Press Club

Crystal City’s Amazon Fresh is looking at a summer opening, a company spokesperson confirms.

Back in February, a mystery was solved when it was confirmed that an Amazon Fresh grocery store was moving into the large retail space at 1550 Crystal Drive. Now, the company says that residents likely won’t have to wait too long for Crystal City’s only grocery store to open.

“We haven’t confirmed an exact opening date yet but we can confirm it will open this summer,” a company spokesperson said in an email.

In addition to traditional checkouts, the store will also have what the company calls “Just Walk Out technology,” meaning customers can exit the store without physically going to any check-out.

“Amazon’s Just Walk Out system uses ceiling-mounted cameras and artificial intelligence to track shoppers’ selections as they walk around the store and automatically charges them when they exit,” as described by Grocery Dive.

The new store will also have anti-graffiti window film, according to building permits.

Technically, Crystal City has been grocery-store-less for close to two decades, though there’s a Harris Teeter and Amazon-owned Whole Foods in Pentagon City, as well as another Harris Teeter in the Potomac Yard area of Arlington.

This will be the first Amazon Fresh in Arlington, but another location is planned less than two miles away, in the Potomac Yard shopping center in Alexandria.

The company is quickly expanding its grocery footprint across the D.C. area with three stores having opened just in the last year, including one in Fairfax last month.

There could also be a second Arlington Amazon Fresh, rumors suggest.

The Fillmore Garden Shopping Centers on Columbia Pike is set to be demolished in the coming months to make way for “The Elliott.” That new development will have 50,000 square feet of ground floor retail, a revamped CVS, and a grocery store. There is some suggestion that this grocery store will also be an Amazon Fresh.

So far, though, company officials are remaining mum.

“We don’t comment on our future store roadmap,” said the spokesperson.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.

Two companies that help grocers and shoppers get the best deal have reached a deal of their own.

Canadian artificial intelligence company Fobi is set to acquire Basket, an Arlington-based startup’s grocery pricing app that lets users compare in-store and online prices for items, according to a press release.

Basket, which was developed by Grocery Shopping Labs, provides its data to product manufacturers and retailers so they can understand shopping trends, such as how often shoppers search for products at different stores and what drives purchasing decisions. Fobi, based in Vancouver, provides insights from retail, sports, entertainment and tourism data to its clients, which include large companies across the globe.

“Basket has always been about taking the blindfold off shoppers to help them save money and time, and simultaneously providing shopper insights to some of the top [consumer packaged goods] CPG brands and retailers,” Grocery Shopping Labs CEO Neil Kataria said in the release. “Now, together with Fobi we can significantly grow our audience, delivering more value for shoppers and more value for the CPG brands we work with.”

Tech startup Basket co-founder Andy Ellwood talks at an event marking its move to Arlington in 2016 (file photo)

Basket was started in 2014 in D.C. and moved to Clarendon in 2016. The company raised $12 million in capital and has had hundreds of thousands of users.

Basket allows people to scan barcodes for their favorite products to create smart shopping lists that compares prices for products across various local stores, online shops and delivery companies, as well as the cost of the entire list across all of the stores. Basket’s data combined with Qples by Fobi Grocery Coupon Network app will give users a better experience and optimize cost savings for the brands, the release says.

“Shoppers can simply scan the product barcode and see if there are any coupons available for that product from Qples by Fobi, and if there are, they can be applied automatically at checkout,” according to the release.

The idea for Basket came to Kataria when he was a child, clipping coupons with his family and comparing his grocery list across five stores near him, he previously told ARLnow. As an adult, he realized the amount of money he was wasting by not comparing prices and began to aggregate data generated by shoppers.

The app built a community of shoppers who shared prices from grocery stores across the U.S.

“I’m excited by the opportunity we have together with Fobi to transform the grocery business with pricing visibility and shopper data, but I’m also excited about taking this transformation to other industries next,” Kataria said in the release.

The acquisition of Basket is well-timed, as inflation rises and manufacturers and consumers are even more interested in saving money, Fobi CEO Rob Anson said in the release.

