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Morning Notes

Reminder: Yellow Line Shutdown Starts Today — There will be no Yellow Line service today through Sunday, Dec. 9 as Metro works to repair the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac. Yellow Line riders can instead take the Blue Line and/or free shuttle service. [ARLnow, Twitter]

New ‘Clarendon Circle’ Traffic Restriction — Work on improvements to the busy “Clarendon Circle” intersection are underway and have resulted in at least one traffic pattern change. During construction, drivers will not be allowed to make the “tricky” left from eastbound Washington Blvd to Clarendon Blvd, and will instead have to follow a detour via N. Kirkwood Road. [Twitter, Arlington County]

Civ Fed Prepares Tree Canopy Resolution — “The Arlington County Civic Federation in December will weigh in on the development plan of Upton Hill Regional Park and, more broadly, on Arlington government policies on retaining or removing trees during redevelopment on public land. A resolution demanding a temporary halt to current development plans at Upton Hill was introduced at the Civic Federation’s Nov. 13 meeting and will be debated and voted on Dec. 4.” [InsideNova]

Minor Bluemont House Fire — Firefighters extinguished an out-of-control fire in the fireplace of a Bluemont house Saturday night. No injuries were reported but the home, on the 900 block of N. Frederick Street, suffered some smoke damage. [Twitter, Twitter]

Another Traffic Nightmare at DCA — As if the gridlock caused by the Veterans Day shutdown of the National Airport Metro station wasn’t bad enough, the traffic nightmare repeated itself Sunday evening, during one of the busiest travel days of the year. Some drivers reported spending hours trying to get to and from the airport. [NBC Washington, Twitter]

CBS Looks at Clarendon’s Vpoint Apartments — On Saturday morning, CBS News took a close look at the vPoint affordable housing project in Clarendon. The project, which converted a stand-alone church to a combination worship space and apartment building, is potentially a model for other communities struggling with affordable housing. At the time, however, the redevelopment faced lawsuits and other community opposition. [YouTube]

Amazon News Roundup — Arlington saw only modest successes in its quest to pitch itself as a tech hub over the past few years, but Amazon’s arrival changes that narrative in a big way. That said, half of the jobs Amazon brings to Arlington will be non-technical. Meanwhile, Amazon may benefit lower-income residents in New York City more than in Arlington, as subcontractors in New York will be subject to the state’s $15 per hour minimum wage; Virginia’s minimum wage is currently the federal $7.25 per hour minimum. And Nashville, some say, will be the biggest winner in terms of Amazon’s new presence boosting the local commercial real estate market.

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Police: Bluemont Traffic Stop Leads to Brief Scuffle Between Officer, Driver

An Arlington man is now facing a series of charges after he allegedly got into a scuffle with police following a heated argument during a traffic stop.

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.

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UPDATED: Firefighters Extinguish Bluemont House Fire

Arlington firefighters extinguished a house fire in Bluemont this afternoon.

First responders received a call about the blaze in a home along the 5600 block of 7th Street N. around 3:40 p.m. today (Wednesday). The fire was concentrated in the kitchen, per scanner traffic.

No one was inside the home when the fire started, and there were no injuries as a result of the blaze, a fire department spokesman said. However, the department did dispatch an extra medic unit to the scene, due to the heat, the spokesman said.

Photo via Google Maps

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Kids, Parents Plan Lemonade Stands Around Arlington to Help Separated Immigrant Families

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be big news that some kids and their parents plan to sell some lemonade around Arlington on a late-July day — but the lemonade stands popping up around the county this weekend come with a bit more of a message than most.

Activists with the group “Lawyer Moms of America” are setting up several stands in Arlington and other locations around Northern Virginia tomorrow (Saturday), as part of a national demonstration dubbed “Kids Take a Stand.” Parents and kids alike plan to use the event to raise money to hasten the reunification of families separated at the Mexican border.

While the Trump administration has managed to reunite roughly 1,400 children, from ages 5 to 17, with their families ahead of a court-imposed deadline, hundreds of other kids remain in government custody without any connection to their parents.

Though public outrage over the Trump administration’s since-reversed family separation policy has died down, Lawyer Moms of America is hoping to use Saturday’s demonstration to re-focus attention on the issue by putting their own kids in the spotlight.

