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Residents Get Chance to Weigh in on Crystal City Streetcar

by Ethan Rothstein | October 3, 2013 at 10:00 am | 1,264 views | No Comments

Those who live in and around Crystal City questioned the noise and safety impacts of the planned Crystal City streetcar at a public forum last night (Wednesday), but many in attendance seemed generally pleased with the county’s presentation.

County officials gave a presentation explaining the current vision for the streetcar now that the planning process is underway. The six-stop transit system will connect with the Columbia Pike streetcar in Pentagon City to the north, and will go as far south as Four Mile Run, running primarily along Crystal Drive.

One change to the design since the last community forum on the streetcar earlier this year is moving the southbound streetcar alignment directly adjacent to Jefferson Davis Highway, and off Clark and Bell Streets, as had been previously planned. The northbound and southbound tracks will both be on Crystal Drive from S. Glebe Road to 18th Street before diverging.

About two dozen residents were in attendance, most of whom asked questions of Senior Transportation Planner Matthew Huston, who gave the presentation. Huston said the impacts to environmental and cultural resources in the surrounding area were close to nonexistent, and said the noise generated is consistent with a busy urban, commercial area like Crystal City. Some attendees seemed unconvinced, however.

Route 1 transit / Crystal City streetcar map“My understanding of the Crystal City Sector Plan is a better balance between residence and commercial,” said one woman in the audience. “You’re putting a streetcar in an area that’s largely residential. I think you need to consider treating the residents not as office buildings.”

Many of Huston’s answers were simple acknowledgments that residents’ concerns would be addressed in the ongoing environmental study, which will continue until next spring.

“We consider residential buildings sensitive users,” Huston said. “We specifically look at the impact to sensitive users in the environmental study.”

Other residents questioned the alignment — one wondered why it the streetcar tracks don’t run further along Jefferson Davis Highway, which he said would make it more accessible to the residents of Aurora Highlands to the west and would reduce what he sees as a potential safety hazard at the intersection of Crystal Drive in 12th Street.

Still, opposition to the streetcar was relatively subdued, especially compared to some of the heated public dialogue over the Columbia Pike streetcars system.

“I’m pleased that they’re looking at all the right issues and asking the right questions,” said Crystal City resident Gerry Fuller after the forum. “There’s a lot of things they can’t do much about, like the width of the street… I’m in favor of any proposal to get people out of their cars. I think it’s the direction they have to go.”

Huston said “the assumption” is the Crystal City streetcar will connect with the Columbia Pike streetcar once both systems are complete, and that travelers will be able to ride from the Skyline section of Fairfax County to Four Mile Run with no transfer. Huston said the streetcar would be funded with a mix of state and local funds.

County Seeks Public Input on Rosslyn’s Future

by Ethan Rothstein | September 30, 2013 at 1:00 pm | 1,357 views | No Comments

Rosslyn skyline at duskArlington County wants its residents to weigh in on the future of Rosslyn’s skyline, public spaces and transportation at a forum this Saturday.

The Arlington County Board is considering ways to update the Rosslyn Sector Plan, which determines the county’s policy in future development to the neighborhood. The Realize Rosslyn Community Workshop will run Saturday, Oct. 5, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at the Artisphere Ballroom (1101 Wilson Blvd).

The formal presentation will begin at 9:00 a.m. with breakfast and lunch served. Those interested in attending can register online. There will also be an open house from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Rosslyn Business Improvement District office at 1911 N. Fort Myer Drive, LL-10.

From the county’s press release:

Arlington County is asking the public to weigh in on planning concepts that will transform Rosslyn’s future built environment, public spaces and transportation connections at a workshop on October 5.

“We want Arlingtonians to get involved in reinventing Rosslyn,” said Arlington County Board  Chairman J. Walter Tejada. “This is an exciting opportunity to help us create a Rosslyn that is more vibrant and walkable, that has great public spaces and a better mix of homes and offices.”

