Arlington, VA

Libby Garvey was selected by her colleagues as Arlington County Board Chair for 2020, following a tradition of the Board member up for reelection serving as chair.

Garvey, who’s facing another primary challenge this year, outlined her priorities at the County Board’s annual organizational meeting last night, calling for a focus on “equity, innovation and resilience,” amid the growth of Amazon’s HQ2 and a continued challenges with affordable housing.

More from Garvey’s speech:

We’ve been managing change and growth for some time, and doing it well, but the arrival of Amazon has made the scope of our current challenge large and clear. We need to change a paradigm: the paradigm that the most vulnerable in a society are the first to suffer from change and the last to gain from it — if they ever gain at all. Economic change tends not to be equitable. That’s the old paradigm. We want a new one.

We want to be a model of progress and growth with equity. That’s a tall order. I think focusing on three areas in 2020 will help.

First, Equity. We must commit to an Arlington where progress benefits everyone, not just some. That especially includes our older residents, the people who built the Arlington we have today.

Second, Innovation. We need to double down on innovative thinking. We can’t always keep using the same solutions.

Third, Resilience. The solutions we find must not only be equitable, but they need to last over time.

So, as Board Chair, I will continue to focus on equity in 2020 like our Chair did in 2019. We have a lot of work to do. It is outlined in the resolution we adopted and includes 4 simple questions: Who benefits? Who is burdened? Who is missing? How do we know?

Specific policy focuses for 2020 include affordable housing, cooperation with neighboring jurisdictions, and stormwater management.

“Our July 8 storm showed clearly that our 20th-century infrastructure and approaches will not work well for 21st-century storms,” Garvey said. “When we begin work on our Capital Improvement Plan budget this spring we should see some very different solutions to stormwater management.”

Garvey, who faced a backlash from the local Democratic party after her vocal opposition to the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar and support for independent County Board member John Vihstadt, took a moment after her selection as chair to support another embattled County Board member: Christian Dorsey.

“Christian is a real asset to this board, to this community — we’re lucky to have you,” Garvey said of Dorsey, who last month told ARLnow that he regrets not informing the community that he had declared bankruptcy before the November election.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Erik Gutshall — who is up for reelection in 2021 and is next year’s presumed chair — was selected as Vice Chair. The priorities Gutshall outlined include making changes to Arlington’s zoning ordinance so as to encourage the creation of additional homes.

More from a county press release:

Amazon’s arrival requires an increased focus, or “leveling up” by the County “how we grow matters.” Arlington’s next level of managed growth, he said, “will focus beyond first-order urban design principles of sidewalk widths, building heights, and traffic circulation, and instead level up to an essential focus on equity, infrastructure like schools and stormwater, and a broader definition of quality of life and livability.”

To achieve that sort of managed growing, Gutshall said, “will require new tools and a modernized zoning ordinance to expand our housing supply in a way that enhances the livability of our existing neighborhoods.” It also requires the development of a long-range, comprehensive Public Facilities Plan “to guide the collaborative, creative, timely and efficient siting and development of County and Schools facilities.” Gutshall said he looks forward to continuing to work with County and APS staff, and the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission to begin drafting the plan by July 2020 and looks forward to working with County staff to achieve the ambitious goals of the County’s updated Community Energy Plan and to conduct a campaign to highlight and profile small businesses.

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In the midst of Arlington’s efforts to protect local streams, the county last week released an extensive guide debunking what it says are common stream restoration “myths,” touching on everything from ecology to rain gardens.

The following six “myths” were challenged by the county:

  • #1: If Arlington County did proper maintenance on the streams, we wouldn’t need to do stream restoration.
  •  #2: If Arlington County regulated infill development more, the streams wouldn’t be in such bad shape.
  • #3: More rain gardens and trees in the watershed could restore the streams without having to reconstruct the stream channel.
  • #4: Stream restoration makes stream habitat and stream ecology worse.
  • #5: Streams should never overtop their banks. After stream restoration, stream flow should be significantly less.
  • #6: The July 8, 2019 storm showed that stream restoration projects cannot handle intense storms or climate change.

