Arlington, VA

As one fire station faces permanent closure, Arlington County is considering plans to open another one.

Fire Station 7 in Fairlington (3116 S. Abingdon Street) temporarily closed in October due to structural safety concerns. The crews relocated to other stations, with Fire Station 9 and nearby Alexandria and Fairfax stations assigned to cover Fairlington and nearby parts of South Arlington.

The station hasn’t reopened since, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Ben O’Bryant.

That closure could become permanent. Since at least 2014, the station has been on the chopping block. A report from 2012 noted that the station is beloved by the community, but lacks the efficiency of other stations throughout the county.

According to the report:

Station 7 is located in a residential community that has narrow streets and limited access. It does not provide as wide coverage area as do other fire stations in the County. Well maintained and in excellent condition, Station 7 is considered a ‘neighborhood treasure’ to residents of the community. The Routley study also recommended the elimination of Station 7, or its relocation to South George Mason Drive near Wakefield High School. This study found that Stations 7 and 9 could be merged to a location near the intersection of South Walter Reed Drive and South Four Mile Run Drive.

At an audit meeting last week regarding the overuse of overtime in the Fire Department, County Board Vice Chair Libby Garvey said part of the reasoning behind Fire Station 7’s closure is that 60 percent of the station’s runs are to Alexandria and Fairfax.

The County Manager is close to making a decision on the future of Fire Station 7, according to county spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith, and more information should be forthcoming “soon.”

Meanwhile, the County is in the early days of scouting sites for a new fire station on Columbia Pike. No timeline or site has been identified, but County Manager Mark Schwartz noted that the eastern end of Columbia Pike is a desirable location based on previous studies.

In the audit meeting, County officials also noted that new development planned for the eastern end of Columbia Pike and in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area — notably, Amazon’s HQ2 — will also likely increase demand for fire services in that area over the next few years.

“The current high demand at Fire Station 5 in Aurora Hills, combined with anticipated development and population growth in Crystal City/Pentagon City, may affect priorities in the next Capital Improvement Plan, which will be proposed in May 2020,” Smith said.

Photo via Google Maps

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(Updated on 07/29/19) Arlington County will not be paying for the cost of clean-up from sewage back-ups into people’s homes during the July 8 flash flood emergency.

A spokesperson for the County Manager’s office said today (Friday) that the county “sympathizes with proper owners” recovering from the unusually strong storm and “regrets” any damage caused, but “unfortunately, the County is not in a position to accept responsibility for damage to private properties resulting from this storm.”

As the rainstorm dumped water on Arlington two weeks ago, stormwater runoff filled basements in homes and businesses — as did some sewage. The Department of Environmental Services previously told ARLnow that water flooded some sewer pipes, backing up sewage into people’s homes.

The result was raw sewage flowing into basements, and in some cases, potentially washing up to the first floor of homes, as evidenced by the smells still lingering days after the storm in some houses hit hard in Westover.

“Under Virginia law, the County is legally immune from these sorts of claims and using County tax dollars to pay for damages for which the County is immune would constitute an illegal gift to a private individual,” said County Manager’s office spokesman Ben Hampton. “While the County will investigate all reported claims on a case-by-case basis, there is no legal basis for it to accept liability in the vast majority of cases resulting from the July 8 storm.”

One tipster who lives near the Cherrydale and Waverly Hills neighborhoods said his house was flooded after the main sewer line near his house flooded, “leaving us pretty much helpless as the county sewage flooded into our basement.”

When asked how many homes were affected by damaged sewer lines during the sewer line, county spokeswoman Bryna Helfer did not yet know and added that, “our primary focus right now is on pursuing the federal and state assistance.”

Over 1,000 residents and business owners filed post-storm damage claims with the county as part of Arlington’s preparation to request aid from the state or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hampton said the county is currently reviewing the the damage assessment from the claims which determines the county’s aid eligibility.

“At this time, we have no reason to believe that homeowners with major damage would not be eligible for aid if it’s approved,”  added Helfer.

“The most likely form of aid is from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which provides low-interest loans to disaster victims, including homeowners, renters, and businesses, for repairs or replacement of disaster-damaged buildings and property,” she said. “SBA can also provide capital to businesses. The County is also pursuing aid under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Individual Assistance program, which provides financial assistance to individuals and families who have sustained losses due to disasters.”

