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.
This year, registration for gymnastics classes opens at 7:00 a.m., while all other classes open for registration at 7:30. The change was meant to accomodate working adults, according to Parks and Recreation Business Analyst Deborah Hay.
“We’ve seen the number of logged on users at the start of registration grow by more than 40 percent in the past year alone,” Hay said.
Hay also said that gymnastics capacity has increased 33 percent over the past five years to keep up with the increase in demand. Gymnastics — which makes up more than half of all fall classes — has been separated from other class signup in order to try to alleviate both the strain on the online registration system and the wait time for phone registration.
In previous years, the online registration system has crashed due to the crush of parents trying to register their kids for classes at the same time.
This year, the Enjoy Arlington class program offers more than 650 classes, including robotics, DIY jewelry and dozens of fitness classes. Wednesday morning, those interested in signing up can do it at Parks and Recreation’s website, by calling 703-228-4747 after 8:00 a.m. Aug. 21, or by drop-off at 3700 S. Four Mile Run Drive.
Image via Department of Parks and Recreation
This time, Parks and Recreation Department spokeswoman Susan Kalish said the main features of the park have been installed, but issues with fencing and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance have pushed the park further off schedule. Kalish this time did not give an expected date, but said the park should open by the end of the summer, and “hopefully sooner.”
“We’re in the home stretch,” she said in an email.
James Hunter Park, as it’s called, is located at N. Herndon and 13th Streets. It’s planned to be a 0.71-acre park with both dog- and people-friendly features like a community canine area, pathways, site furnishings, public art, lighting, and landscaping, all of which have already been installed.
The park was delayed in the spring because of unforeseen issues with the park site, characterized as difficult soils, grading issues and “buried structures.”
This time, the specific ADA regulations regarding fencing and railing pushed the opening back. ADA requires dog parks and recreational spaces to have such facilities installed and then approved by compliance officers before the park can open to the public, Kalish said.
“We cannot open the park until the site is ADA compliant and all final inspections are approved,” Kalish wrote in an email.
The renovated park had an original opening date of summer 2012 before being pushed back to February 2013, then late spring of this year, and, in March, park planners said they expected to be open in July.
“We share the community’s frustration over the delayed opening and continue daily inspections of the contractor’s work to provide the best product as expeditiously as possible,” Jane Rudolph, Arlington’s Park and Recreation director, said in a press release. “The good news is that despite the timeline extension, the County has remained within the [$1.6 million] park construction budget.”
Towers Park, at 801 S. Scott Street near Columbia Pike, is in line for a $1.3 million facelift, complete with a new basketball court, new tennis courts and practice courts and a state-of-the-art lighting upgrade.
The County Board is expected to approve the construction contract for the project at its meeting this coming Saturday, when the item is on Board’s consent agenda, which is intended for non-controversial items. Once the contract is signed, county staff estimates the construction will take seven months.
The lighted facility, which features four tennis courts, two practice courts, a basketball court and a sizable dog park, has severe heaving and deep cracking throughout the court surfaces and it is served by obsolete lighting fixtures,” the staff report states when justifying the need for the improvements.
In addition to the court surface improvements, new “dark sky” lighting — intended to reduce light pollution — will be installed at the courts. Also planned are stormwater drainage improvements, new accessible paths, parking space stripings, an improved picnic shelter and other site furnishings.
The design originally called for the two practice tennis courts to be relocated and four trees to be removed, but, after the county’s parks staff met with the Penrose Civic Association and the Arlington Tennis Association, the practice courts were moved back to their current location in the plan.
The courts — both basketball and tennis — are popular spots for league play and drop-in games, so while construction is going on, athletes looking for a game will have to go elsewhere before the opening of the new facility, likely in the spring of 2014.
Site plan image via Arlington County
Firefly Festival on Sunday — All attention will be on the critters that light up the night at the 5th Annual Firefly Festival at Fort C.F. Smith Park (2411 24th Street N.) this Sunday, June 30. Activities include bug hunts, games, crafts, walks and talks about fireflies. There is a $7 charge per participant and children two and under are free. Attendees can bring a picnic to enjoy while waiting for the events at sundown. [Arlington County Dept. of Parks and Recreation]
Ducklings Rescued — Earlier this month, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington got some help from the Arlington County Fire Department with an animal rescue mission. Together they removed five ducklings that had become stuck in a storm drain. [Washington Post]
Tejada Re-elected to Position on National Association of Regional Councils — Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada has been re-elected as the Board of Directors Region III Director on the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC). NARC advocates for regional cooperation as a means of effectively addressing community planning opportunities and issues. It represents more than 230 regional councils and planning organizations across the country. Tejada has served in the position since 2011.
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.