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by Chris Teale October 11, 2017 at 3:30 pm 0

A major road construction project in Leeway-Overlee has drawn the ire of some nearby residents, who say there appears to be “no end in sight.”

The project by the county’s Department of Environmental Services involves adding a new sidewalk, curb and gutter to 24th Street N. between N. Illinois and N. Kensington streets, as well as new pipes to help with stormwater management. At the same time, similar work is being done on N. Illinois Street from 22nd Street N. to Lee Highway.

According to a preliminary construction schedule, completion had been scheduled for Friday, July 28.

But when an ARLnow reporter dropped by this morning (Wednesday), the new sidewalk was only partially installed, with numerous sections of pipe standing nearby waiting to be added. And the 5500 block of 24th Street N. was still closed to all traffic except residents.

One anonymous tipster said the work has been “going on for four months with no end in sight.” Another tipster who lives on the street said even worse things have been happening during construction.

“There has been flooding in neighbors’ yards,” the tipster wrote. “Toilets blown up and sewer drains put on people’s property without even giving them a courtesy heads up… Damaged cars. Houses full of mud. Flat tires and the list goes on.”

A DES spokeswoman disputed the claim that construction caused the flooding issues. Instead, she blamed a “high-intensity storm” on August 15 that “overwhelmed the drainage system in the neighborhood.”

“This is a low-lying area that has experienced flooding issues in the past,” the spokeswoman said. “The benefit of this Neighborhood Conservation Project is that we are improving the drainage system and providing additional capacity, which will reduce the likelihood of flooding in the future.”

Residents claimed the project has been put on hold in part due to budget overruns and in part because the project manager recently passed away. But the DES spokeswoman said the hold up stems from crews coming across underground utility lines.

“The county’s project manager did pass away recently, but this has not stopped construction,” she said. “We have encountered unexpected underground utility lines, which is a very common construction risk in urban environments such as Arlington, as most utility lines were installed more than 50 years ago (and some are privately-owned), so records are not always accurate.”

Neighbors said they are looking at retaining legal counsel to try and force some reimbursement from the county for the inconvenience.

The DES spokeswoman said county staff will meet with neighbors on Friday to discuss progress, and that work should be done “by the end of the year.”

by Chris Teale September 12, 2017 at 1:15 pm 0

It’s been an anxious couple of weeks for one Arlington resident who had three family members in the path of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Pat Shapiro, who lives in the Leeway Overlee neighborhood, has one son, Josh, in Houston; another son, Aaron, living in Miami; and her 89-year-old mother is a resident of Naples, Fla. All three were impacted to some degree.

“It’s like we’re a hurricane magnet,” said Shapiro, a 10-year library assistant at an Arlington public library.

Harvey slammed Texas and Louisiana in the United States, leaving more than 300,000 people without power, killing more than 60 people and causing billions of dollars in damage.

The still-active although weakened Irma hammered Florida, and has caused flooding as far north as Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga. More than 2.6 million homes were without power at one stage in Florida.

Shapiro’s 65th birthday celebrations on August 25 meant Josh was in Arlington when Hurricane Harvey started to batter Houston, and forced him to stay put for a week. Unfortunately, Josh had just closed on a house in Houston the week before. When he returned, it was ruined by flood damage.

Thankfully, Shapiro said he had not moved in any of his furniture or other personal belongings, but the house itself needed to be gutted, and he cannot move in for between nine months and a year while it is repaired.

Josh needed to get to work when he returned to his home in Houston and rip out all the units and floorboards and also drill holes in the walls to let out moisture. And after his real estate agent, who lives nearby, posted on Facebook that he needed help, a group of volunteers intervened.

“He said all of a sudden, at 9:30 a.m., all these trucks and cars pull up and a group of about 30 people walked in his house and said, ‘We’re here to help,'” Shapiro said. “They worked until 9:30 p.m., they ripped out all the floors, they helped him get the carpet out, they helped him put holes in the walls because it had to start drying. He was flabbergasted.”

Shapiro’s other son, Aaron, escaped the worst of the storm. His condo building in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami managed to keep its power on, after management said they would be turning off the elevators and air conditioning and locking the doors to prepare for Hurricane Irma.

After evacuating his building, Aaron stayed with a friend in the nearby city of Coral Gables, where they lost power and saw significant wind damage to trees. The pair then were preparing to go out and do rescue work once the storm had subsided.

Across the state in Naples, Shapiro’s 89-year-old mother was put under mandatory evacuation orders from her home, just three blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. Her house, too, escaped the worst of the storm, although she had to move locations twice. She first went to Tallahassee, then went further north into North Carolina to stay with Shapiro’s sister after Irma’s path shifted.

