Three safety and beautification projects are coming to western Arlington streets.
This Saturday the County Board is scheduled to vote on $2.8 million in construction contracts for Neighborhood Conservation projects. The three projects are all at the western edge of Arlington, near Falls Church.
The project at Patrick Henry Drive near Westover Apartments will add dedicated bike lanes from Washington Boulevard to 16th Street N.
The other two projects — 2nd Street South at S. Kensington Street and N. Quintana Street — will add new sidewalks. The N. Quintana Street project will also add streetlights.
The projects are all planned to:
- Improve pedestrian connectivity
- Provide disability accessible routes
- Rehabilitate existing roadways
- Improve drainage
The projects are 32 percent more expensive ($883,379) than when they were first proposed in 2017, which staff attributed to inflation in construction costs and higher construction standards enacted by the county since then.
Photo via Google Maps
Baby Boy for Cristol — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol gave birth to her first child, a baby boy, this past weekend. She plans to call in to Saturday’s County Board meeting and participate in the crucial Amazon incentive package vote. [Twitter]
Building Plans for Temporary Amazon Office — JBG Smith “submitted plans March 7 to make common area improvements throughout the 12-story, 221,000-square-foot [office building at] 1800 S. Bell St., to be leased in full by Amazon.” [Washington Business Journal]
County May Change Building Plan Practices — “Arlington officials are considering ending same-day viewing at the Department of Community Planning, Housing & Development after a Washington Business Journal reporter asked to view a permit for a building Amazon.com Inc. is expected to lease, said Ben Aiken, director of constituent services in the county manager’s office.” [Washington Business Journal]
VRE Plans Moving Forward — “Virginia Railway Express is moving forward with plans to build an expanded Crystal City Station, a key step needed to expand and improve service. The VRE Operations Board is due to vote Friday to allow contracting to move forward for engineering work based on the already approved concept design.” [WTOP]
New Leases in Rosslyn — Earlier this week Monday Properties announced the signing of three lease deals at 1100 Wilson Boulevard, one half of its Rosslyn twin towers. The firms leasing new space are The Health Management Academy and Trilogy Federal LLC, while WJLA owner Sinclair Broadcasting is expanding its existing space. [Monday Properties]
Extensive Road Closures Saturday — Expect a number of road closures in Courthouse, Rosslyn and near the Pentagon Saturday morning for the annual Four Courts Four Miler. [Arlington County]
Nearby: Gentrification Fears in Arlandria — “Concern of rising rents and gentrification have always been present in the Arlandria neighborhood, which sits between South Glebe and West Glebe roads and ends at Potomac Yard. Amazon.com Inc.’s plan to move to nearby Arlington has only intensified those worries.” [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington leaders are starting a planning process to chart out the future of the Lee Highway corridor in earnest tonight (Tuesday), setting the stage for a lengthy debate over how the county allows development along the many neighborhoods lining the highway.
Officials are holding a community kick-off for “Plan Lee Highway” at 6:30 p.m. at the newly renamed Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) tonight, giving anyone interested in the corridor’s future a chance to learn more about the process and offer their thoughts.
A group of dozens of community leaders, known as a “community forum,” has already begun some initial discussions on how the process should go forward. In essence, officials are hoping to sketch out a new “area plan” for a five-mile stretch of the highway, guiding future public and private development from the East Falls Church Metro station to the Lyon Village neighborhood near Rosslyn.
The question of how much more density planners allow along the highway will likely come to define the ensuing debate.
Though many shopping centers and apartment complexes sit on the highway itself, most of the neighborhoods just off the roadway are reserved for single-family homes. Officials are now examining a variety of “nodes” on the highway that could someday become home to mixed-use developments or different types of housing, a focus that will become all the more important as Amazon moves in and puts a strain on the county’s supply of available homes.
The future of those shopping centers will be another key concern, as the county weighs how best to transform them to protect existing businesses thriving on the highway while also luring in new development.
Planners also hope to focus on transportation along the corridor, as the county considers ways to ramp up bus service on the highway and make it a bit more walkable as well.
County officials are expecting the planning process to stretch over the next three years, given the size and scope of what leaders will examine.
The Lee Highway Alliance, a group of businesses and other concerned citizens living along the roadway, will hold regular design studios over the coming weeks to accept more community input, with another “public workshop” tentatively scheduled for September.
County planners are now kicking off work to chart out the future of the former home of Arlington’s “Salt Dome,” the site of so much community consternation this past summer.
