BREAKING: SUV Driven into Creek at Bluemont Park

(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) An SUV wound up in Four Mile Run creek in Bluemont Park this morning, prompting a hazmat response to contain a fuel spill.

The crash happened shortly before noon, near a parking lot adjacent to the intersection of N. Manchester Street and 4th Street N. It’s unclear how exactly the crash happened.

No injuries were reported. A woman could be seen sitting on the ground near the crash scene, being interviewed by police.

Arlington County firefighters placed booms in the creek to try to contain fuel from the SUV, some of which spilled into the creek and was visible as a sheen on the water.

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Newly Revised Cycling Infrastructure Plan Cuts Some Proposed Trails, Strikes Compromises

Arlington transportation planners’ latest attempt at crafting the future of the county’s cycling infrastructure has left neighbors, bicyclists and environmental advocates both pleased and disappointed.

The first draft of the 5o-page document, known as the bicycle element of the county’s Master Transportation Plan, originally included 26 cycling infrastructure projects including new trails and on-street bikeways. Since then, county staff has cut a few bike trails from the document, including two major projects: the Arlington Hall trail in Alcova Heights and another connecting the former Northern Virginia Community Hospital in Glencarlyn to Forest Hills, which were chopped after outcry from neighbors and environmentalists.

Still, bike advocates expressed broad support for the plan, but some think the latest draft doesn’t go far enough to ensure pedestrian safety and combat climate change.

“We made a number of changes in response to what we heard,” said Richard Viola, the project manager for updating the plan at the transportation division of the Department of Environmental Services (DES) told ARLnow Thursday. “I don’t think it negatively affects the overall plan, but it certainly shows a little more consideration of our natural resources.”

The plan is a sort of guiding “wish list” for the county, which some refer to as the “Master Bike Plan.” Viola’s group has been revising the document for more than a year, with the final version expected to be adopted later this spring. The latest edition will be posted publicly next week, he said.

During this latest revision, the county dropped its proposal for an off-street, half-mile trail connecting 6th Street S. to S. Quincy Street in the Alcova neighborhood at S. Oakland Street. The trail became a point of controversy because it could mean 6th Street residents lose some backyard privacy, and the county would cut down some important trees.

“We heard from a number of people from that Alcova Heights neighborhood that they did not want to see the trail built,” said Viola. “And then later we heard from a number of people in the neighborhood who want to see the trail build.” Ultimately, his working group shelved the Alcova trail idea for another time.

Another nixed idea was to extend the Four Mile Run Trail a half mile to connect with Claremont Elementary and Wakefield High. The Audubon Society wrote a letter in January warning that the proposal could cause “potential harm” to the rare magnolia ecosystem in the area.

“It’s a useful connection,” Viola said of the proposed trail. “People walk it today. But it would not be a suitable bike route when we thought about it because of the steepness [of the trail] and the proximity to this magnolia bog natural preserve.”

Another plan that became bogged down was a Glencarlyn/Hospital Trail connecting Glencarlyn and Forest Hills neighborhoods via the old site of the Northern Virginia Community Hospital. The half-mile project was envisioned by Viola’s team as a “low-stress route” between Arlington Boulevard and Columbia Pike because it could link up with other bikeways on S. Lexington Street, S. Carlin Springs Road, and 5th Road S.

The Audubon Society wrote that a trail passing through the old hospital site would “destroy valuable natural resources” in the conservation area that protects Long Branch Creek.

As a compromise, Viola’s team suggested instead widening the sidewalk on the east side of Carlyn Springs Road, so bikes and pedestrians can share.

“There are other comments they did not address in their plan,” said Audubon Society member Connie Ericson, referring to the organization’s January letter. “But we are pleased that they took some of our suggestions.”

However, members of the Arlington County Transportation Commission were “not wild” about the sidewalk idea, according to Commission Chair Chris Slatt.

Slatt told ARLnow Friday morning that members felt a paved, woodsy trail was too rare an opportunity pass up.

“There aren’t a lot of places where you could jog or bike without cars next to you,” he said. “It would seem like a shame to give up on that.”

In general, the plan drew praise from Ericson, and other advocates like D.C.-based Wash Cycle who said they couldn’t “spot any holes in the plans” in a January blog post.

Bruce Deming, who runs the Law Offices of Bruce S. Deming, Esq. and is known as the “Bicycle Lawyer,” also praised the Master Bike Plan for being “very thorough” and having a “cohesive strategy.” But he also told ARLnow in a phone call that, when it comes to safety, the “sense of urgency should be greater” in the latest draft.

