Changes have been approved for parking regulations at the county’s schools and recreational facilities.
At its meeting on Saturday (February 23), the County Board voted unanimously to amend the Zoning Ordinance, which was necessary in order to modify parking regulations for elementary and middle schools and noncommercial recreational facilities. The amendments allow the Board to change the number of required parking spaces at the facilities, which it previously was not permitted to do.
The approved revisions reduce the number of spaces needed at elementary and middle schools. Additionally, the Board now has the ability to alter requirements at individual sites and to locate a portion of the parking spaces off-site.
County staff members have been looking into parking requirements since the issue arose during the public review process for the addition to Ashlawn Elementary School, the new school to be built on the Williamsburg Middle School campus and the planned aquatics facility at Long Bridge Park. Parking demand at all the sites in question was deemed less than what was required by the Zoning Ordinance.
“With APS expanding some facilities and adding new ones to keep up with growing enrollment, we needed to come up with a new approach to parking for our schools and public facilities,” said Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada. “The changes the Board is making in the Zoning Ordinance will ensure that our schools provide for adequate, but not excessive, parking and have plans in place to reduce parking demand.”
All schools and public facilities must also submit a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan to ensure the sites do not build excessive amounts of parking, and that strategies to reduce the demand for parking are examined.
At its meeting on Saturday (January 26), the County Board is being asked to provide authorization for staff to advertise public hearings regarding the proposed amendments. The changes include revising parking standards for elementary and middle schools, permitting off-site vehicle parking at community swimming pools and allowing the County Board to modify parking standards.
The issue first arose during the public review process for the addition to Ashlawn Elementary School and the new school to be built on the Williamsburg campus. Arlington Public Schools felt that using the existing Zoning Ordinance for parking requirements would result in an excessive amount of parking. For instance, the addition to Ashlawn would require 228 parking spaces under the ordinance, when APS says it only needs about 100.
“That is way more than we need and it means we would lose open space and ball fields,” said John Chadwick, Director of Design and Construction for APS. “If we do that and we lose open space, ball fields and green space, that sort of counters what everyone is trying to do in Arlington.”
Another concern is that the ordinance requires all of the parking spaces to be on site. One of the proposed amendments would allow for off-site parking on the street or in other lots, like the lots of private swimming pools, which are typically open during the summer but closed during most of the school year. County staff offered the example of Ashlawn’s ongoing shared parking agreement with the Dominion Hills Pool.
Residents who live close to the affected schools haven’t all been supportive of the measure considering it would force more cars into neighborhood streets.
“We are having some push back from neighbors, but very few of our schools provide the number of spaces currently required under this ordinance,” Chadwick said.
The ordinance is not retroactive, so schools already in existence would not have to suddenly rework their parking situation; only new schools, such as at Williamsburg, or school expansions, such as Ashlawn, need to comply.
The changes would also alter the definition of “design capacity.” The new parking proposal suggests allotting one teacher parking spot for every 7.5 students, and one visitor spot for every 40 students.
“We’re very much in favor of the plan and the change and we’ve worked with them [the county] all the way. We really need to get this change approved so we can move forward with the Ashlawn campus and Williamsburg site,” Chadwick said. “This is all good from our point of view. I know it’s a bit complicated, but it actually makes sense.”
Similar parking issues have been identified with the county’s planned aquatics facility at Long Bridge Park. That prompted County Manager Barbara Donnellan to ask staff to examine not only regulations covering school parking, but county recreational facilities as well. As with the schools, parking demand at the aquatics center site was deemed lower than the existing requirements in the Zoning Ordinance.
While some of the amendments deal specifically with parking either at schools or recreational facilities, there are also general provisions covering both categories. County staff recommends that one of the general principles should be to base parking requirements on average daily use and not peak facility uses. Additionally, it recommends sites be examined individually to determine parking needs instead of forcing all facilities to conform to the same regulations. Such a recommendation would be fulfilled by the proposed amendment allowing the County Board to grant special parking exceptions, which it currently cannot do.
The public hearing with the Planning Commission is scheduled for February 11 and the one with the County Board is scheduled for February 23.
A new store in Crystal City found that out the hard way recently when a new mural got a thumbs down from county zoning officials.
Smokey Shope III opened three months ago at 554 23rd Street S. in Crystal City. The store is a head shop — it sells paraphernalia that’s ostensibly intended for the smoking of tobacco. Merchandise includes bowls, water pipes, hookahs, cigars, cigarettes, shisha, gifts and a type of Afghan jewelry known as lapis lazuli. One employee described the store as “a place where people can unite… and have positive energy.”
