First Case of Monkeypox Hits Northern Virginia — “A Northern Virginia woman likely has monkeypox, the Virginia Dept. of Health announced today.” [ARLnow]
Man Settles Lawsuit with FCPD — “An unarmed Black man who was shocked with a stun gun wielded by a white Fairfax County police officer in June 2020 has reached a settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit, WTOP has learned.” [WTOP]
Closing Arguments Begin in Celebrity Case — After six weeks of the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial causing some commotion at the county courthouse, it’s set to come to a close soon. Both sides rested their case on Thursday afternoon, and closing arguments are set to begin today. [WJLA]
Virginia Chamber Orchestra Performing at Botanical Gardens — The VCO is holding weekend concerts at the Korean Bell Garden at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Wolf Trap. The next performance is this Sunday (May 29) from 3-4 p.m. [VCO]
Local Teacher Helps Ukraine — “A teacher from Fairfax County, Virginia, is back from a trip to Poland, where she helped feed refugees who were fleeing Ukraine. Meredith Hedrick, who teaches English as a second language at Annandale High School, took a 10-day trip to participate in humanitarian relief efforts at the busiest border crossing between Poland and Ukraine, which includes vehicle, foot and train traffic.” [WTOP]
Vienna to be Featured on WETA — Vienna will be featured in an episode of “If You Lived Here” on WETA, spotlighting the town. The show is expected to air early next year. [Town of Vienna/Facebook]
FCPD Frees Turtle Stuck Under Tire — Fairfax County police tweeted a photo of an animal protection officer holding what appears to be a “smiling” snapping turtle that was rescued from under a car tire and freed. [FCPD/Twitter]
It’s Friday — Rain throughout the day. High of 70 and low of 65. Sunrise at 5:49 am and sunset at 8:26 pm. [Weather.gov]
Construction begins today (Monday) on a long-gestating project to upgrade the pedestrian facilities along Courthouse Road NE in Vienna.
The asphalt path that currently runs along the east side of the road will be closed for several months between Pine Valley Drive and Battery Park Street, as crews replace it with a concrete, ADA-compliant sidewalk, the Town of Vienna announced yesterday (Sunday).
“The new sidewalk will be able to safely accommodate pedestrians and people with disabilities who use a wheelchair or other assistive devices, and the overall project will enhance the neighborhood appearance,” Andrew Jinks, the town’s transportation engineer, said in a news release.
Jinks deems the existing trail “unsafe” for pedestrians. In addition to being narrow with an uneven, cracked surface, it runs next to an open drainage ditch that the project will enclose with a curb and gutters.
Say goodbye to this unsafe pedestrian path along Old Courthouse Rd. between Battle St. and Pine Valley Dr! Beginning Monday, it will be closed for several months while it is replaced with an ADA-compliant concrete sidewalk and other improvements. Details: https://t.co/PXzfP584L6. pic.twitter.com/r5t8wKShRJ
— Town of Vienna, VA (@TownofViennaVA) May 20, 2022
The $1.2 million project is being built by Sagres Construction, which was awarded a contract in March 2021.
It’s being funded by a combination of local and state funds, including a Safe Routes to Schools grant that the town got from the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2013 due to the site’s proximity to Westbriar Elementary School.
Vienna anticipates that construction on the new sidewalk will be complete in January 2023.
(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) A former Fairfax County Public Schools bus driver and an attendant have been charged with abuse and neglect after a 3-year-old kid was injured on a ride home from school, police reported today (Monday).
According to the Town of Vienna Police Department, its officers were called to a school bus stop on March 18 in response to a verbal argument between the bus driver and a parent, who requested that their kid be taken to a hospital by Fairfax County firefighters.
“It was later determined that the 3-year-old special needs child had suffered a severe head injury,” Vienna police said.
Rqia Tabite, 36, and Teresa Wessells, 70, both residents of Falls Church, have been charged with one count each of abuse and neglect of a child — a class 4 felony in Virginia — after a Vienna police investigation determined that they had “failed to provide proper care to the child,” according to the news release.
The department says the investigation was done with “the full cooperation” of FCPS, which launched an independent follow-up investigation. An FCPS spokesperson told FFXnow that Tabite and Wessells are no longer employed by the school system.
Fairfax County Child Protective Services also conducted an investigation.
Vienna police obtained warrants on May 19, and Tabite and Wessells were arrested on May 20 by the Fairfax County Police Department. They have since been released on unsecured bonds.
