Arlington, VA

Arlington County is asking residents how and when they use athletic fields.

The County’s Public Spaces Master Plan, adopted in April 2019, calls for a public survey every five years to garner feedback to determine how and when Arlingtonians use the available athletic fields.

The collected data will be used to update the permit process, availability of fields, and who has access when.

“We have a finite amount of park spaces,” Jerry Solomon, Community Engagement Manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation, writes to ARLnow in an email. “Our goal is to ensure we are using them as efficiently and effectively as possible. We need to determine if we are offering field spaces at times that people can best access them.”

Fields for adult soccer leagues, for example, are most needed outside of typical working hours. Baseball diamonds for Little League should be accessible when the players are, like on weekends or after school.

This survey will help make sure this is the case, plus provide additional data that may not be as self-explanatory.

The survey specifically asks about activity start and end times for different age groups as well, like if kids 9 and youngers should end their field use prior sundown on weekdays and who should have access to lighted fields.

In total, Arlington has 96 athletic fields — a mix of rectangular fields (35), diamond fields (42), and a combination of the two (19). That can be further broken down into lighted (37) and not lighted fields (59) as well as natural grass (80) and synthetic turf fields (16).

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the fields that have the most use on an individual basis are the lighted, synthetic turf fields. On average, each one of those fields gets more than 2,100 hours of play per year. This is compared to an average of 700 hours per non-lighted, natural grass field.

For years, which fields got lights has been a source of community contention.

Athletic field use in Arlington is often not a free-for-all or on a first-come, first-serve basis. Nearly all of the fields are either only accessible to permit holders or priority is given to permit holders.

Only six of the 96 athletic fields in Arlington are available as drop-in fields, or “community fields.” Even those, though, can be reserved for scheduled programs or practices.

That has drawn the ire of some residents, like those who live near Pentagon City and want to see one or both of the softball diamonds at Virginia Highlands Park opened up for community use.

There’s even a tiered priority system for the allocation of permits, which was first recommended in 2016 due to an “inequity” that existed in how fields were allocated.

Arlington Public Schools are given first priority, then county-organized non-profit youth sport leagues, then adult leagues, then for-profit sports leagues, and, finally, individual rentals or other organizations.

Some fields also have agreements with local universities for their use.

All of this, plus Arlington’s growing population, is resulting in heavy use and demand for athletic fields. According to the PSMP, the county could need an additional 11 rectangular and 2 diamond fields by 2035 to maintain the current levels of use and access.

The hope is that the survey and public feedback will allow for better, more efficient, and more fair use of the limited field space.

This survey will be open until the end of the month, says Solomon, at which point DPR will review and report findings to the Public Spaces Master Plan Implementation Committee in the spring.

There could be more opportunities to provide feedback come the spring and summer, Solomon noted.

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If you’re looking for a kid-friendly outdoor adventure, parks and rec employees just left 17 winter-themed chalk obstacle courses at parks around Arlington.

The Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation’s “Super Squad” has been leaving chalk obstacles for kids throughout the pandemic. They should last for a week if the weather holds, according to department spokesperson Susan Kalish, though some rain is in the forecast for Sunday.

“These festive obstacle courses are specifically designed to provide fun physical activity and important sensory input that aids in self-regulation,” Kalish told ARLnow. “By placing chalk obstacle courses in a variety of locations we will be providing a self-facilitated fun physical activity that can be accessed at any time.”

Clues for obstacle locations can be found on one of the department’s Facebook pages.

Below is a video from the Super Squad in action in October.

Screenshot via Arlington County

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Benjamin Banneker Park could open sometime before Christmas, about one year after work started and a few months behind schedule.

“We just have a few final items that we are working on,” said Arlington County Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish in an email. “When the park opens, you’ll find a bigger park.”

The new park is 1.8 acres larger, the W&OD and Four Mile Run trails are four feet wider, and the park’s amenities have been upgraded, she said. The $2.5 million project was given the green light in September 2019. Work started in December 2019 and was originally slated to finish in the third quarter of 2020, according to the project page.

“Due to COVID-19, the manufacture and shipping of the play equipment was delayed, necessitating the projected opening of the park to fourth quarter 2020,” said Erik Beach, a Parks and Recreation staff member, in an email.

The playground for children ages 2 to 12 got new equipment, including an obstacle balance course, rock climbing, and “soaring play towers with sky-high slides,” Kalish said.

The athletic field, meanwhile, has been expanded to the west to allow parts of the turf to rest while other parts are used, she said. Spectators will also find updated seating.

The parking lot was resurfaced and striped to improve connections between amenities and to make the dog park, fields and trail more accessible for people with disabilities. The two widened trails include a new pathway configuration around the playground, she said.

Upgrades to the picnic area include new seatings and furnishings, canopy trees and native plantings, and the dog park has new entrances and structures for dogs to explore.

