Arlington, VA

(Updated at 11:40 a.m.) Arlington County staff are recommending adding a pay-to-park option in residential zones for short-term visitors, while expanding who can petition for Residential Permit Parking restrictions.

These are two of the changes to the program staff are proposing that the County Board adopt. The changes will be reviewed and refined before the Board votes early next year, and come three years after a moratorium was placed on new parking restrictions so a review of the program could be conducted.

“We are attempting to make compromises between disparate viewpoints and disagreements about how the program should be structured,” said Stephen Crim, the RPP review program manager, who fielded questions from residents during a virtual Q&A session last week.

Residential areas with RPP restrictions would have paid, two-hour parking so that short-term visitors can legally park without a pass or permit. Payments will be processed through the ParkMobile app or through the EasyPark device, instead of pay stations.

The benefit of paid parking over free, time-limited parking in residential zones — as is in place in parts of D.C. — is that “we make the parking easier to enforce for the police and make it more likely to be enforced regularly,” Crim said.

Permit and pass fees would be raised to pay for 100% of the program’s costs, whereas 40% of the costs to administer and enforce the RPP program currently come from general tax funding. Discounts on permits and passes would be available to low-income households . 

Staff recommend granting more parking options and permits to employees of K-12 schools and group homes, as well as reducing the number of permits that households can receive based on whether they have off-street parking such as driveways or garages.

Staff propose to remove the “out-of-area” test from the permit process, which requires would-be RPP zones to have a preponderance of commuters, shoppers or other people from outside the neighborhood taking up street parking spaces. Crim said that change is a way of “shifting the program into a more general parking management program.” 

Currently, the county needs to see that a block has 75% of spaces are occupied, of which at least 25% are occupied by out-of-area vehicles.

The RPP program has sharply divided residents. According to a recently released report, some of these divisions occur along the lines of race and class, as permitted residential street parking is disproportionately available to white, affluent Arlingtonians.

Residents of most apartment buildings are currently not eligible to receive RPP permits. More will be eligible under the proposed changes, but many will still be shut out if their building was approved by the County Board via a site plan or certain types of use permits.

Residents can see if their address currently qualifies for a permit through this link.

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Arlington County is asking those planning on partying or gathering in large crowds on Halloween to reconsider their plans.

“With Halloween falling on a Saturday this year, many partygoers may be looking to celebrate in popular nightlife destinations around Arlington, but events that involve large gatherings of individuals can increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission and are not recommended,” the county said in a press release on Friday.

“Partygoers are encouraged to seek alternatives ways to celebrate a physically distanced Halloween or sit this year out.”

Although there have been reports about a “sold out” Halloween bar crawl in Arlington, the county says it “has not approved any pub crawls or large events for Halloween weekend.”

The refusal to approve permits for large Halloween events is “part of the County’s effort to mitigate the evening crowds for this traditionally busy holiday and to protect the health and well-being of our community,” the press release said.

There will, however, be extra police patrols in Clarendon and Crystal City on Saturday night.

“The Arlington Police Department will have a dedicated nightlife detail of officers assigned to Clarendon and 23rd Street in Crystal City on Halloween night to ensure the safety of businesses and patrons,” the county said.

Family-friendly activities may be curtailed this year, as well. Last month Arlington’s health director cautioned against in-person trick-or-treating, though the county does not plan to regulate any such activity. Nearly half of respondents to a recent ARLnow poll said they do not plan to offer candy to trick-or-treaters this year.

The press release offered more coronavirus safety tips for Halloween revelers, as well as a reminder of safety requirements for restaurants:

To protect against COVID-19, everyone should avoid close contact with people who do not live in their household, wear a mask (cloth face covering), and practice social distancing and frequent and proper hand washing. We implore all Arlingtonians to continue to abide by this public health guidance. In general, the more closely people interact with each other and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.