A task force convened by the County Board to study the 7.6-acre property, at the intersection of 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive and adjacent to Marymount University’s campus, is planning a “community roundtable” on the matter Saturday (Jan. 12). The meeting will be held at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), starting at 10 a.m.
For about 90 years, the property was home to a large metal “dome” storing road salt and served as the base of operations for salt trucks in the northern half of the county. But county staff discovered in July that the structure was on the verge of collapsing, and they took rapid steps to secure the Board’s permission to tear down the dome and build a temporary storage facility in its place.
The process took months to complete, but many neighbors still felt blindsided by changes that failed to follow Arlington’s notoriously extensive community engagement guidelines. In particular, some worry that the temporary facility would eventually become permanent, even though people living nearby had hoped for years to see the land transformed into a park or some sort of other community amenity.
County workers removed the old dome just last week, standing up a structure designed to hold about 4,500 tons of road salt in its place.
The Board has since issued a variety of mea culpas for its handling of the issue — new Chair Christian Dorsey even singled the process out as a “failure” during his Jan. 2 speech taking the Board’s gavel — and agreed to kick off a planning process for the property in part to rebuild trust in the community.
The “Master Planning Task Force” could eventually recommend one of all manner of new uses for the property, most of which sits empty. However, county staffers agree that they’ll need to maintain most of their existing operations on the site, from winter storm response to leaf and mulch storage.
As for the rest, there are plenty of possibilities being batted about. The county’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission, a group dedicated to finding space for public facilities around Arlington, is recommending that some sort of park or other public space must be created or maintained on the site, according to November meeting documents.
JFAC is also suggesting that the property could have room for an “elementary or secondary school,” at a time when land for new schools is a particularly acute need for the county, or for vehicle storage for police or school bus drivers.
Additionally, Marymount University is pitching the prospect of striking a deal with the county to build a “multi-use” athletic field on the site for its sports teams, alongside a one-acre park and playground to meet the community’s wishes.
The task force is set to meet again on Thursday (Jan 10.) and hopes to eventually deliver a report to the County Board with recommendations for future sites uses by April.
The Virginia Hospital Center might’ve finally won the county’s approval on designs for a hefty new expansion of its North Arlington campus, but officials have months of work left to do before neighbors will start seeing any construction in the area.
Years from now, the hospital will add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage to its property at 1701 N. George Mason Drive, after the County Board narrowly approved plans for the $250 million project on Tuesday. The expansion will ultimately help the county’s lone hospital add 101 new beds, in a bid to match rising demand in the area.
But VHC officials say they won’t be able to put shovels in the ground just yet. First, they need to complete a land swap with the county to make the expansion possible.
Arlington officials and the VHC agreed last year that the county would send the hospital a property adjacent to its campus at 1800 N. Edison Street in exchange for one at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road. However, the swap was contingent on the Board signing off on the expansion plans in the first place.
Community concerns over the project’s design meant that the Board repeatedly delayed its consideration of the VHC proposal, but with that green light finally given, hospital executives will now turn to finalizing the terms of the land swap. Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, says that process will wrap up around next “May or June” at the latest, teeing up construction to start soon afterward.
“It’s been a good three years we’ve been involved in this process, so absolutely it was a sigh of relief when we got the approval,” Stanton told ARLnow. “We wanted to be in front of the Board back in May because we need the beds today… and there a lot of specifics involved, and a lot left to happen.”
Some of the process of sorting out the details of the land swap agreement are fairly mundane, like basic site inspections. Others are a bit more fraught — for instance, the county and the hospital will have to agree on the Edison Road property’s value.
The terms of the agreement call for the hospital to pay either $12.56 million or the property’s appraised value to acquire the site — it all depends on which amount is larger. County records show the property was valued at about $8.9 million this year. By contrast, the S. Carlin Springs Road land the hospital will send to the county was valued at $38.8 million.
Stanton says that the process of hashing out the land swap could wrap up more quickly than they’re expecting, but the hospital is tentatively planning on kicking off construction by “somewhere around June or July 2019” in his most conservative estimate of the timeframe.
Once that happens, Stanton says the hospital will likely need another approval from state regulators before it can wrap up the construction. VHC previously earned a “Certificate of Public Need” from the Virginia Department of Health, certifying that enough demand exists in the area to add more beds to the facility.