The plan contains no mention of speed cameras — something Deming admitted is “politically unpopular” but reduces the injury and mortality rates in crashes with pedestrians and cyclists.

Deming also critiqued the plan for not prioritizing more bike lanes protected from cars, something 64 percent of respondents surveyed by the county wish for according to the Master Plan.

“According to the latest version of the plan, we’ve got 29 miles of bike lanes and 10 percent are the protected bike lanes,” said Deming. “I’d like to see that percentage increase substantially.”

Viola told ARLnow that the plan has been updated to language about “traffic safety education.”

The updates to Arlington’s Master Bike Plan are the first in 10 years, and according to Viola, the county doesn’t expect to undergo the process again for another decade. This comes a few months after the U.N.’s report indicating humans have 12 years to cut emissions before global warming causes permanent ecological damage, and reducing trips by car is one way to do this.

The Master Bike Plan acknowledges this, writing that improving the county’s pledges to improve air quality and reduce its emissions “depend greatly on shifting more travel to energy-efficient travel modes such as bicycling and walking.”

For Slatt, this means ensuring the infrastructure is so good it makes people want to ditch cars for bikes — something that would be easier to figure out how to do if the county allocated more resources and invested in high-end data analysis.

“People don’t people pick their transportation option because it saves the planet,” he said. “People pick their transportation option because it works for them because it’s faster or cheaper or makes them happy.”

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County Rolls Out Temporary Parking Restrictions in Four Mile Run Valley to Free Up Curb Space

Some experimental parking changes throughout the Four Mile Run valley are going into effect over the next few weeks, as county officials weigh the best strategies for improving conditions in the area for pedestrians and drivers alike.

The county started rolling out the changes Saturday (Feb. 23) and plans to have all of them in place by the second week of March. Officials previously held meetings about the contemplated changes in Nauck this fall, and the County Board approved the general approach toward parking in the area as part of the Four Mile Run Valley Area Plan it passed in November.

The following roads are set to see parking changes over the next few weeks:

  • S. Four Mile Run Drive between Walter Reed Drive and Shirlington Road
  • S. Four Mile Run Drive (service road) west of Shirlington Road
  • S. Oxford Street south of S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • S. Oakland Street south of S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • S. Nelson Street south of S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • 27th Street S. between Shirlington Road to S. Nelson Street

Parking has been contested along parts of S. Four Mile Run Drive in particular, with neighbors frequently complaining about the bevy of commercial vehicles along the stretch of road. The debate over parking in the area was a particular flashpoint during the deliberations over the area plan, with some Nauck leaders arguing that their concerns went ignored by county officials.

Notably, the county will ban commercial vehicles from parking on either side of the “minor” service road section of S. Four Mile Run Drive, the section of the road that intersects with S. Oxford Street and is home to a variety of cul-de-sacs lined with duplexes and other small homes. Parking there will otherwise be unrestricted or available for up to 24 hours.

Along the main, “major” stretch of S. Four Mile Run Drive, the northern side of the road will be off-limits for overnight parking, from 1o p.m. to 7 a.m., between the road’s intersection with Shirlington Road and S. Oakland Street. Currently, parking is restricted there only between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays.

On the rest of the northern side of Four Mile Run Drive through the road’s intersection with S. Walter Reed Drive, parking will be available around the clock. It’s also currently restricted from 7-9 p.m. currently.

On the southern side of Four Mile Run Drive, people will be allowed to park for up to 10 hours at a time, outside of the block between S. Nelson and S. Oakland streets, which will be two-hour parking. Much of that side of the road is currently unrestricted or limited to two hours of parking.

The county is also changing up the rules on the south side of 27th Street S., which will now have a 10-hour limit. Much of the curb space in front of the area’s WETA facility is currently unrestricted.

Other changes will also impact some of the side streets running off Four Mile Run, where new two-hour parking limits are planned.

County police say they plan to strictly enforce these new restrictions to improve conditions in the neighborhood, though some residents are skeptical that the department’s staffing challenges will allow officers to make much of an impact in policing the area’s parking.

County officials also expect to eventually add new sections of sidewalk and a new pedestrian crossing island and curb extensions along S. Four Mile Run Drive. They could even move ahead with more dramatic changes going forward, like the addition of more angled spaces leading up to Jennie Dean Park or the conversion of S. Four Mile Run Drive into a two-lane road with a dedicated middle turning lane.

