Arlington, VA

Amid the pandemic, Arlington County is sifting through which planning processes are ready to continue moving forward and which ones are being delayed.

The County recently announced that it is still moving forward with plans for updating guidelines for development in Pentagon City, a relatively time-critical issue with Amazon’s permanent HQ2 under construction nearby.

The county’s Lee Highway planning process is also moving forward, with public workshops fortuitously wrapping up before the pandemic hit Arlington. Like the Pentagon City plan, the Lee Highway process is endeavoring to shape how new development takes place along the corridor. The central theme is, over time and through land use policies, replacing the car-focused strip malls along the corridor with clusters of mixed-use development that could bring in more housing, particularly affordable housing.

“Since the Plan Lee Highway public workshop in February, the County’s planning team synthesized what they heard and shared those results with the community late March,” Jessica Margarit, a spokesperson for the Department of Community Planning, Housing & Development said. “Using that input, they have been busy developing the Neighborhood Character Report and the Cultural Resources Survey report. They anticipate publishing these by the end of July.”

Those closely following the Resident Permit Parking (RPP) Review project, though, might be disappointed to learn that project has hit some delays. The RPP restricts on-street parking near Metro corridors and other high-demand areas to residents and their guests during certain times of the day. The program has been criticized for favoring single-family homeowners over apartment dwellers, many of whom don’t have access to the same permits.

Staff had started planning for open houses and discussions early this year, but those plans were waylaid by the pandemic.

“The Residential Permit Parking Review project has been delayed due to the pandemic,” said Katie O’Brien, a spokesperson for the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services. “The County had to postpone the deliberative dialogues and open house that were scheduled for early spring 2020. Staff is in discussion with leadership on how best to proceed given the current situation. An update will be posted on the project website once we have more information.”

Image via Arlington County

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Arlington has been removing some parking spaces to facilitate the expansion of outdoor dining in two local neighborhoods.

The County Board approved a process for restaurants to apply for expanded, temporary outdoor dining areas in late May. Since then, county crews have blocked off street parking spots in six places to allow pedestrians to better get around the sidewalk cafes.

According to Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, the repurposed parking spaces are located in the Shirlington and Clarendon areas, including:

  • Washington Boulevard between Wilson Blvd and 13th St N, about 2 parking spaces
  • Wilson Blvd between N Cleveland St and N Danville St, about 4 parking spaces
  • Wilson Blvd between N Hudson St and N Irving St, about 6 parking spaces
  • S Campbell St between S Arlington Mill Dr and S Quincy St, all on-street parking spaces
  • West side of S Randolph St immediately south of S Campbell St, a few spaces (exact number not available at this time)
  • West side of S Quincy St immediately south of S Campbell St (exact number not available at this time)

Crews were seen blocking off the Shirlington parkings areas Monday morning.

DES spokesman Peter Golkin said additional parking spaces may be repurposed as restaurants apply for Temporary Outdoor Seating Areas (TOSAs), though no additional, specific locations are currently planned.

“We are creating pedestrian space around outdoor seating as restaurants apply for outdoor seating,” Golkin said.

Jay Westcott contributed to this report

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) It was a seemingly uncontroversial item on the County Board agenda: shifting a temporary parking lot for television station WETA down the block, in order to allow renovations to Jennie Dean Park to proceed.

But the proposal, which was approved unanimously last night after a detailed discussion, ended up raising questions about race, equity and public engagement. It was the subject of a recent op-ed published by the Sun Gazette entitled “Arlington government again fails Green Valley,” accusing the county of repeatedly ignoring the wishes of the historically Black neighborhood.

“While millions marched for equity and racial justice last week, the Arlington County government posted a board agenda item that turns these actions into mere slogans,” wrote Green Valley Civic Association members Robin Stombler and Portia Clark. “A license agreement would have the county government turn a newly acquired $1 million property in the Green Valley community into a parking lot for WETA. This action is but one in a series of events that draw attention to the inequity systemic within the county.”

The discussion at Tuesday’s County Board meeting did not include much talk of race or equity. Instead, it mostly addressed the practical matter at hand: about 10 employees of the nearby WETA facility, which produces the PBS NewsHour, were parking on a temporary, county-owned lot that is set to become a playground in Phase 1 of the Jennie Dean expansion. To allow construction to move forward, they would be moved to a lot a short distance away on S. Four Mile Run Drive, between a small commercial building and the Weenie Beenie.