“This deal immediately grows our revenue streams and immediately grows our addressable audience and the amount of shopper data that we have access to,” he said. “Our combined AI & Big Data capabilities will now enable a new era of personalized marketing at scale with unprecedented data analytics, and valuable insights as to campaign performance and measurement for the retail ecosystem.”

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Donations at the Arlington Food Assistance Center (photo via Facebook)

An estimated 7.8% of Arlington households experienced food insecurity in 2019, according to a new report.

The report, completed by Urban Institute in partnership with Arlington County Food Security Task Force, provides a snapshot of the financial and food challenges for Arlington households, including in otherwise pricey parts of town like Crystal City and Pentagon City.

“Despite the area’s reputation as wealthy and well-resourced, more than 6,700 of the county’s 108,604 households were referred to the Arlington Food Assistance Center in 2021, signaling that this abundance is not shared by all residents,” the report says.

The report made many recommendations to the county, including to incentivize affordable grocers, offer gas cards, subsidize public transportation, expand SNAP outreach, provide grocery gift cards, subsidize or waive grocery delivery fees for SNAP participants, and open more free food distribution sites in higher need areas.

The study, conducted last year and released this month, indicated food insecurity rates were higher particularly in the Glencarlyn, Buckingham, Ashton Heights, Pentagon City, Crystal City, Forest Glen, Arlington Mill neighborhoods.

A map shows concentrations of food insecurity in parts of Arlington (via Arlington County)

“We surveyed residents living in four neighborhoods with the highest food insecurity rates (from 13.3 to 14.6 percent) in the county and found that residents were more likely to rent their homes and have low incomes, and 17 percent were Social Security beneficiaries, which suggests they are living on a fixed income,” the report says.

For residents experiencing food insecurity, budgets for food were often the first to be cut in order to pay bills like rent and utilities. Some of the factors affecting the ability to buy food included the local food environment, labor market, transportation, housing, child care and debt.

Food accessibility

The study considered grocery store or other non-convenience retail food locations accessible if they were within 40 minutes of roundtrip travel. Such stores were accessible to most residents, even those that lived in neighborhoods with high estimated food insecurity rates.

But residents that were surveyed prioritized groceries’ cost when determining where to shop, making it more challenging to afford healthy food.

“Residents reported some challenges in paying for groceries, especially meat, as the cost of food increased 6.3 percent (and 14.8 percent for meat) between December 2020 and December 2021,” the report said.

Those who were food insecure were more likely to walk, get a ride or use Metro to get groceries than those who were food secure and likely own a car. About half of the residents experiencing food insecurity during the survey used free groceries or meals, according to the report, and most of those residents said they accessed those resources one to three times each month.

While the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas had relatively high estimated food insecurity rates compared with the rest of the county, they had low access to existing charitable food resources.

Food insecurity disproportionately affects Black, Hispanic, and Asian households in Arlington, according to the report. Asian households with low incomes, of which there was a concentration in the Crystal City area, had to travel farther to access charitable food sites, compared with Black and Hispanic households.

Arlington County says it’s reviewing the report.

“The Food Security Task Force is reviewing findings and recommendations from the study, and will consider investments where Arlington County could build on its strengths and address residents’ concerns and barriers,” a newsletter from Arlington Department of Human Services said.

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(Updated at 2:25 p.m.) The mystery on Crystal Drive is now solved. A new grocery store that’s been under construction in Crystal City is set to be an Amazon Fresh, a company spokesperson confirmed to ARLnow.

First announced in 2020 as a “specialty grocery store,” the large retail space at 1550 Crystal Drive has been somewhat-secretly transforming for more than a year into an Amazon-owned store. But the company has kept mum about its Amazon Fresh plans in Arlington until now.

“I can confirm Amazon will open an Amazon Fresh grocery store in Arlington, VA on Crystal Drive,” an Amazon spokesperson told ARLnow in a statement. “In addition to traditional checkouts, this store will also have Just Walk Out technology, which gives customers the option to skip the checkout line.”

The new store will also have anti-graffiti window film, according to building permits. The spokesperson could not provide an expected opening date.

Amazon and property owner JBG Smith previously declined to confirm or comment on what was coming to the retro-looking ground floor storefront along Crystal Drive despite obvious clues, like permits describing “a new retail shop providing packaged salads, sandwiches, entrees, soups & various beverages [and] self app check-out.”