Shapiro said that other friends of hers in the Naples area who stayed put had to take emergency shelter due to the high winds.

“They said it was very scary,” Shapiro said. “They said the winds were horrible, and they ended up spending the night in a closet they were so scared, because the wind was so bad.”

The experience left Shapiro worried for her family’s safety, but grateful that nothing worse happened to anyone.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” she said. “[It’s] been a one-two-three whammy. First the Houston thing, which I was terribly worried about, then this hurricane [Irma]. But all in all, my family came through in such good shape compared to so many others.”

Photo No. 1 via Flickr user Antti Lipponen, photos No. 2 and No. 3 via Flickr user Jill Carlson, photo No. 4 via Flickr user Coast Guard News.

by Jackie Friedman August 9, 2016 at 2:40 pm 0

Arlington resident Jeff Spugnardi’s interest in woodworking began with skateboard ramps he built in grammar school. Decades later, after retiring from a career in the Marine Corps, he turned his hobby into a business in his Leeway Overlee home.

Since 2008, the 46-year-old craftsman has sold wood chairs, tables and other furniture he’s designed and built in his personal workshop.

“So many people can’t believe that someone builds something in Arlington because it seems like everybody is a professional and going to D.C., and here I am building things,” Spugnardi said. “I take ugly slabs and turn it into this stuff.”

Spugnardi only uses walnut, maple and cherry wood to make his furniture, including chairs that range in price from $1,300 to $5,000. All the wood is from a Northern Virginia supplier.

Spugnardi said he focuses on making comfortable furniture with character. He often adds special touches, like glow-in-the dark features, to his works. For his chairs, which take 80 hours to build, he puts in flexible back braces that are designed to conform to sitters’ backs. A 6-foot-11 man once commented on how comfy the chairs were and how he couldn’t find similar furniture for his size, Spugnardi said.

“Everything is custom-sized, so I have a bunch of templates based on your height and your arms,” he said. “Everything is proportionate to the legs and where your knees are. We custom fit everything.”

Spugnardi said most of his customers are locals. His work has appeared at art shows in Reston and D.C. and regularly catches the eye of people in his neighborhood.

“I’ll often do a lot of sculpting and grinding in the driveway,” Spugnardi said. “I used to be in the Marines so I will wear my flight suit. People will come by [and ask], ‘What are you doing or what type of wood is this?’ And so I’ll get some people who will [ask if I can] build them a table or if I can see their dining room.”

by ARLnow.com March 20, 2015 at 10:55 am 2,235 0

House fire on N. Notthingham Street (photo courtesy ACFD)

Firefighters battled a house fire in the Leeway Overlee neighborhood last night.

The fire was reported just before 6:30 p.m., on the 2200 block of N. Nottingham Street. The blaze started in the home’s basement and spread to the first floor, but was quickly extinguished once firefighters arrived on scene, authorities said.

No injuries were reported. The county’s fire marshal is investigating the cause.

As part of its ongoing campaign for additional fire department funding, Arlington’s firefighters association pointed out via Twitter that Truck Tower 104, which was second due on the call, is “understaffed with only 3 [firefighters].”

Photo courtesy Arlington County Fire Department

by Ethan Rothstein November 14, 2014 at 11:00 am 2,152 0

Oak tree at N. Nottingham and 27th Streets (photo via iPetitions)Neighbors of a large oak tree on the corner of 27th Street N. and Nottingham Street are concerned that a new development will tear down their “champion tree.”

The tree, according to an online petition the neighbors have launched, is more than 200 years old and is the largest Wildenow’s Oak — a natural hybrid of a black oak and southern red oak — in Virginia. It’s on Arlington’s list of “Champion Trees.”

“Local naturalists have examined it and found it to be in excellent health,” the petition states. “In its long life, the tree has survived the widespread felling of Arlington’s trees during the Civil War and the neighborhood’s transformation from farms to a suburb dotted with neat rows of brick colonials, Cape Cods and ramblers.”

The lot on which the tree sits is slated to be redeveloped by DS Homes, a small construction company based in Manassas. When reached by ARLnow.com, DS Homes employee Manny Carneiro said “the plan right now is to save the tree.”

Nonetheless, Carneiro pointed out that the tree is on the lot and things could change. At the very least, DS Homes will have to trim some of the massive tree’s branches during construction, when it tears down the current home, built in 1950, for a new one. DS Homes bought the property to redevelop last month, according to Arlington County property records.

