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Activist Carrie Johnson Dies at 77, Remembered as “Part of the Glue” Holding Arlington Together

Carrie Johnson, a fixture of Arlington County civic life and a longtime Democratic activist, died at the age of 77 this past Saturday (May 5).

Johnson served for years as the keeper of voter lists at the Arlington County Democratic Committee, earning the moniker of “list lady,” and she spent nearly 20 years on the county’s Planning Commission. She passed away at the Virginia Hospital Center due to complications from lung cancer, according to her nephew, Gavin Cahill.

Friends and family members remember Johnson as an intelligent and devoted member of the Arlington community, with a quick wit and quiet confidence. She lived in Ashton Heights, where she worked as a freelance writer after a career as a legislative aide and journalist in D.C.

“Carrie was beloved and respected by several generations of Arlingtonians,” Jay Fisette, who served on the County Board for 20 years, told ARLnow. “She walked softly, yet was as large an influence on Arlington’s civic culture and success as anyone actually elected to public office.”

Cahill says Johnson was born in Milwaukee, and moved to D.C. after college to start a career in politics. She spent eight years working as a staffer for a few Republicans in Congress before joining the editorial board of The Washington Post, where she wrote articles and speeches for then-publisher Katharine Graham.

Johnson moved to Arlington in 1979, Cahill said, and quickly got involved in the county’s political scene.

“She always used to say that she became a Democrat when she moved to Arlington,” Cahill said. “And she never looked back.”

Miriam Balutis remembers meeting Johnson at some sort of Democratic function back then — she says even three decades ago, Johnson was in charge of maintaining the committee’s lists of likely voters, a responsibility she’d hold for years to come.

“She put an extraordinary amount of time and effort into compiling those voter lists, sorting them, knowing what was up to date,” Balutis said. “And we put them to good use. We used to go to the polls on Election Day and track people as they were voting. So by the end of day, we would know who we needed to call, who hasn’t come to vote yet.”

Jill Caiazzo, the chair of the county’s Democratic committee, says Johnson’s efforts went far beyond lists — she credits Johnson’s data analysis work as a driving factor behind many of the committee’s outreach efforts.

“She was never showy in any way, but she was a force behind the scenes,” Caiazzo said.

Cahill says Johnson also joined the Arlington Planning Commission in 1986, and served on it through 2005. Fisette believes she was among the longest tenured members of the commission in Arlington’s history, and he says she mentored a whole host of commissioners to follow in her footsteps.

Johnson counted her prime achievement as the creation of Long Bridge Park, which sits across from the Pentagon, transforming a handful of industrial properties into a popular community space. Cahill said she also did lots of work on planning and zoning issues in Fort Myer Heights, Virginia Square and the Four Mile Run Valley.

“She modeled, through her behavior, the civility, competence and commitment to building this community you need to be in public service,” Fisette said. “She was part of the glue here.”

Cahill says Johnson also worked as both a freelance writer and historian, with a particular soft spot for Butte, Montana. She had no formal link to the town, but fell in love with the area’s history and even bought a house in Butte so she could research its history more closely.

In all, he feels that connection to a town thousands of miles away from Arlington is indicative of his aunt’s devotion to communities of all shapes and sizes, and the people who live in them.

“She just had a habit of really falling in love with communities,” Cahill said. “It became a big part of her life’s mission.”

Johnson’s writing talents briefly extended to ARLnow. She penned the inaugural article of the Progressive Voice column in 2014.

On his blog Tuesday morning, Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey recalled a recent interaction with Johnson, who remained active in Arlington affairs despite her health problems.

Last month, Johnson spoke at the public-comment period of the Arlington County Board meeting, concerned about Virginia Department of Transportation-mandated limitations being put on turning left from Arlington Boulevard onto Irving Street.

(She came armed with suggestions to improve the situation, not the counterproductive my-way-or-the-highway approach that less seasoned civic activists sometimes adopt.)

