Arlington, VA

Don Zientara, owner of the legendary Inner Ear Studio — long the seat of Arlington’s punk rock scene — is at a crossroads.

This Saturday, Arlington County is set to consider buying two parcels of land near Shirlington — 2700 S. Nelson Street and 2701 S. Oakland Street — and the warehouse that sits on it, which houses Inner Ear.

The warehouse, which is also home to a Ben & Jerry’s catering outfit and part of the Arlington Food Assistance Center, is old and structurally worn down, he says, and county documents indicate it will likely be demolished to make way for an arts and industry district along Four Mile Run.

Arlington County previously announced its plans to one day buy the building, but Zientara said no specifics were laid out as to when he would have to relinquish his studio. Now, however, the county has set a deadline: Dec. 31, 2021.

“I could retire at this point,” he said. “I’m weighing a lot of options. Closing it down is probably a strong one… It all depends on what we want to do. I’m not ready, really, to move the studio.”

The business is picking up “slowly, very slowly,” since the pandemic started. Musicians anticipate live music opportunities this summer and want to have a record or a downloadable song to “get things going,” Zientara said.

Zientara has been recording for more than 30 years in his basement and the Shirlington location. The long list of those who have recorded at the hole-in-the-wall studio includes the Foo Fighters, Fugazi and Minor Threat.

“I’m sorry to see it go, but that’s the way that it is,” Zientara said. “So I’m OK with it — it’s just the natural evolution of things. You can’t stop progress. I hope what they do have is something that can complement the arts in the county.”

That is the county’s plan.

The purchase would “fulfill multiple goals of the Four Mile Run Valley Area Plan, the Public Spaces Master Plan and the County’s Arts and Culture Strategy,” according to a county report. “The property is uniquely positioned to host a variety of diverse programming such as musical, dance, and theatre performances, and a multidisciplinary arts festival, anchored by a weekly outdoor ‘Valley Market.'”

County staff said the 18,813 sq. ft. of land could be used for the following uses as early as summer 2022:

  • An outdoor market, similar to Eastern Market in DC, and inspired by the county’s holiday markets and Made In Arlington pop-up events.
  • A location for the county mobile stage for musical, dance and theater performances.
  • An outdoor movie screening spot, “possibly curated for audiences not otherwise being served.”
  • A space for county-sponsored multidisciplinary arts festivals, supporting “a diverse range of artistic and cultural expression.”
  • A parking lot for when the space is not accommodating the above uses.

This sale would culminate a nearly two-year agreement between the County Board and the building’s owner, South Oakland Street, LLC. In June 2019, the county agreed to one day purchase the property for $3.4 million on the condition it made three annual, non-refundable, payments to South Oakland Street to delay the final sale for up to three years.

For the last two years, the County Board opted to make the yearly payments. Now, county staff is advising the Board to buy the property. Staff also recommend that the county give tenants until Dec. 31 to relocate.

AFAC will not be moving far. The organization, with its main building at 2708 S. Nelson Street, is temporarily leasing the additional space while it renovates a warehouse next door, which it purchased last year.

“The building was in serious need of renovation which we began in January of this year,” AFAC Executive Director and CEO Charles Meng said. “Once our renovation is completed in September of this year we will be vacating 2700 and moving back to our renovated warehouse.”

Photos (23) via Google Maps, photo (4) via Arlington County

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The County Board voted this weekend on an agreement with the City of Alexandria to dredge Four Mile Run in order to help mitigate flooding.

The neighboring jurisdictions will split the costs related to permitting, designing, construction, and dredging Four Mile Run, from around I-395 to the Potomac River.

“It’s time for us to undertake a joint dredging project so we can project that part of the county from flooding to the maximum extent possible,” said Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti at Saturday’s Board meeting.

The dredging — which will remove built-up sediment and debris from the bottom of the waterway — is expected to cost about $3.6 million, with each jurisdiction paying about $1.8 million.

The project is expected to get under way in the late summer or early fall, and will take approximately four months, Aileen Winquist of Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services tells ARLnow.

The work comes after the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) most recent inspection report gave the state of Four Mile Run a rating of unacceptable. The Corps built a levee system along Four Mile Run in the 1970s and 80s to help with flood mitigation, after a series of devastating floods that inundated Alexandria’s Arlandria neighborhood.

