New Tot Playground Opens — An upgraded tot playground with “education-themed amenities” has opened at Chestnut Hills Park, at 2807 N. Harrison Street. [InsideNova]
H-B Woodlawn Student Scores School Musical — Calista Garcia, an 8th grade student at H-B Woodlawn, produced the score for the school’s fall musical, “Lizzy Strata.” Garcia is also the lead singer and guitarist for an all-girl rock band, the Diamond Dolls. [Washington Post]
ART Gets Bigger Buses — Arlington Transit has started using its first full-length, 40-foot buses. The service started in 1999 with vehicles similar to airport rental car shuttles. [Greater Greater Washington]
Double Decker Buses on the Pike? — A “taxpayer activist in Arlington” wants the county to consider using double decker buses — like the kind you would see in London — on Columbia Pike, in lieu of the streetcar. [Watchdog.org]
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
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
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.
APS Ranked in Top 100 — Arlington Public Schools has ranked No. 38 on a list of the top 100 school districts in America, published by the education website Niche. [WJLA]
Howze Won Pike Precincts — There was a bright spot for Democrat Alan Howze, who lost to incumbent John Vihstadt in a historic County Board election on Tuesday. Howze narrowly beat Vihstadt in the voting precincts along Columbia Pike. Howze supported the building of the Columbia Pike streetcar while Vihstadt vehemently opposes it. [InsideNova]
Preservation Arlington Opposes School Plans — The group Preservation Arlington wants its supporters to speak out against plans to build a new school on the Wilson School site in Rosslyn and to make changes to the Stratford School that would compromise its “historic integrity.”
No Tysons Wegman’s — A deal to bring a Wegman’s grocery store to Tysons Corner has fallen through. That will likely be disappointing to the many Arlingtonians who have been longing for a Wegman’s location closer than Fairfax or Woodbridge. Arlington isn’t the only D.C. suburb hoping for a Wegman’s, however. Reston residents have been calling for one, though the chain’s general requirement of a 80,000-150,000 square foot store with plenty of surface parking reportedly makes a Reston location unlikely. [Washington Post]
Election Day in Arlington – Voting started at 6:00 a.m. this morning and will continue through 7:00 p.m. There are 52 voting precincts in Arlington. Virginia voters must provide a photo ID when they go to the polls. [Arlington County]
State Honors for Pike Affordable Housing — Arlington County has won two state awards for its plan to preserve affordable housing along Columbia Pike. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe lauded the county’s affordable housing and transit plan for the Pike. “Arlington’s Columbia Pike Planning Initiative provides a vision for transforming the Pike by improving transit, preserving affordable housing and creating great public spaces,” McAuliffe said in a press release. “At the heart of this plan is a modern streetcar that will spur high-quality development along this vital corridor and generate new tax revenues for Arlington, Fairfax and the Commonwealth.” [Arlington County]
Local Singer Wins ‘Arlington’s Got Talent’ — Teague del la Plaine, a local singer, won the annual Arlington’s Got Talent competition last week. Travis Tucker, a pop-funk and R&B singer, placed second and Euphonism, an a cappella group, placed third. [Leadership Arlington, InsideNova]
Growing Season Is Over — There will be no more frost advisories and freeze warnings this year. The National Weather Service has officially declared the growing season over for the D.C. area. [National Weather Service]
Photo courtesy @dcaman
Those frustrated with their morning commute on Columbia Pike aren’t likely to see relief come until the spring.
The backups that have caused rush hour delays for drivers going eastbound on Columbia Pike in the morning are likely due to the temporary traffic pattern that makes cars turn left to get on northbound I-395, Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jenni McCord said. The temporary traffic pattern shift is expected to be in place for the next six months.
After that time, the traffic will again go back to using a right exit off Columbia Pike to get on the interstate in the direction of D.C.
The complete project’s end date is Sept. 14, 2015.
The left turn isn’t the only headache Pike drivers will have to deal with as the $48.5 million construction of the Washington Blvd bridge over Columbia Pike continues. Scheduled to start in early December, McCord said, S. Queen Street will be closed to traffic at Columbia Pike for six months. “Local traffic will enter/exit Arlington View and Carrington Village via S. Quinn or S. Rolfe Streets,” McCord said.
