(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) A local nonprofit intends to redevelop and add affordable housing for people with disabilities to its property near Crystal City.
Melwood, which connects people with disabilities with public- and private-sector jobs and opportunities, currently runs a workforce development site from the building at 750 23rd Street S., in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.
It envisions redeveloping the property into a 100% affordable, 104-unit building with about 30 units set aside for people with disabilities. The five-story building would also house workforce development services and community programming.
“This project builds on Melwood’s ongoing commitment to create more inclusive spaces and empower people with disabilities to live, work and thrive in their communities,” the company said in a statement to ARLnow. “By redeveloping the 23rd St. S. property, Melwood and its partners will be addressing another persistent gap for people with disabilities and their path to independence — affordable, accessible housing.”
Melwood took an early step forward by filing an application for a Special General Land Use Plan (GLUP) study this week. The application says the study is needed because the property falls outside of any adopted county sector plan documents.
The Maryland-based nonprofit — which has operated in Northern Virginia for many years — acquired the Arlington property during its merger in 2017 with Linden Resources, a local nonprofit that similarly provided employment opportunities to people with disabilities. Melwood says it began discussing options for the site with community members and stakeholders in 2020.
“From these conversations, Melwood heard the community’s strong interest in leveraging its facility to support affordable housing in addition to Melwood’s existing program offerings,” which currently support about 500 Arlington residents, the nonprofit said.
The proposed apartment building will address the “significant need” for independent, affordable housing for Arlington residents with disabilities, Melwood says, adding that in 2019, 22% of locals with disabilities lived under the poverty line and couldn’t afford housing.
Melwood requests that the county change the land-use designation from “public” to “low-medium” residential uses so that the property can eventually be rezoned for apartments, according to a letter from Catharine Puskar, a land use attorney representing the nonprofit.
The privately owned property is designated for public uses because, until 1981, the building operated as the former Nellie Custis School.
After the school closed, Arlington County swapped the Aurora Highlands property for a parcel near the Ballston Metro station with Sheltered Occupational Center of Northern Virginia, another work center for people with disabilities, the letter said. As part of the land swap, the county gave the center a special permit to operate on land zoned for public uses.
The property includes the tiny, .8-acre Nelly Custis Park. Long before the current iteration of the park was built, a project some objected to, the occupational center had to grant to the county an open space easement for a public park as part of the land swap.
The public easement and the park will stay, but Melwood is allowed to use the parcel to calculate how many units can fit in its proposed apartment building, Puskar said.
Arlington County is soliciting public input on what the potential redevelopment of a Clarendon parking lot should look like.
The lot at 2636 Wilson Blvd, between the Clarendon Whole Foods and the PNC Bank, is currently occupied by “ghost kitchen” trailers. Property owner Ballston-based CRC Companies envisions rental housing and retail at the site on the Clarendon-Courthouse border.
Currently, the General Land Use Plan (GLUP) for the site only allows “service commercial” uses and buildings up to four stories tall. CRC Companies requested a change to the GLUP to allow for taller apartments and hotels, a change Arlington County is currently studying.
Now, the county is seeking public feedback on the study’s scope and the size of the potential redevelopment, which CRC Companies has named Courthouse West. Planners previously said this work will add clarity where existing Courthouse Sector Plan documents “lack sufficient planning guidance” to inform a County Board decision on the developer’s requested changes.
These documents do identify the lot — bounded by N. Danville Street, Clarendon Blvd, N. Cleveland Street and Wilson Blvd — as a “key redevelopment site,” since it mostly falls within a quarter-mile radius of the Courthouse Metro station, per a recent staff presentation.
ATTN RE: Courthouse West Special Land Use Study:
We updated the feedback form.
If you completed it before 8:30 a.m. today (Fri. Dec. 17), please fill it out again. If you haven’t provided feedback yet, please do so! https://t.co/yQXFhsp7Jp… *Form closes Sun. Jan. 9* pic.twitter.com/p9kCS8GTvx
— Plan Arlington VA (@planArlingtonVA) December 17, 2021
Through Sunday, Jan. 9, survey respondents can choose one of three preliminary scenarios for an apartment building:
- a 6-story, 70-foot tall building with 150 residential units and 11,000 square feet for commercial use
- a 10-story, 110-foot tall building with 215 residential units and 16,000 square feet for commercial use
- a 17-story, 180-foot tall building with 300 residential units and 16,000 square feet for commercial use
In all three scenarios, planners say they’re assuming parking would be underground and a tenth of the site would become some type of public space, likely along Clarendon Blvd, according to the staff presentation.