“The women who founded Lawyer Moms of America heard first-hand accounts from lawyers who knew what was happening with these families at the border,” Natalie Roisman, an Arlington resident and member of the group’s national organizing team, wrote in a statement. “The immediate response was, ‘We have to do something.’ The next step was to think about how we – as lawyer moms – could uniquely contribute and do something effective. We have focused on education, advocacy and fundraising, and now we wanted to do something that would allow our kids to be directly involved.”

Roisman says the group will set up one stand at the intersection of N. Harrison Street and 8th Road N. in the Bluemont neighborhood, with another planned for Arlington Forest. She adds that stands will also be set up in the Waynewood area of Alexandria, at the Falls Church Farmers Market and in Reston, and more could pop up by the time Saturday arrives.

All proceeds of the lemonade sales will go to Project Corazon, an effort organized by the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation to provide immigrants at the border with legal services.

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After Pedestrian Crash, Neighbors Turn Up the Pressure in Fight for Bluemont Road Improvements

After a man was struck by a car in the middle of a Bluemont intersection, some of his neighbors see new urgency for their years-long effort to force the county to improve conditions for pedestrians in the area.

County police say Eric Larsen was crossing N. Carlin Springs Road near its intersection with N. Edison Street early in the morning last Monday (July 16), when a car slammed into him. Larsen was taken to George Washington University hospital with non-life threatening injuries, and neighbors say he’s still recovering from some broken bones caused by the crash.

Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says “charges are pending” against the driver, but people living in the area see the intersection’s design deficiencies as the real cause of the crash.

Lora Strine, who lives in the Arlington Forest neighborhood nearby, says her citizens’ association has pressed the county for changes in the area going back to at least 2016. She points out that Carlin Springs is a popular option for walkers looking to reach the Ballston Metro, as Larsen was at the time of the accident, or even the Safeway near the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. George Mason Drive.

Yet Strine says the area lacks clearly marked crosswalks or traffic calming measures to slow drivers, particularly on such a wide road, and she can’t understand why it’s taken the county so long to address the issue.

“This accident is not really an accident,” Strine told ARLnow. “It’s really been years in the making.”

Arlington officials point out that they’re hardly ignoring the area, however.

County transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says workers plan to install a flashing sign that can be activated by pedestrians crossing Carlin Springs near the road’s intersection with N. Harrison Street, just a few blocks from the Larsen crash. That signal should be in place as soon as next month.

Balliet added that the county is also planning some curb extensions and crosswalk improvements all along Carlin Springs, leading up to Edison Street, with work set to start in the spring of 2019 and wrap up the following year.

But Strine feels that’s far too long for the neighborhood to wait, and managed to secure a meeting with county staff and County Board member John Vihstadt to make that argument.

Vihstadt says “the jury is still out” in terms of how, exactly, the Board might be able to speed up the construction, though he certainly agrees with Strine’s assessment of the intersection. He’s spent the last year or so working with Arlington Forest residents on the issue, and he sees a need for the county to act quickly, as development in Ballston continues to ramp up and bring people to the area.

“That’s an awful long time to wait for these measures,” Vihstadt said. said. “I don’t find that  acceptable at all.”

At the very least, Vihstadt hopes to see the county beef up the webpage displaying details about the road improvements to keep neighbors better informed.

But even if Vihstadt can successfully convince officials to speed up construction, Strine worries that the work won’t actually slow cars speeding along Carlin Springs. She’d much rather see an additional stop light in the area, or even a stop sign, to bring speeds down.

“They’re wasting time and money by making changes that we know aren’t going to work,” Strine said. “These are just incremental changes: another Band-Aid, as one of my neighbors said.”

While county officials are confident that their planned changes will indeed slow passing cars, Vihstadt agreed that he wants to see the county do more to take into account “context-specific considerations” raised by neighbors about local road projects.

Overall, he lamented that this latest community clash is indicative of a pattern he’s seen all around Arlington in recent years, and provides a clear example of how the county still struggles to balance traffic congestion and pedestrian safety.

“While we like to say that our public policies like ‘the car-free diet‘ are having a positive impact on Arlington traffic, and I think they are, a lot of neighborhoods don’t yet feel that way,” Vihstadt said.

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Nonprofit Could Transform Historic Reeves Farmhouse into Group Home

After years of debate over the future of the historic Reeves farmhouse in Bluemont, a solution that the community likes and does not require lots of taxpayer dollars may have been found.

