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by Chris Teale September 14, 2017 at 2:00 pm 0

County Manager Mark Schwartz announced Thursday (September 14) the appointment of Claude Williamson as director of the Arlington County Department of Community, Housing, Planning and Development.

Williamson, who served as interim director since March following the departure of Steven Cover, has been with the department for 20 years. He served as Comprehensive Planning Supervisor for more than 11 years, and has experience in planning, management and civic engagement.

Becoming CPHD director is “a unique opportunity to lead a very talented and creative group of professionals to deliver the highest quality products and services,” Williamson said in a statement.  “These efforts are necessary to achieve our community-based vision for an Arlington that is inclusive, diverse, safe, and urban, with economically strong commercial centers and stable residential neighborhoods.”

The department has come in for some criticism in recent times, with some in the community blaming it for delays in new businesses opening in the county.

More from a county press release:

Claude Williamson has been named Arlington County’s Director for Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) after serving as acting director since March.

In appointing Williamson this week, County Manager Mark Schwartz said the 20-year County staffer “brings vast experience plus great talent in understanding the needs of residents, businesses and long-term community objectives. That’s the kind of essential leadership that we want to encourage and keep in Arlington County.”

CPHD is responsible for planning in County neighborhoods and along the densely developed, transit-oriented Metro corridors. CPHD is the lead agency in implementing the County’s Smart Growth planning vision.

Becoming CPHD Director is “a unique opportunity to lead a very talented and creative group of professionals to deliver the highest quality products and services,” Williamson said.  “These efforts are necessary to achieve our community-based vision for an Arlington that is inclusive, diverse, safe, and urban, with economically strong commercial centers and stable residential neighborhoods.”

Williamson joined the County and CPHD in 1997 and served as the Comprehensive Planning Supervisor for more than 11 years. His broad background in planning, management and civic engagement has influenced a multitude of major planning initiatives and projects.

He has been instrumental in the development and implementation of both sector and area plans across Arlington, and has provided significant leadership during zoning ordinance reviews and updates, inter-jurisdictional planning efforts and other key planning activities.

In the director’s role, Williams oversees all CPHD activities including the development review process; housing and comprehensive planning; neighborhood services; zoning administration; inspections, code enforcement and data analysis.

Before joining Arlington County, Williamson worked for the New Orleans City Planning Commission on a variety of projects and initiatives. He holds a Master of Community Planning degree from the University of Maryland School of Architecture and both a Master of Public Administration and Bachelor of Science from Suffolk University in Boston.

Williamson is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He lives in the Palisades neighborhood of Washington D.C. with his husband Michael and son Evan.

by Chris Teale September 13, 2017 at 11:00 am 0

Virginia Hospital Center (1701 N. George Mason Drive) is looking to add a major expansion on land it will acquire in a land-swap agreement with Arlington County.

Under a preliminary site plan filed with the county, VHC is proposing a more-than 230,000-square-foot, seven-story outpatient pavilion for walk-in patients.

The plans would also convert around 120,000 square feet of existing outpatient space to 101 hospital beds and build a 10-story parking garage with just over 2,000 spaces. Of those 10 stories, two would be below-grade. VHC would also make improvements to the streets around its campus so pedestrian facilities like sidewalks and crosswalks are better connected.

The extension to its campus would replace the county-owned Edison Center on the 1800 block of N. Edison Street, to the north of VHC’s main site. The Edison Center is currently home to some county offices and an Arlington County Refugee Services location.

The County Board voted in July that it wants to acquire the hospital’s property at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road and use the site on N. Edison Street as part of the purchase price.

A letter dated August 7 from land-use attorney Nan E. Walsh of the Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh law firm that represents VHC said it has been undergoing a “comprehensive study” of its services with medical professionals as well as neighbors, and has determined it has to fill several gaps.

“These discussions have helped the applicant identify several critical needs which must be addressed as the hospital complex evolves and grows,” Walsh wrote. “These needs include, among others, adding new hospital beds, creating new spaces for hospital services and outpatient care, creating new parking and improving access to the hospital complex.”

