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Jefferson Manor neighborhood in Groveton (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

One of the oldest neighborhoods in southeastern Fairfax County is holding its birthday party this weekend, despite the likelihood of rain.

Jefferson Manor near Groveton is celebrating its 75th birthday tomorrow (Saturday) with a block party that will include food trucks, music, beer, a kids’ zone area, and a magician. Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay are both expected to attend.

Held on Monticello Road between Fairhaven Road and Edgehill Drive from 4-7 p.m., the block party is expected to draw about 300 attendees, even with the potential for dicey weather, Jefferson Manor Citizens Association President Derek Cole told FFXnow.

“We started the block party in 2017 just to celebrate how tight-knit our community was,” he said. “The turnout that we get speaks volumes to the community participation that we have.”

Consisting of about 550 semi-detached duplex homes, Jefferson Manor was built in 1947, as thousands of veterans returned home from World War II for jobs in the military and government.

Then covered in dairy farms, Fairfax County was a perfect place to build a home and settle with a family near enough to the urban core. Between 1940 and 1960, its population sextupled, growing from about 41,000 to nearly 249,000 people in just two decades. Those new residents needed homes fast.

A D.C. developer named Clarence W. Gosnell began buying up land across the county, including about 80 acres near Old Town Alexandria from S. Cooper Dawson, the co-owner of the well-known Penn-Daw Hotel.

Gosnell immediately went to work on the land, naming the neighborhood and the surrounding streets after president Thomas Jefferson.

Gosnell was one of the developers who was able to put up housing quickly and affordably,” Tammy Mannarino, a local historian who recently presented at a Jefferson Manor Civic Association meeting. “And he did that by having them be partially prefabricated.”

Gosnell’s company built and installed 12 to 16 homes a month in the neighborhood, a rate only exceeded by how quickly the homes were being sold, The Washington Post reported in 1947.

Every time they released a section of Jefferson Manor, it sold out,” Mannarino said. “They almost couldn’t build them fast enough.”

Homes were directly marketed to veterans, with Gosnell often advertising the starting price of $8,750 — about $114,000 today — as something “you can afford.”

Amenities soon sprang up to serve the budding neighborhood. Mount Eagle Elementary School (then called Penn Daw School) was built in 1949 to accommodate the new families.

However, as was the case in many county neighborhoods, there were restrictions on who could buy the homes.

The original contracts to purchase a Jefferson Manor home all contained a discriminatory covenant precluding anyone “not of the Caucasian Race” from occupying, using, selling, renting, or being given the home. The only exception was for “domestic servants.” Read More

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Mount Vernon Woods Park sign (via Fairfax County Parks Authority)

Mount Vernon Woods Park is set to add a playground, picnic shelter, multisport court, a field, and a skate park.

Design work is underway on the county-owned, 7-acre park on the southeast side of Huntley Meadows Park in Hybla Valley. The proposed improvements are based on the park’s 2015 master plan, which calls for a number of additions including a playground, a half-court, a skate park, on-site parking, a pavilion, and an open playing field.

The project is set to cost $2.5 million, which will come from the 2020 park bond, Fairfax County Parks Authority (FCPA) spokesperson Judith Pedersen told FFXnow in an email.

More detailed designs will be presented at a public meeting set for Sept. 8 at Mount Vernon Elementary School just south of the park.

The community will have a chance to comment on the designs both at the meeting and via email until Oct. 10.

The master plan was developed seven years ago to upgrade the 1960s-era park. The goal was to build “new, active facilities to be located in the park closer to Fielding Street to help create a more active and family-friendly park.”

A “neighborhood-scale skate park” is proposed in the southeast corner of the park with features for “both experienced and less-experienced users,” per the plan. This would be only the third county-maintained skate park.

Also proposed is a multi-use half court that could be used for activities like “basketball practice, one-on-one games, four square, hopscotch, or as an area for young children to practice riding a scooter or bike.” A fitness cluster, interpretive signs, and an open playing field are also part of the 2015 plan.