Demolition of the building that will become the new WETA lot started last week, a county staffer said. Heavy construction on the park is set to begin in late summer or early fall. Without use of the current temporary lot, “we would not be able to build out the project as designed,” the staffer said.

The Green Valley neighborhood didn’t want the current WETA lot and doesn’t want the new lot, said Stombler. And notification of the change — it was advertised in the lightly-read Washington Times newspaper, as are Arlington’s other public notices — was inadequate.

“Publishing notices in the Washington Times and considering it an outreach method is very telling of how the county regards Green Valley and community input in general,” Stomber said. We deserve much better… The county’s engagement processes must be improved.”

The remarks echo complaints from Green Valley residents two years about the lengthy design process for Jennie Dean Park.

“This community has been ignored repeatedly by the Arlington County Board while the requests and desires of several other, predominantly white, Arlington neighborhoods are being placed ahead of those of the people who live here,” one resident told ARLnow at the time.

“I feel like we’re second class citizens,” said a resident during the public comment period last night.

Nonetheless, under an agreement approved by the Board, WETA will be granted temporary use of the newly-created lot for a year, after which its use can be reevaluated. Eventually, the lot will become part of park, in the second phase of its expansion. And the county will get something in return for the temporary use.

“The compensation to the County for the Amended and Restated License Agreement will be in the form of 12, 15-second promotional underwriting credit spots on WETA’s radio programs during each calendar year,” a staff report says.

Stombler and Clark — who support the expansion of WETA’s Shirlington headquarters that will see its aging NewsHour studio eventually demolished — said that the radio ads will not do anything to benefit the neighborhood.

“The county government must reassess its engagement processes to correct these actions, and must be held accountable for practices that marginalize segments of our community,” the op-ed said. “More innovative and compassionate solutions should be encouraged. Local hiring, paid internships, job fair hosting and community clean-ups beat 12 ego-boosting radio spots any day.”

Photos (1-2) via Arlington County, (3-4) via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Vigil Planned Saturday in Green ValleyUpdated at noon — “Delegate Alfonso Lopez, Black Parents of Arlington and Yolande Kwinana will be hosting a vigil at Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School Field, to honor those who have died at the hands of police. Speakers will enlighten the community on what they can do to help enact change in our Arlington.” [Facebook]

Ballston Macy’s Redevelopment Proposal Delayed — “The owner of air rights above the [potentially for sale] Macy’s building in Ballston will have additional time to move forward with a planned redevelopment of the space, if County Board members act on its request June 13. Board members are being asked to extend until July 2023 the ability of the owner to come to the county government with a development plan. The current site plan, which sets out development parameters for the parcel, was set to expire in several weeks.” [InsideNova]

Local CrossFit Gym Speaks Out — “Replacing one CEO for another is not real change. We welcome the retirement of CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman as a step in the right direction, but we find it woefully inadequate. The appointment of Dave Castro as new CEO is unmistakably a tone deaf move that is shying away from making any difficult and meaningful change.” [@crossfitsoutharlington/Instagram]

Op-Ed: Parking Proposal Not Fair to Green Valley — “While millions marched for equity and racial justice last week, the Arlington County government posted a board agenda item that turns these actions into mere slogans. A license agreement would have the county government turn a newly acquired $1 million property in the Green Valley community into a parking lot for WETA. This action is but one in a series of events that draw attention to the inequity systemic within the county.” [InsideNova]

Caps Resuming Practices in Ballston — “The Washington Capitals have announced their date for small group activities to resume: Thursday, June 11. The announcement comes a day after MedStar Capitals Iceplex, the team’s practice facility, posted it would begin the state’s Phase 2 reopening plan this weekend. According to the Capitals, MedStar Capitals Iceplex will remain closed to the public.” [Russian Machine Never Breaks, Washington Capitals]

Nearby: Fairfax Co. Expects Office Vacancy Spike — “Fairfax County’s office vacancy rate is likely to suffer as remote meetings continue to be the norm, the county’s economic development chief warned in early June. Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, delivered that warning to the county board of supervisors during a June 2 meeting.” [Washington Business Journal]

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A Maryland man is facing multiple charges after police say a dispute over a parking space escalated to violence.

The incident happened shortly before noon Sunday, on the 4400 block of 31st Street S. near Shirlington and a number of apartment buildings.

