Hunting and sterilizing deer and fencing off parks are options Arlington County could pursue to cull its reportedly oversized, and hungry, deer population.
Over the last two years, consultants estimated Arlington has a herd of whitetail deer numbering 290 and, in some areas, the concentration exceeded “healthy” levels.
These large herds are overgrazing the local forest understory and eating away the habitat that sustains birds, insects and bats, according to consultants, the Dept. of Parks and Recreation and some local naturalists.
Now, the parks department is investigating ways to cull the deer. Interested residents can attend a forum on Tuesday, July 11 at the Lubber Run Community Center to learn about management options and share their thoughts.
Through Thursday, July 13, residents can take an online survey to share their thoughts on the four lethal and non-lethal methods on the table:
- professional sharpshooting
- surgical sterilization of female deer
- public archery hunting
- fenced parks
“We want to be good stewards of Arlington County we’re trying to do the best that we can and this assessment is part of it,” county Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas said in a recent video. “We’re hoping that, through this, we can decide how we can best proceed. This is just the beginning of what promises to be a conversation with the public.”
In the feedback form, Arlington County says sharpshooting, with professionals using sound-suppressed rifles and lead-free bullets, is safe for the public and “the most effective and fastest method for controlling overabundant deer.”
The practice meets euthanasia criteria set by national veterinarian groups. Meat from sharpshooting is donated.
Right behind sharpshooting, in terms of efficacy, could be sterilization. The county says experimental research has shown that, four years after surgical sterilization, deer populations may be reduced to almost half their original size.
Both these would require state permission. Arlington could instead change its own codes to expand archery hunting areas. If it took this course, vetted hunters, using modern compound bows or crossbows, would cull deer.
The county acknowledges the efficacy of archery “is unlikely to be at the level necessary for plant and forest regeneration” on its own and may need to be combined with sharpshooting or sterilization.
Or, Arlington could simply build fences around entire parks — a method that avoids death and sterilization but may be costly and ineffective, the county says.
Fencing “can be expensive to build and maintain, displaces deer into adjacent communities, limits vegetation regrowth to within fence boundaries, and requires vigilance in keeping gates closed and a plan to remove deer should they enter Arlington Parks,” per the form.
Survey respondents are asked how much they support or disagree with the four methods. The county asks which goals it should prioritize in choosing a method, such as forest health, minimized deer suffering and safety.
In the video, Abugattas emphasizes that doing nothing is not an option. An adult deer eats 5-7 pounds of vegetation in a day, or about one ton in a year. After their first year, an adult can produce two fawns every year for up to 20 years.
Six months ago, the Arlington County Board adopted ranked-choice voting for the upcoming Democratic primary.
Since then, the Arlington elections office has been busy educating anyone who asks on the method, which only applies to candidates for County Board.
The Arlington branch of the NAACP, however, says the county needs to step up its outreach to ensure all voters are prepared when they cast early ballots or go to the polls on June 20.
ARLnow, for instance, has heard from some residents who are unsure or skeptical of how votes will be counted.
“We have directly heard a series of grave concerns from our community regarding the implementation of this significant change,” NAACP President Mike Hemminger said in a statement. “We will be monitoring this change with intense focus in the run up to and after the election to ensure that no one’s foundational right to vote becomes disenfranchised or impeded in Arlington County.”
Concern about outreach highlights the stakes of this trial run. Arlington is the first Virginia jurisdiction to test ranked-choice voting for the primary and one election official tells ARLnow that people outside the county are watching closely.
“It’s fair to say, without sounding dramatic, that the eyes of the Commonwealth are on Arlington and this ranked-choice voting process,” Arlington Electoral Board Secretary Scott McGeary says.
So far, interest in learning more about ranked-choice voting is strong, says Arlington Dept. of Voter Registration and Elections Director Gretchen Reinemeyer.
Her staff is working through an education plan it rolled out in April. Part of that is making presentations — at a clip of at least two presentations a week, and once three in one night — and helping community groups facilitate workshops.
