Press Club

Morning Notes

A pedestrian crosses Wilson Blvd. near a protected bike lane with artificial sunflowers (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fish Kill in Four Mile Run Last Week — “Anyone visiting lower Four Mile Run in the last several days should have noticed many dead fish, large and small, along the streambank and floating out in the water, the result of a pollution incident that occurred some time Thursday, May 12.” [Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation]

Rumor: Board Members May Not Run Again — “My spies in the Arlington Democratic infrastructure say odds favor neither County Board member up for election in 2023 actually running for a third term. And if Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey do skedaddle (and just as they’d start earning some bigger bucks …), the field would seem to be wide open.” [Sun Gazette]

More Big Changes at DCA — “Reagan National Airport is about to go through a massive rebranding. Because of recent expansions, the airport will be split into Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Terminal 1 will be the original airport building housing the A gates. Terminal 2 will house the newly named B, C, D and E gates. More than 1,000 signs in and around the airport will be changed starting June 4.” [NBC 4]

Arlington Apartment Buildings Bought — “Cortland, one of the largest apartment owners in the U.S., is making a huge entrance to Greater Washington, acquiring four Arlington multifamily properties in an expected $1B investment. The Atlanta-based investment firm acquired a newly developed 23-story, 331-unit apartment building in Rosslyn and a 534-unit building in Pentagon City, Cortland announced Wednesday.” [Bisnow, Washington Business Journal]

County Honors Trees, Volunteers — “Mother Nature is smiling! Arlington County recognized five individuals who volunteer at Bon Air Park as recipients of the 2021 Bill Thomas Park Volunteer Award and highlighted its 2022 Notable Trees — both which honor the people and natural resources that preserve Arlington’s green spaces — during the Arlington County Board’s recessed meeting on May 17.” [Arlington County]

Wawa Coming to Falls Church — “Philadelphia-area convenience store chain Wawa is under contract to ground-lease the shuttered Stratford Motor Lodge site in the city of Falls Church, which it will replace with a roughly 6,000-square-foot store — but no gas pumps… The motor lodge closed last fall, the Falls Church News Press reported.” [Washington Business Journal]

Four Mile Run Dredging Approaching — “Alexandria and Arlington will start clearing debris and dredging Four Mile Run in September, and the project will close sections of [an Alexandria] park from the public for four to six months. The City and County maintain a shared flood-control channel in the lower portion of the nine-mile-long stream, and have partnered to dredge Four Mile Run since 1974.” [ALXnow]

It’s Thursday — Rain early in the morning, then clearing later in the day. High of 82 and low of 61. Sunrise at 5:54 am and sunset at 8:19 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Pastel colors in the skies over the National Mall during peak bloom weekend, as seen from Arlington (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Traffic Restricted on Deteriorating Bridge — “As a result of a bridge inspection today, Friday, March 25, engineers closed the existing southbound lane of the West Glebe Bridge between Arlington and Alexandria due to further degradation of structural beams.  The northbound lane of the bridge over South Four Mile Run will remain open, making the bridge one-way to traffic and requiring a detour for southbound automobiles. The bridge’s maximum load rating of 5 tons will remain in place with a critical need for heavier vehicles – primarily buses and dump trucks — to comply for public safety.” [Arlington County]

Graupel Covers Fields, Prompts Tweets — An ice pellet downpour covered the ground in parts of Arlington on Saturday afternoon: “Well that was wild… heavy downpour rain and graupel swept through near Clarendon.” [Twitter, Twitter]

The Story Behind the Pentagon Chicken — “The Pentagon Building Operations Command Center initially considered using on-staff pest control to capture the chicken. But the pest control staff wasn’t scheduled to come on duty for another hour. The Building Operations Command Center, or BOCC, then came up with the idea to contact the emergency number at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.” [Patch]

Bullying Incident at Middle School — “After a bullying incident involving her 6th grade son with autism, an Arlington mother asked the school board Thursday night to do more to create an environment where such incidents don’t happen to any child. On Friday both mother Kathleen Clark and her son Colton described what happened to 7 News, and Kathleen talked about changes she hopes Arlington Public Schools makes to help children better know how to relate to others who are different from them in some way.” [WJLA]