While work has been ongoing, pedestrians and bicyclists using the W&OD trail had to take a detour to the busy intersection of N. Sycamore Street and 19th Street N.

After recent heavy rains, some residents have noted that part of the park tends to flood.

“Like most County parks, Benjamin Banneker Park is predominantly in a floodplain and there will always be lingering moisture due to the geographical nature of its location,” Kalish said.

But Beach said some of the drainage issues people saw during construction have been addressed as work finishes.

“Stormwater management and mitigation measures to treat pollutants include permeable pavement at the walkways and bench seating areas in the playground and a stormwater facility to treat runoff in the parking lot,” Kalish said.

These measures meet the state stormwater management requirements, and the site is graded and designed for water to flow towards Four Mile Run, she said.

Kalish said the department is still fixing a separate drainage issue in the playground’s sand pit, so the sand pit will not be available “for a bit” after the park opens.

“Once we have everything completed the park should run as smoothly as any park that in a floodplain,” she said.

Other mitigating efforts Kalish listed included planting more plant beds around the dog park, field and playground, and adding more than 600 sapling trees. A natural safety surface was installed in half of the playground area for better drainage.

“The County rejected some small areas of the safety surfacing installation, which has since been corrected,” Beach said.

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That’s one of the questions Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation is asking as it begins a two year-long process to update its Forestry and Natural Resources Plan (FNRP). The new plan will include “a variety of long-term goals, strategies and priorities that address tree canopy in a comprehensive, systematic manner,” according to the project website.

The public is now being asked to weigh in on how to improve nature, tree canopy and natural areas within the 16,500 acres of a county that, as of 2017, has a tree canopy of 41%. That’s the same percentage as when the FNRP’s predecessor, the 2004 Urban Forest Master Plan, was approved.

The visioning and information gathering process for the FNRP began in November and will continue through next February with yet-to-be-scheduled community and focus group meetings. A draft plan will be drawn up for public review by September 2021, and, after another period of public engagement the final draft plan is scheduled to come out in February 2022,  with County Board approval set for May 2022.

The FNRP is part of the Public Spaces Master Plan (which is a component of the County’s Comprehensive Plan) and will “serve as the guiding document for Arlington County’s management practices related to trees, plants, wildlife and more,” according to the project website. “This plan will cover topics regarding impacts and opportunities related to Arlington’s tree canopy, natural lands, urban development, wildlife, recreation, public education and stewardship among others.”

Questions to the public include:

  • How frequently do you visit Arlington’s natural areas (e.g., forests/ woods, meadows, streams, etc.)?
  • What are your favorite types of natural areas to visit?
  • What do you think are the best ways to conserve and expand Arlington’s natural resources?
  • If you could snap your fingers, what would be your one wish to improve nature in Arlington?
  • What do you think is the biggest threat to the future of Arlington’s natural resources and tree canopy?
  • What would you hope Arlington’s natural resources and tree canopy look like in 30 years?
  • What areas of opportunity are there to EXPAND Arlington’s tree canopy?

The county produced a video, below, to promote the update to the plan and the accompanying public survey.

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(Updated at 9:45 p.m.) A neighborhood group’s years-long battle against softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park in the Pentagon City area is continuing.

The Aurora Highlands Civic Association doesn’t have anything against the sport itself, but asserts that the permit-priority fields on the west side of the park at 1600 S. Hayes Street could be better used as unprogrammed open space.

To prove the point, the association last week sent a letter — and a produced video — to the Arlington County Board highlighting community use of one field during the pandemic, after organized sports activities were cancelled.

“Cancellation of organized sports in the spring allowed community members to put Livability concepts into action over the summer, transforming one of VHP’s softball field spaces into a continuously used public space for art installations, social distancing meetups, and varied casual uses from kite flying, exercising, and families playing with their kids,” wrote AHCA President Scott Miles.

“Events and performances like Zumba classes and Music and Picnic in the Park on Saturdays have gathered over 80 people at a time, all safely distanced, even while other casual uses continue alongside,” he added.

Four years ago, the association released a proposal calling for the removal of the softball fields in favor of space that was open to all.

“The fields are significantly underused relative to other facilities and especially to open space,” the proposal said. “Each field is used for approximately 600 hours per year out of a potential of 4,380 hours (12 hours a day), a total of less than 14% of the time.”

Miles wrote last week that the recent community experience proves the point that the fields are underused when designated primarily for softball.

“With greater casual use access over the past five months supported by [the Dept. of Parks and Recreation] and local stakeholders, the space has been used more heavily and continuously than ever before, helping support local restaurants, build a sense of shared community, and provide diverse and equitable access to all area residents,” he wrote.

Other initiatives are in the works for the park. A new, temporary community garden has been added, and a proposed temporary dog park near the softball fields has received financial backing from Amazon.