The master plan notes the need to upgrade access to the park as well, which currently doesn’t have easy pedestrian access, on-site parking, and out-of-date facilities.

FCPA has hired the engineering consulting firm Kimley-Horn, which has experience in the county, to assist with the development of the plans.

The designs that will be proposed next month to the public “generally follow” the approved 2015 Master Plan and any differences are “very minor,” Pedersen said.

A construction timeline and schedule will also be presented at the meeting in September.

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Trees at the corner of Jefferson Manor Park off Telegraph Road (photo by Brandi Bottalico)

Fairfax County is looking to grow a tree planting program that has resulted in 139 trees being planted along the Richmond Highway corridor since last year.

The “Residential Tree Planting Pilot Project” is a county-run program, in partnership with the D.C.-based nonprofit Casey Trees, providing free trees to residents in census tracts with low tree canopy coverage.

The three tracts targeted for the pilot program are all along the Richmond Highway corridor and within the Mount Vernon and Franconia Districts.

Since April 2021, residents living in those areas have planted 139 free trees on their properties. While a bit short of the 150-tree goal, the county has deemed the pilot program enough of a success to make it a “recurring program,” per an update to the Board of Supervisors last month.

The aim of the permanent program is to expand the tree canopy in other census tracts. A less expansive tree canopy often coincides with more “economically vulnerable neighborhoods,” Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson Sharon North wrote FFXnow in an email.

With that consideration, the program will be targeting census blocks in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County during its next planting cycle said North.

Money for the program will come out of the county’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund and will be managed by a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The fund’s current balance is $208,000, North said. Any additional funding recommendations will go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as part of its annual budget process.

Nearby localities like Arlington have similar programs to increase tree canopy in neighborhoods where it’s insufficient, which contributes to heat and temperature increases.

Back in 2021, Fairfax County staff identified 4,000 single-family and multi-family addresses within the three census tracts that would benefit from increased tree canopy.

Casey Trees devised a marketing campaign that sent out letters and greeting cards advertising the availability of free trees to those residents, who ultimately planted 139 trees.

That’s about a 3.5% success rate — higher than the industry average of 2%.

A majority of the trees planted were medium to large, including shingle oaks, river birches, hackberry trees, and honeylocust ‘shademasters.’

“Larger trees provide more shading, cooling, stormwater control, and related benefits over their smaller counterparts,” Casey Trees said in a report. “Not just to the property where the tree is planted but also to the neighborhood at large.”

The pilot program cost the county about $60,000, approximately $11,000 in marketing materials and close to $49,000 for the actual trees. It cost $350 per planted tree.

The report also provided a few recommendations to help grow the program.

Proposals included increasing the number of trees provided to one particular lot from three to five, noting that “residents often requested more,” as well as sending out arborists for site visits to increase education and displaying “free tree” yard signs in eligible neighborhoods.

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More sidewalks might be coming to Lockheed Blvd near Hybla Valley in an effort to create a better, safer connection to Huntley Meadows Park.

Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay introduced a board matter on Tuesday (Aug. 2) calling for a portion of the leftover fiscal year 2022 budget to be used to fill a gap of about 1,500 feet of sidewalk on Lockheed Blvd leading up to the county-operated park.

Right now, there’s no sidewalk to the main entrance of Huntley Meadows Park. Adding one would make the 1,500-acre park safer and more accessible, the board matter says.

“I believe it is important that we fill that gap as soon as possible,” the board matter reads. “Not only would this make for a safer route for residents to get to Huntley Meadows, but it would also create a safer connection to the nearby Hybla Valley Elementary School.”

The school is less than a 10-minute walk from the park, but without a consistent sidewalk, the route there is inaccessible and unsafe. McKay acknowledged that student and pedestrian safety are top of mind after recent crashes.

