Arlington, VA

(Updated 3:25 p.m.) After years of planning, Arlington County is ready to put money into the planned renovation of Benjamin Banneker Park.

The 12.5 acres park at 1680 N. Sycamore Street features the head for the Four Mile Run Trail and a section of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, as well as a dog park.

Plans to renovate the park have been in the works for years, capped by the recent acquisition of “the last three properties along 18th Street North” needed for an expansion of the park, according to a county staff report. In 2017, the County Board approved a long-term vision which included replaced amenities and trail improvements.

The County Board is set to approve a $2.6 million contract — which includes $238,554 as a contingency for changes — at the Saturday (Sept. 21) meeting.

The project is funded in part by $2.5 million set aside in the 2015 fiscal year for the park and an additional $750,000 for work on the trails from the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Trail Modernization Program, according to the staff report. The park is expected to have a $117,659 increase in operating costs as a result of the improvements.

Planned work for the park at the western edge of Arlington include a widening of the trails and replacement of:

  • The parking lot
  • Picnic area
  • Rectangular athletic field
  • Playground
  • Walkways
  • Signage
  • Furnishings
  • Stormwater management
  • The dog park

The staff report for the park improvements noted that most of the feedback was positive, but concerns were expressed about the permeability of the trails and the impact widening the trails from eight feet to 12 feet might have on the surrounding environment.

The report notes, however, that county staff is promising “extra attention to minimize impacts on the stream and Resource Protection Area through site appropriate and sensitive erosion and sediment control methods.”

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Over forty trees are planned to be removed to make way for a new elementary school in Westover, but Arlington Public Schools is hosting one last meeting about potential tree-saving solutions before construction starts.

A discussion is scheduled with neighbors on Monday (Sept. 16) at the edge of the grove will involve discussion of whether any of the trees can be saved. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the basketball court on the Reed site (1644 N. McKinley Road).

The current plans call for the removal of roughly 42 trees to facilitate construction that will add to the building that houses the Westover Library and, soon, a new neighborhood elementary school.

Residents have expressed concerns about the removal of the grove, which includes a variety of maple, cedar and mulberry trees. A presentation on the project noted that an inventory of the trees was prepared by a certified arborist and tree removal was recommended.

According to the presentation:

Decisions on tree removal balanced: Building location and required excavation, site improvements (play areas, universally accessible walkways, etc.) and underground utilities (sanitary, storm, geothermal, etc.).

The designs for the site include adding 82 replacement trees, well above the 49 trees required to be planted according to county regulations.

But the plans have drawn some criticism from neighbors and local environmentalists. County Board candidate Audrey Clement specifically addressed the County Board’s approval of the project for its destruction of the trees at a debate this past Monday  (Sept. 9). Many of the trees are larger, like a silver maple tree 4.5 feet wide.

At the meeting next Monday, the presentation says neighbors will be invited to discuss the removal with an arborist and county staff.

But any moving of the remaining trees will have to occur quickly: construction of the new school is scheduled to start by the end of September.

The Westover neighborhood suffered extensive damage from flooding this summer, but school officials said the new school will include updated stormwater protections.

“Stormwater structures and basins are much enhanced from what exists on-site now as per current state stormwater requirements,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Map via Arlington Public Schools

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(Updated at 2 p.m.) Arlington residents have gone out of their way to chuck 200 tons of bottles and jars at a pair of drop-off locations since the County Board removed glass from the list of recyclable materials.

In April, county officials asked residents to throw their glass away in their black trash bins instead of blue recycling carts, citing the rising costs of recycling the material.

As an alternative, the county set up two designated glass drop-off sites at Quincy Park (N. Quincy Street and Washington Blvd) and the Arlington Trades Center (2700 S. Taylor Street). From there, the glass is transported to Fairfax County where it is turned into sand and gravel used in construction.

