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Neighborhood Conservation Supporters Beg County Board to Reconsider Deep Cuts

Supporters of Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation program are warning county leaders that the steep budget cuts they’re contemplating could effectively kill it.

County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing slashing $24 million from the program’s funding over the next 10 years as part of his new Capital Improvement Plan, dropping its coffers down to $36 million through 2028.

Neighborhood Conservation has long helped dole out money for modest community improvements, like new sidewalks or landscaping, yet the county’s grim budget picture convinced Schwartz to target it for some hefty cuts. That prompted several community activists and managers of the program to lobby the County Board to restore that funding at a public hearing last Wednesday (June 27).

“This is almost a death knell for Neighborhood Conservation,” said Bill Braswell, a former chair of the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. “All the interest in it will dissipate, and it will take forever to get started again.”

County staff say that these proposed cuts would mean that projects already in line for funding will still move ahead, but any new applications from neighborhoods will go on the back burner. Accordingly, Phil Klingelhofer, deputy vice chair of the program’s advisory committee, believes that such a delay would mean that any “neighborhood with a recently proposed project should expect to wait 15 to 30 years for a project to come to the top for current funding.”

“If you decide to accept this… we recognize this is really the end of the program, and at that point, you should take the final step and end the program permanently,” Klingelhofer said.

For some in the community, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. Some activists have started arguing that the program has outlived its usefulness, including columnist Peter Rousselot, who points out that it can already take five or 10 years for a project to move through the Neighborhood Conservation process.

County Board member John Vihstadt has similar concerns about the program’s efficacy, noting that those delays are often driven by “quality control or monitoring issues” with the county switching contractors for some projects two or three times each. That’s why he sees this CIP process has a chance to reform the program, and “mend it, not end it.”

“Things are not good right now, and we’re looking at what we’re going to do,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “If we’re going to fund the program, it needs to be modified and reformed.”

Braswell and Klingelhofer both told the Board at the hearing that they’d be willing to study ways to make the program run more efficiently, particularly if the alternative is steep funding cuts.

For his part, Rousselot proposed shifting its functions to the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation or using the county’s “Complete Streets” program to fund such improvements. He believes those changes would make the process more equitable, as he feels the program currently is skewed toward neighborhoods with active civic associations that have the time and manpower to incessantly lobby county staff.

But Sarah McKinley, president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association, argued that the whole point of the Neighborhood Conservation program is to provide communities with a direct line to the county when it comes to these infrastructure projects. Should the Board follow Rousselot’s recommendations, McKinley expects people will quickly become disconnected from plans for construction in their neighborhoods.

“You’re going to bear the brunt of all the citizen outrage over the county digging up their azaleas to put in a sidewalk,” McKinley told the Board. “That’s why it was created: to allow a process for fulsome civic engagement.”

The Board will review the CIP, including the Neighborhood Conservation cuts, once more on July 10, then vote on the plan on July 14.

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Nauck Demolition Includes Previously Bee Beset Building

Demolition has begun in preparation for the Nauck Town Center project, and the neighbors might not be the only ones buzzing with interest.

The building torn down last week is none other than the former home of about 70,000 honey bees, which the county relocated in July 2017 after realizing they had not only purchased a former office building but an apiary abode as well.

The aging building had only been vacant for about four months, according to the county, but about 100 pounds of honey were already generated by the time that local beekeepers swooped in to relocate move the hive.

The demolition is one of the final steps in the project’s first pre-construction phase. Utility undergrounding and site perimeter streetscaping will start fall 2018 and end spring 2019.

The second phase of Nauck Town Square project construction is scheduled to begin in the spring or summer of 2019 and wrap up by the winter of 2020. Pre-construction for phase two will begin spring 2018 and last through winter 2019.

The Nauck Town Center project, which has been years in the making, includes an open plaza, outdoor stage, public art, tables and seating and sidewalk improvements, along with displays about the history of the community, which was settled by free African-Americans in 1844. The design includes a large sculpture of the word “FREED.”

Photo courtesy Daniel Wanke

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County Board Members Join Strike at Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington County Board members Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol joined more than 25 contract groundkeepers in their strike this morning outside of Arlington National Cemetery.

The strike by the members of Local 572 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) began today at 7 a.m. It comes after eight months of delays in reaching a new contract. The walkout is believed to be the first strike by workers at the cemetery, says LiUNA.

“This is about workers and their ability to provide for their families and their ability to live,” said Dorsey. “You really can’t do so if your wages don’t keep up with the cost of living.”

