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EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Employees Are Very Interested in a Particular Article About Arlington

Eagle-eyed readers of this site may have noticed something odd in this past Friday’s weekend discussion post: namely, the inclusion of an article from December among the most-viewed stories of the week.

We also found that unusual, so we did a bit of digging. It turns out, there have been more than 6,000 views of the article, “County Wins Top Environmental Award from U.S. Green Building Council,” over the past week.

Here’s an excerpt:

Arlington County is the first community in the country to win a top award for its environmentally-friendly policies from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The county was named a Platinum level community by USGBC under its new LEED for Communities program.

USGBC said the certification recognizes the county’s creation of a “sustainable and resilient urban environment that has long-proven success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, managing stormwater, ensuring economic prosperity and focusing on education, affordable housing, health and safety for residents and businesses.”

So from where is all this newfound interest in Arlington County’s sustainability bonafides coming? From Amazon.com, it seems.

The vast majority of the traffic to the page over the past week that can be tracked came from what appears to be an internal Amazon.com page devoted to its HQ2 search. Arlington, of course, is in the running as one of the potential landing spots for the company’s second headquarters.

Below is a chart showing traffic to the page, via Google Analytics.

No other page on ARLnow.com has a similar level of traffic coming from Amazon.

Last week a noted NYU professor who has written about the company opined that New York City and the D.C. area are among the most likely finalists for HQ2, due to a combination of being destinations for talented workers and being places that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likes to frequent.

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EXCLUSIVE: ‘Backpack Mail’ at Arlington Public Schools Going Paperless

Students going back to school (file photo)Arlington Public Schools will soon no longer be sending paper flyers home in students’ backpacks.

The so-called backpack mail for parents of elementary and middle school students is being phased out in favor of an electronic system, following a successful pilot program, according to APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

The system, called Peachjar, is specifically designed for schools. It sends electronic flyers to parents’ email inboxes, thus cutting costs and staff time that would otherwise be spent making paper copies and distributing them.

The new system is being rolled out to all elementary and middle schools “over the next few weeks,” Bellavia said.

Families can request that they keep receiving paper copies and paper flyers will be posted on school bulletin boards. Otherwise, there are a number of options for electronic delivery.

“Parents can access the flyers via weekly email notifications they receive, by checking the school’s website, or accessing flyers on the APS Mobile App,” said Bellavia. “Families like the Peachjar option because electronic copies stay online for at least 30 days, and are linked directly to the organization’s website where they can access more information or directly sign up for programs electronically, which is more convenient than keeping track of paper copies and following up on advertised services.”

The pilot program took place at six elementary schools and one middle school last fall and of the families surveyed about it, 86 percent said they wanted to keep the new system instead of returning to backpack mail, according to APS. Nonprofit organizations and PTAs also participate in backpack mail and APS received an enthusiastic response from them.

“More than 100 nonprofit organizations who participate in our backpack mail program were surveyed, and only one respondent indicated a desire to return to backpack mail,” said Bellavia. “APS, schools and PTAs can use the service for free, and nonprofit organizations pay a nominal fee that is less costly than making copies, to distribute their flyers electronically to families. Our PTAs are excited about the service because they can use it for free to distribute their flyers, saving time and the expense of printing paper copies.”

“This program supports the APS commitment to its core value of sustainability, and many families, community members and staff have urged APS to find a paperless (environmentally friendly) alternative to backpack mail,” Bellavia noted.

High schools do not have backpack mail and thus are not slated to get the new system. After the jump, a video about Peachjar.

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Ebbin Aims to Repeal Hybrid Vehicle Tax

Protesters join State Sen. Adam Ebbin in push to repeal hybrid vehicle tax (courtesy photo)Hybrid car owners and climate advocates joined State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) on Monday as the lawmaker announced an effort to repeal the state’s new hybrid and electric vehicle tax.

Ebbin and Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mt. Vernon) both plan to introduce bills to get rid of the tax during the 2014 legislative session.

“Hybrids already pay gas taxes and the mileage of both hybrids and non-hybrids vary significantly,” said Ebbin. “There are gasoline-only autos that get better mileage than some hybrids, and some hybrids, including SUVs, that do not get mileage as good as many gas-only powered cars. The punitive annual hybrid tax was not well thought out and hastily passed.”

