Arlington, VA

Arlington County has taken another step toward developing a county-owned and maintained waterfront park in Potomac Yard.

On Saturday, the County Board approved an agreement with the Arlington Potomac Yard Community Association to accept a gift of three parcels of land within the boundaries of Short Bridge Park. The park is located across Four Mile Run from the Potomac Yard shopping center, along Route 1.

The property “is used by the public as an open space but is privately owned and maintained,” according to a staff report. “[It] has concrete paths, landscaping, a public ‘tot lot,’ open grass, trees, and irrigation.”

Since 2015, the county has had a public access easement over the property, the report said. When the land is turned over to the county, it will cost about $44,000 to maintain annually.

Acquiring the land gets Arlington closer to turning Short Bridge Park into a county park. Although the 3.5-acre open space was created through the Potomac Yard Phased Development Site Plan, adopted in 2000, it remained privately owned by the association and the Eclipse on Center Park condominiums.

That process includes two phases of construction to realizing the vision of the Short Bridge Park Master Plan, adopted by the County Board in January 2018.

(That was also when the name changed from its informal moniker, South Park.)

The existing park amenities were constructed by a developer.

“These improvements were intended as interim improvements until Arlington County funds were available to develop a Park Master Plan and implement permanent park improvements,” the master plan said. “The developer-constructed improvements are minimal and lack typical County park amenities such as trash cans, seating, signage, and Americans with Disabilities Act accessible pathways.”

It will take a few years, however, before the master plan’s vision for the park is implemented.

“The first phase includes a trail connection that links Richmond Highway to the Four Mile Run trail and is estimated to begin construction in late 2021,” a county staff report said.

The trail project is funded through a federal grant and 20% county match, according to the report.

“The second phase of the park master plan will construct the rest of the park and is dependent on Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funds,” the report said.

As of now, the adopted CIP plan — which schedules out county projects through 2028 — identified construction funding for phase two “in the out-years” or the 2023-24 fiscal year, the county said.

According to the master plan, this phase includes a dog run, a riverfront overlook and an “interpretive plaza.”

Image via Arlington County

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A new ropes course facility is set to open at Upton Hill Regional Park sometime in June, amid an expected spike in park visitor activity.

“It’s going to be the biggest and the best in the mid-Atlantic region,” said Paul Gilbert, the executive director of NOVA Parks, of the new ropes course. NOVA Parks runs Upton Hill, which is located at 6060 Wilson Blvd near Seven Corners.

Climb UPton will have 90 different elements on three different levels, including zip lines and a 50-foot drop. It will be open to those who are 49 inches or taller.

Construction on the course is largely complete but work, subject to changing weather, continues on an administrative building, Gilbert said. Once more work is complete, NOVA Parks will set a user fee and pick an opening date, which the executive director expects will be in mid- to late- June.

As for COVID-19 safety, Gilbert said social distancing is built into the course and equipment will be sanitized between uses.

“The outdoors is your biggest safety feature,” he said.

This new facility will open as NOVA Parks expects an increase in visitors to all its facilities this summer. Gilbert said he expects pools and waterparks — all of which will open Memorial Day — to drive the increase, as they were closed last summer.

“This summer, people are going to be interested in returning to normalcy,” said Gilbert, who is also George Mason University’s Executive-in-Residence for the College of Education and Human Development’s Recreation Management Program.

Adhering to Virginia guidelines for aquatic facilities, Upton Hill’s pool will operate at 75% capacity, and an annual pass will not guarantee admission if capacity has already been reached, according to the park’s Facebook page.

The organization is currently not selling new annual passes due to these restrictions.

“NOVA Parks will continue to evaluate this situation throughout the summer,” according to a Facebook post.

For its beach-themed Ocean Dunes Waterpark, Upton Hill is “hiring and preparing the waterpark for Memorial Day weekend opening,” another Facebook post said.

NOVA Parks is continuing to hire new summer staff for all its facilities to meet the surge in visitors, as capacity restrictions are set to perhaps end by June 15, Gilbert said.

But even with the restrictions, reopening the pools and waterparks could be a boon for the regional parks authority, which took an estimated $5 million hit in user fees in part because aquatic facilities were closed, according to its current budget.

Normally, 300,000 people visit one of NOVA Parks’ five waterparks each year, Gilbert said.