Not being aware that there was any thing amiss with her health, I followed up with her by email to tell her I’d put something together on the issue. I got a note of thanks and was playfully chided that my missive to her had used “Route 50” rather than “Arlington Boulevard.” As Carrie correctly noted, Route 50 runs from Maryland to California, but Arlington Boulevard has a much more specific connotation. Use the latter, she suggested. (I did.)

In addition to Cahill, Johnson is survived by her brother, sister-in-law, and a niece. Cahill says the family is planning a June memorial service for Johnson that will be open to the public, but has yet to nail down details.

In lieu of flowers, Cahill asked that donations be sent in Johnson’s memory to the Arlington Parks and Recreation Fund of the Arlington Community Foundation at 818 N. Quincy Street, Suite 103.

Johnson is the second major Arlington civic feature to pass away this month. Lucy Denney died on May 1, at the age of 87, after a battle with cancer.

File photo

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Two Public Hearings Scheduled For Four Mile Run Valley Concept

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.

The Four Mile Run Valley working group has suffered several setbacks as park stakeholders have weighed in with drastically different viewpoints about how the area should be developed.

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

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Planning Commission Sides With Neighbors on Two Crystal City VRE Station Options

The Arlington Planning Commission recommended the County Board vote to further study two options for the new Crystal City Virginia Railway Express station, against the wishes of VRE and county staff.

The Commission voted 6-1-1 to support option Nos. 2 and 3 for the proposed new station at its meeting Thursday night. VRE and county staff wanted an endorsement of option No. 2 only.

The County Board will take up the matter at its September 16 or September 19 meetings.

Of the three options, option No. 1 would be closest to the current VRE platform, while option No. 2 would place the platform just south of the Crystal City Water Park and closer to the Crystal City Metro station.

Option No. 3 would be slightly further south than No. 2. The station would then connect to other areas of Crystal City through a combination of walkways and bridges. Residents believe option No. 3 may mitigate noise better than the other options.

Numerous opponents questioned the process, which has been led by VRE in consultation with the county. Sonali Soneji, VRE’s planning program administrator, and Tom Hickey, VRE’s chief development officer, both said choosing one option would have been preferable as it would have allowed for more detailed study.

But opponents said they have felt “railroaded” by staffers set on choosing option No. 2.

“The really sad part about this is that it became clear to us over the many months that this has been going on that the county staff had already made up their minds,” Carol Fuller of the Crystal City Civic Association told ARLnow before the hearing. “They knew which way they wanted to go.”

The desire for further study of two options was a key reason Commissioners voted for Nos. 2 and 3. James Lantelme voted against as he said he wanted the body to make a firm decision.

“I just don’t know yet. I need more analysis,” said Nancy Iacomini, explaining her reluctance to vote for one option alone.

VRE and county staff recommended option No. 2 as they said it connected best to the nearby Metro station and other transportation options like buses and bikes at the Crystal City Multimodal Center.

“It sounds to me, from what I can see, that the decision for option 2 is coming down exclusively to Metro and proximity to Metro,” said Natasha Atkins, president of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association, one of around 10 opponents to testify against the plan before the Planning Commission.

A number of stakeholders supported the plan in letters sent before the meeting, especially on the basis that it will help connect the VRE and Metro stations in Crystal City. Taylor Lawch of developer JBG Smith, which owns numerous nearby properties, testified that option No. 2 is “the only option that positions Crystal City and Arlington County to become a multi-modal transportation destination in the future.”

The Commission also voted unanimously to recommend that the County Board instruct County Manager Mark Schwartz to engage with rail freight company CSX and ask that engineers not sound their horns so close to residential buildings in Crystal City.

VRE trains also sound their horns for safety reasons to alert those nearby to a train, and residents said horns are often too loud and frequent from both entities. They also were critical of VRE’s noise assessment, which found no noticeable differences between options No. 2 and 3 in terms of loudness.

