Update at 5:00 p.m. — A copy of the lawsuit can be downloaded here.
Nova Armory claims that opponents “conspired to destroy the business, harassed the owner and landlord and mailed death threats,” reports the Washington Post. The business is suing the 64 people in Richmond Circuit Court, seeking $2.1 million for “lost revenue and damages.”
The lawsuit makes good on threats the store made in March.
“The actions of these local crazies against our business is approaching the level of ‘tortious interference,'” the store said in a press release at the time.
Among those reportedly being sued are the seven state lawmakers who signed a letter of opposition to the store’s landlord, plus County Board member Christian Dorsey and School Board member Barbara Kanninen.
“We’ve told our lawyers to concentrate on any actions in which we are deprived of our civil liberties by these so-called public servants — they’ll regret any abuse of their authority,” the March press release said.
The Lyon Park Citizens Association tells ARLnow.com that neither it nor its attorney is aware of any legal action against the civic association, which held meetings and votes in response to residents’ concerns about the store.
This morning, before news of the lawsuit was confirmed, John Goldener, president of the civic association, called any such action “a flagrant abuse of the legal system.”
“Our focus is and has always been communication and community,” Goldener said. “If Mr. Pratte’s focus, however, is on generating frivolous lawsuits to frighten residents and artificial controversy to drive sales, then we have grossly misjudged his intentions and stated commitment to become a part of our community.”
On Saturday, March 26, 16-year-old Lauren Pratte took part in the grand opening of her new retail gun store, NOVA Armory, on Pershing Drive in the Lyon Park neighborhood.
The public turned out in big numbers to check out the inventory in Pratte’s store. Officials from the National Rifle Association, headquartered in Fairfax County, and the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun organization, also showed up to celebrate the store’s opening.
The popularity of guns in the United States has never been stronger. More Americans own guns today than ever before. The strong demand for guns is excellent news for gun retailers like Pratte. Black Friday 2015 was the single biggest gun-purchasing day ever in U.S. history, with more than 185,000 background checks processed by the FBI.
Although only 16, Pratte had long considered the idea of owning her own business and controlling how it is run. Pratte chose to open a gun store largely due to her father’s experience as a gun store owner.
“When I brought up the idea to my dad, he was really supportive and he was all for it, willing to help me open this and run it. I’m very excited about the future for this,” Pratte said in an interview with ARLnow.
At the grand opening, Pratte stood near the front door, inviting people to check out the store’s inventory. The handguns on display cost anywhere from $249 to $999, while many of the shotguns, rifles and other firearms have much higher price tags. When she wasn’t greeting people at the door, Pratte was working behind the store’s counter answering questions about the shop’s merchandise.
Because she is only 16, Dennis Pratte, Lauren’s father, holds the federal firearms sales license for the store and applied for and signed the store’s certificate of occupancy. In an interview with the Washington Post, Dennis Pratte said NOVA Armory is “a family owned and operated business — and more specifically a female, minority-owned business.” Dennis Pratte’s wife, Yong OK Pratte, is listed on paperwork as an officer for one of Pratte’s previous gun businesses.
Dennis Pratte told ARLnow that Lauren, a junior in high school, wants to go to law school and eventually become a corporate attorney. “What a better way to learn about business than actually start a business,” Dennis Pratte said at the store’s grand opening. “From day one, she’s filed all the paperwork, and I signed it. That’s what we thought would be a great education for her.”
Lauren emphasized she will never be working at the store by herself. She will always have her father or another licensed gun seller with her when she is working at the store.
The gun store, the first in Arlington aside from a pawn shop at the corner of Lee Highway and Kirkwood Road that sells guns, has generated controversy over the past month as nearby residents and local politicians expressed concerns about a gun retailer opening in the neighborhood.
On March 2, state lawmakers who represent Arlington, sent a letter to the landlord who is leasing the space to NOVA Armory expressing their concerns about the gun store. “We strongly encourage you to reconsider your decision to grant a lease to NOVA Armory,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
“It’s not appropriate for people, elected officials specifically, to treat legal business owners as they did,” Dennis Pratte said in the interview.
