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Top Stories in Mount Vernon for 2005

Development started, but will continue in year ahead.

If one word could sum up the most significant impact that anything has had on Mount Vernon in 2005, it would not be a word at all. It would be an acronym — BRAC. Decisions by the Federal Base Realignment Closure Commission has taken the Mount Vernon and surrounding districts by surprise and prompted a series of meetings over the past few months to evaluate, plan and redevelop Fort Belvoir and the surrounding areas to accommodate the influx of new employees.

Development along the Richmond Highway Corridor was already gearing up, thanks to several initiatives by major developers. Mount Vernon Plaza, developed by Federal Realty, is almost 100 percent occupied and the renovation is all but complete. Several smaller new stores complement the three new anchor stores in this shopping plaza.

The façade improvement program continues to brighten up businesses along the corridor, and the Planning commission has recommended several changes.

King’s Crossing is still on hold.

Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, under the helm of Lara VandeWalle-Fritts, who replaced Becky Witsman as executive director last year, continues to help guide developers in their pursuit of available parcels of land. Assisting VandeWalle-Fritts is M. Americo Valdes, Projects Coordinator.

A bus tour of available land parcels was held in the fall and attracted about 50 individuals, including developers, realtors, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority staff, Fairfax County supervisors Dana Kauffman (Lee District) and Gerald Hyland (Mount Vernon District) and top officials of the county departments of Housing and Community Development, Planning and Zoning, and Transportation, and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation.

Coordinated by the FCEDA in cooperation with Fairfax County Supervisors Gerry Hyland and Dana Kauffman, as well as the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, the tour focused on the Richmond Highway (U.S. Route 1) and Springfield areas. These areas are likely to attract more development interest when Fort Belvoir gains 21,000 or more jobs, as proposed by the BRAC Commission.

IN THE NOVEMBER ELECTION, incumbents won handily, with Del. Kristen J. Amundson retaining control of the 44th District and Mark D. Sickles returning as Delegate of the 43rd District. Greg Scoma and Ron Grignol mounted campaigns for the Republican party for the 44th and 43rd Districts respectively. Gail Parker was the Independent Green Party candidate who ran against Amundson.

On a state level, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) beat Republican Jerry Kilgore for the Governor of Virginia. Bill Bolling defeated Democrat Leslie Byrne. The Attorney’s General race was so close that they are in the process of conducting a recount.

CLUSTER IV SCHOOLS are celebrating the fact that they all met federal adequate yearly progress standards this year. Last year, there were still a few schools that were points away from being accredited, but with hard work, they have been able to turn that around. SAT scores were down for West Potomac High School; up for Mount Vernon High School. International Baccalaureate scores were down 9 percent at Mount Vernon.

Rima Vesilind started her second year as principal of West Potomac with a controversy about the elimination of some of the Honors courses at the school. Several well-attended meetings were held where Vesilind explained that the philosophy of honors classes was created to have more rigor than the general education classes and to prepare for the next course. She said that English II and Sophomore World History II duplicate what is taught in the AP courses and were never intended to be there. They are scheduled to be eliminated in the 2006-2007 school year, taking away what parents perceive to be the "middle level" of study. Vesilind said that what she would like to see instead is the addition of two team-taught courses, World Civilization and American Civilization.

Parents are concerned about this proposed change and Diane Brody, president of the West Potomac Parent Teacher Student Association, and Stan Blacker, chair of the PTSA education committee, have coordinated a task force and continue to meet about this subject.

CAPTAIN MIKE KLINE became Commander of the Mount Vernon District Station at the beginning of the year replacing Major Larry Moser. Lt. Mike Dittmer has been succeeded by Lt. Shawn Bennett as Assistant Commander. Kline is still concerned about pedestrian safety on the Route 1 corridor and initiated two pedestrian enforcement campaigns in 2005. Pedestrians continue to be struck by cars along the stretch of highway between the Beltway and Fort Belvoir.

Brenda Lewis was killed when she was struck by a car in the crosswalk at Highland Lane and Richmond Highway the morning of July 5. Willie Elston was sitting in his truck in front of Griffin Plumbing & Heating and saw the whole thing happen.

That crosswalk, which has since been removed, had been a concern of Frank Kohn’s for a long time. As chair of the Transportation Committee for the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations, he had warned about the danger of the non-signaled pedestrian crosswalk located at the intersection of Richmond Highway and Highland Lane.

Kohn and his committee are aware of the problems with pedestrian safety and had unanimously passed The Pedestrian Safety Resolution at the June meeting of the Transportation Committee. It was introduced at the June MVCCA meeting and deferred so that the Public Safety Committee could review it as well. That committee presented their changes to the Transportation Committee and the final resolution was adopted by the council.

Another pedestrian was struck and seriously injured at the crosswalk by Mount Vernon Estates. The George Washington Parkway continues to see its share of accidents with two fatal accidents occurring in 2005, one in April and one in June.

WHILE THERE WERE five homicides again in 2005 in the Mount Vernon District, the number of robberies has leveled out at or below 2004's level. Car hopping has becoming an increasing problem, with suspects rummaging through unlocked cars looking for money. Police believe many "car hoppers" are young people.

Bennett said, "2005 has been a year of many success stories and has provided many challenges as well. While street robberies are a continued concern for the Mount Vernon Station, statistically we have reduced the number of robberies by 2.4 percent. … As of today, auto thefts in the Mount Vernon District are down by 21 percent, burglaries are down by 11 percent, and larcenies are down by 9.9 percent."

A FREAK ACCIDENT occurred near the end of September in Huntington. An 18-story crane operated by SMC toppled over from its base at the Midtown Condominium project and fell onto the adjacent townhouses in Huntington Station damaging seven in a row of eight townhouses. Luckily, nobody was hurt. Repairs are still on hold, waiting for final negotiations with insurance companies.

Huntington is dealing with some increased crime—a series of robberies and a stabbing earlier this year. The community is also still trying to identify the person(s) responsible for a wave of graffiti and vandalism during the summer.

Citizens are also concerned about the proposed Telegraph Road interchange, which is part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. If built as proposed, two new flyovers will dump directly into neighborhoods on Huntington Avenue and North Kings Highway. Pearl Arts & Crafts is the latest casualty of the ever-growing demand for land to accommodate this massive project which becomes more and more visible everyday. Changes are constant with road and lane changes a common occurrence. A traffic light has been installed to handle the traffic coming off the Outer Loop for Route 1 northbound.

HURRICANE KATRINA’S IMPACT was felt as far north as the Northern Virginia area. Approximately a hundred families are living in the area, with United Community Ministries providing support for these families.

UCM and other local non-profits are feeling the pinch as people are asked repeatedly to help out with causes both here in the United States and afar.