A few hundred parents say Arlington Public Schools should prioritize recreating pre-Covid normalcy in the classroom and evaluating the use of electronic devices.
Since schools reopened, APE has evolved into a School Board watchdog group, with priorities such as reversing pandemic-era learning loss. The group says the survey will inform what APE should advocate for, in addition to ending Covid protocols. The priorities don’t surprise School Board candidates and other education advocacy groups, but some groups say the survey does not speak for the parents they represent.
The survey netted a few hundred responses, about 70% of which reside in North Arlington and a little under 30% in South Arlington, with some respondents living outside the county. Most have elementary-aged children, followed by children in middle and high school. Some also indicated they had children in area private schools, which saw an influx in public school families when they returned for in-person school before APS.
“We recently surveyed hundreds of our parents to see how their students are doing in a post-pandemic world at APS and what they want APS and APE to focus on,” APE said in a statement. “Overwhelmingly, parents want a return to normalcy for their students — full resumption of field trips, in-person orientations, back-to-school events and other parental involvement opportunities in all APS buildings.”
“This also means returning to the pre-pandemic golden rule applicable to any illness: if you’re sick, stay home,” the group added.
APS is, in fact, returning to pre-Covid procedures for field trips and events, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said.
Masks became optional as of March 1, but students, visitors and teachers have some Covid protocols to follow.
Those with Covid-like symptoms must present a negative test or alternative diagnosis from a medical provider or isolate at home for five days before returning to class. Meanwhile, volunteers, like APS employees, must have proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing to volunteer, Bellavia said.
For APE, that’s not normal. But for Smart Restart APS, a parent group that started to push for protocols such as outdoor lunch and improved ventilation, said there is no return to life pre-2020.
“Smart Restart APS believes we are living in a new reality, and APS should continue to have appropriate, common-sense measures to adapt to living in this new reality, one which includes the ever-present possibility of COVID-19 infection spreading through our schools,” the group said in a statement. “We have to adapt — not ignore — the new situation.”
The spread of Covid still impacts families, whether a parent misses work or a child brings home Covid to a high-risk family member, the group continued.
“Everyone has a right to access a safe and healthy school environment,” the Smart Restart statement said. “COVID-19 in the air should not be a part of that.”
(Updated 09/30/22) As Arlington County continues collecting feedback on the preliminary concept plan to turn Langston Blvd into a “Green Main Street” over several decades, a few disagreements have emerged.
Some say county staff need to coordinate more with existing plans for two neighborhoods along Route 29, as well as the Missing Middle Housing Study. Others say the building heights should be taller — to allow for more affordable housing — or are too tall already.
Late in August, Arlington County released a draft plan showing what Langston Blvd, formerly Lee Highway, could look like if the county encouraged denser housing and more walkable, greener streets, and planned for future infrastructure, transportation and facility needs. Since then, the county posted an online feedback form and launched in-person feedback opportunities called Design Studio sessions and virtual neighborhood meetings.
More than 200 people have attended the three virtual community meetings and Design Studio sessions, and more than 200 people have responded to the feedback forms, Rachel LaPiana, a staff member with the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, tells ARLnow.
“We encourage the community to provide feedback on a set of specific questions about what is proposed in the PCP and attend one of the upcoming community events,” she said.
There are still a number of opportunities to learn more about Plan Langston Blvd and provide feedback, which staff will collect through early November. This Saturday, the Langston Boulevard Alliance will host a walking tour, during which county planners will be able to answer questions. Another tour will be held on Sunday, Oct. 16.
The Langston Boulevard Alliance is also hosting three Design Studio sessions, held from 12-2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7 and 21 and Nov. 4 at its office (4500 Langston Blvd). A fourth virtual community meeting discussing housing, stormwater and transportation will be held Tuesday, Oct. 11, from 7-9 p.m.
It’s too soon to summarize the substance of the feedback that has been collected, LaPiana said.
“Once the engagement period ends, we will compile and analyze all of the community feedback,” she said.
Differing takes have since surfaced during a debate for County Board candidates held by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, as well as during this month’s County Board meeting.