Police say two drivers “became engaged in a dispute over a parking spot” that resulted in the suspect assaulting the victim after the victim had parked. The suspect also drew a gun during the incident, according to an Arlington County Police Department crime report.

More from ACPD:

BRANDISHING, 2020-04190043, 4400 block of 31st Street S. At approximately 11:41 a.m. on April 19, police were dispatched to the report of a person with a gun. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim and suspect became engaged in a dispute over a parking spot. After the victim parked, the suspect exited his vehicle, allegedly approached the victim, grabbed him and assaulted him. The suspect then went inside of a residential building, but immediately returned and brandished a firearm at the victim, before fleeing into the building again. During the course of the investigation, officers developed a possible suspect description. Officers located and made contact with the suspect and took him into custody without incident. The victim was transported to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Desmond Young, 30, of Fort Washington, Md., was arrested and charged with Strangulation, Brandishing a Firearm and Assault & Battery.

File photo

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It’s March, which means the Crosshairs Garage Races has started its 6th season of racing bicycles in parking garages in Crystal City.

Every Tuesday evening through the end of the month, cyclists from across the Washington area descend into the garage at 201 12th Street S. and compete in an event that Washingtonian called the “best use of a garage that doesn’t involve your car.” The series was formerly known as Wednesday Night Spins.

Over 100 racers in three categories put a number on their bicycles and raced through a course of taped-off sections that zig-zagged through the lower levels of the garage. Co-organizer and promoter Taylor Jones loves the sense of community that the races bring.

“It’s a unique opportunity for non-traditional cycling demographics to try racing,” he said. “It’s awesome to live in a place that supports something like this.”

Beverages were plentiful, as was pie from Acme Pie owner Sol Schott. Emcee Nate Graham DJ’ed and offered commentary throughout the night.

“Everybody comes together as a midweek break from the grind and plays bikes in a parking garage,” Graham said. “What’s not to love?”

Beginner’s race winner Mac Maheen, 24, of Bowie, Md., thought it was a “super cool event.” New to bike racing, this was Maheen’s third-ever race.

“There were a lot of turns, staying under control and out of trouble was the most important thing,” Maheen said. “It’s super fun. Who would have thought something this cool would be in a parking garage?”

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A plan is currently in process to transform the Arlington Court Suites hotel into an apartment complex, but at a Transportation Commission meeting last week the project hit a small snag as commissioners unanimously agreed the project might have too much parking.

The plan would convert the 187 hotel rooms in the Arlington Court Suites into a 180-unit residential property called Park Arlington at Courthouse. The current plans do not call for any major demolition work and staff said the proposed residential units would likely be less expensive than new construction at the same site.

The applicant could maintain as hotel use, staff said, but this project would help meet the demand for mid-rise housing at a middle-income level.

While the project is only two blocks south of the Court House Metro station, the parking ratio would increase in the new plans. Currently, there are 153 parking spaces and the proposal would elevate that to 171 spaces. Many of those would be located on a surface parking lot, with the rest in a garage under the building. The plan also calls for 76 bicycle parking spaces.

Transportation Commission member Audrey Clement, who earlier in the meeting had expressed opposition both the Veitch Street redevelopment and the Missing Middle housing study, shared her general support for the Park Arlington project, with one main objection.

“I really do support this project,” Clement said. “This is right up my alley. It does not involve the demolition of an existing property… I’m very impressed with this project, but in one respect it is not consistent with County policy, and that is the parking ratio.”

In 2017, the county adopted a new policy that said the parking ratio should be reduced from one space per unit to as low as 0.2 spaces per unit in certain areas near Metro stations.

“I do believe this project would be more consistent with county policy if it reduced the number of parking spaces and what I’m particularly interested in is the surface parking. Has the developer considered replacing some or all of the surface parking with green space? This would be a benefit to the residents of this facility.”

“It is a huge parking lot and the only way to get into the building is through the parking lot,” said Transportation Commission member Jim Lantelme. “It’s still way too auto-oriented… This parking lot is just enormous and it really doesn’t work for me. There’s nothing like this site anymore. If we’re going to have adaptive reuse, we have to adapt it to the current requirements.”

The agreement on the Transportation Commission took some of the members by surprise.

“I never thought I would hear myself say this, but I 100% agree with everything you just said,” said Transportation Commission member Richard Price. “I never thought I would hear myself say this, but Commissioner Clement hit it right on the head… All I see is ugly surface parking and I’m glad you’re going to address it. There are lots of sites that all you have to get the front entrance is walk through a parking lot. That is disturbing and that needs to change, and it needs to start changing now.”

