Bryna Helfer is trying to improve and modernize the way Arlington County communicates with its residents and businesses.
Helfer joined county government as Assistant County Manager for Communications and Public Engagement in September and has been seeking input on the county’s public outreach since.
On this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast, we asked Helfer about her position at the county, about technology and its role in updating the “Arlington Way” system of public outreach, and about why residents occasionally feel “blindsided” by the county’s decision-making process.
Arcland Property Company, which owns a swath of industrial land near Shirlington, wants to swap those 3.5 acres for 2.3 acres of the 6.1 acre “Buck property” site across from W-L, which the county has an option to purchase for $30 million.
Arlington, which is already leasing a portion of the Shirlington property for parking, would get an even larger piece of property for its expanding ART bus fleet — it’s expected to grow from 65 to 90 vehicles by 2020 — and would save $4 million in lease payments.
Arcland would get the piece of the Buck property closest to N. Quincy Street, in the Virginia Square area, and would use it for a six-story, 150,000 square foot self-storage facility. (The company also developed the CubeSmart storage facility, which is located adjacent to I-395, next to the land it proposes to swap.)
Neighbors might object to the facility — they objected to a county proposal to use the Buck property for school bus parking — but the property is zoned for light industrial use and the facility could be built by right. The county says it will require tasteful building design as part of a deal.
“The land exchange agreement, if reached, would require high quality architecture from Arcland compatible with the surrounding neighborhood,” the county said in a press release. “The proposed facility must also comply with M-1 (light industrial) zoning regulations including set back and height restrictions, as would any use the County makes of the Shirlington site.”
Arcland only expects to use 1.2 acres of the Quincy Street property for the storage facility. The remaining 1.1 acres would be leased back to the county “at below market rate.”
“This is a rare opportunity for the County to secure land in Shirlington, zoned for light industrial use, that could accommodate our growing bus fleet,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement. “We have a critical need for support facilities, and must make smart, tough decisions about land to meet those needs. If the Board is interested in pursuing this proposal, I will work to shape an agreement with Arcland. I am confident that we can put facilities on these sites that will both serve our community’s needs and allow us to be a good neighbor.”
The deal will be discussed at next month’s Arlington County Board meeting. From the press release:
The proposed exchange, if approved, would take place after November 20, 2017, the date on which the County must exercise its option to purchase the N. Quincy Street site. The land exchange would involve no additional cost beyond the $30 million that the County has already agreed to pay for the N. Quincy Street site.
The Manager plans to seek the Board’s approval to pursue negotiations with Arcland at the Board’s December meeting. If the Board approves negotiations, any agreement that might be reached would come before the Board for consideration in 2017.
Update at 11 a.m. — Jim Todd, president of the Cherrydale Citizens Association, sent the following email to residents last night regarding the potential deal.
This is a complex issue and there are a lot of potential trade offs. On the plus side, the land swap would end the potential for the County to move the bus depot from Shirlington to the Buck property. But on the down side, it would also limit the County’s ability to use all of the Buck property for other, larger purposes (as the Buck property is also adjacent to Hayes Park, across the street from Washington-Lee High School, etc.).
This seems like its happening fast, but there is still plenty of time for us to better understand what’s going on, and to learn what other trade-offs and potential upsides and downsides there may be. I understand that the next step is for the County Board to talk about whether to further entertain this idea at its December 13 meeting. But I have been told that the Board will not be making a final decision at that meeting.
Arlington Independent Media, the local public access cable channel and media education center, is asking its members to support a new cable franchise agreement the county has reportedly reached with Comcast.
The franchise agreement is what allows Comcast to serve customers in Arlington, to the exclusion of other traditional cable providers. (Verizon’s FiOS service has its own franchise agreement in Arlington.)
Arlington County has been negotiating a franchise agreement renewal with Comcast since 2013, when its last long-term agreement expired. The County Board has continuously, temporarily extended the agreement until negotiations could conclude.