Schwartz said in April he hoped to identify three additional drop-off sites by August. The month has since passed, but officials say they’re close to announcing the new sites.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but it should be a matter of weeks,” said Peter Golkin, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Services. “We live in a tiny county where land is at a premium, so it’s a matter of making sure we can put the bins in a space where we can collect them with big trucks.”

Just over two-thirds of respondents to an ARLnow poll in May said they think Arlington should keep recycling glass in the residential recycling stream, no matter the cost. Some experts, however, say the cost of recycling glass outstrips the marginal environmental benefit compared to simply sending it to a landfill.

Flickr pool photo by Aaron Webb

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Scientists are asking Arlingtonians to brave the great outdoors Friday night and listen to bugs.

The effort of part of the 7th annual “Cricket Crawl” to “crowdsource” data on the crickets and katydids that residents can hear on their streets and in their backyards.

“This is the census of our singing nighttime insects,” said Park Naturalist Jennifer Soles with the Gulf Branch Nature Center told ARLnow.

People interested in participating are asked to listen for the sounds of one of six species for one minute this Friday night, and write down what they hear. Participants can then text or and call leave a message at (240) 801-6878 with their observations, or email their notes to [email protected].

One of the six insects to listen for is the common true katydid, which Soles said can be found in the places with heavy tree cover and sounds like it’s saying “katydid, katydid, katydid.” Other species on the list — the regular field cricket, greater angler katydid, and jumping bush cricket — can generally be found throughout the county.

Soles said the field cricket makes a “chirp chirp chirp” noise familiar to most people and the greater angler katydid makes a “tick tick tick” similar to the sound an ignitor makes on a gas stove. The jumping bush cricket by comparison, makes a “little peeping trill” with long pauses in between peeps.

More pictures and audio clips of the all six insect types in the census can be found on the event website.

One of the species that scientists are hoping to learn more about from the data is the japanese burrowing cricket, which has a similar, but faster, call compared to the field cricket.

The non-native species of insect was first discovered in 1959 in D.C., Virginia, and other nearby states, according to research published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

She said the hope is that the Cricket Crawl could turn into the next Christmas Bird Count, and show trends of signing insects over time and indicate whether any of them is in danger of disappearing.

“When they started doing the Christmas Bird Count, maybe wasn’t the data wasn’t that good, or that strong, but after you start doing it for fifty years you saw we’re losing huge numbers of migratory birds,” said Solo.

She added that Friday’s census is an opportunity for the whole family to participate in the data collection.

“It’s about being aware of what’s in their environment, and what they could lose.,” she said.

Photo 1 via USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab/Flickr, photo 2 via James St. John/Flickr

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Update at 11:05 a.m. — Most businesses along the north side of Washington Blvd in Westover are still closed following Monday’s flooding. Ayers hardware is open in a limited capacity. 

Earlier: This morning’s storms and flooding has left stores along the north side of Washington Blvd in Westover Village without power — and some facing extensive damages.

Businesses along the 5800 block of Washington Blvd, from Westover Market (5863 Washington Blvd) to The Italian Store (5837 Washington Blvd), were closed as of 2 p.m. All of the properties were without power and several were flooded.

Westover Market and the Ayers Variety & Hardware at the west end of the block were at two of the lowest points of the slope. At Westover Market and Beer Garden, workers moved tables and soaked beer crates out of the store and into the rain, occasionally with the assistance of people passing by.

“I came down to get a keg and stuff was just floating away,” said Joseph Turner, a manager at Westover Market. “We’re trying to clean and open as soon as possible, but there needs to be fire department and health inspections.”

Turner watched as people carried out soaked boxes from the store and set them into stacks of rubbish.

“I’m just speechless,” Turner said.

Video posted earlier today shows the market flooded and fast-moving water rushing through the outdoor beer garden, damaging the fence and sweeping away picnic tables.

At Ayers Variety & Hardware, water in the storefront was ankle deep, but the real damage took place below — the basement, where the business stores merchandise, was completely flooded. Kristy Peterkin, a manager at the store and daughter of owner Ronald Kaplan, said that staff had been running generators to pump water out of the basement — but then the power cut out.

