Bicycling advocates are blasting newly revealed plans to simultaneously expand Arlington National Cemetery and realign Columbia Pike, arguing that the proposed changes could make cycling along the roadway more dangerous.
The advocacy group “Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County” claims the cemetery’s current expansion plans, designed to someday add 70 acres to the burial ground, “will squander a major opportunity to improve the bike connection between Columbia Pike and Pentagon City and arguably make cycling less pleasant and less safe.”
In a message to its mailing list, the group urged concerned cyclists to speak in opposition to the cemetery’s plans at a public meeting on the subject in Pentagon City tonight (Wednesday).
The organization, founded by county transportation commission chair Chris Slatt, is primarily concerned that the cemetery only plans to add a 10-foot-wide sidewalk along the pike’s north side when it realigns the road. Army officials are currently hoping to add space for as many as 60,000 new interments to the cemetery’s south, absorbing the former Navy annex site and several other acres of land controlled by the county near S. Joyce Street and Washington Blvd, prompting some changes to the pike in the area.
The project also calls for the removal of Southgate Road in its entirety as it runs through area, which Slatt’s group describes as “a relatively quiet street that cyclists currently use to avoid that stretch of Columbia Pike.” The organization has made improving conditions for cyclists on the pike a central part of its mission, and it’s warning that eliminating an alternative to biking along the road would be a major step backward for the area.
“By replacing Southgate Road with just a sidewalk, this project is arguably a downgrade in cycling infrastructure,” the group wrote. “This portion of Columbia Pike has no reasonable nearby alternative. It needs great bike infrastructure.”
Spokespeople for the cemetery did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the organization’s criticisms. But a draft environmental assessment of the project prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggests that the changes represent “the upgrade of Columbia Pike into a multimodal facility.”
“The alignment for the future Columbia Pike has the necessary geometry for a high capacity regional multimodal transportation corridor,” the corps wrote.
The corps wrote that planners also considered building the “wall trail” along the cemetery’s eastern boundary as part of this work, a bit of cycling infrastructure long hoped for by county officials to link the Foxcroft Heights neighborhood to Memorial Avenue. Yet the corps said it determined that it “appears to have severe space constraints due to aboveground utilities along the proposed route,” and didn’t consider it any further.
Instead, Slatt’s group would rather see the Army build a “bidirectional bike lane” on the north side of the pike to connect with additional improvements to the west of the area. If that’s not feasible, the organization would also accept a widening of the planned sidewalk into a trail “providing demarcated areas for pedestrians and cyclists marked with paint, signage or differentiated materials.”
Tonight’s meeting on the project is scheduled for the Sheraton Pentagon City hotel (900 S. Orme Street) from 5-8 p.m. The Army expects roadway construction associated with the expansion could start as soon as 2021.
Update at 2:45 p.m. — The base’s public affairs office released the following statement Wednesday.
The Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Feb. 27 incident where 11 personnel began feeling ill after a letter was opened on the Marine Corps side of the base remains under investigation.
NCIS and the FBI are conducting the joint investigation.
The three Marines who were transported for additional medical evaluations were released from the hospital at approximately 10 p.m. last night.
This office will continue to provide updates as they become available.
Earlier: Firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement responded to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Tuesday afternoon for a hazmat situation involving an unknown substance that was mailed to the base.
Firefighters were first called to Henderson Hall, the headquarters of the U.S. Marine Corps, just after 4:30 p.m. for a hazmat incident. Ft. Myer, Arlington County and Alexandria firefighters and hazmat units were dispatched to the scene, as was an “EMS task force” that is usually dispatched to mass casualty incidents.
Initial reports suggest that a certified letter was opened in one of the buildings and that it contained some sort of potentially hazardous substance, prompting an evacuation of the building and the deployment of an emergency decontamination station.
Eleven people were treated for symptoms and three were transported to the hospital in stable condition, according to the Arlington County Fire Department. Symptoms included a nose bleed and a burning sensation, according to initial reports.
A Marine Corps official released a statement saying that the victims were Marines.
“An envelope containing an unknown substance was received, today, aboard Joint Base Ft. Myer-Henderson Hall,” the statement said. “Personnel in the affected building took immediate preventative measures by evacuating the building. Base officials are coordinating with local hazmat teams and the FBI. Several Marines are receiving medical care as a result of this incident.”
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said via Twitter that he is “closely following the situation.”
With the help of the local hazmat teams “the building was screened and cleared, and the letter was removed,” the Marine Corps said late Tuesday. The FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) are now conducting a joint investigation.
National news media, including major television networks, gathered outside of the base in Arlington’s Foxcroft Heights neighborhood to report on the story. A press conference to be held outside the base was later cancelled. No reason was given for the cancellation.
During the incident police closed off the road near the entrance to Henderson Hall, at the intersection of S. Orme Street and Southgate Road.