“The child is not being identified at this time but is at home with his family and is receiving necessary treatment,” the VPD said.
In a separate incident, a former FCPS bus driver remains under investigation by Fort Belvoir after allegedly slapping a student on March 16.
Heat Raises Risk for Outdoor Activities — “The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a special weather statement for early season heat for Friday, May 20, through Sunday, May 22. Temperatures will rise into the 90s this weekend for the first time since last fall, with Saturday forecast to be the hottest day.” [Fairfax County Emergency Information]
FCPS Teacher Arrested on Child Porn Charges — “A 28-year-old middle school teacher from Springfield faces two felony charges of possession of child pornography…At the time of her arrest, Kristine Knizner was employed by Fairfax County Public Schools as a teacher at Irving Middle School in Springfield. She had previously been a teacher at Key Middle School in Franconia.” [Patch]
School Bus Crashes at Inova Fairfax Hospital — “Two-vehicle crash involving a Fairfax County School bus on the 3300 block of Gallows Rd @ 5:53pm. Two students were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Bus driver & the driver of the other involved vehicle have non-life-threatening injuries.” [Allison Papson/Twitter]
Natural Gas Tank Explodes in Springfield — “Approximately 6 PM, units were dispatched for a cylinder tank in natural gas vehicle that exploded/ruptured in 6800 block of Industrial Road in Springfield. Fire in vehicle extinguished. No hazard and no reported injuries.” [FCFRD/Twitter]
Metro Eyes Late Summer to Restore Troubled Trains — “Amid a leadership shakeup at Metro, the transit agency says its plan to restore its long-sidelined 7000-series rail cars by late this summer remains on track. Late Thursday afternoon, Metro submitted a formal return-to-service plan aiming to safely bring back a limited number of 7000-series rail cars, and Metro’s safety watchdog…gave the plan a green light.” [WTOP]
Project Near West Falls Church Metro Begins — The City of Falls Church broke ground yesterday (Tuesday) on West Falls, a major mixed-use development that, in its first phase, will bring five buildings totaling 1.2 million square feet to the former George Mason High School site. It’s the biggest project in the city’s history and will eventually be joined by development from Metro and Virginia Tech. [Washington Business Journal]
Couple Thankful After Reston Fire Station Baby Delivery — “It’s been a whirlwind couple of days for Isabelle Ahearn and Ray Qasimyar, after Ahearn went into labor early Tuesday morning and wound up delivering her baby in the parking lot of a Fairfax County fire station.” [ABC7]
Colvin Run ES Teacher Turns Basketball into Education — “P.E. teacher Patrick Noel had started his first year, a virtual one, at Colvin Run Elementary School during the pandemic. He says during his breaks, he would perform trick shots and share them with his students, ultimately presenting them on Tuesdays and dubbing it Trick Shot Tuesday.” [ABC7]
Vienna Adds Street Beacons — “Vienna has two new sets of Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacons! The LEDs flash with high frequency when activated to improve pedestrian safety. Check out the new RRFBs at the intersection of Courthouse Road SW & Glen Ave SW as well as Beulah Rd NE & Creek Crossing Road NE.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]
It’s Friday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 87 and low of 66. Sunrise at 5:54 am and sunset at 8:20 pm. [Weather.gov]
Vienna residents’ next property tax bills won’t be quite as high as anticipated, even as the town commits to raising employee salaries and other additional costs.
The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously last night (Monday) to adopt a $48.7 million budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 with a real estate tax rate of 20.5 cents per $100 of assessed value — a 1.75-cent cut from the current rate. The new budget will be in effect from July 1 through June 30, 2023.
This will be the 10th consecutive year that the town has reduced or maintained its real estate tax rate, according to a news release.
With the average residential tax bill expected to increase 3.7% from last year due to rising assessment values, the council had urged staff to lower the tax rate beyond the 1-cent reduction initially proposed by Town Manager Mercury Payton.
“I think we did a good thing to help all residents in Vienna, but also, we were fiscally responsible,” Mayor Linda Colbert said after the vote. “We still have the rainy day fund and so on.”
Even with the increased tax cut, the adopted budget is 12.7% larger than the current spending plan, thanks to an “unusually large” surplus from fiscal year 2020-2021 and revenues bouncing back after two years of declines during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to town staff.