Buyers Found for Market Common — A pair of buyers has reportedly been found for the Market Common mixed-use development in Clarendon. Regency Centers and AvalonBay are said to be partnering to buy the shopping center and apartment complex for $410 million. [GlobeSt.com]
Lyon Park Gun Store Opens — After a month of controversy, Nova Armory opened its doors on Saturday, with dozens of gun enthusiasts showing up to support the store. In a rally nearby, local lawmakers urged residents to continue the fight against the store, but said that due to Virginia law there was nothing else they could legally do to prevent the shop from opening. [Washington Post]
Teen Employment Expo Scheduled — Teens seeking summer jobs and employers seeking seasonal help will be meeting next month at Arlington’s 2016 Teen Summer Expo. The expo, on April 23 at Wakefield High School, is expected to attract some 1,200 teens looking for summer jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities. [Arlington County]
Arlington Tech Event Tomorrow — There’s one day left before ARLnow.com’s Arlington Tech discussion and networking event. The event is taking place starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Highline RxR (2010 Crystal Drive) in Crystal City. Food and a drink will be provided. [Eventbrite]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
The new gun store in Lyon Park is planning a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning. At the same time, opponents of the store will be holding some counter-programming: a “community celebration” in the park.
The grand opening for Nova Armory is scheduled for 9 a.m., at the store on 2300 N. Pershing Drive. Among those scheduled to be in attendance are Del. Rich Anderson (R-Prince William), Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave and “distinguished members” of the National Rifle Association.
The event will feature a ribbon cutting ceremony, some free Nova Armory schwag, a “gun coupon give-away,” and free coffee and pastries, according to the store’s website.
The anti-gun store group Act4LyonPark, meanwhile, is planning to host a number of local lawmakers during their “family-focused event,” from 9-10:30 a.m. in Lyon Park (414 N. Fillmore Street).
Scheduled speakers at the event include a trio of Democratic state lawmakers who represent Arlington — Sen. Barbara Favola, Del. Alfonso Lopez and Del. Mark Levine — along with Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington.
The Lyon Park event will also feature children’s activities, refreshments and “ways to stay involved.” From an Act4LyonPark press release:
We are gathering in our community park to demonstrate what Lyon Park, Ashton Heights, and Arlington are all about. We are civic-minded, community-oriented, and family-focused and we choose to live and work in a region and county that is safe, friendly, and fun. This is a celebration of our home.
“As members of the community, we have the right to protect the well-being of our families and our recently revitalized business area,” says a member of Act4LyonPark. “A gun dealership close to schools, parks and residential homes does not add any value to our community. Our issue is not with the 2nd Amendment. If people choose to own guns, that’s their business. When people start carrying guns around our homes and children, that’s our business.”
Washington Blvd Trail Design Approved — The Penrose Neighborhood Association voted to endorse a new design for Phase II of the county’s Washington Blvd Trail project. The trail was originally supposed to be built a few years ago, but residents objected to the loss of trees the trail’s path would have necessitated. [Greater Greater Washington]
Anti-Gun Store Car Towed — Opponents of the planned Lyon Park gun store say the store’s landlord ordered a car towed from the parking lot because it was covered in anti-gun store literature. Despite being covered in the articles, which were held in place by colorful magnets, the car actually belonged to one of the building’s tenants and wasn’t parked illegally, says the group Act4LyonPark. [Facebook]
Female Firefighters in Arlington — In 1974, Judith Livers became the first paid, full-time municipal firefighter in the United States when she took a job with the Arlington County Fire Department. On Friday, a graduation ceremony was held for the county’s latest firefighting recruit class. Continuing Livers’ legacy, four of the 14-member class are female. Nationally, only about 4 percent of firefighters are women, while 9 percent of Arlington’s firefighters are female. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Police Seek Witness in Pentagon City Investigation — Arlington County Police are trying to find a witness who rendered aid to an injured man found face down in the street in Pentagon City. The incident happened around 9:30 p.m. on February 25, on the 1200 block of S. Eads Street. The 65-year-old man remains in critical but stable condition. [Arlington County]
Group Forms to Oppose Gun Store — Updated at 11:05 a.m. — A group called Act4LyonPark has formed to oppose NOVA Armory, the gun store that’s planning to open on March 26 at 2300 N. Pershing Drive. So far, Act4LyonPark has raised $6,300 to support its activities. The group says that in a recent vote, 88 percent of residents who responded voted for the Lyon Park Citizens Association to take an official stance against the gun shop.