On Washington Blvd, the temporary signal at the Columbia Pike exit ramp has been removed, and crews will be pouring the concrete deck for the second bridge on Monday after steel beams were installed in September, McCord said. There will continue to be daytime lane closures in the area until the project is complete in a year.
The former owner of Kitty O’Shea’s in Courthouse is bringing a new Irish Pub to Arlington, this time along Columbia Pike.
Danny McFadden owned the Courthouse pub until it closed in 2011 and he moved it to Tenleytown after a dispute with the landlord, the Schupp Companies. He no longer owns the Kitty O’Shea’s in D.C., according to his business partner, Mike McMahon, and has thrown his energy into The Celtic House, the pub that is planning to replace Manee Thai at 2500 Columbia Pike.
McMahon, McFadden and a former chef at Ireland’s Four Courts are the three founding partners of the restaurant, McMahon told ARLnow.com today, and he said the pub should be open “within a few weeks.” A new bar is being built and the remaining work is “just cleanup and waiting for permits,” he said.
“We like the area,” McMahon said in his Irish brogue. “It’s upcoming and there are a lot of young people here.”
McMahon said between the three partners, they combine for more than 100 years of restaurant experience, almost entirely in Irish pub-style restaurants. He said the menu will be “very broad,” and feels there’s enough room for customers despite P. Brennan’s Irish Pub being just a few blocks away.
“We’re going for very traditional Irish food with some American dishes, too,” he said. “We want it to be welcoming for everyone, to bring their families, children, grandparents and the like.”
Hat tip to @EmmaK84
Bangkok 54′s grocery store has reopened, nine months after a fire tore through the business and forced it to shut down.
The market is connected to the Bangkok 54 Thai restaurant at 2919 Columbia Pike, which was able to open the day after the Dec. 12 fire. Owner Bundit Sookmee said the fire, which was concentrated in the front of the store, forced him to spend eight months rebuilding and restocking the store, which specializes in Asian grocery products.
“Everything was gone,” he told ARLnow.com today. “The ceiling fell down, there was water everywhere. You couldn’t even walk in here. We had to throw everything away.”
The market reopened three weeks ago, Sookmee said, largely unchanged, aside from a different layout of refrigerators and shelving. One change that could be coming soon: a 15-20 seat cafe serving fast meals like Thai noodle soup for customers in a hurry. The new cafe would be connected to the market, not the Thai restaurant, and Sookmee is currently applying for county permits in hopes of opening soon.
The $1 million “super stop” at Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive – the exorbitant price tag for which became national news – was so expensive because of poor communication, an independent review found.
The review, conducted by CliftonLarsonAllen, found that a “lack of clear communication between County and WMATA staff” and “poor execution of construction performance” were the main reasons the prototype took so long, and cost so much to build.
That poor execution includes the bus stop not being built to what was designed, including glass panels being produced at the wrong size; curbs being built at the wrong height and having to be redone; and a four-year delay in getting approval from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
According to the report, the initial budget of $2.15 million was supposed to cover three “super stops.” There was no communication between the county and WMATA over any change in the budget when plans for the two that were never built were ultimately scrapped. On Dec. 22, 2011, the county informed WMATA that it wanted to cease site work for the two other stops, called Dinwiddie West and Dinwiddie East.
“While it would appear the removal of site work for the two stops would result in a lower base cost… no official communication was made by the county to WMATA,” requesting the budget be lowered, the report states. “We find that the county should have requested a proposal for the deductive change order (lowering the budget), and then should have proceeded with negotiations” to change the terms of the agreement with WMATA
According to the review, $881,933 — less than the oft-cited $1 million — was spent on the prototype that still stands today, but $456,882 was sunk into the two prototypes that were never built.
“We accept the findings of this report,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said in a press release. “They confirm concerns that we already had, and we have already addressed the issues systematically, so we can ensure that the remaining 23 transit stations will be built efficiently and cost-effectively. I asked for this review because, as I have said before, the Walter Reed prototype took too long and cost too much to build.”