In a further letter on June 16, Walsh said community members will benefit from the increased capacity for medical care and improved service for patients and visitors, as well as utility improvements, provided bicycle parking and a green building design, among others.

An amendment to the county’s overall General Land Use Plan will be required to integrate the Edison site into VHC, as well as rezoning the property, site plan and use permit amendments.

by Chris Teale September 12, 2017 at 11:00 am 0

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business could expand into two upper floors of a Rosslyn office building.

Under plans before the Arlington County Board for its Saturday (September 16) meeting, building owner Monday Properties wants to convert existing office space at 1100 Wilson Blvd on the 30th and 31st floors to educational use. Just over 39,000 square feet of space would be converted.

“The renovated space will feature classrooms, multi-purpose spaces and supporting office space,” a staff report on the project reads. The report recommends the Board adopt the plans.

Per the application, the 30th floor would get three classrooms, a boardroom, a multi-purpose room, space for catering, conference rooms and break-out areas. The 31st floor would host two tiered classrooms — with auditorium-style seating for lectures, large discussions and the like — as well as a flat classroom and 12 case rooms for small meetings.

The report notes that the Darden School is the “anticipated tenant,” and that classes will be held at the site during off-peak hours and weekends to reduce strain on the building’s parking.

The school already hosts regional staff offices in the building, and provides executive MBA classes at 1000 Wilson Blvd and 1919 N. Lynn Street. It expanded into the D.C. area last year.

County staff said the nearby Radnor/Fort Myer Heights Civic Association president did not raise any objections to the plan, while the North Rosslyn Civic Association did not send any comments before the staff report was published. Staff from the Rosslyn Business Improvement District wrote in support of the proposal.

Disclosure: Monday Properties is an ARLnow.com advertiser. Photo via Google Maps.

by Chris Teale August 22, 2017 at 3:45 pm 0

A Four Mile Run Valley Working Group member says some colleagues and the county are trying to turn property near Jennie Dean Park into an “arts district,” against the wishes of others on the group.

Michael Grace, who sits on the group as its liaison to the Parks and Recreation Commission, said the Arlington County Board is under “incessant pressure” from some members to repurpose five properties adjacent to the park at 3630 27th Street S. in Shirlington.

The properties were bought through a combination of tax dollars and bonds issued specifically for parks purposes, and Grace said the group is split on using them for an arts district instead. A wider plan for the area released in January suggested various park improvements, sports facilities and an “arts walk.” The group has previously struggled with the future of the Shirlington Dog Park, which the County Board sent back to the drawing board earlier this year.

“The fault lines are basically that there’s two constituent opponents,” Grace said. “One is people who actually live right near there… The other is people who operate businesses in the area, and I think they view an arts district as potentially more lucrative for their businesses compared to more park space.”

Another problem, Grace said, is also that proponents do not have a fully-formed plan for a new arts district, but appear to want traditional arts activities like painting and sculpting among others, as well as businesses like “wine bistros, designer coffee bars and restaurants” to build up nightlife nearby.

“No one has been able to answer crucial questions about an arts district such as (1) what it would contain, (2) who would pay for creating it, and (3) how it would sustain itself financially,” he wrote in an email.

Grace said the County Board should keep to its original mandate to the working group for “a vision for the comprehensive replacement and realignment of existing park features (exclusively for park purposes) and the addition of new park amenities to meet the growing demand for active and passive recreation, cultural resources and natural resource preservation.”

He added that there remains broad support for adding to the county’s parks, including at a “Visioning Workshop” held last December, but not for taking away properties originally bought to help the park.

“To be fair, some people did stand up and say they’d like to see more arts-type activities in south Arlington, the Four Mile Run Valley, but not one such individual advocated taking properties that were always intended for traditional park purposes and turning into an arts district,” Grace said. “There’s no public support for that that I can ascertain at all.”

