Virginia Hospital Center Prepares to Close Glencarlyn Childcare Center, Leaving Parents ‘Panicking’

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.

Several say that the hospital and Bright Horizons told them that the land swap would likely affect the center somehow, but that any decision about its future wouldn’t be made for a year or two yet. Others had never even heard about the land swap in the first place.

“Neither the staff nor the parents knew it was going to close permanently and we certainly had no warning that the notification for it to close was happening in March,” said one parent, who declined to be identified over fears of reprisal as they work with Bright Horizons to find a new daycare for their child. “Now the parents are panicking and don’t know whether or not they will have daycare.”

In the worst-case scenario, however, parents say they heard that the facility wouldn’t close until the end of this year.

Not only would that give them more time to search for options, but it would also give Bright Horizons time to open up a new childcare center in Ballston — the County Board signed off on the project earlier this year, and it’s set to open in January 2020.

“Wouldn’t it have made some sense to delay this until that Ballston center opened, and fill that first with anyone that wants to go there from [the VHC center]?” one parent asked.

Now, parents say this planned summer closure puts them in a tough spot, as many other programs don’t start offering classes until August or September.

“They’re giving us less than six months notice, which is ridiculous,” said another parent, who also declined to use their name.

Parents fear that other daycares, run by Bright Horizons or otherwise, will be more expensive than the VHC option, or too far away to be convenient. One parent points out the VHC facility is unique in the county for the way it “accommodates hospital employees with extended hours and [offers] guaranteed care even on snow days.”

Another says they took several days off work, just to spend time calling up other daycare providers.

“I’m on so many waitlists now, but who knows whether I’ll make it,” they said. “I can’t believe I’m having to go through this process again. I thought I was done.”

Perhaps most of all, parents at the center are frustrated by the lack of transparency from VHC. They can understand the motivation for not being fully forthcoming with all these details — parents might’ve fled the daycare early if they knew it was closing imminently — but they remain exasperated all the same.

And considering that the hospital pledged to mend some fences in the community following the contentious process of securing the expansion’s approval, parents are puzzled that VHC officials haven’t sought to be more helpful.

“Nobody has been forthcoming about this, and that’s especially disturbing given the tight childcare and pre-K availability in Arlington,” one parent said. “The hospital’s approach was completely inappropriate. If they’re trying to build relationships with community, this is not way to do it.”

Photo via Google Maps

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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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County Leaders Finally Ready to Advance Zoning Changes Aimed at Expanding Local Childcare Options

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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County Board Signs Off on New Ballston Childcare Center, Despite Local Opposition to the Project

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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County Details Possible Zoning, Permit Changes Designed to Make Childcare More Accessible

Arlington officials are outlining more details about potential changes on the way for the county’s childcare policies, raising the possibility that Arlington could soon allow more children in small daycare centers, cut back on the permitting and zoning requirements for daycares and reduce the number of staff required for each center to operate.

County leaders have spent years studying what they could do to make childcare more accessible and affordable for Arlington parents, signing off on some broad goals with a “Childcare Action Plan” this summer. But the County Board is also hoping to make some more specific tweaks to its childcare ordinances, and a survey released this week reveals some of the proposals officials could consider before the year is up.

The Board has already agreed to set up a new subsidy to defray childcare costs for families that don’t qualify for state assistance, and plans to streamline some of its online resources for parents looking to find childcare options. Yet, after holding a community forum on the topic this month, the Board could endorse a dozen or more separate policy changes this December.

The new survey looks to collect yet more opinions on the proposed changes. Chiefly, the county could soon allow up to 12 children in small, family daycare homes, up from the current limit of nine. That change would match state law, which permits up to 12 kids in such a setting.

The Board could also do away with its requirement that anyone looking to open a new family childcare center first secure separate “use permits” from the county, making the process “by-right” instead to speed the proliferation of those daycare facilities. Additionally, the Board could eliminate limits on operating hours for those centers, or allow them to open earlier or stay open later to better accommodate working parents.

Another option the Board could consider would be changing its zoning ordinance to set more uniform standards for daycares, in order to help compensate for a lack of permit reviews. New guidelines could include limits on the hours of outdoor playtime for kids or requirements surrounding screening and buffering for playgrounds.

As for larger daycare centers, the Board may also allow them to bump up classroom sizes across kids of various age ranges. For instance, the county currently caps daycares at 10 children per class for two-year-olds, 16 per class for three-year-olds, and 25 per class for kids ranging from 6 to 14.

The Board could choose to adopt state standards instead, including a limit of 24 kids for age 2 and 30 for age three, with no cap on the number of kids per class above the age of six.

