Arlington, VA

(Updated at 9:45 p.m.) A neighborhood group’s years-long battle against softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park in the Pentagon City area is continuing.

The Aurora Highlands Civic Association doesn’t have anything against the sport itself, but asserts that the permit-priority fields on the west side of the park at 1600 S. Hayes Street could be better used as unprogrammed open space.

To prove the point, the association last week sent a letter — and a produced video — to the Arlington County Board highlighting community use of one field during the pandemic, after organized sports activities were cancelled.

“Cancellation of organized sports in the spring allowed community members to put Livability concepts into action over the summer, transforming one of VHP’s softball field spaces into a continuously used public space for art installations, social distancing meetups, and varied casual uses from kite flying, exercising, and families playing with their kids,” wrote AHCA President Scott Miles.

“Events and performances like Zumba classes and Music and Picnic in the Park on Saturdays have gathered over 80 people at a time, all safely distanced, even while other casual uses continue alongside,” he added.

Four years ago, the association released a proposal calling for the removal of the softball fields in favor of space that was open to all.

“The fields are significantly underused relative to other facilities and especially to open space,” the proposal said. “Each field is used for approximately 600 hours per year out of a potential of 4,380 hours (12 hours a day), a total of less than 14% of the time.”

Miles wrote last week that the recent community experience proves the point that the fields are underused when designated primarily for softball.

“With greater casual use access over the past five months supported by [the Dept. of Parks and Recreation] and local stakeholders, the space has been used more heavily and continuously than ever before, helping support local restaurants, build a sense of shared community, and provide diverse and equitable access to all area residents,” he wrote.

Other initiatives are in the works for the park. A new, temporary community garden has been added, and a proposed temporary dog park near the softball fields has received financial backing from Amazon.

The letter to the County Board — with some links added — is below, along with a video produced by the local group Livability 22202.

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Morning Notes

Frederick-to-Arlington Transit Proposal — “Proposed transit service connecting Arlington to Frederick (Md.) and points in between remains on the table, but barely, after scoring low in a recent cost-benefit analysis conducted by the Virginia and Maryland state governments… As envisioned, the transit route would start at Frederick six times each workday morning and terminate an hour later at the Pentagon, with intermediate stops at Monocacy, Urbana, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Montgomery Mall and Rosslyn.” [InsideNova]

Women Groped in Aurora Highlands — “At approximately 7:18 p.m. on November 3, police were dispatched to the late report of an assault. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 6:30 p.m., the victim was running in the area when the suspect approached her from behind and grabbed her buttocks. The victim yelled, and the suspect fled on foot, then entered the passenger side of a vehicle and left the area.” [ACPD]

Data Breach Affecting Hospital — “Virginia Hospital Center (VHC), a community-based hospital providing medical services to the Washington, DC metropolitan area for 75 years, has recently learned of an information security incident experienced by one of its vendors… [an] unauthorized party may have acquired a backup of the database that compromises certain limited elements of VHC’s donor and fundraising information, as may be the case with other nonprofits affected by this incident worldwide.” [Press Release]

Grand Opening for New BusinessPaint Nail Bar (1520 Clarendon Blvd) is holding its grand opening celebration this weekend, from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday. “Champagne and light bites will be served and all attendees will receive a goody bag,” the business says. [Facebook]

Tea Returns to the Ritz — “The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City is now offering Afternoon Tea, bringing a time-honored tradition at an affordable price – all with safety and the health of guests in mind. Offered in their fyve restaurant, featuring globally inspired dishes, the hotel’s Afternoon Tea service is available at three price points, perfect for adults and children celebrating a special occasion or looking for a weekend respite from the day-to-day.” [Press Release]

More Nice Weather on Tap — “Quite a stretch of tranquil weather ahead of us as high pressure dominates into early next week, resulting in dry conditions and temperatures running 5 to 10 degrees above normal for early November.” [@NWS_BaltWash/Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]

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Update at 9:10 p.m. — Power was briefly restored but is back off, according to a Dominion spokeswoman.

Earlier: About 3,700 Dominion customers are without power in Arlington as of 8 p.m. Friday night.

A massive outage is mostly affecting customers in Alexandria, but thousands in Arlington’s Crystal City, Aurora Highlands, Arlington Ridge and Fairlington neighborhoods are also in the dark.

Some have reported the power flickering.

Power restoration is currently estimated between 10 p.m.-1 a.m., according to Dominion’s website. The cause of the outage is a malfunctioning circuit at a substation, according to a company spokeswoman.