Seventh Grade Hoops Team Goes Undefeated — “An Arlington Travel Basketball girls teams capped an undefeated 16-0 season in the Fairfax County Youth Basketball League with victories in postseason tournament-championship games. The seventh-grade girls squad, coached by John Lomas, won the Division I championship game, 51-42, over Lee-Mount Vernon.” [Sun Gazette]

Lease Above Courthouse Metro Extended — “Chickasaw Nation Industries, Inc. (CNI) extends federal services division office lease in Arlington, VA. Represented by Edward Saa and Timothy Jacobs, CNI Federal experienced explosive growth in the 2020-2021 government fiscal year in awarded contracts necessitating a 10,000-SF office presence to service customers.” [Press Release]

More Afternoon ART Buses — “More of a good thing: Midday frequency gets a boost for ART 52 and 75 bus weekday routes starting Monday.” [Twitter]

Nearby: Stabbing in Seven Corners — “Fairfax County police officers arrested and charged a 21-year-old Falls Church man after two men were stabbed just before 2 p.m. yesterday (Thursday). Police were called to Seven Corners at Arlington Boulevard and Patrick Henry Drive for an assault and determined a man was involved in two separate assaults that escalated when he stabbed both men, police said.” [FFXnow]

It’s Monday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 37 and low of 28. Sunrise at 7:00 am and sunset at 7:29 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

As a commercial real estate broker, Greg Carpentier always felt he was missing or struggling to find two important pieces of information when negotiating office deals.

Floor plans and square footage.

“It was a treasure hunt,” he said.

If that information did exist, Carpentier says it was disorganized and did not reflect the upgrades landlords would make to suites and amenity spaces. But those numbers had to be accurate since the constantly fluctuating amount of usable space determines the price to buy or lease office space.

So he set out to do something about it. Carpentier talked to colleagues and clients — who shared similar frustrations — and researched the competition. Finding few competitors, he hired an overseas software developer to build a prototype solution: a platform for real estate brokers, architects and landlords to store, access and share floorplans and other office layout information.

That’s how floorwire, based out of Carpentier’s apartment near Rosslyn, was born. He incorporated the company in 2019, had domestic software developers build a new version of the software, and began taking on clients in 2020. He assembled a small team of employees in August.

Brokers, architects and landlords are not the only people who benefit from a 21st-century alternative to scrolls and scrolls of paper floorplans. The product saves tenants time and money and gives them peace of mind, says Abby Caldwell, a former client of Carpentier’s who is now the Director of Operations for floorwire, the first letter of which is deliberately displayed as lower case.

“I was in a few situations when I was a tenant where I was under pressure to move quickly and acquire additional space on a tight timeline,” she said. “The current leasing timeline is longer than you might think, and we save you time by creating a more efficient process. Also, the tenants sleep easier at night knowing the data is accurate.”

A promotional graphic from floorwire (courtesy photo)

Carpentier’s company began taking on clients during the pandemic, which he says was the catalyst the commercial real estate market needed to abandon its outdated, low-tech approach to calculating and keeping tabs on square footage.

“What Covid did, as a whole, is make everyone realize how far behind commercial real estate is with regard to technology,” he said. “It exposed the problems and sped up the need for technology.”

For example, he said, Covid pushed people in commercial real estate to invest in sensors that are more accurate than architects at measuring office layouts, which are being reconfigured on a massive scale to entice workers back into the office.

“It’s a great opportunity to change the model,” he said.

This emerging industry sector is dubbed “proptech,” or property tech. Carpentier says venture capital funding is flowing into the sector, which he predicts will grow rapidly in the next five years.

“There’s so much opportunity for such a fundamental industry,” he said. “There’s a lot of money in commercial real estate. It’s a huge market: second to the stock market.”

As proptech grows, so too does floorwire. In August 2021, the company was able to hire full-time employees. In 2022, its leaders aim to take on new clients and keep working with existing ones.