Finally, the Board could reduce the number of caregivers each daycare is required to have on staff, or change up its educational requirements for daycare staffers. The county currently stipulates that daycare providers should have two years of college experience, with evidence of childcare-focused coursework — the Board could move instead to state standards, which require a high school diploma and a set amount of relevant experience and training.

The survey on childcare changes is set to close by Friday (Oct. 12).

Photo via Arlington County

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Despite Traffic Worries, Lee Highway Daycare Center on Track to Open in Early 2019

A proposed childcare center on Lee Highway that has irked neighbors for months is now on track to open in the next few months.

The County Board unanimously signed off on a permit Tuesday to let Little Ambassadors’ Academy move ahead with plans to open a third location at 5801 and 5901 Lee Highway. The childcare center is now on course to open by February or March of next year.

The daycare company has hoped for just over a year now to remodel two existing buildings on the property and create space for as many as 155 children, but people living nearby have repeatedly raised concerns about how the facility’s addition would impact traffic in the area.

Two people living behind the site even filed a lawsuit to block the daycare center’s construction after the Board lent its initial approval last September, though a judge tossed out that case in January. The Leeway Overlee Civic Association has raised concerns about the project as well, urging the Board to restrict the number of children allowed at the facility in a bid to ease traffic in the area.

All the while, Little Ambassadors has worked to open up the new center — but the process has dragged on so long that the permit the Board issued last year came up for review, even though the daycare has yet open.

As Sara Mariska, an attorney for Little Ambassadors, told the Board: “There has been no change in circumstances since we were here a year ago.”

Nevertheless, neighborhood concerns linger. Adam Watson, a staffer in the county’s planning division, said he’s heard from a variety of people in the area concerned that the daycare will snarl an already-busy section of Lee Highway. The original District Taco location sits just down the block, and a new 711 is on the way nearby at 5747 Lee Highway as well.

“[Our] initial expression of general support for [the company’s] application was based on the understanding that the child care center would operate with no more than 135 children,” Leeway Overlee Civic Association President Jack Grimaldi wrote to the Board. “More children, in other words, raises the likelihood of more vehicles being needed to get them to and from the center.”

But Joanne Gabor, who works with county’s Department of Environmental Services, assured the Board that staff believe Little Amabassdors’ strategy for managing traffic in the area “is a good plan and it’s workable.” And without any real-world examples of the childcare facility’s impact on the local traffic, the Board wasn’t inclined to change its original decision.

“A lot of the concerns that people had when this use permit was approved originally, we haven’t had a chance to see if any mitigating or corrective actions will be needed,” said Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “I can’t find a way to mitigate something that hasn’t happened. It may seem like a callous approach to safety, but we have to see how the network responds.”

Board member Libby Garvey added that Little Ambassadors’ track record at its other Lee Highway locations, at 5232 Lee Highway and 3565 Lee Highway, also gives the Board confidence.

“We have a lot of background coming to us on this,” Garvey said. “I don’t want people to think we’re just winging this.”

The Board will review the daycare center’s use permit once more in September 2019, when it will have a chance to assess any potential traffic impact.

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Morning Notes

Parking Changes Among Child Care Proposals — Changing onerous parking requirements for child care centers is going to be “on the list of proposed ordinance changes we’re introducing” at a community meeting next Monday, according to a tweet from Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol. [Twitter]

Smoke the Dog Dies — “Smoke, the Arlington, Virginia, dog with a bucket list, died this week, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington announced Friday. In July, Smoke captured a lot of hearts in the area when the Arlington shelter announced that he had terminal cancer and that they’d created a bucket list for him.” [WTOP]

Letter: Arlington Lacks Airbnb Enforcement — A letter to the editor argues that Arlington County has been ineffective in enforcement of a short-term rental ordinance passed in 2016. Per the letter: “Short-term rental industry websites showed more than 1,000 units advertised for short-term rent in Arlington as of early July, but only 72 residents had obtained permits, down from 86 in January.” [Washington Post]

Dems Make Money Via Mail — The top fundraising activity for the Arlington County Democratic Committee: sending hand-addressed and hand-stamped letters. [InsideNova]

Tree Falls on Chain Bridge Road — Chain Bridge Road was closed Sunday after a tree fell and took down utility lines, for at least the second time this year. The stretch of Chain Bridge Road in Arlington that was closed is home to the most expensive house in the D.C. area. [Twitter]

Photo courtesy Jeremy Galliani

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County Looking for More Childcare Feedback, With New Policy Proposals Coming This Fall

Arlington is looking for a bit more feedback on the county’s plans to expand access to childcare, releasing a new community survey on the topic.