“I’ve largely heard muted feedback, and that is not always the case with plans,” said County Board member Matt de Ferranti, who’s running for re-election this November, during the debate earlier this month. “I have heard a number of compliments. I actually think the plan is in decent shape.”
But, he said, the plan challenges the county’s ability to advance multiple planning fronts simultaneously, including the controversial Missing Middle Housing initiative, in which the county is considering whether to allow townhouses, duplexes and other low-density housing types in residential areas zoned exclusively for single-family homes.
“We have to, at least in my view, do them separately, because we can give our community full chance for engagement,” he said.
Independent candidate Audrey Clement questioned why upzoning is needed at all, with the bevy of new housing units proposed in Plan Langston Blvd and envisioned in the approved Pentagon City Planning Study, which, like Plan Langston Blvd, calls for significant, mostly residential redevelopment and more designated green spaces.
“We have something called a siloed process, where we have three plans, each ignorant of each other, that will increase housing on a massive schedule. That doesn’t make sense,” Clement said. “These plans should not be developed in a vacuum, but that appears to be what is happening right now.”
East Falls Church homeowner Wells Harrell told the County Board this month that Plan Langston Blvd ought to examine why development has lagged in East Falls Church and Cherrydale, despite the fact both underwent planning efforts in 2011 and 1994, respectively.
“Metro today remains surrounded by parking lots at the East Falls Church Metro station, and so far, there’s only been one — one — residential development since the plan was adopted in 2011,” Harrell said. “We need to take stock of why we haven’t achieved the goals set forth in the Cherrydale and East Falls Church area plans… in order to not just learn from the lessons we had there, but to guide us going forward and make sure we achieve the visions for Langston Blvd.”
County planners previously told ARLnow that they need the County Board’s go-ahead to revisit the East Falls Church plan. Further discussion about encouraging development in the area could come after the Board adopts a final Plan Langston Blvd document.
For now, plan authors say a final Plan Langston Blvd draft will recommend whether the existing redevelopment roadmaps for East Falls Church and Cherrydale need to be reviewed and refined.
Building heights are another source of disagreement. Plan authors write that building heights were lowered in response to some critical community feedback. That criticism also suggested the changes would diminish the stock of market-rate affordable apartments, lower property values, change neighborhood character and push out small businesses.
County staff say that lower heights may satisfy some residents, but it will slow down redevelopment.
“Staff believes the proposed concept plan will offer incentives for redevelopment, however, the levels are only moderately different from what is allowed for by-right development and site plan projects,” county planner Natasha Alfonso-Ahmed said in a video introducing the plan. “This means that we may see more by-right development, and improvements such as streetscape enhancements may take longer to be realized or happen in a fragmented way.”
And the changes dismayed pro-density advocates, including Harrell and independent County Board candidate Adam Theo.
“I am disappointed to see that the most recent draft has scaled a lot of that back,” Theo said.
De Ferranti, meanwhile, says there is one neighborhood where the heights may still be “a touch too high” — the area near Spout Run Parkway, where plan calls for buildings 12-15 stories tall.
“That decision is one we have to engage as a community on,” he said.
In a crowded Bozman Government Center on Saturday morning, one person urged the Arlington County Board to move forward with Missing Middle housing while another critiqued the push for county-wide zoning changes.
But Board members had only to read the room — and the signs people brought — to see a sea of residents who were as divided into pro- and anti-Missing Middle camps that day as they were during a raucous meeting this June.
“We owe it to our larger community to let more people live here through smaller multiplexes, yes, but especially through denser affordable apartment housing. Doing otherwise is environmentally unsustainable — and it’s exclusionary,” said Susan English. “I’ve lived in a pleasant tear-down in a nice neighborhood for 40 years, but I hope when I leave my house will be replaced with at least a duplex.”
Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement, the only candidate opposed to the Missing Middle upzoning proposal, told those attending and watching the meeting that she would “debunk some myths about it.”
Reciting excerpts of a speech she has presented during the Arlington County Civic Federation and Chamber of Commerce candidate fora, Clement argued that Missing Middle will not add to the county’s stock of 3-bedroom, and will reduce Arlington’s tree canopy, and will not increase home-buying opportunities for people of color — though the latter is an assertion with which the local NAACP disagrees.
Clement suggested alternatives such as office-to-residential conversions.
