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Renovations to a pair of office buildings in Crystal City, including the construction of a new pedestrian plaza, are set to wrap up this spring.

Work kicked off last year at the Century Center towers, located at the intersection of Crystal Drive and S. Clark Street. Some older retail space between the buildings, previously known as Century One (2450 Crystal Drive) and Century Two (2461 S. Clark Street), was torn down to make room for the plaza.

Now, the upgrades to the 50-year-old buildings and the plaza between them are in the home stretch and set to be completed this spring, per an announcement from MRP Realty and LaSalle Investment Management. As part of the refresh, the towers are being rebranded simply as “Crystal & Clark.”

The exteriors and mall interior of the old Century Center buildings were “dated and washed-out,” per a press release. Now, the buildings “balance modern design with biophilic and organic touches” and feature “vibrant retail.”

The plaza, meanwhile, “is a reimagined central gathering hub between the two buildings,” per the release.  It will be lined by retail, including a new Primrose Schools Early Education & Care location and forthcoming retailers in casual and fine dining, medical care and boutique fitness, as well as a food market, according to the building’s website.

“Century Center was an outmoded design with limited amenities and much-needed indoor/outdoor spaces for the offices, further complemented by the retail-accessible pedestrian plaza shared by the two buildings,” said Frederick Rothmeijer, Founding Principal of MRP’s Development, Construction Management and Asset Management operations, in a statement. “Our strategic plan executed with Davis Construction brings a palpable vitality to this property, and to the neighborhood, located in the center of the burgeoning National Landing.”

As part of the renovations, the plaza has new outdoor seating and gathering areas while the buildings have increased street-level retail and restaurant spaces, as well as streetscape improvements.

Inside, refreshed features include a new lobby and “the largest office conference center in National Landing,” per the press release. That’s in addition to a fitness center with locker rooms, second- and third-floor terraces with indoor and outdoor meeting spaces and a “townhall” amenity space.

“With our keen appreciation of the National Landing neighborhood, we are pleased to see the redevelopment come to fruition,” said Shaun Broome, Managing Director at LaSalle Investment Management. “We believe it will be a significant draw for new tenants and an improved chapter for those who have been onsite for years.”

The renovations have already attracted a “strong contingent of office leases,” despite the difficult office leasing environment, per the release. Arlington’s overall office vacancy rate is currently above 21%.

Raytheon renewed the lease for its corporate headquarters at the Crystal City office complex in 2021, with 120,000 square feet of space on six floors across both buildings.

In total, 2450 Crystal Drive comprises 336,229 square feet of office space and 51,443 square feet of retail. Of that, 36,000 square feet are leased out or a lease is being negotiated. 2461 S. Clark Street has 232,969 square feet of office space and 5,000 square feet of retail now under lease of the total 18,980 available.

“Once prospective tenants visit the site and see this radically improved office and retail environment — especially the food and dining choices, along with a continuing vision set in the very center of National Landing, the value of this position will be undeniable,” said Gary Cook, Senior Vice President Leasing for Lincoln Property Company, in a statement. “The ‘office lifestyle’ here is a game-changer that I believe all current and future tenants celebrate as we seek to bring them new synergistic neighbors to the building.”

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Possible carjacked vehicle and suspect vehicle caught on camera (courtesy Dave Statter)

It has been an eventful couple of weeks for BMW drivers in the Crystal City and Pentagon City area.

Last night another BMW was taken during a carjacking, by suspects who themselves arrived in a BMW. This time it happened outside the 7-Eleven store at the corner of 23rd Street S. and S. Eads Street.

“At approximately 10:14 p.m. on January 30, police were dispatched to the report of a stolen vehicle,” Arlington County police said today in a crime report. “Upon arrival, it was determined the male victim was attempting to reverse out of a parking space when Suspect One exited the suspect vehicle, approached the victim, brandished a firearm, threatened him and demanded his vehicle.”

“The victim exited his vehicle and Suspect One and Suspect Two entered,” the crime report continued. “The suspects then fled the scene in the victim’s stolen vehicle at a high rate of speed with the suspect vehicle, occupied by Suspect Three and Suspect Four, following.”

