By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
February 10, 2016
It’s been a constant battle over the years to get City businesses to clear their sidewalks of snow as required by City ordinance. And problems on that front cropped up again following last month’s historic blizzard.
Many businesses, even some small, understaffed businesses, did good work getting through the prodigious amounts of white stuff that fell, thereby helping City residents and visitors return to their normal life routines, but others did little or nothing, despite having repeatedly been told over the years what their responsibilities are.
And even more odd, some of the worst offenders were the deep pocketed national chains, which surely can afford to hire contractors to handle the task.
Rite Aid, for example, didn’t even touch its West or Ellison street sidewalks. West was covered with a huge amount of snow that had been plowed on to it, but that just makes the task more urgent, since it truly was impassable. In previous years, Rite Aid’s store managers have been informed about the requirements.
West End Shopping Center was slow to even touch its Broad Street sidewalk, and was even slower to address the Ellison Street sidewalk at their property’s rear. Six days after the snow ended, they did half of it. They only completed it after City officials reminded them of the need following the reopening of the City’s schools. The same is true for Rite Aid: they didn’t act on their West Street or Ellison sidewalks until the City nudged them.
It’s not known if the City issued a ticket or just gave them a gentle reminder.
The vacant cabinet store at the corner of Broad & West addressed neither Broad nor West, and while that’s understandable to a degree, since no one is there, it doesn’t remove their legal responsibilities nor the ethics of the situation. They too, got it handled after the City came calling.
But perhaps the worst offender is national chain Taco Bell, which is owned by the huge Yum! Brands company. More than two weeks after the snow stopped falling, they had yet to finish clearing their West Street sidewalk on Feb. 10. And it’s not just a couple of inches that remain. The sidewalk remains impassable and pedestrians continue to walk in busy West Street as a result.
The store manager at Taco Bell said he didn’t know why the sidewalk hadn’t been cleared. He said he would call their contractor back.
By William Henneberg
Special to the Falls Church Times
February 6, 2016
Falls Church City is small, a virtual micro-city compared to the neighboring large counties. But within its narrow confines, our micro-city also may house a small and somewhat rare weather feature known as a “microclimate.”
The National Weather Service defines a “microclimate” as “the climate of a small area…that may be different from that in the general region.” In other words, a microclimate is present when weather patterns exist that are unique to a given area.
The most well-known microclimate type is the “urban microclimate,” which is caused by pavement, buildings, and dense development, and leads to what is known as the “urban heat island effect.” In the Washington area, this explains why the weather station at Reagan National Airport consistently reports warmer observations than the more vegetated suburbs only a few miles away (particularly at night). In Falls Church, too, the climate of the more urbanized areas (warmer) differs from that of the green spaces (cooler) and that is where this analysis begins: the downtown corridor.
There is no historical temperature record for downtown Falls Church, but evidence for a warmer downtown climate came two summers ago when a thunderstorm popped up over the city. When an area is warmer than its surroundings, the hot air rises and, if the rising parcel of air can sustain itself (with enough moisture present), a “heat island thunderstorm” can develop. This seems to have been the case on August 2nd, 2014, as a storm initiated over the most urban (and likely warmest) part of Falls Church, the intersection of Broad and Washington streets.
This makes the case for an urban microclimate over the downtown area. But microclimates are not limited to anthropogenic (human) causes. Small elevation changes, which are common throughout the Virginia Piedmont, of which Falls Church is a part, also can influence precipitation and temperature patterns. And there is some temperature data that supports this idea. But first we must take a look at the topography of Falls Church.
The general topography of Northern Virginia is higher elevation to the west (Appalachians and Blue Ridge), sloping downward to the southeast to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean (below, left). Falls Church lies more or less on the “fall line” — where the hilly Piedmont region transitions to the flat Coastal Plain. Far western areas of Falls Church tend to be higher than central and eastern areas (the elevation of Fort Taylor Park, the Koons Ford car dealership, and the Eden Center in East Falls Church is higher but is a small blip compared to the overall downward slope). This helps explain why the August 2nd storm propagated to the west, as the slight upslope tendency may have encouraged continued development towards the northwest (and most of East Falls Church never saw a drop of rain).
Topography of Northern Virginia and Falls Church. Note the elevation decrease from northwest to southeast. Red dots on the Falls Church image indicate the location of two weather stations. The East Falls Church station is at 317 feet while the West Falls Church station is at 387 feet.