When storms occur and water builds in steams, the resulting erosion can cause health issues for water-based wildlife and create infrastructure challenges. In order to prevent erosion, restoration alters the stream’s direction and adds step-pool structures to slow water flow, the county said.

County officials argue that restored stream sections of Donaldson Run, Windy Run, and Four Mile Run kept the channels from eroding during the summer storm. On the other hand, “unrestored sections of Donaldson Run did not fare well during the July 8 storm, with new erosion undermining the fence and trail.”

Arlington’s stream restoration projects aren’t without its critics, especially when it comes to the touchy subject of tree removal in Myth #3.

In an email sent to ARLnow, Suzanne Sundburg, a local environmental activist and member of the Arlington Tree Action Group, argues the opposite — “planting trees… ABSOLUTELY DOES reduce the stormwater runoff,” she wrote.

“These stream restoration projects, as implemented in Arlington County, use heavy equipment that involves significant tree loss in the very riparian areas that are supposed to be protected from tree loss and development,” said Sundburg.

Sundburg argued that development has damaged local streams.

“Maintenance of our streams and their banks isn’t the issue and thus stream ‘restoration’ is not the solution,” she wrote. “The underlying cause of urban stream syndrome is the increasing volume and speed of runoff coming from the watershed. Unless and until the county begins to correct and reverse the increase in impervious surfaces — now covering 45% of the county’s land surface — stream restoration is impossible.”

Local advocacy groups have previously sounded off against tree removal, namely in 2017 when local residents launched a petition against the removal of 70 trees in Donaldson Run.

Currently, the county is in the design phase of its Gulf Branch Stream Restoration project, which is intended to protect the waterway and the trees along its banks.

A Gulf Branch-specific “Myths and Misconceptions” was presented during a November 6 community meeting on the project. In the presentation, officials addressed the effects of the July 8 storm on the stream, noting the “unrestored stream segmented eroded tons of sediment, degrading and stressing habitat downstream.”

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(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) An entrance to the Pentagon Metro station is expected to close soon, temporarily and during off-peak hours, to allow for water infrastructure work following flooding at the station.

A pipe burst on Nov. 27, filling part of the station with several inches of standing water. Metro says a new water supply pipe will need to be constructed, as repairs are not feasible for the original pipe, which runs under the Pentagon itself and dates back to the station’s original construction.

An exact date for the start of the temporary closure was not given. Shortly after a contract to construct the new water line is awarded, the north entrance to the Metro station is expected to close “outside of weekday rush hours,” Metro said.

More from a press release:

Metro customers entering or exiting Pentagon Station during off-peak travel times will need to use the “South Entrance” escalators or the elevators due entrance configuration changes associated with the construction of a new water supply line to serve the station’s facilities, including employee restrooms and maintenance sinks.

Dating to the station’s original construction, the original water supply pipe failed on November 27, sending water streaming into the station through air ducts and elevator shafts. The rush of water dislodged some ductwork, and caused a partial ceiling collapse in a service room. The station was closed for several hours to remove several inches water that had accumulated on the mezzanine level.

Because the original water line runs beneath the Pentagon — an inaccessible location — Metro engineers have recommended abandoning the original pipe and constructing a new water line on a new route around the building.

The Pentagon has been an active and supportive partner to expedite the construction process and necessary security clearances for workers. Metro has already engaged its contractor community and expects to award a contract as early as next week. Once a construction contract is awarded and a formal schedule is developed, Metro will update customers on the expected duration of the project.

CUSTOMER INFORMATION

Due to construction activity and security considerations associated with the portable restrooms, Metro is advising customers who use Pentagon Station to expect entrance configuration changes during off-peak travel times. The changes will continue until a new water line is constructed and water service is restored to the station, a process that likely will take several weeks.