“We’ve seen nothing like this since 1977,” Peterkin said. “This is catastrophic.”

Peterkin said employees haven’t been able to access the basement to examine the impact but estimated that there would be at least $100,000 in damages.

The Forest Inn, Toby’s Ice Cream, and Rite Aid were all closed and empty. The post office west and slightly uphill from Westover Market was still accepting drop-offs as of 2 p.m., but said they would soon be closing.

At Pete’s Barber Shop, the staff cleared away waterlogged mats but were otherwise sitting around, waiting for power to come back.

The Italian Store on the end has no basement and fared a little better than its neighbors. Owner Rob Tramonte said they were working with contractors to get a generator running, to allow the business to open again soon or at least keep the food from spoiling. Tramonte noted that his Lyon Village location remains open, despite flooding at the nearby intersection of Lee Highway and N. Kirkwood Road.

Jeremy Slayton, a communications specialist for Dominion Energy, said power was estimated to be back on by tonight, though it’s unclear whether power will be able to be restored before the floodwaters could be pumped out. Store owners said they were told it could be a week before utilities are back online.

Ashley Hopko contributed to this story

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Morning Notes

Extra Brush Pickups in Arlington — “Because of recent weather events, the County has added extra brush pickups this week. Schedule a collection online.” [Twitter]

Clement Endorses Stamos — “Arlington County Board candidate Audrey Clement won’t be on the ballot until November, but she has weighed in with a ringing endorsement of incumbent Theo Stamos in the June 11 Democratic primary for commonwealth’s attorney.” [InsideNova]

Deep Pothole in Ballston — Beware of “a small — but deep — pothole at the intersection of Wilson and Randolph in Ballston.” [Twitter]

Arlington Man Wins Big Lottery Prize — “An Arlington man is now $100,000 richer after buying a Virginia Lottery ticket at a local convenience store. Robert Hilleary, a produce clerk, purchased two 10X The Money tickets at Glebe Market located at 300 N. Glebe Road.” [Patch]

Best Business Award Winners — Last week the Arlington Chamber of Commerce recognized the 2019 winners of its Arlington Best Business Awards: Dalton Digital, Pentagon Mixed Martial Arts, Bayou Bakery, Hungry Marketplace, Signature Theatre and Arlington Community Federal Credit Union. [Arlington Chamber]

Ode to Arlington’s Environmental Assessment Process — “Regulation 4.4 establishes an admirable ideal — a careful and highly-public process to ensure that civic projects are designed to identify and mitigate potential adverse environmental effects.  Though under-resourced, unevenly applied, and frequently honored only in the breach, the Regulation does reinforce and flesh out Arlington’s long commitment to both environmental sustainability and project planning.” [Blue Virginia]

Starr Hill Comes to DCA — Virginia’s Starr Hill Brewery has opened a new bar at Reagan National Airport, replacing the former Sam & Harry’s. The bar is located “near the Terminal C checkpoint pre-security.” [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Arlington County is turning trash into treasure by growing thousands of pounds of fresh produce for a local food bank using compost from residents.

Last February, Arlington’s Solid Waste Bureau began a pilot program to create compost from residents’ food scraps. Now some of that compost is coming full circle and being used in some of the local gardens that supply fresh produce for Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).

AFAC is a nonprofit that receives around a million and a half pounds of food donations annually. The goods comes from several sources: grocery stores, private food drives, farmers markets and farms, and gardens around the region, according to spokesman Jeremiah Huston. Part of that comes from its “Plot Against Hunger” program, which cultivates the fresh produce.

AFAC staffer Puwen Lee manages this program, which she helped grow back in 2007 after noticing the food bank distributed frozen vegetables even in the summer months.

“And I thought, ‘This is really strange because I got so many vegetables in my garden,'” she said. After mentioning it to the nonprofit’s leadership, Lee said the director dropped off 600 packs of seeds on her desk and left it up to her.

