Arlington, VA

Across Arlington, numerous families live with au pairs. What many don’t know is how au pairs have built a community of their own in Arlington.

An au pair is an young adult between the ages of 18-26 who moves to America from another country as part of a cultural exchange. They are matched with a host family, and the au pair lives with them and provides up to 45 hours a week of childcare.

“Having an au pair is definitely a kind of a lifestyle choice, and it’s not for everyone,” said Jennifer Bhartiya, who works part-time as the area’s Local Childcare Consultant (LCC) for Cultural Care Au Pair, where she pairs interested families with matching au pairs.

Currently, Bhartiya represents around 15 families with au pairs, and is constantly fielding requests from new families.

“I work with several [women] from Colombia, some from Germany, two from Argentina and one from Thailand,” said Bhartiya. “And we have some guys as well, who we like to call ‘bropairs.'”

The dynamic between an au pair and the host family is more intimate than a nanny or a babysitter, because it relies on a deeper level of trust, Bhartiya said. In addition to living with the family, au pairs are often authorized to pick children up from school, take them to the doctor, and have access to family credit cards.

It can be hard to adjust to America after growing up abroad, Bhartiya says, which is why she makes an effort to organize events that bring au pairs together and give back to the community.

Recently, a group of Arlington au pairs spent the day across the Potomac at DC Central Kitchen, where they prepared meals given to homeless shelters.

“We had such a good experience, and there’s such an interest from au pairs in Arlington for volunteer opportunities,” said Bhartiya.

A group of au pairs plan on volunteering during the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, October 27, and another local LCC is working to organize a book drive for charity.

“Through events such as community picnics, baseball games, and even fire safety meetings at the Cherrydale fire station, we’re hoping to provide these au pairs with cultural experiences,” said Bhartiya. 

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Following years of zoning tweaks, the Arlington County Board says childcare centers may finally be reaping some benefit from local policy changes.

The Arlington County Board approved requests from eight childcare providers this past weekend to expand the number of children they can care for — requests Board members took as a sign of success for their many programs intended to ease the regulatory burden on such businesses and expand childcare options in Arlington.

“The use permits that the Board approved for a number of family daycare homes are evidence that the child care initiative is producing real results for families and small businesses,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey during the meeting.

“These established home and child care providers chose to increase their capacity because of changes that we recently enacted to our Zoning Ordinance and County Code, recommended by the child care initiative ably spearheaded by Ms. Cristol,” he added of fellow Board member Katie Cristol.

On Saturday, eight existing daycare operations requested increases in the number of children they are allowed to care for — from nine to 12. The Board unanimously approved all requests through its consent agenda. The facilities include:

  • EliBunny Family Child Care at 5916 5th Road S
  • Singh Family Day Care Home at 5738 N. Carlin Springs Road
  • Yolita’s Daycare at 1509 S. Quincy Street
  • Kumar Family Day Care Home at 6610 19th Road N.
  • Small Angels Child Daycare at 1523 N. Randolph Street
  • Fablis Daycare at 923 N. Edgewood Street
  • Modern Tots at 3110 19th Street S.
  • Andy’s Room Childcare at 2015 S. Monroe St

The requests come after the Board previously changed several zoning ordinances to allow daycares to care for up to nine children by right, and up to 12 children if they obtain a use permit through the county. The changes also reduced parking requirements and standardized child caps across different zoning districts.

The changes were part of the county’s long-discussed overhaul on childcare regulations.

The overhaul required a dedicated staff member and aimed to loosen what some worried were overly restrictive regulations, contributing to Arlington’s sky-high costs of childcare by limiting the number of slots for children in daycares and making it harder to open up new childcare centers.

Parents in Arlington pay the highest average costs in the region — $42,705 per year — for an infant and a 4-year old to attend daycare, leading Board members to consider a subsidy last year to help families afford it. The average cost per child ($21,000) is also among the highest in the region, per the Economic Policy Institute.

