Pools cut hours due to lifeguard shortages - Mantua Elementary’s longtime principal to retire - Chick-fil-A coming to Annandale

Ravensworth resident makes it his personal mission to ensure the soldiers of Howrey Field are not forgotten

Welcome to Braddock Buzz, where we’d like to give a shoutout to the “Cheesecake Dad of DC,” who lives in the Kings Park neighborhood. We had the opportunity to try one of his cheesecakes at a Father’s Day dinner last night—and it was hands down the best we’ve ever had. For pictures of his delicious creations, follow the “Cheesecake Dad” on Instagram here.

A quick programming note: There will be no edition next week, as we’ll be in Richmond for Austin’s sister’s wedding. We’ll be back in your inboxes on Tuesday, July 6, following the Fourth of July holiday. Until then, keep the tips and feedback coming to braddockbuzz@gmail.com

Thank you to our sponsors:

  • Realtor Jennifer Mack, who’s hosting a free virtual seller’s seminar next Monday, June 28, at 7 p.m. Among other things, you’ll learn simple home improvements that get you the most bang for your buck. Register here.

  • WorkAway Solutions, your neighborhood coworking space in Ravensworth. WorkAway offers long-term and short-term coworking space for individuals and teams—along with meeting rooms, business mail service, and more. Book a tour today!

Pools cut hours due to lifeguard shortages: Community pools throughout the area are cutting hours—and closing altogether in at least one case—due to a shortage of lifeguards. As one example, the Lake Braddock Community Association informed its members on June 11 that one of its two pools would “remain closed” while the other would operate on a limited schedule. “We understand that the pool opening has not been ideal up to this point,” the association said.

We reached out to the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, whose spokesperson said this is a national problem. The main cause? Pool service operators rely on seasonal employees, many of whom are recruited through the State Department’s Summer Work and Travel visa program. But the program has been stymied this year by the pandemic, with U.S. embassies having trouble recruiting. “This issue is further complicated by a patchwork of travel restrictions and the requirements for COVID testing of visa applicants prior to their flights to the U.S.,” said the spokesperson, Janay Rickwalder.

Rickwalder explained that the alliance is lobbying Congress and the White House to expedite visa processing. “Additionally, our members are working around the clock to recruit and certify lifeguards to fulfill the safety requirements of state and local governments that are necessary for pools to open.” 


Schools

Last week, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand delivered his latest update to the School Board on plans to return to five days of in-person learning in the fall. Here are some key facts from his presentation:

  • The county’s COVID-19 transmission risk is now considered “low” for the first time since March 2020, meaning there were 0-9 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week.

  • Nearly 56% of county residents ages 12 to 17 have received at least one vaccine dose.

  • Of the students who left FCPS during the pandemic for homeschooling and private school, roughly one in four has already committed to returning to FCPS this fall.

  • In all, 459 students have applied for the full-time FCPS virtual learning program next year, with 307 applications approved and others still in review.

Mantua Elementary’s longtime principal to retire: Mantua Elementary School’s principal for 26 years, Jan-Marie Fernandez, is retiring this year and will be succeeded by Frost Middle School administrator Linda Shannon, according to social media posts from the school system. Mantua could not let Fernandez leave quietly, says an email to the school community, describing her sendoff like this:

This past week saw our staff gather to recognize her with stories, tributes, hugs and a performance by our very own talented musicians. Following the staff gathering the community came out to wave and honk past the front of the school. The parade even included tractors and convertibles! On Thursday morning, Rocky came to her doorstep for a special ride into school. On Friday, alongside staff in a longtime Mantua tradition she waved to our students as the busses pulled out for the start of summer break!


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WorkAway Solutions is offering your first day free and half-day and full-day passes. Book a tour today, or contact owner Susan King Glosby with any questions you might have about coworking at susan@workawaysolutions.com


Ravensworth resident makes it his personal mission to ensure the soldiers of Howrey Field are not forgotten

An interview with Terry Powers

In 2017, longtime Ravensworth resident Terry Powers was out walking his two German Shepherds when he stumbled on the Soldiers Memorial at Howrey Field Park, the little league facility just off Braddock Road where it crosses Accotink Creek. 