“The idea that elementary school kids would have to cross a busy street not at a signalized intersection anywhere in two different places from the school to the park, which is a natural treasure of Fairfax County, seems to me not the message we want to be sending,” McKay said after reading the matter.

Extending the sidewalk and adding safer entrance points is not a new ask. In May, a local pedestrian and bicyclist safety organization called for protected bike lanes on Lockheed Blvd near the park.

Located less than a mile from Richmond Highway, Huntley Meadows Park is the largest park operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Established in 1975, the park has forests as well as open freshwater wetlands that have been described as a “waterfowl-filled oasis.”

There are trails, a picnic shelter, a visitor center, and a historic early 19th-century house once owned by George Mason’s grandson.

Lusk noted that the neighborhood and nearby school have one of the highest rates of students on free and reduced lunch in the county.

“Many residents [here] rely on public transportation or they are walking or biking as their primary form of transportation,” said Lusk.

Additionally, the new North Hill development and park are under construction less than a mile away from Huntley Meadows. Phase one could be completed later this year, and overall, it could bring over a thousand more residents to this portion of the Richmond Highway corridor.

The question, of course, is money. The board matter requests that the project be considered for the 2022 carryover budget, which will get a public hearing and vote on Oct. 11, but there was some debate about the project’s priority.

“We all have lots of projects that we want to put forward. We might want to have some criteria,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “We all have pedestrian projects that we are anxious to get done. Last time we looked there were a thousand [projects] on the list, so the carryover [budget] may not make a dent in that.”

Images via Google Maps [1, 2]

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A future Richmond Highway BRT station in need of “community charm” (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County is seeking the public’s help with adding “charm” to the upcoming Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations.

Announced Tuesday (Aug. 2), a public survey is now open, surveying residents on what locally inspired design elements and artwork — “community charm” — should be added to each of the nine new BRT stations set to come to Richmond Highway by 2030.

“The ‘Community Charm’ initiative is focused on integrating artwork into each BRT station to reflect the history, identity, and character of the neighborhoods surrounding each station area,” the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) said in its news release. “Students from local schools [are] to design artwork for the windscreen area based on themes developed with the community.”

The county notes that over the last several years, it has asked the community for input into the station’s “potential themes.” This survey, which closes on Aug. 14, provides a final chance for thoughts prior to those themes being chosen.

Questions in the survey focus on ranking the importance of including historical, cultural, and physical landmarks in each station’s artwork.

For example, for the Penn Daw station, the survey asks residents to rank how they would prioritize the corridor’s history of roadside and historic motels, diversity and multiculturism, and physical landmarks of Hunting Creek and the Potomac River.

At the Woodlawn station, it asks to rank in order of importance the Pope-Leighey House, Woodlawn Plantation, the history of enslaved people in the community, Dogue Creek, and the Quaker community.

After the survey closes, the county’s Department of Planning and Development and History Commission will develop “narratives” for each station using the publicly-chosen themes. Starting around late fall or early winter, students will work on the designs before presenting them to the community for more feedback next spring, according to FCDOT.

After all that, a Richmond Highway BRT Executive Commission is expected to vote on the final designs in late spring 2023.

With pop-up events scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday (Aug. 9-10) at Gum Springs Community Center and Old Mount Vernon High School, respectively, county staff will be available to talk in person about the community charm initiative as well as the overall BRT project over the next several weeks.

Named “The One” earlier this year, the Richmond Highway BRT will consist of nine stations built along an 8-mile stretch. The stations will be constructed in two sections. It’s not expected to be completed until 2030.

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A Fairfax County police SUV with lights on (file photo)

A 24-year-old man from Maryland died on Saturday (July 30) after getting injured in a one-vehicle crash on Richmond Highway more than two weeks ago.

The Fairfax County Police Department announced last night (Sunday) that Santos Casco Sierra had succumbed to injuries sustained after he drove off of Richmond Highway, also known as Route 1, near Woodside Lane in Lorton around 5:14 a.m. on July 16.

