Facing a combined budget gap of up to $75 million, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz is eschewing the usual divvying up of leftover funds from the last fiscal year and instead proposing to roll them over with an eye on next year’s budget.
Schwartz will recommend at Saturday’s County Board meeting that the $21.9 million in unspent funds available to the county remain primarily unallocated, with $16.5 million being set aside to give the Board more options going into the next budget process.
“Difficult choices will be required to balance the FY 2020 budget and will likely include service reductions, and consideration of a real estate tax increase,” says a county staff report. “Setting aside $16.5 million in undesignated funds from the close-out of FY 2018 will give the County Board some flexibility when weighing these choices.”
Schwartz is also recommending the county allocate $3.4 million (along with $3 million from Arlington Public School) to increase its General Fund Operating Reserve — important for maintaining the county’s triple-AAA bond rating — and $2 million for use by the County Manager “to address unforeseen needs that arise during the fiscal year without reprioritizing or cutting other programs.”
The county has funds left in its coffers at the end of almost every fiscal year, thanks to conservative budgeting practices intended to maintain the triple-AAA rating.
Often, the budget “close-out” process ends up funding a grab bag of county priorities, from law enforcement needs to affordable housing. Asked about that this week, Schwartz said his recommendation does not mean that affordable housing is being deprioritized.
“It doesn’t mean that some of that money going forward couldn’t be used for affordable housing,” Schwartz said at the town hall meeting. “I just think, given the hole we have to fill, I didn’t want to preordain what my priorities would be. We’ll see how the Board receives that.”
A number of civic activists have been pushing the county to reform the budget close-out process, which they see as a boondoggle meant to fund pet projects with minimal public scrutiny or discussion.
Skydance MacMahon, who worked as a Digital Media Administrator for the State Department in Arlington, conspired with a Canadian woman to “produce over a thousand sexually explicit images and videos of minor children in Canada,” federal prosecutors said. As previously reported, he did so in part using a work-issued cell phone.
The Arlington County Police Department and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office assisted in the case, as did Canadian authorities and various federal agencies.
More from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia:
An Alexandria man was sentenced today to 26 years in prison for production of child pornography.
According to court documents, over at least a two year period, Skydance MacMahon, 45, conspired with an adult in Canada to produce over a thousand sexually explicit images and videos of minor children in Canada. These images and videos were produced at the direction of MacMahon using Skype and hidden cameras as well as overt recording. MacMahon distributed these image and video files to other users and consumers of child pornography by providing access to the files on his cloud storage services and also by directly sending the files to other users. In addition to the child pornography images and videos MacMahon himself created, he also received and possessed thousands of images and videos of child pornography.
During the time he committed these offenses, MacMahon was a Digital Media Administrator at the Foreign Services Institute of the U.S. Department of State in Arlington.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Nancy McNamara, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga. Assistant U.S. Attorney Whitney Dougherty Russell prosecuted the case.
Significant assistance was provided by the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office, the U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General’s Cyber Forensic Division, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Halifax Regional Police, Crown Prosecution Service, Special Prosecution Section, the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, the Arlington County Police Department, and the Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Flickr photo by Joe Gratz
After a brief delay, the developers of the Red Top Cab properties in Clarendon look set to win permission to include fewer parking spaces as part of a major redevelopment of the area into mixed-use buildings.
The Shooshan Company has hoped for weeks now to slash 178 parking spaces from its previously approved plans for the site, located where Washington Boulevard meets 13th Street N. The developer has long planned on transforming the space into three buildings offering 584 multifamily units, 1,295 square feet of retail space and two parking garages, but hoped to cut back on some of the parking at the site to save a bit of money.
The County Board first heard that request back in September, but ultimately decided to delay consideration of the matter for a month. That decision was largely due to “concerns expressed by the Board Members regarding retroactive changes to the residential parking ratio” after plans were already approved, according to a county staff report on the issue.
Neighbors also voiced concerns that a reduction in parking without a corresponding addition of space for bicycles would have a negative impact on surrounding streets.
Since then, county staff have taken a fresh look at the issue, and are prepared to tell the Board that “no undue adverse impacts are anticipated as a result of the reduction in the parking ratio.”
Not only did county staffers “not find any deficiencies in the infrastructure around the site,” but the developer also completed another analysis of traffic in the area. That study found that changes in the area are likely to reduce congestion nearby, and that the parking to be added (both in the garages and on the street) should be adequate to manage demand in the neighborhood.
The Board will consider the issue again at its meeting tomorrow (Saturday). Shooshan is currently targeting the first quarter of 2019 to begin construction on the properties, and recently closed on the sale of the property while also teaming up with another developer to manage the project.
