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Reston Station from the Wiehle Avenue bridge (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Updated at 8:40 p.m. on 11/8/2023 — The community workshop has been relocated to the cafeteria of Langston Hughes Middle School (11401 Ridge Heights Road).

Earlier: Fairfax County is formally launching a new study on how to shift Wiehle Avenue from a car-dominated, suburban road to a multimodal, urban street.

The Wiehle Avenue study kicks off with an in-person community workshop on Nov. 13.

After diving into the background and purpose of the study, the county will open the floor for attendees to brainstorm ideas on how to improve the road between Sunrise Valley Drive and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail in Reston.

The ideas proposed by the community will later be refined into three concepts “to test in future (year 2030) scenarios” by the Fairfax County Department of Transporation and its consultant, Fehr & Peers, FCDOT spokesperson Freddy Serrano says.

“[The scenarios] will give us an overview of how potential changes may affect traffic operations and accessibility and comfort for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users,” Serrano told FFXnow. “We will take these concepts and the resulting future analysis back to the public early next year and will solicit their feedback to arrive at a preferred concept for Wiehle Avenue.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors initiated the Wiehle Avenue study as a follow-on motion after approving TF Cornerstone’s Campus Commons redevelopment plan in 2019.

The project prompted vigorous debate on the safety of a proposed pedestrian crossing at the intersection Dulles Toll Road ramps and Wiehle Avenue. An alternative is being explored after the developer offered $1.65 million instead of developing a solution.

The county previously convened a study group to evaluate options for that crossing, but the group didn’t support any of the developer’s proposals.

FCDOT says this new study will take a broader look at the corridor and how it may have been affected by the opening of Metro’s Silver Line extension last year.

“This effort is expected to identify new and improved bicycle/pedestrian facilities and intersection treatments, as well as evaluate the potential reconfiguration of vehicular lanes and/or widths for current and future land use scenarios,” the department said in a news release.

The community meeting takes place from 5:30-9 p.m. in the second floor conference room of 1900 Reston Metro Plaza. A light dinner will be provided. RSVPs are encouraged through an online feedback form.

Stressed-looking woman looks at laptop (via Elisa Ventur/Unsplash)

The mental health crisis is costing the Northern Virginia region $8 billion a year in unrealized economic output, according to a new report from the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.

The report from the foundation’s research arm, Insight Region, found that the economic loss caused by mental health has quadrupled since 2019, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020.

In 2019, worker mental health issues cost the region about 1% in productivity – the equivalent of $2.1 billion – in potential gross regional product (GRP). About 11% of working adults were experiencing mild anxiety or depression in that timeframe.

However, during the pandemic, more than half of all workers reported levels of anxiety or depression. As of May 2023, that statistic held with 53% of the workforce struggling.

The elevated levels of mental health needs caused productivity losses to increase by 2.1 percentage points – or over $8 billion in potential GRP each year, according to the report.

Millions of Americans exited the workforce over the last three years, and one in four blamed their departure on mental health, the report says. That lost employment negatively impacts more than just the worker and their family.

“It also affects team members who must compensate for the lost output; employers who bear the cost of recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new staff; and the local economy in unrealized gross regional product,” the report said.

Most workers with anxiety and depression stay on the job, meaning some of the lost productivity can be attributed to absenteeism and presenteeism – or an employee who is technically on the job but not engaged. This lack of engagement can often result in procrastination and missed deadlines.

Overall, for every worker with a mental health need, their team can expect total productivity to decline by 5% to 13%, or two to five lost hours in a 40-hour work week, according to the report.

“These behaviors can lead to a precipitous decline in productivity, at rates far higher than other conditions,” the report said.

The Community Foundation collaborated on the research with George Mason University. Keith Waters, assistant director at the university’s Center for Regional Analysis, presented the findings [earlier this month] during an event at the foundation’s headquarters in Fairfax.

Waters said the research showed that as mental health issues become more severe, so do productivity losses.