This was the fifth reported carjacking in Arlington in three weeks, the fourth in the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas, and the third involving BMWs.

On Jan. 15 an Audi was carjacked at 23rd Street S. and S. Fern Street, in Crystal City. On Jan. 25 a white BMW was carjacked near 23rd Street S. and Crystal Drive, in Crystal City. On Jan. 26 a BMW was carjacked in front of the Pentagon City mall after another BMW, carjacked in D.C., crashed and was abandoned nearby on Route 1.

The five vehicles carjacked in Arlington this month compares to zero carjacked last January and 14 total throughout 2022, according to stats provided by ACPD.

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Parking along 13th Street S. in Pentagon City near Amazon’s second headquarters in 2019 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Next month, Arlington County will hold a community event to kick off a three-year parking pilot program that prices parking by demand in a few highly trafficked corridors.

This is the first official step forward since the Arlington County Board accepted a $5.4 million grant from the Virginia Dept. of Transportation for the “performance parking” program.

The pilot would electronically monitor parking space usage alter parking prices based on the day, time and the number of people competing for a metered parking space along the Rosslyn-Ballston and Crystal City-Pentagon City corridors. It would also give drivers real-time information on spot availability and price.

In the meeting description, Arlington County says the three-year pilot project could “improve the user experience for metered parking spaces in two key commercial and residential corridors in Arlington.”

“Join the project team for a Community Kick-Off meeting to learn more about the pilot project, the technology we’ll be using to inform the project, and share your input on the pilot project’s goals to help us understand your priorities for metered parking spaces in the Rosslyn-Ballston and Route 1 corridors,” per the website.

According to the event page, meeting attendees will be able to:

  • Learn about the pilot’s background and purpose
  • Get briefed on the status of metered parking in the two Metrorail corridors
  • Learn what technology will be used and what data will be collected, and how this will inform the project’s next steps
  • Get a first look at a demonstration site

Arlington County Board members approved the program in late 2020 after hashing out concerns from some opponents about how this would impact people with lower incomes. Members were convinced by the case staff made that lower-income people are less likely to have one or more cars and could save money on parking by choosing to park on less-popular streets and for shorter time periods.

Ultimately, however, the pilot project is intended to sort out these concerns and “map out any mitigations that are necessary,” parking planner Stephen Crim said at the time.

Project proponent Chris Slatt said at the time that variable-price parking ensures that spots are generally available where and when people want them. He pointed to the city of San Francisco, which found that the program made it easier for people to find parking. This reduced double parking, improved congestion and lowered greenhouse gas emissions.

An online Q&A about the project lists as goals, “Drivers spend less time looking for on-street parking” and “Vehicle miles travelled resulting from on-street parking search or ‘cruising’ are reduced.” That will come at a cost, though, as parking rates are increased in busy areas.

The virtual community kick-off meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 23 from 7-8:30 p.m.

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A man was carjacked by armed suspects in Crystal City last night.

The crime happened around 8 p.m. Wednesday along the 2200 block of Crystal Drive, in front of a row of restaurants. It’s the third reported carjacking in Arlington in two weeks and the second in Crystal City, specifically.

“The male victim was inside his parked vehicle when the suspect vehicle, with three unknown male suspects inside, pulled alongside him,” Arlington County police said today in a crime report. “Suspect One allegedly displayed a firearm from within the suspect vehicle as Suspect Two approached the victim and demanded his vehicle. The victim exited his vehicle and Suspect Two entered and fled the scene in the stolen vehicle with the suspect vehicle following.”

“Responding officers canvassed the area yielding negative results,” the crime report continues. “No injuries were reported. During the course of the investigation, the stolen vehicle was recovered in Prince George’s County, MD.”

The three suspects remain at large. The stolen vehicle was a 2017 BMW, according to public safety watcher Alan Henney.

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Two 30-story apartment towers proposed for Crystal City received a green light from the Arlington County Board on Saturday.