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A portion of Virginia Highlands Park, near Pentagon City, is being transformed into a vibrant display of gardening through a new agricultural initiative.

The Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture, National Landing BID, Livability 22202 and Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation collaborated to develop a project that is revitalizing a strip of land in the park for a temporary demonstration garden. The project, called the Highlands Urban Garden (HUG), is located at 1600 S. Hayes Street.

Project HUG will include a display of various irrigation systems, while showcasing how to counter challenging soil conditions and how edge spaces in parks can be converted to functioning gardens. Produce from the garden will be donated to local food pantries.

The garden — which volunteers broke ground on Sept. 27 — utilizes the space adjacent to the tennis court practice wall at the park. This fall marks the initial installation and preparation of this pilot site for a spring planting season.

“Project HUG will revitalize underused land near the park’s tennis courts and illustrate how otherwise fallow spaces can be transformed into productive land that builds a vibrant ecosystem,” said Arlington FOUA Board President Robin Broder. “The Highlands Urban Garden will serve as a model for future community-driven agriculture features throughout Arlington’s urban neighborhoods.”

A team of neighborhood volunteers will maintain and manage the garden. On-site signage will inform community members about the practices used in caring for a planned mix of edible vegetative crops, native plants and pollinators.

The rectangular strip of land HUG occupies will consist of three bays of six fabric grow bags connected to automatic irrigation systems. The garden will also feature smart sensors to track water, light, fertilizer and temperature that can be used as part of a long-term data collection effort for STEM curricula at local schools.

“We are pleased to collaborate with our partners in the community to expand natural elements throughout National Landing’s built environment by transforming land on the margins and in unexpected places,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, Executive Director of National Landing BID, formerly known as the Crystal City BID. “The Highlands Urban Garden will invoke curiosity and joy in passersby, residents and park visitors alike.”

As a part of the temporary design of the garden, there will not be any below grade digging or disturbance of the grounds at the site.

Photos courtesy Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture

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Members of civic associations for Crystal City, Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge are developing a proposal for changes to Route 1

The associations, convening as “Livability 22202” in a Zoom meeting last night, focused on how to improve Route 1 in Crystal City, specifically where it goes over 12th Street S. and 18th Street S.

Proposed changes ranged from building storefronts or markets in the area underneath the overpasses, creating more open space where thick sandstone-colored walls now hold up the highway, and putting Route 1 underground to allow for development on top of it.

The discussion comes after the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) hired a contractor to conduct a feasibility study of removing the overpasses and lowering the highway to ground level.

Darren Buck — an Aurora Highlands resident, professional transportation planner, and member of the Arlington Transportation Commission — presented the possible changes, saying they were ideas meant to set a line of thinking. Factors like cost, construction time and general practicality are yet to be fully considered.

“These really are kind of unconstrained by a lot of reality,” Buck said. “They’re really trying to get to what could we do that would address some of… the identified things that we are concerned about with the at-grade proposal and start to toss around alternatives.”

Ultimately, Livability 22202 will make “community-based recommendations for an innovative new vision for Route 1 and its cross streets between 12th Street S. and 23rd Street S.,” a slide in the meeting said.

If the highway was at-grade, it could be turned into an “urban boulevard” running through Crystal City, according to VDOT.

This would fall in line with the transportation portion of Virginia’s HQ2 deal with Amazon, which lists “improvements to Route 1 through Crystal City and Pentagon City” as a project the government would fund.

According to a 2018 Virginia Economic Development Partnership presentation, this project could cost around $250 million.

Livability 22202 said dropping Route 1, also known as Richmond Highway, to ground level would force pedestrians walking between east and west Crystal City to cross the busy commuter artery.

“We want a pedestrian-friendly, walking-friendly neighborhood,” Michael Dowell of Livability 20222 said. “Having Route 1 be an impediment to achieving that is a really big worry.”

Pedestrians can currently cross under the overpasses, which many do to access the Crystal City Metro station on the east side.

Another Livability 22202 meeting on the topic will be held on September 30.

Images via Google Maps

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Arlington is experiencing a rash of car-related crimes, with three separate theft sprees listed in today’s local crime report.

A man was arrested early Friday morning after security at the Pentagon City mall allegedly saw him break into three unlocked vehicles and try to break into two others. The suspect, who was not named, is expected to be charged with larceny from auto.

Around 7 a.m. Friday morning, another series of auto crimes was reported, this time along Glebe Road just south of Lee Highway. Someone smashed the windows of eight vehicles and stole airbags from seven of them, according to Arlington County police.