The online petition has 324 signatures as of 10:55 a.m. The petition’s organizers have a goal of 400 signatures.

Photo via iPetitions

by Ethan Rothstein May 5, 2014 at 1:30 pm 5,804 0

The mermaid carving along Lee Highway that drew national attention when it was put up for sale in 2011 has been cut down.

The statue had been up in the front yard of Leeway Overlee resident Paul Jackson since 2004. In 2011 Jackson hoped to sell the statue for $3,000, with the requirement of the buyer “slicing her off and returning her home.” He apparently didn’t find a buyer, as the statue, which was built out of a dying, 100+ year-old ash tree, remained in the yard.

Today, however, it is nowhere to be found. The only remnant is a stump beneath a sculpture of a turtle.

The statue was carved by Frederick, Md., artist Scott Dustin, and was described in the Washington Post as having “a shapely derriere and bare breasts that must be at least size DD.” The mermaid was nicknamed “Damaged Goods” or “D.G.” for short, and stirred up neighborhood controversy.

Jackson wasn’t home today to explain why the mermaid was removed, but a poster on the ARLnow.com Facebook page said it was “becoming too rotted and infested with ants.”

Hat tip to Michelle Fetig

by Ethan Rothstein April 15, 2014 at 4:45 pm 2,988 0

TitleMax in the former 7-11 location on Lee Highway (Updated at 4:50 p.m.) The retail space at the corner of Lee Highway and N. George Mason Drive that once housed a 7-Eleven store is now a location for a car title loan company.

TitleMax, which lets individuals with poor credit borrow against the title of their automobile, moved into the space a few weeks ago, according to representatives of Virginia Hospital Center, which owns the building.

The 7-Eleven closed Oct. 21 of last year after the convenience store chain’s corporate arm declined to continue its month-to-month lease. In the months between 7-Eleven’s closing and TitleMax opening, Virginia Hospital Center Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Adrian Stanton said there was little interest in the property.

“It’s an odd parcel in that it’s kind of at an angle,” Stanton told ARLnow.com. “It doesn’t allow for a lot of parking and the vehicular access is very limited. Retail operations are not interested in that space.”

Stanton said members of the nearby civic associations — the property is at the edges of the Leeway Overlee, John M. Langston and Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhoods — have been watching the property to see what business will go in there, and he plans to meet with representatives of some of the civic associations soon to explain why TitleMax moved in.

An ARLnow.com tipster questioned whether TitleMax’s location, on the edge of the Yorktown neighborhood, is “in keeping with the area.”

“TitleMax has locations around Northern Virginia in areas just like this,” Stanton said. “There’s obviously something TitleMax sees in the areas they place their services in.”

by ARLnow.com March 31, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,712 0

12-foot snow fort in Leeway-Overlee (photo courtesy Christina Grieg) Remains of the Leeway-Overlee snow fort

Old man winter is losing his grip on the area as spring-like temperatures have finally arrived.

Aside from the sunny, blue skies, the arrival of spring can perhaps best evident by looking at the remains of a formerly two-story snow fort.

The snow fort, built by a 19-year-old Leeway-Overlee resident, once stood 12 feet high. Now, it’s a small pile of “snow rubble,” surrounded by an area of brown grass about the size of the fort’s 11-foot-by-11-foot base.

Photo courtesy @StuNagurka

by Ethan Rothstein March 10, 2014 at 10:00 am 8,761 0

A 19-year-old Leeway-Overlee resident took advantage of Arlington’s especially snowy winter to build a massive snow fort in his front yard.

Michael Grieg, who lives on the 6000 block of 22nd Road N., built the fort “by himself using snow shovels, a wheelbarrow, two ladders and recycling bin for a snow block mold,” according to his mother, Cristina. The fort is 12 feet high with an 11-foot-by-11-foot base, she said.

“It was built to be a work of art, he doesn’t often have the opportunity,” Cristina Grieg wrote in an email to ARLnow.com “It took him about 40 hours starting with the first major snow storm.”

The above pictures were sent on Saturday, but the snow fort may not be around for much longer. Temperatures could jump into the 70s by tomorrow afternoon. Mild temperatures this weekend reduced the fort’s height by a foot, Grieg reported Monday morning.

“Still standing, about 11 feet now, but showing wear and tear,” she said.

Photos courtesy Cristina Grieg

by Ethan Rothstein October 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm 1,467 0

Arlington County Board (file photo)The Arlington County Board will vote this Saturday on whether to allocate more than $1.4 million to fund three improvement projects in residential communities.