The proposal from JBG Smith will redevelop a block at the intersection of 23rd Street S. and Crystal Drive that is currently home to a vacant office building from the 1960s and, until demolition started earlier this year, a strip of one-story retail that included the restaurant Jaleo.

The west tower (223 23rd Street S.) will have 613 units and 8,000 square feet of retail. The east tower (2250 Crystal Drive) will have 826 units and 14,929 square feet of retail. A north-south vehicular access will run between the two towers and is intended to take parking and retail loading off the nearby streets.

This project also includes an approximately 8,025-square-foot interim public green space, which the Crystal City Sector Plan envisions becoming a 13,000-square-foot open space.

A 5,574-square-foot walkway lined with planters and seating will run east to west and connect pedestrians to a relocated entrance to the Crystal City Shops, an underground mall, as well as retail at the base of the 2250 Crystal Drive building.

JBG Smith will rebuild 23rd Street S. from Crystal Drive to Richmond Highway, adding 1,600 new linear feet of protected bike lanes across Crystal Drive and 23rd Street S. The developer will also add a mid-block crossing where the north-south connector intersects with 23rd Street S. and floating bus stops on either side of the street.

The project is set to achieve LEED Gold certification. JBG Smith will contribute more than $8 million to affordable housing and set aside 34 off-site affordable units at one of its existing Riverhouse apartment buildings in Pentagon City. Open space in the development is set to be redeveloped in the near future.

References to Missing Middle — which was the next item for discussion — broke into comments from County Board members.

“The big picture here is 1,400 additional units that are in one of our transit corridors. This is an example of the type of project that across perspectives, most everyone supports,” said Board member Matt de Ferranti. “This is part of smart policy to prevent further ex-urban development. It’s part of good policy for our community.”

Board member Takis Karantonis hailed it as “a very good project.”

“This is between one of the nation’s most vibrant innovation districts, [Amazon’s] HQ2, the anchor, and everything that comes around it, and the Virginia Tech campus a few blocks down the street,” he said.

He went on to connect the project to the Missing Middle housing proposal, which was discussed in public comments for more than five hours after Board members voted on JBG Smith’s redevelopment plans.

“These people will live there and after a while, we would like them to have more opportunities to stay in Arlington and continue to be productive residents at the core of our economic growth machine,” he said.

Board members and Planning Commission representative Jim Lantelme applauded JBG Smith’s plans to reuse unoccupied parking garage spaces for residents.

“That’s something we encourage and would like to see more of,” Lantelme said.

Staff and Lantelme mentioned changes JBG Smith made in response to comments from advisory commissions and staff. They said these changes improved the pedestrian experience by setting the height of the towers farther back from the street and redesigning the larger public plazas to include more plantings and a pet relief area.

Board Vice-Chair Libby Garvey thanked JBG Smith the changes made.

“The fact that we don’t have a lot of speakers here to tell us how bad the plan is shows that the work has really been well done, ” he said. “Arlingtonians are not shy about letting us know if there’s something they don’t like.”

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that highlights Arlington-based startups, founders, and local tech news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

Crystal City agriculture-tech startup EarthOptics recently announced it has raised nearly $28 million in Series B funding.

The startup helps farmers make data-driven decisions about when to fertilize and how to reduce tilling — a soil-disturbing farming technique that releases carbon into the atmosphere. The company says tilling less improves food quality and reduces costs and carbon emissions.

The $27.6 million raised will go toward improving the capabilities of its suite of soil sensors and mappers to meet increasing interest from farmers and ranchers in EarthOptics products.

“Our industry-leading technology has huge potential for farmers and agribusiness,” CEO Lars Dyrud said in a statement. “With small margins and unpredictable input prices, farmers are looking for ways to improve productivity. Our product does that in a way that fits seamlessly into individual operations. Farmers no longer must rely on expensive soil analysis from labs. Powerful soil insights from EarthOptics can transform the way decisions are made on the farm.”

