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APS Seeing Rapid Rise in Students With Autism

by ARLnow.com | April 25, 2013 at 3:35 pm | 1,321 views | No Comments

Special education enrollment in Arlington Public SchoolsBetween 2008 and 2012, the number of autistic children enrolled in Arlington Public Schools’ special education program increased by more than 50 percent — a trend that matches a national increase in autism diagnoses.

There were 276 autistic special education students in 2008. By 2012, enrollment had increased to 421, a 52.5 percent jump.

“While it seems alarming, it actually reflects the growth we are seeing in autism nationally,” APS spokeswoman Linda Erdos said of the increase. According to a government study that was released last month, the number of school age children with autism has risen 72 percent since 2007, and now stands at about 1 in 50 children ages 6 to 17.

APS “has an excellent history of services for students with autism,” Erdos said. While APS tries to integrate autistic students with the general student body, the school system does have special classes for autistic students who need extra educational support. APS is working to continue to find ways to better serve autistic students, we’re told.

On Tuesday, April 30, APS and the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC) will be hosting a “Family Information Night” that will “present new initiatives and assessment tools that are designed to improve teaching for students with autism and others who learn differently.”

The event is taking place at the Arlington Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street) between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.

Among those expected to speak at the event are Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Del. Patrick Hope (D), APS Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Dr. Brenda Wilks and Steven Celmer, from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center for Excellence.

Moran, who visited to Barcroft Elementary for World Autism Awareness Day last month, is expected to update families on his AUTISM Educators Act, which seeks to create a five-year pilot program that would help to train general education teachers who work with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The bill was referred to Education and the Workforce Committee in the House of Representatives earlier this month.

Balloon Over Arlington Cemetery Tomorrow

by ARLnow.com | April 25, 2013 at 2:05 pm | 2,080 views | No Comments

Expect to see a large tethered balloon over Arlington National Cemetery tomorrow afternoon.

The balloon will be flying over the cemetery between noon and 7:00 p.m. to “to help conduct a height study of Washington, D.C.,” according to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall spokesman Stephen Satkowski.

The study will seek to determine the impacts of raising the District of Columbia’s building height limit.

The aerial photography company that’s coordinating the balloon, Falls Church-based Digital Design & Imaging Service Inc., was unable to answer any questions about the project, and referred us to a New York-based architecture firm, which so far hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Peter’s Take: Star Scientific Burns Two Virginia Leaders

by Peter Rousselot | April 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm | 983 views | No Comments

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotStar Scientific, a Virginia company trying to rescue its sagging economic prospects, has damaged the hopes for higher office of Governor Bob McDonnell and Governor wannabe Ken Cuccinelli.

Both cases illustrate the toxic mix of Virginia’s notoriously weak conflict of interest laws with ambitious politicians who flew too close to the sun.

McDonnell: In 2011, the CEO of Star Scientific made a $15,000 gift to defray the costs of the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter Caitlin. The $15,000 was not disclosed as a contribution on the grounds that the money was a gift to McDonnell’s daughter — not to him.

While it is disputed whether McDonnell’s agreement to be responsible for the cost of the wedding did require disclosure of the $15,000 gift, there is no disagreement that Star Scientific is the subject of a federal securities investigation. Moreover, both McDonnell and his wife have found several occasions to promote a new Star Scientific dietary supplement.

Cuccinelli: Star Scientific filed a lawsuit challenging a tax assessment on property it owned. Cuccinelli was required to arrange for legal representation to defend the state against Star Scientific’s lawsuit, but that legal representation did not have to be provided by the Attorney General’s own office.

Cuccinelli did represent the state in Star Scientific’s lawsuit, but failed to disclose that he had a financial interest exceeding $10,000 in Star Scientific. In October 2010, Cuccinelli purchased a little more than $10,000 worth of Star Scientific stock. At the end of the year, the value of that stock dropped below $10,000, and therefore did not need to be disclosed. But, in September 2011 Cuccinelli acquired 3,600 additional shares in the company, lifting the value of his total stock holdings to nearly $19,000.

After enterprising reporters published the whole story, Cuccinelli agreed to appoint outside lawyers to represent the state of Virginia in Star Scientific’s lawsuit.