Since then, Lee, who grew up gardening in Michigan, estimates the program has received over 600,000 pounds of fresh produce and has grown to include gardens from the Arlington Central Library, schools, and senior centers — and now it’s experimenting with using waste from residents themselves.

Trading trash for treasure

The Solid Waste Bureau collects food waste in two green barrels behind a rosebush by its headquarters in the Trades Center in Shirlington. The waste is then dumped into a 10-foot-high, 31-foot-long earth flow composting stem that cooks the materials under a glass roof and generates 33 cubic yards of compost in about two weeks.

When Solid Waste Bureau Chief Erik Grabowsky opens the doors to the machine, the heady smell of wine wafts out, revealing a giant auger slowly whirring through the blackened bed, turning the composting food.

Grabowsky said the final mix is cut with wood chips — something not always ideal for most vegetable gardens. But Grabowksy says it’s an “evolving” mixture that the department will tweak over time and which he plans to test in the department’s own garden next to the machine.

After the wood chips, the mix is shifted through a hulking “trammel screen” and distributed to AFAC and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

On a recent weekday, workers Travis Haddock and Lee Carrig were busy in Bobcats shuffling dirt off the paved plaza Grabowksy says will host the department’s first open house next Saturday, June 8 to show how the recycling system works. Normally, they manage repairs to the auger and the flow of compost in and out of the machine.

(When asked what their favorite part of the job was, they joked it was when the auger “stops in the middle and you got to climb in there.”)

The department’s free June event, called “Rock-and-Recycle,” will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the department’s lot in the Trades Center and will feature music and food trucks. Attendees will also be able to check out the compost for themselves, as well as the nearby Rock Crusher and Tub Grinder.

From farm to food bank

AFAC is currently experimenting with using the compost for one of its gardens. The nonprofit also makes its own mix using plant scraps and weeds pulled up from the beds.

Near AFAC’s Shirlington headquarters, volunteers run a garden that donates all its yield to the food bank. Boy Scouts originally built the raised beds that now make up 550 square feet of gardening space, and grow lettuce, beets, spinach, green beans, kale, tomatoes, and radishes, on a plot near a water pump station along S. Walter Reed Drive.

Plot Against Hunger manager Lee said the space was originally planned as a “nomadic garden” in 2013, but thanks to the neighboring Fort Barnard Community and the Department of Water and Sewer, it became a permanent fixture on Walter Reed Drive.

Certified Master Gardener Catherine Connor has managed the organic garden for the last three years. She says she’s helped set up the rain barrels and irrigation system that waters the beds in addition to supervising the planting. Now the beds are thick with greens and bumblebees hum between the flowers of the spinach plants that have gone to seed.

“Last year, we had just an incredible growing season,” Lee said. “From the farmers markets alone we picked up something like 90,000 pounds [of food.]”

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A new report says some levels of pollution are down in the Potomac River, but cautioned that the once-troubled waterway isn’t out the woods yet.

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments analyzed data collected between 1985 and 2016 and found that “water quality improvements have reduced pollution significantly.”

MWCOG’s 27-page report said two substances in particular have noticeably decreased: nitrogen and phosphorus.

Both are common nutrients for soil and water, but runoff from farms and waste treatment facilities can lead to excess amounts flowing into waterways. When too much nitrogen enters a river it can cause plants to overgrow and choke the oxygen from the water, killing fish and in some cases making the water toxic to young children.

Too much phosphorus causes algae blooms that are deadly to fish. Blooms have been spotted north of Chain Bridge, according to the report.

MWCOG’s report released on Wednesday said its pollution analysis found that:

The amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus — which, in excess, contribute to water quality problems — contained in the discharge from wastewater plants in metropolitan Washington has declined dramatically since the 1980s and is on track for further reductions. The number and extent of harmful algal blooms in the upper Potomac estuary has declined significantly. Populations of aquatic plants and animals that live in this portion of the river, such as submerged aquatic vegetation, some fish, and some waterfowl have grown closer to their historical abundances.

