A day after neighboring Arlington County made waves by ending single-family exclusive zoning, Fairfax County saw its own zoning reforms reversed two years after they were approved.
The Virginia Supreme Court declared the county’s Zoning Ordinance Modification Project (zMOD) void yesterday (Thursday) because the new code was adopted at a mostly virtual meeting — a ruling could have consequences for other actions taken during the first years of the pandemic, as noted by Inside NoVA, which first reported the decision.
The county is now operating under its previous zoning ordinance, which had been in place since 1978, according to the zoning administration division’s website.
“We are currently evaluating the Virginia Supreme Court decision and considering our options,” Tony Castrilli, the county’s director of public affairs, said. “In the meantime, the 1978 Zoning Ordinance is presently in effect and available for reference on the County website.”
In a 29-page opinion, Justice Wesley Russell sided with four residents who argued that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act’s open meeting requirements by not holding an in-person public hearing or vote.
The county contended that an ordinance adopted on April 14, 2020 gave it the flexibility to hold public meetings on the zoning update and other subjects electronically during the Covid state of emergency.
The Supreme Court disagreed that the ordinance allowed the county government to conduct all regular business electronically, finding that the zoning update doesn’t qualify as “necessary to ensure the continuation of essential functions and services.”
“The modification of a 40-year-old zoning ordinance after a five-year revision process does not satisfy this standard,” Russell wrote. “It is not a time-sensitive matter, and its adoption is not and was not necessary to allow the County to continue operations.”
The residents behind the lawsuit — David Berry, Carol Hawn, Helen Webb and Adrienne Whyte — filed a complaint in Fairfax County Circuit Court on March 5, 2021 seeking to prevent the board from adopting zMOD at a public hearing on March 9, 2021.
The circuit court denied the request and ultimately dismissed the complaint on Sept. 9, 2021, stating that it had been rendered moot by the adoption of zMOD on March 23, 2021 and that the county board’s emergency powers gave it the authority to act at an electronic meeting. Read More
(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) A group of McLean residents opposed to the extension of the I-495 toll lanes past their neighborhoods have turned to the courts in a bid to halt the project, now in its second year of construction.
The Northern Virginia (NOVA) Citizens Association filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Thursday (March 16) alleging that major revisions to the project design violated federal law, resulting in “significant on-going environmental harms” to residents.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard Miller, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), private toll lanes operator Transurban, and Transurban subsidiary Capital Beltway Express LLC are named as defendants.
“As a result of Defendants’ actions, NOVA and its members are experiencing significant adverse environmental impacts caused by the Project,” the complaint says, arguing that the road construction and loss of trees will contribute to noise, light, air pollution, water quality, erosion and health issues.
In the works since 2018, the I-495 Northern Extension project (495 NEXT) is adding 2.5 miles of express lanes from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons past the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean, reconfiguring many of the bridges and interchanges within that span.
The GW Parkway interchange has been a particular point of concern for the NOVA Citizens Association, whose members fear that their neighborhood along Live Oak Drive will be destroyed to accommodate planned ramps and stormwater management ponds.
According to the complaint, VDOT unveiled significant changes to the project design in September 2021 and June 2022 — months after the FHWA approved its environmental assessment, an evaluation of the project’s potential impact required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The changes — including a consolidation of stormwater facilities, a narrowing of Live Oak Drive to 22 feet wide, and the relocation of an I-495 Express Lanes exit ramp to the GW Parkway — were substantial enough that additional environmental review should’ve been conducted, the association contends.
“The major changes to the stormwater control plan, the expansion of impermeable surfaces, and the greatly expanded deforestation will result in a significant increase in the release of stormwater which is contaminated with pollutants onto the properties of members of the association,” the complaint says.
The complaint also raises concerns about the safety of narrowing Live Oak Drive, especially for kids traveling to Cooper Middle School and the nearby Langley Swim & Tennis Club, and a reported plan to place a 5G cell tower on one resident’s property.
In a Feb. 24 declaration supporting the complaint, Live Oak Drive residents Pritesh and Marisha Patel wrote that the noise and pollution from the 495 NEXT construction has caused “irreparable harm” to their family, particularly their 11-year-old son, who has asthma. Read More
When Fairfax County Public Schools resumes classes in January, students and staff may once again be required to wear face masks — but only around students with disabilities who request the accommodation.
Virginia settled a lawsuit last week with parents of 12 immunocompromised students who argued that the end of Covid-related face mask requirements in schools violated their right to a free, appropriate public education.