County officials have worked up a plan to team up with Habitat for Humanity to transform the farmhouse into a group home for adults with developmental disabilities.

The Northern Virginia branch of the nonprofit is currently exploring the prospect of renovating the 118-year-old home, then turning it over to another group to manage it, Habitat director of real estate development Noemi Riveira told ARLnow.

The farmhouse sits on the 2.4-acre Reevesland dairy farm property (400 N. Manchester Street), which the county purchased in 2001. The County Board has long hoped to find some other use for the home, with community groups urging the county to transform it into a museum or learning center, but the high cost of renovating the house convinced the Board to move toward selling it instead.

Riveira cautions that her group is still in the “very, very preliminary” phases of studying the property, and she isn’t sure yet whether this plan would involve Habitat buying the farmhouse from the county. Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey suggested that the nonprofit could end up purchasing it, then transferring ownership to whichever entity runs the group home, or simply lease the house from the county instead.

Regardless of the details, however, both Riveira and Dorsey are cautiously optimistic that this arrangement could prove to be the best possible outcome for the historic home.

“Any opportunity we have to serve anyone that needs a shelter, we’re happy to assist,” Riveira said. “It’s a bit outside of our normal program scope… but this is a demographic that needs homes, so we’re there to help.”

Riveira noted that the “community came to us” with this proposal. Specifically, Chris Tighe, president of the Boulevard Manor Civic Association, says he first floated the idea of reaching out to Habitat in a conversation with Dorsey roughly a year ago.

“A lot of nonprofits valiantly tried to save it over the years, but all of that just sort of petered out,” Tighe said. “So at one point I just said, ‘How come no one’s thought of [Habitat] before?'”

Tighe reached out to the nonprofit, and brokered a meeting with the group and Dorsey to work up an initial proposal.

Broadly, Habitat would agree to renovate the exterior of the house and select portions of the interior, as well as constructing an addition. The county estimates that renovating the home via contractors would cost anywhere from $2.5 million to $3 million, though at this stage Riveira is unsure how expensive the work would be with volunteer help.

“That was a lot of money for us… but they’re a nonprofit that can leverage volunteers, so it provides a great opportunity for a traditional renovation not paid for in traditional market ways,” Dorsey said.

Riveira says the home is currently zoned to house up to eight people, so she envisions the farmhouse someday offering rooms for five or six adults with disabilities, then a few live-in counselors as well.

While Habitat is generally focused on building new homes for low-income people, Riveira says the group does have some experience working with historic properties, and would look to enlist the help of experts in the field if it moves forward with the project.

Tighe says Habitat presented that vision for the farmhouse at the civic association’s meeting last Sunday (June 17), where it earned “unanimous approval.”

“We’re pretty confident this would be a phenomenal win-win for everybody,” Tighe said.

If all works out, the farmhouse’s future could be decided by the end of the year.

“Reasonably, I would hope that we’ll know within the next three to six months concretely if we’re moving forward on this,” Dorsey said.

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ACFD Battles Kitchen Fire Near Ballston

Arlington County firefighters are on scene of a kitchen fire on a residential block near Ballston.

The fire was reported shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday on the 4800 block of Fairfax Drive, in Bluemont. The blaze has since been extinguished but firefighters are still checking for hotspots and working to ventilate the structure.

The home’s occupants were reportedly able to get out safely.

Photo via Google Maps

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Bluemont Pizza Restaurant Pupatella Warns Against Online Ordering

A pizza restaurant in Bluemont is warning potential customers against ordering their food online, as it said such offers are fraudulent.

Pupatella at 5104 Wilson Blvd posted on its Facebook account on Friday (January 27) that people should not order from them using online apps or websites, as “we do not have an online ordering system and all those apps and websites that say we do are fraud.”

The eatery has been listed as available for online orders on Menuocity, and was on Mealage, but that has since been removed.

The pizzeria has gained plaudits over the years for its Neapolitan pizza, including recognition as the best pizza in Virginia from FlipKey.com, a TripAdvisor company. It announced it would expand in 2016.

Owners at Pupatella did not respond to requests for further comment.

Dear customers, Please do not order our food online from any apps or websites, we do not have an online ordering system and all those apps and websites that say we do are fraud.

