Replacement bridge arrives in Smokewood Park - Board of Supervisors to consider banning plastic bags for yard waste - Fairfax County Health Director to discuss vaccine rollout with Walkinshaw

An interview with Layth Alwatban, the GMU student who won an international award for Food for Others documentary

Welcome to Braddock Buzz, where last week’s icy snowstorm proved to be quite a challenge for our snow shovel. Keep the news, tips, and feedback coming to, and drop us a note if you’re interested in advertising opportunities.

Big thanks to our sponsor, Realtor Jennifer Mack, whose column this week looks at three home improvement trends she’s seeing as spring approaches. Jennifer is hosting a free virtual seller’s seminar on March 1 at 7 p.m. Register online here, or by emailing Jennifer at

Fiberglass replacement bridge arrives in Smokewood Park: A new fiberglass pedestrian bridge has arrived in Smokewood Park, near Woodson High School—the result of a grassroots campaign to replace a damaged steel bridge that was declared unsafe last year by the Fairfax County Park Authority. 

The bridge is part of a trail system that connects several neighborhoods and three schools—Woodson, Frost Middle School, and Olde Creek Elementary School. It’s also used by Woodson sports teams as part of their running circuits, according to Sue Murray, who organized a petition last year to save the bridge that garnered more than 500 signatures. “Smokewood Park and its beautiful path and bridges have been a beloved part of the Somerset-Olde Creek community and its many surrounding neighborhoods for many decades,” Murray said in an email.

The replacement bridge has not yet been installed and is currently sitting beside the trail until the Park Authority can remove the old bridge—work that is expected to wrap up within the next two weeks.

Here’s a photo of the new bridge:

And here’s the old bridge, which has been closed since May—requiring residents to use a three-quarter-mile detour to access the park:

In her email, Murray said efforts to preserve Smokewood Park were far from over.

“This is the first of what we hope will be continued efforts to repair and maintain Smokewood Park’s existing path and bridges,” she said. “We hope to also collaborate with the Long Branch Central Watershed Management Area Project to preserve the park and continued community use of the existing bridges and path alongside the stream among the trees the way they have been for decades.”

County News

Board of Supervisors to consider banning plastic bags for yard waste: Tomorrow, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on banning plastic bags for curbside yard waste, both for private and county trash collection. County Executive Bryan Hill has endorsed the proposal—here’s the rationale put forward by county officials:

Fairfax County does not own or operate a compost facility, so licensed waste collectors operating here must send collected yard waste to commercial composting facilities operating in the region. The resulting compost is a desirable and highly valued product. When plastic bags are introduced into the compost process, it is very difficult to remove plastic shreds from the final product entirely. Plastic in the compost, even in small amounts, reduces overall product quality and provides a pathway for the plastic to get into our environment.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, the lone Republican on the Board of Supervisors, has come out against the proposal, citing the “increased cost for our residents to use paper bags, increases in illegal dumping, and hazards and debris in roadways when paper bags get wet.”

Herrity continued in a statement: “To gauge what the community thinks about this ban, my office conducted a survey with close to 1,400 responses last year and roughly 80% of respondents were not in favor of an outright ban. Many respondents who regularly use paper bags still want the option to be able to use plastic bags for yard waste when necessary.”

Meanwhile, the Audubon Naturalist Society sent the Board of Supervisors a letter of support for the ban.

“Eliminating single-use plastic bags that otherwise get shredded, mixed into compost, contaminating our soils, water, and eventually us, just makes sense,” wrote ANS Northern Virginia Conservation Advocate Renee Grebe. “There are additional ways to address perceived drawbacks to this ordinance change. First, the county should also consider providing free paper yard waste bags during key times of the year, such as Arlington County does, to incentivize this change and minimize the possibility of illegal dumping. Enforcement could also be phased in gradually, with an educational approach applied.”

Three county government events for your radar this week:

1. Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu will discuss the vaccine rollout this evening at a virtual town hall hosted by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw. The event comes as county officials continue to urge members of priority groups to register for the vaccine through the county’s registration form, not through the new statewide registration system being used by the rest of Virginia.

You can watch/listen to the 7 p.m. town hall on:

And you can ask questions by:

  • Emailing

  • Calling (703) 324-1114 during the town hall

  • Commenting on Walkinshaw’s Facebook live comment section

2. County executive Hill will present his proposed FY22 and FY23 budget to the Board of Supervisors tomorrow at 1 p.m. The presentation follows the School Board’s decision last week to adopt a $3.2 billion FY22 spending plan for FCPS that would increase employee pay by 3%. The schools budget represents an increase of 2.4% over the current fiscal year and would require an additional $104.4 million, or 4.9%, in county transfer funds—which might be a tough sell to the Board of Supervisors in the current economic climate.

