The Arlington County Board voted Tuesday to reverse an increase in the non-resident surcharge for participants of county-subsidized competitive gymnastics and swim teams.
The Board’s FY 2015 budget called for its non-resident surcharge to increase 50 percent. That would have significantly raised annual fees for three clubs: Arlington Aerials, the Arlington Tigers and the Arlington Aquatics Club.
Vocal protests from the teams and impassioned speeches from the youth team members at Tuesday’s Board meeting led the Board to reverse course and even reject a compromise endorsed by county staff. The Board rejected their April decision by a 3-1 vote, and also rejected County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s revised recommendation to reduce the fee increase to 30 percent.
Libby Garvey cast the lone opposing vote, saying that she supported Donnellan’s compromise, while Walter Tejada abstained. Those voting in favor of eliminating the surcharge increase said they weren’t comfortable with the lack of county dialogue with the teams prior to approval of the increase.
The surcharge will now remain at the current rate of roughly 20 percent more for out-of-county participants.
While team members and parents applauded the Board’s decision, Board members questioned whether the county government should be supporting competitive teams in the first place. County staff told the Board that team fees aren’t sufficient to pay for county costs after all facility costs are factored in.
The gymnastics programs utilize the Barcroft Sports and Fitness Center, which is billed by the county as “home to Arlington’s largest gymnastics training center.”
According to Susan Kalish of Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the overall cost to operate the Arlington Aerials and Arlington Tigers is $473,201, with $221,600 in revenue from the 69 non-resident gymnasts and $256,250 from the 100 resident gymnasts. Total revenue, at $477,850, slightly exceeds team operating costs, but doesn’t account for the $633,000 in annual facility operating costs at Barcroft.
“The whole issue of us sponsoring elite teams for folks that don’t live in Arlington… does make me really uncomfortable,” Garvey said. “I have to serve Arlington.”
(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) The Arlington County Board is scheduled to decide on Saturday whether to reduce the surcharge for non-residents who participate in gymnastics and swimming leagues that use county facilities.
When the Board adopted the FY 2015 budget in April, it approved a 50 percent surcharge for participants not living in Arlington to participate in clubs like the Arlington Aerials, the Arlington Tigers and the Arlington Aquatics Club. According to the county, the surcharge resulted in annual fee increases for those clubs of between 12.9 and 30 percent.
The Board will deliberate over County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation to reduce that surcharge from 50 to 30 percent in FY 2015, with plans to increase the charge to 40 percent the following year and up to the adopted 50 percent in FY 2017.
“[The Department of Parks and Recreation] recognizes these increases may produce undue hardships on families with participants in these team programs,” the county staff report states. “The option of grandfathering current non-resident participants at former non-resident surcharge rates was considered and is not a viable option as it creates a preference that cannot be applied to all non-resident participants.”
Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said the county received a fair amount letters and complaints about the adopted price increase, which led the staff to reconsider.
“Parks and rec staff met with a group to come together with options to move forward,” Kalish told ARLnow.com.
The reduced surcharge would bring the average change in season fee down from $886 to $326 for the Arlington Aerials, $870 to $378 for the Arlington Tigers and $171 to a decrease of $19 for the Arlington Aquatics Club.
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
A group of residents in North Arlington have launched a petition, aimed at county Director of Parks and Recreation Jane Rudolph, to protest the conditions of the softball field at Greenbrier Park.
Diamond #1 — which is the home field for the Yorktown High School varsity and JV softball teams and is used by the Arlington Girls Softball Association (AGSA) – has several patches of dirt in the outfield grass and the petitioners say the warning track between the grass and the outfield wall has drainage problems to the point that, after it rains, water ”collects in deep pools several inches deep along the entire block wall in left field.”
“The $10 million renovation of Greenbrier Park which was completed in 2007 is a perfect example of what Arlington County can do when constructing new facilities. It was beautiful,” the petition, submitted by AGSA Vice President David Lansing, states. “It is also a perfect example of how Arlington County cannot seem to maintain these expensive, state of the art facilities to a level dictated by their initial expense. Focusing on the softball field, it has deteriorated in 7 short years from the pride of our softball community to an embarrassment.”