Specifically, outside of weekday rush hours, the station’s “North Entrance” will be closed and all customers will need to use the South Entrance, which will remain open at all times.

During rush hours–Monday through Friday, 5:00-9:30 a.m. and 3:00-7:00 p.m.–the North and South entrances will both be open and available for customers. Elevator service to the station will be available at all times.

Rail service on the Blue and Yellow lines is not affected by this project.

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(Updated at 1:35 p.m.) The Pentagon Metro station is closed due to a reported water main break.

Photos posted to social media show riders walking through several inches of murky water to exit the station.

The flooding was first reported by Metro around 7:30 a.m. Blue and Yellow line trains are bypassing the station and buses were brought in to run between the Pentagon and Pentagon City stations.

“The flooding at Pentagon Station is the result of an apparent water main break,” Metro later said via Twitter. “Response personnel on scene addressing the issue.”

Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services inspected the water main break and determined that the line belongs to WMATA.

The station is expected to reopen by the evening rush hour, according to Metro.

The Unsuck DC Metro Twitter account highlighted a number of photos posted on social media, showing flooding in the station:

https://twitter.com/cacaobunni/status/1199665701629374464

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It has been a big year for affordable housing in Arlington, from the county initiative “Housing Arlington,” to zoning changes, to new studies.

Heading into the new year, with Amazon’s HQ2 taking shape, two local advocacy groups plan on continuing to push officials on the issue. But one believes more density is the solution, while the other claims increasing the housing supply would wreck community character and the environment.

Peter Rousselot, Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) 

In April, Peter Rousselot — a board member of the Together Virginia PAC and ARLnow columnist — founded Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, a group working to advocate against zoning changes and accelerated density in Arlington. Rousselot previously formed a similar group, Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, to oppose plans for a streetcar along Columbia Pike.

In recent months, flyers spotted across Arlington from ASF argue that “Arlington County has plans to eliminate single-family home zoning and change other regulations” — changes that “would cause a county-wide population surge, escalating taxes, destructive flooding and environmental degradation.”

The flyer cites damage caused by July 8’s historical flooding as evidence that increased development has caused environmental damage.

“Don’t let Arlington become the next Houston,” the flyer says.

“We believe there shouldn’t be any significant further changes in zoning until we have the right planning tools,” Rousselot told ARLnow.

While ASF does not have a website, a copy of its platform provided to ARLnow argues that the county needs the following before implementing zoning changes:

  • A flooding and land use plan utilizing an accepted floodplain management tool
  • A ten-year projected county operating budget for different population and revenue scenarios
  • Community planning tools to assess costs and benefits of different development scenarios

Per the ASF platform, eliminating single-family zoning and adding more density would “transform Arlington from an urban village to a paved metropolis — [affecting] our schools, environment, trees, infrastructure, flooding, taxes, housing affordability, and county budget.”

“Our approach to housing affordability is that we don’t want to see this approach [where the county] accelerates the development of hundreds of new market-rate units in order to create a small number of affordable units,” said Rousselot.

“What we would like to do is redirect county taxpayer money to enable people to afford to live here,” said Rousselot. “That we decide as a community to help them to get the money directly in their hands though things like rental vouchers and housing grants.”

According to Rousselot, there are now more than 100 members in ASF.

Michelle Winters, Arlington for Everyone/Alliance for Housing Solutions 

Founded in 2003, Arlington for Everyone is a public education campaign from the non-profit organization Alliance for Housing Solutions (AHS).

The mission of the group is to “make Arlington a place where people from all walks of life are welcome and can afford to live,” per the organization’s website.

