A mobility advocacy group is asking the county to build a three-year plan for funding projects that make non-car transit faster, more desirable and safer.
And the group, Sustainable Mobility, is trying to capitalize on signs that people are interested in bicycling and walking more coming out of the pandemic.
“We have to seize that opportunity before everybody gets into their cars again,” said Chris Slatt, the group’s president, who is also chair of the Transportation Commission and an opinion columnist on ARLnow. “This is an inflection point. Arlington has let too many opportunities pass during COVID-19 — we never achieved open streets, when people demanded more space to walk, sit and eat — we need them to do better now.”
Its recommendations respond to a draft document outlining the large projects that Arlington County intends to embark on over the next three years. This plan, called the Capital Improvement Plan, is winding its way through review processes and is set to be approved by the County Board in July.
Volunteers from Sustainable Mobility, or SusMo, combed through the transportation projects and identified a handful to nix, postpone or kick to developers for funding and implementation, which they say could free up about $17 million that could fund 20 projects or programs.
- Funding Vision Zero
- Speeding up transit
- Building safe routes to every school
- Building out the bike network for all ages and abilities
- Expanding and connecting the trail network
“None of what’s in our plan is really our idea,” Slatt said. “It is all things that are in sector plans, projects that… the county already has [identified], projects that were identified in the bicycle element of the Master Transportation Plan, or just ways to fund priorities that Arlington says they already have.”
- Changing the signals to reduce the time buses spend at intersections
- Completing the Arlington Blvd Trail
- Conducting a feasibility study of dedicated transit and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Columbia Pike
- All-door bus boarding and off-vehicle fare collection, to speed up buses
- A trail on the west side of Carlin Springs road, with a connection to the W&OD Trail, to provide a safer route to Kenmore Middle School
- Protected bike lanes on S. George Mason Drive between Route 7 and Route 50, providing a safe connection to Wakefield High School
- Additional capital funding for other Safe Routes to School projects
- Protected bike lanes on a portion of N. Highland Street in Clarendon
- A two-way protected bike lane on Fairfax Drive between Ballston and Clarendon
- Other “neighborhood bikeways”
Some projects are already in the County Manager’s draft Capital Improvement Program proposal, including a feasibility study for a trail underpass under Shirlington Road near the Weenie Beenie, and a new trail along the Arlington National Cemetery wall between Columbia Pike and Memorial Avenue.
A long-stalled affordable housing development project in Ballston has secured the funding it needs to move forward.
On Saturday, the County Board approved an allocation of nearly $16 million for an 8-story building at the Central United Methodist Church site on Fairfax Drive near the Ballston Metro station.
The project, which will have 144 committed affordable housing units, a childcare facility for up to 100 children and a church space for up to 200 people, is being developed by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.
“It’s a move that goes a long way — there’s still much more work to do — toward achieving our affordable housing goals here in the county,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said.
The funding is in addition to the $3 million allocated to APAH in September 2019.
APAH proposes a mix of units: 15 units are affordable up to 30% of AMI, 60 units affordable up to 50% AMI and 69 units affordable up to 60% AMI.
Twelve units will be accessible to people with disabilities.
Setting aside 75 units for residents earning 50% of the area median income or below “is an elusive income target in affordable housing developments,” said Housing Commission Chair Eric Berkey in a letter to the county.
Twelve of the 69 units will be three-bedroom, something the Housing Commission is also pushing to see more of in the county, generally, Berkey said.
APAH will be providing free in-unit internet access to residents as well.
“Low-income residents often cannot afford internet access or can only afford service that provides very low bandwidth or limited service,” the staff report said.
Although there is momentum now, those involved have had a hard time getting the Ballston Station project off the ground.
The County Board originally approved the development in 2017, when the church was working with Bozzuto Development Company.
The county reapproved the project in 2019, once APAH took it over, to upsize the project from 119 units, including 48 designated as affordable, to 144 units of 100% committed affordable housing.