The petition says that, after the outfield grass deteriorated, the ACSA, Yorktown officials and the county hired an outside contractor to repair it. Since then, “[t]he grass turf is now in far worse condition than before this $20K project was started last fall.”
“It is overgrown with weeds and large clumps of un-mowed clover. It has large bare spots with no grass whatsoever and only dirt showing… Our non-profit organization has essentially thrown away thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it other than the worst high school level diamond field in all of Northern Virginia.”
Other issues the petition identifies are a lack of an adequate mix for the infield dirt, resulting in “sink holes,” and a lack of trash collection that allows trash cans to be “overflowing” with trash “before any attempt at removal occurs.”
The petition asks Rudolph to “direct the Field Maintenance crews under her authority to correct several major deficiencies that have gone unchecked at Greenbrier Park.”
Rudolph, who joined Arlington County as parks and rec director in January 2013, says the department is working on it.
“I’ve seen the petition and appreciate the community’s interest and concern,” Rudolph told ARLnow.com. “Staff is meeting with stakeholders next week at the site. We value this feedback and interest and will work with them to make sure that Greenbrier is a safe and enjoyable place to play ball.”
The spraygrounds will be open most days between this weekend and Labor Day. You can see the schedule, which may vary on holidays, for each individual park at the county Parks and Recreation website.
Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation has ground rules for using the spraygrounds, including asking users to “interact with the spray ONLY if free of diarrhea for the past two weeks,” and “diaper-age children or incontinent persons must wear a ‘swim diaper.’”
Photo via Parks and Recreation
As the weather has warmed up, Arlington’s box turtle population is coming out of hibernation and making its way onto roads and lawns. That has led county naturalists to ask for the community’s help in helping to protect the shelled reptiles.
While turtles have effective defensive mechanisms against predators, Arlington’s only native land turtle species is vulnerable to cars and lawn mowers, Long Branch Nature Center naturalist Cliff Fairweather wrote in an email to neighborhood newsletter editors.
“A box turtle’s shell can protect it from many dangers in nature, but danger from humans is another story,” Fairweather wrote. “Roads and traffic pose a particularly difficult challenge; even the box turtle’s portable fort is no match for a sedan. They are also vulnerable to lawn mowers; if you have box turtles in your neighborhood, check for them in your lawn before you mow. Sick and injured turtles can find help at the Long Branch Nature Center but we need your help to provide that care.”
Park Naturalist Rachel Tolman says there is no estimate on how many box turtles that live in Arlington, but said they are most common in meadows, parks and lawns, especially those that border forests.
“It’s difficult to get a good estimate for how many we have,” Tolman told ARLnow.com. “They are just hard to find. You can’t catch them on a game camera or bait for them. I’ve released a box turtle and have turned around five minutes later and couldn’t find it anymore.”
Tolman said the nature center rehabilitates about 40 injured turtles a year that residents bring in. To raise money for those efforts, the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation organizes an annual Turtle Trot 5K. This year, the race is on May 17 at 10:00 a.m. at Bluemont Park. The race is $30 for adults and $15 for children ages 12 and under.
Photo courtesy Rachel Tolman
(Updated at 6:05 p.m.) The $3 million renovation to Rocky Run Park in the Courthouse area are complete and the park is now open to the public.
The renovations, which were approved by the County Board in November 2012, include two lighted basketball courts, a lighted synthetic turf for drop-in play, a new playground area with equipment for 5-12 year-olds, a picnic shelter and bathrooms. The park, at 1109 N. Barton Street, had its mature trees preserved while the equipment and facilities were reorganized around them.
The renovations were funded through 2010 and 2012 Neighborhood Conservation funds, parks capital maintenance bonds and pay-as-you-go funds. The park came in under budget, according to parks officials. The plans to renovate the park have been in the works since 2009, according to Arlington County.
According to county Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Roberta Korzen, the park opened on Friday and there is an official ribbon-cutting planned for April 27 at 2:00 p.m.
Korzen said an earlier plan to build “stakeable art” in the park was scrapped.
“The ‘skateable’ art feature previously designed in Phase I design development and planned for installation with the Phase II construction activities was removed from the project,” she said via email. “During the final drawing development of the art feature, it was determined that the artistic expression and functionality of the sculpture could not be effectively realized. That area will instead feature a sculpted lawn and shade trees.”