The survey asks participants to consider how the building’s architecture could transition into the shorter shopping areas and houses nearby.
Respondents can also indicate what additional topics the study should address, including:
- Public space
- Affordable housing
- Improvements to vehicle access and loading
- Streetscape, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements
- Safety improvements
- Stormwater improvements
- Biophilic elements
- Historic preservation
- Public art
The Long Range Planning Committee is expected to hold a meeting on the results of the survey in January.
LRPC members are interested in “exploring higher density and height on the site” and seeing “residential uses, appropriate tapering and height, public space and affordable housing, and biking and pedestrian improvements,” county planner Tim Murphy said during the presentation.
A kitchen trailer in Clarendon that popped up last summer in a vacant lot has since been joined by two others.
And now they’re producing meals from more than a half-dozen “ghost kitchens” available on food delivery platforms such as DoorDash and Grubhub. Out of these kitchens come fried chicken sandwiches, asada fries and Asian street food, among other dishes.
The three trailers between the Clarendon Whole Foods and the PNC Bank are owned by REEF Technology, a company focused on turning underutilized, urban parking lots into food and logistics hubs. The food service arm of Reef is called NBRHD Kitchens.
In total, according to signage on the property, these three trailers produce meals for seven restaurant concepts. They’ll be bringing activity the vacant lot while Arlington County embarks on a special study to determine if the zoning codes for the property, near the border of the Clarendon and Courthouse neighborhoods, should allow for a new apartment building.
“REEF launched its delivery restaurants in Arlington in June 2020, being the first municipality in which the company establishes its operations,” the company tells ARLnow. “REEF’s delivery restaurants in Arlington are among the highest performing.”
The company also has two kitchen hubs in D.C. — at P Street NW and K Street NE — and each can support between four and six brands. But REEF did hint at possible expansion.
“As Arlington continues to be a great performing location, REEF continues to look at opportunities to grow its footprint in terms of delivery restaurants and other business verticals,” REEF said.
REEF’s growth and expansion mirrors the trends that the food delivery platforms DoorDash and Grubhub tell ARLnow they’re observing. Spokespeople for the companies said delivery-only kitchens have proliferated particularly in the last year in response to pandemic challenges and the rising costs of establishing a physical location.
“Delivery-only virtual (or ghost) kitchens on Grubhub have been a rising trend over the last year, representing a flexible way for restaurant owners to experiment with new menu concepts, brand a subset of existing menu items, or capture unmet customer demand without adding overhead,” a Grubhub spokeswoman said.
DoorDash doesn’t collect data on the breakdown between delivery-only restaurants and those with storefronts, but the pandemic blurred that line anyway, as traditional dining establishments turned to different models to keep operating when dine-in wasn’t an option.
“For many restaurant owners, ghost kitchens provide a more cost-effective way to expand their business — reaching new markets and customers — because they don’t involve the typical overhead costs associated with opening a new restaurant,” said Emily Tung, the director of DoorDash Kitchens. “Many independent businesses have been successful in their ghost kitchen endeavors and our goal is to support our partners across all their locations and help accelerate their online success.”
But the ghost kitchen activity at this location is destined to be temporary, as the company that owns the lot aims to redevelop it.
Dubbed Courthouse West, the lot at 2636 Wilson Blvd is bounded by N. Danville Street, Clarendon Blvd, N. Cleveland Street and Wilson Blvd. The property’s owner, CRC Companies, has asked the county to change the land-use designation — which currently allows for one- to four-story buildings — to one that allows for hotels or taller apartments.
The site, at the intersection Arlington Blvd and N. Pershing Drive, has development potential as “the de facto neighborhood gateway,” wrote Jonathan Kinney and Matthew Roberts, land-use lawyers representing Shooshan, in a letter to the county.
Shooshan set its sights on the motel in 2019.
“The hotel is nearing the end of its useful life and is increasingly becoming functionally obsolete,” the lawyers said.
If redeveloped, most of the hotel would be torn down to make way for a mixed-use development that will likely include apartments, townhouses and retail, with open space and underground parking
But making these changes require a study of the site and surroundings to see what level of development would be appropriate, a study that just concluded. The resulting Pershing Drive Special General Land Use Plan study views the land as a “highly visible gateway node” that can support higher density and provide needed open space and trail connections, meaning Shooshan may soon be able to take the next steps toward redevelopment.
