Fairfax County is looking to convert the Original Mount Vernon High School into a collection of public facilities, including possibly an early childhood center, a senior center, a performing arts space and a business incubator.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is seeking a special exception amendment that will allow the county to turn the 84-year-old, now-vacated high school into an accessible public facility with a variety of proposed uses.
Potential uses listed in the application, which was filed last week, include a gym, an early childhood education center, a teen and senior center, a culinary and business incubator, visual and performing arts space, a welcome center, a commercial kitchen for education, and space for nonprofit programs focused on education, career and workforce development and financial literacy.
“Developing a cohesive facility with creative open spaces and classroom areas will nurture these coalitions and support the exchange of ideas and shared innovation,” the application says. “Design concepts will allow for flexibility and adaptability, so the spaces are changeable based on future needs.”
The special exception amendment was actually approved by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 13, 2022, and a design and site plan are in the works, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck reported on June 6.
However, in March, the Virginia Supreme Court struck down the county’s updated zoning ordinance, which created the “Alternative Use of Historic Buildings” category that is the basis of the proposed conversion. The ordinance has since been readopted, but the application has been resubmitted and is going through the approval process again as a precaution, Storck said.
The school’s location in the Mount Vernon District makes it ideal for a multi-use public facility, playing a “critical role” in providing educational opportunities to those in the Route 1 corridor, according to the application.
A special exception is needed to convert the 140,000 square-foot, 22-acre property at 8333 Richmond Highway due to its historical nature.
Once part of George Washington’s original estate, the school opened in early 1940 and its Colonial Revival buildings were constructed under the federal Public Works Administration program. The school was initially only open to white students, due to Jim Crow segregation that was common across Northern Virginia.
The Original Mount Vernon High School is listed on both the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places.
The county has been planning for its adaptive reuse since at least 2016. The facility is already hosting a renovated and reopened gym, a satellite Fire Marshal’s Office and a Fairfax County Public Schools registration site.
But the county wants to add a lot more. Under the proposal, the building would be in use for up to 17 hours a day, with the early childhood education center opening as early as 6 a.m. and the community spaces closing as late as 11 p.m.
The hope is to design the building so it can accommodate up to 2,000 people on a daily basis, per the application.
To accommodate a requirement that new additions to buildings on the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register “distinguish themselves from the existing historic building,” the welcome center would have an all-glass facade with a small section of red brick.
The application is scheduled for a planning commission public hearing on Sept. 13, which will be followed by a hearing before the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 26.
Before the Pan Am Shopping Center in Merrifield gets redeveloped, Fairfax County staff say the adjacent, centuries-old cemetery should probably get examined.
The Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development released a staff report last week recommending that mixed-use development be allowed at the shopping center, opening the door for property owner Federal Realty to build 585 residential units and expand its retail.
In addition to setting parameters for density, transportation improvements and other land use factors, the report reiterates that any development “should respect” the Thompson Family Cemetery, which predates the shopping center by almost two centuries.
However, the exact boundaries of the cemetery are unclear, according to the staff report.
“No documentation has been found that indicates the cemetery was delineated prior to construction of the Pan Am shopping center,” staff said, suggesting that a professional archaeologist conduct “remote sensing, specifically a ground penetrating radar survey…on the surrounding driveway and parking areas prior to redevelopment.”
While the cemetery only has two standing headstones, marking four burials, a 1989 walkover survey of the half-acre of land indicated that there are at least 23 possible grave sites, county staff said, citing an archived memo.
Known occupants include Confederate soldier Armistead T. Thompson, who died on Nov. 23, 1864 as a prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland, according to an inscription on his tombstone.
From the staff report:
The Thompson family suggests that the first burial in the cemetery was in 1792 with burials continuing through at least 1917. Family lore suggests that there were many more burials. Furthermore, given the dates of cemetery use — prior to emancipation — the potential remains for burials of enslaved individuals on the property; at least one enslaved girl is noted in the 1850 census for Lawson Thompson who owned the property.
The Thompson family still owns and maintains the cemetery, which was nearly disturbed by workers seeking to build a storm sewer in 1979 until one family member, Alfred Thompson, blocked them with a sledgehammer and got arrested.
According to the archived Washington Post story, the Pan Am developers sought to take over the land when they built the shopping center in 1973, and plans to widen Route 29 also posed a threat.