Participants will be able to engage with project team members and neighbors on the emerging alternatives for the Rosslyn Sector Plan, and to review preliminary proposals and draft alternatives. The County is looking for guidance on:

  • Key decisions to translate proposed design ideas into an action plan
  • Bold and compelling options for the future of Rosslyn, such as:
    • Potential shape of the skyline and preservation of key view corridors
    • Possibilities for a new 18th Street corridor through Rosslyn’s core
    • Transformation of Fort Myer Drive and Lynn Street
    • New destinations for outdoor events, including a re-imagined Gateway Park and an Esplanade that will connect Rosslyn to the Potomac River

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | September 26, 2013 at 9:15 am | 1,156 views | No Comments

Walkway at Reagan National Airport (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

Safeway Seeks New Developer in Bluemont — Safeway is looking for a new developer to work with for the redevelopment of its Bluemont store at 5101 Wilson Blvd. Developer Mark Silverwood pulled out of a partnership to build a new Safeway store topped by 160 apartments after Bluemont residents rejected it, saying the proposed building was too tall and would generate too much traffic. [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington’s Recycling Rate Reaches New High — The recycling rate in Arlington hit a new all-time high in 2012. The county’s recycling rate was 51.1 percent in 2012, according to the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality. [Sun Gazette]

Wakefield Seniors Names Scholarship Semifinalists — Three Wakefield High School seniors have been named National Achievement Scholarship semifinalists. The scholarship program recognizes academic excellence among African American students. [Arlington Public Schools]

Affordable Housing Forum Tonight — Arlington County is holding a public forum on the topic of affordable housing tonight. Arlington residents are encouraged to attend and weigh in on the county’s affordable housing goals. The event is being held at the Navy League Building auditorium (2300 Wilson Blvd) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

Tea Party to Host Anti-Streetcar Scholar in Westover

by ARLnow.com | June 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm | 2,761 views | No Comments

Randal O'Toole (photo via CATO Institute)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

Panel: Immigration Reform Will Benefit Country, Economy

by ARLnow.com | May 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm | No Comments

Panel discussion on immigration at Kenmore Middle SchoolRep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and a group of like-minded panelists made the case for immigration reform Tuesday night at a community forum in Arlington.

Entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Out Broken Immigration System,” the Moran-organized forum attracted several dozen attendees to Kenmore Middle School’s auditorium. The congressman and the panelists told the audience that immigration reform would energize the economy, bring in additional tax revenue, and enable immigrants to live a more productive and fulfilling life.

In his opening remarks, Moran said bipartisan immigration legislation that’s currently being crafted in the Senate has a better shot at becoming law than any other recent attempt at immigration reform.

Rep. Jim Moran, speaking at a panel discussion on immigration at Kenmore Middle School“The possibility for reform today may be better than it’s ever been,” he said. “Now is the best time in recent memory for enacting comprehensive immigration reform. But the enactment of reforms is by no means guaranteed… in a Congress that can’t seem to agree on anything of consequence.”

Moran said immigration reform is particularly important in Northern Virginia, where 27 percent of the population is foreign-born. (Of that foreign-born population, 38 percent of come from Latin America, 36 percent from Asia, 16 percent from Africa and 10 from Europe, according to statistics cited by Moran.)

Panelists made moral and economic arguments for immigration reform.

Patrick Oakford, who researches immigration issues for the liberal Center for American Progress, said that legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could boost the economy by $832 billion over 10 years while raising the wages paid to immigrants.

Walter Tejada, speaking at a panel discussion on immigration at Kenmore Middle SchoolArlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada said immigration reform would help cash-strapped local governments. It would also help police departments, he said, by facilitating better cooperation with an immigrant community that’s currently fearful of law enforcement.

“The future of our nation is brighter by providing a path for citizenship,” Tejada said. “We really need to get behind and support our leaders in Congress.”

Other panelists tried to shoot down some of the arguments against immigration reform.