Board Chair Katie Cristol broke through the whooping and hollering that followed Clement’s comments, saying, “Alright, thank you ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to continue hearing from neighbors.”
But she later thanked attendees for respecting the rules for addressing the Board, which include restrictions on how many people can speak on a given matter not otherwise on the Board’s agenda.
“I also just want to give a sincere thanks to all who’ve come who respected our one-speaker-per-topic rule, helping us hear from more neighbors,” she said.
During the June meeting, some attendees shouted at Cristol when she cut off another speaker for violating the rule. The Board allows one speaker per topic, with opposing views on the same topic considered two separate topics.
Booing, which followed a speech this summer by a member of pro-density group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, was also absent this time around. But there was plenty of applause — for every speaker, despite the range of topics, from the taxes nonprofits pay to climate change.
Resident Dima Hakura, who has spoken at length in meetings and with the Board about the Courthouse West General Land Use Plan, took the podium to urge the County Board to listen to its constituents, not “patronize us.” The room erupted in cheers after she finished her speech.
We need a leadership that builds consensus among us and unites us. A leadership that not only respects our opinions and values them, but also taps into them. One that considers our thoughts and makes constructive use of them to evolve the solutions possible… Interestingly, Arlington was always known for that, but somehow, somewhere we lost our way and we need to find it again.
… When I told people I was coming to speak before you today, the reaction was: “Why bother?” or, “It’s not going to make an iota of difference,” or, “Their mind is already made up. They have an agenda they want to push.” Regardless, I am hoping differently.
A temporary roundabout along Military Road has garnered strong feelings as a deadline for community feedback nears.
The pilot project at Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive launched in October, with bollards in place to direct traffic around the center, and has reduced speeds on all approaches, according to data the county recently released. Benefits to pedestrians are less clear, as vehicle rates were varied and there were small sample sizes for pedestrian crossings.
The data collected on the roundabout’s use will be considered, as well as community feedback — which is being collected through this coming Monday, June 6 — when the county decides in October whether to make the roundabout permanent or to configure an intersection with a stop light instead.
More than 100 comments flooded a Nextdoor post that outlined takeaways from a community meeting last month on the pilot.
“By my observation, all but one or two of the citizens present were opposed to the roundabout at the intersection of Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive,” one user wrote about a recent meeting on the roundabout. “The bottom line is that the County is dead set on ‘re-engineering’ that intersection. Returning the intersection to the way it was for 50+ years was not even contemplated, and it either will have a permanent roundabout or a three-way traffic signal.”
Another resident said “this roundabout is absolutely a solution looking for a problem.”
But other posters — especially those who use the roundabout as pedestrians and cyclists — expressed support, stating that the roundabout “is both more efficient and safer, for cars and for pedestrians.”
The Nelly Custis Drive intersection was identified in the county’s Vision Zero action plan as a location for improvements to increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. The roundabout is supposed to increase allow more vehicle traffic, shorten crossing distances for people walking through the intersection, provide predictable turning movements and reduce vehicle speeding.
“Our focus is meeting the project goals of increasing safe, accessible travel for people walking, biking, driving and taking transit through this intersection,” Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors said.
The Old Glebe Civic Association, which is located well to the north of the roundabout but along the commuter route of Military Road, has long fought against the pilot, saying the changes were unwarranted and there were no significant safety concerns at the intersection.
“Detractors contend that the new pattern has generated confusion and near-accidents, that it is difficult to navigate, and that the required merging of auto and cyclist traffic is particularly dangerous and difficult for cyclists… OGCA pledges continued opposition to the roundabout,” the association wrote in an April newsletter.
Prior to the pilot, Nelly Custis Drive met Military Road at the intersection in a T-shape, with a stop sign for traffic on northbound Military Road.
The OGCA previously said three crashes occurred over eight years, including two involving bicycles, out of the approximately 32 million vehicles that passed through the intersection during that period.
Per Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services data, about 11,000 vehicles pass through the intersection daily. In a presentation last summer, county staff said conversions to roundabouts reduce pedestrian crashes by 27%, while conversions from stop-controlled intersections reduce injury crashes by 82%.