The letter to the County Board — with some links added — is below, along with a video produced by the local group Livability 22202.

Read More

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The Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation is asking residents if they would attend indoor programs and classes this winter.

In an email sent yesterday, the parks department announced that as staff prepare for winter, they are exploring opportunities for safe indoor classes and programs.

The survey asks whether residents are comfortable attending or sending children to indoor programming, or whether they would rather stick with virtual activities.

“It’s really to take folks’ temperature,” spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.

Whether the department hosts programs this winter is “not up to us — it’s up to the guidelines,” she said, referencing state health guidelines.

One guideline in Phase 3 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s Forward Virginia plan, initiated in August, tells establishments to keep 10 feet of distance between attendees when exercise activities, singing or cheering are involved. In all other settings, the minimum distance required is six feet.

Program sizes will be smaller and in some cases, due to constraints, particular classes may not be viable, Kalish said.

Community centers will have one-way entrances and exits, be reconfigured and cleaned more frequently, the email said.

Options for physical activities range from gymnastics to therapeutic adapted services, and other suggested topics for programming include history, music, science and discovery, languages and nature.

The parks department continues to offer virtual programs for people of all ages, abilities and interests. For now, the department said outdoor spaces are open and it continues to run “Programs in the Park (while the weather is good).”

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Morning Notes

Nonprofit Won’t Return to Arlington Office — “The American Diabetes Association isn’t planning a return to the Crystal City headquarters it left Alexandria for a few years back, not even when a Covid-19 vaccine is readily available and it’s safe to go back to the office again. The nonprofit is seeking to sublease all of its space at 2451 Crystal Drive, about 80,000 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

Voter Registration Open Until Midnight — “A judge on Wednesday granted a request from civil rights groups to extend Virginia’s voter registration deadline until Oct. 15 after the state’s online system crashed on the final day of the registration period, according to Virginia’s attorney general.” [Axios, Press Release]

Oh, Deer — The regional deer population has been increasing during the pandemic, which is making driving more dangerous this fall as deer potentially become “too comfortable” around roads. [NBC 4]

Park Rangers Patrolling for Rogue Mountain Bikers — “Park rangers have been patrolling the parks to keep the mountain bike riders off the natural trails. ‘We put up barriers in places where we can. We put up signs … in key areas we put up some things to block their access … but we’re focusing on education,’ Abugattas said.” [WTOP]

Voting Lines Should Move Quickly — “Arlington election officials are advising the public not to be dissuaded if lines for voting, either in advance of Nov. 3 or on Election Day itself, seem long. ‘You can expect to see a pretty long line, but that’s because of the spacing we’re trying to put between voters,’ county director of elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said.” Also, the Reinemeyer said the county is already fully staffed with volunteer poll workers. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Certification for Sheriff’s Office — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office has met all applicable Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards following an audit that was conducted earlier this year.” [Arlington County]

Pentagon City Planning Meeting Tonight — “Participate in a virtual workshop about Arlington’s community planning process for Pentagon City! The first workshop will include small group discussions about the community’s vision for the Pentagon City Area.” [Arlington County]

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A portion of Virginia Highlands Park, near Pentagon City, is being transformed into a vibrant display of gardening through a new agricultural initiative.

The Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture, National Landing BID, Livability 22202 and Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation collaborated to develop a project that is revitalizing a strip of land in the park for a temporary demonstration garden. The project, called the Highlands Urban Garden (HUG), is located at 1600 S. Hayes Street.

Project HUG will include a display of various irrigation systems, while showcasing how to counter challenging soil conditions and how edge spaces in parks can be converted to functioning gardens. Produce from the garden will be donated to local food pantries.

The garden — which volunteers broke ground on Sept. 27 — utilizes the space adjacent to the tennis court practice wall at the park. This fall marks the initial installation and preparation of this pilot site for a spring planting season.

“Project HUG will revitalize underused land near the park’s tennis courts and illustrate how otherwise fallow spaces can be transformed into productive land that builds a vibrant ecosystem,” said Arlington FOUA Board President Robin Broder. “The Highlands Urban Garden will serve as a model for future community-driven agriculture features throughout Arlington’s urban neighborhoods.”

A team of neighborhood volunteers will maintain and manage the garden. On-site signage will inform community members about the practices used in caring for a planned mix of edible vegetative crops, native plants and pollinators.

The rectangular strip of land HUG occupies will consist of three bays of six fabric grow bags connected to automatic irrigation systems. The garden will also feature smart sensors to track water, light, fertilizer and temperature that can be used as part of a long-term data collection effort for STEM curricula at local schools.

“We are pleased to collaborate with our partners in the community to expand natural elements throughout National Landing’s built environment by transforming land on the margins and in unexpected places,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, Executive Director of National Landing BID, formerly known as the Crystal City BID. “The Highlands Urban Garden will invoke curiosity and joy in passersby, residents and park visitors alike.”