Currently, the county collects fees from all leagues that use county fields — for youth, it’s $8 per resident and $20 for non-residents. It’s $100 per team per season for adults — but there is no dedicated funding stream for the improvement of baseball and softball fields. The fees have, to this point, been used to fund the replacement of soccer and other rectangle fields with artificial turf.
If approved, the Field Fund would be segregated, and fees collected from using diamond fields would be reserved just for those fields. In addition, staff is asking the Board to dedicate $85,000 in seed funding for the field improvements.
Funds will be assigned to projects following recommendations from Parks and Recreation staff and the county’s Sports Commission. The County Board is expected to vote on the plan this weekend.
(Updated at 7:50 p.m.) The effects of last week’s winter storm were felt by one group of commuters for days following the last snowflake.
The inconvenience of traveling in the cold and sometimes icy conditions proved not only difficult for those traveling by car, but also for local cyclists. At Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting, resident Gillian Burgess expressed her concerns about clearing bike trails after snow storms occur in the area.
“We only have one car, and we have lots of bikes,” Burgess said. “Unfortunately, it’s not safe to take most of these bikes onto the trails in the state that they’re in. So I leave the car with my kids because I want them to be the safest, and instead I’m left with the choice of biking on very busy streets that are not safe.”
“My husband and I first moved to Arlington years ago because we wanted to live the car-light lifestyle,” she continued. “Now we have two kids and one car, and we love it. And most of the time we love mostly biking and walking around Arlington. Unfortunately after it snows we don’t have that luxury. We have found that both after the storm in December and currently, trails do not get cleared.”
According to county Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel, the county does not have dedicated resources for clearing ice and snow from its shared-use trails.
“Staff have been collaborating this past year to find a viable solution to clear these trails,” McDaniel said in an email. “The Department of Parks and Recreation has made an effort to handle snow clearing on trails after addressing other priorities such as snow clearing for several County buildings, routes to schools and Metro rail stations, as well as assisting in the clearing of streets and walkways at other locations.”
Board Chairman Jay Fisette agreed that the county has encouraged walking and biking to get around — the “car-free diet” — and he said Burgess’ concerns were understandable.
“We have heard over time, increasingly the question about bike trails – and it’s a natural one because we’re promoting walking and cycling,” he said. “It makes complete sense that we [are getting] more questions from those who have drunk the Kool-Aid and participate in that culture and maybe even got rid of that car so that they can bike and walk and use transit more frequently.”
Tim Kelley, the marketing manager for Bike Arlington, wrote in Bike Arlington’s forums that the county’s 25 bike counters on its shared-use trails register “a big dip in usage during and in the days following a big snow storm.”
Fisette, who mentioned he is a cyclist himself, remains “unresolved” on the issue.
“I have probably the full range of questions about this as anyone would, you know, about resources, about prioritization, about effectiveness and the environmental impact,” Fisette said. “So I would just say that from my perspective, to have some sort of coherent input from [County Manager Barbara Donnellan] thinking about… what the options are for Board consideration might make sense.”
Ethan Rothstein contributed to this report. Photo (top) via Bike Arlington.
Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation is organizing its first “Deer Day” on Tuesday, Jan. 28 from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. Parks officials are attempting to take “a snapshot census of the deer population in Arlington.”
Arlington Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas said if residents can “go to the nearest park” or just spend a half hour looking through their backyard and count the number of deer they observe, it will help Parks and Recreation officials estimate the number of deer in the county.
The deer census is conducted in line with the county’s Natural Resource Management Plan, according to Abugattas. Deer is just one of the species Parks and Recreation will attempt to inventory.
“It’s important to know what we have,” Abugattas told ARLnow.com in an email. “It’s a snap shot in time and will cover as many of our parks as possible, targeting some particularly sensitive natural areas in particular. These one-day snap shots in time will hopefully ensure we don’t count the same animals twice since we will be at multiple parks at the same time. We may repeat this exercise several times if we see that there is good participation and results.”