“The amendment is critically important to the effective redevelopment of the site and completion of the ‘gateway’ entrance into the Lyon Park neighborhood,” a report on the study said.
This study recommends rezoning the land for office, apartment and hotel use with a maximum height of eight stories or 90 feet along Arlington Blvd, with shorter maximum heights of three to six stories, or maximums of 50 to 70 feet, where the building transitions into nearby apartments and single-family homes. The document envisions a building with all-underground parking, “welcoming” ground floor retail and open space.
The open space would be on the northwest corner, along N. Pershing Drive. Along the southern edge, where the hotel faces the Washington & Lee Apartments, the document recommends the site should “present an inviting façade with three to four-story buildings, individual entrances, trees and landscaping…rather than turning its back on its neighbors.”
This area will have a shared street that pedestrians and bicyclists can use to access the Arlington Blvd Trail.
The study also recommends preserving the sign and lobby, described as iconic examples of mid-century modern design, and incorporating them somehow into the redevelopment. Before becoming a Days Inn, the hotel was called ARVA Motor Hotel, a name created by blending together “Arlington” and “Virginia.”
“The original shape and design of the blade sign should be rehabilitated to capitalize on this unique community landmark, while allowing for the sign to be reused to advertise the name of the new development, business, etc.,” the document said. “The lobby area could, in fact, serve as a trail-oriented retail space or cafe.”
Overall, according to the staff report, participants during a community engagement process — mostly neighbors — said they are in favor of redevelopment and reinvestment along this segment of Arlington Blvd, preferably with new apartments, restaurants and retail. Respondents to a survey stressed the importance of a casual-use open space, connections to the Arlington Blvd Trail nearby, more tree canopy and better sidewalks.
“There is general support for the recommendations outlined in the Study Document among Long Range Planning Committee and community members,” the report said.
This Saturday, the County Board is set to decide whether to approve future public hearings to consider adopting the special study and to consider changing the zoning of the site, per the study’s recommendations. The adoption of the document could come on July 17 or 20.
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.”
(Updated at 5 p.m. on 11/10/20) Dominion Energy and Arlington County are looking to swap two pieces of land near Crystal City.
On Saturday, the County Board is slated to consider a series of real estate and land use actions, including a land exchange agreement between Dominion and the county. Dominion offered to give the county a piece of property at the corner of 18th Street and S. Ives Street in exchange for a piece of county-owned land on the corner of S. Fern and S. Hayes streets.
The swap would allow Dominion to expand its substation — located roughly two blocks from Amazon’s under-construction HQ2 — to accommodate larger, newer equipment. Construction on the expansion is anticipated to start late in the first quarter of 2021.
The County is considering turning the Dominion property, the site of a previous substation, into a park.
In addition to updating the substation, Dominion is also trying to meet increasing demand for energy as the Pentagon City and Crystal City areas develop, said Michael Halewski, a real estate specialist from the Department of Environmental Services, during a meeting on Wednesday with Arlington’s Planning Commission.
“Dominion is on a tight time frame for the delivery of the increased electrical capacity to the community,” Halewski said.
The area needs more “redundancy and reliability” in the electrical services it provides, said Dominion spokesperson Peggy Fox in an email on Tuesday.
To get the extra physical space needed for the new equipment, Dominion looked to neighboring land. The county-owned property — an unused, grass-covered sliver along S. Hayes Street — did not have as many constraints, including underground public utilities, as other plots.
The original discussion about this exchange occurred in the summer of 2019, and in July 2020, Dominion submitted a rezoning application to the County Board.
“It was one of the more successful community engagements Dominion has had in response to one of its projects,” said Matthew Weinstein, counsel to Dominion Energy, during the Planning Commission meeting.
In response to feedback on the aesthetics of the substation, Dominion updated its permit to include a commitment to installing public art on-site, redesigning the plaza to improve the pedestrian and leisure experience and widening the sidewalk from four feet to six feet, said Dominion spokesperson Ann Gordon Mickel in a project update on Oct. 28.
Neighboring civic associations told county staff they had no issues with the substation rezoning proposals, but the Aurora Highlands Civic Association did express hesitancy with the exchange agreement.
“We’ve heard some concerns from the community about the environmental condition of the land,” said Halewski, the county staffer.
Environmental reports indicate that some areas of the old sub-station property would need to be remediated if dirt was disturbed and excavated. The soil could be used on-site or disposed of in a regulated landfill, he said.