According to police, Casco Sierra was driving south on the roadway in a 2010 Ford Fusion “when the vehicle left the roadway, struck a tree and caught on fire.”

“Fire and Rescue personnel responded to extinguish the fire and extricate Casco Sierra,” the FCPD said. “He was taken to the hospital with injuries that were considered life threatening. Sadly, he succumbed to his injuries yesterday.”

Detectives with the department’s Crash Reconstruction Unit believe speed and alcohol were both factors in the crash, the FCPD says.

This is the eighth non-pedestrian fatality from a vehicle crash that the FCPD has reported this year, topping the six such deaths recorded by August in 2021. His death came on the heels of news that a motorcyclist had died weeks after veering off of Braddock Road near Fairfax County Parkway.

Casco Sierra was the third person to die after a crash on Richmond Highway this July.

A recent study of speed conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation recommended lowering the speed limit in the northern section of the corridor from Belle Haven through Mount Vernon. The proposal doesn’t apply to Lorton, since the study’s scope ended at Fort Belvoir Road to the east.

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Cars head south on Richmond Highway in Penn Daw near the Groveton border (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Driving on Richmond Highway in Fairfax County could get a little slower, potentially by the beginning of next year.

Virginia Department of Transportation staff said last week that the speed limit should be reduced from 45 to 35 mph along a 7.31-mile stretch of the roadway from the Capital Beltway at the Alexandria border to Jeff Todd Way in Mount Vernon.

The recommendation came from a year-long speed study prompted by concerns about the safety of the corridor, which saw two fatal pedestrian crashes in the span of a week earlier this July. The study found one 1.5-mile stretch that had a 75% higher crash rate than Virginia’s average.

According to the National Safety Council, speeding contributed to 29% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2020. Research suggests 10 mph can make a significant difference in the risk of severe injury or death that pedestrians face when hit by a vehicle.

Several states, including Virginia, have moved in recent years to lower speed limits on local streets, but about 60% of pedestrian deaths occur on major, non-interstate roads. In Fairfax County, speed limits in corridors like Richmond Highway and the also-treacherous Route 7 range from 35 to 45 mph even in increasingly urban, populous areas.

Though VDOT staff said reducing Route 1’s speed limit is expected to have a “minimal” impact on traffic, some community members at last week’s virtual meeting worried it might exacerbate congestion and cut-through traffic. Notably, the study recommended maintaining the 45 mph on the road through the Fort Belvoir area.

Others questioned the effectiveness of lowering the speed limit without robust police enforcement and other safety measures, such as added crosswalks and protected sidewalks. A recent report from the nonprofit Smart Growth America argued that driver behavior is more influenced by how roads are designed than posted speed limits.

How do you feel about lowering the speed limit on Richmond Highway and other major roads in Fairfax County? Is it a necessary safety improvement, or do you think other approaches should be considered instead?

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Richmond Highway (via Fairfax County)

A project to underground Richmond Highway utilities may be buried due to cost, construction delays, and the risk it poses to federal funding for other projects happening along the corridor.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors weighed the pros and cons of undergrounding utilities along the highway, also known as Route 1, at an economic initiatives committee meeting on Tuesday (July 26).

Undergrounding utilities is a fairly common (and supported) practice, but the Route 1 proposal is complicated by two other major infrastructure projects in the corridor: the highway widening and the build-out of a bus rapid transit (BRT) service.

While the board didn’t take any definitive action on Tuesday, it was clear that a number of committee members, including Chairman Jeff McKay, were leaning towards scrapping the project altogether.

“It feels a little bit like ‘why wouldn’t we do it?’ if you just look at it on the surface, but as we dug into it today quite a bit…it makes it a little bit clearer how unclear it is,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.

In a presentation, staff said the county would be solely responsible for financing any undergrounding, with no assistance from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) or the Federal Transit Authority (FTA).

