On a quiet residential street near Arlington Blvd, cars can be heard accelerating as they turn a corner, with their aftermarket exhaust giving off a loud “roar.”
Meanwhile, near Columbia Pike, cars rev up and drag race on S. Columbus Street by Wakefield High School.
“I’m eight stories up — not at street level, so to speak — so maybe you expect the noise to dissipate,” Betsy Thomassen tells ARLnow. “It’s Wednesday, and it’s happened five to six times… it’s just incredibly loud and a nuisance. In my condo, my furniture sometimes vibrates. That’s kind of incredible really.”
According to residents who have spoken to ARLnow, and who’ve posted on social media sites like Facebook and Nextdoor, there been a surge in modified cars speeding through neighborhoods. Some residents say the uptick is particularly bad along the Columbia Pike corridor and in the Clarendon area, and along the highways that crisscross the county.
“Anywhere there’s a corridor, you have high performance cars,” said Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association President David Cheek, who even compiled a video, below, of modified cars roaring through his neighborhood. “It’s really rude to accelerate in an area with a lot of people, in a loud car, but there’s a ‘do whatever you want’ mentality.”
After nearly a year of receiving more complaints than usual, the County Board is preparing to take a number of steps to mitigate noise in Arlington and enforce noise maximums on cars and motorcycles, according to Board member Takis Karantonis.
One avenue members are pursuing is via the state legislature. The Board aims to have something on their legislative agenda for the next regular session in January, Karantonis said. They’re also looking to train police officers to engage drivers in conversations and get them to change their attitudes.
“I think that the County Board as a whole is interested in a way to enforce and discourage overwhelmingly noisy motoring in Arlington, especially in neighborhoods,” he said.
Diagnosing the problem
A lot of the especially noisy cars are running aftermarket exhaust systems made for racing, Cheek said. He theorizes that with extra time on their hands during the pandemic, more folks got interested in car modifications.
There is an entire, sophisticated industry around these mufflers, but there is very little regulation, Karantonis said, adding that he understands that modified cars sell like hotcakes in motoring and touring fairs.
One reader told ARLnow that the new noise isn’t always associated with higher speeds.
“They often ‘sound’ as though they are also speeding, yet I’ve seen several that are loud, but didn’t appear to be speeding,” one said. “I suspect that those nature of the modifications.”
As a car and motorcycle enthusiast, Cheek said he understands the appeal of modifying a vehicle and wanting to enjoy it.
“I feel for them,” he said. “But they have to understand there are a lot of people who’re upset about it — on Columbia Pike and in Clarendon — and that it’s not fair to everyone else.”
He added that noise pollution “isn’t just annoying — it impacts your mental health, and it actually affects your life.”
Karantonis said there are a few paths on the table, from enacting legislation to educating drivers.
Legislative action will be somewhat tricky, in part because a new state law went into effect in March that says police officers cannot initiate a traffic stop for, among other things, loud mufflers. The code still allows drivers to be ticketed for noise if they were pulled over for a violation such as speeding.
The law, sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), was passed to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops, as some police officers historically used pretextual reasons — such as a loud car or expired tags — to pull over residents and search their cars.
Reducing local helicopter noise while conducting missions safely may be difficult, the Pentagon says, but the military is willing to try, according to a new report.
The commitment and the recommendations conclude a Dept. of Defense report on the causes and effects of helicopter noise in the D.C. area. This document was completed as a result of Rep. Don Beyer’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which included noise mitigation recommendations that Beyer and other regional lawmakers have sought for years in response to constituent complaints.
“The recommendations in this report reflect priorities my constituents have sought for years to reduce helicopter noise in Northern Virginia, and would make a real difference across the region,” Beyer said. “In particular, the commitment from DoD to study the possibility of increasing altitudes of helicopter routes would be a real game changer.”
The other action items would help reduce noise and improve transparency and engagement with the community, he said.
“I thank the Department of Defense for undertaking and releasing this report, and urge the rapid implementation of these recommendations,” Beyer said.
Residents of certain Arlington neighborhoods have lived with helicopter noise for many years, and it is a thorny issue among them. Previous discussions around noise mitigation ended in a stalemate, as officials say agencies have to also consider safety, which includes avoiding the abundance of commercial airplanes in the region.
There are more than 50 helicopter operators in the area and the biggest contributor is the Army, followed by the Marine Corps. The Army, Marine Corps and Air Force combined conducted 21,863 operations — although that does not translate to 21,863 flights. About eight flights per day used the Pentagon helipad, which is limited to only DoD-directed exercises and three- and four-star executive –and civilian equivalent — travel.
