Fairfax County is examining its signage rules to possibly allow bigger and brighter electronic signs.
Staff discussed the matter yesterday (Tuesday) during a Board of Supervisors’ land use policy committee meeting.
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust questioned the goal of the review, which has been underway since March 2019, according to a staff report.
Staff told him the county’s existing ordinance is old and shopping centers want to be competitive. Casey Judge, with the county’s Zoning Administration Division, suggested that easing an application process could help businesses too.
The county has proposed simplifying and consolidating three application processes into one for nonresidential areas.
“We have an awful lot of sign pollution already,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “I’m really concerned about some of this.”
She noted that even signs within buildings, such as lighted “open” signage, can distract drivers and other road users.
Businesses are also already allowed to install electronic signs in residential areas, according to the county.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the committee’s vice chair, said his office has received complaints about existing electronic signs in residential neighborhoods.
Alcorn said he’s not as concerned if a sign is in the middle of a commercial district, but he wants to find out more about how to manage issues near or adjacent to neighborhoods.
The committee’s chair, Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith, directed staff to return with further recommendations for the board to consider.
A draft of changes could be developed this summer or fall. Public hearings are tentatively expected this winter or in early 2023 on any modifications to the county’s rules.
Photo via Google Maps
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.”
Amazon Plans Chantilly Data Center — “Amazon.com Inc.’s data center arm is working to develop a new data center facility in Chantilly, with plans to invest nearly $36 million into the project, according to Fairfax County records. The vacant property located at 3980 Virginia Mallory Drive is part of Amazon’s 46.4 acres in Avion Parkway, which the company bought for $55.9 million in 2021.” [Washington Business Journal]
Rappelling Stunt Supports Fairfax County Nonprofit — “On Thursday and Friday, about 80 people, including two local elected officials, a Washington Post reporter, and a member of the D.C. Divas women’s football team, dressed in full pads and uniform, rappelled down the side of the Crystal City Hilton to raise funds and awareness for New Hope Housing.” [The Washington Post]
County to Choose COVID-19 Memorial Site by September — “The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is positioning the county as one of the first localities in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. to build a permanent pandemic remembrance. The Fairfax County Park Authority recently submitted a memorandum to the board, summarizing project details, including design considerations, the project timeline and next steps, including the memorial’s location.” [WTOP]
County Board Sides with American Legion After Neighbor Complaints — “The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) voted 4-1 April 27 to overturn the zoning administrator’s ruling that American Legion Post 270 in McLean improperly was operating as a banquet-and-reception hall. Surrounding residents have complained about noise, loitering, late-night events and parties lasting until the early morning” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
FCPD Traffic Campaign Yields Citations — “On Tuesday [May 3], officers from our Traffic Division wrote over 100 citations and warnings during our extra enforcement campaign in the Annandale area. This campaign runs through May 22 and is geared towards making our roads safe for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.” [FCPD/Facebook]
Afghan Refugees Look for Jobs in Tysons — “Job seekers, like 21-year-old Mohammad Fasih Yaqoobi, had the chance to meet with more than 30 employers hiring for roles at all skill levels. In Yaqoobi’s case, the fair represented an opportunity to provide for his family, who have already lived a lifetime of unimaginable circumstances.” [NBC4]
Chapel Road Closed in Clifton Starting Today — “Chapel Road (Route 641) between Water Street and Yates Ford Road (Route 612) will be closed to through traffic, weather permitting, Monday, May 9 through Wednesday, May 11 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day to replace a stormwater pipe, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.” [VDOT]
It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 60 and low of 42. Sunrise at 6:03 am and sunset at 8:10 pm. [Weather.gov]
An end is in sight for Vienna’s months-long debate over the future of outdoor dining in the town.
The Vienna Town Council intends to vote on May 11 on a new draft zoning ordinance that will permanently ease the permitting process for restaurants seeking to provide outdoor dining — with some limits in place to ward off conflicts over noise, parking, and other potential issues.
The planned vote will immediately follow a joint public hearing with the Vienna Planning Commission.