But first, the county plans to spend the next year or studying the impact of these new parking changes. The evaluation of that work will move in tandem with the planned changes at Jennie Dean Park, approved as part of the Board’s planning work for the area last spring.

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Construction Work Set to Close Sections of W&OD, Four Mile Run Trails Starting Next Week

Some work to repair stream erosion will prompt a weeks-long closure of two trails in the Dominion Hills neighborhood starting next week.

The W&OD trail and Four Mile Run trail will both be impacted by the construction, aimed at reversing the impacts of erosion along Four Mile Run as it nears I-66. Construction is set to kick off on Monday (Feb. 18).

The work will force the closure of the W&OD trail for about a month, the county says, shuttering a section between N. Ohio Street and its intersection with the Custis Trail.

The section of the Four Mile Run trail in the area, between N. Madison Street and Patrick Henry Drive, will be closed for about six weeks.

“Tree impacts will be avoided to extent feasible,” the county wrote on its website. “Some trees will be pruned along the Four Mile Run trail in the vicinity of the staging/access area.”

Workers will post detour signs near the closed sections of the trails. Cyclists and pedestrians will be directed onto N. Manchester Street, then 10th Road N. to avoid the construction.

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County Plans Detour on Four Mile Run Trail Near Sewage Plant

(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Anyone planning on hitting the Four Mile Run bike trail should watch out for a detour near the county’s Water Pollution Control Plant these next few days.

The county announced a “limited, partial detour” on the trail starting today (Wednesday) as it runs past 3304 S. Glebe Road, in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood along the county’s border with Alexandria.

A tweet from the county’s Department of Environmental Services said the work should last for a “few weeks,” and that it stems from construction at the sewage plant. A subsequent tweet described the primary disruption for trail users to be “a 200-yard one-lane merge.”

The County Board approved a series of repairs at the plant in 2017, with work planned on some aging water tanks at the treatment facility.

Anyone biking or running on the trail should follow posted detours.

Photo via Google Maps

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Safety Concerns Prompt Sidewalk Closure on Four Mile Run Bridge to Alexandria

Safety concerns have prompted the county to close a sidewalk along a bridge over Four Mile Run connecting Arlington and Alexandria.

The western sidewalk of the bridge connecting S. Arlington Ridge Road with Mount Vernon Avenue is now closed indefinitely, the county announced last week.

Officials say a recent inspection revealed “beam deterioration” on one of the supports under the bridge’s western sidewalk. The structure was built back in 1956.

The county now plans to use “signage and barricades” to direct people to the other side of the bridge. A Metrobus stop serving the 10A, 10E, 23A and 23B routes and the entry to the Four Mile Run Park and the Four Mile Run Trail sit just before the north end of the bridge on the east side at S. Glebe Road.

Another Metrobus stop sits at the northwest corner of Arlington Ridge and Glebe Road, serving the 10A and 10E routes.

County engineers plan to “monitor conditions and look at eventual replacement options,” but have no timetable for the sidewalk to reopen.

The county closed sidewalks along another nearby bridge at W. Glebe Road over Four Mile Run due to similar concerns back in November.

Photo via Google Maps

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County Kicks Off Months of Work on Four Mile Run Bridge, Prompting Lane Closures

Workers are gearing up to make some repairs on the S. George Mason Drive bridge over Four Mile Run, so be on the lookout for some lane closures.

The county kicked off work on the bridge on Monday (Nov. 26), and it will likely last through spring 2019.

Workers will reduce from two lanes in each direction down to one as construction proceeds, but only during “non-rush hours,” according to a county NextDoor post.

The work will primarily focus on “patching and sealing,” mainly on “good weather days” through early next year.

Then, the county plans to repaint the bridge in summer 2019.

Photo via Google Maps

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Though Parking Concerns Persist, County Board Approves Plan for Four Mile Run Valley’s Future

Arlington officials have, at long last, approved a new planning document to guide the Four Mile Run Valley’s future, one of the last remaining steps for the county to take in the years-long debate over the area’s development.

The County Board unanimously signed off on new “area plan” for the Nauck valley on Saturday (Nov. 17), sketching out the county’s strategies for fostering the preservation and growth of industrial and arts-focused businesses in the area.

