(Updated at 1:25 p.m.) An Arlington County program for neighborhood improvements may be trending towards smaller-scale projects.
After getting a new name and developing new equity criteria, the Arlington Neighborhood Program is taking more steps to reimagine how it supports community projects identified by residents.
A new survey is being conducted — it’s open through next Wednesday, April 5 — asking residents what kinds of projects they would like to see the Arlington Neighborhoods Program, formerly the Arlington Neighborhood Conservation Program, approve.
So far, the most popular responses, such as pollinator gardens and murals, depart significantly from the lighting and sidewalk updates and park construction projects that typically secure county approval.
“Work with churches to reforest their large grounds, which are now typically in lawn grass,” one person said.
“Bird and bat boxes!” suggested another. “Bats eat mosquitoes and finding some places to put bat boxes would benefit the overall population.”
Another popular suggestion included drop-off points for canned food and other basics in partnership with restaurants, supermarkets, food banks, shelters and faith-based groups.
Possibly dovetailing off the humorous bulletin board in Penrose Park, one user suggested more neighborhood bulletin boards for posting announcements, offers to share surplus garden produce and other free stuff. Others suggested more shade and water features in parks for hot days, community murals and sidewalk art.
Some suggested larger-scale safety improvement projects, such as traffic calming measures, pedestrian bridges over Route 50 and better walking conditions, including more trees and smoother sidewalks, between Columbia Pike and Pentagon City.
The pivot is one fruit of soul-searching by a work group, which began in 2019, to figure out how the program could better serve residents, resulting in a report published in 2021.
At the time, ANP was supporting fewer, more expensive projects, which were causing participation rates to decline. The Fort Ethan Allen interpretive project, pictured above, cost nearly $500,000, and the four most recently approved projects, including street lights and new sidewalks, cost between $268,700-$985,000.
“The Program spent four times more in the last ten years than it did in the 1990s, yet it produced fewer than half the number of projects due to substantially higher median project costs,” the report said, noting that funding for the program has not kept up with the increased cost of delivering infrastructure.
It also faced accusations of inefficiency and bias toward wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods.
“This disparity exists despite very few projects proposed from several neighborhoods in the northernmost reaches of the County with predominantly White households and where a few of these neighborhoods do not participate,” the report says. Read More
(Updated 03/29/23 at 4:30 p.m.) The next batch of neighborhood-level improvement projects is headed to the Arlington County Board for approval.
These include installing new LED streetlights along 35th Street N. in the Rock Spring neighborhood, fixing a missing sidewalk link along a street in Alcova Heights, and improving two parks — one in South Arlington and one in North Arlington.
The four were winnowed down from nearly 60 prospective projects. Of them, one — improvements to Baileys Branch Park in Columbia Forest — meets new equity criteria that the Arlington Neighborhoods Program says it has started using to evaluate worthy projects.
For decades, this program has served as a community-driven process by which residents can identify small-scale infrastructure projects that are vetted and then recommended to the Arlington County Board for approval. A long-standing criticism has been that this process favored wealthier neighborhoods where residents had the time, resources and connections to be more civically engaged.
Last year, the Arlington Neighborhoods Advisory Committee struck “conservation” from its name, saying it connotes exclusivity, and added equity criteria to how it evaluates projects. At the start of this year, the Arlington County Board welcomed these changes to “embrace equity.”
The new criteria are two-fold: first, whether the neighborhood has a high population of people of color, and second, whether it has high rates of poverty and lower rates of higher education, homeownership and English proficiency.
“The equity considerations are a work in progress and will be evaluated and refined as needed over time,” per the report.
More details about the project are as follows.
- 35th Street N. from Little Falls Road to Williamsburg Blvd, in Rock Spring, is going to get new, “cobra-style” LED streetlights for $268,710. Road safety is a particular concern in this part of residential North Arlington. This stretch is a few blocks from where Washington-Liberty High School student Braylon Meade was killed by a teen accused of drunk driving.