“The cost of those different scenarios range from $0 if it’s a passive open space to approximately $55,000,” Halewski said. “This would be a county cost.”
Photos above (1-2) via Google Maps, (3-4) via Arlington County
Arlington County officials are considering new administrative guidance to streamline the process of converting office buildings into residential buildings.
Such conversions would remain subject to County Board approval, but a new set of guidelines being considered by county staff would make the review and recommendation process easier.
In a presentation, expected to be given to the county’s Long Range Planning Committee at its meeting tonight, officials will say that trends both local and national will lead to a wave of office building conversions. Underlying that is the pandemic and the shift to working from home, potentially leading to less demand for office space.
The trends, however, started before the pandemic, with an “observed reduction in office demand — nationally, regionally and locally — over the past decade resulting limited economic feasibility for speculative multi-tenant office buildings.”
Recent office-to-residential conversions in Arlington include the WeLive/WeWork building in Crystal City. Future projects like it need a better-defined path from proposal to County Board consideration, county staff says.
“Neighboring jurisdictions are actively addressing issues around use flexibility,” the presentation notes. “Alexandria and Fairfax County have adopted policies related to this issue and have approved projects implementing them whereas Arlington County has approved projects with no guiding policy to date.”
The guidance will not change existing County Board policies, the presentation asserts, but will help staff when reviewing office conversion proposals.
“In advance of evaluating the appropriateness of new office conversion requests, staff developed this administrative guidance for use during staff review, community discussion and [County Manager] recommendation to the [County Board] on the proposed conversion,” the presentation says. “This guidance is not [County Board] policy, and does not change existing [County Board] policy or alter existing land use processes.”
The law firm McGuireWoods is telling its clients, however, that the changes will “increase flexibility and support for repurposing existing and approved office buildings.”
“The new administrative guidance is expected to give developers and property owners much-needed flexibility to consider residential, live-work and other options that, in many cases, could be beyond what existing planning guidance permits,” the firm said on its website. “Outreach is currently underway with business community stakeholders and decision makers and will continue in the upcoming weeks. The administrative guidance will likely be in place by the end of 2020.”
The Arlington County Board took a first step towards the future redevelopment of Shirlington over the weekend.
The Board approved a new “Shirlington Special General Land Use Plan (GLUP) Study,” which has been in the works since December 2017 after being requested by Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT), owner of the Village at Shirlington retail center.
The GLUP study contains the broad strokes of the potential redevelopment of Shirlington, which would include taller buildings but the retention of the neighborhood’s “main street” feel.
Shirlington, as people currently know it, was the result of redevelopments in the mid-1980s and mid-2000s, but the current site plan for the area does not allow additional development density. That prompted FRIT to ask for the study, which has been subject to a detailed public process over the past year. Shirlington-based television station WETA, which itself is moving forward with updates to its headquarters, later signed on to FRIT’s request.
“Federal Realty and WETA jointly applied for an amendment to the General Land Use Plan at Shirlington in order to facilitate long-term reinvestment in the Village at Shirlington,” Dan Corwin, Director of Asset Management — Mixed Use for FRIT, told ARLnow. “There are a few locations throughout the Village that provide opportunities for new vertical development that can be done in manner that respects the character and charm that makes Shirlington so special. Importantly, the additional density will facilitate future reinvestments in the public spaces which are needed to ensure Shirlington remains a great place for its residents, workers, and visitors to enjoy.”
The finished study calls for generally higher building heights around much of Shirlington, which currently has heights ranging from one-story retail buildings to a 13-story apartment building. Under the changes, the 13-story Io Piazza building would remain the tallest building in the study area, but higher buildings — from 4 to 12 stories — would be permitted where shorter buildings, or parking lots, currently exist.
Among other potential changes, the GLUP study would allow an 8-10 story redevelopment of the gas station at the corner of Campbell Ave and S. Quincy Street; the redevelopment of the large surface parking lot along S. Arlington Mill Drive; and the replacement of several existing above-ground parking garages with new buildings.
FRIT unsuccessfully asked for the GLUP study’s approval to be delayed in order for it to make the case for even taller buildings and more flexibility to move around density.
Company representatives told the Board that the redevelopment of the parking garages, as well as the south side of the main Campbell Avenue shopping and dining drag, is unlikely at this time. On the other hand, the company would like to add more height than is called for in the GLUP study to the AMC movie theater site and the site of the former Capitol City Brewing location.