If passed, the motion would fund $781,082 for street improvements on 24th Street N. from Illinois Street to Kensington Street; $159,751 for new streetlights on S. Edison Street from George Mason Drive to 11th Street; and $521,409 for median and striping improvements on N. Sycamore Street from 26th Street to Williamsburg Blvd.

The three projects were recommended by the Neighborhood Conservation Action Committee. The money would come from the Neighborhood Conservation Program, an $11 million pot of money used for relatively small citizen-initiated projects. The three projects would be the third installment of the latest Neighborhood Conservation fund, approved by referendum last year. Four projects were funded last fall and five were funded this spring. If approved, the program would have $4,866,407 in funding left for future projects.

The projects were selected on a points-based system. They were the three highest-scoring projects out of the 25 proposals the NCAC reviews. County staff supported the NCAC’s recommendations in its report..

The item is on the Board’s consent agenda, which means unless a Board member or a citizen decides it warrants further analysis at the Board’s Tuesday meeting, it should pass without additional discussion on Saturday.

File photo

by ARLnow.com April 5, 2013 at 4:05 pm 2,950 0

A new green home, once the subject of a neighborhood controversy, is now up for sale.

The home at 2617 N. Nottingham Street, in the Leeway neighborhood, was built on a so-called pipestem lot — a parcel carved from the back of a larger lot, connected to the street only by a narrow “pipestem” driveway.

Plans for the home’s construction initially caused a neighborhood “uproar,” as reported by the Washington Post in February 2012. Existing residents strongly objected to the house being built behind their own homes. Ultimately, a compromise was reached following discussions between neighbors and home builder Arlington Designer Homes, and the controversy died down.

Now, with construction complete, Arlington Designer Homes is hosting an open house at 2617 N. Nottingham Street. The open house, for both prospective buyers and interested residents, is taking place on Sunday, April 7, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. The home’s asking price is $1.1 million.

In a press release, the company touts the building as “one of the greenest houses in the county.” Its green features include a “living green roof and an advanced storm water management system.”

The new 3,100 square foot, 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath home, located at 2617 N. Nottingham St., is the first house built under Arlington County’s Use Permit process, established after the county changed its zoning ordinances for pipestem lots. The permit process included extensive collaboration among the builder, Arlington Designer Homes, county staff, neighbors and community members, and resulted in a green design that is truly one of a kind.

Responding to county and neighborhood priorities, Arlington Designer Homes committed to extensive storm water management techniques and practices. “Our new home showcases what in-fill construction of the future will look like,” said Andrew Moore, President of Arlington Designer Homes. “In fact, the lot will produce less storm water runoff post-construction than it did prior to development.”

“These storm water management techniques include multiple rain gardens, native plants and grasses, permeable pavers and a living green roof,” said Moore, a Certified Green Professional. “The Liveroof® system is a modular system where sedum plants that serve to absorb rain and protect the roof are grown in trays and then transported to the building site ready to go. The advantage to this system is that you can install a fully planted green roof in a day.”

The house also features an advanced insulation package including both cellulose and spray foam insulation, Energy Star Jeld-wen windows, a high-efficiency furnace with a heat pump, 1.28 gallon per flush toilets, pre-finished flooring and siding, and PVC trim for a low maintenance exterior. It will be certified under the Energy Star 3.0, Arlington County Green Home Choice, and Home Innovation NGBS Green Certified programs (expected).

Photos courtesy Arlington Designer Homes

by ARLnow.com March 27, 2013 at 8:55 am 1,675 83 Comments

East West Grill by Ddimick

Coyote Spottings in Arlington? — Some residents in the Leeway Overlee area of Arlington have recently reported spotting a coyote in their neighborhood. While video has proven the presence of coyotes — or at least one coyote — in Arlington, naturalists question whether the animal spotted might actually be a fox or a mangy dog. [NBC Washington]

GOP AG Debate at GMU Law Tonight — The George Mason University School of Law in Arlington will host a debate between the two Republican candidates for Virginia Attorney General tonight. The event, which is open to the public, will start at 7:30 p.m. and will be moderated by former attorney general and governor Jim Gilmore. [Republican National Lawyers Association]

Arlington ‘Avoiding D.C.’s Traffic Nightmare’ — Arlington County has managed to avoid the “traffic nightmare” that’s facing nearby D.C. thanks to a “multifaceted effort to curb car-dependence” that serves as “a regional model,” according to WAMU. [WAMU]

Flickr pool photo by Ddimick

by ARLnow.com November 27, 2012 at 11:55 am 4,287 12 Comments

Tom and Jo Straub have prided themselves on their elaborate Christmas light display for years. Only recently have they started using it to raise money for a good cause.