Last January, the county reported that there were only 6,984 licensed daycare spaces available for more than double that number of children under the age of five in Arlington.

On Saturday the Board also renewed permits for several larger childcare facilities, including the STEM Preschool on S. Abingdon Street  in Fairlington (which cares for 106 children), and the Feya Preschool (40 children) on S. Walter Reed Drive, south of Columbia Pike.

“This is truly a success story, and we look forward to more of these coming forward,” said Dorsey.

Kalina Newman contributed to this report.

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As Amazon continues to hire for its HQ2, the company is also working through plans to include a new daycare facility inside its planned permanent office campus in Pentagon City.

The 12,000 square-foot child care center would be located on the ground floor and face the interior public plaza. A spokesperson for Amazon told ARLnow that the proposed daycare would be operated by a third party company.

Lack of accessible daycare is the center of a fight in Seattle, where a group called “Momazonians” are arguing the company needs to do more to provide accessible child care, though a spokesperson the Amazon noted that the company does have a daycare facility for both Amazon employees and the nearby community in one of their headquarters buildings.

In Arlington, the company is in a tug-of-war with planners over whether the daycare should count towards the headquarters’ total density. The daycare is one of several types of space that the company is requesting not be included in calculations of gross floor area. Because the proposed complex exceeds the allowable density under zoning for the site, excluding certain types of space from the floor area calculation would cut down on the community benefits Amazon would need to provide in exchange for the added density.

Many of these areas, like mechanical shafts and below-grade storage, are excluded by default as they do not contribute to the bulk and height of the building and are not rentable floor space. But child care facilities typically are not considered one of those excluded types of density.

“Staff has not supported exclusions from density for uses such as child care,” the staff report said. “Staff is currently analyzing the applicant’s requests.”

At a meeting last week, the proposed exclusion of the child care facility from the building’s bonus density drew some criticism from Site Plan Review Committee members, who pointed to the example of the formerly Ballston-based National Science Foundation, which they said was granted a density exclusion for a child development center only to later convert the space to another use.

But Arlington has been in the middle of a push to create more daycare options, including consideration of zoning changes aimed at eliminating barriers to child care.

The spokesperson for Amazon said the company is planning to include the daycare at HQ2 regardless of whether the county approves the density exemption.

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Morning Notes

Listing Prices Around HQ2 Skyrocket — “From June 2018 to June 2019, the median asking price for a single-family home in Zip code 22202, home to Amazon’s planned Northern Virginia headquarters, skyrocketed a whopping 99.9 percent–essentially doubling over that period–according to a new report from listings service Bright MLS.” [Curbed, Bloomberg]

Board OKs Child Care Parking Changes — “The Arlington County Board today voted to reduce the parking requirements for child care centers, in keeping with the County’s Child Care Initiative to promote the expansion of accessible, available, high-quality child care throughout the County.” [Arlington County]

New Pizzeria Open on Lee HighwayChicago’s Pizza With A Twist opened a couple of weeks ago on Lee Highway, next to Maya Bistro. The Indian-Italian fusion restaurant serves unique dishes like a chicken tikka masala pizza. [Instagram]

New Pike Bus Stops Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a $1.6 million contract with Sagres Construction Corporation to build the first four of 23 transit stations planned for Columbia Pike. Construction is expected to begin this fall and be completed by fall 2020.” [Arlington County]

Arlington GOP Sitting Out County Races — “For the most part, Arlington Republicans will be sitting out the November general election – the party did not field candidates for the County Board, School Board and most legislative races on the ballot, although there are several non-Democrats who are running that might attract GOP support.” [InsideNova]

Swanson Middle School Teacher Honored — “Congratulations to @SwansonAdmirals teacher Mary Beth Donnelly who was named the 2019 Virginia History Teacher of the Year.” [Twitter]

Injured D.C. Fire K-9 Stops GW Parkway Traffic Updated at 9 a.m. — “Traffic stopped on the George Washington Parkway near Reagan National Airport Tuesday afternoon so a medevac helicopter could land, but the patient wasn’t human — it was a very special dog. The 6-year-old German shepherd named Kylie works for D.C. Fire and EMS as a cadaver dog… [she] seriously hurt one of her hind legs while helping another law enforcement agency conduct a search.” [WTOP]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen

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The Goddard School — a private early-childhood education franchise — is planning to open a pair of linked childcare facilities 350 yards apart on Lee Highway.