Abugattas said January is the best time for the exercise since there is less leaf cover and it gets darker earlier, so volunteers don’t have to be out as late. Abugattas said he will use “multiple methods over a long period of time” to try to get the most accurate county possible.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Home Prices Fall — Arlington was the only jurisdiction in the D.C. metro area to see a drop in home prices last month. The median Arlington sales price in November was $498,500, down 2.1 percent from last year. [Washington Business Journal]
Big Difference Between ‘Near’ and ‘Next To’ Metro Stations – It’s no surprise that real estate closer to Metro stations is more valuable, but what may be surprising is for how high a price such properties can be sold. Looking at the five stations along the Orange Line’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor — which is deemed one of the hot areas for development — researchers found that properties one-twentieth of a mile from a station (264 feet) can fetch more than a 30 percent premium over those just a quarter mile away. [Washington Post]
Winter Class Registration Begins — Online registration for the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Enjoy Arlington winter classes began today at 7:00 a.m. Available class schedules can be viewed online. Call the Registration Office at 703-228-4747 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, with any questions. [Arlington County]
Photo by Matt Henneman
Arlington County is explaining changes to the cost estimate for the Long Bridge Park Aquatic and Fitness Center, following the news that costs are expected to be higher than anticipated.
The aquatics center, scheduled to open in the summer of 2016, had been projected to have an annual operating deficit of $1 million to $1.3 million. That number has been upped to $4.3 million. But Department of Parks and Recreation Director Jane Rudolph said in a statement that comparing those numbers is not comparing “apples to apples.”
Rudolph explained that the original numbers published in the 2012 Capital Improvement Plan were in “2012 numbers,” whereas the new estimate is adjusted for inflation with “2020 numbers.” The statement reads, in part, “The 2012 tax support number — of $1.1 to $1.4 million if presented at a 2020 level would range from $1.4 million to $1.9 million. The 2020 tax support number presented in the November 2013 revenue and expense forecast ($4.3 million) was at the maximum of the range (as it should have been). The apples to apples increase in estimates is $2.4 million.”
In her statement, Rudolph lists the following factors as reasons for the increase:
- “Once we had final design drawings for the facility, we were able to more fully develop the aquatics program and determine the appropriate level of lifeguards to meet safety sightlines for maximum utilization of the four pool areas while maintaining industry standards. As a result, the estimated cost of lifeguards increased.”
- “The current projections assume full staffing by maintenance during each hour of pool operation. We are not sure that this will be the final approach. This added considerable cost.”
- “The projected revenue in the November estimate is less than that included in the 2012 CIP. We have researched similar facilities, looked at the attendance data, and came to a conservative approach to our revenue projections for membership, daily passes, and rentals. We hope that this strategy enables us to be pleasantly surprised when we open our doors to the community.”
The county plans to continue reviewing the costs and service levels for the facility over the next two years. The tax support estimates cover costs both for the indoor aquatic and fitness center and for the eight acres of new outdoor parkland.
“Remember, these are projections for a given point in time and the numbers will still be refined,” said Rudolph. “I do want to reiterate that the numbers published in November are a forecast. We will continue to refine our programming and scrub our numbers to ensure that we operate the facility at its most cost-efficient level while still providing a high quality experience for our patrons.”
So far, none of the bond funds authorized for the facility by voters in 2012 have been spent. In early 2014, the County Board is expected to be presented with a more refined range of operating budgets and a request to award a contract.
The facility is expected to take four years to “realize its full expenses and revenues” after it opens in 2016.
A plan to build a new headquarters for Phoenix Bikes has picked up some neighborhood opposition.
Phoenix Bikes is a nonprofit focused on empowering youths by teaching them bicycle repair and entrepreneurship. The organization wants to move from its present cinder block building in Barcroft Park to a new location on county-owned land adjacent to the W&OD Trail, near the intersection of Walter Reed Drive and Four Mile Run Drive.
The new facility will feature education space, public restrooms, a drinking fountain, a water bottle refill station and an air pump.
A second public hearing on the proposal will be held tomorrow, Dec. 4, at the Park Operations conference room (2700 S. Taylor Street). Fliers sent to condo associations around the neighborhood suggest that some residents will be attending to voice opposition to the plan.