Kristian Ramos of the New Policy Institute, pro-immigration think tank, said immigration reform won’t open the floodgates to Mexican immigrants. He said that Mexico’s growing economy has helped to significantly reduce the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States by providing more jobs and opportunities in Mexico. He also pointed out that that crime is down near the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Moran to Host Immigration Forum

by ARLnow.com | May 1, 2013 at 9:55 am | 632 views | No Comments

Rep. Jim Moran's panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee high schoolTwo months after holding a raucous forum on gun violence, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is planning a public forum on another hot-button topic.

On Tuesday, May 14, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road), Moran will host a forum entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Our Broken Immigration System.”

Just as the gun violence forum featured panelists that largely shared Moran’s gun control views, the immigration forum will feature panelists who favor liberal immigration policies: County Board Chair Walter Tejada, plus representatives from the Center for American Progress, the National Immigration Law Center and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“The panel discussion will outline systemic problems in our current immigration system and layout the comprehensive reform plans that are currently under consideration in Congress,” said a press release for the event.

“There are an estimated 10 – 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America, the majority having settled here more than a decade ago,” the press release said. “Reforming the broken immigration system to resolve the status for these individuals has the potential to boost the entire U.S. economy, adding over $800 billion to the national GDP over the next decade and creating over 100,000 more jobs per year.”

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | April 10, 2013 at 9:25 am | 1,471 views | No Comments

A tree in bloom in Rosslyn

Streetcar Forum Tonight — The Arlington Committee of 100 will be holding a forum tonight entitled “Streetcar for Columbia Pike: Are the Benefits Worth the Costs?” The forum will be moderated by Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey and the scheduled speakers are Arlington Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Decamp (speaking in favor of the streetcar) and ARLnow.com columnist Peter Rousselot (speaking against the streetcar). The event will take place at 8:00 p.m. at Marymount University (2807 N. Glebe Road). [Arlington Committee of 100]

Pricey Streetcar FOIA Request — Local fiscal watchdog Tim Wise is decrying the price tag attached to a Freedom of Information Act request he made regarding the Columbia Pike streetcar project. The county says Wise’s wide-ranging request will cost $2,858 to process. More than 80 percent of that cost would go to AECOM, a consultant working on the county’s transit program. [Sun Gazette]

Record Temperature Possible Today — The official high temperature at Reagan National Airport might be tied or even broken today. The high temperature at DCA for today, April 10, is 89 degrees, set in 1922. [Capital Weather Gang]

Mary Marshall Scholarship Applications – The Arlington County Commission on the Status of Women is now accepting applications for the 2013 Mary Marshall Memorial Scholarships. The $1,500-2,000 scholarships are intended for Arlington high school graduates who intend to attend Northern Virginia Community College and pursue careers in public service. [Arlington County]

Fisette to Moderate ‘Say NO to Bottled H2O’ Forum

by ARLnow.com | April 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm | 1,535 views | 1 Comment

Bottled water (photo via Facebook)(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) County Board member Jay Fisette is starting his “personal crusade” to discourage bottled water use in Arlington, by moderating a public forum later this month.

Fisette will moderate and George Mason University’s Arlington campus will host “a special public forum to discuss the environmental and economic implications of single-use plastic water bottles,” from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Monday, April 15. The forum, entitled “Say NO to Bottled H2O,” will be held at GMU’s Founders Hall Auditorium (3351 Fairfax Drive).

Screen grab of County Board member Jay Fisette discussing Gov. McDonnell's transporation planIn addition to a panel discussion with environmental and water experts, the event will feature a screening of the documentary “Bag It,” which critically explores the use of single-use disposable bags. The forum is being co-sponsored by GMU, Arlington County, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Arlington Public Schools, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, Marymount University and the George Mason Environmental Law Society.

The forum is also the kick-off for a new grassroots organization called “Tap in Arlington,” which asks residents to “choose to drink tap water instead of purchasing single use plastic water bottles.”

