Press Club
A slide from a county presentation showing where a trail would connect Arlington View to Army Navy Drive (via Arlington County)

Nearly 30 years in the making, the Army Navy Country Club Trail Connector is closer to becoming a reality.

Construction on the long-proposed trail, a design for which has not yet been finalized, is expected to begin in spring 2024, officials say. Work could be completed the following spring, according to a recent county presentation.

The path for cyclists and pedestrians would run from a point near Hoffman-Boston Elementary and 13th Road S., in the Arlington View neighborhood, to Army Navy Drive near the I-395 overpass and the entrance to the club. It would provide a new way to get from Columbia Pike to Pentagon City.

The county is seeking community feedback on two preliminary concepts for the trail, which can be provided through the project’s website.

Final design will be completed in spring 2023, then there will be another opportunity for public feedback. By winter 2023, a contract should be awarded and an official construction timeline will be released, Project Manager Mark Dennis said.

Two preliminary concepts are being considered. One features high walls and a steep trail, which could cost $11 million. The other is defined by stairs and a runnel, and could cost $5 million.

A slide depicting one Army Navy Country Club connector trail concept under consideration, featuring high walls and a steep trail (via Arlington County)

This first concept includes a 10-foot-wide, multi-use trail with a steep, 12% slope centered between retaining walls. The walls would run approximately 16 feet apart, and could be up to 16 feet in height.

Further design of Concept 1 would have to address the transition at Memorial Drive — the connector road leading to the club — where cyclists would have limited visibility to react to vehicular traffic.

Dennis compared the high walls and steep trail concept to the Custis Trail, which also has a 12% slope in some sections, he said.

“Any users out there who have taken the Custis Trail, you know what this feels like, it’s a great workout for those who are up to it,” he said. “It can be a little bit of a challenge for people who are just out for a simple walk or just want to get from A to B and not have such a vigorous bike ride.”

The second concept is a series of stairs and landings to manage the steep slope, and would feature a runnel, or wheel channel, for bicycles that could also accommodate strollers or carts.

A slide showing the concept for the Army Navy Country Club trail that features stairs and a runnel (via Arlington County)

Several people raised concerns about accessibility for both concepts. Neither design features a winding, gradual slope, but the county has to work with what it’s got, Dennis said.

“The country club has very carefully considered our previous requests to expand the easement to grant more easement and they have respectfully declined,” Dennis said. “We are limited by the easement that we have and we have sufficient easement to accommodate concepts like the two I’ve presented.”

Those who have followed the project’s iterations may notice the easement’s shape has changed. After Arlington public safety officials rejected the emergency access road idea that was originally part of the project, the path’s endpoint near Hoffman-Boston shifted from S. Queen Street to the other side of the school, near the tennis and basketball courts, Dennis said.

Dennis said the project won’t be “all things to all people,” but the narrow, steep property will probably draw a “sort of self-selecting group of users,” he said.

“We hope it’ll be accessible for anyone who can climb stairs, we hope to be accessible for anyone who rides most kinds of bikes,” he said. “But we’re going to look at that very carefully in design and try our best to accommodate the broadest range of potential users.”

The project has been discussed since the early 90s and overcome many hurdles, including obtaining an easement from the country club, a resulting lawsuit from club members, the elimination of the emergency service road, and delays due to funding constraints.

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A new K-8 private school is preparing to open this fall in a church near Crystal City.

This weekend, the County Board is scheduled to review a use permit letting Vienna-based Veritas Collegiate Academy open a satellite campus at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood at 935 23rd Street S.

The facility, dubbed Veritas Crystal City, would have up to 25 students in grades K-12 and 10 staff members, according to a county report.

The move into Arlington represents an expansion for the Christian liberal arts school, which recently relocated its main campus from Fairfax to a larger site in Vienna. Per its website, Veritas says has been in negotiations with the church for the past year.

“We are very excited to announce that… we have been also pursuing the opening of a campus closer to Washington, D.C.,” the school’s website reads. “I am proud to announce that Veritas National Landing will officially open this fall. Serving the communities of Arlington, Alexandria, and Washington D.C., Veritas… will offer a different campus approach, with more of a unique eclectic city feel.”

Veritas also has three locations in China.

