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by Katie Pyzyk — March 28, 2013 at 9:45 pm 1,468 17 Comments

Firefighters are packing up and leaving the scene of a two alarm apartment fire on the 3400 block of Carlyn Hill Drive, along the Arlington/Fairfax border.

The call came in a little before 8:00 p.m. for a fire in an apartment on the third floor of the residential building. Firefighters managed to contain it to that one apartment.

According to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Gregg Karl, at least six units from Arlington assisted the Fairfax County Fire Department. Units from Alexandria and Annandale also offered aid.

Part of Columbia Pike just west of Carlin Springs Road was down to one lane as crews responded to the fire in the building, which is offset from the main road.

Medics on scene were spotted tending to people and wrapping a few in blankets, but there are no reports so far of serious injuries. There’s also no word on the cause of the fire.

by Katie Pyzyk — March 28, 2013 at 5:25 pm 533 4 Comments

Rough concept for CiviclyWhat if there were a site where you could post online reviews for a variety of local government services, similar to review websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp? That’s the concept a local man hopes will become a million dollar idea.

District resident Josh Glasstetter entered his idea for a website called “Civicly” into the Knight Foundation’s “Knight News Challenge.” This year’s competition offers winners a share of $5 million in funding for entries that best promote open government and present ways to improve interaction between citizens and governments.

Civicly would allow residents to leave reviews for government agencies and services such as the DMV, police, utilities, transportation and public schools. There would be opportunities to leave feedback for both specific and larger scale entities. For example, users could write a review about WMATA in general, just Metrorail, or could review a specific Metro stop.

“The idea is to take something that people are familiar with, such as online reviews, and take into new area like government and the public sector,” Glasstetter said.

Although the concept of giving feedback to government entities isn’t unique in and of itself, the innovation comes through with the idea of allowing the public to see every piece of feedback that’s submitted.

Glasstetter, who works for an advocacy group in the District, said he’s focusing first on D.C., Arlington and Alexandria as pilot areas for launching Civicly. Eventually, it would branch out to other parts of the country.

“Arlington is really a perfect place to try something out like this because of the demographics. I think people would naturally take to it. Folks in Arlington and D.C. are already so accustomed to using these kind of tools,” Glassteetter said. “I think this is the right kind of population to launch this.”

With more than 830 News Challenge submissions, Glasstetter acknowledges the odds of winning are slim, but he remains hopeful.

“There’s no way around it, the odds are very steep,” he said. “But my hope is that regardless of what happens for Civicly in the News Challenge, the idea has been seen by a lot of people. Hopefully that by getting this started and putting ourselves into this contest, we’ll be able to take the proposal and discuss it with foundations and other potential supporters.”

Viewers can give feedback on the proposals through Friday (March 29). Semi-finalists should be announced within the next week and will have the opportunity to further refine their proposals, as well as to submit a funding request ranging from $1,000 to $1,000,000. Winners will be notified when judging ends in June.

by Katie Pyzyk — March 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm 2,293 43 Comments

Unleashed by Petco store on Lee Highway (file photo)The rumors are true. Petco will indeed open a new store on the 3900 block of Wilson Blvd in Ballston, where several small businesses will be shutting down.

Earlier this week, ARLnow.com reported that Wiinky’s will serve its last burgers on Sunday (March 31) to make way for the new store. We’re told a mechanic and other small businesses on the block also will be closing soon.

A spokesperson for Petco confirms the new store will be one of the chain’s boutique “Unleashed” pet shops. The Unleashed website states: “We’re focused on being part of your community. We’re a place for you and your pet to hang out.” It also states: “We’re more like a really cool neighbor than a run-of-the-mill store.”

PetMAC, a pet supply store and adoption center, is located at 822 N. Kenmore Street, just a few blocks from the proposed Unleashed location. Owner Cindy Williams questions the choice of location for the new Unleashed store.

Wiinky's Grill in Ballston“I think it is a shame if they’re doing that purposefully. I heard the Unleashed line is designed to compete with small businesses. I think it’s very disappointing if they’d do that, there’s plenty of business to go around,” said Williams. “We’ll just continue to do our best to offer the best services and offer the best prices that we can, and see if we can continue to compete.”