EarthOptics’ TillMapper helps farmers decide if, when, where and how deep to till (courtesy photo)

The funding round announcement comes on the heels of a successful year for EarthOptics, which says the number of acres it covers and the number of partnerships it has with global food companies grew tenfold in 2022. Last fall, Arlington County highlighted the company as one of the county’s fastest growing startups, in part for its $10.3 million Series A fundraising round in October 2021.

Also last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture named EarthOptics a partner in the agency’s Climate Smart Partnership for six separate proposals.

One proposal is an eight-state effort to make the nation’s beef supply chain carbon neutral. Another would promote the planting of an oilseed crop, which would be harvested for renewable biofuels and would increase how much carbon farmers capture in the soil.

The startup says it is looking for even more partnerships this year.

“We believe EarthOptics has a clear advantage in soil measurement technology, as they improve the scalability of measurement while helping to reduce extrapolation error” said Chris Abbott, Co-Head of Conti Ventures, which invested the most money in this fundraising round. “As we look for technologies that can verify critical soil measurements for growers, we believe EarthOptics stands out in providing agronomic value as well as verification for initiatives like carbon credits.”

Another investment group, Rabobank’s food and agriculture investment fund, said in a statement that the “revival of interest in soil is highly encouraging and much needed.”

“Given the fundamental importance of soil health to the food and agriculture systems, we are excited to support Lars and his team in bringing EarthOptics’ truly disruptive solution to our bank’s global network of farmers, corporates, as well [as] our ecosystem services teams of The Carbon Bank and ACORN,” said Pieter van der Meche, who heads the fund.

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Amazon announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it is shutting down its charitable e-commerce platform AmazonSmile, which lets customers support their favorite nonprofits while shopping.

Instead, the tech company says it will focus on areas of more “meaningful change,” chiefly, investments in affordable housing. One of the first examples it highlighted was its contributions in Arlington County, the home of its forthcoming second headquarters.

“In one year alone, our investments have been able to increase the affordable housing stock in communities like Bellevue, Washington and Arlington, Virginia by at least 20%,” it said.

That’s a fair statement, according to Arlington County.

Per a 2022 annual report on affordable housing, Arlington County had 8,650 total committed affordable units (CAFs) in the 2020 fiscal year.

“With Amazon’s support, we added 619 CAFs via Crystal House in FY21 and 1,334 CAFs via [Barcroft Apartments] in FY22, which is 1,953 total CAFs added between those two projects and a more than 20% increase over the FY20 CAF total,” says Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for the Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

In December 2021, Amazon loaned $160 million — on top of a $150 million from Arlington County — to real estate developer Jair Lynch to  facilitate the purchase of the Barcroft Apartments on the condition that Jair Lynch preserve 1,334 units for affordable housing.

In January 2021, Amazon issued another loan to help the Washington Housing Conservancy purchase the Crystal House apartment complex (1900 S. Eads St) and stabilize rent at the complex, one block from Amazon’s future HQ2.

Arlington County has selected a developer to oversee the construction of 655 CAFs of infill development within the site, which would further increase the number of affordable units with ties to Amazon donations.

“We’re investing $2 billion to build and preserve affordable housing in our hometown communities,” the company said. “In just two years, we’ve provided funding to create more than 14,000 affordable homes — and we expect to build at least 6,000 more in the coming months. These units will host more than 18,000 moderate- to low-income families, many of them with children.”

The end of AmazonSmile, which the company says has not created “the impact we had originally hoped,” comes just a few days after the tech company announced it will lay off 18,000 employees. The company maintains it will still bring 25,000 jobs to its second headquarters, despite slowing growth.

Should it hit that mark, the tech and retail giant will be able to claim $550 million in state grants through 2042, and another $200 million should it hire 37,850 full-time HQ2 employees by 2035. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has proposed setting aside $78 million in the new two-year state budget to help fund the grants, the Washington Business Journal reports.

The full AmazonSmile announcement is below.

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Police car speeding to a call at night (staff photo)

Two people were carjacked in Crystal City on Sunday night, the second carjacking reported in Arlington last week.

