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Morning Notes

Gum Springs celebrates Juneteenth with a Community Day on June 18 (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County Holds Primary Today — It’s primary day for voters in the 8th Congressional District, which now includes McLean, Bailey’s Crossroads, Annandale, and the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax County. With the Republican nominee already set, there is only a Democratic contest between incumbent Rep. Don Beyer and challenger Victoria Virasingh. [Fairfax County Office of Elections]

Man Dies in Oakton Crash — An 18-year-old driver died on Sunday (June 19) after losing control of his car while driving south on Fox Mill Road and hitting a tree near Bronzedale Drive. A juvenile passenger was taken to the hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening. Detectives believe speed was a factor in the crash, which resulted in the fifth non-pedestrian fatality of the year. [FCPD]

Drowned Man Remains Hospitalized — A 29-year-old man who drowned while swimming in Difficult Run Stream in McLean on Sunday is still in life-threatening condition. According to police, the man became submerged and was pulled out of the water by friends when he didn’t resurface. Fire and Rescue personnel found him about a quarter mile away from Georgetown Pike on a nearby trail. [FCPD]

Report Finds Discrimination by Housing Providers — “A fair housing test conducted by The Fairfax County Office of Human Rights, in partnership with The Equal Rights Center, showed ‘discernable differences’ between housing providers’ treatment of white and minority testers. The results also showed that ‘certain housing providers lack the training to provide the same level of treatment to Deaf individuals as they do to hearing individuals.'” [Inside NoVA]

Tysons West Vehicle Pursuit Leads to Arrest — A male juvenile allegedly “verbally threatened the victim” in the 1500 block of Cornerside Blvd on Jun 12. The juvenile attempted to drive away, striking two vehicles, before an officer stopped him using the controversial precision immobilization technique. The juvenile was arrested, and two people were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. [FCPD]

Springfield Trader Joe’s Looking to Move — Trader Joe’s is in talks to take over the roughly 24,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market at Old Keene Mill Shopping Center, suggesting that the new Whole Foods under construction at Springfield Plaza will be a relocation. The space would be larger than Trader Joe’s current 10,673-square-foot store next to the new Giant in Springfield Plaza. [Washington Business Journal]

Bank Plans Relocation From Herndon to Tysons — Part of a larger branding overhaul, Forbright Bank is moving its Herndon branch at 150 Elden Street to 1600 Tysons Blvd., a 13-story office building adjacent to Tysons Galleria. The Herndon location is the company’s only Virginia location among five branches in the region. [Washington Business Journal]

Fairfax County Police Helicopter Appears at Smithsonian Event — “Saturday, our helicopter was on display at the National Air & Space Museum’s Annual Innovations in Flight Event. 50+ aircraft fly in from around the region for this special day. Pilots Mountjoy & Edgerton greeted community members as they got a glimpse into Fairfax 1.” [FCPD/Twitter]

County Partners on Older Adult Activities — “Arlington County, Fairfax County, Prince William County, the Town of Vienna, and ServiceSource Inc. host live virtual programming on Zoom five days a week. The events range from fitness classes to special presentations to interactive games. This resource is free and all older adults and adults with disabilities who live in Northern Virginia are welcome to use it.” [Neighborhood and Community Services]

It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 81 and low of 68. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Bow Tie Cinemas appears to be closed at Reston Town Center (staff photo by Fatimah Waseem)

Just like that, Bow Tie Cinemas has left Reston Town Center, leaving Reston Association’s longest running program in limbo.

Reston Town Center owner Boston Properties confirmed last month that the movie theater chain hadn’t renewed its lease, but no firm closure date was given, beyond that it would be sometime in May.

The closure now appears to be official. No show times are listed on its website or the box office marquee, and the doors were locked today (Wednesday).

The company did not return multiple requests for comment on the last day of business. Boston Properties also did not respond to multiple requests for comment on when the company’s lease expired.

RA’s Senior Movie Day, which brings more than 100,000 patrons over the years, will be on pause, as the cinema changes theater companies.

