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Get ready to “explore the world of recycling” next weekend at the family-friendly Rock-n-Recycle event in Shirlington.

The open house, put on by Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services (DES), is set for Saturday, Sept. 17 and will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m at the county’s Trade Center on S. Taylor Street.

The event will feature big trucks and machinery, many with “wrestler-like names such as the Rock Crusher, the Tub Grinder and the Food Composter” per DES spokesperson Peter Golkin.

Plus, there will be three dozen hands-on learning stations, take-home art activities, an ice cream truck, and “mountains of mulch.”

“The purpose of this very family friendly open house by the Solid Waste Bureau is to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the world of recycling, composting, trash-to-energy, inert materials collection and other key environmental services provided by Arlington County,” Golkin told ARLnow.

No RSVP is required and the event is rain or shine. This will be the third time the county has put on the event, having done it previously in 2019 and 2021. DES expects at least “several hundred people” to attend.

The hope is that the open house “leaves a big, fun and lasting impression on kids and their adults too” while encouraging them to recycle, compost, and a better understanding of DES’s services.

From the county’s event listing: “See the big work machines (The Rock Crusher! The Tub Grinder!) up close, sit in the driver’s seat and meet the experts who keep Arlington clean and sustainable.”

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The playground outside the Lubber Run Community Center (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington is the No. 3 most family-friendly locale in the country, according to a new set of rankings.

Online real estate platform Opendoor compiled the “best cities for families” list, which is based on the presence of various amenities like playgrounds, community centers and pools.

“We found that most family friendly cities like Arlington have quite a few common features — whether that’s a small-town feel or plenty of outdoor spaces to explore,” said Opendoor’s Beatrice de Jong, the author of the rankings.

De Jong said Arlington gets high marks for schools, local businesses, family-friendly amenities and transportation.

“Many young professionals live here and the public schools are highly rated,” she said, listing the county’s selling points. “Good public transportation and a mix of urban and suburban. Very walkable and bikeable… Lots of restaurants, coffee shops and parks… Close to D.C. with great museums for kids. Local museums include: Arlington Arts Center, Arlington Historical Museum, etc. Parks include: Rocky Run Park, Lubber Run Park, Fort Barnard Park, etc.”

Per Opendoor, the top 15 family-friendly cities and towns are:

  1. Cambridge, MA
  2. Cliffside Park, NJ
  3. Arlington, VA
  4. Chandler, AZ
  5. Tracy, CA
  6. North Richland Hills, TX
  7. Denver, CO
  8. Portland, OR
  9. Boulder, CO
  10. Anaheim, CA
  11. Coral Gables, FL
  12. Kent, OH
  13. Ann Arbor, MI
  14. Mission, KS
  15. Avondale Estates, GA

The study’s methodology leans heavily on a user-editable mapping project.

The best cities for families are identified by analyzing and averaging the number of OpenStreetMap ‘family friendly’ tags that are within 3 miles of all addresses in a city where Opendoor Brokerage operates. These tags include: bench, community center, drinking water, garden, kindergarten, museum, park, picnic site, playground, school, swimming pool, supermarket, and waste basket.

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Connie Freeman with her dad Richard Ziadie (courtesy of Ancestry.com/Connie Freeman)

Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the ARLnow Press Club weekend newsletter. Thank you to Press Club members for helping to fund our in-depth local features.

When Claremont resident Connie Freeman met her father last summer for the first time, it all started to make sense.

“This may sound kind of crazy and you may only know if it’s happened to you, but I felt like a puzzle piece fit,” she tells ARLnow. “I felt like I had the wrong piece in there my whole life.”

Connie Freeman is a 62-year-old county employee, working as a community outreach specialist for nearly three decades, and has lived in Arlington most of her life. And, up until last year, she had never known her father.

Her mom had gotten pregnant as a teenager in the late 1950s and her father had just never been part of their lives. But with her mom getting older, it became clear that now was the time for Connie, along with her own son Noe, to rediscover their family’s history.

Using AncestryDNA testing, together they discovered some surprising clues. For one, she was a quarter Lebanese. Considering that her mom was not Lebanese — “my grandmother has green eyes and blond hair,” says Noe — that was an interesting development. Their DNA results also turned up a name that was unfamiliar.

“At 11 o’clock at night, [my son] is emailing me, texting me, and calling me,” Connie says. ‘”Mom, I think I found your brother.'”

Using social media, Connie tracked down that person and a number of others the DNA results had cited as connected to them. Then, she made an unusual decision, at least, by today’s standards.