Others said that along with the parking lot reduction, the sidewalk needs to be widened.

The developer said that an alternative plan could eliminate the surface parking, but more market research needs to be done. If the building winds up as condos, the developer said there would be a higher demand for parking. The developer noted that the widening the sidewalk on N. Courthouse Road, however, is complicated by things like utilities and a retaining wall.

Photo via Google Maps

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

At this point, the bike lane blocking problems on Crystal Drive are well understood. The combination of popular retail establishments, standard painted bike lanes and entitled drivers leads to non-functional bike lanes.

The parkingdirty.com data-gathering effort I led back in 2016 found that they are blocked between 50% and 64% of waking hours.

The “data-protected bike lane” effort last year by the folks at OurStreets found that during morning rush, evening rush and lunch time, the Crystal Drive lane was blocked nearly 90% of the time.

The situation on Hayes Street by the Pentagon City Metro entrance is similarly dire, though less well-studied. Parkingdirty.com found they were blocked between 51% and 63% of waking hours and it is a common complaint area on Twitter.

Now a development project is moving forward that is currently on-track to duplicate these same mistakes. JBG Smith’s 1900 Crystal Drive project proposes to build two large residential towers on Crystal Drive between 18th and 20th Streets. The project will upgrade the sidewalks on its street frontage and provide new on-street parking spaces, but it proposes unprotected, paint-only bike lanes on both Crystal Drive and 18th Street.

To make matters worse, the project proposes significant new retail all along Crystal Drive and the corner of 18th and Crystal Drive will eventually be home to a 2nd entrance to the Crystal City Metro Station. The Metro station entrance and the new retail will generate significant pick-up and drop-off activity; where will people do this pick-up and drop-off? Where will people park for “just a minute” while they run into the retail? Our experience on Crystal Drive and Hayes Street give us the answer: in the bike lane.

Calls during the Site Plan Review (SPRC) process to provide a protected bike lane along the street frontages have not been accepted by staff, at least as of the last SPRC meeting. Staff acknowledges that the Crystal Drive bike lanes are a problem, but maintain that two blocks of protected bike lane in front of this one development aren’t helpful and that instead the County must find a comprehensive solution for this entire stretch and that the curb-to-curb width being provided by the development is sufficient for this.

Unfortunately, they have not provided a plan to find this comprehensive solution. They have not indicated a timeline for finding this comprehensive solution. They have not identified a funding source for this comprehensive solution.

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A man was carjacked in the Pentagon City mall parking garage last week, the latest in a spate of such incidents over the past few months.

The crime happened just before 2 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23.

“The male victim parked and exited his vehicle when he was approached by an unknown suspect,” Arlington County Police said in a crime report. “The suspect brandished a firearm, demanded the victim’s keys and fled the scene in the victim’s vehicle.”

“The suspect is described as a black male, skinny build, approximately 6’06” tall wearing a dark jacket and dark pants,” the crime report continues. “The victim’s vehicle is described as a black Mercedes C300 with Maryland license plate 4DF8053.”

There have been a number of robberies and attempted robberies in the garage since last summer.

In July, a would-be armed robber was shot and killed with his own gun in the mall parking garage, at 1100 S. Hayes Street. Most recently, on Sunday, Jan. 19, a woman was sitting in her car inside the garage when a man with a gun approached and stole her cell phone, according to a crime report.

ROBBERY, 2020-01190177, 800 block of Army Navy Drive. At approximately 5:25 p.m. on January 19 an officer on patrol was flagged down by a citizen requesting assistance. The investigation determined that between 5:05 p.m. and 5:20 p.m., the female victim was sitting inside her parked vehicle when an unknown suspect approached her, brandished a firearm and demanded her cell phone. The suspect fled the scene on foot after stealing the cell phone. The suspect is described as a black male, late teens to early 20’s, wearing a dark colored sweater, a hoodie pulled over his head and dark pants. The investigation is ongoing.

NBC 4 reported on Friday that the crimes have left shoppers “on edge.” The mall did not respond to the station’s request for comment.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington has over 30 acres of valuable public real estate that it is terribly mismanaging.

The County provides it to some, but not all residents for the express purpose of storing their private property. Some residents can use it for free, others pay a tiny pittance of $20 per year. Many residents, primarily the young and least affluent are forbidden from using it at all. Virtually every inch of it has been paved over.

