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Residents Express Frustration Over Signage, Overcrowding in Schools in Mason District

Local officials answered questions and received comments from residents during a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

This is part two of a recap of the Mason District Council town hall meeting on Jan. 15. Read part one here.

Overcrowding and multiple occupancy dwellings aren't the only code violations upsetting Mason District residents.

During a town hall meeting Tuesday night, the Mason District Council of Community Associations (MDC) revealed more results of their community survey. In the survey, residents expressed feeling frustrated at the overall appearance of the community due to a combination of issues including signage and lack of property maintenance. One survey responder said the amount of signs in Korean in Annandale “create an impression that non-Koreans are not welcome” in certain businesses while another worried about their property value decreasing due to poor property management of neighboring businesses.

In response, Fairfax County Department of Code Compliance representative Susan Epstein said that while signage is a big problem in Mason District and throughout the county, signs that are not in English don’t violate the county code. Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross explained that Fairfax County can control the placement of signs, but not the content of signs.

“If you want to change the code, you need to change the First Amendment to the Constitution. The content of the sign is considered speech,” said Gross, who echoed her comments she made during a meeting in 2011 about issues affecting Annandale.

While Gross said she has worked with business owners to encourage them to use English on the signs, little else can be done unless the sign violates the county code.

“We want all businesses to succeed and to do that, we have to serve the broadest amount of people,” said Gross.

Property Maintenance in Mason District

One audience member described the appearance of downtown Annandale as "terrible" and asked the panel of representatives what more could be done to make the area more attractive.

“The challenge for us with the maintenance and the cleanliness is that the property maintenance code doesn’t exactly address you needed to sweep your parking lot every week… which is why we [encourage] a voluntary approach and hope business owners take some pride in their business [to make them look attractive],” said Gross.

While the Virginia Department of Transportation handles the landscaping for property that is in the Right-of-Way, some residents said it's not enough to keep the community looking nice. Gross said property maintenance has to be a  "partnership with the community," not just government working to keep the community clean. More involvement from the community through clean-ups and participation with organizations such as CleanFairfax are steps in the right direction, Gross said.

Speeding is an ongoing issue and was indicated as a major concern for residents on the survey. Mason District Police Station Commander Capt. Gun Lee said Mason District has a full-time police officer who’s in charge of developing ways officers can help enforce speed limits in neighborhoods. According to Lee, Mason District officers wrote around 15,000 summonses in 2011, a slight decrease from 2010. Lee said his biggest concerns as commander are pedestrian safety and traffic crashes.

Some residents in attendance agreed with Lee that pedestrian safety should be a priority. Nick Burns, a Sleepy Hollow Woods neighborhood resident, said the 35 mph speed limit on Sleepy Hollow Road seems excessive.

“Our kids are in danger, our elderly are in danger... We should reduce the speed limit there,” said Burns.

A resident on Wayne Drive said he was concerned about the safety of children attending the new Mason Crest Elementary School due to cars speeding along the 25 mph road parallel to the school. Lee promised the resident he would assign officers to Wayne Drive to help dissuade speeders in the neighborhood, which garnered applause from the audience.

“Whether or not we stop four cars or 40, if citizens can see four or five officers at one time, that really makes a huge difference,” said Lee.

Overcrowding in Mason District Schools

Due to time constraints, the subject of schools was only touched upon briefly by Evans, who spoke mostly about the overcrowding issues at Bailey’s Elementary School and Glen Forest Elementary School. Currently, Bailey’s is at 130 percent capacity with the number of students currently at the school equaling the size of a small high school.

“We have to do something about it,” said Evans. “A lot of the overcrowding in Fairfax County is in Mason District and it’s putting a strain on our facilities.”

Evans said her priorities for the year were to increase capacity and get renovations underway at schools such as Falls Church High School, which is in need of repairs. The overcrowding combined with deteriorating conditions “affects the education of our kids”, said Evans.

Other issues that were briefly addressed during the town hall included litter in Mason District (see video above) and the proposed cell tower in the Parklawn community. One Parklawn resident in the audience complained that AT&T has not been as forthcoming with information as they promised to do. Gross said she’d ensure another community meeting was held before the company goes in front of the Planning Commission next month.