“Scientists are still interpreting how much time elapses between various nutrient reduction efforts and when their impact shows up in the Potomac estuary and the [Chesapeake] Bay,” the report notes. “What is certain is that additional efforts to reduce nutrients and sediment from agriculture and urban runoff will be needed to achieve the river’s long-term water quality goals.”

The report says local governments are working to reduce other contaminants like mercury, prescription drugs, and chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Last year, Potomac Conservancy, an advocacy nonprofit, gave the river a “B” rating. That’s a big improvement from the “D” rating the group gave it 10 years ago.

Potomac Conservancy noted that with less pollution people are increasingly using the river “as a place to hangout, recreate and live.”

In the future, citizen scientists are likely to be a part of making these reports happen. Last month, people volunteered to start collecting weekly water samples of the Potomac and the Anacostia so scientists can track E. coli levels in both rivers.

Local governments have spent billions over the last three decades to clean up the rivers, mainly by redirecting sewage flows, and managing stormwater runoff better.

In Arlington, volunteers have cleaned up trash along streams and riverbanks for three decades.

Image (top) via Flickr pool user Wolfkann, chart (middle) via MWCOG

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Morning Notes

Protest in Front of Nestle Office in Rosslyn — “On Tuesday, Greenpeace activists hauled a 15-foot-tall heap of garbage, artfully crafted to resemble one of those deep sea fish that’s about 90 percent jowl, out in front of the Nestlé’s U.S. headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.” [Gizmodo, Twitter]

‘No Stopping’ Arlington’s Growth — “Historically a commuter bedroom city for Washington, D.C., Arlington, VA continues its development renaissance with a variety of mixed-use projects that will shuttle in new residents, create open spaces and make new room for more restaurants and companies.” [GlobeSt]

Arlington Ponies Up Incentives for DEA — “The Arlington County Board is set to vote later this month to grant up to $11.5 million in financial incentives to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Pentagon City landlord to keep the agency from relocating to neighboring Alexandria, just shy of half of what it has promised Amazon.com Inc. for its second headquarters.” [Washington Business Journal]

Possible Meteor Lights Up the Sky — There were numerous reports of a meteor seen over Arlington, the D.C. region and much of the East Coast around 11 p.m. last night. [Twitter, BNO News, NBC Washington]

County Touts Green Initiatives Ahead of Earth Day — “Few communities can boast Arlington’s ceaseless commitment to sustainability — which is why one day in April can barely hint at the work that happens in the months before and after.” [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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With newly reshuffled leadership on the Arlington County Board, local officials are pledging a focus on equity as Amazon arrives this year, particularly when it comes to housing in the county.

The Board’s annual organizational meeting came with little in the way of procedural surprises last night (Wednesday). Vice Chair Christian Dorsey earned unanimous approval take the chair’s gavel, replacing outgoing Chair Katie Cristol, while Libby Garvey was elevated to take his place.

But the meeting still represented a major turning of the page in the county. Not only was the gathering the Board’s first since Matt de Ferranti’s swearing in, returning the Board to unified Democratic control for the first time since 2014, but it was a chance for Board members to sketch out a vision for how they plan to confront what looks to be a difficult year.

Naturally, Amazon proved to be the elephant in the room as officials delivered their annual New Year’s remarks. In kicking off the Board speeches, Dorsey framed his upcoming year-long chairmanship as one that will have “an emphasis on equity,” especially when it comes time to “expertly manage” Amazon’s growth.

Dorsey noted right away that he’s “only the third person who looks like me to ever serve as chair” of the Board — he joins Charles Monroe and William Newman, now the chief judge of Arlington Circuit Court, as the only black men to hold the gavel in the county’s history.

Accordingly, he said that history will guide his focus on “ensuring that Amazon’s gradual growth here benefits our entire community,” especially as the county prepares to confront some tough budget years while it awaits a projected revenue boom from the tech giant’s presence.