She reached out by handwritten letter, believing that the extra personal touch was more likely to get a response.

“The letter was very specific and it said I’m trying to find my father and, if he’s alive, I’d like to meet him,” she says.

Also included in the letter were some possible genetic and identifying details. Like, for example, her love of black olives and Noe being a fantastic soccer player. She additionally included where she was born, where she lived now, and that her mom always told her that her dad was in the military.

The letter worked. Within days, she got a call from an 84-year-old man named Richard Ziadie.

She admits getting that call was a bit surreal and hard to comprehend, but she made plans to meet Richard at his home in New Jersey on August 16, 2021 — on his 85th birthday.

Connie Freeman, her son Noe, and her dad Richard (courtesy of Connie Freeman)

When they met, it was immediately evident to Connie that this man was her father. He loved to spend time outside, in his garden, and had quite a green thumb.

“My son loved to garden as a kid and now owns his own landscaping company. Now, I know he got that from his grandfather,” she says.

He was also a people person and a fantastic host, just like his daughter.

“That’s something my mom does consistently, she always has people over,” Noe says. “They are both very charismatic.”

In photos of the three, the resemblance is also striking. Further DNA results confirmed that they were truly family, Richard was Connie’s dad.

“It all made sense,” Connie says.

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Arlington’s planning division is looking to change the definition of a “family” in the county’s zoning code.

Housing planners say this would stop potentially exclusionary housing practices that discriminate against larger groups of unrelated residents who live together in order to afford staying in Arlington, where home prices and property taxes are rising and there’s a shortage of affordable housing options.

Currently, Arlington’s Zoning Ordinance says up to four unrelated people living together — including “servants,” in a peculiar anachronism — can constitute a “family.” The Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development staff intend to review and possibly write an alternative definition that eliminates the four-person cap.

The code also defines “family” as: a single person living in a household; two or more people living together who are related by blood, marriage, adoption or foster care; or up to eight people who are elderly, sick or disabled living with staff or counselors in a state-licensed facility.

Planning Commission Chair David Weir says he welcomes CPHD’s intentions to do away with the “exclusionary, inaccurate terminology of ‘single-family’ and ‘multifamily’ homes.”

“It’s tempting, I think, to see this change as minimal or immaterial but it’s neither of those things,” he said during a joint CPHD-County Board work session last week. “The difference between zoning for families and zoning for households is as fundamental a matter as the right to choose the people with whom we share our lives, and zoning ordinances are lagging behind other fields of law — like, for example, family law — in recognizing this.”

Planning Commission Chair David Weir (via Arlington County)

Weir recalled when the late County Board member Erik Gutshall realized in a zoning meeting that his family of four probably lived in violation of county ordinances when they took in a foreign exchange student.

“A group of people who choose to share their lives in ways that don’t meet the Mayberry formalities must not for that reason alone be unwelcome in the definitions of the laws that shape how their homes are built,” he said.

County planners have recommended this change for a few years now, saying that people are choosing to live together to afford Arlington prices and access its schools and job opportunities.

“There’s been a rise in the number of non-traditional households living together for socio-economic reasons, such as pooling resources to find affordable housing near good schools or job centers,” county housing planner Joel Franklin said at a 2020 Tenant-Landlord Commission meeting. “For that reason, it was recommended to amend the zoning ordinance to be more inclusive of non-traditional families.”

That recommendation was in the 2019 draft Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing, according to CPHD spokeswoman Erika Moore. The analysis concludes that the cap disadvantages residents who have been priced out of single-family homes.

“As the norms of the American family are shifting, it is apparent that single-family housing is less viable, increasingly unaffordable, and not achieving fairness and inclusion,” it says. “Placing restrictions on the number of unrelated persons living together but who function as a single housekeeping unit restricts housing choice for households comprised of persons living together for economic or other reasons.”

Changing or eliminating the four-person cap dates back at least to 2015, when the County Board adopted the Affordable Housing Master Plan, Moore said. The plan says a more flexible definition is one way the county can try to meet its affordable housing needs through 2040.

While making the change is on the agenda for CPHD, a new definition won’t come overnight.

The planning division identified revising the definition as a second-tier priority for 2022, falling behind more pressing zoning study areas — such as allowing permanent outdoor dining options, permitting micro-fulfillment centers to operate in vacant office buildings and adding elder care housing options in the code.

Tiered priorities of the Arlington planning division (via Arlington County)

Updating the definition would require the county to start a zoning study to examine alternative definitions and develop amendments to the Zoning Ordinance, Moore said.