The new store will be the third Unleashed in Arlington; one opened at 5400 Lee Hwy in 2011, and the other, in Pentagon Row, held its grand opening in January. The Ballston location is scheduled to open in early November.

Unleashed stores traditionally hold grand opening events with discounts, games, samples and giveaways, but there’s no word yet on a date for such an event at the Ballston location.

by Mark Kelly — March 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm 560 30 Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyIt’s a busy week in Arlington with varied possible topics to discuss in this space. The governor signs a transportation bill and vetoes an Arlington hotel tax, the school boundary debate continues, there are three public forums to raise concerns with the County Board, and there’s Peter’s Take on Ken Cuccinelli.

Governor McDonnell signed the largest tax increase in Virginia history to pay for his transportation plan. It includes regional taxing authority and projected revenue from an online sales tax that may never materialize. While many on my side of the political fence did not support the tax plan, we are hoping that the new transportation dollars will go farther than they did on the $1 million bus stop here in Arlington.

The Governor vetoed the Arlington hotel tax which, somewhat surprisingly, made it through the General Assembly. Since the tax is paid by guests from other places, its rejection seems to come down to the fact that Arlington gets no special love from elected officials in Richmond. Of course, it seems the feeling is mutual.

There is no less enviable job in the world than being on any school board that has to change boundaries. No matter the overcrowding issues in any school, telling parents their children may have to move from one school to another is no easy task. The Arlington School Board hopes for consensus, but I imagine there are four board members who are glad they are not on the ballot this year.

Mr. Rousselot’s attack on Attorney General Cuccinelli was an over the top campaign scare tactic. Rousselot said that Cuccinelli “would exploit every opportunity to set Virginia’s women back 60 years to an era in which they were ‘stuck in the drudgery of domestic servitude.’” Certainly, for any voter who bases their vote on the issue of abortion, there is no doubt where the two candidates stand. To make the leap to “drudgery” and “domestic servitude” strains the bounds of credibility. For insight into the Attorney General’s view of women, before he ran for any office, see this Washington Post profile.

The County Board is holding three public forums this week. While many people have shown up with statements and questions, I think we have all learned by now that the Board will do what they want to do. If the public input fits into their agenda, all the better. If not, that will probably be okay with them too.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Katie Pyzyk — March 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm 880 54 Comments

At a Wednesday night townhall meeting, residents joined the County Board in a sometimes heated discussion about bringing streetcars to Crystal City and Columbia Pike. Two opposing local organizations are also sounding off on the issue.

Following the townhall, John Snyder, president of the pro-streetcar group Arlington Streetcar Now, issued the following statement:

“Arlingtonians strongly support moving forward with the streetcar which neighborhoods and
businesses have been working to bring about for a decade. The streetcar represents a next-generation transit solution that will increase capacity, improve ridership, and spark new investment that will enhance and revitalize our community.

“Arlingtonians acknowledge the foresight of those who supported Metro over the naysayers, and know that this generation has a similar choice to make. Tonight Arlingtonians demonstrated that they know the streetcar is an extraordinary opportunity to support an transportation investment in our future that will pay dividends for South Arlington neighborhoods and the well being of the county as a whole.”

Peter Rousselot, spokesman for Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, issued a statement presenting an opposing viewpoint:

“We continue to be deeply concerned about the unwillingness of the County Board to fairly consider transit options for Columbia Pike, other than the fixed-rail streetcar. There is much evidence that rational and viable alternatives exist.

“Unfortunately, as the County Board has done on other occasions, it used most of the Town Hall merely to restate the same claims in favor of the streetcar proposal without allowing a full discussion of other options. As we have said, there is at least one highly attractive alternative – modern bus rapid transit (BRT) – which:

  • Produces virtually the same increase in transit capacity,
  • Would have the same positive impact on commercial development,
  • Would have far less adverse impact on small business,
  • Is far less expensive,
  • And thus would preserve more scarce financial resources to support affordable housing and many other priorities.”

by ARLnow.com — March 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm 1,971 190 Comments

(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) Four members of the Arlington County Board, along with county staff, made their best cases for streetcars in Crystal City and along Columbia Pike Wednesday night, to a largely skeptical audience that peppered them with questions about why the streetcar would be superior to buses.