FRIT reps said the company wants to “reinvest in the property and the retail street environment,” citing maintenance issues with some of the aging buildings and competition from newer retail centers. In addition to new buildings, the company envisions “new family-oriented outdoor improvements,” including new outdoor seating areas along Campbell Avenue, water features, event space, art installations.
“We need to make sure Shirlington is a great place,” a company representative told the Board, promising to “breathe new life” into the neighborhood.
County officials could soon change how they sign off on major zoning alterations, sparking some pushback from the county’s business community over fears that the new process could make large redevelopments more difficult.
The county is currently mulling an overhaul of its methods for reviewing applications for special “General Land Use Plan” studies.
The GLUP is Arlington’s primary policy guide guiding development around the county, and property owners and developers can request a special study of a specific area if county leaders have yet to adopt zoning standards for a property, or if they’re proposing changes outside the scope of what the county envisioned for the area. A GLUP study most recently charted out changes in Virginia Square, clearing the way for the planned addition of a new affordable housing complex and new apartments along Washington Blvd.
But county staff have had trouble handling the workload of special GLUP studies requests recently, which has been particularly impactful for one prominent shopping center: the Village at Shirlington. The development’s owner, Federal Realty Investment Trust, has hoped for a study since December 2017, with the eventual goal of adding more density on the property. The company is also weighing putting a new apartment building on the parking lot at the corner of S. Arlington Mill Drive and S. Randolph Street.
But the firm would need an amendment to the county’s land-use plans to make those changes happen, and that will only come with a special GLUP study. Accordingly, the process has been closely watched by county developers eager to learn more about how it might change.
In a Jan. 22 meeting of the county’s Long Range Planning Commission, Arlington staff laid out a series of proposed changes to GLUP study applications. In a bid to make the process “more efficient and streamlined,” cutting down on staff time devoted to the issue, applicants would have to provide more detailed information on proposed changes up front, including 3-D models of the property and a more robust analysis of transportation impacts from the development.
Staff also hope to limit study applications to June 1-Sept. 1 each year, with the goal of passing along reports on the study requests to the County Board by the following February. Applicants would also be required to pay an “initial review fee” before even filing a full GLUP application.
But those proposals drew the ire of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, with CEO Kate Bates writing in a Jan. 18 letter to county officials that the changes will “likely have the unintended consequence of hindering economic development in Arlington.”
While she acknowledges that the changes might create “workflow certainty” for county staff, she warned that could come at “the cost of lost opportunities for Arlington” by dragging the process out for too long.
“Arlington prides itself on being a community with a forward-looking, progressive planning policy but this proposal is clearly a step back,” Bates said.
Bates believes that any study proposed in “June of one year could be queued to be heard at the end of the following year and approved in the year after, possibly creating an almost two-year delay before even beginning the site plan process.”
“The chamber is confounded how adding a possible two years to an already lengthy process could be considered efficient,” Bates said. “The chamber also wonders how a process so opaquely envisioned, without soliciting input from affected businesses or citizens, could lead to more inclusivity. Again, this proposed fix is out of scale with the issues it is hoping to remedy.”
Bates is instead urging the county to leave the current GLUP study process in place, but dedicate more county workers to handling the study requests. That could be challenging, however, given the county’s current mix of a hiring slowdown and the elimination of some county positions during a difficult budget year.
The Long Range Planning Commission and Zoning Committee are set to hold a joint meeting on the topic tomorrow (Wednesday), with the goal of advancing the proposal to the full Planning Commission in March and the County Board in April.
Photo via Arlington County
The following letter to the editor comes from Craig Esherick, a former chair of the Arlington County Sports Commission, former coach of the Georgetown Hoyas and husband of Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos.
Esherick writes to express his support for the county’s recommendations in a draft of an updated Public Spaces Master Plan, a process otherwise commonly known as a “Plan for Our Places and Spaces” or POPS.
The draft has come under fire from some county residents in recent months, who have argued that the document demands more land for new athletic fields than the county actually needs, particularly as Arlington grapples with a lack of land for all manner of public facilities. The Arlington Civic Federation also recently passed a resolution overwhelmingly urging county staff to withdraw some of their recommendations involving athletic fields.
But Esherick argues that sports have a vital role to play in the county, and urges the County Board to consider their importance as it prepares to adopt a final version of the plan in the coming weeks.
