Arlington, VA

Over forty trees are planned to be removed to make way for a new elementary school in Westover, but Arlington Public Schools is hosting one last meeting about potential tree-saving solutions before construction starts.

A discussion is scheduled with neighbors on Monday (Sept. 16) at the edge of the grove will involve discussion of whether any of the trees can be saved. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the basketball court on the Reed site (1644 N. McKinley Road).

The current plans call for the removal of roughly 42 trees to facilitate construction that will add to the building that houses the Westover Library and, soon, a new neighborhood elementary school.

Residents have expressed concerns about the removal of the grove, which includes a variety of maple, cedar and mulberry trees. A presentation on the project noted that an inventory of the trees was prepared by a certified arborist and tree removal was recommended.

According to the presentation:

Decisions on tree removal balanced: Building location and required excavation, site improvements (play areas, universally accessible walkways, etc.) and underground utilities (sanitary, storm, geothermal, etc.).

The designs for the site include adding 82 replacement trees, well above the 49 trees required to be planted according to county regulations.

But the plans have drawn some criticism from neighbors and local environmentalists. County Board candidate Audrey Clement specifically addressed the County Board’s approval of the project for its destruction of the trees at a debate this past Monday  (Sept. 9). Many of the trees are larger, like a silver maple tree 4.5 feet wide.

At the meeting next Monday, the presentation says neighbors will be invited to discuss the removal with an arborist and county staff.

But any moving of the remaining trees will have to occur quickly: construction of the new school is scheduled to start by the end of September.

The Westover neighborhood suffered extensive damage from flooding this summer, but school officials said the new school will include updated stormwater protections.

“Stormwater structures and basins are much enhanced from what exists on-site now as per current state stormwater requirements,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Map via Arlington Public Schools

0 Comments

Three months after it closed, N. Edgewood Street is now open once again.

The street, which connects Clarendon and Wilson boulevards, in front of the Clarendon Whole Foods, can get busy, especially during times when the Whole Foods is busy.

Edgewood Street was closed in June to facilitate construction at the Loft Office at Market Common redevelopment project on the west side of the street. After demolition work earlier this year, construction crews seem to be at work on the frame of the building, which will ultimately be a four-story mix of office and retail space. The expanded and renovated building is expected to reopen in the second quarter of 2020.

N. Edgewood Street reopened earlier this week with a disclaimer from Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services saying Whole Foods “has plenty of Beaufort D’Ete. No need to speed.”

0 Comments

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) There was one question that ran through the mind of Zeb Armstrong, a newlywed from South Carolina recently drafted for service in the Vietnam War.

“Will I return?”

It was a question Armstrong etched onto his bunk in a magic marker, alongside hundreds of other messages and images from countless young men taking a journey many wouldn’t return from. The 18-21 day trip from the West Coast to Vietnam aboard the USNS General Nelson Walker left a lot of time for soldiers to get homesick or anxious about the journey ahead. Though against regulations, drawing on the canvas beds became a widespread past-time.

Yesterday (Tuesday), a traveling exhibit called the Vietnam Graffiti Project stopped at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization in Clarendon that works on improving efficiency and effectiveness of military operations. For one day, canvases covered with years of doodling from soldiers covered the walls of the offices, and co-founder Art Beltrone spoke with CNA personnel about their stories.

The ship started its service in the final days of WWII then ferried troops to and from the Korean War and the Vietnam War. After Vietnam, the ship was put into the James River Reserve fleet — the Ghost Fleet — to be reactivated in case of an emergency. It sat there virtually untouched until Beltrone visited the ship with Jack Fisk — a production designer doing research for The Thin Red Line — and stumbled on rooms littered with relics from the war sitting exactly as they’d been left when the last soldiers disembarked.

When he found out the ship was scheduled to be scrapped, Beltrone said he and his wife asked the military if they could recover the canvases and other items to preserve the memory of the soldiers who traveled on the ship. The ship was taken apart in Texas in 2005, but Beltrone had recovered the graffiti from inside the ships.

“We did not want to see that material lost and those men forgotten,” Beltrone said. “It’s not just an artifact. It’s someone talking back to us through time.”

Then the work began on telling those stories. Many of them signed their work and left messages about their hometowns or loved ones, which made looking them up easier. Beltrone said he still gets emotional when they read the little notes drawn on the canvas about insecurities and homesickness — only to find that the person who wrote them was ultimately killed in Vietnam.

Read More

0 Comments

(Updated at 11:10 a.m.) The achievement gap, overcrowding, an obnoxious name change debate: there’s a lot on the minds of Arlington’s high school students.