It happened around 10 p.m. along the neighborhood’s 23rd Street S. restaurant row. At least one of the carjackers was armed, police said.

“A patrol officer was flagged down by the two victims who reported a carjacking,” the Arlington County Police Department said in a crime report today. “The investigation determined the victims were at their parked vehicle when the suspect vehicle approached and the three suspects exited. One suspect brandished a firearm as they approached the victims and demanded their vehicle. The suspects then fled the area in the victim’s stolen vehicle, which is described as a 2019 white Audi A5 with VA license plate UEF9067, with the suspect vehicle following.”

No injuries were reported, ACPD said. The suspects remain at large.

The other reported carjacking last week happened on Thursday, near Columbia Pike, when a 54-year-old Arlington man allegedly carjacked a woman he knows.

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Crystal House (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County has selected two developers — Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and D.C.-area developer EYA — to oversee the construction of affordable housing within an apartment complex in Crystal City.

They’re committing to provide 844 units, of which 655 will be committed affordable units and the remaining will be market-rate, in the Crystal House Apartments at 1900 S. Eads Street, near Amazon’s second headquarters.

After a site plan for the project was approved in 2019, Amazon put up $381.9 million so that the nonprofit Washington Housing Conservancy could purchase the 16-acre site in late 2020, stabilize rent for the 828 existing units and build more than 500 new units. The purchase was part of its commitment to create and preserve affordable housing as rents rise amid its growing HQ2 presence. Amazon later donated the land and development rights to the county.

APAH and EYA are committing to provide 100-plus more committed affordable units than for which the county planned.

“While this is a large development for APAH, the scope and phasing are consistent with our capacity and the need for more affordable housing in the region,” APAH Director of Resource Development and Communications Garrett Jackson tells ARLnow. “EYA has successfully completed several similarly-scaled public-private projects with municipalities and housing authorities including the Brownstones at Chevy Chase Lake and the Lindley with the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, Capital Quarter with the District Housing Authority, and the 45-acre Westside Shady Grove with Montgomery County.”

Jackson said both APAH and EYA have experience developing housing in partnership with localities in the D.C. area.

“Specifically, APAH co-located the Arlington Mill Residences, 122 homes, adjacent to the Arlington Mill Community Center over one shared garage. Presently, APAH is building 150 units of senior housing in Fairfax County on what was previously a Fairfax County stormwater detention facility,” he said. “EYA and APAH are currently working together on a public-private partnership in the Fort Totten neighborhood in the District that shares many of the same characteristics as the Crystal House project.”

“The Crystal Houses development will create a mixed-income community, ranging from people making 30% of the area median income and up. It will be multigenerational, with one 80-unit development set aside for senior housing. There will be 371 units with two bedrooms or more, of which at least 102 will be three bedrooms and “rare 4-bedroom affordable units,” Jackson said.

“We will provide permanent supportive housing units onsite, all affordable units will offer free Wi-Fi, we will offer residents services for affordable units, and we will develop two parks for the approved site plan,” Jackson said. “EYA is also exploring homeownership.”

Services will be provided in partnership with Arlington County Department of Human Services, Arlington Food Assistance Center and Our Stomping Ground, which helps adults with disabilities live independently.

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Arlington County police responded to several shots fired calls on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

No one was reported to have been injured in any of the three incidents of gunfire. The first happened in the Arlington View neighborhood, between Columbia Pike and I-395.

From an ACPD crime report:

SHOTS FIRED, 2022-12310180, 1500 block of 11th Street S. At approximately 6:10 p.m. on December 31, police were dispatched to the report of shots fired. Upon arrival, it was determined the victims were inside their residence when they heard what appeared to be shots fired. Responding officers recovered evidence confirming shots had been fired and located property damage to the exterior window and interior wall of the residence and a vehicle parked outside. No injuries were reported. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

The next incident happened 24 hours later, on New Year’s Day, in the Long Branch Creek neighborhood just south of I-395.