The program begin in 1994 and is expected to resume later this year or in early 2023. RA says that roughly 315 people aged 55 and above attended the shows and enjoyed other Reston Town Center amenities after watching the movies.

Bow Tie Cinemas, which took over the theater in April 2011, will be replaced by LOOK Dine-in Cinemas, which plans to open its first location in Virginia in the last quarter of the year. The business declined to provide additional details about the theater beyond what was reported last month.

LOOK also declined to comment on whether or not it plans to continue the senior movie day tradition once the new theater opens.

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Morning Notes

The Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Police Make Progress on Hannah Choi Murder Case — Fairfax County detectives believe they know the location of the man suspected of killing his ex-girlfriend and dumping her body in a Maryland park, according to Police Chief Kevin Davis. He says the department anticipates apprehending Joel Mosso Merino, who has been on the run since March, “in the very near future.” [WTOP]

Circuit Court Officially Adds First Female Judge of Color — “Tania M.L. Saylor, the first woman of color to serve as a Fairfax County Circuity [sic] Court Judge will be presented her official commission on Friday, May 6, at 4 p.m. in Courtroom 5J of the Fairfax County Courthouse. The public is invited to attend the investiture ceremony.” [Fairfax County Government]

Key FCPS Official Named Fairfax City Superintendent — “The City of Fairfax School Board didn’t look far when picking its next superintendent. The board on Monday offered Jeff Platenberg the role. Platenberg currently works for Fairfax County Public Schools as the assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation services.” [WTOP]

Locally Owned Coffee Shop Opens in Newington — “Two neighbors who live close to the Landsdowne shopping center are now the owners of a new coffee shop. The locally owned Coffee In opened a few weeks ago and will celebrate its grand opening this Saturday at 6432 Landsdowne Centre Drive.” [Patch]

Herndon Foster Mother Starts Nonprofit — The nonprofit Foster the Family “will show up to a foster home, within the first 24 hours, with dinner, clothes, PJ’s, hygiene products and all the supplies a child needs, saving the parents an emergency trip to the store, and helping the child feel comfortable in what can be a scary transition.” [ABC7]

McLean Church Builds Labyrinth — “Trinity United Methodist Church dedicated a labyrinth as its new Prayer Garden on Easter morning between worship services…The labyrinth is surrounded by plantings and benches with lighting to facilitate an atmosphere worthy of spiritual reflection and meditation. It is the most significant labyrinth in scope and size in the McLean area.” [Sun Gazette]

South County Students Send Letters to Seniors — “In Lorton, Virginia, 92-year-old Bernice Alexander reads from just one of the dozens of letters received at her senior living community. They were written by teenagers at South County High School, and some come with artwork, paintings and cheery posters, too.” [NBC4]

County Adopts Bill of Rights for Kids’ Sports — “The Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood & Community Services (NCS), along with the Fairfax County Athletic Council, is pleased to adopt the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports. Developed by the Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program, this is a new resource designed to ensure that all children have a right to a quality sports experience.” [NCS]

It’s Wednesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 75 and low of 61. Sunrise at 6:08 am and sunset at 8:05 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Mather Director of Culinary Operations Thad Parton with a food-running robot that the senior living facility operator is testing in Arizona (courtesy Mather)

When The Mather Tysons opens in 2024, the senior living facility might employ some workers of the artificial intelligence variety.

Rest assured, these robots won’t be capable of planning a HAL 9000-style takeover. Instead, they will perform simple, repetitive tasks, such as delivering food to tables and apartments and cleaning hallways.

“Our hope is that it helps us retain team members, that they’ll recognize that we’ve gone kind of the extra step to provide them a level of assistance they may not get elsewhere in similar roles,” Mather Director of Culinary Operations Thad Parton told FFXnow.

Inspired by its founder’s work as an inventor, Mather’s plans to introduce robots to its senior living residences precede the pandemic.

According to Parton, Mather CEO and President Mary Leary asked him to explore robotics a couple of years ago as a potential way to boost service levels. After some research and conversations with vendors, he had identified a unit that would deliver food to residents’ apartments autonomously when COVID-19 arrived.