A county spokeswoman said there is “no plan” to turn properties surrounding Jennie Dean Park into an arts district, and that instead the current draft for park plans includes acquiring additional land for its expansion. The spokeswoman noted that the County Board requested that land west of S. Nelson Street be explored for an arts district, and that a subgroup of the working group is working to define what that would entail.

Photo No. 2 via Google Maps.

by Chris Teale August 14, 2017 at 11:00 am 0

The National Park Service is studying several improvements to Roosevelt Island, including a proposal to combat the invasive emerald ash borer that killed trees at the site earlier this year.

Among a number of issues being examined by NPS for the island, located off the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Rosslyn, is a plan for the future of the hundreds of ash trees.

NPS closed the island in June to remove diseased trees after the ash borer came through, and is now considering if the trees should be replaced with more ash trees or another species.

“As a result of [the ash borer], one of the things we’re going to be looking at is what do we do after the borer has come through, and those ash trees have either died off or been removed,” said Simone Monteleone, chief of resource management at the GW Parkway, in a talk on Facebook Live Monday morning. “Do we replant? What type of species do we go back with?”

To help the Park Service decide how to make improvements while preserving the history of the island, which has been occupied in some form since the 17th century, it is in the early stages of producing a Cultural Landscape Report and Environmental Assessment.

Monteleone said both documents will help NPS balance the need to respect the island’s history with any improvements that are made. She added that rehabilitating what is already there will help do that.

“Rehabilitation gives us both the flexibility to preserve those historic features and make compatible uses possible for enhancement of visitor experiences,” she said.

Other improvements proposed by NPS include:

  • Rehabilitating the bridge to the island
  • Improving bridge safety to reduce conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Restarting water access to the island for kayaks, paddleboards and other water transport without an engine
  • Making the island’s comfort stations usable year-round
  • Building another comfort station off the island by the trail

NPS will host another Facebook Live presentation on the project at 1 p.m. today (August 14), and the talk will then be archived on its page for viewing afterwards.

The Park Service is taking public comment on the plans until September 8. The project is expected to be completed in February 2018.

by Chris Teale August 3, 2017 at 11:20 am 0

Plans for the redevelopment of a seven-acre site in Virginia Square — which include a new apartment building, YMCA facility and affordable housing — are slated to come before the Arlington Planning Commission this fall.

The plans, for several properties around the intersection of Washington Blvd and N. Kirkwood Road, could result in a new six-story apartment building; a rebuilt, 100,000 square foot YMCA building; and a 161-home affordable housing project. The plans call for retaining American Legion Post 139 on the property.

On its property — the largest parcel on the site — the YMCA says it “intends to redevelop its site to allow for an expanded, world class, modern athletic and community YMCA facility as part of a mixed use project which would also allow for new residential uses on, or adjacent to, the Property.”

Within the site is the Ball family burial ground, designated as a local historic district in 1978 and the resting place of several family members. Given the desire to study the site, individual site plans and construction are still years away from coming to fruition.

The county and its Long Range Planning Committee has spent several months discussing land use planning for the parcel and the area as a whole, in advance of a site plan process.

The committee met on July 25 to discuss the latest round of suggestions for land use. Anthony Fusarelli, principal planner in the county’s Department of Community, Planning, Housing and Development, said in an email “it was suggested” that be the final meeting on the topic, and that the study be advanced to the full Planning Commission.

Ahead of that Planning Commission meeting, which could be as early as September, Fusarelli said an updated study document will be released for community review, incorporating the feedback of LRPC members and the public.

At the meeting of the LRPC last month, county staff presented various options for the site’s land use, while taking into account how buildings’ heights decrease as they get further from a Metro station.

Among those options, staff presented two that would create a so-called “Special District,” which would help coordinate development in the area and set clear guidelines for projects. The area would be designated as the Washington/Kirkwood Coordinated Mixed-Use Development District.

And in terms of density, staff has several options left on the table, including several that would allow for varying types of housing, which they said reflected local residents’ desire to have a transition between the dense Metro corridor and the neighborhood.

