Discover more from Braddock Buzz
Walkinshaw knocks “whipsaw nature” of FCPS decision-making - Canterbury Woods ES featured on WJLA - Woodson raises funds for weight room renovation
Cinema Arts Theater ticket sales down 80% - Wakefield Chapel Woods Homes Association honors Al Meyer
Welcome to Wakefield Weekly, where we have a quick programming note: We’re taking next week off for Thanksgiving. We’ll be back in your inboxes the following Monday, 12/7. We hope everyone has a great holiday and gets to spend some quality time with family, even if that just means catching up by phone or on Zoom.
Big thanks to our sponsor, Realtor Jennifer Mack, whose column today offers a look at the state of the U.S. housing market as we head into 2021. Email Jennifer with real estate questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walkinshaw knocks “whipsaw nature” of FCPS decision-making: Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw last week waded into the debate over in-person learning, lamenting the “whipsaw nature” of FCPS decision-making. His comments came in a virtual forum when asked to respond to a recent plea from Braddock District School Board Member Megan McLaughlin for county supervisors to be more outspoken on the issue.
“I have been disappointed at the kind of whipsaw nature of some of the process that we have seen,” Walkinshaw said. “The fall and winter spike in Covid cases was very predictable, and in my view they probably should have allowed that to play out, maybe before announcing timelines for different groups of students to return that they’re now having to back off from.”
He continued: “I'm not going to question the decision to slow down the reopening and bring additional groups of students back given the uncertainty we have with the spike in cases. ... But I do wish that they had not created a false expectation that additional groups were going to be returning when the reality was—given the likely increase as the weather got colder—they were going to have to reverse that decision. Because it's tough—parents have to plan. They're trying to figure out childcare, they're trying to figure out their employment situation, work from home.”
Walkinshaw’s sentiments are surely echoed by the families of many FCPS kindergartners, who were supposed to begin in-person learning last Tuesday until the plan was called off with one day’s notice. The return to in-person learning was also put on hold for Early Head Start, Pre-K, select students who receive special education services, and new concurrent learning pilot programs, which would have included about 70 students at Woodson High School. In a message to FCPS parents, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the decision was made “as soon as new health metrics were released,” adding: “We always anticipated the need to potentially adjust our return to school plans as necessary during this ongoing pandemic.”
The reversal followed a weekend spike that sent the number of new Covid-19 cases above the school system’s threshold of 200 per 100,000 persons within Fairfax County over the last 14 days. That metric continued rising throughout the week amid a nationwide Covid surge and now, a week later, stands at 264.3 per 100,000, according to the Virginia Department of Health. This puts us in the “highest risk” category and means the phased timeline for returning to in-person learning is unlikely to resume anytime soon.
Vaccines to be offered at Fairfax County Government Center: With two promising vaccine candidates in the final stages of approval, planning is underway for county-run distribution sites, including at the Fairfax County Government Center, Supervisor Walkinshaw said during last week’s virtual forum. These county-run sites will mostly serve those who lack health insurance or are otherwise unable to access the vaccine through their primary care physician or retail pharmacies.
“We will follow the CDC guidance in terms of prioritization,” Walkinshaw said. “We'll be prioritizing healthcare personnel, essential personnel, high risk individuals based on any preexisting health conditions, and those who are 65 and over, especially those in long term care facilities.” He noted that more than 10,000 people were vaccinated for H1N1 at the Fairfax County Government Center during that pandemic in 2009 and 2010.
Walkinshaw offered updates on several other items affecting the Wakefield area:
Braddock Road improvements: VDOT surveyors will be on Braddock Road working to complete the design for the $150 million (as yet unfunded) Braddock Road Multimodal Improvements Project, which seeks to improve intersections and corridors and add a shared-use path. Once the design is released, there will be a series of meetings to receive community input. One proposed improvement that has already proven controversial—at the intersections of Wakefield Chapel Road and Danbury Forest Drive—will “require more community discussion and conversation before we move forward with any change,” Walkinshaw said.
Audrey Moore: There will be a meeting at some point next year “to start talking as a community about what we want to see in the next version of the Audrey Moore RECenter,” which secured $20 million for Phase One of a planned rebuild as part of the park bond referendum approved by county voters in the Nov. 3 elections.
Lake Accotink dredging: The county has received preliminary approval for the $30.5 million state water quality loan that will fund the dredging of Lake Accotink. An outside firm is currently developing design options, which will be presented to the community at a Dec. 10 forum.
