(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Arlington County is gearing up to raze a three-story office building on Columbia Pike this summer and turn it into a parking lot.
To get started, the Arlington County Board needs to kick off public hearings to consider the land-use changes needed for the new use. It is slated to do so on Saturday.
“These subject approvals will facilitate the final steps needed to demolish the existing building and construct the proposed interim surface parking improvements, including the review of construction plans and issuance of permits,” according to a county report.
Parking is a temporary use for the site, which the county bought last year for $7.55 million.
“Arlington County acquired the office building at 3108 Columbia Pike in March 2022, after it was identified as a potential site for a future Columbia Pike branch library and for potential co-location of County Board priorities, such as affordable housing,” the county report said.
The adopted 2023-32 Capital Improvement Plan, however, “anticipates completion of a new Columbia Pike branch library no sooner than 2028 at the earliest, thus presenting opportunities for a temporary use on the site in the interim,” it continued.
The county already determined it cannot save the office building and repurpose it.
“While the site is developed with a vacant, three-story office building, through due diligence completed prior to acquisition, the County determined the building is not fit for re-use and should be demolished,” the report said.
If the hearings are authorized on Saturday and the Board approves and the project, which could happen next month, the Dept. of Environmental Services will demolish the building this summer.
Doing so will expand the number of parking spaces from 63 to 92, per the report, fewer than originally anticipated. The county expected to add 58 spaces for a total of 121, according to a county document from last year.
For now, DES intends to lease the parking to Arlington Public Schools.
“The County has identified an expanded surface parking lot as a recommended interim use, which could support parking needs for the Career Center Campus during its redevelopment project, or accommodate other public parking needs before future redevelopment of the site,” the report said.
The Arlington School Board approved designs for the new, $182.42 million campus last October. Most of the funds were included in the 2022 School Bond referendum, according to an APS webpage.
“The project will now transition into the Use Permit phase and the new Arlington Career Center will be completed in December 2025,” the webpage says.
A letter included in the use permit APS filed for the Career Center in February said the site will accommodate 1,619 students. The site will also fit 775 Montessori Public School of Arlington students for a total of 2,394 students, per another document in the filings.
Residents will have to wait until May to apply for a permit to use on-street parking in their neighborhood.
Two weeks ago Monday, Arlington County opened up applications for its Residential Permit Parking program. RPP restricts parking in certain residential areas near commercial corridors, typically allowing residents and their guests to park during the day while those without permits have to look elsewhere.
Some one hundred applications were processed, but within hours some residents began experiencing issues.
A few reached out to ARLnow, frustrated about the platform timing out and otherwise not handling their requests.
The county informed RPP households on Wednesday, April 5 that it would be pushing back the start of the application season to the week of April 10, which was last week. Yesterday (Monday), the county told ARLnow it now aims to resume the online application process on the first of May.
“We are still working with our vendor to resolve technical issues with the online permit application system,” Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien said. “Due to these unresolved issues, we are now targeting the week of May 1 to have our RPP renewal applications available online.”
The vendor is Conduent, she said. The New Jersey-based company was previously a unit of Xerox.
“We apologize for the continued delay but want to make sure that the system functions correctly for our customers,” O’Brien said, noting that customers will be receiving an update as well.
Normally, the county would begin checking for updated parking permit stickers for the 2023-24 season on July 1. With the delays, enforcement will be pushed back to Aug. 1 “to ensure that RPP materials will get to customers well ahead of when they’re needed.”
Last year, some residents reported not getting their materials ahead of the start of enforcement. They were worried they would be ticketed for not having documentation, though they said they had applied and paid for the stickers. Arlington County issued some temporary tags that people could use until their materials came.
Residents need to apply in advance to allow for enough time for the materials to be printed and sent out, but some were impacted by a delayed printing order, ARLnow was told at the time. Last year, the application process was also delayed, to allow extra time to fine tune what was then new software.
For those wishing to place orders immediately, in-person application and renewal services are available in Room 214 at the county government headquarters, located at 2100 Clarendon Blvd, O’Brien said. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
While road repaving season has kicked off in Arlington, crews are working on local roads for another reason.