Though a few issues tie all of the schools together, the editors of the student newspapers at Yorktown, Wakefield and Washington-Liberty also said there were certain features that make the schools — and the student coverage — unique. The editors shared the inside stories of life for local students.

United by Overcrowding

Across all three of the schools, all of the editorial teams agreed that overcrowding — thanks to an ever rising student population — was one of the biggest problems.

“It’s especially an issue this year,” said Charlie Finn, one of the head editors of the Yorktown Sentry. “We already have overcrowding and the main problem is crowded classrooms.”

Finn and Joseph Ramos, Yorktown Sentry’s other head editor, noted that the Sentry has worked on reporting overcrowding from within the school. Articles from the Yorktown Sentry detail the challenges students face in overcrowded schools and review proposed solutions.

At Washington-Liberty, the school is so crowded the interview with the students had to be held in a corner of a hallway already packed with students eating or doing work.

“I do think overcrowding is an issue,” said Abby, head editor for the Crossed Sabres, the student newspaper of W-L. At the teacher’s request, interviews with Washington-Liberty students use first names only.

“I’m in an English class with 38 people,” Abby said. “Schedules are being changed to deal with the numbers of students, especially in the [International Baccalaureate] program.”

At the Wakefield Chieftain, editor Carla Barefoot said students learned this year that pep rallies would be held outside rather than inside because the gym can’t fit the entire student body.

But each school also said there are also issues central to each school’s community they’re working to cover.

Yorktown: Investigating the Achievement Gap

At Yorktown, Ramos said one of his goals for the upcoming school year is to highlight the school’s achievement gap.

“We want to focus on the achievement gaps [at Yorktown],” Ramos said, citing figures published by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization. “Black students are 11 times more likely to be suspended as white students and white students are twice as likely to take [advanced placement] classes.”

Ramos also recognized that exploring the achievement gap — an issue inextricably tied to racial disparities in Arlington’s least diverse high school — will require thorough research and a delicate touch.

“In covering the achievement gap, it’s going to be important to look at all the whys and hows to tell the full story,” Ramos said. “It’s a sensitive subject — we can’t do a half baked job.”

Wakefield: Covering Diversity in 2019 Politics

Meanwhile at Wakefield, Arlington’s most diverse high school, the editorial team said all eyes are on the upcoming elections — namely the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The Chieftain’s editors said the student population was keenly interested in how minority groups in America would be affected.

Read More

0 Comments

Arlington County Board incumbents fought to hold their ground against independents over Amazon incentives and housing topics at a debate Monday evening.

At the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum at U.Group in Crystal City (2231 Crystal Drive), Democratic incumbents Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol faced off against independent challengers Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell.

One of the moments of back-and-forth criticism among the candidates came over the redevelopment of a number of market-rate affordable housing complexes in the Westover neighborhood. Clement has frequently criticized the County Board for what she said was the “preventable demolition” of the Westover garden apartments.

The redevelopment was by-right, meaning the developer did not need County Board approval. But Clement said the County Board could have designated the apartments part of a historic district and preserved the homes.

Overall, Clement argued that development drives up costs to build housing and that even dedicated affordable housing units come at a steep cost.

“The average cost of a new [Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] unit is in excess of $400,000,” Clement said. “Most of the units are not affordable. Because the units are not affordable, the income-qualified people who move in, 30 percent of them have to have rent subsidies to pay the nominal amount of rent that they do pay. The taxpayers are hit twice, they have to pay their own rent and their own mortgage and they have to pay someone else’s because the cost of building that unit was astronomical.”

Dorsey fired back that rather than use the historic district designation, the County Board is working to change the regulations to protect affordable communities from redevelopment.

“In the Westover reference that Ms. Clement talked about, while she thinks the Board has done nothing, what we did do was take a courageous stand… and stopped the perverse incentive that led people to take affordable communities and turn them into by-right townhouses,” Dorsey said. “We paused that option and put it into the special exemption process so that we created options to preserve that housing.”

“We’re studying ways that can be better purposed to provide long term, market-based affordable housing,” Dorsey added. So you have to figure out where you’re doing harm and stop doing harm to create new options to preserve affordability both through direct subsidies and through the market.”

O’Dell, meanwhile, said the County should do more to accommodate for “tiny apartments” aimed at people moving to Arlington immediately after college, who may need an affordable place to live but not a lot of space.

“When you talk about housing affordability, you need to have a variety of types of units,” O’Dell said. “We should look at the lower incomes that fall into the 60 percent bracket and give them opportunities to possibly move in and look at places to live.”

Cristol said the County should work to open the door to other types of housing, pointing to the recent legalization of detached accessory dwelling units as an example and noting the large amount of land in Arlington zoned for only single-family housing.