“As you go from sort of no mental health issues to more severe mental health issues, your productivity losses become more severe, you miss work more and then your presenteeism issues become more severe,” he added. Read More

Gallows Road approaching the Dunn Loring Metro station area (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is ready to take a hard look at the future of Gallows Road.

The department will introduce a Gallows Road Multimodal Study with two public meetings next week, seeking feedback on enhancing mobility and safety along the major road between Tysons and Annandale. It will also give an update on the current travel conditions.

According to FCDOT communications head Freddy Serrano, the study is needed to address various transportation and connectivity challenges in the Gallows Road corridor.

“[Those include] pedestrian and bicycle facilities, limited mobility options, traffic conditions, and barriers created by I-495,” he said. “It aims to explore opportunities to mitigate these barriers and improve multimodal mobility between the planned land uses on the east and west sides of the interstate.”

Serrano says the goal is to find solutions and improve accessibility for everyone who uses the corridor, while supporting planned development.

Merrifield in particular is poised for growth. This spring, the county designated proposals to redevelop aging buildings in the area as top priorities for review, and plans to convert former Inova office buildings into live/work units recently raised concerns about traffic backups at the Gallows and Gatehouse Road intersection.

“Additionally, the study is essential for securing funding and planning for transportation infrastructure projects that align with the goals of the comprehensive plan and accommodate future development,” Serrano said.

The study stems from a comprehensive plan amendment that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved in 2019, opening up the Merrifield Suburban Center to more mixed-use development. With the vote, the board also directed staff to:

  • Conduct a comprehensive study of multimodal transportation opportunities
  • Study the barriers to connectivity in the Merrifield suburban center created by I-495, and opportunities to mitigate the barriers
  • Develop a funding plan for the transportation infrastructure improvements recommended in the Merrifield suburban center comprehensive plan.

The study started late last year, and it’s expected to wrap up by 2024.

“Overall, the study aims to improve transportation infrastructure and connectivity within the Merrifield suburban center and along Gallows Road to support sustainable development and enhance mobility for residents and stakeholders in the area,” Serrano said.

The first meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 19. at 7 p.m. and will be virtual. A second meeting will be held in person at Luther Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road) on Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.

Comments will be accepted until the end of the business day on Friday, Oct. 6.

A walking path from the Greensboro Metro station toward the Tysons Central office building (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Tysons has seen some promising developments in its transportation network in recent years, but many obstacles remain to achieving Fairfax County’s vision of a truly accessible downtown, a market study released earlier this month suggests.

Commissioned by the Tysons Community Alliance, the 2023 Tysons Market Study characterizes the 2,100-acre urban center as “somewhat walkable” — meaning at least some errands can be accomplished on foot — based on its official average Walk Score of 57.

Calculated based on population density, the distance to amenities, block lengths and other factors, the walk score ticked up from the 54 that Tysons got in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. The area is more walkable than Reston, which has a score of 40, but it falls short of more urban areas in the region, including Crystal City in Arlington (71) and downtown D.C. (98), according to the study.

The most walkable properties are in central Tysons, particularly around the Greensboro Metro station, which is also where multifamily housing has concentrated, TCA CEO Katie Cristol notes.

“That increase in the walk score is a real validation…of how environmentally sustainable, how much better in terms of quality of life the new residential development has been in Tysons,” Cristol said. “It is in the right places, it is in places that are walkable, so more Tysonians live [in places] walkable to Metro and other amenities and can easily reach the necessities of their lives on foot than could before.”

The central districts of Tysons are the most walkable, according to calculations by Walk Score (via Tysons Market Study)

However, properties east of Route 123 — where most for-sale and single-family units are located — tend to be more car-dependent, per the study. Based on 2021 Census data, the percentage of car-free households in Tysons has jumped up to 5.1% — an over 50% increase from 2019 — but 47% of households still own two vehicles.

In addition, the TCA identified 4.6 miles of missing sidewalks, and most of the 24 miles of sidewalk that do exist are just 4 feet wide, which “is not ideal for a growing area seeking to promote walking,” the study says.