“We’ve kicked this item around a long, long time, and businesses need to know,” Mayor Linda Colbert said at a Town Council meeting on Monday (April 25), noting that if the ordinance is approved, it likely won’t be formally adopted until June 6.
The proposed ordinance would allow permanent outdoor dining at ground level or on a roof garden as an “incidental use” for restaurants, meaning it would be treated as part of their regular operations, like carryout services, rather than requiring a separate permit.
Plans for outdoor dining, including any tables, tents, and other exterior modifications, must still be reviewed by the town’s Board of Architectural Review as well as Fairfax County building code and fire marshal officials.
The new process will be similar to the temporary waivers that the town introduced in June 2020 to assist businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling restaurants to bypass the Planning Commission review, Board of Zoning Appeals approval, and $1,500 fee required for a conditional use permit.
The town issued waivers to 22 restaurants, including 13 that used parking lot spaces for their outdoor dining space. A total of 58 off-street parking spaces were being used for dining, as of October, according to town staff.
Vienna has been looking at easing its outdoor dining regulations long-term since last fall, but numerous residents raised concerns about noise levels and the availability of parking at a public hearing on Nov. 15, ultimately convincing the Town Council to extend the approved waivers until June 30 and postpone adopting permanent rules.
Proposed rules regulate seating, hours
The newly proposed ordinance contains more detailed regulations intended to address some of the community’s complaints. For instance, it prohibits outdoor dining within 75 feet of a property zoned and utilized for residential purposes.
It also sets a 12-seat limit on permanent outdoor dining. Any restaurant that wants to have more seats would need a conditional use permit.
Outdoor dining will be permitted in off-street parking on a seasonal basis between April 1 and Oct. 31. Those areas can occupy up to 20% of a restaurant’s required parking spaces, and they can be active during the following hours:
- 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday
- 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday
- 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday
- 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday
For seasonal outdoor dining, restaurants will need a permit that’s reviewed and issued annually by the town’s zoning administrator, who has the power to revoke permits if there are violations.
Those seeking to have temporary outdoor dining are also required to notify all business owners within the same property or shopping center 30 days before they can get a permit approved.
A two-story church just shy of 50,000 square feet in size is coming soon to Fairfax.
La Biblia Church Ministries, Inc. is seeking the county’s blessing to build the church, which will be located at 11600 Popes Head Road.
The church would be constructed in a single phase, but interior improvements would be phased out, starting with plans to build a 650-seat fellowship hall. A second phase of improvements would include a sanctuary with up to 1,000-set hall.
Classrooms are also planned as part of the project, but it currently does not include a private or nursery school.
The latest application to Fairfax County increases the number of parking spaces from 224 to 302, along with similar increases in the amount of undisturbed and open space.
The project butts heads with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to improve the Fairfax County Parkway and Popes Head Road. The ministry group plans to dedicate roughly 26,00 square feet of the right-of-way required to move that project forward.
A single access point to Popes Head Road is proposed during the first phase of development. A connection to Shirley Gate Road is planned during the second phase.
A series of public hearings prompted La Biblia Church to tweak its proposal. The building was shifted further north to allow further separation from Popes Head Road. More landscaping is also proposed between the road and building while access to the main road is more linear.
The house on the property will remain for a member of the proposed church.
The application has been flagged for a number of deficiencies in submission materials.