The $64 tax went into effect yesterday as part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) transportation bill. As a compromise between McDonnell and the state General Assembly, the amount was reduced from the originally proposed $100 hybrid tax. The measure is expected to raise about $5 million out of the $1.4 billion budget.

The more than 91,000 hybrid vehicles registered in Virginia make up about one percent of all vehicles in the state. Around 80 percent of the hybrids are registered in Northern Virginia.

Earlier this year, Ebbin and Surovell circulated a petition requesting the removal of the tax from the transportation bill. That petition picked up around 8,000 signatures but did not prevent the tax from being included.

The two lawmakers plan to introduce the bills to repeal the hybrid tax on the first day of the state’s new legislative session, which is January 8.

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Morning Notes

Stuck stump at Quincy Park

Ground Floor Retail Exemption Granted — At its meeting yesterday (May 21), the County Board granted an exemption to the policy of requiring ground floor retail space, for the office building at 3701 N. Fairfax Drive. The building formerly housed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which had received a retail exemption due to security concerns. The Board granted the exemption this time due to the space’s lack of access and visibility from the street. [Sun Gazette]

AIRE Goal Exceeded — Arlington County has exceeded its 2007 Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE) goal of a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from government operations by 2012. The county has reduced its emissions by 11.7 percent since 2000. “This is an important milestone in Arlington’s efforts to build a more sustainable future for all our residents and businesses,” said Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada. “The County has made great strides in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings and of our fleet and services, and we will continue to look for ways to reduce emissions and reduce spending on energy.” [Arlington County]

Sales Tax Holiday Begins Saturday — Virginia’s annual Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday begins on Saturday, May 25, and runs through Friday, May 31. The tax holiday allows residents to prepare for hurricane season, which begins on June 1, by eliminating sales tax on purchases of emergency supplies. Items such as batteries, generators, bottled water, duct tape, cell phone chargers and radios are included. [Virginia Emergency Management]

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Girl Scouts Build Garden to Feed Animals

Girl Scouts build garden for AWLA Girl Scouts build garden for AWLA

Earth Day apparently isn’t just for humans. The animals at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (2650 Arlington Mill Drive) in Shirlington will be getting a special treat in recognition of the day.

Girl Scout Troop 1251 from Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church has been helping to construct a “small companion animal garden” at the shelter. Animals at the shelter including rabbits, guinea pigs and birds will soon be able to munch on the fresh, organic produce that will be grown in the garden.

The scouts will put the final touches on the garden on Monday, which is Earth Day. At that time, they will finish planting the produce such as cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, parsley and carrots.

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Morning Notes

Free doggy bags

National Volunteer Week Begins Sunday — The week to honor the thousands of volunteers who serve their communities begins this Sunday, April 21, and runs through Saturday, April 27. County Board Chair Walter Tejada is scheduled to speak at an event on Sunday to thank Arlington volunteers. Opportunities to help out around the county can be found on the Volunteer Arlington website.

Teen Summer Job Expo — On Saturday, April 20, teens and their families can attend an expo to learn about jobs, internships and community service opportunities that are available during the summer. The free event takes place at Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. More info can be found online.

Arlington Celebrates Earth Day — Earth Day is on Monday (April 22) and there are a number of green events going on around the county to celebrate. Tomorrow, April 20, is the E-CARE recycling event at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road) and Sunday is the Green Living Expo and Community Earth Week Fair at George Mason Founders Hall (3351 Fairfax Drive). Information about these events and others throughout next week can be found online.

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Morning Notes

Blue jay in North Arlington

VA Senate Panel Advances “Love Shack” Bill — A state Senate panel unanimously advanced a bill proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) that would repeal the Virginia law making it illegal for unmarried couples to live together. Currently, cohabitation by unmarried couples is a misdemeanor under the law, which went into effect in 1877. [Washington Post]

Board Accepts Grant to Fight Childhood Obesity — The County Board has accepted a state grant worth $25,000 to fund a Healthy Meals for Healthy Families program at Carlin Springs Elementary School, intended to fight childhood obesity. The program will include weekly hands-on classes in healthy food preparation and healthy eating for at-risk third, fourth and fifth graders and their families. “[The grant] will fund a program at Carlin Springs Elementary that will not only educate our children and families – but ultimately change behaviors to promote life-long healthy eating and healthy living,” said Board Chairman Walter Tejada. [Arlington County]

