It may not be worthy of a “blue ribbon panel” designation, but a group of county staffers will soon be tasked with examining the tangle of Arlington County’s various codified master plans and priorities.
The County Board unanimously approved a charge for the “interdepartmental staff team” yesterday afternoon, with little further discussion. The team will conduct an “integrated review” of the 11 elements of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, along with various neighborhood and place plans and County Board resolutions, and will report back to the Board this spring.
The overarching goal: “to clearly communicate Arlington County’s priorities.”
In April, the Board approved the creation of a “blue ribbon panel” of mostly outside experts to do basically the same thing: develop “recommendations for how the Board should develop strategic priorities.” A month later, the Board voted unanimously to defer the creation of the panel, following complaints from community groups.
County Board Chair Libby Garvey, who’s championing the initiative, says the latest charge is the successor to the blue ribbon panel plan and is intended to be more informative than prescriptive.
“Things are all in different places,” she said, referring to the county’s sundry plans. “We want to put it all in one easily accessible and understood place and make things more clear.”
“I’ve been talking for years about the need to do strategic planning,” Garvey continued. “The blue ribbon panel approach was to get a small group of people to tell us how to do that.”
Following the complaints, Garvey said, “it was pretty clear to me that we needed to approach it in smaller steps.”
The County Board will consider the group’s report — it will also be placed on the county website for public review — and will then decide whether more action is necessary.
“That seems like a good step and we’ll see where we go from there,” Garvey said.
(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) A new pedestrian bridge for those heading to and from the renovated Ballston Quarter mall and the Ballston Metro station has cleared a regulatory hurdle.
The Arlington County Board yesterday voted unanimously to approve a site plan amendment for the bridge, which will replace an existing pedestrian bridge. The old bridge is, in the eyes of the mall owners and the county, fairly pedestrian appearance-wise.
The latest design renderings for the new bridge, from bridge architect StudioTECHNE, show a geometric steel-and-glass design that crosses above Wilson Blvd at an angle. Among the words used to describe the design in a presentation to the County Board were “sophisticated,” “iconic,” “vibrant,” “safe,” “well lighted” and “experiential.”
The bridge will feature the following improvements, according to the presentation:
- “Climate-controlled space with less slope that will improve safety and comfort of bridge crossing.”
- “Opportunities for sitting and viewing areas along the traverse of the bridge.”
- “Planters and sitting areas integrated into the bridge design at the sidewalk.”
- “An architecturally memorable design that blends function and artistic expression and creates an iconic civic presence in the heart of Ballston.”
“The new bridge will be not only more functional, but also more beautiful — it will be a real asset to Ballston Quarter and our community,” County Board Chair Libby Garvey said, in a statement.
The existing bridge is expected to close to pedestrians mid-October, with demolition expected to begin shortly thereafter. Construction of the next bridge is expected to start at the beginning of March, following a public process to finalize the design. The newly-renovated mall and pedestrian bridge are scheduled to open on Sept. 13, 2018.
The old bridge’s demolition will allow for major changes to the façade of what’s currently known as Ballston Common Mall. From a press release:
Demolition of the existing pedestrian bridge will make way for a public plaza that is a key community benefit of the Ballston Quarter redevelopment.
Once the existing pedestrian bridge is removed, the mall façade that fronts on Wilson Boulevard will be transformed and the existing entrance to the mall will be eliminated. A 3,386 sq. ft. public plaza will be created at street level on Wilson Boulevard with steps and seating areas leading into another 2,500 sq. ft. of sunken, public plaza space with outdoor restaurant seating and event space.
Forest City Enterprises, developer of Ballston Quarter, will construct the new bridge with funding provided through the partnership between the County and Forest City. The reconstructed bridge will have public access easements that do not exist today, and it will be more functional and aesthetically pleasing than the current bridge.
Inside, instead of a traditional food court, the new mall will feature an “‘experiential food hub’ that will combine eat-in dining, prepared food sales and market elements,” perhaps similar to D.C.’s Union Market, the Washington Business Journal reported today.