As part of the settlement, the state agreed that, if requested by a parent, schools must allow “some amount of required masking as a reasonable modification” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Virginia Department of Education was directed to send guidance on “peer masking” to the schools attended by students in the lawsuit, including Stenwood Elementary School in Dunn Loring.
“The health and well-being of our students and staff remain a top priority. FCPS is aware of this settlement and is currently assessing how it impacts operations,” FCPS said in a statement.
The settlement only directly applies to the specific schools attended by the plaintiffs’ kids, who have asthma, cystic fibrosis and other conditions that put them at high risk of getting severely sick if they contract COVID-19.
However, when announcing the settlement on Dec. 12, the ACLU of Virginia — one of several organizations representing the parents — expressed hope that it will signal to other schools that they should consider requiring masks when needed for students with disabilities as well.
“We’re hopeful that every school in Virginia will view this settlement as a sign that they should make similar accommodations for their students, even if they are not part of the case,” ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman said.
The complaint was filed in federal court in Charlottesville on Feb. 1, shortly after Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order making masks optional in schools took effect.
FCPS and six other school districts sued Youngkin in an effort to block the order, arguing that universal masking was still necessary as the country was just starting to exit the biggest surge in COVID-19 cases of the pandemic.
That lawsuit was rendered moot once a bill requiring schools to allow parents to opt their kids out of wearing a mask became law on Feb. 16. FCPS made masks optional on March 1, though the school board filed a brief supporting the families who sued.
Acknowledging an initial court ruling from March, the settlement says the state law and executive order don’t prohibit schools from considering and fulfilling mask requirement requests to accommodate students with disabilities.
Under the agreement, schools are expected to look at alternatives, such as ventilation improvements or social distancing, before requiring masks. They must also “take every reasonable step” to ensure a student whose parents don’t want them to wear a mask doesn’t have to.
The settlement also required the state to pay $295,000 to cover the suing parents’ legal fees.
“This settlement is a step toward righting a wrong,” Tasha Nelson, one of the parents, said. “Children like mine should not be told they cannot participate safely in school or that they have to be segregated. They have a right to the same education as every other child. As adults, it’s our responsibility to make sure that we include everyone in our decisions and come up with solutions that provide equity in school.”
While Covid cases haven’t gotten close to last winter’s levels, they have been climbing over the past few weeks, with the Fairfax Health District averaging 260.3 cases per day for the preceding week, as of yesterday (Monday).
FCPS has reported a total of 5,969 cases among students and staff since this school year began on Aug. 22 — exceeding the 3,669 cases seen over the same time frame in 2021. Students are now on winter break until Jan. 3.
Photo via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash
(Updated at 9:30 a.m. on 9/23/2022) With a new school year underway, students will soon jockey for seats in Fairfax County’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), even as a federal court considers whether its current admission system discriminates against Asians.
For now, thanks to an earlier ruling upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, the upcoming class of 2027 will be determined by the same, much-debated process that has helped diversify the magnet school’s student body over the past two years, FCPS confirmed to FFXnow.
Launching at 4 p.m. on Oct. 24, freshman student applications will consist of a student portrait sheet and a math or science-focused problem-solving essay. Other criteria include a grade point average of 3.5 or higher and consideration of a student’s English language learner, special education, or free/reduced-price lunch status — known as “experience factors.”
Those experience factors and a guarantee that all participating schools get seats equal to 1.5% of their student population are central to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of policy, which was adopted by the Fairfax County School Board in December 2020.
The revised process — which eliminated a standardized test and application fee — doesn’t explicitly consider race when evaluating students, but a lawyer for the Coalition for TJ argued to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Friday (Sept. 16) that it was designed to boost Black and Latino representation at the expense of Asian applicants.
(Correction: This article previously said oral arguments had taken place on Saturday, Sept. 17)
“That’s clear in the record from the statements that the board members and other senior staff in Fairfax County Public Schools made, that Asian American students were in the way,” Erin Wilcox said to the three-judge panel. “They needed to clear out room to increase the numbers of Black and Hispanic students.”
In February, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the Coalition for TJ, agreeing that the changes amounted to “racial balancing” in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause, which prohibits laws from discriminating based on race.
FCPS promptly appealed the decision, maintaining that the policy is race-neutral, as stated in the school board’s adopted resolution, and backed by legal precedent. Donald Verrilli, the school board’s legal representative, cited a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that supported universities taking steps to diversify, ideally without directly looking at race.