The improved Walk Score was also tempered by a lowered Bike Score, which dipped from 49 in 2020 to 43 this year. Categorized as “somewhat bikeable” with “minimal” infrastructure, Tysons trails Reston, which stayed flat at 54 over that time frame. Read More

Shoppers walk around Tysons Corner Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Tysons is increasingly becoming a place where people live, but a recent market study from the Tysons Community Alliance raised some questions about its future as a place where people work.

Released on Aug. 4, the study paints divergent pictures of the two commercial sectors that have defined Tysons since the 1960s — office and retail — as they navigate a post-pandemic world of remote work and online shopping.

While retail visits in Tysons have returned to 92% of the 2019 average, foot traffic at office buildings is at 77% of pre-pandemic levels, according to the study, which was conducted by consultants HR&A, Toole Design and Wells & Associates.

That’s still better than D.C., where office visitation is at just 70% of pre-pandemic levels, but the study found that Tysons is seeing “somewhat slower employment growth” both in general and among office users than Fairfax County and the overall D.C. region — a lag expected to continue through 2028.

“Tysons grew more slowly than surrounding Fairfax County and the D.C. [metropolitan area] in the last three years and is projected to continue growing more slowly in the next five years,” a workforce growth analysis summary said, identifying health care as the industry projected to add the most jobs in Tysons over the next five years.

Tysons has lagged in employment growth during the pandemic (via Tysons Market Study)

Even though over 85% of Tysons workers are in industries that traditionally use offices, led by 47,100 workers in the broad category of “professional services,” the area’s office vacancy rate has climbed from 14.8% in 2019 to 20% so far this year.

That exceeds the county’s 16.7% vacancy rate, which is a 10-year high, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority leaders told the Board of Supervisors at an economic advisory committee meeting on July 18.

Constituting 5.6 million of the area’s 27.6 million square feet of office space, the vacancies have particularly affected lower class, older offices built before 1990, suggesting a “preference for newer and nicer properties,” the study report says.

Despite the “historically high” vacancy rates, average rents have grown 24% since 2015 to match the D.C. area’s average of $39 per square foot, driven in part by the $65-per-square-foot asking price at the Tysons Central office building that was completed last year.

Tysons also has an additional 1.9 million square feet of office under construction or planned, though the majority of upcoming development is residential.

“If vacancies remain high, future deliveries could result in stagnant rents and continued high vacancy,” the report says. “For developers to fill pipeline office space, office-using jobs in Tysons need to grow at 1.4 times the projected growth of 3,300 jobs between 2023 and 2033.” Read More

The Union Park at McLean condominiums in Tysons East (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Tysons is going to need more housing.

Home to 17,000 people in 2010, the urban center saw its population grow to 29,620 people by 2021, according to a market study released Friday (Aug. 4) by the Tysons Community Alliance. Fairfax County staff reported earlier this year that there are now 30,124 residents.

Much of that influx came just in the past five years. Tysons added 13,000 households at a growth rate of 19% from 2018 to 2021 — tripling the 6% seen from 2015 to 2018, the market study found.

Its residential growth has easily exceeded that of Fairfax County as a whole (4% from 2018-2021) as well as the overall D.C. region (7% over that time period).

“Tysons is no longer just a place to shop and go to work,” said Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, who represents most of Tysons. “The addition of Metro and now the completion of the Silver Line, investment in parks and public amenities, as well as the construction of bike trails, is creating connections within Tysons, to the region and beyond. People recognize Tysons as the type of community that they want to call home.”

While the county’s population has started to stagnate, Tysons is projected to reach more than 42,000 residents by 2030, though that pace would still fall short of the county’s goal of 100,000 residents by 2050.

To accommodate that growth, the area will need to add 4,400 more housing units, including an additional 1,900 affordable units, by 2032, the report estimates.

Tysons has made progress on building up its housing stock, which totals 8,600 units with 1,200 coming online since 2020 — a 16% increase. Another 1,600 units are under construction, and 624 have been approved but are still in planning, including about 516 units in the all-affordable Dominion Square West project.