Parks and recreation fees have returned to pre-pandemic levels, jumping from $991,000 in fiscal year 2021-2022 to $1.1 million in the newly adopted budget, Director of Finance Marion Serfass told the town council.
The town also has also seen strong sales and meals tax revenues. The latter rose 23% to $3.2 million, according to budget documents, which attribute the increase to “easing pandemic conditions, creative solutions to restaurant dining including outdoor dining opportunities, and several new restaurants opening.”
The adopted budget includes a 4% salary increase for all eligible employees, on top of a 3% increase that was approved with last year’s surplus funds but deferred to the coming fiscal year. It also establishes a new, separate pay plan for the Vienna Police Department to “address challenges with officer recruitment and retention,” the town says.
In his overview for the budget, Payton noted that most town employees will see a 11.7% increase in health insurance premiums.
“The salary increase will assist employees in recovering those increases and also address inflation, wage pressure and employee retention concerns,” he wrote.
On top of the budget and real estate tax rate, the town council approved increases to the water and sewer rates of 2.6% and 3.8%, respectively. Fixed service charges will also go up by 4.8%, from $31.30 to $32.80 per quarter for most residential customers.
The average residential customer will see an overall increase of $10 per quarter, or $40 annually, in their bill.
According to the town, the service charges increase is necessary to bring them “in line with industry standards.” Serfass said the town’s utilization of federal coronavirus relief funds for $5 million in infrastructure costs prevented rates from growing even faster.
Vienna was allocated a total of $17.1 million by the American Rescue Plan Act, about $13 million of which the town intends to spend on water, sewer, park, street, and sidewalk infrastructure projects. The second half of the funds are expected to come in June.
Outdoor dining is here to stay in the Town of Vienna — except at 111 Church Street NW.
The new regulations that the Vienna Town Council agreed to after a public hearing on Wednesday (May 11) are mostly straightforward, simplifying the permitting process for permanent and seasonal outdoor dining while setting clear standards for the number of seats allowed, operating hours, and other considerations.
However, in a change from the draft ordinance presented in April, the council voted 6-1 to allow outdoor dining within 60 to 75 feet of a residential property if the patio or tent meets certain conditions:
- No alcohol served
- No waitstaff or servers allowed
- A maximum of eight seats
- Hours of operation, including any time to set up or take down furniture, end at 7 p.m.
Town staff had proposed a prohibition on outdoor dining within 75 feet of residential properties. They said it would affect three of the 22 businesses where the practice is currently allowed under temporary measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: Simply Social Coffee, Blend 111, and Bazin’s on Church.
The Vienna Planning Commission unanimously recommended the amendment, arguing that people drinking or eating outside at a cafe poses less potential for conflict between residents and businesses than at a sit-down restaurant.
Staff confirmed that the conditions would let Simply Social retain its outdoor seating, but not Blend 111 and Bazin’s, whose shared patio at the back of 111 Church Street has drawn numerous noise complaints from neighbors.
“That was supposed to be parking,” Councilmember Howard Springsteen said of the restaurants’ outdoor dining area. “We’ve had major complaints, and they just seem to ignore it.”
While the restaurant owners said at a November public hearing that the patio has proven popular, becoming a “lifeline” during the pandemic, residents testified last week that the level of noise had become untenable.
Howard Uman and Theresa Ayotte, whose house is directly behind 111 Church Street, told the town council and planning commission that the noise remains “unacceptable,” even under a temporary ordinance established in December that limited the hours and number of seats for outdoor dining.
“We hear everything and anything that’s in our backyard,” Uman said. “I think there were only one or two people in there, and there was a kid back there screaming his head off and we could hear every single word, so it’s really intrusive.”
Councilmember Nisha Patel made what she called “a last-ditch attempt” to find a compromise between the residents and restaurants, proposing allowing outdoor dining within 75 feet of a residential property under more limited hours and requiring a conditional use permit for more than 12 seats.
Patel said she “would love to just side with the residents” but couldn’t ignore emails that the council has gotten supporting the restaurants, including one read by Mayor Linda Colbert from her predecessor, Laurie DiRocco.
“Noise is one of the things we get probably the most complaints about, but that’s also living in a community,” Colbert said, noting that the town still hears from people who only feel comfortable eating outside.
Colbert voted for Patel’s proposal, which failed on a 5-2 vote, as well as the final ordinance with the planning commission’s recommended amendment.
