A ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the new sprayground at Virginia Highlands park yesterday evening.
Surrounded by a group of children patiently awaiting the water to be switched back on, Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada thanked those involved in the park’s creation, and touted the water-saving features of the water park. The sprayground saves 82,000 gallons of water per month by employing a water recirculation system, he said.
After his speech, Tejada joined County Board member Chris Zimmerman and neighborhood representatives in cutting a ribbon hastily tied to the sprayground equipment. The ribbon survived earlier attempts by the children to use it as a makeshift backrest — an effort that was repeatedly foiled by a diligent county staffer.
The sprayground, adjacent to a picnic area in the southeast corner of the park, features water jets, showers, dumping buckets and rotating water cannons. It’s scheduled to be open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. through Labor Day.
Tonight (Friday), starting at 6:00 p.m., an opening celebration will be held for the newly-renovated High View Park, located at 1945 N. Dinwiddie Street, within the boundaries of the John M. Langston Civic Association.
Renovations to the park include new play areas, an ADA accessible route from Cameron Street, new benches, and a picnic area.
The event will include moon bounces “for all ages,” face painting, balloon art and refreshments. The ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 7:00 p.m.
On Saturday, Arlington County will celebrate the restoration of Carlin Hall (5711 4th Street S.). Dating back to 1892, Carlin Hall is currently used as a preschool, a community meeting facility and a recreation center. It recently underwent an extensive structural restoration.
A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for Carlin Hall at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday. The ceremony is part of the annual Glencarlyn Day festivities, which include a pancake breakfast, a parade, a fun fair and a home and garden tour.
Photo via Arlington County
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.
The three parks — Drew Playground (3514 22nd Street S.), Hayes Park (1516 N. Lincoln Street) and Lyon Village Park (1800 N. Highland Street) — will open on Saturday will remain in service until Labor Day weekend. Hours of operation can be found online.
All three parks will be open from noon to 8:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, according to Arlington County Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. (On holidays, like Memorial Day and July 4, normal hours are preempted and the parks are open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.)
The new sprayground at Virginia Highlands park is expected to open “in a couple of weeks,” Kalish said.
One county employee was fired and three others were disciplined after financial irregularities were discovered at Arlington’s Senior Adult Travel Program, but no criminal charges were brought after a months-long investigation that one source says was “botched.”
The investigation started in fall 2011, after four improperly-opened bank accounts were discovered, but only came to light this month after one of disciplined employees appealed her punishment at a public Civil Service Commission hearing, which was attended by ARLnow.com.
The four accounts were opened, unbeknownst to county officials, at an Arlington PNC Bank branch in 2010. They were opened by an Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) employee who coordinated the Senior Adult Travel program, we’re told by a source with knowledge of the investigation.
The county-run senior travel program organizes dozens of trips per year for Arlington residents over the age of 55. The activities range from day trips to cultural performance, casinos and historic sites — on a new county-owned bus — to overnight trips to Europe and elsewhere. The program has two employees, an annual budget of $134,046 and recorded 2,738 trip reservations in Fiscal Year 2012, according to DPR Director Jane Rudolph.
The four accounts were used to deposit fees paid by travelers and to pay for senior travel program expenses, but were outside of the county’s direct control. By personally opening and controlling the account, the employee (who has not been officially identified) was able to conduct transactions — like paying for meals and other expenses on the trips — without the restrictions and hassle of the county’s internal financial controls.
“It was well-meaning employees who thought they were enhancing the experience of seniors,” Arlington County Director of Human Resources Marcy Foster told ARLnow.com. “They were delivering quick and efficient services, and they thought that was the way to do it.”
But operating the accounts, and cashing checks written out to Arlington County in accounts not controlled by the county, was a serious violation of county policy. After one of the accounts was discovered by an audit in late 2010, DPR management and budget analyst Celia Wong-Walsh was directed by then-DPR Director Dinesh Tiwari to close it.
For nearly a year, however, the account remained open. Wong-Walsh, the employee who appealed her punishment this month, told the Civil Service Commission that she could not force the bank to close the rogue account. She says the bank told her that the account could only be closed by the employee that opened it.