Posted by PUPATELLA on Saturday, January 27, 2018

Flickr pool photo by Chris

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Bluemont Residents Worry About Detour Traffic from Bridge Demolition

A plan to detour some traffic through the Bluemont neighborhood during a weekend bridge demolition has prompted a letter to the County Board.

In the letter, the Bluemont Civic Association’s president singles out one of the four detours — which would send southbound traffic down 6th Street N. — for criticism.

Residents say they have been trying for more than a decade to get an all-way stop at the intersection of 6th Street and N. Edison Street. The intersection is dangerous and has been the scene of crashes, according to residents, and sending additional traffic through it is “concerning.”

During the work — set to start Friday night and end early Monday morning — the civic association is asking for 12-hour-a-day traffic enforcement at the intersection. That’s in addition to requests for new traffic studies and permanent intersection changes.

The letter is below.

Dear Chair Fisette, Honorable Members of the Arlington County Board, and County Manager,

First, thank you for your service and for your attention to Bluemont Civic Association matters. I am following up on the below request for safety improvements for 6th St N and N Edison St. I learned this afternoon, through ARLnow, that Carlin Springs Road Bridge traffic will be routed through 6th St N and N Edison St. This is concerning for three reasons:

  1. No notification was provided to the residents or the Bluemont Civic Association that thousands of vehicles will flood our already problematic streets this weekend when our kids are most likely to be outside playing
  2. No plan for targeted enforcement and safety considerations have been made, and if they were, they have not been communicated
  3. Previous requests for regular targeted enforcement, stop signs, and other traffic control/calming measures have received little or no measureable action even with the resulting density from the Ballston Quarter and local construction projects

On behalf of the Bluemont Civic Association and residents that live on N Emerson St, 6th St N, and N Edison St, I request the following:

  1. Permanent safety improvements as outlined in the previous Bluemont Civic Association letter (attached) and as detailed in the original thread to this email
  2. Targeted enforcement from 7AM – 7PM at the intersections of 6th St N and N Edison St, the intersection of Bluemont Dr and N Emerson St, and 6th St N and N George Mason from 8-11 DEC
  3. Ongoing traffic studies effective immediately at the intersection of 6th St N and N Edison St to measure the impact to our neighborhood
  4. A detailed plan of action & milestones for all safety improvements and targeted enforcement for this named area of interest

Last, I invite you to the intersection 6th St N and N Edison St to meet with parents at the bus stop during drop-off time Friday and Monday. The bus drop off typically occurs between 4:00-4:07 PM. Please let me know in advance if you can make it and I’ll email the neighborhood letting them know.

I have copied the neighborhood distro for 6th St N, N Emerson St, and N Edison St. These are past and current residents who may want to weigh in on this conversation directly. I have also copied ARLnow and thank them for providing real-time local news and alerting us to the traffic diversion.

I look forward to a continued open and solution oriented dialogue. I hope that the aforementioned request can be brought to fruition.

Thanks,

Nick Pastore
President, Bluemont Civic Association
http://www.bluemontcivic.org/

The permanent changes to the intersection requested by the civic association are:

  • “Add stop signs to stop Eastbound and Westbound traffic on 6th St N at the intersection of 6th St N and N Edison St to make a 4-way stop”
  • “Paint crosswalks across all four street crossings at 6th St N and N Edison St”
  • “Add pedestrian crossing signage to the intersection of 6th St N and N Edison St”
  • “Bump out each corner curb at 6th St N and N Edison St to enhance the visibility of pedestrian traffic and encourage complete stops with resulting slow turns”

Photos via Google Maps

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BREAKING: Armed Robbery at Pharmacy in Bluemont

Arlington County Police are on scene of a reported armed robbery at a business in the Bluemont neighborhood.

Initial reports suggest the Arlington Pharmacy at 5513 Wilson Blvd was robbed around 2:15 p.m., by a man implying that he had a weapon. The man was described as a six-foot tall white male wearing a black hat and black sunglasses.

Police have responded to the pharmacy and are currently taking a bike-riding suspect matching the description into custody along George Mason Drive.

Photo via Google Maps

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Police: Female Rideshare Driver Touched Inappropriately

Arlington County Police are investigating a sexual battery against a female driver for a ride-hailing app.

The woman was driving a male passenger in the Bluemont area early Sunday morning when the man touched her inappropriately and then got out of the car and fled on foot.

