A noted streetcar critic will address a meeting of the Northern Virginia Tea Party on Tuesday.
The event is scheduled from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Westover Branch Library (1644 N. McKinley Road). Randal O’Toole, a transportation expert at the libertarian CATO Institute, will “speak about current transportation policy issues, including the Columbia Pike streetcar.”
O’Toole wrote the book The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth Will Harm American Cities in 2001, and published a policy analysis entitled “The Great Streetcar Conspiracy” last year. The analysis says municipal streetcar systems are being encouraged by the federal government and by “engineering firms that stand to earn millions of dollars planning, designing, and building streetcar lines.”
“Streetcars are the latest urban planning fad, stimulated partly by the Obama administration’s preference for funding transportation projects that promote ‘livability’ (meaning living without automobiles) rather than mobility or cost-effective transportation,” O’Toole wrote.
“Based on 19th-century technology, the streetcar has no place in American cities today except when it functions as part of a completely self-supporting tourist line. Instead of subsidizing streetcars, cities should concentrate on basic — and modern — services such as fixing streets, coordinating traffic signals, and improving roadway safety.”
(Supporters argue that a modern streetcar system is a clean and efficient transportation solution that reduces traffic congestion and promotes economic development.)
Tuesday’s event is free and open to the public. “Extensive free parking in the evening is available at the rear of the adjacent elementary school,” according to the event invitation.
Photo via CATO Institute
A small section of fence is prompting a big stink at the River Place condominium complex (1011 Arlington Blvd) in Rosslyn.
The fence was put in place at some point this spring to block a paved pathway that served as a shortcut for those walking to and from the complex. The pathway leads to a parking lot used by TV station WJLA, which residents use to access a marked crosswalk that leads to the complex.
According to a Facebook page set up by a resident who opposes it, the fence was erected — or, more precisely, an opening in an existing fence was closed — by property owner Monday Properties due to safety concerns.
“An individual listening with headphones was allegedly ‘almost backed over’ by a WJLA news van,” a Facebook post said. “Monday Properties (MP) owns the lot and leases it to WJLA-TV. Obviously with liability in mind, MP closed the opening in the fence and chained the side entrance to the lot.”
Even though residents could just walk five yards out of their way to get around the fence altogether, Omar Baddar, who is helping to organize opposition to the fence, argues that that’s not a viable option.
“It’s not an acceptable alternative because there is no walkway there,” Baddar said in an email. “We’re forced to walk over mulch and then directly in between parked cars, which is an inconvenience, particularly to people with baby strollers or carts of any kind.”
“It is… obviously inconsiderate to block a pedestrian path and tell the hundreds of people who use it ‘why don’t you just walk over the mulch?’” Baddar continued. “Blocking a pedestrian entrance that has existed for decades without consultation with the residents who use it is simply not defensible.”
Baddar says he has collected more than 200 signatures — more than 10 percent of the River Place population — for an anti-fence petition.
Another option for pedestrian access to the apartment complex is walking down the N. Lynn Street sidewalk to the vehicle entrance for River Place. That adds travel time and another resident we talked to said it’s potentially dangerous at night due to poor lighting.
Tim Helmig, Executive Vice President at Monday Properties, says the fence was necessary to keep pedestrians from accessing the parking lot.
“What we have to focus on is keeping pedestrians safe,” he said. “What we noticed is that that parking lot is used by vehicles to pull in and out. It’s just not a safe place for pedestrians to walk.”
Helmig continued: “What we’ve encouraged pedestrians to do is utilize the sidewalk to access River Place. The sidewalk is there to provide a safe passageway, as opposed to cutting through that parking lot, which has a lot of traffic and has the potential to create a dangerous condition.”
No changes to the fence are planned, Helmig said.
Opponents, meanwhile, are not done fighting. Last week, a message on the River Place North building email listserv encouraged residents to call Monday Properties and sign the petition. It also called for those with legal backgrounds to help out with a pending legal challenge to the fence.
A controversial effort to get a bocce court built along the Bluemont Junction Trail has been shot down by Arlington’s parks department — for now.
Supporters wanted a 13′ by 50′ bocce court built along the trail, using $15,000 from a hoped-for Parks Enhancement Grant from the county and “sweat equity” from community members. The court would provide a fun and safe recreational opportunity to local residents young and old, supporters said.
Some who live in the neighborhood vehemently opposed the proposed bocce court, however, saying it would produce noise, trash, traffic and parking woes. Plus, opponents said, there were no public restrooms for bocce players along the trail.