“There are no quotas, no targets, no racial preferences of any kind, no racial classifications of any kind, and it is 100% race-blind in its administration,” he said. “No application contains any racially identifying information, so all applicants are judged on a race-blind basis.” Read More
FCPS Expands FOIA Staffing and Budget — “Fairfax County Public School added half a million dollars in this year’s budget to keep up with public records requests, which have more than tripled since 2016 and gotten broader in scope. The increase comes as the school system finds itself the subject of political vitriol over COVID precautions and racial equity programs, among other issues.” [DCist]
Vermont Senator Falls at McLean Home — “U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont was set to undergo surgery Thursday after he broke his hip in a fall at his home, according to his spokesman. The 82-year-old Democrat fell Wednesday night in McLean, Virginia, a statement Thursday morning said.” [Associated Press]
Dr. Scott Brabrand on Tenure as FCPS Superintendent — “Brabrand, who was hired as superintendent in 2017, concludes his five-year stint Thursday, when Michelle Reid is scheduled to take the oath of office and serve as his successor…His tenure, which aimed at improving diversity among school staff and working to improve student outcomes, was interrupted by a pandemic that Brabrand called — next to school integration — the biggest event to impact public education in its history.” [WTOP]
DOJ Sues to Stop Merger of Tysons and Reston Companies — “The Department of Justice has filed an antitrust lawsuit to block Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.’s proposed acquisition of EverWatch Corp., a Reston cybersecurity contractor…alleging the deal would drive up prices for the government and stifle competition for some work with the National Security Agency.” [Washington Business Journal]
Expansion of Metrobus Student Program Approved — “Students from Annandale High School, Falls Church High School, Marshall High School and the Davis Center will join students at Justice High School in participating in the free student bus pass program using Metrobus. These expanded options for Metrobus will be available for the 2022-2023 school year.” [Patch]
Mantua House Fire Started by Car Engine — Firefighters extinguished a fire that started in the garage of a two-story house in the 3200 block of Barbara Lane on Tuesday (June 28). Started accidentally in a vehicle engine compartment, the fire displaced two residents and caused approximately $182,500 in damages, including the loss of the vehicle. [FCFRD]
County Offers to Help Residents Keep Cool — “Do you need help avoiding the heat this summer? Cooling Assistance is a program designed to help keep vulnerable Fairfax County residents cool during the summer months Applications are now being accepted through August 15.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]
It’s Friday — Humid and partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 88 and low of 74. Sunrise at 5:49 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]
Virginia Reports Second Case of Monkeypox — “The patient is an adult male resident of the Northern region of Virginia who was exposed out of state. The Virginia patient did not require hospitalization and is isolating at home. To protect patient privacy, no further information will be provided.” [VDH]
Discrimination Lawsuit Details Issues at Annandale Apartments — “The Fairfax County Circuit Court heard a case [Friday] that shined a light on the filthy and inhumane conditions at Fairmont Gardens in Annandale. Dean Sanchez, a former leasing agent, is suing the Donaldson Group, the company that owns the apartment complex…Sanchez reports the apartments are infested with mice, bedbugs, roaches, and mold.” [Annandale Today]
Man Arrested in McLean Charged in Capitol Storming — “A U.S. Naval reservist who was assigned to an agency that operates spy satellites told an undercover FBI agent that he stormed the U.S. Capitol with members of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group and has espoused anti-government and antisemitic ideologies, federal authorities said in court records unsealed on Thursday.” [NBC4]
Lawsuit Alleges FCPS Mishandled Sexual Assault Complaint — “Lawyers for a former Fairfax County student recently filed an amended complaint against the Fairfax County School Board outlining allegations of an unsafe environment that led to repeated sexual harassment and sexual assaults of the student.” [Inside NoVA/WTOP]
Metro Introduces $2 Weeknight Fares — “Lower-priced unlimited Metrorail and Metrobus monthly passes are now on sale for travel beginning July 1, providing more flexibility and value to customers who may no longer be commuting five days a week. And beginning Monday, June 27, all customers traveling on Metrorail after 9:30 p.m. on weekdays will benefit from a flat fare of $2 per one-way trip.” [WMATA]
Police Investigate Fairfax City Shooting — “The founder of a non-profit that builds schools for girls in Africa was found shot to death inside his Fairfax city home Friday morning.” [NBC4]
Falls Church Abortion Clinic Plans Expansion — “Falls Church Healthcare Center is working to expand capacity because they suspect they’ll soon get more out-of-state patients. They are looking to add more appointments, considering adding an extra day for scheduling and hiring nurse practitioners to deliver care.” [DCist]
New Lorton Fire Station Gets Grand Opening — “The new $14 million fire station is significantly larger, has energy efficient and environmentally sustainable features, and was outfitted to comfortably accommodate both male and female members of Fairfax County Fire and Rescue and the volunteer fire company.” [On the MoVe]
It’s Monday — Rain in the morning and afternoon. High of 80 and low of 68. Sunrise at 5:47 am and sunset at 8:40 pm. [Weather.gov]
The two former Fairfax County Police Department officers accused of protecting a sex trafficking ring have denied the allegations and demanded proof in a lawsuit against them.