Arlington officials expect a mix of across-the-board service cuts and tax rate increases is the surest way for the county to tackle its widening budget gap next year.
With a funding gap that could ballon as large as $78 million for fiscal year 2020, County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned that some tough times are ahead for the county government. He repeated those gloomy projections at a budget-focused town hall with community leaders last night (Wednesday), noting that factors ranging from swelling school enrollment levels to dwindling county revenues to increasing Metro funding obligations will all squeeze county coffers once more.
The question Schwartz (and soon enough, the County Board) is looking to answer is: how should Arlington balance cuts with new tax increases? The answer will set the tenor of the Board’s upcoming budget deliberations, particularly when considering that the county has avoided tax increases in recent years.
“New tax increases are certainly a tool we should be looking at this year,” Schwartz told the group. “It depends on what the Board gives me as guidance, but I’m hoping that they carve out some room for tax increases.”
That’s not to say that Schwartz is only looking at jacking up tax rates — he says he’s asked all of his department heads to sketch out what an 8 percent budget reduction would look like for them, even though he tends to “hate across-the-board cuts” and would much rather “apply a set of principles to choose among departments and decide where to spend our marginal dollars.”
Nevertheless, Schwartz believes the county’s funding squeeze is such that simply slashing expenses can’t be the only answer. In addition to opening three new schools in the coming year and digging deep to cope with money pulled away from the county as part of the new Metro funding deal, Schwartz says the county needs to get creative to address the new costs of public safety pay increases the Board approved last year and new expenses associated with the state’s Medicaid expansion.
“People really have a problem finding something in the budget to get rid of or do less of,” Schwartz said. “It’s not a complaint, but in many cases, we’ve not had a really hard conversation about what we don’t want to do. And at a certain point, efficiencies won’t cut it, and this is one year where it won’t.”
He suggested that both the real estate and personal property tax rates could go up to address those budget concerns, though it’s difficult to know by how much just yet. A great deal depends on the budget the school system delivers to the county, considering that initial estimates suggest a $43 million budget gap from Arlington Public Schools alone — Schwartz encouraged the School Board to consider the hard question of bumping up class sizes and formulating a “revenue-based budget versus a needs-based one,” but the final decision will rest with APS leaders.
Eventually, Schwartz expects that the county’s office vacancy rate will shrink to a point where Arlington isn’t constantly facing such pressures. He noted that the rate has shrunk from 20.8 percent in 2015 to 18 percent as of last month, and as “outdated buildings” in neighborhoods like Crystal City are increasingly refreshed or converted into apartments, he expects the county will soon enough be back on sound financial footing.
In the meantime, however, he urged a focus on more than “nibbling a little bit here and there” and a real focus on “looking at how we do things” to bolster the county’s financial picture.
While the sentiment among county taxpayers is another story entirely, the town hall participants, at least, seemed broadly receptive to paying a bit more to avoid drastic cuts.
“I’m a old, retired coot living on a fixed salary… but Arlington has absolutely fantastic programs for everybody,” said Bill Braswell, a member of the county’s Neighborhood Complete Streets Commission. “I’m ready, willing and able to support a tax increase, because I’m getting far more than I pay in tax increases, and I enjoy it.”
Photo via Facebook
Renewed HQ2 Buzz — The New York Times has published a lengthy look at Crystal City, which is being discussed as a frontrunner to land Amazon’s second headquarters. “All of the signs are pointing to Crystal City,” one of the people quoted in the article said. Separately, the Wall Street Journal reports that only some of the 20 HQ2 finalist cities — including New York City, Newark, N.J., Chicago and the D.C. area — have received second visits from Amazon officials. [New York Times, Wall Street Journal]
Former Wizard Selling Home in Arlington — Former Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat has listed his house in Arlington’s Cherrydale neighborhood for $1.9 million. [Real House Life of Arlington]
Upton Hill Park Caught in Complaint Crossfire — After acceding to demands of tree advocates and scrapping plans for a 17-space parking lot at Upton Hill Park, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is now facing opposition to its proposed park upgrades from nearby residents worried that the lack of additional parking will cause more vehicles to be parked in the neighborhood. [InsideNova]
New Option for Commuting to Arlington — “Sameride, a ridesharing app that allows drivers and passengers to offer and request rides, has launched a new route from Herndon, Reston and Loudoun County to Arlington and the District.” [Reston Now]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) An Arlington man has been arrested and now faces accusations of a litany of crimes from sexual assault to murder to robbery after a night of violence in the Douglas Park neighborhood.
The reported crime spree started shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday in the area of Doctor’s Run Park, south of Columbia Pike.