This new report finds that the flights currently occurring at levels “considered acceptable” based on Army, DoD, and federal land use compatibility recommendations. It did acknowledge, however, that studies find helicopter noise is “much more variable and complex” than airplane noise.
The DoD pledged to take four broad steps toward possibly reducing noise.
One notable recommendation is that DoD will discuss the possibility of increasing altitudes of helicopter routes with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Currently, FAA assigns helicopters to lower airspace because the airways are dominated by large commercial passenger jets, namely those landing at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport.
“The airspace within the [National Capital Region] is one of the busiest and most restrictive in the United States,” the report said. “The military helicopters that operate within the NCR are sharing airspace with three major commercial airports and are required to follow the helicopter routes and altitude restrictions established and enforced by FAA.”
And a majority of helicopter operators have expressed concern that changing the altitude could reduce safety for all aircrafts, saying that “establishing quiet or restricted zones would negatively affect their mission.”
Other recommendations include continuing to track and analyze helicopter noise complaints to identify potential trends as well as adjustments that the Army Aviation Brigade, 1st Helicopter Squadron and Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron 1 could make.
DoD said it will also work with FAA to obtain flight track data trends to look at compliance with local flight procedures and helicopter routes, and address any potential corrective actions. Finally, DoD said it will work with the Army and Marine Corps to ensure “fly neighborly” and “fly friendly” procedures are being reinforced and examine the procedures currently being used.
Manager: Say No to Rouse Historic Designation — “With much of the physical infrastructure on the site now a pile of rubble, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz wants County Board members to throw in the towel on designating parts of the Rouse estate parcel as a local historic district… While recommending that the County Board reject the historic designation, Schwartz also proposes that staff be directed to come back by October with a report on potential ways the site could be incorporated into Arlington’s historic-preservation and/or affordable-housing efforts.” [Sun Gazette]
Police Looking for Missing Man — Updated at 8:45 a.m. — The Fairfax County Police helicopter assisted with the search for a missing Arlington man Sunday afternoon. Early his morning, ACPD announced: “[The missing man] has been safely located. Thank you to everyone who assisted by sharing this information.” [Twitter, NBC 4]
DCA Noise Meeting Tonight — “An online public meeting on April 5 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. will discuss aircraft noise north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The Aircraft Noise Mitigation Study meeting, to be hosted by Montgomery County (Md.) Council member Andrew Friedson and Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, is a follow-up of a meeting held last year by those localities.” [Sun Gazette]
Amazon Cites Va. As Example for Voting Rights — “UPDATE: @Amazon says it opposes state efforts to limit voting rights, urges states to follow Virginia’s lead and make it easier to vote.” [Twitter]
Wakefield Makes Football Playoffs — “For the second straight season and third time in four campaigns, the Wakefield Warriors have qualified for the football region playoffs. Wakefield (4-1, 3-1) clinched a 6D North Region Tournament berth with a 13-0 home victory over the Falls Church Jaguars on April 1 in National District action. It was the team’s final regular-season contest in this condensed high-school schedule.” [Sun Gazette]
Reminder: Water Switch in Effect Today — “It’s… that time of year again: the time when your tap water starts to smell a bit like a swimming pool… On Monday, April 5 the disinfectant used in Arlington County’s drinking water will be temporarily switched from chloramine to chlorine.” [ARLnow]
Nearby: New Store Coming to Bailey’s Xroads — “Five Below is moving into the former Pier One space at the Bailey’s Crossroads Shopping Center. Pier One closed in early 2020. Five Below specializes in items for teens and tweens mostly priced at $5 or less. The stores feature toys, snacks, cosmetics, room décor, sports items, accessories, party supplies, and $5 t-shirts.” [Annandale Blog]
Photo courtesy Christina Schnoor
Some Crystal City residents say a new bowling alley has created a persistent late-night ruckus, and they want police to strike at the heart of the problem with extra enforcement.
The issue is causing a split between apartment dwellers who want peace and quiet at night, and a seemingly benign business — Bowlero, at 320 23rd Street S. — that has allegedly attracted a rowdy clientele.
With reports of fights, screaming, littering and the stench of marijuana, the relationship between the bowling alley and its neighbors is in the gutter, so much so that the Arlington County Police Department saw fit to organize a virtual community meeting on the topic Wednesday night.
During the Zoom meeting, police acknowledged dozens of calls to Bowlero over the past few months, a pattern that has led the business to beef up security, including using metal detectors at the entrance.