At first, it seemed that Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) staff was supportive of the idea — disputing many bocce opponents’ objections in a letter to community members. But in March, DPR staff completed an evaluation of the bocce court proposal and concluded that the court should not be built along the trail in the neighborhood, but should be built in nearby Fields Park.
Furthermore, staff concluded that the court should be “standard sized” — 15.5′ by 76′. The cost to build such a court was estimated between $17,600 and $25,500, depending on the type of court surface used (staff preferred a more expensive but less maintenance-intensive synthetic surface). Either way, that brought the cost estimate above the $15,000 PEG grant limit.
“These costs do not include the cost of site work or the cost of additional amenities such as player’s benches or trash cans,” Arlington County Park and Recreation Commission Chairman Paul Holland wrote to bocce supporters. “Since the costs exceed the current PEG limits, a future PEG request will need to identify matching funds.”
But even if supporters wanted to reapply, another PEG grant might not be forthcoming in the near future. The grant program was not funded in the county’s upcoming 2014 fiscal year budget and consideration of new grant applications has been postponed indefinitely.
Bocce supporter and former Bluemont Civic Association President Judah dal Cais said he was disappointed that the parks department picked Fields Park for the location and 15.5′ by 76′ for the size, thus scuttling his application.
“Backyards, Not Barnyards,” as the group is called, is intended to be the answer to the Arlington Egg Project, which is strongly advocating for a change in zoning rules that would allow Arlington residents to raise egg-laying hens in their backyards.
Arlington County’s Urban Agriculture Task Force, established in 2012, is expected to make a set of recommendations to the County Board on Tuesday, June 11, including whether or not to allow backyard hen raising. Advocates for the change say that backyard hens are “a critical part of sustainable, small-scale home agriculture,” producing “eggs that are both superior in taste and nutrition” and “excellent fertilizer for your home garden and lawn.”
Jim Pebley, a former president of the Waycroft-Woodlawn Civic Association, helped to form Backyards, Not Barnyards with Darnell Carpenter, a former president of the Langston Brown Civic Association. Pebley says both he and Carpenter had unpleasant prior experiences with backyard chickens. They’re now hoping to attract “some grassroots opposition to this silliness.”
Backyard egg production, according the group, negatively impacts neighbors. Hens produce “excess animal waste runoff,” attract pests like insects and rats, and actually require more energy and resources than simply buying organic, sustainably-produced eggs at a local farmers market. Plus, they say, backyard hens are smelly and noisy.
The Arlington Egg Project has countered those points on its website, saying that hens are hygienic and won’t disturb neighbors.
Backyards, Not Barnyards also raises questions about regulation. If the zoning change only allows smaller-scale egg production, “Who would be in charge of counting [the chickens]?” the group asks.
Pebley has previously failed to get the Arlington County Civic Federation to adopt a resolution opposing backyard chickens, though he says he’s still trying to get the resolution through. With the new anti-chicken group, he’s hoping to gather online petition signatures to help sway the Arlington County Board before it considers any chicken-related zoning changes.
Backyards, Not Barnyards will be holding an organizational meeting tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 p.m. at the Langston Brown Community Center (2121 N. Culpeper Street). Snacks — including deviled eggs — will be served.
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.
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.
A new green home, once the subject of a neighborhood controversy, is now up for sale.
The home at 2617 N. Nottingham Street, in the Leeway neighborhood, was built on a so-called pipestem lot — a parcel carved from the back of a larger lot, connected to the street only by a narrow “pipestem” driveway.
Plans for the home’s construction initially caused a neighborhood “uproar,” as reported by the Washington Post in February 2012. Existing residents strongly objected to the house being built behind their own homes. Ultimately, a compromise was reached following discussions between neighbors and home builder Arlington Designer Homes, and the controversy died down.
Now, with construction complete, Arlington Designer Homes is hosting an open house at 2617 N. Nottingham Street. The open house, for both prospective buyers and interested residents, is taking place on Sunday, April 7, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. The home’s asking price is $1.1 million.
In a press release, the company touts the building as “one of the greenest houses in the county.” Its green features include a “living green roof and an advanced storm water management system.”
The new 3,100 square foot, 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath home, located at 2617 N. Nottingham St., is the first house built under Arlington County’s Use Permit process, established after the county changed its zoning ordinances for pipestem lots. The permit process included extensive collaboration among the builder, Arlington Designer Homes, county staff, neighbors and community members, and resulted in a green design that is truly one of a kind.