A decision on permits for the facilities at 5328 and 5222 Lee Highway are docketed for the County Board meeting this Saturday, July 13.

The larger of the two projects is a childcare center and school at 5328 Lee Highway, which will host up to 208 children.

“The child care center will serve children ranging from two (2) to five (5) years of age, in addition to before/after school services for school age children ages five (5) to ten (10) years,” says a county staff report. “The applicant proposes to reconfigure the existing office space to create 14 classrooms, one of which can also operate as an indoor gymnasium, as well as several ancillary rooms, including a pantry, teacher resource room, and two offices.”

A portions of the building, which most recently served as an office building, had previously been approved as a child care facility in 2017, but the staff report noted that the proposed facility never opened. The property is attached by a breezeway to United Bank, which the report says is expected to continue operating alongside the school.

Meanwhile, the proposed childcare facility at 5222 Lee Highway will have up to 60 children, ranging from 6-weeks to 2-years-old. The building will replace the former Chevy Chase Bank and drive-thru, which has been vacant for two years.

Under local ordinance, the larger of the two facilities would be required to have 26 parking spaces, but only 18 are available in the parking lot behind the building. The staff report says The Goddard School is asking to have the additional parking be provided off-site at the 5222 Lee Highway location. That proposal has been met by concerns from neighbors.

“Yorktown Civic Association which is adjacent to the subject site, is in support of the proposal, however, has concerns regarding circulation and turning movement around the site,” the staff report says.

The report said pick-up and drop-off would occur from the parking area, accessible via two existing curb cuts, and staff recommended that the County Board find the circulation and parking issues sufficiently addressed.

If approved, the facilities would be the first locations for The Goddard School in Arlington.

Another childcare center — VINCI Early Learning School — has been proposed for 3508 Lee Highway and is also on Saturday’s County Board agenda. Consideration of that facility, however, is expected to be deferred until September “to allow the applicant additional time to meet with the community and address any concerns that they may have with the proposed use.”

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The former Long and Foster offices in Fairlington may become a preschool.

The real estate company vacated the building at 4800 31st Street S. last year. Now, the Fairlington Villages condo association says the building’s owner has interest from a preschool operator to move in.

The association is holding a special Board of Directors meeting on Monday (June 17) at 7 p.m. to discuss the proposal.

The demand for childcare in Fairlington is high. An existing preschool a block away, the STEM Preschool at 3120 S. Abingdon Street, is planning a significant expansion.

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Virginia Hospital Center executives celebrated when they finally earned permission to expand the hospital’s North Arlington campus and execute a long-planned land swap with the county — but one of the consequences of the deal has some employees and parents feeling blindsided.

VHC is gearing up to send Arlington its property at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road in Glencarlyn, in exchange for gaining control over a piece of land at 1800 N. Edison Street. The latter property is adjacent to its existing facilities along N. George Mason Drive, and will be a key part of the hospital’s hotly debated expansion plans.

Of course, that’s going to prompt some big changes at the Carlin Springs Road site as the county takes over. Among them is the impending closure of a childcare center that the hospital operated on the property in tandem with Bright Horizons, serving VHC employees and local parents alike.

The daycare facility is now set to close on July 26, according to letters from both VHC and Bright Horizons provided to ARLnow. Though that deadline may be a full four months away, parents with kids at the daycare say they’re now scrambling to find alternative options.

The county is currently facing a childcare crunch, with local leaders currently weighing strategies to bring down the cost of daycare options in Arlington, and VHC parents say those conditions have only exacerbated the shock they felt about the childcare center’s closing.