Michael O. Barbazette and Jason Mardocco denied any knowledge of or involvement in a sex trafficking ring that the victim who filed the lawsuit says forced her and other women to work as prostitutes.
“To the extent that plaintiff claims that she was trafficked and forced to work as a prostitute, these defendants lack knowledge to respond,” a lawyer for the officers said in an answer to the second amended complaint, filed May 24 in federal court in Alexandria.
In their response to the lawsuit, the officers also deny obstructing and interfering with an investigation into the trafficking ring by a former FCPD detective with the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force.
The complaint by the victim, identified only as Jane Doe, claims that Barbazette made it difficult for detective William Woolf to do his work, maintaining “unprecedented, strict control” over his investigative activities and denying approvals of his investigation.
Per the suit:
While at first defendant Barbazette was indifferent, not to say hostile, to Det. Woolf’s trafficking work, in 2014-15 he started demonstrating a substantial interest in Det. Woolf’s interviews with the trafficking victims he worked with. He started joining Det. Woolf on interviews of trafficking victims, and on at least one occasion told Det. Woolf to give him a trafficking victim’s telephone number.
According to the court filing from the officers’ attorney, Barbazette admits he was Woolf’s supervisor for a time but denies the allegations, which include that he ordered Woolf not to investigate sex trafficking cases, and demanded proof.
The lawsuit stems from a prostitution ring run by Hazel Marie Sanchez Cerdas, who pleaded guilty to felony racketeering and was sentenced to two years and six months in prison in August 2019, with credit for time served.
Governor Attends Vienna Memorial Day Ceremony — “Vienna residents joined Gov. Glen Youngkin and other dignitaries at the Town Green today to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. In his remarks, Rear Admiral Fred Kacher noted that for Gold Star families, every day is Memorial Day.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]
West Falls Church Apartment Fire Displaces Residents — Assisted by Arlington and Fairfax City, Fairfax Count fire investigators are looking into a two-alarm apartment fire that damaged 12 units in the 2900 block of Dover Lane on Sunday (May 29). There were no reported injuries, but an “unknown number” of residents were displaced, including a dog. [FCFRD/Facebook, Twitter]
Transgender Woman Sues Fairfax County Jail — A former inmate at Fairfax County Adult Detention Center alleges in a lawsuit that she was housed with men and experienced harassment after officials learned she was transgender. The case is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. [The Washington Post]
Lack of Defibrillators Keeps Reston Pools Closed — “Due to supply chain delays, the following five RA pools did not receive new Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in time for Memorial Day weekend: Autumnwood, Ridge Heights, Hunters Woods, Golf Course Island, and Tall Oaks, according to an RA announcement.” [Patch]
Great Falls Pipeline Project Halted — “The Virginia Department of Transportation on May 24 issued a stop-work order for a Washington Gas pipeline-installation project on Georgetown Pike after receiving complaints from the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA).” [Sun Gazette]
Woman Killed in Annandale Crash Was Community Advocate — “[Eileen] Garnett, 83, was a longtime advocate for revitalizing Annandale. On the day of the crash, she was with a group of county and state officials on an inspection tour of Annandale hosted by the Annandale Central Business District Planning Committee.” [Annandale Today]
“Above-Average” Hurricane Season Forecast — “NOAA is forecasting a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which six to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to six major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher).” [Fairfax County Emergency Information]
Centreville Park Gets Lighting Upgrades — “The Fairfax County Park Authority will begin a basketball lighting upgrade project this week at Chalet Woods Park, located at 14912 Cranoke St., Centreville, in the Sully District. The project scope includes removal of the existing poles and fixtures, followed by installation of new poles, fixtures and a push button for basketball court lights.” [FCPA]
It’s Tuesday — Humid throughout the day. High of 90 and low of 72. Sunrise at 5:47 am and sunset at 8:29 pm. [Weather.gov]
One of the most prominent court trials in recent Fairfax County history is drawing to a close.