- Bailey’s Branch Park (990 S. Columbus Street), a 2-acre park with a playground and green space in Columbia Forest, will get $750,000 in improvements, including the removal of invasive plants, additional native trees and plantings, new site furnishings and park signage.
- After invasive plants are removed from Thrifton Hill Park, new site furnishings, a picnic shelter and potentially, a dog run will be added. This will cost $985,000. The park at 2814 23rd Street N. in the Maywood neighborhood has trails and provides access to Custis Trail.
- A missing sidewalk link, with crosswalks and ramps that are accessible to people with disabilities will be installed along a 200-feet stretch of 7th Street S., near where it curves and intersects with 8th Street S. in the Alcova Heights neighborhood. This street improvement will cost $342,741.
The recommended projects went through the standard public engagement process for Arlington Neighborhoods Program, according to the county report, described as a “collaborative effort that seeks input from residents and civic associations on concept designs.”
The Rock Spring and Alcova Heights projects went through a two-step petitioning effort for affected residents and received the necessary support to qualify.
“The Columbia Forest and Maywood park projects were approved by their civic associations at one of their advertised meetings,” the report says. “All four civic associations continue to support each of the projects in their respective neighborhoods.”
A park in Clarendon is slated to get a series of improvements identified by neighbors almost four years ago.
11th Street Park, located on the corner of 11th Street N. and N. Danville Street at 2751 11th Street N., will receive paving and accessibility upgrades as well as new landscaping, lighting and furnishing.
“Existing gravel walkways will be replaced in approximately the same location and will be concrete” and accessible to people with disabilities, a county webpage says. “Other features include new site furnishings, renovation of the existing lawn areas, additional trees and new native pollinator plantings, signage, natural boulders and path lighting.”
The overall project budget for the park improvements in 11th Street Park totals $492,338, which includes “design, soft costs and construction,” the report says.
Construction is set to begin before spring and end before October, per the website.
The Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association flagged the need for upgrades to the green space near The Crossing Clarendon retail center back in 2019, when it submitted requests to the Arlington Neighborhoods Program (formerly known as the Arlington Neighborhood Conservation Program).
This kicked off a community process that resulted in the Arlington County Board approving the scope of the project in April 2021.
“This plan received the support of the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association through a collaborative community process with staff from Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation,” a county report notes. “Several meetings were held to prepare a refined concept plan and develop the final design.”
Design meetings were also held in 2021 and, as part of the project, the open space was renamed 11th Street Park in 2022.
The park’s old name was a longer but equally literal descriptor: 11th Street North and North Danville Street Park. Community members considered other names, including one to honor Nguyen Ngoc Bich, a Vietnamese refugee and Arlington resident who advocated for immigrants and shared Vietnamese culture.
Bich, who died six years ago, could instead be remembered with a historical marker. It would also pay tribute to Clarendon’s historical monicker, Little Saigon, as many refugees settled and built businesses there. Many have since relocated due to rising rents.
The informal, relationships-based advocacy at the core of the “Arlington Way” makes it harder for nonprofits led by and serving people of color to receive county funding, Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol says.
She tells ARLnow these concerns were raised by leaders of color, and she is working on a resolution — that could be voted on by the County Board this month — to change the status quo. The resolution will incorporate recommendations made by a small group of leaders representing local nonprofits.
At the top of their list is a fairly simple concept: a formal application process. Right now, Cristol says, the county uses an “ad hoc” process that doesn’t “live up to our values of transparency and access.”
Meanwhile, a decades-old, community-based program that identifies small infrastructure improvements is confronting a longstanding criticism — which leadership says is backed up by fresh data — of favoring projects in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.
Community leaders presented updates on these efforts to the Arlington County Board last month. The moves are part of the county’s work to apply its 2019 equity resolution to policy-making and the newest contribution to the Board’s ongoing discussion of problems with the “Arlington Way,” the moniker given to the public process that informs policy-making.
The process often rewards those who are most civically active, connected and vocal about a given issue. But not always: it also frustrates those who follow the civic engagement playbook only to have the Board vote the other way.