Around 10 a.m. Friday, police say they were dispatched to the Aurora Highlands neighborhood for a report of multiple vehicles being stolen. They found three cars had been stolen overnight, including a BMW, a Nissan and a Honda.

Arlington County police warned residents last week to lock their car doors and not leave keys in the car, in response to at least 31 cars being stolen in July. The county has also seen multiple carjackings over the past couple of months. Auto crimes are rising in Arlington, according to the latest ACPD annual report.

More on the most recent thefts, from today’s crime report:

LARCENY FROM AUTO (series), 2020-07310016, 800 block of Army Navy Drive. At approximately 1:25 a.m. on July 31, police were dispatched to the report of a tampering with auto in progress. Arriving officers located an individual matching the description provided by security and detained him without incident. The investigation determined that mall security observed the suspect enter approximately three unlocked vehicles and attempt to enter two other locked vehicles unsuccessfully. Charges are pending for the suspect.

LARCENY FROM AUTO (series),  2020-07310042, 2100 block of N. Glebe Road. At approximately 7:09 a.m. on July 31, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny from auto. Upon arrival, it was determined that between approximately 11:30 p.m. on July 30 and 6:45 a.m. on July 31, an unknown suspect(s) smashed the windows to eight vehicles and stole the airbags from seven of those vehicles. The targeted vehicles were all Honda models. There are no suspect(s) descriptions. The investigation is ongoing.

GRAND LARCENY AUTO (series), 2020-07310058/07310087, 600 block of 29th Road S./2300 block of S. Inge Street. At approximately 10:06 a.m. on July 31, police were dispatched to the report of multiple vehicles stolen. Upon arrival, it was determined that approximately 3 vehicles were stolen from the area overnight. The vehicles are described as: VA VKN8674, 2016 Honda Accord, Brown; VA ULY5206, 2016 BMW 428i, Gray; and VA UJT9855, 2020 Nissan Armada, Beige. There are no suspect descriptions. The investigation is ongoing.

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This weekend, Calvary United Methodist Church in Aurora Highlands is holding a “Stuff the Truck” donation event to collect food for the Chirilagua neighborhood in Alexandria.

The community — also known as Arlandria — has faced disproportionately high numbers of COVID-19 positive patients, as have Latino and Hispanic communities in Arlington and throughout the region.

Local nonprofits have worked to get food and other emergency supplies to hard-hit Chirilagua.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the Chirilagua neighborhood are experiencing hardship from job loss, sickness, and food insecurity,” Calvary UMC said in a media advisory. “Recent data revealed that over 40% of Chirilagua residents are unemployed and, in mid-May, over 55% of COVID tests taken by community members living in Chirilagua were positive.”

This Saturday, June 6, Calvalry UMC is hosting a donation event at the church (2315 S. Grant Street) from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. to fill a 20-foot truck with items most needed by Chirilagua residents and families.

“To participate, donors can come to Calvary UMC and bring donated food and supplies to place in the truck,” the church said. “Items needed most are shelf-stable foods such as rice, beans, canned food and cornflour.”

The event is the latest in a series of fundraisers and food drives for the church to support the Chirilagua community. So far, the church says it has raised $24,000 of its $25,000 goal. The church plans to make an additional $15,000 pledge to bring the total to at least $40,000, the church said.

“Donors wishing to make a financial contribution to MISSION:COVID can donate at the event or through the Calmeth.org website,” the church said, “or text GIVE to 703-936-2684 and select MISSION:COVID from the menu.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Those who want to see Arlington close lanes or whole streets during the pandemic will have to keep waiting.

County officials say they don’t have the resources to close lanes  in order to create extra space for social distancing among cyclists and pedestrians.

“Due to the many challenges involved, there are no plans at this time to open/close vehicular traffic lanes for walkers and bikers,” Arlington County spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith tells ARLnow.

Some — including ARLnow columnists — have been pushing for such closures, with vehicle traffic down and more people trying to get out of the house for outdoor recreation.

From WAMU last month:

Local governments in Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and other cities around the world have made more space for people, by taking away a lane of roads that have seen declining vehicle traffic or closing some roads altogether.

In D.C., about 700 people signed a letter requesting some lane closures to make larger sidewalks, turn some streets into “local traffic only” and open streets parallel to trail networks. […]

On Friday, Mayor Muriel Bowser shot down the idea on the Kojo Nnamdi show saying, “I don’t want to send the message to people to go out and have a festival.”

