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Traffic fills Richmond Highway (via Fairfax County)

The clock is ticking for Fairfax County and the D.C. region to adopt a new transportation plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This past June, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) approved Visualize 2045 — a regional transportation plan that runs through 2045 and must be updated every four years, as mandated by the federal government.

At the same meeting, it voted to include greenhouse gas emission goals in the next plan, targeting cuts of 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

Now, six months later, Fairfax County is already preparing to submit its segment of that plan with those emission goals in mind, but the process will be slightly different from previous years.

Presented at the Board of Supervisors transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 31), Visualize 2050 will include “zero-based budgeting,” meaning all localities have to resubmit their transportation projects for consideration to ensure they adhere to the new emission reduction goals.

Before, most projects automatically carried over from one plan to the next, though projects could be added or taken out if needed, Fairfax County Department of Transportation planner Malcolm Watson explained to the supervisors.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who’s on the TPB with Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, noted that the board has had a “lively discussion” over the last few years regarding the emission goals.

“There’s been…quite a difference of opinion on the climate change stuff, particularly between the inner jurisdictions and the outer jurisdictions,” Alcorn said. “We are kind of right in between.”

County staff have identified 33 projects they expect to be part of the transportation plan and will need to be resubmitted under the new standards. Projects currently “in development” include Reston Parkway improvements, a new Dulles Airport Access road from Chain Bridge Road, and a widening of Frying Pan Road from Sully to Centreville roads.

Most of those projects are expected to be completed between 2025 and 2040.

There are 25 projects that could be exempted from the emission standards because they are already funded or under construction. Those include the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit system, an I-495 overpass at Tysons Corner Center, and the $237 million Soapstone Connector.

Watson cautioned that the lists may change as projects get taken off and added, depending on priorities, the new emission goals, and other factors.

Next month, the TPB will issue a “call for projects,” and the lists will be officially published for public review.

“This will officially kick off Visualize 2050,” Watson said.

The county board ultimately will have to vote to approve the project lists over the summer before they get submitted to the TPB.

The hope is that by December 2024, the TPB will approve Visualize 2050, and the new emission goals will become the norm, making Visualize 2055 perhaps a bit less labor-intensive.

Photo via Fairfax County

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The Fairfax County Government Center building (staff photo by David Taube)

(Updated at 1:15 p.m. on 11/30/2022) Local officials are already preparing for “one of the most challenging” budget talks in years due to inflation, the changing real estate market, and staff retention challenges.

Right before the Thanksgiving holiday, Fairfax County staff offered supervisors and the school board an early look at projected revenues, expenditures, and points of potential discussion as the county and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) prepare to release proposed budgets early next year.

The fiscal year 2024 budget forecast that staff presented on Nov. 22 didn’t paint a particularly rosy picture, however.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay called the forecast “a real mixed bag.” County staff said that generated revenue remained “healthy,” but others weren’t so sunny.

“This is probably going to be one of the most challenging budgets in my 11 years on the [school] board,” Braddock District School Board representative Megan McLaughlin said. “It’s going to be a tough one.”

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity concurred, saying there wasn’t “a lot of good news in here.”

As is the case across the country, the local real estate market has been slowing due to increasing interest rates and rising prices. While it increased from last year, growth is expected to flatten going forward for the rest of 2022 and into 2023.

Fairfax County staff forecast a dip in revenues available for fiscal year 2024 (via Fairfax County)

Non-residential tax revenue is in even worse shape, at least partially due to the change in work-from-home habits resulting from the pandemic. It’s expected to increase by only 0.6% compared to last year when the growth was about 2.3% compared to 2022.

While hotel, retail, and apartment revenues are all expected to increase next year, office revenue is expected to decline between 5% and 6%, raising concerns among some supervisors and school board members.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said he has talked to companies in the county that have no intention of renewing office leases due to decreased need with more employees now teleworking.

He called it a “slow-moving crisis” that could create a “very significant hole” in terms of missing revenue.

“[This] is very troubling,” Walkinshaw said. “It’s a structural challenge now in our economy…I’m not confident we have our arms around what that challenge is going to look like over the next 5 to 10 years.”

New construction and transient occupancy (or lodging) tax revenue are also expected to grow, but at much lower rates than prior to the pandemic.