“We heard some truthful feedback about how the ‘Arlington Way’ — for the many things it has achieved and its, at times, positive contributions to the community — also has some real downsides,” Cristol said in the Dec. 20, 2022 meeting. “It has been a way of doing things that lacked transparency and access, has prioritized relationships over fairness, and at times, it feels like it is reflective of predetermined outcomes.”
As part of the annual budget, the county awards grants of up to $50,000 or $100,000 for nonprofits serving low- and moderate-income residents, such as employment programs for people with disabilities, after-school programming for immigrant youth and financial planning assistance for families at risk of homelessness.
Leaders of local organizations say the county needs to do a better job of publicizing when funding is available and helping grassroots groups with the application process.
“This part was important for us, particularly for smaller organizations who don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or knowledge in the grant-making cycle that other larger organizations have,” said Cicely Whitfield, the chief program officer for the homeless shelter Bridges to Independence.
This could involve providing clearer deadlines and technical assistance, as well as feedback and workshop opportunities for nonprofits that are denied funding so they can apply successfully.
The group says the county should defer to organizations, which have a better sense of what the community needs, and ask for input on applications from people who would benefit.
Board Member Libby Garvey supported the changes but warned they could be controversial.
“There’s that saying, ‘I’m here from the government and I’m here to help you,’ and that’s supposed to be scary. It’s really because what it often means is, ‘I’m here from the government and I’m here to tell you what you need.'”
The sentiment applies to the Arlington Way, she says.
“We may find a little reaction from this, that ‘This is not the Arlington Way,'” she said. “We’re going to have to figure out ways to bring along everyone and explain… ‘This is going to be better and here’s why.’ We’re going to have work to do with the other part of the community that maybe is usually included.”
There is a three-decade-old program where the county acts on needs identified by residents: the Arlington Neighborhood Conservation Program, now known as the Arlington Neighborhoods Program (ANP).
The downside of this program is that it has “equity liabilities,” County Board Member Takis Karantonis said.
He said the model works for “community members who could afford to go to the meetings, who could afford to make a methodical evaluation of the state of sidewalks, or lack of sidewalks, or lack of public lighting… and fight for funding in a competitive but orderly manner.”
Although not a new criticism, ANP Chair Kathy Reeder provided the County Board with new data suggesting the program has disadvantaged less wealthy, more diverse neighborhoods.
‘Conservation’ Nixed in New Name — “The Neighborhood Conservation Program has a new name: Arlington Neighborhoods Program. [Three county departments] announced the new name for the interdepartmental program after almost a yearlong renaming process… The Neighborhood Conservation Program Review (NCPR) Final Report recommended changing the program name because the word ‘conservation’ often evokes a negative connotation and suggests exclusivity.” [Arlington County]
Big Scholarship Match for WHS Grads — “A newly announced dollar-for-dollar match could net the Wakefield High School Educational Foundation’s scholarship fund as much as $2 million over the coming year. It was announced June 2 that Henry ‘Ric’ Duques, a 1961 graduate of the high school, and his wife Dawn had made an up-to-$1 million pledge to the foundation, which will match funds raised by the organization for the year ending June 30, 2023.” [Sun Gazette]
Remembering Local Desegregation Efforts — “Our racial history commemorators have thoroughly marked the 1959 integration of Stratford Junior High School, a first for long-segregated Virginia. But those four African American student pioneers stood on the shoulders of a select group of older peers, whose legal efforts have gone relatively unsung.” [Falls Church News-Press]
New Monument at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery — “A monument now stands in memory of the first astronauts to die in their spacecraft, 55 years after a fire on the launchpad claimed their lives. Family members of the fallen Apollo 1 crew came together with NASA officials, space industry leaders and members of the space community to dedicate the new monument during a ceremony(opens in new tab) held Thursday (June 2) at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. The memorial is located… in Section 3 of the cemetery.” [Space.com]
ARLnow Cartoonist’s Work Highlighted — “But the father of two has long been a fan of the art form and in the past year, he has become a community cartoonist. [Mike Mount] creates weekly cartoons for an online news outlet in his Northern Virginia county, capturing within those scribbled squares the weird, comical and relatable parts of living in one of Washington’s suburbs.” [Washington Post]
Nature Center Advocate Keeps Advocating — “Look up ‘indefatigable’ in an online dictionary, and a photo of Duke Banks might pop up. Recently given the brushoff – politely but for the second time – by the County Board, Banks is not stopping in his efforts to restore hours that were cut at Arlington’s two local nature centers during the pandemic. Banks pressed his case at the May 24 meeting of the Arlington Park and Recreation Commission.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Monday — Clear throughout the day. High of 80 and low of 61. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:32 pm. [Weather.gov]
The County Board is set to consider a set of projects that would upgrade sidewalks and improve a small park.