The recent unacceptable rating from USACE was due to “excessive shoaling,” meaning the flood channel is too shallow and can lead to excessive flooding.

“Maintenance of the open channel of Four Mile Run includes clearing of debris, sediment, vegetation, and re-stabilizing stream banks as required by the USACE annual inspection program,” says Winquist. “This maintenance work helps to preserve the flood channel’s capacity and reduce flood risk in neighborhoods surrounding south Four Mile Run.”

The areas around Four Mile Run have flooded a number of times over the past decade, including in 2011, 2017, and in 2019. Flooding two years ago was historic and caused some $6 million in damage to county property alone.

The agreement would also put on paper a long-standing understanding about maintenance of Four Mile Run. The north side will be Arlington’s responsibility and the south side will be Alexandria’s responsibility.

The needed improvements for the Long Branch Tributary will remain the sole fianincal responsibility of Arlington, since it’s within county borders. The budget for the entire project is about $4.7 million with Arlington agreeing to pay $2.56 million and Alexandria paying $2.16 million.

File photo

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Shirlington Road bridge crosswalk (Photo via Google Maps)

As Arlington County prepares to build a new pedestrian and bike bridge in Shirlington — two decades in the making — some continue to express concerns about safety.

Late last week, the county brought advanced concept designs to the community for a new pedestrian and bike span between the Shirlington and Green Valley neighborhoods, and for maintenance to the existing bridge, which has only a narrow pedestrian sidewalk.

While incorporating previous public feedback into the design, questions still cropped up about safety and convenience, particularly regarding the crosswalks across busy S. Arlington Mill Drive and Shirlington Road, which provide access to the W&OD and Four Mile Run trails. Both are heavily-traveled by cyclists.

The first part of the project will be to improve and update the existing bridge. The bridge is in need of routine maintenance and resurfacing, and this project provides a chance for other needed renovations, the county says.

Based on public feedback, staff said they will widen the sidewalk to about 7 feet from a previous 3-5 feet. They will also coordinate the design aesthetic with the renovations to Jennie Dean Park, while adding new guardrails.

However, despite some urging it, the county won’t be removing the slip lane from the I-395 ramp. While admitting that it’s not bike or pedestrian-friendly, county officials say there isn’t much that can be done at present.

The lane is owned and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Adding a crosswalk there would also increase risk for an incident due to traffic taking the right turn with speed, while the lane it could lead to traffic backing-up on the I-395 ramp.

“We, at the county, are very much interested in [removing the lane],” said Jason Widstrom, Arlington County Transportation Capital Program Manager. “Unfortunately… it is not within our authority to remove it.”

Construction for these renovations should begin in the late summer or early fall of this year and be completed prior to the end of the year.

Then, at the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022, construction will begin on a prefabricated, 15-foot pedestrian and bike bridge located 20 feet to the west of the existing bridge. It will parallel the existing bridge, will be multi-use, and have “enhanced pedestrian treatments.”

Additionally, improvements are being made to those crosswalks at Arlington Mill Drive and near the Four Mile Run Trail.

Based on feedback, the county is widening pedestrian ramps and the refuge median, redesigning curbs and the crossing to allow for better sightlines, and adding new rapid flashing beacons to improve visibility of the crosswalk. There’s also thought of trimming trees to further help sightlines.

Crosswalk safety, particularly near the Four Mile Trail, has long been a concern for residents.

“County staff is well aware of the history of the crosswalk and the troubles of trying to cross at this location,” says Widstrom.

Funding for these projects are coming from a state grant and will cost just over $1 million.

County officials said they would like to do a longer term study about adding a bridge that goes over Shirlington Road and thus separates vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

That study remains “down the road,” however, and costs to add that bridge could exceed $8 million.

In the meantime, said Widstrom, “we are trying to make the situation a bit better.”

Photo (1) via Google Maps, (2) via Arlington County

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The County Board approved safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists on Columbia Pike over Four Mile Run, as well as other changes, during its regular meeting on Saturday.

The approved $1 million Four Mile Run bridge project includes widening the northern sidewalk next to westbound traffic from five feet to 10 feet and narrowing the traffic lanes. Lighting will also be added to the northern side of the bridge.