Undergrounding utilities could also result in a two-year delay for the Route 1 widening and BRT projects, tacking on an extra year each for design work and construction. That would push the completion date for the widening to 2031 and for the BRT to 2032.

Utility undergrounding would also increase the cost of the two projects by at least $264 million, requiring an additional $136 million for the actual construction and potentially another $128 million to account for inflation during the two-year delay.

Potential costs of Richmond Highway utility undergrounding (via Fairfax County)

To raise the needed funds, county staff proposed working with the General Assembly to implement a utility “surcharge.” A $1 per month surcharge for residents and a 2.5% surcharge on commercial properties that could reach a maximum of 6.67% would bring in $40 million in revenue annually.

However, a surcharge would require an agreement with utility companies, mainly Dominion Energy, Verizon, Cox, and NOVEC. Even if an agreement is reached, it could take 12 to 18 months for the companies to sign off through their own “internal legal review” processes, delaying the undergrounding even more.

According to staff, undergrounding utilities could also result in the loss of $334 million in federal funding that the FTA is providing for the BRT project. Read More

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Kung Fu Tea is coming soon to Groveton (Staff photo by Matt Blitz)

A dry cleaner on the edge of Groveton is no more, leaving an empty shell for Kung Fu Tea to take over.

The bubble tea and drinks store plans to open soon at 6328 Richmond Highway, according to signage posted at the front of the door. It replaces Clean Smart, a dry cleaner.

The company did not return multiple requests for comment from FFXnow about an opening date over the last few weeks. The website simply states that it’s coming soon.

It will be located next to Wingstop, a chicken wings restaurant. 

Kung Fu Tea has more than 350 locations throughout the country, including several in Northern Virginia.  The company started in New York in 2010.

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Beyond/Hello is opening a new medical cannabis dispensary along Richmond Highway (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County’s first medical cannabis dispensary is opening today (Wednesday) in Huntington.

Beyond/Hello will begin serving patients at 10 a.m. at 5902 Richmond Highway. The company obtained needed approvals from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy and is opening within its expected time frame.

There will be an official ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by local lawmakers on Aug. 4, a company spokesperson told FFXnow.

It will be the first medical cannabis dispensary in the county, though Beyond/Hello already has two Northern Virginia locations in Manassas and Sterling.

The company will also open a store in Fairfax City at 10521 Fairfax Blvd, likely in September. Another one in Arlington is due later this year, and there are plans for a Woodbridge dispensary in 2023.

Beyond/Hello is owned by Flordia-based Jushi and is one of four companies currently permitted to sell cannabis in Virginia. The company is legally allowed to operate six dispensaries in Northern Virginia.

The Huntington dispensary moved into the former home of Great American Steak & Buffet Company, which appears to have closed in 2020. The store is 9,600 square feet and has more than 50 parking spots.

It’s also just south of Alexandria, as Jushi CEO Jim Cacioppo highlighted in a press release:

We’re thrilled to open up our new dispensary in Alexandria — a town famous for its nationally recognized landmarks, rich history, vibrant arts, pristine waterfront and charming restaurants and boutiques. Beyond Hello Alexandria captures the best of our thinking and combines our digital and physical retail experiences with the flexibility and convenience of our express checkout services. In addition, Beyond Hello Alexandria is strategically positioned near the ‘Beltway’ with easy highway access, and is conveniently located within a 15-minute drive to approximately 400,000 people.

While retail sales of cannabis remain illegal in Virginia, the medical cannabis industry is expected to explode in the coming months after a new state law went into effect July 1, removing the need for patients to register with the Commonwealth. Now, patients just need a certification from a licensed medical practitioner to make a purchase.

Already, Beyond/Hello officials say they are seeing a significant increase in patient sign-ups in July compared to last month.

“Since the patient registration process requirement has been removed, the Company has seen a 2.3x increase in patient sign-ups in the first three weeks of July as compared to the entire month of June,” the press release said.

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