Of the four, three focus on pedestrian improvements with an eye toward walkability for Arlington Public Schools students in the Bluemont, Columbia Heights and Fairlington neighborhoods. The fourth would fund improvements to 11th Street Park in Clarendon.
These upgrades, at a cost of roughly $2 million in total, were given a thumbs up last December by Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. This group identifies needed improvements such as sidewalks, street beautification, street lights and parks and recommends them to the County Board.
At the intersection of 6th Street N. and N. Edison Street in Bluemont, the committee proposes to widen some corners and build out the sidewalks as well as upgrade landscaping and accessible ramps.
“It’ll be very visible to cars that people are crossing,” project representative Nick Pastore said during the December meeting. “That will help slow the rate of speed of cars going around those corners.”
Drivers take these residential roads “at a pretty decent speed” to avoid N. George Mason Drive between N. Carlin Springs Road and Wilson Blvd, he said.
At the intersection of 12th Street S. and S. Scott Street in Columbia Heights, nearu Columbia Pike, NCAC is requesting $500,000 to conduct a feasibility study for improving the intersection by extending the street corners, and making improvements to the crosswalks, landscaping and accessible ramps.
“This improved crossing will help students walking from nearby S. Courthouse Road to Hoffman-Boston [Elementary School] safely cross a busy road,” said Kristin Haldeman, director of multimodal transportation planning for Arlington Public School, in a letter to the county.
She added that the extra curb space “will provide more room for students in the area who attend Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School to wait for their bus at the intersection.”
Columbia Heights Civic Association member Sarah McKinley welcomed the project for the neighborhood of apartment buildings and condos, saying the committee has been criticized over the years for mostly benefitting single-family neighborhoods.
“Here’s an example of an NC project that can benefit both types of neighborhoods,” she said.
In Fairlington, the committee proposes a sidewalk, curb, and gutter along the north side of S. Abingdon Street between 31st Street S. and 31st Road S. — near the STEM Preschool and the former Fire Station 7.
Fairlington representative Ed Hilz said these changes would improve walking paths for students getting to Abingdon Elementary School.
“Currently, there’s a staircase that is not very convenient to negotiate for children,” he said.
Finally, a green space at 11th Street N. and N. Danville Street in Clarendon would get new furnishings, park signage and path lighting. Additionally, the lawn will be aerated.
“I think this park is heavily used so all these upgrades will be a tremendous benefit for the community,” project representative Alyssa Cannon said.
Money for the projects will come from the 2016 and 2018 Community Conservation bonds.
Images via Google Maps
The Arlington County Board is slated to review a restoration project for Donaldson Run Tributary B next week.
The Board is scheduled to vote at its Tuesday meeting on whether to award a $1.5 million contract to restore a segment of the stream beginning at N. Upton Street and extending about 1,400 feet downstream to where it meets with Donaldson Run Tributary A in Zachary Taylor Park, according to a county report.
The project will address “critical infrastructure, public safety and environmental threats,” the county said. It “will stabilize the stream’s eroding banks to protect existing stream valley infrastructure, including the threatened water main and sanitary sewer, which crosses the stream and runs parallel to it.”
This restoration project has been in the works since 2004 when the Donaldson Run Civic Association designated it a priority Neighborhood Conservation project, according to a county website. The project received funding in 2007 and the county completed its plans for restoration in February 2020 after a lengthy design and public engagement process.
