Arlington, VA

Not once, not twice, but four times, vandals have targeted a Black Lives Matter sign in front of the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington near Ballston.

Church officials were first alerted of the vandalism on Saturday morning, and presume that the destruction occurred overnight.

“It’s been a rocky history at this point,” said Scott LaGanga, an elder at the church, which is located at 601 N. Vermont Street in the Bluemont neighborhood.

First Presbyterian is at least the fourth church in Arlington reported to have a racial-justice sign vandalized this year.

The church has gone through four signs since one first went up on Oct. 4, LaGanga said. The sign read “Black Lives Matter” on a striped background imitating the Philadelphia Pride flag, which includes the colors for Gay Pride and Trans-rights flags as well as black and brown stripes to symbolize people of color.

“They’re clearly doing it in the dark because they have a certain viewpoint and don’t want to share that they have it,” LaGanga said.

After the first sign was stolen, the church invested in steel cables to secure it. Instead, vandals covered it in graffiti. Once, they crossed out the “V” in “Black Lives Matter” to read “Black Lies Matter,” LaGanga said.

This time, someone cut the sign out of the cables and took it.

LaGanga explained that the church has been more engaged in issues of racial justice, putting up signs and hosting a weekly outdoor vigil for an end to racial injustice. Acts of vandalism will not shaken the resolve of the church, he said.

“The church has taken a strong position on inclusion and racial justice,” said LaGanga. “It reaffirms the stance we are taking and the reason we’re going to replace the sign.”

(While the Black Lives Matter sign was destroyed, the church’s LGBT-friendly “God Loves Love” signs remained untouched.)

This time, LaGanga said the church is considering security cameras, which he hopes will catch whoever is targeting the sign.

“We’re so resolved that if someone wants to do it, they’ll do it on camera,” he said.

First Presbyterian has received strong support from people in the community, many of whom are neighbors but not members, LaGanga said.

“We were surprised in the uptick in support from others in the community who were upset by this,” he said.

The first time, the church submitted a police report, but LaGanga does not see much point in submitting more since there have been no leads to date on the vandal.

In the wake of the protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd this summer, a rash of church signs were vandalized. Black Lives Matter sign were vandalized at Rock Spring Congregational church and at St. George’s Episcopal Church as well as a racial justice sign was vandalized outside of Clarendon United Methodist Church.

Acts of vandalism against BLM signage also occurred in secular spaces this summer, including S. Abingdon Street bridge over I-395.

Photos courtesy Mark Blacknell

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County staff are accepting public comments on some long-awaited safety improvements at three intersections along the Bluemont Junction trail.

Residents will be asked if the proposed changes would make them feel safe using the trail or driving across it. The engagement period is open through Friday, Nov. 20.

For years, users have said conditions are unsafe along the trail, which connects Ballston with the Washington and Old Dominion trail at Bluemont Park. It’s difficult for trail users and drivers to see one another at the intersections, until the former are already in the crosswalk.

Discussions and presentations on upgrades began last winter, but staff had to pause their progress this spring due to the pandemic. Work resumed this fall.

“Trail safety and access issues for the Bluemont Junction trail were first raised by the community in 2013,” the county project page said. “The project has evolved to focus on the three intersections included based on site visits, data analysis, and community input.”

The intersections are at N. Kensington Street, N. Emerson Street and N. Buchanan Street.

The Bluemont Civic Association, the Bicycle Advisory Committee and Pedestrian Advisory Committee provided input on the preliminary designs. The public comment period through Nov. 20 will inform the design plans that county staff will present to stakeholders for more comments once they are 30% complete.

“This project was identified as necessary to improve safety and accessibility at intersections where the trail and the street network meet,” the county staff project page said. “It will benefit people walking, biking, accessing transit, and driving.”

Where the trail intersects with N. Buchanan Street and N. Emerson Street, the trail and road are at different elevations and visibility is low, the survey said.

Although the trail is typically more heavily used than the roads, signs are limited and the street markings are worn out.

At N. Buchanan Street, staff propose using striping at the trail crossing to slow speeds and give motorists more time to see trail users, adding warning signs and possibly creating a raised crossing.

At N. Emerson Street, county staff propose raising the crossing, changing the angle of the approach to the trial and adding signs. 

Sightlines at the N. Kensington Street intersection are limited and nearby transit stops are not ADA accessible, the survey said.