3. The Planning Commission is set to decide Wednesday whether to move forward with an overhaul of the county’s zoning ordinances, an effort that has drawn opposition over a proposal to make it easier to build an Accessory Living Unit within a home. Advocates say the proposal would increase affordable housing options in one of the highest-cost housing markets in the country, while opponents say it would increase traffic and bring more renters into neighborhoods. The Annandale Blog has more on the issue here. The Planning Commission is scheduled to meet at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to decide the issue—see the agenda here.

Giving Back

George Mason student wins international award for Food for Others documentary

An interview with Layth Alwatban 

George Mason University student Layth Alwatban was given a class assignment: Create a public relations campaign for the local food bank Food for Others

After bringing international attention to Food for Others through a short film that recently won Best Documentary at a French film festival, it’s safe to say he succeeded.

We caught up with Alwatban to chat about his film, which is available on YouTube. In addition to being honored at the French film festival Beyond the Curve, the documentary is also a finalist at the Independent Shorts Awards in Los Angeles in three categories—Best Documentary Short, Best Student Short, and Best Student Director.

The interview is below, edited for length and clarity.

Q: Hi, Layth. So you’re currently a student at George Mason?

Yes, I’ve been at Mason since 2017. I will receive my Bachelor’s Degree in May, and I’m also working toward a Master’s in Communication. I’m an international student and a non-traditional student, which means I’m older than the other students. I worked in IT for 13 years before deciding to pursue a degree.

Q: How old are you, and where are you from?

I’m 38, and I’m from Saudi Arabia.

Q: What motivated you to get your college degree in your thirties?

It's something that always bothered me. I lived my younger years in London, and I transferred a lot because my parents were also studying abroad. Because of these switches, it made me a very weak student. My sisters were here, in the U.S., and after I made the decision to sell my IT business back home, I was kind of wondering what to do next. They urged me to come visit. I came as a tourist and checked out the area, and I found George Mason University.

For somebody who'd done filming and editing at an amateur level, you'd think I would want to go to film school. But I was given advice that I should get a communications degree to learn about the message, the story, the perception of people who view the message, and how to analyze rhetoric. I was able to learn a lot about filmmaking off YouTube and from experience, and I also was able to take classes at Mason to learn the more advanced aspects of film production.

Q: What led you to make this film about Food for Others?

I had a class called Public Relations Campaigns with Professor Mallory Saleson, who’s a very well respected journalist. For the final project we had to develop a public relations campaign for a particular organization. She had a relationship with Food for Others, which was what led me to connect with them.

Q: What do you hope people take away from watching the film?

To me, I'm in a country that’s the leader in everything. Everybody aspires to come here to learn, to get an education, to feel inspired, and to improve their lives. And to see food insecurity happening here is heartbreaking. When you start it’s like, “OK, I'm having fun, I'm doing a film project,” and then slowly it gets closer to you. The Food for Others warehouse is ten minutes from where I live. You go in there and you see these mountains of food and you keep wondering, you keep calculating in your head, “Is this too much food or is this too little?” But it just keeps moving—it never stops. There's always somebody who needs something. 

Q: What’s next for you after you get your Master’s Degree?

I'm very adamant about pursuing a career in film. 

Q: In the United States?

I really don't know. If it's here, I'd be happy. If it's back home or in another country, I would pursue that. I just keep networking and making friends, and seeing where that takes me.

You can follow Alwatban’s work on his Instagram account.

Real Estate

Sponsored Content

Jennifer Mack column: 3 home improvement trends we’re already seeing as spring approaches

Is it spring yet? I know many of us are ready to be done with winter—and I’ve promised my family that this year I won’t complain about the hot weather when it finally arrives.

As many of you contemplate spring home improvement projects, I wanted to highlight three trends that we are already seeing:

  • First, lighter wood is becoming increasingly popular, inspired by Scandanavian influence. Several years after dark wood gained popularity, many people are turning back to light colored floors, which make spaces feel brighter, more modern, and open.

  • Second, have you heard of the grandmillennial trend? This is an updated take on traditional style with some modern elements thrown in for fun. According to designer Stefani Stein, "The style incorporates traditional details on upholstery and cushions such as tape, trim, or tassels, in monochromatic or analogous color combinations." A quick Google search for examples of this really fun trend will inspire you to make some fun design choices in your home! 

  • Lastly, we are finally seeing a departure from all-gray and "greige" interior paint. We are seeing splashes of color such as blues and greens on walls and cabinets as homeowners look to create happy spaces in their homes as we all spend more time at home. It might be time to make a bold and fun paint choice this spring! 

I want to remind you that I’m hosting a free, virtual seller’s seminar on Monday, March 1, from 7-8pm. I would love for you to join us no matter how close or far away you are to selling your home. Here is the link to register:

Jennifer Mack has more than 15 years of experience in the real estate industry, with her team servicing Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Contact her at or by calling 703-672-0038.

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