Responding to county and neighborhood priorities, Arlington Designer Homes committed to extensive storm water management techniques and practices. “Our new home showcases what in-fill construction of the future will look like,” said Andrew Moore, President of Arlington Designer Homes. “In fact, the lot will produce less storm water runoff post-construction than it did prior to development.”
“These storm water management techniques include multiple rain gardens, native plants and grasses, permeable pavers and a living green roof,” said Moore, a Certified Green Professional. “The Liveroof® system is a modular system where sedum plants that serve to absorb rain and protect the roof are grown in trays and then transported to the building site ready to go. The advantage to this system is that you can install a fully planted green roof in a day.”
The house also features an advanced insulation package including both cellulose and spray foam insulation, Energy Star Jeld-wen windows, a high-efficiency furnace with a heat pump, 1.28 gallon per flush toilets, pre-finished flooring and siding, and PVC trim for a low maintenance exterior. It will be certified under the Energy Star 3.0, Arlington County Green Home Choice, and Home Innovation NGBS Green Certified programs (expected).
Photos courtesy Arlington Designer Homes
Arlington County and WMATA are launching a “full independent review” of the process and the expenses that led to the $1 million Walter Reed “Super Stop” on Columbia Pike.
The county announced the review in a press release this afternoon, after announcing last week that it was “reassessing” the design and cost of the controversial new bus stop. The stop was designed by Arlington after a two-year community process, then built by WMATA at a cost of more than $1 million.
The county and WMATA have not yet determined who will conduct the independent review of the stop, according to Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius. The findings will be released to the public.
The county press release, after the jump.
The recommendation, one of numerous spending cuts in County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget, was met with controversy. Hundreds of parents and residents signed a petition against the elimination of Arlington Child Care Office, which would have turned inspections over to the state and resulted in more lax oversight.
The county issued the following press release about the Board’s decision tonight.
Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada today said that the County will continue its inspections of childcare centers and family childcare homes and will continue to train providers. County Manager Barbara Donnellan had recommended in her Proposed Fiscal Year 2014 Budget that the County eliminate childcare inspections and provider training.
“The Board is committed to maintaining Arlington’s inspections of childcare facilities and training for providers,” Tejada said. “Although most localities in Virginia rely on the State alone to conduct inspections of childcare facilities, Arlington has, for more than 40 years, provided an extra layer of inspections and training for providers – and the Board is committed to continuing both of those elements.”
Tejada made his statement at the start of a Board public work session on the Department of Human Services’ proposed FY 2014 Budget. In her Proposed FY 2014 Budget, had recommended that the County rely on the state to inspect childcare centers and family childcare homes, and cut provider training, as part of her effort to cut costs across departments. The proposed cuts to inspection services had raised concerns within the community about the safety of Arlington’s childcare facilities.
The measure would have saved about $250,000 per year. The County Board will approve a final Fiscal Year 2014 budget on April 20.
Update on 4/2/13 — The CNN video is now online.
A CNN crew was on Columbia Pike today, shooting a news report on the controversial “Super Stop” bus stop at Walter Reed Drive.
The enhanced bus stop, one of 24 planned along the Pike, has attracted scrutiny since ARLnow.com first reported that its construction cost exceeded $1 million. On Friday, Arlington County said it was putting construction of additional Super Stops on hold pending a review of the project’s design and cost.
The bus stop features amenities like lighting, heating and an electronic display that shows when the next buses are coming, though some have complained that it does not offer adequate shelter from the elements.
The CNN report on the Super Stop is expected to air in the network’s 5:00 p.m. hour today (Monday), we’re told. It will be reported by CNN National Correspondent Rene Marsh.
The announcement comes following a public outcry about the cost of the first Super Stop, at the corner of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive. As first reported by ARLnow.com, the prototype bus stop — which offers amenities like lighting, heating and an electronic display that shows when the next buses are coming — cost more than $1 million to build.
While county officials blamed the high cost and construction delays on various factors — it was the first of its kind, its construction was managed by WMATA, etc. — the amount budgeted for the remaining 23 stops in the planned Columbia Pike Super Stop network suggests a still-high per-stop cost of around $900,000.
Other criticism of the stops, which will eventually serve the Columbia Pike streetcar system, includes the lack of shelter from wind and rain.
In a press release, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan calls the Super Stops a “key long-term transit investment.” But the county says it has cancelled bidding for the next planned Super Stop, in front of Penrose Square, pending a review of the design, timing and cost of the stops.