The Arlington Public Health Division will continue to educate and strictly enforce Virginia’s Phase 3 Guidelines for restaurant and beverage services. Restaurants and dining establishments must comply with the Governor’s guidelines, including:

  • Post signage at the entrance and at points of sale stating that patrons must wear a cloth face covering, except while eating and drinking, in accordance with Executive Order 63.
  • Tables at which dining parties are seated must be positioned six feet apart from other tables.
  • Employees working in customer-facing areas must wear face coverings over their nose and mouth at all times.
  • Bar seats and congregating areas of restaurants must be closed to patrons except for through-traffic, per Executive Order 67.
  • If live musicians are performing at an establishment, they must remain at least ten feet from patrons and staff. Karaoke must remain closed.
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Update at 7:45 p.m. — The county website is back up, though some users who accessed the site while it was down may still have their visits redirected to the temporary page, for now.

Earlier: Bad news: More than 24 hours later, Arlington County’s website is still down as of Wednesday afternoon. Good news: the county’s voting information pages and payment portal are among the things currently up.

As of 3 p.m. the county website was still reduced to a temporary, static page with a few links. That’s despite Arlington Public Schools recently announcing that its tech troubles, caused by a fiber optic line cut, had been resolved.

A county spokeswoman told ARLnow that the county was, in fact, also affected by the fiber cut, but it was not the reason for the website outage.

“Arlington County Government’s fiber was cut as well yesterday,” said Shannon Whalen McDaniel. “However, we are not experiencing a disruption due to a redundancy in our system.”

There is still no estimate as to when the county’s full website might be back online.

“We can’t provide an estimate at this time, but staff are working to resolve it as quickly as possible,” Whalen McDaniel said.

In addition to the CAPP payment portal, library website, service request pagereal estate search and County Board meeting agendas, the Arlington voting and elections sub-site remains up. Whalen McDaniel said that is due to some good planning.

“Given the criticality of the voting site, we had a back-up site for it already in place for redundancy sake,” she said. “Yesterday, we simply expedited the move to this replacement site to ensure there would be no impact on voting information.”

The county’s last major update to its website was made at the end of 2013, when it switched to a more flexible WordPress-based system — the same underlying Content Management System as ARLnow and millions of other sites — for most pages.

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(Updated at 10 p.m.) Arlington County’s website has been down for most of the day and remains down as of Tuesday night.

The county is working to fix the technical difficulties, which brought down the website completely. The homepage was working this morning, while many interior pages were bringing up error messages, before the entire site went down.

Those hoping to participate in today’s County Board meeting, which starts at 3 p.m., should be able to do so on YouTube or on local cable TV. Those hoping to speak at the meeting are being asked to call 703-228-3130 to register to do so.

A county spokeswoman said that there are no signs, at least so far, that the outages are the result of hacking.

“We are actively investigating the current technical issues related to the County website,” said Shannon Whalen McDaniel. “At this time, it is too early to offer a conclusive statement about the root cause of the issues, however we do not see any overt signs of malicious activity. We will provide an update as soon as it is available and appreciate the public’s patience at this time.”

The county previously posted a page on the site explaining the technical difficulties. That page is now inaccessible. Later Tuesday, the county homepage was replaced by a static page, explaining the outage and providing links to online services that were still available, like the library website, the service request page and the county payments portal.

Shortly after 3 p.m., Arlington Public Schools also announced to families that it was having tech troubles.

“APS is experiencing an internet outage that is affecting applications and services, such as MyAccess, on the APS platform,” APS said. “We are working with our vendor to address the issue and will let families know when it has been resolved. Thank you for your patience.”

Despite the problems, the main Arlington Public Schools homepage was still operable. Later Tuesday evening, APS said that the disruption was caused by “a major fiber [optic line] cut in Vienna.”

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Arlington County officials are considering new administrative guidance to streamline the process of converting office buildings into residential buildings.