The county rolled out the 19-question form today (Friday), just a few weeks after the County Board signed off on a final version of its “Childcare Action Plan.”

That document calls for the implementation of several new initiatives, like a subsidy program to defray childcare costs for families who don’t qualify for state assistance and the streamlining of the county’s online resources for parents. But the Board is also weighing some zoning and code changes to make it easier for daycare facilities to operate in Arlington, and pledged to collect more community feedback ahead of proposing those policy tweaks later this fall.

The survey asks respondents how they currently meet their childcare needs — via a public or private childcare program, a babysitter or a family day home childcare provider — and in what zip code of the county they live, work and patronize childcare facilities.

Respondents are also asked to select their preference for where they’d like to see daycare facilities located. That’s a key point the Board has debated in the past, as it found that many county workers rely on childcare services in neighboring localities like Falls Church or Fairfax County. Members have often sought more clarity on whether that’s because services in Arlington are inaccessible or because people who work in Arlington often live outside of the county and are looking for closer options.

The survey also includes questions on what barriers to accessing childcare parents encounter around the county. Available responses include factors like transportation, cost, a lack of care when it’s most needed (before 7 a.m. or after 6 p.m.) and potential language barriers.

The county is also planning a community forum on the childcare initiative next month. The meeting, scheduled for Sept. 17 from 7-9:30 p.m. at 2100 Washington Blvd, will focus on collecting opinions on some potential changes the Board could make. Per a county event description, those include the following topics:

  • Increasing the maximum number of children from nine to 12 in family day care homes and eliminating or adjusting the use permit requirement
  • Land use standards for family day care homes
  • Parking requirements for center-based and family-based child care programs
  • Group size requirements for center-based child care programs
  • Teacher-child ratio requirements for center-based and family-based child care programs
  • Teacher qualifications for center-based child care programs

The Board is aiming to pass more childcare changes by December.

File photo

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Morning Notes

Top Chef Alum Opening Clarendon Restaurant — “Former ‘Top Chef’ contestant Katsuji Tanabe, best known for his kosher taco spot MexiKosher in New York, will open his first restaurant in the D.C. area in Clarendon in September. Le Kon, whose name comes from the Japanese word for corn, is taking over the space previously occupied by Park Lane Tavern at 3227 Washington Blvd.” [Washington Business Journal]

Progress on Child Care Initiative — “The county government’s child-care initiative has been under way for a little over a year, focusing in large part on the existing barriers to increasing the supply of day-care providers in the county. Hurdles run the gamut from zoning and parking issues to qualifications and pay of teachers and other staff… Using the most recent data available, county officials estimate there were about 13,500 children under age 5 in Arlington in 2015, but only about half that number of available slots in day care.” [InsideNova]

Flyover Planned Today — A flyover of Arlington National Cemetery is planned to take place at 9:15 a.m. today. [Twitter]

White Supremacist Train Runs Through Arlington — A small group of white supremacists rode Metro from the Vienna station, through Arlington, before arriving in D.C. for a rally. Police tried to keep the group separated from a much larger group of anti-hate protesters, prompting some complaints about the white supremacists having their own “private” Metrorail car, though a reporter was able to board their train car at Clarendon without issue. [Twitter, Twitter]

W&OD Railroad Stopped Running 50 Years Ago — The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad stopped running 50 years ago this month, after 130 years of service. The former rail line was later acquired by the regional park authority and converted into the current W&OD Trail, which runs from Arlington to rural Loudoun County. [InsideNova]

Reminder: Major Metro Work — “Starting Saturday (Aug. 11) and running through Aug. 26, Metro will shut down the Blue Line completely starting at the Arlington Cemetery station, and single-track between the McPherson Square and Smithsonian stations. Officials expect that will result in 20-minute headways on the Orange and Silver lines ‘at all times,’ and it’s urging riders to ‘only use Metrorail if you have no other option.'” [ARLnow, Twitter]

County Twitter Account Pokes Fun at Metro — Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services tweeted yesterday: “As a courtesy, the C&O Canal-Alexandria Canal system will be reopen to traffic. Note: two-mule minimum per team.” [Twitter]

Photo courtesy Jeremy Galliani

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County Board Plans New Childcare Subsidy, Policy Changes Before Year’s End

Arlington officials are moving closer to setting up a new financial assistance program to help families afford childcare, with overhauls to zoning and parking requirements for daycare facilities possible before the year is out.

The County Board signed off yesterday (Tuesday) on a final version of a “Childcare Action Plan” it’s been eyeing since late last year, setting the stage for leaders to address the affordability and availability of childcare in Arlington following years of debate.