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan said today that the County is reassessing the design and timing of the roll out of its planned Columbia Pike Super Stops in the wake of public concern about the recently opened Walter Reed Super Stop.
“Super Stops are a key long-term transit investment for our County,” Donnellan said. “They are integral to our efforts to transform Columbia Pike to a more transit-oriented Main Street. We have to get them right. Although our Walter Reed Super Stop is a prototype, and has only been operating for about a week, I’ve heard the community’s concerns about its design and cost. I have asked staff to pause the program while we look for ways to improve the design and reduce costs of future Super Stops.”
“This project took longer and cost more than it should have,” Donnellan said. “We have an obligation to the taxpayers of Arlington, the Commonwealth and the nation to ensure that our infrastructure projects are delivered in a timely, cost-effective manner. We will do better.”
Arlington built the Walter Reed prototype Super Stop under a project agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that put Metro in charge of the stop’s construction. More than six months ago, the County deleted two other planned stops from its agreement with WMATA and will build all future Super Stops on its own. This week, the County rescinded an invitation to bid on the planned Penrose Square Super Stop pending the Super Stop design and cost reassessment.
“I ask riders to keep in touch with us about their experiences with the Walter Reed Super Stop,” Donnellan said. “Our goal is to build stops that are safe, comfortable and encourage more people to use transit.” Comments and suggestions should be emailed to email@example.com, with “Super Stop” in the subject line.
Long-term transit investment
Arlington plans to build 24 Super Stops along Columbia Pike, one of the most heavily travelled corridors in Northern Virginia. Each stop is meant to last for 30 years or more. Much more than a traditional bus stop, the Super Stops will shelter up to 15 riders and will serve both buses and the planned streetcar. Arlington’s Super Stops were designed with extensive input from riders and other community members during a multi-year public design process.
(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) Four members of the Arlington County Board, along with county staff, made their best cases for streetcars in Crystal City and along Columbia Pike Wednesday night, to a largely skeptical audience that peppered them with questions about why the streetcar would be superior to buses.
The streetcar townhall meeting at Kenmore Middle School attracted a near-capacity crowd of up to 500 people, according to one county staff estimate. Based on the relative volume of applause at various points, the crowd seemed to be almost 2:1 against the streetcar.
The Board, like the audience, was divided. On one side was Chris Zimmerman, Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes, and Walter Tejada, who said the streetcar “encourages people to get out of their cars, and encourages developers to invest,” while also increasing ridership capacity.
“Streetcars are at the center of the vision for the Route 1 and Columbia Pike corridors,” Tejada said. “Buses alone cannot provide the transit capacity and capability that we need to transform these areas. By themselves, buses cannot serve the projected ridership.”
Sitting at the end of the County Board table on stage was Libby Garvey, who garnered applause as she led the charge against the streetcar and in favor of an enhanced bus system. Garvey said she was concerned about the streetcar’s price tag ($250 million for the Columbia Pike line alone) and about disruptions to small business during construction.
“I believe Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will get as much development as a streetcar, maybe even more,” Garvey said. “You can get the same benefit for a lot less money, which means that there’s a lot of money left over to actually help small businesses. My biggest concern is [the construction process]… no matter what we do, people will not be able to get to those small businesses, and they can’t survive.”
Those points were countered by county staff, who that said studies have shown that fixed rail attracts more investment, that BRT without dedicated lanes (like it would be on the Pike) does not attract development, and that the rail construction process will take place in small sections that will only take about a month to complete. Staff also said that a survey of Pike residents indicates that nearly 20 percent of respondents would ride a streetcar but not a bus.
Garvey was skeptical, calling into question some of the studies done that supported the streetcar option over BRT.
“The statistics that are cited, it’s really fact of fiction,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest round of applause of the evening came during the nearly 90 minute question and answer session, when a resident asked about having a referendum on the streetcar.
“If this is such a good idea, why don’t you allow the county to vote on it?” one man asked. Wild applause, and a chant of “Vote! Vote! Vote!” ensued.
Last night’s Streetcar Town Hall meeting pitted neighbor against neighbor on the topic of the planned Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems.
The meeting, which was held at Kenmore Middle School, drew a near-capacity crowd estimated between 300 and 500 people. And while many opposing viewpoints were presented during the question and answer session of the event, there was one thing on which most people at the meeting seemed to agree.