“I was feeling reassured that finally Arlington realized that there’s more demand than supply when it comes to childcare, and now this happens,” said one parent, who declined to be identified. “It’s ironic that in Arlington, where there’s supposed to be some attention to how challenging it is to find childcare centers, instead of opening a new place we’re closing one of the big ones down and forcing families and employees to figure things out on their own.”

A spokesperson for the hospital would only confirm that the center is closing sometime this year, saying that “the details of the closing are still being worked out,” but otherwise would not comment on the situation.

Mike Malone, VHC’s vice president for administrative services and chief human resources officer, wrote in a letter to parents that it was his “great disappointment” to have to close the center. He said “the county will be repurposing the land on the Carlin Springs campus and demolishing the building,” prompting the closure — VHC leaders previously told ARLnow that the land swap would be finalized by May or June at the latest.

Malone added that Bright Horizons is “committed to helping every current family find care in another Bright Horizons center or [helping] you transition into another center of your choosing.”

In a letter of their own, Bright Horizons executives pointed to the “over two dozen centers spread across the metro area” that the company operates as options for parents. They also noted that they have “resources available to facilitate your child’s transition,” and said they plan to help staff at the center find jobs at other Bright Horizons locations.

Parents at the center told ARLnow that help is appreciated, but they fear it isn’t enough to manage the transition.

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Morning Notes

High Wind Warning Today — Arlington is now under a High Wind Warning until 6 p.m. today. Gusty winds knocked out power in a number of areas overnight. As of 8 a.m., more than 250 Dominion customers in Arlington were still without power. [Twitter, Weather.gov]

American Legion Project Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a redevelopment plan to replace the aging American Legion Post 39 at 3445 Washington Blvd. with a seven-story building that will include 160 affordable units atop a new Post 139. In a related action, the Board allocated a $5.79 million loan from the County’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund to help build the project.” [Arlington County]

Amazon Development Boom Likely — “Arlington County could see the number of major development plans triple with the arrival of Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters. At least, that’s what County Manager Mark Schwartz wants to be ready for.” [Washington Business Journal]

Next Step for Child Care Initiative — “The Arlington County Board today ratified advertisements of public hearings on proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance and local child care Codes aimed at improving the availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of child care in Arlington.” [Arlington County]

Overturned Vehicle on Residential Street — The driver of a Subaru somehow flipped the vehicle on the 2100 block of N. Quantico Street, in the Highland Park-Overlee Knolls neighborhood, Sunday morning. Another vehicle was damaged in the crash, according to photos sent by a passerby. The driver was extricated by firefighters but uninjured. [Twitter]

County Budget Includes Theater Cuts — “The spending plan calls for the closure of the Scenic Studio program and Costume Lab at Gunston…  Remarks range from ‘unbelievable’ and ‘terrible,’ to ‘this is very disturbing that Arlington County may actually be killing local arts programs.'” [WTOP]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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Morning Notes

Apartment Fire on Carlin Springs Road — Firefighters are braving bitter cold conditions this morning to fight an apartment fire on the 3400 block of Carlin Springs Road, in the Falls Church section of Fairfax County, just over the Arlington border. Eight people were rescued from the burning apartment building. [Twitter, Twitter]

Garvey Presses for Civility — “One member of the Arlington County Board is making a concerted effort to remind residents of the need for civility in public discourse… [Libby] Garvey said she has noted that, on contentious issues, those with an opinion frequently are digging in their heels.” [InsideNova]

Lowering Child Care Costs in Arlington — “Arlington County has the highest child care costs in the Washington region, largely because we have high land values, tighter regulations, and affluent households. To start to bring down the price and make licensed child care more accessible for more residents, Arlington has embarked on a Child Care Initiative to address local zoning ordinances and child care codes that impact cost.” [Greater Greater Washington]

AWLA Alum in Us Weekly — Olympian Gus Kenworthy was pictured in a recent issue of Us Weekly magazine with Birdie, the dog he adopted from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington this past summer. [Instagram]