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Guerra Steakhouse in Rosslyn is off to a slow start after opening this past Saturday, but that is partly by design, according to owner Jackelin Barrera.

The steakhouse at 1725 Wilson Blvd does not yet have a sign, or an advertising campaign, but Barrera said she was more concerned with opening before coronavirus cases could once more threaten businesses to limit capacity.

Guerra offers steaks, wines to pair with them, and other classic steakhouse dishes in the former space of Ben’s Chili Bowl, which closed last year.

The restaurant is family-owned and operated.

“All the people who work inside are family,” said Barrera. “I feel like you can tell the love we have for each other when you taste the food.”

The steakhouse’s story has its roots in family, as it is named for her grandfather, Ermides Guerra, a Guatemalan immigrant who loved steak.

So far, Barrera said the most popular dishes have been the jumbo tiger shrimp with a “fuego spicy paste” and the iceberg wedge topped with blue cheese, bacon, grape tomatoes and radish, in a blue cheese dressing. She said the New York strip steak has also received attention.

“Most of the people that have come by have said Arlington has been missing a good steakhouse,” said Barrera.

In addition to serving quality food, Barrera said Guerra is focused on making patrons feel like part of the family.

“We don’t just give you a steak — we give you an experience,” she said.

Currently, the steakhouse only serves wine and beer, but Barrera said her family plans to add cocktails next week. Down the road, she said the Guerra Steakhouse experience could include a clam bake and a tomahawk steak that will be flamed table-side.

“We’ll hopefully have table-side cocktails too,” she said.

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Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation is hosting a campfire series for families, staring this week.

The series starts this Saturday, September 7, at Gulf Branch Nature Center (3608 Military Road) from 6-7 p.m. and offers attendees campfire stories, games, and s’mores.

The theme of this Saturday’s fire is “Nice Mice,” followed by an “Insect Chorus” event next Saturday 14 at the Long Branch Nature Center (625 S. Carlin Springs Road) from 7-8 p.m.

“The whole family is invited to join in our campfires, for lots of old fashioned fun,” wrote organizers on the event’s website. “You’ll hear campfire stories, may meet some animal guests, play games, sing songs and, of course, enjoy s’mores! Each campfire has a nature theme and promises to entertain.”

The series alternates on Saturdays between Gulf Branch and Long Branch until November 23, and each event costs $5 per person.

The county has hosted single-event campfires before, celebrating the Solstice in 2016, New Year’s Eve in 2011, and Memorial Day in 2010.

Image via Flickr/Kevin Smith

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An annual, family-friendly outdoor festival is scheduled to return next weekend with music, dancers, and games.

The 3rd annual “Arlington Palooza” will be held in Alcova Heights Park (901 S. George Mason Drive) from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, April 13.

This year, organizers at the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation say there will be laser tag, a bouncy house, face painting, and lessons in making flower crowns and pinwheels, among other activities listed on the event’s website.

Four food trucks will serve the festival, including Big Cheese, El Encanto Latino, Little Miss Whoopie and Salou’s Softy.

This year’s musical line-up includes:

  • 1-1:30 p.m. — The Sunshine Gang, a classic rock and roll band
  • 1:50-2:20 p.m. — Sarah Baumgarten, an H-B Woodlawn student and singer-songwriter who plays the ukulele
  • 3:15-3:50 p.m. — The Blue Flames, an five piece Arlington-based rock band

The Sultanas Troupe will perform a fusion of traditional Middle-Eastern and modern dances from 2:40-3 p.m.

The Arlington Art Truck will also join the festivities with a traveling show about electricity by Baltimore artist Neil Feather.

Police will close one block of 8th Street S. between S. Randolph Street and S. George Mason Drive during the event.

The county is warning that parking near the event will be “extremely limited” and is encouraging attendees to find alternative transportation. A spokeswoman for the event noted there will be bike valets, and that scooter company Bird is offering a $5 credit with the coupon code BEFREE.

The department said there will be a “designated drop-off area along S. George Mason Drive near 8th Street S.” for people with disabilities.