The cemetery is now listed in the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites. Calling it “a significant heritage resource,” the county’s current comprehensive plan prohibits any future widening of Route 29 from encroaching on the graveyard.
The newly proposed comprehensive plan amendment would maintain that condition, but it suggests a follow-up to the 1989 survey is needed.
“A new more detailed survey of the cemetery to determine the number of grave sites should be conducted using methods that would be more effective than a visual, walkover survey,” staff said.
The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment at 7:30 p.m. on June 28, with the Board of Supervisors following at 4 p.m. on July 25.
Federal Realty’s redevelopment plan is still under review by county staff and won’t go through the public hearing process until after the amendment gets approved.
Fairfax County is beginning the process later this month of selecting the next inhabitants of the 238-year-old Mount Gilead property in Centreville.
Under the program, the county leases out a historic property to a private citizen or nonprofit group who will occupy it long-term for free in exchange for an agreement to rehabilitate and maintain the property.
The June 20 meeting is an “introductory conversation” that will allow interested parties to get more information about what exactly the county is looking for in terms of a curator for the property, FCPA spokesperson Ben Boxer wrote FFXnow in an email.
In addition, on Saturday, June 24, there will be an in-person open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. where members of the community and prospective applicants to the program can visit the property and ask questions.
Normally, Mount Gilead is only open to the public once a year during the annual Centreville Day celebration, which is being held on Oct. 14 this year.
“Given the historical significance of this site, it was determined that residential use best befits the long-term goals of the property and the preservation of the historic integrity of the site,” Boxer told FFXnow.
Mount Gilead in Centreville was first built in 1785 as a combined residence and tavern. During the Civil War, it housed both Union and Confederate soldiers. Local lore says it was the headquarters for Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, famed for being replaced by Robert E. Lee.
In the 1930s, ’50s, and ’60s, it underwent several notable remodelings that included additions. It has since been recorded on the Virginia Landmarks Survey, as well as in the 1969 Historic American Buildings Survey.
FCPA acquired the 6-acre property in 1996, but it has remained unoccupied ever since, with the county making continuous repairs over the last few decades.
While resident curators get to live on the property rent-free, they are responsible for all the costs associated with rehabilitation and maintenance.
A strictly-defined “treatment plan with respect to the preservation of the house itself” is determined by the county. This plan is “not open to definition by potential curators,” Boxer told FFXnow.
“Applications, including the proposed use and curator workplan, will be evaluated by a committee and to undergo a public comment period before a decision is made. The curator workplan and investment will be consistent with the requirements of the treatment plan,” Boxer continued.
Plus, the resident curator must also provide “reasonable” and “periodic” access to the public.
While there’s no timetable yet for when the county will select the next inhabitants for Mount Gilead, it did take close to four years from when plans were first submitted to new occupants moving into Herndon’s Ellmore Farmhouse.
(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) The future of two structures built on Elden Street around 1888 is now in limbo.
The longstanding Adams-Green Funeral Home is appealing the Town of Herndon’s decision to deny an application to demolish two homes on 725 Elden Street. The Herndon Town Council will consider the appeal at a work session tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m.
At an April 19 Historic District Review Board meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to deny the application on the grounds that both structures contribute to the historic character of the area and qualify as national and state landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
The board also noted that both structures are connected with “historically significant” members of the community.
“The demolition of the 725 Elden Historic Structures could adversely affect the historic district as a whole and particularly adversely effect important view sheds of the historic district and the townscapes of Herndon,” the April 19 resolution denying the application said.
But the funeral home argues that the board failed to follow the requirements of the town’s zoning ordinance and take into a consideration a structural engineer’s report.
“The HDRB failed to consider the long-standing business of the funeral home location at the present site which is a fixture in the historic district and which needs to have additional space to continue to operate its business at the current site,” the appeal says.
The funeral home first filed the application to demolish the two buildings in 2020. The filing was completed in January after town staff asked the applicant to file a site plan showing how it would stabilize the property after demolition.
An engineering analysis by Goughnour Engineering found that the “dilapidated” building is “not a candidate for renovation or reuse.”
Both buildings are located in the Herndon Historic District. They were built in the late 1800s by Charles Reed, a prominent member of the community at the time. His family also started the first funeral business in the town.