“Rollout for ranked-choice voting has gone smoothly,” Reinemeyer says. “I would say that most voters understand the concept and are aware that the County Board race is using the voting method. A handful of voters are vocally unhappy. The most common question is ‘Do I have to rank all three?'”
The answer to that, McGeary says, is no. People can rank up to three candidates — the maximum county ballot machines can accommodate. Some recent endorsements have recommended how candidates should be ranked.
One key strategy was developing toolkits so that people and organizations could host information sessions and run mock elections, which Reinemeyer said has been an effective way to reach lots of people and explain how votes are counted.
“The idea of these toolkits is that anyone can take the toolkit and teach their friends, neighbors, community organizations about ranked choice voting,” Reinemeyer said. “We are seeing members of our community run with these toolkits.”
The county is also relying on materials the state produced. This includes two videos — one explaining how ranked-choice voting works and the other how votes are counted — as well as an FAQ page and flyers in Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.
One notable change, per a state video, is that if there are no clear winners, it could take up to seven days to apportion second- and third-choice votes to determine who actually won.
“I have no doubt we’ll be able to do the math properly and get the results as fast as possible,” McGeary said. “From a technical and counting standpoint, I’m confident we’ll be able to count and announce as soon as possible.”
Arlington County is looking to make a three-block stretch in Courthouse safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
Specifically, it is looking for ways to improve conditions along a three-block stretch of Wilson Blvd and Clarendon Blvd between N. Uhle Street and N. Adams Street.
The county says the overall project goal is to “create a safe and consistent travel experience for people walking, taking transit, biking, and driving through the Courthouse section of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor,” which has a lot of pedestrian, transit and micro-mobility activity.
Through this Sunday, the county is asking people to share their current experiences as road users and what upgrades matter to them.
When it comes to government priorities, safety is a top concern. The county says Clarendon and Wilson Blvd have seen a higher concentration of critical crashes in recent years.
They are included in a “High Injury Network,” a designation the county uses to prioritize adding transportation safety features to its least-safe roads. This is part of Arlington’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate fatal and severe-injury crashes by 2030.
Within the project’s boundaries, there was a pedestrian crash with severe injuries on Clarendon Blvd in 2015, per a dashboard of crashes with severe and fatal injuries. One block east of the intersection with N. Uhle Street, there was a fatal pedestrian crash in 2014.
Another aim is to fill a “missing link” in bicycling facilities. Clarendon and Wilson Blvd are identified as “primary bicycling corridors” in the county’s Master Transportation Plan, as is N. Veitch Street, which connects cyclists to Langston Blvd, the Custis Trail and the Arlington Blvd Trail.
The county says it aims to realize community visions for better walking, cycling and transit experiences in Courthouse with new curbs and ramps for people with disabilities and improved bus stops and facilities near the Courthouse Metro station.
To encourage (proper) use of shared e-bikes and scooters, the county will review and provide “adequate end of trip facilities.” That could look like the corrals it has installed elsewhere in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and in Crystal City and Pentagon City.
Whatever improvements are selected would link to upcoming road resurfacing work. The county previously incorporated small upgrades when it resurfaced Clarendon Blvd from Courthouse Road and N. Scott Street and from N. Garfield Street to N. Adams Street.
The improvements would also link to street upgrades developer Greystar is delivering via its under-construction Landmark development (2050 Wilson Blvd), set to wrap up this fall, and its redevelopment on the former Wendy’s site (2025 Clarendon Blvd).
Those projects will bring about:
- A “bike island” at the intersection of 15th Street N. and Clarendon Blvd, as well as more and wider protected and dedicated bike lanes
- Wider sidewalks
- Improving pedestrian crossings of Wilson Blvd and Clarendon Blvd
- Two new “floating” bus stops
- A pedestrian promenade along N. Uhle Street from Clarendon Blvd and 15th Street N.
- Relocated and newly installed traffic signals
Have you ever showed up to a date and realized you had been stood up?
The Arlington County Board nearly did yesterday (Thursday) during a hearing on the proposed property tax rate.