Of the roughly 2,500 existing affordable units, 1,800 are “naturally occurring” because their market rate is affordable to households earning up to 80% of the area median income (AMI), which is $152,000 for a household of four people in the D.C. area.

Committed affordable housing units in Tysons are mostly aimed at “middle-income” households (via Tysons Market Study)

However, the vast majority of the 700 committed affordable housing units in Tysons is aimed at people making 60% or more of the AMI. Only 7% are available to people earning under $76,000 a year, and there are no units affordable to people making under $45,000. Read More

Trees and a bench in Vienna’s Wildwood Park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Vienna’s tree canopy may be shrinking, but the trees still standing are actually doing quite well, a recently released town-wide inventory found.

About 88% of the 7,224 trees on public land examined by PlanIT Geo are in “fair” or “good” condition, the consultant told the Vienna Town Council when presenting its findings on June 20.

“I’ve looked at a lot of data across a lot of projects, and I don’t think I’ve seen one as good of health as Vienna’s trees are in,” PlanIT Geo Director of Field Operations TJ Wood said, decreeing the town’s tree population to be in “very good health” overall.

That does still leave roughly 722 trees that were found to be in poor condition or dead, according to the inventory, which was initiated based on a recommendation by an urban tree canopy assessment that the town received last October.

Focused on trees on public property, including any within the street right-of-way and parks, the inventory identified tulip poplars as the species with the highest mortality rate at 12 dead trees. The species with the biggest showing in the “poor” category was red maple, which isn’t surprising when it constitutes 16.6% of the total inventory, Wood said.

He reported that, while Vienna has “a very diverse urban forest overall” with 162 unique species, the top 10 most common species make up almost 51% of the population, led by the 1,200 red maples recorded by PlanIT Geo.

“There’s a lot of room to diversify tree plantings and try new species out,” Wood said.

In another sign that Vienna could use some more trees, less than 30% of its trees have a diameter of 1 to 6 inches, suggesting the town is “lacking in new plantings.” Wood added that the town could get close to the ideal rate of 40% if it puts a tree in all 1,222 sites that the inventory identified as suitable for plantings.

Despite the overall healthiness of Vienna’s urban forest, the inventory says 3,968 trees, or 65% are in need of some maintenance. The majority are recommended for some kind of pruning to remove dead wood and hanging limbs or prevent them from growing into utility lines, signs and other infrastructure.

However, 290 trees were deemed to be at moderate risk, meaning they should be revisited at least once a year, and there are 25 high-risk trees.

“I would recommend anyone visit immediately and get another set of eyes on them, decide whether those need to be removed, or if there is a mitigating factor that can be done to reduce that risk to public safety,” Wood said, pointing to a red maple with a split trunk that could fall on a street or sidewalk as an example of a high-risk tree.

Vienna Park Maintenance Superintendent Jeremy Edwards noted that there are still some trees in parks, including Northside and Wildwood, that haven’t been examined and added to the inventory yet. The survey didn’t include trees on private property and along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, which isn’t town-owned.

All of the data collected is now publicly available through a TreePlotter database that town staff will be able to update in real time.

Last year’s tree canopy assessment found that the town’s canopy has declined by 163 acres, or 13%, since 2011. In January, the town council designated improving the canopy as a top priority for 2023, and Vienna is currently considering an ordinance that would require developers to preserve trees, instead of just replacing ones they cut down.

Vienna’s former Faith Baptist Church, now known as the Annex (via Town of Vienna)

The Vienna Town Council appears inclined to raze the former Faith Baptist Church, as a study continues to sift through ideas for the long-term future of the site now known as the Annex.

A vote on whether to demolish the now-vacant building at 301 Center Street South has been set for June 5. While no decision was made, a majority of council members indicated at a conference session Monday (May 8) that they would rather knock down the structure than invest money in maintaining it.

Council members Howard Springsteen and Ed Somers seemed open to keeping the church gymnasium — another option suggested by the consultants conducting the study — but it was unclear how much that would cost compared to replacing the 1950s-era building with new, temporary recreational facilities.

