Email signup
The roll-top observatory at Turner Farm Park (courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority)

(Updated at 4:55 p.m.) After more than two years of development, a new set of regulations will officially preserve dark skies around Turner Park Farm Observatory in Great Falls.

At a meeting on Nov. 21, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved zoning changes that aim to reduce light pollution and preserve dark skies within a half-mile of the observatory.

The proposal was significantly pared down after several community meetings and town halls. The changes will only apply to future lights on properties located within a half-mile of the observatory.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said he was satisfied with the proposal, which he called a “very reasonable approach” to the challenge facing the community.

“It’s not unanimous in the community, but I will say that the opposition is much less almost justified than it was when this thing started,” Foust said.

Under the zoning ordinance amendment, motion-activated outdoor lights must be 1,500 lumens or less — a drop from the current limit of 4,000 lumens or less.

Additionally, all lights need to be fully cut off — meaning the bulb can’t be exposed — which is currently not required. Still, an exception to the cut-off and shielding requirements will remain for lights at a door or a garage of up to 1,500 lumens per fixture.

The regulations would also set limits on the number of up-lights or spotlights allowed. Currently, any number are allowed as long as they’re fully cut off or shielded to confine light. The changes would limit each fixture to 300 lumens.

Unlike at previous public hearings, divisive testimony was limited. Several testifiers spoke in favor of the changes to the zoning ordinance.

Jennifer Falcone, a representative for the Great Falls Citizens Association, said the proposal is integral to protecting a “treasured community resource.”

“I live within this area,” Falcone said. “Given the evolution of lighting technology and the introduction and popularity of LED lighting, GFCA believes this measure is especially appropriate.”

Eileen Kragie, president of Dark Sky Friends, a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve dark skies, emphasized that the changes are sorely needed.

“Light pollution is growing at twice the rate of the population,” Kragie said. “In 20 years, stars won’t be visible.”

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Daniel Storck said the proposal’s approval could pave the way for future changes.

“This is in my mind…the start of a process that is mostly voluntary,” Storck said. (The spelling of Supervisor Storck’s name has been corrected.)

The amendment’s passage came on the same day that the Board of Supervisors approved zoning changes that will permit brighter electronic signs in more urbanized and commercial districts.

Amadou Diop, 18, of Great Falls is missing (via FCPD/Twitter)

Updated at 3:10 p.m. — Amadou “Niko” Diop has been found and is safe after being reported missing in Great Falls yesterday, Fairfax County police announced.

Earlier: An 18-year-old who has gone missing in Great Falls may be in danger due to health concerns, police say.

The Fairfax County Police Department issued a “missing persons” alert for Amadou “Niko” Diop just after 8 a.m. today (Monday), reporting that he was last seen around 10:30 p.m. yesterday (Saturday) at his residence in the 10000 block of Akhtamer Drive in Great Falls.

He is described as 6-foot-1, weighing 130 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

“Last seen wearing light beige pajama pants,” the FCPD said, noting that Diop is considered “endangered due to mental &/or physical health concerns.”

According to an alert shared by the Virginia State Police, Diop was last seen on foot and may not be wearing anything aside from the pajama bottoms.

Police advise community members who see Diop or have information about where he might be found to call 911 or the FCPD’s dispatch at 703-691-2233.

The landscaping outside 2491 helped land it the no. 1 spot on Northern Virginia Magazine’s 2023 50 Best Restaurants list (photo by Jerry Woolsey)

The best place to eat in Northern Virginia right now is an upscale restaurant tucked away in an office building outside Merrifield that also houses the U.S. headquarters of defense contractor BAE Systems.

At least that’s the designation bestowed upon 2941 by Northern Virginia Magazine’s food critics, whose ranking of the 50 best restaurants in the region for 2023 hit newsstands on Friday (Oct. 27) as part of its November issue.

While the full list can only be found in print, reviews for the top 10 restaurants are online, led by 2941. Located at 2941 Fairview Park Drive, the restaurant impressed the magazine’s critics with the artistry of both its cuisine and setting, which features landscaping, a koi pond and a view of an artificial lake.