Prior to the July 8 flooding, damage from clogged county sewers has occasionally damaged homes, including several incidents in the Madison Manor neighborhood, leaving residents on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs.

The full response from the County Manager’s office is below.

The County sympathizes with property owners recovering from the July 8, 2019 storm, which dumped an unprecedented amount of rain in the region and caused significant damage to public infrastructure as well as private property. The County regrets any damage that may have been caused to private property from the County’s public sewer lines being damaged or overwhelmed by this storm. Unfortunately, the County is not in a position to accept responsibility for damage to private properties resulting from this storm. Under Virginia law, the County is legally immune from these sorts of claims and using County tax dollars to pay for damages for which the County is immune would constitute an illegal gift to a private individual. While the County will investigate all reported claims on a case-by-case basis, there is no legal basis for it to accept liability in the vast majority of cases resulting from the July 8 storm. Property owners are encouraged to check with their insurance carriers and to explore the possibility of obtaining flood insurance for their properties. Additional information regarding the July 8 storm is available on the Flood Recovery Center at arlingtonva.us/flood-recovery.

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Arlington County has a plan to lure in fitness-lovering tourists with retro sports ads.

The County Board is considering accepting $10,000 in state funds for a marketing campaign designed to attract exercise enthusiasts to Arlington, as the state celebrates the 50th anniversary of the “Virginia Is for Lovers” slogan.

staff report to the Board said the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service (ACVS) will use the money to promote sports tourism in the county:

The goal is to attract travelers from at least 50 miles away to stay in Arlington hotels on vacation. Centered on the fall race season and major Arlington-based events like the Army Ten-Miler and Marine Corps Marathon, ACVS’s initiative will appeal to fitness-focused leisure travelers through retro, 1969-style visuals and sports accessories, along with creative storytelling via blogs, videos and national social-media influencers.

The item is included in the Board’s agenda for its meeting this Saturday.

If approved, the county would accept $10,000 from the Virginia Tourism Corporation and apply the funds to the Arlington’s Economic Development Commission.

“This fall, ACVS will use the grant funds to collaborate with local fitness and neighborhood organizations to fuse Virginia’s ’50 Years of Love’ campaign with the idea that ‘Arlington is for Fitness Lovers,'” said the report.

The report also noted the county’s 2018 ranking as the fittest American “city” — a title it won again this week.

Photo via Arlington Sports Hall of Fame

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Morning Notes

VHC Land Swap Ready to Move Forward — “Nearly six months after a divided Arlington County Board approved a major expansion of Virginia Hospital Center, board members are set to take the next step.” [InsideNova]

Ballston IHOP Reopens — “Good news IHOP fans: the Ballston location is back open and serving customers. Here’s why it closed.” [Twitter]

DEA Finds Temporary Digs — “The Drug Enforcement Administration has found temporary space in Crystal City for its employees while its… headquarters in adjacent Pentagon City gets a major makeover. Representatives for the DEA recently applied to Arlington County for interior alteration permits to renovate three floors at 2200 Crystal Drive.” [Washington Business Journal]

Road Closures for Ballston 5K Race — “The 2019 Girls on the Run 5K Race will be held in the Ballston-Virginia Square area on Sunday, May 19, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will implement the following road closures from approximately 8:15 AM to 10:15 AM to accommodate the event.” [Arlington County]

Carlee Defines the ‘Arlington Way’ — “‘In its most positive framing’ [the Arlington Way] means ‘engaging with the public on issues of importance or concern (not always the same) in an effort to reach community consensus or… a shared understanding and an opportunity for everyone to be heard,’ [former County Manager Ron Carlee] writes. ‘In its negative framing’ the phrase has been ‘derided as a way to talk everything to death so that ideas are killed or that people are so worn-down that by the end, they do not care what happens as long as it is just over.'” [Falls Church News-Press]

Photo courtesy @klk_photography11/Instagram

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A new county initiative aims to help find ways to solve Arlington’s affordable housing shortage.

County Manager Mark Schwartz introduced “Housing Arlington” during Thursday night’s Arlington County Board meeting. Billed as an “umbrella initiative” for the county’s existing affordable housing programs, Schwartz said it will help officials and the public brainstorm solutions together.