Chess boards, interactive sculptures, ping pong tables and hammocks are just a few of the design elements residents can weigh in on for an outdoor arts space in Green Valley.
Arlington is collecting community feedback as part of the design process for the 2700 S. Nelson Street site, which formerly housed Inner Ear Recording Studios but could become a future outdoor “arts and maker space.”
The county’s second pop-up engagement event is set for tonight (Thursday) at New District Brewing, 2709 S. Oakland Street, from 6-8 p.m. to gather public input to “build a framework” for future uses of the site, according to the project website.
Residents can also take an online survey that is set to close at the end of Tuesday (May 31).
Arlington Cultural Affairs and Graham Projects, a public art and placemaking company, are overseeing the project at 2700 S. Nelson Street and its neighbor 2701 S. Nelson Street. After the end of the public consultation period, a plan for the site is set to be created this summer, while the original buildings are set to be demolished this fall.
The new site is expected to open in the summer of 2023, according to the project website.
Ideas the public can provide feedback on fall under several categories: rest, play, grow, color, design and programming. Some of the questions have a series of photos of design elements, and ask users to choose the top three that they like in the category. The survey also asks open-ended questions on programming and how the design could “celebrate the arts and industrial culture and history of the community.”
Funding for creating a new space is yet to be determined. Jessica Baxter, spokesperson for the county, said “the funding amount is dependent on future programming activities” and the money is set to come from the operating budget of Arlington Cultural Affairs and “other potential funding sources.”
Arlington County acquired the two parcels of land last year for $3.4 million. The outdoor space would be next to the county-owned Theatre on the Run venue and tie into a larger arts and industry district along Four Mile Run. This new district will run from west of S. Nelson Street to Walter Reed Drive, according to a vision outline published by the county’s Arts District Committee in 2017.
Local organizations such as the Green Valley Civic Association have criticized the county’s decision to tear down the recording studios. GVCA’s Vice President Robin Stombler said “losing a small, yet significant, arts-related business is antithetical to this vision” of an arts and industry district, in a letter to the county last June.
This proposed space will be near the recently renovated Jennie Dean Park and the Shirlington Dog Park, according to the 2018 Four Mile Run Valley Area Plan adopted by the county. That plan also called for “fostering the growth of arts uses in the future.”
The report by the Arts District Committee suggested that the new arts and industrial district should keep the “industrial tone” of the area, offer “a mix of entities,” such as galleries, woodworking and live music, along with creative street furniture and lighting to unify the area. It also suggested establishing a nonprofit to manage the district’s finances.
Arlington County doesn’t always get public engagement right — but officials say the county is doing better than it did a few years ago.
The pandemic has served as an impetus for accelerating changes already in progress, including a move away from exclusively in-person engagement to more virtual and hybrid community outreach options.
Mark Schwartz said one of his top priorities when he was named County Manager in 2016 was to enhance engagement and communications. This was on the heels of the completion of the county’s community facilities study, which looked at public facilities given a growing population; Schwartz said the group had challenges engaging residents.
“And since then, we’ve learned a lot about communicating and public engagement, especially over the last two years with Covid,” Schwartz said during an update to the County Board last week.
“And I will be the first to admit, I’ve admitted it here, we don’t always get it right,” he continued. “But we’ve come a long way in weaving not just the old style corporate communications but true engagement into our efforts as we develop and implement policies.”
Engaging the community
While the county developed a six-step guide to public engagement in 2018 for capital projects, it’s also applied to planning, policy-making and programs, said Bryna Helfer, an Assistant County Manager who oversees the Office of Communication and Public Engagement.
“One of the things that we still have to work on is getting those folks that are highly impacted but have really low awareness,” Helfer said. “We spend a lot of energy on people with high awareness and low impact and so really [we have to be] intentional.”
The level of public engagement intensifies with the size of a project, Helfer said. The higher the level of impact, positive or negative, the more engagement and outreach.
“We’re not showing up to do charrettes if we’re just painting the bench,” she said. “We’re really aligning the tools and strategies with the level of engagement and training all of us to use the right tools.”
The county has used roundtable discussions with civic associations and other organizations to inform them how to ease the groups’ pain points. After some of those conversations, the county created the Civic Association President Toolkit, which includes a county staffer sitting down with every new association’s president and reviewing a list of county resources.