APS Makes EPA’s Green Power Purchasers List — Arlington Public Schools has come in at number five on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the Top 20 K-12 green power purchasers. APS meets six percent of its electricity use by purchasing more than 3,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power each year. “Utilizing green power helps us become more sustainable, while also sending a message to others across the U.S. that supporting clean sources of electricity is a sound business decision and an important choice in reducing climate risk,” said APS Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy. “Most importantly, this conveys to our students the important role and responsibility that all of us have in safeguarding our environment today and in the future.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Board Promises to Hear PenPlace Concerns — At its meeting on Saturday (January 26), the County Board assured concerned residents that their voices will be heard in regards to the proposed PenPlace development. Board member Chris Zimmerman refuted claims by opponents that there wouldn’t be a serious review of the Pentagon City project. The plan involves developing 10 acres of mostly vacant land into a complex of 12 to 22 story buildings. [Sun Gazette]

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Morning Notes

D.C. and the Capitol building at night, as seen from Skyline Towers

Arlington’s ‘Bicycle Man’ Dies — Arlington resident Randy Lokke, 62, died late last month. Lokke was known as a prolific follower of local high school sports, riding his bike to games in and around the District. Lokke was a graduate of Wakefield High School. [Georgetowner]

Ovie Returns to Arlington — Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals teammates are back on the practice ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston. The Capitals and other NHL teams are expected to begin a 48-game regular season on Jan. 19. [Washington Post]

Chick-fil-A Offers Free Breakfast — D.C. area Chick-fil-A restaurants, including the locations in Ballston and Crystal City, are offering free breakfast entrees through Jan. 30 to those who make “reservations” online. [Chick-fil-A]

Catalog Opt-Out Service Saves Paper — Arlington County says Arlington residents have saved 35,855 lbs of waste by participating in the county-sponsored “Catalog Choice” service. The free service allows residents to opt out of unwanted mail, catalogs and phone books. [Twitter, Arlington County]

Arlington Couple Promoting Phone Holder — An Arlington couple who spent several years and $25,000 to design “DashIT,” a car dashboard hold for smart phones, is selling and promoting the gadget at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by GmdVT. Hat tip to Brendan Lilly.

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Long Term County Energy Plan Revealed

A draft of Arlington’s Community Energy Plan (CEP) has been revealed. If approved, it would provide a guide for transforming the way energy is used, generated and distributed in Arlington through 2050.

Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan presented the draft to the County Board members at Tuesday’s Board meeting. Developing the CEP has been part of a three year effort by county staff members, who consulted with energy experts, community leaders and businesses.

“Once again, Arlington is taking a leadership role in advancing a transformative Community Energy Plan that represents the next generation of smart growth and another visionary way to support a sustainable future for our community,” Donnellan said in a press release.

The goal of the CEP is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 3.0 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per resident per year by 2050. That equates to a reduction of about 75% from current levels.

The CEP lists six primary areas in which the county intends to implement the plan: buildings, district energy, renewable energy, transportation, county government actions, and education and human behavior.

In a press release, the county listed a number of strategies for achieving the energy goals, including the following:

  • Improving by up to 60% the energy efficiency of newly constructed and renovated residential, commercial and civic buildings. Includes financial incentives for investment in energy efficiency upgrades.
  • Managing home and building operations to reduce energy costs. Arlington County will continue to lead by example, through its Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE) program, and by partnering with Arlington Public Schools.
  • Creating district energy systems in the highest density development corridors. District energy, although not a new technology, has never been deployed on a community level by any jurisdiction in the Washington, D.C. area. The CEP calls for district energy and local cogeneration of power to provide about 40% of the County’s energy needs in 2050.
  • Deploying alternative energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic and other renewable energy systems. The CEP contains an ambitious goal for solar power: 160 megawatts of solar electricity by 2050; enough electricity to power 40,000 homes.
  • Refining and expanding transportation infrastructure and operations enhancements. The CEP envisions more people walking, biking and using transit and fewer cars on the roads, in addition to cleaner-burning vehicles.
  • Changing how people in our community think about energy, helping them to understand how to have an impact on energy consumption, and actually changing human behavior to transform how we consume energy.