During the August 2nd event, western Falls Church would have ended up much cooler than the east due to the storms, and not necessarily because of a microclimate, making the analysis tricky. But can small elevation changes alone influence the temperature, independent of rain?
Shenandoah National Park, 65 miles away, is filled with examples of natural, topographically induced microclimates. A 2007 climate summary identified temperature changes between even small hills and valleys in the park. On clear, calm nights, cold and denser air flows to lower elevations in the valleys. This “cold air pooling” can shorten the growing season for lower elevations (and explains why Thomas Jefferson was able to grow artichokes at Monticello, on top of a hill).
At other times, however, adiabatic cooling (decreasing temperatures with increasing elevation) dominates, and higher elevations are cooler than the surrounding valleys. In other words, pressure and temperature are proportional — so the higher surface pressure at lower elevations increases temperatures. That is known as “compressional warming.”
Here in Falls Church, data from two privately-owned weather stations reproduce these natural microclimate phenomena at a smaller scale. The table below shows monthly data from a station in far western Falls Church (elevation of 387 feet) and one in East Falls Church (elevation of 317 feet). Note that during the winter and summer months (January and July), the East Falls Church station (EFC) is warmer.
During these months, prevailing westerly winds dominate, the air is well-mixed and adiabatic cooling/compressional warming keep the higher elevations cooler and the lower elevations warmer. During the “transition seasons” of fall (October) and spring (March), however, the wind direction is much more variable and the westerlies do not always dominate. The compressional warming is limited and instead, the colder, denser air masses can find their way to lower elevations in the middle and eastern parts of the city, similar to the “cold pooling” that occurs in the Shenandoah Valley. Higher elevations of West Falls Church can actually be warmer than lower elevations.
With no official threshold, there is no set standard for how “different” the climate must be from the surrounding region to constitute a true microclimate. In the situations mentioned here, it ranges from a few tenths of a degree to several degrees on any given day (keeping in mind the data is too sparse spatially and temporally to make a statistical significance analysis).
Nonetheless, there appear to be three microclimates within the Little City: the downtown corridor, which is likely the warmest spot year round; the lower elevations in central and east Falls Church, which seem to be distinct from the higher elevations in west Falls Church (and Mount Taylor in East Falls Church) depending on the prevailing wind conditions (below).
Interestingly enough, the Washington & Old Dominion Trail goes through all three areas, so, the next time you’re riding, running, or walking through the City, you may just be able to notice a little bit of each.
William Henneberg is a lifelong resident of Falls Church City. He holds a Master’s degree in Meteorology from Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H. He currently works as an operational meteorologist for Commodity Weather Group, LLC, in Bethesda.
By FALLS CHURCH CITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
January 28, 2016
Falls Church City Police are seeking information about two men who entered the 7-11 convenience store late on Jan. 27 and robbed the business while restraining an employee.
Two suspects, described as black males, entered the store about 11:24 pm, held an employee, and took money, although no weapon was used other than physical strength. They left on foot on West Street and headed towards West Broad Street. No injuries were sustained by the victims.
The suspects were wearing dark jackets with hoods pulled over their faces, dark pants, and gloves. Photos were not initially available, but are now, and can be seen on the City’s web site. The only photo showing both assailants can be seen at this link: http://www.fallschurchva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/5527
Police do not believe this is connected to recent business robberies in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 703-248-5053.
By FALLS CHURCH CITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
January 27, 2016
The City of Falls Church continues recovery efforts from the historic blizzard. Many more days of hard work are ahead for Public Works, neighbors and businesses. Compassion, courtesy and understanding are key while the community strives for normalcy. Updates will continue to be made to the City’s website, www.fallschurchva.gov/Snow, Facebook (CityOfFallsChurchGov) and Twitter (FallsChurchGov).
Neighbors are organizing to clear sidewalks and school bus stops. The City’s website has a list of tips and things to consider for neighborhood snow removal, www.fallschurchva.gov/Snow. Snow should be shoveled into yards, not roads or sidewalks. Keeping fire hydrants and storm drains clear are also important for emergency personnel and drainage.
Businesses are faced with the same challenges as the neighborhoods: mass amounts of snow in a small space. The City government is working to clear sidewalks at public buildings (like the library) and parks. We anticipate completing that by the end of the day on Friday. At that time, we expect businesses to have completed their sidewalk clearing as well, if not before then. In the meantime, complaints about uncleared commercial sidewalks can be sent to email@example.com. Police will work with the businesses while balancing an understanding of the challenges of recovery with the overall safety of the community.