Staff also provided an option that would not change any land uses on the site, which they said would allow some development, including a hotel by right that would not require Arlington County Board approval. But they said only “limited improvements” could be made to the YMCA under that plan.

by Chris Teale July 24, 2017 at 10:05 am 0

Homeowners could be notified in future tax assessments if their property is subject to any special circumstances that would prevent tearing down and rebuilding their house without County Board approval.

Such special circumstances would include homes on so-called pipe-stem lots, which have a narrow “stem” that runs from the street and does not meet requirements for minimum lot width, and in Resource Protection Areas, which help protect environmentally sensitive lands near streams.

If homes are subject to those circumstances, anyone wishing to tear down the current house and build a new one on the same property must go to the Arlington County Board for approval. Projects not hindered by such issues are permitted by right under zoning rules, so long as the new home continues to conform.

Board member Libby Garvey said she has spoken to County Manager Mark Schwartz about including a note to property owners in their tax assessments, which are mailed each year and outline the property tax bill due to the county.

“That’s one piece of paper that pretty much everyone in the county looks at,” Garvey told ARLnow last week. “So that seems like a really good place to put information like that with an asterisk or note, but we have to see if we can actually do that.”

Garvey and colleague John Vihstadt suggested the change at the July 15 County Board meeting, after a plan to build a new home in Ashton Heights ran into difficulties in June because of its location on a pipe-stem lot. The family that owns the N. Kenmore Street property did not realize it would require special approval to build a new house, a costly process in terms of time and expense.

After community meetings and some modifications to the proposed new house between June and July’s meetings, the Board unanimously approved the plan. Vihstadt said the county must make such issues more understandable for county residents, including on the designated web page for pipe-stem lots, which he said must be “a better information source.”

“Despite the happy ending, it would have been much simpler had the family known from the start that they faced this extra challenge,” Garvey said last week in an email to constituents. “We need to find a simple way for residents to know when their current or potential homes have some special situation that could affect their ability to build.”

Schwartz said at the July 15 meeting that while the county is committed to simplifying its permitting process, he warned that applicants must also do the necessary leg-work for such projects.

“I think people need to be aware there is still a requirement on their part to do their due diligence,” he said. “If they were to somehow rely on a notation on a website from us, it’s hard to believe but sometimes we make mistakes, and due diligence is required on the part of the applicant to do their research through the appropriate legal means.”

County Attorney Steve MacIsaac agreed, and noted that from a legal standpoint, the county can only help in so many ways.

“It’s incumbent on anyone who’s buying anything to be sure they know what they’re buying,” he said. “The ‘buyer beware’ phrase definitely applies to land, and you’ve got to know what you can do with it before you buy it.”

Image via county presentation

by Chris Teale July 19, 2017 at 2:00 pm 0

The Arlington County Board deferred a vote Tuesday on the design of the new Lubber Run Community Center after confusion over the timing of meetings on the project.

But the Board did agree, by a 3-2 vote, to a $37 million contract to replace the center, out of a total project budget of $47.8 million.

The new center will replace the one built in 1956 at 300 N. Park Drive, Arlington’s first purpose-built community center.

The building will provide programs for youth, adults and seniors including a preschool, senior center, gymnasium and fitness center and several multipurpose rooms. It also will house about 70 employees in the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Construction could begin as early as next fall.

A meeting is scheduled for today (July 19) at Barrett Elementary School for residents to give feedback on the new building’s design. That meeting coming a day after the Board’s scheduled design vote left some members perturbed, as they wanted to see the community engagement process play out before taking action.

Before the start of deliberations, County Manager Mark Schwartz apologized for any communications that caused “confusion or anxiety” in the community.

A timeline in May provided by local resident Michael Thomas had the Board likely voting on the design in September. But Jane Rudolph, director of the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said the plan was moved up after staff found they could have the construction contract ready for July’s meeting and advertised on July 7. She also apologized for any confusion

“This is really, I think, close to a smoking gun,” said Board member John Vihstadt. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t defer to September to realize and fulfill the original intention of staff to have the board meeting after the next concept presentation and another PFRC meeting as well.”