Such conversions would remain subject to County Board approval, but a new set of guidelines being considered by county staff would make the review and recommendation process easier.

In a presentation, expected to be given to the county’s Long Range Planning Committee at its meeting tonight, officials will say that trends both local and national will lead to a wave of office building conversions. Underlying that is the pandemic and the shift to working from home, potentially leading to less demand for office space.

The trends, however, started before the pandemic, with an “observed reduction in office demand — nationally, regionally and locally — over the past decade resulting limited economic feasibility for speculative multi-tenant office buildings.”

Recent office-to-residential conversions in Arlington include the WeLive/WeWork building in Crystal City. Future projects like it need a better-defined path from proposal to County Board consideration, county staff says.

“Neighboring jurisdictions are actively addressing issues around use flexibility,” the presentation notes. “Alexandria and Fairfax County have adopted policies related to this issue and have approved projects implementing them whereas Arlington County has approved projects with no guiding policy to date.”

The guidance will not change existing County Board policies, the presentation asserts, but will help staff when reviewing office conversion proposals.

“In advance of evaluating the appropriateness of new office conversion requests, staff developed this administrative guidance for use during staff review, community discussion and [County Manager] recommendation to the [County Board] on the proposed conversion,” the presentation says. “This guidance is not [County Board] policy, and does not change existing [County Board] policy or alter existing land use processes.”

The law firm McGuireWoods is telling its clients, however, that the changes will “increase flexibility and support for repurposing existing and approved office buildings.”

“The new administrative guidance is expected to give developers and property owners much-needed flexibility to consider residential, live-work and other options that, in many cases, could be beyond what existing planning guidance permits,” the firm said on its website. “Outreach is currently underway with business community stakeholders and decision makers and will continue in the upcoming weeks. The administrative guidance will likely be in place by the end of 2020.”

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Morning Notes

County Launching Race Conversations — “Today, Arlington County launched a new effort to address racial equity and disparities in our community. Called Dialogues on Race and Equity (DRE), the effort is part of the County’s broader commitment to racial equity… DRE will include a series of virtual community conversations with individuals, nonprofit organizations, civic associations, faith organizations, and businesses.” [Arlington County]

Local Nurses Hold Food Drive — “Nurses at the Virginia [Hospital] Center are going above and beyond to give back to the local community… Nurses launched the ‘Together We Can’ campaign where they collected canned goods. All together, they collected 10,000 cans and donated them directly to the food assistance center.” [WJLA]

Virtual 5K for Local Nonprofits — “A coalition of three homeless-outreach organizations – Community Lodgings, Bridges to Independence and Homestretch – will be hosting their third annual 5K “Home Run for the Homeless” in a different format this year. Rather than running as a group on the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Trail this year, participants will be able to run where they choose anytime from Oct. 10 (which is designated World Homeless Day) to Oct. 31.” [InsideNova]

Penthouse Sold in New Rosslyn Tower — “The sales team for Pierce announced strong early sales for The Highlands‘ luxury condominium tower… Strong early interest in Pierce has resulted in over $18.7 million in sales by The Mayhood Company since launching sales in August, including the sale of one of two top-of-the-market penthouse residences.” [Press Release]

Theater Holding Virtual Halloween Event — “Synetic Theater will hold its annual ‘Vampire Ball’ in a ‘virtual’ setting this year, with participants enjoying the festivities ‘from the comfort of your own crypt.’ The event will be held on Friday, Oct. 30 from 8 to 10 p.m.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Trump Rallies at Eden Center — Vietnamese Americans held rallies for President Trump at the Eden Center in Falls Church over the weekend. [Twitter, YouTube, YouTube]

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If you live in the right type of home in the right place, Arlington County will reserve street parking for you and your neighbors for much of the day.

But the Residential Permit Parking program is under review and a county staff recommendation on whether it should continue as currently conceived is expected soon.