In the near term, the county will work with local businesses and nonprofits to set up a program to defray childcare costs for families who don’t qualify for state subsidies, similar to existing efforts in Alexandria and D.C. Staff also plan to study the county’s childcare needs and shortcomings in more detail, building on work they’ve done over the last year or so, and make the county’s online resources for childcare providers a bit more streamlined.

By December, the Board plans to rewrite some of its zoning ordinances to make it a bit easier for daycare centers to open and operate in the county, with the goal of bringing costs for parents down in the process. That same month, the Board will propose changes to the county’s childcare codes, with a vote on the edits soon afterward.

Leaders haven’t quite finalized what all of those changes will look like, with community engagement and public hearings to discuss the specifics set for the coming months, but they’re broadly aiming to give parents more affordable options for daycare around Arlington.

“We’ve come a far way, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Board member Libby Garvey.

Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey pointed out that Arlington parents foot the highest average annual bill for childcare for an infant and a 4-year-old out of any locality in the region. The county’s average cost of $42,705 per year, compared to $40,521 in D.C. and $37,787 in Alexandria per staff’s findings, left Dorsey “gobsmacked” and eager to see what the Board could do to bring that figure down.

“I can’t imagine our rents are higher than they are in D.C.,” Dorsey said. “The District has just as much supply-demand pressure, yet we’re more expensive… I’m not interested in Arlington exceptionalism when it comes to this.”

One contributing factor could be the county’s parking requirements for daycare facilities. Deborah Warren, the deputy director of the county’s Department of Human Services, noted that Arlington currently requires providers to have one parking space for each employee, in addition to space for pickups and drop offs.

The Board could tweak that requirement to make it easier for more facilities to open in the county’s densest neighborhoods, or even let smaller, family daycare providers avoid the lengthy process of applying for a special use permit before opening their doors.

“If it takes less time, there’s less of a process to go through, hopefully we can increase the number that’s out there,” said Kimberly Vacca, an associate planner with the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

With roughly 13,435 children under the age of 5 in the county and 6,894 spaces in licensed daycares, as of 2015, county leaders recognize they have an urgent need to somehow attract more providers to the area.

Dorsey urged the Board not to lose sight of the county’s focus on using its regulations to enforce high standards at all of its daycare facilities, yet the entire Board expressed a desire to see some of those requirements somehow loosened by the time this process wraps up.

“To the extent that the pendulum swings between affordability and quality, the pendulum might’ve swung a bit too far away from affordability here,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol.

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New Daycare Center in Courthouse Set to Win Permit

A new daycare center could soon be open for business for Courthouse.

The Merit School nearly has the final approval it needs to open up a new facility in an office building at 2311 Wilson Blvd.

The County Board is reviewing a use permit to allow the daycare company, an offshoot of a similar school in Woodbridge, to start operating in the space, and has approved several other child care facilities in the area in recent months. The Board has made the availability of child care in the county a particular focus over the last few years, and is still working on an overhaul of Arlington’s policies governing the facilities.

The 7,600-square-foot space could someday serve as many as 103 children, and includes a nearly 3,000-square-foot playground around the rear of the building.

According to a letter to county staff from the company’s managers, the facility “will be designed with separate areas designated for children by age,” serving kids from toddlers up to 12-year-olds.

The daycare center will have eight parking spaces reserved for its employees in a nearby underground garage, with another six saved for pick-up and drop-offs by parents along N. Adams Street.

The Lyon Village Civic Association raised a few “concerns about potential increased traffic and parking issues in the neighborhood,” according to a county staff report. But county staff ultimately decided to simply require the daycare center to make its parking rules clear to parents in advance, rather than forcing the company to make any significant changes.

The County Board is set to vote on the permit for the new facility at its meeting Saturday (July 14). Board members are planning to unveil their childcare changes in a July 24 work session.

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The Children’s School Advances Plans for Former Alpine Restaurant Site

The Children’s School is moving closer to finding a permanent new home, as it pushes forward plans to build a three-story daycare facility along Lee Highway.

The child care program for Arlington Public Schools employees is looking for a county permit to redevelop the space once occupied by the Alpine Restaurant at 4770 Lee Highway, marking the first formal proposal that the school would seek to build a a 27,500-square-foot facility on the property.

The Children’s School got its start in 1987 at the Reed School building in Westover as a childcare program owned and operated by school system employees, but APS’ plans to build a new elementary school at the site pushed the program elsewhere.

The co-op is currently operating out of a Ballston office building, and would look to use the Alpine site to expand its operations and serve about 235 children in total. Anywhere from 60 to 70 of those students would likely be part of the “Integration Station” program, which is reserved for kids with developmental or other disabilities, allaying initial worries that The Children’s School wouldn’t be able to maintain its relationship with the program.