“One of the most important things we can do is legalizing alternative forms,” said Cristol. “There are so many housing forms that could offer folks not only an opportunity to rent but [also to] buy and it’s literally illegal to build them in huge swaths of the county… There’s room for creative ideas, this is an area where we need partnership in the private sector, particularly for those who develop housing.”

Read More

0 Comments

It’s been a tumultuous road to recovery for two Westover stores devastated by this summer’s record-breaking floods.

Ayers Variety and Hardware and Westover Market and Beer Garden are local institutions that were unfortunately placed directly in the path of floodwaters. Waters flooded both stores and knocked out power to the block.

“Every week it gets better,” said Devin Hicks, manager of Westover Market. “This place has never looked so clean and the community support has been tremendous.”

As Westover Market approaches its ten-year anniversary, Hicks said he’s feeling optimistic.

“It’s been a fight the entire time,” Hicks said. “But everyone’s been remarking that they’re happy to see us persevere. It’s been a rough two months, but it gets better every day.”

Next door, however, recovery has not been as easy for Ayers. The local store has been in business for 70 years selling everything from gardening supplies to plastic toys. But Kristy Peterkin, a manager for the store, said the business was already hard-hit by recent tariffs from the ongoing trade war with China.

“At the same time as the flood, one tier of the China trade tariff hit,” Peterkin said. “Now the second tier is starting to take effect. That’s a big hit.”

Peterkin says the company tries to buy American, but most of the stock they sell is almost exclusively manufactured overseas.

“Probably about 75 percent of what we sell is not American-made,” Peterkin said, “and we’ve seen a 25 percent increase in the prices. Walmart absorbs that price, but we can’t.”

The flood heavily exacerbated what was already a not-so-great situation. Water poured into the Ayers basement, ruining thousands of dollars in merchandise and leaving the store with nowhere to put overstocked goods. Today, half of the basement remains unusable.

“Until that’s fixed, we have nowhere to store additional [stock] that comes in,” Peterkin said. “We’re out of money to spend paying people to fix things, so repairs are on us now, which takes a lot longer. My husband and I work evenings trying to clear the basement.”

The basement flooding has left the store with limited inventory, as Peterkin said they have to be more careful about what they purchase because there’s no room to store surplus and they can’t afford to take a risk on items that they aren’t sure will sell.

“We’re kind of in a rough place right now,” Peterkin said. “I don’t know how that will look in the long run. We’re taking it one step at a time.”

Both stores said a GoFundMe campaign set up to support Westover retailers was a tremendous boon at a time of dire need. Hicks said Westover Market received roughly $30,000 and was particularly thankful to Whitlow’s On Wilson in Clarendon, which hosted a fundraiser event for the Westover stores.

“The event at Whitlow’s was great,” Hicks said. “It had a great turnout, there was great music, and everyone really rallied.”

Ayers received roughly $32,000 and Peterkin said the funding took a chunk out of the estimated $250,000 in lost sales and merchandise.

Peterkin also said there was an initial uptick in sales after the flood where members of the community came out to support the store, but since then numbers have dwindled back down and revenue is flat.

“In business, flat basically means down,” Peterkin said. “If business is flat, everything else still goes up, like rent and payroll and insurance. But to stay competitive, we can’t raise prices to accommodate.”

With winter on the way and a heating unit still out of service from the floods, Peterkin said there are still more costs looming on the horizon and no clear way to afford to pay for them.

There are also concerns that if heavy storms sweep through the area again, the same damage will happen all over. During the floods, Hicks said he saw the sewage pipes in the area become almost immediately overwhelmed and start spewing the water back up into the streets.

“The county needs to address this,” Hicks said. “They need to clean the sewage drains. They have to address it county-wide because it’s only going to get worse.”

0 Comments

A new bubble tea joint is coming to Rosslyn.

Permits have been filed for a Gong Cha Tea Shop at 1650 Wilson Blvd, across from the new Arlington Public Schools facility The Heights.

There is a Gong Cha international franchise with locations throughout D.C. and Maryland with a Fairfax location in Annandale (4230 Annandale Road) that opened earlier this year.

The chain offers bubble tea — a tea-based drink with pearls of tapioca balls — at a variety of sweetnesses. It also offers egg waffle dishes with ice cream.

There was no evidence of construction activity at 1650 Wilson Blvd and Gong Cha could not be reached to learn when the shop will be opening.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt

0 Comments

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Excella, a Courthouse-based technology firm, has been selected as the lead partner in an effort to put together an app to detect alcohol misuse and risk of relapse.