More on the incident and the suspect from Monday’s daily ACPD crime report:

SEXUAL BATTERY, 2017-09240025, 5200 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 1:12 a.m. on September 24, police were dispatched to the report of a sexual assault that had just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that while operating as a rideshare driver, the female victim was inappropriately touched by a male passenger. Following the assault, the male suspect exited the vehicle and fled the scene on foot in an unknown direction. Officers canvassed the area with negative results. The suspect is described as a white male, approximately 5’7-5’8 tall with a thin build. He has blonde hair, a red beard and was last seen wearing a white shirt and light colored shorts. The investigation is ongoing.

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County Board Votes to Move Forward with Reeves Farmhouse Sale

Reeves farmhouse (image courtesy Arlington County)

The Arlington County Board voted unanimously yesterday to move forward with the sale of the historic Reeves farmhouse in Bluemont.

Despite a last push from a group that wants the farmhouse converted into a learning center for students, the county says that selling the farmhouse to a private buyer, who will be required to “maintain its historic integrity,” is the only economical way to preserve it for future generations.

“The County’s goal is to preserve the historic character of Reeves farmhouse and to preserve the site’s two acres of open space, the raised gardens, sledding hill and milk shed,” the county said in a press release.

“The County’s efforts to achieve the sort of successful partnership to restore the Reevesland farmhouse that it has achieved with other projects have been hampered by the estimated, and increasing, cost of renovating the farmhouse and bringing it up to code for public use, estimated to be in the range of $2.5 – $3 million, as well as an unspecified amount for ongoing maintenance and operating costs.”

The full press release, after the jump.

The Arlington County Board today authorized the County Manager to move forward with the sale of the historic Reeves farmhouse, as the County has not identified a financial partner in the farmhouse’s restoration and reuse. The Manager had asked the Board at the February 28 Board Meeting to direct him to move forward.

“After exploring numerous alternatives, this Board has decided that the best way to preserve this piece of Arlington’s history is to sell the Reeves farmhouse itself to a private buyer who will be required to maintain its historic integrity,” said Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette.

“We believe that the County Manager has found a solution that will both breathe new life into the farmhouse while preserving the vast majority of the land as parkland and allowing the continuation of the current public uses.”

The Board voted 5 to 0 to authorize the Manager to move forward with the sale of Reeves farmhouse. To read the staff report on this item, visit the County website. Scroll down to Item No. 24 on the agenda for the Tuesday, March 21 Recessed County Board Meeting.

The County’s goal is to preserve the historic character of Reeves farmhouse and to preserve the site’s two acres of open space, the raised gardens, sledding hill and milk shed.

The County’s efforts to achieve the sort of successful partnership to restore the Reevesland farmhouse that it has achieved with other projects have been hampered by the estimated, and increasing, cost of renovating the farmhouse and bringing it up to code for public use, estimated to be in the range of $2.5 – $3 million, as well as an unspecified amount for ongoing maintenance and operating costs.

Several steps must be taken before the farmhouse parcel can be sold:

  • Certificate of Appropriateness (CoA) – the County must apply for and obtain a CoA from the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) before staff can prepare the farmhouse for sale. Proposed site improvements requiring HALRB approval include:
    • demolishing the non-historic garage
    • repaving the existing driveway from North Manchester Street
    • creating a parking pad as required by the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance
    • removing a tree and a bush
    • constructing a grass paver access driveway to the milk shed for County maintenance vehicles
  • Easements – a County access easement must be finalized, and a perpetual historic preservation easement must be developed to further protect the historic farmhouse
  • Appraisal, broker – the County must obtain an appraisal and engage the services of a qualified real estate broker with experience in marketing and selling historic properties
  • Negotiate – the County must negotiate the sale of the farmhouse lot and present it to County Board for final approval. The sale will require a public hearing per Va. Code §15.2-1800

Once the County Board approves an Agreement of Sale, staff will proceed to settlement with the purchaser and recordation of a Deed of Conveyance, (subject to the prior-recorded perpetual historic preservation easement). Staff estimates that it will take at least one year to accomplish these steps.

Both the farmhouse parcel and the public park parcel will remain under a County local historic district, so all exterior changes are subject to review by the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board.

The County purchased Reevesland, located at 400 North Manchester St., in 2001 to expand Bluemont Park. The parcel and 19th-century farmhouse, owned by one family for almost 100 years, is the remnant of Arlington’s last operating dairy farm. The entire property was designated as the Reevesland Local Historic District in 2004.