Last fall, the County Board granted APAH a three-year extension on the site plan amendment, giving the developer until October 2023 to start building.
The project has also faced setbacks, as multiple applications for competitive Low Income Housing Tax Credits were unsuccessful. APAH had to find other ways to make the project financially sustainable.
It changed the mix of apartment units, worked with the county and Virginia Housing to restructure the financing for the project, and applied for and won an $8.75 million Amazon REACH grant from Virginia Housing.
“It is noted that this project was made possible due to APAH and CUMC making changes to the income-level mix of the property and obtaining Virginia Housing Amazon REACH Grant funding,” Berkey said. “That this project required such efforts should be a reminder about the challenges currently faced by our development partners and should inform both our local efforts and advocacy at the state and federal levels.”
Next, the County Board will review the loan documents, likely this fall. Construction is slated to start in October or November and APAH expects work to finish by winter 2023-24.
It’s official: The Virginia Department of Transportation recommends turning Route 1, which is elevated over 12th, 15th and 18th streets, into an at-grade urban boulevard.
“An at-grade configuration for Route 1 provides most desirable characteristics that meet the multimodal and community vision for National Landing,” according to presentation materials from a virtual VDOT meeting Wednesday.
The news caps off one year of study, but is not much of a surprise, as the at-grade solution seemed to emerge as the likely recommendation over the last few months despite some concerns about it being more dangerous for pedestrians. But the newest version appears to take into account concerns among some over the number of lanes, pedestrian safety, and the possibility of traffic overflow onto local streets.
The surface-level Route 1 that VDOT envisions would have wide buffered sidewalks on both sides, six to seven narrowed travel lanes, a 30-mph speed limit, wide crosswalks for pedestrians and bicycles, landscaping and medians with pedestrian refuges.
That is a few lanes fewer than the nine-lane option for the intersection with 15th Street S. that VDOT floated earlier this year. Last night’s presentation said eight- and nine-lane options are “not conducive for pedestrians or the vision for Crystal City.”
According to the presentation, however, even these improvements will not significant reduce crashes and increase pedestrian safety, increase transit effectiveness, or reduce vehicle traffic along an at-grade Route 1.
VDOT indicated two things will be needed to make an at-grade Route 1 safer. First is a travel demand management (TDM) strategy to bring down traffic levels. Second, and in response to public comments, the department said it will consider a separated pedestrian crossing over or under Route 1 at 18th Street S.
A “comprehensive and effective TDM strategy that reduces traffic volumes 20% to 30% below existing volumes” will “reduce future congestion and future diversion of traffic to local and regional roads,” according to the presentation materials.
The pedestrian crossing study would look at cost, aesthetics, use, construction feasibility, maintenance and accessibility, the presentation said. Possibilities for grade-separated crossings include a pedestrian underpass, a tunnel connection to the Crystal City underground, or a pedestrian bridge over Route 1.
Both the TDM and pedestrian crossing proposals will be explored in a second phase of the study. The next phase will likely further examine the department’s third recommendation — based on a concept requested by Arlington County staff — to allow all turns at 15th Street S. but no left turns at 18th Street S., near the Crystal City Metro station.
Realizing the urban boulevard vision could cost $180 million, which is less than the $260 million VDOT projects would be needed to create a split-level highway for through-traffic and local traffic, as envisioned in the ten-year-old Crystal City Sector Plan.
The National Landing Business Improvement District has been a champion of turning Route 1 into an urban boulevard. It recently released renderings of a road transformed by protected bike lanes, pedestrian refuges and prominent sidewalks, as part of a new campaign, “People Before Cars,” which has featured outdoor signs and public advocacy.
The state transportation department is accepting public comments on these recommendations through July 12. A draft report will come out in August and a final report in September.
The discussion happened as county staff outlined the flurry of work at the property. Separately, the Board voted 5-0 to enter into an agreement allowing AHC to refinance its loan for the apartments through a new lender before its current loan expires in less than two months.