The chance encounter would change his life.

It was then that Powers learned about the tragedy that had occurred so close to the place he’d called home for more than two decades. In 1967, six young soldiers from Fort Belvoir had died of electrocution while installing a flagpole at Howrey as part of a community service project. “There was this big flash, and then the GIs were just lying there in the mud with their clothes on fire,” 16-year-old eyewitness Bob Ramey told The Washington Post at the time.

Raising awareness about the memorial has since become a personal mission for Powers. His efforts recently paid off when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recognized June 1 as “Soldiers of Howrey Field Day.” 

A conversation with Powers is below, edited for length and clarity.

Q: When did you first notice the memorial?

That's a little bit of a story itself. The answer to that is 2017. I've got two German Shepherds, and I started taking them on walks at Howrey. I had seen this stone with a plaque under the flagpole, and I had noticed it a couple of times, and it was kind of under a rosebush. Finally, about the third time I was there, I walked over and I looked at it, and I said, “Oh my goodness, I didn't know what had happened here.”

Q: Clearly it had a big impact on you.

Well, yeah. It struck me that something so tragic had happened there and that it certainly should be remembered. On the plaque, there's a phrase that says, “Lest we forget.” And, to be honest with you, to a large extent, it had been forgotten. You don't forget your soldiers who've done something for you. They're not war dead, but all but. They died in service to their country.

Q: It’s shocking to think that something so horrible happened, basically in our own neighborhoods.

Yes. Six young men died. It was national news. But I think it quickly got swept up by the huge number of deaths happening in Vietnam at the time. The highest year for U.S. deaths in Vietnam was 1968; the second-highest year was 1967. A lot of soldiers were dying far away from home under combat circumstances, and this just happened to be six who died a long way from home, still on active duty and still in the line of duty—just not in combat. But their deaths are just as significant.

Q: After you first saw the memorial, is that when you took it upon yourself to start maintaining the site?

Yes, I kind of adopted it in 2017. It wasn’t in the best shape when I first saw it. It was a bit overgrown and full of weeds. I said, “Let me just do something about it,” and I weeded and pruned the rosebush and pruned the one planting that was there. It was a bit of a passion for me because I live across the street. It was good work, you know? I sweated my you-know-what off there a couple of times. But it's paid off. I guess I'd be a little less happy if it hadn't paid off, but I'd still be doing it. 

Q: Did your advocacy start that year, as well?

Yes, but at that time, I didn't know what I was doing. My first goal was to figure out if something was being planned for the 50th anniversary. I didn’t even know who to contact. I went through Facebook messenger and contacted the [Braddock District] supervisor's office and the county chairman's office, and I tried contacting other places, but I was a little bit of an amateur. Eventually, I found out the answer was no. There was nothing planned for the 50th anniversary. 

Q: What’s happened since then?

It took a while to push the right buttons and find the right people, but I think we’ve now gotten the right people in place and have made things happen. Credit to [Braddock District Supervisor] James Walkinshaw, who happens to be my neighbor. With the request for a proclamation, he took the ball and ran with it, including getting in touch with the military. It took about four years, but the county has recognized it, and they're going to recognize it annually with a proclamation, making it the “Soldiers of Howrey Field Day.”

Q: What are the next steps for you?

We have a plan to put up roadside or interpretive signs in front of the memorial so that people will see that and they'll know what that stone under the flagpole means. It will say what happened there and give a little bit of the story on the soldiers themselves. We'd also like to modify the name of the park, officially, to include "...And Soldiers Memorial." So it would be “Howrey Field Park and Soldiers Memorial.”

I also continue to spruce up the memorial with artificial flowers and flags and other stuff. I do it before the holidays—Memorial Day, the June 1 anniversary of the event, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day. I'll be honest with you, it makes me feel good, and it doesn’t cost me much money.

Q: You said Supervisor Walkinshaw got in touch with the military. What has their involvement been?