They are installing traffic sensors in and marking some 4,500 parking spots in the Rosslyn-Ballston and Pentagon City-Crystal City corridors.
The spots and hardware are the foundation for a three-year, $5.4 million state-funded pilot project testing out a new way to manage parking availability and pricing, dubbed “performance parking,” which kicked off earlier this year.
Currently, parking is at a fixed rate and people have to find spots once they arrive at their destination, which can lead to double-parking or going somewhere else to, for instance, grab a meal.
Using existing meters and keeping the Parkmobile payment platform, the pilot intends to smooth out competition for convenient spots by directing people to cheaper options farther away. Prices would also vary based on time of day.
Arlington County will have a phone-friendly website with real-time availability and pricing data, which may also be accessible from some third-party apps. This information could help people plan where to park ahead of time, decreasing cruising time.
The pilot “is data-driven, using technology to better understand existing park utilization,” Melissa McMahon, the parking and curb space manager for Arlington County, told the Planning Commission this week. “We are actively managing parking supply to make parking more convenient and to reduce the negative impacts of hard-to-find parking.”
To get started, the county has to understand how people use on-street parking right now. Crews are delineating discrete spaces where, currently, it is a free-for-all between two signs, and installing one sensor per space.
Later this year, these wireless, battery-operated, in-ground sensors will start sensing when and for how long a car occupies a space. They will communicate that to “wireless gateways” located on traffic signal poles, which will relay that data to a central network server. That data is converted into a dashboard that county staff will use to make parking decisions.
Once it has enough “existing conditions” data this fall, the Dept. of Environmental Services will pick a range of prices, which it aims to bring to the Arlington County Board for approval this December. After that, for the next two years of the pilot, DES will request permission to change prices once per quarter to see the impact on driver behavior.
“This project does not create dynamically or fast-changing metered pricing,” McMahon said. “It won’t be uncertain on a day to day basis. If you’re going into a neighborhood routinely you’ll have a sense of where the lower price spots are and where the higher priced spots are.”
She said the goal is not to increase overall meter revenue, and blocks with lower rates may cancel out those with higher rates.
An early morning dispute over parking led to a gun being brandished and a car being stolen.
That’s according to today’s Arlington County Police Department crime report.
The incident happened on the 6100 block of Wilson Blvd, in the Dominion Hills area, a bit after midnight. From ACPD:
BRANDISHING, 2023-04060006, 6100 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 12:24 a.m. on April 6, police were dispatched to the report of a stolen vehicle. Upon arrival, it was determined the victim was in his vehicle when the suspect vehicle prevented him from pulling into a parking spot. The driver and passenger of the suspect vehicle exited the vehicle and became involved in a verbal dispute with the victim, during which the driver made threatening statements towards the victim and the passenger brandished a firearm. The victim exited his vehicle and left the area on foot. No injuries were reported. Upon returning, the victim discovered his vehicle, containing his wallet and undisclosed amount of cash, was stolen. Officers canvassed the area and recovered the stolen vehicle nearby.
“The investigation is ongoing,” ACPD said.
(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Arlington County is delaying the Residential Permit Parking online application process until next week due to “unexpected technical issues.”
“Despite testing in advance, our vendor’s Residential Permit Parking online application system is currently down to resolve these technical issues to our satisfaction,” Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien said this morning (Wednesday).
She added that the website is expected to relaunch the week of April 10, which is next Monday.
Annually, people who live in residential areas near commercial corridors pay for permits for street parking in Residential Permit Parking zones. The process typically begins in April and by July, the county begins issuing tickets to people parked in these zones without the new fiscal year’s permit.
The county changed its permitting system last year and had to delay the application window one month to finish making tweaks to the new software. Then, many residents experienced issues obtaining permits in time for enforcement in July, so, to account for late-summer travel, the county delayed ticketing until September.
In a March letter to RPP zone residents, alerting them to the forthcoming application window, the county thanked residents for their patience last year “as we worked through a tricky software transition.”
“We expect this season’s process to be smoother and look forward to serving you again,” said the letter, a copy of which was shared with ARLnow.