The review has dragged on since it was launched in 2017, when the county put a moratorium on approving new permit parking zones, and was further delayed by the pandemic. County officials, however, now say they’re going to skip holding more public engagement meetings on the topic, either virtual or in-person, and move forward with the aim of County Board action in January.

Meetings had been planned for the spring, but were cancelled due to health concerns. A county spokeswoman says county staff decided against additional meetings due to equity concerns.

“Staff looked into holding the dialogues online but decided that holding online dialogues would not be an adequate replacement,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Kathryn O’Brien told ARLnow. “There are tools for holding the dialogues online, but there are challenges to bringing together a diverse group of Arlingtonians for a meeting of three hours or more online.”

“An inclusive group of participants at the dialogues would be especially necessary because residents are divided on the RPP program,” she continued. “The County could have waited until in-person public meetings resume but continuing to delay the RPP Review increases the chance that decision-makers will see the feedback currently captured as out-of-date. Delaying the review also continues the moratorium on petitions for new or modified restrictions.”

There are few issues that raise local passions like parking, and the RPP program has sharply divided residents.

The program started in the early 1970s, when Aurora Highlands residents successfully petitioned the Arlington County Board to approve restrictions that would keep Crystal City commuters from parking in the neighborhood. The county won a Supreme Court challenge to the restrictions and gradually expanded the program to other neighborhoods.

Eventually, residents of new apartment buildings and condos were excluded from the program, as access to street parking became a sticking point with neighbors of proposed new developments. And neighborhoods well away from Metro stations and office districts started getting approved for restrictions.

The tide started to turn against the program a few years ago, as more neighborhoods sought to add parking restrictions, raising questions about the fairness of reserving increasingly large portions of the public road network for the vehicles of certain residents.

Last year, the County Board repealed some RPP restrictions in the Forest Glen and Arlington Mill neighborhoods, which apartment residents said made it difficult to park in the neighborhood for those who do not work a traditional 9-5 job. The decision was contentious, however.

A recently-released report on the RPP review process includes comments from surveys that further reflect the divide.

“It doesn’t seem fair to me who is eligible now. Higher density homes with less curb space should be eligible as single family homes,” said one resident quoted in the report.

“The County should NOT make apartment, condo, and townhouse residents eligible for parking permits because it will encourage more cars and further overcrowd parking resources,” said another.

The report notes that the population eligible for RPP skews whiter and more affluent than those who are not eligible. White residents are 84% of the population in RPP zones, compared to 76% of the population outside of RPP zones. Households making $200,000 or more are 32% of the population in RPP zones, compared to 19% in non-RPP zones.

Furthermore, only 25% of those enrolled in RPP live in multifamily buildings like apartments and condos; by comparison, 71% of Arlington’s overall population lives in multifamily housing.

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Morning Notes

Ballston Movie Theater to Close Again — “Cineworld Group, the owner of Regal Cinemas, will suspend operations at all of its theaters in the United States and the United Kingdom beginning on Thursday. The closures will affect 45,000 employees.” [CNN, Axios]

N. Va. Trending in Right Direction — “The health department’s new pandemic metrics, updated Monday based on data through Saturday, show that the disease is currently at a ‘low burden’ level in Northern Virginia, is trending downward, and has low levels of community transmission. All other region’s of the state either have moderate or high levels of burden of the virus and community transmission.” [InsideNova]

County Joins Eviction Task Force — “Arlington has joined the Northern Virginia Eviction Prevention and Community Stability Task Force, a diverse coalition of stakeholders from the housing sector in Northern Virginia, to identify best practices to prevent evictions and stabilize households.” [Arlington County]

Greens Want Local Bag Tax — “The Arlington Green Party is pushing the Arlington County Board to enact a tax on single-use grocery bags, now that the General Assembly has given localities the permission to do so. Party members on Sept. 2 endorsed the proposal to enact a 5-cent tax on bags, and plan to present a petition to the County Board in November.” [InsideNova]

New Police Dog’s Official Photo — “FRK9 Brooks recently sat for his official department photo and gave the camera his best puppy dog eyes.” [@ArlingtonVaPD/Twitter]

More I-66 Ramp Closures — “Alternating overnight ramp closures are scheduled to occur this week on I-66 East in Arlington for final asphalt paving and striping as part of the I-66 Eastbound Widening Project.” [VDOT]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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(Updated at 11 a.m.) Arlington County does not regulate Halloween activity and does not appear to have any plans to do so this year.