“I’m really excited to take groundwork we laid in 2021 and run with it this year,” Caldwell said.

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When Amazon decided in 2018 to build its second headquarters in Arlington, the county’s economic development team heard one question from the business community: “Why?”

The county was, in the eyes of many, still the smaller and lesser-known neighbor of D.C., says Kelly Rindfusz, the communications director for Arlington Economic Development.

“We had to prove our worthiness,” Rindfusz said.

After two years of work, AED officially unveiled a new logo, motto, website and advertising materials that she says better answer the question, “Why Arlington?”

The new look and pitch plays up the obvious attractions — being close to D.C. and home to Amazon — and highlights the county’s tech scene, its high concentration of educated workers and thought leaders, and the region’s diversity.

“What was attractive for Amazon and will be attractive for other companies,” she said.

That will be the playbook as AED continues selling Arlington as a destination for multinational companies and key industries, such as cybersecurity and government contracting. Winning over such employers has a direct impact on the county’s economy, lowering its relatively high office vacancy rate, encouraging job growth and generating tax revenue.

The most notable change is AED’s new website, which requires fewer clicks to find resources and makes important information more digestible, Rindfusz said. It also features a searchable small business directory.

“We think it’s a much better marketing tool and it’s certainly easy to navigate,” she said. “It’s clean and concise and hopefully it is meeting its mark.”

To improve its marketing, AED asked companies why they did, or didn’t, choose Arlington. The most basic considerations have to do with cost and office lease availability, but there are others, like transit availability and access to tech companies and universities, Rindfusz said.

“One thing people liked about Arlington was not just its proximity to the nation’s capital, but also being near to the ocean and the mountains, and being a plane ride to New York City,” Rindfusz said.

Despite being a reason for the rebrand, the Amazon factor was a tad more divisive for other businesses.

“Most businesses thought it was a great opportunity, but some were concerned it was going to be too crowded,” she said.

AED’s response to that concern will be to show how Amazon is the reason Arlington is nabbing investments in public infrastructure, Rindfusz noted.

While rebranding was a massive effort for the organization, Rindfusz says AED’s outreach work is just beginning.

“We are in the spotlight and want to make sure we’re shining in it,” she said.

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It looks like a Chipotle is coming to Clarendon, though the company says that’s not the case.

Chipotle has applied for a state alcohol beverage permit to serve beer in a retail bay on the ground floor of the 3000 Wilson Blvd office building. A leasing plan for the building seen by ARLnow says the Chipotle will be located at 3017 Clarendon Blvd, in the empty former Pete’s New Haven Apizza storefront next to Four Sisters Grill.

There have long been rumors of an impending Chipotle arrival in Clarendon, a place that seems like a prime location for the organic-ingredient-centric, fast-casual chain. Clarendon already has all the harbingers, including a Starbucks, a Whole Foods, an Apple Store and a Crate & Barrel.

In 2014, fans of assembly-line-style Mexican cuisine had their hopes raised by Chipotle “coming soon” signs placed on an empty storefront at 3001 Washington Blvd. But the signs were fakes, placed on the outside of the windows, apparently by a local prankster.

This time around, despite the ABC permit application and the leasing plan, plus a posted county building permit for “Chipotle,” a company spokeswoman sought to dash the hopes of the Chipotle faithful in and around the neighborhood.

“We do not have a planned location in Clarendon at this point, but we are always looking to bring our Food With integrity to great new communities,” the spokeswoman told ARLnow Thursday afternoon. We are awaiting further clarification on the origin of the permit applications.

The building permit was first applied for on Jan. 12, per county records.

At the would-be Chipotle storefront this morning, permits were posted and paper covered the windows, blocking any view of the presumed construction activity inside.