About two weeks ago, Smokey Shope’s manager said, the store paid $1,000 to a traveling band of artists to paint a mural on the front of the store. Salim Amin, the manager, said the intent was to create a work of art that would beautify the block. The finished product was a man, smoking a cigar, with colorful and decorative smoke emanating from the cigar.
Just two days after the mural was complete, however, zoning officials stopped by with some instructions: the cigar had to go up in smoke, so to speak, as it’s a product being sold by the business and thus an illegal sign according to the county’s zoning ordinance. The situation mirrored that of Wag More Dogs, an Arlington dog grooming and boarding business that has (unsuccessfully) fought in federal court to have its mural of playful pups deemed art instead of advertising.
“We have not received complaints, but we have investigated the mural,” Norma Cozart, Arlington County’s Zoning Administrator, told ARLnow.com. “We have spoken to the shop owner and the cigar must go; then the mural can stay. Without the cigar, it is not a sign and staying or leaving is up to the landlord.”
The shop, which is directly across from Freddie’s Beach Bar and other 23rd Street restaurants, says other merchants on the block have signed on to a statement of support for the mural. But Amin says they’re nonetheless exploring ways to remove or paint over the cigar without destroying the mural. One idea is to repaint it into some sort of hot, steaming food — perhaps a falafel.
A final decision will likely have to wait until the store’s owner, Atta ”Smokey” Amin, returns from a vacation in Jamaica next week. In the meantime, the store is continuing to market its wares to the local community, a marketing effort that has included placing colorful handout flyers on car windshields throughout the Crystal City area.
Smokey Shope has two other locations, in Fairfax and Manassas, and is hoping to open a third in D.C. in the near future.
Bike Meeting to Discuss Bollards — The Arlington County Bicycle Advisory Committee will discuss bollard installations and removals at its meeting tonight, June 4. The meeting is being held at 2100 Clarendon Blvd at 7:00 p.m. Bollards are posts put at the entrance to a trail to keep cars out; some believe they are a safety hazard to cyclists. [CommuterPage Blog]
A-Frame Sign Rules Enforced — Even though A-frame (sandwich board) signs are now allowed in Arlington, county zoning officials are beginning to enforce the the rules related to A-frame sign placement and size. [Arlington Mercury]
Froyo Store Coming to the Pike – Menchies Frozen Yogurt has signed a lease for a store at Penrose Square, along the 2500 block of Columbia Pike. The self-serve frozen yogurt chain currently has 185 locations worldwide. [CityBiz Real Estate]
Flickr pool photo by Divaknevil
At its meeting yesterday, May 22, the board voted unanimously to approve a rezoning and use permit for the property. The site, located at the southwest corner of Columbia Pike and Glebe Road, will be turned into a multi-family residential complex.
The plan includes construction of a six-story building with 245 apartments, 44 townhouses, 12 stacked flats and retail space on the ground floor. Renderings of the buildings were released in January. The development will be split into two blocks by a new road that has yet to be constructed.
Although the development is based on the Columbia Pike Form-Based Code, it required approval of a special use permit because the property exceeds 40,000 square feet.
“The Form-Based Code is beginning to make a real difference in the look and feel of Columbia Pike,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “With this, the seventh Form-Based Code project approved by the Board for the Pike, our community’s vision of a revitalized, more vibrant, walkable Pike is becoming reality.”
Efforts will be made to be environmentally sensitive during construction, but the developer will not seek LEED sustainability certification. It was explained that as part of the Form-Based Code guidelines, LEED certification is not required in order to keep construction costs low. Board member Jay Fisette didn’t like that concept.
“I believe that as our standards change we need to simultaneously look at changing the Form-Based Code standards as it applies to that area,” Fisette said.
County staff reached out to residents in the neighborhood during the planning process to get feedback on the site plan. The overall response was positive, according to the county, although some concerns were raised about disruptions due to construction and potentially hazardous traffic patterns. Board members spent time addressing both topics.
As currently designed, residents of the complex won’t be able to make a left on Columbia Pike or Glebe Road. Some worry that problems that could arise from drivers making U-turns in order to go north on Glebe Road or west on Columbia Pike. The Board agreed that further investigation into safety and traffic patterns is necessary, and instructed county staff to tackle the issue.
Of lesser importance is the formal naming of the street that will be constructed through the property. It is supposed to start with an “L” and have two syllables, per county regulations. Some have begun tentatively calling it “Lincoln Street.”
