The following letter to the editor comes from Craig Esherick, a former chair of the Arlington County Sports Commission, former coach of the Georgetown Hoyas and husband of Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos.
Esherick writes to express his support for the county’s recommendations in a draft of an updated Public Spaces Master Plan, a process otherwise commonly known as a “Plan for Our Places and Spaces” or POPS.
The draft has come under fire from some county residents in recent months, who have argued that the document demands more land for new athletic fields than the county actually needs, particularly as Arlington grapples with a lack of land for all manner of public facilities. The Arlington Civic Federation also recently passed a resolution overwhelmingly urging county staff to withdraw some of their recommendations involving athletic fields.
But Esherick argues that sports have a vital role to play in the county, and urges the County Board to consider their importance as it prepares to adopt a final version of the plan in the coming weeks.
As a longtime resident of Arlington County and one who has dedicated my life’s work to sports as a coach, author, TV commentator and academic, I felt compelled to weigh in on a subject that is getting lost in the current debate about sports fields versus open spaces: the many benefits of sports to a vast cross-section of our community.
My views are shaped by decades of county involvement through a period of tremendous growth and change. When I moved to Arlington in 1990, the population was 171,000. Today, it is 235,000 and expected to grow to 290,000 by 2030, but our footprint isn’t getting any bigger.
Over the years, I’ve seen recreational and youth sports evolve to reflect the times. Both my sons played several sports in the county-sponsored leagues and for Arlington school teams. Demand for field space has exploded as our youth population grows and new sports have entered the scene. Compared to just 10 years ago, this demand had resulted in less weekly practice time, smaller practice spaces, and bigger teams in order to share limited field space among so many users. And this trend is likely to continue.
Adults in Arlington are active field users as well. Adults of all ages enjoy playing soccer, softball, Ultimate Frisbee, kickball and other sports near where they live and work, and then socializing together afterwards in nearby parks or at area restaurants.
Are these sports activities important to our community? As a lifelong sports enthusiast, the answer seems obvious. Yes, sports teach kids about leadership, teamwork, and working hard to perfect your craft. I’ve seen first-hand how character is built from lessons learned on the sports field. Yes, sports lure kids away from electronic devices and keep them physically active.
Sports also provide myriad health benefits to young and old alike.
But I would argue that the most important role that sports plays in our modern world is that it connects us to each other, and that is good for the community. As our kids participate in sports, they make friends from across the county which expands their world and breaks down barriers. Many of these friendships endure throughout high school and into adulthood. Studies show that the more young people play sports, the more they are engaged in school and in their community. These community benefits transfer to parents, who make new friendships and engage with others through the sports participation of their children. Sports also offer new residents a way to make friends and become part of the Arlington fabric.
As Arlington continues developing its new 10-year Public Spaces Master Plan – a comprehensive, long term plan that provides direction on how the county should develop and maintain public spaces to serve a growing population – it is important not to lose sight of why this matters to the health and vitality of Arlington over the long term. Arlington values trees and parks and trails and dog parks, and it values its sports fields.
Sports provide a community good and making room in our limited acreage to accommodate them is in the community interest.
ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.
Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick
After two years of design and one year of construction, Tyrol Hill Park has finished the last phase of its construction and is open to the public.
Tyrol Hill Park is a two-acre park adjoining the Forest Glen and Arlington Mill Neighborhoods, with connections branching out into the nature trails of Glencarlyn Park.
Phase Four of the project finalized the park with a new restroom, picnic shelter, and paved plaza. Phase Four also added several furnishings to the site and added accessibility and stormwater management improvements. Earlier phases relocated and upgraded the Basketball and Volleyball Courts on the site, added a new gateway entrance, installed a new playground and added a picnic shelter.
The Tyrol Hill Master Plan was adopted by the County Board in 2003, but after years of inactivity the project was revisited in 2016 when a community survey conducted by Arlington County staff showed there was still support for adding a unisex bathroom to the site and that renovating the paths around the site was a top priority.
Photo via Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation
A bridge for walkers and cyclists in Lubber Run Park is now closed, at least temporarily.
An alert on the county’s website says the bridge, closest to N. George Mason Drive as a trail runs over Lubber Run itself, will be closed “until further notice.”