“Arlington County plans to remove trees… to build a replacement facility in what is now a wooded area for the nonprofit Phoenix Bikes, which will be used for training teens in bicycle repair,” the flier says. “The facility will provide only 3 parking places and thus its visitors will be parking on streets near your homes. The facility will be lighted until 9:00 p.m. and may provide public bathrooms attractive to drunks.”
Susan Kalish, spokeswoman for the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation, says it’s too early to determine how many trees would have to be cut down to make way for the facility. She said any trees that are removed will be replaced per county policy.
“It’s way too preliminary to know how many trees are impacted because the exact location of the building, its size or the size of an associated parking lot have not been determined,” she said. “That said, when the building plans are finalized the County will use its standard tree replacement formula.”
The flier makes reference to County Board member Libby Garvey, who sits on the board of Phoenix Bikes. It also accuses Arlington County of not giving enough notice to residents about the first public meeting.
Phoenix Bikes is currently raising money for the new headquarters, which is projected to cost $1 million. As announced today, proceeds from next year’s Crystal City Diamond Derby will be used to help fund the headquarters.
The text of the full opposition flyer, after the jump.
Phoenix Bikes — a nonprofit focused on empowering youths by teaching them bicycle repair and entrepreneurship — wants to build a new location for itself at an estimated cost of $1 million, according to county Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. The facility will include public restrooms.
The organization currently has its headquarters in Barcroft Park, not far from the proposed location, but being adjacent to the W&OD Trail is key because it “is accessible by bike and near the community it serves,” Kalish wrote in an email.
“Arlington County is interested in this opportunity because Phoenix Bikes has a successful history supporting Arlington youth and the new facility will include public restrooms, a drinking fountain, water bottle refill station and air pump, which will be available to the community,” Kalish said. “Phoenix Bikes’ mission is consistent with Arlington County’s as it encourages fitness, fosters a car-free lifestyle, supports diverse communities and is a model for sustainable practices.”
Phoenix Bikes and the parks department will host a question-and-answer session for the community this Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Park Operations conference room (2700 S. Taylor Street).
The proposed site is on county property, but Phoenix Bikes would fund its construction. Kalish said it has already received several pro bono contributions that should diffuse some of the costs.
After numerous construction delays, James Hunter Park will finally open tonight in Clarendon.
The $1.6 million park has both dog- and people-friendly features like a community canine area, pathways, a picnic area, demonstration garden, public art, lighting, and solar panels that power the irrigation system. Crews have been putting the finishing touches on the park this month, according to Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Roberta Korzen.
“Over the past few weeks remaining amenities have been installed and all final inspections were approved,” Korzen said in an email. “Accordingly, County staff conducted a walk-through inspection late this week and declared the park safe for use.”
“As typical with construction, there will be some outstanding items to be completed after the park opens,” she added. “Therefore you may see construction workers in the area from time to time and areas of the park may be temporarily closed to users.”
The new park replaces what was previously a fenced-in grass field used exclusively as a dog park. A ribbon cutting ceremony is being planned and will take place later this fall.
File photo from July 26, 2013
(Update at 1:20 p.m.) Construction on the new Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, originally slated to begin this fall, has been pushed back.
Work on the approximately $80 million facility, located just north of Crystal City near I-395, is now not expected to begin until early 2014, according to Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish.
“To ensure that we have quality general contractors bidding… we decided to undertake an extensive pre-qualification process,” Kalish explained. “That process is now complete and we have our selected pool of contractors. The bidding process will take place over the next several months. We anticipate that construction will begin in early 2014.”
The authorized bidders on the project are: Manhattan Construction Company, Hess Construction + Engineering Services, The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, Hensel Phelps Construction Co., Christman/Apex LLC, A Joint Venture Partnership, Balfour Beatty Construction and Gilbane Building Company.
The project’s budget has not changed, Kalish said, but the expected opening date has been pushed back to early 2016. We were earlier told that the opening date had not changed, which is incorrect.
The aquatics center will include a 50 meter by 25 yard fitness and competition pool, a family leisure pool, a hot water therapy pool, a “teaching pool,” and a “free-form water play area that will… have a lazy river, slides, play features and a zero-depth ‘beach’ entry.” The facility will also have amenities like a gym, an exercise center, a climbing wall, an indoor track, racquetball courts and meeting rooms.