As a longtime resident of Arlington County and one who has dedicated my life’s work to sports as a coach, author, TV commentator and academic, I felt compelled to weigh in on a subject that is getting lost in the current debate about sports fields versus open spaces: the many benefits of sports to a vast cross-section of our community.
My views are shaped by decades of county involvement through a period of tremendous growth and change. When I moved to Arlington in 1990, the population was 171,000. Today, it is 235,000 and expected to grow to 290,000 by 2030, but our footprint isn’t getting any bigger.
Over the years, I’ve seen recreational and youth sports evolve to reflect the times. Both my sons played several sports in the county-sponsored leagues and for Arlington school teams. Demand for field space has exploded as our youth population grows and new sports have entered the scene. Compared to just 10 years ago, this demand had resulted in less weekly practice time, smaller practice spaces, and bigger teams in order to share limited field space among so many users. And this trend is likely to continue.
Adults in Arlington are active field users as well. Adults of all ages enjoy playing soccer, softball, Ultimate Frisbee, kickball and other sports near where they live and work, and then socializing together afterwards in nearby parks or at area restaurants.
Are these sports activities important to our community? As a lifelong sports enthusiast, the answer seems obvious. Yes, sports teach kids about leadership, teamwork, and working hard to perfect your craft. I’ve seen first-hand how character is built from lessons learned on the sports field. Yes, sports lure kids away from electronic devices and keep them physically active.
Sports also provide myriad health benefits to young and old alike.
But I would argue that the most important role that sports plays in our modern world is that it connects us to each other, and that is good for the community. As our kids participate in sports, they make friends from across the county which expands their world and breaks down barriers. Many of these friendships endure throughout high school and into adulthood. Studies show that the more young people play sports, the more they are engaged in school and in their community. These community benefits transfer to parents, who make new friendships and engage with others through the sports participation of their children. Sports also offer new residents a way to make friends and become part of the Arlington fabric.
As Arlington continues developing its new 10-year Public Spaces Master Plan – a comprehensive, long term plan that provides direction on how the county should develop and maintain public spaces to serve a growing population – it is important not to lose sight of why this matters to the health and vitality of Arlington over the long term. Arlington values trees and parks and trails and dog parks, and it values its sports fields.
Sports provide a community good and making room in our limited acreage to accommodate them is in the community interest.
ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.
Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick
County planners are now kicking off work to chart out the future of the former home of Arlington’s “Salt Dome,” the site of so much community consternation this past summer.
A task force convened by the County Board to study the 7.6-acre property, at the intersection of 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive and adjacent to Marymount University’s campus, is planning a “community roundtable” on the matter Saturday (Jan. 12). The meeting will be held at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), starting at 10 a.m.
For about 90 years, the property was home to a large metal “dome” storing road salt and served as the base of operations for salt trucks in the northern half of the county. But county staff discovered in July that the structure was on the verge of collapsing, and they took rapid steps to secure the Board’s permission to tear down the dome and build a temporary storage facility in its place.
The process took months to complete, but many neighbors still felt blindsided by changes that failed to follow Arlington’s notoriously extensive community engagement guidelines. In particular, some worry that the temporary facility would eventually become permanent, even though people living nearby had hoped for years to see the land transformed into a park or some sort of other community amenity.
County workers removed the old dome just last week, standing up a structure designed to hold about 4,500 tons of road salt in its place.
The Board has since issued a variety of mea culpas for its handling of the issue — new Chair Christian Dorsey even singled the process out as a “failure” during his Jan. 2 speech taking the Board’s gavel — and agreed to kick off a planning process for the property in part to rebuild trust in the community.
The “Master Planning Task Force” could eventually recommend one of all manner of new uses for the property, most of which sits empty. However, county staffers agree that they’ll need to maintain most of their existing operations on the site, from winter storm response to leaf and mulch storage.
As for the rest, there are plenty of possibilities being batted about. The county’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission, a group dedicated to finding space for public facilities around Arlington, is recommending that some sort of park or other public space must be created or maintained on the site, according to November meeting documents.
JFAC is also suggesting that the property could have room for an “elementary or secondary school,” at a time when land for new schools is a particularly acute need for the county, or for vehicle storage for police or school bus drivers.
Additionally, Marymount University is pitching the prospect of striking a deal with the county to build a “multi-use” athletic field on the site for its sports teams, alongside a one-acre park and playground to meet the community’s wishes.
The task force is set to meet again on Thursday (Jan 10.) and hopes to eventually deliver a report to the County Board with recommendations for future sites uses by April.