“Inside the soaring space, a talented contemporary American kitchen staff transforms top-flight ingredients into culinary art,” the review said, highlighting a five-course tasting menu curated by Executive Chef Bertrand Chemel as well as a la carte dishes like a “grilled rib-eye with crisped potatoes.”

Self-described on its website as “one of the most celebrated restaurants in the metropolitan area,” 2941 previously topped Northern Virginia Magazine’s annual rankings in 2021 and came in second last year. It has also been recognized in the past by Washingtonian, Eater DC and the Washington Post.

“We’re ecstatic to share that we’ve been ranked as the #1 restaurant in Northern Virginia!” the restaurant said in a Facebook post. “This recognition wouldn’t be possible without our incredible team and the support of our loyal customers. Thank you for making…us the best in the region.”

2941 isn’t the only Fairfax County restaurant to place in the top 10. It was joined by Nostos in Tysons (No. 6), L’Auberge Chez François in Great Falls (No. 8), Trummer’s in Clifton (No. 9) and Trio Grill in Merrifield proper (No. 10).

Praised for proving that there’s “much more to Greek cuisine” than gyros, Nostos (8100 Boone Blvd) was among Washingtonian’s “very best restaurants” in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Its owners are behind Vienna’s incoming Yellow Diner, which is expected to open at 501 Maple Avenue West early next year.

L’Auberge Chez François has been operating at 332 Springvale Road since 1976, when it moved from its original home in D.C. Also recently lauded by Washingtonian, the French establishment is a “captivating destination for celebrating life’s special moments” with “masterful cuisine” and “exquisite service,” according to Northern Virginia Magazine.

Trummer’s (7134 Main Street) originally opened as a fine dining restaurant in 2009, but it has been steadily evolving into a more casual American bistro, dropping the “on Main” portion of its name in 2019. Northern Virginia Magazine highlights its “skillful” blending of “Austrian and regional American traditions.”

Near the Mosaic District at 8100 Route 29, Trio Grill comes from Metropolitan Hospitality Group, which is also behind Open Road, Circa and El Bebe. When it opened a decade ago, Northern Virginia Magazine dinged the eatery for not taking more risks with its menu, but it now says Trio Grill offers “a night of fine food and camaraderie.”

Falls Church was also represented with Ellie Bird at No. 5 and the Vietnamese restaurant NUE coming in seventh. Both restaurants opened earlier this year in the city’s new Founders Row development on West and Broad streets.

The roll-top observatory at Turner Farm Park (courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority)

An effort to preserve dark skies in Great Falls recently got a vote of support from the Fairfax County Planning Commission amidst contention within the community.

At a heated Oct. 18 meeting, the commission unanimously recommended approval of regulations to preserve dark skies around Turner Park Farm Observatory Park. Public testimony, however, was divided into two camps.

Proponents called the proposal a necessary step to preserve dark skies, reduce light pollution, and ensure astronomers can continue to get clear views. Opponents said the changes would decrease safety, were being considered without direct community engagement, and did little to result in a meaningful impact on light pollution.

The regulations, which limit outdoor lighting with a half-mile of the observatory, have been in the works for years. The latest version was pared down after several town halls and an online community survey.

Under the proposed zoning ordinance amendment, motion-activated outdoor lights must be 1,500 lumens or less — a drop from the current limit of 4,000 lumens or less. Additionally, all lights need to be fully cut off, which is currently not required.

Still, an exception to the cut-off and shielding requirements will remain for lights at a door or a garage of up to 1,500 lumens per fixture.

The regulations would also set limits on the number of up lights or spotlights allowed. Currently, any number are allowed as long as they are fully cut off or shielded to confine light. The changes would limit each fixture to 300 lumens. Changes would apply to future lights.

But some residents said they were in the dark about the proposal. They also said they were concerned about the safety impacts of reduced lighting.

Laszlo Zsidai, president of Foxvale Farm’s homeowners’ association, said the neighborhood of 115 homes received no direct engagement from the county on the amendment, noting that an online community survey conducted by the county found 50% of respondents were not supportive of the changes. A survey conducted by the HOA of its own community found similar levels of support, he said.

He also questioned if regulating lights near the observatory was effective in the shadow of other high-rise, luminous developments in surrounding areas like Tysons.