Police say 27-year-old Michael Nash was sexually assaulting a woman along the 1300 block of S. George Mason Drive when a witness, 54-year-old Arlington resident Patricio Salazar, tried to intervene. The suspect then allegedly struck Salazar, who was knocked unconscious and later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Nash fled the scene and robbed a woman of her cell phone as he fled, according to police. Officers and a police helicopter searched the area and eventually apprehended Nash near the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive.
Nash is now facing multiple charges, with additional charges pending. This was the second reported homicide in Arlington so far this year.
More from ACPD:
Arlington County Police announce the arrest of an Arlington man following an overnight homicide investigation. Michael Nash, 27, was arrested and charged with Abduction with the Intent to Defile, Forcible Sodomy and Animate Object Sexual Penetration. Additional charges are forthcoming. Mr. Nash is being held without bond in the Arlington County Detention Facility.
At approximately 9:21 p.m. on October 18, police were dispatched to the 1300 block of S. George Mason Drive following the report of multiple 9-1-1 calls. The preliminary investigation determined that the suspect was walking in the area with a known female victim when he began to physically and sexually assault her. A male witness observed the assault and attempted to render assistance to the victim. The suspect physically assaulted the witness leaving him unconscious. The witness, Patricio Salazar, 54, of Arlington, VA was transported to George Washington University Hospital where he was pronounced deceased.
Following the assaults, the suspect fled the scene on foot. The suspect came into contact with two additional victims whom he tried to rob of a cell phone. The victims fought back and the suspect again fled the scene on foot. The suspect then successfully robbed a female victim of her cell phone.
During the course of the investigation, detectives from the Department’s Homicide/Robbery and Special Victims’ Units developed a possible suspect description. Members of the Tactical Unit located the suspect and took him into custody without incident in the area of Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive.
The investigation into this homicide remains ongoing. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to contact Detective J. Trainer of the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4185 or [email protected] Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).
ACPD is investigating a homicide at 13th St. S. At S. George Mason Dr. Preliminary investigation reveals that a male victim was assaulted and transported to an area hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. Investigation is ongoing. Expect police presence in the area.
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) October 19, 2018
Map via Google Maps
Plans to transform a section of Crystal City into a new retail hub for the neighborhood could soon move ahead, though neighbors and cyclists are still pressing for changes to the redevelopment effort.
Many of JBG Smith’s plans for the “Crystal Square” project, centered on a block of Crystal Drive between 15th Street S. and 18th Street S., are up for approval by the County Board this weekend. The long-awaited project would completely revamp the existing office buildings on the block, adding a new movie theater, grocery store and other retailers to replace the existing Crystal City Shops at 1750.
County staff and planners have generally given the project a green light, given its potential to help speed along the transformation of a block centered around the area’s Metro station. Even still, some people living nearby worry that the construction will blot out some of Crystal City’s limited green space, and won’t address the neighborhood’s transportation challenges.
The heart of the Crystal Square development, backed by the area’s largest property owner, generally isn’t up for dispute. In all, JBG Smith plans to add 84,000 square feet of retail and commercial space along Crystal Drive by renovating some of the existing buildings on the property, and tacking on some additions as well.
The main draws will be a three-story movie theater, reportedly an Alamo Drafthouse location, and a 15,000-square-foot “small format specialty grocer,” like a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Those businesses, and perhaps many others, will generally be centered closest to Crystal Drive’s intersection with 15th Street S., and the existing one-story retail in the area will likely be demolished to connect the theater and the grocery store, removing a small park in the process.
County staff note in a report for the Board that the proposal “not a complete redevelopment that breaks up the existing superblock with new public streets,” as might eventually be desirable for the area, it is a chance to “create a high-quality public realm…[that] enhances multimodal access and connectivity by placing large regional draws such as a movie theater and grocer within easy access of the Metro, bus stops, and VRE station.”
However, cycling advocates worry that all these plans will do little to improve connectivity to the Mt. Vernon Trail, leaving people highly dependent on cars in the area. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association is urging cyclists to press for protected bike lanes along both Crystal Drive and 18th Street S. to create a safer, low-stress place to bike that wouldn’t be constantly blocked by parked cars.
JBG Smith declined to comment for this article, but it seems the developer doesn’t see much room for protected bike lanes in the area. While a bike lane along Crystal Drive is included in the Crystal Square plans, county transportation staff told the Planning Commission back in February that “there is not enough space to provide a protected bike lane” on the road.
Eventually, JBG says it could also build a two-story retail building further down the block, at Crystal Drive’s intersection with 18th Street S. That feature has drawn a bit more scrutiny from neighbors, who note that the site was long envisioned as a new park to replace the green space set to be removed in the earlier construction.