Crystal City technically has been without a grocery store for more than 15 years, ever since Safeway closed in 2005. There are Harris Teeter stores in Pentagon City and Potomac Yard and an Amazon-owned Whole Foods in Pentagon City, next to the under-construction HQ2. And, less than two miles away, there will be another Amazon Fresh in Potomac Yard which was announced this past spring.

The company is quickly expanding its grocery footprint across the D.C. area, with stores in Franconia and Chevy Chase having both opened since July. There are also more on the way.

That could include another Arlington Amazon Fresh.

The approaching redevelopment of Fillmore Gardens Shopping Center on Columbia Pike into “The Elliott” will come with 50,000 square feet of ground floor retail, a revamped CVS, and a grocery store. There are rumors that this grocery store will also be an Amazon Fresh, but so far no confirmation.

“Amazon doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation,” the company spokesperson said.

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The Arlington Planning Commission gave a proposed Columbia Pike residential redevelopment the thumbs-up.

Now, plans to replace an aging, one-story retail strip in the 2600 block of Columbia Pike will head to the County Board for approval during its recessed meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Arlington-based Insight Property Group proposes to tear down the Fillmore Gardens Shopping Center at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive and build a multifamily building with ground floor retail. The six-story building, dubbed “The Elliott,” will situate 247 market-rate apartments above a grocery store (rumored to be an Amazon Fresh), a renovated CVS pharmacy and three levels of below-grade parking.

“This project has been a work in progress for several years now,” said Tad Lunger, the land use attorney representing the project. “As you know, it is a very prominent site in a town center on Columbia Pike, which was envisioned to accomplish a number of planning and community goals. The culmination of these goals has informed every aspect of this proposal.”

The developer will contribute land on the eastern edge of the site to the second phase of Penrose Square Park. This will nearly double the park’s size, and allow the two sculptures that comprise the public art installation “Echo” to be farther apart, as originally envisioned by its artist.

It will also build a new S. Cleveland Street, which separates the park and the site, a pedestrian passageway along the western edge of the site and an alley to the north.

The site of The Elliott development on Columbia Pike (via Arlington County)

Residents will have access to four amenity spaces: two internal courtyards, a pool courtyard overlooking the pedestrian passageway and a rooftop space. Insight Property Group is aiming for LEED Silver certification of the building.

Once engineering, building and landscape plans are finalized, demolition could begin in early fall, Erika Moore, a spokeswoman with the Department of Community, Planning, Housing and Development, previously told ARLnow. If that starts on time, construction would likely conclude by early 2025.

Members of the Planning Commission praised the project and had few questions.

“I’m excited by the presentation, and I’m excited to see this move forward,” said Daniel Weir, speaking not as the Planning Commission Chair but as a member. “I’m very happy as well with what we’ve been presented with.”

That there were no public speakers and few questions demonstrates how the Columbia Pike Form Based Code — which guides development on the Pike and favors mid-rise apartments with ground-floor retail — helped realize an “amazing building,” Commissioner Stephen Hughes said.

“Our long list of public speakers and fellow commissioners who have poignant things to add is a big old goose egg,” he said. “We stand on the shoulders of giants who helped build the original plan and worked to ensure the balancing act of many different areas were heard, communicated and then held to.”

The alley prompted one question from Commissioner Tenley Peterson, who referenced two car accidents involving alleys in November — one involving a toddler in Westover and the other an adult on a motorcycle who died of his injuries — that prompted a county task force to study alley safety.

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(Updated at 9:30 a.m.) Is Amazon building a flagship grocery store near HQ2? Based on photos showing the inside of the under-construction store, it sure looks like it.

Nothing has been announced, and both Amazon and building owner JBG Smith have been tight-lipped about the thus-far-unnamed grocery store that’s coming to 1550 Crystal Drive, though rumors have swirled throughout the year that Amazon is behind the store.

The company, meanwhile, has been busy opening Amazon Fresh grocery stores throughout the D.C. area. The stores are similar to traditional grocery stores but with technology that lets customers instantly checkout without scanning items.

