correction: This story previously said the study’s first phase wrapped up this spring, as indicated by a project timeline, but the Hunter Mill District office says it’s just now finishing.)

“We sought an economic vision that was aspirational, grounded in market realities, and able to strengthen the economic viability and sustainability of the area,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn wrote in his board matter. “There was extensive participation by the Lake Anne community to shape the economic vision through a combination of focus groups, an online survey, and several in-person workshops and meetings.”

So far, the plan suggests a concentration of new apartment units on the Crescent property at 1527 Cameron Crescent Drive, added cultural attractions, a parking structure, a centralized green space, connections from the Crescent site to Lake Anne Plaza via a new park, and the restoration of a tunnel to the east side of the area.

Street Sense kicked off the visioning study in mid-February with focus group sessions, followed by several community meetings and workshops. The study came at the request of Alcorn, who sought to build consensus on the economic vision for the area.

In the second phase of the project, Streetsense will work with individual property owners and determine their willingness to take part in implementing the economic vision.

During the final phase, Streetsense and sub-consultants will investigate options for implementation in a more comprehensive manner.

“This information will provide landowners and the county with a clear understanding of options and allow all stakeholders to construct an actionable plan for realizing the economic vision,” the board matter states.

The final phase is expected to kick off in the first quarter of next year. The funds could be allocated this fall via a carryover adjustment from the fiscal year 2023 budget.

The water tower in central Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County formalized its partnership with the Tysons Community Alliance earlier this week with a new agreement outlining the community improvement organization’s mission and structure.

Under the memorandum of understanding (MOU) approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (July 11), the TCA will turn to the county as a primary funding source going forward, even though it will operate independently as a nonprofit.

Tasked with promoting and advocating for Tysons as a community, the alliance will request funding through the county’s annual budget process, but the county has no obligation to fulfill the requests.

The group will also seek supplemental support from grants and “alternative revenue streams,” according to the agreement.

The unique financing model will require the TCA “to show our continued value” not only to Tysons, but also the county as a whole, CEO Katie Cristol told FFXnow in a recent interview. She assumed her position as the organization’s first permanent CEO on July 5.

“There are a lot of competing interests and needs throughout the county,” Cristol said. “…In literal dollars and cents terms, it’s a reinvestment back in Tysons so Tysons can keep delivering even more revenue for the good of the county, but it also, we hope, is going to generate some of these lessons learned that others will benefit from.”

Established last fall with $2.5 million in county funding, the TCA is responsible for implementing the county’s vision for Tysons as a downtown community where people live and work, not just a collection of offices and malls.

As outlined in the MOU, the group’s priorities will be communications and marketing, placemaking, research and business support, and transportation and mobility, including support for infrastructure improvements.

Some of that work is already underway, from community events to an ongoing strategic planning effort. Later this month, the TCA is expected to release an economic market study with data that could help it make the case that Tysons is a worthy investment for the county.

At a Board of Supervisors economic initiatives committee meeting last month, TCA Board of Directors Chair Josh White reported that Tysons brings in 8% of the county’s tax revenue.

“Can we take a small, small share of that and reinvest it back into the Tysons to support that overall growth?” Cristol said. “So, that was part of the idea, and the [TCA] governance is built around really giving government a strong voice.”

Cristol says the local government’s closer involvement separates TCA from similar nonprofit organizations that are typically supported by property or business owners, such Arlington’s business improvement districts.

In addition to potentially providing funding and having representatives on the TCA’s board of directors, the county will require annual reports from the alliance and collaborate on initiatives like public space enhancements, according to Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, who represents much of Tysons.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, whose district includes a western portion of Tysons, said he had hoped to see the TCA integrated with the existing Tysons Transportation Service District when it comes to funding road, sidewalk and other transportation projects.

“There’s still some work to be done to integrate those two concurrent activities,” he said at the board meeting.

The service district, which is funded by an annual tax on property owners, could complement the TCA’s funding for those projects, but the money won’t necessarily go directly to the alliance, according to Cristol.

Scott Sizer, a division manager in the county’s Department of Economic Initiatives, said the MOU was “written broadly to accommodate any future changes.”