Board to Consider Relaxed Historic Rules for Schools — The Arlington County Board is expected to vote Saturday on a proposal to make it easier for Arlington Public Schools to make changes to schools within local historic districts. The proposal would remove schools from the oversight of the county’s rigid Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. Facing a school capacity crunch, APS says going through HALRB adds unnecessary delays and costs to projects. [InsideNova]
One Person Filed 6,500 Noise Complaints Against DCA — A single individual is responsible for 6,500 of the 8,670 noise complaints filed against Reagan National Airport last year, according to the airports authority. [WTOP]
Chamber Savors Hotel Tax Victory — With Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge reinstated, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce is celebrating a long-awaited legislative victory. “Reinstating Arlington’s [Transient Occupancy Tax] was the Chamber’s top priority for the 2016 legislative session, with the funds generated by the additional TOT providing much needed support to ensure that Arlington remains competitive in attracting leisure and business travel,” said Chamber president and CEO Kate Roche. [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]
NOVA Armory, the controversial planned gun store in Lyon Park, says it will hold a grand opening at 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 26.
The store, at 2300 N. Pershing Drive, says it has all applicable permits needed to open. The grand opening will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony with “several VIPs,” the store’s website says.
The Lyon Park Citizens Association, however, is still discussing the store and has planned a membership vote on whether the association should take an official stance on NOVA Armory. It’s unclear what stance the association would take, though many residents have expressed concerns about the store and its proximity to a nearby preschool.
John Goldener, president of the civic association, confirmed the vote was to take place at some point this week. It comes after NOVA Armory, in a press release issued Friday, threatened to sue opponents and “local crazies.”
“The Association will not… respond favorably to any threats to our residents or to free speech in our meetings, our online forums, or on individual members’ social media pages, as appeared in NOVA Armory’s own March 4 press release to this and other media outlets,” Goldener said Monday. “We assume that the business owner is a proud and responsible gun owner, as are many residents of Lyon Park and members of the LPCA. He should understand better than most that the Constitution is not a buffet, and your cannot infringe upon individuals’ First Amendment rights in order to defend those in the Second.”
“We remain wholly committed to productive and constructive dialogue on this any any other issue of interest or concern to our residents,” Goldener added.
On Friday NOVA Armory said on its website — in a post that has since been removed — that is cancelled a planned private meeting with the citizens association and would only meet with residents at the store. Since then, the stance of NOVA Armory’s owner appears to have softened a bit.
“Dennis Pratte and I have been in touch today, and we are working together to find a new time for him to meet with the Association,” Goldener told ARLnow.com Tuesday.
Pratte, meanwhile says his business is legal and wants Lyon Park residents to stop by the store to clear up “misinformation floating around the internet” before voting.
“NOVA Armory’s application for zoning was approved and all the inspections were passed by the county,” Pratte wrote. “The business received an occupancy permit. And, every inspector, and every law enforcement official that has visited the shop has left confident knowing that they have met all the requirements to operate this business, and to operate it safely from this location. So, before the committee votes, I would hope they take this information into account, or at least stop by the business before casting their vote so they can make an informed decision.”
NOVA Armory’s plan to open this month at 2300 N. Pershing Drive has raised the ire of many residents and, in turn, has attracted scrutiny from elected officials. A petition against the store now has more than 3,000 signatures. On Wednesday, seven Democratic state lawmakers who represent Arlington sent a letter to the store’s landlord.
“We strongly encourage you to reconsider your decision to grant a lease to NOVA Armory,” the letter concludes.
The gun shop’s press release — which states the “owner-in-training” of the store is a 16-year-old girl named Lauren Pratte — first targets those lawmakers.
“We’ve given up on fact-checking all their false statements,” Pratte is quoted as saying. “Instead we’ve told our lawyers to concentrate on any actions in which we are deprived of our civil liberties by these so-called public servants — they’ll regret any abuse of their authority.”