The County Board also voted yesterday to formalize its public-private partnership with mall owner Forest City. The partnership means that a county-created Community Development Authority will pay up to $55.5 million in public infrastructure costs associated with the mall project, while receiving a portion of any increase in tax revenues associated with the mall.
Airbnb, which has become an alternative to hotels or vacation rentals for many, is growing in popularity, prompting county staff and the County Board to initiate a public process that is expected to lead to regulations on such rentals.
Nearly 1,000 properties in Arlington were listed on Airbnb this month, according to a county press release. The number was closer to 1,600 earlier this summer, said County Manager Mark Schwartz.
While Airbnb is allowing residents to earn extra income by renting out their homes, some say Airbnb renters can make for lousy neighbors. Officials say they’ve heard from both residents concerned about Airbnb and from Airbnb hosts who want the service moved out of legal limbo in Arlington.
“We have several goals for regulating short-term residential rentals,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement. “We want to protect the character of Arlington’s neighborhoods, ensure public safety for our community, reduce barriers for those who already are or may want to use their homes as short-term rentals in a legal and responsible manner and provide a mechanism for enforcement.”
In October, the Board is expected to pass a Request to Advertise for public hearings on a Zoning Ordinance amendment related to short-term rentals. A final vote on the new regulations could take place as early as December.
One complicating factor: the Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that would prevent local governments from restricting or collecting hotel taxes on short-term rentals.
“We do not know at this time, what the new legislation will include, and thus the impacts on local government ability to regulate short-term rentals,” County Manager Mark Schwartz told the Board. “We do know that there has been a demand from the community, including short term rental hosts, asking for rules on how to operate legally. By acting prior to the end of December 2016, the County can help inform the state’s ultimate decision.”
New Restaurants Coming to Rosslyn — A bunch of new restaurants and a cafe are coming to Rosslyn as part of the under-construction Central Place project. Fast casual eateries Sweetgreen, Nando’s Peri-Peri and The Little Beet are signing deals with developer JBG. A Compass Coffee is also set to open and negotiations are reportedly underway with Cava Grill. [Washington Business Journal]
Sidewalk Cafe for Pike Beer Garden — The Arlington County Board last night approved a use permit that will allow the future beer garden at the corner of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive to operate a 32-seat outdoor cafe. The outdoor seating will “enliven the restaurant space and provide greater activity on this corner” of Columbia Pike, county staff wrote. County Board members expressed enthusiasm for the business, from the owner of nearby Twisted Vines, with Jay Fisette calling it “a fabulous use for this site.” [Arlington County]
Neighborhood Conservation Projects Approved — Last night the County Board approved $4.7 million in funding for six neighborhood conservation projects. The projects include a neighborhood sign for the recently-renamed Arlington Mill neighborhood; street improvement projects in Yorktown, Waverly Hills and Lyon Park; new LED streetlights in Arlington Heights; and a vegetation and sidewalk project in Boulevard Manor. [Arlington County]
Guas Appears on ‘Chopped Junior’ — Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse was back on national TV last night, starring as a judge on the Food Network show “Chopped Junior.” [Patch]
WERA Anniversary Nears — Arlington’s own community radio station WERA will be celebrating its first anniversary in just over two months. The low-power FM station is “having an impact,” with some ninety producers generating local programming. Fundraising for the station, however, has been sluggish. [InsideNova]
Fmr. Sen. Warner to Endorse Clinton — At an event in Alexandria this morning, five-term former U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) is expected to endorse the presidential ticket of Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). It will be the first time Warner has endorsed a Democrat for president. [Politico]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol’s Twitter account was hacked and started tweeting out dozens of spam links during Tuesday afternoon’s Board meeting.
The spam barrage started shortly after the meeting got underway at 3 p.m. As of 5:30 p.m. the tweets had not yet been deleted.