The plan also lays out a series of potential road and parking changes in the area, which have prompted some community consternation even as the planning process wraps up. Some Nauck leaders have previously expressed grave concerns that county officials aren’t listening to their suggestions for the area’s development, and that includes fears about the road changes on the way for S. Four Mile Run Drive.

“An important element is missing: trust,” Nauck Civic Association President Portia Clark told the Board. “The county needs to work with us to repair the loss of trust… We were here before the planning process began, and we’ll be here long after.”

But Board members expressed broad satisfaction with the plan, despite those anxieties, arguing that the roughly three-year-long planning process delivered an outcome that will benefit the community for years to come.

“We’re going to all look back on this process, as occasionally challenging as it was, and see that this will be a true jewel for not only South Arlington, but the county as a whole,” said Board member John Vihstadt, the Board’s liaison to a working group convened to assemble the plan.

The Board previously adopted a broad “policy framework” guiding all manner of future changes to the area this spring. The working group and county staff then relied on that document to develop a parks master plan for the area, primarily focused on the overhaul of Jennie Dean Park, and then assembled the final area plan.

Among the document’s proposed changes are road alterations designed to make S. Four Mile Drive and some of its side streets more friendly for both cyclists and pedestrians, and free up more parking along the road. Changes will include new sections of sidewalk, a new pedestrian crossing island and curb extensions, as well as more robust parking restrictions and enforcement to encourage more turnover.

But those alterations will only be temporary, as the county examines whether they actually work. Officials could even initiate more dramatic changes going forward, like the addition of more angled spaces leading up to Jennie Dean Park and even the conversion of S. Four Mile Run Drive into a two-lane road with a dedicated middle turning lane.

“There are still some concerns on the road changes… but the community has accepted the ‘test first, build later’ strategy,” said Charles Monfort, chair of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group.

Yet Monfort’s leadership of the group attracted a public rebuke from one of his fellow vice chairs in a Washington Post opinion piece, as Robin Stombler argued that the public engagement process on all manner of issues was flawed — Monfort insisted Saturday that “anyone’s who wanted to speak has had many opportunities to do so.”

But Stombler and other Nauck residents charged that the parking changes are simply the latest example of the community’s concerns being cast aside. Clark pointed out staffing challenges in the Arlington police department means officers have less time to dedicate to traffic enforcement, making any pledge to step up the policing of parking violations on S. Four Mile Run Drive a hollow one.

“It makes no sense to test parking restrictions that will not be enforced and will actually increase parking turnover problems,” said Anne Inman, one of the Nauck Civic Association’s representatives on the working group.

Vihstadt also expressed some trepidation that the county is “really engaging in real time” on these issues, worrying that officials might “prioritize beauty and aesthetics over operational, on-the-ground needs for businesses and people who inhabit and do commerce in the valley.”

But county planner Richard Tucker reassured concerned neighbors, however, that the county is “going to move forward with understanding we’ll come back on this and make changes” after a year or so, if the parking plans aren’t working as intended.

“We test a little bit, we see what we learn and then maybe we expand that to other areas,” said Board member Erik Gutshall.

Beyond the parking changes, Tucker added that there are still few elements left to the planning work for the valley. In January, the county will kick off discussions on potentially adding an arts district to the area (a controversial point in its own right) and then convene a broader discussion on land use and zoning a few months later.

By and large, though, Board members hope the area plan’s adoption signals a major step forward for the county in charting out the valley’s future.

“When I walk down to Four Mile Run 25 years from now, the built environment will not look fundamentally different,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “And that speaks to this effort and what we all value about this area.”

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Morning Notes

Polls Are Open — Voting in Arlington started at 6 a.m. this morning and will continue until 7 p.m. Don’t be surprised to see TV crews at local polling places: a number of international news outlets will be on hand to document democracy in action in Arlington. [Twitter, Twitter]

HQ2 Driving Real Estate Interest — Real estate agents are seeing increased interest in Arlington and Alexandria as a result of the increasingly-likely prospect of Amazon’s HQ2 (or, at least, a portion of it) coming to the area. Crystal City residents, meanwhile, are both excited and apprehensive about the tech and e-commerce giant moving into the neighborhood. [Washington Business Journal, WJLA]

Rain Causes Swollen Four Mile Run — Heavy rain Monday morning caused flooding along Four Mile Run. Floodwaters blocked the Four Mile Run Trail for part of the day. [Twitter]

Green Valley Pharmacy May Reopen — The Green Valley Pharmacy, a long-time local business serving the Nauck community, may be revived by the family of its late founder, Leonard “Doc” Muse. “”We [hope] to restore the exterior to the way it looked when my grandfather opened it in the 1950s,” said Muse’s grandson. [Arlington Magazine]

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County Readies Temporary Parking, Road Changes to Make S. Four Mile Run Drive More Walkable

Though the biggest changes to the Four Mile Run Valley and its parks are still a few years out, Arlington officials are gearing up to make a few road changes in the area before major construction starts.