The county proposes a rate of $1.013 per $100 in assessed value. While flat over last year, the average Arlington homeowner would still see taxes go up $454, owing to rising residential property assessments and other fees.
“Madame Clerk, do we have any speakers this evening?” asked Board Chair Christian Dorsey.
“We do. We have one speaker,” said the clerk.
“Terrific,” he rejoined.
That speaker was Hamilton Humes, the commissioner of the Youth Ultimate League of Arlington, an ultimate frisbee league. Addressing the board in gear suggesting he had just been out slinging a disc — or would be soon — he expressed his thanks for the County Board’s work and approval for the fees levied to maintain local playing fields.
“We appreciate all the effort to provide playing fields,” said Humes. “I speak for all the youth athletic organizations to say that… The only issue, which is not in your purview, is the scheduling between Arlington Public Schools and the Dept. of Parks and Recreation, but you all know that.”
There was no mention of the property tax rate.
The Board took a break to wait for more speakers. Eventually, a man called in to ask why the real estate assessment on a church property he recently purchased along Route 50 had increased by more than 17% — compared to increases of 3.5.-5.5% in previous years.
He prefaced his brief comments by apologizing for possibly bringing this up in the wrong avenue, saying he had never done anything like this before. After he finished speaking he was informed that it was, in fact, the wrong venue for challenging property assessments.
“We have a no wrong door policy,” Dorsey assured him. “We’ll be sure to communicate with you via email about the exact route for [appealing the tax assessment]. We’re happy you joined us however you come to us.”
Last night’s meeting is a far cry from Missing Middle hearings last week, which saw north of 200 speakers, as well as yesteryear’s tax rate hearings. A hearing in 2010 drew 26 speakers, the most of any meeting dating back to 2008 with minutes available on the county website.
In these meetings, people often requested higher taxes to cover school spending or affordable housing, while others have advocated for lower tax rates or holding the current tax rate steady to provide relief to people on fixed incomes and small business owners. Those opposed to tax hikes would often also speak in favor of reducing county spending.
The number of speakers has since declined to seven, four and six speakers in 2020, 2021 and 2022, respectively — years that coincided with introspection and concern about the county’s pathways for citizen engagement, called the “Arlington Way.”
Meeting minutes showed about a half-dozen people who used to speak reliably against increases: In first place, with at least eight appearances, is former independent Congressional candidate Jim Hurysz; in second is former independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement, with at least seven.
While lacking in speakers passionate about taxes and county finances, the meeting had one memorable moment.
Arlington’s youngest-ever Sergeant-At-Arms — County Board member Katie Cristol’s son — banged the gavel to start the hearing at 7 p.m. As he continued banging the gavel, Cristol intervened.
“Okay, you don’t have to keep doing it,” she said.
He happily sat on Cristol’s lap, sipping juice until his father took him home. Board members continued chatting among themselves between the speakers and the adjournment at 8 p.m. sharp.
(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) After lockdowns, a fatal, apparent drug overdose, a racist threat of gun violence, and additional threats and gun-related incidents — all within the past few weeks — parents and teachers say they want more information from Arlington Public Schools.
But there’s a document floating around — outlining how School Board members should talk to the public, school staff, other board members and members of the media — that they say encourages the Board to be less transparent.
June Prakash, the president of Arlington’s teachers union, the Arlington Education Association, bashed the document as part of her remarks outlining steps APS can take to improve school safety.
“We need to tear up this ‘How We Work’ document from Board Docs,” she said in a School Board meeting on Thursday, garnering applause from people who attended the meeting.
It tells members to:
- Avoid conversations about workplace conditions with staff members without appropriate union representatives present.
- “Err on the side of vague” when talking to the community. Officials should refer them to previous public discussions where possible and if none exists, say they’ll bring the issue to the rest of the Board.
- Tell the Chair if they “are contemplating” responding to press inquiries and instead let the School & Community Relations staff advise them.