County Lands $10M to Address Homelessness — Fairfax County will get $10 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to support services for people experiencing homelessness. The money will fully fund 19 projects and represents a 9% increase from last year’s award, mostly for a domestic violence rapid rehousing program run by the nonprofit Shelter House. [Housing and Community Development]
FCPS to Provide Free Online Tutoring — “Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said unlimited tutoring in any subject for every grade level will be available through a new partnership with Tutor.com. The rollout will begin after spring break.” [WTOP]
Utility Work Requires W&OD Trail Detour in Reston — Washington & Old Dominion Trail users are being detoured to a gravel path this week so that AT&T can relocate a utility line in preparation for the construction of the planned pedestrian bridge over Wiehle Avenue. The work began on Monday (March 21) and could last up to a week. [Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling]
Vienna Town Council Eases Rules for Residential Porches — “Home improvement just got easier in Vienna. Homeowners with homes built near the front setback line can now construct a covered front porch on their property thanks to last night’s Town Council vote on a zoning code update.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]
Paved Trail in Burke Completed — “Burke residents joined Fairfax County officials on Sunday to celebrate the completion of the Burke Centre VRE Trail Project, a new paved path that will provide pedestrians and bicyclists with easier access to the Virginia Railway Express station.” [Patch]
Afghan Refugee Graduates from FCPS — “Mountain View High graduate Eltaf Samim traversed six countries, completed seventh, eighth and ninth grade multiple times in different nations and turned in coursework in three languages on the way to get his high school diploma in Fairfax County this year.” [FCPS/Inside NoVA]
Wolf Trap National Park Adds More Summer Performances — “Newly added shows include Van Morrison, Boyz II Men, Tom Jones, Boy George & Culture Club, Kool & the Gang and more. Closing the season will be a community singing celebration called Joyfully Together on Sept. 18.” [Patch]
Reston Museum Seeks Volunteers — “Reston Museum seeks volunteer docents for flexible shifts Tues-Sun 11-4 pm. Docents greet visitors, introduce them to the museum and Reston’s history and assist with shop sales. Training provided, register here.” [Volunteer Fairfax/Twitter]
It’s Wednesday — Rain starting in the afternoon. High of 60 and low of 43. Sunrise at 7:08 a.m. and sunset at 7:25 p.m. [Weather.gov]
Trucker Convoy Leaves Capital Beltway — “After a week of ineffectual laps around the Beltway, the ‘People’s Convoy’ is now jamming up part of I-395 in Arlington. The convoy…is intended to protest the Covid-related government mandates. It received considerable media attention last week but didn’t do much to disrupt traffic.” [ARLnow]
School Board Appeals TJ Admissions Ruling — “The Fairfax County School Board is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that invalidated the recently revised admissions system for the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology magnet school…Legal experts were divided over how the 4th Circuit is likely to rule.” [The Washington Post]
Mac & Cheese Restaurant Chain Eyes Tysons — “I Heart Mac & Cheese, a fast casual concept, tentatively plans to open in Tysons in October 2022. The Tysons location will be the first in Virginia and owned by franchisee Md Billal Hossain. A spokesperson could not share the location’s address yet, as the lease is still being finalized.” [Patch]
Pedestrian Improvements Finished in Bailey’s Crossroads — The Virginia Department of Transportation has completed work on pedestrian and traffic safety measures at the Columbia Pike (Route 244) and Lacy Boulevard intersection. Changes include a new traffic signal, four new high-visibility crosswalks, ADA curb ramp upgrades, and flashing yellow arrows for left turns from Columbia Pike. [VDOT]
More Details on Reston Invasive Plant Pilot Program — “Reston National Golf Course plans to spend $140,000 on a three-year project targeting invasive plant species affecting an area that includes the Hunters Green Cluster in Reston. This proposal is different from the one introduced by the Reston National Neighborhood Study Group in February.” [Patch]
Route 7 Construction to Require Great Falls Road Closure — “Starting the week of March 28 and continuing through June, drivers on Colvin Run Road will proceed to the east end of Colvin Run Road to access Route 7 eastbound and westbound as crews perform utility work and other construction activities at the west end of Colvin Run Road.” [VDOT]
Board of Zoning Appeals Has Vacant Seat — “The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals has an opening for one member. Interested candidates must apply by Monday, April 11, to the Fairfax Circuit Court, which appoints the board’s seven members.” [Fairfax County Government]
It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 64 and low of 40. Sunrise at 7:21 a.m. and sunset at 7:17 p.m. [Weather.gov]
After hundreds of logged meeting hours, a community-led task force studying the Reston Comprehensive Plan is kicking off community outreach on its interim recommendations, completing a comprehensive overhaul to usher the plan into the future.