For about 15 years, the church hosted a preschool and kindergarten program called the Potomac Crescent Waldorf School, which has since relocated to Alexandria.

Veritas proposes being open Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with school hours from 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. and after-school activities until 5 p.m., the report said. Drop-off would start at 7:30 a.m. and pickup would end at 3:15 p.m.

Neighbors can also expect occasional extracurricular events on weekday evenings and Saturdays after 5 p.m.

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(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) A local nonprofit intends to redevelop and add affordable housing for people with disabilities to its property near Crystal City.

Melwood, which connects people with disabilities with public- and private-sector jobs and opportunities, currently runs a workforce development site from the building at 750 23rd Street S., in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.

It envisions redeveloping the property into a 100% affordable, 104-unit building with about 30 units set aside for people with disabilities. The five-story building would also house workforce development services and community programming.

“This project builds on Melwood’s ongoing commitment to create more inclusive spaces and empower people with disabilities to live, work and thrive in their communities,” the company said in a statement to ARLnow. “By redeveloping the 23rd St. S. property, Melwood and its partners will be addressing another persistent gap for people with disabilities and their path to independence — affordable, accessible housing.”

Melwood took an early step forward by filing an application for a Special General Land Use Plan (GLUP) study this week. The application says the study is needed because the property falls outside of any adopted county sector plan documents.

The Maryland-based nonprofit — which has operated in Northern Virginia for many years — acquired the Arlington property during its merger in 2017 with Linden Resources, a local nonprofit that similarly provided employment opportunities to people with disabilities. Melwood says it began discussing options for the site with community members and stakeholders in 2020.

“From these conversations, Melwood heard the community’s strong interest in leveraging its facility to support affordable housing in addition to Melwood’s existing program offerings,” which currently support about 500 Arlington residents, the nonprofit said.

The proposed apartment building will address the “significant need” for independent, affordable housing for Arlington residents with disabilities, Melwood says, adding that in 2019, 22% of locals with disabilities lived under the poverty line and couldn’t afford housing.

Melwood requests that the county change the land-use designation from “public” to “low-medium” residential uses so that the property can eventually be rezoned for apartments, according to a letter from Catharine Puskar, a land use attorney representing the nonprofit.

The privately owned property is designated for public uses because, until 1981, the building operated as the former Nellie Custis School.

After the school closed, Arlington County swapped the Aurora Highlands property for a parcel near the Ballston Metro station with Sheltered Occupational Center of Northern Virginia, another work center for people with disabilities, the letter said. As part of the land swap, the county gave the center a special permit to operate on land zoned for public uses.

The two parcels comprising Melwood’s Arlington property at 750 23rd Street S. (via Arlington County)

The property includes the tiny, .8-acre Nelly Custis Park. Long before the current iteration of the park was built, a project some objected to, the occupational center had to grant to the county an open space easement for a public park as part of the land swap.

The public easement and the park will stay, but Melwood is allowed to use the parcel to calculate how many units can fit in its proposed apartment building, Puskar said.

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The 58th annual Miracle on 23rd Street (Photo courtesy of Melwood)

A miracle is shutting down a portion of 23rd Street S. near Crystal City tonight (Friday).

The 58th edition of the holiday event “Miracle on 23rd Street” is taking place on Friday night from 7-9 p.m. at 750 23rd Street S. in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.

The event will feature a Christmas tree lighting, hot chocolate, a “holiday-themed virtual reality experience,” music from the Bluemont Brass Quintet, and, of course, an appearance from Santa Claus, who usually arrives via fire truck. It is being put on by the local non-profit Melwood, which advocates and employs people with differing abilities.

Online registrations are being requested, though walk-up attendees will be accepted.

“Miracle on 23rd Street” will also close a one block stretch of traffic in both directions for several hours.

From 6-9 p.m., 23rd Street S. in between S. Hayes Street and S. Grant Street will be closed off to vehicular traffic, Arlington County police said.

Last year’s event was mostly virtual, though Santa did drive around the neighborhood.

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(Updated 9:20 a.m.) A Dominion Energy substation under renovation near Crystal City is set to electrify the neighborhood with an artistic façade.