They propose narrowing the trail crossing, adding ADA-compliant transit stops with boarding platforms, bringing the raised crossing up to trail grade, adding ADA-compliant tactile warning strips and improving the high-visibility crosswalk markings.

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After asking customers for suggestions of places to move, Pupatella says it will be staying in Bluemont after all.

The Neapolitan pizzeria said today via social media that its landlord has agreed to not raise the rent — after initially trying to hike it by 40% — and Pupatella will thus be staying put at its original 5104 Wilson Blvd location.

The June 9 Facebook post asking customers to “help us to spread the word and find a new perfect spot” received 350 comments, suggesting a variety of new locations and tactics for negotiating rent. Pupatella today credited the community for helping convince the landlord to keep the rent steady.

Pupatella has been expanding: a second Arlington location opened on S. Walter Reed Drive in December and more outposts are coming to Reston, the Mosaic District and Dupont Circle in D.C.

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Arlington is the No. 1 best city to live in the U.S., according to 2020 rankings from Niche.com, and two Arlington neighborhoods are No. 2 and No. 3 on the website’s new list of the Best Places to Live in America.

Arlington, which is technically a county, has topped the Niche “Best Cities to Live” list since 2016.

The site calculates the rankings “based on crime, public schools, cost of living, job opportunities, and local amenities.” Niche previously lauded Arlington for high-quality public schools, low crime rate, abundant nightlife options and walkability.

In its rankings this year, Niche cites the following recent review of Arlington from a current resident.

Arlington is a very clean and open-minded town with educated individuals and businesses that are dedicated to producing less waste. Many stores and retail centers are modern and well-kept. It is a family friendly area with great public schools. However, traffic is prevalent and real estate prices are through the roof. But, living a healthy lifestyle is easy in Arlington with many healthy food options and amazing trails all over.

Arlington neighborhoods also ranked remarkably well on Niche’s 2020 Best Places to Live lists for both the state and the country, thanks in large part due to highly-rated public schools and walkability.

The Bluemont neighborhood, west of Ballston, is the No. 2 best place in the nation, according to Niche. Radnor-Fort Myer Heights, near Rosslyn and Courthouse, is No. 3. Ballston/Virginia Square is No. 12 in the U.S. and Clarendon/Courthouse is No. 24.

Within Virginia, Arlington neighborhoods dominated the top 25: Bluemont (1), Radnor/Fort Myer Heights (2), Ballston/Virginia Square (3), Clarendon/Courthouse (4), Waycroft/Woodlawn (6), Colonial Village (11), North Rosslyn (12), Lyon Village (13), Cherrydale (14), Arlington Forest (15), Dominion Hills (16), Arlington Ridge (18), Claremont (20), Columbia Heights (21), Aurora Highlands (22), Alcova Heights (23), and Ashton Heights (25).

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Morning Notes

Seattle Tax Could Advantage Arlington — “It wouldn’t shock us if Amazon started encouraging more of its executives to up and move their teams to HQ2, or a neighboring city in Washington state, now that the Seattle City Council has passed a progressive tax targeting the wealthiest companies in the city.” [Washington Business Journal]

Analysis of County Board Special Election — From @A_Hendel on Twitter: “Takis Karantonis received most of his share of the vote from South Arlington… In fact, almost no precincts north of I-66 cast 50% or more of their votes for Takis.” [Twitter]

Organizations Getting Big PPP Loans in Arlington — The American Diabetes Association, tech company ByteCubed, American Service Center, Bishop O’Connell High School and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington are among the Arlington-based organizations to reportedly receive $2+ million federal Paycheck Protection Act loans. [Patch]

Another Local Tech Firm Gets PPP Help — “Amazon.com Inc. may have posted record sales during the pandemic, but many third-party sellers on the platform foundered… Some of those sellers — like the Arlington-based Amify Inc. and Etailz Inc., based in Spokane, Washington — received millions of dollars worth of help from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.” [Washington Business Journal]

Water Main Repairs Today in Bluemont — “Thursday Emergency Water Main Repairs: Crews will replace 3 valves in separate locations tomorrow in Bluemont area. Some 100 customers have been notified of potential service interruptions 8 a.m.-5 p.m.” [Twitter]

Letter: W-L Renaming Happened at a Good Time — “The Arlington School Board’s renaming of Washington-Lee High School was autocratic, manipulative, adversarial and punitive. In retrospect, though, they unwittingly did the W-L community a favor.” [InsideNova]

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Pupatella is looking to leave its original location in Bluemont and move elsewhere in Arlington.