Freezing is expected on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and beyond. Businesses are encouraged to safely check roof scuppers and drains to make sure they are not blocked.
City Public Works Crews
Every street should have at least one lane plowed. Public Works crews are now concentrating on assessing school bus routes with the schools, clearing intersections, and hauling snow.
Trash and Recycling Collection
Trash and recycling are being collected today. Missed collections will be picked up Wednesday, February 3. At this point, the City government expects to resume normal operating hours for the remainder of the week, including the Library and Community Center.
Cautious, Courteous Drivers and Pedestrians Needed
Large snow piles at intersections, one-lane residential streets, and snow sloughing from the right-of-way into streets create challenges and frustration for drivers and pedestrians. Caution and courtesy are crucial at this time–we are all in this together. Community members should add time for longer commutes.
By FALLS CHURCH CITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
January 24, 2016
The snow has stopped, but crews continue to work around the clock to clear roads. The City asks for patience from the community as we work together to get back to normal.
The City’s Public Works crews continue to clear Snow Emergency Routes as first priority. They have plowed one lane on most residential streets and will be working through at least Monday to clear more. Crews communicate and work with emergency responders in case of calls to residential streets.
We ask the community to be patient as crews manage this historic blizzard. The crews face several challenges, including disposing of mass amounts of snow and avoiding vehicles and pedestrians. You can help by staying off the roads.
Snow Emergency Still in Effect: Stay off the Roads
Although the snow has stopped, we are still in an emergency mode. The Snow Emergency Routes must remain open for emergency vehicles, so parking is still restricted on those roads. Visit fallschurchva.gov/SnowRoutes for the list of streets.
It also is critical that people continue to stay home and neither drive nor walk in the middle of streets. We understand that community members are anxious to get life back to normal, but crews and emergency personnel are still working around the clock, responding to urgent issues. Please stay off the roads.
Community Center Open Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you are able to safely walk to the Community Center (223 Little Falls St.), it will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The gym will be open for free play and the Teen Center will be open for drop-in fun.
If you walk, please be safe and smart. If you see a plow or other vehicle coming, please get out of the way immediately–don’t wait for them to get closer. Pedestrians in the street create a dangerous situation for plows and emergency personnel.
Shoveling Tips and Safety
Shovel Left, Pile Right: As plows push snow past your driveway, they may undo the hard work you put into digging out. When you shovel snow, pile it to the right of your driveway (as you face the street) into your yard. Also try to clear a space to the left of your driveway so the plows won’t push snow back in front of your driveway. The City’s website has a graphic and video to illustrate these techniques.
Clear Fire Hydrants
Please clear the fire hydrant on your street. This small gesture can save lives in the event of an emergency.
Know the Risks
Please be careful while shoveling this large amount of snow. The American Heart Association recommends avoiding heavy meals and alcohol before shoveling; lifting small amounts at a time; giving yourself plenty of breaks; and knowing the signs of a heart attack. Visit the City’s website for more information.
By FALLS CHURCH CITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS and FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
January 23, 2016
Please stay off of the roads. City crews are working very hard to clear the mains roads, also known as snow emergency routes. Plowing operations are hindered by motorists and pedestrians using the roadway.
Please do not drive. Several cars have gotten stuck on the roads, and crews had to plow them out. If you have an emergency and need immediate assistance, please dial 9-1-1.
Also, please note that commercial property owners must not plow snow and ice onto city streets or sidewalks. Police are out patrolling the neighborhoods to ensure that cars, pedestrians, and private company plows are adhering to these safety precautions. Additionally, commercial property owners are required by ordinance to clear the sidewalks on all sides of their property.
Please set your expectations for plowing. Snow Emergency Routes get first priority. Residential streets will not start to be plowed until Sunday and Monday. Crews communicate and work with emergency responders in case of calls to residential streets. Thank you for your patience and understanding as crews keep the roads safe for emergency responders.
By FALLS CHURCH CITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS AND FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
January 18, 2016
A late night concert at the City’s State Theater ended violently early this morning, as three people were shot while the crowd filed out of the facility around 1:45 am, police say.
Several shots were fired on Park Place and in a parking lot behind the 100 block of North Washington Street. Although it’s not clear, that presumably refers to the City’s parking lot behind the businesses on the east side of Washington.
Police say they already were on the scene, presumably to provide crowd or traffic control, but were unable to identify or catch the shooter. He was described only as a slender male about 5’8″ tall and wearing dark clothing. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact the Falls Church City Police at 703-241-5053.