The Army came to the board meeting on the 8th of June and the Fort Belvoir commander's office has indicated they will do something next year and probably every year after that to commemorate the fact that six young men died there. 

Q: Since you started working on this, have you heard from any of the families of the young men who died at Howrey?

No, but we got some contact information just in the last few days, and the Army's taking the ball on the rest of it. We've identified what we think are some living family members, and the Army's going to reach out and verify that they are. We think we've located the wife of one of the soldiers, and his son, who we think are still living, and a grandson. We’ve found the brother and sister of another one of the soldiers. We have a third where we have a relative, I believe the nephew. And there's a fourth where very tentative information suggests there might be a cousin. 

Q: What message does the Army plan to deliver when it reaches out to them?

Well, once they verify that they are family members, I believe they'll be given a copy of the proclamation. And the message will be, “We haven't forgotten your loved ones.”


News in Brief

  • The Planning Commission has unanimously recommended approval of a rezoning application from Annandale United Methodist Church to allow the development of a community resource center off Heritage Drive, the Annandale Blog reports.

  • The group Open FCPS, which campaigned against school closures during the pandemic, is collecting signatures to recall three School Board members, Reston Now reports. The three board members being targeted are the Springfield District’s Laura Jane Cohen, the Dranesville District’s Elaine Tholen, and at-large member Abrar Omeish.

  • A Chick-fil-A is coming to Annandale at 7120 Little River Turnpike, the Annandale Blog reports. The project is in permit and site approval phase.

  • Fairfax County’s streamlined zoning rules, known as the Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project, or zMOD, take effect July 1.

  • The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources is asking the pubic to stop feeding birds as authorities continue investigating the fatal illness affecting the area’s bird population that causes eye swelling, crusty discharge, and neurological symptoms.

  • About 30 antisemitic flyers targeting the School Board were found last week in the Fairfax Station area, WTOP reports. The flyers say they were distributed by a branch of the Ku Klux Klan.

  • A George Mason University baseball player, Sang Ho Baek, died Saturday at the age of 20 due to complications from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, often called Tommy John surgery, according to a GoFundMe page raising money for Baek’s family.


Real Estate

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Jennifer Mack column: Year-over-year market trends

May 2021 market statistics were released last week—and all I can say is what a difference a year makes! 

We’re seeing a complete recovery of the real estate market since the COVID-19 slump. Last March and April, the pandemic brought the market to a halt, which had a major impact on May 2020, typically a very strong month for closings. 

For simplicity, we’ll look at numbers for all of Fairfax County.

In May 2021, there were 1,978 home sales across the county. This is a whopping 62% increase over May 2020! Detached homes accounted for just over half of those sales, with townhomes and condos accounting for the rest. Over 100 of those homes were on the market ZERO days! That means they sold before hitting the market. Nearly 1,500 of them were on the market for just one to 10 days.

Our average sales price has been steadily rising since January 2021, when it was $684K, to May, when the average sales price was $732K. That’s a big number—and it’s leaving some buyers with sticker shock. The average price per square foot increased from $275 back in January to $305 in April and May.

The average list price to sales price ratio was 103%, which means that on average homes sold for 103% of list price. In April, the ratio was 102%. This means buyers who are not willing to pay over list price probably do not have a home yet.

The good news for buyers is that supply has really increased. From January through March, we had a 0.66 month supply of homes on the market. In April and May, that increased to a 0.89 month supply. That’s how long the supply of homes would last if no more came on the market. For perspective, a balanced market is considered a six-month supply of homes, so this really demonstrates the severe inventory situation in our area and why we are seeing such competitive bidding wars resulting in these record prices.

It will be interesting to see what June brings. Many agents report feeling like the market is cooling slightly because of inventory increases, but I expect summer sales to still be strong as many buyers attempt to make a move before the end of August when school starts up again. A seller may get three or four contracts instead of 10 or 15, but they will still get excellent terms if they prepare the house well for market and price it right.

Jennifer Mack has more than 16 years of experience in the real estate industry, with her team servicing Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Contact her at jennifer@jennifermackproperties.com or by calling 703-672-0038.

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