The organization says 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce billions of single-use plastic water bottles annually, and less than 30 percent of those bottles are recycled. Bottled water is 2-4 times the price of gasoline, according to statistics cited by Tap in Arlington.

Fisette said the effort reflects the public commitment he made on New Years Day to bring attention to the use of bottled water and its environmental impacts.

“I raised the issue on January 1, stating that I would begin a ‘personal crusade’ to reduce the use of plastic water bottles,” Fisette said. “Well, the crusade is about to begin.”

Townhall Becomes Battle of Bus vs. Streetcar

by ARLnow.com | March 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm | 1,971 views | 190 Comments

(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.

(more…)

Zimmerman: I Only Made $510 from AECOM

by ARLnow.com | March 28, 2013 at 6:00 am | 1,092 views | 69 Comments

Public streetcar forumLast 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.

Chris Zimmerman speaks at the Streetcar Town Hall meetingDisclosure 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.

Advocates Plead for Funding at Budget Hearing

by ARLnow.com | March 27, 2013 at 6:15 pm | 826 views | 30 Comments

County Board budget on 3/26/13Dozens lined up Tuesday night to ask the Arlington County Board to open the county’s purse strings just a bit more.

Most speakers at the 3 hour, 45 minute public budget hearing addressed the $9.3 million in proposed cuts to social programs, environmental initiatives, the arts and other county services — though some came to encourage additional cuts, namely to the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar.

The top issue at the meeting by speaker count was County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed cut of the county’s Child Care Office. Some 16 speakers, wearing yellow in solidarity, asked the County Board to reconsider the $250,000 budget cut, which would deregulate small home-based child care operations and return the regulation of larger child care businesses to the state.

County Board budget on 3/26/13“These extra services and higher standards helped us feel comfortable about using an in-home daycare provider in Arlington,” said Michelle Sagatov, a full-time working mom with two kids. “The state does not have the same standards.”

Lauren Harris, the owner of Little Ambassadors Academy in Arlington, said she opposes the Child Care Office’s closure, even though reverting to state regulations could allow her to have a higher and more profitable child-to-employee ratio.

Affordable housing was another hot topic, with about 9 speakers urging the County Board to invest more in affordable housing. Donnellan’s proposed budget, which is currently under consideration by the Board, calls for a total of $32.3 million to go to affordable housing — or 4.9 percent of the County’s general fund budget (excluding schools).

Tim Wise, of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, countered that the county spends enough on “the so-called affordable housing special interest.”

Wise and about a half dozen other speakers also called for the Board to cancel the $250 million Columbia Pike streetcar project.

“As an Arlington county resident, I appreciate our services and our relatively low taxes compared to D.C. and Maryland and even Fairfax,” said Lee Schalk, who works at the National Taxpayers Unions “But with our current budget gap… we must pump the brakes on this quarter of a billion dollar streetcar project. Instead of throwing away our tax dollars on an inefficient form of public transportation, based on questionable assumptions… the local government should work to keep spending and taxes in check.”

Schalk called the streetcar a ”boondoggle” and said he was “not amused by the $1 million bus stop” on Columbia Pike.

At least one speaker urged the County Board to press on with the Columbia Pike streetcar project.

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The Right Note: Questions to Ask at the Trolley Forum

by Mark Kelly | March 21, 2013 at 3:00 pm | 1,108 views | 127 Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyNext Wednesday evening, March 27, our County Board will tell us how they plan to move the Columbia Pike streetcar plan forward. The Board is refusing to allow for a full vetting of opposing views, and it remains to be seen if they will take unscripted questions. If you can get the microphone, here are some things you should question:

1) Will there be a dedicated lane for the trolley?

The answer, of course, is no. So, if a trolley breaks down during rush hour it will block traffic and cannot simply be moved onto a side street. Conversely, if a car breaks down in the trolley lane, the trolley cannot move around it.

2) Will buses still run on Columbia Pike?

