A Conversation with Fairfax County District Supervisors Palchik and Alcorn
Moderator: Rev Lydia Posselt, Associate Pastor, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Vienna
Guests: Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik (referred to as DP, below)
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn (WA)
Approximately 90% of Tysons area falls within Providence District and 10% in Hunter Mill.
Question: What are your top 3 priorities in the portion of your district that includes Tysons and the area immediately around Tysons?
- Fair, affordable housing
- Public transportation
- Defining and building “healthy” community. What are the components of a healthy city? Commercial space? Recreation space? Spiritual space? Space for physical and mental health? Art? Schools, community services? How do we view and incorporate those elements?
- Agree with all Supervisor DP said
- Affordable housing.
- County government can make comprehensive plans and zoning plans, but those alone do not build a sense of community. Many folks have not been here long. Many people go to Tysons to work, shop, go to restaurants, and then go home; and do not really interact. Hard to overstate how important the sense of community really is.
Question: How can faith communities – either as individual congregations or as a unified group – help you address these priorities?
- Better communication; engage broader section of community. Trusted faith community leaders can help engage members of local communities who are often under-represented.
- If only those who are tech savvy can engage in dialogue and shape the community, officials hear from only a portion of the entire community. DP wants to hear all voices. Faith communities can help with that.
- Advocate for affordable Housing. Current Zoning policy – a policy in place essentially since the 1940s – is under review. Please weigh in. Shall we have accessory buildings? Grannie flats? Home businesses? What makes sense? What do we agree with, disagree with? Strategies on what constitutes workforce housing. Who is the workforce?
- Advocate on behalf of the homeless community. They need someone to speak for them.
- Keep abreast of proposed policy changes and development issues; weigh in as appropriate.
- Faith communities can play an important role in building bonds across different sectors of the wider community, surfacing issues that others, including those in County Government, do not see.
Question: Over past fall Tysons Interfaith Oneness of Humanity discussions have explored social justice and racial equity issues. How do you see faith communities engaging in these issues?
- Racial inequalities exist across many aspects of the County – from the economy to education and opportunity. Zip code says much about expected life outcomes. We must address some history here. In the 1950s Fairfax County resisted integrating schools. Empowering, teaching, helping our students learn accurate information concerning integration and what it means today.
- We must understand that some people might not want to change. What makes life better for those people? By considering their perspective, we can find ways to reach them.
- We don’t know the full effects of the pandemic, but we do know that Fairfax County is a wealthy county, yet ⅓ of families live in poverty. We are a tale of two counties. With more visibility of this fact during the pandemic, we hopefully will see a change in political will.
The following comments were made by Supervisors regarding specific topics raised in discussion or via the “Chat Room.”
- Prior to pandemic, Fairfax County had set aside ½ of 1 per cent of taxes to apply toward affordable housing. WA was hoping to increase that to 2 per cent. Not now. Real Estate tax is a serious burden on some minority homeowners. WA is advocating for long term changes that would reduce County reliance on Residential Property Taxes.
- Have made some progress for people whose incomes are near the area median income of $102,000, but there is critical need for those making 50% or 30% of area median income, or even less.
- Follow-on question: What do you consider the lowest income that people who are seeking affordable housing must have?
- A: People with no income still need housing. There is a homeless population in a strip of woods in my district adjacent to Tysons. We have been using CARES act funding to offer hotel accommodations for them, as there is there is a risk of Covid transmission in communal living situations.
- Approximately 450 people are homeless in Fairfax County. In 2020, we moved more than 100 of them into permanent supportive housing. There is a severe lack of this kind of housing.
- Existing buildings are sometimes opportunities for affordable housing. Many parking lots also have vacant, available space. Churches and others often have unused space on their grounds. Current Board of Supervisors is open to use of excess parking lot space for affordable housing. There is definite interest in developing partnerships with entities that have unused space on their property.
- Follow-on question: Would the former Sheraton Hotel be a possibility?
- A: WA spoke with the owner of the Sheraton to see if the County could acquire it. Two big problems with the building: 1) infrastructure problems make it difficult to fix; no longer viable as a hotel. 2) For permanent supportive housing, need places with bathrooms at the back of the units; it is much easier to rearrange internal space into dwelling units with this configuration. Most hotels, like the former Sheraton have bathrooms at front.
