Traffic Switch on Columbia Pike — VDOT crews will open a new ramp from Washington Blvd to Columbia Pike tonight. Crews will also activate a new traffic signal on the Pike and remove an old one. The Pike/Washington Blvd bridge replacement project is expected to wrap up this summer. [VDOT]
Rep. Beyer’s First Bill Passes — Rep. Don Beyer’s (D-Va.) Science Prize Competition Act has passed with bipartisan support. The bill “will encourage federal agencies to use prize competitions to incentivize innovative scientific research and development.” It’s Beyer’s first bill to pass the House of Representatives after replacing the retired Rep. Jim Moran. [Twitter, U.S. House of Representatives]
County to Consider Board Reduction — The Arlington County Board will hold a public hearing on a proposed reduction to the Board of Equalization of Real Estate Appeals. The body hears appeals on real estate assessments, which are down by half from their peak in 2009. The proposal would cut the seven member board to five. [InsideNova]
Petition Against Gun Store Created — Residents have created an online petition against a gun store that’s set to open in Cherrydale. Think of the children, the petition creators say. “It is unconscionable, in an era where our children are forced to practice ‘lock down’ drills designed to train them how to protect themselves from armed intruders, to locate a gun shop anywhere in the vicinity of schools,” the petition states. “The fear of armed intruders permeates their education, and placing a shop that sells guns and/or ammunition within immediate distance of schools is confusing to students at best, and sparks fears of access to them at school at worst.” So far, the petition is more than 2/3rds of the way to its 1,000 signature goal. [Change.org]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
The ART bus driver who was involved in a seven-vehicle wreck along Columbia Pike in December has been found not guilty of reckless driving.
The verdict was reached today after a trial held before Arlington County General District Court Judge Richard McCue. Agere Sileshi, 27, was found not guilty of the original charge of reckless driving, but was found guilty of “improper driving.”
Sileshi faces a $250 fine but no jail time on the charge, which “embodies a finding by the Court that the ‘degree of culpability is slight,'” according her attorney, Alexandria attorney Joseph Blaszkow. Sileshi has been on medical leave since the incident, Blaszkow said.
According to court testimony, Sileshi was driving her bus through the parking lot of the Columbia Pike Plaza shopping center when a car suddenly turned in front of her. Sileshi struck the car and then drove her bus through a retaining wall and onto S. Dinwiddie Street, striking several additional vehicles.
Altogether, five passenger vehicle, a mixing truck and several bicycles were damaged in the crash. Three vehicle occupants and a pedestrian were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
NORAD Flyover Exercise Tonight — NORAD will conduct a flyover exercise tonight that may be noticed by Arlington residents. The exercise will take place between midnight and 2:00 a.m. [Twitter]
Bean Kinney Attorney’s Attack Detailed in Court — In court testimony in Fairfax County, attorney Leo Fisher and his wife, Susan Duncan, described the vicious home invasion attack allegedly carried out by the husband of an attorney Fisher fired at the Arlington law firm of Bean, Kinney & Korman. Fisher said the man “slit my throat” and Duncan described being stabbed repeatedly in the upper body and being nearly shot in the head. [Washington Post]
No ‘Real Solution’ Yet for Pike Transit — An urban design and transportation writer is alleging that Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt has yet to propose an effective alternative to the planned Columbia Pike streetcar system he helped to scuttle. [Greater Greater Washington]
More School Board Endorsements — In the race for the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board, candidates have picked up some key endorsements in the past week. Former School Board member and current County Board member Libby Garvey says she’s endorsing Sharon Dorsey, as is former School Board member Frank Wilson. Reid Goldstein, meanwhile, has picked up the endorsements of County Board Chair Mary Hynes and former School Board member Ed Fendley.
Flickr pool photo by Alves Family
(Updated at 11:40 a.m.) A two-story building on the 2700 block of Columbia Pike caught fire at about 10:00 a.m. Tuesday.
The building, the headquarters of High Sierra Pools and former location of Ski Chalet, was safely evacuated, according to scanner traffic and company employees on the scene. Forty minutes after the fire was first reported, firefighters have contained it. Smoke stopped coming out of the building at around 10:40 a.m.
Fire and rescue crews from Fairfax and Alexandria joined the Arlington County Fire Department to battle the flames. The Pike is shut down from S. Walter Reed Drive to Barton Street to accommodate the large response, and ACFD Capt. David Santini expects it to be shut down past noon.