Kristol is perhaps the Board’s most active member on Twitter, often tweeting out community information and brief summaries of Board meetings.
Update at 6:25 p.m. — The hack has been fixed, Cristol tweeted.
Thx for concern, @ARLnowDOTcom. Hack fixed 2 hrs ago. but hard to delete 100s of tweets while doing the ppl's work in a board mtg!
— Katie Cristol (@kcristol) September 27, 2016
A new barbecue restaurant and pub may replace the now-closed Hard Times Cafe in Clarendon.
The plans were revealed during a County Board review of a site plan amendment for A-Town (see below).
“We’re soon to take over Hard Times,” Mike Cordero, a partner in the restaurants, told the County Board. The new venture was described as “a really big barbecue restaurant or pub” that may be sports-oriented.
The restaurant could open as soon as next spring or summer, although a source says the deal to take over the Hard Times space has not been finalized.
Meanwhile, a fight prompted a big police response at A-Town (4100 Fairfax Drive) on Sunday night.
Fire Station 10 will be temporarily relocated to the corner of N. Quinn Street and 18th Street, not far from the current fire station, which is set to be torn down. The old, stand-alone station will be replaced with a modern fire station at the bottom of a new mixed-use development; developer Penzance will be paying for its construction.
A number of alternative temporary fire station locations were considered but found to be lacking. In approving the location — despite the objections of H-B Woodlawn parents — County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement that the Board made the best choice in a difficult situation.
This was a very tough decision for the Board. And we know that there will be members of the community who are disappointed. I think everyone will agree, however, that we listened to the community’s concerns and launched a thorough search for an alternative that would meet the criteria of providing fire protection and emergency medical services to Rosslyn, at a reasonable cost to taxpayers. We acknowledge that this solution will need to be accompanied by serious efforts to mitigate the impact of the fire station on the Wilson school site and the students who will be learning there. We have always said the redevelopment of Western Rosslyn is complex and difficult, but in the end, it will result in benefits for our entire community. We will have a wonderful new urban school, new, integrated open space, including a park that the developer has agreed to pay for, a fire station that the developer will build, affordable housing and a commercial building.
Also on Saturday, the County Board approved a “coordinated open space plan” for Rosslyn Highlands Park — a plan that will come to full fruition after the temporary fire station is removed to make way for a new field.
According to the plan, the renovated park will include:
- Multi-use, lighted court for basketball and other sports
- Sloped green lawns for added tree canopy, picnics, seating and play
- Lighted, synthetic turf field at Wilson School
- Planted/permeable field boundary with trees
- Playgrounds for tots and school age children across the street from the main park
- Community access to Wilson School indoor amenities including gym, cafeteria and theater
Board Funds Westover Apartment Purchase — The Arlington County Board on Saturday approved a $10.9 million loan that will allow the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing to purchase 68 affordable but aging apartment units in the Westover neighborhood. Separately, an effort to designate Westover as a protected historic district, with the goal of preserving other affordable apartments, is continuing. Arlington’s Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board will hold a key meeting on the topic in November. [Arlington County, InsideNova]
Outreach Planned for Bluemont Baseball Project — Following a raft of complaints and letters from nearby residents, county officials will be holding a community meeting Oct. 5 to discuss an approved contract to renovate one of the baseball fields at Bluemont Park. County Board members on Saturday chastised county staff for inadequate neighborhood outreach on the project prior to its July approval by the Board. [InsideNova]
Aurora Hills Community Center Upgrades OKed — As expected, the County Board has approved a $555,800 contract to upgrade the interior of the Aurora Hills Senior Center and Library. Separately, the Board also approved a $2.7 million utility undergrounding project for the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Glebe Road, which is slated for future streetscape improvements. [Arlington County]
Rodney Hunt Fighting Mansion Eviction — Once a wealthy information technology executive, Rodney Hunt was recently released from a jail sentence on drug charges and is now fighting the foreclosure auction sale of his $24 million mansion on Chain Bridge Road in Arlington. Over the past few months the sprawling home has been used to host “mansion parties,” one of which resulted in a drive-by shooting in McLean. [Washington Post]
High School Boundary Changes Coming Soon — Arlington Public Schools will be hosting a series of public outreach events next month as part of a boundary “refinement” process for the county’s high schools. The usually-contentious process of adjusting school boundaries will this time determine which students attend Arlington’s three comprehensive high schools: Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown. The changes will not affect current high school students. [Arlington Public Schools, InsideNova]
Local CVS Accused of Selling Expired Shakes — A CVS store on Columbia Pike is being accused of selling nutritional shakes that expired a year ago and made an elderly woman sick last month. In response to a TV station’s outreach, CVS promised to work with the store to make sure that it’s removing expired products from shelves. [WJLA]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
The Arlington County Board is set to consider a plan to lend about $11 million to a nonprofit organization looking to save affordable garden apartments in Westover.