The catch is that state officials only allowed VHC to add 44 beds, rather than the full 101 it’s planning. Stanton says that’s because the state only examines demand in five-year increments, while the hospital is projecting a need for 101 beds by looking at a 10-year timetable.
“We agreed to that smaller number with the acknowledgement that we will be back asking for more,” Stanton said. “Our intent is to be able to get the additional beds we feel we need, and do that before construction is complete.”
As for the construction timeline, Stanton says the hospital’s “guesstimate” is that the new garage will be open by the first few months of 2021. Then, he hopes the new outpatient facility will be ready by the second quarter of 2022.
Once that new “pavilion” is ready, the hospital will begin moving its existing outpatient equipment over to the new facility, opening up space for the 101 new beds. However, Stanton cautions that process will require some complicated renovation work, so it’s difficult to know when it will be ready.
“It shouldn’t take as long [as the new construction], but we’ll be doing construction in the existing patient tower,” Stanton said. “It’s not as easy a construction project because we’re working around our existing operations. So it’s by no means easy.”
Looking even further down the line, hospital leaders eventually hope that this expansion will lay the groundwork for the full redevelopment of the campus. However, Stanton’s “best guess” is that work on that process won’t start for at least 15 years or so.
Stanton hopes that hospital officials can use that time to rebuild trust with the surrounding community.
The expansion’s design process became an acrimonious one at times, with neighbors accusing the hospital of ignoring their concerns or even walling off the surrounding community with its new facilities. And Stanton admits to no small amount of frustration that the process turned so contentious.
He argues that the hospital’s initial outreach to the community was “largely positive,” before the county’s formal site plan review process got started. He believes that VHC officials managed to build plenty of consensus around the project, back when neighbors formed their own ad hoc committee to work with the hospital.
“I thought we had a very strong connection with those communities,” Stanton said. “It doesn’t mean were always in agreement, but we felt we, and the County Board, were getting positive reviews from the community about conversations with the hospital. But that seemed to change when we went through formal process with the county, which was really frustrating to me.”
Accordingly, Stanton is pledging “continual communication” between the hospital and its neighbors, to try and recapture the spirit of those early days of planning the expansion, leading to much more harmonious community conversations around any future redevelopment.
“I would only hope that relationship and communication can be just as good, if not better, than before we started this process,” Stanton said.
The Arlington County Board narrowly approved the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans yesterday (Tuesday), clearing the way for the $250 million project to move ahead despite persistent concerns over its design and impact on the community.
In a rare 3-2 vote, the Board signed off on designs for the county’s lone hospital to add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage adjacent to its existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive.
The additions will help the hospital add another 101 beds to its existing building, a move that VHC officials argued was urgently necessary to meet rising demand in the area. The Board will now send the hospital a piece of county-owned land on N. Edison Street to power the expansion, and receive a some hospital property on S. Carlin Springs Road in exchange.
“We are grateful to have constructively worked with community members to reach a positive solution, and we are committed to remaining good neighbors in the Arlington community,” Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, wrote in a statement. “For 75 years, Virginia Hospital Center’s mission has been to act in the best interest of our patients. We continue to be thankful for our Board, physicians, staff and auxiliary members who are ready to serve for the next 75 years.”
The Board was previously set to approve the expansion plans in September, but opted for a delay instead to give the hospital a chance to tweak its designs a bit. A narrow majority of the Board felt that VHC’s planners managed to meet those standards over the last two months, while Board members Erik Gutshall and John Vihstadt argued that the hospital failed to meet the specific requests the Board previously laid out for design changes.
Others on the Board expressed similar concerns, but none of the other three members were willing join Gutshall and Vihstadt in delaying the project once more.
“I certainly remain troubled to not be able to fully achieve what we envisioned a couple of months ago,” said Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “It’s better today than it was two months ago… We’re at a much better place where this facility interacts with the neighborhood in a way that is going to be a lot more respectful and pleasing for people who will choose to live there for decades to come.”
The Board had also urged VHC executives to do more outreach in the community and ease concerns about everything from traffic to the size of the new facilities. The hospital held several community meetings with nearby civic associations and other neighbors since the Board’s last vote, but the Board still expressed plenty of concern that the hospital didn’t do enough to fully engage the community.
“I’m really feeling frustrated and undernourished here,” Vihstadt said. “Too often, it was a matter of ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, we invite your comments, we invite your critique,’ not, ‘Here’s option A, here’s option B, what do you think works best?'”