Drawing celebrities, media, and an eclectic assortment of fans, actor Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against fellow actor and ex-wife Amber Heard has unfolded in sobering, sometimes bizarre detail at the Fairfax County Courthouse since April 11.
The trial culminates more than three years of legal proceedings after Depp filed a complaint in March 2019 seeking $50 million from Heard over a Washington Post op-ed where she discussed her experience with sexual violence.
Depp’s lawyers filed the lawsuit in Fairfax County, because the Post’s computer servers are located here, and Virginia’s anti-SLAPP laws — which seek to prevent people from using the courts to intimidate or silence critics — are weaker than those in California, according to Inside NoVA.
Televised live by Court TV, the case has become a filter for issues related to celebrity and fan culture, while also raising fears that domestic violence victims will be further discouraged from speaking up or seeking help, given the mockery directed at Heard in particular everywhere from TikTok to Saturday Night Live.
With closing arguments expected tomorrow (Friday), have you been following developments in the trial closely, or are you eager for an end to the hubbub?
Fairfax County Man Dies in Alexandria Jail — “Alexandria law enforcement is investigating the death of Anthony Mouf, a 25-year-old Fairfax County man in Alexandria’s William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center. According to a city release, Mouf was found suffering from an apparent medical emergency alone in his cell in the jail’s booking area.” [ALXnow]
Fort Belvoir Housing Contractors Hit with Lawsuit — “After bouncing around houses near Fort Belvoir, pleading with Michaels for repairs and remediation and asking officials on the base for help, Roman filed a lawsuit on March 16 of this year, alleging the owner and manager of thousands of housing units on the base allowed safety hazards and other substandard conditions to persist for years.” [Bisnow]
Fairfax Diner Plans Comeback — After being destroyed by a fire before Thanksgiving last year, the 29 Diner will reopen on Oct. 10, owner John Wood announced earlier this month. Still serving “the thick slices of applewood-smoked bacon, milkshakes, and Texas-style barbecue patrons know and love,” the restaurant will have an updated, open kitchen and restored furnishings that pay homage to its 1947 opening. [Northern Virginia Magazine]
Tips for Handling the Baby Formula Shortage — “As the nationwide infant formula shortage continues due to a temporary shutdown of the plant that manufactures about half of the U.S. supply, local families are impacted, too. Our Health Department advises if you have any questions, check with your baby’s physician or healthcare provider, especially if your baby is on a restricted diet or has any medical conditions.” [Fairfax County Government]
Vienna Burger Joint Expands to Arlington — “HQ2 will be home to Arlington’s second Conte’s Bike Shop, a South Block, the second location of Vienna-based Social Burger and the first brick-and-mortar location of HUSTLE — a high intensity cycling workout business.” [ARLnow]
Capital One Sets Timeline for Office Return — The Tysons-based financial company announced that it will fully reopen all U.S. offices under a hybrid work model on Sept. 6, almost exactly a year later than previously planned. Capital One is one of the D.C. area’s largest employers, with 11,530 associates and contractors just for its headquarters, according to a spokesperson. [Capital One]
McLean Tennis Court Project Approved — The Fairfax County Park Authority Board “approved $650,000 in funding for court improvements at Lewinsville Park in McLean…FCPA anticipates the courts to be closed for up to four months, while these renovations and repairs are made.” [FCPA]
Reston Shop Hosts “Bike to Work Day” Stop — “National Bike Week happens to be this week with the 21st anniversary of Bike to Work Day in the National Capital Region falling on May 20…In Reston, bicyclists can head to a pit stop just off the Washington & Old Dominion Trail at The Bike Lane, 11150 Sunset Hills Reston, VA, 7 a.m.-9 a.m.” [Patch]
Annandale Food Festival Seeks Sponsors — “Now that planning is underway for the 2022 Taste of Annandale, the top priority is securing sponsors. The family-friendly community festival scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 1 in the center of Annandale, is likely to draw at least 6,000 people.” [Annandale Today]
It’s Thursday — Rain in the morning. High of 79 and low of 61. Sunrise at 5:54 am and sunset at 8:19 pm. [Weather.gov]