Supporters of option No. 3 also mentioned its provision of an access road for emergency vehicles. Hickey said that advancing an option for further design and refinement would solve those questions and many more, but he underscored the relative uncertainty within the process as it stands, something that gave opponents cause for concern.

“These will all be addressed in design, but we don’t have a design yet,” he said. “As soon as we start with design, we’ll look at these hazards and how they will be mitigated.”

The plan will go before the county’s Transit Advisory Committee on Tuesday, September 12 and before the Transportation Commission on Wednesday, September 13 for further discussion. The County Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the plan on either Saturday, September 16 or Tuesday, September 19.

VRE’s Operations Board is expected to adopt an option on October 20, with a concept design due late this year ahead of further environmental study and preliminary engineering.

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Potential High School Site Nominated for Historic Preservation

As Arlington school officials consider locations for a new high school, a resident has nominated one of the potential sites for consideration as a local historic district.

The 1960s-era Arlington Education Center and planetarium, next to Washington-Lee High School, should be designated historic and preserved, says Nancy Iacomini, an Arlington Planning Commission member.

More from the website of Preservation Arlington:

Designed by Cleveland-based architecture firm Ward and Schneider, the building is an excellent example of “New Formalism” which combined classical design elements with modern materials and techniques. Bethlehem Steel used a new cost-saving technique of steel wedges to construct the building. Both buildings were completed in 1969, having been funded by a 1965 bond referendum and designed with community-wide input. In 1967 a special citation from the American Association of School Administrators said the center “should attract the public and focus attention on the importance of education.” The two buildings were built as a pair and symbolize the great civic pride of Arlington and its’ investment in the future.

Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board will now consider the nomination. If the HALRB recommends historic designation, public hearings will then be held by the Planning Commission and County Board.

Iacomini says there is both architectural and cultural significance to the Education Center, which currently houses Arlington Public Schools administrative offices and the School Board’s meeting room.

From her nomination letter:

Structures are literally visual landmarks of our shared history; the Education Center is emblematic of an important era of Arlington’s past…

Clearly the 1960s was a boom time for the county — a time when we were beginning to plan for the future of the Rosslyn/Ballston corridor and time of great growth in our schools but also still a time of grappling with social issues in our schools. The Education Center and the planetarium are physical embodiments of the forward thinking of Arlington and our County’s hope for the future. They should stand as reminders of our accomplishments and goals of the past as we continue to provide for the future.

The Education Center and Planetarium are proud civic buildings of a set, carefully designed and constructed with taxpayer funds on publicly owned land. It is not unlike the commitment we’ve made to the new school on the Wilson site. They are part of our shared civic heritage.

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New Elementary School By Thomas Jefferson Middle Enters Critical Phase

The proposed elementary school on the site of Thomas Jefferson Middle School is on track for County Board approval next month.

The project will be discussed by the county Planning Commission on April 5. It is slated to be heard by the County Board on April 22.

The new elementary school at 125 S. Old Glebe Road would house the current Patrick Henry Elementary School at 701 S. Highland Street and provide 725 seats. A naming process for the new school is underway. It is projected to cost $59 million and be open in September 2019.

A previous report by county staff noted the unique nature of the project as it was evaluated by both Arlington Public Schools’ Building Level Planning Committee and the county’s Public Facilities Review Committee.

But concerns remain over the project, particularly the impact of construction on the 3.85-acre site.

A tipster emailed ARLnow to say that while construction is underway, a large portion of the western parcel of the campus will be unavailable for public use, limiting access to the middle school. The tipster said this may put the programs at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater “at risk of failure.”

Meanwhile, parking at the community center along 2nd Street S. will be reduced during the day, as portions will be used as drop-off and pick-up points for the middle school. And school staff will park in the east lot at S. Irving Street and 2nd Street S.