Startup Leaves Crystal City — “A notary startup that has called Arlington home since 2015 appears to have moved much of its local operation to Boston as part of a restructuring.” [Washington Business Journal]

Vacancy Increasing at Crystal City Shops? — “Of the 88 storefronts underneath 1750 Crystal Drive, 42 were vacant this week when Bisnow walked the corridors.” [Bisnow]

Crystal House Plan ‘Could Set a Precedent’ — “Plans to double the number units at the Crystal House Apartments will be a litmus test for future development in Crystal City, as Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters ushers in 25,000 jobs to the area over 12 years.” [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Arlington officials could soon advance zoning changes designed to make it easier for more childcare providers to open up shop in the county, as part of a lengthy push to increase access to daycare options for local parents.

County leaders have batted around a variety of potential changes for months now, but they finally seem ready to pass a suite of zoning tweaks impacting both large childcare centers and smaller “family daycare” homes. The proposals will go before the Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee for the first time tonight (Wednesday), and could make their way to the County Board sometime later this spring.

The Board previously approved a “Childcare Action Plan” last summer laying out some potential changes, including a new subsidy to help families afford daycare services. But it has long planned these additional zoning changes to encourage more childcare providers to move to Arlington, initially hoping to vote on them before the end of 2018 and address what officials see as the exorbitant cost of childcare in the county.

Despite the delay, officials now seem ready to advance the proposals, particularly after soliciting feedback from the community via online surveys and public gatherings in recent months. In all, the main potential zoning changes include:

  • Cutting back on parking requirements for new daycare facilities
  • Expanding the maximum number of children allowed in family daycare homes from nine to 12
  • Allowing small family daycare homes to educate nine children “by right,” without extensive county approval
  • Reducing the frequency of county permit reviews for daycare facilities

The parking changes may well prove to be the most impactful alterations that the county is considering, as many childcare providers say Arlington’s current standards make it a bit difficult for them to open new locations along the county’s Metro corridors.

Currently, the county requires that large childcare centers offer one parking space for each employee.

But staff subsequently discovered that many childcare employees aren’t driving to work — a December study by the county found that roughly 40 percent of parking spaces for childcare centers currently go unused, and a survey of local employees found that 36 percent commuted by using public transit, biking, carpooling or walking.

Accordingly, county staff are proposing requiring one parking space for every eight children attending a center, which should cut back on the number of parking spaces each one needs. The average daycare center in the county currently requires about 40 spaces using the employee-based ratio; the new proposal would cut that number back to about 25 spaces per location.

That would put Arlington more on par with parking requirements in Fairfax and Prince William counties, where daycares generally have 32 spaces and 24 spaces, respectively.

Staff are also suggesting that the Board allow additional parking reductions for centers hoping to locate near Metro and bus stations, letting companies apply for less parking as part of the process of earning a use permit from the county. For comparison, Alexandria lets childcare centers have as few as three spaces if they have access to transit options, while D.C. only requires five spaces for all centers.

The transit advocates over at Greater Greater Washington are especially enthusiastic about that section of the plan. The group’s development director, Pentagon City resident Jane Fiegen Green, praised the county for examining parking requirements in a recent blog post, and urged readers of the site to back changes to such “outdated” standards.

While the parking changes would largely impact centers educating dozens of children, many of the other proposed changes are aimed at loosening standards for smaller family daycare homes.

By bumping up the maximum number of children allowed in each facility to 12, the county would come into alignment with the standard outlined in state law. Arlington and Alexandria are currently the only localities in the D.C. area with a cap of nine children, staff wrote in a report for the zoning committee.

“Expanding the maximum number of children will increase Arlington’s potential child care supply, align with the maximum set by the state, provide potential additional revenue for providers and additional child care jobs in homes that are able to increase their capacity, increase opportunities for children to play together and help address the county’s lengthy child care wait lists,” staff wrote.

