Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Va. May Lift Most Restrictions Next Month — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday the state could lift most of its COVID-19 pandemic restrictions by mid-June, about 14 months after the state initially put those measures in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Northam said the state is planning to do away with social distancing requirements and restrictions on gathering sizes on June 15, provided coronavirus cases continue to drop and the pace of vaccinations does not let up.” [DCist, InsideNova]

Allegations of Hazing at ACFD Academy — “Over a year ago, firefighter EMT recruit Brett Ahern alleged extreme bullying and hazing at the hands of one firefighter who was an instructor with the Arlington County Fire Department’s Training Academy… there were other victims. Witnesses are speaking out on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.” [WDVM]

Mask Mandate for APS Athletes Questioned — From Sun Gazette Editor Scott McCaffrey’s blog: “Based on feedback we’ve been getting from our sources in the high-school-sports world, Arlington Public Schools has become something of a punching-bag of ridicule for its ongoing policy of requiring student-athletes to wear masks even in situations where it not only serves no good.” [Sun Gazette]

Woman Flees Knife-Wielding Robbers — “The female victim was outside her parked vehicle when she was approached by two male suspects. Suspect One brandished a knife and demanded her cell phone and money. The victim then ran to and entered her vehicle without providing any of her belongings. The suspects fled the scene when a witness approached the vehicle.” [ACPD]

Internal Pick for County Planning Director — “Arlington County has selected Anthony Fusarelli, Jr. to be the County’s new Planning Director after a nationwide search…. Fusarelli has worked in the County’s Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development for 15 years and most recently served as Assistant Director. In this role he was responsible for development agreements and land deals, strategic initiatives, and demographic and development data research and analysis.” [Arlington County]

Warning About Rabid Cat in Falls Church — “The City of Falls Church Police and the Fairfax County Health Department are urging anyone who may have been bitten or scratched by a cat in the last fourteen days that matches the below description to please contact either agency immediately.” [City of Falls Church]

Bob & Edith’s Opening in Alexandria — “Bob & Edith’s Diner will open on King Street later this year, the company confirmed on Wednesday. The diner will take the place of Ernie’s Original Crab House, which closed in April, at 1743 King St. just a few hundred feet from the King Street Metro station.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

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Morning Notes

Planning Process for Pentagon City Underway — “Amazon.com Inc.’s vision for Pentagon City is decidedly futuristic, anchored by a helix-shaped building that looks straight out of a sci-fi novel. Arlington County’s existing plans that guide the neighborhood’s growth, meanwhile, date back to the days of disco… The open question is how much more development the tech giant will inspire.” [Washington Business Journal]

SUV Overturns on GW Parkway — From WTOP yesterday morning: “NB George Washington Pkwy before the Key Bridge, crash involves one on its side with the left lane only squeezing by.” [Twitter]

GMU to Partner with Local American Legion Post — “Realizing a need existed to help veterans and their families in similar situations, leaders at the law school established the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) in 2004…. A new partnership with American Legion Post 139, which will be standing up a new building in Arlington, will allow the clinic to further increase its impact.” [George Mason University]

New Apartment Building Opening — “AHC Inc., a leading developer of affordable housing in the Washington-Baltimore metro region, is pleased to introduce a new apartment community in Arlington, VA, called The Apex. Featuring a total of 256 apartments, the $100 million development has started to welcome its first residents and is currently accepting applications.” [Press Release]

Arlington Housing Remains Pricey — “The city of Falls Church in Virginia remains the most expensive housing market, by official jurisdiction, with a median price of $820,000 last month. But among larger jurisdictions, Virginia’s Arlington County remains the most expensive, at $600,000 last month.” [WTOP]

Instant-Runoff Voting Challenges — “Technical, legal and financial complexities likely will mean any start to ‘instant-runoff’ County Board voting in Arlington will be pushed back to 2022 at the soonest. ‘It’s not practical for this year. The earliest this could possibly be used is next year,’ said Arlington Electoral Board secretary Scott McGeary, summing things up during a Feb. 6 Electoral Board meeting.” [InsideNova]

Reminder: Blue Line Work Starts Tomorrow — “Metro’s entire Blue Line is being shut down for more than three months starting Saturday… platform reconstruction work [is] being performed at the Arlington Cemetery station.” [ARLnow]

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St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Clarendon is proposing to lease part of its campus for private development and to make its grounds greener and more walkable.

The mid-century church sits on two-and-a-half acres of land wedged among Washington Blvd to the north, N. Kirkwood Road to the west and Fairfax Drive to the south. Parking occupies much of the lot, with the church and its auxiliary spaces lining N. Kirkwood Road and Fairfax Drive.

New renderings, however, reposition the church at the corner of Washington and Wilson Blvd, closer to Clarendon, with parish spaces and a private residential building fanning out behind the church. The building is likely to be an apartment building with a 100-child preschool at the base.