The Board is scheduled to vote Saturday on the eight-figure loan from the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund. The financing would allow the nonprofit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing to buy eight apartment buildings in the neighborhood, according to the county. The purchase would account for 68 affordable units — all but four are one bedroom units — at an average acquisition cost of about $215,000 per unit.
“The Westover neighborhood in North Arlington has a substantial inventory of market and committed affordable apartments,” APAH says on its website. “But many have been eliminated, or are at threat of elimination.”
The vote comes as Westover comes to grips with the redevelopment of some area properties, including an aging garden apartment building that are being replaced with luxury townhouses.
The Arlington Green Party is lobbying for a local historic designation in an effort to make it harder to tear down Westover buildings or renovate them. Already, much of the neighborhood — which was developed between 1938 and 1948 — is a national historic district.
The Coalition of Arlingtonians for Responsible Development, which advocates for an equitable distribution of affordable housing across the country, is supporting the proposal.
“CARD hopes that this acquisition [by APAH] will enable families the opportunity to live in Westover and enjoy its excellent schools and amenities,” Kay Langenbeck, chair of the group’s housing committee, wrote in a letter to the Board.
The total estimated cost of acquiring and renovating the apartments is $27.2 million, according to the county staff report. The project will be completed in three phases.
Photo via Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing
The Arlington County Board is expected to approve $555,000 in interior upgrades to the Aurora Hills Community Center and Library at its meeting this weekend.
The low-slung building, located at 735 18th Street S., near Pentagon City, houses both a library and a senior center. In explaining the need for upgrades, county staff said the center is “an aging facility.”
“The proposed renovation includes demolition of existing and construction of new office, storage rooms, kitchen, new ADA bathrooms, receptionist desk, circulation desk, new floor finishes, additional electrical and mechanical system upgrade,” county staff wrote. “The work will also include the restoration or repair of ceilings and walls in areas that are impacted by this interior renovation.”
Some programs at Aurora Hills will be moved to the Gunston Community Center during construction. The renovations were originally set to take place a bit later than currently scheduled, but were “accelerated” by the County Board, staff say.
The county staff report hints that the Aurora Hills center may eventually be torn down to make way for a new elementary school.
“The site was also identified during the Arlington Public Schools’ South Arlington Working Group process as a possible site for redevelopment in conjunction with Schools;” says the report. “The proposed improvements will provide operational and program value for a number of years until such time that the County and Schools choose to pursue a redevelopment.”
A $720,000 project to renovate a baseball field in Bluemont Park, approved by the County Board in July, is now facing some community resistance.
A number of residents, along with the Boulevard Manor and Bluemont civic associations, have written letters to the Board asking them to reconsider their decision. The primary concern: a planned fence around the new field.
“Permanently fencing off over a quarter of the open field at Bluemont Park is a drastic action that deserves the full ‘Arlington Way’ treatment,” wrote Boulevard Manor Civic Association President Phil Klingelhofer.