But resident David Remus immediately encountered problems when he accessed the system on Monday, the software’s launch day.
The system would not let him add any short-term visitor passes to the order, he told ARLnow. He noticed the system went down that afternoon, perhaps for attempted bug fixes. After it went back online, he said he could not apply for the number of permits he selected.
“When I tried to isolate one type of permit at a time, the system timed out after a few minutes, with an error message stating that the system is not online,” he said. “This is nothing but gross incompetence on the part of the county government.”
Resident Carol Burnett, meanwhile, logged on for the first time while the system was down Monday afternoon.
“Last year the Arlington County residential parking permit program was a mess with lost applications, late arrival of permits and general confusion. They had all sorts of excuses,” she said. “Looks like we’re in for another messy year this year.”
An anonymous tipster opined “It is SUCH a cluster. SUCH a cluster.”
The county processed more than 100 RPP applications on Monday before encountering problems and deciding to take the system offline, O’Brien said.
Residents can either wait for the online system to be re-opened or apply for a permit in-person at the county headquarters at 2100 Clarendon Blvd in Suite 214. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m., O’Brien said.
Residents who need support in the interim can email [email protected] or calling 703-228-3344.
“The seasonal application process will continue for the next several months and we will make sure everyone receives their permits and passes in a timely manner and with no issues involving FY 2024 enforcement, which begins in July,” O’Brien said.
Arlington County made several changes to the program two years ago, reducing available permits for households with driveways, raising fees for additional vehicles and visitor permits, while lowering prices for low-income residents. It also allowed residents in some multifamily buildings to join the program.
A nearly decade-old 5K race through Fairlington supporting a local girl with a rare disease is canceled, possibly indefinitely.
Since 2014, hundreds of Arlingtonians and visitors have participated in the Fairlington 5K, which raises money to fund research for a cure for leukoencephalopathy, or LBSL. The disorder affects the brain and spinal cord of Wakefield High School student Ellie McGinn.
Her P.E. teacher at Abingdon Elementary School initiated the first race in 2014. Since then, her family established the nonprofit, A Cure for Ellie, now Cure LBSL, which supports treatment research and raises awareness about the disease, while the race has attracted those affected by it from as far away as New Zealand.
“It’s been more than I ever could’ve dreamed for,” Ellie’s mother, Beth McGinn, tells ARLnow. “It’s a great community event and brought out the best in everyone here.”
This year would have been the eighth year for the race, but it was canceled due to stepped-up security for local races.
“For the safety and security of participants, spectators and special event staff, ACPD has a longstanding practice of clearing race courses of parked vehicles,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said.
Over the last year, organizers of a few regularly occurring races that “did not have clear courses” were notified that by 2023, ACPD would no longer allow these events to occur if vehicles were parked along the race route.
The policy is intended to avoid drivers accidentally or purposefully striking participants. During last year’s race, police had to escort five individuals who inadvertently drove on the race course, despite public messaging and signage, Savage said.
This policy has been around for nearly a decade, according to Kathy Dalby, the CEO of local running store Pacers Running, which has handled race-day logistics for the Fairlington 5K as well as other races around the county.
“This isn’t a new policy, just probably not enforced across the board,” Dalby said. “We have been paying for car removal and meter charges since probably a year after the Boston Bombings, give or take.”
While ACPD offered to work with Beth McGinn to find a solution, she says she just does not see a way forward right now that keeps the race in Fairlington. Too many people use street parking, and relocating the race may result in fewer participants.
“What made our [race] so successful was also its downfall,” she said. “Thanks to the volume and density of Fairlington, we were able to turn out a lot of people. The civic association, the schools and the farmer’s market would promote it. There’s not that buy-in from everybody if I move it to a park.”
She says she understands the perspective of the police department. In addition to the incidents on the Fairlington 5K course last year, there have been a number of incidents in the last three years in which drivers have intentionally driven into crowds at community fundraisers, protests and foot races.
“It’s coming from a good place,” the mother said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt during my race, either… Right now, that’s the world we’re in.”