Currently a through-road and one-way loop wrapping around parking, Fairfax Drive would be converted into a walkable plaza. This “enables a comprehensive, pedestrian-friendly connection to Virginia Square and addresses north-south pedestrian access,” according to an architect’s report. Church parking would be accessible from Washington Blvd.

Bike lanes would be rerouted along the south side of the plaza to reduce interactions with pedestrians, the report said. The buildings would provide internal access to protected open spaces — a cloister, a playground and a courtyard.

St. Charles pastor Fr. Don Planty said in a January report the parish has spent the last three-and-a-half years studying the land, working with lawyers and architects and projecting potential costs. Recently, the project turned a corner.

Planty said in the report that Bishop Michael Burbridge of the Diocese of Arlington “has approved our recommendation to move forward with our project, seeking a development partner.” (Diocesan laws require the bishop to approve all developments.)

“This marks an exciting transition for us: we have long spoken about the ‘potential’ redevelopment of our site,” he wrote. “We now set about the exciting business of turning our vision into a reality.”

St. Charles plans to lease the western half of its site to a private developer, which would fund the changes proposed for the sacred half of the site.

Drafting a Request for Proposal and selecting a development partner could take six months or more, but would “clear the path for local government approvals and eventual construction,” Planty said.

Although the pastor described the future as promising, he said “we still have a lot of work to do.”

Like other proposed developments, including mixed-use buildings where Joyce Motors used to be and on the Wells Fargo/Verizon Site, aspects of the church’s proposed changes will not meet guidelines in the 2006 Clarendon Sector Plan. In preparation for these developments, Arlington County began mulling over changes to the sector plan in February 2020.

This winter, the county sought feedback on how people feel cycling and walking along Fairfax Drive and Wilson Boulevard between Clarendon Circle and N. Kirkwood Road and what could be done to improve the experience. This area includes St. Charles’s proposed pedestrian plaza and rerouted bike lanes.

Hat tip to Stephen Repetski

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Time is ticking down to weigh in on the initial phases of an update to the development plan for the Clarendon neighborhood.

Arlington County is inviting people to provide online feedback on proposed updates to the 2006 Clarendon Sector Plan through Friday, Jan. 8.

“We’d like to have you provide your feedback, comments, questions by visiting the project website or by contacting staff,” said Brett Wallace, principal planner, CPHD in a video presentation from mid-December. “We’d also like to get some input on online survey questions.”

The update to the 14-year-old sector plan was prompted by a series of pending redevelopments. Arlington County began mulling over these changes in February.

In this round of public comments, the County is focusing on improvements to the pedestrian and bicycle experience along Fairfax Drive and Wilson Boulevard between Clarendon Circle and Kirkwood Drive.

“As a pedestrian, what is your level of comfort when accessing and using pedestrian facilities along Fairfax Drive between Clarendon Circle and Kirkwood? How would you improve the pedestrian experience along this section of Fairfax Drive?” is one such question.

The County is also asking people to rank whether they would like to see wider sidewalks, street trees, on-street parking, café seating or other amenities. The sector plan currently recommends preserving two “historic” buildings on the north side of Wilson Boulevard, which the County says will make it difficult to realize all these improvements.

The process for changing the sector plan started in September, followed by the first of five engagement session. The next online engagement opportunity will be posted in late January or early February.

The County cites multiple projects in the Clarendon Circle area that do not meet the sector plan’s requirements. They include changes to St. Charles Catholic Church, as well as mixed-use buildings where Joyce Motors used to be and on the Wells Fargo/Verizon Site.

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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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Morning Notes

It’s Veterans Day — Today is Veterans Day, and as a result of the holiday government offices are closed and metered parking is not being enforced. Per the county, Arlington is currently home to about 13,000 veterans. [Arlington County]

Trump Scheduled for Cemetery Visit –“To mark Veterans Day… President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will visit Arlington National Cemetery. The President will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown [Soldier],” according to CBS News producer Sara Cook. [Twitter, Washington Examiner]

Man Exposes Himself a Block from Police HQ — “At approximately 12:05 p.m. on November 9, police were dispatched to the late report of an exposure. Upon arrival, it was determined that approximately an hour prior, the female victim was inside her parked vehicle when she observed the suspect expose himself. Arriving officers located the suspect and took him into custody without incident.” [ACPD]

From Record Warmth to Heavy Rain — Tuesday “set new daily record highs at the three major climate-observing locations in the Washington-Baltimore region. Washington reached 76 degrees, tying a record set in 1999.” Meanwhile, heavy rain is expected later today. [Capital Weather Gang]

County Updating Natural Resources Plan — “Arlington County is updating its Forestry and Natural Resources Plan to conserve, plant, and maintain wildlife there. Over the next year, the project team will be collecting comments from the public about the county’s conservation and maintenance. The county hosted its first public comment session on Tuesday.” [WDVM]

About Today — ARLnow will be publishing on a limited schedule today due to the holiday.