During presentations Thursday night, county staff said Arlington has lost 17,000 market-rate housing units since 2005. With 58,000 more residents expected by 2045 and current rent for a 2 bedroom apartment averaging $3,000 per month, they said the squeeze for affordable housing is likely to worsen.

“If we are successful in this event, we will create and preserve more housing for Arlington residents,” said the Housing Division Chief David Cristeal.

The county currently creates affordable housing in a couple ways, including by subsidizing its construction with the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund (AHIF) and by subsidizing rent for low-income residents.

In 2015, the county officials pledged to create 15,800 affordable housing units before 2040, but have since fallen short of the yearly creation benchmarks.

“Housing Arlington is different first because it’s a County Board priority to bring solutions sooner… and the expectations are higher,” said Cristeal, adding that the initiative means the Arlington will be “even more focused on this challenge” and will be “more proactive” in collaborating between public and private sectors.

The initiative will focus on addressing the shortage of affordable homes for low-income and middle-income residents, per its website, and plans to leverage the county’s existing housing programs along with zoning tools and private-public partnerships to accomplish that goal.

Schwartz noted during last night’s meeting that Arlington’s “dilemmas of costly housing can’t, and should not, be solved with AHIF funding.”

He added that the money he and the County Board increased for AHIF’s budget this year “is a really good step” but that “it will never meet the full scope of the need.”

“We know residents across generations are facing pressures from multiple angles, and this interconnected solution allows our community to be responsive and efficient,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey in a press release.  The challenges don’t exist in silos and their solutions don’t either.”

Schwartz says the public has submitted ideas to the county before which are now research-able due to the Housing Arlington initiative. The ideas include:

  • Can publicly-funded housing be created specifically for teachers?
  • Should individuals let public safety staff live in accessory dwellings on their property?

Schwartz mentioned the initiative was also a response to the  “strong headwinds” the county faces in addressing affordable housing with Amazon coming to town.

The hearing to approve Amazon’s incentive package was dogged by activists who fear the company’s “HQ2” will hasten gentrification. Several residents shared how their rent has already increased since the company scouted its new headquarters in Pentagon City and Crystal City.

“What I’m sensing is a real concern about loss and vulnerability,” Dorsey during the March hearing in between protests.. At the time, Dorsey added that the “the history” of Arlington neighborhoods was that of gentrification and increasing property values.

“We never really had a way to stop it,” Dorsey said.

The Housing Arlington initiative will be housed in the Housing Division of the county’s Community Planning, Housing and Development Department (CPHD), per its website. Funding details for the new initiative were not shared.

The Housing Arlington initiative is scheduled to hold its first public engagement forum at Kenmore Middle School on Wednesday, May 29 from 6-9 p.m.

Flickr photo via woodleywonderworks

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Arlington officials are proposing a $12,000, mid-year funding bump for a program aiding the county’s undocumented residents.

Last week, County Manager Mark Schwartz published his recommendation to the County Board that they give an extra $12,250 from the county’s current budget and transfer the funds to the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC). The Board is set to the weigh the issue this Saturday at its monthly meeting.

The funds are earmarked for the undocumented residents the Justice Center is providing with immigration assistance, such as visa consultations or asylum petitions as part of a program called “200 bridges.” Twenty-eight out of the 50 participating families have undocumented members, Schwartz wrote in the proposal.

If approved, the $12,250 would be a funding raise for the Justice Center — the county already granted $40,000 this year to fund legal rights workshops and counsel for individuals and families. Last fiscal year, the county allocated $100,000 to the Justice Center.

Since the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration enforcement, Arlington officials have acknowledged they want to remain “inclusive” to undocumented residents, but that they cannot provide “sanctuary” from federal agencies like ICE. Residents responded by raising thousands of dollars of their own money to cover the cost of local immigrants’ citizenship applications.

The county has taken steps to make some services (like public schools, health clinics and employment aid) available by not requiring users to show proof of residency.

Last week’s proposal suggested moving money out of Department of Human Services’ general fund for fiscal year 2019 and giving it to the legal aid provider to “bolster its provision of legal consultation and representation for undocumented Arlingtonians and mixed-residency status Arlington families.” (The current fiscal year ends in June, meaning the funds would have to be spent before then.)

About 23 percent of all 234,965 Arlington residents were born outside the United States, according to the latest Census data.