This loan agreement is urgently needed, according to a staff presentation. If in two months lenders foreclosed on the property, the bank would repossess the Serrano, lifting the affordability restrictions and displacing residents. But some people are worried that preventing AHC from defaulting runs counter to the need to hold the organization accountable.
Elder Julio Basurto, a member of the Arlington Schools Hispanic Parents Association, said he has watched the building at 5535 Columbia Pike crumble under AHC. He urged the county “to stop feeding the monster that AHC has become,” a monster that “sucks the life out of the ones they vowed to help.”
Former school board member Tannia Talento read the signs residents brought — pleas to be heard and protected.
“Don’t forget about us,” she said, saying it again in Spanish. “No se olviden de nosotros.”
Serrano’s residents and all affordable housing people deserve respect and a better treatment.@ARLnowDOTcom @ArlingtonVA @TanniaTalento @claudiaandhugo2 @NAACP @goffashley pic.twitter.com/BUvgJLu5qT
— Janeth (@janeth_janeth2b) June 17, 2021
Board members explained that allowing AHC to refinance will lock it into a new agreement and force it to make improvements.
“The easy way out for AHC would be to be in a position where they defaulted on a loan and ended up with a foreclosure,” Board member Christian Dorsey said. “They could wipe their hands of it and move on, they could walk away leaving in their wake devastation and despair, leaving people in limbo. Accountability is being engaged with the long-term process to return the Serrano to the level of quality the residents expect.”
AHC has two loans to pay off: a primary loan to a private lender and a subordinate loan to the county through the Affordable Housing Investment Fund. The new lender requires AHC to agree to prioritize repaying the private loan before the county loan, something that required a county vote.
This loan acts like a bridge until 2024, when AHC intends to use Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to finance a full renovation of the property. The county says it will work with AHC to develop a renovation plan.
In recent weeks the county has conducted 150 code violation apartment walkthroughs, put up people in hotels and shared information about various resources they can use, said Housing Director Anne Venezia.
AHC is also keeping busy and finding ways to repay tenants, according to a letter from the Board of Directors.
It is waiving certain fees and returning security deposits for those who relocate and, for those who have been displaced, providing $200 gift cards and waiving utility payments. It reduced July rent by $200 for all tenants.
Board Chair Matt de Ferranti reiterated the responsibility he feels for the conditions of the Serrano and apologized to the residents who were signed up to speak but had to go home due to the late hour — caused in part by an hour-long discussion about a new farmers market’s start time.
De Ferranti called for another update next month and told AHC it, not the county, should bear the brunt of the hotel stays and relocation costs.
“I would submit that we would not be in this situation if care had been taken over the past two years,” he said. “The right thing to do is that the large majority of relocation costs should be covered by AHC and not by the county.”
Some Board members expressed frustration that this conversation mirrors similar discussions over the past two years with AHC. Dorsey said he met with AHC in 2019 about the same problems at the Serrano and, at the time, heard similar remedies.
Ahead of the vote, some residents — chiefly worried about noise early in the morning — told Board members the market will be a rotten deal for their neighborhood. The issue drew 14 speakers for and against the proposal and the discussion lasted one hour, prompting some Board members to hasten to a vote and move on.
The new market will attract up to 20 vendors to its location at Dorothy Hamm Middle School (4100 Vacation Lane). Its first day is expected to be Saturday, July 3; starting next year, the market will operate from April through November. Field to Table, an Arlington-based nonprofit that facilitates the markets at Lubber Run, Fairlington and Westover, will manage the market.
Sales will start at 8 a.m. and end at noon. The School Board is set to approve an agreement during its Thursday, June 24 meeting.
Concerned residents asked for a 9 a.m. start time to allow for more quiet time in the morning. While the County Board ultimately sided with an 8 a.m. start time, proposed by staff and requested by Field to Table, they did extend an olive branch to residents in the form of a County Board review of the market in six months.