Santini said High Sierra Pools employees smelled smoke and called 911 at 10:05 a.m. When fire crews arrived, they found the fire had originated in the space between the roof and the second floor ceiling.
“We called a second alarm because of the intense work needed to gain access to the roof,” Santini said. “There were heavy fire conditions and we had to tear up several sections to gain ventilation.”
So far, Santini said there’s no estimate on the damage to the building, and inspectors are conducting an investigation to determine the fire’s cause.
The building’s exterior, from the street, looks largely unaffected by the fire, save for a few scorch marks on the roof.
Downed Wires Close the Pike — Columbia Pike was closed in both directions between S. Greenbrier Street and S. Dinwiddie Street this morning due to a tree that brought down live wires. The road was expected to remain closed for several hours. [WTOP]
Planning Still Underway for Pike Transit — Columbia Pike residents are becoming impatient for Arlington County to complete the planning of new transit options for the corridor, following the cancellation of the streetcar project. However, a plan is not expected until 2016. County Board member John Vihstadt, who helped to scuttle the streetcar project, told a public forum last week that he wants the county to speed up its processes “but frankly I don’t know if we can.” [Washington Post]
Arlington Mill Project Wins Award — The Arlington Mill Community and Senior Center has won a 2015 Urban Land Institute Washington Trends Award for “Excellence in Housing Development.” [Arlington County]
Flickr pool by Brian Allen
After the public outcry, poor design and organizational problems that warranted an independent review of the $1 million S. Walter Reed Drive Super Stop, Arlington’s scaled back plan for the rest of Columbia Pike is being met with general approval.
The new plan, to build 23 more transit stations at key intersections along the Pike for a total cost of $12.4 million, was brought before the public yesterday evening at the Arlington Mill Community Center. The stations will cost an average of 40 percent less than the prototype built at Walter Reed Drive.
The transit stations are 50 percent designed and now the county’s Department of Environmental Services, which is leading the project, is looking to incorporate public feedback.
“We want to improve on what happened with the Walter Reed station,” project manager Matthew Huston told the group of about a dozen community members last night.
The designs are modular, and some of the stations will have smaller or bigger overhangs, seating areas and boarding displays, based on demand. After installation, they can be added to once ridership increases, and it likely will; Huston said the county projects bus ridership to double on the Pike in the next 20 years.
Among those in attendance yesterday was David Dickson, the transportation chair for the Mount Vernon group of the Sierra Club. He and other attendees walked among panels county staff had laid out, showing residents the choices they had regarding side panels, layout of the information signs and seating.
“I think it’s good, and they’re working out the details,” Dickson said of the new proposal. “To the layperson, the redesign seems far superior to the prototype. It’s cheaper and seems like a better design.”
Huston compared the designs to transit stations in other communities, which cost roughly $500,000 on average. The “standard” size transit station on the Pike is projected to cost $469,000, and “extended” stops coming with a $672,000 price tag.
The examples from other jurisdictions Huston gave — Norfolk, Va., Charlotte, N.C., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Eugene, Ore. — all serviced either bus rapid transit or a light rail system. Columbia Pike, for now, is planned to have neither.
Among the questions and preferences attendees expressed on the stations were: a request for side panels, handicap accessibility and debating over how much protection from the elements should be provided when sacrificing sidewalk space.
The design for the first eight transit stations — two each at the Pike’s intersections of S. Glebe Road, Oakland, Buchanan and Barton Streets — is expected to be completed by July, after which construction can begin, Huston said.
Arlington Transportation Director Dennis Leach was also on hand to give residents an update on the county’s overall transportation plan and vision for the Pike corridor. With the additional bus service coming to Arlington Rapid Transit on the weekend, the county is trying to mitigate the delays in long-term transit planning caused by the streetcar’s cancellation.
The proposed building, from developer Orr Partners, would be six stories of mixed-use development — five stories of apartments and ground floor retail. The property would have to redevelop under the Columbia Pike Commercial Form-Based Code, which calls for mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly buildings.
Orr Partners Chairman David Orr said he expects the building to have about 350 market-rate apartments, and for a grocery store and other community-oriented retail — maybe a fast-casual restaurant or two — to occupy the ground floor. He expects to submit a form-based code application in June.