The school is hoping to demolish the current restaurant on the property, then build a three-story facility complete with two outdoor play spaces and a one-level underground parking garage.

In all, there would be 42 parking spaces located on site, as well as nine extra spaces on an adjacent lot to serve the roughly 40 employees at the program. The building would also include a “covered drive aisle” to facilitate easy pick-up and drop-offs by parents, with hours running from about 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each weekday.

The play areas, designed to serve kids from 2 months old to 5 years old, would be located on the second- and third-floor roofs of the property, and both will be enclosed by a 7-foot-tall mesh fence. Those will face away from the road and toward the residential neighborhoods behind the building.

County staff are recommending that the County Board approve the project, writing in a report that the program has managed to work up the right sort of plans to mitigate any potential traffic impacts along Lee Highway. The Lee Highway Alliance also endorsed the project in a letter to the Board.

Board members will consider the permit request Saturday (July 14) as part of the Board’s “consent agenda,” which is generally reserved for non-controversial matters that are passed without debate.

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County Board Will Unveil Long-Debated Childcare Policy Overhaul Next Month

Arlington officials plan to unveil their long-awaited overhaul of the county’s childcare policies next month.

County Board Chair Katie Cristol announced those plans her first “State of the County” address today (Thursday) while speaking to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce in Crystal City. The overhaul is a substantial step forward in the debate over how to improve the availability and affordability of daycare in the county.

While Cristol said she was broadly “optimistic” about the county’s future, she stressed that the Board needs to take action to bring down the cost of childcare and ease the financial burden on working families. County leaders have been examining a “draft action plan” to tackle the issue since December, and Cristol says the Board plans to unveil a final product and debate it in full at a July 24 work session.

“For many families, child care can cost more than rent,” Cristol said. “In just a few weeks time, the Board will consider a detailed plan to address this… including a new set of land-use strategies, public-private partnerships and more.”

She noted that county staff and a host of community partners have been studying the issue since early last year, and will finally be able to present a path forward in some “granularity” next month.

Some items will be able to put into motion immediately, while others will require more Board debate, particularly if they involve zoning changes.

Cristol also stressed the childcare plan would be just one of the Board’s priorities as it moves into the back half of 2018. Following the “Big Idea Roundtables” the county convened to spark conversations among county residents, Cristol said she’s newly hopeful that the Board will be able to revisit its zoning policies to increase Arlington’s supply of market rate affordable housing.

Specifically, she’s interested in tackling the problem of the county’s “missing middle,” or homes available for county residents who might make too much money to qualify for dedicated affordable housing but still can’t afford detached single-family homes or high-priced luxury condos.

Cristol is hoping to find new ways to encourage the development of duplexes, moderately-priced townhouses or even “accessory” homes small enough to fit on another single-family home’s property. The county has already loosened its rules for such construction, known as “accessory dwelling units,” but she believes there’s more work still to do.

“We cannot lose sight of affordability as the fundamental challenge of Arlington’s future,” Cristol said.

She expects that the “overdue” kickoff of planning along the Lee Highway corridor, which the Board found new funding for this year and will start in earnest in the coming months, will have some role to play in that conversation.

Cristol would acknowledge, however, that the specter of Amazon’s arrival in Arlington hovers over any discussion of affordable housing or any other pressing issue in the county.

She declined to “break any news” on that front, but would say that she felt the county’s pursuit of the tech giant’s HQ2 “will make the county stronger.”

“Whatever choice Amazon makes on HQ2, it means the national spotlight has found our county,” Cristol said.

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Morning Notes

Action Coming on Child Care Initiative — “When it comes to addressing issues related to child care, “this is a year we’re looking to see some concrete action,” [Arlington County Board Chair Katie] Cristol said during a May 30 meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Arlington.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Ridge Closures Continue — Daytime work will continue today on a collapsed 18-inch stormwater pipe, necessitating the daily closure of Arlington Ridge Road between Glebe Road and 23rd Street S. Rain and a leaking water main break slowed crews down last week. [Twitter]

County Board Primary Update — “The two candidates competing in the June 12 primary for the Arlington County Board are what voters might expect of a Democrat in the affluent, educated, rapidly urbanizing enclave — highly prepared, willing to get into the details of local issues and claiming fealty to the county’s tradition of careful, long-term planning.” [Washington Post]

GW Parkway Bridge Work Next Week — Work to repair a bridge carrying the GW Parkway over Windy Run in Arlington is scheduled to begin next week. The work will result in lane closures that could snarl traffic, especially when more impactful repairs start — likely in late July. [WTOP, InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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