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Area 2 Farms, an indoor vertical farm, is opening in Green Valley (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Urban farms and breweries could be coming to a vacant office near you.

Over the weekend, the Arlington County Board approved a series of zoning changes aimed at tackling the stubborn office vacancy rate. They would allow the following tenants to move into offices by right:

  • animal boarding facilities, provided animals are under 24-hour supervision
  • urban farms
  • urban colleges and universities
  • breweries, distilleries and facilities making other craft beverages, such as kombucha and seltzer
  • artisan workshops for small-scale makers working in media such as wood or metal, laser cutters, 3D printers, electronics and sewing machines

Colleges and universities or urban farms previously needed to seek out a site plan amendment, which requires Arlington County Board approval, to operate in spaces previously approved for office or retail use.

The code requires all animal boarding, farming and artisan product-making activities to occur inside the building.

A county report describes this existing process as “overly cumbersome” for entrepreneurs trying to prove their business concept as well as for landlords, “who may be averse to take a risk on a new type of use that may require significant building improvements.”

The changes require farms, craft beverage facilities and artisan workshops to maintain a storefront where they can sell goods made on-site to walk-in customers, which the report says could reinvigorate dead commercial zones.

“Artisan beverage uses can bring new life to vacant buildings, boost leasing demand and, when located in a walkable neighborhood, can attract both existing and potential residents, while creating active third places for the community to gather,” the report said. “By fostering space for small-scale makers, artisans, and the like, a creative economy can grow, and people who may not have the space for such activities in their urban apartments may see this as an attractive neighborhood amenity.”

Some of these uses were allowed along Columbia Pike in the fall of 2021 to encourage greater economic revitalization. At the same time, D.C.-based animal boarding company District Dogs was appealing zoning ordinances curtailing the number of dogs it could board overnight in Clarendon, prompting discussions about expanding the uses approved for the Pike throughout the county.

The next spring, County Manager Mark Schwartz developed a “commercial market resilience strategy” aimed at bringing down the county’s high office vacancy rate, fueled by persistent remote work trends catalyzed by the pandemic. The tool, which includes an expedited public review process, was first used last fall to allow micro-fulfillment centers to operate by-right in vacant office spaces.

In a letter to the County Board, Arlington Chamber of Commerce CEO Kate Bates said the rapid approval of these commercial activities is critical for attracting new and emerging businesses.

“The Chamber believes that the Zoning Ordinance needs reform, and that unnecessary restrictions on commercial use should be removed to help the economy of the County grow,” Bates wrote. “In the wake of record high commercial vacancy, timely change is needed. It is imperative that the County focuses on long-term solutions for new business models, both through increased adaptability for new uses and expedited timeframes for approval of these new uses.” Read More

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Fresh Impact Farms growing area in a strip mall on Langston Blvd (courtesy photo)

In another bid to tackle the soaring office vacancy rate, Arlington County is mulling whether to fill vacant offices with unconventional tenants such as breweries and hydroponic farms.

The county is looking at allowing urban farms, artisan workshops, and craft beverage-making and dog boarding facilities to operate by-right in commercial, mixed-use districts throughout Arlington County. Some of these uses are already allowed along Columbia Pike.

Now above 21%, the office vacancy rate in Arlington spells lower tax revenue and belt-tightening for the under-development county budget. It ticked up during the pandemic and remained high even as buildings reopened, mask mandates were lifted and people returned to the office.

As the trend persisted, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz and his staff launched a “commercial market resilience strategy” to get new types of tenants moved in quickly. The strategy focuses on zoning changes with a limited impact on neighbors that can be approved with through a new, less involved public engagement process. The strategy was first used last fall to approve micro-fulfillment centers.

Last night (Wednesday), a majority of the Arlington County Planning Commission approved a request to authorize public hearings on this proposal.

“We do need to be thinking creatively,” said Planning Commission Vice-Chair Sara Steinberger. “I’m appreciative that the county came forward with a streamlined approach so we can start fast-tracking some things. The community feedback and involvement is essential and is a cornerstone of the Arlington Way and how we comport ourselves within this community. That said, it’s never fun to be bogged down in bureaucracy either, so when there is an opportunity to move more quickly on certain things in a limited field, I think it’s appropriate to do so.”

The proposal also would let colleges and universities, which can currently operate in offices only after obtaining a more burdensome site plan amendment, move in by right.

“They tend to be our strongest source of demand in office buildings at a time when we aren’t seeing much demand,” Marc McCauley, the director of real estate for Arlington Economic Development, told the Planning Commission.