“The document was a discussion guide prepared by the Board Chair to advise Board members about responding to questions about topics that they don’t have full information on,” APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia told ARLnow. “The Board receives many questions about pending decisions or other operational topics that they have yet to be fully briefed on. The guidance meant that it is okay to say, ‘I don’t know and I will get back to you,’ versus a specific response each time.”
He added that the memo “is not and will not become policy,” and that community members have several ways to engage directly with School Board members, including member office hours.
Media inquiries are handled through dedicated APS staffers for efficiency’s sake, but this approach is reviewed annually, Bellavia noted.
Prakash, however, tells ARLnow that the AEA is disappointed in the document, while the APS watchdog group Arlington Parents for Education says these instructions will erode the trust parents have in their elected officials.
“How can you ethically say, ‘Don’t talk — or even listen — to staff members about working conditions? You need to visit the schools, you need to listen to talk to the students and the staff. When you start listening, they’ll start talking,” Prakash said Thursday.
Last year neighboring Alexandria’s public school system was roiled by a series of events that included a School Board policy — since revised — that discouraged members from talking to the media, and the superintendent advising members not to talk to the media about a fatal stabbing. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings abruptly resigned shortly thereafter.
During the Arlington School Board meeting, members discussed how the guidance in the document applied to collective bargaining discussions but not regular engagement with staff, according to Bellavia.
“There is no direction for the Board not to listen to staff, or any other members of the community,” he said. “In fact, the Board has affirmatively stated that they want to hear from staff. The Board Chair acknowledges that it was poorly worded in the handout.”
Arlington Parents for Education said in a statement that the memo “reflects a keen reluctance to engage in clear, honest and frank discussion with the APS community, including parents, teachers and administrators.”
“We urge the Board to commit itself to a greater level of candor in its dealings with all stakeholders, and to publicly disavow the guidance and the sentiment behind it, which implies that community members are problems to be managed and not stakeholders who the Board is elected to represent,” APE said.
Proposed Missing Middle zoning code changes are set to go before the Arlington County Board for a first look on Saturday.
The Board is slated to review a request to advertise public hearings on a proposal to allow the by-right construction of duplexes, three-unit townhouses and multi-family buildings with up to six or eight dwellings on lots of up to one acre in Arlington’s lowest-density zoning districts.
The proposal includes several options for regulating the number of so-called “expanded housing option uses” (EHOs) built per year, their density and size, and parking and tree canopy coverage.
If Board members approve this request to advertise (RTA), the Arlington County Planning Commission and the County Board will have two months to pick a slate of regulatory mechanisms before holding hearings and, potentially, adopting the proposal in March.
Ahead of the request to advertise, Arlington County warned that speaking times may be shortened on account of the intense public interest in the wide-ranging changes.
“If 75 or more speakers sign up to speak on one item, speaking times will be reduced to 2 minutes for all individuals and 3 minutes for all organizations,” the announcement said. “Speakers will be notified if speaking times change.”
In addition to possibly shortening speaking times, the county will prioritize hearing from different speakers this month and in March.
“When people sign up to speak at the March public hearing, the Clerk’s staff will identify those that did not speak in January and place them first in the speaking order, followed by anyone that spoke did speak at the January hearing,” county spokesman Ryan Hudson said. “Anyone that signs up to speak will have the opportunity to do so.”
Ahead of the meeting, Missing Middle proponent group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia said this RTA has been years in the making. It says development under this plan will be as “distributed [and] gradual,” but that the county has to start somewhere.
“To further improve affordability, Arlington policymakers can revisit regulations such as height limits in the future, but they must start by legalizing up to 8 units per lot with minimal regulatory burdens, which requires maximum flexibility in the RTA,” the group said in a statement to ARLnow.
(YIMBY stands for “Yes In My Backyard,” the pro-building counterpart to the build-elsewhere-if-at-all NIMBYs, who generally reject that label.)
YIMBYs of NoVA highlighted other organizations supporting the proposal, including the Arlington branch of the NAACP, the Sierra Club and Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE).
