Wilson Boulevard west of George Mason Drive will go from a four-lane road to two through lanes with a center turn lane this spring, and it’s a plan many residents who live nearby are happy with.
The plan will result in increased travel times for the stretch of Wilson that will be affected, from N. Manchester to N. Frederick Street. In addition to the lane reduction, the reconfiguration will also add bike lanes on either side of the road, which will serve a dual purpose as a buffer between the sidewalks and motor vehicles.
“Wilson Blvd is unacceptable and we all deserve better,” Chris Healey, the co-chair of the Bluemont Civic Association sidewalk safety task force, told the attendees. “That’s what we’re here to try and accomplish.”
The road restriping will occur in the spring, when that stretch of road is up in Arlington’s repaving schedule. The reconfiguration doesn’t make an impact on the county budget, but it also won’t help the state of the sidewalks, which residents and staff agreed are too narrow and too dangerous.
What will one day become Phase II of the reconfiguration will include sidewalk widening and other improvements, but Arlington Bureau Chief for Transportation and Operations Engineering Larry Marcus told ARLnow.com that those improvements are currently unfunded and have no timeline for construction.
“This isn’t a total solution, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Marcus said. “Phase II is why we’re here, to hear from people and to look over the winter and what needs to improve.”
Arlington Department of Environmental Services engineers predict that travel time will increase on the road, but only between five and 20 seconds between N. Manchester and Edison Streets each way during rush hour. The greatest concern about the change for some residents was turning off onto the cross streets. Staff predicts that those maneuvers will take as much as 35 seconds longer on some cross streets.
One resident who said he lived on N. Manchester Street, which is where the lane reduction will begin, said it will only make his street more dangerous.
“My opinion is you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said. “You’re adding a choke point to [Manchester] which is already a cut-through. My biggest concern is already having to worry about my kids because I’ve got cars screaming back and forth between 50 and Wilson. We’re putting higher-density living spaces on Wilson Blvd and we’re trying to increase businesses in Wilson Blvd, and we’re operating on the assumption that none of those people are going to drive, which is ridiculous.
Gillian Burgess, the chair of the county’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, attended the meeting and said she was still concerned about the bike lanes, since they will have no protection from cars, and since buses will be expected to pull into them when they pick up and drop off passengers.
“The entire Wilson Blvd corridor is a huge gap in the current bicycle network,” she said. “We appreciate that that’s being recognized. As we go forward, we appreciate that there will be more bicycling accommodations, but we really need to make sure that they’re safe.”
Ed Fendley, the other co-chair on the sidewalk task force, said after all of the residents were able to talk to staff individually, the reaction was generally positive.
“The report-outs from the tables highlighted that the great majority of the comments received were in the form of positive support and constructive suggestions for improvements,” he told ARLnow.com.
Someone smashed a half dozen car windows to steal some pocket change last week.
The crime happened overnight in the North Rosslyn area, according to police. From this week’s Arlington County crime report:
LARCENY FROM AUTO/DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY (SERIES), 141112016-021, 1600 BLOCK N COLONIAL TERRACE, Sometime between 1700 hours on 11/11/14 and 0720 hours on 11/12/14, an unknown subject(s) smashed the front passenger windows of six vehicles and stole loose change. There are no witnesses and there is no suspect information at this time.
The rest of the weekly crime report, after the jump. All named suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty.
AAA Thanksgiving Travel Forecast — About 1.1 million Washington area residents will travel 50 more more miles this Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. That’s up 3.1 percent over 2013. About 90 percent of those travelers will journey to grandma’s house via automobile, AAA says. The lowest gas prices since Dec. 2010 are helping to drive some additional travel this year. [Reston Now]
What’s Next for the Pike? — Now that the streetcar is dead, articulated buses may be next for Columbia Pike. But that would require reinforcing the roadway and building a new bus depot. [Greater Greater Washington]
Beyer Joins ‘New Democrat Coalition’ — Arlington’s newly-elected representative in Congress, Don Beyer, has joined the House New Democrat Coalition, a group of pro-growth Democrats. [Blue Virginia]
Moran Laments Loss of Earmarks — Outgoing Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) says earmarks, while demonized by the media and some politicians, actually helped the legislative process. The loss of earmarks has slowed Congress to a crawl, Moran said. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Of that money, $203.3 million has already been allocated for FY 2015 programs, toward county reserves or spent according to county policy.
This includes $46.7 million toward Arlington Public Schools and $62.4 million toward “maintaining the operating and self-insurance reserves” required to keep the county’s current bond rating.