Police connected the rowdiness to the pandemic, as Virginia opened up before Maryland and D.C. and thus has been drawing a more regional crowd seeking out nightlife opportunities.
“We’ve seen an increase in patronage in Arlington County because Arlington and Virginia seem to be opening at a faster rate than D.C. and Maryland,” ACPD’s Restaurant and Nightlife Liaison Samantha Brien said. “We’ve seen a lot of patronage to Crystal City and Clarendon because they could stay out later and have more fun. As we start to open up, I’m sure we’ll open up faster than D.C.”
Since Bowlero opened in July, there have been 52 calls for service, and 42 of those calls happened inside the business or right outside, Brien said. The bowling alley’s management made 28 of those calls, which is “a good thing,” she said.
“You have to look at when they’re calling and how frequently they’re calling,” Brien said. “If they’re calling before something really bad happens that means they’re intervening at a higher level and that’s what we want to see.”
In response, Brien said Bowlero has implemented bag checks and “wanding” with handheld metal detectors. Signage warns patrons not to bring weapons inside. Arlington police on a nightlife detail conduct hourly walk-throughs of bars and restaurants along 23rd Street S. from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
ACPD officials encouraged perturbed residents to call the non-emergency line, (703) 558-2222, any time there is a complaint. These calls are logged and could ultimately be used to reallocate resources to Crystal City, said ACPD Captain Michael Rowling.
Rowling said the police have occasionally placed signboards and set up mobile surveillance cameras outside Bowlero. Extra police details and plainclothes officers have been dispatched to the bowling alley, resulting in several arrests inside and outside, he added.
Brien and Rowling compared the situation in Crystal City to Clarendon in 2016, which Brien said was “the Wild West.” She pointed to Clarendon as an example of how ACPD can work with bars and restaurants to improve nightlife activity and safety.
“As we have been working so much in Clarendon, and establishments work with us, the patrons know how to correctly act in the Clarendon area,” Brien said. “Since Bowlero has enacted wanding and bag checks, and put up signage, patrons will soon realize how to act.”
Both credited Bowlero for being cooperative with the police department.
The D.C. area is a bit on edge, and the sounds of howitzers firing this afternoon probably won’t help. But it’s necessary to prep for next week’s inauguration.
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall said today (Thursday) that the U.S. Army’s Presidential Salute Battery will be conducting “blank fire drills” this afternoon in preparation for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
The drills are held as practice for “ceremonies in honor of the President of the United States, for visiting foreign dignitaries, during official government ceremonies, regional celebrations… and while rendering honors during the funeral services of our nation’s fallen service members and veterans,” a base spokeswoman previously told ARLnow.
Please be advised the @USArmyOldGuard, Presidential Salute Battery, will conduct blank fire drills in preparation for the 59th Presidential Inauguration this afternoon and tomorrow on the Fort Myer portion of the Joint Base. @MDW_USARMY pic.twitter.com/bCSBcgmo1F
— JBM-HH (@JBMHH) January 14, 2021
Photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall
Complaints over helicopter noise in Arlington are likely to soon be better tracked by the federal government.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a veto-proof version of the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act, and it includes a provision directing the Secretary of Defense to “develop a process to receive, track, and analyze complaints of military rotary wing aircraft noise in the National Capital Region that are registered on the noise inquiry websites of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that the NDAA will be approved before the end of the year, while questions remain if President Trump will attempt to veto it.
Congressman Don Beyer tweeted that the addition of the language to the NDAA and its passage is a win for the region. Helicopter noise has long been a topic that he’s worked on, and over the summer Beyer wrote in an email to ALXnow that his office consistently receives a high volume of helicopter noise complaints.
“We get calls about airplanes on approach and departure to and from DCA, and increasingly about military helicopters across the region, many of which fly in and out of Fort Belvoir,” Beyer wrote. “I had a town hall on the issue a few years ago in Fairlington, which has been particularly affected, and it was clear that people wanted ways to track and report noise complaints, and to have a forum for ongoing discussion about ways to mitigate that noise which would include input from the local community.”
The NDAA we just passed in the House gives the troops a raise, renames bases formerly named after Confederates, and does a lot more.
There's also a section with a win on something I've been pushing on for my constituents– addressing helicopter noise in the capital region: pic.twitter.com/yNQ4WtqRUz
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) December 9, 2020
Beyer recently joined a number of D.C.-area lawmakers in asking for the Defense Department to study helicopter noise in the area.