The county also developed a multifamily complex directory to help engage those residents, which make up 60% of the county’s population, Director of Public Engagement Jerry Solomon said.
“That’s an example of a big win that helps us to that greater capacity building that we know our community needs,” she said.
Demographic dashboards give officials an idea on how to strategize and recognize gaps in participation, Solomon said. While planning engagement, they apply an equity lens, asking questions like: who benefits, who’s burdened and who’s missing?
Arlington’s community engagement ethos is commonly referred to as the “Arlington Way,” a vaguely defined term for the local ideal of an open conversation between county government and residents.
But the Arlington Way has taken some barbs over the years, as Arlington’s equity ideals clashed with the reality that effectively participating in the county’s decision-making processes often required hours of in-person engagement — nearly impossible for many shift workers, young parents and people struggling to make ends meet.
Last year the “Arlington Way” was a point of conversation at the Board after controversy over the start time of a north Arlington farmers market made the meeting run long, effectively shutting out participation from low-income residents there to speak about filthy conditions at the Serrano Apartments.
In 2020, community leaders from the Green Valley neighborhood criticized the county for not engaging the community before a temporary parking lot was built for WETA — relying instead on a legal ad published in the Washington Times as a primary form of public notice.
Earlier this year, a typo on a public hearing notice promoted the wrong date, adding to a continuing conversation by County Board members who have critiqued the engagement process.
And even online engagement has been critiqued for attracting a narrow set of interested parties rather than a broad swath of the public. Respondents to a recent survey about historic preservation, for instance, were overwhelmingly older, white homeowners.
Covid learning curve
Covid shifted public engagement to the virtual realm. The county started doing virtual walking tours for site visits and virtual public comment — and learned more about who participates in virtual meetings.
“Coming out of Covid, we think we will be able to do some in-person things, we’ll continue to use our virtual platforms — because the greatest thing has been people participating while watching their kid’s softball game — and that hybrid model where we come together with both,” Helfer said.
Arlington County will be studying a two-mile stretch of S. George Mason Drive, from Route 50 to the border with Fairfax County, to identify potential transportation improvements.
The study is happening now because the road is a solid candidate for grants that have applications due in the winter. But before they can apply, county staff need to examine current conditions and hear from locals about their biggest safety concerns, according to Leah Gerber, an county transportation planner.
She said one reason staff are optimistic about grant funding is because the upgrades would benefit residents of census tracts with high concentrations of ethnic minorities, or “equity emphasis areas,” according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Over the next two months, staff will analyze data such as transit ridership and traffic counts and develop concept plans for three segments of the road:
- North Segment — Arlington Blvd to Columbia Pike
- Middle Segment — Columbia Pike to S. Four Mile Run Drive
- South Segment — S. Four Mile Run Drive to county line
Staff will also develop 15% designs for the Columbia Pike-county line segment.
“The southern portion we feel will really be eligible for grant funding,” said Valerie Mosley, the bureau chief of Transportation Planning and Capital Project Management for Arlingtons Department of Environmental Services.
The study is slated for commission and County Board review this fall, in time for applications to go out this winter.
“We’re working on a fairly truncated timetable for this study and we wanted to start by asking about your experience,” public engagement coordinator Nate Graham said during a community kick-off meeting last week. “That feedback from the community will help us, along with data analysis, plan a study and identify solutions that can resolve those issues.”
A survey, open through Sunday, May 1, asks respondents how safe they feel walking, scooting, driving and biking the road. People can signal their preferred upgrades from options such as protected bike lanes, sheltered bus stops, bus-only lanes and widened sidewalks. Using an interactive map, respondents can pinpoint specific locations they say need attention.
What staff members know so far is that some residents have long requested safer pedestrian crossings through improvements such as flashing beacons. One oft-cited intersection is with 6th Street S., near the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where shrubbery and trees make it hard to see oncoming cars.
Some cyclists, meanwhile, have pointed out inconsistent bike infrastructure, with lanes that start and stop at random. Other residents say more parking enforcement is needed between Columbia Pike and S. Four Mile Run Drive, where large commercial trucks park despite being too wide for the parking spaces available.