Cristol said she was at the strike to support “dignity and fair practices,” adding that the high cost of housing locally makes it hard to raise a family on the wages the groundskeepers are being paid.

The workers, who are jointly employed by Davey Tree Expert Co. and Greenleaf Services Inc., are looking for sick leave time and a pay raise of 4 percent from their current approximately $13 per hour rate.

“I don’t think our ask is that dramatic at all,” said LiUNA assistant organizing director Keon Shim. “We’ve negotiated on things that are non economic and when it came to economics, the company basically said no to everything that we proposed so far.”

“When you think about the incredibly enormous job and the important job of beautifying our cemetery, making it a sacred place and also making it hospitable for visitors, we shouldn’t take the low road with those employees who make that happen,” said Dorsey.

There will be negotiations tomorrow between the workers and the companies, according to the union. If the company is not willing to sign a new contract for workers, union representatives said, the strike will continue.

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Morning Notes

Sunset from Highview neighborhood (courtesy photo)

Arlington Fighting to Keep, Attract Office Tenants — In the wake of federal cuts and BRAC relocations, Arlington’s office vacancy rate is now as high as 23 percent. Arlington is reportedly fighting to keep the Courthouse-based energy software firm Opower, “which is considering a move to the District to better recruit talent.” Meanwhile, Rosslyn property owner Monday Properties is still searching for a tenant for its new, gleaming 1812 N. Moore Street office tower. [Washington Post]

New Spa Coming to Clarendon — Sterling-based Origins Thai Spa is planning on opening a new location in Arlington. The spa will be located in a 5,000 square foot space next to Sehkraft Beer Garden on the ground floor of the Garfield Park apartment building at 925 N. Garfield Street. [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington No. 4 on ‘Rich and Single’ List — Arlington is again No. 4 on Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Be Rich and Single” list. Arlington’s ranking is unchanged from 2012. [Money]

County Recognizes ‘Outstanding Landscapes’ — The Arlington County Board has recognized four properties “for the quality of their landscaping and the serenity they bring to their neighborhoods.” The properties include Circa restaurant in Clarendon, the Clarendon Square office building, the Avalon Arlington North apartment building on N. Glebe Road, and the Whitmore apartment building on Columbia Pike. [Arlington County]

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Ballston Trees Cut Down for Landscape Improvements

(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) More than a dozen trees that lined the median of Fairfax Drive  in Ballston were chopped down this weekend to make room for a new landscaping project.

Seventeen trees, some of which were around a foot in diameter, were removed by the Ballston Business Improvement District last weekend and this weekend. According to Ballston BID CEO Tina Leone, landscapers will be removing the stumps before they put in new trees and other plants.

Leone said 27 bald cypress trees will be planted in the median, accompanied by shrubbery and both annual and perennial flowers. Most of the work is projected to take between four and eight weeks, Leone said, but the perennials won’t be planted until the fall.

“We have started the implementation of our really dramatic landscaping for Fairfax Drive,” Leone said. “We see it becoming our grand boulevard for Ballston.”

The 17 trees removed “were near the end of their lives,” Leone said. “We had both our arborist and Arlington County’s take a look at them before the decision was made to remove them.”

The landscaping is the beginning of a re-envisioning of the way Ballston looks, and next year the improvements will begin in earnest to the “hardscape,” Leone said. The planned changes will be revealed on June 23 at the Ballston BID’s annual meeting, when attendees will be given a “3-D video tour” of the future of Ballston. Leone said the project should take about five years to complete.

“Ballston is going to look very different in the next five years,” she said. “This is just the first step.”

ARLnow.com received numerous tips and inquiries about the tree removal.

“A real shame,” one tipster said about the tree removal, before hearing about the replanting plans. “[It will result in] less green in the cityscape, less shade, less CO2 consumed, less oxygen produced, more of an urban heat island effect.”

Disclosure: Ballston BID is an ARLnow.com advertiser.

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Rosslyn Cherry Trees Cut Down in Full Bloom

Several cherry trees were chopped down this week, while fully flowered, for a new landscape design in Rosslyn.

The trees were several of about a dozen planted in front of the Colonial Village Shopping Center, home to the new Ben’s Chili Bowl, along Wilson Blvd. Xtra Care Landscaping & Design was hired by the strip mall’s property manager to remove the trees, according to an Xtra Care employee.

“The manager just wants the shopping center to look better and to cut some trees down,” the employee told ARLnow.com. “There are going to be a lot of new plants going in and the whole center is going to be landscaped.”

The employee estimated the landscaping work will be completed by Friday.