29W bus route: WMATA has taken a step back from its proposal to eliminate the 29W bus route, an express route to the Pentagon that has stops in several Wakefield-area neighborhoods. WMATA’s latest budget presentation, which includes a number of cuts to reflect low ridership during the pandemic, now describes the route as suspended. “It's one thing to suspend—it's a whole other process to permanently eliminate it, which, if they had done that, it would have been much more difficult to ever have it restored,” Walkinshaw said. “So the 29W is suspended for the time being, but I think we live to fight another day post-Covid.”
Ticket sales down 80% at Cinema Arts, University Mall theaters: Ticket sales have plummeted 80% compared to pre-Covid levels at Cinema Arts Theater in Fair City Mall and University Mall Theaters near George Mason, according to owner Mark O'Meara. We caught up with O'Meara last week for an update on how he’s faring in one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic—and whether his theaters, which are longtime fixtures in the community, can survive.
The interview is below, edited for length and clarity.
Q: We last spoke in June, when your theaters were still closed. What’s happened since then?
We officially reopened August 28, and we were hoping there would be enough buzz around the industry with “Tenet” coming out—that that might sustain the distributors. It's like a chicken and the egg. If I make a mega-movie and spend $100 million putting it together, and I gotta spend millions of dollars in advertising, I want to make sure there's tickets sold. And if I own a movie theater, I gotta have good movies so I can sell tickets.
Q: I’m sure it hasn’t helped that they keep pushing back release dates, or sending movies straight to streaming.
There's no blame. I'm not judging anybody. It just is what it is and it's just sad. It's very difficult for movie theaters. You see Regal—they closed all their theaters down because they couldn't get any good movies. They're taking a shot trying to be closed and see if they can survive until some movies come out.
Q: Meanwhile, you’ve managed to stay open.
Our landlords are our heroes right now. I don't know how long that's gonna last, but they're our heroes. We're selling concessions, curbside, at both theaters. At Cinema Arts, we have a whole bunch of movies in our virtual cinema program, where you go onto our website. If you rent a movie in the virtual cinema, it goes to their website and you pay them, and I get half the money.
Q: You’re also renting out theaters, right?
Yes. It’s called “Gather Round.” For $100 you can get up to 10 or 12 people, and they get popcorn and soda included. Your family can just have the whole theater to yourselves. You bring in your favorite DVD. It's become relatively popular. At University Mall, we were just doing it in the morning and I was having so few people come to my normal movies that I said, “Ah, the heck with it, let's take a screen and devote it to this.” At Cinema Arts, we have two screens devoted to nothing but rentals. It's another way to try to survive and bring in every nickel we can.
Q: What has attendance been like, now versus before Covid?
I'd say it's down 80%, at both theaters.
Q: What’s being done to try to assuage people’s fears?
Our trade association came up with cinemasafe—people can go to cinemasafe.org and see what we're all doing as a group—lots of cleaning and wearing masks and doing all the right things and so far there have been none in the world cases reported to be tied to movie theaters. We're working really hard to make sure the air filtration is good—we have a lot of outside air circulating. With people not talking and keeping their masks on, it’s a pretty safe environment. And our ticketing—you have to pick your seat and it automatically keeps you distanced from other people. We don't even let people eat popcorn in the lobby. They have to sit down in the theater and keep their mask on until they eat and put it back on after. We clean the seats after every show. I've never had anybody, ever, since August when we reopened, say a single word about wearing a mask, which I find encouraging.
Q: Are there any movies coming this winter that you foresee bringing people back to the theaters in big numbers?
The one that's really interesting, and maybe distressing, is “Wonder Woman 1984.” If you think about “Wonder Woman,” that touches every age, every flavor, whereas “Tenet” is a really good movie but it's a mind twister. You have to be invested mentally. As of now, “Wonder Woman” is still planned for Christmas Day—I don’t think it’s moved yet. They’re getting very close to the poop or get off the pot as they say.
Q: Are you continuing to see support from the community?
Oh yeah. I have a buddy of mine that the first of every month, here he comes and gives me an envelope full of cash. I keep saying, “Stop it,” and he goes, “Nope.” This time he gave me the envelope and he said, “See you next month.” It's just overwhelming. Almost every single person that comes to “curbside” gives us a tip. We have this lady, every week she comes in and gives me $102 for a $3 box of popcorn and asks us to only fill it up a third of the way—that's why it's $102 instead of $103. I keep asking her to tell me her name and she says, “No, my husband and I just want to help.”
Q: That’s really encouraging—we wish you the best of luck. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just that, there's no blame. There just happened to be a virus and people have all different flavors of fear. It's about doing the best we can to keep things clean and safe, and if people feel comfortable, come out.