“The proposed two-story building would take a chunk out of that green space and destroy the sight line from Crystal Drive up to Clark/Bell [Streets,” Crystal City Civic Association President Carol Fuller told ARLnow. “The CCCA has been fighting this for months.”
Fuller points out that the location is also the proposed place for a second Metro station entrance, but with the county putting the brakes on that project as it deals with a funding crunch, she argues it would make much more sense to delay consideration of adding a new building there as well. Otherwise, she sees it as a “poison pill” impacting the whole development proposal.
The Planning Commission ultimately voted to endorse that building back in May, though many members expressed grave concerns about the proposal. The Parks and Recreation Commission even said it was “premature” to allow the building until securing firm funding commitments from JBG to ensure a park of some kind is indeed built on the space.
Those concerns aside, the Board seems unlikely to take action on that part of the proposal, at least in the near term.
JBG is also asking for permission to revert one office building on Crystal Drive back to office space, doing away with plans to convert it into an apartment building, a move fueling speculation that the company wants to wait to see if Amazon tabs the neighborhood for its second headquarters before committing to plans for the building.
Staff recommend that the Board defer any consideration of that request, and plans for the two-story building, for up to a year, given all the uncertainty still surrounding the site.
The Board will take up consideration of the project at its meeting Saturday (Oct. 20).
Arlington could soon make it easier for owners of older duplexes and townhomes to renovate the buildings or tack on additions.
Plenty of Arlington homeowners looking to make a change to a home built before the 1940s have encountered a vexing conundrum in the county’s zoning ordinance; the building could well be deemed “nonconforming” with Arlington’s zoning rules, as it wasn’t built to match the standards the county’s been using since 1942. That means any sort of renovation or addition to the home would require extensive county review, and could ultimately be prohibited, restrictions that have persistently frustrated property owners over the years.
But the County Board is weighing a change to loosen some of those restrictions on two-family homes in some sections of the county.
Not only could the change result in less headaches for homeowners, but county staff expect it would help preserve more affordable housing around Arlington, a key conundrum officials have looked to address in recent years.
“Staff finds that the proposed amendments… allow for reinvestment in existing housing stock that contributes to the overall diversity of housing countywide,” staffers wrote in a report prepared for the Board ahead of its meeting this weekend. “These proposed changes are intended to remove zoning barriers that have existed for decades that limit the type of reinvestment and renovation activities for nearly all of the county’s supply of two-family, and some one-family, dwellings.”
County staff estimate that the change, targeted at homes zoned “R2-7,” would affect as many as 1,488 structures around the county, giving those homeowners the chance to make a range of changes “by right” instead of pursuing county approval first.
Staff noted that the Board of Zoning Appeals, which hears requests from the owners of nonconforming homes, has reviewed 12 cases involving “R2-7” homes over the last two years alone. In all, they believe the bulk of such homes are concentrated “along Lee Highway, Columbia Pike, Wilson Boulevard, and in Nauck.”
The county also doesn’t expect that these “proposed amendments will significantly alter existing neighborhood character where these one- and two-family dwellings occur,” a fear frequently cited by zoning officials reviewing previous cases.
Staff added that the county will “consider opportunities to encourage development of new, two-family dwellings” in the future, noting that officials could someday commence a more detailed study of “missing middle” housing in the county, or homes falling in the price range between affordable housing and luxury apartments.
The county’s ongoing review of “housing conservation districts” to promote the preservation, and perhaps redevelopment, of older apartments and duplexes will also offer more clarity on the matter in the coming months.
The Board will take up these zoning changes at its meeting Saturday (Oct. 20).
Photo via Google Maps
More Housing Coming to Pentagon City — Developer LCOR is working on plans for a new apartment building in Pentagon City, to be built on a site that currently houses a blocky, low-slung building containing Verizon telecommunications infrastructure. Arlington has seen “a rising demand for luxury rentals,” including at a recently-completed LCOR building in Crystal City. [Washington Business Journal, Washington Business Journal]
Woman Charged With Bringing Gun to DCA — “The TSA said an Arlington, Virginia, woman was stopped at a checkpoint at Reagan National Airport on Tuesday with a loaded 9 mm handgun in her carry-on bag. There were 14 bullets in the handgun, including one in the chamber. She was cited by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police.” [WTOP]
New Pastor for Local Church — “St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church will host ‘A Celebration of New Ministry’ to salute the arrival of the church’s new rector, Rev. Dorota Pruski, on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. at the church, 4000 Lorcom Lane.” [InsideNova]
Police received a call around 3 a.m. after a woman living along the 1200 block of N. Fillmore Street in Clarendon was woken up by a visibly intoxicated man “speaking incoherently” at her front door. He was subsequently identified as 25-year-old Daniel Fay.