Engine 161’s crew evacuated and decontaminated 11 patients from the hazard area, all evaluated by EMS-3transported to area hospital. All units have picked up, scene turned over to @FBIWFO @FBI pic.twitter.com/cAbNW75zOJ
— IAFF LOCAL F253 (@FortMyerFire) February 28, 2018
#Update: Ft Myer Hazmat, 11 people started feeling ill after letter was opened in consolidated admin building. 3 were transported. Condition not known. Ft Myer PIO enroute.
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) February 27, 2018
#Update: Ft Myer, 3 transported patients in stable condition. Command is scaling back incident starting to put some units in service. Investigation ongoing.
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) February 27, 2018
Closely following the situation at Ft. Myer in Arlington. This is scary, I hope very much that everyone involved will be alright. https://t.co/19WHBmUNCp
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) February 27, 2018
— IAFF Local 2141 (@IAFFLocal2141) February 27, 2018
Instant Runoff Bill Passes Committee — A bill that authorizes the Arlington County Board to use instant runoff voting for Board elections has passed a state committee. The legislation from Del. Patrick Hope (D) is intended to “encourage consensus candidates and eliminate the likelihood that a fringe contender could sneak through with 25 or 30 percent of the vote in a crowded field.” [InsideNova]
Foxcroft Heights Fire — Arlington County and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall firefighters battled heavy fire in a townhouse near the eastern end of Columbia Pike Saturday evening. No injuries were reported but the home sustained serious damage. [Twitter, Twitter]
Fire at Willston Centre — A fire broke out Saturday night at a store in the Willston Centre shopping center in Seven Corners. TV news reports said the fire started in the Steven’s Shop tuxedo shop. Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze. No one was injured. [Patch]
Community Foundation Gala Set — The Arlington Community Foundation will be holding its annual gala on Saturday, April 21 at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. The theme for this year is “This Is Us.” The event will feature a performance by “Arlington’s own Amy Wilcox and her band from L.A.” [Arlington Community Foundation]
Pushback on Naming Gravelly for Nancy Reagan — The pushback to the pushback against naming Gravelly Point park for First Lady Nancy Reagan has arrived. Writes a conservative website: “Opposition to the name change is… mean-spirited, petty partisanship. Nancy Reagan deserves better.” [Daily Signal]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
The projects have been advanced by a county committee via Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation Program, which encourages neighborhoods to apply for funding for various types of local improvements.
The projects set for approval are:
- A new neighborhood sign for Long Branch Creek ($12,500)
- Street improvements and new streetlights along 31st Street S. in Fairlington, between S. Randolph and Woodrow Streets ($1.7 million)
- New streetlights on S. Oak, Ode and Orme Streets in Foxcroft Heights ($562,704)
- Intersection improvements along 2nd Street S. at S. Wayne, Uhle and Wise Streets in Penrose ($1.6 million)
- Street improvements along N. George Mason Drive between 11th Street N. and I-66 in Waycroft-Woodlawn ($1.4 million)
The County Board is expected to vote on the Neighborhood Conservation projects at its Saturday meeting. The measure also includes an additional $200,000 for the county’s “Missing Link Program,” which funds the construction of small stretches of new sidewalk to connect existing sidewalks.
The long-awaited process of demolishing the Navy Annex and its surrounding parking lots is scheduled to begin within the next month or two, officials tell ARLnow.com.
The 1 million square foot military office complex, first built in 1941 and located on the eastern end of Columbia Pike, will be torn down to make way for an expansion of Arlington National Cemetery. The entire 42-acre Navy Annex site, which includes a large surface parking lot on the other side of Columbia Pike, will be turned into a grass field in advance of an official transfer from the Department of the Army to Arlington National Cemetery in late 2013.
Demolition on the eastern wing of the Navy Annex is scheduled to start in November or December. The process will include abatement of asbestos and other hazardous materials. Demolition, site grading and seeding is expected to be complete by August 2013.
Columbia Pike should only experience “minimal” traffic impacts from the project; Southgate Road, which runs parallel to the Pike on the other side of the Navy Annex, is expected to see the majority of traffic disruptions.
The Navy Annex site is not expected to be used for burials for at least a couple of years. First, Arlington County and the federal government must come to a land swap agreement. The entities are still working on a deal to swap the county’s 4.23 acre Southgate Road right of way, and perhaps some other land, in exchange for a portion of the Navy Annex site.
The most recent land swap agreement — which has since fallen through, according to Arlington County federal liaison Brian Stout — called for construction of an Arlington County heritage museum on the site. At least a portion of the proposed museum would be used to commemorate the Civil War-era Freedman’s Village, which was once located on the site.
The county is also working with the federal government and VDOT to reach an agreement for a realignment of Columbia Pike. Currently, the Pike curves around the Air Force Memorial — located adjacent to the Navy Annex — and toward the cemetery before the intersection with S. Joyce Street.