Al Meyer recognized at playground ribbon cutting: The Wakefield Chapel Woods Homes Association held a ribbon cutting Saturday for the new playset in their playground area (pictured below). The association’s president, Liz Segall, sends us the following note about Al Meyer, whom the playground area will now be named after:
With the installation of a new structure the opportunity arose for a way to honor Al Meyer for his more than 45 years as chair of the Parkland Committee. When he first moved into the neighborhood in the ’70s the park was a mess of brambles, briars, and weeds. Under Meyer’s guidance the parkland was transformed into the beautiful and beloved area for recreation that the community now enjoys in all seasons. Since then he has devoted time and energy to the continued maintenance of the park, and calls on his list of volunteers to clean up the park after each storm.
Woodson raises funds for weight room renovation: The Woodson Athletic Booster Club is seeking $25,000 in community donations to fund a $50,000 renovation of the Woodson High School weight room. According to the GoFundMe page, the weight room was “not included in the school’s 2009 renovation” and has “fallen into disrepair.” The booster club cites decreased revenue from a pandemic-caused slump in ticket sales, booster memberships, sponsorships, and concessions as reasons for the organization’s funding shortfall and why community donations are needed. The fundraiser so far has received over $14,500 from 132 donors.
Here’s a look at what the weight room looks like now:
And a rendering of the new equipment that will be purchased as part of the renovation:
Canterbury Woods students featured on WJLA’s Lunchbox Weather: WJLA recently featured a “Lunchbox Weather” segment with students at Canterbury Woods Elementary School. Meteorologist Alex Liggitt joined a virtual first grade class and discussed topics such as “how we measure the weather with my weather station.” You can watch the segment here.
Tuesday, Nov. 24: The West Springfield Police District will host a virtual town hall to debut the police department’s interactive GIS-based dashboard, designed to show arrests and other data by location to foster transparency and impartial policing. The West Springfield town hall is part of a series that will include all of the county’s police districts; Zoom link here.
Sunday, Nov. 29: Christmas trees and wreaths will be on sale at the Ilda Pool from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with Santa Claus and elves there that day to assist shoppers. Sales will continue on Friday evenings, along with Saturdays and Sundays, until they sell out.
Jennifer Mack column: The state of the U.S. housing market heading into 2021
U.S. home sales continue to stun even as Covid-19 surges across the country. Few experts could have predicted the market would be this strong after so many months of uncertainty for so many Americans.
“The housing market’s historic rebound since bottoming in the spring has been nothing short of amazing,” First American Chief Economist Mark Fleming said in a recent blog post. “After falling to a near-decade low in May, existing-home sales hit a 14-year high in September.”
Many mortgage lenders have loosened restrictions on credit, which has allowed more people to qualify for mortgages. This along with increased house buying power due to rising incomes and falling interest rates, combined with equity growth and household formation, are all factors that contribute to the strength of the housing market.
Tenure length, which is the average amount of time homeowners stay in their home, continues to rise and this is what is leading to the tight supply and is one of the few negative factors for sales growth. The pandemic is surely contributing to this increased tenure length as more older Americans are opting to stay put and postponing plans to move to retirement destinations or active adult communities.
Heading into 2021, my team is keeping a close eye on the strength of the labor market, as this impacts the mortgage industry's willingness to lend. With more millennials forming households and mortgage rates expected to remain low, the prospect of a continuing strong housing market is likely. The unpredictability of the virus however and whether it results in more lockdowns and job instability is something experts will be keeping a close eye on in the new year.
Jennifer Mack has more than 15 years of experience in the real estate industry. Her team services Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., with the bulk of her business in the Woodson High School area. You can contact her with real estate questions at email@example.com or by calling 703-672-0038. She’s happy to answer specific questions privately or more general questions publicly in this column.
On the market
8903 Footstep Ct | $849,900
4 beds, 3 baths, 2,144 sf
Listed by Paul B. Greenfield | Redfin Corporation
4104 Accotink Pkwy | $849,900
3 beds, 4.5 baths, 3,216 sf
Listed by Leela Singh | Keller Williams Fairfax Gateway
4025 Guinea Rd | $600,000
4 beds, 3 baths, 1,460 sf
Listed by Nathan Johnson & Philip Johnson | Keller Williams Capital Properties
4600 Duncan Dr | $664,000
4 beds, 2.5 baths, 1,661 sf
Listed by Avi Ron | SSG Real Estate LLC
4309 Holly Ln | $499,000
Listed by Jonathan Kennedy | McEnearney Associates, Inc.
8601 Queen Elizabeth Blvd | $650,000
4 beds, 2.5 baths, 1,491 sf
Listed by Nicole McNabb | Century 21 Redwood Realty
Bought with Timothy Pierson | KW United