Perhaps worst of all, those special residents who are allowed to use it, rarely do so. Over 50% of the time this land is sitting completely empty.

I’m speaking, of course, about Arlington’s on-street Residential Parking Permit Program parking spaces.

You’d be forgiven for not realizing any of this — the conversations about on-street parking in the County would make you think the exact opposite. You can’t show up at a development approval public hearing without hearing about the parking scarcity in Arlington. Penrose’s “parking crisis” is a regular topic of conversation at my neighborhood’s Civic Association meetings.

The cold, hard, data from the County’s parking occupancy study paints a very different picture, however. While on-street parking on commercial corridors is often at 85-100% occupancy, especially during evening hours, neighborhood streets with Residential Parking Permit (RPP) restrictions average less than 50% occupancy, even in the hours when those RPP restrictions aren’t in effect. During school hours, nearly every residential block in the County’s detailed study area is under 50%.

In a County as space-constrained as Arlington, we simply must make better use of this public land. Our tax money is used to maintain it; its imperviousness worsens flood risks for all of our homes; and as long as it is on-street parking, it cannot be rain gardens, parklets or bike infrastructure to get our kids safely to school.

Two current problems facing the County could greatly benefit from this land, and some simple changes to the RPP program could accomplish them.

First, Restaurant Row on 23rd St in Crystal City, which is home to many dearly-loved and locally-owned restaurants has very little dedicated parking. This recently received a lot of renewed attention due to the potential redevelopment of a private parking lot in the immediate vicinity. One business owner, specifically lamented the loss of lunch business in his testimony to the Transportation Commission. A large part of the loss of nearby parking near Restaurant Row, is due to those blocks acquiring RPP restrictions of the last decade.

While some sort of restrictions may be necessary to prevent commuter parking, the existing RPP restrictions have clearly gone much, much too far, especially when it comes to during the work day. Nearly all of the nearby blocks are under 60% occupancy at lunch time on weekdays.

There are several ways the RPP program could be changed that would help support these businesses without overly burdening nearby residents. Two hour parking could be allowed in RPP zones without a zone permit. To make this easier to enforce, parking meters could be installed. If this might result in too much commercial parking it could be limited to only during the work day, or only on one side of the street.

Second, the expansion of Arlington’s Career Center is currently working its way through Public Facilities Review Committee and how to accommodate the school’s parking needs is one of the hottest topics of conversation. The County estimates that the expanded Career Center will need 400-500 total parking spaces.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Any time Arlington County gets access to land within our 26 square miles is a cause for celebration. It also requires a firm commitment to make the best possible use of this extremely limited and valuable resource.

On December 14, the County Board may vote to acquire the benefit of a new piece of property just blocks from the Crystal City Metro Station. We need to make sure this opportunity isn’t undone by the cry for parking.

South Arlington’s Crystal House apartment complex, comprised of two 1960s-era high-rise buildings, is slated for infill development. The site plan will be on the County Board’s December 14 agenda.

The staff recommendation contains what Planning Commissioners called a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for achieving the Crystal City Zoning Ordinance’s affordable housing obligation. Instead of providing 47 units of committed affordable housing within the complex, Roseland is offering to convey one portion of their property, currently a surface parking lot, to the County. The understanding is that the County could develop this property with at least 81 units of committed affordable housing.

The benefits of this proposal are enticing.

First, by owning the land and working with an Affordable Housing developer, the County Board could create units that would remain affordable to low-income residents for 60 years, unlike the typical 30-year term for on-site affordable units within market-rate developments. Second, the location of this parcel at 22nd and Eads would provide excellent transportation access for the building’s residents. Third, by owning and developing the property, the County could provide a much-needed community facility for the 22202 ZIP code, in addition to the committed affordable housing, such as we see at Arlington Mill.

But these positive benefits are future opportunities that will require a commitment to realize. The only thing Arlington would get in the short-term is a surface parking lot. And it is a particularly contested parking lot. Business owners from the adjacent “23rd Street Restaurant Row” see these 96 spaces as the key to their business.

Any effort to build on the parking lot will continue to face pushback from the merchants. Roseland is offering this parcel not only to achieve bonus density on their site, but also to get out of the parking fight. By accepting the land, Arlington County is stepping into a battle that could stymie any effort to achieve affordable housing.

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