Once the worst of the pandemic’s initial surge dissipated, the nonprofit launched a pilot of the delivery robot at its life plan community in Evanston, Illinois, but as more people started eating in the dining room instead of taking food out, Parton realized his team’s needs had changed.

“The delivery robot was not as important to us as providing additional support to our dining services team, so we pivoted to testing a food-running robot,” he said, noting that the machines have become increasingly popular throughout the food service industry as restaurants adjust to an exodus of workers.

Earlier this spring, Mather deployed a food-running bot from Bear Robotics at its Splendido community in Tucson, Arizona, for a four-week pilot.

Capable of carrying 66 pounds with three trays and a built-in bussing pan, the robot transports plates of food from the facility’s kitchen to the dining room and then brings the empty dishes back to the kitchen.

“Human servers unload and serve the meals delivered by the robot, and load it up for return to kitchen,” Mather said. “This saves time for servers, who can now spend more time in the restaurant with residents.”

Mather explained exactly how the robot works: Read More

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Wellness Center for Older Adults (courtesy ServiceSource)

A unique facility giving an array of services for older adults has opened at Braddock Glen.

The Wellness Center for Older Adults offers in-person and virtual services for people 50 and older as well as individuals with disabilities, similar to 14 other senior centers in Fairfax County. It offers exercise equipment; music, dance and art therapy; preventative health screenings; and other free resources, including access to computers.

Although it has a Fairfax mailing address, the center is located in Long Branch, just outside city limits at 4027B Olley Lane.

“At the WCOA, ServiceSource is working alongside committed community partners to create a hub for wrap-around support, including recreation activities, technology access, educational presentations and programs and health screenings,” ServiceSource spokesperson Kendra Hand said in an email.

Opened in March, the center gives Fairfax County a new facility to support its growing senior population.

According to the county’s most recent demographic report, 22% of county residents were 55 or older in 2010. That increased to 26.8% in 2020 and is projected to peak at 28.3% in 2030.

The wellness center is scheduled to get a grand opening on May 19, with Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The event will be livestreamed on the Fairfax County government’s Channel 16.

“The WCOA is unique in that it offers very inclusive services that are integrated into the center itself, so every individual is supported,” Hand wrote. “The programs at the center are adapted and modified to support every individual’s participation.”

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(Updated at 6 p.m.) Construction work has moved above ground on a pair of buildings that will bring 300 new apartments for older residents to Tysons.

Vertical construction began earlier this month on The Mather at 7929 Westpark Drive, the senior living provider Mather announced in a news release yesterday (Tuesday).

The milestone comes almost two years after work on the 4-acre site began with the demolition of an existing office building in May 2020.

“We are very excited to bring The Mather to Tysons,” Mather CEO and President Mary Leary said. “‘Going vertical’ is symbolic of the successful effort the team has put forward to obtain financing, exceed sales projections, and break ground — especially at such an unprecedented time these last two years.”

Approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2019, The Mather will consist of two residential buildings — a 27-story high-rise with 179 apartments and an 18-story building with 114 apartments.

Open to people 62 and older, the units will range in size from 850 to 3,300 square feet, with entrance fee prices starting at $646,700. Residents will have access to assisted living, memory care, and health care services, among other amenities.

The apartment towers will top a five-story “podium” with retail and other public uses on the ground floor, parking, residential amenities on the third level, memory support and skilled nursing on the fourth level, and assisted living on the fifth level, according to the county-approved plan.

According to the press release, Mather has also partnered with Fairfax County to provide “wellness and lifelong learning programs” in a dedicated space on the podium’s first floor, which will have an over 14,000-square-foot commercial space. The programming will be open to people 50 and older in the general community.

After two rounds of pre-sales, The Mather has already sold 80% of its units, exceeding projections, a company spokesperson said.

Located in walking distance of Tysons Galleria, The Mather is part of the 19.4-acre Arbor Row planned along Westpark Drive. The development also has the finished Nouvelle apartment building and The Monarch condominiums, which are under construction.