Crystal City has long been without a grocery store, after the lone Safeway that served the neighborhood closed in 2005. There are grocery stores nearby, however, including Harris Teeter stores in Pentagon City and the Potomac Yard area, a newer Amazon-owned Whole Foods in Pentagon City, and what was formerly a Shoppers supermarket in Potomac Yard.

The Shoppers is becoming — you guessed it — an Amazon Fresh store.

In Crystal City, building permits conspicuously fail to name the store that’s under construction at 1550 Crystal Drive.  But the store is described, as “a new retail shop providing packaged salads, sandwiches, entrees, soups & various beverages [and] self app check-out.” It will also have anti-graffiti window film.

The windows of the store are covered —  with generic images and the announcement of a “specialty grocer coming soon” — but one enterprising local resident was able to sneak a peek inside. He observed an Amazon-like orange wall, plus aisle and restroom signs that look remarkably similar to those in the Amazon Fresh store in Chevy Chase.

Earlier this year another tipster told ARLnow that a friend who was involved in the construction project described it in a way that sounded exactly like an Amazon Fresh store. But the friend was under a non-disclosure agreement — a bit unusual for a grocery store construction project — and did not reveal the name of the store.

As of publication time a PR rep for Amazon Fresh has not responded to a request for comment from ARLnow.

This would not be the first time that Amazon has left a couple of breadcrumbs while being secretive about something involving Arlington.

In 2018, in the midst of the company’s HQ2 search, ARLnow reported exclusively about a spike in web traffic from Amazon computers to a particular story about Arlington winning a top environmental award. Nine months later the company announced that HQ2 would be built in Arlington.

Portions of photos via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

It’s the End of Summers — The former Summers restaurant in Courthouse was torn down yesterday, making way for a new apartment development. Video of the demolition shows water being sprayed to control dust as the building was razed. [Twitter]

Staffing Concerns At 911 Dispatch Center — “The head of Arlington, Virginia’s Emergency Communications Center is addressing concerns that its current setup is problematic and even potentially dangerous. ‘We are like every other 911 center in the country, which has traditionally struggled with staffing,’ center administrator Dave Mulholland told WTOP. ‘We’re going to be very honest in acknowledging not every shift has optimal staffing.’ However, Mulholland maintains that crucial positions have always remained filled, and that more people are being trained to fill needed roles.” [WTOP]

Lebanese Taverna Helping to Feed Refugees — “When word came that thousands of Afghan refugees would be landing at Dulles in late August after their country fell to the Taliban, World Central Kitchen mobilized to make sure those reaching the U.S. after a harrowing journey would be greeted with a hot meal. The nonprofit’s first call was to Grace Abi-Najm Shea, one of five siblings behind Lebanese Taverna… Of the 61,298 meals WCK served there between Aug. 25 and Sept. 10, 5,037 came from Lebanese Taverna.” [Washington City Paper]

County Board May Modify Hotel Tax — “Arlington County is weighing whether to tax hotel guests for the total cost of their stay, including fees and other charges, and not just the cost of the room. The potential change to the transient occupancy tax — the revenue from which has collapsed amid the pandemic, affecting Arlington’s incentive arrangement with Amazon.com Inc. — follows changes to the tax definition in the state code adopted by the Virginia General Assembly.” [Washington Business Journal]

Much of Crystal City Is Now Carbon Neutral — “JBG SMITH, a leading owner and developer of high-quality, mixed-use properties in the Washington, DC market, today announced it has achieved carbon neutrality across its entire 16.1 million square foot operating portfolio. Building on this accomplishment, JBG SMITH intends for its properties to maintain carbon neutral operations annually.” [BusinessWire]

Tucker Rants About Beyer — Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson called Rep. Don Beyer “a fashionably radical car dealer from Arlington” on his show earlier this week, in a segment about vaccine mandates. But Beyer’s communications director says that the local congressman, who is actually an Alexandria resident, “does not own any auto dealerships and has not for years.” [Twitter]

Harris Teeter Stores Cutting Hours — “Harris Teeter stores nationwide will be reducing their store hours until further notice, citing the shortage of labor caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Starting Wednesday, Sept. 15, all Harris Teeters will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Stores in Northern Virginia have previously been open 24 hours, or until 11 p.m.” [InsideNova]

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(Updated 10:35 a.m.) Tacombi, a New York City-based taqueria chain, is expected to open in Crystal City in a couple of months.