“It’s going to be really great, we’re really excited,” Orr said. His Reston-based company has already built the FDIC headquarters in Ballston and Boeing’s former headquarters in Rosslyn. “We love Arlington, and we love doing business in Arlington.”
In addition to the retail and apartments, the developer plans to include underground parking and to build a public plaza where the large surface lot is now. The plaza, Orr said, would be roughly the same size as the ones at Arlington Mill Community Center and Penrose Square.
“We believe that public plaza has an opportunity to be a wonderful game changer for Columbia Pike because of its visibility and location,” he said. “Certainly the Penrose Square plaza was wonderfully done, but we think we can take it up another notch.”
Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization Executive Director Takis Karantonis is familiar with the plans, and he said the area — one of the major intersections on the Pike — is ripe for a project like this.
“This is a truly important intersection of the Pike and we are very interested in seeing that happen,” he told ARLnow.com this afternoon. “On the other side, we love the Food Star, it has been a staple on the Pike for a very long time. It serves three or four neighborhoods, and it will be a tough transition through the construction phase not to have a grocery store there.”
Karantonis said he would like to see the Food Star come back in the ground floor of the new building, or something similar: an affordable grocery store with a focus on ethnic foods.
The proposal is in its nascent stages, according to Urban Planner Matt Mattauszek with the county’s department of Community Planning, Housing and Development. So far, it is just a draft concept and Orr Partners is beginning to have meetings with the Form-Based Code Advisory Working Group. No official plans or proposals have been submitted to the county.
So far, the only clue as to what the development will look like is a rendering of the building’s general shape and size, submitted to CPHD, that shows a building with frontages along both George Mason Drive and the Pike. Orr said his company has retained KGD Architecture, which designed the Arlington Mill residences on Columbia Pike.
Photo, top, via Google Maps. Image, bottom, courtesy CPHD
A man was viciously punched in the hallway of a Columbia Pike-area apartment building early Wednesday morning, police say.
Two arrests were made in connection with the alleged crime. From this week’s Arlington County crime report:
MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 150415010, 1200 block of S. Courthouse Road. At 2:26 am on April 15, two subjects assaulted a victim in the hallway of an apartment building. The victim was repeatedly punched causing him to suffer a broken tooth that was embedded in his lip. Vannak Ki, 20, of Falls Church, VA and Joshua Hueston, 19, of Arlington, VA were arrested and charged with malicious wounding. They were held without bond.
The rest of the crime report, after the jump.
(Updated at 1:00 p.m.) Arlington County Fire Department personnel are on the scene of a house fire on the 1000 block of S. Rolfe Street.
The fire was reported at about 11:45 a.m., and when firefighters arrived on scene, fire could be seen from the outside of the house, according to the ACFD union on Twitter.
According to witnesses on scene, one person was in the house when the fire started. ACFD spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani said the occupant was outside the house when fire crews arrived.
Witnesses said the fire started in the shed behind the house, but quickly spread, engulfing the rear of the house. The occupant said his garage was on fire when he called 911, Marchegiani said.
The house to the south also caught fire and suffered significant damage, while Marchegiani said the house to the north suffered minor exposure damage.
More than an hour after the fire caught, hot spots can still be seen catching, and ladder hoses are still working to extinguish all remaining flames.
Traffic on S. Rolfe Street is shut down from Columbia Pike past 11th Street S.
Smoke from the fire could be seen from miles around, and the smell of burning wood reached as far north as Ashton Heights.
The Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City together are projected to account for 65 percent of the county’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth in the next three decades, and Arlington doesn’t have a long-term transit plan in place for the Pike to accommodate that growth. So far, much of the discussion has revolved around bigger and better buses.
But there is another option, a much bigger, bolder and pricier option than even the streetcar: taking advantage of an existing stub tunnel at the Pentagon Metro station and building a new Metrorail line under Columbia Pike. Such a line was envisioned as a likely expansion by the Metrorail system’s original planners in the 1960s.
When the proposal for Arlington’s short-term plan for the former-streetcar corridor comes before the Arlington County Board next year, two of the five members of the Board will be newly elected, replacing the retiring Board chair and vice chair, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada.
