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Arlingtonians wait in line for holiday meals at the Arlington Food Assistance Center (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

Sally Diaz-Wells, who coordinates the food pantry at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Arlington, just got the weekly egg bill.

It was $2,000, which makes up nearly 20% of the church’s weekly budget of $12,000 for purchasing food for distribution.

Arlington Food Assistance Center CEO Charles Meng says the wholesale price for a dozen eggs in January 2021 was $0.98. This month, AFAC paid $4.45 per dozen. Overall, food prices are up 35% for AFAC, which is already over its $1.3 million budget by $160,000.

The uptick in food prices, driven largely by inflation, is squeezing local food and meal distributors, which are at the same time seeing more Arlington residents come, and come more often, for free food. Inflation again is to blame for this, as clients report their earnings are covering less of their grocery bills, local food assistance providers said during an Arlington Committee of 100 panel on hunger held Wednesday.

“These numbers are not pandemic-related numbers,” Meng said. “These are numbers related to the basic need in Arlington, plus the burdens based on our families by inflation in particular.”

Providers say this is hitting the working poor the worst.

“This group comes to us when they need us, once or twice a month,” Meng said. “When their other benefits start running out, they’ll come to us more often.”

They tend to come after paying for other necessities like rent, utilities and medical expenses, says Stephanie Hopkins, the food security coordinator for Arlington County Department of Human Services.

“We find that people spend their available income on rent, utilities and medical expenses, and other bills, and if there’s enough money to pay for food, they will pay for their own food,” she said. “If there’s not enough money, that’s when they lean on food assistance network.”

More families who otherwise would be able to pay are leaning on Arlington Public Schools for meals, too, says Amy Maclosky, the director of the Office of Food and Nutrition Services for APS.

“Student meal debt has increased a lot this year and it has increased for paying students,” Maclosky said. “Every student is entitled to a free breakfast and lunch, whether they have the funds or not, but they do incur debt. Our debt is up $300,000 right now among people who do not qualify for free or reduced but aren’t able to pay.”

The rising need for food assistance needs comes as Arlington County is preparing to launch this month a Food Security Coalition tasked with implementing some two dozen strategies for tackling hunger.

Food insecurity affects about 7% of Arlington residents  — 16,670 people — says Hopkins. It disproportionately affects people of color: 53% and 20% of AFAC clients are Hispanic or Latino and Black, respectively, while comprising 16% and 9% of the county’s population.

Food insecurity can mean “‘I’m worried that my food will run out before I have enough money to get more,’ to ‘I have zero food in my house,” Hopkins said. “We know there are people on both ends of that spectrum in Arlington and people journey that spectrum all the time.” Read More

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Police are investigating an indecent exposure incident that happened in the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood on Christmas Eve.

According to an Arlington County Police Department crime report, a man pulled his pants down and exposed himself to a woman after trying to engage her in conversation. Police were called and he fled the area.

The incident happened on the afternoon of Dec. 24, on the 1600 block of N. Inglewood Street. There are a pair of churches on that block, in addition to a handful of single-family homes.

From the crime report:

INDECENT EXPOSURE, 2022-12240125, 1600 block of N. Inglewood Street. At approximately 1:34 p.m. on December 24, police were dispatched to the report of an exposure. Upon arrival, it was determined the victim was inside the building when the unknown male suspect approached her and attempted to engage her in conversation. The suspect then left the area and returned a short time later with his pants down and exposing himself. The victim was able to safely exit the building and returned a short time later to find the suspect was no longer in the area. The suspect is described as a white male with a thin build, approximately 5’7″ – 5’9″ with a bald head. No injuries were reported. The investigation is ongoing.

Police would not provide any additional details about the incident and would not say whether it happened inside a church.

“There are no additional details to share beyond what is included on the daily crime report,” an ACPD spokeswoman said in response to questions from ARLnow. “The investigation into the incident is ongoing.”

Scanner traffic at the time suggests that the man was in his 30s and that the incident took place at the LDS church.

Our Savior Lutheran Church on S. Taylor Street (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4 p.m.) Two weeks before Christmas, someone has apparently stolen a nativity scene from a church in the Barcroft neighborhood.

But the pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church (825 S. Taylor Street), Wayne Fredericksen, is turning the other cheek.

“My focus is fresh hope and fresh encouragement,” he said. “This is where my head and heart are going, to remind us of the Bible story and see how it provided hope and encouragement before the birth and also still for us today.”