The woman told police that she “closed the door and [Fay] left momentarily, but returned, and forced his way past the victim into her residence.”
“A neighbor arriving on scene to assist, as well as the victim and an additional occupant of the residence, were allegedly assaulted while attempting to control the suspect until police arrival,” police said.
Fay was then arrested and charged with drunk in public, unlawful entry, and three counts of assault and battery. He’s being held without bond at the county jail, and is set for a hearing on those charges on Friday (Oct. 19).
Full details from a county crime report:
UNLAWFUL ENTRY, 2018-10140059, 1200 block of N. Fillmore Street. At approximately 2:51 a.m. on October 14, police were dispatched to a burglary in progress. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was awoken to noise and upon investigating, located an intoxicated unknown male subject at her door speaking incoherently. She closed the door and the subject left momentarily, but returned, and forced his way past the victim into her residence. A neighbor arriving on scene to assist, as well as the victim and an additional occupant of the residence, were allegedly assaulted while attempting to control the suspect until police arrival. Daniel Fay, 25, of Falls Church, Va., was arrested and charged with Drunk in Public, Assault & Battery (x3) and Unlawful Entry. He was held on no bond.
Below are the rest of the highlights from this week’s crime report, including some we’ve already reported.
BURGLARY, 2018-10160087, 900 block of S. Orme Street. At approximately 9:24 a.m. on October 16, police were dispatched to the report of a breaking and entering just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim heard noise inside her residence. When she went to investigate, she observed that an unknown suspect had gained entry to the residence and stolen items of value. There is no suspect description. The investigation is ongoing.
BURGLARY (late), 2018-10130073, 3200 block of Lee Highway. At approximately 6:43 a.m. on October 13, police were dispatched to the late report of breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 2:18 a.m. on October 13, three unknown suspects forced entry to a business and stole the keys to multiple vehicles. During the course of the investigation, it was determined that two vehicles were stolen from the property. Suspect One is described as a young black male, possible in his early 20’s, wearing a black sweatshirt, a black hat, ripped jeans and blue shoes. Suspect Two is described as a young black male, possibly in his early 20’s, wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, dark jeans and white shoes. Suspect Three is described as a young black male, possibly in his early 20’s, wearing a black shirt with a hood, grey jeans and white shoes. The investigation is ongoing.
BURGLARY (late), 2018-10120109, 5500 block of Columbia Pike. At approximately 10:37 a.m. on October 12, police were dispatched to the late report of breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that an unknown suspect(s) forced entry to a business and stole an undisclosed amount of cash and items of value. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.
BURGLARY, 2018-10100050, 6700 block of 19TH Road N. At approximately 5:35 a.m. on October 10, police were dispatched to the report of suspicious circumstances. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim heard noise originating from the backyard and upon investigating, located damaged property. As officers canvased the neighborhood, they began receiving reports of a naked man observed in the area. Officers located the suspect in the 2100 block of N. Westmoreland Street and commanded him to stop. The suspect fled on foot into a residence where he locked himself inside a bathroom with a male victim. The male victim was unharmed and able to unlock the door at which time officers took the suspect into custody without further incident. As the investigation continued, officers located additional victims and determined the suspect had allegedly attempted or successfully gained entry into residences as well as locations where property was damaged. The suspect was transported to Virginia Hospital Center for medical evaluation. With the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the suspect was identified as Kahlil Martin, 25, of No Fixed Address. He was charged with Burglary (x2), Attempted Burglary, Abduction and Destruction of Property (x2).
BURGLARY, 2018-10110180, 700 block of N. Daniel Street. At approximately 4:27 p.m. on October 11, police were dispatched to the report of breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 8:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., an unknown suspect(s) forced entry to a residence, causing damage, and stole an undisclosed amount of cash and items of value. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.
ROBBERY, 2018-10110209, 100 block of N. Thomas Street. At approximately 7:07 p.m. on October 11, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery by force. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was allegedly assaulted and threatened before being forcibly robbed of his cell phone, backpack and other belongings by three male suspects he had previously agreed to meet with. During the incident, the victim suffered minor injuries that did not require medical treatment. Arriving officers established a perimeter and canvased the area with negative results. Investigative efforts by officers on scene identified two suspects and information regarding the third suspect. Later in the evening, an officer on routine patrol located individuals matching the descriptions of the suspects in the 4300 block of Wilson Boulevard. Two of the individuals were positively identified and taken into custody without incident. The third suspect remains outstanding and is described as a black male. Petitions for Robbery, Conspiracy to Commit Felony, and Assault or Battery By Mob were obtained for the two juvenile suspects. The investigation is ongoing.