The press release then targets local residents who have posted to Facebook, made calls or otherwise spoken out online against the store.
Besides concerns with civil rights, Pratte said their team of attorneys are keeping a watchful eye on local officials and local activists who are trying to harm the business, particularly the relationship between NOVA Armory and its landlord.
“As if infringing on my Second Amendment rights is not bad enough, the actions of these local crazies against our business is approaching the level of “tortious interference.” Pratte said she and the landlord have received threats, including calls for a boycott of unrelated business tenants of the landlord.
Pratte explained how the culprits could find themselves libel for any injury she or the landlord suffers, “If you’ve posted on Facebook, agitated people on the local community’s online forum, made harassing phone calls, or sent angry emails designed to interfere with our business relationship with our landlord, you are on my attorneys’ list. So if you don’t see NOVA Armory open for business, you better worry about seeing us in court.”
Pratte is pictured in the press release holding a shotgun. Her father is Dennis Pratte, a gun dealer who reportedly owned the now-closed My Gun Factory in Falls Church.
The full press release is below.
Gun Shop Fires Back at Critics
NOVA Armory Issues Failing Grades to Arlington Politicians; Warns Local Agitators of Lawsuit
March 4, 2016, ARLINGTON, VA — The gun shop planning to open in Arlington, Virginia this month has responded to a letter local politicians sent to its landlord. In response, NOVA Armory has issued report cards with failing grades for each of the seven elected officials who signed the letter to the landlord. Additionally, NOVA Armory warned the politicians and the local anti-Second Amendment activists they could find themselves in court if the gun shop fails to open.
On March 2, NOVA Armory’s landlord received the letter signed by various Virginia office-holders representing Arlington. They were Senator Barbara Favola, Senator Janet Howell, Senator Adam Ebbin, Delegate Patrick Hope, Delegate Alfonso Lopez, Delegate Richard Sullivan, and Delegate Mark Levine.
“The authors released the letter publicly on the official letterhead of the Virginia legislature, yet their letter contained a typo, it confused our gun shop with an unrelated business, and it relied on numerous false premises,” explained NOVA Armory’s owner-in training, Lauren Pratte. “When I see such a poorly written letter in the business world, I take my business elsewhere,” Pratte continued. “Unfortunately tax payers don’t have that choice, and we must suffer under this sort of incompetence.”
In the letter, printed on official letterhead of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the politicians said they “strongly urge” the landlord to cancel the lease with NOVA Armory. The letter made its arguments by claiming a disconnect between the “nature” of NOVA’s business with the “character” of the neighborhood. The letter also suggested NOVA Armory would give rise to a “black market” and “drug dealing” because of its accessibility to residents of the District of Columbia.
“These wild statements sound like what some call dog whistle politics. If these politicians are in the market for dog whistles, they need to know we don’t deal in that garbage,” said Pratte.
Several authors of the letter attended a private meeting for residents of Lyon Park on February 27. A person who attended that meeting alleged that Arlington County Police Chief Jay Farr said the presence of a gun shop does not increase crime.
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Members of the media were denied access to a Lyon Park community meeting about the controversial plan to open a gun shop in the neighborhood Sunday night.
The meeting was attended by County Board Chair Libby Garvey, Vice Chair Jay Fisette, County Manager Mark Schwartz, Police Chief Jay Farr and Del. Patrick Hope. The owner of the planned gun store at 2300 N. Pershing Drive, Nova Armory, was reportedly out of town and unable to attend.
An ARLnow.com reporter who tried to attend the event, at the privately-owned Lyon Park Community Center, was not allowed in the building. A community member shut the door when the reporter tried to ask about the prohibition on media. Those working the door at the event checked IDs and only allowed Lyon Park and Ashton Heights residents inside.
A short time after seeking access, the reporter and almost a dozen other non-community members — an Arlington resident who runs an anti-gun-store Facebook page and several members of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League — were removed from the Lyon Park property by police upon a neighborhood representative’s request.
Initially, on Friday, the meeting was advertised as a public County Board meeting, as required by law when a majority of the County Board is planning to attend. On Saturday, that public notice was rescinded.