The town council will formally adopt the new outdoor dining ordinance on June 6, and it will take effect in July, after the current temporary ordinance ends. Businesses that currently have waivers for outdoor dining will have 60 days after the adoption to apply for new permits.
Blend 111 owner Michael Biddick confirmed to FFXnow that his restaurant’s outdoor patio will revert back to a parking lot.
“We are deeply saddened and shocked by the decision of the Vienna Town Council to eliminate our outdoor dining patio,” Biddick said by email. “For many, it is an essential location to enjoy dining safely and a bright spot from the devastating pandemic over the past two years. We regret that the Council did not consider a compromise solution that further limited the hours on the patio and other reasonable steps to mitigate noise concerns from residents living in a nearby home.”
The annual Tour de Hunter Mill bicycle ride returns tomorrow (Saturday), taking riders through scenic routes in Reston and the Town of Vienna.
Introduced last spring by Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the event is scheduled to take place from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Riders will start at the Vienna Town Green and continue throughout the district.
In a self-admitted “cheesy” video, Alcorn’s staff used a sock puppet YouTube video to market the event — noting that Alcorn was out of town when the video was made.
“The ride showcases Unity in our Community, as together we discover or revisit the many hidden treasures, cultural and environmental resources in the Hunter Mill District,” Alcorn’s office said in a news release. “We have volunteers working to ensure you have a safe and fun ride and will have more details coming soon on the family and long routes.”
The registration fee is $30 per rider and includes event socks and a $5 donation for the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling (FABB), a volunteer-run organization that advocates for safe and fun bicycling for all in the county.
The event will take place — rain or shine — with the former being in the forecast for most of the day.
In addition to FABB, sponsors include Reston Community Center, Public Art Reston, Reston Association and the Tysons Partnership.
Local Parents Scramble to Find Baby Formula — “In Virginia, the [Women, Infants, and Children] program expanded formula options available to participants after a February recall of Abbott-made formula, but low inventory has forced many parents to search multiple stores, Paula N. Garrett, the state WIC director, said in a statement.” [The Washington Post]
Covid Outbreaks at More than Two Dozen Schools — “Twenty-six schools in Fairfax County are dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard…The Fairfax County school system has the highest number of schools reporting an outbreak in the region.” [Inside NoVA]
Extended I-66 Ramp Closure Coming — “Virginia Department of Transportation will be closing another ramp temporarily as part of the ongoing construction at the Nutley Street/I-66 Interchange…On or around May 13, VDOT will be closing the ramp from Virginia Center Boulevard to West I-66 for approximately six weeks. The closure will begin at approximately 10 a.m.” [Patch]
Undercover Operation Leads to Arrests in Two Armed Robberies — “Detectives from our Major Crimes Bureau began investigating a robbery that occurred prior to 12 p.m. on May 7 in the parking lot of 6600 Springfield Mall. The victim arranged to meet the suspect through an online marketplace to purchase a tablet computer. When the victim arrived, the suspect entered the victim’s vehicle, displayed a firearm and took cash.” [FCPD]
Supervisor Walter Alcorn Had COVID-19 — “The good news is that the vaccines are working at preventing serious illness – I can personally vouch for this after my own bout with COVID-19 several weeks ago. It wasn’t pleasant but was much like having the flu for a few days.” [Hunter Mill District News]
FCPS to Add Meal Designed by Students to Menu — A quartet of seventh-grade girls were chosen to represent Chantilly’s Franklin Middle School in the Real Food for Kids challenge. The students came up with the “Vegejita Wrapadilla,” a quesadilla stuffed with green and red bell peppers, tomatoes and onions that will be added to Fairfax County Public Schools’ lunch menu for the 2022-2023 school year. [FCPS]
McLean Mansion Tops D.C. Area Real Estate Market — Monumental Sports & Entertainment co-owner Roger Mody and his wife Kyle have listed their 5-acre mansion for $39 million. Called The Cliffs, the four-level, 35,000-square-foot home features indoor and outdoor pools, a basketball court, a 22-car garage, and a kitchen “designed with ‘input’ from Chef José Andrés.” [Washington Business Journal]
Vienna Wins Mayor Fitness Challenge — “The results are in, and Team Vienna is the victor in the second annual Mayors’ Fitness Challenge! The friendly competition between the Town of Vienna and Falls Church and Fairfax cities encourages residents to get moving and log their minutes of exercise in the name of community spirit and team pride.” [Town of Vienna]
It’s Thursday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 67 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:00 am and sunset at 8:13 pm. [Weather.gov]
A private elementary school in Vienna has big plans for the future, but it needs the town’s permission to realize them.