Wong-Walsh, who has since retired, had some of her unpaid leave stripped for failing to proactively work with the employee to close the account. She appealed the punishment, saying she did not have the legal authority to close the account and didn’t even know that more than one rogue account had been opened.
(The commission upheld the county’s disciplinary action but reduced the amount of leave that was taken away.)
The accounts were finally closed in September 2011, after the Arlington County Treasurer’s Office discovered them independently. The discovery was made when a $200 check written from one of the accounts bounced in August 2011, and the woman who it was written to contacted the treasurer.
A police investigation followed, but no criminal wrongdoing was found.
“We didn’t find any money missing,” said Foster. “There was no criminal activity.”
That point was disputed by a source with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke to ARLnow.com on the condition of anonymity. The source said up to $17,000 might have been missing from the accounts, but any solid evidence of that was lost because it took too long to investigate.
“The case was so screwed up that they couldn’t prosecute,” the source said.
Bluemont to Vote on Safeway Development — Members of the Bluemont Civic Association will vote tonight on a proposed mix-use development on the current Safeway site. The development includes a new Safeway store and a 160-unit apartment complex. Many residents have expressed concerns about the height of the development, but Bluemont resident Ryan Arnold writes that “the character of a neighborhood is not defined by the height of its buildings, but by the spirit of its people.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Arlington Runner Raises Money for Boston Victims — Frank Fumich, a local runner, ran a 19 hour 38 minute triple marathon along the Mt. Vernon Trail over the weekend in order to raise money for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Fumich raised more than $33,000 with the 78.6 mile run. [Washington Post]
Bill Thomas Awards Presented — The annual Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Awards were presented at last night’s County Board meeting. This year’s winners are Steve Young, a “well-known figure for invasive plant removal at Long Branch Park,” and the Friend of the Gulf Branch Nature Center, a group that has fought the center’s closure and raised money for its operation. [Arlington County]
Chamber to Debut Business Blog — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce “is set to start an Internet blog” written by and about local business. The Sun Gazette reports: “All comments in response to specific articles will be moderated for content, so the Chamber blog does not spiral into the chaos of some online-news sites where anonymous cranks spew venom to little discernible purpose.” [Sun Gazette]
Katherine Heigl Tweets in Support of Moran — Actress Katherine Heigl has used her star power on Twitter to help promote a bill proposed by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). The bill would ban the use of gas chambers to euthanize shelter animals. “Please, please, please support Congressman Moran’s resolution,” the acress tweeted. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
Minimal Snow Impacts on County Gov’t — This morning’s snowfall had little outward impact on county government operations. Trash and recycling collection is expected to proceed as normal, and scheduled parks and recreation events are also still on, according to the Arlington County government Twitter account. Street sweeping service, however, has been canceled.
Polly Captures Stacking Title Again — Arlington resident William Polly, 12, has captured the title of US Nationals Grand Champion in the sport of speed stacking for the second year in a row. Polly also set a world record for the “cycle” stacking event at the national competition. He will now compete in the sport’s world championship next month. [World Sport Stacking Association, YouTube]
Crystal House Sold — The 828-unit Crystal House apartment complex, at 2000 S. Eads Street in Crystal City, has been sold. Ballston-based AvalonBay sold the complex to New Jersey-based Mack-Cali Realty for between $197 and $262.5 million. [GlobeSt.com]
American Girl Dolls at Library — Arlington Public Library recently started lending out American Girl dolls, and last week the library added four new dolls to its collection. ”Just like the rest of the Library’s growing collection of American Girl Dolls, the new four can be placed on hold and taken home for a week of new adventures,” the library said on its website. [Arlington Public Library, Washington Post]
Park Naming Rights Rumors — There are rumors that the county has been considering selling the naming rights to Arlington parks, or even selling park land outright. Those rumors are untrue, the county says. [Arlington Mercury]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Fees could soon be going up on bocce players, race runners and adult sports competitors in Arlington.
- New $100 per team adult sports league surcharge, to go to county’s Field Fund
- New $10/hour bocce court rental fee
- Tennis rental fee increase from $5 to $10/hour
- Baseball and multi-use field rental fee increase of $5/hour. New rates range from $35 to $130/hour
- Trail event permit fee increase from $50 to $150 (impacts trail races)
- Police special event per-officer special event fee increase from $50 to $60/hour (impacts road races, etc.)