Previously, community members have also raised concerns about the impact of construction on nearby homes and the effect moving a sidewalk north will have on existing mature trees and green space.

In the last few weeks, the project has been examined by the Urban Forestry Commission; the Environment and Energy Conservation Commission; and the Park and Recreation Commission. It will also go before the Transportation Commission in April 3, before heading to the Planning Commission two days later.

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County Board to Consider Allowing Renters to Host Airbnb Guests

Arlington County Board on 9/27/16As of Jan. 1, those listing their homes on Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and other such services have a new set of Arlington County regulations to follow.

That followed the fast-tracked County Board approval of the regulations on Dec. 12, beating the state legislature — which is considering a more lax set of policies that could supercede local rules — to the punch.

With the rules now in place, however, the Arlington County Board is looking to make some changes. Chief among them is allowing renters, not just homeowners, to generate extra income by opening their home to short-term guests.

Advantaging those who own a home over those who rent was criticized by some as regressive, and at its Jan. 28 meeting the Board appears poised to respond. (As part of the legislative process, such changes must first be “advertised” to the public, and the Board did so in December while approving the original regulations.)

In a Board report, county staff said limiting Airbnb privileges to homeowners was an idea gleaned from other jurisdictions — an idea that staff came to realize would face significant pushback.

“Throughout the public outreach process, staff heard from renters with an interest in hosting accessory homestay, including the majority of participants at a public open house, and from several advisory groups and commissions, including the Housing Commission, and from several participants in an online feedback form,” staff wrote. “Staff concluded that it would be appropriate to broaden the proposed amendment to allow accessory homestay in all dwellings occupied by a resident who uses the dwelling as his/her primary residence, regardless of ownership status.”

The change would not, however, automatically mean that any renter could turn their apartment into a de facto hotel: the renter or homeowner must still use the home as their primary residence for at least 185 days out of the year, and landlords could still prevent tenants from taking in short-term renters.

“Even if the proposed amendment is adopted to allow tenants to host accessory homestay, a lease could still preclude (or further limit) a resident from using his/her home for accessory homestay purposes, and any enforcement of lease terms would be between the tenant and landlord,” staff wrote.

Other changes being considered this month include allowing hosts to rent out rooms to multiple short-term “roommates” on separate contracts, and making several “updates for clarity and consistency.”

The Arlington Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the changes at its meeting tonight before the Board votes on it later this month.

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Morning Notes

Cardinal in the spring in Bon Air Park (Flickr pool photo by Airamangel)

GMU to Tweak Name of Scalia Law School — A week ago, after receiving $30 million in donations, George Mason University announced that it was naming its Arlington-based law school the “Antonin Scalia School of Law,” in honor of the late Supreme Court justice. The internet promptly went wild for the school’s would-be acronym: ASS Law or ASSoL. GMU noticed, and is now adjusting the name to the “Antonin Scalia Law School.” [Above the Law]

Porch Fire in High View Park — A small fire broke out yesterday on the porch of a house in the High View Park neighborhood, on the 2300 block of N. Dinwiddie Street, about two blocks from Fire Station No. 8. The fire marshal is investigating the incident. [Twitter]

County Live Streams First Commission Meeting — Arlington County live streamed a Planning Commission meeting for the first time Tuesday night. To re-live those 102 minutes of excitement, you can now view the meeting online, on-demand. [Arlington County]

Clarendon Farmers Market Returns Today — The Clarendon Farmers Market is back for the season today. The farmers market typically takes place next to the Metro station from 3-7 p.m. [Clarendon Alliance]

APS Open to Selling Naming Rights — There’s no indication that anyone has inquired about it, but the naming rights to Arlington’s high school football stadiums, gyms and theaters could be for sale for the right price. Arlington Public Schools says it would consider naming facilities after large donors. [InsideNova]

Rosslyn Startup Gets Big Investment — Rosslyn-based LiveSafe has received a $5.25 million investment from FedEx founder Fred Smith. LiveSafe describes itself as an “enterprise-class mobile safety communications platform.” [Commercial Appeal, PE Hub]

Flickr pool photo by Airamangel

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Community Meeting Planned for Rappahannock Coffee Development

(Updated at 1 p.m.) A community meeting has been scheduled to discuss the proposed redevelopment of a group of low-slung commercial buildings along Columbia Pike’s main business district.