Board member Chris Zimmerman said adhering to naming regulations sometimes seems absurd in an area where streets don’t follow an easy grid design. He suggested not naming the new road Lincoln to avoid confusion with the North Arlington street of the same name. Hynes agreed, but pointed out there’s plenty of time for discussion because the name doesn’t have to be assigned until the street is built.
Arlington County has named its new top zoning enforcer, and it’s none other than the woman who has served in the position on a temporary basis since August 2011.
Norma Cozart has been acting Zoning Administrator for the county since shortly after Melinda Artman stepped down from the post last summer. Today Cozart, who has been with the county for 23 years, was named the permanent new Zoning Administrator.
“Norma has done an excellent job providing leadership to the Zoning Office in the interim,” Director of Community Planning, Housing and Development Robert Brosnan said in a statement. “I have all the confidence in the world that she will make an excellent Zoning Administrator.”
Cozart has helped the county formulate policies on a number of hot-button zoning topics, according to an Arlington County press release:
She participated in the formulation of County policies on complex issues such as infill/pipestem lots, signs and sidewalk cafes. She also advised on zoning issues for the development of the Mary Marshall Assisted Living Facility, Artisphere, Marriott Hotels at Courthouse and Potomac Yard, the Jordon (Peck Site), and others.
As Zoning Administrator, Cozart will be responsible for interpreting the regulations within the county’s zoning ordinance, including “[which] buildings may be constructed on lots, the placements and height of structures, the land uses and density of development permitted the number of parking spaces required, the size and placement of sign, and other land use regulations.” She’ll be responsible for leading a team of 23 zoning staff members, who work with residents and businesses on zoning regulation issues.
Could Arlington’s insistence on preserving the single-family home communities along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor be the reason why it seems every new apartment building in the corridor is a “luxury” apartment building?
Last week Slate columnist Matthew Yglesais, author of The Rent Is Too Damn High, wrote about Arlington and suggested that the prevalence of expensive high-end rentals and condos stems from two factors: restrictions on building height and the width of the corridor itself, which is sometimes just 2-3 blocks wide, thanks to zoning restrictions intended to preserve the single family homes on either side of the corridor.
“What you see is a narrow thread of urbanism between Wilson Boulevard and Clarendon Boulevard, with a bit of a thicker blob of urbanism around the Metro station itself,” Yglesais writes. “I don’t really want to condemn this development paradigm because if you compare it to other suburban jurisdictions around the United States, what Arlington has done really stands out as practically best in class. But still the fact of the matter is that these single-family homes adjacent to the corridor of urbanism are sitting on some extremely expensive land.”
Yglesais suggests that opening up additional redevelopment along the R-B corridor would help bring cheaper market-rate housing options. Following up on our inconclusive poll from December — “Should Arlington Increase Density to Keep Housing Prices Down?” — should Arlington consider expanding the width of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor?
If you were hoping to enjoy the nice weather with a beer outside at the Westover Beer Garden, you’re in for a disappointment. Westover Market and Beer Garden (5863 Washington Blvd) owner Devin Hicks says the beer garden has been shut down until April 1 due to county zoning rules.
Arlington County requires that certain outdoor cafes, like the beer garden, be closed for three months of the year due to the seasonal nature of the business. Hicks says he wasn’t serving beer outside, but was allowing customers to bring their beers to the garden (which has a fire pit) from his indoor bar area. That, he says, earned him a
citation warning letter from the county.
Until it reopens on April 1, the beer garden will be off-limits to customers. Hicks says he’s disappointed with the county’s strict enforcement.
“You would think they’d be on our side but apparently they’re doing everything to make our business less successful and less available to the community,” Hicks told ARLnow.com. “They’re not being business friendly. I don’t know why they keep picking on us.”
When it does reopen, however, music will finally return to the beer garden.
Under a compromise reached between Hicks, neighbors and the County Board, music will be allowed at the beer garden on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. In April and May, only non-amplified music will be allowed. From June 1 to Oct 31, amplified music will be allowed on Saturdays.
Hicks says he’s in the process of booking bands now.
“It’s going to be a ton of fun for everybody, obviously everybody’s been waiting a long time for it,” he said.