Chris Zimmerman’s pay from AECOM seems pretty tiny compared to the scandal it generated.
Zimmerman was the subject of controversy in December when fellow Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey raised red flags about consulting work Zimmerman did for the Canadian division of AECOM, the construction, design and transportation conglomerate. The work, which Zimmerman disclosed, came at a time when the Board was considering adopting Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act, primarily for use on the streetcar project.
AECOM has had various contracts with Arlington County over the past few years, including some planning-related work for the streetcar project.
Disclosure of Zimmerman’s work for AECOM fueled charges of “corruption” and became a talking point for streetcar critics — which led to the following question, asked by a resident Wednesday night.
“I’m sorry that I have to ask, but how is it not an ethics violation for a member of this board to be employed by a company that has financially benefitted from this project?”
“I believe that was aimed at me,” Zimmerman quipped. He then explained that he discloses all of his outside employment, even though he really doesn’t do much of it.
“Although this is nominally a part-time job, I have not done much in the way of outside work of any kind,” Zimmerman said. “I mostly work for you.”
“I do a little bit of consulting, and I’ve tried to do that in a way that avoids things that I do here,” he continued. “So I have done work outside this metropolitan area. Most of what I do is not subject to disclosure or reporting under Virginia law. Nonetheless, I choose to disclose everything, because my commitment to ethics in this job is something that’s of great importance to me. I think that’s something you want your elected officials to do.”
Zimmerman went on to say that most of his outside work is for nonprofits and government agencies not associated with Arlington. At that point he addressed the AECOM job, and made a somewhat surprising revelation.
“I did one job last year over the course of two days, on an hourly basis, for one company,” he said of the AECOM gig. “My total billing for that was $510.”
The crowd laughed, then applauded that disclosure. The topic of AECOM did not come up again during the nearly hour and a half question and answer session.
Editor’s Note: A more thorough recap of the Streetcar Town Hall will be published later today.
Barring an act of Congress, a planned expansion of Arlington National Cemetery will move forward, despite the objections of some residents who say the plan will cut down too many trees and destroy a natural habitat.
Cemetery leaders and the Army Corps of Engineers, which designed the expansion plan, held an open house and site visit last Saturday to brief residents about the recently-updated plan, show them the site, and listen to their comments. The comments were mostly critical.
“There will be 800 trees taken down. That’s a really big loss for the community,” said one resident who declined to provide her name. “I think there would be lots of veterans who would like to be in a place where the birds are singing and creating nests.”
The Millennium Project, as the plan is called, will expand the cemetery’s burial space to a sloped parcel of undeveloped land adjacent to Fort Myer. The expansion is necessary, officials say, because the cemetery could run out of burial space within 12 years.
More than 700 native trees and nearly 70 dead and invasive trees will be removed, though the Cemetery plans to replant 600 trees as part of the project. Between in-ground burial spots and niche spaces in columbariums, the land is expected to provide a final resting place for up to 30,000 military veterans and their spouses.
Critics of the plan say that the loss of older, mature woodlands will have an outsized impact on the natural habitat, given that much of the rest of Arlington County is urbanized. Such older woodlands would take generations to replace, essentially making them “irreplaceable,” said critics, including members of several citizen groups like the Arlington Urban Forestry Commission.
Cemetery officials, however, say that the land was clearcut during the Civil War and that most of the trees are 50-100 years old, with the oldest at about 145 years old — not meeting the true definition of an “old growth” forest. Further, they say that clearing out the invasive species that have taken root in the current woodlands will provide a better environment in the long run, as the replanted trees grow and mature.
The plan presented last weekend was actually a more environmentally-sensitive revision of a cemetery expansion plan from 2006 that would have clearcut the land and filled in a stream that runs down the middle of it. Instead, the stream will be preserved, the trees adjacent to the stream will be saved, and a small grove of trees in the middle of the land will also be saved, for aesthetic purposes.
Critics of the plan said there are better options than cutting down a mature woodland. Options suggested included clearing invasive species and using the woodland as a place for loved ones to scatter ashes after cremation; converting one of the Pentagon’s parking lots into burial space; limiting expansion of the cemetery to the Navy Annex site; and accelerating the creation a new national military cemetery.
“Long term, you’re going to have to move off anyway and do this sort of thing elsewhere,” said Arlington resident and conservationist Mark Haynes. “Arlington has so little in terms of woods left… why take this now? Leave this here as part of the hallowed ground. You’ve got plans for the long term anyway, why not start them now?”