The specifics of the new agreement, which reportedly runs through Dec. 2021 and is expected to be considered by the County Board next month, were not immediately available. However, in an email to its members, AIM said the agreement would continue to fund the organization, with some notable changes.
Under the agreement, AIM would be upgraded to an HD channel on Comcast’s cable service. Meanwhile, the organization would “continue to receive approximately 1% of Comcast’s gross revenue as operating support,” according to the email, with the county contributing another 1% from its 5% communications tax in addition to an annual capital grant.
AIM’s current facilities in the Comcast building in Clarendon, however, would cease to be rent-free starting Jan. 1, 2018. That “presents AIM with a significant challenge and we will have to quickly figure out a way to remain viable under these conditions,” wrote AIM Executive Director Paul LeValley.
Overall, LeValley wrote, the agreement is “very positive for AIM and we are grateful to the County for negotiating its terms on our behalf.” The only change the organization is seeking is a provision requiring that Comcast list its programming on its on-screen guide.
It is “imperative that our full program schedule be included in Comcast’s digital program guide,” wrote LaValley. “Unfortunately, the draft agreement fails to make this requirement. We believe that inclusion of our program schedule would significantly improve our ability to attract and keep audiences for the many fine programs that you all work so hard to create for our community.”
The full email has been published on the AIM website.
APS Receives Top Ranking — Arlington Public Schools is the top school division in Virginia and in the D.C. area, according to new rankings from Niche.com. All three comprehensive high schools in Arlington ranked in the top 10 in Virginia, according to the website. [Arlington Public Schools]
Alleged Racial Confrontation at Metro Station — A local man says a trio of older white men confronted him last week in the Courthouse Metro station, a few days after the election, and told him “good thing you’ll all be gone soon” — an apparent racially-motivated comment — and “it’ll be great again soon.” [Patch]
Remy Releases Post-Election Song — Arlington’s best-known libertarian comedian/musician, Remy, has released a new original song on the topic of Donald Trump’s election. [Twitter]
‘Isolated’ Schools in Arlington — Two schools in Arlington County, and 136 schools statewide, are considered “racially and economically isolated,” according to a new report from a liberal Richmond-based think tank. [Washington Post]
No Name Change Push for JD Hwy — Seeking a name change for Jefferson Davis Highway, the formal name of Route 1 in Arlington County, is not part of the county’s recently-approved legislative agenda. The chance of the Republican-dominated state legislature allowing the name change in its upcoming 2017 session was “all but nil.” [InsideNova]
Joint Meeting of N. Va. Jurisdictions — County Board and city council members from Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church held a joint meeting last night, in which they discussed ways to cooperate and save money. Together, the three inside-the-Beltway jurisdictions have about 500,000 residents, as compared to Fairfax County’s population of 1.1 million. [Washington Post]
It’s likely to be a colder-than-usual winter with slightly above average snowfall. That seems to be the general consensus of the D.C. area’s television meteorologists.
— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) November 11, 2016
Regardless of exactly how much snow and ice accumulates, Arlington County says it’s prepared for this year’s winter.
Arlington has made a number of changes in the wake of the blizzard, and this year has stockpiled stockpiled 9,200 tons of road salt.
From a county press release:
After last year’s record-breaking winter, Arlington County is ready to take on the upcoming winter season. Although we can’t predict the weather, our crews have been preparing all year to make sure we can quickly make our roads, sidewalks, bus stops and trails safe and passable after a winter event.
Before, during and after a storm
Once the forecast calls for winter weather — snow, ice or freezing rain — Arlington crews follow our snow removal process and phases. They pre-treat main roads before a storm. During the storm, our priority is to keep main arteries passable for emergency vehicles and public transportation. After the storm, cleanup operations begin, which includes treating ice on the roadways.
The County has budgeted $1.387 million for FY16-17 snow operations. Our team includes 92 drivers and 46 trucks equipped with salt spreaders and plows. Additional contracting equipment is available depending upon the severity of the storm. We have stockpiled 9,200 tons of salt for roads.
