Arlington, VA

ARLnow Weekend Discussion

Congratulations to you, dear reader, for making it to the end of this long, hot week.

On the plus side, it’s almost the weekend. On the downside, the heat is forecasted to continue, cancelling weekend events throughout the D.C. area.

It’s also been another week of post-flooding clean-up, with thousands of homeowners and business owners reportedly having filed for damages.

Some businesses have begun to re-open, while Westover residents launched a GoFundMe to repair their homes. We featured one affected family in our Pet of the Week column this week.

Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Services is trying to fix a stream that mysteriously disappeared after the storm.

Reflecting on legacies has also been a running theme this past week — from the 100th anniversary of the Cherrydale fire house, to the 10th anniversary of District Taco. The decade-long debate over Columbia Pike transit stations also got a new funding push to build four bus stops.

And this week will surely go down in local lure as the first battle between two Arlington titans: Advanced Towing and Amazon.

In addition to the stories above, here are some others of note from the past week:

What was your favorite story this week? And how do you plan to beat the heat this weekend? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to discuss any other issue of local importance.

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(Updated at 4:00 p.m.) Last week’s torrential rainstorm flooded thousands of homes and businesses — but something mysterious happened, too.

Just upstream from where it meets Four Mile Run, the Lubber Run stream disappeared.

Earlier this week the stream appeared to be miraculously vanishing around a tree stump, according to a video posted online and on a local listserv. The water was a trickle of its usual flow when a resident shot the video, and the stream left a dry bed of round rocks exposed after the water appeared to disappear.

At first, when contacted by ARLnow, all the Department of Environmental Services (DES) could say for sure was that the stream hadn’t been “rerouted intentionally.”

Jessica Baxter, a DES spokeswoman initially it could take days to find the reason for the phenomenon as storm clean-up continues county-wide and crews work on the damage the storm wrought to public areas.

Raging flood waters washed away at least six pedestrian bridges in the county, including two over Lubber Run.

The department sent crews out Wednesday and Thursday to investigate the steam on a hunch the water could have somehow flowed into an underground pipe.

“There were a few trees that fell over the stream, including a stump that fell and possibly damaged our sewer main,” Baxter said on Thursday after crews visited the stream. “However, given the water entering the main, we are having challenges determining where the damage is.”

The crews then worked to divert the water — which had begun to swell again since its post-storm lull the resident captured in his video. Then the county crews used CCTV technology to inspect the pipe.

On Friday morning at 7 a.m., Baxter reached out to ARLnow to say crews had made a breakthrough.

“Crews got the tree stump removed from the area and we did observe a broken pipe,”she said. “We have our emergency contractor on-site to make repairs today.”

After the repairs to the pipe were completed later this afternoon, Baxter said crews are expected to return early next week for additional repair work, including inserting a liner into the pipe.

A 2011 assessment of all streams and their ability to prevent floods noted that many parts of Lubber Run were considered “stable,” but also noted that the stream had “poor utility elements” at the time.

Lubber Run is not just a feeder for Four Mile Run, it’s also a perfect habitat for underwater critters like crayfish and fly larvae, and snakes, snails, and worms make their home in the stream, which is lined by shaggy water elms.

ARLnow could not locate the mysterious tree dropping-off point after an hour of bushwhacking along the stream banks Tuesday afternoon. However, it was clear that the storm had left its mark in the area.

Bits of broken bridges were beached along the banks as far as Four Mile Run, and picnic tables were covered in silt after being swallowed by the rising water. The stream itself was brown with sediment and fallen tree limbs still littered the walking paths. A golden retriever could be seen jumping in and out of the stream with one of the thicker limbs in his mouth.

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Some officials and residents are asking for more time to review a jail diversion program for people with mental illnesses, saying the county developed it without enough public input.

About a hundred people gathered in the County Board’s meeting room Wednesday afternoon for a meeting called after activists requested a chance to weigh in on the new criminal justice program. Attendees expressed general support for the “Behavioral Health Docket” but worried about its requirement that participants plead guilty to participate, adding that the county needed to listen to more members of the public before finalizing the program.

“I think it’s important to keep in mind is that even if the application is a post-plea docket, which is what Judge [Fran] O’Brien would like to see happen, that there’s going to be evolution,” said Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Anita Friedman in an interview. “I think that even if we start post-plea we might add pre-plea later.”

“I think the important thing is not to let perfection be the enemy of good,” she said, noting that the county has revised its other diversion program, Drug Court, many times over the last few years.

The Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia must approve the county’s request to form the diversion program. DHS originally planned to apply for that approval last month before a group of activists and officials, including incoming prosecutor Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, said they hadn’t heard about it and had concerns.

After the meeting, officials did not confirm whether they would extend their plan to submit the application in September, or would schedule additional public meetings.

Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood was one of the officials who said he hadn’t heard about the application until very recently. On Wednesday, Haywood said he still supported for the docket but reiterated concerns about the post-plea condition.

“I really want to make sure that as many people as possible are getting into this program, and getting in as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that requiring pleas could “dramatically reduce” the number of participants and how fast they can join it.

The Behavioral Health Docket will accept participants who have pled guilty to a misdemeanor offense, or a felony reduced to a misdemeanor, and reside in Arlington, according to a program description obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. People with a history of felony convictions, sexual offenses, or have active warrants out for their arrest in other jurisdictions cannot participate, per a copy of the application ARLnow obtained after filing a FOIA request.

Participants would have to meet weekly in court as well as their probation officer, mental health clinician, per the application. Participants will also have to pass drug and alcohol screenings, take any medications prescribed, participate in activities like volunteer work or employment, and stay clear of any new arrests. Over time, participants will meet less frequently as they work towards a “graduation” where they’ll be supervised for another 90 days.

“That’s why it’s called a therapeutic docket,” said Judge O’Brien. “It’s designed to help people with mental illness and designed to help keep them on a path that keeps them out of the criminal justice system.”

She told the audience that it was imperative to move quickly because of the sheer number of people affected. Earlier that day, she said five people on her docket were clients of the county’s behavioral health services and where “chronic violators” of their parole. Recently, she said one defendant disappeared after appearing to get better and family members were concerned he was off his medications.

“All I wanted to do is try to find him before he got too far gone,” said O’Brien. “Because I didn’t have that power because he wasn’t on my docket, so I had to issue a warrant for his arrest.”

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Arlington County is searching for ways to make building new senior care facilities easier.

The Arlington County Board approved a request for public hearings on the topic, and specifically on whether Arlington should change zoning regulations to allow developers to build senior centers in more parts of the county.

Right now, developers can only build assisted living facilities in “special development districts” usually meant for hospitals, according to a county staff report to the Board. Nursing homes can be built in the same areas, as well as some commercially-zoned areas.

The Board and the Planning Commission will invite the public to discuss the possibility of opening up some areas zoned for multi-family buildings to senior centers, as well as commercially-zoned areas. Meeting dates and locations have not yet been announced as of today (Friday.)

Planning staff are also currently considering public land, too, as part of a broader zoning study they intend to complete by the end of 2019.

Currently there are six assisted living facilities for senior citizens in Arlington with a total of 2,658 beds, per the staff report to the Board. An additional 2,408 beds are spread across the county’s four nursing homes.

No new facilities have been built in the last 20 years — a big problem considering the county’s growing elderly population.

“Arlington County is home to more than 35,000 residents above the age of 60,” County staff noted in the report. “This represents 14% of the County’s population, and this percentage is expected to grow in the coming decades. Across the nation, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older by 2030.”

Despite this growing need, staff acknowledged that current options are “limited.”

The County Board unanimously approved the request to advertise the hearings during its meeting last weekend.

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Residents of Arlington will have a number of chances to weigh in on the next steps for the Ballston Harris Teeter redevelopment.

The Arlington County Board unanimously approved scheduling a public hearing related to developer Southeastern’s request to rebuild the grocery store as a ground-floor retail space with five stories of apartments up top — as well as build a second, eight-story apartment building next to it and a half-acre public park.

The upcoming hearing by the county’s Planning Commission is one of several planned to review the project.

A meeting of the Site Plan Review Committee next week will allow residents to learn more about Southeastern’s request to rezone a portion of the land slated for the site as well as view updated renderings. It will be held this upcoming Monday, July 22, from 7-9:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, July 23, the public can attend an open house from 5-6:30 p.m. to ask more questions, particularly about the project’s proposed public spaces, and view the latest project renderings.

Both meetings will be held at county government headquarters, at 2100 Clarendon Blvd in Courthouse.

Southeastern wants to up-zone the land near N. Thomas Street, which is is currently zoned for “Low-Medium” residential buildings, which would otherwise put a damper on the developer’s plans to build 732 units and include retail space in the buildings.

County Board members approved the request to advertise the public meeting during their meeting this past weekend.