He was still processing the news when ARLnow spoke with him Monday morning. Fredericksen says he wished whoever stole the scene, if the intent was to resell, would instead connect with the resources that the church support, including Path Forward, Bridges to Independence and Arlington Food Assistance Center.

“Since we don’t know the circumstances or the situation, we wish the best for that person,” he said. “We’re sad they thought that was an action we thought was good for them. We wish them good in other ways and we move forward in forgiveness.”

Police were called but do not have much to go on at this point.

“Between December 11 at 12 a.m. and December 12 at 12 a.m., the unknown suspect(s) stole an outdoor nativity set,” Arlington County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow via email. “There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.”

Fredericksen called the loss of the scene, which was a gift to the church, “disappointing.” He says the decoration contributes to the communal celebration of Christmas and reminds people to support the ministerial work of houses of worship as well as local nonprofits that help people in need.

“It can feel overwhelming, but when you see how many people are at work trying to do good, it doesn’t take a lot to come alongside and support in some way, whether it’s with a gift, or a gift of time,” Fredericksen said.

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A dental office at the base of an apartment building owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Potomac Yard is gearing up to start seeing patients next month.

This dentistry practice was one of the half-dozen retail-equivalent conversions in mixed-use apartment buildings that the Arlington County Board approved in 2022. Property Reserve, Inc., which owns The Clark building at 3400 S. Clark Street, received approval for the change in May.

“[The space] has been leased to Riverside Dental, who will start seeing patients in their space in January,” said Property Reserve, Inc. communications director Dale Bills, adding that a Subway is serving sandwiches in another retail space while the third is “currently being marketed.”

A retail slump, combined with high office vacancy rates, has led to more of these conversions in recent months to uses such as medical offices and churches, however, the county has approved similar conversions in 2019 and 2014.

Meanwhile, the property group is also preparing to re-configure the building lobby to improve the separation between one approved use, a meetinghouse for Mormons, and residents accessing elevators to their apartments.

“It takes the present large single foyer and divides it into two ‘lanes,’ one heading to the meetinghouse elevator and one heading to the apartment building elevator,” said Candace Harman, a spokeswoman for congregations in Northern Virginia. “This project has been in planning for some time and hopefully should be completed within the next several months.”

The Clark is a real estate venture for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and doubles as a meetinghouse. The Mormon congregation that uses it was originally set to move into the building in March 2020, but that was delayed until the summer due to the pandemic, Harman says.

The move marks an expansion for the Mormon presence in the greater Crystal City area, as four congregations already meet in two office buildings in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.

“If you aren’t familiar, our Church organizes based on geography,” Harman explained. “A Ward is a congregation that meets together on Sundays with a Bishop who is the local leader of that congregation. A Stake is a group of Wards within a geographic boundary that fall within the stewardship of a Stake President.”

Wards for young singles — those ages 18-30 — meets at 745 23rd Street S. while wards for older single adults meet next door at 727 23rd Street S. The latter building also houses a resource center that Harman says provides free services for immigrants, refugees and others in need to “build hope, develop life skills, and strengthen families.”

Additionally, the LDS church plans to re-fit the vacant third floor of that building to house an office suite for the D.C. Young Single Adults Ward, a project that is tentatively planned for 2023.

The Clark apartment building opened within the few years along with another nearby — The Sur, at 3400 Potomac Avenue.

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A local Christmas tree lot (Photo courtesy of Peter Golkin)

It’s almost Thanksgiving, which means it’s Christmas tree time here in Arlington.

As in past years, there are a number of tree sales going on in the county this holiday season. In fact, there appears to be more this year than in 2021. Many sales begin this weekend, right after the Thanksgiving holiday.

However, that perfect pine may cost you more this year.

The Knights of Columbus, for instance, is resuming tree sales this year after being closed for the last two seasons due to Covid and tree supply issues.

But the group is cautioning locals that the price of a Christmas tree will be higher this year compared to last year due to rising operating costs and inflation.

“This will remain a challenging year for us, as have many other tree lot operators, as we have experienced almost a doubling of the wholesale costs from our suppliers due to the continuing Christmas tree shortage and the impact of inflation on shipping charges,” a spokesperson wrote ARLnow in an email. “While we realize this may reduce the amount we can raise from the sale, we felt it important to reopen the lot this year, as we’ve heard from many of our customers over the last few years that they miss their family tradition of heading down to the lot to get their tree.”

While not every tree sale posts prices in advance, at least two other local sales have appeared to have raised tree prices by about 15% compared to 2021.

Below are the sales that ARLnow has confirmed are happening this year.