The popular Neapolitan pizza restaurant said via social media that its landlord at 5104 Wilson Blvd is trying to raise the rent by 40%, despite the pandemic hurting its business and that of other restaurants.

The eatery — which recently opened a new location on S. Walter Reed Drive — asked its followers for suggestions of where to move. As of publication time, the Facebook post along has attracted more than 200 comments in a span of a few hours.

The restaurant’s owners tell ARLnow that they have been quietly searching for a new location since March, when their lease came up for renewal, and have not found anything yet. They “definitely want to stay” in North Arlington but are “getting very desperate and hoping that someone can help us,” wrote Anastasiya Algarme.

“I believe our landlord believes that because we have opened a new location, we must be very rich now and he wants to take advantage of that,” said Algarme. “A lot of times people that have not run restaurant businesses do not understand all the expenses involved, and they believe that if a restaurant that is busy, it must be swimming in cash. It is not true at all and the profit margins are low. Our landlord refuses to see our accounting books to understand.”

The landlord, who she did not name, might have reason to think Pupatella has some extra cash beyond the Bluemont location’s acclaim and success. In 2018 it was reported that the company had raised $3.75 million for a planned eight-location expansion. So far, only the South Arlington location has opened, though other locations are planned in the District and in Reston.

As for a potential new location, “our only requirements are some parking, and preferably a place that is a restaurant already to reduce our build out costs,” Algarme said.

“We definitely want to stay in Arlington and North Arlington specifically,” she added. “We’d be foolish to give up such a loyal following.”

Asked whether the social media post was, effectively, a negotiation ploy, Algarme insisted it was not.

“We doubt the landlord will see it,” she said. “He is 90 years old and says he does not use Facebook. Our lease was typed on a typewriter.”

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A contingent of National Guard members, some in camo and others in full protective gear, descended on the Sunrise at Ballston Park senior living center today for mass testing of staff and residents.

The coronavirus testing comes amid a worsening outbreak at the facility, located at 5910 Wilson Blvd. While Sunrise had for weeks avoided the kind of large outbreak that has sickened dozens at Regency Care of Arlington in Pentagon City and Brookdale Senior Living in Virginia Square — and possibly others — on Tuesday the facility’s executive director informed families that it had just confirmed the first cases among residents.

“We unfortunately need to report that we currently have three (3) residents who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Sunrise said in an email, obtained by ARLnow. “We continue to serve residents in our community and are working closely with impacted families to support them during this challenging time.”

“We now have had a total of four (4) team members who have tested positive for this virus, 2 more than from our last update,” the email added. “We continue to have ample staff to appropriately serve our residents and are following CDC guidelines to determine when a team member is free to return to work following any exposure, symptoms or diagnosis.”

Sunrise said in the email that it was participating in a state program to test everybody, all at once, at nursing homes and senior living centers that request it.

“We are pleased to confirm that we will be participating in the State of Virginia’s Point Prevalence Survey this Thursday, May 21,” the company told family members. “Virginia’s National Guard will administer COVID-19 testing for all residents and team members… The results are expected back in approximately 72 hours and we will be reaching out to any families where a COVID positive outcome is the result.”

The Point Prevalence Survey (PPS) program was announced by Virginia officials last month as an early intervention tool for slowing outbreaks that spread quickly at long-term care facilities. PPS testing has been conducted in at least one other such facility in Northern Virginia, as reported by NBC 4. A county spokeswoman declined to say whether other facilities in Arlington have received the wide-scale testing.

“The Commonwealth receives and approves the requests for point prevalence surveys at facilities,” said Cara O’Donnell. “Arlington Public Health has encouraged all facilities to conduct point prevalence surveys, and submits the requests from the facilities to the state. We cannot provide information on which facilities have requested this due to health privacy laws.”

As of this morning, the Virginia Dept. of Health reported 14 known COVID-19 outbreaks in Arlington, including nine in long-term care facilities and three in healthcare settings. The county has 1,763 known cases, 346 hospitalizations, and 89 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the latest VDH data.

Nearly half of the 89 deaths were among those ages 80 and above.

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A man is in police custody after he allegedly went berserk at an apartment building in the Bluemont neighborhood, near Ballston.

The incident happened shortly before 3 p.m. and drew a crowd outside the building.