The noise issue has been a growing concern for years. Last year, the U.S. Army revealed one reason for some extra noise: it was conducting a secret operation that required the use of Blackhawk helicopters.
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
County Lauded for LGBTQ Inclusiveness — “Arlington scored 100 points out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 9th annual Municipal Equality Index for its high standards of inclusiveness and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. While Arlington has been a top-ranked community in the past, this year it was recognized for adding gender identity/expression protections to its Human Rights ordinance and providing all-gender bathrooms in County-owned offices and facilities.” [Arlington County]
Traffic Cam Feeds Back On — After a few weeks of Arlington’s web-based traffic camera feeds being off due to technical issues, the feeds are back on. The traffic cameras can also now be viewed on the My Arlington mobile app. [Twitter]
Traffic Cam Policy Still in Place? — Some cold water on the traffic camera news, from local public safety watchdog Dave Statter: “Cutting cameras during @ArlingtonVaPD incidents is a bad look for the department… Giving a government employee the power to censor what’s in public view based on their own whims and/or a vague county standard sure gives the impression that 1A is not that important to @ArlingtonVA.” [Twitter]
CivFed to Get Aircraft Noise Briefing — “Arlington County government officials and their consultants will update delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation on the ongoing noise study related to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at the federation’s Dec. 15 meeting.” [InsideNova]
Audit Committee Seeking Members — “The Audit Committee is seeking new member applications for a two-year term beginning February 1, 2021. The committee advises the County Board on County government’s exposure to financial, operational, and reputational risks.” [Arlington County]
Nearby: School Names to Change in F.C. — “After six months of a lengthy and often contentious debate involving the entire City of Falls Church community, the Falls Church School Board voted unanimously tonight to change the names of two of its five schools, ones named for U.S. founding fathers who famously owned slaves, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Real Estate Market Remains Hot — “A total of 264 properties went to closing in October, up 25.7 percent from the 210 transactions a year before… The Arlington-wide average sales price of $757,378 recorded in October was up 14.5 percent from $661,447, with a 16.7-percent increase in the average sales price of single-family homes (to $1,148,445) and a 2.7-percent increase for attached homes, such as townhouses and rowhouses (to $537,547).” [InsideNova]
Investment for Arlington Tech Firm — “The Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) today announced that Virginia Founders Fund (VFF) has invested in Rosslyn, Va.-based Mesh Intelligence, developer of a proactive food safety and supply chain solution to predict upcoming and evolving risks and disruptions globally to help organizations plan and act faster.” [GlobeNewswire via Potomac Tech Wire]
A-SPAN Gets New CEO — “The Board of Directors of A-SPAN, a nonprofit organization that provides life-saving supportive services for vulnerable people, has announced the appointment of Betsy Frantz to the position of President/CEO on a permanent basis.” [Press Release]
Outdoor Music Prompts Complaints in F.C. — “Live music has been a major draw for Falls Church Distillers over the past few months, which has moved outdoors due to Covid-19 concerns. However, residential neighbors in nearby apartment complexes haven’t taken to the adaptation as well.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Arlington, MoCo Hire Consultant — “Montgomery and Arlington counties have hired a consultant to develop alternatives to the flight paths at Reagan National Airport that have led to dramatic increases in noise complaints from residents across the region. ‘This will be a game changer,; said Ken Hartman… Montgomery County’s point person on the airplane noise issue.” [Washington Post]
Biden Breaks 100K Mark in Arlington — “It likely won’t be the highlight of his political career, but Joe Biden will go down in history as the first presidential candidate to win more than 100,000 votes in Arlington. Biden garnered 102,510 of them, according to unofficial tallies reported immediately after the election… Trump’s performance, both in total votes and in percentage of the vote, slightly outperformed his 2016 tally in Arlington.” [InsideNova]
What the School Bond Will Fund — “The $52.65 million will be used for the following projects: $24.3 million for planning and design to meet 10-year projected capacity needs at all school levels; $15.4 million for major infrastructure projects such as HVAC replacement for schools; $7.65 million for building refreshes and kitchen renovations at ATS, Key and McKinley; $5.30 million for security entrances at Taylor, Gunston, Jefferson, Williamsburg, Wakefield.” [Arlington Public Schools, InsideNova]
Firefighter Follows in Fallen Father’s Footsteps — “The son of a Washington, D.C. fallen firefighter is following in his dad’s footsteps. When Anthony Phillips Jr.’s father died in the line of duty on May 30, 1999, he never thought he would do that work that took the life of his father 21 years ago. But, never say never… Phillips just graduated from the Arlington Fire Academy Recruit Class 78.” [WJLA]