The county is planning some interim parking tweaks to free up space primarily along S. Four Mile Run Drive as it approaches Jennie Dean Park, in a bid to prepare for more substantial pedestrian and parking changes as the area evolves in the future. Officials are convening a community meeting to discuss the temporary changes tonight (Monday) at the Charles Drew Community Center (3500 23rd Street S.), starting at 7:30 p.m.

The affected roads up for discussion include:

  • S. Four Mile Run Drive major between Walter Reed Drive and Shirlington Road
  • S. Four Mile Run Drive minor west of Shirlington Road
  • S. Oxford Street south of S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • S. Oakland Street south of S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • S. Nelson Street south of S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • 27th Street S. between Shirlington Road to S. Nelson Street

According to the county’s website, “the changes are designed to provide better access for residents, park users and businesses in the area,” and are included as part of the long-range planning documents the County Board is currently finalizing for the Four Mile Run Valley.

The 4MRV Area Plan, set to be considered by the Planning Commission on Wednesday (Nov. 7), calls for a full “reconfiguration” of S. Four Mile Run Drive, in order for the county to test out some changes to make the area a bit more pedestrian-friendly and free up parking around Jennie Dean Park. Additions will primarily include “paint, bollards and landscaped planters,” according to the draft document.

“This would create a temporary 10-foot sidewalk on the south side of the street, a pedestrian crossing island at the intersections of Nelson and Oxford streets, and curb extensions (with planters) along the corridor,” the plan says. “Parking lanes would still be provided on both sides of the street. This interim solution would allow the county to pilot the new street design and collect input/data on vehicle speeds and delay, pedestrian comfort, safety and access to businesses.”

As an example, the planning document points to the intersection of S. Arlington Mill Drive and S. Walter Reed Drive, where the county is currently working on curb extensions and crosswalks to make the area more hospitable to cyclists and walkers alike.

The county anticipates that the interim changes will get set up this winter. County planner Richard Tucker even told the Transportation Commission last Thursday (Nov. 1) that some could be in place, “in the next several weeks,” so long as Monday’s meeting goes smoothly.

In the longer term, the area plan calls for “a parallel/angled parking strategy for Four Mile Run Drive with a concept for parallel parking on Arlington Mill Drive,” freeing up a bit more parking in an area that’s frequently in high demand.

“This concept creates more than 30 angled parking spaced immediately adjoining Jennie Dean Park,” the plan says. “Through regulatory and design changes, more than 250 additional spaces would be available during the daytime and evening. The cost of repainting streets in this configuration is far less than constructing new parking structures, and there may be opportunities for the county to explore shared parking agreements in existing nearby private parking garages.”

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Police: Car Wash Employee Drunkenly Steals Vehicle, Crashes Soon Afterward

An employee of an Arlington car wash is now behind bars after police say he stole and then drunkenly crashed a customer’s vehicle.

County police believe 61-year-old Rigoberto Folgar Hernandez was sent home Friday afternoon (Sept. 28) after showing up to work drunk at a car wash along the 4100 block of S. Four Mile Run Drive.

But Hernandez returned to the business a short time later, when he “drove a customer’s vehicle off the property, went over a median and struck a concrete piling and a parked vehicle,” police say.

Hernandez then exited the vehicle and went back to the car wash, where he was arrested shortly afterward. He’s now facing charges of grand larceny: motor vehicle theft, destruction of property, hit and run, and drunk in public.

Hernandez is set for a hearing on those charges in Arlington General District Court on Nov. 20, and is being held without bond.

Full details from a county crime report:

GRAND LARCENY (Significant), 4100 block of S. Four Mile Run Drive. At approximately 11:34 a.m. on September 28, police were dispatched to the report of a hit and run. Upon arrival, it was determined the suspect had been sent home from his employment at a car wash due to showing signs of intoxication. The suspect returned to the car wash and, shortly after, drove a customer’s vehicle off the property, went over a median and struck a concrete piling and a parked vehicle. The suspect then exited the vehicle and fled the scene on foot back to the car wash. Rigoberto Folgar Hernandez, 61, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with Grand Larceny: Motor Vehicle Theft, Destruction of Property, Hit and Run, and Drunk in Public. He was held on no bond.