RECOVERED STOLEN VEHICLE, 2018-10120007, 1900 block of Jefferson Davis Highway. At approximately 2:30 a.m. on October 12, an officer on routine patrol located a parked vehicle matching the description of a lookout for a vehicle that had been reported stolen from the area approximately 90 minutes prior. The officer attempted a traffic stop by activating his emergency equipment but the driver failed to stop. The officer disengaged and relayed the driver’s direction of travel to units in the area. The driver crashed the vehicle in the 2800 block of Potomac Avenue and attempt to flee on foot. An officer commanded the suspect to stop, which he complied with, and took the suspect into custody without incident. Alex Fenner, 20, of No Fixed Address, was arrested and charged with Grand Larceny: Motor Vehicle Theft and Eluding. He was held on no bond.
Arlington is gearing up to embrace the arrival of the next generation of cell network technology, though some observers worry county officials aren’t acting fast enough to expand access to 5G in the area.
Telecom companies are slowly, but surely moving to deploy equipment for 5G, the fifth generation of network tech, in communities around the country, in order to realize the new network’s promise to drastically increase mobile internet speeds and enable all manner of new innovations, from driverless cars to virtual reality video games.
Workers typically have to attach antennas and other equipment to street poles or traffic signals as part of that process, meaning that local governments (and, often, concerned neighbors) can have a say in how companies handle the installation.
While some utility companies are working directly with network providers to allow 5G tech on street lights, many localities are increasingly moving to craft zoning regulations to allow telcos access to government-owned street poles. Arlington hasn’t gone quite that far, but the county is at least dipping its toe in the water with 5G tech.
After state legislators passed a new law last April, the county began allowing companies to attach “small cell facilities” on privately owned structures in the public right-of-way. Even more recently, Arlington’s begun accepting applications for companies looking to attach the equipment to “cobra-style street lights” — smaller poles named for their snake-shaped heads — in public areas, according to Department of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin.
Golkin expects the change “will allow for deployment of 5G infrastructure in dense areas throughout the county,” and Arlington leaders see the move as an incremental step for the county to take to meet the demands of the telecom industry.
“We’re trying not to be a hindrance to this, while still balancing community concerns,” said County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “Before, this sort of thing required a County Board review and a long process. Now, within a couple of months, it can get approved administratively. Whenever a carrier company is looking to deploy small towers anywhere, this is a predictable and affordable way to get it done.”
Even still, the change doesn’t seem drastic enough to Jonathan Kinney, an attorney at the Arlington firm Bean, Kinney and Korman, who works with developers and business owners on land use and zoning matters.
He laments that the county still won’t allow 5G tech on larger, 30-foot-high poles in urban neighborhoods along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which he sees as a key step for the county to achieve full 5G coverage in its most populous areas.
“My point has always been that 5G is going to come here, but it really doesn’t do us any good as a community to act otherwise,” Kinney said. “With all the defense contractors and cybersecurity companies here, we shouldn’t be one of the last communities to do this. We should be one of the first.”
Kinney believes the county’s failure to act more aggressively on 5G tech will hamstring its chances to lure all manner of big companies to the area, most notably Amazon. He points out that the company singled out access to advanced network tech in its list of requirements for picking a second headquarters, and he feels the county just hasn’t lived up to the pace set by other HQ2 contenders like those in Texas or California.
“It just seems like this is low hanging fruit, this is something we could do pretty easily,” Kinney said. “But there’s not any strong advocate on the County Board pushing it forward… it just needs a little bit of leadership.”
Dorsey, however, argues that the Board has indeed tried to provide that leadership, and claims that 5G is “not something where we think we’re behind at all.” He says the county “just hasn’t had much unsolicited interest [from the private sector] that’s evolved beyond exploration and discussion at this point,” but that the county has been responsive when called upon.
For instance, Golkin notes that the county has “approved several permits over the last year for vendors to attach small wireless facilities to private structures.” That includes Verizon, who worked with some county apartment owners to install some 5G equipment on several large buildings to test out the tech in a residential setting.
Verizon spokesman John O’Malley says the test “was part of a series of trials” the company did in 11 large localities over the course of 2017. The company’s since removed that equipment, and moved on to testing 5G broadband service in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento.
Dorsey says the county “would be open to exploring” additional partnerships with telecom companies moving forward. He suggested that, as the technology evolves, Arlington could agree to buy a new round of street lights that already have 5G equipment installed on them, instead of retrofitting it to existing poles.
“I would argue that we’re an ideal community for that kind of partnership, because we’re so small and so dense,” Dorsey said. “We are well aware that, if the potential of all the lab tests are realized, we’re talking about an incredible expansion of productivity, which will be incredible for our businesses.”