“Notice is hearby given that the County Board of Arlington County, Virginia, will NOT meet on Sunday, February 28, 2016 in the Lyon Park Community Center, 414 North Fillmore Street., at 7:00 P.M. or as soon thereafter for the purpose of attending a Lyon Park Community meeting to discuss NOVA Armory’s plans to open a firearms store at 2300 Pershing Dr,” the public notice read.
ARLnow.com reached out to the elected officials who attended the meeting, asking about what was discussed, but thus far none has responded on the record. On Friday, Arlington County issued a statement saying that due to state law, the county “does not have the authority to prohibit these sales or businesses.”
(Also in attendance at the meeting: Lyon Park resident, Planning Commission member and Democratic County Board challenger Erik Gutshall, who has said he’s “deeply concerned” with plans for the store.)
John Goldener, president of the Lyon Park Citizens Association, spoke to ARLnow.com after the meeting, which ran from 7-9 p.m. and was attended by about 140 residents, he said.
Goldener declined to provide details about the discussion, saying that the civic association purposely excluded outsiders because the meeting was intended to be a safe space for community members to discuss the gun store.
“All I can tell you is what the meeting was about,” Goldener said. “This was an opportunity for people in the community to have a safe, civil discussion.”
“The civic association’s role here is to be a facilitator,” Goldener added. “We don’t take a stance on this particular issue.”
(Updated on 2/29/16) A petition against a planned gun store in Lyon Park has already picked up more than 1,400 supporters.
The petition, launched after ARLnow.com first reported about plans for the NOVA Armory store at 2300 N. Pershing Drive, calls for the store and its landlord to cancel plans for the store opening.
“This small strip mall along Pershing Drive and Route 50 is in a residential location and literally next door to a day care/after-care school, the Merit School of Arlington,” the petition states. “It is also within blocks of Long Branch Elementary, and less than a mile from Key Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Middle School.”
In an era of ever-increasing gun violence, it is unconscionable to locate a gun shop anywhere in the vicinity of schools, both private and public, with young children in close proximity. The fear of armed intruders in schools is extremely prevalent in our schools, and placing a shop that sells guns and/or ammunition within immediate distance of schools sends a confusing signal to students and could certainly spark fears of access to them and their families.
We call on the owner of the building and the gun shop to exercise concern for the community, and most particularly its youngest and most vulnerable residents, and cease any action that would allow a gun shop to occupy this space.
“If the shop was not right for Cherrydale, what makes it right for Lyon Park?” the petition asks.
The County Board has sent emails to concerned residents explaining that the county cannot legally prevent the gun store from opening. A county staff comment on the store’s zoning application notes that the county must treat the store “as any other retail shop.”
In just over a day, the controversy over the shop has even entered the world of local partisan politics.
A local business across the street from the store, Smitten Boutique Salon, is encouraging customers to sign the petition against it. In response, the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans sent an email decrying “evil corporate political speech.”
“How dare a local business use corporate resources to attempt to subvert our political and public policy process,” wrote AFCYR Chairman Emeritus Matthew Hurtt. “Democrats claim to want to protect our fragile democracy, and — if so — they must condemn this egregious act without hesitation.”
NOVA Armory says it is planning to open in March.
The County Board allocated $1.4 million for the community improvement projects, which were selected by the citizen-led Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. The committee makes such funding recommendations to the Board twice a year.
Three of the projects were largely uncontroversial — a neighborhood sign for Shirlington, a beautification project for the historic Calloway United Methodist Church cemetery, and street improvements for the 4800 block of 9th Street S. The biggest recommendation, a $800,000 improvement project for Nelly Custis Park (701 24th Street S.), picked up some outspoken critics in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.
The project would add new plantings, an ADA accessible walkway, improved storm water management and a small play area for school-aged children next to an existing playground. While supporters said most of the community was in favor of the project, a few critics launched a campaign against it, objecting mostly to the playground. Other concerns included the addition of extra pavement from the ADA pathway and “tricycle loop.”
“We heard a number of concerns from the community,” acknowledged Lisa Grandle, of Arlington’s parks and recreation department.