In the intervening years, erosion and storm damage, including the July 2019 flash flood, have gouged out the banks, uncovering a 30″ water main and sanitary sewer line, which triggered emergency repairs. The two forces have also felled about 20 trees along the tributary since 2017.
This erosion “threatens the Zachary Taylor hike-bike trail and public safety and is undermining streambank trees,” the staff report said. “Sediment eroded from the stream has accumulated downstream, compromising the integrity of a prior stream project, the Donaldson Run Tributary A project completed in 2006.”
According to the county website, the project also aims to help the reduce pollution, protect the multi-use trail and restore native vegetation to the area, described as “overrun” with invasive plants such as kudzu and English ivy.
About 83 trees will be removed during the project. In their place, 332 native trees, 180 shrubs, 200 live stakes — cuttings that will grow into trees — and more than 4,000 herbaceous plants will be planted, a county spokeswoman said.
The county says it will use a technique called “natural stream channel design” to create a new stream channel that can better manage the runoff it receives from the surrounding land.
Some critics, however, oppose the chosen restoration method as well as the resultant tree removal. The Arlington Tree Action Group said the project has not been updated to account for climate change and new sustainability goals. Over the last few years, the group has voiced its opposition to the number of trees that could be axed.
Four community improvement projects are on this weekend’s Arlington County Board agenda.
The Board is expected to approve the $3 million slate of projects as part of its Neighborhood Conservation program. The somewhat controversial program, previously on the budgetary chopping block, awards funding to modest infrastructure improvement projects requested by local community groups.
The projects set for funding this fall include:
- Street improvements in the Glencarlyn neighborhood along 4th Street S., from Kensington to Illinois streets ($1.3 million)
- Pedestrian safety and intersection improvements in the Dominion Hills neighborhood at N. Larrimore Street and 9th Street N. ($1.2 million)
- Intersection improvements in the Highland Park-Overlee Knolls neighborhood at 14th Street N. and N. Ohio Street ($0.5 million)
- Landscaping and beautification in the Old Dominion neighborhood at 24th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive ($28,125)
Photo via Google Maps
New Elementary School at Reed Site Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a new elementary school for up to 732 students at the Reed site, 1644 N. McKinley Road, in the Westover neighborhood. The Board voted unanimously to approve a use permit amendment for Arlington Public Schools to renovate and expand the existing Reed School/Westover Library to create a neighborhood elementary school.” [Arlington County]
Here’s Where Amazon is Coming, Exactly — Amazon will be leasing office space at three JBG Smith buildings in Crystal City: 241 18th Street S., 1800 S. Bell Street and 1770 Crystal Drive. Amazon also agreed to buy two JBG-owned land parcels in Pentagon City that are approved for development: PenPlace and the remaining portion of Metropolitan Park. [Washington Business Journal]
County Board Discusses Legislative Priorities — “A highlight of the County’s package is a call for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution that was proposed by Congress in 1972. Both the Arlington League of Women Voters, and the Arlington Civic Federation have called on the General Assembly to ratify the ERA.” [Arlington County]
Arlington Projects Win at NAIOP Awards — Nine of the 29 real estate development projects lauded at the Best of NAIOP Northern Virginia Awards on Nov. 15 were Arlington projects. [NAIOP]
Neighborhood Conservation Projects Funded — “The Arlington County Board today approved $2.9 million in Neighborhood Conservation bond funds for projects in Cherrydale and Arlington Forest… The $1.84 million Cherrydale project will improve N. Monroe Street, between 17th Street North and 19th Street North… The $1.08 million Arlington Forest project will make improvements to Edison Park.” [Arlington County]
How DIRT Chose Ballston — “DIRT co-founders @jlatulip and @jamcdaniel visited many parts of D.C. and the greater DMV area before deciding to open in Ballston. ‘We noticed very quickly that this was a special community, one that we could call home and grow with. We love the energy of the neighborhood — Ballston is a young, active community, which fits DIRT perfectly.'” [Instagram]
Verizon FiOS Outage — Verizon’s FiOS service suffered a major outage in the D.C. area yesterday. [Twitter, Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler
A new group set to study potential reforms for the county’s “Neighborhood Conservation” program will soon start its work, with the broad goal of evaluating the program’s efficacy after it endured some deep cuts this year.