- Enjoy Arlington non-resident fee increase from $10 to $20/class
If included in the final FY 2014 budget, the county expects the parks fee increases to generate an additional $158,188 in revenue, and the police fee increase to generate an additional $110,000.
Arlington on a ‘Money-Hungry Crusade?’ — Arlington is on “a money-hungry crusade for increased revenue at the expense of neighborhoods and communities,” writes the Arlington Connection. The paper suggests that “residential neighborhoods are increasingly in the crosshairs of developers seeking larger and larger densities,” and the County Board is acquiescing to their demands in an effort to drum up more tax money. “This is a County Board that acts like Republicans even though they’re all Democrats,” one civic association president is quoted as saying. [Arlington Connection]
Governor Backs Bipartisan Transportation Deal — A bipartisan compromise on transportation funding in the Virginia General Assembly has won the support of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). The deal, which will ultimately raise $880 million per year for transportation projects, replaces the 17.5 cent gas tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on gas and a 6 percent wholesale tax on diesel. It also raises the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent and imposes a $100/year fee on hybrid vehicles. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]
Shakespeare Production to Include ‘Splash Zone’ — The Synetic Theater production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” opening today in Crystal City, will include 2,500 gallons of standing water on stage, an on-stage rainfall, and a “splash zone” (a section of audience seating likely to get wet during the show). [Washington Post]
Parks Dept. Says Camp Registration Went Smoothly — The Arlington County parks department received more than 1,900 summer camp registrations between 7:00 and 7:10 a.m. yesterday. Officials said the registration process, which has been beset by technical problems in the past, went smoothly this time around. [Patch]
ARLnow Commenters Called ‘Offputting’ — An Arlington “community notable” has “found the ranting of loony respondents on ARLnow to be offputting,” according to Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey. McCaffrey predicts that of Arlington’s three online-only news sites, “odds are not all will survive the year.” [Sun Gazette]
Construction on the Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility is expected to begin this fall.
The $80 million facility is to be built just north of Crystal City in Long Bridge Park. IT will feature 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.”
“It is expected that the design will be completed in late spring with construction bids being sought in the early summer,” Arlington County Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish told ARLnow.com on Friday. “It is anticipated that the County Board will award a construction contract in the early fall with construction starting in late fall. After two years of construction the opening of the Facility and park is expected in the fall of 2015.”
The operating costs of the facility are estimated to be $3.2 million per year, some $2 million to $2.8 million of which will be offset by revenue generated by usage fees, memberships and snack sales.
A second phase of construction on the facility is also planned. That phase will result in an addition to the facility, featuring amenities like a gym, an exercise facility, a climbing wall, an indoor track, racquetball courts, and meeting rooms.
The second phase of the Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility has yet to be included in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, and is likely more than a decade away.
“A time frame for design or construction is not projected prior to calendar year 2023,” said parks department Planning Supervisor Erik Beach. So far, there’s no cost estimate for the second phase of the facility.
Signs are popping up in some Arlington County parks telling patrons to play elsewhere. The signs simply read “Field Closed” — but there are no other measures to keep residents away from that portion of the park. So what gives?
Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said workers post the signs in some of the county’s sports fields and parks during the winter to allow the turf to rest. The signs are intended to discourage larger gatherings and sports games on the affected fields.
“It’s not like we don’t want people walking through the areas, but we want to discourage pick-up soccer games and things that could stress the grass,” said Kalish.
Kalish said because grass doesn’t grow at this time of year, any damage that would be done to turf during the winter wouldn’t be able to begin mending until spring. Preventing winter damage from occurring in the first place cuts down on the amount of mending necessary in the spring.
Jane Rudolph, 36, comes from New York City, where she spent 10 years in the city’s parks and recreation department. Most recently, she worked for the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund.
The former head of the county’s parks department, Dinesh Tiwari, left the department in June to work for the City of Alexandria.
Arlington County issued the following press release about Ms. Rudolph’s hiring.
Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan announced today that she has hired Jane Rudolph as the Director of the Dept. of Parks and Recreation (DPR); Ms. Rudolph will begin her service with the County on Jan. 7, 2013.