County staff says a community benefit of the plan is a reduction in energy use, which would lower greenhouse gas emissions and create a more sustainable environment. Individuals and businesses would be able to use money saved on energy for other investments to improve their quality of life. Lower energy costs are also cited as directly affecting business’ bottom lines, which is expected to create a more competitive economic environment. Diversifying the local energy supply with alternative options like solar is expected to provide better energy reliability and supply security.

The Board will consider adopting the plan in June of 2013. If it’s approved, county staff would then begin implementation. Prior to adoption, there will be a number of meetings for the public to review the plan, ask questions and to offer feedback.

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Morning Notes

Yorktown Hosts South County in Semifinal — In high school football action, the Yorktown Patriots will take on the South County Stallions tonight in a Northern Region Division 5 semifinal playoff game. The contest is a home game for Yorktown. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Yorktown lost to South County in the regional championship game last year. [Sun Gazette]

APS Awarded for Green Initiatives — Arlington Public Schools has “earned a Platinum Certification as a Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) Certified Green Schools Division.” The school system also placed first in VSBA’s Green Schools Challenge for large school divisions. [Arlington Public Schools]

Award for Affordable Clarendon Development — VPoint, the affordable apartment building built atop a Clarendon church, has been named the “Best Affordable Housing Development” in Virginia at the 2012 Governor’s Housing Conference. “The award is presented to a housing development that is innovative in its concept and design and exceptional in meeting the needs of the intended community,” according to a press release. [Arlington County]

Honors for Arlington VT Students — Arlington resident Liam O’Neill has been selected to be a member of the Marching Virginians marching band at Virginia Tech. O’Neill is a percussion musician and a sophomore majoring in building construction. Another Arlington native, Michelle Sutherland, has been named to Virginia Tech’s Order of the Gavel, an honor society for leaders of major student organizations. Sutherland, a junior majoring in political science, is editor of the Collegiate Times, the school’s student newspaper.

Save Your Profile Information Today — If you’re a registered user of ARLnow.com, please save any user profile information or avatars you’re currently using on the site. Changes will be made to the site this weekend and your information may be lost.

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

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Morning Notes

Voter Turnout Just Missed Record — A record number of voters turned out in Arlington for the Nov. 6 election, but the turnout just missed the record for percentage of active voters who cast ballots. In the end, 84.6 percent of active voters in Arlington cast ballots, just shy of the 84.9 percent active voter turnout for the 1992 general election. [Sun Gazette]

County to Hold Recycling Chat Today — Arlington County officials will be holding an online chat about residential recycling today. The “Ask the Expert” chat will be conducted via Facebook from noon to 1:00 p.m. [Facebook]

JBG Installs EV Chargers — Property owner JBG has installed a number of electric vehicle charges at its Arlington properties. The company says charging stations have been installed at the Hilton Crystal City (2399 Jefferson Davis Highway) and at the Rosslyn Gateway buildings (1911/1901 N. Lynn Street). The charging stations, part of the Blink charger network, offer priority parking to electric vehicle owners, according to a press release.

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Arlington Catering Company Uses Aquaponics to Farm Fish

An Arlington catering company is boasting about being the first in the D.C. metro to use a non-traditional technology — aquaponics, a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture — to farm its own fish.

Main Event Caterers (3870 S. Four Mile Run Drive) recently began using the urban farming technique. Aquaponics is the practice of using a closed-loop ecological system to grow both fish and plants in one body of water. Water circulates through fish tanks, moves through filters and plant beds, then heads back to the fish tanks.

The catering company says the process benefits the business as well as the environment.

“Less water and fertilizer use, the ability to grow a large volume of crops in a small space, and the value of our clients knowing exactly where their food comes from are just a few of the benefits we’ve experienced,” said Joël Thévoz, CEO of Main Event Caterers.

Main Event Caterers has a history of operating a green business. In addition to the aquaponic farming, it uses compostable materials, wind and solar powered electricity and rain water reclamation.

“Our commitment to sustainable initiatives runs deep,” said Nancy Goodman, Co-Founder of Main Event Caterers. “Everything we do within our daily operations is motivated by our dedication to protect and preserve the environment while providing an entirely green experience to our clients.”