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Morning Notes

Rosslyn at sunset (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Dems to Discuss School Board Caucus — “Unsurprisingly, perhaps, into this climate of culture war skirmishes surrounding public education comes opposition to the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s long-standing caucus process and even opposition to Democratic endorsement of candidates for school boards seats… At its February meeting, Arlington Democrats will debate the issues raised by its critics and vote on whether and how to change its caucus and endorsement process.” [Blue Virginia]

Winter Outdoor Dining Guide — “Before the pandemic, we never imagined that al fresco dining season in Northern Virginia would stretch into the teeth of winter. And while the wave of the latest Omicron cases seems to have peaked (fingers crossed!), those who are cautious about Covid but still want to support local businesses might choose to eat outside in the fresh air. Here are 11 restaurants cranking up the heat on outdoor dining spaces, and adding fun elements like fire pits or tented igloos.” [Arlington Magazine]

Steep HQ2 Energy Offset Costs — “The cost for Amazon.com Inc. to offset carbon emissions at its PenPlace development and meet Arlington County’s energy expectations will run upward of $5 million, according to a study by the company’s Seattle consultant.” [Washington Business Journal]

Beyer Calls for Long Covid Data — “A pair of Democratic House members asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a letter Tuesday to release data on the number of Americans who suffer lingering symptoms of coronavirus infection, including breakdowns along race, gender and age… Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who has sponsored legislation to fund studies of long covid, co-signed the letter with Pressley.” [Washington Post, U.S. House of Representatives]

More on Pentagon City Apartment Upgrades — “An existing 12-year-old apartment high-rise adjacent to what will be Amazon’s massive HQ2 campus, Metropolitan Park, in Arlington County, Virginia, has been acquired… and the investors plan a multimillion makeover fitting for HQ2’s panache. ‘We are going to make these apartments the coolest and most desirable homes on the park,’ said Steve Schwat, UIP founding principal.” [WTOP]

Two Crystal City Hotels Sold — “An Atlanta real estate investment manager has acquired a pair of Crystal City hotels a little more than a month after their former owner primed them for future redevelopment. Affiliates of Noble Investment Group paid a combined $64.3 million in mid-December for the 162-room Hampton Inn & Suites Reagan National Airport and the 248-room Hilton Garden Inn, according to Arlington County land records… There do not appear to be immediate changes planned for the hotels themselves, except for their names.” [Washington Business Journal]

It’s Wednesday — Today will be sunny, with a high near 30. Sunrise at 7:18 a.m. and sunset at 5:23 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, with a high near 33. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Demolition almost complete on Central Methodist Central Church in Ballston (photo courtesy Dale Reisfield)

Water Main Break Repaired in Courthouse — A significant water main break on N. Courthouse Road, near Arlington police headquarters, was repaired in less than 24 hours by county crews over the weekend, after shutting down the road for an extended period of time. [Twitter, Twitter]

Pentagon City Apartment Building Sold — “The Millennium at Metropolitan Park — an apartment building located directly across from where Amazon.com Inc.’s first HQ2 buildings are under construction in Pentagon City — is under new ownership. Affiliates of D.C.’s The UIP Cos. Inc. and Hawthorne, New Jersey’s Churchill Living have purchased the 19-story, 300-unit building located at 1330 S. Fair St. from New York-based Clarion Partners LLC in a deal that closed Thursday.” [Washington Business Journal]

Driver Eludes ACPD on Four Flats — From Dave Statter: “Caught on video: An unusual @ArlingtonVaPD pursuit of a stolen car. While it was through heavy I-395 traffic it was low speed. The car had 4 flats thanks to police spikes.” [Twitter]

It’s Monday — Today will be mostly sunny, with a high near 37. Sunrise at 7:20 a.m. and sunset at 5:21 p.m. Tomorrow there is a slight chance of rain showers after 1 p.m., mixing with snow after 4 p.m. Otherwise, mostly cloudy with a high near 43. [Weather.gov]

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Townhomes in the Green Valley neighborhood (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington is seeing another big jump in residential property assessments this year, something that should bolster the county’s finances but hit the pocketbooks of local homeowners.

While a county press release, below, described “modest” growth in Arlington’s property tax base, it was a tale of two types of property.

