The Pimmit Hills neighborhood has officially reached the “let’s put on a show” stage of its battle against a planned Washington Gas pipeline.
Faced with escalating legal fees, residents have banded together to stage a “Protect Pimmit Hills Hoedown” benefit concert from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday (June 3) as a fundraiser for four of their neighbors who were sued by the utility company.
The concert will be held at Pimmit Barn (1845 Cherri Drive) with “limited” food available for sale from the food truck, The Big Cheese. Providing the music will be the Pimmit Hillbillies, a band that neighborhood residents formed for this occasion.
“We hope this concert helps reinforce our community spirit by getting neighbors out and meeting each other to join fight this project that affects us all,” resident guitarist Tom Gillespie said. “We will bond over great tunes, grilled cheese sandwiches, and chocolate chip cookies while we talk about our ongoing pipeline battle.”
Filed by Washington Gas on March 3, 2022, the lawsuit challenges a Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals ruling that a special exception permit and 2232 review are required for the natural gas pipeline, the last phase of the Strip 1 Tysons project to upgrade about five miles of pipe from Tyco Road to Pimmit Drive.
A bench trial in Fairfax County Circuit Court had been scheduled for April 25 and 26, but the judge postponed it to the first week of September after the Virginia Supreme Court voided the zoning ordinance that guided the BZA’s decision, according to Christina Chen Zinner, one of the Pimmit Hills residents involved in the case.
Though the ordinance known as zMOD was readopted on May 9, it remains unclear how the Supreme Court’s ruling affected zoning decisions made during the two years when the code was initially in effect.
Because of the trial delay, Zinner and her fellow defendants shared earlier this month that they need to raise an additional $20,000 to cover their legal costs, which have climbed to $45,000. With the help of a recent neighborhood pizza party, they’ve made progress on that goal, raising $38,700 through Gofundme.
The Pimmit Hillbillies hope to finish the job. The band emerged from a virtual meeting, where residents brainstormed fundraising ideas.
“Knowing that I like to sing and play guitar, and compose my own songs, [my wife Stephanie] challenged me during the meeting to compose a protest song to help us promote our Gofundme drive,” Gillespie recalled. “I feel so passionate about fighting this pipeline that the lyrics and notes just flowed out of me.” Read More
Cheers went up after the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) ruled last year that a natural gas pipeline planned through the residential neighborhood of Pimmit Hills will need to be reviewed and approved by the county.
However, even when proposing that decision on Feb. 2, 2022 after a multi-day public hearing, BZA Vice Chairman James Hart acknowedged that the case over the sixth phase of Washington Gas’ Strip 1 Tysons project was likely headed to court.
That court date will arrive this month. The utility company’s lawsuit seeking to vacate the board’s decision will go before a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge for a trial on April 25 and 26, spurring Pimmit Hills residents to rally together once again in opposition to the pipeline.
“We’re concerned citizens, you know. It’s our neighborhoods, our streets, our children, our playgrounds, our schools,” said Kurt Iselt, one of four residents named as defendants in the lawsuit after they brought the case to the BZA.
The challenged pipeline segment is the last stage of a push by Washington Gas to upgrade its natural gas infrastructure in the Tysons area, replacing a 14-inch-wide line with a 2-feet-wide, high-pressure one.
In the works since 2012, the overall project will span approximately five miles from Tyco Road to a regulator station at the Pimmit Drive and Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) intersection.
Phase six will be routed from Peabody Drive to Cherri Drive and Pimmit Drive to Route 7 — right through the heart of Pimmit Hills. Washington Gas had considered an alternate route along Magarity Road and Route 7 but said construction would take longer and bring more disruptions.
After initially denying it twice, the Virginia Department of Transportation approved a permit for the project in 2019, despite opposition from residents and local and state politicians representing the area.
At the request of Islet and fellow residents Christina Chen Zinner, Sarah Ellis and Lillian Whitesell, a county zoning administrator reviewed the project and decided it qualified as a “light utility facility” exempt from local regulation per the county’s zoning ordinance (page 241), which hadn’t yet been struck down.