Real estate taxes are the largest source of revenue for the county, providing more than two-thirds of generated money. Last year, home values soared, while commercial tax revenue dropped, resulting in a 3-cent decrease in the real estate tax rate.

All told, revenue is predicted to rise by about $266 million, a 3.8% increase from last year, per the presented forecast.

However, revenue isn’t keeping pace with expenditures, due mostly to anticipated staff salary increases.

Between recruitment and retention challenges and inflation, an additional $159 million will be needed for salaries and benefits compared to the current budget — plus another $113.5 million for school staff. Adding in other costs, the county and FCPS are looking at a combined shortfall of about $125 million for fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1, 2023, staff said.

Since this is a baseline forecast, a number of county and school priorities were not taken into account, including infrastructure upgrades, increased investments in affordable housing, and an expansion of early childhood education programs.

As county staff and McKay both reiterated, the forecast is only an estimation subject to change.

“As the economic outlook is uncertain, staff is approaching FY 2024 revenue forecasting very conservatively,” the presentation said.

Adoption of the fiscal year 2024 budget remains six months away. Advertised budget plans for the county and schools will be released in February with final votes coming in May 2023.

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Solar panels (via Minoru Karamatsu/Flickr)

(Updated at 11:25 a.m. on 8/5/2022) Fairfax County is exploring being the first Virginia locality to create a “green bank” as a way to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

In a presentation to the Board of Supervisors’ environmental committee last week, county staff said a green bank can help spur investments in clean energy.

Essentially, a green bank is a publicly-funded financial institution that helps fund, develop, and support clean energy technologies for both residential and commercial entities.

“A green bank can act as a program sponsor, a trusted advisor, and a clearing house of information for residents and the private sector,” John Morrill, from the county’s office of environmental and energy coordination, said in his presentation to the committee.

The board asked staff to look into the idea of a green bank two years ago, ultimately authorizing $300,000 for a feasibility study. The General Assembly also passed legislation last year letting localities set up their own.

So far, the feasibility study found that a green bank could lead to $650 million of investments in just the first five years. Those investments would focus on residential energy efficiency measures, rooftop solar panels for both county homes and businesses, and shifting commercial car fleets to electric.

“The role of a green bank would be to encourage and facilitate those investments through targeted programs, direct incentives, and partnerships with private financial institutions and service providers,” Morrill said.

A few committee members questioned whether the county’s green bank would be “crowding out” private investment that would have happened regardless.

“That’s probably the crux of the issue and the most challenging operational,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said. “It doesn’t do us any good to fund a project that would have happened otherwise.”

According to staff, a county-backed green bank could help homeowners better afford improvements like solar panels or help make decisions about what’s right for them. For example, the county could provide “cash incentives” for installing rooftop solar panels in exchange for the county getting the renewable energy credits.

Morrill also noted that a green bank could help make improvements for low and moderate-income households that could benefit from the potential savings.

Staff recommended the county create a green bank as a non-profit 501(c)(3) with a board that could include county officials.

While no Virginia locality has a green bank yet, it is becoming a trend nationwide that was actually kicked off by nearby Montgomery County, which is among the first localities in the country to set up a county-backed green bank. D.C. also has a green bank.

(Correction: This article previously stated that Montgomery County was the first U.S. locality to create a green bank. While the county has said that, it was preceded in 2010 by New York City, which also claims to have the nation’s first local green bank, and St. Lucie County in Florida, which formed the nonprofit Solar and Energy Loan Fund.)

Staff recommended that the board follow Montgomery County’s lead in committing “a mid-range investment” for a green bank with initial funding ranging from $3 million to $15 million.

Chairman Jeff McKay suggested the county could partner with other local jurisdictions, so that Fairfax County doesn’t have to bear the sole financial brunt for an initiative that would benefit the region.

Committee members expressed overall support for the green bank proposal and asked staff to complete the study.

Staff will complete a draft ordinance and provide an official funding recommendation in the fall. The matter could come before the environmental committee for a vote in October with a Board of Supervisors public hearing scheduled for late this year or early 2023.