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Morning Notes

It’s Veterans Day — “Arlington County Government offices, courts, libraries & facilities will be closed Mon., Nov. 11, 2019, on Veterans Day.” Also, ARLnow will be on a limited publishing schedule. [Arlington County]

Fracture in Ranks of Arlington Dems — “Longtime Democratic volunteer John Richardson removed his name from the roster of ‘poll greeters,’ bemoaning party ‘orthodoxy.’ After last May’s divisive primary for commonwealth’s attorney, Richardson went public with criticisms of the successful outside-funded Parisa Deghani-Tafti campaign against incumbent Theo Stamos. That led party officials, he said, to ‘disinvite’ him from being a greeter.” [Falls Church News-Press]

County Releases Flood History Map — “Working toward a more Flood Resilient Arlington, the County continues to add to its array of stormwater management resources for the public. Challenges and the Path Forward, a just-published, visually rich Story Map, illustrates how Arlington’s peak 20th century development took place amid few standards for stormwater — and the ramifications for today’s more frequent, intense rain storms lasting very short periods of time.” [Arlington County]

Nearby: Skyline Complex Acquired — “A New York-based commercial real estate firm has acquired the aging Skyline office complex in Baileys Crossroads for about $215 million with plans to revitalize the 1970s-era property Vornado Realty Trust (NYSE: VNO) relinquished ownership of nearly three years ago.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Arlington is hosting three events next week focused on flood mitigation and safety efforts.

The free events — which were planned in conjunction with the county’s new Flood Resilient Arlington program — come in the aftermath of July’s flash floods, which caused nearly $6 million in damage to county-owned property alone. Among the aims: to answer questions and provide tools for homes and businesses to minimize future flood damages.

“Recent localized flooding from intense short periods of rainfall now challenge parts of our stormwater system due to issues of capacity and limited overland relief,” the county wrote on its webpage dedicated to flooding information and the new resilience events. “Arlington is working toward flooding resilience through defining balance between private and public responsibility; scaling levels of flood protection and mitigation; and needs based investment.”

Two of the events are workshops for homeowners and business owners, addressing questions about who was eligible for flood insurance, what damages the policies cover and what kind of damage the county covers.

The first workshop will be held on Thursday, October 24, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) and the second will be on Saturday, October 26 from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. at George Mason University (3351 Fairfax Drive).

“The goal of the workshops is for homeowners and business owners to learn how to reduce their risk of flooding by hearing from experts in design, hazard mitigation and insurance,” said Peter Golkin, spokesman for Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services.

A third workshop called “How to Navigate Disaster in Business” will be held for business owners responding to a range of crises, including flooding as well as active shooters or fires. That event is scheduled on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Arlington Economic Development (1100 N. Glebe Road).

“There will be more to come following these initial sessions,” added Golkin.

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Arlington County has made progress in repairing infrastructure damaged in the July 8 flash flood emergency.

Last week Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services reopened a portion of the Four Mile Run Trail that runs under Wilson Blvd. The underpass was partially washed out by the force of the raging flood waters.

Crews “completed the work to repair the bike trail underpass by replacing the curb that was undermined by the stream and placing new concrete slab on the sidewalk surface,” DES spokeswoman Jessica Baxter tells ARLnow. “We also painted the curb on the outer perimeter towards the stream. Overall, it took about two weeks to complete.”

Arlington reported around $6 million in damage to county infrastructure from the flooding. Baxter said DES has completely most of its repairs, though some work remains to be done.

“In terms of repairs, we have substantially completed our tasks — we have minor items to address, such as catch basin repairs,” she said.

A number of footbridges were swept away by floodwaters. At least one, near 38th Street N. in the Old Glebe neighborhood, was recently replaced. Arlington’s parks department is currently evaluating the replacement of others.

“As of Oct. 2, County contractors have removed bridges that were destroyed by the storm, including the bridges at 38th St. N. and N. Chesterfield Street, Bon Air, Glencarlyn and Gulf Branch. Lubber Run will follow,” parks spokeswoman Susan Kalish said. “All bridges and fords damaged in the storm are being assessed for safety and next steps.”

Photo (1) courtesy Dennis Dimick, (3) courtesy @btj/Twitter

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Following weeks of fallout from the July 8 storm, Arlington officials are discussing a new program for tackling future floods.

During Tuesday’s County Board meeting, County Manager Mark Schwartz introduced “Flood Resilient Arlington,” to be considered during the spring budget planning.