Commissioners Stephen Hughes and James Schroll abstained from the final vote, reprising concerns they raised last year about the impact of these new uses on neighbors. While voting for the proposal, Commissioner Tenley Peterson questioned county staff about potential noise, smell and parking nuisances.

“I can see the good reasons for doing this,” Schroll said. “My reticicene is not necessarily what you’re doing on the zoning side, it’s more the outreach. There are some things that I feel like aren’t fully thought through… We’re pursuing these without fully understanding what use standards we need to put in place.”

Citing “incessant barking” from nearby dog-boarding facilities that can be heard from Jennie Dean Park, Hughes said he wants the community to understand that these changes would leave nuisance mitigation up to the condition of the building and county noise ordinances.

“There is no place in the entire county where your actions do not impact another person,” Hughes said, pushing staff to instead draft a document listing “externalities we can all agree to as a community that we will not do.”

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For the first time in three decades, two Marymount University teams won their conference titles on the same day with both earning a trip to their respective NCAA tournaments.

On Saturday, Nov. 5, Marymount’s women’s volleyball team and the men’s soccer team each won the NCAA Division III Atlantic East Conference championship.

It was a bit of sports history for the small Catholic university on N. Glebe Road, marking the first time since 1992 that two Marymount teams won such big matches on the same day. Both are now headed to their NCAA tournaments to vie for a national championship.

For the volleyball team, this is the third time in five seasons and the first such trip since 2019. The program has been around since 1981, with head coach Beth Ann Wilson at the helm for the last 30 of those years.

The team will head about an hour away to play the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg on Thursday in the opening round of the national tournament, the program learned on Monday afternoon.

This season has been a true turnaround for the Marymount men’s soccer team. It’s the first time in its 33-year history that it won more games than it lost in a season, wrapped up a conference championship, and made the NCAA tournament.

The men’s soccer team will also make their way to Mary Washington and Fredericksburg for their tournament game, set to play Eastern University on Saturday in the first round.

“We’re so proud of our men’s soccer and women’s volleyball team for winning the Atlantic East Conference and earning automatic bids into the NCAA Tournament on Saturday,” Marymount Director of Athletics Jill McCabe tells ARLnow. “For men’s soccer to win the first conference title in program history in front of an amazing home crowd, it was truly a special moment for Marymount University. Our women’s volleyball team went on the road to beat a team they had lost to just over two weeks ago to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019.”

Marymount University has 22 varsity-level sports teams, including men’s and women’s wrestling, which was just added this past spring. They all compete in NCAA Division III, which typically includes smaller schools and provides no athletic scholarships — though student athletes are eligible for other types of scholarships.

The university, meanwhile, is developing plans to build a new sports facility on a piece of county-owned land near campus. Before anything is built, however, it will need to go through a formal review process. Marymount is planning to hold an informational meeting on Nov. 29 to discuss the plan with the community.

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Rosslyn Twin Towers at 1000/1100 Wilson Blvd (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 10/1) The University of Virginia is expanding its footprint in Northern Virginia, including its Rosslyn campus.

The university currently operates a satellite location of its Darden School of Business in the top two floors of an office building at 1100 Wilson Blvd, one of the two Rosslyn “twin towers.” As part of the expansion plan, announced last week, the regional campus will be renamed UVA|NOVA and will offer more courses from other schools within the university.

“UVA|NOVA will be UVA’s campus in Northern Virginia, beginning with a site in the Rosslyn neighborhood of North Arlington and ultimately expanding to other sites in the region,” the school said. “The campus will build upon, and bring together, existing programs and serve as a platform for significantly expanding offerings – including in-person, online and hybrid instruction – targeting those who are interested in advancing in their careers.”

For now, most courses will be located within the satellite campus, according to university spokesman Brian Coy. It’s unclear how much the program will physically expand within Rosslyn, but Coy said the school is currently in talks about getting more space here.

“We will operate out of the 1100 Wilson building, at least initially,” Coy said. “We are in discussions regarding additional space and will make announcements as we can. Our expansions are going to be staged, focused on both the University’s current location in Rosslyn as well as other facilities in the Northern Virginia region.”

He did not say how many new students or faculty would come to Rosslyn through the revised program, or how the expansion will impact the campus or the surrounding area.

Per UVA’s website, about 300 students are based out of the campus, which offers courses in the master’s programs of business administration and business analytics as well as lifelong learning classes.

