Arlington, VA

After last summer’s devastating flash flooding, Arlington is ready to move forward with a new set of changes to try to prevent the same level of flood damage.

Staff said at Tuesday’s Arlington County Board meeting that the trend of increasing intensity and frequency of the storms has forced the county to take flood resilience more seriously. Shorter-term solutions that are in progress include new flood sensors, included in this year’s budget, and plans to change regulations for new developments.

The most immediate plan is $129,000 for a flood sensor pilot program. These would include sensors at two key intersections that indicate hazardous levels of water. Staff noted that it only takes six inches of water to sweep someone off their feet and two feet of water to disable a vehicle, meaning signs with warnings about depth could help those in flooding situations make informed choices.

The pilot also includes dozens of residential sensors that staff said could be installed in some of the most vulnerable homes, like smoke detectors.

“Providing that individual early warning and notification for a house is tough,” staff said. “There are so many variables. We recommended that [Arlington] look at some individual flood sensors for residential use.”

County staff said the recommended pilot included low cost, localized residential flood sensors to be distributed the way the Fire Department installs smoke alarms.

“If something happens at 2 a.m. we want people to get that info,” staff said.

County Board members expressed enthusiasm for the proposed sensors, with Matt de Ferranti saying it was an example of citizen input accelerating the county’s plans.

“It’s a miracle no one’s died,” said County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “I’m glad we’re stepping this up.”

The staff recommendation also calls for approximately $150-200 million in investment in the 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), including capital maintenance, stream and water quality work, and expansion of the stormwater system’s capacity. The latter, staff noted, was the majority of the investment.

An open house for the county’s stormwater plan is scheduled for Thursday, March 26 from 6-8 p.m., at Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street).

In his report to the Board, County Manager Mark Schwartz said the flooding last year is still causing lingering problems for the county’s trails, mainly due to significant erosion. Schwartz noted that many of the nature trails through Glencarlyn and Lubber Run may look safe but are still hazardous. He added an assessment is currently underway regarding the health of the local trails.

The county’s latest CIP, which is likely to include stormwater capacity upgrades, will be proposed by Schwartz in May and adopted by the County Board in July.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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Students who attend the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and the Shriver Program, at the new Heights Building in Rosslyn, are staying home today.

The building is closed, Arlington Public Schools said in an email to families (below), after a contractor accidentally broke a sprinkler line, causing the library, gymnasium and some classrooms to flood. The closure may stretch into Wednesday if repairs and cleanup from the water damage are not completed in time.

APS plans to notify families by 6 p.m. tonight whether school will be back in session tomorrow.

The $100 million building opened just in time for the start of the school year this past September. More from APS:

The Heights Building, including H-B Woodlawn, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program and administrative offices, will be closed Tuesday, February 18, due to an accidental break in a sprinkler line caused by a contractor performing work on Monday. The break caused water damage in the library, gymnasium and adjacent classrooms. Repairs and clean-up are in progress. Unless otherwise directed, essential personnel should report to work at their scheduled time on Tuesday, and custodians should report to work at 6 a.m. Extracurricular activities, games, team practices, field trips and other scheduled activities for H-B Woodlawn and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program at The Heights Building are also cancelled. We apologize for the inconvenience and will keep families informed of the status. Families will be notified by 6 p.m. on Tuesday regarding the operating status for Wednesday, February 19.

Update at 4:30 p.m. — The building and the programs will remain closed on Wednesday, Arlington Public Schools just announced.

Hat tip to anonymous. Photo via Arlington County.

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Update at 4:50 p.m. — The Flood Watch has been cancelled. 

Earlier: Arlington County and surrounding areas are under a Flood Watch starting this afternoon.

The National Weather Service says 1-3 inches of rain are possible between now and Friday morning. The rain may be heavy at times and might cause flooding, according to forecasters.

More from NWS:

FLOOD WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 1 PM EST THIS AFTERNOON THROUGH FRIDAY MORNING… THE FLOOD WATCH CONTINUES FOR * PORTIONS OF MARYLAND, THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, AND VIRGINIA… FROM 1 PM EST THIS AFTERNOON THROUGH FRIDAY MORNING * MULTIPLE ROUNDS OF RAINFALL WILL OCCUR THROUGH EARLY FRIDAY. THE HEAVIEST RAINFALL POTENTIAL WILL BEGIN THIS AFTERNOON AND CONTINUE INTO THIS EVENING. STORM TOTAL RAINFALL AMOUNTS THROUGH FRIDAY MORNING ARE EXPECTED TO RANGE BETWEEN 1 AND 2 INCHES WITH ISOLATED AMOUNTS NEAR 3 INCHES POSSIBLE. * FLOODING OF POOR DRAINAGE AND LOW LYING AREAS WILL BE POSSIBLE, AND SOME SMALLER STREAMS AND RIVERS MAY EXCEED THEIR BANKS. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A FLOOD WATCH MEANS THERE IS A POTENTIAL FOR FLOODING BASED ON CURRENT FORECASTS. YOU SHOULD MONITOR LATER FORECASTS AND BE ALERT FOR POSSIBLE FLOOD WARNINGS. THOSE LIVING IN AREAS PRONE TO FLOODING SHOULD BE PREPARED TO TAKE ACTION SHOULD FLOODING DEVELOP. &&

Nearby, the City of Falls Church is distributing free sandbags to residents ahead of the possible flooding.

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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The return of several bridges lost in last summer’s flooding will depend on the upcoming Arlington County budget, officials tell ARLnow.

Arlington homes, businesses, parks and some infrastructure suffered significant damage last year during the July 8 flash flooding. Among the casualties of the storm were seven bridges in parks throughout Arlington.

“There was one in Bon Air and Gulf Branch parks, and two in both Lubber Run and Glencarlyn parks,” Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said in an email.

A small pedestrian bridge at 38th and Chesterbrook, in the Old Glebe neighborhood, was also destroyed, but has since been replaced. Kalish said it was a simple wooden bridge and there was sufficient funding in the maintenance budget. None of the other destroyed bridges have been replaced.

While the six other bridges have been removed, Kalish said replacing them will be an item considered in the upcoming Capital Improvement Plan — a ten-year plan to address infrastructure issues. Discussion of the proposed CIP is scheduled to run from May to July following the adoption of the operating budget in April.

In addition to the bridges, the restrooms at Bon Air Park are also still closed, and will remain closed indefinitely, the county said in an update on Jan. 24. The update notes that following repairs “all of the [damaged] picnic shelters, volleyball courts and playgrounds are open.”

Staff photo by Ashley Hopko

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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.

Read More

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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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