It’s not a stretch to say that 2018 was one of the most pivotal years in quite some time for the Richmond Highway area. The passage of Embark Richmond Highway lays out a vision for sweeping changes — including bus rapid transit, the widening of Route 1, the plan for high-density community business centers — in the coming decades.
How fast that change comes remains to be seen, and there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to funding, design, preservation of affordable housing and more. But even beyond Embark, there was no shortage of action around Richmond Highway in 2018. Here’s our picks for the top stories of the year.
In early December the whole country got to see what residents of the Route 1 area have long known: There is nothing quite like Bill and Jan Vaughan’s annual display at their home on Collingwood Drive. The Collingwood Lights won the season premier of ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” showcasing the amazing work and showmanship put into one of the Richmond Highway’s area’s most famous attraction.
While the winter of 2018 was relatively snow-free, it nevertheless went out with a roar — literally. An early March wind storm damaged numerous homes and local businesses, downing trees and power lines and causing major headaches for residents without power. Dominion Energy ranked the storm behind only a few hurricanes and the 2012 derecho in terms of damage.
In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in February, gun violence once again became a major topic of discussion both nationally and locally. Students from a number of area schools, including Edison High School, Hayfield Secondary School, West Potomac High School, Mount Vernon High School and Mark Twain Middle School were among those who decided to walk of school to protest gun violence.
The redevelopment of the old Penn Daw Shopping Center has played out in super slow motion over the past few years, but 2018 saw the final pieces appear to fall in place. Aldi was announced as the long-sought after anchor store in January, and the developer formally broke ground on the new mixed-use project in December after announcing that financing for the project had finally come through.
What does the future hold for an old light industrial site in the Woodlawn area? That’s a complicated question, and 2018 saw the issue play out in public view. A plan to build 43 townhouses on the eight acre 8800 Richmond Highway property was put on hold in October after multiple public hearings and county reviews. While many neighbors, civic associations and public official support the redevelopment, there’s also a substantial opposition to redeveloping in the Dogue Creek floodplain.
Lt. Gen. Daryl Williams became West Point’s first African-American superintendent in the academy’s 231-year history in July. Williams graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1979, a few months after helped lead the boys basketball team to a state title. For people who knew him as “The Bossman” back then, his accomplished Army career sounds about right.
4. Frustration with West Potomac overcrowding reaches boiling point
West Potomac High School has been over capacity for years, and there won’t be relief until a planned addition is completed in 2021. For now, the crowding has forced students to be spread out in 18 trailers added to the campus, and nearly 60 teachers must use carts to get from classroom to classroom during the day. During an October meeting organized by the school’s PTSA, parents and students vented their frustration about the overcrowding and related security concerns.
3. County, NOVA looking at new program at the old Mount Vernon High School
In August we learned that Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), Fairfax County Public Schools and the Board of Supervisors were working together to open an “early college” program for area high school students at the original Mount Vernon High School. The county has been in discussions with NOVA for several years about potential reuse of the OMVHS building, and it looks like a plan is finally moving forward to make that a reality.
The tragic and senseless murder of Moussa, a 16-year-old Mount Vernon High School student, was the saddest local moment in 2018. Her disappearance in January spread fear throughout the community, and those emotions turned into heartbreak after the discovery of her remains two weeks later in Woodlawn Park. A former boyfriend who also attended Mount Vernon has been charged, but for her family, friends and the community at large, the emotional wounds caused by the horrific crime will long remain.
The Embark Richmond Highway plan was approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in March after years of planning, outreach and politicking. The vision laid out in Embark seeks to radically alter the Richmond Highway area, both through transportation improvements such as bus rapid transit and new zoning regulations that will allow for high-density development in six community businesses centers.