“Their light pollution will eat us up,” Zsidai said.

Great Falls has a visibility level of around 6 when judged on a Bortle scale where 1 means excellent viewing and 9 means poor viewing.

Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder emphasized that Great Falls has one of the lowest crime rates compared to other parts of the county.

“Crime in Great Falls is not rampant. It’s not even serious. But it’s important to feel that they have a sense of security,” Ulfelder said.

Others, including the Great Falls Citizens Association and several astronomy organizations, expressed support for the proposal.

Thomas Reinert, president of DarkSky International, described the regulations as a compromise. He noted that students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology near Lincolnia can no longer use a telescope on their facility due to the increase in light pollution over the years.

The observatory at Turner Farm is among a handful of facilities in the area where astronomical viewing can continue — for now.

“In no sense are these rules onerous,” Reinert said.

Dr. Peter Flavchan, a professor of phusics and astronomy at George Mason University, emphasized that light pollution has doubled in just the last 10 years. He compared the community to a “proverbial frog” sitting in water that is slowly reaching a boiling point.

The proposal heads to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for a final vote on Nov. 21.

The carry-out shop Ramona Empanadas is coming to Señor Ramon Taqueria restaurants in Reston, Chantilly and Great Falls (courtesy Señor Ramon Taqueria)

A local taqueria will expand its services next month with the introduction of a new empanadas shop.

Señor Ramon Taqueria hopes to launch Ramona Empanadas by Nov. 15, founder Damian Dajcz says. The carry-out shop will start at Señor Ramon’s flagship Leesburg restaurant before rolling out to its other locations in Sterling, Reston, Great Falls and Chantilly.

The shop will also be available at the company’s main kitchen in Sterling (506 Shaw Road, Suite 324), which is expanding with a butcher shop and “a small Latin grocery store” as well, Dajcz told FFXnow.

“Customers can order empanadas in advance online or come to one of the five locations where they will find a large Ramona Empanadas digital ordering kiosk,” the restaurant said in an announcement of the launch.

According to Señor Ramon’s website, the empanadas are freshly made and then flash-frozen for pickups, deliveries and wholesale orders. Online orders are already being accepted through the website.

The stuffed pastries will come in a variety of flavors, including regular or spicy beef and chicken, beer-braised brisket, caprese, ham and cheese, spinach, sweet corn, onion and cheese, pulled pork carnitas, pepperoni and cheese, and bacon, egg and cheese.

Dajcz and his team opened the first Señor Ramon Taqueria in Leesburg in 2016 with the goal of bringing authentic Mexican street food to Northern Virginia, according to the website.

A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dajcz considered studying medicine and hotel management in college before taking cooking classes and getting the opportunity learn from renowned chef Gato Dumas, who founded Latin America’s largest culinary school, according to a 2019 profile by Loudouner magazine.

After working in one of Dumas’s restaurants, Dajcz moved to the U.S. to finish his culinary studies at Ohio University and Le Cordon Bleu’s Scottsdale, Arizona, campus.

Señor Ramon expanded into Fairfax County for the first time in 2018 with its Chantilly location (4500 Daly Drive). Reston followed suit a year later with an opening in the Home Depot shopping center at 11790 Baron Cameron Avenue, Unit A, and the Great Falls restaurant (9900 Georgetown Pike) got a grand opening in June 2021.

In addition to Señor Ramon and now Ramona Empanadas, Dajcz’s company is behind Bites Grilled Cheese & Cheesesteaks and Daybreak Kitchen and Biscuit Company, which can both be found at 22455 Davis Drive in Sterling.

According to the announcement, the Ramona Empanadas team is already “in talks to expand” to other locations in the D.C. area.

Vivid Chill opens in the Mosaic District (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

There’s a new shop in Merrifield focusing on an eclectic, “curated collection” of handcrafted goods.

Vivid Chill hosted a grand opening this past weekend in the Mosaic District, moving into Suite 150 at 2910 District Avenue from a spot in Great Falls.

The shop offers everything from jewelry and clothing to books, face oils and playdough.

According to Vivid Chill’s website, its focus is on “handcrafted, ethically made, sustainable, nontoxic, eco-friendly” goods.