But some Board members had specific critiques of the design as well. Those primarily centered on a pedestrian walkway running from north-south through the site, starting at 19th Street N. and running toward 16th Street N., and the traffic pattern on N. George Mason Drive as it runs alongside the hospital.
The Board’s September motion specifically requested that the north-south walkway be at least 15 feet wide and two stories in height, in order to create a better flow of both pedestrians and light throughout the campus. Yet the revised design presented a path that wasn’t quite that wide, and had a pedestrian bridge running over top of it along one section to restrict the open air standard the Board laid out.
“It doesn’t seem to me that it really meets the gist and the intent of our motion,” Gutshall said.
Nan Walsh, an attorney for the hospital, argued that VHC’s architects did the best they could to meet the Board’s standards, but ran into a series of intractable problems.
Widening the pathway, for instance, could’ve forced the hospital to move its parking garage too close to neighboring homes, or forced the hospital to cut more than 200 spaces from the structure, Walsh said. The latter option was particularly unpalatable for VHC, as it had already removed hundreds of spaces to meet the concerns of transit advocates.
“We have sharpened our pencils for the last two weeks and we really feel we’ve gone about as far as we can go,” Walsh said.
County planner Matthew Ladd did reassure the Board that the walkway struck him as a “major improvement” over the hospital’s original design, and most members were inclined to agree.
“This is breaking up what felt like a superblock and creating a sense of flow of light and air between the two buildings,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “I know this leaves disappointment on the part of some of the neighbors… but I did not enter this phase with a lot of optimism that there will be peace in the land.”
Gutshall initially looked for a one-month deferral of the project, as the Board had originally planned to take up the new designs in December — the hospital, backed by its allies in the business community, pressed for the earlier consideration. Vihstadt was inclined to support him, dubbing the new plans “too much of a suburban campus, a suburban design.”
Yet Gutshall couldn’t find a third vote for the delay, and he relented. But he did warn the hospital that, as it considers the full redevelopment of its campus in the coming years now that this expansion has been approved, there may be more painful meetings in its future if it doesn’t change its approach.
“You continually throughout this process pushed the envelope every step of the way…but ultimately I think there’s a cost extracted for that,” Gutshall said. “And I’d strongly encourage you to look at what are the things that you can do to build a stronger relationship with the surrounding community to begin to lay the groundwork for the next time you come back for whatever the next phase of this is going to be.”
The Army is now set to build a two-mile-long, eight-foot-high security fence along the border of the Arlington National Cemetery and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
The National Capital Planning Commission, a regional planning body focused on projects on federally owned land, unanimously signed off on designs for the new fence at a meeting last month. The project, commissioned to replace a four-foot-high fence currently separating the base from the cemetery, will also include a five-foot-wide walking trail along the perimeter of the burial ground and a new parking lot to replace some spaces to be eliminated by the construction.
The Army proposed the new fence in the first place over concerns that the existing wall is “no longer adequate to protect the employees on the installation,” according to a report prepared by the commission’s staff. The fence will include four gates to allow access between the base and the cemetery — the fence itself will be “anti-climb and the gates will be both anti-climb and anti-ram,” according to staff.
The gates were a particular point of concern for some members of the commission, who pressed the Army to to reconsider designs at the Selfridge and Memorial Chapel gates, in particular. However, the fence’s designers said they couldn’t quite manage to find a design that would simultaneously meet the Army’s design concerns and the aesthetic issues the commission identified.
“[At] Selfridge, I think we’ve proven that beauty and elegance is gone from our minds,” Commission Vice Chairman Thomas Gallas said during the Oct. 4 meeting. “And I guess I’m disappointed, because I know everybody, everybody, all the stakeholders appreciate what that gate feels like as you approach it. It really is something powerful, as we went there to see it, it moves you. And it won’t move you anymore. Nothing’s going to move there. It’s constipated, I guess you could say.”
The Army does plan to add more shrubs and landscaping at the gates to help address some of those concerns, according to the staff report.
The project will also include a trail, which “follows the path of countless runners and walkers” and “will be made from permeable pavement.” The Army also hopes to add “small seating areas with benches and detailed planting along the trail,” the report says.
The cemetery is set to see a bevy of other changes in the coming years, with plans for a massive expansion of the burial ground and a realignment of many nearby roads.
Arlington officials have, at long last, approved a new planning document to guide the Four Mile Run Valley’s future, one of the last remaining steps for the county to take in the years-long debate over the area’s development.