Vihstadt was joined in voting to defer, while simultaneously approving the construction contract, by chair Jay Fisette and Christian Dorsey. The trio emphasized that no “fundamental changes” should be made to the plan during the review.

Board member Libby Garvey and vice chair Katie Cristol voted against the plan. Cristol said that the consensus on the Board that no major changes should be made, coupled with the support of many in the community for the new center, should be enough to proceed.

Of those who testified on the project, many had concerns around the project’s impact on the environment, including the need to cut down some trees and possible erosion. Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement, reading remarks on behalf of local activist Suzanne Smith Sundburg, said people wanted more open green space and more trees, rather than more pavement and buildings.

“Staff’s perception of the community’s feedback on this project continues to be at odds with the public’s perception of what it has asked for,” Clement said.

Community engagement for the project took a more modern approach than similar efforts in the past. The engagement used more technology like online surveys and looked to reach out to previously under-represented communities like the Spanish-speaking population in the county.

While Board members and staff recognized the foul-up with the timeline, some residents said the majority of community outreach was done well.

“This is textbook on how to do community engagement,” said Nathan Zee, an Arlington Forest resident. “You went above and beyond what would be reasonably expected, and should be commended. The outstanding design reflects this hard work.”

Images via county presentation

by Chris Teale July 12, 2017 at 10:05 am 0

(Updated at 10:20 a.m.) Homeowners could find it considerably easier to add an “accessory dwelling unit” to their property under changes set to be made to the ordinance in the fall.

Only 20 ADUs — defined as a second living space with a kitchen, a bathroom and a separate entrance — have been approved in Arlington since the ordinance first came into effect in 2009. Advocates have said they can help ease the county’s lack of affordable housing.

Staff is recommending that the Board allow detached ADUs, set back from the main house, and bump up the maximum occupancy from two to three. Currently in Arlington ADUs are only allowed within a single-family home.

At a work session Tuesday with county staff, Arlington County Board members debated various other recommendations, focusing in on a few.

Board members discussed staff’s recommendation of maintaining the current cap of ADU approvals at 28 a year countywide. Chair Jay Fisette and member Christian Dorsey suggested removing the cap altogether.

“Even at the likely installation rates, we’re not talking about a big impact on our community,” said Dorsey. “And who’s to say that if the 29th application is really the ideal, textbook accessory dwelling location and circumstance, we have to say no because we’re going to cap it? … It just really seems insane.”

But others were not so sure about removing the cap. Board member John Vihstadt suggested looking into capping new ADUs by civic association or neighborhood to prevent a concentration in one place, something others were happy to go along with in lieu of abolishing the cap altogether.

Joel Franklin, a housing planner at the county department of Community, Planning, Housing and Development, added that staff will undertake an annual survey to try and find any issues that may arise.

The Board also explored raising the maximum number of people allowed to live in an ADU. The current maximum is two, with staff recommending that be increased to three, but several wanted more work to be done to explore whether that limit could be raised further.

Vice chair Katie Cristol said consistency is key, and that it becomes difficult when “governing the number of people in a bedroom.” But Vihstadt and Fisette were not so sure, and inclined to stick with the staff recommendation.

“It’s one thing to stay one or two nights in a crowded hotel room when you’re on vacation with the kids or friends or whatever,” Vihstadt said. “It’s another thing to have that crowded condition on a monthly or long-term basis.”

Staff suggested various rules for the units, including that their front doors can be on the same side as long as they do not face, and that exterior stairways must not face the street, among others.

Those rules are designed to protect the character of neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes. County staff members will continue to study the various policies governing aesthetics, they said.

“This is really a significant body of work. This is a use that I think we should be welcoming in our community while being cognizant of impacts on neighborhoods and protecting and planning against them,” said Cristol. “I would hate to lose this opportunity in any house or lot because somebody’s front door is placed in the wrong place.”

A slight change to the parking requirements for properties with ADUs has also been proposed.