(Updated at 10:35 a.m. on 04/07/22) After one year of community engagement, plans for the second phase of Amazon’s second headquarters in Pentagon City cleared the Planning Commission on Monday night.
The project now proceeds to the Arlington County Board, which is slated to review the plans during its meeting on Saturday, April 23.
The second phase, at the corner of S. Eads Street and 12th Street S., will develop a long-vacant block with 3.2 million square feet of office space and about 94,500 square feet of retail, according to county planner Peter Schulz.
This density will be spread across three 22-story, renewable-energy-powered office towers and Amazon’s signature building: a glassy, verdant, twisting structure dubbed “The Helix,” which it intends to open to the public twice a month.
The ground floor of one tower will have a 15,000-square foot public childcare facility accepting government subsidies as well as the permanent home for Arlington Community High School, with seats for 300 students.
The campus will also have one- to two-story retail pavilions, 2.75 acres of public open space and underground parking and loading.
Other public benefits include bike lanes on three of the four streets along the site — Army Navy Drive, S. Fern Street and S. Eads Street — and a $30 million contribution to the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund.
Amazon, which is currently leasing office space in Crystal City, is building its HQ2 in two phases. The first phase, Metropolitan Park, is at the corner of 13th Street. S and S. Eads Street and just south of the second phase, named PenPlace.
Construction on Met Park, comprised of two 22-story buildings and 2.5-acre open space, is underway and should be completed in 2023.
Last night, Planning Commissioners reviewed the changes Amazon made in response to community comments, considered how they were received by the Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) and addressed lingering concerns.
“There was a feeling that the project should be held to a very high standard, considering who the owner of the project is,” said Planning Commissioner Tenley Peterson of the SPRC process. “Such a successful, high-profile business like Amazon should provide a project that will both impress the community and be a standard future projects can be measured against.”
Amazon tweaked the façades and roofs of the office towers to increase their architectural variety and moved buildings around to accommodate protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and extra turn lanes for cars.
The company also added an outdoor stairway to create a direct connection to Army Navy Drive and added a 15-foot-wide walking, biking and scooting path running east-west.
A recent survey of Arlingtonians found a majority say the county needs to be more aggressive about preserving historic buildings, monuments and resources from demolition.
Engagement in the survey, administered in 2021, was three times higher than engagement in a similar survey distributed two years ago, before the loss last year of two historic homes — the Febrey-Lothrop House and the Victorian Fellows-McGrath House — to make room for new housing.
The tripling, however, did not result in a more diverse group of respondents. More than 80% of respondents were some combination of white, homeowners and 45 years old and up.
The most recent Historic Preservation feedback form response pool is somehow even more white and more homeowner-y than the last one. This seems indistinguishable from a CivFed meeting. pic.twitter.com/JI16BJqrlY
— Chris Slatt (@alongthepike) March 24, 2022
The survey is part of a county effort to update its master plan governing historic preservation, with a new focus on equity and inclusion, says Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Rachel LaPiana.
Adopted in and unchanged since 2006, the update — if adopted by the County Board by the end of 2022 — will direct the historic preservation priorities and programs for the next decade, she said.
Many respondents said the county should be highlighting century-old properties, historic neighborhoods, archaeological sites and resources connected to Arlington’s immigrant, African American and Native American communities. Some railed against the county and the plan for not preserving sites like the Febrey-Lothrop House, while a few said such teardowns are necessary to make room for more housing and affordable units.
The survey asked broad questions to understand what residents value, with questions like “what stories, traditions, places, buildings, and/or communities are important to you?”
But for some civically engaged Arlington residents, the demographics of respondents were more interesting. They say this survey yielded detailed feedback from passionate individuals but did not reveal how the broader community values historic preservation.
The problem, per Dave Schutz — a civically engaged resident and prolific ARLnow commenter — is how the survey is advertised and where. His oft-repeated remark about community engagement in Arlington: “You ask twelve guys in Speedos whether we should build [the Long Bridge Aquatics Center], you will get a twelve to zip vote yes.”
Schutz suggested the county keep track of how respondents hear of the survey, so they know whose perspectives are being captured.