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W-L, Turnberry Towers Win Landscaping Awards

Washington-Lee High School and four Arlington apartment buildings are being recognized with landscaping awards by the Arlington County Board today.

Washington-Lee, Turnberry Towers (1881 Key Blvd), The Lancaster Condominiums (1830 Columbia Pike), The Residences of Lyon Hill Condominiums (2801 Lee Highway) and The Wellington (1850 Columbia Pike) were presented with 2013 Arlington County Landscape Recognition Awards Tuesday afternoon.

“These awards recognize the extraordinary efforts of property owners in installing and maintaining attractive landscaping to enhance Arlington’s streetscapes,” Arlington County Chairman Walter Tejada said in a press release.

The winners were selected by the Beautification Committee on the basis of various criteria including: illustrative use of landscape design principles; effective year-round maintenance; and effective use of trees, shrubs or perennial planting, according to Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. More information and nomination procedures for future Landscape Recognition awards can be found on the county’s website.

Photos courtesy of the Department of Parks and Recreation

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Crystal City to Get ‘Sparkling’ New Southern Entryway

A drab piece of vacant land that serves as the decidedly unspectacular southern entryway to Crystal City will soon be getting a new look.

The 30,000 square foot, triangular lot at the intersection of Crystal Drive and Jefferson Davis Highway will be getting “a large-scale lighting and landscape enhancement that will create a truly enticing gateway experience.”

“The project adds new turf, 28 trees, and beautiful LED lighting features laid out in an interesting and attractive geometric pattern that continues up the façade of the southernmost building in Crystal City,” according to the Crystal City Business Improvement District. Nearly 50,000 drivers per day pass by the entryway. The revamped look will communicate “the excitement and vibrancy of Crystal City,” according to the BID (see illustration, below).

A groundbreaking will be held on Monday, Oct. 3. Construction is expected to wrap up by Thanksgiving.

Disclosure: Crystal City BID is an ARLnow.com advertiser.

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Morning Notes

Power Returns for Most — Only 10 Dominion customers in North Arlington are still without power after Sunday’s powerful storm. Crews worked overnight to restore power to hard-hit neighborhoods. As of 11:00 last night, there were nearly 220 homes without power, compared to 1360 customers early yesterday morning.

$800,000 to Gussy Up Sewage Plant — Arlington’s Water Pollution Control Plant is set to receive $700,000 to $800,000 worth of landscaping and other visual improvements, if a contract is approved by the County Board this weekend. [Sun Gazette]

Reading Aloud to Dogs at Central Library — “Paws to Read” is a program that allows children to read books aloud to dogs in Arlington Central Library. Dogs, unlike humans, are non-judgmental when it comes to reading ability, inspiring confidence among the young readers, according to the volunteers who help run the program for the nonprofit group People Love Animals. [Examiner.com]

Mysterious Mansion’s Celebrity-Filled Past — Charlie Clark examines the history of “The Cedars,” a “mysterious mansion” in Arlington’ Woodmont neighborhood. The historic property is owned by the Fellowship Foundation, which runs the nonpartisan National Prayer Breakfast. [Falls Church News-Press]

Flickr pool photo by Mennyj

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County Board Member’s Yard Featured in ‘Southern Living’

An Ashton Heights resident’s lush, well-designed front yard was just featured in Southern Living Magazine. And that resident happens to be none other than County Board member Jay Fisette.

The editors of Southern Living were so impressed by the transformation of Fisette’s yard from bland to beautiful that they featured it in a three-page spread in their April issue. Per the magazine’s folksy style, the language used in the article was — colorful.

“Jay Fisette and Bob Rosen have a nice house, but their front yard was as exciting as watching a frozen turkey thaw,” the article said. “A nearly featureless lawn bisected by a skinny front walk stretched between the Arlington, Virginia house and the street. It was, shall we say, a royal snoozer.”

Luckily, Fisette was approached one day by a neighbor, landscape designer Tom Mannion, who wanted to help him spruce the yard up.

“By addressing a few basic issues, Tom created a colorful, welcoming space that has easy access and stands out from its environs like a Bolshoi ballerina in a mattress store,” said the article.

Among the changes made: A “parking court” just off the driveway, a wider front walk, and plenty of colorful plants.

Fisette said that he’s heard from about a dozen people who have stumbled upon the article (it’s not available on the internet) including his mother and Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur. While downplaying the significance of the publicity — Jay wouldn’t go so far as saying the article was “an honor” — he did say the article was an enjoyable experience for himself and Rosen.

“It was fun for us,” Fisette said. “We were impressed by the article ourselves.”

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