In April, the developers submitted new planning documents the county proposing:

  • increasing the number of housing units from 700 to 732
  • seeking a LEED Silver certification for green energy
  • reducing the number of parking spaces to 1 per unit, excluding the store parking lot

“The proposed development will provide a new, top of the line Harris Teeter grocery store with upgraded features and offerings,” an April letter from the developer noted. “It will also provide additional, much needed housing close to the Ballston Metro station and the Ballston Quarter project.”

Five years ago, the County Board approved changes to increase density on the site, taking into account the neighborhood’s development along Wilson Blvd.

At the time, Board members said they hoped N. Glebe Road could become an “urban boulevard.”

Map via Arlington County

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Faster wireless networks may be coming soon to a street near you, thanks to a new vote from the Arlington County Board.

The County Board approved an ordinance change to allow wireless carriers to install the small-cell technology needed to deploy 5G on public property. This paves the way for carriers to begin installing the necessary antenna systems on light poles throughout the county.

Board Chair Christian Dorsey said he was excited for 5G’s possibility to enhance emergency services by letting paramedics diagnose problems while still in the ambulance, and making it easier for people to connect with doctors through telehealth conferencing, among other new possibilities.

“To me it’s those kinds of things that make it worth our pursuing this,” he said. “Not for the faster speeds on our on our smart phone.”

The decision comes after a year of discussions in Arlington and state legislation from Richmond encouraging the technology.

Nate Wentland, the county’s chief business technology officer shared how the wireless technology is about 20 times faster than the current 4G networks, allows more people to connect to it, and would allow more Smart City technology like telehealth and autonomous vehicles.

Dorsey added that the “appreciated” the dozen residents who took to the podium to express concerns over possible health effects from exposure to the radiation.

“This is something that we have our eyes wide open about,” he said. “We want to measure the impact.”

Several residents criticized the plan during Tuesday night’s meeting out of concerns over possible health effects from the antenna radiation. Residents in neighboring jurisdictions have also raised concerns about the issue.

“We’re all basically guinea pigs,” said one resident.

“I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to ask the county how it plans to mitigate that risk,” said independent Board Candidate Audrey Clement.

But officials pushed back on the health concerns, saying that widely-accepted science finds no harmful effects from 5G technology. Wentland cited research from the FCC, the FDA, the CDC, and the American Cancer Institute that radiation from small cell technology is not known to be carcinogenic.

Board Member Erik Gutshall said that if new evidence arises demonstrating negative health effects from the technology the county “has the opportunity to protect ourselves and terminate [the license] with the public interest.”

Vendors (like AT&T or Verizon) that want to install the small cells will have to foot the $9,000 bill for the tech and the new pole, but Arlington County will own the pole. VDOT turned down proposal for traffic signals because of concerns about visibility.

Under the county’s listening agreement with cell carriers, the county will require radiation emission testing from a independent party for each pole 60 days after installation, and can request additional testing any time afterward. County Manager Mark Schwartz told residents that the data from these tests will be shared publicly.

Vendors will also have to sign a 10 year agreement with the county to install the tech, with the option of a five-year extension. Arlington will require them to pay a one-time $250 administrative fee to the state, an annual $270 fee to the county, and cover any utility costs.

“We are becoming a center for innovation and high technology with the advent of… Amazon coming here,” said Jonathan S. Adelstein who heads the Wireless Infrastructure Association and is a former FCC Commissioner.

“We need that capacity and residents here expect the highest quality of wireless services,” said Adelstein, who lives in Bellevue Forest. “I think it adds to property values here.”

The county has issued 75 permits allowing companies to install the antenna system on private property as of March 2019, per a staff presentation to the Board.

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A thief reportedly stole equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars from the famous Inner Ear Studio near Shirlington this morning.

The building’s landlord was the first to spot something was amiss: a car was parked by the rear door of the recording studio with the trunk open.

“He got pictures,” said Inner Ear owner Don Zientara, of the landlord’s eagle eye. “But they were stolen [license] plates.”

Several police officers could be seen on scene today just before 1 p.m., searching the studio. An officer photographed the remnants of a lock that had been punched through, leaving a gaping hole in the building’s front door.

“The stuff I can see just by looking totals around $10,000,” said Zientara, who described holes in the wall where some of his music recording equipment once stood.

He said he’s still working on assessing all the pieces of equipment that were stolen, but so far noticed a power supply, a pre-amplifier, and a Telefunken AR-51 tube condenser microphone are gone. Other, expensive items like computers had been left untouched, he noted.