Photo via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Kevin Spacey Pulled Over at DCA — “After appearing in court Monday morning to address sexual assault allegations in Massachusetts, actor Kevin Spacey had yet another brush with law enforcement in the afternoon, this time around Reagan National Airport.” [TMZ, WTOP]

Family Trio All Serves on ACPD — “33 years ago, Corporal Diane Guenther swore she’d never date another police officer. Police Lieutenant Mark Guenther persuaded her otherwise, and they married a year after they started dating. Their daughter, Harley, just celebrated two years as an Arlington County police officer.” [WDVM]

Police Holding Outreach Meetings — The Arlington County Police Department’s latest quarterly outreach meetings will be held at the Fairlington Community Center on Thursday, Jan. 24 and at Arlington Central Library on Tuesday, Jan. 29. Both meetings start at 7 p.m. [Twitter]

Group to Hold Forum on Entrepreneurship — “The Arlington branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) will feature a program on starting a business, led by the founders of Amazing Women Entrepreneurs. The meeting is slated for Monday, Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. in Room 527 of Arlington Mill Community Center. The community is invited.” [InsideNova]

Federal Workers Driving for Uber to Make Ends Meet — “‘With the government shutdown, you have more people working for the government doing Uber, and for the full-time Uber drivers, that is really affecting us too, and our money,’ said rideshare driver Nate Murrell.” [WJLA]

Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman

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Arlington County is searching for families willing to foster or adopt children, and anyone interested in learning about taking in a child can attend an information session tomorrow.

Foster care is a temporary arrangement for children who cannot live in their homes because of neglect, abuse or serious family trouble. These children might stay with a foster family for just a few days, or for years. Adults who are approved to foster can explore the possibility of adopting children as well.

Although the county needs families to accept all types of foster children, it has a particular need for people who will care for those of Hispanic, African American and other cultural backgrounds. There’s also high demand for families to take in teenagers, children with special needs and siblings.

Foster parents must be over 21, be employed either inside or outside the home and live in a house or apartment in or near Arlington County.

Adults interested in becoming a foster parent — or even just learning about what it entails — can attend an information session tomorrow (Thursday) night from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Contact Erica Serrano for information about the session location, at [email protected] or 703-228-1559.

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(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) It’s not cheap to live in one of the best places for millennials.

That’s according to figures from the Economic Policy Institute, which has come out with an interactive calculator to determine how much it costs individuals and families to comfortably live in Arlington and other U.S. counties.

For a couple with two children in Arlington, it costs about $9,493 per month to live comfortably, according to EPI, or just over $113,915 per year.

The highest monthly costs were attributed to housing, at an average of $2,040 per month — for a “modest” but “sanitary” two-bedroom apartment — but childcare costs in the county were just behind it at $1,801 per month.

Couples without children can make a lot less while still living comfortably in Arlington. Annual pay of $67,840 is what it takes for two people to live here comfortably, without kids, childcare costs and the requisite additional bedrooms.

Single Arlingtonians, though, have to make $56,221 annually to live comfortably — only $11,619 less than a couple does.

Across the Potomac, a D.C. family with two kids needs to bring in $123,975 a year, according to the EPI analysis, while the same family in Manassas City can get by comfortably on $96,314.

Notably, EPI’s methodology didn’t mention any consideration for student loans. There is, however, is a category for “other necessities.”

File photo. Hat tip to James Breiling.

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A 5K race and festival in memory of an Arlington mom killed by a passing truck while placing her children in a minivan will be held for the third time on Saturday.

The Jennifer Bush-Lawson Memorial 5K Race begins at 9 a.m. at the Knights of Columbus (5115 Little Falls Road). It will feature a 5K race, a kids’ fun run with Teddy, one of the Washington Nationals’ Racing Presidents, and a “Family Fun Day Festival.”

The family festival will live feature music from local band Gutterball Kingpin, as well as moon bounces, a rock climbing wall, obstacle course, in-line jumper, human hungry hippo, food trucks, a beer garden, corn hole, face painting, balloon animals and more.

The event benefits the Arlington Pediatric Center and the Virginia Hospital Center Outpatient Obstetrics Clinic, with a focus on prenatal and postnatal health services for underprivileged mothers and babies.

Police will close several roads to accommodate the event. Per the Arlington County Police Department:

The 3rd Annual Jennifer Bush-Lawson Memorial 5K Race will take place on Saturday, November 18, 2017.  The Arlington County Police Department will conduct the following road closures from approximately 8:30 AM until 11:00 AM to accommodate this event:

Main Closures:

  • Little Falls Road: N. George Mason Drive to Yorktown Blvd.
  • Yorktown Blvd.: N. George Mason Drive to Williamsburg Blvd.
  • Williamsburg Blvd.: Yorktown Blvd. to N. Emerson Street
  • 33rd Street: N. Emerson Street to N. George Mason Drive
  • George Mason Drive: N. 33rd Street to Yorktown Blvd.
  • Smaller closures exist within the race area
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