“Over the pandemic, people were already exploring the outdoors in new ways, because so many other things weren’t available,” Gilbert said. “We saw unprecedented use of hiking and biking trails. Now that people have discovered or rediscovered how fun the outdoors can be, I anticipate they will continue to gravitate to parks.”

Trail use increased by four to five times, he said. People also gravitated toward another activity that had been declining in popularity over the years: golf, which is up 30% from pre-pandemic times, he said.

NOVA Parks also leaned on other activities with social distancing potential, such as shooting, boating and swinging baseball bats.

“I think all of those trends are going to continue for some time,” Gilbert said. “People have been reintroduced to outdoor recreation.”

Photo courtesy NOVA Parks

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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

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The soon-to-be-revamped Crystal City Water Park is set to become Arlington’s third “sip and stroll” destination.

The privately-owned, 1.5 acre park at 1601 Crystal Drive has long hosted a small food and drink vendor. Thanks to a pending “Commercial Lifestyle Center” permit from Virginia ABC, that vendor — Peruvian Brothers — will soon be able to offer park-goers alcoholic beverages that can be consumed anywhere in the park.

“The overall goal is to cultivate an inviting setting where local residents, office workers and visitors are encouraged to hang out, relax and interact,” said JBG Smith Vice President Taylor Lawch, in a statement. The company owns the park and numerous nearby buildings, including those housing Amazon’s growing HQ2 workforce.

The Arlington County Board recently approved a plan to add five new vendor kiosks, a performance stage, and a bar to the park, in addition to planned upgrades to its water features.

“There will be places for parents to sip on a glass of wine while their kids go for ice cream nearby; a couple to meet for a date where they can hear live music and grab a beer at intermission; or coworkers to gather for an informal outdoor happy hour right outside their office,” Lawch said.

The initial sipping and strolling will take place this spring and summer, before the park is temporarily closed during the cooler months for construction. It is expected to reopen in the spring of 2022.

The park will join a pair of Arlington retail centers — the Village at Shirlington and Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row) — in allowing legal, on-the-go outdoor alcohol consumption on privately-owned property.

“The creation of a Commercial Lifestyle Center is in keeping with JBG SMITH’s vision for National Landing as a vibrant 18-hour environment where people want to live, work and visit,” a company PR rep said. “This licensure enables JBG SMITH to take great existing and planned areas of the National Landing neighborhood and make them even better.”

Additional JBG-owned property in National Landing — the collective term for Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard — may eventually be added to the permit.

“JBG SMITH is looking on a case-by-case basis to identify other areas within National Landing for future activations,” the rep tells ARLnow. “As of right now, they are focusing on this initial designation at Water Park.”

Making the Water Park into a more active destination for hanging out is part of the neighborhood’s evolution away from being known as a sleepy, concrete-filled office corridor.

“National Landing continues to evolve into an exciting destination complete with diverse dining options and growing entertainment venues,” National Landing Business Improvement District President Tracy Sayegh Gabriel said in a statement. “Enhancing and activating our outdoor public spaces for community use is more important than ever, and we are thrilled that National Landing has been approved as a Commercial Lifestyle Center. JBG SMITH’s initial activation at Water Park will create a desirable new way for area residents, workers and visitors to gather and support our local businesses in a safe environment.”

The Water Park will continue to host BID-organized events, she added. The BID obtained temporary Virginia ABC permits to allow alcohol consumption at the park for previous events.

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Construction has started on two residential towers at 1900 Crystal Drive in Crystal City, according to developer JBG Smith.

The announcement came nearly one year to the day after the County Board approved the project, which involved tearing down an aging office building.

The new development at 1900 Crystal Drive will have 808 multifamily rental units and about 40,000 square feet of street-level retail across the two towers, each to be LEED Silver certified and approximately 300 feet tall, according to the developer.

A 27-story southern tower will feature 471 apartments, while a 26-story northern tower will incorporate 337 apartments.

Through a spokesperson, JBG Smith declined to comment on when the towers are expected to be completed. Last year, however, when the County Board met and approved the project, a company rep said construction could take 2-3 years.

“The start of construction on 1900 Crystal Drive marks yet another major milestone in National Landing’s ongoing transformation,” said Anthony Greenberg, Executive Vice President of Development at JBG Smith. “The introduction of new residences, restaurants and shops at 1900 Crystal Drive, combined with our recently delivered retail and entertainment district just about a block away will more than double the concentration of street-facing retail amenities on Crystal Drive.”