The trio of buildings at 2330, 2342 and 2406 Columbia Pike is better known as the Rappahannock Coffee site, for the long-time Pike coffee shop housed in one of the buildings, which are slated to be torn down to make way for new apartments or condos.

Developer B.M. Smith, which was also behind the Penrose Square development across the street, is proposing a six-story mixed-use building known as 2400 Columbia Pike, with 105 new residential units, 13,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and a 140-space parking garage.

B.M Smith is also proposing streetscape improvements, 45 reserved bicycle parking spaces and the preservation of the “historic facades” of two existing buildings, according to an Arlington County project information page.

The community meeting about the development is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 7, at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.).

The Arlington Planning Commission and County Board are expected to consider the proposal at their respective meetings in May.

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County Announces Launch of Two New Open Government Initiatives

2016 Arlington County BoardArlington County is taking steps to make local government more open online.

The County Board on Tuesday approved a pilot program to webcast Planning Commission and Transportation Commission meetings, as well as certain County Board work sessions.

“The goal of the new program is to engage more residents in the civic process who are not able or choose not to attend meetings,” the county said in a press release. “The goal is to increase awareness of County issues and ease participation for a more broad and diverse audience.

Meetings held in the County Board room will be broadcast using existing audio-visual equipment that’s used to air Board meetings. If the pilot program is successful, the county may expand the scope to include meetings held in other locations around Arlington.

A start date for the webcasts is expected to be announced soon.

Public service issues mapIn a second initiative announced Tuesday, the county has launched a new “Open Data Portal” that includes various spreadsheets, charts and maps of government data.

Among the info currently offered by the portal is a map of pothole and other service requests (pictured), restaurant health inspection records, real estate sale records, a map of car share locations, and a police incident log.

Some of the data is a bit dated — the real estate sale records, for instance, are only for 2015, and as of this writing the most recent crime records are from Feb. 17. On the plus side, there are also new tools for filtering, sorting and exporting data, along with an open API that may prove useful for analysis and for web and mobile application developers.

“New datasets from the County’s departments will be made available in the months ahead based on popular user requests and available resources,” the press release notes.

“Technology continues to improve our ability to share data and streamline processes for a more interactive and inclusive government,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement. “We will continue to seek out and implement tools like the data portal and web streaming that help us improve access to government and create a better overall user experience for our residents.”

“Our residents are busy people who cannot always make it to the County Board Room to sit through hours of discussion,” said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “We want to make sure that they have another option – they can watch both Board work sessions and commission meetings on their computers, in the comfort of their homes, so that they can stay informed about important decisions that may affect their families and our community.”

“The County’s Open Government Program strives to achieve an open, accessible, efficient and transparent government,” said the press release. “The Open Data Portal and pilot webcast program are the latest efforts in serving and engaging the public more effectively.”

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Morning Notes

Spring blossoms (Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley)

Artisphere Executive Director Left in Feb. — Jose Ortiz, executive director of Artisphere, quietly left the position in February. Ortiz is now working as the deputy director of the Bronx Museum in New York City. Artisphere programming director Josh Stoltzfus, meanwhile, has been promoted to acting executive director of the cultural center, which is on the county’s budgetary chopping block.