Green Hedges School is looking to add a new gymnasium, playgrounds, and an athletic field on its 4.3-acre campus at 415 Windover Avenue NW. The proposed expansion will also involve renovations to the main school building and the demolition of “several smaller buildings,” according to the Town of Vienna’s summary.
With portions of the main building — known as Kilmer Hall — now close to 50 years old, Green Hedges officials believe the time has come to pursue upgrades, as the school nears its 80th anniversary.
“The time is now to update our facilities, just to get them ready for the next 80 years, as I like to say,” Head of School Jennifer Bohnen said. “So, that’s part of it, just to make sure that our facilities are the best they can be for our students and our faculty.”
According to Bohnen, the school hopes to add a second floor to Kilmer Hall and construct a separate gym building. Right now, indoor athletic activities are held in a multipurpose room that also hosts theatrical performances, music classes, and student assemblies.
The proposed playground will replace equipment installed 20 years ago with a more “immersive,” hands-on facility “that is developmentally and age-appropriate” for all of Green Hedges’ students, who span toddlers to middle schoolers, Bohnen says.
“Our playground is going to feel much more natural, so it really fits in with the environment,” she told FFXnow, noting that the playground is planned instead of an underground recreational facility that was approved in 2017 but never built.
Buildings slated for demolition include a two-story residential house on Nutley Street and the school’s one-story Grace Hecker Rice Art Center, according to current and conceptual site plans submitted to Vienna.
Before any work can start, however, the school has to get the Vienna Board of Zoning Appeals’ approval to amend the conditional use permit that lets it exist in an otherwise entirely residential neighborhood.
Started in 1942 at its founders’ Arlington home, Green Hedges School relocated to its current site in Vienna’s historic Windover Heights district in 1955. It currently serves 190 students, starting at age 2 through eighth grade.
As part of the expansion project, the school is asking to bump up that enrollment cap, which has been in place since 1985, to 225 students. An increase in the 42 full-time employees allowed and additional parking spaces have also been requested.
The school can provide parking for up to 54 vehicles under an approved 2007 site plan, but it currently only has 48 spaces, according to the town.
“Green Hedges is thriving right now,” Bohnen said. “We’re in an all-time high with enrollment to amazing Vienna families, and…it’s an exciting time.”
The Vienna Planning Commission will discuss Green Hedges’ proposal during a work session at 6:30 p.m. today (Wednesday).
As Memorial Day nears, grills will be heating up across America, including at the new Big Buns Damn Good Burgers in Vienna.
The rapidly expanding Northern Virginia burger chain will open its location in the town to customers next Tuesday (May 17) after months of pandemic-related delays. Founder Craig Carey had previously expressed hope for a fall 2021 launch.
“The pandemic, with everything that’s going on in the world with supply chains and everything else, has impeded and slowed down our opening timelines,” Big Buns Director of Operations Kebba Gaye told FFXnow yesterday (Monday). “From getting equipment, from even getting employees, it’s been harder.”
Replacing Elevation Burger at 142 Branch Road SE in Danor Plaza, Big Buns serves up made-to-order burgers, burger bowls, chicken sandwiches, fries, and drinks, including milkshakes, beer, and cocktails.
Started in Arlington in 2007, the company didn’t add a second location until 2018 but has now grown to six restaurants. It arrived in Fairfax County via Reston Station in March 2021 and added a Herndon site on Franklin Farm Road just last month.
Additional franchises are in the works for McLean, where it will be paired with Matchbox Pizza at the upcoming Lidl, and downtown Herndon on Elden Street. The company is also planning to expand into Loudoun County, taking over an Elevation Burger in Ashburn.
Customer demand brought Big Buns to Vienna, according to Gaye, who says the Ballston, Shirlington, and Reston locations have gotten a lot of customers from the town who had “been telling us for a while, ‘You should come to Vienna.'”
The restaurant will operate from 11 a.m. to 9:05 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays, and from 11 a.m. to 10:05 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“We’re happy to be here,” Gaye said. “I know the neighbors [have] been waiting for us for a long time, and we’re ready to offer them nice burgers.”