While some communities have official trick-or-treating times, the revelry has always been unofficial in Arlington — running roughly from sunset to 8 p.m. or so.

The county has, however, just issued guidance for Halloween safety amid the pandemic. In a press release, below, officials urge anyone with COVID-like symptoms to refrain from any in-person Halloween festivities, including trick-or-treating or handing out candy.

The guidance further urges residents to not hand out candy in person, to avoid large parties and haunted houses, and to not wear costume masks as a replacement for cloth masks.

Arlington’s health director previously cautioned against trick-or-treating, but said there are ways to safely enjoy the holiday “on a more limited scale.” An ARLnow poll on Tuesday found that just under half of 2,000 respondents said they plan to skip handing out candy to trick-or-treaters this year.

More from Arlington County:

With the start of fall, many Arlingtonians begin to look forward to the season’s festivities and holidays – particularly Halloween. But this year’s celebrations will be different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While Halloween is not an official holiday, and is not regulated by the County, Arlington is asking everyone to continue to practice the behaviors we know slow the spread of COVID-19.

If you may have COVID-19, may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or are showing any COVID-19 symptoms, you should not participate in trick-or-treating or any other in-person Halloween festivities.

“Everyone planning to celebrate Halloween this year should avoid close contact with people who do not live in their household, wear a mask, keep 6-feet distance and practice frequent and proper hand washing,” said Arlington County Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese. “There are still ways to celebrate Halloween, but it will have to be on a more limited scale.”

The Virginia Department of Health recommends everyone follow the considerations from Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention to help protect individuals, families, friends, and communities from COVID-19 during Halloween.

Higher-risk activities to avoid this Halloween season include:

  • Traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door
  • Trick-or-treating at houses where individuals are not wearing a mask, and where six feet of physical distance is not maintained between individuals
  • Events with large gatherings (e.g. indoor costume parties)
  • Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots
  • Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household
  • Haunted houses where people may be crowded together and screaming, which is known to increase the production of respiratory droplets

While some Halloween activities are considered a higher risk, there are many lower-risk, safe alternatives:

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household
  • Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends
  • Decorating your house, apartment, or living space
  • Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance
  • Having a virtual Halloween costume contest
  • Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with
  • Having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house to house

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After months of planning, Arlington County is preparing to enter the first phase of its “Missing Middle Housing Study.”

The study will look at whether the county should diversify its housing stock by introducing more housing types that have been typically prohibited from many neighborhoods.

Set to kick off on Oct. 29 after an Oct. 13 orientation meeting for community partners, the study’s first phase will focus primarily on community engagement, as county staff solicit ideas about what housing types to study and key priorities and issues to consider going forward.

The county is seeking “enlisting a network of community partners to facilitate broader study participation through the use of their own communication networks,” according to the study’s website.

“The most important consideration for community engagement is equity and ensuring that access and opportunities to participate in this process are equitable and inclusive,” Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development planner Kellie Brown said. “We’re recommending a very distributed community engagement process to make sure that we’re not leaving anyone out.”

As laid out in a presentation to the Arlington County Board on Sept. 23, the Missing Middle Housing Study has been divided into three phases, concluding in the summer of 2022.

With the first phase expected to run until spring 2021, the second phase would start next summer with more in-depth analyses of the different possible housing types. The third phase will turn those recommendations into specific amendments to its zoning ordinance or comprehensive plan if necessary.