“If we initiate this, we have a chance to start this up in a way that not only benefits Fairfax County residents but also other counties around us to hopefully move more quickly adoption of ways to save energy and optimize our reduction in greenhouse gases,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck.

Photo via Minoru Karamatsu/Flickr

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A crosswalk on Graham Road at Strathmore Street (via Google Maps)

A 2021 law gave hope to Fairfax County officials looking to lower speed limits in residential and business neighborhoods.

However, the Virginia Department of Transportation has said the law — which gave localities the authority to reduce speed limits from 25 to 15 mph — conflicts with other state rules, according to the Virginia Association of Counties.

“That bill was signed into law,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said during a board meeting on Tuesday (May 10). “Lives are at stake here.”

Noting safety concerns, he asked the board’s county executive, attorney’s office, and Director of Transportation Tom Biesiadny whether the county should pursue a legal challenge to VDOT’s interpretation of the law.

“Following adoption of the bill, VDOT opined that it had determined that legislation does not apply on streets that are in the state highway system, which essentially includes all roads within Fairfax County and other counties that do not maintain their own roads,” the county said in a March legislative report.

VDOT was unable to immediately respond. The department does acknowledge that school divisions and local governments can jointly approve changes to reduce school speed limits from 25 to 15 mph.

Legislative efforts to address the conflict stemming from the 2021 law have stalled or been stricken, according to the county’s legislative report.

The comments came as the Board of Supervisors approved a Safe Streets for All program, which will establish an interdisciplinary task force, develop policy, and make recommendations for improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

So far this year, 49 pedestrians have been injured in Fairfax County crashes, according to VDOT data.

Photo via Google Maps

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Fox News discusses protests at Supreme Court justices’ homes (via Gov. Glenn Youngkin/Twitter)

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has some thoughts on how Fairfax County should handle abortion-related protests outside Supreme Court justices’ homes.

In a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors and County Executive Bryan Hill yesterday (Wednesday), the governor suggested that the Fairfax County Police Department “establish an expanded security perimeter” and limit “unauthorized vehicle and pedestrian access” around the homes of Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Amy Coney Barrett, who all live in the county.

“This request is based on credible and specific information received about upcoming activities planned at or involving the homes of the Justices in Fairfax County,” Youngkin wrote in the letter, which was posted online by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity. “…Establishing a perimeter will ensure both the safety of the Justices, their neighbors and the demonstrators.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay resoundly rejected Youngkin’s proposal, arguing that it would amount to “a checkpoint that federal courts have held violates the Fourth Amendment.”

He said it would also raise concerns related to the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of speech and assembly, stating that the county’s “well-trained, sophisticated” police department “stands ready as always to take necessary action, if needed, to protect public safety.”

“My focus is on public safety and protecting constitutional rights of our citizens,” McKay said in a tweet sharing his letter to Youngkin. “I know the well-trained FCPD professionals can ensure both.”

The exchange came two days after abortion-rights advocates organized by the group ShutDown DC marched to Alito’s house in Fort Hunt in protest of his leaked draft opinion indicating that the Supreme Court intends to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that has been used to protect access to abortion for nearly 50 years. Read More

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A memorial for the late 19-year-old Virginia Tech student Mary Read has been relocated and enhanced with greenery.

The Annandale resident was one of 32 people killed on April 16, 2007, in the shooting at the university.

A rededication event will take place in Canterbury Woods Park (5018 Wakefield Chapel Road) at 1 p.m. on Saturday (April 16) — 15 years after the attack.

“This was her park,” said Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who spoke with the family this week. “So it was important to them that the memorial stay in this park.”

The site near Braddock Road that the memorial had occupied for over a decade frequently flooded. County staff worked with Read’s family and local advocates to find a “more appropriate and accessible” spot in the park, according to a statement from Walkinshaw.

“Over time, the flooding down there has gotten worse and worse — to the point it’s submerged much of the time,” Walkinshaw said Tuesday (April 12) during a board meeting.

Earlier this week, a crew relocated the existing bench and plaque to their new spot, which is by the parking lot at a higher elevation.

“The Read family [is] really excited for this and appreciative of the community’s efforts to make this happen,” Walkinshaw said, adding that the community’s efforts will ensure Read’s memory is respected and treated with the dignity that it deserves.

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