Ms. Rudolph has an extensive parks background and will provide leadership and guidance to DPR and all of its projects. She spent almost 10 years in the New York City Dept. of Parks and Recreation. While there, she served as Chief of Staff and oversaw all aspects of the largest urban parks system in the nation. She also liaised with a variety of organizations for major license and management agreements, along with representing her agency on non-profit boards.
“Jane brings a deep knowledge of running an urban parks system, and will be a great asset to Arlington County,” commented Ms. Donnellan. “She is creative and enthusiastic, and I am so pleased that she will be joining the Executive Leadership Team for Arlington County.”
She succeeds Shannon Flanagan-Watson, who was named Acting DPR Director when former director Dinesh Tiwari retired from the County in June 2012. “Shannon did a terrific job; she stepped into the director position and hit the ground running, managing day-to-day operations as well as advancing long-term goals,” said Ms. Donnellan. “I can’t thank Shannon enough for her seamless leadership at DPR.”
Ms. Rudolph also has extensive knowledge of public affairs, negotiations with various agencies and state and city politics from her time with the Environmental Defense Fund and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Federal Affairs.
She earned her Bachelor’s degree in History from Vassar College and a Master’s of Administration with a focus on Public Finance from New York University, Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.
Ms. Rudolph enjoys hiking, tennis and sports; she and her family reside in Arlington and are avid users of the Arlington County parks system.
A month after several leaders of the Bluemont Civic Association resigned after catching heat for their support of the bocce court, Arlington County staff is now being criticized by bocce opponents.
Last week, county staff sent a letter in response to concerns about the proposed bocce court raised by Bluemont residents. The letter, below, attempts to answer nine specific specific concerns.
Some bocce opponents, however, were incensed by the county staff letter, and saw it as proof that the county is predisposed to approve the bocce court despite their objections.
(The bocce court was proposed by Bluemont resident and then-Bluemont Civic Association president Judah Dal Cais. It is being considered for an Arlington Park Enhancement Grant. The Parks and Recreation Commission has received 12 PEG applications and will make funding recommendations on Dec. 18, according to Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. The County Board is expected to have the final say on the park grants early next year.)
An anonymous bocce court critic wrote the following critique after receiving the letter.
The Parks Department ignored the fact that the PEG application was applied for by Judah Dal Cais without the permission of the BCA and the BCA had submitted a letter stating that it did not support the application. The application was therefore a fraudulent misrepresentation. Diane Probus of the county delayed release of the PEG application under a FOIA request because she stated that Judah Dal Cais had requested that he be permitted to replace some submitted documents.
A letter of opposition by over 100 adjacent neighbors was also rejected by the county. The planned bocce court exceeds the allocated budget.
The attached letter from the county shows the clear bias of the Parks Department.
Below is the county staff letter in question. Kalish says the letter does not portend county approval of the bocce grant.
“There’s lots of misunderstanding going on in this issue so the more facts we can get to more people the better,” she said. “It is NOT a letter saying a decision has been made.”
Bocce/Petanque Court Petition in Opposition to the Bocce Court
November 20, 2012
Bluemont Junction Park Context
The Bluemont Junction Park has recreational facilities to serve the community and offers a balance of developed recreational features and undeveloped areas. The park has one rectangular field in it which is programmed for youth sports, a railroad caboose with interpretive exhibits, as well as a trail that connects from Bluemont Park to the Ballston area.
The petition submitted by the group of Bluemont residents who oppose the project listed nine objections to the project which are listed below. Staff has provided a response to each objection.
1. No Parking areas for people visiting the court, creating parking hazards and inconvenience in front of the neighbors’ home.
Response: The proposed bocce court would be a neighborhood facility and easily accessible for residents within a 5 – 10 minute walk. On street parking is available along public roads such as Bluemont Drive, and at the end of several of the cul-de-sacs bordering the park for those park users who drive. Since there would be only one court which would not be programmed for team use, the site is unlikely to attract bocce clubs who desire large spaces in urban settings to play.
2. Narrow area roads that cannot accommodate increased traffic from visitors.
Response: See response above.