“Arlington faces a fundamental choice between growth and inclusion or stagnation and spiraling inequality,” the group said. “Continuing the status quo would be an unsustainable future for Arlingtonians, forcing more essential workers into long commutes and driving more young families to relocate, often to exurban sprawl.”
Arlingtonians for Upzoning Transparency (AFUT), which opposes the proposal, claims that the plan as written will:
- Make Arlington less diverse;
- Ignore the thoughtful views of experts and its own advisory groups;
- Are not needed to meet the Metropolitan Washington Area Council of Governments’ (COG) goals for housing in Arlington and lack the necessary analysis and planning to begin an iterative process;
- Leave behind low, moderate, and middle-income households — with a one bedroom unit in an 8-plex requiring a household income at 117% of AMI; and
- Are not integrated with our interconnected priorities for transportation, the environment, and job growth.
After contentious meetings this summer, the county hosted community conversations and information sessions to gather more feedback from residents and share more information about its proposal to allow “middle housing” types — ranging from duplexes to eight-plexes — in districts zoned for single-family homes.
The new draft document, released Monday night, allows the by-right construction of duplexes, three-unit townhouses and multifamily buildings with up to eight units on lots no larger than one acre in districts currently only zoned for single-family homes. (Lots greater than one acre would require the county’s site review process that incorporates public hearings.)
The new additions address the number of units allowed per lot, parking requirements, tree loss and the overall impact of Missing Middle on the pace of redevelopment, per a County Board letter to the Planning Commission describing the draft.
“The input from so many members of the Arlington community has shaped the options for text amendments that are now before you for consideration,” the Board letter says. “The Phase 3 Preliminary Policy Approaches and Considerations — options which this text could effectuate — reflect key areas of community feedback.”
Now, the Arlington County Board is set to decide whether density should be determined by the size of the lot, or if all lots should allow up to eight-unit buildings, as long as the building footprint does not exceed a certain level.
Missing Middle proponent Jane Green, representing YIMBYs for Northern Virginia, said the tiering proposal “is reasonable and codifies what would mostly happen based on the reality of building code restrictions.”
Another proponent, a longtime housing researcher Michael Spotts, said in a thread on Twitter that he prefers allowing eight-unit buildings everywhere, but the tiered option “seems flexible enough to enable MM while addressing concerns about massing on smaller lots.”
Regarding parking, there are new limits placed on the number of spots required per building that vary based on proximity to transit and whether the building is on a cul-de-sac.
The draft text would require at least .5 parking spaces per unit within a certain distance of transit, and at least one parking space per unit for dwellings on a cul-de-sac, regardless of proximity to transit.
For advocates, that’s too much parking. Spotts noted he thinks the parking standards are “a bit too high,” but, he added, “I like that they allow for administrative approval for off-street parking reductions if on-site parking is available. ”
This marks a departure from other municipalities that have already approved Missing Middle housing. Both Portland and Minneapolis removed parking minimums to encourage construction of these housing types.
As for trees, the draft proposes requiring at least one tree for every dwelling unit on a lot.
While Green and Spotts said the provision on trees highlights the county’s willingness to listen and change, Missing Middle opponents are not so sure.
“The new draft Missing Middle plan shows that the County Board is listening to its critics,” Green said. “It provides options that address tree canopy, the potential of limiting higher unit buildings to larger lots and adjusting parking requirements by proximity to transit.”
Anne Bodine, of Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, which opposes the proposal, said “it sounds good at first glance, but I’m not sure how it clicks with” state tree planting requirements.
Lastly, regarding the limits on the pace of development, staff have included “placeholder” language floating the idea of annual caps on development or neighborhood-based caps to prevent high concentrations of projects in some areas and little change in others.
That responds to concerns that neighborhoods with relatively less expensive homes and land values, such as Halls Hill, will see more development than more expensive neighborhoods further north.
But YIMBYs of NOVA is urging the county to adopt options providing “the fewest barriers to building new housing,” Green said.
“In particular, the County should reject options that allow caps on the number of units per year,” she said. “Addressing our housing crisis cannot wait.”