A significant leftover sum is present nearly every year and was accounted for in the FY 2015 budget process. This year, there’s $29.8 million in discretionary funds remaining the county can spend as they see fit.
The County Board approved in a 5-0 vote the county manager’s recommendation to allocate:
- $13 million for “FY 2016 budget issues,” including $6.3 million in capital improvements like ConnectArlington and the continued move of Department of Human Services divisions to the Sequoia Plaza along Arlington Blvd
- $8.2 million to the affordable housing investment fund for FY 2016
- $3.4 million for “employee compensation and management,” including recruiting for the Arlington County Fire Department, staffing the Emergency Communications Center and the fourth year of the county’s pay reclassification program
- $2 million for safety and technology investments, such as field training, software replacement and records retention
- $2.4 million for programs like economic development and for contingency funds
- $1.5 million to housing grants
Among the $13 million is $1.3 million for funding Artisphere. Next month, County Manager Barbara Donnellan will give the County Board a recommendation on the future of the facility, which was expected to be self-sustaining but instead requires millions of dollars in county funding per year.
Donnellan declined to give a preview of her recommendation, but said that even if the county decided to terminate its contract, it would still need to pay $1.1-1.3 million as part of its commitment to the owner of the building that houses Artisphere.
Last year, the county had a $25 million surplus and spent it on many of the same projects: Artisphere, employee compensation and affordable housing. During the County Board’s discussion on Tuesday, no Board member brought up the idea of directing funds elsewhere, including back to taxpayers.
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) A passenger van overturned after hitting a parked car and sending both vehicles tumbling down an embankment in Ft. Myer Heights at about 10:45 this morning.
A witness told ARLnow.com that the driver of the van lost control of his vehicle on 14th Street N. The van swerved into a parking lot on the 1700 block and hit the trunk of a parked Honda sedan. The Honda was sent over the curb and down the embankment, taking out a small tree with it, the witness said.
The van flipped onto its side, and both vehicles came to a stop on Fairfax Drive, adjacent to Route 50. Police remained on scene for an hour as the vehicles were cleared and towed away.
There were no injuries as a result of the collision. Police declined to comment on if the van’s driver would be charged.
Sehkraft Beer Garden and Haus, which is planning on opening next spring in the ground floor of 925 N. Garfield Street, was approved for live entertainment at the Board’s Tuesday meeting. However, its request to keep its doors and windows open during live entertainment — while supported by the community — was denied unanimously.
The Westover Beer Garden and its owner, Devin Hicks, had a long, contentious battle with the county a few years ago over Hicks’ desire to have amplified music in its outdoor space. Since 2012, Hicks’ and the county’s relationship has improved — County Board members John Vihstadt and Walter Tejada said they are now proud customers of the restaurant — but the memories of the permit fight were still on some of their minds.
“There were some issues early on, and I don’t want to gloss over some of the history or the occasional problem now,” Vihstadt said, but added, “I think the beer garden is a huge community asset. It really is the embodiment of what makes Westover great.”
The difference between Westover and Sehkraft, county staff pointed out, is the new brewpub is in the ground floor of an apartment building and has residential developments nearby. Westover Beer Garden is in a business district and is 110 feet from the nearest single family dwelling.
However, the Lyon Park Civic Association supported Sehkraft’s request to keep the windows open so those in outdoor seating could hear the music. William B. Lawson, a real estate lawyer representing Hicks, told the County Board the request was intended to be a trial period.
“We think that an exception is appropriate,” he said. “Devin has put a lot of money into soundproofing and construction techniques that we think will lessen the impacts of the music. If there are any problems we’ll shut the doors.”
Although the Board denied the exception — agreeing with county staff that allowing it “would be inconsistent with current practice” — Board member Libby Garvey recommended Hicks come back in a year when the permit is up for renewal and suggest opening the doors and windows at that time.
“I think we should sort of ease into it a little bit,” Garvey said. “We’re hearing so much from folks in complaints [about noise’ that I think it would be better to ease into it.”
When he spoke to ARLnow.com in July, Hicks said he plans to open the beer garden and brewpub in March 2015.