At a Historic District Review Board work session yesterday (Wednesday), staff recommended denying the proposal to demolish a historic house at 724 Elden Street and and a historic carriage house near the primary house.
According to an application filed with the town in January 2020, there are no immediate plans to demolish the buildings and secure the site with fill dirt and grass.
“The applicant is not proposing any development or construction on this property at this time,” the application says.
In a Feb. 1 letter to the town, the applicant’s attorney, Michael O’Reilly, argued that it’s not practical or cost-effective to relocate the building — an effort that the applicant undertook when they previously relocated a building on the property in the early 2000s.
Both historic structures are located in the Herndon Historic District. They were built in the late 1800s by Charles Reed, a prominent member of the community at the time. His family also started the first funeral business in the town.
“The house is a classic and well-preserved example of the Folk Victorian residential architectural style,” the staff report said, stating that it retains much of its original structure despite alterations over the years. The carriage house on the lot is simpler in form.
Staff noted that the demolition of historic buildings in that area is strongly discouraged because it results in the permanent loss of the historical integrity of the district.
“Historic resources once removed are gone forever and create gaps in the fabric of historic neighborhoods,” the town said.
Staff also said the pair of historic buildings are in a particularly prominent location in the historic district and do not have any known damage or deterioration issues.
The applicant filed a demolition plan after an engineering analysis found that the building is “not a candidate for renovation and commercial reuse,” according to a report by Goughnour Engineering.
“The work to strengthen the structure and foundation and to meet fire code and accessibility requirements will result in the demolition and reconstruction of significant portions of the building to the extent that very little of the existing building will remain to be incorporated the new structure,” the O’Reilly wrote.
Several locations linked to African American history in Fairfax County could be eligible to be designated as historic places.
Those buildings and neighborhoods include the Louise Archer School, the Tinner Hill neighborhood and Clifton Primitive Baptist Church. Along with other candidates, they appear in a draft African American Historic Resources Survey Report, which was released on Feb. 23.
The county is looking for residents to share their thoughts on the report ahead of its final version, anticipated late this spring.
“We’re looking for feedback on the historical context and properties as written in the report,” Leanna O’Donnell, planning division director at the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development, wrote in a statement to FFXnow.
Residents who want to weigh in on the report can do so through Friday, March 24. There will also be a virtual community meeting on the report’s findings at 6:30 p.m. on Monday (March 6).
“Any feedback will be taken into consideration as we finalize the report and help identify properties that could be nominated for inclusion in Fairfax County’s Inventory of Historic Sites, the Virginia Landmarks Register or the National Register of Historic Places,” O’Donnell wrote.
The survey report furthers the work of the African American History Inventory, a database of resources related to the county’s African American culture and history. That inventory came to be following an October 2020 motion from a commissioner on the Fairfax County History Commission.
In 2021, the county received funding through the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ Cost Share Grant Program to support the current study.
The report includes historical information about African Americans in present-day Fairfax County, starting in the 1600s. It also features photos and descriptions of buildings and communities surveyed, as well as preliminary recommendations.
For example, the entry on Louise Archer Elementary School includes a description of the building’s location, its exterior and the surrounding area of Vienna, along with pictures of the building and some historical context.
“The evolved building is the third purpose-built school for African Americans in Vienna,” the report says. “Once Fairfax County schools began to integrate, Louise Archer School was the only formerly Black elementary school to integrate and remain open.”
The report calls the school “a strong candidate for NRHP listing.”
Of the sites not already listed, Lane’s Mill in Centreville and Luther Jackson Middle School in Merrifield were deemed eligible for the national register. Other potential candidates include McLean’s Chesterbrook Baptist Church, Clifton Primitive Baptist Church, Quander Road School in Belle Haven, and the Tinner Hill neighborhood in Falls Church.
The Gum Springs area was the only part of the county excluded from the survey. That area is “part of a more intensive survey effort focusing specifically on this prominent African American community,” according to a county press release.
The county has also moved to honor Black and African American history with new historical markers, selected late last year.