Update at 11:40 a.m. on 2/24/12 — Via Facebook, the Westover Market says they will open the beer garden tonight (Friday) in defiance of the county’s orders:
“We tried to cooperate and follow the county’s imaginary rule about outdoor patios required to be seasonal; we took out the tables, chairs, tvs, bar. That apparently wasn’t enough. The county wanted to cripple our business even more so they told us to take out the stumps, turn off the lights, and not allow patrons to go outside. Enough is enough. WBG & Haus in Full Force open 11am-1:30am.”
On Saturday the board unanimously approved a change to the county’s zoning ordinance that will require new “big box” retail stores to seek a Special Exception Use Permit. Before that, a large retailer could have theoretically built a store in certain areas on a “by right” basis, without the need to obtain board approval.
The amendment will apply to retail stores with a gross floor area of 50,000 square feet or more on any level, or stores with 200 more more dedicated parking spaces. Car dealerships were exempted from the rule.
“With the Board’s action, [large format retail] developments will only be built in Arlington after the community has an opportunity to review potential negative impacts and determine the appropriate conditions to mitigate those negative impacts,” Arlington County said in a press release.
ARLnow.com was the first to report that the board acted to make the zoning change after a developer, working on behalf of Walmart, started expressing interest in an industrial site near Shirlington. County staff warned that “big box” stores like Walmart could generate four times the amount of local road traffic as a similar-sized office building or hotel.
“This isn’t to impede someone from setting up shop if they want to do business here,” board member Walter Tejada said during Saturday’s board meeting. “It’s really saying that we should have a dialog, that there should be a process in which we can address any potential negative impacts to neighborhoods.
“By putting this in place we at least create for ourselves the opportunity to enter the conversation,” added County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes.
Board member Jay Fisette noted that many other localities have similar rules already in place.
“We’re not breaking new ground,” he said. “This has been done all over the country, it has been done all over the region. We’re in fact the last major jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to take a similar action.”
Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said economic conditions only recently started making Arlington attractive to large format retailers.
“I think perhaps the reason it came last here is because we don’t have as many of those big pieces of land — the targets of that sort of thing,” Zimmerman said.
“I didn’t mean a pun there, I promise,” he added.
More on Possible Shirlington Walmart — Three months after ARLnow.com reported exclusively that Walmart was eying a site for a possible store in Shirlington, County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman is acknowledging that the county is aware of Walmart’s interest in Shirlington. This weekend the County Board is expected to discuss changing the zoning ordinance in order to prevent “big box” stores like Walmart from being constructed without Board approval. When the ordinance change was first advertised, the word “Walmart” was never mentioned. [WTOP]
Fire Station Open Houses This Weekend — Arlington’s 10 fire stations will each be conducting an open house between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. The kid-friendly event is organized as part of Fire Prevention Week 2011. [Arlington County]
Turnaround at AWLA — There’s a turnaround underway at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which had been criticized for its relatively high euthanasia rate for dogs and cats. The shelter’s euthanasia rate during fiscal year 2011 was down 60 percent compared to the year before. The “positive outcome” rate for sheltered dogs rose to 91 percent from 80 percent one year prior. [Sun Gazette]
F.C., Arlington Police Investigate Burglaries — Arlington and Falls Church police are investigating a series of ten residential burglaries since the beginning of fall. The burglaries have occurred in the City of Falls Church and in Arlington’s East Falls Church neighborhood. Stolen items include laptops, iPods, guns, passports, bank checks and jewelry. [Falls Church News-Press]
Car on Fire on I-395 — A car caught fire on southbound I-395 near Boundary Channel around 9:30 last night. The car was fully-engulfed by the time firefighters arrived on scene. No injuries were reported
Sun Gazette: Thumbs Down to Board’s ‘Walmart’ Action — The County Board’s last-minute, unannounced vote at the end of its final meeting before the summer recess is getting a “thumbs down” in the opinion pages of the Sun Gazette. The Board voted to advertise hearings on a zoning ordinance amendment that would prevent large-format retailers like Walmart from building a store without prior Board approval. “County staff so far have been unable to explain what the rush is – they want to get this approved by the County Board later in the month – and exactly what problem they are trying to solve,” the paper opined. [Sun Gazette]
School Board Challenger Drops Out — Independent Green candidate for school board Andrea Ochoa has withdrawn from the race, according to Arlington elections officials. Incumbent Democrat Abby Raphael will now run unopposed.
Street Sign Mistakes — Typos happen, including on street signs in Arlington. Among the examples: “22rd Road,” “Chian Br. Road” and an unspecified misspelling of “school” on a parking sign. [Falls Church News-Press]
Photo courtesy of @cmags44
(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) Arlington County has released a preliminary draft of its new sign regulations.