An article published by the school last week identified which programs will be added to or expanded within the Rosslyn campus:

In the near term, the UVA|NOVA initiative will include expanded course offerings in several schools, including the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Education and Human Development, the Darden School of Business, the McIntire School of Commerce, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and the School of Data Science. UVA will also offer a new degree beginning in the fall of 2022: a part-time MBA program in the Darden School.

The UVA article says the new classes will include in-person, online and hybrid instruction.

The announcement comes on the heels of Virginia Tech breaking ground on a high-profile campus in Potomac Yard. The Virginia Tech campus is being built alongside a new Potomac Yard Metro station, which recently had its opening delayed to next September.

Coy similarly said it was transit accessibility that played a part in the decision to expand the Rosslyn campus.

“The original decision was made to locate in Rosslyn because of its proximity to key partners in the region and to mass transit,” Coy said. “The area is also full of people who are pursuing rewarding careers in competitive industries and may wish to pursue additional education through UVA that could help them advance.”

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Morning Notes

Tower of Light Returns — From Dave Statter: “The Tower of Light at the Pentagon began tonight & continues through September 12 in honor of those killed when the United States was attacked 20 years ago Saturday.” [Twitter, Fox 5]

Road Closures for Memorial 5K — “The Arlington Police, Fire, Sheriff and ECC Memorial 9/11 Memorial 5k race will take place on the evening of Saturday, September 11, 2021. The Arlington County Police Department will close the following roadways around the Pentagon and in Crystal City to accommodate the event.” [ACPD]

Some Boundary Adjustments Coming — “Arlington’s public-school leadership has so much on its return-to-classrooms plate already – ya think? – that a massive boundary-adjustment process is just not in the cards for now. School officials are planning for ‘only those adjustments that must be done,’ said Lisa Stengle, the school system’s executive director of planning and evaluation, during an Aug. 26 briefing to School Board members.” [Sun Gazette]

Feds Add Rep from Arlington to Metro BoardUpdated at 9 a.m. — A new alternate Metro Board member from Arlington was sworn in yesterday. Assistant County Manager & Director of Communications and Public Engagement Bryna Helfer is a federal appointee to the Board. Helfer previously worked for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. [U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Twitter]

Biz Booming for Local Tattoo Shop — “As more Americans resolve to change their lives after a tumultuous year and a half, many are choosing to get tattoos: D.C.-area tattoo-shop owners are reporting a boom in business, even though the pandemic all but shuttered other industries. Inside Lady Octopus, in Arlington, Virginia, artist Gilda Acosta shades in a touch of light green on the leaves of a primrose. Client Meg Little, of Alexandria, booked this appointment seven months ago.” [WTOP]

Higher Ed Booms With Amazon Arrival — “With the arrival of Amazon and a proliferation of other tech companies in fields ranging from big data to cybersecurity, candidates like Bhatia are in high demand. The problem is, there aren’t enough to go around. Universities are trying to change that, and in the process, sparking an academic explosion in and around Arlington… Virginia Tech, Mason and the University of Maryland are preparing to open gleaming new facilities here.” [Arlington Magazine]

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An outdoor celebration was held this past Friday for Arlington’s first-generation college students.

AHC Inc., a local nonprofit affordable housing developer, hosted a “College Signing Day” outside at the Gates of Ballston Community Center for 31 high school seniors who took part in the organization’s College and Career Readiness Program.

Students in the program are attending a multitude of universities including James Madison, Virginia Military Institute, Harvard, Tufts, and Yale — with many receiving scholarships and grants.

The students all come from lower-income families and most live in an AHC community, with 28 out of the 31 seniors in the program being first-generation college students.

In front of the community center, students snapped photos, picked up college t-shirts, and ate pizza. There was a considerable amount of pride, relief, nervousness, and excitement from the students for what lies ahead for them in their future.

“I’m all the emotions,” chuckles Mahia Rahmen, a senior at Washington-Liberty. She’s going to Harvard, earning several notable scholarships. She’s also the first member of her family, which is originally from Bangladesh, to go to a four-year college or university.

“I’m kinda upset about leaving my family and my old life behind,” Rahmen says. “But, overall, very, very excited.”

The College and Career Readiness program began in the fall of 2016 and this is the largest class yet.

Milenka Coronel, the program’s first manager, says the intention is to help 11th and 12th grade students to go through the college admissions process, from applications to applying for scholarships to choosing which institution is right for them. With high school guidance counselors stretched thin, programs like this help fill in gaps and reach those who may need a little extra support.