CivFed: No Tax Hike — Members of the Arlington County Civic Federation approved a resolution this week urging the County Board not to approve any increase in Arlington’s real estate tax rate. Fiscal conservatives on the Civic Federation argued that the county has plenty of reserves and surpluses to tap without the need to further tax struggling homeowners. [InsideNova]

Planning Comm. Rejects Wilson School Historic Status — Arlington’s Planning Commission on Monday voted to oppose a historic designation for the Wilson School in Rosslyn, by a vote of 5-4. That follows the School Board’s unanimous vote again a historic designation for the school, which was built in 1910 but was subsequently renovated significantly from its original form. The school system says trying to preserve parts of the school would require additional time and expense as it plans to build a new facility for the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program on the site. [InsideNova]

Urban Igloo Debuts Clarendon Page — Local apartment matchmaking service Urban Igloo, an ARLnow.com advertiser, has debuted a number of neighborhood information pages, including one for Clarendon. The company says its recently revamped website makes it “one of the first real estate companies to take an online hyperlocal approach to connect renters to specific neighborhoods.” [Urban Igloo]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Columbia Pike in Line for 229 Affordable Aparments

(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is planning on building two, eight-story apartment buildings near the western end of Columbia Pike.

APAH is planning on replacing a surface parking lot at 1010 S. Frederick Street with the two buildings, which will contain 229 units of committed affordable housing. All of the units will be affordable up to 60 percent of area median income, with some units as low as 40 percent AMI.

To replace the surface parking, a three-level underground garage will be built.

The development is on this month’s agendas for the county’s planning and housing commissions, and is expected to go before the Arlington County Board at its meetings later this month. The project would be one of the first of its kind to go before the County Board under the Columbia Pike neighborhoods form-based code, approved in 2013.

Some in the community have expressed concern about a concentration of affordable housing on the western end of Columbia Pike, where this project is situated. County Board member John Vihstadt addressed some of those concerns at the Arlington Civic Federation meeting on Tuesday night.

“Certain people have concerns about an over-concentration [of affordable housing] on the west end of the Pike and not enough on the east end,” Vihstadt said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to come to grips with. I think we all want a mix of income in all neighborhoods as much as possible.”

APAH CEO Nina Janopaul told ARLnow.com that those concerns pale in comparison when compared to the concerns over the lack of affordable housing overall in the county. She said the civic association in which the new project is located, Columbia Forest, has lost 750 units of affordable housing in the last 15 years.

“The Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan calls for preserving or replacing the 6,200 affordable units, most of which are market-rate affordable and vulnerable to redevelopment,” she said. “We need to take advantage of the moment now, when the interest rates are low, to build affordable housing that will still be there in 60 years.”

The development, if approved, would add the 229 affordable units right next to APAH’s expansive, 208-unit Columbia Grove apartments. Of those units — on the 8-acre, 14-building campus — 131 are committed affordable housing. Janopaul said the buildings are Columbia Forest’s only affordable housing “at all.”

The project, dubbed “Columbia Hills,” will cost an estimated $85 million, according to APAH’s application to the county. APAH is requesting the county contribute $18.5 million from its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which, along with the form-based code application, the County Board is expected to debate granting this month.

APAH is also planning to submit a Low Income Housing Tax Credit application next month. If all goes as Janopaul hopes, the federal government would approve the loan in the first quarter of 2016, after which construction can begin.

Image (top) via Arlington County. Photo (bottom) via Google Maps

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Planning Committe Says ‘Public Land for Public Good’ Should be ‘Set Aside’

Lubber Run Community CenterArlington’s “Public Land for Public Good” initiative should be “reassessed,” according to the Long Range Planning Committee of the county Planning Commission.

The initiative, launched this year by County Manager Barbara Donnellan, is intended to identify county-owned land where affordable housing could be built. That could include parks, community centers and public safety facilities, such as fire stations.

The county received public comments this fall on the guidelines for evaluating sites. After reviewing those comments, the LRPC determined that the guidelines should be “set aside” while the entire initiative — and how the county engages the community in its decision-making process — is re-evaluated.