The parking garage over I-66 near Ballston is falling apart and needs repairs, says the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The garage sits above I-66 between N. Stafford and Quincy streets, next to Washington-Liberty High School. It serves as the primary parking area for the school and is the site of a seasonal flea market, called the Arlington Civitan Open Air Market.
VDOT has launched a public engagement period to brief locals on the garage’s deteriorating condition and the $2.7 million in planned improvements. Through next Monday, Nov. 7, people can provide comments online in a survey and by email or postal mail.
The Commonwealth seeks public input on repairing and rehabilitating the parking garage over I-66 at Washington-Liberty HS. And yes, galvanic cathodic protection is on the menu. https://t.co/dZQmSIbbWl pic.twitter.com/ZSWuwTpuN7
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) October 28, 2022
The state transportation department says it aims to minimize traffic disruptions and keep most parking spaces available during construction. VDOT expects to send out the project for bid next summer and to start work in the fall of 2023, with construction wrapping up in about six months.
“The purpose of this project is to address various conditions identified through routine inspections that are likely to deteriorate further if not repaired soon,” a VDOT staff member said in a presentation. “Delaying action could allow some of them to become critical requiring much more extensive, expensive and disruptive repairs down the road. The repairs will ensure the structure remains safe for all users for years to come.”
The garage was built in 1982, and since then, there has been no major work performed beyond routine maintenance, VDOT Communications Coordinator Mike Murphy tells ARLnow.
After 40 years of exposure to the elements — including cycles of freezing and thawing, anti-icing salts, and high temperatures — the garage’s columns and surfaces are worse for wear, according to the state transportation department’s presentation. The presenter said these signs of deterioration are typical of structures this age.
Some columns on the garage’s lower level need significant repairs to ensure its structural integrity, the presenter said. Leaking water has caused the reinforcing steel within the concrete to corrode, causing the concrete to break in flakes.
In one phase of the project, traffic lanes on I-66 will be shifted to the outside lane and the shoulder to allow work along the median, per the presentation. Lane closures are expected to be limited to single lanes.
“The majority of repair work occurs on the lower level along I-66, which is isolated from parking areas of the garage,” the VDOT staff member said. “There will be no changes to local traffic patterns or pedestrian flow on N. Quincy Street, N. Stafford Street, or 15th Street N.”
No impacts to the Custis Trail — which runs parallel to I-66 under the garage — are anticipated at this time, Murphy said.
(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) The Missing Middle housing debate fueled a tense confrontation and a spat over campaign financing during the Arlington County Board meeting Saturday.
Leading up to the meeting, proponents and opponents rallied outside of county government headquarters in Courthouse. Advocacy group leaders spoke to attendees and NBC 4 over the clang of construction on a new apartment building across the street.
The County Board is gearing up to consider whether to amend the zoning code to allow for buildings with two to eight units on lots that are currently zoned only for single-family detached homes. The Planning Commission and County Board could consider amendments to the proposal over the next few months.
Proponents say the move would give homebuyers more choices in more neighborhoods in a broader range of prices, and help undo the lasting impacts of historically racist zoning policies. Opponents counter these changes will actually displace lower-income residents, won’t decrease home prices, will reduce Arlington’s tree canopy and strain its infrastructure and schools.
In the County Board room this weekend, a resident interrupted the conclusion of an anti-Missing Middle speech to hand each County Board member a rolled-up, printed-out copy of a petition opposing the changes, which had more than 4,460 signatures as of publication.
“No, no — sir, sir, sir — excuse me, please, please, please don’t approach the Board,” said a distressed and frustrated sounding Board Chair Katie Cristol. “Please, can you please go to our Clerk? Sir? Thank you.”
Missing Middle advocate Charles Day then took the podium to say that the status quo — redevelopment of starter homes into larger, multi-million-dollar homes — increases competition for existing market-rate affordable housing, like the garden apartment on Columbia Pike he and his wife live in, thus displacing lower-income families.