The new spot will be located in the revamped Central District Retail shopping plaza, also known as “Crystal Square.” This recently redone property at 1550 Crystal Drive, owned by JBG Smith, has attracted a number of other retail options that have opened already or are set to open over the course of the year.

A CVS opened in February and hit NYC bakery Mah-Ze-Dahr opened in mid-June. Another location of the boutique gym, Solidcore, is set to open in August, according to a spokeswoman.

A spokesperson for Tacombi said Thursday that it expects to open its 3,000 square-foot space in Crystal City in September.

“All of our taquerias are bright, open and airy spaces where guests can enjoy warm hospitality and a menu with selections from different regions throughout Mexico,” she said. “We look forward to bringing a little piece of this incredible country to our new friends in Arlington, and to swinging open our taqueria doors this fall.”

Tacombi got its start on the beaches of Yucatan, Mexico. The owner sold tacos from a Volkswagen Bus and eventually opened his first taqueria in the mid-2000s in New York City. Nine other locations have since opened in NYC.

These openings are happening amid a handful of other openings in Miami and Queens, the spokeswoman said. The taqueria will cement its presence in the D.C. area with a Bethesda location also set to open in September.

“We were drawn to Crystal City’s evolving identity and to its own journey from a largely-industrial zone in the sixties to today’s quickly developing community,” she said. “And while National Landing is part of a cosmopolitan world capital, it also maintains the neighborhood quality that best allows us to share authentic Mexican culture.”

The taqueria made headlines this year for its work during the pandemic feeding thousands of food-insecure New Yorkers.

Also coming to Central District Retail will be a thus-far unnamed grocery store, rumored to be a possible Amazon Fresh location. The store will be built in the existing office building at 1550 Crystal Drive, according to Arlington County.

“JBG SMITH declines to comment,” a spokesperson for the property owner said when asked about it yesterday.

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A new eatery called Mumu Cafe is set to open in August in the space underneath MOM’s Organic Market near Courthouse.

The forthcoming eatery is located at 1924 N. Uhle Street in the Verde Pointe development along Lee Highway, which is within walking distance to the Courthouse Metro station. Owner Jermaine Williams said the soft opening for is set for Aug. 2.

“The cafe promotes a fast-casual themed service where customers can come and get something made-to-order or grab something quickly from our grab-to-go station,” he said.

In the morning, Mumu Cafe will serve freshly made doughnuts, pastries, bagels and breakfast sandwiches, as well as smoothies, açaí bowls, drip coffee, cold brew and espresso drinks. After 11 a.m., the cafe will offer lunch and dinner options, such as hot sandwiches and flatbreads.

Mumu Cafe will take over the spot that was vacant since Naked Lunch, an organic vegetarian and vegan eatery closed almost exactly two years ago. It opened on Lee Highway with MOM’s Organic Market in 2015

The addition is right in Williams’s backyard, as he lives in the apartment building connected to the café. When he saw the “for lease” sign go up last year, he got in touch with MOM’s, which leases the space and agreed to let him set up shop there.

Williams brings to his venture years of experience in the hotel business, managing food service.

“I’ve been in hospitality for over 10 years,” Williams said. “The last five years, I have been in a hotel as a banquet manager in Rosslyn, which was cut short last year because of the pandemic.”

Mumu Cafe’s hours are currently set for 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

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(Updated at 6:50 p.m.) It seems the Harris Teeter in the Pentagon Row shopping center, now rebranded as WestPost, will not be vacating its spot anytime soon.

And if it did, Arlington County will continue to hold the shopping center’s owner to a 1998 agreement that requires the space be filled by a full-service grocery and drug store. The County Board affirmed the status quo in a vote on Saturday.

Although Harris Teeter has at least 10 years on its lease, the Sun Gazette reports, residents in the 22202 zip code were worried about even the possibility that their neighborhood grocery store would one day be replaced with a smaller-scale grocer such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. (Pentagon City already has one Whole Foods, near Amazon’s future HQ2.)