Since it was first presented to the public in January, the study’s scope has been slightly modified based on feedback the county got from various commissions and civic associations, as well as an online survey that drew 494 responses, according to Brown.

In addition to emphasizing the need to align Arlington’s land use and zoning policies with its diversity and inclusivity goals, the new scope highlights potential benefits of middle housing, such as improved walkability of neighborhoods and diversity of housing options, and clarifies that the study will be countywide, not just focused on neighborhoods dominated by single-family detached homes.

The refined scope also states that, while the study’s goals are to increase the supply and choice of housing available in Arlington, affordability can be considered as a potential community priority.

The study scope was developed based on community input, but some Arlington residents remain skeptical of the county’s goals, fearing that introducing duplexes, townhouses, and other forms of middle housing to new neighborhoods will further accelerate development in the county without alleviating affordability concerns.

The advocacy group Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future argues that the county should not ask residents to weigh in on missing middle housing until it also conducts studies of potential impacts on schools, the environment, flooding, the county budget, and other factors.

“I do think that Housing Arlington has not made the case that we really need to study introducing these housing types,” ASF founder Peter Rousselot said. “We think that it’s going to be good for developers to be able to develop and sell these houses, but without doing these environmental and fiscal impacts, it just doesn’t make sense for us.”

Arlington officials say that changing zoning policies to accommodate housing types other than single-family detached homes and high-rise apartment buildings — like duplexes and townhouses — is necessary to add to the county’s housing supply and manage the impact of anticipated regional growth. It could make up for long-standing policies, such as a rowhouse ban enacted in 1938, that contributed to segregating neighborhoods by race and class.

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Arlington County is considering a plan to host some children of working parents in community centers for supervised learning, while Arlington Public Schools readies its plan for a return to in-person learning.

The use of community centers would be a relief valve for families that are unable to have a parent stay home during the day and do not have the means to pay for daytime child care. It would serve as an interim step until APS again offers full-time, in-person learning — whenever that may be.

“There’s no one silver bullet that’s going to fix the whole situation for schools or for childcare,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said at a virtual COVID-19 town hall meeting on Friday.

“We are looking at opening a couple of our community centers for children to have supervised learning when their parents have to be working,” Garvey continued. “I know that the school system and we too are interested in trying to get students back [to school] or get students into childcare who need it. We’re trying to do it in a priority order for those who are most at risk and having the toughest time with the current situation.”

Asked for more information on any such planning, Deputy County Manager Michelle Cowan issued the following statement to ARLnow.

The County has been exploring multiple options for care for school-aged children with APS and non-profit partners, with the initial priority being at-risk children. All options are being evaluated with the understanding that the County must comply with COVID and safety requirements when these types of services are provided in either County or APS facilities, and in many cases, child care licensure requirements. We are using some community centers for activities related to COVID (e.g., testing at the Arlington Mill Community Center) and for early voting; the County is working to ensure that the mix of uses is appropriate in light of COVID requirements.

Arlington’s public schools remain closed, but the school system is “continuing to plan for returning to hybrid, in-person learning,” Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán said in an email to families on Tuesday.

On Tuesday night, both the Fairfax County and Loudoun County school boards voted to start bringing some students — starting with those that are younger, at risk or have special needs — next month.

Durán is expected to announce a similar plan at tonight’s School Board meeting.

The tentative plan is for some students with disabilities to return by the end of October; PreK-3 students, career and technical education students, and other students with special needs to return by “early to mid-November;” and for all students opting for a hybrid learning model — two days per week in classrooms — to return in early December.

The plan is contingent on there not being a deterioration of health metrics in Arlington County.

“Our teachers and students are doing incredible work to adapt to distance learning, and we are doing everything we can to support their efforts,” Durán wrote on Tuesday. “We are working to bring in small groups of students based on level of need and will define that further at this Thursday’s meeting.”

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