Martin Kimmel, president of the consulting firm Kimmel Bogrette Architecture + Site, confirmed the team could provide “rough” cost estimates in time for the June vote.

“It’s going to come down to cost,” Councilmember Steve Potter said. “I’m leaning toward don’t put good money into bad. I think the best thing would be to demolish the building, but I’m having a hard time making a decision because we don’t have all the information.”

It will cost about $250,000 to fully demolish the church and remove the resulting debris, town staff estimated.

The town purchased the former church on Aug. 31, 2020, turning it into a temporary base for the Vienna Police Department until its new headquarters was built. The move-in process was completed in January.

After a review found that it would take $500,000 just to bring the existing building up to code, the council commissioned Kimmel Bogrette and fellow consultant Kimley Horn to help the town develop a long-term vision before it makes any short-term commitments.

Based on initial public input, including a still-open online survey and an in-person workshop, community members would love to see recreational amenities of some kind — particularly an indoor pool or other aquatics facility — in the Annex’s future.

Active recreation emerged as easily the top choice for future uses of the Annex at a March 28 workshop (via Town of Vienna)

“There was no doubt the word ‘pool’ jumped out” as a use that should be evaluated, Somers said, referencing a word cloud in the consultant team’s presentation.

An exercise or fitness facility, pickleball courts and meeting space also got solid support as potential uses at the March 28 workshop, which was held in the new police station.

With the police station costing about $14.1 million, it will likely be at least a decade before the town can implement another project of that magnitude. That may not be as far off as it seems, given the amount of time needed for planning, design and construction, Town Manager Mercury Payton noted.

Springsteen said a pool seems “cost-prohibitive” when the town already has millions of dollars worth of capital projects to address, from road improvements to sewer upgrades. Other council members suggested all options should remain open until they get a clearer idea of the costs.

Kimmel Bogrette proposed bringing in another consultant that could conduct a market and operational analysis. For an additional $23,500, the analysis would evaluate different possible uses for the site and project potential demand, construction and operational costs, and revenue.

Some council members expressed skepticism at the need for that analysis, though Payton said the consultant would be able to provide a more detailed, informed review than what town staff could manage. The proposal will come up for a vote on June 5.

“I don’t know what we’d wait for. We have to know what the costs are,” Mayor Linda Colbert said.

In the meantime, Kimmel’s study will proceed with more community engagement events at the Vienna Community Center from 4-7 p.m. today (Wednesday) and from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday (May 13).

A final recommendation is scheduled to be presented to the council on June 12.

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis and GMU professor Dr. Cynthia Lum announce a long-term study of local police officers (via FCPD/Facebook)

(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) The Fairfax County Police Department and George Mason University have joined forces with an Arlington-based think tank to study how the attitudes and behavior of police officers evolve over the course of their careers.

Touted as the first of its kind in the U.S., the long-term or longitudinal study is intended to give the FCPD and other police departments a better understanding of how to address staffing challenges by following a select group of officers, potentially over decades.

The results could inform the FCPD’s recruiting efforts and provide a new look at what makes someone a successful police officer, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said at a 1 p.m. press conference, noting that divorce, suicide, alcoholism and domestic violence rates among police are “higher than the national norm.”

“We’re really happy to engage in this long-term journey to figure out what success looks like for Fairfax County, because we want to continue to lead on behalf of our profession,” Davis said. “We think over time and hopefully over many years, we’ll learn a lot more about who wants to become part of this profession and, once they enter our ranks, what determines their trajectory for success.”

Looking at both applicants and current officers, the study will be conducted independently by Dr. Cynthia Lum, a criminology professor in GMU’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, and the National Policing Institute.

With a gift provided by philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in 2022, the institute is funding the estimated $300,000 cost of the study’s first three years. That includes $186,401 that went to GMU to support its costs, according to National Policing Institute President Jim Burch.

Researchers hope to get enough money from public and private funders to continue the study for 10 to 20 years, Lum said.