More Money Requested for Silver Line Phase Two — “Officials with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority are seeking an additional $250 million in funding to pay for construction…citing the project’s complexity, coronavirus-related restrictions, an increase in the cost of building materials, and supply chain slowdowns as key factors for the cost increase.” [The Washington Post]
Mochi Doughnut Eatery Opens in Vienna — The regional chain Donutchew has opened a franchise in the former Starbucks at 107 Maple Avenue West, offering about 20 flavors of doughnuts made with glutinous rice flour. The shop gives Vienna a second option for mochi doughnuts and bubble tea after Bubble Mochi opened nearby in January. [Patch]
Man Robbed on W&OD Trail in Herndon — “The victim reported he was walking along the W&OD Trail on the afternoon of Thursday, July 14, 2022, when he was approached from behind by two unknown suspects. The suspects robbed the victim of personal property. The case is under investigation.” [Herndon Police]
Vienna Business Committee Chair Dies — “It’s not easy assuming a leadership role during a pandemic, but Robert ‘Bob’ Leggett did it willingly and enthusiastically when he became chairman of the Town Business Liaison Committee (TBLC) in 2020. Upon learning of his death on Sunday, July 17, 2022, Town leaders reflected on Leggett’s ability to bring people together for the greater good of the community.” [Town of Vienna]
Fairfax Station ATM Stolen From Gas Station — “Authorities say two men forced their way into a gas station in Fairfax and stole the automated teller machine inside. The incident happened just after 4:05 a.m. Tuesday at the Exxon at 5211 Ox Road. Police say the men loaded the ATM into a white van and fled the area.” [FOX5]
Vienna Revises Historic Site Definition — The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously on July 11 to amend an ordinance to make buildings, structures, businesses and sites eligible for the town’s historic register if they’re at least 100 years old. The town previously defined sites as historic if they’ve been at their current locations or in continuous use or operation since before 1900. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
County Library Foundation Board Elects New Chair — “The Fairfax Library Foundation is excited to announce that Miriam Smolen has been elected chair of the board of directors beginning in 2022-2023. Miriam will replace outgoing Chair, Patricia Reed. She previously served as the board’s special projects lead.” [Fairfax Library Foundation]
Students Master Cake and Swordplay at Summer Arts Program — “The teenagers are part of Fairfax County Public Schools annual Institute for the Arts, a summer program that encourages kids — even those not enrolled in FCPS — to explore subjects like ‘Modern Buttercream Techniques’ or ‘Stage Combat’ that either aren’t traditionally offered during the school year or may not fit into a student’s academic scheduling needs.” [FCPS]
It’s Wednesday — Humid throughout the day. High of 90 and low of 76. Sunrise at 6:01 am and sunset at 8:32 pm. [Weather.gov]
A major fixture in Fairfax County’s historic wagon trade is undergoing major repairs.
The county has begun demolishing and repairing the Historic Dranesville Tavern (11919 Leesburg Pike), which was built in the 1830s to serve the wagon trade that supplied the Piedmont area of Virginia. Crews have started a $191,000 project to root out termite damage in the building’s structure.
“As it stands today, the tavern is the product of three distinct phases of construction, and it offers an interesting insight into the evolution of local construction styles,” the Fairfax County Park Authority said in its news release announcing the repairs.
The project is expected to wrap up in November of this year, according to project manager David Buchta.
“The problem was identified in the spring of 2021. The project was delayed by the pandemic and seeking a qualified contractor for the project,” Buchta said.
The park authority describes the tavern as a “significant vestige of the social and commercial history of the region”:
Its association with the turnpike trade is an interesting chapter in its history. The rapid growth of these roads in the general area of Dranesville was spurred by the rivalry between the cities of Georgetown and Alexandria for the valuable resources of the Shenandoah Valley. Dranesville Tavern was frequented by those who traveled between these eastern towns and Leesburg.
Currently, the building is being used as a historic rental for social events and programs for the park authority.
Crews will remove the building’s siding and find rot-resistant wood. Scaffolding will also be erected on the exterior gable end of the building’s chimney.
