Plaza’s public peeing problem prompts possible portable provision, permanent potty planning process

The area around the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square has a public urination problem.

The square used to be a grassy area with trees, until it was closed off for the construction of the neighborhood hub. With nowhere else to go, people began relieving themselves on the sidewalk along 24th Street S., we’re told.

Formerly Nauck Town Square, before it was renamed after a long-time Green Valley civic leader, the new park opened this spring. Since then, more neighbors have encountered the issue while enjoying the square or participating in community programming there.

“We have our neighbors saying, ‘I’ve had to walk my kid around urine as it’s flowing,’ or ‘It is on sidewalks,'” Sarah Kirwin said. “[People are] peeing on a person’s house, regularly. They’re peeing against The Shelton [an apartment building]. I see it all the time. Kids see it.”

Kirwin says the people who have nowhere to go also would like a restroom and have encouraged her to advocate for one.

“I do talk to the people who are peeing,” she said. “We all agree that that’s a need. This is something on which we are unified.”

This is not the first time a problem like this has cropped up at a county park. In 2014, such a situation spawned the memorable ARLnow headline, “Peeing and Pooping in Penrose Park Peeves Parents.”

Kirwin asked the Arlington County Board to do something about the latest lacking lavatory during the public comment period of last Saturday’s Board meeting. County Manager Mark Schwartz and County Board member Takis Karantonis both said the Dept. of Parks and Recreation is aware of the problem and working on solutions.

A staff member from DPR “has been out talking to members of the community about a location for a portable restroom,” Schwartz said. “We had some other ideas for a permanent facility that will take a lot longer to realize… We’re aware of the problem and know it needs to be resolved.”

While the department has not received any formal complaints about public urination, staff will attend the February meeting of the Green Valley Civic Association to “discuss potential options for a portable restroom and to gain consensus on the next steps,” DPR later told ARLnow.

“A short-term solution would include the installation of a portable restroom,” DPR spokeswoman Martha Holland says. “A possible long-term solution would be the installation of a permanent restroom facility. This would be part of the county’s Capital Improvement Plan process.”

While there is currently no funding allocated for a permanent restroom, it could be included in future budget processes if there is “community interest and available funding,” she said.

Holland said there’s no bathroom currently because “there was no consensus on the need for a permanent restroom” during the park’s planning process.

“The early planning and design work balanced a variety of amenities with the budget to create a new public space that would be both enjoyable and financially feasible. The artist and designer Walter Hood designed S. Kenmore Street so that it could be closed off during events and connected to the nearby sprayground,” she said. “The design solution was to have portables placed in the area for special events, but not part of the square itself.”

Kirwin argues there should be one in the area because the town square is so close to the Drew Park playground and sprayground and the athletic fields of Drew Elementary School. Altogether, the public recreation area has the same “footprint” as Lacey Woods and Fort Scott parks, which both have restrooms, she said.

At last Saturday’s meeting, Board Chair Christian Dorsey agreed with Kirwin that something needed to be done.

“As someone who followed the design of the Robinson Town Square, I know that issue came up from time to time, and it seemed there was a general community understanding that this particular facility didn’t meet the criteria nor would the deployment of restrooms there fit with the other community amenities that people wanted as part of the park,” he said.

“However, that’s planning, and you’re talking about reality,” Dorsey added. “I think we need to figure out solutions because clearly it’s not desirable to leave people feeling like their only option is to leave themselves in public spaces.”

Karantonis agreed.

“This year we will have the first anniversary of having used the John Robinson plaza, and I do believe we should be meeting with neighbors there to see what else needs to be done, so that it is a better space and more enjoyable for everyone,” Karantonis said.