Yes. The trolley will not replace buses altogether. In fact, if you want to go directly to the Pentagon, a bus will likely be your better choice. And, during rush hour, trolleys will likely be slowed by buses in front of them.

3) Are trolleys safe?

This is an open question. There are reports of these vehicles being knocked 25 feet off its rails by a vehicle the size of a small SUV.

4) Why did the county quickly move to consider a public-private partnership approach?

Most likely to avoid a public vote on a bond. The Board has indicated zero willingness to put this $250 million (a low estimate) project before the voters in any way, shape, or form. Under the public-private partnership model, the Board can allow private entities to put together the financing and avoid a public vote on a bond altogether. In exchange, Arlington would contribute a hefty down payment and sign a long-term contract to pay for the rest.

5) Why did the County Board never debate the merits of using bigger buses that have multiple entry doors and the ability to have curb level entry?

These buses could be done at approximately one-fifth the cost. In fact, if you look at the 2012 study on this very question, the buses would cost $193.2 million less up front, and $2.19 million less per year less for an ongoing annual subsidy. The same study estimates that just four percent more people would ride the trolley versus the bus. If you do a quick estimate, that means each additional rider costs the taxpayers about $175,000 up front, and $2,000 more per year.

There are many other questions that could be asked, from the likelihood of cost overruns, to the impact on existing businesses on the Pike, to playing hide the ball on a recent FOIA request, to bicycle safety, to the impact of Alexandria’s decision to scrap its light rail plans.

Even if the Board does not intend to take public input, those with an interest in the outcome should come to Kenmore Middle School and make their presence known.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

Back to Drawing Board for Potomac Overlook Plan

by ARLnow.com | March 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm | 22 Comments

Treetop shelter similar to one proposed for Potomac Overlook Regional Park (photo via NVRPA)The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has scrapped a plan to add amenities to Potomac Overlook Regional Park (2845 N. Marcey Road) after an outcry from residents.

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.

Site plan for Potomac Regional Overlook ParkIn a press release, the Potomac Overlook Preservation Association said it supported some parts of the plan, and will work to shape future plans.

“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.”

Opponents of Potomac Overlook Plan to Hold Meeting

by ARLnow.com | March 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm | 683 views | 28 Comments

Site plan for Potomac Regional Overlook ParkEven though it was recently scaled back, a plan to add amenities to Potomac Overlook Regional Park (2845 N Marcey Road) is still drawing strong criticism from a group of residents.

The plan calls for a new stage/shelter, a new scout camping area, a renovated bird of prey structure and, possibly, a tree house overlook and a small urban farm. The initial plan, which included a zip line, a rock climbing wall and a paved parking lot, was modified after an outcry from residents.

Opponents of the plan have formed the Potomac Overlook Preservation Association, and launched a website that implores visitors to “Save Potomac Overlook Park.”

The association will be holding a public meeting tonight (Tuesday), with scheduled speakers from the organization as well as from the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which owns the park and proposed the changes at a public meeting last month.

Tonight’s meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of the Church of the Covenant (2666 Military Road).

Children in Potomac Overlook Regional Park (photo via Potomac Overlook Preservation Association)Stephen Blakely, president of the Potomac Overlook Preservation Association, says the he expects “a strong turnout and a lively meeting.” He accused the NVRPA of attempting “to turn a nature preserve into a theme park.”

The Donaldson Run Civic Association, which also opposes the plan, sent a letter last week asking the NVRPA to “press the ‘reset button’” on the park plan.

Both associations accused the NVRPA of giving residents an inadequate amount of time to respond to the proposed changes.

“It is unfortunate that the many users of Potomac Overlook were brought in at such a late point in the process,” said the Donaldson Run letter. “Arlington has a long tradition of engaging its residents when major decisions such as this one, come before a community.”

Potomac Overlook Regional Park is a 67-acre park. Current amenities include “peaceful woodland, trails, educational gardens, a small picnic area,” a birds of prey facility and a nature center. The park also hosts summer concerts and summer camps.