Board to Consider ‘Technology Zone’ Expansion — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday approved a motion to advertise changes to its program of giving tax breaks to small technology firms. Possible changes include expanding the “technology zones” in which businesses are eligible for the program to instead cover the entire county. The Board will vote on the changes in December. [Arlington County]
Werth Gnome Made of Cans at DCA — A huge Jayson Werth garden gnome sculpture made of cans is one such can creation on display at Reagan National Airport. Made for the annual “Canstruction” competition, which runs through Nov. 22, the sculptures will benefit the Arlington Food Assistance Center. [DCist]
Students Place First in Video Contest — Six Arlington Public Schools students have placed first in a state-wide video contest. They created a 30-second video for the annual Virginia School Boards Association competition. [Arlington Public Schools]
Shooting Suspect Arrested in Arlington — One of the two suspects in the shooting of two teenagers in Woodbridge was arrested Tuesday by Arlington County Police, following a traffic stop on N. George Mason Drive. [WNEW]
Columnist: Streetcar’s Death Will Widen Class Divisions — Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney opines that the decision to kill the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar system will “probably deepen” class and racial divisions in Arlington. “In effect, Arlington just told its least prosperous residents: ‘You want streetcars to upgrade your neighborhoods? Too expensive. Keep riding the bus.’” McCartney writes. [Washington Post]
(Updated at 6:00 p.m.) The Doubletree hotel at 300 Army Navy Drive in Pentagon City was evacuated this afternoon due to a large gas leak.
The gas leak was said to be in the hotel’s parking garage. Firefighters at the scene reported strong odor of natural gas inside and outside the hotel. Guests and employees were evacuated from the hotel.
An Arlington County hazmat team and Washington Gas crews responded to the scene. Police shut down down Army Navy Drive between Eads and 12th Streets to accommodate the large emergency response.
Firefighters and gas company crews managed to shut off the gas after about an hour. Army Navy Drive reopened just after 5:30, and people are being allowed back into the hotel.
No injuries have been reported.
The County Board approved its annual budget guidance to County Manager Barbara Donnellan yesterday, the framework from which Donnellan will work before she presents her proposed budget to the Board in February. As part of the direction, the Board says Arlington Public Schools should again receive 45.9 percent of county revenue, but County Board Chair Jay Fisette said that number will go up.
“The percentage share is going to change,” Fisette said. “It will end up being a percentage increase to the schools, I think. It will end up being inevitable through the process.”
The county is projecting a 3 percent growth in real estate tax revenue, but that will come entirely from a 6-8 percent increase in residential real estate assessments, according to county CFO and Finance Director Michelle Cowan. Commercial real estate assessments are “flat,” Cowan said, which, coupled with the county’s now 21.4 percent office vacancy rate, is putting “increased pressure” on commercial real estate growth.
“We’re sort of back to where we were in mid-90s,” Cowan said about tax revenue. “Back then, where we were growing was in commercial [growth]… now it’s residential.”
According to the county’s projections, expenditures will outpace revenue based on funding levels from the FY 2015 budget. On the county side, there’s projected to be a $4 million to $6 million funding gap; for Arlington Public Schools, that gap is projected at $20 million.
The chair of APS’ Budget Advisory Council, Moira Forbes, asked the county to increase its funding level to the district, if only to cover the cost of the higher-than-anticipated enrollment growth the schools are experiencing this year.
“While the county of course also is experiencing a lot of pressures and desire for public services because of population growth, the costs associated with new students are immediate, significant, and driven partially by state and federal requirements,” Forbes said. “The Budget Advisory Council suggests that the County Board either increase the revenue sharing percentage or provide a fixed amount to offset half of the $14.1 million in costs [APS is expected to incur] associated with the enrollment growth.”
To help trim costs, the Board asked Donnellan to “eliminate duplication and inefficiencies, and explore further collaborations with Arlington Public Schools as well as regional collaborations and partnerships that might lead to cost savings and efficiencies.”
The Board also directed the manager to provide an alternative option in her recommended budget that would include a 1 percent cut of operating expenditures. In the event that tax revenue exceeds the county’s projections, Donnellan is asked to look at either lowering the tax rate or providing more funding for schools, new facilities and affordable housing — or some combination of the two.
County Board member Libby Garvey suggested postponing the budget guidance until next month to allow the public to comment, but her motion ultimately failed by a 4-1 majority.
“One of the things we could improve in how we engage the public is bringing them in more at the beginning level,” Garvey said. “Having people read this through and think it through… I think that’s helpful.”
Donnellan, when asked, said she hasn’t spoken to her department heads about the FY 2016 budget, and postponing the budget process for a month would make it far more difficult to present a full budget by her February deadline. Fisette and Vice Chair Mary Hynes each said the public had ample opportunity comment on the budget and tax rate later in the process.
“I think we have a good idea of what we would hear,” Hynes said. “This is the box, not the stuff in the box. We will hear a lot from the public about what’s in the box.”