The county announced in May that the remaining 23 transit stops would be redesigned with modular components, reducing the total project budget from $20.9 million to $12.4 million. Moreover, the county is now working independently of WMATA in designing and building the transit stations, which, when built, will accommodate both bus and streetcar passengers.
As opposed to the custom-built “super stop,” the transit stations have a modular design, with interchangeable parts that allow flexibility from station to station, and are significantly cheaper to build and maintain. Construction is expected to begin construction on the first eight transit stations by FY 2017.
“This project was an exception for Arlington,” Donnellan said. “We have a solid record of delivering large, complex projects in a timely, cost-effective manner… Unfortunately, work on the Walter Reed prototype began in 2007 at a time when WMATA was scaling back its capital improvement management program, and the project suffered as a result. Delivery was further complicated by the fact that several entities were involved. With the completion of this thorough review, we are confident that we are well positioned to effectively deliver the transit stations that the Pike needs, and continue to rebuild the Pike’s transportation infrastructure.”
Last night, after a two-hour discussion, the Arlington County Board voted 3-2 to approve a contract with HDR Engineering for $26 million for preliminary design and engineering work on the project. Fairfax County has committed to paying $3.2 million of the contract for their segment of the streetcar, from Bailey’s Crossroads to the Skyline neighborhood. The $26 million is 5.4 percent of the projected $481 million streetcar project.
The contract is the first step to Arlington’s goal of the system becoming operational in 2020. While the county has spent millions funding studies and surveys to prove the streetcar is the best transit system for the Pike’s future, this contract is the first going to actually laying the groundwork for the system itself.
“I believe that this decision is a major milestone to keeping us on track to start streetcar service in 2020,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said at the meeting. “We think long-term. We make long-term decisions, we don’t think just about the next month or next election. We created a Columbia Pike plan over many years. Think about the Clarendon Sector Plan or the Rosslyn Sector Plan. How would you feel if you went through those years and years of meetings and then have someone change that plan? I think we need to have some integrity and recognize the engagement that we’ve had.”
HDR is the firm that designed the streetcar in the District’s H Street NE corridor, but has also designed streetcar or lightrail systems in New Orleans, Phoenix and is designing a 122-mile rail system in Denver, Colo. As part of the contract, there’s a $5 million clause for “optional work,” which includes helping the county with deciding how to actually construct the streetcar. The preliminary engineering and design is expected to take 18 months.
According to the staff presentation, the contract stipulated HDR provide:
- Studies of area surveys, traffic, utilities, soils, structures, environmental conditions and mitigation
- Achieving 30 percent design status for roadway work, track alignment, power, signals, stations and facilities
- Vehicle specifications
- Plans for property acquisition
- Updated construction cost estimates
- Technical support for outreach and coordination
Thirteen speakers addressed the County Board on the issue — 11 in favor, and two opposed — a somewhat muted turnout considering the divide the streetcar has generated in the Arlington community.
“We have waited for a very long time for this project,” said Juliet Hiznay, an Arlington Heights resident. “It occurs to me that sometimes one of the worst things government can do is delay decisions. I think we’ve seen that play out on the school side with the lack of comprehensive planning, and we’re really paying for it now.”
David DeCamp, a real estate developer and former Arlington Chamber of Commerce chairman, spoke in favor of the streetcar, saying it will fund future investments in schools and will be “great for all of Arlington.”
“Frankly,” he said, “it’s something that’s been promised to the developers who have built three or four beautiful properties on the Pike so far.”
Penrose resident Stefanie Pryor opposes the streetcar, but in acknowledging that it was likely to pass, said she hoped for an auditor to be included in the contract and direct stipulations to ensure the materials and cars used for the project are appropriate and functional.
“You get some nasty surprises with commercial off-the-shelf [vehicles] unless you put it explicitly in the contract,” she said.
Board members John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey, elected largely on platforms opposing the streetcar, both railed against the contract and the streetcar in general, with Garvey positing that the streetcar system would move fewer people and deliver a worse return on investment than an enhanced bus system.