Residents will have access to private rooftops and green spaces. At the street-level, JBG Smith is planning a pedestrian-friendly street that will connect 18th and 20th Streets S. as well as open park space. JBG Smith will provide a number of community benefits, including enhanced streetscapes, a grand staircase connecting to public open space and bicycle facilities.

JBG Smith, the developer, leasing agent and property manager for the Amazon HQ2 project, anticipates that with Amazon’s arrival, National Landing’s daytime population will increase from 50,000 people to 90,000 in the near future.

The housing and amenities at 1900 Crystal Drive and neighboring developments will be a “thriving, mixed-use environment [that] will allow people to easily walk from their home or office to their favorite restaurants and amenities — cementing National Landing as a destination both day and night,” Greenberg said.

Neighbors and visitors can expect sidewalk closures during construction.

“This exciting project may create changes for our everyday pedestrian routines,” according to an announcement on the National Landing Business Improvement District website. The changes include:

  • The southern sidewalk along 18th Street will be closed; pedestrians should use the north side of 18th Street S. to access Crystal Drive and S. Clark Street.
  • The western sidewalk along Crystal Drive will be closed; pedestrians should use the jersey barrier, protected lane to travel north and south along Crystal Drive.
  • The northern sidewalk along 20th Street S. will be closed; pedestrians should use the jersey barrier, protected lane to access Crystal Drive and S. Clark Street.

Photo (middle) via Arlington County and (below) via National Landing BID

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Zitkala-Ša Park in Lyon Park could be ready by July to welcome neighbors who have gone without their community green space since October 2019.

Construction on the park at the corner of 7th and N. Highland streets is nearly a year behind schedule due to pandemic- and weather-related delays. Upgrades include re-doing the basketball court and adding new play structures, a picnic shelter, as well as fencing and landscaping.

New signage also went up recently to reflect a name change. In December, the County Board officially renamed Henry Clay Park after Zitkala-Ša, an Indigenous rights activist who lived near the park.

Initially, the Department of Parks and Recreation set out to complete the changes by July 2020 but the pandemic caused manufacturing and shipping delays. A new timeline of December 2020 was set. Now, work is being hampered by weather, said parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish.

“We are progressing along as best we can, however, due to weather we have not been able to complete all the work we’d like to do,” she said.

Kalish added that many of the remaining tasks — planting, laying asphalt and safety surfaces, striping the basketball court — “are weather-sensitive and can be completed only after the weather gets a little better.”

These two complications combined led the department to move the completion date sometime between April and June 2021.

When completed, the community “will see a new basketball court, playground, open field and picnic shelter with updated site circulation, site furnishing, fencing, drainage and landscaping,” Kalish previously told ARLnow.

The park “is a heavily used facility,” the county said in a 2019 report. “The outdoor amenities for [Zitkala-Ša Park] are now past their useful life and are in need of replacement.”

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The County Board has unanimously approved plans to improve walking and cycling connections and add amenities to the Crystal City Water Park.

Water features and a food stand currently activate the privately-owned Crystal City Water Park at 1601 Crystal Drive. It also provides connections to the Mount Vernon Trail and Reagan National Airport, as well as the proposed Virginia Railway Express north entrance.

Park owner JBG Smith initially came to the board in January with plans to modify the Crystal City Connector path — which cuts through the site — and renovate the park. Members deferred the proposal over predictions that the developer’s plans for the pathway would lead to unsafe pedestrian and cyclist interactions.

On Saturday, County Board members signed off on revision to the project. The Crystal City Connector path will be turned into two paths accessing the Mount Vernon Trail and the new VRE entrance: one for pedestrians and the other focused on bicyclists.

JBG Smith will be “adding retail shops, cafes, and restaurants along the edges of the park, upgrading the existing water wall… adding a new water feature, [and] adding public art and an outdoor bar,” the county announced on Monday.

The additions include “nine (9) 300 square-foot retail structures positioned along Crystal Drive, a 1,415 square-foot retail structure along the northern edge, a 760 square-foot bar with a 2,069 square-foot terrace atop the water wall, a 409 square-foot performance platform to be used for the event lawn, and a 747 square-foot trailhead restroom facility,” per a county staff report.