“In violation of the ‘Arlington Way,’ the decision was made with no input from the community and was hidden on the County Board’s Consent Agenda with no notice… of the drastic change it proposed making to Bluemont Park,” Klingelhofer continued. “Our Civic Association first heard of a proposal to improve Bluemont field number 3 when we got a cryptic notice of a meeting to ‘learn about planned field renovations.'” (Links added.)
In a Board report published June 30, county staff said the new baseball field will include “sod, new irrigation, site circulation, fencing, backstops, bleachers, site furnishings, signage, ADA accessibility improvements, landscaping, and site drainage.” An included diagram details a “proposed” fence along with proposed bullpens and a proposed batting cage.
“Athletic field #3 is beyond reasonable maintenance and requires full renovation,” the report notes. Residents, however, say that a fenced-in baseball field — as opposed to the current open baseball field — reduces recreational options in the park.
“Irrespective of whether the process was sufficiently transparent, a bad plan is still a bad plan,” wrote Bluemont resident Suzanne Smith Sundburg. “The fencing and thus conversion of what is currently multipurpose, open-field parkland to a dedicated, single-sport field does a disservice to the many Boulevard Manor and Bluemont community residents as well as other residents who use this space for a variety of athletic and recreational activities. Passive, flexible, open-field space costs little to maintain and maximizes the use of the space.”
A Boulevard Manor resident complained to the Board that the public process behind the field was lacking.
“The purpose of the poorly understood March meeting becomes all the more murky if county staff was presenting a fait accompli to whoever may have attended rather than soliciting real input about the merits of the project,” wrote Joshua Handler. “I ask that the County Board rescind its decision to build a permanent baseball diamond… until the project can be thoroughly vetted by the adjacent communities and its impacts on greenspace, the multipurpose use of the park, the quality of life of the surrounding neighborhoods and the park visitors’ experience.”
Sundburg also expressed concern about runoff from the field into the Chesapeake Bay — as well as a short connector trail that’s set to be built as part of the project. The trail is billed as a “safe route” for nearby Ashlawn Elementary.
My second concern is the “Safe Routes to School trail connector.” More pavement means more runoff. And calling this a “safe route” sounds like a really sick joke considering that a convicted sex offender has been living in the [neighborhood], just east of where this “safe” route connection is to be constructed. The man has completed his sentence and is free to roam about. Neighbors in this area have reported seeing him frequently walking on the nearby paths and in the parks, particularly at times when children are arriving home from school.
County staff and the County Board have worked hard to urbanize Arlington. With urbanization come some unpleasant realities — including more two-footed predators living among us. Encouraging Bluemont’s young children to walk along isolated paths and through parks to get to school is beyond belief.
The County Board will have its first meeting of the fall, following its August break, this coming Saturday.
Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz is recommending that the Board stick with the original plan: to build and operate a temporary fire station on the Wilson School site while Fire Station 10 is torn down and a new permanent fire station is built in its place as part of a private redevelopment.
That plan drew criticism from parents of H-B Woodlawn students, who worried that the temporary station would be built on what would otherwise be a field for the school, which will be moving to a new building on the Wilson School site in 2019.
In addition to concerns about the temporary loss of what little open space there is adjacent to the school, concerns were also raised about students being picked up on busy Wilson Blvd while the temporary station is in operation.
Parent outreach prompted county officials to examine alternative locations, but only two other viable alternatives were identified.
One, Rhodeside Green Park, was unpopular with local residents, who started a petition against it that garnered more than 750 signatures. A second, along Lee Highway near the Rosslyn Holiday Inn, was determined by county staff to be too small and challenging from a construction standpoint.
An online poll posted on the county’s website resulted in 420 votes for the Wilson School site. The Rhodeside Green Park site received 299 votes and the Lee Highway property 113 votes.
“After extensive analysis and additional community outreach, staff confirms its recommendation that the Wilson School site be selected as the location for the temporary fire station,” says a staff report. “While there is no perfect location, the Wilson School site is recommended.”
More excerpts from the staff report, after the jump.