A tipster first notified ARLnow about the closure on Friday (Aug. 3). County parks spokeswoman Susan Kalish says workers checked on the bridge while doing some park maintenance, and subsequently decided to close it.
“Our crew was concerned with the bridge but they aren’t bridge experts,” Kalish wrote in an email. “They closed the bridge and have scheduled a bridge expert to check it out.”
Kalish expects the county is “erring on the side of caution” with the closure, but she stressed that “safety is our number one concern.”
The county’s posted detour signs for anyone using the trail, and is directing walkers and bicyclists away from the bridge while work continues.
The park, located at 200 N. Columbus Street, was recently the site of a community gathering to pay tribute to the soon-to-be torn down Lubber Run Community Center.
County workers now have the green light they need to kick off an overhaul of McCoy Park near Rosslyn and Courthouse.
The Arlington County Board agreed to rezone the park at its meeting Saturday (June 16), allowing work on a series of improvements to the 1.1-acre property at 2121 21st Street N. to move forward. Parks officials have been working on plans for a renovation to McCoy since 2016, after the company behind the mixed-use development that’s home to the nearby MOM’s Organic Market (2145 Lee Highway) agreed to help fund the project.
The county has not made major changes to the park since it opened in 1985.
“Changes to the park will include a re-aligned sidewalk, a seating deck with furnishings, a shade canopy, and interactive chalk art plaza, new landscape vegetation, trash/recycling receptacles, and a new park entry sign,” county staff wrote in a report for the Board.
The county is also hoping to add a dog waste bag dispenser and “Little Free Library” to the park, if it can find sponsors to help build and maintain either amenity.
County staff note in their report that their next step is to submit construction documents for permitting, now that they earned the County Board’s sign off. They’re hoping to complete the improvements by the end of the year.
Arlington County is now hoping to kick off construction work on an overhaul of Ballston’s Mosaic Park early next year, following years of delays prompted in part by cost overruns.
County officials are planning to finish renovations at the park, located at 538 N. Pollard Street just behind the Gold’s Gym parking lot, by the end of 2019. Planners unveiled an updated timeline for the park’s renovations at a community meeting last Wednesday (May 30), along with detailed designs for new features like a playground, plaza and athletic courts.
The county’s eyed upgrades at the park back in 2008, and initially hoped that construction could begin in 2013. But planning work stretched on for years, particularly after its estimated construction costs overran the project’s budget.
That forced the county to re-tool the project slightly to bring costs down, in part by eliminating some planned solar panels at the site that would’ve powered the park’s lighting and reducing the number of trees and plants to be installed around the park.
The Shooshan Company, which owns some nearby developments, agreed to fund the first phase of the $6.6 million project. The county is also hoping to add a basketball half-court to the site, but that work will come in a second phase of the project.
The county plans to award a construction contract next spring, and start work soon afterward. Officials hope to wrap things up by winter 2019.
Graphic via Arlington County
Arlington’s first “parklet” is now open to the public, providing a small splash of green space amid Rosslyn’s urban landscape — and perhaps giving county officials a new tool for adding more open spaces across Arlington.
Rosslyn’s Business Improvement District teamed up with the county to design the mini-park, located adjacent to the Roti Mediterranean restaurant at the intersection of Wilson Boulevard and N. Oak Street. Starting today (Thursday), anyone can take advantage of the parklet, which is just 30 feet wide — about the size of two parking spaces.
These sorts of mini-parks have become increasingly popular in heavily populated cities like New York and San Francisco, and Arlington tested out a temporary parklet at the same location last fall for PARK(ing) Day, an international event for cities to experiment with temporary green spaces built in parking spaces. Now, planners are hoping to make this parklet permanent, and even set up more elsewhere to help compensate for the county’s dwindling supply of available land.
“Cafe seating used to be the sum total of outdoor seating around here,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “But we know that mixed-use places need mixed-use spaces.”
Lucia deCordre, executive director of the Lee Highway Alliance and an architect of the parklet project back in her days working with the Rosslyn BID, says she came to the idea of creating a parklet like this as she started working on improvements to Rosslyn’s streetscape. As the BID looked at ways to add new benches and bike racks to make its streets more attractive, deCordre says her team “realized we needed to do something for pedestrians.”
