Last week, I presented a portion of my annual State of Mason District Report, usually given in-person at the annual Mason District Holiday Town Gathering, and promised to include a second portion in this week’s column. Like most community events, the town gathering had to be canceled, so I presented the entire report on Fairfax County cable Channel 16, and on the Mason District website, fairfaxcounty.gov/mason.
In addition to the items discussed last week, land use, the environment, and transportation were significant in any discussion of 2020 although, admittedly, the pandemic caused a slowdown of some activities. Virtual meetings may be efficient, but they can’t replace the in-person field work required to move projects along. An example is the Site Specific Plan Amendment (SSPA) process. I appointed a dozen or so residents to the Mason District SSPA Task Force early in the year, and the first meeting was held in early March, in person and with plenty of folks in the audience. Just a week later, Governor Northam’s declaration of a pandemic emergency in the Commonwealth shut down all planned meetings, suspending the work of the fledgling Task Force. By August, virtual platforms had been tested and the Task Force was able to meet remotely; the virtual meetings could be accessed by the public, though the technology sometimes was a bit jerky. The Planning Commission will forward recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in January.
Other land use actions included approval for redevelopment of the western portion of Graham Park Plaza (formerly Loehmann’s); the vacant commercial buildings will be razed, and a new residential neighborhood built. The retail uses, including the Giant grocery store, on the eastern portion will remain. In September, an application to repurpose three vacant office buildings in Skyline to residential was approved by the Board of Supervisors. The Skyline proposal will be the first to use the county’s new Economic Incentive Program for revitalization areas. Fire station upgrades, using voter-approved bond funds, include Station 18, on Arlington Boulevard, which is nearing completion, and Fire Station 28, near Seven Corners, which will move to temporary quarters soon. Despite construction, fire and emergency services to the community will be seamless.
Park usage soared this year, as residents sought respite from pandemic-forced isolation. Recycling numbers increased, too, since staying home gave residents opportunities to clean out basements and garages, and change their lifestyle to accommodate remote workspaces and distance learning for their students. The Board of Supervisors/School Board Joint Environmental Task Force (the JET), which began meeting in 2019, switched to virtual meetings, and issued a report and recommendations in October. The report identifies actions that both boards can take in their operations to address climate change, transportation, waste management, and workforce. The JET considered many other environmental issues, but focused its work on these four major items.
The pandemic reduced travel and traffic significantly, which also affected traffic counts and field work for traffic-calming measures under consideration in several Mason District neighborhoods. Nonetheless, the Lakewood, Glen Forest, Spring Lane/Robinwood Lane, and Westlawn communities all had measures installed. Eight other neighborhoods are working to achieve community support for their projects.
As the pandemic has changed daily life and routines for neighbors, so, too, it changed some of the ways Fairfax County provides services. Although the Mason District Governmental Center remains closed to the public, our office operations never closed. Some staff work is done remotely, but we are physically present, masked and socially distanced, to answer your inquiries via telephone, email, and regular mail. While I miss the in-person contact with constituents via community events, virtual meetings, which are conducted daily, help maintain the connections.
Life with the pandemic may be different, but we are so fortunate to live in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia, a diverse and caring community. Working together, we can surmount challenges and continue to move forward. Stay safe and healthy, and wear your mask!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.