Among the committee’s strongest indictments of the current process is its recommendation that the criteria Donnellan used in her preliminary report to the Board in May — the catalyst for the public opposition to the initiative since — should be “withdrawn and reassessed.”

“The term Public Land for Public Good does not capture the importance and benefits of other public facilities and uses and should be reconsidered,” the report, approved at the LRPC’s meeting last week, states.

All of the LRPC’s recommendations include reaching out to the community before continuing the process further. The committee recommended that the county’s deliberations over which sites are evaluated and why need to be made more transparent. “This process should result in an understanding of how site selection is conducted and how the public participates in the decision,” the report states.

The LRPC’s report comes on the heels of County Board Chair Jay Fisette’s statement during last month’s Board meeting that the “Public Land for Public Good” rollout “didn’t work.”

While recommending the county slow down on evaluating land it currently owns, the LRPC also recommends Arlington adopt an “aggressive land acquisition policy.”

The Planning Commission will likely discuss the LRPC’s recommendations at a meeting this week. The County Board could discuss the issue at its Saturday, Dec. 13 meeting.

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County Board to Consider Allowing ‘Jumbotrons’

The WJLA building in RosslynThe Arlington County Board will consider next month whether to allow large media screens, like the WJLA ticker in Rosslyn, in other parts of the county.

The board voted unanimously to advertise for a public hearing before the Planning Commission Dec. 2 and the full board Dec. 14. The proposal would allow large media screens — colloquially known as “jumbotrons” — to be approved through the use permit or site plan process on buildings in mixed-use neighborhoods and in some parks.

Deborah Albert, an Arlington County planner, said the proposed ordinance, if passed, would prevent the screens to be used for commercial purposes.

“Staff has envisioned the screens could be used show public information, news, or in emergencies,” Albert told ARLnow.com. “The intent is really to enable the opportunities to consider another such sign, but not necessarily to encourage them to proliferate, so we’ve crafted careful standards to allow them in certain places but not to allow and over-proliferation.”

County staff recommends that the “jumbotrons” be limited to heights below 40 feet, screen sizes of less than 750 square feet and to take into consideration surrounding residences. They would only be allowed, through special exception, within a quarter mile of transit stations and in so-called public service districts, like Long Bridge Park.

Board Member Mary Hynes suggested the screens could be used much like they are at stadiums at ballfields: next to the scoreboard, showing a simultaneous broadcast of the game for the benefit of spectators in a crowd.

The WJLA screen is the only large media screen in the county, and all other screens are currently prohibited by county sign regulations. Albert said the conversation over “jumbotrons” arose during community meetings when the county updated the sign regulations last year.

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County Staff Recommends Approval for Latitude Apartments

Rendering of proposed Latitude Apartments building in Virginia SquareThe Latitude Apartments project has received a thumbs up from county staff members, fresh off of last week’s Arlington Planning Commission recommendation to defer consideration of the proposal. County staff recommends the County Board approves the plan during its meeting on Saturday, November 16.

Both the Planning Commission and the County Board deferred the issue during their July meetings in order to examine more information regarding complaints about the plan. The largest concern has been about changing the site’s status from commercial, as designated in the Virginia Square Sector Plan, to mixed-use residential.

In addition to rezoning the site, the proposal includes demolishing the existing one- and two-story buildings on the property to construct a 12-story, 265 unit residential building, with 14 affordable units. The building would have more than 3,100 square feet of ground floor retail space and around 2,800 square feet of ground floor space dedicated to cultural and educational uses. The plan includes a 12,000 square foot public plaza at the corner of Fairfax Drive and N. Monroe Street, which would have a pedestrian connection to Quincy Park.