The lawsuit by Washington Gas argues that the BZA lacked the authority to partially overturn the zoning administrator’s determination and require the project to obtain a special exception permit and undergo a 2232 review.
“Phase 6 is part of [the] Petitioner’s ‘ordinary distribution system’ that delivers natural gas to its customers and located in a VDOT right-of-way. Accordingly, Phase 6 is exempt from the zoning ordinance,” the petition filed on March 3, 2022 states, asserting that the BZA’s decision violated “decades of precedent” and state law. Read More
As gas prices continue to rise, cab drivers in Fairfax County may be getting even more help at the pump.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is looking at implementing an emergency $2 fuel surcharge on every trip starting later this month. That would double the current surcharge, which was implemented in April, as gas prices have climbed even compared to two months ago.
“The current emergency taxicab fuel surcharge of $1.00 only covers an increase in fuel cost up to $4.30 per gallon,” the staff report notes.
The average gas price in Fairfax County is currently $5.02, according to the American Automobile Association.
“Taxicab drivers already operate on low margins, but they play an important role for many residents and visitors to Fairfax County,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement to FFXnow. “It is vital to keep them operational and, additionally, it is not fair for the taxicab drivers themselves to be impacted by devastating increases in fuel prices throughout the county. This is a temporary surcharge increase that we have the ability to rescind as gas prices hopefully fall in the future.”
The initial $1 surcharge ordinance expires this Saturday (June 11). If approved, the new one would begin June 29 and last six months — essentially to the end of 2022 — “unless rescinded.”
When it met yesterday (Tuesday), the county board approved a June 21 public hearing to discuss the increase. A vote on the measure is anticipated on June 28. If approved, it will be implemented the next day.
A number of neighboring jurisdictions have implemented similar fuel surcharges. Arlington’s $1 charge went into effect mid-May and will be on the books for six months. The City of Alexandria’s dollar surcharge began in March and could last up to a year.
Beyond those employed by the industry, keeping the taxi business afloat is important for a number of other county residents, according to the staff report.
“The on-demand availability of safe and reliable taxicab services…is important to the public well being, especially for those consumers unable to use public transportation and who rely on taxicab service for their basic transportation needs,” it reads.
The county government and Fairfax County Public Schools work with cab companies for special-needs transportation, including providing nearly 3,000 wheelchair accessible trips in 2020.
Cabs are also part of the TOPS program, which provides subsidized transportation to eligible residents. The report says TOPS participants take about 134 taxicab trips per month, so the fuel surcharge is estimated to cost the county about $1,600 extra per month.
Approximately 90 students with disabilities and special needs use cabs to go to and from school. FCPS estimates that an extra $15,000 will be needed for the surcharge, but it will be able to absorb the extra costs into its budgets.
The ordinance leaves room for the surcharge to be extended, increased or rescinded “if prices fall significantly.”
There’s hope that the surcharge may actually increase the number of cab drivers in the county.
“The $2.00 per-trip emergency taxicab fuel surcharge will continue to provide relief to the taxicab drivers who are suffering an economic hardship from increased fuel costs,” the report said. “This increase may also help retain current drivers and recruit new drivers.”
Northern Virginia has continued with record-setting gas prices, reaching $4.61 per gallon as of Wednesday (June 1), per AAA.
That record held true even for gas prices across the country, with California leading the way at over $6 per gallon.
Not even Texas was immune, reaching its highest average price per gallon ever Wednesday at nearly $4.30.
While the nation’s average price saw some relief in March and April, a new peak comes amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and a European Union ban on Russian oil exports, AAA notes. That price is $1.58 more than a year ago, the auto services company says.
With spring and summer weather heating up, airline prices spiking for domestic flights and mask restrictions loosened, FFXnow is asking readers what these fuel prices mean for traveling.
As gas prices continue to cost drivers more at the pump, Virginia is looking for possible relief, such as suspending the state’s gas tax.
The average price of gas in Fairfax County is currently around $4.33 per gallon, the only jurisdiction in the Commonwealth averaging over $4.30 at this point, according to AAA.
House Minority Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, who represents the 41st District in Fairfax County, called on Gov. Glenn Youngkin to sign an executive order for a state of emergency to address price gouging.