“We’re proud to say that this project has evolved in response to the comments and we think gotten to a place that is better than we were a couple of months ago,” said Kedrick Whitmore, an attorney representing JBG Smith.

The staff report said the plan has been redesigned to minimize conflicts and support increasing number of pedestrians and bicyclists accessing the trail and the VRE station. Potential users testified in January that the initial proposed design, below, would lead to conflicts at the exit from the Mount Vernon Trail access tunnel, where visibility is low.

JBG Smith’s new plan removes the stairway that linked the pathways to the water park, located near a series of tunnels. It does not, however, remove an adjacent path between the Crystal City Connector path and the connection to the proposed VRE station, although some community members predicted it too would be unsafe.

“We think this is a really important area to maintain a connection,” Whitmore said. “Despite keeping the connection in place, we did hear loud and clear that there were safety concerns, and the use of paint, mirrors, signage and paving will help.”

The developer will also widen the sidewalk along Crystal Drive from eight to 10 feet and use landscaping, signage, striping and paving treatments near the tunnels and the connection to Crystal Drive to increase visibility and heighten awareness for all users, the report said.

Board members told County Manager Mark Schwartz that the county needs to increase the level of public engagement for similar projects going forward. Board members agreed with some speakers that more scrutiny from county commissions could have uncovered the safety concerns sooner and prevented the project’s deferral from earlier this year.

“Let’s not do this again,” said Pedestrian Advisory Committee secretary Pamela Van Hine, suggesting a smaller-scale version of the site plan review process for large projects. “We can help you but you have to ask us to help you.”

While the county classifies this project as a minor site plan amendment, Board member Katie Cristol said such amendments “may have a major impact on how people experience the site.”

Photos via Arlington County

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Zitkala-Ša (pronounced “Zit-KA-la Sha”), an Indigenous rights activist and a former Arlington resident, is the Google Doodle today (Monday), in honor of her 145th birthday.

The writer, editor, translator and political activist of Yankton Lakota Sioux descent lived in Lyon Park for 13 years before her death in 1938.

She is featured in the doodle with illustrations of cardinals, as her name translates to “Red Bird,” as well as a violin, which she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music.

She recently received recognition from Arlington County as well. On Dec. 12, the Arlington County Board approved a request by the Lyon Park Citizens Association to rename Henry Clay Park after her. The park at 3011 7th Street N. remains closed while it undergoes extensive renovations, which the county expects to complete by April.

Born in South Dakota in 1876, Zitkala-Ša left her reservation at eight years old to attend a manual labor school. There, she was given the name Gertrude Simmons, her long hair was cut and she was forbidden from speaking her native language.

“Although she enjoyed learning to read and write, she experienced first-hand the damage of having her heritage stripped away,” Arlington Public Library wrote about her. “Feeling torn between her life on the reservation and her forced assimilation into white mainstream culture, Zitkála-Šá pursued higher education and distinguished herself as a public speaker on social and political issues.”

Before diving into political work, she attended college, taught at a boarding school for Native Americans and studied violin at a conservatory.

In 1925, she moved with her husband Capt. Raymond Talefase Bonnin to 261 N. Barton Street in Lyon Park, where they lived until their respective deaths in 1938 and 1942. Both are buried in Arlington National Cemetery and their home still stands at the corner of 3rd Street N. and Barton Street.

The couple founded the National Council of American Indians and advocated for voting rights, healthcare, legal standing and land rights, the library said.

Screenshot via Google

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(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) Arlington County has asked JBG Smith to go back to the drawing board after reviewing its plans to upgrade the Crystal City Water Park.

The privately-owned park at 1601 Crystal Drive currently includes water features, trees, and a food stand. It has frequently been used for local events and gatherings.

The project to upgrade it will be deferred two months so that JBG Smith can address pedestrian and cyclist safety concerns raised by Arlington County Board members and community members during the Board’s Tuesday night meeting.

“This is not a fully baked plan yet,” Board member Christian Dorsey said. 

The Bethesda-based real estate company is proposing a new performance area, more outdoor seating, preserving and updating the existing water fountain, and incorporating a new water feature in the center of the site. The proposal also includes a number of retail structures: small kiosks, a bar, and a trailhead restroom facility.