“Having lived through this with my Fairlington community, there was a lot of concerns about noise, and I would hear about it on walks,” Board member Libby Garvey said. “I have not been hearing about complaints since, and I’m fairly confident that this will work out fine.”
Oh wow there are a lot of speakers here to speak for/against a…*checks notes*
farmers market pic.twitter.com/o5CABcC2Ju
— Stephen Repetski (@srepetsk) June 15, 2021
Local resident Joan Perry predicted that with this level of concern over the impact on the neighborhood, the market will not succeed, just like a community-supported agriculture program in the neighborhood failed.
“The farmers market is supposed to serve the immediate community surrounding the school, the very people opposed to the market who did not support the CSA,” she said.
Neighbor Simone Acha asked for a later start time so her Saturday mornings would not be unduly disturbed.
“We know from having lived through almost four years of construction at Dorothy Hamm Middle School that noise is very disruptive,” she said.
Others were excited at the prospect of a walkable market.
“I can’t think of a better place to hold the farmers market,” said Marcy Gessel.
Neighboring civic associations advocated for starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 1 p.m. The Donaldson Run Civic Association conditioned its support on — among other requests — this start time.
“A farmers market located in this kind of neighborhood setting, such substantial disruption of nearby DRCA residents on a weekend morning is unreasonable,” wrote Bill Richardson, the president of the Donaldson Run Civic Association. “For those living near Hamm Middle School, who have already had to endure many years of construction activity, this burden is particularly distressing.”
In response to the concerns, ahead of the Tuesday Board meeting, staff added language governing noise levels, limiting vendor parking to one road, and suggested both a staff and County Board review.
Attempting to wrap up the discussion and propose a resolution that would work for everyone, Board member Katie Cristol nodded to some mothers and children in the audience of the County Board meeting. They were waiting to speak about a later agenda item: county attempts to improve conditions at the Serrano Apartments, an affordable housing complex in Columbia Pike.
“I’m cognizant that we have some really important items, as I know our chair feels acutely — and it’s bedtime in some cases — so I think we should try to be moving forward,” Cristol said.
By the time the Serrano discussion started, however, those families had to leave, according to Rev. Pete Nunnally, the assistant rector at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
“I wonder what the conversation was between the mothers who brought their kids here but had to wait so long, so long that they had to go home, while white people argued about a farmers market,” he said.
During the annual State of the County address, the chair said Arlington County is well on the road to economic recovery but it has a ways to go before it enters into a period of renewal. The event was hosted virtually yesterday morning (Tuesday) by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, with a Q&A moderated by ARLnow founder Scott Brodbeck.
“We’re growing, but not as fast as at the start of 2020, before the pandemic, when our prospects seemed truly bright,” he said. “If we’re honest, recovery is not all we’re looking for at this moment. The state that we have not reached — that we must create — is renewal.”
Reaching renewal will mean supporting small businesses, working to eliminate inequities and increasing housing options, he said.
Recent data show the health of Arlington County residents has stabilized, with a 0.6% COVID-19 test positivity rate and about one case per day over the last two weeks. Unemployment is down, as well, from 7.2% this time last year to 3% today, he said. As vaccination rates rise, tourism is recovering, with hotel occupancy rates up to 40% from a low of 20%.
The county has also retained organizations with an Arlington footprint, including the State Department, while attracting new companies, from Microsoft to shipping company ZeBox‘s startup incubator. All along, Amazon continues to meet its occupancy and hiring goals while supporting businesses, he said, and will present its second phase of its HQ2 to the Board later this year.
Plus, new development is continuing.
“The County Board has approved numerous office and residential projects that will drive economic growth… and strengthen our economy in Arlington,” de Ferranti said. “We’re hearing from commercial real estate brokers that there is significant pent-up demand from [office] tenants who delayed real estate decisions in the pandemic. We expect to see these deals come forward in the fall of this year.”