“What’s unique about us is that we are in their community,” says Coronel. “We are where they live which creates easier access.”

She says a lot of the students are also caretakers, helping parents and younger siblings adjust to this incredibly difficult year for all.

“They are managing so many things at once, but I’m in awe… they preserved,” Coronel says.

It’s clear that the historic nature of the past year has influenced the students, even leading several to rethink what their future might hold.

Elena Ogbe, who’s attending James Madison University after she graduates from Wakefield High School next month, says she still plans on majoring in nursing, but now also wants to minor in African-American studies.

“I’m realizing how much knowledge I’m missing and how much our past history has been overlooked,” Ogbe says, whose family is from Eritrea. “It really woke me up to realize that I need to start learning more and educating myself.”

Abel Geleta is a current Washington-Liberty senior and soon-to-be freshman at Yale. He moved to Arlington from Ethiopia with his family a decade ago. His plan is to study to be a civil rights lawyer.

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Looking to be closer to the government and defense fields, Boston-based Northeastern University is eyeing some space in Rosslyn.

The university is looking to convert the 14th floor of Arlington Tower (1300 17th Street N.) into a teaching space for graduate-level classes and a research space that will house The Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security.

Matthew Weinstein, a land use attorney with McGuireWoods who represents Northeastern University, said in a letter that the university “seeks to establish an operation at the property as a central location for mission-driven programs including defense-based programs, benefitting from close proximity to government customers.”

Arlington County’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development has determined the research use still classifies as office use, according to a letter included in a staff report. To use the other half of the 14th floor, totaling 8,500 square feet, for teaching, NU needs the approval from the County Board.

The County Board is scheduled to review the school’s request during its regular meeting this Saturday.

Currently, the 18-story, 411,679-square-foot Arlington Tower is zoned for commercial uses, not including higher education, according to the staff report. But converting the space will only involve minor interior renovations, according to the county.

“No objections from the community nor staff have been expressed,” the report said. “As the proposed conversion is not located on the ground floor, it does not remove any retail spaces nor have any impact on the exterior appearance of the building.

The report added that the offshoot of Northeastern will bring “new visitors to the Rosslyn area during off-peak hours, potentially creating new customers for Rosslyn-based business.”

Most of the classes will be held Monday through Friday evenings and Saturday mornings and early afternoon, according to the county.

The 14th floor of Arlington Tower was most recently home to former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign office, which was temporarily shut down last summer due to a coronavirus outbreak. Trump previously bragged that the lease on the office space “was a steal.”

Image via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

ACFD Vaxed to the Max — “Of the public safety departments surveyed by the I-Team, the Arlington County Fire Department has the most vaccinated, with 82 percent of its roughly 360 employees receiving the shot. Alexandria’s fire department, Frederick County, Maryland’s fire department and Montgomery County police are close behind, reporting about 70 percent of their members vaccinated.” [NBC 4]

Law Enforcement Memorial Day — Today starting at 8 a.m. “[t]he Arlington County Police Department and the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office will host a virtual Observance of Peace Officers Memorial Day to honor and pay tribute to the memory of Arlington’s seven fallen law enforcement officers.” [ACPD]

Covid Testing for APS Athletes — “Beginning the week of May 10, APS will begin providing daily free COVID-19 testing for student athletes. The testing is optional and will be conducted at the three comprehensive high schools with written parent/guardian consent. These efforts are put in place to prevent and mitigate transmission of COVID-19 among athletes.” [Arlington Public Schools]

DJO Grad to Kick for UNC — “Bishop O’Connell High School graduate and Great Falls resident Ethan Torres played four years of college football for Bucknell University as a place-kicker, and now will play a fifth season this coming fall for University of North Carolina at Charlotte as a graduate transfer student.” [Sun Gazette]

Runners Enjoy Rainy Crystal City 5K — “They lined up in waves, socially distanced for The Great Inflatable Race: Pacers 5k in National Landing. Only 250 runners instead of the normal 1,500… ‘This is one small step toward normalization,’ says runner Ian Squires.” [WJLA]

Jeopardy Asks Arlington Question — “We made Jeopardy! again. From last Friday. Category was A Whopp’ington’ of a City.” [Twitter]

Nearby: Mosque Knife Incident — “A Falls Church man is under arrest and faces charges after Fairfax County, Virginia, police said he pointed a knife at several people in a Seven Corners mosque.” [WTOP, Annandale Blog]