“It’s all about helping create an identity for Rosslyn,” deCordre said.
She says the BID selected the space next to Roti because it didn’t have much existing sidewalk seating, and they needed “somewhere safe,” without too much vehicle traffic to test out a parklet. Ultimately, N. Oak Street ended up being an ideal side street for the mini-park to sit next to, deCordre said.
But she didn’t want to simply see a few tables added to the sidewalk. She also wanted something that was both “flexible” and “user friendly,” so she made sure to include lots of greenery as well — the parklet includes a total of 18 chairs, five tables and four planter boxes.
“This should really boost retail here, but also bring together different stakeholders in the community,” said Mary-Claire Burick, the BID’s president. “And it’s particularly valuable here where open space is at a premium.”
Doug Plowman, the BID’s urban planning and design manager, is hoping that everyone from Rosslyn residents to tourists take advantage of the parklet. But he also says the BID is keeping an open mind on the matter — he’s looking at this space as a two-year prototype, and each table directs visitors to an online survey so they can share their thoughts on the space.
“Is it workers using it, or residents?” Plowman said. “How long are they staying here? Should it be bigger or could it be smaller? This is all stuff we want to know.”
Cristol says county leaders will certainly be monitoring that feedback closely.
As the county increasingly grapples with development gobbling up green space — not to mention a financial squeeze that could prevent Arlington from buying up any new park land over the next decade — Cristol fully expects that plans for more parklets could wind up included in the County Board’s long-planned update of Arlington’s Public Spaces Master Plan.
“The old model of creating green space in retail corridors is getting tougher,” Cristol said. “So let’s bring it on, and do these sorts of public-private partnerships to get creative. This is our first foray into that.”
Memorial Day Closures — Arlington County offices, courts, schools, community centers and other facilities will be closed Monday for the Memorial Day holiday. Metro, meanwhile, will operate on a Sunday schedule on Monday. [Arlington County, WMATA]
Spraygrounds Opening Today — Arlington’s spraygrounds will open for the summer today. The water play areas are located at Drew Park, Hayes Park, Lyon Village Park and Virginia Highlands Parks. [Arlington County]
Flags in at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery — Members of the Old Guard from Ft. Myer completed their annual “flags-in” pre-Memorial Day tradition of placing a flag at every grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. [Stars & Stripes]
Arlington Has Most Expensive Home Ever in D.C. Area — The priciest residential property ever to be listed in the D.C. area is partially located in Arlington. The Falls, the riverfront estate of late AOL co-founder Jim Kimsey, is on the market for $62.95 million. The 3.2 acre property on Chain Bridge Road straddles the Arlington-Fairfax line and includes an original Frank Lloyd Wright home as its guest house. [Preservation Arlington, UrbanTurf, Wall Street Journal]
County Hires New Assistant County Manager — Updated at 11:15 a.m. — Arlington County hired attorney Gurjit Chima to be the county’s Assistant County Manager for Human Rights and EEO. “[Chima] will be instrumental in advancing human rights and related initiatives across County government and in the Arlington community, consistent with our mission of diversity and inclusion,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. [Arlington County, InsideNova]
Clarendon Company Named a Best Workplace in U.S. — Clarendon-based Enterprise Knowledge has made an Inc. magazine list of the Best Workplaces in 2018. The management consultancy has some of the “coolest company perks,” according to the magazine, including “tuition help, gym memberships, and company cellphones.” It also “reimburses employees up to $3,000 for the purchase of a hybrid car.” [Inc., Enterprise Knowledge]
County Touts Oak Grove Park Upgrades — “Through a Neighborhood Conservation project, Oak Grove Park recently underwent some major improvements to its playground equipment… The updates to the park include a ‘tot lot’ and a play area for older kids, an improved picnic shelter, site furnishings, a water fountain, many new trees, and biorentention for stormwater management.” [Arlington County, YouTube]
Marymount Farmers Market Starts This Weekend — The Marymount Farmers Market will kick off Saturday, serving the university and nearby North Arlington neighborhoods. The market will take place weekly through November. [Arlington Catholic Herald]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen
Arlington has the fourth-best park system in the entire country, just behind our neighbors across the Potomac, according to a new set of rankings from the Trust for Public Land.