Although the race is canceled, Beth McGinn says people are still donating to the cause. The race has raised some $130,000 for research, per the race website, while the A Cure For Ellie cause has raised some $2 million, per the Cure LBSL website.
Right now, there are two drugs in clinical development. Beth McGinn says she hopes these could stop the disease’s progression in Ellie’s body and even help her daughter recover some mobility.
The disease has progressed to the point that Ellie uses a wheelchair at school and for long distances. Still, her mother makes sure to count her blessings.
“She’s a happy camper,” Beth said. “That’s a blessing.”
(Updated at 11 a.m.) Arlington County is suing three residents and the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association over their attempt to stop buses from being parked near their homes.
The county charges that they used the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) process improperly to prevent the approval of a special use permit to allow 29 Arlington Transit (ART) buses to park on a county lot across the street from Washington-Liberty High School while a new ART bus facility is built in Green Valley.
The county says the BZA doesn’t have the authority to hear their case and, without an allegation of harm or potential harm not shared by their neighbors, the residents are not “aggrieved parties” and are thus improperly using the appeal process to block the county’s plans.
“The Applicants sought their appeals simply as a way to undermine the County Board’s authority and to prevent the County Board from approving a special exception use permit for the Subject Property, thereby weaponizing the stay required by Va. Code… and in effect usurping the legislative power of the County Board,” per the lawsuit.
But the residents, who live in two of the five homes on a ridge overlooking the parking lot, argue the county is suing them preemptively while running afoul of its own zoning ordinances. Further, they say the bus activity will seriously undercut their property values and quality of life and suggest the county should buy their homes.
The lawsuit says that one resident’s BZA appeal asked the body to “compel the County Board to purchase some of the Applicant’s properties.”
Both the county and the residents declined to comment to ARLnow on the ongoing lawsuit, set for a hearing in Arlington County Circuit Court later this month.
Arlington County bought the largely industrial site, also known as the Buck site after its previous owner, in 2015 for $30 million to serve a variety of needs.
Arlington Public Schools parked “white fleet” vans there and, as part of an agreement in 2022, the county moved the vans from a part of the site zoned for “light industrial” uses to another zoned for “mixed use,” and park the ART buses in the “light industrial” zone.
This violates an ordinance, a site plan and a deed of covenant governing the property dating to 1985, the civic association alleged in a letter to the County Board in May 2022. The letter says county staff made procedural and substantive missteps that should have invalidated the county’s special use permit application and subsequent action to abandon the right-of-way of a former street on the site.
The civic association alleges that this change came after the county already violated zoning ordinances related to parking and landscaping by conducting motorcycle maneuvering training and storing dumpsters in parking areas while, in landscaped areas, letting trees die and English ivy take over.
As for the new use, they say the noise is unbearable, emissions from the Compressed Natural Gas-powered buses are “toxic,” and vibrations shake nearby homes — leading to their properties becoming “unmarketable” and “uninhabitable.” The BVSCA posted the following video of an ART parking exercise on the site last year.
Residents say the county’s real estate office proposed reducing their property assessments by up to $190,000 and heard from four realtors who say they’d be reluctant to list these properties.
Arlington County police and medics responded to a near-fatal opioid overdose in the Ballston mall parking garage this afternoon.
The initial dispatch went out shortly before 1:30 p.m. for a possible cardiac arrest with CPR in progress after an overdose, inside the county-owned public parking garage. A group of teens was found near the mall elevators on the 6th floor of the garage.
First responders administered the overdose reversal medication Narcan to two people with suspected overdoses and reported that the person initially said to be in cardiac arrest had a pulse but was unconscious, according to scanner traffic.
The fire department established an incident command at the garage and ended up transporting three people to a local hospital via ambulance.
Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed to ARLnow that those involved were juveniles.
“At approximately 1:24 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of possible overdose in the 4200 block of Wilson Boulevard involving three juveniles,” Savage said. “First responders administered NARCAN on two of the juveniles which resulted in positive responses. The three juveniles were transported to an area hospital. The investigation is ongoing.”
A similar incident was reported at the parking garage last week, on a Tuesdy morning.