What’s usually an easy vote on the County Board’s “consent agenda” instead became a nearly hour-long discussion that centered around the Neighborhood Conservation process in general and the park project in particular. Board member John Vihstadt led the questioning, and attempted a motion to separate out the Nelly Custis project from the other three, for a vote in March. The motion failed.
The necessity of the conversation seemed to frustrate some Board members. “I‘m disappointed that we’re here tonight, but we’re here,” said Christian Dorsey.
In the end, the Board voted to approve the project as proposed. From a county press release:
The Arlington County Board today approved nearly $1.4 million in funding for four new Neighborhood Conservation projects. The approved projects include street improvements, neighborhood beautification, park improvements, and a neighborhood sign.
The projects, submitted by residents and endorsed by civic associations, are qualified by staff, then evaluated by the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee (NCAC) before coming to the County Board for approval. The NCAC considered 31 projects at its Dec. 10, 2015 meeting and decided to recommend four of them to the County Board for funding.
The Board voted unanimously to approve funding for the four projects. To read the Staff Reporton this Item, visit the County website. Scroll down to Item #10 on the Agenda for the Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 Regular County Board Agenda.
“We rely on residents to help us identify the best projects to make their neighborhoods safer, stronger and more attractive,” said County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “For more than 50 years, Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation program has helped build community by funding projects identified by the people who live in the neighborhoods.”
The projects approved by the County Board today are funded by the voter-approved 2014 Neighborhood Conservation Bond. It is the third set of projects to be approved from the $12 million bond. The four approved projects are:
- $12,500 for Shirlington neighborhood sign – Location and design by the community with staff assistance. Sign fabrication, sign installation and landscaping.
- $798,222 for Aurora Highlands Park project – Improvements to Nelly Custis Park including storm water management to correct existing drainage problems; removal of invasive species; improving circulation for accessibility and park use; additional school-age play equipment; new site furnishings; and additional plantings for shade and beautification.
- $129,625 for Highview Park beautification project – Calloway United Methodist Church Cemetery improvements that include a perimeter fence, interpretive sign, a bench and trash receptacle. A public access easement over the local historic district will allow the public to visit the cemetery and interpret its history.
- $432,561 for Barcroft street improvement project – 4800 block of 9th Street S to W&OD Trail. Includes completion of missing concrete curb, gutter and sidewalk along the south side of 9th Street S, in the westerly half of the 4800 block, between S Buchanan St and the W&OD Trail. Street milling and paving as needed, including the trail connector between the street dead end and the W&OD Trail. Storm water drainage improvements and the addition of LED Carlyle-style streetlights are a part of the proposed project
The Board also approved the use of $228,000 in additional funds required for street improvements on South Fern Street (project previously approved by the NCAC at the fall 2011 funding session). This additional funding was reviewed and voted on by NCAC at its Jan. 14, 2016 meeting.
(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) Arlington County has taken a proposed update to its child care regulations off its website after County Board members called the inclusion of certain controversial provisions “troubling.”
As ARLnow.com first reported Monday, the most recent draft of the child care regulations would have required child care centers to encourage mothers to breastfeed and would have dictated what type of milk, juice and birthday treats could be fed to children, among other provisions.
That’s in addition to new staffing and employee education requirements that panicked the operators of small and part-time child care centers, who said such rules would put them out of business or at least drive up the cost of daycare and preschool programs.
“This situation, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s really the most troubled roll-out of a county initiative since the ill-conceived and ill-fated Public Land for Public Good,” said County Board member John Vihstadt. “I really think that this is close to an unmitigated disaster. If our goal is to increase the supply and the affordability of child care throughout Arlington County, this in my view seems to do exactly the opposite.”
Anita Friedman, Director of Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services, said the creation of the new regulations is an “iterative” process that has been underway since 2014, with input from directors of child care centers and consultation from a Kentucky-based nonprofit association.
Despite what she described as a positive public outreach process, Friedman acknowledged that there has been “a lot” of negative feedback, particularly from owners of smaller child care centers and the parents who use them.
“There are some issues with the current version,” she told the Board. “In some places, I think, because some of the enthusiasm of the child care centers and our Arlington Way of striving for the best, we may have probably overreached in terms of the best practices that we want to incorporate in there, that don’t belong in the code.”