LWV to Address Pike Changes — Scheduled well before yesterday’s news that the county’s streetcar project is being canceled, the League of Women Voters tonight will hold a forum entitled “Columbia Pike in Transition.” The forum will explore the future of the Columbia Pike corridor. [InsideNova]
Board Approves Affordable Housing Loan — The Arlington County Board has approved a $8.5 million loan for developer AHC Inc. to purchase the Spectrum Apartments at 5055 S. Chesterfield Road and convert 80 market-rate apartments to committed affordable units. [Arlington County]
Va. Liquor Price Hike — The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has approved a price hike for liquor that’s expected to raise an extra $5.4 million for the state coffers. [Washington Business Journal]
McLean Stabbing Victims Recovering — Arlington law firm Bean, Kinney & Korman says its managing shareholder, Leo Fisher, and his wife are recovering from a brutal stabbing in their McLean home. “There has been universal concern for the welfare of Leo and Sue, and we are thankful to be able to assure everyone that they are recovering steadily,” the firm said in a statement yesterday. Meanwhile, new details have been revealed about the hours-long “torture session” former Bean Kinney attorney Alecia Schmuhl and her husband Andrew allegedly put Fischer and his wife through on Nov. 9. [Washington Post]
Rip Sullivan Joins Bean Kinney — Recently-elected House of Delegates member Rip Sullivan has joined the Courthouse-based law firm of Bean, Kinney & Korman, the firm announced yesterday. [Bean, Kinney & Korman]
Flickr pool photo by Eric
The wallet went missing between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday, on the 2600 block of Jefferson Davis Highway, according to Arlington County Police Department spokesman Lt. Kip Malcolm. Initial reports suggest police were searching for clues in the Holiday Inn hotel at 2650 Jefferson Davis Highway.
(An earlier version of this story cited incorrect information regarding the timing of the wallet going missing.)
There was little additional information available about the incident. Malcolm was unable to provide the name of the congresswoman or the circumstances surrounding how the wallet went missing.
“We can confirm that a congresswoman’s was possibly stolen,” he told ARLnow.com “We notified U.S. Capitol Police.”
U.S. Capitol Police have thus far not responded to a request for more information.
Photo via Google Maps
The Arlington County Board will discuss a proposed update to the 2001 Retail Action Plan, which covered the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. The update expands the plan’s footprint to the Crystal City and Columbia Pike corridors, includes recommendations to improve the county’s retail environment and asks the Board to change regulation to allow for retail growth.
“This is a big deal and this has taken a long time to work through,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the Board. “This is a report that will guide us for many years to come on how we’re going to move forward. Retail will succeed where it can thrive.”
The Virginia Department of Taxation reported more than $2 billion in retail and food and beverage sales in Arlington last year, but the opportunity is there for much more local retail spending, the plan states.
“The estimated demand for retail and food and beverage is in excess of $4.7 billion dollars,” the report states, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Surveys. “With a demand greater than sales, Arlington is considered to have a leakage of retail opportunity — customers must travel outside of Arlington to purchase many goods and services — in most broad retail categories.”
Among the key recommendations are developing design guidelines to make “retail look like retail,” developing a specific retail map to guide which kinds of retail businesses should go where — encouraging clustering of specific types of retail to draw in more customers — and encouraging public art and accessibility.
Stores should be encouraged to design their exteriors creatively, the plan says, and to “design storefronts for three miles an hour (pedestrian speed) rather than 35 miles per hour (vehicular speed).” That’s a bit of a departure from years past, when retail signage rules were more stringent in Arlington, discouraging retailers from standing out too much. For interior design, the plan advocates for higher ceilings on the ground floor of buildings and to ” to allow for maximum flexibility and use of the space.”
The draft plan also recommends softening regulations on food trucks and other mobile vendors. It says “vending zones” are under consideration in Rosslyn, Courthouse and Ballston, which would allow food trucks to park for more than two hours at a time.
“With social media and serial followers, vending can help pull customers into different areas,” the plan says. “Establishing vending zones, to allow trucks to vend for longer than two hours or for alternative hours, can help prime an area that is not quite ready for retail or can attract people to other uses — parks, cultural venues or other businesses.”
Grocery stores are seen as a key component of Arlington’s retail plan, as they serve as anchors for retail districts. The plan generally lauds the Arlington County Board for its flexibility in approving grocery stores, including most recently the store planned at 1401 Wilson Blvd, whenever the property is redeveloped. However, it says the term “grocery store” should be more clearly defined for administrative purposes. “The policy should clearly articulate how and when incentives or mechanisms to support the construction of a grocery store are applied,” according to the plan.