“We hope it is a pilot that will be successful and will lead to other pilots in the county, but there is always a possibility to amend and to terminate,” Palchik said. “An MOU is a legal document, but I think it’s important that we be able to monitor [the TCA’s activities] and continue to ensure and hopefully see success.”

The Annandale Civic Space design finalized in July 2022 (courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority)

Construction is well underway on Annandale’s new civic space, but it will take a little more money to bring Fairfax County’s full vision to fruition.

The cost of the project, which will turn a parking lot at 7200 Columbia Pike into an urban park, has exceeded the available funding, leading to some elements getting revised or eliminated, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross told the Board of Supervisors yesterday (Tuesday).

Gross requested that the county consider providing an additional $100,000 so those elements, including lighting and parking lot changes, can be reincorporated.

“While the project could be completed as-is, I believe strongly that the inclusion of certain design elements…would position the park for greater visitor safety and long-term success,” Gross said. “Pursuit of these elements during a subsequent phase of construction would contribute positively to the park’s visibility, connectivity, and ability to serve as an anchor for civic connection in an important revitalization area.”

In the works since 2018, the Annandale Civic Space will transform the county-owned site with a plaza, a green lawn with a “topography” playground, an educational garden and an accessible walkway linking Daniels Avenue to Columbia Pike.

Currently, construction is on track to finish this fall, according to the Department of Planning and Development’s community revitalization section.

Initially, the county estimated a “ballpark cost” of $600,000 to $650,000, DPD staff said at a community meeting in 2021. However, by the time construction began this past March, the total estimate had grown to $700,000, according to the DPD’s project page.

Lighting along the walkway through the park and enhancements to the parking lot shown in the final design concept in 2019 were dropped from an updated rendering approved in July 2022.

If approved, the additional funding will primarily go toward realizing the county’s vision of the parking lot as a pop-up programming and events space, according to Gross.

“As the project evolved, designers saw an opportunity to utilize excess parking lot surface by shifting some of the parking spaces to install a more direct sidewalk construction and landscaping panel from the plaza area to the public sidewalk along Columbia Pike,” she told FFXnow. “Funds for Phase 2 also would implement the envisioned catenary lighting, reseal and repaint the parking lot, and install bollards around the refuse collection pad to ensure the bins remain in their proper location.”

During business hours, the lot is expected to provide parking for the Annandale Christian Community for Action (ACCA) Child Development Center, which operates out of the former Annandale Elementary School building on the site.

Gross said the project has “required creativity and flexibility,” including when it came to financing. Since 2020, the county has assembled funds for construction from a variety of sources, including a $363,250 environmental improvement program grant and Economic Opportunity Reserve funds.

At Gross’s request, the project will now be considered for funding from the county’s fiscal year 2023 carryover review, an annual process that allocates any leftover money from the previous fiscal year.

The county’s fiscal year ends on June 30, so the Board of Supervisors typically approves the carryover package in the fall.

Encampment set up by people experiencing homelessness (via MWCOG)

Fairfax County hopes to make use of American Rescue Plan funding to help provide housing for some of those most in need.

In a meeting of the Board of Supervisors Housing Committee last week, staff from the Department of Housing and Community Development said a tranche of federal funding could help local residents in more extreme levels of poverty than most affordable housing programs in the county assist.

“This is a rare funding opportunity specifically targeted to reducing homelessness and can serve populations at the extreme low end of the spectrum,” said Thomas Barnett, deputy director of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. “This provides not just housing, but money for supportive services that we know people need.”

Fairfax County was awarded $7.88 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

According to the presentation to the committee:

HOME-ARP funds must be used to primarily benefit individuals or families from the following qualifying populations:

  • Homeless
  • At risk of homelessness
  • Those fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking
  • Other families requiring services or housing assistance to prevent homelessness
  • Households at greatest risk of housing instability

Barnett said there are around 88 permanent supportive housing projects in the pipeline that the nearly $8 million in federal funding could go toward. The funding comes as Fairfax County deals with an uptick in people experiencing homelessness, caused in large part by the pandemic and related economic turmoil.