Some Fog This Morning — Updated at 8:55 a.m. — From a National Weather Service tweet last night: “Some patchy dense #fog is developing over portions of central and northern Virginia. Remain alert if traveling overnight, as visibility could quickly fall to a quarter mile or less.” A Dense Fog Advisory is in effect until 10 a.m. [Twitter, Twitter]
Nearby: Downtown D.C. in Trouble — “Now,empty streets are the norm. The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the District’s once-thriving downtown area into a ghost town over the past nearly eight months… Downtown D.C.s’ economy has been crushed by the pandemic, though it has made a slight recovery since the BID issued its last report in July.” [DCist]
DCA Noise Study Launched — “In a partnership that stretches across the Potomac River, Arlington and Montgomery counties have launched a joint study to mitigate aircraft noise from nearby Reagan National Airport. A team of technical experts representing the suburban Virginia and Maryland counties will study flight procedures, consult residents and propose to the Federal Aviation Administration ways to reduce noise pollution.” [WTOP]
Amazon Doubling Down on Offices — Amazon “is expanding its physical offices in six U.S. cities and adding thousands of corporate jobs in those areas, an indication the tech giant is making long-term plans around office work even as other companies embrace lasting remote employment. Amazon is preparing to add 3,500 corporate jobs across hubs in New York, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Detroit and Dallas.” [Wall Street Journal]
State Senators Support Redistricting Amendment — “The Arlington County Democratic Committee may have come out against the state constitutional amendment on redistricting that will be on Virginia’s Nov. 3 ballot. But the three members of Arlington’s state Senate delegation say they support it nonetheless. The amendment to create a redistricting commission represents ‘a big step forward,’ said Sen. Adam Ebbin. [InsideNova]
WWII Marker Replaced by Gun Violence Garden — “In 1952, a marker was unveiled in Arlington by the Gold Star Mothers of America… In June, a handsome new garden was dedicated in that space. It was created by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to honor Moms Demand Action, an organization dedicated to addressing gun violence.” [Washington Post]
Local BLM Protest Organizers Profiled — “In late May, as outrage over George Floyd’s killing in police custody roiled the nation, Anika and Yolande Kwinana decided they had to do something. Anika, 49, a program manager in the Kennedy Center’s education division, and Yolande, 28, a business development associate for Salesforce… decided to organize a smaller demonstration themselves, in Arlington.” [Arlington Magazine]
Local Beer Store Pivots to Delivery — “Les Shaver tells the story of The Brew Shop, a specialty wine and beer store in Arlington, Va., that has been exceptionally resilient despite the impact of Covid-19. In the article, How One Small Beer Shop Tapped Into Online Sales in Response to COVID-19, Shaver recounts how owners Julie Drews and Beth Helle have been able to stay ahead of the curve by quickly shifting their brick and mortar format to online and delivery services.” [Craft Brewing Business]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Va. Coronavirus Cases Skewing Younger — “Gov. Ralph Northam said during a press conference today that local health officials are pointing to a “significant shift” of people in their 20s or younger getting COVID-19.” [Tysons Reporter]
Northam Announces New Restrictions — “Gov. Ralph Northam is rolling back reopening in Hampton Roads as cases there surge but stopped short of doing so statewide. Gov. Northam’s announcement came after a private meeting Tuesday with Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House. Virginia was her last stop on a five-state tour… she came to all of these states with the same message: put additional mitigation measures in place before things get worse.” [WAVY, InsideNova, Commonwealth of Virginia]
Bill May Tackle Local Helicopter Noise — “A local addition to the National Defense Authorization Act — a $740 billion bill approved through the House and Senate and headed to the White House — would require the Pentagon to establish a helicopter noise abatement group for the region… The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer (D) would also require the Pentagon to establish a noise inquiry website.” [ALXnow]
County Wants to Become More ‘Age Friendly’ — “With AARP’s recent approval of Arlington’s Age Friendly Action Plan, Building an Age Friendly Community, the County is now entering a three-year process to achieve the plan’s goals and objectives — and enhance the County’s standing as a livable community for people all ages.” [Arlington County]
Nearby: Falls Church Unveils New Permit — “To help businesses and non-profits cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Falls Church Recreation and Parks Department has created the Temporary Outdoor Commercial Activity Permit. Certain parks and amenities can be rented for commercial activities like exercise classes and children’s entertainment.” [City of Falls Church]
Photo courtesy Geoff Collins