Fairfax County's most urban district will be getting a new supervisor this year. It's at the center of some of the county's most dynamic changes, and has every candidate talking about transit and land use. Supervisor Linda Smyth currently represents the district, but she announced her retirement at the end of this term.
Providence District is roughly shaped like a backwards “L” and covers parts of Oakton, Merrifield, and most of Tysons Corner. Interstates 66 and 495 run through the district, and you can also catch Metro at one of its six metro stations in the district. Tysons has four Silver Line stations, which opened in 2014.
Tysons Corner is not only a major business center for the region, it's also important nation-wide. It has more commercial office space available than many more well-known cities across the country. It's the heart of Northern Virginia's economic engine, and has fueled much of the growth (and traffic) across the region. All that in less than 50 years—and the next 50 years are poised to be just as dramatic.
In 2010, Fairfax County passed the Tysons Plan to guide growth in the area. It's slated to become a true downtown with new transit, public spaces, and a street grid aimed at helping people navigate the area without a car.
But the rest of the district is no slouch when it comes to transit and land use. The district is home to the western end of the Orange Line, and areas around both Vienna and Dunn-Loring Metro Stations have added more housing in recent years. That housing includes the Mosaic District, a popular Walkable Urban Place which are becoming more and more prevalent across the county.
In the future changes coming to this area include widening I-66 (leading to the loss of some homes near Dunn-Loring Metro), improved transit along Gallows Road and Leesburg Pike, and redevelopment of the former Exxon-Mobil Campus across from the current campus of the Inova Fairfax Hospital.
All that means whoever becomes the next supervisor is going to be dealing with a lot of changes in their district. Right now there are four candidates, all Democrats, vying for the seat.
First up is Erika Yalowitz. Originally from Colombia, she moved to the area as a grad student at George Washington University and has lived there since. She's involved in a number of local civic groups in the area, and is running to improve public services and public transportation across the district.
Next is Dalia Palchik, a currrent member of the Fairfax County School Board and an immigrant from Argentina. Palchick says she's running to improve county schools and also calls out the need for more transit-oriented development and affordable housing on her front page. Palchik is banking on her growing number of endorsements to carry her past the finish line for both the primary and general election.
Edythe Kelleher hails from Long Island originally, and also came to the area to attend George Washington University. She's lived here since, and has been involved in local politics including a stint on the town council of Vienna. Her most recent role was serving the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, which is aimed at improving economic opportunities along Richmond Highway in the southern half of the county. On her website, Kelleher highlights a need for more affordable housing and more options for traveling around the county without a car.
The last candidate is Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, who was born in Ohio and has lived in the county since 1988. A former school board member, Niedzielski-Eicher most recently served on the county's planning board. On his “issues” page he explicitly calls for improving the county's bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and using tools that “leverage density into increases for more affordable housing.” There's also a section dedicated to smart growth policies he'd like to see enacted.
A lot of candidates, not a lot of difference (for now)
You might have noticed that at least online, there aren't many issues the current crop of candidates are divided on. Even their backgrounds and campaign approaches are similar. Two candidates cite their experience on the County School Board, and Yalowitz and Palchik both highlight that they're immigrants. Kelleher and Niedzielski-Eichner also talk about how they're the children of first generation Americans, and how that informs their positions today.
While this might in part be a reflection of national political attitudes, it also highlights how much growth in Fairfax County has come from immigrants, both international and domestic. The area's strong tech job growth as well as proximity to DC means it has a lot of opportunity, but also faces a lot of changes.
That's probably what unites the candidates on the issues themselves. There's no better place in the county to compare the successes and failures of so much growth and what it will take to have more of the former and less than the latter. All the candidates are being proactive in responding to these challenges—a big distinction from the race in the neighborhing Hunter Mill District, where candidates are running to halt or reverse a lot of the same changes happening there.
Over the next few months leading up to the primary on June 11 and then the general election on November 5, there should be more opportunity for the candidates to distinguish themselves. We'll let you know as it happens.