Still, the office vacancy rate is a lingering concern for de Ferranti, who noted that it was 18.7% in the first quarter, up 2.1% from the same time last year.
“Part of the reason I sought this office was to bring down the vacancy rate so that we could invest in schools, housing, transit, transportation and the things that make Arlington a great place to live,” he said. “Our economic development projects show promise, our pipeline is strong, so I’m confident we can bring down the rate over the coming years.”
“We saw before Amazon that there was a time when we got a touch complacent working on our office vacancy rate,” he said. “That’s no one’s fault but we do need to stay focused on it.”
While it’s mostly larger companies that help to fill Arlington’s office towers, small businesses in Arlington need help, de Ferranti said, so Arlington Economic Development is preparing a grant program using American Rescue Plan funds. It follows up on a similar program last year that helped 393 businesses.
The county still has work to do to fix bugs with the online permit system and improve the customer service experience for businesses — lessons learned from the roll-out of temporary outdoor seating areas, or TOSAs, the chair admitted.
This document will guide the construction of a new, 0.9-acre park, which is scheduled to kick off next year. The open space, also known as the “Teardrop Parcel,” borders Pentagon City and is located at the intersection of S. Eads Street and Army Navy Drive.
The park “will serve as a contemplative green oasis in a densely developed urban context,” according to the master plan document.
The green space is located by the Verizon telecommunications facility (400 11th Street S.) and the construction site for a new, 19-story residential building. It’s adjacent to the recently-built Altaire apartments and across the street from the second phase of Amazon’s permanent HQ2. The park project, with a $3 million budget, is funded by developer contributions.
According to a county report, the plans have support from the community, which had multiple virtual public engagement opportunities — from September 2020 to March 2021.
The plan said “people value the park space as a natural green refuge [and] want a space where they can come and feel connected with nature, to take a break, and to relax by themselves or with others.”
In particular, community members indicated they were keen to preserve a 40-year-old cottonwood tree on the north parcel.
One engagement opportunity this year asked community members to indicate their preference for one of three design concepts. Respondents and committees settled on one called “The Meander,” which features a central promenade bordered by planted berms.
“Berms with pollinator meadows and a rain garden bring visual, tactile and temporal experiences of nature into the urban environment,” the planning document said.
Other berms will be planted densely with trees to provide a “green buffer” between the park and Army Navy Drive.
In addition to the promenade, users can traverse via a boardwalk. There will be an outdoor fitness area with exercise stations, built-in benches, a “dog spot” and two lawns for gatherings.
The master plan with design guidelines has the support of the Park and Recreation and the Forestry and Natural Resources commissions.
“The park appears to provide the promise of a casual use oasis in this part of Crystal City that is supportive and respectful of the need for more natural plantings,” said PRC Chair William Ross in a letter to the county.
Forestry commission chair Chair Phil Klingelhofer said that members believe the community “will be well served by walking along the non-linear, curvy path shaded by trees.”
Klingelhofer noted in his letter to the county that the community was excited to see the cottonwood tree preserved and the proposed level of planting.
“This shows, once again, the demand for enhanced natural resources, and a level of satisfaction that community needs are being met,” he said.
Construction is slated to begin in the third quarter of 2022 and end one year later, in the third quarter of 2023, according to the county webpage on the new park.
The Board approved the item at its Tuesday meeting, after a request to remove it from Saturday’s consent agenda, which is used to approve items deemed non-controversial with one vote.
(An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the date in which the County Board approved the plan.)
“After opening the park in fall 2020, and now that the vaccination clinic has ended, it’s time to prepare to open the new center,” the Department of Parks and Recreation said in an email. “Come by the gym, fitness center and indoor track.”
Fitness memberships are required for those working out at the center.
Construction started on the new community center in 2018. It was set to open in late 2020, but due to budget cuts the opening of the community center lagged behind that of the park’s playgrounds and courts, which made their debut last September.