On one hand, commercial property like office buildings and hotels, struggling with vacancy during the pandemic, is up only 0.6%. It’s an improvement from last year, when commercial property dipped 1.4%.

In line with the rise in local home prices, on the other hand, residential real estate assessments are up 5.8%, the county announced. That’s above the 5.6% rise in residential assessments last year and the 4.3% increase the year before that.

“The increase in property values for this year shows the attractiveness of our Arlington community, even as our community continues to face challenges brought by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement. The county’s press release notes that new construction “contributed 1 percent of the 3.4 percent overall tax base growth.”

The overall 3.4% rise in property values will mean a corresponding rise in property taxes, the county’s biggest single source of revenue.

Arlington’s revenue sources from Fiscal Year 2021 (via Arlington County)

Rising property taxes should help bolster the county’s finances as budget season gets underway. In its press release, however, the county said that rising workforce costs, Covid challenges and other pressures “will continue to be a challenge in balancing the FY 2023 Budget.”

Schwartz is set to present his recommended budget to the County Board next month.

The full press release is below.

Arlington’s overall property tax base grew modestly from 2021 due to continued residential growth, while commercial values were relatively flat.

Measured growth in residential property values buoyed the tax base, but the County continues to face challenges in balancing the FY 2023 budget due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, the total assessed value of all residential and commercial property in Arlington increased 3.4 percent, compared to the 2.4 percent growth in 2021. Residential property values increased 5.8 percent overall, while commercial property values increased by 0.6 percent. Overall, new construction in the County contributed 1 percent of the 3.4 percent overall tax base growth.

“The increase in property values for this year shows the attractiveness of our Arlington community, even as our community continues to face challenges brought by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz.

Real estate taxes provide almost 60 percent of total County revenues. The County’s real estate tax base is spilt roughly equally between residential (54%) and commercial (46%) property assessments.

The slight increase in commercial property assessments demonstrates some growth in our business market and a rebound closer to pre-pandemic levels. After experiencing double-digit decreases in 2021, hotel property values increased by 5.6 percent as occupancy and room rates gradually recover from the initial impacts of the pandemic.

Apartment property values also saw an improvement, growing 5.3 percent from the previous year. Just under half of the growth was due to new construction, reflecting continued demand for residential development.

General commercial property (malls, retail stores, gas stations, commercial condos) values decreased, reflecting continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on retail stores and restaurants. Office property values also decreased due to rising vacancy rates and changing demand for office space.

The 5.8 percent increase in residential property values increased the average single-family property from $724,400 to $762,700. For CY 2022, approximately 73 percent of residential property owners saw their assessed value increase while the rest remained unchanged or declined. Residential properties include condominiums, townhouses and detached homes.

Notice of Assessments will be mailed to Arlington property owners beginning January 14. Assessment information will be available online Friday, Jan. 14, after 11 p.m.

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Morning Notes

Air Force Memorial on a snowy night (Flickr pool photo by Nathan Jones)

Local Closures Due to Winter Storm — In addition to Arlington Public Schools being closed due to today’s winter storm, Arlington County government has shifted to virtual operations, recreation centers and libraries are closed, and ART buses are operating on a severe service plan.

Federal Offices Are Closed, Too — From the U.S. Office of Personnel Management: “Federal offices in the DC area are CLOSED. Emergency and telework-ready employees must follow their agency’s policies.” [Twitter]

Metro on ‘Severe Snow Service Plan’ — “Metrobus will operate on a severe snow service plan [on] Monday, January 3. Bus service will be limited to major roads only. Delays and increased wait times are likely, and travel is strongly discouraged unless absolutely necessary.  Customers traveling when a severe snow service plan is in place should be aware that Metrobus may have to suspend all service if road and weather conditions worsen and travel becomes unsafe. Consider Metrorail as an alternative when possible.  No weather-related impacts to Metrorail are anticipated at this time.”  [WMATA]

ACFD Asks for Help With Hydrants — “Ahead of our first anticipated snowfall of 2022 (didn’t take long) we are asking for your help this season to keep fire hydrants clear. When seconds count, having a clear hydrant allows our firefighters to quickly get additional water to the scene.” [Twitter]