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Car Runs Into Ditch Along Four Mile Run Drive

A car ran into a wooded embankment near the intersection of S. Four Mile Run Drive and Columbia Pike this morning.

The crash happened around 8:30 a.m. on the 4600 block of S. Four Mile Run, behind a parking lot for The Carlton Condominium. A dark-colored sedan drove over a bike path and into the woods along Four Mile Run.

Firefighters stabilized the vehicle and helped the driver get out. No serious injuries were reported.

No word yet on how, exactly, the crash happened. A similar crash happened on the opposite bank of Four Mile Run in early September.

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Morning Notes

WeWork Coming to Rosslyn — Another coworking space is coming to Rosslyn. WeWork is reportedly coming to three floors near the top of the new CEB Tower. [Washington Business Journal]

Board Passes Four Mile Run Plan — Despite some dissatisfaction among those who live in a nearby community, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to adopt as-is the proposed Four Mile Run Valley Park Master Plan and Design Guidelines, which includes “a comprehensive Master Plan for Jennie Dean Park and Shirlington Park, with short and mid-term recommendations for maintaining and improving Shirlington Dog Park.” [Arlington County]

Memorial Bridge Closure Rescheduled — Due to high river levels, work on and the closure of the Arlington Memorial Bridge has been rescheduled to this coming weekend. [Twitter, National Park Service]

Salt Storage Structure Approved — “The Arlington County Board today voted to allow the County to build an interim salt storage structure before winter sets in, on County-owned property on Old Dominion Drive, between 25th Road N. and 26th Street N.” [Arlington County]

Scooter Injury in Crystal City — A woman on a motorized scooter reportedly suffered a dislocated elbow after she accidentally ran into a wall in the Crystal City area Friday evening. The safety of the electric rental scooters has been questioned both locally and nationally. [Twitter]

Coming ‘Flood’ of Medicaid Applicants — “The Arlington County Board today voted unanimously to accept state funding that will help pay for additional staff needed to process an expected flood of new applications for Medicaid under the state’s expanded program, Cover Virginia… ‘Under the expanded program, we expect 3,000 more County residents will qualify. Childless low-income adults with no disabilities, a group previously excluded, and families and persons with disabilities whose income previously was not considered to be low enough to qualify will now be eligible for coverage.'” [Arlington County]

Packer Drops By Clarendon Day — Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones, in town for Sunday’s game against the Redskins — the local team ended up upsetting the visitors 31-17 — dropped by Clarendon Day on Saturday. He also posed for a photo with Arlington County police. [Twitter]

APS Wires 40 Schools for Fiber Connection — “Arlington Public Schools (APS) is kicking off the 2018-19 school year with a brand-new connection–ConnectArlington. Thanks to a yearlong collaboration, 40 Arlington school facilities are now up and running on the County’s own fiber optic network. APS made the switch from a commercial provider to take advantage of ConnectArlington’s high-speed, dedicated network for digital telecommunications and broadband services.” [Arlington County]

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Nauck Residents Blast County’s Handling of Four Mile Run Valley Planning, Feel ‘Ignored’ and Excluded

As Arlington officials continue to chart out the future of the Four Mile Run valley, some community leaders in Nauck feel their concerns are being ignored by the county and are demanding a louder voice in the proceedings.

The county’s worked since 2016 to craft new planning documents for the area, primarily located in Nauck but touching Shirlington and other South Arlington neighborhoods as well, in a bid to guide the gradual transformation of the valley’s parks and business district. The County Board passed a “policy framework” to provide a roadmap for that process in May, and is set to sign off on a “parks master plan” for the area at its meeting this weekend.

But even with a slew of community meetings on the subject and a working group dedicated to the valley, some Nauck leaders remain frustrated by how the county’s handled their input. While they have gripes with some policy specifics — the re-design of Jennie Dean Park, in particular — their broader concern is that residents are being left out of the process of determining their own neighborhood’s long-term outlook.

“It is confounding when the community that’s most impacted by the Four Mile Run valley is blocked from county communication,” Robin Stombler, a Nauck resident and vice chair of the Four Mile Run working group, told ARLnow. “There’s been a history of exclusion and marginalization of this community, and the county’s current actions don’t correct that history.”