At the time, the county said the community center would open “sometime after July 2021, which is the start of the County’s next fiscal year.”
Before the official opening, the customer service desk will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting next Monday (June 21). Staff will be available to accept forms for in-person summer camp, fee reductions, facility rentals and program and class registrations.
“Shortly after the facility opens, we will host a ribbon-cutting and community celebration,” according to the email, which added that more information on this event will be announced later.
The parks department did not hold a ribbon-cutting for the playground and courts when they opened in September due to the pandemic, Arlington County Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish previously said.
This summer, the hours for the center will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Those operating hours are set to be extended later this year.
“This fall, the center will be open later, and on Sundays too,” the email said. “Indoor programming, such as the senior center and preschool, will return this fall.”
The community center and park at the intersection of N. George Mason Drive and N. Park Drive is across the street from Barrett Elementary School and is walkable from Ballston. Parking is also available.
McLean-based developer Jefferson Apartment Group now has the green light to demolish the 13-story, 1960s-era RCA building at 1901 N. Moore Street and build a 27-story, 423-unit apartment building in its place. The structure will feature two levels of retail and 286 parking spaces spread across parking on the third and fourth floors and underground.
“It is a beautiful project,” Board member Katie Cristol said. “I am very excited about this number of units. To site more housing so proximate to transit and in a neighborhood that could really use and be enlivened by residential as well as office [uses], it is the right place to put this number of residential units.”
The aging office building is about one block from the Rosslyn Metro station. As part of an agreement with the county, the developer will remove inner loop roads around it, as well as the skywalk connection between the RCA building and the Rosslyn Gateway building.
The developer will also donate $2.2 million toward improvements within Rosslyn, such as for Gateway Park, and dedicate 4% of its spots for electric vehicles. Another 18% of the spots will be “electric-capable,” meaning they could be converted down the road if demand increases.
The planned 260-foot tall building is composed of a north and a south tower joined at the base and at the rooftop with an “amenity bridge.” The fourth floor will feature a landscaped terrace and the roof will also have garden elements.
JAG is agreeing to provide $1.5 million to the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund as well as 12 on-site committed affordable units. It will also make a number of transportation improvements, some of which responded to pushback from cycling and pedestrian advocates, including:
- Buffered bike lanes on 19th Street N.
- Protected bike lanes on N. Lynn Street
- Bike lanes on Lee Highway
- Colorized asphalt for bus lanes in the travel lane of N. Moore Street
- A new intersection where 19th Street N. and N Lynn Street meet
- A new intersection where 19th Street N. and N. Moore Street meet
- Relocation of the red-light camera at N. Lynn Street and Lee Highway
- A new Capital Bikeshare station, including the costs to maintain it for two years
Advisory commissions that provided feedback along the way generally supported the newest version of the project. Representatives did mention a number of environmental issues that Board members latched onto as possible, larger-scale conversations needed for future projects: more assurances regarding bird-friendly glass, more electric vehicle charging stations and the possibility of electric-powered HVAC.
“The need for bird-friendly glass comes up all the time, the need to electrify buildings comes up all the time, and the need for more electric vehicle charging stations comes up all the time,” Board member Libby Garvey said. “That’s a larger conversation I’d love for us to figure out how to work through a little more as a government.”
Jefferson could increase the percentage of spots for electric vehicles beyond 22% if need be, representatives said.
Board member Christian Dorsey said that is good news, but the county should avoid pushing developers to make commitments exceeding market demand.
“On balance, this is pushing the ball forward in a lot of ways which we can all be thankful for and support, and I’m pleased to vote for it,” he said.
A new installation outside Dorothy Hamm Middle School tells the story of the four students who integrated the building, formerly Stratford Junior High School, six decades ago.
Four free-standing panels and a wall-mounted panel, connected by a trail, depict Gloria Thompson, Ronald Deskins, Lance Newman and Michael Jones — the four students who desegregated the building on Feb. 2, 1959 — as well as Dorothy Hamm, the new school’s namesake and prominent civil rights activist in Arlington, and Barbara Johns, who at 16 led a student strike for equal education at a high school in Farmville, Virginia.