Stout says the county is proposing that the Pike be straightened and run through the current Navy Annex parking lot, before making an L-shaped intersection with Joyce Street. That would make for an easier drive up the Pike and would make for a contiguous burial area that’s not divided by the busy road. The project has been discussed but so far no engineering plans are in place, Stout said.
Another point of discussion deals with parking for the Air Force Memorial. Stout said the current demolition plan seems to call for the demolition of a portion of the parking lot used by memorial visitors. If that’s removed, visitors may need to park on Southgate Road.
Takis Karantonis, Executive Director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, says the demolition presents an opportunity to improve the “eastern gateway” to the Pike. He said CPRO would like to see up to five stories of mixed use development along the Columbia Pike frontage of the tiny Foxcroft Heights neighborhood, located between the Navy Annex and the Sheraton National hotel.
“This is not the sightliest of places,” he said of the aging military building and the parking lots that line that section of the Pike. “Getting this redeveloped… is for us a welcome development. We think that the neighborhood will develop very nicely with that.”
Most of Foxcroft Heights is slated to remain single family homes under the recently-approved Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan.
A neighborhood information meeting about the demolition process is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15 at the Galaxy Room of the Sheraton National (900 S. Orme Street).
The Navy Exchange/Quarters K gas station on S. Joyce Street, near the Pentagon, closed for good about a month ago. The Navy Times reports that the station will eventually be demolished as part of the cemetery expansion plan.
The expansion is being made possible by a 2008 land swap deal between Arlington County and the federal government. At some point after 2011, the county will exchange a 4.3 acre parcel of land along Southgate Road — which runs from Henderson Hall to the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Joyce Street — for 4.3 acres of land on the present Navy Annex site along Columbia Pike.
The county is eying the western portion of the Navy Annex, which will be shuttered and torn down, for a proposed Freedman’s Village heritage center and black history museum. The federal government, meanwhile, plans to eliminate Southgate Road to make way for the aforementioned planned expansion of Arlington National Cemetery.
Another aspect of the expansion plan is playing out in the halls of congress. Arlington’s congressional delegation has been seeking funding for a realignment of Columbia Pike between the Air Force Memorial and S. Joyce Street. The proposed project would eliminate a sharp bend in the road that routes it closer to the cemetery. Instead, the proposed realignment would take the Pike on a more direct path to Joyce Street, through what is now a Defense Department parking lot.
The project promises to “provide additional contiguous expansion space for the Cemetery” while enhancing the streetscape and resulting in “significant improvements in safety, mobility and economic development along the Columbia Pike Corridor.”
Congressman Jim Moran’s office confirmed that the Pike realignment was still in the planning stage but was unable to provide an approximate timeline for the project due to uncertainties regarding funding.
The 417-room Sheraton National Hotel has been sold to a Connecticut-based hotel investment firm.
The hotel, located just off of Columbia Pike at 900 S. Orme Street, had been owned by National Hospitality Corporation, a company linked to Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.
HEI Hotels and Resorts purchased an ownership interest in the hotel for an undisclosed sum. The company owns 39 hotels in 16 states, including the Sheraton Crystal City.
HEI plans to keep operating the hotel as a Sheraton.
The residential portion of Foxcroft Heights only encompasses three one-block streets, but some big changes may be coming to the tiny South Arlington community.
On Saturday afternoon, county staff and urban planning consultants will meet with residents to discuss some of those possible changes. The meeting is being billed as a “mini-charrette” — a hands-on brainstorming session, of sorts.
“Participants will work in small groups with members of the planning team to draw ideas for the future of the neighborhood,” says a flyer distributed to Foxcroft’s 400+ residents. “Ideas could include desired enhancements to transportation networks or open spaces, and potential for building revitalization or redevelopment.”
Foxcroft Heights is perhaps best known for being the home of the Air Force Memorial. Its residential community is surrounded by Columbia Pike to the south, the Henderson Hall to the North, the Sheraton National Hotel to the west and the Navy Annex to the east. Within its confines are 95 homes, two 16-unit apartment buildings and a small park. Along Columbia Pike are a couple of small businesses including Dama Diner, Ruth’s Beauty Shop and an auto repair store, as well as a Virginia Department of Transportation facility and a half-way home.
According to a 2009 planning document that has almost as many pages as Foxcroft Heights has buildings, homeowners have been approached by commercial developers about “various options for the neighborhood.”
Another big change that’s underway is the closure of the Navy Annex. The building is set to be shuttered and torn down, perhaps by the end of next year. The military is planning on using most of the freed-up land to expand Arlington National Cemetery. About four acres will be given to the county for construction of a Freedman’s Village heritage museum.
Through all the planned and possible changes, the county says it wants to preserve many of the residential features of the neighborhood.
“Planning currently is focusing on the residential areas — how to strengthen what exists now, how to preserve affordable and mixed income housing and how to expand housing opportunities,” the county’s flyer said.
Saturday’s meeting will be held from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Sheraton National Hotel (900 S. Orme Street).