Optimist Club of Arlington

Starts: Friday, Nov. 25 at noon
Knights of Columbus (5115 Little Falls Road)

The lot will be open every day of the week until all the trees are sold out. All profits go towards Arlington youth sports and academic activities.

Clarendon United Methodist Church

Starts: Saturday, Nov. 26 at 9 a.m.
Clarendon United Methodist Church (606 N. Irving Street)

There will be 300 trees for sale this year. Pre-sale is open now, with pick-up at the church lot. The trees come from Canada and the six to seven-foot trees cost $85 this year, a ten-dollar increase from last year. All proceed are going to Arlington Thrive. This sale has been held annually since 2007.

Scout Troop 167

Starts: Friday, Nov. 25 at noon
Mount Olivet United Methodist Church (1500 N. Glebe Road)

The boys and girls of Scout Troop 167 are hosting a sale near Ballston again this year. It’s being held Thanksgiving weekend, on Nov. 25, 26, and 27. The sale starts at noon on Friday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. Saturday. It will go to 8 p.m. each night. The next weekend (Dec. 2, 3, and 4) are backup dates in case of inclement weather. Pre-sales are being accepted.

Read More

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St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Clarendon has filed conceptual designs for a new three-story church and parish center and a 10-story apartment building.

The mid-century church sits on two-and-a-half acres of prime property between the Clarendon and Virginia Square Metro stations, much of it is dedicated to parking.

Under the proposal, which has been in the works for a few years now, the 429-unit apartment building will have a courtyard in the center, a rooftop pool and ground-floor amenities. The church will be connected to the parish center, with meeting rooms and an event space, by cloistered gardens.

Parking will move underground and the two structures will be connected by an enhanced alley. Fairfax Drive will be redesigned as a walkable plaza, and there will be a new “West End Plaza” located in front of the church on a county-owned parcel.

But the plans include design elements that could conflict with streetscape design guidelines stipulated by the update to the Clarendon Sector Plan adopted earlier this year. Because of this, the church is seeking the perspective of county planning staff.

“The Applicant desires County feedback on the proposed conceptual plan, and particularly would like to discuss various recommendations of the Clarendon Sector Plan relating to ground-floor transparency, clear walkway zones, and sidewalk grade,” per a letter to the county included in the filings. “Existing site conditions and the programmatic needs of the proposed religious institutional use may complicate full achievement of certain Sector Plan recommendations relating to streetscape design.”

In other words, some elements of the proposed St. Charles Church — which reflect a centuries-long tradition of church architecture — may not align with the sector plan design guidelines for frontages along Washington Blvd and Fairfax Drive.

The streetscape guidelines, aimed at creating an attractive walking experience, call for sidewalks and store entrances to be the same level, without steps, and for storefronts to have mostly transparent windows unobstructed by blinds, fabrics and shelving. These are typified by the streetscapes of The Crossing Clarendon shopping center.

Former Iota Club space at The Crossing Clarendon (staff photo)

“Transparency is a key factor influencing the pedestrian experience: visual access, views to and from interior spaces, and interesting shopfront lighting and displays add visual interest and opportunities for the informal surveillance of public spaces,” per the sector plan.

Like many Roman Catholic churches throughout history, the renderings of St. Charles show an outdoor staircase, doors and a lobby (narthex) separating the sanctuary from casual pedestrian view.

The façades, meanwhile, include stained glass, which typically depict biblical stories and saints. These embellishments are not at pedestrians-scale; rather, they follow in the architectural tradition of drawing the eye upward to aid the worshipper in contemplating heaven.

While the county reviews the designs, the church is bringing a developer partner on board, according to a September church bulletin. The church will lease the land underneath the proposed apartment building to the developer in order to finance the project.

“We continue to refine our cost estimates for the project, but we anticipate that most of our total costs will be met by the proceeds from a long-term lease with our development partner,” parish priest Don Planty writes in the update. “Parishioners will be called upon to contribute to help cover immediate financial needs during planning and in support of sacred art for the new St. Charles church.”

Planty said the planning team estimates further planning, entitlement and permitting will take two years, followed by another two years for construction.

Renderings of St. Charles Catholic Church in Clarendon (via Arlington County)
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Fire response at Mt. Olivet Methodist Church (photo via ACFD)

Mt. Olivet Methodist Church suffered about $1 million in damage as a result of an early morning fire on Friday.

That’s according to the Arlington County Fire Department, which also said in a press release today (Monday) that the cause of the fire in the church’s attic “remains undetermined.”