Kristen Snellings January 16, 2013 at 01:42 PM
Never thought that non-English signs indicated I wasn't welcome. I like the international flair, in fact. Recently I saw a "lost cat" flyer in my neighborhood printed in English, Spanish, and Korean. Loved it!
Beth O January 16, 2013 at 01:55 PM
The lack of time devoted to our overcrowded schools was shameful, especially given the number of parents in attendance. If overcrowding is such an important issue to the Supervisor's office, why does that office continue to blindly approve MORE housing (when the land could be used for additional educational facilities) that only creates more crowding in the school? If overcrowding is such an issue, why isn't the supervisor's office doing more to address the root causes of the increased number of students in Mason District, instead of putting band-aid solutions on the problem such as boundary changes or additional trailers at schools? Ms. Gross seemed to have a "I can't do anything about that" attitude about near every question posed to her from schools to attracting more businesses to Annandale to illegal boarding house situations. I would much rather hear about what she plans to do for her constituents, instead of what I heard about old studies for Annandale revitalization or Seven Corners business plans that are both not showing results. When are the residents of Annandale going to demand more action from their supposed advocate?
Bryan N Cindy Woodcock January 16, 2013 at 02:08 PM
We need to support changing the Lacy Center back into Edsall Park Elementary. You could add the adult education as a wing in the back of the school and still have field space. That would allow you to shift some students west from Bren Mar and south from Annandale. I would like my kids to go to their local school again. As for the boarding houses, hire more Sheriff's to be able to ask for ID's. Voluntary compliance is a joke.
DK January 16, 2013 at 03:40 PM
All that applause for posting a officer on Wayne Drive, yet the community lacked support for speed bump installation on the same road?!? That officer isnt going to be there all day, every day will they?
Vincent Careatti January 16, 2013 at 09:24 PM
As for speeding on sleepy hollow road the only time you can maintain a 35 mph is at 3 am. Has anyone ever seen a senior citizen or child on shr? Not in my life time. I'm sorry to say that although Penny Gross did some great work in the past its time for her to hang it up, since most if the work in that office is done by Fran. Penny is good at attending parades and ribbon cuttings but we need more as Annandale grows in numbers and diversity. As for overcrowding something can be done. Hire an officer to work after 5 pm and on Saturdays and Sundays. What is it with we have to get a complaint first we need proactive enforcement if you try to get a road improvement (like a yellow line down the middle) the excuse is your street doesn't meet the criteria. Then why isn't Penny looking at the outdated criteria to see what can be done to streets that were built in 1954 but now carry 2013 traffic? Arlington seems to have a more aggressive response to traffic violations (they even work in the rain). Have you seen a cop handing out tickets for blocking intersections during rush hour? We need a more proactive supervisor. Who can we convince to run? I'd even vote for a republican if he/she ran on a platform of improving constituent services.
anonymous_4 January 16, 2013 at 09:39 PM
I agree with you completely! It sure doesn't stop the massive groups of non-Koreans that dine/hang out/shop at all those venues and I've never seen/heard of anybody feeling unwelcome just because of their race. Sure they might get a few stares, but isn't that anywhere for anyone? People like to people-watch/stare, it has nothing to do with race... I've never felt unwelcome for visiting a restaurant outside of my own culture no matter what language their signs were in. Hopefully people will stop making such a huge fuss over this years-old complaint.
Patricia Murphy January 17, 2013 at 12:51 AM
Amen...Absolutely!
Jody January 17, 2013 at 03:21 PM
I agree 100%. This was my first town hall meeting and it was both enlightening and discouraging. Clearly most of the constituents at the town hall were upset and it probably wasn't the easiest crowd to be in front of, but it was so disappointing to hear so many excuses and no willingness to admit that a lot of work needs to be done. I found the comment about “an educated and enlightened community in Mason District" in response to the multiple occupancy dwellings complaints to be patronizing and insincere flattery. It sounds like the code and compliance folks are in a tough situation and procedures need to be changed if they can. As a parent, the most frustrating thing for me was the comment that it will take several YEARS to even find a solution to the Baileys overcrowding issue unacceptable. This already has been an issue for years, good solutions have been offered by FCPS and they have all been turned down. A solution needs to be found THIS year.
Karen Deck January 17, 2013 at 03:25 PM
I have seen tons of kids on SHR. There are two community pools there that kids walk to and ride their bikes to during summer. There is also Sleepy Hollow elementary school. I don't support lowering the speed limit on SHR though. 35 is an appropriate speed limit for that road. We can't make every road in Annandale 25. 25 MPH should be restricted to strictly residential roads, not secondary roads like Sleepy Hollow.
IMO January 17, 2013 at 04:36 PM
As you drive in Annandale and pass businesses with signs in a foreign language, how do you know what services that establishment provides? More and more I find that I only drive through Annandale because it has become less of a destination.
herschel53 January 17, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Although we've all been taught that in a democracy each person has a voice, it's been my experience that at least at the county government level, civic associations get the attention of supervisors (think about it...). If you want to create change, volunteer to be your civic assoication's next president; there's probably not a lot of competition!!
CD January 17, 2013 at 05:13 PM
I have walked into some of these Korean Only sign establishments and they will not even acknowledge you are standing there. I am happy you did not have a problem but that is not always the case. I love international flair but I also want to know the name of the place I am going into and what type of establishment they are. This is a issue that needs to be resolved.
anonymous_4 January 18, 2013 at 10:00 PM
CD, sorry to hear you had a negative experience! I don't necessarily think that was a reaction to your ethnicity though; more so that this is just how they run business. Small businesses don't always acknowledge the customers right away-if at all (yea, smart business tactic ha). I've visited both Korean and non-Korean businesses where I didn't know whether I should wait to be seated or just seat myself. While I do agree that it would benefit both potential customers as well as the business owners to have some English on their signs, I also think that is ultimately their choice and if they want to lose out on potential business, it's their loss. Just the same, it may/may not be one's loss whether they choose to explore or pass on by. Personally, I think it's pretty easy to tell what the business is-a restaurant, clothing store, karaoke bar, or bakery-based on the neon signs/displays. Some of the places have English signs and I STILL don't know what they are until I walk in to explore!! But that goes for non-Korean businesses too, so again, no issue with "Korean businesses" in general. You make a great point about wanting to know the NAME of the place you're checking out! I feel the same way about other non-Korean establishments as well! I want to be able to share my experience with friends, but end up saying "you know that (country) restaurant/store across the street from (known storefront)" BTW in no way was my comment intended to target anything you said, I agree with you!

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