The recommendations also call for easing permitting requirements on small providers, as many are “intimidated” by the complex process of earning the county’s permission to set up childcare facilities. Staff found that centers with nine children or fewer regularly operate “without significant disruption to their surrounding neighborhoods,” so it would make sense to allow them to open up “by right” without extensive permits.

The proposed changes also include allowing small daycare homes with up to nine children in more dense sections of the county zoned for apartments, which could “expand the number of units eligible to operate a family day care home by approximately 3,220 units in Arlington County.”

So long as the zoning committee signs off on these zoning alterations, the County Board could order public hearings on the matter at its Feb. 23 meeting. The Planning Commission could then take them up on March 4, setting up a final Board vote on March 19.

File photo

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Arlington officials have given the green light for a new childcare center to set up shop in Ballston, in a debate that forced the County Board to weigh its years-long effort to expand access to childcare in the county against the vocal opposition of neighbors to the project.

The Board voted unanimously last night (Tuesday) to award the Bright Horizons Children’s Center with the permits it needs to open a new location on the first and second floors of a building at 4001 Fairfax Drive.

The new center will have room for about 145 kids in all, and include a 4,700-square-foot playground in the small courtyard between the building and an adjacent set of condos at 1001 N. Randolph Street.

The playground, in particular, worried neighbors. Matt Nyce, a board member at the nearby EastView Condos, told ARLnow via email that the location was a “totally inappropriate” place for a playground, given its proximity to two exhaust fans and how close it would be located to homes on the first floors of the two buildings.

But Board members were convinced that some of those concerns were a bit overblown — as Erik Gutshall put it, the Board judged the childcare center unlikely to be “an overwhelming detriment” to quality of life in the area, or to property values.

Officials would acknowledge that the playground would be a bit of a tight fit in the courtyard, and that it would occupy some of Ballston’s very limited open space. But, as the Board weighs a comprehensive overhaul of its zoning regulations governing childcare centers, members also said that they were willing to allow designs that may not be absolutely perfect if it means expanding options for Arlington parents.

“This is not a willy nilly one-off, but consistent with a direction the county seeks to go,” Gutshall said. “This is an evolution as we rethink what is acceptable for our ground floor uses.”

The Board did not make the decision lightly, however. Board member Katie Cristol, a lead backer of the county’s childcare overhaul, said she even considered pushing for a deferral of any decision on the matter, particularly after the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association decided to oppose the project.

Collier Cook, the group’s president, told the Board that he worried that dropping a playground on the site would rob the nearby residents of some crucial open space.

And, as an EastView resident himself, Cook said he understood the concerns of his neighbors. One, Andres Delgado, told the Board that the prospect of additional noise was particularly concerning for people who live in the building and work from home.

“We have neighbors who live on the first floor and it goes right into their living room,” Delgado said. “Noise is a big concern for them.”

Similarly, he said neighbors are worried about smoke from the nearby parking garage impacting the kids’ health.

But Zach Williams, an attorney representing Bright Horizons, said the company made every effort possible to address those playground concerns. The childcare center plans to pay for a timer to ensure the exhaust fans aren’t operating while children are outside, and Williams said they even agreed to shrink the playground by 200 square feet to give residents some more breathing room.

Yet, with the county’s ordinances requiring that the center add 75-square-feet of playground space for each child outside at any given time, Williams said Bright Horizons can’t do much more to address those issues.

“We don’t have a lot of flexibility, but we’ve tried to do as much as we can,” Williams said.

Board members commended those efforts and made another point for neighbors worried about noise — considering the way the area is zoned, a new bar or nightclub could easily move into the space instead and set up outdoor seating, which could prompt even more substantial noise concerns than the childcare center.

“It would be completely irresponsible for us, I believe, to suggest we can prevent change from happening,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey. “The other ways in which this property could change could be all manner of degrees more intense.”

With this approval in hand, Williams said the center plans to open by January 2020. Bright Horizons is also on the cusp of opening another childcare center in Courthouse, which also faced its fair share of pushback from neighbors last year.

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