Staff will compile the results of the survey on accessory dwellings this month, then finalize its recommendations. The Zoning and Housing Commissions will examine staff’s plans, with the Planning Commission and County Board expected to take final action in November.

by Chris Teale July 10, 2017 at 4:30 pm 0

A plan to reconfigure the shopping mall above the Rosslyn Metro station could bring more retail space and add a public plaza on its second level, but its approval is in doubt.

The proposal would add more than 17,000 square feet of additional space for retail at the three-story Rosslyn Metro Center, and redevelop its outside into a four-story building with a public plaza on the second level.

The mall and adjoining office building had been slated for a new 25-story tower directly above the Metro station, but the site plan amendment allowing the plan expired in 2007 before anything was built.

In a report recommending the Arlington County Board deny the project at its meeting Saturday (July 15), county staff said the plaza would “hinder achievement” of the plan to make 18th Street N. a new pedestrian priority corridor known as the 18th Street Corridor. The corridor would extend east to N. Arlington Ridge Road and have a pedestrian-only stretch to replace Rosslyn’s skywalk system.

Staff said the plaza and ground-floor retail would make it harder to access the Metro station from N. Moore Street, and that the extra retail space does not comply with the area’s current zoning. Staff also said the plaza’s 10-foot walkway, while allowing public access, is not wide enough and would create “narrowness and tunnel conditions.”

“The proposal will adversely impact access to Metro by increasing congestion at the North Moore Street frontage,” the report says.

Staff added that it does not conform with the Rosslyn Sector Plan‘s vision for the design and programming an open-air Metro station plaza after the site’s redevelopment.

“The proposed plaza width (approximately 60 feet on the North Moore Street side and approximately 20 feet on the North Fort Myer Drive side) and building mass proposed above the plaza will restrict connectivity and visibility along the 18th Street Corridor,” the report reads. “The plaza’s narrowness and tunnel conditions through the proposed building mass conflict with the Plan’s vision of a linear system of connected public spaces.”

Staff noted that the office building is “near fully leased for the medium term,” and that a timeline on any future development is uncertain.

Images via Arlington County

by Chris Teale June 28, 2017 at 3:30 pm 0

The Arlington County Board and school board agreed Tuesday night to further study three possible scenarios for the Buck and Virginia Hospital Center sites, as recommended by the county’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission.

Of the options, whittled down from a list of 10, two could allow for a building to be used by Arlington Public Schools. They could also provide space for the Office of Emergency Management and other public safety agencies, while some offer bus parking for both APS and Arlington Transit (ART).

Two scenarios for the VHC property remain under consideration, while just one is now being examined for the Buck site.

JFAC also formally recommended that the county acquire both sites. The Buck property is located near Washington-Lee High School, while the VHC site is at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road, and the county holds options to either buy the land outright or swap for them.

During the further study on the three remaining options, JFAC will explore how best to make the bus parking fit in. But County Manager Mark Schwartz said his preference would be for Arlington to purchase the current ART bus parking area at 2629 Shirlington Road given that bus dispatch is run from that location. Schwartz and staff will assess their options on that site too in a separate process.

JFAC chair Ginger Brown said residents had raised concerns about using one of the two properties for bus parking due to extra noise, traffic impacts and the need for security lights.

“Thank goodness buses don’t have feelings,” joked County Board chair Jay Fisette. Fellow County Board member Christian Dorsey said bus parking is necessary, and it can work within a community.

“These really can fit very well, but I don’t want to give anyone the impression that we’re looking to dump anything in the Nauck or Shirlington area,” Dorsey said. “This is something that can fit in well with a revitalizing area with planned future development…It’s not an evil thing that is going to disrupt how people live their life.”

The possible swap of a swath of industrial land owned by Arcland Property Company in Shirlington remains on the table, and will be studied for possible long-term uses.

“Maybe there’s some negotiations, some things that can make people more comfortable, but we need that land in Shirlington,” said County Board member Libby Garvey.