“It was kind of indiscriminate,” said Zientara, who said his insurance will likely cover the losses.

Over the past three decades, he said thieves have never targeted his Shirlington studio — though a bass guitar once went missing many years ago.

Police responded to the call about the theft just after noon today, though the theft took place earlier in the morning, per scanner traffic.

Zientara founded Inner Ear Studio in the late 1970s, recording a long list of bands, including key members of the D.C. area’s punk scene.

Since then, the studio has continued to record independent artists. But it’s also attracted big names like the Foo Fighters, who recorded in the studio for their 2014 album Sonic Highways. An HBO documentary about the band and the album prominently featured Inner Ear.

Foo frontman Dave Grohl and bandmates previously recorded at Inner Ear before he went on to worldwide fame as a member of Nirvana.

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Arlington County is pledging to eliminate road deaths and serious traffic-related injuries — but it’s not yet clear how officials plan to accomplish that goal.

The Arlington County Board unanimously passed the “Vision Zero” resolution during its meeting Tuesday night that aims to bring the number of traffic casualties to zero. However, officials expect the details of the plan won’t be ready for another two years.

Now the county plans to gather public input on the proposal this fall, decide specific goals before January, and share a draft plan by next fall, per a county press release.

The final version of the Vision Zero plan isn’t likely to be completed before 2021.

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey noted that the number of accident-related deaths and injuries in Arlington remained steady for the past five years despite Arlington’s quickly growing population.

“But we can, and must, do better,” said Dorsey during the Tuesday meeting. “As our population continues to grow, and more cars, buses and bicycles share our streets, it is important that we work with the community toward the goal of completely eliminating deaths and serious injuries from traffic collisions.”

The resolution puts Arlington among network of governments, including neighboring jurisdictions like D.C., Alexandria and Montgomery County, which have passed similar “Vision Zero” promises to rethink traffic deaths as preventable, instead of inevitable.

However, advocates from New York to San Francisco have criticized officials for failing to live up to the goals in recent years. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has also faced pushback for raising traffic fines and increasing the number of speed cameras, but doing little to prevent a rising tide of deadly collisions.

In Arlington, two people were killed last year in crashes, versus six in 2017, and one in 2016. This is the about on par with Alexandria (five fatalities in 2018, and four in 2017) but much lower than in D.C. where 34 people were killed in 2018 alone.

Almost 60 people were reported to have been seriously injured in crashes in Arlington last year — a number that’s remained relatively steady since 2013.

As a condition of the newly-approved resolution, Arlington will publish regular reports on traffic fatalities and injuries, as well as an annual update on overall progress.

Officials in Arlington have discussed a Vision Zero resolution for years. Former Democratic County Board candidate Alan Howze promised to enact the pledge during his 2014 unsuccessful campaign for County Board.

This year, as the county updated the bicycle portion of Arlington’s Master Transportation Plan, officials said that they would put forth a formal Vision Zero proposal this summer.

Some took to social media to criticize the slow-moving process, including Chris Slatt, who chairs the Transportation Commission.

“After all this time I expected a plan, not a one-page resolution,” Slatt said.

“For now, we celebrate and strategize,” replied Gillian Burgess, who chairs the county’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.

“We are making progress,” Burgess added. “This is a good step.”

File photo (top). Graphs via Arlington County.

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(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) This week, ARLnow is doing something different with our Pet of the Week selections by featuring the companions of those whose homes were affected by last week’s flash floods.

Beagle duo Callie, 7, and Abby, 13, are members of the Sakell family in Westover. Owners Tom and Kathy evacuated with the dogs and their children Monday morning when the water rushed into their basement, and the family carried the beagles over a neighbor’s fence to higher ground.

“They’re both a little traumatized from the flood,” said Kathy. “They simply must be near me all the time. When they are, they are happy as clams.”

Tom previously told ARLnow that his family was babysitting another dog named Austin at the time. Austin is a 86 lb. golden retriever who was too heavy to lift over the fence, so Tom said they had to swim through the street together.

The Sakell family cannot live in their house at the moment because of the mold risk and repairs needed to their home — making them one of over a thousand homeowners and businesses who reported damages caused by the historic storm.

The Westover family said they’re currently staying near a beach in South Carolina while they regroup and decide how to fix their home. And for Callie and Abbey, it’s heaven.

“Their favorite thing is now running on the beach,” said Kathy.