There are no data for the total number of residents who are undocumented, but in 2014 the American Immigration Council estimated 300,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Virginia, making up approximately 28 of the total immigration population.

A 2016 research study by the Pew Research Center estimated 25,000 people live without immigration documentation in the total Greater Washington Area.

Schwarz’s proposal would allocate the $12,250 to the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Arlington office, not its other offices in Charlottesville, Petersburg and Richmond.

Image via Youtube.

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Arlington leaders are doling out raises for County Manager Mark Schwartz and several other senior county employees.

The County Board signed off on modest pay hikes for Schwartz, County Attorney Steve MacIsaac, County Auditor Chris Horton and County Board Clerk Kendra Jacobs at its meeting Tuesday (Jan. 29).

Each one scored 3.25 percent pay bumps on their previous contracts, matching raises the Board handed out last year to the group. All four report directly to county lawmakers.

Schwartz, the top executive in the county government, now stands to pull in just under $262,000 next year. This raise marks the third one he’s earned from the Board since he was hired as permanent county manager in 2016, when he started out with an annual salary of $245,000. His predecessor as manager, Barbara Donnellan, reached a top salary of about $270,000 a year by the end of her five-year tenure.

MacIsaac now pulls in about $253,000 per year, his tenth salary bump since taking over as the county’s top lawyer in 2000. Horton now makes nearly $143,000, earning his second raise since joining the county in 2016.

Jacobs now makes just over $108,000 annually, with the pay bump coming just a few months after the Board hired her to manage meeting materials this past July.

The good news for these county employees, most of whom rank among the highest-paid in the county workforce, comes as Schwartz is warning of some potential bad news for other county workers.

He’s already ordered a hiring “slowdown” to cope with the county’s dire fiscal picture, and has warned layoffs could be in the forecast (alongside tax increases and service cuts) to close a large budget gap in the new fiscal year.

File photo

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Facing a combined budget gap of up to $75 million, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz is eschewing the usual divvying up of leftover funds from the last fiscal year and instead proposing to roll them over with an eye on next year’s budget.

Schwartz will recommend at Saturday’s County Board meeting that the $21.9 million in unspent funds available to the county remain primarily unallocated, with $16.5 million being set aside to give the Board more options going into the next budget process.

“Difficult choices will be required to balance the FY 2020 budget and will likely include service reductions, and consideration of a real estate tax increase,” says a county staff report. “Setting aside $16.5 million in undesignated funds from the close-out of FY 2018 will give the County Board some flexibility when weighing these choices.”

Schwartz is also recommending the county allocate $3.4 million (along with $3 million from Arlington Public School) to increase its General Fund Operating Reserve — important for maintaining the county’s triple-AAA bond rating — and $2 million for use by the County Manager “to address unforeseen needs that arise during the fiscal year without reprioritizing or cutting other programs.”

The county has funds left in its coffers at the end of almost every fiscal year, thanks to conservative budgeting practices intended to maintain the triple-AAA rating.

Often, the budget “close-out” process ends up funding a grab bag of county priorities, from law enforcement needs to affordable housing. Asked about that this week, Schwartz said his recommendation does not mean that affordable housing is being deprioritized.

“It doesn’t mean that some of that money going forward couldn’t be used for affordable housing,” Schwartz said at the town hall meeting. “I just think, given the hole we have to fill, I didn’t want to preordain what my priorities would be. We’ll see how the Board receives that.”

A number of civic activists have been pushing the county to reform the budget close-out process, which they see as a boondoggle meant to fund pet projects with minimal public scrutiny or discussion.

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Morning Notes

County Manager Warns of Tough Upcoming Budget — “Arlington County faces an estimated budget gap of $20-35 million for its 2020 fiscal year, which could require cuts to County services, increased taxes and fees, or a combination of the two. County Manager Mark Schwartz… said that County revenues are forecast to grow by a modest 1.5 percent, while expenditures for the County’s current set of programs are anticipated to grow twice as fast.” [Arlington County, Washington Post]

GW Parkway Rebuild Coming — “Much of the George Washington Parkway will see a complete rebuild in the next few years — and though it’ll surely result in smoother pavement and longer acceleration lanes, good things on the road only come after lengthy closures. An $150 million overhaul of the George Washington Parkway, including a rework of the interchange with Virginia Route 123, is moving forward.” [WTOP]