The county climbed two spots in the California-based group’s rankings from a year ago, earning a “ParkScore” of 81.6 out of 100. D.C. was just slightly ahead of Arlington at 81.6. Minneapolis took the top spot nationally with a score of 84.2, with its twin city St. Paul, Minnesota placing second with 82.4.
The Trust for Public Land compiles the rankings based on four factors: the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park, the percentage of a locality’s total area dedicated to parks, park spending per resident and the availability of popular park features.
Arlington scored well on all of those factors, according to Ali Hiple, program coordinator at the trust’s Center for City Park Excellence. She noted that the county ranked fourth overall two years ago as well, and she believes Arlington’s parks system should be a “point of pride” for the county.
“Parks contribute so much to a great quality of life,” Hiple told ARLnow. “They both help a city overall in beautifying the city and managing its stormwater, but they also offer chances for recreation. It’s about neighbors getting to spend time together.”
Hiple’s group found that 98 percent of Arlington residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, compared to the 70 percent average nationally. Hiple noted that researchers use mapping software to study distances not simply “as the crow flies,” but they take into account potential obstacles between people and nearby parks as well.
“We’re measuring if it’s 10 minutes on foot, so that means it’s about walkability as well, which Arlington is certainly doing well on,” Hiple said.
Arlington also performed particularly well in the group’s survey of access to park amenities, with lots of restrooms and playgrounds available for residents, she added. The county also earned full marks from Hiple’s group for its spending on parks; the trust found that Arlington spends about $240 per resident on the park system.
Yet where the county fell the most behind D.C. is in the sheer acreage of park land available. The group found that 22 percent of D.C.’s land is reserved for parks, compared to 11 percent for Arlington.
“Arlington has semi-small parks well distributed throughout the county, but not those big chunks of park land,” Hiple said. “D.C. has things like Rock Creek Park that contribute to the acreage.”
But Hiple said the county has nothing to be ashamed of in falling behind D.C., another frequent top performer in the group’s annual rankings.
“They’re basically neck and neck, so we’re giving kudos to both systems,” Hiple said.
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
If large new developments are going to put a strain on Arlington’s schools or eat up more of the county’s green space, why doesn’t the county require developers to chip in some cash to offset those impacts?
It’s a question on the minds of many Arlingtonians, particularly as the county grapples with budget cuts and increasingly overcrowded classrooms. “Peter’s Take” columnist Peter Rousselot even addressed the issue in his May 3 opinion piece, urging county leaders to require that any developer looking to add density to a property through a zoning change first send Arlington money (or even land) for schools and parks.
But county attorney Steve MacIsaac says Arlington isn’t likely to adopt Rousselot’s recommendations any time soon. He believes there’s a lot of nuance that often gets missed in discussions of the issue, starting with the fact that Arlington generally secures money from developers for things like nearby transportation improvements during any negotiation over new construction.
“Think about widened sidewalks and streetscapes you see, new Metro station entrances, things of that nature,” MacIsaac told ARLnow. “The goal of Arlington has been to try to make great places, and that will cause businesses to want to locate here, and then they generate a large amount of tax revenues to offset the cost of other services it has to provide. So if we flipped things around, the county would have to pay more for creating the great place… Things developers pay for now, wouldn’t be paid for, and the county would have to pick up those costs.”
MacIsaac notes that state law limits local governments from exchanging cash or donated land for schools, roads or parks for zoning changes, a process commonly referred to as the “proffer system.” In fact, many other localities across Northern Virginia have chafed at the current state framework for proffers, after a 2016 change to state law set new strictures on what local governments can ask developers to pay for.
MacIsaac points out that Arlington has largely been immune from those headaches, as the law still allows local officials to extract various concessions from developers — from public art contributions to affordable housing commitments to transportation improvements — if they build through the site plan process. (The 2016 changes exempted projects in certain areas, including those around Metro stations.)
Yet MacIsaac believes the proffer law does illustrate the way state lawmakers in Richmond view this issue, and why the county remains broadly limited in how it dictates terms to developers.