“I might require that surveys… contain an identifier so that the people tabulating results could see which ones had been filled out by people who were notified through the, say, Arlington Historical Society website and which by people notified through the ‘Engulf and Destroy Developers Mwa-ha-ha website,’ the County Board website — and if the opinion tendencies were wildly different, flag it for the decision makers that that was so.”
Joan Fitzgerald, a local resident who works in surveying populations, says county survey questions are often worded to confirm the biases of the survey writers, while the questions can be jargon-dense.
“County survey questions are often confusing, and participants often need a strong background in the topic to even understand what’s being asked,” said Fitzgerald, who sits on the development oversight committee for the Ashton Heights Civic Association.
Locals can learn more about the planned bridge work next Tuesday evening during a virtual meeting hosted by VDOT, which is managing the project.
The bridge connects the southbound I-395 collector-distributor lanes and southbound Shirlington Road to N. Quaker Lane at the I-395 Exit 6 interchange.
First constructed in 1973, the bridge needs upgrades to improve safety for drivers and to extend its usable lifespan, says VDOT. Today, the bridge is crossed by about 7,400 vehicles daily.
According to the project webpage, VDOT will:
- Resurface the concrete bridge deck and closing deck joints
- Repair concrete piers and abutments
- Repair and repaint steel beams
- Add protective concrete barriers adjacent to piers
- Replace bearings
- Upgrade guardrails adjacent to the bridge
The $4.3-million project will be financed with federal and state funding, including State of Good Repair funds used for bridges.
Next Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 7 p.m. VDOT staff will make a short presentation and then answer questions from the public for an hour. Project materials, which are not yet available, will be posted on the meeting webpage before the meeting starts, the department says.
Through Friday, March 25, VDOT will accept feedback via email and U.S. mail, addressed to Vicente Valeza, Jr., P.E., Virginia Department of Transportation, 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.
But two yet-undeveloped buildings appear to be limiting plans for some transportation and open space community benefits associated with the project.
JBG Smith proposes replacing the one-story retail building at 2250 Crystal Drive — home to Jaleo until September — and the aging 11-story “Crystal Plaza 5” office building at 223 23rd Street S. with two, 30-story apartment towers:
- A “West Tower” at 223 23rd Street S. that would be 309 feet tall and have 613 dwelling units, 4,379 square feet of retail and 184 parking spaces
- An “East Tower” at 2250 Crystal Drive that would be 304 feet tall, and have 827 dwelling units, 13,059 square feet of retail and 249 total parking spaces
Most of the buildings on the block, dubbed “Block M” in the 2010 Crystal City Sector Plan, are owned by JBG Smith: the apartments 220 20th Street S. and Crystal Plaza 6 and the offices and retail at 2200 and 2100 Crystal Drive.
Once approved and constructed, the development would make the block 80% residential. On the same block, JBG Smith is replacing the Crystal Plaza 1 office building with two apartment towers, 2000 and 2001 S. Bell Street.
As part of the project, JBG Smith is responsible for providing two open spaces and building a new S. Clark-Bell Street to improve pedestrian, car and transit circulation near Route 1. But the developer has to work around Crystal Plaza 6, which it owns, and the Crystal Plaza Apartments, owned by Dweck Properties.
JBG Smith proposes putting the new S. Clark-Bell Street west of these buildings, which could create future transit connectivity challenges, county planner Michael Cullen said in a staff presentation last month.
“While much of the vision relies on the redevelopment of the Crystal Plaza Apartments and the Crystal Plaza 6 site at 2221 Clark Street S., the proposed site plan project will be establishing critical alignments for future entry and exit points that will impact the feasibility of achieving the ultimate roadway alignment,” he said.
An alley between the two towers that JBG Smith is proposing will be nothing but a dead end unless the Crystal Plaza Apartments are redeveloped, according to the county.
Until JBG Smith redevelops Crystal Plaza 6, the developer says it can only build an interim, 8,670-square foot park on the site’s southwest corner — not the 13,000-square foot park envisioned in the 2010 Crystal City Sector Plan.
That is likely more than a decade out. For now, Crystal Plaza 6 is home to furnished apartments that were previously one of the two U.S. locations of WeLive, WeWork’s experiment in communal living. Management changed hands after WeWork closed its Crystal City coworking space in January 2021.