The $500 million Life Plan Community anticipates move-ins starting in early 2024, with construction on the 27-story tower expected to finish next year.

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A site-specific amendment paves the way for more affordable housing for seniors in the Mason District (via Fairfax County)

A 113-unit independent living facility for seniors in Seven Corners is moving forward in the Fairfax County’s planning and approval process.

The Board of Supervisors will consider a plan next month by First Christian Church and developer Wesley Housing to build a 113-unit living facility, along with up to 5,000 square feet of medical and general office space at 6165 Leesburg Pike. A public hearing is slated for April 12.

The 7-acre parcel is developed with the roughly 27,500-square-foot church, which was built in 1965.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously approved the proposal — which implements  changes to the Comprehensive Plan — at a meeting on Wednesday night (March 23).

At previous meetings, residents and community members expressed concerns about tree canopy preservation and stormwater management.

Mason District Commissioner Julie Strandlie said many concerns can be addressed once the proposal moves forward to the zoning process.

“The comprehensive plan outlines priorities and aspirations for the community,” she said. “A zoning application will drill down to specifics about the building parking stormwater management tree canopy and more.”

To move the project forward, the county has to amend its Comprehensive Plan. The review process began in January 2021 and has involved analyses of impacts on stormwater management, tree preservation, landscaping, and parking.

As part of the review, the county is conducting a transportation analysis of Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, a mosque in Barcroft, just outside the Seven Corners Community Business Center, that is eyeing expansion in the near future.

Currently, the area is mostly developed with residential neighborhoods.

In a report, staff said the plan has minimal impacts on existing county services like parks, schools, and the overall transportation network.

A Mason District Task Force created by the board voted unanimously in January to support the project. But it encouraged the county to consider if other transit options could lessen the need for new parking spaces in order to minimize their use.

Tree preservation and minimizing environmental impacts will maintain a critical part of decision-making, county staff said in their report.

Staff expects that the amount of parking will be evaluated during the entitlement review process.

The application to amend the comprehensive plan was part of a two-year-long process that courted site-specific revisions from the public for the South County area.

In public hearings, residents of the neighboring Ravenwood Park neighborhood shared concerns about major flooding in their neighborhood. One resident reported “sleepless nights during storms” and more than $50,000 in repair costs.

Strandlie said the county is working with the Virginia Department of Transportation to address flooding issues and stormwater management.

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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority is looking at upgrading properties to get residents more connected.

County staff are evaluating whether it could add Wi-Fi to common areas in public housing and create computer rooms at senior housing properties.

“Currently, residents must purchase internet service through a service provider for their unit,” FCRHA spokesperson Ben Boxer said in an email. “That utility is not provided by the FCRHA in each unit.”

FCRHA Mount Vernon District Commissioner Elisabeth Lardner introduced the proposal at the commissioners’ Jan. 20 board meeting. She suggested developing a pilot program with the county’s Neighborhood and Community Services Department or a nonprofit.

County staff are still assessing the ideas and in the early stages of research and analysis, Boxer said last Thursday (March 3).

As of last June, the authority owned and operated 3,005 units of multifamily housing, 505 units of independent senior housing, 112 beds of assisted living, and 205 units/beds of specialized housing — including group homes, shelter facilities and a mobile home park, according to an audit.

“Unfortunately, due to the diversity that exists between the different properties owned by the FCRHA, there is no hard and fast unit criteria that can be used to indicate which properties have ‘common areas’ and which do not,” Boxer told FFXnow.

It’s unclear how much the upgrades would cost.

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Fairfax County is mailing out a survey to learn about older adults’ needs and how they use county services (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County is updating its aging plan, gathering public input to address key issues for older adults.

The county started sending out postcards last month to notify a random sample of households chosen to participate in its Community Assessment Survey for Older Adults, which was last conducted in 2019.