“The General Assembly is very stingy in giving us authority to deal with these kinds of things,” MacIsaac said. “New development imposes costs on localities, and the General Assembly believes localities should pay for those costs with the tax revenues they raise from that development.”
Rousselot writes in his column that no state laws or county ordinances “expressly prohibit Arlington County from requesting a reasonable cash or in-kind contribution from a developer as a condition to address these kinds of schools and parks impacts,” and MacIsaac concedes that this point is largely accurate.
Yet he believes moving to such an approach would not only deprive the county of the contributions it currently wins from developers — MacIsaac points out that builders typically pay for everything from transit improvements to public art — but would also fail to make the sort of impact Rousselot and others envision.
MacIsaac says that the construction of large new apartment buildings attract most of the attention from people worried about the impact on county schools, but he believes the practice of replacing small, single-family homes on large lots with multiple new homes tends to drive most of the strain on Arlington’s classrooms.
Since that sort of development tends to be classified as “by-right,” requiring minimal approvals from county officials, MacIsaac says the county can’t require developers to chip in for parks and schools on those projects, even though “that’s where largest impact comes from.”
“That can be counterintuitive,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “You know your kids are in trailers and their classrooms are overcrowded, and simultaneously you see high rises going up in Ballston and Clarendon, and one seems to follow the other. It’s one of those issues in growth that we’re always talking about.”
At the very least, however, Rousselot would like to see this debate move more into the open.
In his column, he urged MacIsaac to release “a detailed public explanation” of his rationale on the subject, “so that independent legal experts can examine his reasoning.” MacIsaac says he has written a legal opinion for the County Board on the subject, though the Board has so far declined to release it publicly, as it contains some discussions of legal matters the county would rather not share.
But MacIsaac says the Board is currently considering releasing some version of his memo, perhaps with sections redacted, given the public interest around this topic.
“The Board understands the issue and wants to show the public they’re thinking about this,” MacIsaac said.
The Powhatan Springs Skate Park could soon be in line for a $2.2 million overhaul.
The Arlington County Board is expected to approve a full renovation of the 14-year-old park, located at 6020 Wilson Boulevard in the Boulevard Manor neighborhood, at its meeting this weekend.
The park is the county’s only facility designed specifically for skaterboarders, and its condition has deteriorated in recent years, according to a staff report prepared for the Board.
“Significant portions of the concrete in the skate park are failing, causing potentially hazardous conditions for users,” county staff wrote. “At the same time, the evolution of the sport of skateboarding has advanced, as have skate parks themselves to serve the sport.”
Staff are recommending that the Board give a green light to plans submitted by the D.C.-based Bennett Group to replace the existing, 15,000-square-foot park with a completely new set of bowls and half pipes for skaters.
The plans are also backed by a group of people who frequent the park, dubbed “Skaters for Arlington Skatepark.” They wrote a letter to the county hailing the design as “the best possible use of the space” and arguing that the new park “will be highly attractive to skateboarders and other users, many of whom will travel from across the nation to visit it.”
If the Board signs off on these plans, construction is set to start later this year, and the new park could open before the end of 2018 or in early 2019.
County staff are set to reveal the new design features for dog park improvements at Benjamin Banneker Park in East Falls Church.
The public will get a look at the conceptual dog park design tomorrow during a meeting at Tuckahoe Elementary School, starting at 7 p.m. Some proposed additions include new furnishings and play features.
The dog park renovations are a part of a larger plan to transform Banneker Park, which was announced in December. Besides the improved dog area, Benjamin Banneker Park will get wider trails, improved accessibility, parking lot improvements and a relocated playground that will be separated from trails and visible from the street.
Information shared at the dog park design meeting will be shared on the park project’s web page. In the future there will also be an opportunity to share thoughts on the dog park’s conceptual design and features.
Photos courtesy Arlington County
The public will get a chance to give feedback on the draft Four Mile Run Valley policy framework at two upcoming hearings.
The two park concepts detail proposed outlines for redeveloping the area. Both propose two different developmental phases, and at first glance are quite similar. They concepts initially maintain PBS member station WETA’s building, but both anticipate eventually acquiring the space for redevelopment.