Sturdy guardrails will be installed at the approaches to the bridge, but not on the bridge, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet previously told ARLnow. The expanded sidewalk will remain 9 inches above street level, to help protect pedestrians.

County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said during the meeting that he was pleased to approve the project, which makes the bridge more accessible.

“It is part of a big investment that we’ve been working on for multiple years, the Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements project,” he said.

Board member Takis Karantonis said the changes are significant and a long time in coming.

“This has always been a big problem for pedestrians,” he said. “It’s really scary sometimes, with traffic going both ways, very fast.”

Community feedback has also been positive, notes a county staff report.

“The widening is a welcome change that many in the community have asked for during the outreach and engagement on the Columbia Pike Multimodal Project,” the report said. “The addition of lighting has also been received positively, as the community members shared that this section of the Pike often feels dark and unsafe.”

Some community members requested a barrier between the sidewalk and road. The suggestion was ultimately not included, as the bridge cannot fit one along with a widened sidewalk and four travel lanes, according to the report.

Implementation was anticipated to begin last fall, but the timeline changed because the County decided to combine the updates to the sidewalk with other scheduled maintenance on the bridge, hiring one contractor to do both, Balliet said in an email.

Separately, the Board also gave its stamp of approval to the proposed realignment of the eastern end of Columbia Pike, part of a project that adds 70 acres to Arlington National Cemetery near the Air Force Memorial.

The federal government is paying for the $60 million road project, after acquiring county-owned land for the expansion via an eminent domain suit last summer.

The project realigns segments of Columbia Pike, S. Joyce Street and Washington Blvd, constructs a new S. Nash Street, partially eliminates Southgate Road and designs a new portion of trail, according to a staff report.

Images via Arlington County

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On Saturday, the County Board is scheduled to review an agreement with the City of Alexandria to build a connector trail near Four Mile Run and Route 1, in the Potomac Yard area.

“The Connector Trail will connect a trail to be constructed by Arlington County from Richmond Highway in Arlington County to a portion of the Four Mile Run Trail located in the City of Alexandria,” says a county staff report.

The new trail and the connecting trail are part of a development plan for Short Bridge Park. The waterfront park, adjacent to several bridges over Four Mile Run, is part of both Arlington County and the City of Alexandria.

“The first phase of development of Short Bridge Park involves the construction of the New Trail leading from Richmond Highway across a parcel currently owned by Arlington Potomac Yard Community Association and on which the County Board has a public access easement,” the staff report said.

The board will have three years to construct these paths.

“The County shall be responsible for maintenance, repair and replacement of the connector trail and the removal of trash and debris during the term of the agreement,” the report said.

Short Bridge Park was created through a site plan that the County Board approved in 2000. A master plan for the park, including a name change from the informal moniker “South Park,” was hashed out in 2018 after “extensive community engagement.”

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(Updated at 5 p.m.) Crossing Four Mile Run on Columbia Pike on foot or bike can be nerve-wracking, with scarcely any space separating pedestrians from the busy street. A new project set to get underway in a few months should make that crossing a little easier.

The Columbia Pike Four Mile Run Bridge Pedestrian Enhancements project will bump out the northern sidewalk along westbound traffic to 10 feet, double the current five feet. Vehicle travel lanes will, in turn, be slimmed down.

The project also will add lighting to the northern side of the bridge.

There is currently nothing except the curb separating pedestrians from vehicles, but the project will add guardrails in spots to help improve safety.

“The sturdier guardrails will be installed at the approaches [but] not on the bridge itself,” said county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet. “The expanded sidewalk will remain 9″ tall to provide protection for pedestrians.”

Balliet said there’s no word yet on when the improvements will be completed.

“The project is currently in design,” he said. “Implementation of the bridge enhancements is expected this fall, but we don’t yet have a start or end date for the work.”

The project arose out of public feedback from the Columbia Pike west end project, in which local residents said the sidewalks were too narrow and the too poorly lit to feel safe traveling along the bridge at night.

Images via Arlington County

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) It was a seemingly uncontroversial item on the County Board agenda: shifting a temporary parking lot for television station WETA down the block, in order to allow renovations to Jennie Dean Park to proceed.