- Other candidate locations are being considered, but most are privately owned, forcing the County and developers to be creative in finding solutions in the Greater Tysons area.
- The State has not authorized Fairfax County to grant tax benefits to commercial entities for allowing community use of their property.
- All are encouraged to advocate for affordable housing. Best ways to make affordable housing available is through purchase or through churches building on land that they own.
- Ramona Carroll’s office can help churches identify ways to use their land/building to help with affordable housing.
- Too hard to retrofit buildings Fairfax County doesn’t own.
- Tysons Partnership was created 10 years ago to bring together private landowners and developers. As we plan for the future of Tysons, we must hear from the people who are working in and settling in Tysons. Need to create an organization that is not fully public, yet not fully private. Re-visiting how that might work. We need to hear from a broad range of residents and workers.
- Zoning updates and Workforce Dwelling Unit policy will come to the Board soon. An inclusionary zoning strategy is evolving. When private developers build mostly high rise, the developer is required to build units for those who are making 80% to 60% of the area median income amount. Would be helpful if Tysons Interfaith members were to support this change.
- Chairs the Board of Supervisors Transportation Committee. Looking at data that addresses the future of workspace. We have a challenge to our mass transit system over next few years. We’ve learned that the fares from rail commuters are 50% of revenue; bus fare is only 20%. Pandemic has put a huge hole in the budget as rail ridership has decreased drastically. Not such serious decline in bus ridership. Essential workers continue to use busses as their primary means of transportation.
- Thankfully, the federal government has helped sustain our public transportation system.
- Future is unknown. Early analysis indicates many employers may permit more telecommuting, with perhaps only two or three days in the office.
- Some major cities have created a one pass system that covers all forms of public transportation.
- Hard to get from one part of the County to another via public transportation. Where are the gaps? County agencies are working to bring together human services and economic development
- Police reform. Fairfax County (FFC) hasn’t had the horrible incidents and murders as in other parts of the country, but we do have inherent bias across many institutions that has grown out of institutional racism. As regards policing in particular, some new strategies are in place, such as the Civilian Review Board.
- 911 response. Right now, responders are either Police or Fire and Rescue. County is exploring whether there should be other types of first responder, such as mental health professionals. (We have seen the number of mental health calls have go up during the pandemic.)
- County is looking at ways to keep people with mental health issues from getting into the criminal justice system.
- Alternative types of responder would also benefit police officers. Need to move away from a response model that was built on a threat of force and violence. Want to make sure that County response is appropriate to the situation.
- Current Fairfax County jail population is relatively small. A lot of good things have been done. The team is looking at other models across the country. Starting with training; cross training; joint training; the presence of social workers.
- What other changes are appropriate? Need to have better understanding of both the “perpetrator” and the “victim.”
-Never seen the need for childcare so high. Definitely encourage any and all viable options. If there are issues on the regulatory side, will look at those things.
Question: Are we addressing the issue with high school students who may not be college bound and need skills for employment? There may be a high percentage of minorities in this group.
- Though not in Tysons area, Supervisor Lusk is creating a training center on Richmond Highway for jobs in the trades and the tech Industry. Fairfax County includes many economic and population centers which are developing at different paces. Along Route 1 corridor, for example, no new office building has been built in last 30 years. There is great demand for vocational skills; Supervisor Lusk is trying to develop some of that talent within the County.
Question: The County’s draft Strategic Plan addresses cultural diversity and the need for residents to be aware of that diversity. Would you support a Cultural Festival showcasing and celebrating the variety of cultures and ethnicities present in Tysons? (Tysons Interfaith is willing to partner with your offices in creating and conducting such an event.)
- Super excited about this idea. Last time visited “Celebrating Fairfax” asked why this isn’t a cultural festival. Maybe we can bring some of what does not work for the Smithsonian festival now. Would be so interested in doing this. One of the County’s assets is our diversity; we should celebrate that.
- Reston has a Cultural Diversity Festival. They might be willing to help in Tysons.
Shared References for Follow-up Communication and Research:
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik email link
Sign up for the Providence District newsletter
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn: email link
Sign up for the Hunter Mill District newsletter
For the Workforce Dwelling Unit proposal
Volunteer opportunities available in Fairfax County
Other organizations seeking volunteer help in the Greater Tysons Area
For questions about the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) contact Supervisor Alcorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org.