The main difference between the concepts is the location of a small baseball field. In concept two, the field ends up where the WETA building currently stands. In concept one, it’s closer to Four Mile Run Drive. The basketball and tennis courts are in different locations in both concepts, and the second concept shows a large shelter in a more southerly spot than in the first concept.
The study aims to codify a long term plan for the area, and its focus includes Jennie Dean Park, Shirlington Park, Shirlington Dog Park, and portions of both the Four Mile Run stream and trail.
According to the county staff document, Jennie Dean Park already has two lighted athletic fields, two lighted tennis courts, a lighted basketball court, a picnic shelter and restroom area, a playground, open space, and natural areas.
The first concept would flip the diamond fields so that the smaller field is closer to Four Mile Run Drive, with a new fenced-in playground and restrooms along Four Mile Run Drive.
During work on the latest two concepts, there was still division. Representatives with the Jennie Dean Park Committee were concerned that the first concept situated the small baseball field’s third baseline is 70-80 feet from Four Mile Run Drive. Nauck’s working group representative “voiced that breaking up [this] open space… along Four Mile Run Drive was undesirable to the community.”
The JDPC also had several concerns with the second concept, according to the county document, including that the overall design had “particularly fewer opportunities for connected casual use… along the riparian area.”
The first public hearing will take place before the Planning Commission on May 7, and the County Board hearing will be on May 19.
Photos via Arlington County
Reporting contributions from Anna Merod
A whole lot of shaking will be going on at Rosslyn’s Freedom Park, where a series of belly dancing classes will occur.
The hour-long classes, which run from May 9-30, target beginners looking to learn belly dancing basics. Classes take place on Wednesdays starting at 6 p.m.
A new move will be introduced each week by an instructor with Saffron Dance, and “particular focus is given to developing correct posture alignment, flexibility, arm positions and paths, fundamental shimmies, basic hip accents, introductory undulations, easy to follow traveling steps and combinations.”
The cost is $25 to attend four classes at Freedom Park, a typically quiet, elevated park at 1101 Wilson Boulevard.
This isn’t the first time that Saffron Dance has brought its craft into the community. Back in 2011, the studio organized a belly dancing flash mob in Clarendon.
Roosevelt Island, Gravelly Point to Get Bikeshare — The County Board approved a deal with the National Park Service to allow Capital Bikeshare stations on Theodore Roosevelt Island and at Gravelly Point. Although the stations are on NPS land, the county will install and maintain them. [Arlington County]
Arlington, Falls Church Men Arrested in Drug Bust — Williamsburg police arrested 10 people at the College of William & Mary — including one student from Arlington, two from Falls Church and a professor — during a large drug bust during which they confiscated LSD, cocaine, mushrooms, opioids, amphetamines, steroids, hashish, marijuana and $14,000 in cash. Police launched a months-long investigation when they heard that increased drug use was causing unreported sexual assaults. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]
Tree Canopy Dispute Grows — Environmental activists have intensified their cries about the county providing misleading information on the size of Arlington’s tree canopy. Activists confronted County Board members at their Saturday meeting, armed with claims of “alternative facts” and a “war on science.” [Inside NoVa]
Outstanding Park Volunteers Honored — The County Board gave awards to Joanne Hutton, John Foti and Friends of Aurora Highlands Park for their efforts to support county parks and natural resources. The honorees have led service projects, helped to expand field use and promoted public open spaces. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
The contract for renovations at Dawson Terrace Park in North Highlands, northwest of Rosslyn, is set for approval, per a county staff report.
The work will renovate areas of extensive use, including a multi-use court, playground, walkways, and picnic areas. D.C.’s Bennett Group, beating out five other bidders, is expected to be awarded the $1,507,500.45 contract.
Landscaping, stormwater management, and ADA improvements will also be part of the project, but a small field along 21st Road N. will not be within the project’s scope.
The County Manager’s office has recommended awarding the contract and approving a $150,750.05 contingency for change orders.
The Dawson-Bailey House, believed to be the county’s second oldest house, is located at the park, at 2133 N. Taft Street.
The Dept. of Parks and Recreation has submitted documentation to the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board “to ensure the project respected and complimented the historic nature of the site.”