From ACFD:

At approximately 2:42 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, the Arlington County Fire Department responded to a reported structure fire in the 1500 block of N. Glebe Road.

Units quickly arrived on the scene and found fire through the roof of the structure. Due to significant smoke conditions and amount of work required to extinguish the fire, a second alarm was quickly requested bringing additional firefighters to the scene. The fire was extinguished within 30 minutes of dispatch time, and firefighters then worked carefully to remove material from the area of origin to fully check for hot spots or any fire extension.

Units from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Alexandria Fire Department, and Joint Base Myer – Henderson Hall Fire Department assisted on this incident.

The Arlington County Fire Prevention Office conducted a thorough origin and cause investigation and concluded that the fire started in the attic space; currently the cause remains undetermined. Initial estimated damages are $1,000,000.

Located at 1500 N. Glebe Road, just north of Ballston, Mt. Olivet is built on the oldest church site in continuous use in Arlington.

There’s no word yet on when services inside the church might resume. Mt. Olivet’s pastor said the sanctuary and preschool wings of the church were not damaged, though the music and education wing likely has “extensive smoke and water damage.”

The church held an outdoor worship service on Sunday, as covered by NBC 4.

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There was a fire early this morning at Mt. Olivet Methodist Church, the oldest church site in continuous use in Arlington.

The fire broke out at the church, located at 1500 N. Glebe Road near Ballston, before 3 a.m. and prompted a two-alarm response. Flames could be seen coming from the roof of the building, according to scanner traffic.

“The fire began in the attic above the music and education wing. Thankfully no one was in the building and there are no injuries,” the church said in an update posted by its pastor this morning. “There is likely extensive smoke and water damage to that part of the building. The sanctuary and preschool wings were not harmed.”

Sunday morning worship will not be held in the building but the church says it is working on an alternate plan.

The Arlington County Fire Department is currently investigating the cause of the blaze, which was extinguished by firefighters before it could spread to other parts of the building.

The full update from the church is below.

Dear Mount Olivet Family,

You have likely heard the news of a fire at Mount Olivet early this morning, Friday, October 14.

The fire began in the attic above the music and education wing. Thankfully no one was in the building and there are no injuries.

Thanks to many fire fighters and first responders from Arlington, Fairfax, and Falls Church, the fire has been extinguished.

There is likely extensive smoke and water damage to that part of the building. The sanctuary and preschool wings were not harmed.

Due to the ongoing nature of this situation, we will not be able to hold worship in our building this Sunday morning. Once we know what our plan will be for Sunday morning worship and beyond, we will let you know!

Currently, the building is not secure and the fire investigation is on going. Please do not enter the building until further notice.

We are beyond grateful that no one was injured and this was no worse than it is, but we still ask that you be in prayer for our community, clergy, and staff as we navigate the following days and weeks.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Sara

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The church building on S. Glebe Road (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) An Alcova Heights church has sold its building to a senior living provider, leaving organizations that rent space there in search of a new home.

Arlington United Methodist Church recently sold its building at 716 S. Glebe Road to Sunrise Senior Living, a McLean-based senior living provider.

Paul Mandell, the real estate agent who facilitated the deal, told ARLnow he believed the buyer — whose identity he declined to confirm — planned to demolish the building to build a senior living facility, but deferred to the buyer for confirmation.

Sunrise is unable to comment at this time, spokesperson John Chibnall said, but will likely share information on the project in the coming weeks.

There are several organizations operating out of the church’s building, including the Ronda Gilliam Clothing Bank affiliated with the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington, the Redeemer Church of Arlington, Rainbow Road Preschool and others.

The organizations now have about 4-6 months to look for a new space, said Annette Reilly, manager of the clothing bank.

“We have no definite plans yet,” she said.

She found out about the sale about two weeks ago after the building was on the market for about a year, Reilly said. Other offers could have kept the clothing bank and other organizations in place, she said.

“If they had sold it to one of the churches, [an] existing tenant that wanted to buy it, then the use of the building would have continued the same,” Reilly said.

She hoped the clothing bank would be able to relocate elsewhere in Arlington. Otherwise, it would have to close, she said.

There have been previous instances of churches selling to be redeveloped as housing. The Central United Methodist Church in Ballston was torn down and is being rebuilt as an affordable housing complex. Jefferson Apartment Group took over another former Ballston are church building last year, with plans to build an apartment building.

The Arlington United Methodist Church, which still listed as the owner of the property, could not be reached for comment. The assessed value of the building in 2022 was $5 million, according to the county.