“It’s not lost on us that because of lack of starter homes, couples like us are taking up an apartment that a lower-income family might need,” he said. “Unfortunately, most young people don’t have a lot of options… There’s no silver bullet to solve the housing crisis overnight but rents continue to rise and the starter home is becoming a thing of the past.”
After him, independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement, speaking via Zoom, took a shot at the Sun Gazette’s endorsement of her opponent, incumbent Matt de Ferranti. She argued that de Ferranti supports Missing Middle because he’s taking money from construction workers.
“About $50,000 of de Ferranti’s large donor intake is from people and organizations outside the county, mostly outside the state, including $13,500 from construction trade unions destined to benefit from the Missing Middle building boom,” she said. “If the donations from those with no vested interest in the county were subtracted haul, his receipts would shrink to $19,000 and the election would be more competitive.”
According to Virginia Public Access Project, de Ferranti has received roughly $15,000 this year from unions representing construction workers, around the same amount as he received from a single, billionaire-funded education nonprofit.
De Ferranti said he refuses donation from developers and that donations from unions do not change his policy stances.
“I don’t take a dime from developers. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I learned that one donation that was submitted online had an association with a developer — and I returned it,” de Ferranti said in response. “I have no promises to any of the unions, I merely seek to fight for working people. Let’s have a debate on policy, let’s have a debate on equity, let’s do it civilly, please.”
Arlington County is asking locals if they like Covid-era outdoor dining and want it to stay post-pandemic.
One central question in a recently-posted survey is where permanent outdoor dining areas would go. Top contenders appear to be streets, parking spaces and parking lots, according to the survey, which asks respondents if they’re comfortable ceding some parking to outdoor dining experiences.
This feedback form, available online through Friday, Oct. 28, is part of Arlington’s Future of Outdoor Dining Study — appropriately dubbed the “FOOD Study.” The study, first discussed last fall, is the latest step forward for the open-air eating movement, which gained traction during the pandemic.
“The FOOD Study will look at lessons learned from [temporary outdoor restaurant seating areas] and identify recommended amendments to the Zoning Ordinance and Outdoor Café Guidelines to strike an appropriate balance between commercial resiliency and public and community interest,” the webpage said.
In 2020, the Arlington County Board approved a temporary way for restaurants to circumvent the normally lengthy bureaucratic process for getting an outdoor dining permit. Many restaurants debuted these Temporary Outdoor Seating Areas (TOSAs) to make up for lost revenue due to social distancing requirements and diners skittish of indoor spaces, giving guests an arguably safer dining experience in the process.
Since then, the County Board has expanded and molded the ordinance to changing circumstances.
In December, the Board granted restaurant and bar owners the ability to set up TOSAs in common areas, such as plazas. When capacity restrictions were lifted in the spring of 2021, the County Board gave restaurants a way to request temporary certificates of occupancy for their TOSAs so they could operate the seating areas while operating at full capacity indoors.
Now, the county is examining whether it should allow local restaurants to expand their outdoor dining areas on both private and public property permanently, according to the county website.
For instance, the study will look at how much private parking space and public right-of-way cafés should take up, and whether those on private property could continue operating with administrative approval, while those operating in public spaces would need County Board approval.
“Given the public interest, outdoor cafés in public rights-of-way generally face stricter requirements,” the website says. “This approach helps ensure sidewalks continue to serve mobility needs of the public or recreation needs of those enjoying public spaces and aims to protect other community interests and avoid adverse impacts.”
Permanent outdoor dining areas may end up in competition with another in-demand amenity: private parking provided by the restaurant. Currently, county zoning ordinances require one parking space for every six seats in restaurants that are more than 1,000 feet from a Metro station.
A dent in parking might not impact the majority of TOSAs, many of which are concentrated in Metro-accessible areas, such as the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and in Crystal City and Pentagon City, per a map of existing TOSA locations.
But parking spaces have enough potential that the survey asks respondents what safety features would encourage them to eat in street parking zones or in a parking lot, such as traffic barriers, planters, reflective features and tents.
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.”