As Stombler points out, the community’s roots as a historically black neighborhood add an extra level of tension to any discussion of how the county engages with people in Nauck. Even with the Board’s frequent commitments to remedying historic inequities in the community as part of the planning process, some residents can’t help but feel suspicious that Nauck’s past is still influencing its future.

“This community has been ignored repeatedly by the Arlington County Board while the requests and desires of several other, predominantly white, Arlington neighborhoods are being placed ahead of those of the people who live here,” Nauck resident Renee Greenwell wrote in an email. “It takes a lot for a historically marginalized community to speak its mind, [and] for Arlington County leaders and staff to patronize us and ignore our opinions is despicable.”

Arlington officials dispute that they’ve ignored any community involved in the planning, let alone Nauck. For his part, Board member John Vihstadt, the Board’s liaison to the Four Mile Run working group, says he’s done his best to “understand and appreciate the sometimes varied perspectives of all stakeholders in our planning process, especially those from Nauck.”

County parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish also touted the “enormous amount of community outreach” involved in the process, noting that the county has held a total of 65 meetings on the valley as well as creating “an online forum for those who could not attend” those gatherings.

Nauck Civic Association President Portia Clark, however, says the county’s “engagement process was lousy from the beginning.” While she says the county has indeed held plenty of meetings, it’s the quality of those meetings that concern her.

For instance, Clark says she invited parks officials to a civic association meeting last Monday (Sept. 10) to have a broader conversation about the parks master plan. Despite repeated requests, Clark and Stombler both say the county ultimately only sent one representative to the meeting, who couldn’t discuss the plan in the detail they were looking for.

“Where were the other county folks behind the parks plan?” Clark said.

Kalish acknowledges that the county was invited to that gathering, but noted that other officials had just held an “open house” on the parks plan on Sept. 5, calling it “robust and distributive.”

“We heard from a variety of people, including residents from Nauck and the surrounding communities,” Kalish said.

But Clark claims the meeting was sparsely attended, coming so soon after Labor Day, with county officials outnumbering community members by a hefty margin.

“How engaging is that?” Clark said. “We recommended from the beginning that they contact every household… It just went on deaf ears, because they weren’t listening.”

Clark feels that the county instead came into the process with “certain things in mind that they wanted,” and then refused to change based on community input.

Among her biggest concerns are the plans to revamp Jennie Dean Park. Eventually, the county envisions acquiring the WETA building next to the park, relocating a baseball field and adding new tennis courts to the area.

The Board ultimately endorsed a plan to move the field closer to the intersection of 27th Street S. and S. Nelson Street, even though Clark’s civic association and the county’s Park and Recreation Commission backed an option that would’ve left a bit more open space at the front of the park by locating the field elsewhere. But county staff endorsed the former alternative, reasoning it would be easier to build and maintain, and the Board is set to formalize that selection when it votes on the park master plan Saturday (Sept. 22).

To Clark, the dispute represents the perfect example of the county not listening to Nauck’s input, even though the neighborhood hosts the park itself.

“We’re concerned it will be a border to the community, and about the noise levels, what will project out into the neighborhood,” Clark said. “We just have to live with that now.”

Vihstadt noted that “Board members and staff are in continued communication with a variety of communities as we approach our Saturday vote,” and said the county is working to “build as much consensus and mutual understanding as possible” on the plan.

But Stombler is already looking a bit beyond the parks plan to what she thinks the county can take away from this whole dust-up moving forward.

“I think we need an assessment of how this process has proceeded, so future engagements are more collaborative and understanding of the community,” she said.

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BREAKING: Rescue Underway After Vehicle Runs Down Four Mile Run Embankment

Update at 3:10 p.m. — The victim has been successfully rescued from the vehicle. Tow crews will now start the process of removing the SUV from the embankment.

Earlier: Firefighters are currently working to rescue the driver of an SUV that ran down an embankment along Four Mile Run.

The incident happened just before 2 p.m. along 10th Street S., just south of Columbia Pike on the west bank of Four Mile Run. Initial reports suggest that one man is trapped in the vehicle but is in the process of being extricated by firefighters.

The victim’s injuries are said to be non-life-threatening.

The crash happened on a busy Sunday afternoon for the fire department. It is unrelated to the body recovery further down Four Mile Run.

Photos via Arlington County Fire Department and Google Maps

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