Want your pet to be considered for the Arlington Pet of the Week? Email [email protected] with a 2-3 paragraph bio and at least 3-4 horizontally-oriented photos of your pet. Please don’t send vertical photos, they don’t fit in our photo galleries!

Each week’s winner receives a sample of dog or cat treats from our sponsor, Becky’s Pet Care, along with $100 in Becky’s Bucks. Becky’s Pet Care is the winner of eight consecutive Angie’s List Super Service Awards, the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters’ 2013 Business of the Year and a proud supporter of the Arlington County Pawsitively Prepared Campaign.

With quality service for over 20 years, Becky’s Pet Care provides professional dog walking and pet sitting in Arlington and all of Northern Virginia, as well as PetPrep training courses for Pet Care, CPR and emergency preparedness.

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A Ballston art project of motion-activated lights above the Metro station entrance is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Arlington County Board voted during its Saturday meeting to chip in $245,347 for the project, which is named “Intersections.”

The total expected cost of the project is around $500,000, with the Ballston Business Improvement District (BID) on the hook for the other half. BID CEO Tina Leone said she hopes the project will brighten up the dark Metro canopy, which she nicknamed the “Darth Vader hat.”

Dutch design company Blendid is creating the art installation, which will consist of a dozens of LEDs that can be individually programmed to respond to motion sensors that detect riders coming in and out of the station. A staff report to the Board last week said it hopes the art “will serve as a bold new gateway for Ballston.”

“It’s been a long road getting the design and the technical aspects to it laid out,” said Leone. “We’ve been really waiting of the county’s work on the Metro plaza to get underway.”

The county has long discussed plans to renovate the plaza outside the Ballston Metro station entrance and redesign the bus parking area to reroute buses off N. Stuart Street. Leone told ARLnow that the BID can’t install the canopy project until the plaza is finished because dust and construction could damage the sensors and lights.

Department of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet said that the county cancelled the most recent hunt for a contractor after the bids Arlington received were too high — a problem the department recently connected to contractor shortages.

“Staff and our design engineer consultant are adjusting the project scope and will issue a revised procurement this fall,” Balliet added. “Selection of a contractor and approval of the construction contract is currently anticipated for late fall 2019.”

For now, the BID will use the newly-approved funds to on the project’s design process and seeking approval from Metro. Until the county begins its construction, the timeline for completing the project remains murky.

Board members approved the funding unanimously as part of their consent agenda for the weekend meeting.

The BID will also be responsible for monitoring the progress of the installation and whether Blendid meets the benchmarks required to receive the public funds.

The Arlington Public Art Committee (PAC) gave the green light for the project four years ago, according to a staff report, which attributed delays to the project’s “size and ambitious scope.”

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A new scooter company is now set to join the ranks of e-scooters in Arlington, months after earning approval from the county.

E-scooter company JUMP, which is now owned by Uber, announced this morning that it will be soon be rolling the vehicles into Arlington and Alexandria. Loic Amado, Uber’s East Coast General Manager of Scooters, said the company was “excited” about getting more people using scooters, but did not share when users can expect to see the vehicles on the streets.

“At Uber, we are working towards a world where residents can easily live without a car and JUMP scooters provide an affordable, environmentally friendly way to get from point A to point B,” said Amado.

“Users can find and unlock JUMP scooters within the Uber app,” the company said in a press release. “It’s simple to use — you can reserve via the Uber app or by walking up to an available scooter and scanning the QR code to unlock. When using the app, tap the mode switch at the top of your home screen, and select Scooter. JUMP scooters are free to unlock and $0.25 per minute of riding.”

The move is part of Uber’s e-scooter expansion across several cities, including D.C., and more recently, Baltimore.

The county originally granted approval for JUMP to enter the fray back in February, with the company saying at the time they expected to roll out scooters “within a few weeks.”

Since approving a “demonstration project” for the scooters, officials have allowed several companies to scoot into Arlington — including Lyft, Lime, Bird, Skip, and Bolt. Last month, the Department of Environmental Services extended the pilot program to December 31 in a bid to gather more data and public input.

The devices have prompted discussions over safety as well as how to prevent the dockless devices from crowding sidewalks. This winter, lawmakers in Richmond advanced legislation to give local jurisdictions more authority to regulate scooter use, such as banning them on sidewalks.

Perhaps in a nod to the concerns over safety, Uber announced yesterday (Tuesday) that it will distribute free helmets at Phoenix Bikes in Arlington and VéloCity Bicycle in Alexandria until August 14.

 

Photo courtesy Uber

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