What to Know About Covid Vaccines for Young Kids — If recommended by the CDC and Virginia Department of Health, COVID-19 vaccines will be available from the Fairfax County Health Department with no appointments needed. Parents should contact their medical provider to see if they will carry the vaccines, which may be harder to find at pharmacies due to a state law that prohibits pharmacists from giving vaccinations to kids younger than 3. [FCHD]
Friends Stunned by Fair Lakes Shooting Deaths — “Now those who knew them are left to reconcile the image of three bodies with memories of an outwardly cheerful trio…who seemed to be always up for a boisterous evening out, for the karaoke nights they enjoyed at Fairfax bars, at Fat Tuesday’s and the Auld Shebeen.” [The Washington Post]
Mosaic District Restaurant Helps Worker After Crash — The Greek restaurant Our Mom Eugenia is helping share a fundraiser for an employee after her daughter was critically injured in last week’s fatal crash in Oakton. The business operator says Katya is “doing well” after being hit by a car while walking home from Oakton High School with her cousin and friend. [NBC4]
Annandale House Fire Started by Lights — Fairfax County fire investigators have determined that a house fire in the 3900 block of Terrace Drive on Saturday (June 11) was started accidentally “by an electrical event involving outdoor string lights” on the backyard deck. The fire displaced seven people and caused approximately $125,000 in damages. [FCFRD]
Victim Says County Prosecutors “Pressured” Her Into Plea Deal — “Julie, not her real name, said she’s been traumatized. First, by a manipulating online predator. Then, by the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.” [ABC7]
Prepare for Change at Springfield Town Center — “PREIT CEO Joe Coradino said his eye is on reshaping the property into something that more closely resembles its title as a town center, with a greater mix of uses. The introduction of additional components, including the planned Lego Discovery Center and seven-story hotel will help further that aim, he said.” [Washington Business Journal]
Historic Reston Distillery Gets Spotlight — “Thank you Virginia Department of Heritage Resources for promoting #Reston landmark A. Smith Bowman Distillery on #NationalBourbonDay! Read about the only legal whiskey distillery in Virginia in its day, which operated until the 1950s” [Supervisor Walter Alcorn/Twitter]
Restaurant Crawl Coming to Fairfax City on Saturday — The Old Town Fairfax City Summer Crawl is a timed, self-guided tour through participating restaurants, which will offer exclusive small plates and drinks from their menus. The free event will unfold from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m., letting patrons “support local restaurants…while enjoying a variety of bites and beverages.” [Fairfax City EDA]
It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 85 and low of 69. Sunrise at 5:44 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]
Police Arrest Suspect in Car Part Thefts — “A 33-year-old Alexandria man is being held without bond after allegedly stealing thousands of dollars worth of vehicle parts in residential parking garages in Fairfax County and Fairfax City…The first theft was reported on April 19 in the 5800 block of Trinity Parkway in Centreville.” [ALXnow]
Fairfax Man Charged for Loudoun County Bomb Threat — “An 18-year-old man from Fairfax was arrested on Tuesday and charged in connection with a bomb threat that was emailed to Dominion High School on May 19.” [Patch]
Fairfax County to Study Free Bus Service — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed staff to analyze the pros and cons of making Fairfax Connector buses fare free for all riders, building off of a recently approved program providing 50% discounts to low-income riders. The results will be presented to the board at its transportation committee meeting on Sept. 30. [Patch]
Affordable Housing Units Open for Rent — The Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development was recently notified of potential vacancies in apartments targeted toward lower-income residents. There are currently available units in Oakton’s Dwell Vienna Metro Apartments, the Passport Apartments in Herndon, and The Kingston and Hanover in Tysons. [HCD]
Construction Firm Makes Reston Office Its HQ — “General contracting firm Winmar Construction Inc., one of the largest private companies in Greater Washington, is moving its headquarters from Georgetown to Reston. Rockville commercial real estate firm Edge said Tuesday it represented Winmar in a lease for 7,000 square feet at 2100 Reston Parkway.” [Washington Business Journal]
Vienna Proposes Change to Historic Register Criteria — “At the request of Historic Vienna Inc., the Vienna Town Council on July 11 will hold a public hearing to change the definition of ‘historic’ as ‘at least 100 years old.'” The town currently limits its register of historic sites and places to properties that existed before 1900. [Sun Gazette]
Repaved Wakefield Courts to Reopen — “After months of repairs and conversion of existing courts to pickleball courts, it’s time to officially open the renewed and renovated Wakefield Park tennis and pickleball court complex…Please join us on Saturday, June 25, 2022, at 9 a.m. for a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by a demonstration of [pickleball] and light refreshments.” [FCPA]
It’s Thursday — Possible light rain in the morning. High of 75 and low of 66. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:35 pm. [Weather.gov]