What’s new this season?
- Piloting augmented deployment: For snow fall greater than 6-8 inches, we have contracted with more snow plow contractors to deploy plows into high risk residential areas even before primary and secondary roads are cleared.
- Refining our snow blower loaner program: We lend 25 snow blowers to civic associations and community groups. Based on feedback from residents, we have improved our snow blower loaner program by streamlining the application process, expanding outreach and extending training and support.
- Improving our snow issues form: We have updated the snow issues form to improve the user experience, better display messages and provide context to users if we are unable to address their report immediately.
- Expanding odd/even parking outreach: To help our snow plowing efforts, we will be encouraging residents to organize with their neighbors to park on one side of the road to allow snowplow operators to efficiently clear more of the street.
- Enhancing our snow training program: This year, we added training to make sure our crews are prepared. We also added specialized training which includes support functions for snow operations (e.g., chain shop, brine making, and snow-melter training).
Hitting the trails
The County will continue to clear trails and protected bicycle lanes this snow season as part of our commitment to supporting a transportation system with a range of options. The goal is to ensure accessibility and safety for all types of travel throughout a winter event. Updates will be posted through regular County snow communication channels, as well as on the BikeArlington Forum.
How you can help
Residents, too, play a role in dealing with the fallout of winter weather. The County’s Snow Removal Ordinance requires all Arlington property owners to clear snow and ice from public sidewalks adjacent to their property within a certain time frame. Here are some other ways residents can help with our snow removal efforts:
- Coordinate with neighbors to park cars on one side of the street, where feasible, or avoid on-street parking so snowplow operators can efficiently clear more of the streets
- Don’t park “head in” on cul-de-sacs so that plows have more room to maneuver
- Clear your sidewalks and scoop snow towards your house, not the street, BUT
- Wait for snow plows to come by before clearing snow from the front of driveways, to minimize the amount pushed back by plows
- Stay home, telework or use mass transit to reduce the number of potentially stranded vehicles
- Apply only the recommended amount of chemical de-icers on sidewalks to attain a safe and passable way
- Stay connected through our Snow and Ice Central webpage and our DES social media platforms for updates on snow phases, transportation, trash and other important notifications. Follow us on Twitter @ArlingtonDES and on Facebook at Arlington County Environmental Services.
Residents should report snow-related problems through the “Report a Snow Issue” form found on the Snow and Ice Central webpage.
Flickr pool photo by John Williams
The hotline, which launches on Tuesday, Nov. 15, “will offer a confidential and secure way to report suspected incidents of financial fraud, waste and abuse.” It expands on a similar hotline for County employees to report activity that negatively impacts County operations.
“Ethics are at the core of what we do as public stewards,” Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement. “Our employees, by and large, do the right thing every day. We successfully launched an employee financial waste, fraud and abuse hotline in May of 2015. We are pleased to expand this hotline to the public, as another easy way for anyone to report suspected instances of financial fraud, waste and abuse.”
The hotline, operated by third-party provider Ethical Advocate, can be reached via phone at 866-565-9206 or online at arlingtonva.ethicaladvocate.com. Tipsters can opt to remain anonymous.
Complaints will be examined by a “Review Committee” that will then “determine appropriate action,” including potential review by the Arlington County Police Department.
Separately, the Arlington County Board announced at its Wednesday meeting that it had hired a new County Auditor, after the county’s first independent auditor left the job in July.
The new auditor, Dr. Chris Horton, previously served as audit manager for the Fairfax County Public Schools’ Office of Auditor General.
More about the hire from a county press release, after the jump.