The streetcar townhall meeting at Kenmore Middle School attracted a near-capacity crowd of up to 500 people, according to one county staff estimate. Based on the relative volume of applause at various points, the crowd seemed to be almost 2:1 against the streetcar.

The Board, like the audience, was divided. On one side was Chris Zimmerman, Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes, and Walter Tejada, who said the streetcar “encourages people to get out of their cars, and encourages developers to invest,” while also increasing ridership capacity.

“Streetcars are at the center of the vision for the Route 1 and Columbia Pike corridors,” Tejada said. “Buses alone cannot provide the transit capacity and capability that we need to transform these areas. By themselves, buses cannot serve the projected ridership.”

Sitting at the end of the County Board table on stage was Libby Garvey, who garnered applause as she led the charge against the streetcar and in favor of an enhanced bus system. Garvey said she was concerned about the streetcar’s price tag ($250 million for the Columbia Pike line alone) and about disruptions to small business during construction.

“I believe Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will get as much development as a streetcar, maybe even more,” Garvey said. “You can get the same benefit for a lot less money, which means that there’s a lot of money left over to actually help small businesses. My biggest concern is [the construction process]… no matter what we do, people will not be able to get to those small businesses, and they can’t survive.”

Those points were countered by county staff, who that said studies have shown that fixed rail attracts more investment, that BRT without dedicated lanes (like it would be on the Pike) does not attract development,  and that the rail construction process will take place in small sections that will only take about a month to complete. Staff also said that a survey of Pike residents indicates that nearly 20 percent of respondents would ride a streetcar but not a bus.

Garvey was skeptical, calling into question some of the studies done that supported the streetcar option over BRT.

“The statistics that are cited, it’s really fact of fiction,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest round of applause of the evening came during the nearly 90 minute question and answer session, when a resident asked about having a referendum on the streetcar.

“If this is such a good idea, why don’t you allow the county to vote on it?” one man asked. Wild applause, and a chant of “Vote! Vote! Vote!” ensued.

(more…)

by Katie Pyzyk — March 28, 2013 at 11:15 am 1,039 49 Comments

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA)This week, gay marriage has come to the forefront of American politics as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments regarding California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In light of the proceedings, Rep. Jim Moran (D) is reiterating his stance as an advocate of LGBT rights, including gay marriage and full marriage benefits.

DOMA overwhelmingly passed in Congress in 1996, but Moran notes he was one of the few who voted against the law. He released the following statement on Wednesday, following oral arguments in the case of United States v. Windsor, which challenges the constitutionality of DOMA:

“DOMA is unjust and un-American, contradicting long-standing legal principles and blatantly discriminating against specific legal marriages just because they involve gay and lesbian couples. DOMA flies in the face of our nation’s commitment to civil rights. I am proud to have been one of the 67 representatives who voted against this law’s passage in 1996.

“It’s also disturbing that House Republicans have wasted over $3 million defending DOMA in court over the past three years. I find it unconscionable that while budgets are being slashed by sequestration and many federal workers face furloughs, Republicans in the House voted to pay private lawyers $525 per hour to defend this discriminatory law.

“I strongly support the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry and have full access to the benefits and obligations of marriage. While churches should continue to be able to sanction marriages consistent with their faith, discrimination has no place in the laws that govern our country.

“In addition to being the truly ‘pro-family’ position, marriage equality is an issue that tests our nation’s fidelity to our fundamental values. The Declaration of Independence affirms that ‘all men are created equal’ and that every American has a right to ‘the pursuit of happiness.’ Surely these principles cannot be fulfilled without the ability to marry the person you love.”

by Katie Pyzyk — March 28, 2013 at 10:28 am 1,039 8 Comments

Dominion logoPower has been restored to most of the customers affected by a power outage that occurred in the Clarendon, Courthouse and surrounding neighborhoods. However, there are pockets that may be dark for another hour or two.

At the height of the outage, more than 6,600 customers were without power. As of 10:20 a.m., Karl Neddenien with Dominion Power said less than 1,000 are still dark. Those customers are expected to have power restored by noon.

According to Neddenien, the outage occurred due to a problem in an underground equipment vault near Washington Blvd and N. 10th Street. Crews continue to work to figure out exactly what went wrong. There were reports of a flash and a couple of loud bangs just before the outage, but Neddenien isn’t able to confirm yet if that’s related to the outage.