“I would maintain that we are plunging ahead on something we are not really ready for that I don’t think is really justified,” she said. “We are spending all this time and effort and money on seven and a half miles of tracks and wires that can take us to where we can go now, but slower.” (more…)
The 2413 Columbia Pike establishment opened in 2012 as Bar TNT and Eamonn’s, a fish and chips restaurant, owned by EatGoodFood Group. The Eamonn’s part of the business turned into a second location of Society Fair earlier this year. The company’s other location is in Old Town Alexandria.
A Society Fair employee told ARLnow.com yesterday that the owners planned to close both parts of the business, facing Penrose Square, by Sept. 30.
“We don’t get as much business as the manager would like,” the employee said. “The owner thought this would do as good as Society Fair in Old Town. It’s a little more expensive than I guess the community would like. I guess a lot of people also don’t know that we’re here.”
The owners were traveling and could not immediately be reached, a spokeswoman said.
The news of the closing came the same day Bar TNT was nominated for “The People’s Best New Bars” of the Southeast by Food & Wine magazine. The pub that serves rock ‘n’ roll-inspired drinks like the Cocktail Left on the Nightstand (flat Coke and smoked Jack Daniel’s whiskey) was the only bar nominated in Virginia.
Located on the ground floor of the Halstead apartment building, on Columbia Pike, the location is World Gym’s only in Arlington.
An employee there told ARLnow.com that the business is closing because of a dispute between the franchise owner and the building manager, but couldn’t provide any details.
The fitness center changed ownership in 2013 and became Exercise Nation, before it took back the World Gym name this year. The company sent its members a brief message saying it would close Sept. 30 due to “circumstances beyond our control.”
Several readers sent ARLnow.com the email, which is copied below in its entirety:
To Our Valued Members:
We are sorry to inform you that due to circumstances beyond our control, World Gym will be closing this location effective September 30, 2014. We appreciate all the support and business you have given us and apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the gym at 703-892-1861 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Firefighters are on the scene of an electrical fire at an apartment building on Columbia Pike.
The fire was reported around 9:45 a.m., at the Dorchester Apartments on the 1900 block of Columbia Pike. The fire is said to be under control.
Dominion crews and a building inspector are en route to the scene.
Update on 9/15/14 — Part of the apartment complex was deemed an “unsafe structure” after the fire, displacing 109 residents, according to an Arlington County news release:
This morning, Arlington County firefighters and building inspectors responded to a minor electrical fire that started in one of the four apartment buildings located at 1930 Columbia Pike. There were no injuries.
An “unsafe structure” order will be in effect as of 7:00 p.m. tonight until further notice. County emergency personnel will be escorting residents into the building to gather their personal belongings. Approximately 109 people are affected. The property management company for the apartment is placing affected residents in nearby hotels.
“Keeping our residents safe is always our number one priority,” said Shahriar Amiri, Arlington County’s Chief Building Official. “Currently, all four buildings are without power, and with these conditions, we’ve determined these buildings to be ‘unsafe’ for residents.”
The incident, described by police as an “attempted abduction,” took place at 10:35 p.m. on the 3800 block of 12th Street S. Two men allegedly ran up to and grabbed an 18-year-old woman as she was getting into her car.
The woman fought off the attackers, who took off on foot when they spotted a police car nearby, according to the Arlington County Police Department.
From the police report:
ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION, 140908058, 3800 block of S. 12th Street. At 10:35 pm on September 8, two subjects allegedly grabbed an 18 year-old female victim from behind as she was attempting to enter her vehicle. The victim tried to fight off her attackers and sustained minor injuries. The suspects fled the scene when they observed a police vehicle in the area that was responding to a separate incident. The victim flagged police down and a K9 search was unsuccessful. Suspect one is described as a Hispanic male, between 5’5″ and 6’0″ tall and had two stripes shaved into his hair near his temple. Suspect two is described as a Hispanic male, between 5’5″ and 6’0″ tall. He was wearing dark clothing at the time of the incident.