That didn’t satisfy new County Board member Katie Cristol, who included affordable child care as part of her policy platform. She called the inclusion of some of the provisions “silly season business.”
“At a time when we have young families leaving this county because it costs as much if not more to have your child in daycare as it does to pay rent… I think we have broader concerns than making sure kids have the absolute best environment,” Cristol said.
“This is really troubling to see this level of best practice conflated with code and with regulation,” she continued. “I am not comfortable inserting unbidden county government in encouraging anybody to tell a mother how to feed her child, whether that’s best practice or regulation.”
“Distraction is not a strong enough word for the real issue at play here. We have been hearing loud and clear from members of our community that this undermines trust in government. It exacerbates a sentiment that Arlington is hostile to child care centers and small businesses.”
Daycare and preschool providers in Arlington are decrying proposed new child care regulations as overly onerous and intrusive.
A 34-page draft of new child care center regulations would set stringent requirements for employee education, require food handling certificates for handing out snacks and would require providers to encourage mothers to breast feed, among numerous other regulatory provisions.
Child care providers — particularly small, part-time operators — are speaking out against the the changes to Chapter 52 of County Code via the county’s online “open comment tool.”
“This document was supposed to clarify things, however, it created more issues,” said one comment.
Many comments focused on new education requirements for the teachers and assistant directors at child care centers. They would have to have a Bachelor’s Degree in education or a similar major and “at least 9 semester credits of advanced study in child development or early childhood education.” Current teachers would have three years to meet that requirement.
The education requirement could financially burden employees, who may have to go back to school to get the necessary credits, and could burden child care centers by raising the cost of hiring new employees, providers said.
“Have you considered the impact this would have on preschools and just how difficult finding teachers with these very narrow qualifications will be?” said one comment. “As former preschool board member who was in charge of hiring for two years, I can tell you that finding highly qualified teachers who are willing to work for preschool pay is already very challenging. You add these new rules and and two thirds of our EXCEPTIONAL staff would not be qualified to teach.”
“I am sure these regulations are well-intentioned and meant to foster excellent Arlington preschools,” said another. “But we already have excellent Arlington preschools. The effect of some of these costly new requirements will be to drastically increase costs, making these excellent schools inaccessible financially for some area families.”
Providers also questioned a requirement that they have a certified food handler on staff if they serve or store food.
“If we need to obtain a license for teachers to distribute Goldfish crackers, this would be unduly burdensome,” said a daycare provider. “We are a part-time center and children are required to bring their lunches from home. The only food we give them are snacks and milk for lunches, if requested.”
Operators of part-time cooperative preschools and daycare centers, which are run largely by volunteers, said that such schools should be exempt from the provisions. Staffing requirements that require specific child-to-adult ratios but only count paid staff, while also prohibiting volunteers from being alone with children, would make it “virtually impossible for parent cooperative preschools to function,” said one commenter.
Some of the most incredulous commentary was reserved for provisions that daycare providers viewed as unnecessary for child safety and overly prescriptive. Among them:
- “The licensee will ensure that mothers are encouraged to breast feed their infants.”
- “The interior of the building must be finished in light or bright colors…”
- “Celebrations (birthdays, special occasions) should include mostly healthy foods or non-food treats.”
- “Children two years of age and older will be served only skim or 1% pasteurized milk.”
- “Staff will promote dental hygiene among children at mealtimes.”
- “Only full-strength (100%) pasteurized fruit juice or full-strength juice diluted with water from a cup will be served to children twelve months of age or older.”
- “… All cribs, cots and mats must be spaced a minimum of 3 feet (36 inches) apart.”
- “[Providers must have a plan for] acquiring, stockpiling, storing and cycling to keep updated emergency food/water and supplies needed to care for children and staff for up to 3 days if shelter-in-place is required…”
- “The licensee will ensure that a trained staff member shall conduct and document a health check of each child every morning upon arrival.”
- “In addition to the application document, the [child care center] must submit… a business plan.”
- “A licensee will have specific arrangements with a health care provider who will provide consultation on both routine and emergency health care issues for children.”