These events illustrate some inconvenient truths about:

  • Virginia’s conflict of interest laws
  • Bob McDonnell
  • Ken Cuccinelli

As the average person instinctively recognizes, it is just ridiculous that Virginia law says there is no conflict of interest if a Virginia elected official has a $9,999 financial interest in a company which can benefit from public decisions, but there is a conflict of interest if the same public official has a $10,001 financial interest. It‘s also ridiculous that the law says that gifts to a public official’s immediate family members do not require disclosure.

Let’s assume that McDonnell and Cuccinelli both knew what the law required, but decided they had not violated the law.

Such decisions reflect ethical standards that are far too low, and reflect negatively on their aspirations for higher office.

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

The Right Note: Board Watching

by Mark Kelly | April 25, 2013 at 12:55 pm | 1,039 views | No 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 Kelly

Every year since I moved to Arlington in 2000, the County Board has passed a budget that effectively raised our taxes, either through increased rates or in effect, by not offsetting appraisal increases with tax rate decreases. And, every year in recent memory, the county’s press staff sends out a statement claiming it’s not really that bad.

This year’s press release said the tax increase will only cost the average homeowner $23 more per month. Over the past five years, the increases cited in those press releases total $73.50 per month. So, it now costs the average homeowner $882 more per year to live in Arlington than it did in 2008. In case you were wondering, this is only a small bite compared to what the Board has done in the revenue raising department since 2000.

If you rent, you have not escaped this cost as your landlord has most certainly passed some or all of these taxes on to you.

My favorite argument heard from at least one board member is that we should be glad to pay more property taxes because our houses are worth more. Of course, unless you sell your house, you will not recognize the gain. We actually have to pay the taxes from our incomes. I don’t know about you, but my income has not doubled since I moved into my home while my property taxes have.

The tax increase passed unanimously on Saturday. Then on Tuesday, county staff disclosed that the federal government pegged the price tag of the Columbia Pike trolley project at $310 million — nearly 25 percent over what we were told. The federal estimate said the project could cost as much as $402 million. Of course, when the federal government is estimating, we can safely assume to bet on the high side.

This price tag does not come as a surprise to those following the issue closely. It demonstrates the need for increased and independent accountability in how the Board spends our money.

As I wrote recently, it is time to revisit the idea of opening an office for an independent inspector general. With the under-estimated trolley cost, Artisphere cost overruns, and the $1 million bus stop, the perception that Arlingtonians are not getting straight answers is growing. In response, the County Manager announced she was reorganizing the internal auditing functions instead of bringing in a true independent perspective. With a $1 billion plus budget and $1 billion plus in debt, it is time to do more than an internal staff shuffle.

There was some good news from the April County Board actions. The Board agreed to treat food trucks like any other motor vehicle and allow them to park for two hours in parking spaces. While many communities have moved to impose additional restrictions on food trucks, this common sense move in favor of promoting both increased dining choices for consumers and opportunities for small businesses was a good one.

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

Photos: Ovechkin’s ‘Virtual Statue’ Shoot

by ARLnow.com | April 25, 2013 at 11:25 am | 702 views | No Comments

Attendees at the upcoming Taste of Arlington festival will be able to get cozy with Ovie.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin posed in front of a green screen at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston yesterday for a “virtual statue” video shoot. The video will be be used to allow smart phone users to take a photo with a virtual Ovechkin at Taste of Arlington, which is scheduled for Sunday, May 19.

As reported earlier this month, Ovechkin is one of three “virtual statues” that will be set up around the festival. The other two are Washington Wizards point guard John Wall or D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius.

Users will be able to walk up to a posted “Augmented Reality” (AR) marker at Taste of Arlington, scan a code with their phone, and see a brief video of a sports star. From a press release:

The AR marker is similar to a QR or “quick response” code. By targeting an AR marker with the camera on their phone or tablet, users will view a short video and have the opportunity to pose for a photo with the celebrity. After capturing their virtual photo op with the celebrity, guests may share the images to Facebook or Twitter, and are eligible to enter a contest sponsored by the Ballston BID to win a sports prize package including sporting event tickets and signed memorabilia.

The digital statue custom displays will be located throughout Taste of Arlington. Each display will have a backdrop, a statue base, and an event assistant to help facilitate the process or provide a tablet for those without a compatible mobile device.