Now that a prototype has been built, and now that Arlington will be replacing WMATA as the project manager, the Columbia Pike Super Stop project should proceed in a much quicker, smoother and more cost-efficient manner, county officials said Tuesday.
The project will ultimately construct a network of 24 enhanced “Super Stop” bus stops along Columbia Pike, featuring real-time bus arrival screens, lighting, heating and a modern design. Arlington County officials briefed the County Board on the status of the project at its meeting yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon, following a minor public outcry about the over $1 million construction cost of the first stop.
(The county funded just over $200,000 of the construction budget, with the rest coming from state and federal sources.)
“This is perhaps the first of its type in the Commonwealth,” Arlington County Director of Transportation Dennis Leach said of the newly-completed Super Stop, at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive. “In any new endeavor, you end up paying more in soft costs for the prototype. When you actually get the efficiency is… when you refine it and go out replicate the facilities.”
“This was a project that was a partnership between Arlington and WMATA,” he said. “Moving forward we are going to make a shift where these are going to be Arlington-managed construction projects. We hope to dramatically reduce the construction time, and we have already fine tuned the design… to make it easier to construct in the future.”
County Board member Chris Zimmerman said WMATA’s ability to run construction projects has been reduced over the past few years.
“Its capacity having been greatly diminished undoubtedly affected their ability to deal with a small project like this one,” he said.
Zimmerman said he believes the project is on track. Crews are expected to begin work this spring on a “Barton West” Super Stop near Penrose Square, followed by work on new stops at Columbus and Dinwiddie Streets later this summer.
“I’m a lot more confident going forward that we’ll be able to deliver these things on a reasonable basis in terms of time, budget and schedule,” he said.
Libby Garvey, a critic of the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar system (which will utilize the new stops, when built), asked a few tough questions about the project. She said she was still awaiting a breakdown of the costs of the project, and was skeptical that the open-air design would serve riders in bad weather.
“I did see the stop and it’s pretty, but I was struck by the fact that if it’s pouring rain i’m going to get wet, and if it’s cold the wind is going to be blowing on me,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be much of a shelter.”
Zimmerman suggested there might be room for refining the design to provide more shelter in the rain, but said he was otherwise pleased with the distinctive design — which, he reminded the room, was chosen during a public process, with extensive input from residents.
“I personally think they’re extremely attractive,” he said. “Part of making people confident and comfortable using transit is creating places that they feel like they want to be, even in the dark.”
The NVRPA had floated a plan to add a tree house overlook, a youth camp ground and a small urban farm to the 67-acre park, among other additions and renovations. In response, residents who live by the park formed a group called the Potomac Overlook Preservation Association, and bombarded county and NVRPA officials with emails protesting the plan.
The plan, opponents said, would shift the park toward a more high-impact recreational use rather than the current use for nature preservation and for low-impact recreation.
At a meeting held by the preservation association last night (Tuesday) — attended by a standing-room-only crowd of more than 250, organizers said — NVRPA officials said they would throw out previous plans and restart the public process of considering improvements to the park.
In an email to ARLnow.com, NVRPA Executive Director Paul Gilbert said the authority realized it had fumbled the public presentation of the plan.
The issue is one of process and semantics more than anything else. While it was our intention (and our actions) to seek public input before we moved forward with any of these ideas, many in the community read our meeting minutes and reached the conclusion that we had made final decisions. In truth we had not done any site specific planning or determined the ultimate feasibility of these idea.
Because of this miscommunication, some looked at the Power Point that had been presented and reached worse case scenarios about many of the ideas. We were never able to have the conversation with the community that we wanted and because opinions were formed we realized that we needed to reset the process and start over. The characterizations that these plans somehow changed the nature of the park were never well founded. We simply got off on the wrong foot.
We will probably discuss some of these ideas in the years ahead, because many of them were very good. But we will be more careful in issues of process and semantics in the future.
“Park users and local residents voiced strong support for certain aspects of the plan, such as greater efforts to control invasive species and rebuilding the park’s aging birds-of-prey shelter and deteriorating trails, but quickly organized to block the development projects,” said the organization. “Users of the park immediately welcomed the park authority’s reversal, praised their quick response to the growing community pressure, and pledged to work cooperatively with the authority in future planning efforts.”
The president of the preservation association, Steve Blakely, said NVRPA “did the right thing.”
“The NVRPA did the right thing by listening to the community,” he said. “They deserve full credit for that, and doing it quickly.”