So far, seven candidates have declared they’re running for the two open seats: Democrats Christian Dorsey, Peter Fallon, Katie Cristol, Andrew Schneider, James Lander and Bruce Wiljanen, and independent Audrey Clement. Will this new crop of Arlington leaders revive the idea of Metro as long-term a solution for the Pike’s growth?
Dorsey tells ARLnow.com that he’s open to Metrorail as part of a more holistic discussion of the Pike’s transportation future.
“We haven’t undergone a process to really do that in a sufficient way, where we’ve looked at a variety of transit options that are possible — not feasible, but possible — and determining whether or not that matches long-range projections,” he told ARLnow.com. “I absolutely think that’s something that needs to be done in consultation with regional partners on heavy rail.”
The county is still planning to install 23 more transit stations along Columbia Pike, for a total of $12.4 million — redesigned to cost far less than the Walter Reed Super Stop prototype — and those stations are designed to accommodate enhanced bus service. However, other than assumptions that more, bigger and fancier buses will be coming to the Pike, it’s unclear how those stations will be integrated. The county has vowed to spend $200 million on the corridor’s transit over the next six years.
Cristol agreed with Dorsey, saying Arlington needs to consider all long-term options in the corridor’s future.
“I believe we need to keep everything on the table as we contend with the forces shaping re-development and transit demand in Arlington,” she said. “Rapid population growth and demand for public transit on the Pike will be a defining feature for Arlington’s coming decades … I will always be for considering and discussing big ideas — even the expensive ones that seem infeasible in the immediate — as we look to address those dynamics.”
WMATA already has a 40-year plan in place for Metrorail’s future development, but that plan, adopted in 2013, includes a connection between Arlington’s since-cancelled and D.C.’s embattled streetcar lines. WMATA has since discussed plans for a second tunnel in Rosslyn and another line in Virginia, but public discussions from the agency have not included Columbia Pike.
Wiljanen said Arlington taking on that discussion would distract from the immediate needs of the Pike’s residents.
“If a Metro line opened tomorrow under Columbia Pike, I would be elated,” he told ARLnow.com in an email. “However, given the current political and budgetary climate, starting the process now will prove to be an exceedingly heavy lift, and the timeline could easily extend 30 years or more into the future. I think we need quicker solutions.”
Clement, a perennial candidate for Arlington public office, thinks Arlington needs to take up these discussions as soon as possible.
“It is definitely time to plan for a Metrorail line under Columbia Pike,” she said. “One of the principal reasons I opposed the Pike trolley was the fact that the trolley tracks would have to be dug up to accommodate the subway, which is the ultimate solution to congestion on the Pike.”
(Fallon, Schneider and Lander did not respond to ARLnow.com’s email asking for comment.)
Dorsey also opposed the streetcar, while Cristol, a Pike resident, and Wiljanen didn’t say whether they supported the project, only that Arlington needs to move on.
Two people were rescued from a car dangling from a parking deck this afternoon after the driver crashed the vehicle through a metal fence.
The Arlington County Fire Department technical rescue team was dispatched to the parking lot of the Carlton Condominium, a high-rise building on the 4600 block of S. Four Mile Run Drive at about noon. The parking deck was one story up, and dozens of Arlington County firefighters and policeman responded to rescue the car’s occupants.
To ensure the car’s stability, a chain was hooked from the car’s undercarriage to rescue truck 104, and a large piece of wood was wedged underneath the car. According to firefighters at the scene, when they arrived the car was dangling and in danger of falling off the edge.
Firefighters had to saw through and remove the metal fencing next to the crash to have access to the passenger’s side door. Both the driver and the passenger were removed safely.
Police say a male suspect put the victim in a chokehold while a female suspect went through his pockets and stole a cell phone.
From the ACPD:
ROBBERY, 150325003, 5100 block of Columbia Pike. At 12:38 am on March 25, an unknown male suspect placed the victim into a choke hold while a female suspect went through his pockets and stole his T-mobile cell phone. The male suspect was described as a black male in his 20’s, approximately 6’0 and 230 lbs. He was wearing a dark color baseball cap, dark long sleeve shirt and dark color pants. The second suspect was described as a black female in her 20’s. The suspects fled the scene on foot prior to officers arrival.
Last weekend, police found a man who had been knocked out, lying on the ground in Clarendon. A 49-year-old Woodbridge man was arrested and charged with malicious wounding.
MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 150322006, 3100 block of Wilson Boulevard. At 12:30 am on March 22, officers located a 26 year old male victim on the ground and unresponsive. The victim was transported to George Washington Hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Investigation revealed that the suspect assaulted the victim. Ivan Deloria, 49, of Woodbridge, VA, was arrested and charged with malicious wounding. The suspect was held with not bond.
The rest of this week’s crime report, after the jump.
The vacant space at the corner of the Pike and S. Barton Street — where Bar TNT and Society Fair closed last fall — will be home to the coffee chain, the building’s management told residents today.
“We’re spilling the beans and we want our residents to be the first to hear the new,” said an email to the residents, which was forwarded to ARLnow.com. “Coming summer 2015, Penrose Square welcomes its newest retailer: Starbucks Coffee. Live, Work & Caffeinate at home in your very own Starbucks.”
The location is facing Penrose Square’s public plaza, next to the Giant and a block away from Red Rocks pizzeria. This will be the first Starbucks on Columbia Pike in Arlington; the closest location is in Pentagon City.
A Columbia Pike church preschool has shut down indefinitely after asbestos dust was found in the floors.
Trinity Episcopal Church‘s School of Early Learning sent out a letter to parents on Tuesday, confirming the presence of asbestos dust in the air at the school. The church’s rector, Rev. Kim Coleman, also serves as the school’s headmaster and said the more than 100 students will not be allowed to enter the building for an “indeterminate amount of time.”
“We are presently looking for a temporary site for the school and as soon as we have more information we will let you know,” the letter states. “Please know that we are sorry for these unexpected developments and hope you understand that the measures we are taking we consider to be in the best interest of our students and staff.”
When reached by ARLnow.com, Coleman declined to comment before she could speak to the church’s board. A tipster, who sent us Coleman’s letter, said volunteers were cleaning the preschool when they ripped up flooring, releasing asbestos dust into the air.
“Chaos ensued when folks figured out what had happened,” the tipster wrote. “School was canceled indefinitely. Testing occurred, it came back positive, and now 100-plus kids don’t have a daycare to go to. Who knows if the church has the money to remediate asbestos.”
Coleman’s letter said the church has “consulted a professional asbestos remediation company” and was hoping for an estimate yesterday. The Trinity Church building was built in 1957, and the congregation is 111 years old. Trinity traces its origins back to a chapel for local slaves built by George Washington Parke Custis in the early 1800s, according to the church’s website.
Update at 4:05 p.m. Friday — Rev. Coleman tells ARLnow.com: “We have been dealing with this situation with an abundance of caution and with the advice of environmental professionals since we became aware of it. We will develop a plan of action for going forward as soon as possible and we are keeping the parents apprised of the situation. Our building was built in the early 1950’s and our program currently has 75 students enrolled.
A big milestone has been reached in the construction of a new Washington Blvd overpass over Columbia Pike: Washington Blvd traffic is now using both new bridges.
The Virginia Department of Transportation changed the traffic pattern today, directing eastbound traffic onto the newly constructed bridge. Before today, eastbound and westbound traffic shared the first bridge built as part of the $48.5 million, three-year long construction project.
The bridge is expected to fully open by late this summer and be named Freedman’s Village Bridge, after the freed slave community that was founded a few miles away.
“We wanted to pay respect to the local significance of Freedman’s Village,” VDOT Project manager Christiana Briganti-Dunn told ARLnow.com today. “Four pylons will show the name and there will be medallions on the bridge replicating scenery in the village, taken from a Harper’s Weekly story from 1864.”
The remaining work to be done includes completing the box culverts to redirect Long Branch Creek, which flows underneath the interchange, ramp reconstruction, a shared-use path, a sound barrier and painting. VDOT spokeswoman Jenni McCord said they are planning a “big celebration” when the bridge opens up.
This morning, in the shadow of the bridge, VDOT hosted a kick-off event for National Work Zone Awareness Week, highlighting the dangers for motorists and construction workers in highway work zones.
“So many lives are at risk when a driver fails to follow the rules of the road in a highway work zone,” Virginia State Police Capt. James De Ford told a crowd of about 50 workers, transportation agency employees and media. “Drivers must stay alert in work zones. The consequences are too severe not to.”
Arlington Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter said that Arlington in 2014 had fewer work zone injuries than any of the previous five years. In Virginia, 15 people were killed in work zone accidents in 2014 — all of them motorists.