The effort, kicked off by Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, has culminated in draft recommendations on the 14 areas of the plan, which is undergoing review by the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development. The move expands Reston’s original planning principles created by founder Bob Simon.
“The focus is more on tightening up the requirements going through as developers go through the rezoning process,” Alcorn said during a media briefing today (Thursday), adding that some believe developers are being asked to “do too much.”
Overall, the recommendations are intended to bring Reston — which is navigating the tension and opportunity of growth in transit-oriented areas and old development — into a new era. Millions of square feet have been built or are under construction now.
“To maintain and realize a successful community vision requires both fidelity to Reston’s original seven founding principles and creative responsiveness to Reston’s new challenges including the arrival of Metrorail and new business/ lifestyle models necessitated by COVID-19, climate change and rapid technological changes,” the draft recommendations state.
The plan was last updated in 2017 after periodic reviews since it was established in 1962. However, the most significant changes happened in 2014 and 2015 for the Transit Station Areas in Reston and plans for its villages and residential areas.
According to the task force, Reston has a build-out potential of between 127,909 to 157,912 people. That’s if every developer pursues and achieves maximum allowable densities in future developments.
Alcorn says these numbers were calculated for “transparency purposes” — not as population targets.
“The recommendations in the 2022 Reston Comprehensive Plan are designed to recognize, protect, and guide this harmony-in-the-making as One Reston moves towards full build-out,” the interim recommendations state.
A task force subgroup is exploring whether or not developers should be able to “earn their way to maximum allowable densities,” according to Alcorn.
The recommendations offer high-level guidance for future development. Task force members offered a general look at recommendations at a community town hall Wednesday night with Reston Association.
Alcorn expects some controversial issues to pop up, including a proposal to limit the number of residential units in Reston Town Center North from a minimum of 1,000 residential units to a cap of 1,000 units.
The recommendations create new priorities for community health — spurred by the pandemic — and a newfound focus on equity, which was a central pillar in Simon’s founding principles for the planning community.
“Reston back to its very beginning was at the cutting edge of social advancement and societal advancement,” Alcorn said, adding that the planned community was the first openly multiracial community in the state. The task force wants to ensure that equity is a feature of future planning efforts.
RA board member John Mooney and a task force member noted that the multimodal transportation must be strengthened and the relationship between land use and transportation must also be better managed.
The task force also encouraged the county to inventory existing public facilities and identify the need for future public facilities.
The group also wants to ensure that a clear vision for development that adheres to Reston’s planning principles is sought after and that affordable housing should remain a pivotal part of planning and redevelopment, particularly with the reuse of commercial properties.
County agencies are expected to provide input on the plan by early summer. Until then, a slate of community meetings will continue.
The final report is expected in August. Public hearings before the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are planned in September and October.
The meeting schedule is below:
- Reston Citizens Association, March 7
- Coalition for Smarter Growth, March 14
- Reston Town Center Association, March 14
- Baltimore-DC Building Trades, March 15
- Reston Planning & Zoning, March 21
- Sierra Club Great Falls Group, March 29
The board moved to study Reston’s comprehensive plan in early January last year, pushing forward one of Alcorn’s first official moves when he took office.
More than a year after it closed, it remains unclear exactly what kind of establishment will replace Vienna’s Amphora Restaurant, but the food will likely be served outside as well as indoors.
The Town of Vienna Planning Commission voted unanimously on Feb. 23 to recommend that the Board of Zoning Appeals grant the request, despite some misgivings related to previous outdoor dining approvals.
Sarantis Properties, which did not immediately return a request for comment, intends to completely renovate the existing 4,882-square-foot building, which was built in 1977 and has experienced few changes since then, Vienna Zoning Administrator Andrea West told the commission.
Planned changes include improvements to the parking lot and a dumpster enclosure, as well as the addition of an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp at the back of the restaurant.