Photo (bottom) via Potomac Overlook Preservation Association

Polite Applause Gives Way to Shouts at Gun Violence Forum

by ARLnow.com | March 12, 2013 at 3:45 pm | 2,868 views | 277 Comments

Rep. Jim Moran's panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee high school

(Updated at 5:05 p.m.) What started with polite applause ended with jeers and shouts, as Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) hosted a panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee High School Monday night.

Hundreds turned out at the school’s auditorium for the discussion, with gun supporters — wearing “Guns Save Lives” stickers — outnumbering gun control advocates about 3:2, based on the volume of completing applause points.

Among the panelists on stage with Moran were:

  • David Chapman, a retired ATF Special Agent and advisor to Mayors Against Illegal Guns
  • Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
  • Earl Cook, Alexandria Police Chief
  • Jonathan Lowy, of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
  • Karen Marangi, of Mayors Against Illegal Guns

The event was titled “Preventing Another Newtown: A Conversation on Gun Violence in America,” and the Newtown, Aurora and Tuscon mass shootings were repeatedly referenced.

Rep. Jim Moran's panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee high schoolWhile expressing general support for the Second Amendment right to own firearms, Moran and the panelists made the case for additional gun control measures, including universal background checks, an renewed assault weapons ban, magazine capacity limits and mandated reporting of stolen guns. Possible changes to the treatment of those with mental illness were also discussed.

“We hope those of you in the room will really help us to move this, so we can make our communities safer,” Marangi said of some of the gun control legislation that has been proposed in Congress.

Many in the audience, however, were there to voice another opinion. After a generally polite reception for a opening statements by the panelists, the question and answer session brought a different tone.

A majority of speakers spoke strongly in support of gun rights and against additional gun laws, and some expressed fear that the government’s ultimate goal in gun legislation is to gradually ban gun ownership. Moran and the panel’s response to the audience statements and questions often drew boos and shouts.

Rep. Jim Moran's panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee high schoolGun supporters said that firearms make communities safer, not more dangerous, by allowing law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves and those around them.

“Congressman, I know you’re pro-choice, but why aren’t you pro-choice when it comes to self-defense for women?” said one speaker to loud applause. “Why don’t you guys listen to the young rape victims in Colorado when they said that if they had a gun it would have prevented their attacker.”

Other gun supporters called for the elimination of “gun-free zones,” particularly around schools.

“As you can see, there are a lot of people here who are legitimate, law-abiding gun owners,” said a man who asked fellow gun owners to stand, before voicing support for allowing teachers to carry guns. “We would be more than happy to defend innocent lives should a psycho… come into an area to commit an act of violence.”

“I would be opposed to teachers carrying guns in the classroom, and I would not want my children in a classroom where their teacher was carrying a gun,” Moran said in response, to applause from gun control advocates in the audience.

Rep. Jim Moran's panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee high school“I know this community well enough to know that the people standing up in this auditorium are not representative of the majority of the residents, ” he continued, to more applause as well as some jeers.

Moran and the panelists drew the most jeers when they brought up “assault weapons.”

“What does that even mean?” some audience members shouted, about the term. Some speakers — those who stood in line to speak — made the case that the term assault weapon is often used to refer to a gun that might look menacing but isn’t significantly different, functionality-wise, from a standard semiautomatic handgun.

“I don’t agree that there’s a need for individuals to have military-style assault weapons,” Moran retorted. “I don’t believe that we need guns that can hold in excess of ten bullets.”

Adding to the urgency of passing gun control laws, Moran said, is a projection that gun deaths will exceed traffic fatalities by 2015. That expected milestone is partially due to rising gun deaths, but mostly due to advances in car safety that started in the 1970s — safety improvements, he said, that came about after being mandated by law.

Speaking to reporters after the forum, Moran said he expected a negative response from the crowd.

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