The mobile app required to view the virtual statues will be available via the Google Play Market for Android and the Apple App Store, according to the Ballston Business Improvement District. Taste of Arlington will be held in Ballston on May 19th from noon to 5 p.m.

Disclosure: Ballston BID is an ARLnow.com advertiser

Bluemont Residents Reject Proposed Safeway Development

by ARLnow.com | April 25, 2013 at 9:45 am | 4,128 views | No Comments

Safeway site sketchThe Bluemont Civic Association voted Wednesday night to oppose a potential mixed-use development at the Safeway site at 5101 Wilson Blvd.

The development, proposed by Safeway and local developer Mark Silverwood, would replace the current, aging Safeway and its large surface parking lot with a new store, and would build a 4-story, 160-unit apartment complex directly above that store.

Between the store and the apartments, plans call for about 400 parking spaces in an underground garage. From the Bluemont Civic Association newsletter:

The Safeway–Silverwood proposal calls for a building 65’ in height with a footprint that encompasses the entire site. This new “Lifestyle” Safeway, with a height of 20’, would occupy virtually the entire ground floor; four residential stories above the store would contain approximately 160 1-bedroom plus den and 2-bedroom apartments.

Below the store would be two levels of underground parking: the upper level with 190 parking spaces serving Safeway, the lower level with 212 spaces dedicated to apartment residents. Silverwood explained that approximately 10 of the apartments would qualify as affordable housing, and the building itself would qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold level certification.

The new store would contain an upscale deli, service meat counter, and a bakery. Extra space would be dedicated to fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other perishable items. A Starbucks would be co-located in the store — with indoor and possible outdoor seating — along with a drycleaners.

Silverwood and Safeway told residents that the apartment development is necessary in order to pay for the new store. In order to build the project, however, the County Board must first approve a rezoning of the Safeway site from “C-1,” or low intensity retail, to “C-O-1.0,” or moderate intensity mixed use.

Bluemont Safeway (via Google Maps)In a three-way vote, 56.6 percent of the 173 residents at Wednesday night’s standing-room-only meeting voted to oppose any rezoning of the site. Only 18.5 percent of residents voted in favor of the development, while 24.9 percent voted for a compromise resolution that would oppose rezoning “unless we have strong assurances that negative impacts to the neighborhood will not occur or will be mitigated.”

Most residents who spoke at the meeting spoke out against the development. Many expressed concern that allowing Safeway to develop the site would lead to more development.

“I worry that development will continue and destroy the residential character of our neighborhood,” said one resident. “This has consequences for the entire area. I don’t have any problem with the developer wanting to make money, but you really shouldn’t do that at the expense of our neighborhood.”

“This is not just NIMBY [Not In My Backyard],” said another resident. “This is the first step in our neighborhood, and it’s not going to be the last if we let it go. You say NIMBY, but nobody is going to look out for our backyards if we don’t do so ourselves.”

Others worried about traffic, noise, building heights, and parking issues.

(more…)

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | April 25, 2013 at 8:30 am | 1,038 views | No Comments

Walkway to Ballston Common Mall (photo by m01229)

New Bikeshare Stations in Shirlington – Two new Capital Bikeshare stations have been installed in the Shirlington area. The stations are located at Four Mile Run Drive and S. Shirlington Road, and at S. Arlington Mill Drive and Four Mile Run Drive. [Facebook]

Notable Trees Recognized – The Arlington County Board recognized 19 “notable trees” around the county on Tuesday. The honor is “an initiative of the Arlington Beautification Committee that recognizes residents who maintain and preserve outstanding trees.” There are now 265 trees registered in Arlington as part of the Notable Tree program, which began in 1987. “I am proud to live in a community that places such value on its trees,” said County Board Chair Walter Tejada. [Arlington County]

Lee Arts Center Lauded – The Lee Arts Center, at 5722 Lee Highway, is “one of Arlington County’s best kept secrets,” according to local arts writer James George. The county-run facility hosts a gallery and studios for ceramics and printmaking. [Examiner.com]

Fatshorty’s Now Open for Lunch – Fatshorty’s, the new beer and sausage restaurant in Clarendon, is now open for lunch, according to owner Aaron Gordon. The restaurant will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday through Monday, and 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Flickr pool photo by m01229

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