A few days later, Bowser announced the closure of a portion of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, along with two other parkways.

In Arlington, the neighboring Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations have made specific lane closure recommendations to the County Board, calling for lanes along S. Hayes Street, S. Joyce Street, 12th Street S. and Potomac Avenue to be blocked off.

“Local residents are at risk of coronavirus exposure while being outdoors because of limited space for essential social distancing,” Aurora Highlands Civic Association President Scott Miles wrote in an email last week. “Bike lanes are limited and sidewalks are too narrow to keep a safe distance from the crowds of fellow travelers. Meanwhile vehicular traffic is low, and street parking is underused as most offices and non-essential retail are closed.”

The two civic associations recommended “a specific network of connected streets that are relatively flat and straight, creating better visibility for everyone and easier travel for all pedestrians, including those with disabilities,” he added.

In an online town hall this past Friday, however, Arlington County Police Chief M. Jay Farr said the police department doesn’t have the “thousands” of traffic cones and barriers, not to mention the extra staffing, to create and enforce temporary pedestrian zones on local streets.

He said road closures might look easy during special events, but those events are planned well in advance, are for a short period of time, and require a “tremendous amount of resources and assets… to keep the roads safe.”

“It looks like closing the road is really not going to be that complex the thing, however I just wanted to remind everybody that when we start to look at any road closure there’s a number of factors that go into it,” including things like parking and access to buildings, he said.

“We have many businesses that are dependent upon the conversion of some of our parking to pick up in drop-off spots,” Farr continued. “Most of the places that I’ve seen identified [for closures] also include a number of avenues in and out of apartment buildings or in and out of somebody’s home.”

More from the town hall:

Photo courtesy Aurora Highlands Civic Association

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Arlington residents in and around Crystal City will be able to make food donations at three drop-off points Saturday morning.

FLARE, a new electric shuttle service, will be picking up donations for the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

“During this challenging time, we are eager to use FLARE electric shuttles to benefit our neighbors and the Arlington Food Assistance Center. We urge our friends and neighbors to make much-needed food donations to AFAC tomorrow morning, and we’ll deliver the contributions to AFAC,” said FLARE CEO Andres Delgado, in a statement.

AFAC is bracing for a dramatic increase in food need in Arlington, amid the coronavirus crisis and a drop in donations.

Drop-off donations will be accepted this Saturday (March 21) from 8-11 a.m. at 516 25th Street S., 2729 Fort Scott Drive, and 2100 Crystal Drive.

“Food items that are in greatest need are: rice, pasta, low-sugar cereal, canned tomatoes, canned soup, canned tuna fish, and canned beans (no glass),” FLARE noted.

AFAC announced Friday that it is also setting up food collection boxes outside of six (closed) Arlington community centers.

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A 25-year-old man is in custody after police say he attacked a woman in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood near Pentagon City.

The alleged attack happened around 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at the intersection of 18th Street S. and S. Ives Street.

Police say the man wielded a knife as he knocked the victim to the ground, with the intent of sexually molesting her. The woman fought back and the suspect was ultimately scared off by a witness. Officers located a man matching the suspect description nearby and took him into custody.

More from an ACPD crime report:

ABDUCTION WITH THE INTENT TO DEFILE, 2020-02110202, 18th Street S. at S. Ives. At approximately 7:23 p.m. on February 11, police were dispatched to the report of an assault that just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was walking in the area when she heard someone behind her. The victim turned and confronted the suspect who allegedly knocked her to the ground, brandished a knife and assaulted the victim. A witness yelled at the suspect, causing him to flee the scene on foot. Responding officers located an individual matching the suspect description and he was later positively identified. The victim suffered minor injuries. William Peoples, 25, of No Fixed Address was arrested and charged with Abduction with the Intent to Defile and Carrying a Concealed Weapon. He was held without bail.

Abduction with the Intent to Defile is a serious, infrequently charged crime that, if convicted, is punishable by 20 years to life in prison.

This was the fourth notable criminal incident in the Pentagon City area since Sunday.

Map via Google Maps

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Update at 10:30 a.m. — Power has been restored.

Earlier: Some 800 Dominion customers are without power in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood near Pentagon City, prompting the closure of the local library.

The Aurora Hills Branch Library is closed until further notice, Arlington Public Library said in a tweet.

The outage is the result of an “equipment fire,” according to Dominion’s website, but restoration of power to the neighborhood is expected no later than 2 p.m.

Map via Dominion

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