The three victims apparently were not seriously hurt. Two drove or were driven to a hospital in Frederick, Maryland, and the third was said to be “transported” to an unidentified hospital, presumably by police or ambulance, but that’s not clear in the information released. All three were identified as adult males.
The crowd at the theater was there to see two go-go bands called the Northeast Groovers, along with Scarface. The Northeast Groovers are apparently well known in go-go circles, having been around since 1988. Go-go music originated in the Washington music scene and is related to funk and rhythm and blues music. There were a number of shootings outside go-go concerts in Washington’s now-gentrifying Petworth neighborhood in the 1990s.
The Sunday night show was ironically dubbed the “Love, Peace & Unity 2” show.
By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
January 12, 2016
In the end, it was anti-climactic.
More than three years after Spectrum Development first approached Falls Church City planners with their idea to build a mixed-use project at Broad and West streets, a unanimous City Council approved the controversial project on a 6-0 vote late Monday night.
The unanimity was somewhat unexpected, and one possible vote against it didn’t materialize because long-time project critic David Snyder chose to abstain from the vote due to a conflict of interest. He said he has retained some members of Spectrum’s development team in a zoning issue he has before the City, and didn’t want his vote to be seen as having been influenced by that situation one way or the other.
Still, the unanimity of the other six councilors was surprising in its own right. But more than one Councilor said the project had improved considerably in the last few weeks, and Marybeth Connelly said she would have been a “no” vote if the vote had been held in the fall, before those changes were made.
Ms. Connelly lauded the rejection of the project by the City’s Planning Commission in November for galvanizing the developers to make the necessary changes to win her vote and to gain approval from the Council. “This project got so much better after the Planning Commission decided not to send it forward,” she said just prior to the vote.
Her words were no doubt music to the ears of Planning Commission head Rob Meeks, who told the Times in November that he hoped their decision to reject the project on a 3-3 vote would be a catalyst for positive changes to the proposal.
Mayor David Tarter, who had been moderately critical in his comments about the project and was regarded as a possible swing vote, also said the proposal had improved dramatically during the last two months, and he indicated that those changes were sufficient to gain his vote.
Mr. Tarter added that he hopes approval of Mason Row will encourage other development in what he described as an “underserved” part of the City. West Broad Street between West and Shreve does still have a large number of automotive uses — repair shops, car sales, and the U-Haul site, among other businesses.
Despite the 6-0 vote, the project was controversial among residents to the bitter end of the three year long debate on it. Letters and emails continued to pour into City Hall from residents on both sides of the issue, although it appeared there were more emails against, just as there were more public speakers urging a no vote.
Largely because of the number of residents who wanted to speak against the proposal, the Council meeting, which began at 7:30 pm, didn’t adjourn until 11:20 pm. The Mason Row vote was taken around 11 pm.
The vote ends the long-running public debate on the project and allows the next step to begin. That step will be for the developers to submit a site plan and seek permits to begin construction, although that construction probably won’t begin for up to a year.
One of the criticisms of the project mentioned by many has been that its design and amenities have repeatedly changed, and a variety of details do still need to be worked out in that site plan approval process. Some residents who urged the Council to vote against it cited confusion and a lack of clarity over some details that didn’t appear to be nailed down as a reason to vote no.
But the Council decided there was sufficient clarity to move forward, and City Manager Wyatt Shields reassured the Council prior to the vote that the City had adequate protections in place to ensure the developer builds the project as proposed, including the commercial features of an extended-stay hotel and a movie theater that will feature food service. Those features are keys to the project delivering the anticipated increase in revenue that the City wants to see.
Councilor Karen Oliver agreed with some of the critics that there were some details that were uncertain, but said just prior to announcing her vote that “nothing is guaranteed except death and taxes.” She felt the project was certain enough to warrant a yes vote.
The proposal is the largest such project approved in the City to date. Consolidating more than four acres of privately-owned land, Mason Row will occupy all the land north of Broad Street between West Street and the St. James Church.
In addition to a hotel and multi-screen movie theater, it will have a variety of retail and restaurants; office space; a parking garage; an outdoor gathering space suitable for music; and 322 apartments, including 23 that meet the City’s affordable housing requirements.
The key changes to the project that allowed the Council to accept it were a reduction in the apartment count from 340 to 322; a reduction in height on the north side of the project achieved by taking one floor off the top; and the relocation of a trash bay access point from West Street to an internal location, among other modifications.