But the proposal, which was approved unanimously last night after a detailed discussion, ended up raising questions about race, equity and public engagement. It was the subject of a recent op-ed published by the Sun Gazette entitled “Arlington government again fails Green Valley,” accusing the county of repeatedly ignoring the wishes of the historically Black neighborhood.

“While millions marched for equity and racial justice last week, the Arlington County government posted a board agenda item that turns these actions into mere slogans,” wrote Green Valley Civic Association members Robin Stombler and Portia Clark. “A license agreement would have the county government turn a newly acquired $1 million property in the Green Valley community into a parking lot for WETA. This action is but one in a series of events that draw attention to the inequity systemic within the county.”

The discussion at Tuesday’s County Board meeting did not include much talk of race or equity. Instead, it mostly addressed the practical matter at hand: about 10 employees of the nearby WETA facility, which produces the PBS NewsHour, were parking on a temporary, county-owned lot that is set to become a playground in Phase 1 of the Jennie Dean expansion. To allow construction to move forward, they would be moved to a lot a short distance away on S. Four Mile Run Drive, between a small commercial building and the Weenie Beenie.

Demolition of the building that will become the new WETA lot started last week, a county staffer said. Heavy construction on the park is set to begin in late summer or early fall. Without use of the current temporary lot, “we would not be able to build out the project as designed,” the staffer said.

The Green Valley neighborhood didn’t want the current WETA lot and doesn’t want the new lot, said Stombler. And notification of the change — it was advertised in the lightly-read Washington Times newspaper, as are Arlington’s other public notices — was inadequate.

“Publishing notices in the Washington Times and considering it an outreach method is very telling of how the county regards Green Valley and community input in general,” Stomber said. We deserve much better… The county’s engagement processes must be improved.”

The remarks echo complaints from Green Valley residents two years about the lengthy design process for Jennie Dean Park.

“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,” one resident told ARLnow at the time.

“I feel like we’re second class citizens,” said a resident during the public comment period last night.

Nonetheless, under an agreement approved by the Board, WETA will be granted temporary use of the newly-created lot for a year, after which its use can be reevaluated. Eventually, the lot will become part of park, in the second phase of its expansion. And the county will get something in return for the temporary use.

“The compensation to the County for the Amended and Restated License Agreement will be in the form of 12, 15-second promotional underwriting credit spots on WETA’s radio programs during each calendar year,” a staff report says.

Stombler and Clark — who support the expansion of WETA’s Shirlington headquarters that will see its aging NewsHour studio eventually demolished — said that the radio ads will not do anything to benefit the neighborhood.

“The county government must reassess its engagement processes to correct these actions, and must be held accountable for practices that marginalize segments of our community,” the op-ed said. “More innovative and compassionate solutions should be encouraged. Local hiring, paid internships, job fair hosting and community clean-ups beat 12 ego-boosting radio spots any day.”

Photos (1-2) via Arlington County, (3-4) via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Another Sewage Release in Four Mile Run — “Avoid contact with Four Mile Run Creek downstream of 7th St S until further notice due to a sanitary sewage release. County Water/Sewer/Streets is responding.” [Twitter]

ACFD Rolls Out New Medic Unit — “As we progress through the COVID-19 pandemic, ACFD continues to adjust our response to ensure the best service and safety for our community. Yesterday we deployed a new resource that will provide rapid on-scene assessment to identify non-critical patients with potential or confirmed #COVID related complaints.” [Facebook, NBC 4]

Former Police Chief Dies — “On Friday, April 17, 2020, retired Chief of Police William K. ‘Smokey’ Stover passed away of natural causes. He was 89 years old… Chief Stover was known for his integrity, character and straight talk, no-nonsense style.” [Arlington County]

Hotel Heart Turns to Hope — “If you’ve driven the 14th Street Bridge from DC to Virginia over the past few weeks, you’ve seen it: a giant illuminated heart on a Crystal City building… Thursday night, the hotel broadcast a new message: ‘HOPE.'” [Washingtonian]

YHS Dad Photographing Seniors — “Matt Mendelsohn’s Instagram feed is a veritable who’s who, featuring portraits of Stephen Hawking, Ray Charles, Nicole Kidman, Bill Clinton, Chris Rock and countless other famous figures… Now he’s set an ambitious goal amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis: to photograph every member of Yorktown High School’s Class of 2020.” [Arlington Magazine]