County: Report Suspicious Activity — Despite some recent pushback on questionable calls to law enforcement, Arlington County is still encouraging citizens to “See Something, Say Something.” Per the county: “Security is a shared responsibility so if you see something out of place, say something by reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement. Arlington County is safer when everyone is engaged and alert.” [Arlington County]

Cops Called on Food Vendor — Someone called police to report a pickup truck that was selling food without a permit on S. Scott Street near Columbia Pike Tuesday morning. The truck may have been delivering food to construction workers. [Twitter]

Crash on Memorial Bridge — A crash blocked two inbound lanes of the Memorial Bridge during this morning’s rush hour, prompting delays for commuters. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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There’s a new way for Arlington residents to complain about things.

Arlington County has launched a new “Consumer Protection Clearinghouse” website, with consumer-oriented information about everything from towing to cable TV service to food trucks. The site is a one-stop shop that puts local, state and federal resources in one place.

The new site was announced at last week’s Arlington County Board meeting.

The site also includes a “submit a complaint” feature, focused mostly on towing, cable and taxi-related issues. Submissions will be reviewed by county staff.

The site will allow the county to “better address the needs of consumers” and help facilitate a “fair marketplace,” said Jeanine Finch, who serves as the county’s Business Ombudsman and lead for consumer affairs.

County Board Chair Katie Cristol said the Board is “quite enthusiastic” about the new site.

More information from a press release:

A new Consumer Protection Clearinghouse site aims to help consumers and businesses in Arlington County by providing educational resources and a way to submit concerns.

This new site centralizes existing consumer resources from across County government, and consolidates and incorporates a variety of state and federal resources as well. It also enhances access to public information on a range of topics regulated by the County government, including:

  • Towing
  • Cable TV
  • Taxis
  • Pawn Shops
  • Food Trucks
  • Solicitation

The page also includes an easy-to-use “submit a complaint” button that appears on each page in the site.

The new resource was announced at the May 22, 2018, County Board Meeting by County Manager Mark Schwartz.

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Morning Notes

DES Wants to Reunite Stuffed Bunny With Owner — The Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services is searching for the owner of a stuffed animal believed to have been accidentally thrown away during Taste of Arlington on Sunday. “Let us know if someone is missing a good friend,” DES tweeted. [Twitter]

APS to Keep German, Japanese Classes — “Superintendent Patrick Murphy on May 17 confirmed the decision to keep German I, II and III and Japanese I, II and III, which had been slated for elimination due to low enrollment. The turnaround came after students and parents complained.” [InsideNova]

Flanagan-Watson Get Promotion — “Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has appointed Shannon Flanagan-Watson as deputy county manager, effective May 21, with oversight responsibility for Arlington Economic Development, Arlington Public Libraries, and a portion of the Department of Environmental Services, one of the County’s largest departments.” Flanagan-Watson has served as the county’s business ombudsman, working to help solve regulatory problems for Arlington businesses. [Arlington County]

Risk Warrant Bill Fails — A bill introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) to create risk warrants — allowing law enforcement to confiscate the guns of troubled individuals if a court order is granted — failed in the Virginia legislature this session. [WVTF]

Patriots Win District Baseball Title — The Yorktown Patriots baseball team won the Liberty District high school tournament and title for the first time since 2012. [InsideNova]

Get Ready for Memorial Bridge Work — Major work to rehabilitate the aging Memorial Bridge is set to begin in September and will cause significant traffic impacts. The work “will require long-term lane closures and short-term detours, which will be disruptive to traffic and likely send vehicles to other Potomac River spans, tying those up more than usual, per the NPS. One of the sidewalks will also be closed ‘during much of the construction period.'” [Washington Business Journal]

Budget Limits May Limit New HS Amenities — “Those who descended on Saturday’s County Board meeting hoping to win support for more rather than fewer amenities in a potential fourth Arlington high school came away with no promises from board members. If anything, those elected officials who addressed the subject did so in an effort to – delicately – tamp down expectations.” [InsideNova]

Wrong-Way Crash in Pentagon City — A driver reportedly hopped a curb, drove the wrong way down Army Navy Drive and smashed into two vehicles in Pentagon City around noon yesterday. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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