“Chronic homelessness has increased disproportionately during the pandemic,” Barnett said. “[It’s] up 34% in the last 5 years.”

Even within that category, some supervisors said they’d like to see funding targeted specifically on addressing youth homelessness. The most recent Point-in-Time Count — a survey of people experiencing homelessness in the span of one night — found 91 people between the ages of 18-24 experiencing homelessness in Fairfax County.

“We have, as you point out, a rare funding opportunity with a big infusion of funds,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I’m still troubled by, when we get that Point-in-Time Count, that homeless youth count…I would like more information coming back as to what strategies we might employ to help with that, to use this rare opportunity funding to solve what we know is always a difficult thing to work with under normal circumstances, can any of this be used to accelerate that.”

Reston Regional Library (file photo)

The Friends of Reston Regional Library (FRRL) is celebrating Fairfax County Public Library’s theme for 2022 — the year of literacy — with a record-setting gift.

The nonprofit organization, which has been supporting the Reston library since 1985, is providing a grant of $200,000 to the county library system to expand its printed and digital materials for the library collection.

According to Eileen Evon, a spokesperson for FRRL, this is the largest single gift the organization has ever given to FCPL.

“The gift will give a much needed boost to the library’s ability to add more copies of popular titles already in the catalog, while also expanding the depth and breadth of many subject areas, including fiction for all ages, as well as non-fiction books, bi-lingual books, and books in other languages for young readers,” FRRL said in a news release.

FRRL issued the following statement regarding the gift:

The truth is, between the hard wear and tear on highly circulated print materials, the increased demand for digital materials, and the increase in total checkouts and library card holders, the County budget to the Library for collections just hasn’t caught up to the need. We know they are reviewing this and hope that it will change in the future as the library system continues to grow and change.

In the meantime, we thought the Year of Literacy was the perfect time for us to call public attention to this pressing need, and pitch in ourselves with the monies generated — one book at a time — by our hardworking volunteers who sort and sell books and media from over 40 tons of donated materials each year. After talking with Director Hudson and the head of Technical Operations, Dianne Coan, we know the Collections Development team will work hard to make the most out of every dollar to strengthen and expand the collection to best serve all of its patrons.

The gift will be formally handed over in a ceremony on June 8 at an FCPL Board of Trustees meeting. FCPL director Jessica Hudson, the board, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Water Alcorn, and other local officials plan to attend.

The Friends are also providing one-time grants to local organizations in an effort to support and promote literacy in the community. Grants range from $5,000 to $50,000 and will be awarded to a group that provide hands-on programming that directly impacts literacy in Reston, Herndon, and the county overall.

The news comes as FRRL positions itself to support the creation of a new library for Reston — which has been contemplated for several years. While county voters approved a bond in 2012 to fund the project, FRRL president Brian Jacoby noted that more funds may be needed.

“Every branch has its own unique requirements to best support its staff, volunteers, and patrons,” Jacoby wrote in statement. “New furniture, materials and equipment, or facilities space specific to the needs of our local community may not be covered by either the developer’s plans or the County’s funding. Our volunteers and our patrons are long-time active users of the Reston branch and they have a strong love for the library and what it provides to our community.”

The Friends’ board recently affirmed its commitment to set aside savings for needs related to the future building.

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.”

Reston pretzel bakery Nordic-Knot (via Studio-M Photos & Jennifer Heffner Photography)

A Reston-based pretzel bakery is vying for up to $60,000 in prize money from a national small business competition sponsored by Barclays Bank.

The only finalist from Virginia, Nordic-Knot was chosen from a pool of nearly 5,000 entries based on criteria like creativity, innovation, and perseverance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Small Business Big Wins” contest is intended to give businesses impacted by the pandemic a big boost.

“Nordic-Knot is both thrilled and humbled to have been chosen as one of ten finalists in the Barclay’s Small Biz Big Wins competition,” Nordic Knot co-owner Melissa Romano said. “The pandemic years have certainly been a ‘twisted’ time for many small businesses, including Nordic-Knot, but we are incredibly thankful for the support of our customers and community. Your votes will help us win the ‘dough’ so that we can keep twisting our pretzel dough to make the knots you crave.”