The developer also hopes to build a new 532-square-foot deck on the southwest side of the property that will have 42 seats for outdoor dining, three of them accessible to people with disabilities, if the permit is approved.
The restaurant will have an additional 170 seats inside.
“That includes bar seating, some banquet seating, booths, and then, tables with individual chairs,” West said.
The planning commission received one public comment from a resident representing the Townes of Vienna community, who expressed concern about potential noise, parking, traffic and environmental impacts of allowing outdoor dining at the restaurant.
An engineer and architect involved with the project noted that Sarantis plans to screen the deck from residential neighbors behind the site with a green wall, and trees will be planted along the parking lot’s perimeter, though a site plan still needs to be submitted to the town’s Board of Architectural Review.
She said the town’s zoning department hasn’t received any noise complaints about those restaurants since they opened in March 2020 and June 2021, respectively, but she didn’t know if police have gotten reports.
Planning Commission Vice Chair David Miller suggested the town should review its outdoor dining requirements, which are tied to the availability of parking spaces.
“Hawk & Griffin isn’t working,” he said. “People are flooding over into other businesses to park there, so we missed something. Our standards aren’t right or something.”
West said the 75 parking spots on the former Amphora site are more than enough to accommodate the 216 seats proposed for the new restaurant, exceeding the 54 spaces that are required.
The Board of Zoning Appeals will hold a public hearing and vote on whether to issue the requested outdoor dining permit on March 16.
Rendering via Paramount Construction/Town of Vienna
After giving travelers shelter for more than three decades, the now-shuttered Sheraton Tysons Hotel (8661 Leesburg Pike) could soon become home to hundreds of permanent residents.
Property owner JBG Smith wants to turn the 22-story building and its parking garage into a 544-unit multifamily residential tower with up to 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, according to a rezoning application submitted to Fairfax County on Feb. 14.
The developer intends to adapt the existing building, which opened in 1985, rather than constructing a new one, saying that it will make the units more affordable.
“These units will be small in size and offer a more affordable housing opportunity,” Walsh Colucci land-use planner Elizabeth Baker wrote in a statement of justification on JBG Smith’s behalf. “By repurposing existing structures, the cost of building housing is reduced, and as a consequence, rents are lower than for new construction.”
Since the new residential building will contain small studio, one, and two-bedroom units, the developer has proposed replacing 49 existing surface parking spaces with a new public park adjacent to the Westwood Village neighborhood.
JBG bought the 254,559-square-foot lot occupied by the Sheraton in 2014, according to county property records. While part of the larger Tysons West development, the hotel was expected to remain under a plan approved by the county in 2013.
However, operator Marriott International shut the hotel down in April 2020, citing the need to adapt after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After settling tax lawsuits against Fairfax County in December, the developer is seeking to revise the Tysons West plan to designate the Sheraton building as residential and provide a new option for a proposed “Building C” that would be constructed on a portion of Ashgrove Lane.
Under an intepretation of the existing plan approved in 2018, Building C is envisioned as a 4 to 8-story, mid-rise residential building with up to 245 dwelling units and 7,000 square feet of retail or service uses, totaling 250,000 square feet of space.
With the shift in usage for the Sheraton site, JBG is requesting that the county consider allowing an 8 to 10-story, 300,000-square-foot building with up to 300 dwelling units and 3,000-7,000 square feet of retail uses as a potential alternative.
The developer anticipates that the changes will reduce the amount of traffic to Tysons West compared to what would be expected with the hotel staying.
“The proposed development will continue the implementation of the Tysons vision, by creating a dynamic, mixed-use neighborhood,” Baker wrote. “The adaptive reuse of existing structures with a naturally affordable housing product promotes sustainability and helps make this lifestyle available to many.”
When completed, the Tysons West development will consist of five buildings, including the existing shopping center at 1500 Cornerside Boulevard.
Building A has been designated as an office tower with up to 15,000 square feet of retail, and Building B would have up to 300,000 square feet of residential space, complemented by up to 35,000 square feet of retail. Located next to each other, the buildings would both be 14 to 20 stories tall.