The energy provider is expanding and remodeling its substation at the intersection of S. Hayes Street and S. Fern Street to meet the increasing demand for electricity as the population in the National Landing area — and Amazon’s nearby HQ2 — grows. It obtained the extra land needed for the expansion a year ago through an agreement with the County Board.

As part of the renovation, Dominion will be adding public art to one building face — “inVisible” by California-based artist Elena Manferdini — and building a public plaza.

Manferdini’s energetic design features vibrant ceramic tiles interacting with grayscale panels that extend toward the sky. But it’s a big departure from the “cloud concept” Dominion chose last year in response to community feedback.

Dominion Energy’s original “cloud concept” proposed for its substation near Crystal City (via Dominion Energy)

Her livelier proposal proved polarizing. While well-received by Dominion — and approved by the Arlington County Public Art Committee in March — reactions during last month’s Arlington Ridge Civic Association meeting were negatively charged for two reasons, says one attendee.

“1) Although the good intention to keep the building from being bland was well understood by the attendees, the artwork seemed too ‘busy’ for them, and 2) the artwork is being done by a non-local artist,” Tina Ghiladi said in an email. “At best, some reactions were neutral, because the substation is not in Arlington Ridge nor within our line of sight.”

Dominion Energy spokeswoman Peggy Fox says Manferdini, an award-winning artist with two decades of experience, was chosen on the strength of her proposal.

“We were hopeful to find a local artist for this project,” Fox said. “However, Elena proved to be the superior candidate by listening to both the desires of the community and representing the function of a substation and its ‘invisible’ importance in the community. It was clear she did her homework and drew inspiration from both angles. Elena (and her design ‘inVisible’) was chosen because she was the best candidate for this job.”

Manferdini describes her project as a representation of the unseen force of electricity and an invitation to the audience to question their relationship to it.

“Every day, we are surrounded by one of the most important innovations of all time, electricity,” she said in a March meeting. “Its energy powers every area of our modern lives. And yet we can’t see it. Like gravity, electricity is an invisible force we only recognize when it acts upon other objects.”

“inVisible” by Atelier Manferdini, the planned artwork for Dominion Energy’s substation near Crystal City (via Dominion Energy)

Ghiladi says some negative reaction softened when Dominion explained her vision and that she was selected “because of her experience in, and passion for, the subject.” Overall, neighbors like the other changes, she says.

“The members were positive/supportive about all other aspects of the project, namely improving our power network, as well as the removal of the lattice roof,” she said.

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(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Tensions are rising in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood, as residents engage in a letter-writing, petition-signing tug-of-war over the softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park.

A pair of letters to the County Board from members of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association (AHCA), sent this month and in April, as well as a petition launched today (Thursday), illustrate a deepening divide between sports fans and open space advocates, who envision divergent futures for one diamond field in the park near Pentagon City.

The civic tussle surfaced while the neighborhood tested a new arrangement. This spring, Field #3 in Virginia Highlands Park — the bigger of the two diamond fields  — was split between scheduled games and casual use by neighbors, after the civic association said neighbors flocked to the field last year when sports were canceled due to the pandemic.

Adult softball had the field on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It was open to residents for casual use Saturday through Monday, Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.

“This allows for the adult softball league to play on a field that is the correct size for their sport, while allowing the community access to a large green space in their neighborhood,” she said.

Some see shared use as a success requiring more maintenance to work long-term, while others see the model as successful but unsustainable — a demonstration that the community needs softball games condensed to one field and the other, possibly Field #3, converted into open space.

“This would allow thousands of our residents within Aurora Highlands, Arlington Ridge, Crystal City and beyond to have access to regular programming and dedicated casual use space, which does not exist in [Virginia Highlands Park],” civic association president and open space supporter Scott Miles tells ARLnow.

Bart Epstein, a civic association member and softball player, tells ARLnow that, barring maintenance problems, softball players who use Field #3 support the current arrangement and fear the alternative.

“It’s been a constant, low-level effort by a tiny group of people to see the fields destroyed,” he said.

Both sides report problems with shared use, which means the fields are used for everything from softball games to music nights. During an April meeting, AHCA members discussed the time and money required to use the field for non-athletes and return it to being game-ready.