Yet Kinney cautions that Arlington’s ability to experiment with 5G could soon be constrained by new regulations the Federal Communications Commission is mulling, which would require states and localities to quickly approve 5G deployments, eliminating some discretion in setting personalized standards.
Those changes may be a ways off yet from going into effect, but Kinney notes that Arlington’s lengthy public engagement process for any policy change means the county can’t afford to wait much longer.
“It could take a year to get through the whole process,” Kinney said. “But they could make the legal changes pretty quickly and then come up with the specific policy, and just move it along… We just need to start now.”
Mi and Yu Opening Update — According to its website, Mi and Yu Noodle Bar, which was originally expected to open in September in the revamped Ballston Quarter mall, is now slated for a February 2019 opening. The opening of the mall — and the numerous new restaurants that will call it home — was at last check delayed until late October. [Mi and Yu Noodle Bar]
Improvements for McKinley Road — “Arlington County Board members on Oct. 20 are expected to award a contract worth up to $426,700 for modify curbs and intersections and establish a median along McKinley Road from Wilson Boulevard north to 11th Street North. The project is designed to improved safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in the corridor, including students attending McKinley Elementary School.” [InsideNova]
Memorial Bridge Work, Woes — Rehab work is well underway on the Memorial Bridge, but long-term lane closures are continuing to cause — in the words of one commuter — “insane” traffic backups during rush hour. [Twitter, Twitter]
County police say officers pulled over 20-year-old Charles Contreras along the 900 block of N. Burlington Street in Bluemont around 2 p.m. Friday (Oct. 12).
They say they noticed him driving with a cracked windshield, then he committed a “traffic offense” of some kind.
Once police pulled him over, Contreras and other occupant of the car, 19-year-old Lamar Contreras, “quickly exited the vehicle and allegedly advanced toward the officer, while yelling expletives,” police said. The officer ordered both men to return to the car, and they eventually agreed.
When more police arrived at the scene of the incident, officers noticed a child in the back seat of the car “in an improperly secured car seat,” and both men “continued to yell and exhibit disorderly behavior inside the vehicle” as police evaluated what happened.
Officers eventually asked Charles Contreras to leave the car, and he “became physically combative and pushed an officer.” Police were eventually able to arrest him after the brief scuffle.
He’s now facing charges of assault and battery on a law enforcement officer, traffic lane violation, defective equipment, and child restraint violation. Contreras is set for a Wednesday (Oct. 17) hearing on those charges in Arlington General District.
Full details from a county crime report:
ASSAULT AND BATTERY ON POLICE, 2018-10120161, 900 block of N. Burlington Street. At approximately 1:55 p.m. on October 12, an officer on routine patrol observed a vehicle with a cracked windshield commit a traffic offense. The officer initiated a traffic stop, and upon the vehicle stopping, two occupants quickly exited the vehicle and allegedly advanced toward the officer, while yelling expletives. The officer issued lawful commands for the occupants to return to the vehicle, which they obeyed. The officer then observed a child in the backseat of the vehicle in an improperly secured car seat. The suspects continued to yell and exhibit disorderly behavior inside the vehicle. After additional officers arrived on scene, the driver was asked to exit the vehicle, however, upon exiting, became physically combative and pushed an officer. With the assistance of additional officers on scene, the driver was taken into custody. The child was not harmed during the incident. Charles Contreras, 20, of Arlington Va., was arrested and charged with Assault & Battery on Law Enforcement, Traffic Lane Violation, Defective Equipment, and Child Restraint Violation. The passenger, Lamar Contreras, 19, of Arlington, Va., was issued a summons for Obstruction of Justice.
Crystal City’s biggest property owner is now testing out a new pavement sealant in a bid to bring down temperatures and reduce the “heat island” effect increasingly plaguing urban areas.
JBG Smith just sealed a pair of its parking lots in Crystal City, in front of an office building at 241 18th Street S., with a new product dubbed “CoolSeal,” which is designed to bring down temperatures on the asphalt by as much as 10 degrees during even the sunniest months of summer.
The reflective pavement treatment is gaining popularity in the Southwest as a way to reduce the amount of heat bouncing off of wide swaths of pavement, though JBG officials believe this is the first time any company has tested out this particular asphalt coating on the East Coast. The company plans to study the impact of the treatment on the roughly 18,000 square feet of pavement over the next year or so, and could someday starting using at its bevy of properties across the D.C. region.
“One of the benefits of being a larger property owner with a diverse portfolio is the ability to try new things,” Brian Coulter, JBG Smith’s chief development officer, told ARLnow. “We think a lot about, ‘How do we improve the built environment and the experience of people on the ground?’ And this could really make a difference in that respect.”