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Major Power Outage in Ballston, Bluemont

Emergency response and dark traffic lights near Ballston Common Mall (photo courtesy Katie Pyzyk)

As the minutes tick down to the start of the Super Bowl, more than 3,100 Dominion customers are currently without power in Arlington.

Dominion’s website says the cause of the widespread outage, centered around the Ballston and Bluemont neighborhoods, is “pending investigation.” Restoration of power is estimated between 7-9 p.m.

As the lights and traffic signals went out around Ballston, the fire department was called to investigate a possible fire at the under-renovation Ballston Common Mall. In the end it was determined to be a false alarm, possibly prompted by smoke from the mall’s rooftop generators as they kicked in.

Photo courtesy Katie Pyzyk

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Bluemont Baseball Field Compromise Approved, County Promises Better Outreach

Revised Bluemont Park baseball field planThe Arlington County Board on Wednesday approved a compromise plan for a baseball field renovation at Bluemont Park.

The $720,000 plan to renovate Athletic Field No. 3 at the park, which would have converted a run-down baseball diamond to a fenced-in field with new dugouts, bleachers and other furnishings, was met with opposition from some local residents.

To balance the desires of the opponents, who mostly objected to the fence, and the supporters, who say that the county needs more fields for youth sports, the new plan removed about 20 percent of the fencing from around the field.

“When games aren’t in play, you’ll be able to walk through the area,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “There’s still space for Frisbee, picnicking and walking your dog. But when a game is in play, you’ll get a good baseball experience.. and a safe one.”

Schwartz also noted in a press release that the controversy — opponents insisted that they were blindsided by the plan even though a public meeting about it had been held and it was approved by the County Board months before opponents organized — pointed to a need to reconsider Arlington’s public outreach on such projects.

Schwartz acknowledged that the County’s engagement process in planning for the renovations, which included a community meeting and digital communications, was not successful. The concerns of those opposed to the fence became known to staff and elected officials only after the County Board approved the construction contract in July 2016.

“We are working to improve the County’s processes for engaging the community across County government,” Schwartz said. “I’ve asked our new Assistant County Manager for Communications and Public Engagement, Bryna Helfer, to report back to me in early 2017 with recommendations.”

Construction of the new field is currently underway.

The full press release about the County Board’s action, after the jump.

In response to community concerns about planned renovations to a Bluemont Park ballfield, the County will reduce the amount of proposed fencing while still bringing the ballfield up to current standards, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said today.

“Everyone gave a little on this project, and I think we have reached a good compromise,” Schwartz said in a report to the County Board. “We’ve managed to balance the need for open space with the need for recreational facilities in this park.”

As part of its regular park maintenance cycle, Arlington’s plan is to bring the baseball diamond on Field No. 3 up to current accessibility standards, add a filter strip planted with 90 trees to reduce the stormwater runoff, and create a Safe Routes to School trail connector. The field is used mostly for youth baseball. Typically, the County fences diamond fields to improve safety and play.

The County’s original plan met with opposition from some in the community who advocated for preserving open and multi-use spaces and who objected to fencing the diamond field. The fencing, opponents protested, would cut off access to this open expanse in the park. However, players and coaches wanted the fence to enhance the feel of the game as well as improve safety. The County also needs at least a partial barrier to protect the filter strip from active play, as required by stormwater regulations.

Project compromise

The revised project will cut the amount of proposed fencing by about 20 percent, from 830 to 668 linear feet, so that people can easily walk across the field when games aren’t in play. The County also will drop the outfield fence height from 8 to 4 feet with a safety pad/cap.

“When games aren’t in play, you’ll be able to walk through the area,” Schwartz said. “There’s still space for Frisbee, picnicking and walking your dog. But when a game is in play, you’ll get a good baseball experience … and a safe one.”

Improving community engagement

Schwartz acknowledged that the County’s engagement process in planning for the renovations, which included a community meeting and digital communications, was not successful. The concerns of those opposed to the fence became known to staff and elected officials only after the County Board approved the construction contract in July 2016.

“We are working to improve the County’s processes for engaging the community across County government,” Schwartz said. “I’ve asked our new Assistant County Manager for Communications and Public Engagement, Bryna Helfer, to report back to me in early 2017 with recommendations.”