Virginians are hurting and that is why I called on @GovernorVA to act on gas price gouging two weeks ago. He refused, but wants to discuss gas tax suspension in the Special Session next month. These are not mutually exclusive.
Virginians need relief today. pic.twitter.com/8oGF0JFnCu
— Eileen Filler-Corn (@EFillerCorn) March 23, 2022
Earlier this week, Youngkin called the Virginia General Assembly to reconvene for a special session on April 4 to repeal the state gas tax, estimated at 26 cents per gallon.
“Between high gas prices and rising inflation, Virginians are more squeezed than ever and the General Assembly can deliver much needed tax relief to struggling Virginia families,” Youngkin said in a statement on Wednesday (March 23).
He argued that legislators could “produce the biggest tax cut in the history of the Commonwealth” and still “make record investments” in education, law enforcement, behavioral health, and other priorities.
The tax cuts could have lasting implications for local public transportation.
Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz said in a statement today (Friday) that suspending the gas tax will mean big cuts in funding for road maintenance, rail, and bus.
“Less road maintenance means more potholes and more frequent, costly repairs for our cars,” he said, calling that state to find funding less dependent on oil for personal vehicles. “It means we’ll fall behind in replacing our crumbling bridges.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and other Northern Virginia leaders have expressed similar concerns over how Youngkin’s proposed elimination of grocery taxes could also adversely affect road funding if not replaced.
Board Chairman Jeff McKay said in a newsletter on Wednesday that he supports the grocery tax removal but only “the intent” behind the proposed gas tax suspension:
I support the removal of the grocery tax. I also support the intent only behind the Governor’s proposal to suspend, for three months, the gas tax that aims to alleviate the financial strain our residents are experiencing. None of us feel good about paying astronomical gas prices at the pump, and many of our residents simply cannot afford to fill their tanks. However, a suspension of the gas tax, on top of the proposals to remove other streams of revenue, is not sustainable. Ultimately, it only adds to our financial strain.
I, and many others, are concerned that even a temporary suspension of a gas tax would benefit big oil companies most of all, not our residents who have no guarantee to see any of these savings. What we do know is that, statewide, $437 million would be lost in funding for transportation, including transit, as a result of this action.
McKay suggested that the state should instead provide more car tax relief and increase its funding for education and mental health services.
In Northern Virginia, a 7.7-cent-per-gallon tax affects wholesalers selling fuel to retailers. That money goes to funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and Virginia Railway Express.
For the last fiscal year, which ended in June 2021, the tax brought in $45 million from the region, much of which goes to the Commonwealth. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission got a share of $18 million, which must go to WMATA capital and operating expenses, according to the commission.
Gas pump prices nationwide have been hitting record highs, with the average cost per gallon at $4.38 in Fairfax County today (Tuesday).
While there has been a slight dip since prices peaked on Friday (March 11), AAA reports that consumers “can expect the current trend at the pump to continue as long as crude prices climb.”
AAA attributes the soaring prices to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February and President Joe Biden’s subsequent ban on Russian energy imports, leading to decreased supplies to meet rising demand for fuel.
The war and sanction have added pressure to a market already challenged by global supply chain issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With drivers facing added expenses, Bruce Wright, president of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, says he has noticed more people riding.
“I think it’s a continuation of the increase in ridership that occurred during the pandemic,” he wrote in an email.
He noted that Bike to Work Day is May 20. The annual event encourages people to avoid driving and cycle for short trips, not just commuting.
“I have seen a sharp increase in the number of people using e-bikes, which I think are transformative,” Wright wrote. “They allow people to travel further with less effort, extending those short trips to much longer trips by bike. Cargo e-bikes are also getting more popular and I think that popularity will continue to grow.”
For entrepreneur Abraham Ali, the gas prices have deterred him from his usual routine as well as habits at the pump. He ventured out for the first time this week since the gas prices shot up.
He makes deliveries to places such as Ashburn and Centreville for his fashion business, Frontline Variety Shop, because that’s cheaper than mailing them. Now, he questions if that’s still the case.
“It’s definitely affecting us,” he said outside a Sunoco gas station in McNair yesterday (Monday). “I don’t even want to drive at all.”