Originally opened at Great Falls Village Centre in early 2021, the shop won a spot on Washingtonian’s Best New Shopsof 2021 list, which highlighted owner Marika Tsombikos’s dedication to selling only the best assorted items she can find, typically with clean design and bright colors.

Vivid Chill’s website says the store is open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

A Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail marker in Great Falls Park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County will add its voice to the chorus of local governments touting the presence and benefits of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

The Board of Supervisors authorized staff on Tuesday (Oct. 10) to sign an agreement committing the county to developing, maintaining and promoting its segments of the trail, which spans almost 900 miles from the Allegeny Highlands in western Pennsylvania to the Potomac River’s mouth in Northern Neck.

The roughly 137-mile Northern Virginia section includes segments in Great Falls, McLean and along the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Route 1 (Richmond Highway) from the City of Alexandria to Lorton.

“This is a mostly unknown trail connection that we’ve all been working on, believe it or not, for years,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said before the board’s unanimous vote.

Designated in 1983, the Potomac Heritage Trail is overseen by the National Park Service, but it has enlisted local governments to manage segments in their borders under the memorandum of understanding (p. 413), which was initially developed in 2020.

In addition to Fairfax County, participating localities include Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties, along with Alexandria and the towns of Dumfries, Leesburg and Occoquan.

Per the MOU, the county’s park authority and transportation and public works departments will maintain trail segments, place markers at key points like major trailheads, promote the trail with media and way-finding or interpretive exhibits, and report on “visitation, volunteerism, and challenges and needs for completed segments.”

“The purpose of the agreement is to recognize the Trail network in northern Virginia and to realize fully the benefits associated with such recognition, including increased opportunities for outdoor recreation and nonmotorized transportation; for education, health, and heritage tourism; and for contributions to a vibrant regional economy,” county staff wrote in a summary for the Board of Supervisors.

The MOU also directs trail managers to “consider requests to plan, acquire lands and easements for, and develop segments of the Trail within respective jurisdictions.”

Fairfax County recently filled some gaps with the Mount Vernon Highway Trail Project, which added a shared-use path from Route 1 to Southwood Drive and was completed in May.

Storck said at Tuesday’s board meeting that his office has been working over the last few months to adjust some of the new trail segments “so they’re not right on Route 1.”

Working with Fort Belvoir to move its segments off the road has proven to be a challenge due to Defense Department rules on “what you can do and where,” but Storck said there has been “great progress” made on the trail.

“We’ll need to continue [that progress],” he said. “This will be something that gets worked on long after I’m gone, to find better ways to have it be more scenic and less urban…We’re doing the right thing, and as you see, it’s taken 50 years just to get this far, so we’ll keep plugging away.”

According to a trail map maintained by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, Fairfax County still has gaps in the Mason Neck Trail along Gunston Road, on Old Colchester Road to connect Route 1 to the Mason Neck Peninsula, and between Great Falls Park and Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.

The Great Falls-to-Scott’s Run segment is unfunded, though one needed easement has been obtained at the Madeira School in McLean. The Gunston Road segment will cost an estimated $9 million and has gotten $4 million funded so far.

The route connecting Route 1 and Mason Neck may be tweaked as the county updates its overall trails map as part of its ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan, which is “tentatively” expected to get adopted in 2024, according to NVRC.

A sign for Colvin Run Mill (file photo)

Residents are calling on the Fairfax County Park Authority to ensure that a trail is constructed on the south side of a new tunnel in Colvin Run Mill Park.

Construction on the $1.5 million tunnel under Route 7 as part of the widening of Leesburg Pike is currently underway. But the project, which is managed by state officials, lacks a 1,000-foot trail to the south side of the tunnel that would allow residents to walk to the park’s sites in Great Falls, Lake Fairfax and Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail.

In a recent call to action by the Friends of Colvin Run Mill, James Waller described the issue as a a “tunnel to nowhere” and urged members of the nonprofit to ask elected representatives to allocate carryover funds for the project.

Last month, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors allocated $15.7 million to the park authority from the fiscal year 2023 budget carryover.