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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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Arlington County officials are considering new administrative guidance to streamline the process of converting office buildings into residential buildings.

Such conversions would remain subject to County Board approval, but a new set of guidelines being considered by county staff would make the review and recommendation process easier.

In a presentation, expected to be given to the county’s Long Range Planning Committee at its meeting tonight, officials will say that trends both local and national will lead to a wave of office building conversions. Underlying that is the pandemic and the shift to working from home, potentially leading to less demand for office space.

The trends, however, started before the pandemic, with an “observed reduction in office demand — nationally, regionally and locally — over the past decade resulting limited economic feasibility for speculative multi-tenant office buildings.”

Recent office-to-residential conversions in Arlington include the WeLive/WeWork building in Crystal City. Future projects like it need a better-defined path from proposal to County Board consideration, county staff says.

“Neighboring jurisdictions are actively addressing issues around use flexibility,” the presentation notes. “Alexandria and Fairfax County have adopted policies related to this issue and have approved projects implementing them whereas Arlington County has approved projects with no guiding policy to date.”

The guidance will not change existing County Board policies, the presentation asserts, but will help staff when reviewing office conversion proposals.

“In advance of evaluating the appropriateness of new office conversion requests, staff developed this administrative guidance for use during staff review, community discussion and [County Manager] recommendation to the [County Board] on the proposed conversion,” the presentation says. “This guidance is not [County Board] policy, and does not change existing [County Board] policy or alter existing land use processes.”

The law firm McGuireWoods is telling its clients, however, that the changes will “increase flexibility and support for repurposing existing and approved office buildings.”

“The new administrative guidance is expected to give developers and property owners much-needed flexibility to consider residential, live-work and other options that, in many cases, could be beyond what existing planning guidance permits,” the firm said on its website. “Outreach is currently underway with business community stakeholders and decision makers and will continue in the upcoming weeks. The administrative guidance will likely be in place by the end of 2020.”

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Route 1 through Crystal City is currently a car-oriented, exhaust-clogged asphalt canyon that’s unpleasant for pedestrians to cross or even walk along. But there’s a push for that to change.

The National Landing BID, formerly known as the Crystal City BID before Amazon came to town, has just revealed its lusher, more pedestrian-friendly vision for Route 1, complete with wide sidewalks lined with ground-floor retail and restaurants.

VDOT is currently studying the corridor and considering whether overpasses in the Crystal City area should be removed in favor of a more conventional, urban street grid. The BID’s new Reimagine Route 1 report takes that and other ideas for modernizing the corridor and turns it into a series of concept designs, complete with 3D renderings.

“The concepts presented in Reimagine Route 1 draw upon best practices in urban street design by placing people at the center of National Landing’s future,” Matt Gerber, General Manager of the Westin Crystal City and Co-Chair of the BID’s Transportation Committee, said in a statement today. “Narrow lane widths, lower design speeds, and urban intersection geometries ensure that the autocentric mistakes of the past will not be replicated in the development of the corridor’s new and distinctly community-focused identity.”

The BID’s vision for turning Route 1 — also known as Richmond Highway — from a commuter route into an “iconic corridor serving a thriving urban neighborhood” draws comparisons to main routes in other major cities.

The report includes photos of Octavia Boulevard — formerly Central Freeway — in San Francisco, as well as Michigan Avenue in Chicago, which like Route 1 has three vehicle lanes in each direction.

“Also known as the Magnificent Mile, the 13-block stretch of North Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street has a similar vehicle carrying capacity as the existing Route 1 yet boasts a walkable and vibrant public realm with safe connections to transit and a well-connected street grid,” the report says.

The report is intended to start a conversation about the corridor’s long-term future, which officials may then opt to turn into action via transportation and land use changes. The overall goal is to turn the Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard neighborhoods — collectively now known as National Landing — into a cohesive urban area over time.

“Route 1 was originally designed to accommodate the auto-centric development trends of the mid-20th century, when the primary objective was to move cars through the area as quickly as possible,” the BID said in a press release. “The resulting elevated highway, super blocks, and oversized intersections divided the community for decades, inhibiting not only connectivity and access, but also the area’s ability to come together as a singular downtown district.”

Others have also been working on envisioning changes to Route 1. The Crystal City Sector Plan, approved in 2010, set a more urban vision for the community through 2040. Local civic associations, meanwhile, have recently formed a collective called Livability 22202 to discuss ideas. From an August article:

Proposed changes ranged from building storefronts or markets in the area underneath the overpasses, creating more open space where thick sandstone-colored walls now hold up the highway, and putting Route 1 underground to allow for development on top of it.

More on the Reimagine Route 1 report, from a press release, is below.

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via Arlington County

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