Big Response to NYE Chain Bridge Standoff — From Alan Henney, early Saturday morning: “Person threatening to jump from bridge being held by father. Lots of police, fire and EMS on scene, boats and Eagle helicopter. Negotiations in progress… update: The person threatening to jump is safely in custody. Bridge should be reopened to traffic.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Amazon Building New Tech Team at HQ2 — “Amazon.com Inc. is recruiting a new software and tech development team to its second headquarters to flesh out the technical backbone for its global delivery operations. The new team, dubbed Project Nazaré, will build systems to manage the financial processes for Amazon’s Global Engineering Service, which oversees its global network of fulfillment-related facilities, according to a job posting for the team’s senior product manager, set to be based in the company’s HQ2 campus in Arlington.” [Washington Business Journal]

Barcroft Apartment Purchase Complete — “Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners, a leading owner and developer of mixed-use properties and attainable housing in the DC metro area, today announced the acquisition of Barcroft Apartments, the 1,334-unit, garden style apartment complex located along Columbia Pike in Arlington, VA. Jair Lynch purchased the 60-acre site, including two commercial parcels with 34,000 square feet of retail from the DeLashmutt family who built the complex in 1939 and have owned it since.” [PRNewswire]

It’s 2022 — The first weekday of the new year will also be first snow day of the season. The storm, which started out as rain, will transition to snow, possibly mixed with sleet after 5 a.m. Low around 30. Any mixed precipitation should become all snow after 7 a.m. The snow could be heavy at times, before tapering off in the late morning to afternoon. High near 35, with a north wind 10 to 14 mph, and gusts as high as 28 mph. Snow and sleet accumulation of 3 to 7 inches is expected today. Sunrise at 7:27 a.m. and sunset at 4:58 p.m. Tomorrow it will be sunny, with a high near 37. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by Nathan Jones

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Morning Notes

The Rosslyn Christmas tree (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Koch Groups Moving to Ballston — “A group of nonprofits founded and supported in part by billionaire Charles Koch are moving to a combined 185K SF in the Ballston Exchange office complex owned by Jamestown, sources confirmed to Bisnow. Stand Together, Americans for Prosperity and the Charles Koch Institute, in addition to affiliated organizations, plan to occupy the space in 2023, a source familiar with the deal said.” [Bisnow]

Football and History in Halls Hill — “They were there — about a hundred mostly Black residents and former residents, gathered together on this sunny, crisp Thanksgiving morning — for the neighborhood’s annual Turkey Bowl… For more than fifty years, so-called ‘Old Heads’ in maroon jerseys and ‘Young Heads’ in yellow have squared off in this Halls Hill tradition — ‘since before Martin Luther King’s birthday was a holiday,’ says one longtime resident, Paul Terry, who has been living in Halls Hill since 1968. ‘It’s always fun.'” [DCist]

Parent Group Demands Schools Stay Open — “‘Students belong in school. Closing school buildings did nothing to reduce or mitigate spread the first time we tried it, and caused extensive harm that has yet to be remedied,’ said Arlington Parents for Education in a Dec. 21 statement. Prior to departing on a two-week holiday period, school-system leaders gave no inkling that a return to online-learning was anticipated, although Superintendent Francisco Durán did encourage families to behave responsibly over the holidays so schools could remain open in the new year.” [Sun Gazette]

Long-Time Local Judge Retires — “Having served the people of his hometown in judicial robes for a quarter-century, George Varoutsos was honored Dec. 17 as that tenure came to an end. Varoutsos – a judge of the 17th Judicial District Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (serving Arlington and Falls Church) since 1998 – was lauded by colleagues and civic leaders during a ceremony held at the Arlington County Justice Center.” [Sun Gazette]

No Candidates for Dem PR and Equity Roles — “The Arlington County Democratic Committee’s upcoming leadership election will feature three contested races, eight unopposed races and three where no one filed by the Dec. 10 deadline… Three elected positions – voter-support chair, press-and-PR chair and inclusion-and-equity chair – did not receive any candidates and will be filled later.” [Sun Gazette, Sun Gazette]

It’s Thursday — Today will be sunny, with a high near 41. Sunrise at 7:24 a.m. and sunset at 4:50 p.m. Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, will be partly sunny, with a high near 53, with rain possible overnight and on Christmas Day. [Weather.gov]

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The pandemic has moved office work to the home. As at least some of that work moves back to office buildings, the next frontier might be outdoors.