As a part of the temporary design of the garden, there will not be any below grade digging or disturbance of the grounds at the site.

Photos courtesy Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture

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Planning is underway for a temporary dog park in Rosslyn that could eventually become permanent.

The dog park will be built in an underutilized grassy area on the west end of Gateway Park (1300 Lee Highway). The current plans call for it to be divided into a 8,000 square foot section for large dogs and a 2,900 square foot section for small dogs.

A design process for the dog park is now underway and expected to wrap up by the end of the year. A construction timeline has not yet been revealed.

“The facility is proposed to include separate areas to accommodate both large and small dogs, fencing with screening in some areas, upgraded lighting, a water source for dogs, grass surfacing, double entry gates, maintenance gates, repurposed and ADA accessible benches, dog waste receptacles, a message board, and standard County signage,” the project website says.” Gateway Park is currently lighted, and the upgraded lights associated with this project will allow visitors to use the dog park until the lights turn off at 9 p.m.”

The county is seeking feedback on the draft design for the park.

If approved, the temporary park’s approximately $43,700 cost is to be paid by R-DOGS, the private group of Rosslyn area dog owners that has been pushing for a new dog park since 2018. The county parks department will maintain the dog park with help from R-DOGS, which is asking its members to provide feedback on the design.

“Every R-DOGS member is needed to comment… And ask all you friends and neighbors to add their comments,” the group said in a letter to supporters. “This is probably the only opportunity our dogs will have for an off-leash park within Rosslyn and walking distance for their human companions.”

The park could become permanent after the master plan for Gateway Park is reviewed in 2022.

“If approved, this park will be available for community use until a park master plan is developed for Gateway Park and there is funding to construct the improvements,” the county said. “The temporary dog park will also be reviewed annually to ensure it is operating safely and in accordance with the County’s policies regarding temporary park uses and facilities.”

A recent presentation noted that the dog park is to be built in an area not typically used by annual public events that use Gateway Park, like the Rosslyn Jazz Festival.

“If the temporary dog park is built on a portion of the west end of Gateway Park, the east side will still be usable for annual events,” the county said.

A separate proposal for a new dog park in Pentagon City is also making some progress. In June it was reported that Amazon was pledging $50,000 for the temporary amenities in the northern end of Virginia Highlands Park, near Pentagon Row and Pentagon City mall.

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(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) After years of stalled plans, concepts for a new public plaza and office building in Virginia Square are taking shape.

Arlington County and developer Skanska released two new concept designs for the plaza as part of a community engagement process for the planned development, located near Arlington Central Library. The county is seeking feedback on the designs, which have changed since the development was first approved in 2012.

The site at 3901 Fairfax Drive once housed the Arlington Funeral Home, but has been a parking lot since the funeral home was demolished in June 2012. The site plan was amended twice, in 2015 and 2018, to extend the term of the original plan and allow the location to be used for temporary parking.

Skanska bought the property, after years of development limbo, in October 2019.

In its latest iteration, the building now includes 10,280 square feet of space for retail tenants at the bottom level, with storefronts featuring roll-up doors that open to the plaza, and 184,036 square feet of office space.

Designs for the plaza have been updated due to changes to the building design, including the removal of a proposed black box theater and tweaks to the ground floor retail space. The two new, proposed designs for the .2-acre public plaza are dubbed “The Serene Urban Oasis” and “The Breezy Public Forum.”

“Neighbors, patrons of nearby businesses, and library goers can use this space to chat, play, or even get started on that new book they’ve checked out,” says the project website.

“The Serene Urban Oasis” features a passive water feature that is proposed as “more of a sculptural object,” according to John Becker, an architect for CallisonRTKL Inc. and project manager for the development.

“The Breezy Public Forum,” trades the water feature in the first concept for an overhead shade structure in a small area on the northern side of the plaza. It also integrates ornamental trees in the paved area to allow for additional shade.

Both concepts feature a smaller paved area on the north end of the plaza, with a larger paved area on the south. They also feature trees along the sidewalks, berms with inset benches, moveable tables and chairs, and a seating zone for retail. Interactive play elements are also a listed possibility.

County-standard streetlights surround the perimeter of the site on the sidewalk. A mixture of hidden, direct and indirect LED lighting is included with both concepts. Both designs are accessible for those with disabilities.

The original plaza budget — which is funded by the developer — was $825,000, but now sits at $914,000 after being adjusted for inflation.

“Through estimates, we believe that the schemes presented are capable of being delivered within the $914,000 budget,” Becker said.

Feedback received on concepts for the plaza will be used to create a “hybrid of these two preliminary concepts” that will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Oct. 27 for review, according to planners. The County Board will consider the final concept as a part of a site plan amendment in November.

There is no listed timeline for the start of construction on the project.

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