Above Average Teacher Salaries? — Arlington Public Schools teachers are paid somewhere between the market average (for the D.C. area) and 14 percent more than the market average, according to a new report that will be presented to the School Board on Thursday. [InsideNova]
Potomac Yard Metro Station Clears Hurdle — The planned Potomac Yard Metro station in Alexandria has received environmental approval from the federal government. The project will now enter the design and construction phase. [City of Alexandria]
Police Release Sketch of Sexual Assault Suspects — Fairfax County Police have released sketches of two men accused of abducting a 50-year-old woman they met at a restaurant on Columbia Pike in Falls Church. Police say the men sexually assaulted the woman before dropping her off along Route 50 in Arlington. [WJLA]
New Finance Director Named — Arlington has named Stephen Agostini, the former Chief Financial Officer of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as the county’s new Director of Management and Finance. [Arlington County]
Residents in three Arlington voting precincts have received erroneous voter cards from the county.
With four weeks to go until Election Day, voters in the Crystal City, Wilson (Rosslyn area) and Abingdon (Fairlington) precincts were sent cards that incorrectly listed the Lyon Park Community Center as their voting location, Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg confirmed to ARLnow.com.
Those who live in the Abingdon precinct also received an erroneous flyer, intended for Wilson precinct voters. Wilson and Crystal City voters received the correct flyer.
“Our mailroom sent cards to the correct voters but pulled incorrect precinct data,” said Lindberg. “They are [resending] with a letter of apology from me. I personally proofed the new cards so I know they are correct.”
“The County mailroom has taken full responsibility for the error and are working to get the correct information out to voters as soon as possible,” Lindberg added.
Update at 1:50 p.m. — The Washington Post reports that about 9,000 Arlington voters received mailings with incorrect information. That number was not immediately available from officials this morning.
Bridges maintained by Arlington County are “generally in good shape.”
That’s according to Ramzi Awwad, the county’s Engineering Bureau Chief, in a county-produced “Street Beat” video segment (above).
Talking about bridge inspections that are currently underway in Arlington, Awwad said that routine inspections and maintenance help to keep overall infrastructure costs down.
“Our bridges are generally in good shape,” said Awwad. “Because that’s the case, we can focus on performing minor repairs before they become major problems. As bridge condition deteriorates further and further, the cost to make the repairs increases exponentially, so we want to make sure we get ahead of everything while we still can.”
(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) About 4,600 businesses in Arlington County are newly subject to stringent recycling requirements this year.
Putting the changes and goals into action, on Jan. 1 the county began requiring that businesses, in addition to property owners, create and implement recycling plans. Like commercial and multifamily properties — those who manage office buildings and apartments — local businesses are also now subject to an annual inspection by an “Arlington County Recycling Outreach Specialist” and a $66 fee to pay for that inspection.
Including the property owners that were previously subject to the requirements, some 6,000 businesses total in Arlington are now required to:
- Register and submit a trash and recycling plan.
- Establish a recycling program to collect and dispose of recyclable items separately from trash.
- Place a recycling container next to every trash container.
- Clearly label recycling containers.
- Provide educational materials to employees (or tenants), telling them about the recycling program.
The requirements are far from onerous for large companies, but for some smaller companies, where every minute and every dollar counts, it’s producing some confusion and consternation.
The owner of a five-employee non-profit organization told ARLnow.com that she had to go back and forth with the county before getting a letter that finally explained the requirements and the fact that her organization was, in fact, subject to the new rules.
“Over the last month, I’ve spent a ton of my time dealing with the new recycling rules — mostly because Arlington County has been terrible at planning for and implementing their rules changes,” she said. “It’s been a very frustrating thing during [a time that is] normally busy anyway, and I’m sure [it is] for others too.”
The $66 fee, we’re told, can only be paid by check or by paying via credit card in person at county government headquarters — not online. An online payment system is in the works, the business owner was told.
Phil Bresee, manager of Arlington’s Environmental Management Office, said the inspections are new but the recycling requirement is not.
“All businesses have been required to recycle since 1994 — just not all have been subject to the fee and inspections,” he explained. “The changes to the Code apply the requirements to all businesses in the County.”