Anticipating the end of Harris Teeter’s initial lease, Pentagon Row’s owner, Rockville-based Federal Realty Investment Trust, had requested the county modify the 1998 agreement to allow Federal Realty to find a smaller retailer that sells drug- and grocery-store items if it could not find a full-service store.

The ask, which included other requests for flexibility regarding space, went before the Arlington County Board last month. At the time, nearly a dozen community members voiced their support for keeping the language. Board members deferred the item for one month so County Manager Mark Schwartz could work with the property owner on changes.

The revised proposal that the Board saw on Saturday kept provisions allowing the shopping center more flexibility with leasing and architecture, nixed the grocery store request completely. Members of the County Board unanimously approved the revised proposal, without any modifications to the grocery store agreement, without discussion.

“Because of our combined efforts, the developer backed off on changing [the] section that would have allowed less than a full-scale grocery,” said Carol Fuller, the president of the Crystal City Civic Association and Open Space Coordinator for Livability 22202, an advocacy group for quality-of-life issues in the area. “We were very worried about losing Harris Teeter. We fought it hard. Once they dropped that, we were no longer concerned with the other amendments.”

The county previously said that “Federal Realty shared their full intent and interest in retaining the current tenant or other similar operator.”

The shopping center sought the flexibility, supported by the National Landing Business Improvement District and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, “so that they can respond to changes in the market in the event that they need to replace the grocery store tenant and services.”

Scott Miles, president of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association, said last month that losing Harris Teeter, or an equivalent full-service store, would degrade grocery options in a core part of the county and hinder residents’ ability to buy necessities without a car.

“A large, full-service grocer at the site remains an essential community service,” he said. “This may sound harsh, but we want the applicant to be fearful of not maintaining a large grocer — it’s not enough to ask for commercially reasonable efforts.”

Image via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Tornado Drill Today — “Virginia’s annual Statewide Tornado Drill will occur on Tues., March 16 at 9:45 a.m. If widespread severe weather threatens the Commonwealth on that date, the drill will be rescheduled for Wed., March 17, at 9:45 a.m. The Statewide Tornado Drill is an opportunity to prepare Virginians for tornado threats and to test public warning systems.” [Va. Dept. of Emergency Management]

Pentagon Row Harris Teeter’s Future in Flux — “Despite concerns from nearby residents, Arlington County Board members on March 20 could give the owner of Pentagon Row the ability to, potentially, significantly downsize grocery-store operations… Located on a 15-acre parcel in Pentagon City, the site has long included a Harris-Teeter supermarket. But that initial lease term is expiring, and there is no guarantee the supermarket chain will want to stay in the existing space.” [Sun Gazette]

Coronavirus Tests Available at DCA — “Coronavirus testing launched Monday at Reagan National and Washington Dulles International airports, which became the latest airports across the country to offer the tests. The centers are outside the security checkpoints at both airports and are operated by XpresCheck, which runs centers at a number of U.S. airports.” [Washington Post]

New Building to Have Temporary Hotel Rooms — “Arlington County Board members next month are expected to allow another developer to temporarily convert apartment space to hotel use. The developer of the 809-unit property at 1555 Wilson Blvd. is asking permission to use 100 of the residential units as hotel space starting in late summer. Eventually, the units would revert to their originally intended purpose.” [Sun Gazette]

Cherry Blossom Sculptures Arrive in Arlington — From the National Landing BID: “Two official @CherryBlossFest sculptures have landed! One at the Esplanade at Long Bridge Park and one at the Crystal City Water Park. They will be up through May 31.” [Twitter]

Bill Would Allow 15 MPH Speed Limits in Va. — “Currently, any city or county looking to slow traffic in a busy shopping district or on a quiet residential street can go no lower than 25 mph. A bill passed during this year’s General Assembly session, however, would change that, permitting posted speed limits to drop as low as 15 mph. A ten miles per hour difference may not seem huge, but for pedestrian safety advocates and the families of victims of traffic collisions, the change could mean the difference between life and death.” [Greater Greater Washington]

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