Contest voting will continue through Friday, April 22. Only one vote is allowed per email address.

Owners Melissa Romano and Eric Lundberg plan to use the money to boost their market reach and production capabilities.

Nordic-Knot offers a mix of pretzels, pretzel dogs, party boxes, and pretzel croissants. It’s based out of Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, but doesn’t have a specific storefront.

The pandemic hit the business right after it developed a strong footing as a manufacturer and distributor of handmade soft pretzels for wholesale resale.

But when the pandemic forced most of its resellers to shutter its doors, the business quickly pivoted to establish an online presence and provide direct retail sales to individual consumers.

The business was also able to provide flour and yeast in bulk to customers when those items were scarce in supermarkets.

Last year, even as more businesses opened up shop, the owners stayed in the retail sales realm. Lundberg built a vending cart that would arrive at Lake Anne on Saturday mornings and offer customers with a pick-up cabinet for pre-ordered parcels.

“Nordic-Knot was born from a love of pretzels, and as a way of twisting together family, friends, and community is our motto, and we stand by it every day as we hand mill our flour, proof our dough, then hand shape, roll, twist and bake our pretzels,” Romano wrote in the contest statement.

Only 10 finalists were selected in the national contest. In 2020, Barclays named Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs, a New-York-based restaurant, the winner of the grand prize of $50,000.

“There has been a tremendous response from the small business community to share their stories of resilience and recovery,” said Nancy Parnella, director of US Business Cards at Barclays. “We have been inspired by the many personal and deeply impactful stories submitted, and we hope these stories encourage other small business owners and aspiring business owners to keep working to make their dream a reality.”

Student working on computer (via Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Fairfax County Public Schools and the Fairfax County Public Library are recipients of federal funding to help provide internet access and necessary devices for students, school staff and library patrons.

Announced on Tuesday (Oct. 26) by Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, the funding comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to help close the “homework gap” for students who lack internet access.

The county’s library system will receive $41,330 and the school district will receive $17.9 million from the $7.17 billion program, which gives nearly $50 million to Virginia overall. The program was created by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was authorized by Congress earlier this year.

“We’re proud to see these federal dollars go toward keeping Virginia’s communities connected,” Warner and Kaine said in their joint statement. “This investment will help close the digital divide, while improving access to job opportunities and educational resources for Virginians as we continue to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.”

The funding is intended to help public schools and libraries support remote learning by reimbursing them with up to $400 for each laptop or tablet and $250 for Wi-Fi hotspots, a spokesperson for Kaine told FFXnow.

Other eligible equipment covered by this funding include modems, routers, and devices that combine routers and modems.

Schools and libraries may purchase more expensive devices or Wi-Fi hotspots with their program funds, but they will only be reimbursed for the aforementioned amounts.

Recipients can also use the funding to provide commercially available broadband service with a fixed or mobile connection off-campus for students, school staff, or library patrons. The administrating company for the program, Universal Service Administrative Company, will review costs and applications for other eligible equipment and services.

Funding has been issued in three waves since late September, with the latest round getting distributed this week. However, the schools and libraries ultimately control the timeline for carrying out purchase agreements with internet providers and vendors.

An FCPS spokesperson deferred comment to state officials because the program is in its early stages.

“The school system is correct that this is very early stages,” Fairfax County Public Library told FFXnow when contacted for comment.

While broadband access is less of an issue in Fairfax County than in other parts of the state and country, 4% of households still have no internet, county staff reported in June. Access is uneven across the county, ranging from 1.4% of households lacking internet in Springfield District to 8.9% of households in Mason District.

Even with FCPS back to five days of in-person learning, internet access remains critical for students, particularly with some having to stay out of class due to COVID-19 contact tracing and quarantining procedures.

Since Sept. 1, FCPS has quarantined 3,942 students because they were identified as close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, according to the school system’s quarantine data dashboard. That does not include students who have had to pause in-person learning for contact-tracing purposes.

Photo via Annie Spratt/Unsplash


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