“Until this year, the code focused on and placed the responsibility for ensuring compliance on property managers and owners,” Bresee continued. “While most properties had recycling systems in place, we found that a large percentage of individual businesses or commercial tenants were not participating in those systems. Addressing that disconnect was the key driver for the Code changes.”
Bresee said the county intends to inspect all 6,000 businesses this year, though county code “does allow us to consider exemptions on a case-by-case basis.”
“In these unique situations, we mainly focus on ensuring that an overall recycling system is in place,” Bresee said. “Coworking spaces and virtual offices are usually covered under the recycling plans filed by the property manager or owner.”
The letter sent to businesses notes that two-thirds of all solid waste in Arlington is generated by commercial and multi-family properties. Business participation in recycling programs, the letter says, it key to meeting the county’s “zero waste” goals.
“Arlington County strives to be a world-class urban community and maintaining a clean and environmentally sustainable city is a top priority,” the letter said.
(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) Arlington County has stepped up to play a bigger role in this year’s Marine Corps Marathon after Metro’s SafeTrack work prompted big changes.
As a result of SafeTrack, Metro has stopped extending its hours for special events. Whereas the Metrorail system previously opened at 5 a.m. on marathon day, this year it will open at 7 a.m., less than an hour before runners are set to cross the starting line near Rosslyn.
At a press conference this afternoon at Rosslyn’s Spectrum Theater, marathon officials said this presented a major challenge. Metro has been a primary means for runners getting to the marathon, but due to “strict and unchanged timelines, dictated from the various jurisdictions through which the course runs,” officials were unable to push the start time back.
Those in Arlington or driving to Arlington will now be able to park at the Ballston mall garage and take an ART 42 bus to the runners village area near the Pentagon; the buses will start running at 5 a.m. More options: free parking in the garage at 23rd and Crystal Drive in Crystal City, with shuttles running to the runners village, or paid parking in Pentagon City.
Shuttles will also run from the Reagan building in D.C. and from the Gaylord, the official Marine Corps Marathon hotel at National Harbor. Officials encouraged runners to stay at hotels in National Harbor or Arlington, if possible.
Should runners arrive late and not make it through security until a bit after the 7:55 a.m. start, they won’t have to rush: the starting line will be kept open until 8:55 a.m. this year, about 40 minutes longer than usual, according to MCM marketing manager Marc Goldman.
To make sure runners can “beat the bridge” — make a mid-race cut-off point in time — the course is being extended in Arlington. At the beginning of the race, there will be an extra portion of course along N. Kirkwood Road, before runners head down the Spout Run Parkway. Later in the race, three extra blocks have been added to the Crystal Drive stretch through Crystal City, and an additional portion has been added around the Pentagon south parking lot, Goldman said.
The long stretch up and down the Rock Creek Parkway in D.C., meanwhile, has been shortened.
Additionally, the start of the MCM 10K race has been moved from the National Mall to the Pentagon parking lot. The 10K will now take place entirely in Arlington, to keep 10K runners from coming into conflict with marathoners.
Metro, for its part, says it will add extra 8-car trains to the Blue and Yellow lines when it does open on marathon day.
Marathon officials thanked Arlington County for helping to accommodate the changes to this year’s race. They also thanked race participants.
“Thank you to the runners for their patience while we untangle and address these challenges,” Goldman said.
The Marine Corps Marathon will take place on Sunday, Oct. 30; as usual, it will start and end near Rosslyn. The full press release about the changes is available here.
— Adam Tuss (@AdamTuss) August 31, 2016
Arlington County courts, human services, libraries, recreation centers and administrative offices will be closed this coming Monday, Sept. 5, for the Labor Day holiday.
Parking meters will not be enforced on Labor Day and only ART bus routes 41, 45, 51, 55 and 87 will be running. Those routes will operate on a Sunday schedule. Metro will operate on a holiday schedule, with extra delays due to track work.
The Wakefield and Washington-Lee high school pools will be open, but the Yorktown pool will be closed.