Many of the actions the plan suggests include amending the county’s Zoning Ordinance and special exception policies to factor in broader retail goals. It’s those changes that gave some of the County Board members pause and led them to schedule a work session in January, before the plan is up for a vote in February.
Update at 3:55 p.m. — The County Board voted 4-1 in favor of Fisette’s motion to stop the streetcar project. The dissenting vote was Walter Tejada, who said the streetcar would have reduced congestion and helped the Columbia Pike’s revitalization. “Turning away from a modern streetcar system is a dramatic step backwards,” Tejada said. “Arlington’s credibility in the region will now be adversely affected.”
“I have come to the conclusion that the only way to move forward together … is to discontinue the streetcar project,” Fisette said solemnly, before a large crowd of reporters. “After close consultation with [County Board members Mary] Hynes and [Walter] Tejada, with our partners in Fairfax and Richmond and with members of the community, Ms. Hynes and I have agreed that all spending on streetcar must end.”
Fisette will make it official with a motion at this afternoon’s County Board meeting. Tejada is said to oppose canceling the project and may vote against Fisette’s motion.
The streetcar project was to be funded by commercial transportation revenue, along with funding from the state and Fairfax County, which was to benefit from the Pike streetcar running to the Skyline area.
Fisette said the county will instead explore options for improving bus service on Columbia Pike. The transitway between Crystal City and Alexandria will continue to operate and be developed, but will be served only by buses. Existing streetcar contracts — like the $26 million engineering contract awarded in September — will be “wound down” as quickly as possible.
Fisette acknowledged that many business owners and residents along Columbia Pike will be disappointed by the streetcar project’s cancellation.
“There are those who moved there or developed in anticipation of the streetcar,” Fisette said. “I will say that we are committed and remain committed to the Columbia Pike corridor. We will continue to work towards the realization of that vision [of high quality, mixed use development] in a modified form, and that is the commitment of this Board. We will enhance the bus system to the extent possible.”
Fisette said that he believes a streetcar still makes sense on Columbia Pike, as it would increase transit capacity and spur economic development, adding that he’s “proud” of his vote for it. The decision to kill the project was made after the election of streetcar opponent John Vihstadt on Nov. 4, which “sent a powerful message to the Board.”
“We cannot ignore the political realities… this was not a formal referendum, but I believe it serves as a proxy,” Fisette said. “Right now the level of discord is such that I haven’t seen for awhile. It keeps us from addressing other pressing needs in the community.”
Fisette said county staff and the county manager were “caught flat-footed” by organized opposition to the streetcar, which materialized in “the past year or so.” Efforts to communicate the streetcar’s benefits were ineffective, he said.
The cancellation is an improbable victory for Vihstadt and his anti-streetcar ally on the Board, Libby Garvey. Together, they have been pushing the county to cancel the streetcar project and instead work to implement enhanced bus service on Columbia Pike.
Garvey was in attendance at Fisette’s press conference (which can be viewed online) and said afterwards that Fisette’s announcement “was a complete surprise.” Hynes was at an event this morning and “gave a ringing endorsement” of the streetcar, Garvey said.
“I’m delighted,” Garvey said. When asked about the impact the decision will have on businesses and residents who moved to the area in anticipation of the streetcar, she said “people need to understand that we will get a bus rapid transit system going. It will do everything the streetcar could and more. They’re going to be just fine.”
The streetcar plan for Columbia Pike was developed over nearly a decade of community meetings and deliberations and approved in 2006. Its backers have consistently said that consensus was behind the streetcar and it’s what the community wanted, but Fisette conceded that the feeling around the county has changed.
“The D.C. streetcar was a gift for those of us who oppose the streetcar,” Garvey said.
Placing behind Arlington, in order, was: Madison, Wisc.; Lincoln, Neb.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Denver, Colo.; Seattle, Wash.; and Austin, Texas. Washington, D.C. ranked No. 14.
“Arlington, Virginia, is the best city for young entrepreneurs with a high percentage of educated young people, the highest per capita income in the nation and access to businesses in the Washington, D.C., area,” the website wrote. ” Nearly 28% of the city’s residents are 25 to 34 years old, and at least 74% of all residents over 25 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher — both of these figures are the highest in the nation”
Update at 12:40 p.m. — Fisette has announced that the streetcar project is being canceled.
Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette will make a “significant announcement” regarding the Arlington streetcar program today, according to a media alert from the county.
Fisette will hold a press conference at county government headquarters in Courthouse at noon, we’re told. There’s no word yet as to what will be announced.
The press conference will be broadcast on the county website and on Comcast channels 25 and 74 and Verizon FiOS channels 39 and 40.