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Morning Notes

Demolition Starts at HQ2 Site — “Roughly a dozen demolition workers from construction firm ACECO were on site in yellow vests and hard hats, along with a couple of excavators, one of which sat on a mound of bricks as it tore down the southeast side of the single-story building.” [Washington Business Journal]

Apartments are Hot Near HQ2 — “The development patterns that are taking place in Crystal City make it a more live-work-play area versus being an office-dominated submarket that has an underground mall… That area is evolving with new product coming online and Amazon making its presence in the region. All of those things have helped generate demand for multifamily housing.” [Bisnow]

New Pool House for Army Navy CC — “Arlington County Board members on Jan. 25 are expected to approve procedural matters that will pave the way for Army Navy Country Club to renovate its swimming areas and construct a new poolhouse.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Eateries Absent from Top 20 List — The new 2020 Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants list does not include any Arlington spots in the top 20. [Washingtonian]

County Pitches in to Route 7 BRT Study — “The Arlington government will toss in just under $40,000 in support of the next phase of a plan to develop high-quality bus service in the Route 7 corridor. Arlington will allocate $39,200 as its share in covering the $560,000 cost of a ‘mobility analysis,’ the fourth phase of the study.” [InsideNova]

Four Mile Run Biz Celebrates 25th — Family-owned car repair business Auto Stop Arlington is celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend with an event that will include a food truck, beer and wine tastings, and kids activities. [Facebook]

RIP Jim Lehrer — The longtime host of the PBS Newshour, which is produced in the Shirlington area, has died at the age of 85. [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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You’re probably not taking Fido to play in the creek in sub-freezing weather, but you’ll want to nix any such plans at the Shirlington dog park for the next couple of days.

Arlington County crews braved freezing weather on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to repair an 8-inch sewer line that failed and sent sewage spewing into Four Mile Run, near the Barcroft neighborhood, for the second week in a row.

“The Department of Environmental Services advises to avoid all contact with Four Mile Run south of 7th Street due to a sanitary sewage release,” said an Arlington Alert message on Sunday afternoon. “Blockage was removed from the same pipe after a release last week. Crews on scene investigating pipe’s condition.”

As of Tuesday morning, the department said repairs had been completed. All people and pets, however, should avoid Four Mile Run downstream of 7th Street S. until at least Wednesday night.

As a result of the sewage release, a planned MLK, Jr. Day of Service trash cleanup along the stream has been postponed until Saturday, Feb. 1.

Photo via Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services

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Morning Notes

Never Ending Bike Rack Construction at EFC Metro — “Metro has been building a Bike & Ride facility at the East Falls Church Metro Station for nearly five years, and the project still is not finished. The covered bike shelter was supposed to open in December 2015, but Metro says due to ‘Numerous construction quality issues, including damage caused by a contractor repeatedly drilling into an underground duct bank, led to lengthy delays.'” [WJLA]

Another Sewage Release in Four Mile Run — “Avoid all contact with Four Mile Run south of 7th Street until further notice due to a sanitary sewage release. @ArlingtonDES crews are on scene investigating pipe’s condition.” [Twitter]

Delegate Wants to Retrocede Arlington to D.C. — Del. Dave LaRock (R) “said some counties and jurisdictions in the state ‘are becoming more like California and New York…’ [LaRock said he] could get behind a move to have more liberal jurisdictions such as Arlington and Alexandria become part of Washington, D.C.” [Winchester Star, Blue Virginia]

Weird Crash Leaves Car Hanging — “Rough night… at Columbia Pike and S. Dinwiddie Street.” [Twitter]

Cristol to Chair NVTC — “Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol has been tapped to chair the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission for the 2020 calendar year. She succeeds Matt Letourneau, a member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.” [InsideNova]

Marine Corps Marathon Bans Cheater — “The Marine Corps Marathon Organization (MCMO) recently concluded an investigation into the running history of a 55-year-old female participant at both the Marine Corps 17.75K and the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). The research, including photographic evidence and timing data, indicates that the runner had cheated over multiple years by not running the entire course and then claiming the rewards of a finisher.” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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