Trash and recycling will be collected as normal, and Arlington’s special collection service will also operate as normal. A paper shredding and inert material drop-off event that would have otherwise taken place on Sept. 5 has been rescheduled for Sept. 10.
APS Testing for Lead in Pipes — Arlington Public Schools has been testing systemwide for lead in pipes. Already, the school system has replaced a water fountain in Jamestown Elementary School found to have lead levels above a level considered safe by the state health department. [InsideNova]
Bayou Bakery Raising Money for Flooding Victims — Bayou Bakery in Courthouse is raising money for Louisiana flooding victims. The restaurant is offering a special Shrimp Creole appetizer for $9 this week; half the proceeds from that dish will benefit flood victims, including chef/owner David Guas’ own aunt, whose home in Abbeville, LA flooded with two feet of water. [Bayou Bakery]
Arlington Names New Communications Director — Dr. Bryna Helfer has been named Arlington County’s new Director of Communications and Public Engagement. She joins county government from the federal government. “Helfer currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Engagement at the U.S. Department of Transportation and also serves as Senior Advisor to the Secretary on Accessibility and Workforce,” a press release notes. [Arlington County]
Crystal City Boxing Recap — It was a nine-bout, nine-knockout night at the Crystal City Hilton Friday night. [Fight News]
Transport Nerds ‘Playing With Traffic’ — A big group of “transportation techies” gathered recently at WeWork in Crystal City to discuss creative and tech-based solutions to transportation problems. The group is sponsored by Mobility Lab, the research arm of Arlington County Commuter Services. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
County Backtracks on Uber Story — Arlington County is in the early stages of considering a plan to replace low-ridership ART service with some sort of partnership with ridesharing services, like Uber. However, the county is backtracking on an official’s statement that the service would be subsidized. “A recent press account quoted a County staff person as saying, incorrectly, that we will be subsidizing this service,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “No such decision has been made at this preliminary stage of analysis.” [Arlington County]
Advisory Group: Change Name of Jeff Davis Highway — An advisory group appointed by the City of Alexandria has recommended changing the name of Jefferson Davis Highway. Alexandria’s “Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names” says the Confederate president’s name should be removed from Route 1 in the city. [Patch]
Ultimate Frisbee Vote — Arlington Public Schools is now the first school system in Virginia to make ultimate frisbee an official school sport. The Arlington School Board voted Thursday night to implement ultimate as a sport in middle and high schools, on an initial countywide budget of $90,000. [WTOP]
New ART Bus Route Launching Monday — The new ART 54 bus route will begin serving Dominion Hills, Madison Manor and East Falls Church on Monday. The new bus will run every 24 minutes on weekdays, during the morning and evening rush hours. [Arlington Transit]
Medicine Dispensing Exercise — Arlington residents are being encouraged to participate in the county health department’s mass medication dispensing exercise on Saturday. Volunteers are needed to form a crowd seeking medication (the county will be dispensing two types of candy during the exercise.) [ARLnow]
United Bank Purchasing Cardinal Bank — Two regional banks are coming together to form what may be the “most dominant community bank” in the D.C. area. United Bank, which has four Arlington branches, is purchasing Cardinal Bank, which has five Arlington branches. [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Arlington residents are now able to check the status of road work, look at traffic conditions and access information on local real estate development projects on the County’s mobile app.
The county this week added these and a few other new features to My Arlington, the app for iPhone and Android devices that launched in February.
Users can now use the app to access real-time information on paving and milling operations on county-owned streets, view traffic camera feeds and get traffic updates using data from Google Waze, said Shannon Whalen McDaniel, a communications manager for Arlington County.
“County staff enters data into Waze daily, noting if a street is partially or fully closed, along with an estimated time of completion,” Whalen McDaniel added.
Other recent additions to the My Arlington app include:
- Voting information, with Arlington polling and precinct locations.
- A county staff search directory.
- Information on development projects with county site plans.
- Notices about stop work orders and unsafe buildings.
Screenshot via Arlington County