A group of highly intoxicated teens required medical attention in a stairwell, not far from the entrance to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“At approximately 9:33 a.m., police were dispatched to the 600 block of N. Glebe Road for the report of a Drunk in Public,” Savage said at the time. “Upon arrival, six juveniles showing signs of intoxication were located inside a stairwell of a commercial building. Out of an abundance of caution, they were transported to an area hospital for evaluation. The investigation is ongoing.”
ARLnow did not previously report on the alcohol incident. Between then and now, a police source confirmed to an ARLnow reporter that the juveniles were students at nearby Washington-Liberty High School and were skipping class.
Savage said it was not immediately clear whether today’s incident involved the same group.
“As part of the ongoing investigation, detectives will work to determine if this incident is related to any other reported incidents,” she said.
Today’s overdoses follow several involving students on and off school grounds since the start of December’s holiday break, part of an ongoing opioid epidemic at Arlington’s public schools.
At least three have occurred on school grounds so far this year, including a fatal overdose at Wakefield High School on Jan. 31. That has led to calls for various changes at APS by teachers, parents and School Board members.
(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) An emerging local group is looking to corral the “Wild West” of e-scooter parking in Arlington County.
The embryonic organization, which is calling itself “Purge,” will employ drivers to pile micro-mobility devices parked illegally on private property into vans and — essentially — hold them hostage until the operators of the offending devices pay a $50 invoice fee for their release.
“This is a huge opportunity and issue,” says Will, the founder, who requested to have his last name withheld until the official company launch. “We don’t want to interact with them at all: just pay it and it’ll go back on the street. They’re going to hate that but there’s nothing to say we can’t do that.”
If the business model sounds familiar, that’s because it is quite similar to how controversial Ballston-based trespass towing company Advanced Towing operates. Advanced, however, works within an established state and local regulatory framework, frequent accusations of skirting such laws by those on the undesirable end of their tows notwithstanding.
Arlington County has authorized a number of operators, including Bird, Spin and Lime, to operate some 350 e-bikes and 2,000 e-scooters within its borders. Some locals have long complained that scooter parking blocks pedestrian and, at times, vehicle traffic.
In response, the county has rolled out “corrals” to give people more legal options for parking their scooters, paid for by the cost for operators to do business in Arlington.
“Arlington has made decent strides with the corrals, but they’re a suggestion no one has forced them to operate better or develop incentivization for users to engage in better rider behavior,” Will says.
Billing operators could, he theorizes.
Something similar is happening in San Diego, where a duo impounds scooters in a lot using a flatbed truck. Scooter operators fought back with a lawsuit and later, cease-and-desist letters to private property owners using the impound service. The city has since filed its own lawsuit alleging the way these scooters are parked is a safety hazard.
“We’re trying to offer a balance here. The outcomes are they’re either forced to incentivize better behavior, or the [county] is forced to contract with us,” Will says. “We are working with local attorneys — there’s nothing in place to force them to operate legally. We think we have a low-tech solution that doesn’t require a huge investment.”
When it launches, Purge will only service private property. It doesn’t need impound authorization from private property owners, Will claims, while adding that several local private property managers, including some hotels and apartment buildings, have given the company the thumbs-up to haul away scooters.
Scooters abandoned in public right-of-way, however, could remain tripping hazards and nuisances — for now. Purge would skip mis-parked scooters on public property, at least initially.
For recourse, people can report mis-parked or abandoned devices via Arlington County’s Report a Problem tool, or via the helplines the companies operate. Operators are required to remove improperly parked devices within two hours of a report of mis-parking, according to the county’s website.
The other option is to just step around them, which can be dangerous for people who are blind or in a wheelchair or have another disability that impairs their mobility.
“Mobility only works if it works for everyone,” says Will, pointing out that these companies have raised hundreds of millions and — in some cases — billions of dollars, but in his view have not sufficiently invested in ways to incentivize proper parking.
Many drivers have circled around blocks in Arlington, looking for a quick parking spot to slide into and pick up a mobile food order.
Or they may have skirted around a car double parked in a bike or vehicle travel lane, hazards flashing, rather than waiting for a spot to appear.