The couple has transformed the front yard of their Leeway Overlee area house, located at 5612 24th Street N., into a “dancing” light show synchronized to 15 of their favorite Christmas songs.

The display contains some 10,000 LED lights, which blink and “dance” with the music. The tunes can be heard from speakers outside the house and via a low-power radio station they set up for people who’d rather stay in their cars with the windows up. The station can be found at 98.1 on the FM dial.

The lights have been on display since Thanksgiving night and will be on every night through New Years Day. The show runs from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Santa Claus (as played by Mr. Straub) is on hand from 6:00 to 8:00 on most nights.

Not only are the lights fun to watch, but they’re also helping to raise money for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. A small mailbox near the street collects cash donations for the AWLA, as well as donations of pet food, pet beds, toys and other pet supplies. Once a donation is made, the donor can reward themselves by hitting a button near the mailbox for a small bonus light show.

Last year was the couple’s first year collecting for the AWLA. Tom Straub said they collected $1,100 for the organization, and hopes to raise even more this year.

Straub said the display requires about 2,000 feet of extension cords and takes all year to plan. He said the outdoor speakers turn off at 8:00 and he hasn’t heard any serious complaints from neighbors this year. He has, however, received a complaint about his Santa-like beard, which he started growing in June 2011.

“The wife is fed up with it, so it’s coming off on the 24th,” he said.

by ARLnow.com February 13, 2012 at 8:45 am 3,048 23 Comments

Ballston Parking Garage Rate Hike Approved — On Saturday the Arlington County Board approved a proposed increase in parking rates at the Ballston Public Parking Garage. The parking rate hike, the first at the garage since 1996, will have the biggest impact on those who park on weekends, who were previously paying a $1 flat rate. The county said the increase was necessary to pay for repairs and upgrades to the garage. Also discussed: the effect of Arlington’s living wage requirement on personnel costs at the garage. [Arlington County]

New Streetlights Green-Lit for the Pike — Also on Saturday, the Board approved a $1.2 million contract to install new LED streetlights along part of Columbia Pike. County officials said the new streetlights will improve safety, energy efficiency and aesthetics along one of the busiest pedestrian sections of the Pike. [Arlington County]

‘Pipestem’ Compromise Reached — A developer and neighbors in the Leeway Overlee neighborhood reached a compromise on the developer’s controversial plan to build a new home on a “pipestem” lot on N. Nottingham Street. As part of the compromise, the house — located behind another home and connected to the street by only a thin strip of driveway — will be smaller than originally proposed and will include a detached garage. [Washington Post]

Home Prices Up in Arlington — Fewer homes were sold in January compared to a year ago, but the fact that there were fewer homes on the market helped to raise average and median sale prices by nearly 10 percent. The increase in home prices was led by double-digit increases in townhouse and condo prices. [Sun Gazette]

Flickr pool photo by Damiec

by ARLnow.com November 14, 2011 at 11:35 am 5,983 26 Comments

A man suspected in a shooting incident near the White House on Friday night might have been squatting in a vacant Arlington home.

Gunfire was heard around 9:30 Friday night on the 1600 block of Constitution Avenue NW, near the White House. According to news reports, a driver was later seen abandoning a car and fleeing across the Memorial Bridge into Arlington. An AK-47 rifle was recovered, according to the Secret Service.

The Highland Park/Overlee Knolls listserv is now abuzz with word that Oscar Ortega, who is wanted by U.S. Park Police for carrying a dangerous weapon in connection with the incident, may have been staying in their neighborhood.

According to an email sent to the listserv on Sunday: “I thought you all might like to know that the police informed my husband and one of our neighbors that they suspect that someone they are seeking in connection with a shooting incident near the White House was squatting in the house on the corner of N. 22nd and Madison that is currently empty and awaiting demolition.”

Spokespersons for Arlington County Police and U.S. Park Police said they were unaware of any investigation in the area. But two residents who spoke to ARLnow.com confirmed that there were at least four police cars parked near the house on Sunday morning.

Oscar Ramiro Ortega is described by police as a 21-year-old Hispanic male with brown eyes, black hair and a medium build. He’s 5’11” and 160 lbs, with tatoos on his right hand, upper back, chest and on the left side of his neck. Police say Ortega has ties to the state of Idaho.

Anyone with additional information is asked to call U.S. Park Police at 202-610-7500 or 202-610-8737.

Photo courtesy U.S. Park Police

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