“A big takeaway from the shared use work is that without an immense effort to ‘placemake’ with art, seating, activities, shade, etc.,” Miles said this week. “A field is just a field, and is of limited use. Making it more dedicated is the only way the needed casual uses can be maintained.”

Softball players and the parks department, meanwhile, say other users of the field leave behind waste from their dogs, which also dig holes, creating hazards for players.

“My hope is that the County Board will instruct the Department of Parks and Recreation to fully and properly support and maintain the fields,” Epstein said. Read More

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Some residents in and around Crystal City want to open up the Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary to more walking and hiking — with help from JBG Smith.

The developer owns property around Roaches Run and is interested in converting parts of its private land into a public connection accessible from the surrounding neighborhood.

This partnership is one way that the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations propose adding open space to their neighborhoods. A second solution is to redesign and upgrade Virginia Highlands Park for more uses than sports.

The two ideas are part of a report published last week from the three associations, which have banded together to form Livability 22202. The report also recommends ways to plan new parks in Crystal City and enhance local biodiversity.

“COVID-19 has changed everyone’s thinking about open spaces,” Livability 22202 President Carol Fuller said. “The traditional parks of the past do not serve the purposes of our new world. We need to have open space, parks and trails for people to go out for casual use outdoors.”

The group is scheduled to present its recommendations to the Parks and Recreation Commission in February, she said.

Compared to other parts of the county, Pentagon City and Crystal City have fewer trails and open parks, Fuller said.

“If we did not have Long Bridge [Park] — which is fairly new — and if we didn’t have Virginia Highlands Park, we would have no trails and very little open space,” she said. (Crystal City is also served by the Mt. Vernon Trail, which connects to the neighborhood near the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S.)

Livability 22202 is proposing a loop trail and connecting trails into and out of Roaches Run. The County too is interested in turning the area into publicly-accessible natural space as the neighborhood experiences a wave of redevelopment in the wake of Amazon’s HQ2 decision — but officials indicated this spring that it could take 5-10 years to implement.

JBG Smith is willing to make use of its land to advance the broader open space discussion happening in National Landing — the collective term for Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard — Andrew VanHorn, Executive Vice President, JBG Smith said in a statement.

“JBG Smith is supportive of plans that would make Roaches Run more accessible to the community and allow more people to enjoy this important natural asset,” he said.

VanHorn added that JBG Smith welcomes “the opportunity to work with the community, the County Board, and the National Park Service to help make this vision a reality.”

Meanwhile, the report authors envision Virginia Highlands Park as an urban park with a blend of recreational and casual uses.

“One of the problems with Virginia Highlands is it’s primarily for recreation,” such as tennis or softball, she said. “It needs an upgrade badly.”

At 18 acres, it is one of Arlington’s largest parks, but suffers from underused and wasted space, at least according to the authors.

The Aurora Highlands Civic Association has long pushed for changes to the park, and this upcoming fiscal year the County was slated to start developing a master plan for it.

But that plan is now on hold, Fuller said. So, in the meantime, Livability 22202 is proposing upgrades that include a gathering space, a sledding site, better lighting, permanent community gardens and a dog run — similar to the dog park proposed by a separate local group.

Money is perhaps the biggest missing ingredient for making changes to Roaches Run and Virginia Highlands Park, Fuller said.

“COVID-19 has not only shown us great need for open space, but it also destroyed the budget to give it to us,” Fuller said.

Earlier, the group published another report calling for more diverse housing options in the zip code.

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A new report released by three local civic associations says tenant protections, more housing options and community amenities would make the 22202 zip code livable.

But significant barriers — including a history of exclusionary zoning to a lack of political will from leaders — are holding the area back, the neighborhoods say.

The report was produced by Livability 22202, a coalition of the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands, and Crystal City civic associations.

“We want to ensure our neighborhood reflects the vision of an inclusive community and that residents’ voices are heard in a rapidly changing environment,” the report’s authors wrote. “By learning from the past and planning for a realistic future, we can ensure our shared values and visions as a 22202 community hold a promise that all are welcome to find a home here.”

The report coincides with heavy redevelopment and the construction of Amazon’s permanent HQ2 in Pentagon City. It also comes as Arlington County studies the lack of “middle housing” — duplexes and other smaller-scale multifamily housing — and sponsors discussions on the effects of race-based policies in County’s past.