Department of Family Services spokesperson Kathleen Thomas says the survey asks questions about older residents’ personal habits and opinions on a variety of topics:

The survey will ask information about the lifestyles of older adults, including opportunities to work, socialize and volunteer, as well as issues they face, such as retirement, housing, and caregiving, and their use of community services like public transportation and senior centers. Questions also ask about the quality of services such as parks and infrastructure, and opportunities for health and wellness, education, and the arts in the community.

Research firm Polco is conducting the survey. For those who don’t receive it, there will be a chance to provide feedback through community forums in coming months.

The results will help the county develop a SHAPE the Future of Aging Plan, which stands for:

  • Services for Older Adults & Family Caregivers
  • Housing & Neighborhood Supports
  • Access to Mobility Options
  • Personal Well-Being
  • Economic Stability and Planning

Fairfax County is currently home to 398,982 residents aged 50 and older. The long-term strategic plan will guide how the county allocates resources for services and programs that benefit that population and make the community a friendlier and more livable place for them.

The SHAPE plan has been in the works since at least September 2019 to succeed a 50+ Community Action Plan that the county adopted in 2014 for a five-year term.

According to the county website, staff will start analyzing the results of the survey this spring or summer, with a presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Older Adults Committee coming in the fall.

The Board of Supervisors is currently expected to approve the SHAPE plan in 2023.

Photo via Fairfax County

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Fairfax County has officially expanded its tax relief program for seniors and people with disabilities for the first time in more than 15 years.

At a Tuesday (Dec. 7) meeting, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved expanding the county’s real estate tax relief program by allowing people with higher incomes and net worth to qualify. A 75% tax relief bracket was also added, and the program gives some residents the option to defer payments.

The changes are expected to serve an additional 2,500 Fairfax County residents, according to Jay Doshi, director of the county’s Department of Tax Administration.

Doshi said the county’s tax relief program is now three times the size of Virginia Beach’s program, which is the next largest jurisdiction in the state.

“These proposals represent the largest change and an increase for our residents,” Doshi said.

The maximum gross income to qualify for tax relief was raised from $72,000 to $90,000, while the limit on net worth increased from up to $340,000 to $400,000.

The program also allows homeowners to exclude up to five acres of land that can’t be subdivided when calculating their net worth.

The 75% relief bracket would be available to households with a combined income of between $60,0001 to $70,000. But the amount of tax relief for all brackets would be capped at 125% of the mean assessed value of county homes.

Residents can also defer payment of real estate taxes if the household has a combined total income not more than $100,000 and a net worth of $500,000. Deferred taxes would be subject to interest.

Changes will go into effect on Jan. 1 and will be phased out over the next two years.

Older adults pushed for the changes at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“Having a tax relief program designed for the economic reality of 2006 does not make sense in the economic reality of 2021,” said Catherine Cole, chairwoman of the Fairfax Area Commission on Aging.

Cole noted that rapid inflation, rising economic insecurity among the county’s older populations, declining assets, and rising housing costs have strained many seniors, pushing some to leave Fairfax County.

“It would make sense to encourage those who are growing older to remain in their homes,” Cole said.

But others said the changes did not go far enough.

Daniel Campbell, a Fairfax County resident with two adult sons who are handicapped, said the county should consider freezing property tax assessments once residents retire and remove net worth as a requirement for seniors to qualify for property tax relief.

He said the net worth requirement penalizes people who have significant savings. Campbell and his wife hope to leave savings for their sons in the form of a special needs trust.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said the changes — though imperfect — were long “overdue.”

“This has become an acute need at this point,” McKay said, calling the changes a significant advancement. He said the changes increased the yearly fiscal impact on the county from $28 million to $48 million.

McKay said he would like to evaluate tweaks to the program in the future.

Others said the county needs to find other ways to diversify its income beyond real estate taxes as the primary revenue source.

“Tax reform is really where we have to go,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn. State law limits sources of revenue for jurisdictions.

But Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity — who supported the changes — said that controlling spending, not diversifying revenue should be the priority.

“It’s unfortunate that it took the pandemic for us to do this,” he said.

Graphic via Fairfax County Government

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