The county is now recruiting members for a working group on the subject, after staff sketched out their plans for the new committee to the County Board last Tuesday (Sept. 25).
The program, which lets communities lobby for money to complete modest improvement projects like new sidewalks or landscaping, has earned its fair share of critics over the years. Projects funded through the program have often been plagued by cost overruns, and the pace of its evaluation process has slowed dramatically, leading to some calls to end the program in its entirety.
The Board even slashed $23 million from its budget when setting a new Capital Improvement Plan in July, in order to cope with an increasingly challenging budget picture. The program’s supporters argued that amounted to effectively killing Neighborhood Conservation by starving it of funding.
But, in a concession to its backers, the Board also agreed to a year-long study of how the program is working to see how it might be reformed or otherwise reconstituted.
A draft charge for the working group presented to the Board calls for it to examine a variety of questions, with one more important than most: “are the goals and objectives of the NC program still valid in today’s environment, and are they being achieved?”
County Manager Mark Schwartz is planning on appointing one community member and a staffer from the county’s planning department to co-chair the group. Then, the rest of the group will include members from the following:
- Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committees
- Parks and Recreation Commission
- Transportation Commission
- Neighborhood Complete Streets Commission
- Environment and Energy Conservation Commission
- Civic Federation
- Planning Commission
- Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, Neighborhood Conservation team
- Department of Environmental Services, engineering bureau
- Department of Parks and Recreation, park development team
The group will also include two “at-large” members from the community.
The new group’s charge also calls for it to examine the cause of “unanticipated cost increases” for Neighborhood Conservation projects, which are often triggered by “unforeseen needs to address failing infrastructure incidental to the scope and implementation” of the projects.
The committee is also set to study whether the program’s funding is distributed “equitably” to projects around the county. A frequent criticism leveled at the program is that wealthier, older communities tended to benefit the most, as the process of lobbying for a project’s inclusion in the program could be quite time consuming, and most accessible to people already highly involved in civic life.
“Some parts of the county are way more involved and they communicate a lot more readily than others,” Board member Libby Garvey said. “There are a lot of voices we don’t hear, and they might live in communities that have a real need, but we don’t hear from them for a variety of reasons.”
That’s why county planner Anthony Fusarelli assured the Board that “we want to make sure the perspectives brought to bear in this effort are diverse and capture those viewpoints.”
Fusarelli added that the group will likely begin meeting by December, with plans to deliver a final report to the Board in the fall or winter of 2019.
As for projects already in the queue for Neighborhood Conservation funding, Schwartz says the county fully plans to move ahead in working on those in the meantime.
“We’ll reassess that, probably about a year from now, to see if adjustments need to be made,” Schwartz said.
Work could soon get started on the once-controversial overhaul of Nelly Custis Park in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.
The County Board is set to approve a $643,000 contract for construction at the park, located at 701 24th Street S., at its meeting this weekend. Changes will include some fixes to the park’s drainage problems, new plantings and fresh playground equipment.
The latter feature attracted the most community scrutiny two years ago, with a group dubbed the “Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks” doing battle with neighbors over the utility of adding more playground space to the park. Opponents argued the playground was unnecessary, as it was the third playground in just over one block, and took up green space at the small park, which is just under one acre in size.
The spat ultimately led to county officials issuing a public apology for their handling of the situation, and the county ultimately convened a neighborhood working group to refine the project’s scope.
The current construction plans call for “a play space designed for ages 5-12 in addition to non-structured casual space” and replacements for “outdated” playground equipment, per a staff report prepared for the Board. The project will be funded as part of the county’s “Neighborhood Conservation” program, a fund set aside for minor neighborhood infrastructure improvements that could see big cuts and other changes in the coming years.
So long as the Board approves the contract Saturday (Sept. 22), the county hopes to begin work on Nelly Custis Park before the year is out and wrap it up by summer 2019.