In Arlington, a recently-renovated 1980s office building in Courthouse offers a glimpse of a greener office future, with a year-round outdoor working space.

The new 16,000-square foot landscaped outdoor plaza at 2000 15th Street N. — the centerpiece of a $11 million renovation project — is the largest outdoor plaza of any office building in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, according to American Real Estate Partners (AREP).

“The renovated plaza, wired for connectivity, extends the office to the outdoors, offering all-season, year-round use as a work and meeting space, and provides a spectacular backdrop to the indoor conference and amenity spaces, creating an urban oasis,” said Paul Schulman, AREP’s Principal and Chief Operating Officer.

The group says the renovation will help tenants coax employees back to the office with new experiences and stronger health features, such as air filters and purifiers. Experts say such projects are the latest examples of how incorporating natural elements into built environments can improve employees’ health while promoting environmental stewardship.

COVID-19 has altered many people’s work and personal habits, and these changes are likely to stick around, according to a Post-Schar poll released this summer. Three-quarters of respondents said they’ll spend more time outside, two-thirds said they’d wear comfortable clothing more often, and nearly 70% said they’d wear a mask when sick.

People and offices are adapting to these behavioral changes, in part, by working outdoors — or by bringing elements of the outdoors inside — and focusing on wellness measures.

During the pandemic, experimental outdoor work spaces popped up in Crystal City and in Rosslyn’s Gateway Park.

Meanwhile, new office projects here boast natural elements — such as Amazon HQ2’s water- and mountain-inspired “Helix” building — and wellness, such as Skanska’s new office project near Quincy Park, which has been recognized for its focus on health and well-being.

The seeds for natural, “biophilic” design elements were planted decades ago, says Dr. Gregory Unruh, an expert on sustainable business strategy in George Mason University’s School of Integrative Studies. It took a pandemic and the right technology to get people to rethink their work environments and to see nature integrated into offices.

“There’s something about us having a connection with the world,” he said. “Before the conversation around ‘biophilia’ existed, there was scientific research that suggested if you give people windows with a view of nature, they tend to be more productive, happier and less sick.”

Other research demonstrated that, without outdoor air circulating in and with the synthetic materials in carpets, paints and cleaning supplies, indoor office spaces had poorer air quality than the outdoors, despite the gas-burning cars and other pollution sources outside.

COVID-19 connected these issues, Unruh says. Building owners outfitted indoor spaces with machines that regularly bring outdoor air inside while people spent more time outdoors.

Although employees and employers realized that remote work could be as productive as in-person work, they still recognized the need for interpersonal collaboration — a need he says the rise of outdoor working spaces will meet.

“These collaborative outdoor spaces are going to play a role,” Unruh said. “These initial experiments we see in Arlington are very encouraging, and I think they enhance the working life and community life of people.”

Integrating nature into workplaces could encourage environmental stewardship among more people, says Elenor Hodges, the Executive Director of EcoAction Arlington.

The biophilic elements at 2000 15th Street N. and other under-construction projects support the environment in addition to workers, she says. Additional trees improve stormwater management and green roofs keep the county cooler.

Particularly in urban areas, she said, strengthening one’s connection to nature is important for encouraging sustainable habits.

“People need to see nature in order to understand the importance of stewarding it,” she said.

She notes that the county-level conversations about biophilic design, still in their infancy, are pandemic-driven.

“We’ve seen at County Board meeting people raising these questions [about biophilia],” she said. “I don’t think that would have happened before the pandemic.”

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