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Morning Notes

Rosslyn Dog Park Now Open — “Thanks to the support of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District and R-DOGS, there’s a new interim dog park on the western side of Gateway Park. Now that’s something to bark about!” [Arlington County, Instagram]

Arlingtonian Confirmed as U.N. Ambassador — “The Senate voted 78-20 on Tuesday to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.” The long-time Arlington resident “has promised to restore the U.S. role as a defender of human rights and will look to repair multilateral relationships that fractured under former President Trump.” [Axios]

Crashes on I-395 Yesterday Morning — From the Arlington County Fire Department: “The units from Station 9C ran a three vehicle accident early this morning on 395NB. Upon arrival, they discovered a trapped patient who was quickly extricated. Two patients were treated and transported with non-life threatening injuries.” [Twitter, WUSA 9]

YHS Students to Continue Athletics in College — “A dozen Yorktown High School athletes participated in recent college signing ceremonies to continue their playing careers at the next level.” [InsideNova]

Local Woman Sickened By New Puppy — “An Arlington mother and daughter are warning those interested in purchasing a new pet about a disease called campylobacter. Audrey Glitt was thrilled when her mother, Katrina Metzler, brought home a new puppy named Fernweh as a surprise — but shortly after the dog’s arrival, the excitement quickly faded to worry. ‘I think it was about, a week later after we had gotten her, I started getting really sick and I couldn’t get out of bed,’ said Glitt.” [WDVM]

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Morning Notes

ACLU Suit Names ACPD Captain — Arlington County Police Department Captain Wayne Vincent has been added, in his personal capacity, to the ACLU lawsuit over the actions by police to clear protesters from Lafayette Square ahead of President Trump walking from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Some twenty ACPD officers, who are not named, are also being sued over the use of force and chemical irritants. [WTOP, ACLU]

Where APS Students Are Going to College — “The following is a list of the colleges and universities where Arlington Public Schools high school graduates (Class of 2020) applied and where they were accepted.” [Arlington Magazine]

Sen. Kaine in Arlington Today — “On Thursday, September 3, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine will host a socially distant conversation in Arlington with local leaders to discuss the work being done to support the Latino community in Northern Virginia, as reports show Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.” The closed event is taking place at an apartment building near Columbia Pike this afternoon. [Press Release]

Bus Project Likely to Be Funded — “A project submitted by the Arlington County government remains in contention for Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) funding, even as a number of other regional projects have been delayed for consideration due to sharp dropoffs in available funding. As a result, the Arlington project — an HOV- and bus-only lane on Route 29 in Rosslyn during rush hour — is likely to receive the $710,000 in regional funds being sought to help with the overall project cost.” [InsideNova]

Local Group Supports Eviction Moratorium — “Leaders of VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement) cautiously welcomed the announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of a nationwide eviction moratorium through Dec. 31, but noted that Congress and the Administration still need to work together to provide significant funding to prevent huge rental housing market instability after the ban expires.” [Press Release]

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The rate of new coronavirus cases in Arlington has dropped over the past few days, but four COVID-related deaths have been reported this week.

The Virginia Dept. of Health reported only nine new cases in Arlington overnight, five new cases the day before that, and 15 new cases two days ago — all below the seven-day moving average.

The county’s cumulative case count is now 3,569, while the seven-day moving total of new cases is 134 — or 19.1 per day.

Despite that good news, there is some bad news: another coronavirus death was reported overnight, the fourth such death reported by VDH over the past three days. Arlington’s cumulative total now stands at 141. Prior to Monday, the death toll had only risen by four over the course of more than 50 days.

Hospitalizations in Arlington are also elevated, relative to earlier this summer. Arlington has recorded 17 new COVID hospitalizations over the past week, with three new hospitalizations reported overnight. The seven-day total has only dipped into the single digits once over the past two weeks, after staying in the single-digits throughout the summer before that.

What might be behind the recent drop in cases?

It’s entirely possible it’s just a normal fluctuation, as the numbers have bounced up and down for months. It’s also possible that the return of students to college campus could be a partial explanation.

A student from Arlington who contracts the disease while at college elsewhere would most likely not be included in Arlington’s numbers, according to county health officials.

That could have a noticeable impact on Arlington’s numbers — since the Phase 3 reopening on July 1, which allowed more people to crowd in to bars and restaurants, a preponderance of cases in Arlington have been among those in the 18-29 age range.

But the return to campuses may be short lived: James Madison University students, for instance, are returning home after an outbreak on campus led to more than 500 active COVID-19 cases.

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