Demetra McBride, who heads the Department of Environmental Services (DES) Sustainability and Environmental Management bureau, said Flood Resilient Arlington will include educational forums, site visits, and a potential flood-resilience incentive program to help the county prepare for increasingly extreme weather caused by climate change.

The program “builds upon” the 2014 Stormwater Master Plan, which outlined improvements to Arlington’s stormwater management systems, streams, and watersheds over the next 20 years, according to DES Chief Operating Officer Mike Moon.

“We hear about climate change, and it always seems to be somewhere else,” said Vice Board Chair Libby Garvey. “People tend to think and accuse the government of not doing something right, they don’t buy the climate change reason, so we have a level of education we [owe].”

Funding for Flood Resilient Arlington will not be established for “eight to nine months,” said Moon.

The next steps include approximately 80 visits from Board members beginning this month to sites deemed a “high risk” for flooding, or homes that received more than four feet of water during the July 8 storm. During the Tuesday presentation, McBride listed several neighborhoods — such as Waverley Hills, Westover, and Rock Spring — as high risk for future flooding based on past data. She highlighted steps homeowners can take to stay dry.

“I realize this is emotional for people, your home is a big investment,” McBride said. “They have families and children and they’re concerned for their safety.”

Two public forums to discuss the program are planned: one on Thursday, October 24 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), and another on Saturday, October 26 from 10 a.m.- 12 p.m. at George Mason University’s Arlington campus (3351 Fairfax Drive.)

During the meetings, the public can expect to:

  • Hear from experts on flood-proof design
  • Learn about flood insurance options and coverage
  • Learn about how to flood-proof your house

McBride stressed homeowners need to educate themselves on flood insurance policies, also noting the county needs to step in with educational resources.

Several residents told ARLnow in the flood’s aftermath they had received conflicting information about their eligibility for flood insurance and were left fearing they would have to bear tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs.

During the disaster, dozens of residents fled their homes, a few beloved Arlington businesses closed for repairs, six pedestrian bridges were washed away, and thousands of dollars were raised on platforms such as GoFundMe. The county stated days later it would not cover any sewage overflow damage caused by the flood, telling ARLnow it would violate state law.

Since then, residents have applied for over $2.1 million in U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans, Schwartz shared, and Arlington businesses have applied for more than $100,000 in loans. Applicants can still file for a loan by Monday, October 7.

“During a majority of the 1,100 damage reports [this summer], people had insurance and thought they were protected, and then they realized there were exemptions and exclusions,” said McBride. “That’s a gap we would help to close.”

In addition to damage to private property, Arlington County reported $5.8 million in damage to county property and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall reported damage to 26 buildings.

McBride said Arlington will have to slowly overhaul its public infrastructure through several long-term projects — like upgrading the stormwater pipes, developing large tanks for water storage, and property acquisition — to help address the flood risk.

“These [will require] long-term disruption of neighborhoods,” she said. “I wish we could avoid that, but we’re simply not going to be able to and that’s going to be a partnership we need to have with the public.”

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Morning Notes

Shooting Suspect Arraigned — “The man charged with shooting a woman he knew in her Crystal City, Virginia, office on Aug. 28 has had his first court appearance in Arlington County District Court. Mumeet Muhammad was arraigned on three felony counts: aggravated malicious wounding; use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, 2nd offense; and being a violent felon in possession of a weapon.” [WTOP]

Coastal Flooding Discussion — “The Northern Virginia Coastal Storm Risk Management Study will focus on sites in Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, northern Prince William County, and at the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority’s Reagan National Airport–as part of an effort to reduce coastal flood risk to people, properties, and infrastructure.” [MWCOG]

ACPD Wins State Award — “The Arlington County Police Department received top honors in the Municipal 5: 301-600 Officers Category in the 2019 Virginia Law Enforcement Challenge Awards.” [Arlington County]