After holding sign workshops and promising more business-friendly regulations, the county has come up with a long list of changes to the existing ordinance. The changes are designed to “make the [sign] ordinance earlier to understand and use, and easier to administer and enforce,” while incorporating “best practices in sign regulation.”
Among the proposed changes, the county would allow sandwich board — or A-frame — signs on sidewalks, in direct contrast to the current ban on such signs, which are popular with shop owners in other urban areas. Sandwich board signs would be permitted so long as it doesn’t reduce the clear sidewalk width below six feet. Staff notes that “consideration is also being given to alternatives in areas where a six-foot clear width is not possible.”
Restaurants might be more willing to use branded umbrellas on their outdoor patios under the proposed regulations. Wording on umbrellas would not count toward a business’ overall sign allowance if the draft regulations are adopted.
Additionally, certain signs would be permitted in the so-called public right-of-way. Signs from non-profit groups — like the Boy and Girl Scouts or various civic groups — would be allowed. Currently, only political signs and real estate signs are allowed on public property (like roadway medians) and only under certain conditions. Staff is still considering whether to allow commercial signs.
Another big change is the proposal that new sign permits be considered by county staff without County Board approval. Currently, many businesses have to go through an expensive “comprehensive sign plan” process and a County Board vote to get certain signs approved. Under the new proposal, that process would be offloaded to county staff, who would have the power to approve such signs on an administrative level, under clearly defined standards.
County staff is also considering whether to recommend a change in the definition of what makes something a sign. That could potentially be significant for businesses like Wag More Dogs, which has been engaged in a legal battle with the county over whether its wall mural constitutes a sign.
The county’s Zoning Committee will be holding a public forum on Tuesday, Sept. 13 to discuss the sign recommendations. The meeting will be held at the Washington-Lee High School cafeteria from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.
The store was originally slated to open “mid-2011,” but that hoped-for opening has been pushed back due to an unexplained delay in applying for (and getting) the necessary permits and inspections. In May, a Trader Joe’s rep told ARLnow.com that the store is expected to open by the end of the year.
In addition to the building permit, Trader Joe’s has also received a zoning permit that will allow it to modify the building’s first floor facade (pictured) for use as a grocery store. The only other regulatory hurdles that remain, for now, concern the store’s fire prevention plan.
The new Trader Joe’s will be located at 1109 N. Highland Street, one block from the Clarendon Metro station.
In February, a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed a lawsuit against Arlington County filed by Wag More Dogs (2606 S. Oxford Street). With the assistance of the the Institute for Justice, a Ballston-based libertarian public interest law firm, Wag More Dogs owner Kim Houghton had claimed that the county’s crackdown on the store’s colorful wall mural, which faced the Shirlington dog park, was unconstitutional.
Today, Houghton and the Institute for Justice announced that they have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to take the case — which revolves around the method by which Arlington County decides what is ‘art’ and what is an impermissible commercial sign.
“The U.S. Constitution gives everyone the right to speak and the right to earn an honest living,” said Robert Frommer, the attorney who’s representing Wag More Dogs. “Kim is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to vindicate both of these rights and let her share her artwork with the dog park once again.”
The appeals court will now decide whether to hear the case.
Update at 6:40 p.m. — Arlington County Attorney Steven MacIsaac has released a statement about the appeal.
In February, the U.S. District Court agreed with Arlington that this issue is about commercial sign regulation, and the judge found Arlington’s sign ordinance to be fair and reasonable. In her ruling, Judge Binkema said that the mural is a “classic form of branding and advertising,” and meets the definition of a sign , which is, therefore, subject to the County’s sign ordinance. The judge found that the County’s sign ordinance is a valid, content-neutral restriction on the size of signs in the M-1 zoning district, even noting that , by saying the ordinance was content-based, Wag More Dogs was “barking up the wrong tree.”
We are aware that the owner has filed an appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and has just now filed her brief. We will now file our response in accord with court rules.
Arlington County recently approved a building permit that will allow the market to build Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bathrooms — one step in the beer garden approval process. The other step will come on May 14, when Westover Market goes before the county board to ask for a live entertainment permit, which is necessary in order for the beer garden to host musical acts.
At the moment, the market is only permitted to seat nine people in the beer garden, which used to host large neighborhood gatherings.
Not everybody supports the market’s effort to become an entertainment and drinking venue, however. Before the county clamped down, a cadre of anonymous complainers would call authorities to kvetch about noise from the garden and smoke from its fire pits.