During a dedication ceremony for the new Stratford Commemorative Trail on Friday, several speakers said the installation equally inspires children to achieve greatness and charges Arlington Public Schools to continue making history.
“Rest assured that every child will leave this school knowing the civil rights history that happened here, understanding that while four students did begin the desegregation process in 1959, many others were denied that opportunity, and it came later,” school Principal Ellen Smith said. “Our students must know that as citizens of our school, our county, our state and our nation, they have the responsibility to speak up, to say something and make good trouble, as [former Rep.] John Lewis so aptly stated.”
The panels challenge those who walk the trail to take action and remind middle schoolers can make a difference at their age, she added.
APS & @ArlingtonVA dedicate the Stratford Commemorative Trail @DHMiddleAPS (formerly Stratford Jr High). The trail’s interpretive panels discuss nat’l, state & local history of school desegregation & honor the 4 students who desegregated Stratford on Feb. 2, 1959, & Dorothy Hamm. pic.twitter.com/IZRntPiQ01
— Arlington Public Schools (@APSVirginia) June 11, 2021
In 2016, the school was designated a local historic district and APS convened a committee to find a way to honor its history. Soon after, APS embarked on a process to convert the school at 4100 Vacation Lane from a building housing the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs to a neighborhood middle school. It was renamed for Hamm and reopened to students in 2019. Final touches were finished during the 2020-21 school year.
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1812 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn.
There is a new skipper offering cruises of the Potomac River that launch from Gravelly Point in Arlington.
Jerry Lee is a South Korean immigrant and a lawyer-turned-captain who started chartering boat tours this spring through his new company, Reflections DC. He offers two-hour powerboat cruises of the Potomac from Gravelly Point and three-and-a-half to five-hour sailing excursions of the Chesapeake Bay from Shadyside, Maryland.
His launch coincided with cherry blossom season and he was fully booked during that time.
“That was really encouraging,” said Lee, who lived for a number of years in Clarendon.
Bookings continue to fill up: His weekends are almost fully booked and he takes tourists on the water about two to three times a week. Many find out about his company through his Airbnb experiences page, which drives up to 40% of his bookings. His most popular offering is the powerboat cruise but he is working to promote his sailing excursions, which range from trips for pleasure to instructional courses.
“It’s very quickly been enough to earn a living,” he said. “It’s going faster than I expected. As the weather gets warmer, people are booking more and more.”
He got the idea for Reflections DC from a friend who owns a charter business in Baltimore. He started the company last year and then set out to obtain the necessary business licenses and build up the online presence needed to get started.
Lee is trying to carve out a niche for Reflections DC as a private, small boating company offering “engaging, conversation-driven and personalized experiences” — with complimentary beer, seltzers and sodas — amid big competitors running dinner cruises.
“I really do want to get people inspired to learn to sail and to buy a boat, to do all that stuff safely,” he said.
The skipper, who came to the U.S. when he was 16, discovered sailing in college while teaching martial arts to support himself. One of his students became a good friend and took him sailing for the first time. Throughout the rest of college and during law school, Lee rented little dinghies and kept improving his sailing skills. He finished law school in 2011, did corporate litigation for two years and started taking on cases as a private-practice attorney in 2013.
While he has kept his day job for now, one day Lee hopes to make Reflections DC a full-time pursuit.
“When people see me as a lawyer, they have a problem they want me to solve, and that’s fulfilling, but people are upset when people see me,” he said. “On the boat, people are happy, and if they aren’t, they will be when they’re done.”
Lee aims to expand and run more than one boat at a time but he doesn’t want it to get so big that Reflections DC loses its essential offering — “a more pure experience” of the river and the sights surrounding it.
“I feel like I shouldn’t be able to make a living doing something so much fun,” he said.