The Arlington County Board this weekend is set to consider a $1.6 million slate of minor neighborhood improvement projects.
Most of the time, such “Neighborhood Conservation” projects are uncontroversial. The latest includes a neighborhood sign for Shirlington, a beautification project for the historic Calloway United Methodist Church cemetery, and street improvements for the 4800 block of 9th Street S., which leads to the W&OD Trail in the Barcroft neighborhood.
One project, however, has resulted in a flurry of back-and-forth emails to reporters and county officials, accusations of lies and bad faith, and exhaustive five-page missives. No, this isn’t over a bocce court. It’s over a play area for 5-12 year olds in a 0.8 acre park in Aurora Highlands.
At $798,222, the Neighborhood Conservation project for Nelly Custis Park (701 24th Street S.) is the priciest item in the latest batch. The project includes new plantings, improved storm water management, removal of invasive species, a new ADA accessible walkway and — most controversially — a small play area for school-aged children next to an existing playground.
On one side are members of the “Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks” group, which formed last year to oppose a new playgrounds and athletic courts, saying that the neighborhood had enough of them already.
A member of the group, who in her latest emails asked not to be identified by name, had this to say about the Nelly Custis project: “It has been contentious and controversial from within the neighborhood from the beginning and continues to move forward with some very significant questions about tax-payer waste, process and community input.”
On the other side are residents and Aurora Highlands Civic Association members who say they’re in favor of the changes, which are coming after an extensive planning process involving the community.
“The neighborhood is in overwhelming support of the project and it has undergone an extensive (more than required) development process,” said Mary Humphreys, who’s lived in Aurora Highlands, near Crystal City, for more than 10 years. “Unfortunately, there is a very vocal resident… who is opposed to the improvements and despite many kind and collaborative efforts, he continues to spread incorrect information.”
Humphreys said the spat essentially boils down to the fact that opponents of the play area want local parks to serve “age-diverse needs” — more green space, dog park and water features, not just playgrounds.
For opponents, until the project is approved, the fight continues. On Monday, the “Friends” member who asked not to be identified wrote a letter to the County Board with a slew of questions. Among them:
“How can the public have confidence in the environmental integrity of NC park projects when the formal process fails to include a review by all relevant county commissions, including the Arlington Park & Recreation Commission and the Environment and Energy Conservation Commission?” she wrote. “No commission or committee formally reviewed this project despite requests for them to do so.”
“This is not the Arlington Way,” the letter-writer concluded.
Garvey Named 2016 Arlington County Board Chair — Libby Garvey, who is facing a challenge in this year’s Democratic primary, has been named the Chair of the Arlington County Board. Articles to follow.
Update: Family Given Lease Extension — An Arlington family with a disabled son has been given a 30-day lease extension, after they went to the media to protest the landlord’s reported refusal to renew their lease. The family said the manager of Columbia Pike apartment complex complained about them making too much noise. [Washington Post]
Dorsey to Serve on Metro Board — Christian Dorsey, who along with Katie Cristol began his first County Board term on Jan. 1, has been chosen to serve as Arlington’s non-voting representative on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board of directors. [InsideNova]
Reminder: Arlington Is the Smallest Governing County — Arlington County is the smallest self-governing county in the United States. Kalawao County in Hawaii, New York County in Manhattan and Bristol County in Rhode Island are smaller, but don’t have their own separate county governments. [Arlington County]
Favola Proposes Allowing Cigarette Tax Hike — State Sen. Barbara Favola (D) has proposed a bill that would allow Arlington and Fairfax counties to double local cigarette taxes. The extra funds would be used to support education. [InsideNova]
Free Breakfast at Northside Social — It’s unclear whether the promotion is still going on as of publication time, but Northside Social this morning was giving away free breakfasts and coffee courtesy of the new CBS show Angel from Hell, starring Jane Lynch. [Twitter, Twitter]
Christmas Tree Collection Starts Today — Christmas tree collection in Arlington County starts today and runs through Friday, Jan. 15. Trees will be collected curbside on regular trash collection days. Those who live in apartments or condos without county trash collection can bring their trees to the Solid Waste Bureau near Shirlington. [ARLnow]