County staff members note that the immediate area has changed since the sector plan was created, and recent expansion there makes it unnecessary to preserve additional commercial space at this time. The staff report reads, in part:

“Office uses, which were encouraged to increase the daytime population, maintain the existing medical office presence, and facilitate shared parking, have increased by over 700,000 square feet since the plan was adopted, albeit not at the same pace as residential development. However, institutional growth has significantly increased in Virginia Square, including George Mason University, which also contributes to the desired daytime activity in this area. Further, GLUP-based estimates of additional development capacity within Virginia Square indicate there is remaining development potential on blocks slated for either office or mixed land uses, which would help further sector plan goals for additional office growth… Staff finds that the proposed site plan, while not meeting all of the indicated uses of the sector plan, is generally consistent with Virginia Square Sector Plan guidance for the site and the GLUP… Therefore, staff recommends that the County Board adopt the attached resolution to rezone the subject property from ‘C-2’ to ‘C-O’. Staff further recommends that the County Board adopt the attached ordinance to approve the subject site plan, subject to the conditions of the ordinance.”

Two other issues that arose regarding the project are that the building height would exceed the sector plan’s recommendation by three feet and that the parking ratio would be 0.9 spaces per residential unit instead of the standard 1.0 space per unit. County staff did not consider either of these substantial enough to recommend against approving the proposal.

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Planning Commission Recommends Deferral of Latitude Again

Rendering of proposed Latitude Apartments building in Virginia Square(Updated at 1:05 p.m.) The Arlington Planning Commission voted 8-2 on Wednesday night to again defer a decision on the Latitude Apartments project in Virginia Square.

Every member of the planning commission praised The Penrose Group for its proposal, lauding the architecture and community benefits. The group is hoping to build a 265-unit apartment building with 3,000 square feet of ground floor retail and 2,800 square feet of cultural and educational use.

However, a majority of commissioners said that because the Virginia Square Sector Plan calls for a commercial building, they couldn’t support the application.

“Our core issue is do we respect the sector plan that our friends and neighbors worked on and the county board approved, or do we ignore it,” said Planning Commission Vice Chair Steve Cole. “I can’t imagine believing that site plans ought to be the vehicles for changing sector plans and county policy. I’m not saying no to the proposal, I’m saying no to the extraordinary request to change the sector plan.”

Planning Commission Chairman Brian Harner and member Rosemary Ciotti were the only two commissioners to vote against deferral. Ciotti made a motion to recommend the County Board approve the plan, which failed, 6-4.

“We’re not living in a perfect world where we were able to predict 10-15 years ago what this sector plan would bring about and what market conditions would offer,” Harner said. “I wouldn’t trivialize this project as saying we’re just responding to current market conditions, because we really have to think about what it offers the county and the community.”

The County Board could review this proposal at its November 16 meeting. It’s unclear if the Board will go along with the Planning Commission recommendation, or if it will rebuff the recommendation as it did when the commission voted against the redevelopment of the Bergmann’s Cleaning site last year.

Members of the community came out en force to speak about the Latitude project — 25 signed up to speak. Many residents of the nearby Monroe and Virginia Square Condominiums spoke against the project, while all others spoke in favor.

“We understand the county may benefit in the near term from the tax revenue,” said Ellen Dayton, a condo resident, “but staying true to the land use goals our excellent county planners have set forth is best for the long term development.”

Cliff Chieffo was one of the authors of the Virginia Square Sector Plan and lives in the Virginia Square Condominiums. He supported the project and said the sector plan was designed to have flexibility.

“The proposal meets and exceeds the Virginia Square Sector Plan,” Chieffo said. “The applicant will produce a signature building that will be unique to Virginia Square.”

Chieffo said after the public hearing portion of the meeting that a majority of his condo neighbors supported the plan, but the condo board didn’t allow Penrose to make a presentation.

Many of those who spoke in support of the presentation were involved in real estate in one form or another, and they spoke about the architecture and public art space the proposal included.

“Virginia Square cannot handle any more office space, and won’t be able to for years,” said David Alperstein, the principal at real estate brokerage FD Stonewater. “The [Rosslyn-Ballston] corridor is experiencing a historic level of vacancy.”

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