Members of both boards agreed that the Buck and VHC sites could be used to help ease APS’ capacity needs, with enrollment set to keep growing.

School Board chair Nancy Van Doren asked that staff from the county and APS work together closely to plan for the sites’ futures. But several urged caution as the schools review their enrollment projections. All agreed on the urgent need to manage the enrollment growth and provide a seat for every student.

“We really need to come to grips with how we’re growing as a community, where we’re going and when we’re growing and the criteria we’re growing and what we’re getting in return,” said County Board member John Vihstadt.

JFAC will now evaluate the short list of three remaining options, develop some rough cost estimates and go into finer detail on what can be done there. That next phase is set to begin as early as next month.

by Chris Teale June 27, 2017 at 1:15 pm 0

(Updated at 9:35 a.m.) Neighbors of Virginia Highlands Park are accusing Arlington County of ignoring a proposal they put together for the park’s future.

Last year the Aurora Highlands Civic Association submitted a plan for the permit-only softball fields on the west side of the park at 1600 S. Hayes Street to be converted into open space, without any set programming.

“The fields are significantly underused relative to other facilities and especially to open space,” the proposal says, noting that use of the fields is seasonal. “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.”

The county is at the beginning of what it says is a “community-wide conversation” about the park’s future and developing a comprehensive plan.

But some residents are critical of staff at the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, saying that staff has not adequately considered their proposal nor communicated with them, despite an “extraordinary effort” on the part of community leaders “to ensure that there was little to no miscommunication in this process.”

“Attempting to develop a long-term plan for the park that fails to openly and honestly consider the needs of all park goers over existing facilities and their usage, as well intentioned as it may be, will just reshuffle that poor planning with some prettying around the edges,” the group Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks said in its latest newsletter.

ARLnow columnist Peter Rousselot wrote in a recent opinion piece that a member of DPR staff said the softball fields “are needed” and would not be removed.

A county spokeswoman, however, said that while there is no set timeline for planning for the park’s revamp, the civic association’s proposal is still on the table.

“The Aurora Highland Civic Association did provide a plan for the neighborhood’s vision for the park,” the spokeswoman said. “When the county begins the framework plan for the park, the civic association’s plan as well as other community-wide inputs will be considered. County staff is now working with the County Board to determine next steps.”

The softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park are used by a variety of leagues across age groups, from youth to adult.

The D.C. Fray adult league — formerly known as United Social Sports — begins a new eight-week season on July 7 at the fields. Founder and CEO Robert Kinsler said the league “strongly supports maintaining and expanding the fields available for organized sports in Arlington and specifically at Virginia Highlands.”

“We permit and use the parks as much as availability and DPR allows and often have to turn away players due to lack of field space in the area,” Kinsler said. “Any loss of the softball fields would be a huge lost for the activity community that lives in the area.”

by Katherine Berko June 27, 2017 at 10:00 am 0

Madison Manor Park is getting a face-lift.

Renovations at the park at 6225 12th Road N. in the Madison Manor neighborhood will include redesigning the playground, basketball court, picnic shelter, multi-use field, water fountain, park furniture, irrigation walkways, fences and landscaping. The park will also be brought up to current standards, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The county has been soliciting input from users of the park on its future with a chalkboard where people can write suggestions for what they would like to see and what they would not like to see.

The “information gathering” process for the upgrades is happening summer. The design process is set to begin in September and last until November.

Under a timeline proposed by staff, the Arlington County Board is projected to approve a contract for construction by fall 2018 so work can get underway soon after. The county hopes to have the renovation completed by summer 2019.

The county’s Capital Maintenance Fund will pay for this project. The fund is used for projects that bring existing parks up to current standards.

by Chris Teale June 19, 2017 at 2:00 pm 0

Neighbors of a former church in Ballston have mobilized against a plan that could allow more density at the site for future redevelopment.

The site at 1031 N. Vermont Street was home to the First Baptist Church of Ballston, which leased it to the Grace Community Church. Grace has since relocated its services to 125 S. Old Glebe Road. Full Circle Montessori School uses the space for classrooms, while there is also a parking lot and public children’s playground across 11th Street N. included.