“We believe that the adoption of our policy solutions, together with other livability objectives, will contribute to making our neighborhood an even better and more inclusive community to live and work in,” said Susan English, of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association, in a statement.

The report affirms the same solutions housing advocates have called for as the Missing Middle Housing Study takes shape.

“As the County embarks on a process to overhaul its policies and practices to fill the housing ‘missing middle,’ our report and its recommendations provide a comprehensive roadmap for change,” said Tarsi Dunlop, of the Crystal City Civic Association, in a statement.

The authors predict Amazon and the other commercial and residential development will displace existing residents, and recommend assistance and policies at the local and state level for renters and owners.

Ben D’Avanzo, of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association, said the report’s findings of “explicit racial restrictions and redlining” will supplement Arlington’s race and equity dialogues.

The Livability 22202 members said the group will now push for their recommendations to be adopted.

In a statement to ARLnow, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said she appreciates the hard work and the recommendations, many of which are consistent with the County’s goals.

“The County, too, wants to avoid displacement, increase the housing supply, and diversify housing choices,” she said.

In response to the assertion in the report that the County lacks political will to remove housing barriers, Garvey said county staff and the County Board are working with the community to do so while avoiding political backlash that could set them back.

“We are building political will,” she said. “The Board sees increasing the housing supply and access to housing as critical to Arlington’s long term sustainability and success as a community.”

The report is the result of workshops with renters, homeowners, experts and historians, as well as a study of the history of zoning and land use in the area and current barriers to adequate housing.

In addition to housing-related recommendations, the report also makes recommendations aimed ad strengthening local community cohesion.

Those recommendations include “creating both physical and digital spaces for community building, including a full-scope community center,” and “developing policies and processes to better include renters in the community, particularly addressing barriers to information sharing with residents of high-rises.”

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Update at 1:50 p.m. — The missing man has been found along Army Navy Drive, near 28th Street S., according to police radio traffic. He was located as a result of ACPD’s Project Lifesaver technology.

Earlier: Arlington County police are looking for a missing senior in Crystal City, Pentagon City and other surrounding neighborhoods.

Police are using Project Lifesaver equipment in the search and are being assisted by the Fairfax County Police Department helicopter, according to scanner traffic. The Del Ray area of Alexandria is also being searched.

The man — who’s 5’10”, Hispanic and in his late 70s — went missing around noon, and is considered to be endangered.

He was “last seen wearing a black long sleeved shirt and a burgundy polo, khaki pants and a brown hat with a black rim… in the area of the 800 block of 23rd Street S.,” said an Arlington Alert text. “Anyone with any information please contact the Arlington County Emergency Communication Center at 703-558-2222.”

More from an Arlington County Police Department social media post:

File photo

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Even though the Christmas tree lighting, Santa Claus’ arrival, face painting and hot cocoa can’t be enjoyed in person this year, the Miracle on 23rd Street holiday tradition is still happening.

The event has been hosted at 750 23rd Street S. in Crystal City for more than 50 years, in front of what is now Melwood, the employment and job training nonprofit for people of differing abilities.

This year, however, families are being asked to stay home to virtually watch the lighting of the Christmas tree at 6:45 p.m. tonight (Friday). They can enhance the experience with a $10 “Miracle on 23rd Street In A Box” kit for kids.

“The box includes supplies to decorate cookies, make a wreath and reindeer food,” the organization said. “It can be picked up in a contactless process (after registering with Melwood), and kids can follow along with activities with special guests on its Facebook page.”

Santa Claus is still making a drive-by appearance, too, and will be escorted by the Arlington auxiliary police and firefighters from Fire Station 5.

“If you live near 23rd St. and S. Grant Ave in Arlington, you can expect to see Santa in your neighborhood between 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.,” Melwood said.

Locals are being discouraged from trying to view the tree-lighting in person, however.

“While we won’t be able to come together in person for this time-honored tradition, Melwood will keep the Miracle tradition alive in a new way,” the organization said. “In compliance with Arlington County COVID-19 guidelines, Melwood is actively discouraging our neighbors from gathering near the campus for the tree lighting. We look forward to next year when we will be able to come together to continue this holiday tradition.”

Images via Melwood

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(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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