SHOTS FIRED, 2023-01010187, 1400 block of 28th Street S. At approximately 6:10 p.m. on January 1, police were dispatched to the report of shots heard. During the course of the investigation, responding officers recovered evidence confirming shots had been fired in the area. No injuries or property damage was reported. The investigation is ongoing.

The third happened later that night in the Penrose neighborhood, between Columbia Pike and Route 50.

SHOT FIRED, 2023-01010233, 500 block of S. Veitch Street. At approximately 9:34 p.m. on January 1, police were dispatched to the report of suspicious circumstances. Upon arrival, it was determined the victim had returned home after an extended absence and observed damage to a bedroom. Responding officers recovered evidence confirming a shot had been fired and located property damage to a ceiling within a bedroom. No injuries were reported. There is no suspect description. The investigation is ongoing.

Separately, a juvenile female suspect is alleged to have shot two people in the Crystal City area with a water pellet gun on New Year’s Eve, in yet another drive-by incident.

ASSAULT & BATTERY (Significant), 2022-12310181/12310186, 1200 block of Crystal Drive/3500 block of S. Ball Street. At approximately 6:12 p.m. on December 31, police were dispatched to the report of a suspicious vehicle. The investigation indicates unknown female suspect(s) discharged a water pellet gun from a vehicle, striking at two victims. The victims did not require medical attention. The suspect vehicle is described as a silver or gray sedan.

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Swyft Cities gondola system (via Swyft Cities/Twitter)

We may not get a gondola over the Potomac River anytime soon, but a new startup may make intra-county gondola travel a reality someday.

Swyft Cities promises to provide one- to five-mile aerial connections around “densely developed areas, including corporate campuses, airports, universities and tourism districts,” according to TechCrunch, which named the startup the winner of a transit-oriented pitch contest earlier this year.

Swyft says it offers low-cost, automated kit-of-parts gondolas that private organizations and governments can set up. Its founders are commercializing the gondola solution they developed while working at Google to connect the tech company’s campuses, per its website.

On social media, the company recently received some praise but also some flak for overcomplicating public transit. There were also some predictions that the concept will never get off the ground.

The startup says it will deploy its first systems next year. Should it turn to Arlington and its adoring fans of short-distance aerial transit, here’s where Swyft infrastructure could work.

Current view of Route 1 (via National Landing BID)

Crystal City

If any company could stand up a gondola, it’s JBG Smith. The developer is already spearheading efforts to make Route 1 safer for pedestrians and to bring 5G connectivity to Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, creating the nation’s first at-scale “Smart City.”

Automated gondolas could clinch transit safety and make the “smart city” even smarter. Bridging Route 1 with a gondola would probably be easier, faster and safer for pedestrians than VDOT’s current plans to bring elevated portions at-grade.

Or, Swyft could run a gondola parallel to the proposed pedestrian path to Reagan National Airport, making the “CC2DCA” connection even more convenient.

The Helix and all three office buildings, viewed from the south (via Arlington County)

Pentagon City

Amazon could take cues from Google when building its HQ2. Imagine the collaborative work that could take place as employees glide from the glassy double-helix to nearby office towers. It could also provide unparalleled views of the helix — whenever it is open to the public.

Swyft CEO Jeral Poskey told TechCrunch that the company is first targeting closed campuses.

“As you look to densify things, you have a lot of congestion and difficulty moving around, and this applies to a lot of universities, airports and other places within a one to five mile scale,” he said.

Sunset along Columbia Pike (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

On Columbia Pike 

Maybe the streetcar was canned for a reason. And maybe that reason was so a gondola could one day reduce congestion and stimulate revitalization, without taking up the same lane as vehicle traffic.

Swyft says the gondolas could cost up to $10 million per mile, according to TechCrunch. While the number calls to mind initial quotes for tunnels built by Elon Musk’s Boring Company — which at this point look too good to be true — a gondola at this price on the Pike would cost a fraction of the $500 million streetcar that never was.

The startup’s CEO says the competitive pricing is supposed to allow the private sector to build aerial transit without government funding. That may make it a better sell to the Arlington County Board.

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