But nearby residents in the north of the neighborhood spoke out Saturday against making the site denser, and cited an online petition with almost 500 signatures against any changes.

Local resident Dana Gerk said she started the petition to ask the Arlington County Board and planning staff to “protect us and our community.”

Under a plan advanced unanimously by the County Board at its Saturday meeting, the site could be rezoned to allow for approximately 115,000 square feet of mixed-use development, to include a multi-story residential building and townhomes. The new zone could allow up to 105 homes to be built.

Staff said the proposed amendment to the General Land Use Plan (GLUP) for the site — which calls for “high-medium residential mixed use” zoning with a tapering down in height toward the lower-density residential community —  would “more closely reflect the built conditions implemented through the County Board’s previous actions to approve numerous special exception site plans and rezonings since 1980.”

Board members said discussions around the planning principles for the site are separate from any new redevelopment plans, but one has already been submitted by a developer.

Earlier this year, Reston-based NVR submitted a preliminary application to turn the site into a seven-story building with 73 apartments and townhomes, and 13 townhomes on the north of 11th Street N.

County Board chair Jay Fisette emphasized the Board’s approval was not related to any potential development, but was instead about making broader plans for how a site may look in the future.

“I think today proved that if we can separate the planning issues from the particular building being proposed, we will have a better opportunity to shape what we want in that building when it comes forward,” Fisette said.

Opponents of upping the density on the site spoke against any changes. Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement bemoaned the approval of several under-construction projects in the area contributing to the “already-congested Ballston neighborhood,” and said neighbors might pursue legal action to prevent more development.

“The impact of these projects has not even been felt, these buildings have not yet been built,” she said. “Yet Ballston is already gridlocked.”

The Board’s approval means it will now hold public hearings on a potential GLUP amendment. Anthony Fusarelli, a staff member in the county’s Department of Community, Planning, Housing and Development, said such hearings could be held before the end of this year.

by Chris Teale June 7, 2017 at 10:00 am 0

Members of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group sought to regroup Tuesday night and try to plot a new path forward on the future of the Shirlington Dog Park.

But the need to balance the park needing to manage stormwater while preserving a beloved community asset weighed heavily after a strong backlash against reducing its size.

That community anxiety about the park’s future helped result in the County Board directing staff late last month to go back to the drawing board. Plans drawn up by staff would have shrunk the 109,000 square foot park to as little as 27,000 square feet to accommodate stormwater management.

During their work session, Board members said there must be a better balance between environmental needs and community desires. But some working group members felt the environment was forced to take a back seat.

“I felt extremely distressed with the comments and presentation because it didn’t deal with the environment,” said group member Nora Palmatier.

Several group members also criticized staff for not presenting more options to deal with stormwater beyond a 35-foot buffer near the stream. And while at-large member Keith Fred said it was a “shame” there hadn’t been more conversations about environmental protection at the site a year ago, others said it was an opportunity to put forward new plans.

“We have been challenged as a group and staff as well to think outside the box and look at other alternatives to protect what is a very important economic driver for the Valley,” said group member Adam Henderson.

And Edie Wilson, a member of the working group representing the Shirlington Civic Association, said that despite the community’s strong opposition to any changes at the park, residents care about balancing it with any environmental needs.

Wilson said it is possible to “walk and chew gum at the same time,” and that with staff putting new options forward, she looks forward to seeing what can be done.

“We need to be very careful with the assumption that we don’t care about the environment,” she said. “We have a variety of ways to do both. There’s work to do.”

Later in the meeting, Wilson said more must be done to educate the community about what is being done in the area, and particularly to show them why changes may need to be made to the dog park.

“We really need some public education, and I mean public education in the most civil sense of the word,” she said. “People have a lot of questions.”

County staff said they will meet with County Manager Mark Schwartz later this week to chart a path forward for the park and other projects in the Four Mile Run Valley. No public speakers at the meeting addressed the dog park’s future.

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