3. Violation of privacy by players and observers lingering for prolonged periods directly in front of area homes.
Response: Bluemont Junction Park is a public park and is already utilized by the public for bike riding and for various recreational activities in the open space which can be noisy for short periods of time. Landscaping could be installed to create a buffer between nearby houses, if needed.
4. No public restrooms.
Response: A park recreational facility of this type and size does not qualify for a temporary or permanent restroom facility. A park must meet several criteria before the county will consider building a restroom facility in a park. A few of the criteria the county uses for determining the need for restroom facilities include:
- A park which will have a large number (150+) users at one time;
- The level of routine and scheduled use of the facility;
- The type of facility which, if not programmed, attracts a dense grouping of people
- A park with a dense grouping of facilities of a certain type.
5. Increase in trash and litter.
Response: Staff anticipates a minimal increase above what is found at the site currently from bicyclists and other activities in the park. Staff will adjust maintenance schedule should there be an increase in trash output at the site.
6. Use of scarce tax dollars for building and continual maintenance.
Response: The County Board allocates $100,000 per year towards the Park Enhancement Grant program to be used towards small park improvements such as is proposed in the application for the Bocce/Petanque court. The Commission and park staff evaluate the maintenance needed for each proposed project and factor that in when deciding on which project to recommend for funding. The applicant has committed to providing routine maintenance of the site.
7. Loss of green space, open space and multiple recreational uses at site of bocce court.
Response: A 13′ x 50′ (650 sq. ft.) court will remove less than .5% of open space in the 14.5 acre park. The court should be sited appropriately to minimize the loss of open space routinely used for informal recreation.
8. Neighbors along the trail severely impacted by noise and increased traffic from out-of-neighborhood visitors.
Response: See response to concerns #1 and #3 above.
9. Other bocce courts exist or are in development in easy access nearby, such as at Upton Park, Union Jack’s and Glebe-Randolph park.
Response: Union Jack’s in Ballston sets up a temporary indoor bocce court on Tuesday evenings for a bocce group to use. This bocce facility is private and has very limited availability. The Upton Park bocce courts are located in an isolated area of this park and have not been maintained adequately by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to keep them usable. Two new bocce courts will be built at the Glebe and Randolph Park and they may be available for use by the community in late 2013.
(Updated on 11/19/12) With partial bond funding for the planned Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility approved by Arlington voters, the county is continuing to move forward with the design — and ultimately the construction — of the center.
Located north of Crystal City, just off of I-395, the facility will feature 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.” There will also be an indoor cardiovascular and weight training fitness center, a community use space, child care, locker rooms and, in a planned second phase of construction, an “indoor track, large multi-activity center and various court spaces.”
Renderings, above and below, show the current designs for the facility, which will have its own surface parking lot, accessible via Long Bridge Drive.
The design of the Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility is expected to be completed in April 2013, according to Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation planner Erik Beach. The county will then put the project out for bid, with the goal of beginning construction in the early fall of 2013.
All told, the design and construction of the first phase of the center is expected to cost around $80 million, based on figures in the latest Capital Improvement Plan. There is no cost estimate for the second phase of the center, Beach said. Earlier, Beach erroneously quoted a figure of $115.6 million for the design and construction of both phases of the aquatics center, but said on Nov. 19 that his quote included the cost of building Long Bridge Park itself instead of the the second phase of the aquatics center.
Funding for the aquatics center is expected to come from public and private sources, including $42.5 million from this year’s park bond and $20 million from anticipated developer contributions.
The tree supposedly came down this past Sunday, according to parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish, but the resident who first emailed ARLnow.com to ask about the safety hazard said it actually came down Tuesday, during Superstorm Sandy. Regardless of when it fell, the tree remains have been blocking the sidewalk ever since, forcing pedestrians to either walk up a small hill or into the street to get around it. It also blocked a bus stop and a bike lane, forcing bicyclists out into a vehicle travel lane.
The tree was on private property — near the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Troy Street, just down the street from the Courthouse area — and Kalish said the county was not notified that it was blocking a sidewalk until ARLnow.com asked about it yesterday.
“According to a property manager at Colonial Village the tree fell Sunday night. They did not have an opportunity to remove it or contact us regarding it until we checked into it for [ARLnow.com],” she said. “The Parks team will clear the sidewalk today.”