Arlington’s Lonely Turkey Vulture — “Hallmark doesn’t have a card for it – yet – but the first Saturday of September nonetheless is celebrated as International Vulture Awareness Day. And in Arlington, that means a visit to Long Branch Nature Center and Tippy the resident turkey vulture.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Falls Church Sheriff Vehicle Burns — “At approximately 6 a.m., City of Falls Church Police and the Arlington Fire Department responded to a call for a vehicle fire at City Hall… The vehicle was a marked Sheriff’s cruiser and was totaled in the blaze. An officer near the scene stopped a suspicious person for questioning, and subsequently arrested him.” [City of Falls Church]

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It’s been a tumultuous road to recovery for two Westover stores devastated by this summer’s record-breaking floods.

Ayers Variety and Hardware and Westover Market and Beer Garden are local institutions that were unfortunately placed directly in the path of floodwaters. Waters flooded both stores and knocked out power to the block.

“Every week it gets better,” said Devin Hicks, manager of Westover Market. “This place has never looked so clean and the community support has been tremendous.”

As Westover Market approaches its ten-year anniversary, Hicks said he’s feeling optimistic.

“It’s been a fight the entire time,” Hicks said. “But everyone’s been remarking that they’re happy to see us persevere. It’s been a rough two months, but it gets better every day.”

Next door, however, recovery has not been as easy for Ayers. The local store has been in business for 70 years selling everything from gardening supplies to plastic toys. But Kristy Peterkin, a manager for the store, said the business was already hard-hit by recent tariffs from the ongoing trade war with China.

“At the same time as the flood, one tier of the China trade tariff hit,” Peterkin said. “Now the second tier is starting to take effect. That’s a big hit.”

Peterkin says the company tries to buy American, but most of the stock they sell is almost exclusively manufactured overseas.

“Probably about 75 percent of what we sell is not American-made,” Peterkin said, “and we’ve seen a 25 percent increase in the prices. Walmart absorbs that price, but we can’t.”

The flood heavily exacerbated what was already a not-so-great situation. Water poured into the Ayers basement, ruining thousands of dollars in merchandise and leaving the store with nowhere to put overstocked goods. Today, half of the basement remains unusable.

“Until that’s fixed, we have nowhere to store additional [stock] that comes in,” Peterkin said. “We’re out of money to spend paying people to fix things, so repairs are on us now, which takes a lot longer. My husband and I work evenings trying to clear the basement.”

The basement flooding has left the store with limited inventory, as Peterkin said they have to be more careful about what they purchase because there’s no room to store surplus and they can’t afford to take a risk on items that they aren’t sure will sell.

“We’re kind of in a rough place right now,” Peterkin said. “I don’t know how that will look in the long run. We’re taking it one step at a time.”

Both stores said a GoFundMe campaign set up to support Westover retailers was a tremendous boon at a time of dire need. Hicks said Westover Market received roughly $30,000 and was particularly thankful to Whitlow’s On Wilson in Clarendon, which hosted a fundraiser event for the Westover stores.

“The event at Whitlow’s was great,” Hicks said. “It had a great turnout, there was great music, and everyone really rallied.”

Ayers received roughly $32,000 and Peterkin said the funding took a chunk out of the estimated $250,000 in lost sales and merchandise.

Peterkin also said there was an initial uptick in sales after the flood where members of the community came out to support the store, but since then numbers have dwindled back down and revenue is flat.

“In business, flat basically means down,” Peterkin said. “If business is flat, everything else still goes up, like rent and payroll and insurance. But to stay competitive, we can’t raise prices to accommodate.”

With winter on the way and a heating unit still out of service from the floods, Peterkin said there are still more costs looming on the horizon and no clear way to afford to pay for them.

There are also concerns that if heavy storms sweep through the area again, the same damage will happen all over. During the floods, Hicks said he saw the sewage pipes in the area become almost immediately overwhelmed and start spewing the water back up into the streets.

“The county needs to address this,” Hicks said. “They need to clean the sewage drains. They have to address it county-wide because it’s only going to get worse.”

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