In a statement to FFXnow, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust says he hopes the park authority will use a portion of the carryover funds for the trail.

“The Park Authority, however, is an independent agency with many needs and challenges,” Foust wrote. “I cannot mandate when the Park Authority will allocate funds for the construction of this trail, but I am confident they consider it a priority and are trying to make it happen.”

But carryover funds can only be used for system-wide maintenance projects and not new amenities, according to FCPA spokesperson Benjamin Boxer.

“The carryover funding received from the County is restricted to different uses and will not be a part of this project,” Boxer said.

Boxer said the park authority has authorized up to $200,000 for feasibility, environmental review and design for the future trail project.

“Work is progressing as the studies have been completed and we are entering into the design phase of the project so that when future funding is identified, we will be ready to pursue the project,” Boxer wrote in the statement.

Jersey Mike’s is set to open at Seneca Corner in Great Falls (courtesy Republic Land Development)

Another fast food option will soon be open in Great Falls.

Jersey Mike’s Subs is slated to open in at Seneca Corner (1024 Seneca Road) tomorrow (Sept. 23). The store will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.

The opening will kick off with a day of giving in support of Lowes Island Elementary School. All sales on opening day will be donated, according to the company.

Franchise owner Chris Brown said he wanted to support students and start the school year off on a strong note.

“Jersey Mike’s has maintained community involvement as its core value since the very beginning, and it is in that spirit that we’ve decided to donate all opening day sales, not just profit, to Lowe’s Island Elementary School,” Brown said. “We couldn’t think of a better way to announce to the community that we are here, and we want to help, all the while serving up the best submarine sandwiches.”

Items on the menu include cold and hot subs, with options like ham and provolone and California chicken cheese steak.

Jersey Mike’s has more than 2,500 locations across the country.

The sub shop will join CVS and Domino’s Pizza at Seneca Corner. A Five Guys is also slated to open in the newly constructed shopping center sometime this year.

The roll-top observatory at Turner Farm Park (courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority)

Fairfax County is exploring ways to preserve dark skies around Turner Farm Park Observatory in Great Falls.

At a Tuesday (Sept. 12) meeting, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors announced public hearings on a proposed regulation that would limit outdoor lighting within a half-mile of the observatory at 925 Springvale Road.

A hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission is set for Oct. 18, followed by a Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Nov. 21.

If approved, the amendment would apply to 525 lots near the observatory.

The Fairfax County Police Department “has advised that proper lighting can be a deterrent for criminal activity, but over-lighting is not needed to facilitate a safe environment,” according to a staff report in the board agenda.

Staff say light pollution interferes significantly with the ability to complete astronomical observations at the observatory. For example, a single light bulb located one half-mile from the observatory has the same impact as four bulbs one mile away or almost 200 bulbs in Tysons, which is roughly seven miles away.

According to the draft proposal, motion-activated lights must be 1,500 lumens or less — a drop from the current limit of 4,000 lumens or less. Additionally, all lights need to be fully cut off, which is currently not required.

Still, an exception will remain allowing lights at a door or a garage of up to 1,500 lumens per fixture.

The regulation would also set limits on the number of up lights or spotlights allowed. Currently, any number are allowed as long as they are fully cut off or shielded to confine light. The changes would limit each fixture to 300 lumens.

The draft text was developed after several town halls and an online community survey. The scope of the proposal was changed after discussions with stakeholders.

For example, the current version lets legally existing lights remain until replaced, superseding a previous version that required existing lights to comply within five years of the policy’s implementation.

In a statement to FFXnow, a Great Falls Citizens Association representative said the introduction of the proposal represents a milestone after eight years of works.

“This has special significance for the Turner Farm, where the Fairfax County Park Authority made a major investment in a roll-top astronomy building,” GFCA said in a statement. “If adopted, the proposed amendment will affect the brightness of future outdoor lighting of homes within a one-half mile radius of the county’s observatory.”

GFCA also acknowledged that, while not all residents in the affected area will agree with the county’s plans, county staff made “significant changes in the proposed requirements.”

“GFCA believes that the amendment offers reasonable measures to address concerns while preserving dark skies near the observatory,” the association said.


Subscribe to our mailing list