Coulter says he’d never heard of CoolSeal until reading about it in a landscaping magazine a few weeks back, and the product instantly struck him as a good fit for his company.
Researchers have increasingly found that D.C. has some of the most intense urban heat islands in the country, with the high concentrations of parking lots and buildings driving up temperatures in more developed neighborhoods when summer rolls around. Coulter says he never saw the heat in Crystal City as especially problematic, but because the company owns so much property in the neighborhood, he felt it was a natural spot to test out CoolSeal on as large a space as possible.
“It’s a big enough area where you’re not just dealing with a couple parking spaces,” Coulter said. “It just felt like a continuation of some of the other experiments and interventions we’ve done there before, particularly around public art.”
JBG ended up using about 550 gallons of the coating, with workers applying it to the parking lots over the course of the first two weekends in October. The company estimates the effort cost about $50,000, in all.
Yet Coulter believes the experiment could end up being well worth the expense if it works as intended. He says the company plans to measure the sealant’s impact on the temperature on the parking lots, and the surrounding area, through the end of next summer to see how it works in practice.
Should it have a notable impact, Coulter expects JBG could use CoolSeal all throughout its properties in both Crystal City and Pentagon City, as part of the developer’s continuing efforts to link the neighborhoods together. The company has all manner of new projects underway in Crystal City, fueling Amazon HQ2 speculation with its dominance in the area, and is also backing the major PenPlace development in Pentagon City.
“We see those two areas as part of the broader neighborhood, and one way to better establish that is with the pedestrian experience,” Coulter said. “If this is done well, it will work well for the people who visit and the people who live there.”
He doesn’t think CoolSeal needs to be limited to just parking lots, either. He envisions everywhere from basketball courts to bike trails to the roofs of tall buildings being ripe for the heat-reducing treatment, and that goes for all of JBG’s properties around the D.C. area.
“We’re really excited about the possibility and potential of this,” Coulter said. “Because, clearly, if this has the type of impact we’re looking for, it really does fit in nicely with everything we’re trying to do.”
The owner of the Highlander Motel in Virginia Square has secured a key legal victory, potentially allowing the property’s redevelopment to move ahead, and now he’s vowing retribution against county officials for tying up the process in court for years.
The Virginia Supreme Court declined last Wednesday (Oct. 10) to consider an appeal from the county in a case challenging local businessman Bill Bayne’s plans to replace the aging motel with a CVS Pharmacy. That means Bayne should be able to push forward with the redevelopment of the hotel, located at 3336 Wilson Blvd, after a judge twice tossed out legal action from county officials seeking to block those plans.
Bayne, who also owns the Crystal City Restaurant and co-owns the Crystal City Sports Pub, believes the county’s challenges were simply an attempt to scuttle his latest business venture, all at the cost of thousands in taxpayer dollars. With this latest legal victory in hand, he fully plans to renew talks to knock down the 55-year-old hotel in favor of the pharmacy, and then take the county back to court for his trouble.
“It’s not right what they’ve done, and it’s not right for them to do it to anybody,” Bayne told ARLnow. “But there’ll be a day of reckoning in court and a judge will decide if it’s right.”
County attorney Steve MacIsaac did not respond to requests for comment on the court’s ruling. But, in past legal filings and hearings, county lawyers have portrayed Bayne’s plans as not only a violation of some complex zoning laws, but also a “noxious use” of a property that sits quite close to some residential neighborhoods.
Even still, judges have twice disagreed with the county’s arguments in the case, and the Supreme Court ruled that there was “no reversible error” in those decisions for the high court to consider. Bayne believes the court declined to take up the matter for a simple reason: “Would you want to hear a joke case?”
“Why do you have to get told you’re wrong three different times?” Bayne said.
Bayne says his original plans for the pharmacy, as first sketched out roughly three years ago, would’ve netted him close to $45 million over the term of the 50-year lease for the property (which has been in Bayne’s family since at least 1985, county records show).
He hopes to revive a similar deal with CVS now that the court battles seem to be over, but he can’t be sure that the company will look kindly on the delay.
But with the legal wrangling over the years, Bayne expects he’s lost as much as $1.8 million while the project has stalled. He fully plans to recoup those losses by taking the county to court, and he says he’s contemplating legal action against everyone from the county zoning administrator to County Manager Mark Schwartz to current and former County Board members.
“It’s not OK to do this to somebody,” Bayne said. “There will be ramifications for this.”
Bayne says he’s not quite sure on the timetable for any potential litigation just yet. County court records don’t reflect any evidence that Bayne or one of his companies has filed suit against county officials, as of Tuesday morning.