Most of the discussion was devoted to two paths — one ADA-accessible — that JBG Smith proposed to build to connect people to the nearby VRE station and the Mount Vernon Trail. A small pathway linked the two connections.

Community members and County Board members said these paths, as proposed, would create conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists. People would have to cross the Mount Vernon Trail connector to get to the rest of the park and cyclists would be battling a grade change while avoiding pedestrians.

“We thought we were being helpful, but we’re hearing loudly and clearly that this is scaring people, and we should reconsider it,” said Robin Mosle, a consultant on the project.

The Bethesda-based real estate company opted out of a public design process — something that drew the frustration of some Board members, including Takis Karantonis.

“This would be a conversation that we would have had in the Park and Recreation Commission in advance of the meeting,” Karantonis said. 

The County Board is now expected to see the project again when it meets in March.  

News of a plan to invigorate the park with new retail dates back at least to 2017, when ARLnow reported that the concession stand in the park had closed. A few months later, The Stand opened in its place, hosting many pop-up eateries. In April, D.C. food truck Peruvian Brothers took it over.

Photos via Arlington County

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Architects have developed three different visions for the new park at S. Eads Street and Army Navy Drive, an open space and proposed park in Crystal City.

Through Friday, Arlington County is once more accepting feedback on the space, which borders Pentagon City and is also known as the “Teardrop Parcel.” A third online engagement period will occur in February.

“We’ve received an incredible number of questionnaires from the community, about 160 in fact,” said Mark Gionet, the Principal at LSG Landscape Architecture, during a presentation in December.

The new park is located by the Verizon telecommunications facility site (400 11th Street S.) and the construction site for a new, 19-story residential building. It’s adjacent to the recently-built Altaire apartments and across the street from the second phase of Amazon’s permanent HQ2. The park project, with a $2.6 million budget, is funded by set-asides from the Altaire and the new residential building.

Most respondents to an earlier feedback round said they live nearby and use the park to pass through the area. They would like a place “where they can feel connected to nature,” Gionet said.

Many respondents said they would like pop-up programming, benches and attractive design features. Popular name ideas include Pentagon Park, Teardrop Park, Canal Park and National Landing Park.

“There is an overwhelming preference that this park site remain a natural refuge in character,” Gionet said, adding that respondents support preserving the mature cottonwood tree on the site.

He proposed three ideas. The first, which he called “The Meander,” is an “immersive walking experience” with a curving paved path bordered by greenery and habitats for pollinators.

The second, called “Canal Walk,” traces the historic route of the old S. Eads Street and “grounds the new park in its historical context,” he said. The park would have amenities for working out and socializing.

His third concept, “Central Hub,” focuses on passive green spaces and dog amenities, including a dog run.

After the third online engagement period, the project is expected to be reviewed by County commissions in March and go before the County Board for approval in April.

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Time is ticking down to weigh in on the initial phases of an update to the development plan for the Clarendon neighborhood.

Arlington County is inviting people to provide online feedback on proposed updates to the 2006 Clarendon Sector Plan through Friday, Jan. 8.

“We’d like to have you provide your feedback, comments, questions by visiting the project website or by contacting staff,” said Brett Wallace, principal planner, CPHD in a video presentation from mid-December. “We’d also like to get some input on online survey questions.”

The update to the 14-year-old sector plan was prompted by a series of pending redevelopments. Arlington County began mulling over these changes in February.

In this round of public comments, the County is focusing on improvements to the pedestrian and bicycle experience along Fairfax Drive and Wilson Boulevard between Clarendon Circle and Kirkwood Drive.

“As a pedestrian, what is your level of comfort when accessing and using pedestrian facilities along Fairfax Drive between Clarendon Circle and Kirkwood? How would you improve the pedestrian experience along this section of Fairfax Drive?” is one such question.

The County is also asking people to rank whether they would like to see wider sidewalks, street trees, on-street parking, café seating or other amenities. The sector plan currently recommends preserving two “historic” buildings on the north side of Wilson Boulevard, which the County says will make it difficult to realize all these improvements.

The process for changing the sector plan started in September, followed by the first of five engagement session. The next online engagement opportunity will be posted in late January or early February.

The County cites multiple projects in the Clarendon Circle area that do not meet the sector plan’s requirements. They include changes to St. Charles Catholic Church, as well as mixed-use buildings where Joyce Motors used to be and on the Wells Fargo/Verizon Site.

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