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Board Approves Increase in Standards for Green Buildings

The County Board unanimously approved a beefed up voluntary Green Building Density Incentive Policy at its meeting on Saturday, June 16.

The move is designed to encourage higher levels of energy efficiency in Arlington buildings that go above and beyond the LEED minimum requirements. It also addresses the building energy efficiency and greenhouse reduction goals listed in the Community Energy Plan, which was launched in 2010. The Green Building Bonus Density Initiative was last updated in 2009.

Under the new guidelines, commercial office projects interested in participating in the incentive program must be at least 20 percent more energy efficient than the baseline, and achieve LEED Silver certification or higher. Multi-family residential buildings interesting in participating must be 18 percent more energy efficient than the baseline, and achieve at least LEED Silver certification. Previously, the county did not have its own standards, but required buildings to comply with the LEED standard of being 10 percent more energy efficient than the baseline.

In exchange for meeting the goals, developers may request additional building density or height. The newly approved plan eliminates bonus density for buildings simply meeting LEED Certified status, but increases the bonus density for Silver status.

Additional bonus density will be granted to projects that commit to both LEED certification, plus either ENERGY STAR building certification or LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) certification. ENERGY STAR and LEED-EB certifications are both based on current energy usage.

“Our Green Building Program is a voluntary program that is unique to Arlington,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “This update makes our program even better — providing incentives that will help keep Arlington a regional and national leader in green building and energy efficiency while helping owners and tenants save money through reduced energy costs.”

Each project requesting bonus credits will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, due to differences in types and sizes of buildings. For example, projects receive different credits for a variety of energy efficiency factors like roof type, interior and exterior lighting, HVAC systems and insulation type.

The county says it recognizes that it may not be initially as cost effective for developers to incorporate energy efficient components into their projects. The incentive program was devised to encourage developers to continue investing in energy efficient designs and construction, despite the initial cost.

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DARPA Opens New Headquarters in Ballston

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) invited community leaders to be among the dozens to attend a ceremony marking the opening of its new headquarters today.

DARPA headquarters, which used to be at 3701 N. Fairfax Drive in Virginia Square, is now in the recently finished building at 675 N. Randolph Street in Ballston. The new development is being touted as more secure and environmentally sound than the previous location.

Congressman Jim Moran (D) and several Arlington County Board members, including Chair Mary Hynes, attended the event. Moran and Hynes spoke of how local officials spent years working to keep the defense contractor in Arlington.

“DARPA is the center of the wonderful knowledge economy that’s become part of our identity,” said Hynes.

Moran, who held a cybersecurity summit last month, noted that one of DARPA’s accomplishments is attracting top workers who can help prevent threats to the United States, particularly cyber threats. He also cited work on stealth technology and prosthetic limbs. He said all of the defense agency’s work helps Arlington’s economy.

“DARPA represents an enormous economic boost,” Moran said. “We’re extraordinarily proud that we have DARPA as part of this community.”

The new 13-story facility is considered one of largest secure conference centers in Northern Virginia, and more than 1,100 people work there. It’s expected to receive a LEED platinum designation for commercial interiors from the U.S. Green Building Council.

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Morning Notes

TJ Theater to Reopen — The county parks department is hoping to reopen the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater next month. The theater closed for repairs late last summer after damage was found from the Aug. 23 earthquake that shook the region. [Sun Gazette]

Arlington to Host ‘Green Games’ Ceremony — Arlington County is hosting an awards ceremony for its Green Games business sustainability competition. The ceremony will honor achievement in a number of green categories, including energy efficiency, water use, waste diversion and recycling, and transportation choices. “During the year-long competition, more than 100 offices and buildings — representing about 15 million square feet of office space, or one-third of Arlington’s total office space — raced to reduce energy use, waste, and water and set other environmental goals,” the county said in a press release. The ceremony will be held tomorrow morning at Artisphere in Rosslyn. [Arlington County]

W-L Junior Wins National Writing Award — Washington-Lee High School junior Luisa Banchoff has been named a 2012 National Gold Medalist in the annual Scholastic Writing Awards. [Arlington Public Schools]

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