Another Temporary Extension for Comcast — The Arlington County Board this weekend is expected to approve another temporary extension of the county’s franchise agreement with cable operator Comcast. The extension will run through Oct. 31, 2016. Comcast’s last long-term franchise agreement in Arlington expired in 2013; officials say the temporary extensions have been necessary to allow negotiations to continue. [Arlington County]
Arlington Community High School Open House — The former Arlington Mill High School program has a new name, a new location and will be holding an open house this weekend. Arlington Community High School, as it is now known, has moved to the former Fenwick Center at 800 S. Walter Reed Drive. The school is holding an open house from 9-11:30 a.m. this coming Saturday. [Arlington Public Schools]
Clement Laments Development — Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement says she has exposed “disturbing development trends in Arlington.” According to Clement, continued development has “transformed Arlington” and harmed schools and parks. [Audrey Clement]
Nova Armory ‘Under New Ownership’ — Added at 9:55 a.m. — Lyon Park gun store Nova Armory, which was the scene of a break-in earlier this week, is “under new ownership,” according to a tweet sent from the store’s Twitter account overnight. No additional information was immediately available. [Twitter]
Twitter FYI: We’re Not @Arlnow — Added at 10:05 a.m. — The above tweet presents a great opportunity to remind readers that our Twitter handle is @ARLnowDOTcom. It’s not @arlnow, which belongs to an Apple news site that hasn’t published a new tweet since 2010. Check here to see if you’re among the folks tweeting at the wrong account.
The long-time Chinese restaurant, at 1100 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, is perhaps best known for its weekend dim sum lunches.
Monday Properties, owner of the 1000-1100 Wilson Blvd twin towers, is requesting County Board permission to convert the 10,000 square foot retail space currently occupied by the restaurant into new television studios.
The permit application does not name the soon-to-be “former restaurant” but its location on the mezzanine level of the building and floor plan match that of China Garden.
“As of the date of this application, one of the retail tenants located in the mezzanine level of the building has decided to terminate its lease and to vacate the property,” an attorney for the building owner said in a letter to the county. “In the Applicant’s experience, retail space on the mezzanine level has proven difficult to lease, given its separation from the pedestrian realm on the street level. As such, the Applicant proposes to convert the former retail space into two new television studios and associated support facilities.”
The application also does not name the tenant that will be using the new studios, but the building is home to television station WJLA and NewsChannel 8. Station owner Sinclair renewed its lease in the building this summer.
County staff are recommending the Board approve the application.
A China Garden employee said today that the restaurant’s manager would not be available for comment until Friday.
The Board is set to consider a request to advertise hearings on the change at a meeting later this month, according to a draft proposal.
The proposal would add “Pedestrian Street” to the MTP’s existing four defined street types. A pedestrian street is described as “a car-free travel corridor that provides public pedestrian access to adjacent buildings and properties fronting the street and serves as a public meeting place and location for commerce, communication and other community activities.”
“A pedestrian street is [predominantly] paved with a hard surface suitable for walking and includes physical measures that prevent regular access by motor vehicles,” the proposal says.
There are currently no pedestrian-only streets in Arlington, but a few are proposed, including a new 18th Street corridor in Rosslyn that would replace the neighborhood’s aging skywalk system with a several blocks of a new pedestrian-only street between N. Oak Street and N. Lynn Street, with the Rosslyn Metro station in between.
In addition to pedestrian-only streets, the proposal updates the definition of an existing street type — a pedestrian and bicycle priority street. The newly-defined “shared streets” are intended to “allow people to comfortably walk within the roadway” thanks to “implicitly slow traffic speeds through the mixing of travel paths, physical measures and visual cues.”
A recently-approved plan for the Courthouse neighborhood calls for portions of 14th and 15th streets to be shared streets, primarily intended for pedestrians but open to slow-speed vehicular traffic.
If the request to advertise the changes is approved in September, the Planning Commission and the County Board are likely to hold hearing on the change in October.
Hat tip to Jim Hurysz