With a current vacancy rate of 206 positions, the FCPD has been operating under a personnel emergency since July 2022, meaning officers are required to work overtime with two shifts in rotation instead of the usual three.

Compensation has emerged as the top concern from interviews with officers, though it’s not the only one, according to FCPD Administrative Support Bureau Commander Major Gregory Fried, citing a desire for a better work-life balance as another issue that has come up.

The police department has recently committed more money to job advertising and pay for public safety workers, along with efforts to modernize the hiring process. The next academy class starting April 24 will have 58 graduates, the most in a decade, Davis said.

Still, officer recruitment and retention have become a struggle for law enforcement agencies across the country.

“We’re losing some of our best, and we struggle to bring in the best as well. As we face these challenges, though, taxpayers rightfully expect more,” Burch said. “Communities want more effective and fair policing. They want safer communities…The reality is policing is a profession. It’s not a vocation…We must invest, and that’s what this study is about, investing in those who step up to serve in their communities.”

The national exodus of officers has frequently been attributed to declining morale in the face of heightened public scrutiny, but Covid and mass early retirements may be bigger contributors to burnout, according to The Marshall Project, which reported earlier this year that local government employment in general has dropped since 2020.

Burch hopes to see the study of Fairfax County police officers replicated in other jurisdictions.

“What we learn here in Fairfax County will inform and improve policing across the United States,” Burch said.

The FCPD is also working with the D.C. nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) on a review of shootings by its officers, which increased last year. That study was initiated in early March after Maryland resident Timothy Johnson was shot and killed outside Tysons Corner Center on Feb. 22.

Davis announced on March 23 that the officer who fired the fatal shot that evening had been fired.

A kid runs past Vienna Town Hall (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Town of Vienna wants to give its employees more breathing room — literally.

Some space has been freed up in town hall by the Vienna Police Department’s criminal investigations bureau relocating to its recently completed station. The department’s transition to the new station will be conclude with its communications team moving in by the end of January, according to a spokesperson.

As a result, the town is reorganizing how it uses the town hall building at 127 Center Street South to maximize efficiency and relieve cramped conditions that relegated one worker to a ventilated computer server room, Town Manager Mercury Payton told the Vienna Town Council on Jan. 9.

“[That] probably wasn’t the best thing for his health. We’re going to be moving him out of that area into a vacated space,” Payton said. “So, we’ve already kind of determined internally ourselves some of our best moves, and then we’ve kind of gone as far as we can go.”

To assist with the reconfiguration, the town council approved a $84,900 contract for PMA Architecture to conduct an office space study. The consulting firm was chosen from 10 candidates based on its “innovative yet practical ideas” and experience working with smaller governments, Vienna Finance Director Marion Serfass said.

Built almost 60 years ago, town hall was last renovated in 2014 when it got a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, but there was little consideration of workplace layout at that time — an oversight that became apparent as Covid heightened concerns about the spread of disease.

About 47 employees work out of town hall, not including the 12 recently relocated police personnel, according to a request for proposals issued by the town in August.

While there hasn’t been a huge increase in staff, the services offered by the town have evolved and expanded, Serfass said.

“We’re focusing on economic development, we’re focusing on video content, we’re adding slightly to town hall staff,” she said. “Some of these additions are temporary, but some may become permanent, so town hall staff is sort of bursting at the seams right now.”

The funds for the space study come from Vienna’s American Rescue Plan Act allotment, which can be used to prevent the spread of disease in the workplace. The town previously used federal Covid relief money to install an air filtration system and Plexiglas barriers, among other needs, according to Serfass.

In addition to reviewing room layouts, equipment and storage space, the study will take security needs into account, PMA Architecture Principal Katie Stodghill told the town council.

“I was very pleased to hear you raise the issue of public safety,” Councilmember Ed Somers said. “We live in a different era than we did years ago. We deal with a number of issues where people are frustrated about many things, and their most accessible level of government…is their local government. I do worry often about our staff that are there all the time.”

An exact timeline for the study hasn’t been established yet, but when it’s completed, a final report and the consultant’s recommended solution will be presented to the town council.


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