The app, called Beacon, is designed to help medical professionals assess whether a patient is suffering from alcohol use disorder through a “combination of behavioral economics and advanced technology,” according to a press release. The product is still in development, but the goal is to be more effective than traditional methods of detecting alcohol abuse.

The company will utilize the work of Virginia Tech software development students at its Extension Center in Blacksburg. The company will also partner with Roanoke-based BEAM Diagnostics, Inc. to develop the app.

“The nation’s substance use epidemic presents massive challenges to every facet of our society, and we are committed to helping BEAM make the world better through tech innovation,” said Margaret Archer, Excella’s Director of University Programs. “Beacon is exactly the type of solution that our mentor-and-student development teams love to build, and we are happy to be a part of the solution.”

This isn’t Excella’s first foray into apps for a public good: the company previously developed MySpot, which helps homeless youth find nearby shelters and assistance. The press release also notes that the company has worked with government agencies for years to combat opioid fraud and abuse.

Image via Excella/Facebook

0 Comments

A small plot on Wilson Blvd bisected by a gravel trail will be reopening as a park with paved central walkway.

The Oakland Park project is centered around plans to bring the park in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and adding overall enhancements to the green space at 3705 Wilson Blvd.

“Design elements include all-new site furnishings, decorative paving, wood decking, native plantings and new park signage,” the county said on the project website. “A highlight in the park will be a public art piece created by Foon Sham.”

Earlier this week, workers were laying some of the final bricks in the walkway, though other work remains to be done across the park.

Construction at the park is on schedule, and Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said the project should be open by the end of the year.

0 Comments

After serving as a local fixture and punchline for nearly a month, the Arlington Transit bus lodged into the side of a truck depot on Columbia Pike has been removed.

On Aug. 5, a bus carrying roughly 10 passengers lost control and careened through the Pike and S. George Mason Drive intersection, veering over the curb and smashing into the side of the Penske Truck Rental building at 4110 Columbia Pike.

When it crashed into the building, pushing another truck into the side of the structure along with it, the bus became load-bearing — meaning extraction was impossible until a temporary structure could be built to support the building while the bus was removed.

The bus was removed this past Friday, Aug. 30, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet.

A wooden wall is now in place, supporting the side of the building where the bus had crashed. A sign on the side of the building says the building is still considered unsafe and the Penske phone line said the location is currently closed.

Penske couldn’t be reached for comment and a security guard working outside the building said he wasn’t sure when it would be open again.

Balliet noted that the contractor that runs the ART service, National Express, will be responsible for the cost to repair the building.

“National Express’ insurance company will assess and determine the estimate for repairs,” Balliet said.

The investigation into the crash is being conducted by Arlington County Police, Balliet said, declining to comment on what might have caused the wreck. As for the bus itself?

“The bus will be put back into service,” Balliet said. “It’s currently being inspected by National Express’ maintenance team to determine how to address repairs.”

0 Comments

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church is tired of being the big, ugly brick church in Clarendon.

St. Charles occupies a large piece of land in Clarendon, near Northside Social, and the church is continuing to review how that land should best be used — namely, the pastor says the church needs visual overhaul.

The redevelopment proposal started in 2018 with a push from the church’s pastor, Rev. Don Planty for a church that better suited the needs of the community. In a letter to the community, Planty said the church needed — among other things — a more “appealing design,” social spaces that would appeal to young adults, and green spaces.

The building has a glass facade on the corner of Fairfax Drive and N. Kirkwood Road, but much of the rest of the structure across from George Mason University is squat brick and a surface parking lot.

“The consensus was that the current parish physical plant does not support those aspects of our mission as well as a redeveloped campus could,” Planty said at the time.

A spokesperson for the church said the community has nearly finalized the “second phase” of its redevelopment planning efforts.

“This phase focuses on determining how St. Charles parishioners prioritize ongoing programs to fulfill the mission of the parish,” the spokesperson said in an email. “A sub-group was formed to analyze those findings and has presented that preliminary information to the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. The diocese is reviewing this information and collaborating with the parish in assessing the best opportunities for St. Charles Parish to continue to serve the local community in the years to come.”

Once the Catholic Diocese of Arlington reviews the information, the spokesperson said the priorities will be translated into master plan options that will be reviewed by county officials and the community. The master plan options are expected to be released sometime “in the coming months.”

“At every point moving forward, the parish will actively engage the local community ensuring it continues to be a good neighbor throughout the process,” the spokesperson said.

Other churches in Arlington have funded new facilities through redevelopment of the church property, including the nearby Church at Clarendon and Arlington Presbyterian along Columbia Pike. Both congregations approved affordable housing developments that were built on top of the new church spaces.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list