During the pandemic, the county created temporary “pick-up, drop-off spots.” Coming out of the emergency, most of these spots were converted to short-term parking spaces, with input from business improvement districts and neighborhood stakeholders, Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien tells ARLnow.
Still, food deliveries and contactless ordering options are likely here to stay. Some businesses that are now more reliant on takeout and delivery are concerned they’ll soon lose revenue as curbside parking spots are repurposed for, among other uses, protected bike lanes.
The county says one solution could be adjusting parking times, armed with data that will be collected through new parking pilot program.
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery in Courthouse (2055 Wilson Blvd), for instance, says it has lost four spots to a bike lane that developer Greystar agreed to install during construction for the “Landmark” block redevelopment project across the street.
(There is also a small private parking lot behind the retail strip.)
Speaking on behalf of Brooklyn Bagel — as well as neighboring businesses Courthouse Kabob, California Tortilla and TNR Cafe — Dawn Houdaigui asked the Board on Jan. 21 for a compromise.
“We believe in the protected bike lanes that have already gone in, that are blocking our spaces now, but we need to understand how we can share the space in front of us and how things can be reconsidered,” she said during the public comment period. “This is super important to the businesses who changed our business model after Covid. We have a lot of deliveries, we have people who come run in out front.”
She asked for more notice of proposed changes as well as notice when spots will be lost.
“A letter went out — supposedly it was hand-delivered by someone having lunch at our bagel store — and supposedly an email went out the same day,” she said. “We missed the meeting. Only one person from the businesses were there.”
County Board Chair Christian Dorsey and County Manager Mark Schwartz referred her to the county’s ombudsman and constituent services.
In general, the county is looking into the twin issues of temporary parking and combatting double-parking both systematically and on a case-by-case basis, O’Brien said.
As for specific cases, like Brooklyn Bagel’s, the county follows a six-step public engagement process for projects that impact neighbors, businesses and property owners.
Next month, Arlington County will hold a community event to kick off a three-year parking pilot program that prices parking by demand in a few highly trafficked corridors.
This is the first official step forward since the Arlington County Board accepted a $5.4 million grant from the Virginia Dept. of Transportation for the “performance parking” program.
The pilot would electronically monitor parking space usage alter parking prices based on the day, time and the number of people competing for a metered parking space along the Rosslyn-Ballston and Crystal City-Pentagon City corridors. It would also give drivers real-time information on spot availability and price.
In the meeting description, Arlington County says the three-year pilot project could “improve the user experience for metered parking spaces in two key commercial and residential corridors in Arlington.”
“Join the project team for a Community Kick-Off meeting to learn more about the pilot project, the technology we’ll be using to inform the project, and share your input on the pilot project’s goals to help us understand your priorities for metered parking spaces in the Rosslyn-Ballston and Route 1 corridors,” per the website.
According to the event page, meeting attendees will be able to:
- Learn about the pilot’s background and purpose
- Get briefed on the status of metered parking in the two Metrorail corridors
- Learn what technology will be used and what data will be collected, and how this will inform the project’s next steps
- Get a first look at a demonstration site
Arlington County Board members approved the program in late 2020 after hashing out concerns from some opponents about how this would impact people with lower incomes. Members were convinced by the case staff made that lower-income people are less likely to have one or more cars and could save money on parking by choosing to park on less-popular streets and for shorter time periods.
Ultimately, however, the pilot project is intended to sort out these concerns and “map out any mitigations that are necessary,” parking planner Stephen Crim said at the time.
Project proponent Chris Slatt said at the time that variable-price parking ensures that spots are generally available where and when people want them. He pointed to the city of San Francisco, which found that the program made it easier for people to find parking. This reduced double parking, improved congestion and lowered greenhouse gas emissions.
An online Q&A about the project lists as goals, “Drivers spend less time looking for on-street parking” and “Vehicle miles travelled resulting from on-street parking search or ‘cruising’ are reduced.” That will come at a cost, though, as parking rates are increased in busy areas.
The virtual community kick-off meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 23 from 7-8:30 p.m.