Initial details are sketchy, but Arlington County Police say they were dispatched to the 800 block of N. Wakefield Street for a report of a man damaging property. Upon officers arriving, the man threw a dumbbell out of an apartment window, according to police.

Broken windows could be seen on the third floor of the building. Firefighters also responded and were asked to evaluate a possible gas leak from an appliance in the apartment, according to scanner traffic.

Officers were ultimately able to arrest the suspect.

“The subject was taken into custody and will be transported to an area hospital for evaluation,” said ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “”No officers were injured.”

“We remain on scene investigating,” Savage added. “There’s no ongoing threat to the community.”

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The original Pupatella Pizza location at 5104 Wilson Blvd in Bluemont has closed temporarily after an employee tested for COVID-19.

The popular pizzaria announced the closure “for a deep cleaning” this morning on social media.

“We’re doing everything we can to support our staff and community during these trying times,” the restaurant said.

Pupatella’s new S. Walter Reed Drive location remains open for pickup orders.

Even with its dining room closed, Pupatella says it has been selling hundreds of pizzas a day. It has also been donating pizzas, including to local first responders.

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A Falls Church man has been arrested after police say he was seen pulling on car door handles in the Bluemont area early Tuesday morning.

The incident happened around 3:30 a.m. on the 5700 block of 8th Road N.

Arlington County Police say Kevin Gomez, 24, “was found to be in possession of alleged stolen items” and is now facing a theft charge. He also had outstanding warrants for his arrest from Fairfax County.

More from an ACPD crime report:

LARCENY (Significant), 2020-03240023, 5700 block of 8th Road N. At approximately 3:36 a.m. on March 24, police were dispatched to the report of suspicious persons pulling on door handles of parked vehicles. Upon arrival, officers canvassed the area and observed a subject matching the description provided by the witness. When stopped by police, the subject provided false information related to his identification. During the course of the investigation, the subject was found to be in possession of alleged stolen items. Kevin Hernandez Gomez, 24, of Falls Church, VA was arrested and charged with Petit Larceny and Providing False Identity to Law Enforcement. He was also served with outstanding warrants out of Fairfax County.

Arlington experienced a string of car break-ins since mid-2019, though police have announced a number of arrests over the past month or so. Many of the break-ins have been crimes of opportunity, involving unlocked car doors or valuables in plain sight.

The police department is continuing to remind residents to take precautions, even as officers step up patrols.

From an ARLnow article on a break-in spree in January:

Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said police are taking a number of steps in response, but still need the public’s help.

“ACPD officers proactively patrol Arlington’s neighborhoods to identify and prevent criminal activity,” Savage told ARLnow. “The department’s efforts are enhanced by the active involvement of residents. Residents are encouraged to report suspicious activity to police for investigation by calling 703-558-2222 or 9-1-1 in an emergency.”

“We also encourage residents to reduce the opportunity for crime by participating in the 9 P.M. Routine,” Savage added, referring to the department’s campaign to remind residents to lock their doors and remove valuables from their cars.

 

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Morning Notes

Lane Closures Near Ballston — Sewer relining work is closing the right-hand lane of portions of Fairfax Drive and Wilson Blvd in the Bluemont neighborhood, near Ballston. [Twitter]

Arlington’s Young Population Drives Trends — “One of the reasons Virginia’s Arlington County is consistently rated highest for health and fitness is because of its young demographic. Take Ballston, for example, where 47.7% of the adult population is between 25 and 44 years old.” [WTOP]

Courthouse Metro Rescue Makes National News — “We would like to thank @ABCWorldNews for broadcasting our rescue of a @wmata rider last Friday. The patient is in stable condition. If you find yourself on the tracks and are unable to exit, roll towards the platform side to the area of refuge.” [Twitter, ABC News]

Fort Myer Gate Temporarily Closed — “Attention DoD ID card holders: @JBMHH’s Old Post Chapel Gate that provides entry onto the base from Arlington National Cemetery will be temporarily closed beginning today through the end of April for construction.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Nearby: Proposed Arlandria Redevelopment — A “D.C. developer filed preliminary plans with Alexandria earlier this month for the project, looking to completely overhaul a Mount Vernon Avenue shopping center near Four Mile Run Park, now called Del Ray North. It’s currently home to a MOM’s Organic Market, but has seen a variety of retail vacancies recently.” [Washington Business Journal]

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