“We need to get in there and determine just what happened,” Neddenien said. “But more importantly, we need to work on getting power back to everyone.”

Police have been assisting with directing traffic at busy intersections where the traffic lights went out, particularly at Lee Hwy and N. Veitch Street. Most of the affected traffic lights have come back on, but there are reports of some still out in Clarendon. Drivers who encounter dark lights without police directing traffic are reminded to treat the intersection as a four-way stop.

by Katie Pyzyk — March 28, 2013 at 9:25 am 586 41 Comments

Flag disposal bin at John Lyon VFW Post 3150 on N. 19th Street

Registration Open for Bike to Work Day — Cyclists interested in participating in Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17, can register online. There are three official pit stops in Arlington — Freshbikes in Ballston (3924 Wilson Blvd), Gateway Park in Rosslyn (1300 Lee Hwy) and Crystal City Water Park (1750 Crystal Drive). There will also be a stop in East Falls Church along the W&OD Trail near the intersection of Lee Hwy and N. Washington Street. Last year, a record 12,700 people in the D.C. area participated in the event.

Possibility of Another Record Low Year for Tax Delinquencies — If Arlington residents continue paying their taxes as expected, the county could experience another record low for its tax delinquency rate. Treasurer Frank O’Leary says the current delinquency rate is 0.397 percent, which is below the 0.47 percent for Fiscal Year 2012. FY 2012 had the lowest tax delinquency rate in recorded county history. [Sun Gazette]

Amnesty International 5K Run for Rights on Saturday — Amnesty International will be holding its first 5K Run for Rights at 8:00 a.m. this Saturday, March 30. The race begins at Bluemont Park. Online registration closes tonight (Thursday) at 7:00 p.m., but on-site registration will be offered on race day. More details are available on the event’s Facebook page.

by ARLnow.com — March 28, 2013 at 6:00 am 1,092 69 Comments

Public streetcar forumLast night’s Streetcar Town Hall meeting pitted neighbor against neighbor on the topic of the planned Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems.

The meeting, which was held at Kenmore Middle School, drew a near-capacity crowd estimated between 300 and 500 people. And while many opposing viewpoints were presented during the question and answer session of the event, there was one thing on which most people at the meeting seemed to agree.

Chris Zimmerman’s pay from AECOM seems pretty tiny compared to the scandal it generated.

Zimmerman was the subject of controversy in December when fellow Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey raised red flags about consulting work Zimmerman did for the Canadian division of AECOM, the construction, design and transportation conglomerate. The work, which Zimmerman disclosed, came at a time when the Board was considering adopting Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act, primarily for use on the streetcar project.

AECOM has had various contracts with Arlington County over the past few years, including some planning-related work for the streetcar project.

Chris Zimmerman speaks at the Streetcar Town Hall meetingDisclosure of Zimmerman’s work for AECOM fueled charges of “corruption” and became a talking point for streetcar critics — which led to the following question, asked by a resident Wednesday night.

“I’m sorry that I have to ask, but how is it not an ethics violation for a member of this board to be employed by a company that has financially benefitted from this project?”

“I believe that was aimed at me,” Zimmerman quipped. He then explained that he discloses all of his outside employment, even though he really doesn’t do much of it.

“Although this is nominally a part-time job, I have not done much in the way of outside work of any kind,” Zimmerman said. “I mostly work for you.”

“I do a little bit of consulting, and I’ve tried to do that in a way that avoids things that I do here,” he continued. “So I have done work outside this metropolitan area. Most of what I do is not subject to disclosure or reporting under Virginia law. Nonetheless, I choose to disclose everything, because my commitment to ethics in this job is something that’s of great importance to me. I think that’s something you want your elected officials to do.”

Zimmerman went on to say that most of his outside work is for nonprofits and government agencies not associated with Arlington. At that point he addressed the AECOM job, and made a somewhat surprising revelation.

“I did one job last year over the course of two days, on an hourly basis, for one company,” he said of the AECOM gig. “My total billing for that was $510.”

The crowd laughed, then applauded that disclosure. The topic of AECOM did not come up again during the nearly hour and a half question and answer session.

Editor’s Note: A more thorough recap of the Streetcar Town Hall will be published later today.

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