Background

The County announced the Bluemont Park — Field Renovations & Trail Connection project on its website in February 2016 and invited the community to a planning meeting March 2. After the contract was awarded, some community members expressed concerns about how the decision was made to fence the diamond field. The Department of Parks & Recreation responded by holding a public meeting Oct. 5. Preliminary work on the project began Sept. 26, but did not prohibit modifications to the proposed fence.

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Letter to the Editor: Bluemont Baseball Fence Would Close Field Off to Other Users

Planned baseball field at Bluemont Park

The following Letter to the Editor was written by Sandra Spear, who lives near Bluemont Park and objects to the installation of a fence as part of the planned renovation of a baseball field in the park. Spear is responding to a Letter to the Editor in support of the fence, written on behalf of Arlington’s baseball community and published by ARLnow.com last week.

I am one of the many users of Bluemont Park who object to the County fencing off a quarter of its expansive open field for exclusive use by baseball players. This letter responds to John Foti’s October 20 letter to the editor at ARLnow in support of the fence, which both misunderstands the community’s opposition to the fence and makes our case for us.

The issue before the community is one of open space versus baseball field perfection. Fenced-off baseball fields are the “industry standard” for Little League baseball, but that “industry standard” was established in areas of the country where land costs thousands of dollars an acre, not millions an acre as it does in Arlington. Arlington must come up with its own baseball field standard that achieves most of the goals of a fence without incurring the costs of replacing open space.

Right now, Bluemont Park contains the largest contiguous open space in the entire County, a space that is unique and irreplaceable at any cost. The proposed Bluemont fence would eliminate an acre of that open space by fencing it off for the exclusive use of baseball players 24/7 year round, irrespective of the fact that baseball is a seasonal, late afternoon and weekend sport played at most 20% of daylight hours in a year. The issue then is not that baseball players don’t use the field more; it’s that other people of all ages use it now during the 80% of the time baseball does not use it. It is that use that the fence would eliminate or seriously impede. Continuing to accommodate that use would require replacing the open space.

The proposed fence would close off roughly 40,000 square feet. Replacement land near Bluemont Park costs over $100 per square foot, so true cost accounting would place the cost of that fence at over four million dollars. Is the baseball community willing to raise more than $40,000 per player (using Mr. Foti’s estimate of 1,000 players) to achieve baseball field perfection? Because asking taxpayers to fund baseball field perfection for a scant half a percent of the population is a tough sell.

This is a policy question for the County. If baseball fields are to be fenced off County wide, it could become an incredibly expensive sport, because much of that open space would have to be replaced. Those 1,000 players may be playing on up to ten fields during the year, so the baseball community is actually asking taxpayers to replace $40 million worth of land – at a cost of $400,000 per player.

It turns out that fences aren’t actually necessary for baseball played by 8- to 12-year-olds.

First, the baseball community argues that the fence is necessary to mitigate costs of repairing damage to the field caused by non-baseball users. If users are damaging the field now it is because the field has poor drainage and, paradoxically, no irrigation, conditions shared by most athletic fields in the County. Both conditions are to be addressed with the proposed upgrade to the Bluemont field, obviating most maintenance issues. But even if other users do harm the field, maintenance is incredibly cheap compared to the cost of replacing lost open space.

Second, the baseball community argues that a fence delineates the field for other park users to warn them to stay out during practices and games. But having held out for baseball perfection in the form of permanent or even seasonal fencing, they have not explored less expensive and intrusive means of marking the field. Signs and paint can do wonders once one has ruled out metal and concrete.

Third, the baseball community claims that safety demands a fence, yet they can cite not a single incident where a passer-by was injured by a budding Bryce Harper. Since Virginia is a contributory-negligence state, adequate warning signs can again come to the rescue.

Finally, fence proponents have argued that baseball fields should be treated like tennis courts. Their argument is misplaced: Tennis is played from dawn to past dusk and by players from 5 to 95 years of age. The problem with a fenced-off baseball field is not the time when baseball is actually being played; it’s that baseball can actually be played so little of the time, but a fence closes it off all of the time.

Mr. Foti closes his letter by reference to the several thousand kids who play baseball in Arlington. Unless the families of those kids plan to raise the millions it would cost to replace the fenced off open space, perhaps the baseball community should consider the interests of the 220,000 other Arlingtonians who use and pay for the parks before demanding perfection for the one percent and exclusion of the other 99 percent.

Sandra Spear
6th Street North

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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