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Morning Notes

Cherry blossoms and Amazon’s HQ2 construction in Pentagon City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

County Prepping New Tree Study — “Arlington leaders may take their next crack at guesstimating the number of trees in the county – a topic not without political as well as environmental ramifications – early in 2023, if all goes according to plan… estimating the cost at $100,000 to $150,000.” [Sun Gazette]

New Name for GMU Arlington Campus — “George Mason University announced today that its Arlington Campus will be renamed Mason Square as the new centerpiece of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor for multi-disciplinary talent and business development, as well as a civic and cultural destination. Also being announced is Fuse at Mason Square, the name of the new technology-forward building that is the heart of Mason’s commitment to growing Northern Virginia’s next-generation workforce. A groundbreaking ceremony for Fuse at Mason Square will take place April 6.” [Press Release]

FBI Warns of ‘Sextortion’ of Boys — “The FBI Washington Field Office is warning parents and caregivers about an increase in incidents involving sextortion of young children. The FBI is receiving an increasing number of reports of adults posing as young girls coercing young boys through social media to produce sexual images and videos and then extorting money from them.” [FBI]

Nature Center Staffing Slowly Returning — “Don’t expect hours of operation at Arlington’s two county-government natures centers to return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming year, or maybe ever, but local leaders say that doesn’t mean nature programs won’t have priority in coming years… [the] hope for the coming year was to use funding for temporary workers to increase hours at the nature center, including perhaps evening hours.” [Sun Gazette]

Church Wins Climate Award — “Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ’s commitment to fighting climate change over the past 15 years landed it a top award in the 2022 Cool Congregations Challenge. Rock Spring, on Little Falls Road in Arlington, was named the 2022 winner of the Energy Saver category in the challenge, sponsored by Interfaith Power & Light, a nonprofit group that seeks to motivate people of faith to take steps to address climate change.” [Patch]

Alexandria Schools Propose SRO Extension — “Alexandria City Public Schools is requesting an extension of its controversial school resource officer (SRO) program through the end of the 2022-2023 school year. School Board Chair Meagan Alderton says that the extension is part of the reimagining of the $800,000 program.” [ALXnow]

It’s Friday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 58 and low of 47. Sunrise at 7:05 am and sunset at 7:26 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Mount Olivet United Methodist Church parking lot (via Google Maps)

The leadership of Mount Olivet United Methodist Church near Ballston is looking to do something about its parking lot.

The 120-spot surface parking lot fronts N. Glebe Road and is separated from the church, located at 1500 N. Glebe Road, by 16th Street N.

When Mount Olivet bought the parcel in the 1950s, it considered building a youth center and pool on the site, but ultimately paved it over.

Now, 70 years later, church leaders are mulling whether to redevelop the lot, as well as the open space and associate pastor’s parsonage adjacent to it, with a multi-purpose building and underground parking.

Possible uses include a youth recreation center, an arts and cultural space, an expansion of the daycare and preschool, medical offices or senior assisted living, housing or other church uses, according to a presentation on the church’s website.

Mount Olivet United Methodist Church and cemetery, outlined in black, and the parking lot, green space and associate pastor’s parsonage, outlined in red (via Mount Olivet United Methodist Church)

The redevelopment idea resurfaced in 2017, when church leadership was drafting a strategic plan guiding future growth, according to the church.

Two years later, a task force began meeting with a local architect to consider uses for the property. Concepts from the task force were presented to parishioners on Sunday during a town hall.

“During the Town Hall, multiple references were made to the fact that the material being presented and the ideas being discussed were in fact only possibilities at this point,” Chuck Mitchell, the chair of the task force, tells ARLnow. “There are no plans to build at this time… If and when the Mount Olivet congregation decides to continue the exploration, there will be multiple and comprehensive meetings with Arlington County, civic organizations and other interested parties to engage in the conversation.”

That town hall was intended to update the congregation on the work the task force over the last two years, he said.

“As a long-term member of Arlington and the local community, should Mount Olivet choose to move forward with a project, we will be scheduling meetings with the local civic organizations,” he said.

To avoid raising money from the congregation, church leaders say they would enter a ground lease with a developer.

Over the course of the lease, Mount Olivet would receive revenue from whatever building the developer constructs. Eventually, the revenue would be used to buy back a portion of the building for the church to use.

After the lease expires, Mount Olivet would own the entire building, as well as the land.

While the church has not settled on a plan to propose and discuss with the local community yet, some neighbors have taken to Nextdoor and other channels to express concerns about things like traffic and safety should a new development replace the parking lot.

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