“Taken together, budget gaps today, and significant investment and commercial growth in the near term, present us with the dual responsibility of ensuring that today’s austerity doesn’t disproportionately burden the marginalized and most vulnerable, and that better times don’t leave those same people behind,” Dorsey said.

Board members agreed that a key area focus for leaders on that front will have to be changes to the county’s zoning code, as officials work to allow different types of reasonably priced homes to proliferate around Arlington. Cristol and Board member Erik Gutshall both praised the Board’s past work on housing conservation districts as a good first step, but both emphasized that the county needs to do more to meet its own goals for creating new affordable homes each year.

“Amazon’s arrival has focused our community energy on protecting our middle class from being priced out permanently,” Cristol said. “We can’t squander the opportunity to tackle this hard and important zoning reform work in the year ahead.”

De Ferranti agreed that the county should be fighting for a “significant public and private investment in affordable homeownership and rental housing” as it finalizes its incentive package to bring Amazon to Arlington.

But he and Gutshall also emphasized that a commitment to environmental equity should guide the county’s negotiations with Amazon, arguing that officials should work with the tech company to ensure its new campus in Crystal City and Pentagon City is “net-zero energy,” meaning that Amazon’s buildings generate as much energy as they consume. Gutshall even went a step further, proposing that the county join the growing calls for a “Green New Deal” from some of the newest Democrats heading to Congress, arguing that the “trade-off between the environment or the economy is a false one.”

Yet Board members pledged to keep a more local focus as well, particularly when it comes to Amazon’s impacts on the county’s already crowded classrooms.

Officials are hopeful that county schools will able to handle the gradual arrival of Amazon employees and their families, but Gutshall and Cristol both called for renewed long-range planning efforts for new school buildings.

De Ferranti was even more specific, saying the Board should build future budgets to “put the county in a position to fund the building of another high school” — the School Board is currently in the midst of hashing out plans for new high school seats at the Arlington Career Center, but whether or not that facility will provide the equivalent of a fourth comprehensive high school for county students remains an open question.

Through all of these difficult discussions, however, Garvey urged everyone — from local officials to activists — to strike embrace “civility.” The year-long debate over Amazon has already promoted plenty of tense meetings and raised voices, and the new vice chair argued that “Arlington Way has gotten rather frayed around the edges” in recent months.

“People sometimes jump to the assumption that intent is nefarious, or are all too quick to take offense when no offense was intended,” Garvey said. “We have to set some basic standards, and then follow through by not allowing people to violate those standards and stay in the discussion, or at least not to dominate the discussion so that everyone else decides to leave.”

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Arlington officials are increasingly finding that recycling some items has become a bit of a pain in the glass.

The county is encouraging residents to recycle metal, plastics, paper and cardboard like always, but people could soon be discouraged from adding glass to the mix.

“The county is conducting an analysis on glass and will likely suggest removing it from household and county facilities recycling streams,” said Katie O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services. “We anticipate sharing our findings and providing guidance to residents in mid-to-late November.”

While Arlington pays $4.66 per ton to process recycled materials, compared to $43.16 per ton to dispose of trash. The cost of recycling is typically offset by the sale of those raw materials. But the difficulties of glass recycling mean the material disproportionately weighs down the total value of Arlington’s haul.

According to a newsletter put out by the Department of Environmental Services, glass comprises 22.4 percent of recycled goods in Arlington but is the only material that comes in at a negative value for Arlington on the recycled material market. Aluminum cans are valued at $1,520 per ton while glass’s recycle value is negative $12.50.

The high cost comes from the lack of nearby facilities able to process glass and the high cost of separating it from other recycled materials. In meetings with the County Board, County Manager Mark Schwartz said most of the collected glass is already incinerated or sent to a landfill despite being marked for recycling.

In the meantime, Arlingtonians are encouraged to seek aluminum containers for beverages first, plastic bottles second and to avoid glass if possible.

Photo via Department of Environmental Services

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