The County Board unanimously signed off on new “area plan” for the Nauck valley on Saturday (Nov. 17), sketching out the county’s strategies for fostering the preservation and growth of industrial and arts-focused businesses in the area.
The plan also lays out a series of potential road and parking changes in the area, which have prompted some community consternation even as the planning process wraps up. Some Nauck leaders have previously expressed grave concerns that county officials aren’t listening to their suggestions for the area’s development, and that includes fears about the road changes on the way for S. Four Mile Run Drive.
“An important element is missing: trust,” Nauck Civic Association President Portia Clark told the Board. “The county needs to work with us to repair the loss of trust… We were here before the planning process began, and we’ll be here long after.”
But Board members expressed broad satisfaction with the plan, despite those anxieties, arguing that the roughly three-year-long planning process delivered an outcome that will benefit the community for years to come.
“We’re going to all look back on this process, as occasionally challenging as it was, and see that this will be a true jewel for not only South Arlington, but the county as a whole,” said Board member John Vihstadt, the Board’s liaison to a working group convened to assemble the plan.
The Board previously adopted a broad “policy framework” guiding all manner of future changes to the area this spring. The working group and county staff then relied on that document to develop a parks master plan for the area, primarily focused on the overhaul of Jennie Dean Park, and then assembled the final area plan.
Among the document’s proposed changes are road alterations designed to make S. Four Mile Drive and some of its side streets more friendly for both cyclists and pedestrians, and free up more parking along the road. Changes will include new sections of sidewalk, a new pedestrian crossing island and curb extensions, as well as more robust parking restrictions and enforcement to encourage more turnover.
But those alterations will only be temporary, as the county examines whether they actually work. Officials could even initiate more dramatic changes going forward, like the addition of more angled spaces leading up to Jennie Dean Park and even the conversion of S. Four Mile Run Drive into a two-lane road with a dedicated middle turning lane.
“There are still some concerns on the road changes… but the community has accepted the ‘test first, build later’ strategy,” said Charles Monfort, chair of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group.
Yet Monfort’s leadership of the group attracted a public rebuke from one of his fellow vice chairs in a Washington Post opinion piece, as Robin Stombler argued that the public engagement process on all manner of issues was flawed — Monfort insisted Saturday that “anyone’s who wanted to speak has had many opportunities to do so.”
But Stombler and other Nauck residents charged that the parking changes are simply the latest example of the community’s concerns being cast aside. Clark pointed out staffing challenges in the Arlington police department means officers have less time to dedicate to traffic enforcement, making any pledge to step up the policing of parking violations on S. Four Mile Run Drive a hollow one.
“It makes no sense to test parking restrictions that will not be enforced and will actually increase parking turnover problems,” said Anne Inman, one of the Nauck Civic Association’s representatives on the working group.
Vihstadt also expressed some trepidation that the county is “really engaging in real time” on these issues, worrying that officials might “prioritize beauty and aesthetics over operational, on-the-ground needs for businesses and people who inhabit and do commerce in the valley.”
But county planner Richard Tucker reassured concerned neighbors, however, that the county is “going to move forward with understanding we’ll come back on this and make changes” after a year or so, if the parking plans aren’t working as intended.
“We test a little bit, we see what we learn and then maybe we expand that to other areas,” said Board member Erik Gutshall.
Beyond the parking changes, Tucker added that there are still few elements left to the planning work for the valley. In January, the county will kick off discussions on potentially adding an arts district to the area (a controversial point in its own right) and then convene a broader discussion on land use and zoning a few months later.
By and large, though, Board members hope the area plan’s adoption signals a major step forward for the county in charting out the valley’s future.
“When I walk down to Four Mile Run 25 years from now, the built environment will not look fundamentally different,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “And that speaks to this effort and what we all value about this area.”
Pentagon Ricin Case Update — “Letters sent to the White House and the Pentagon did not contain a finished form of ricin, law enforcement officials said Wednesday, but did contain a primitive form or precursor… A man was arrested in Logan, Utah, on Wednesday in connection with [the] suspicious letters.” [NBC News, NBC News]
Candidates Call for Speedier Lee Highway Planning — “Indications are pointing to redevelopment of significant portions of the Lee Highway corridor through Arlington beginning to gather steam. But is the Arlington County government going to be left behind as the process grinds on? The two candidates for County Board say the local government needs to get moving on its efforts to lead a comprehensive effort in helping plan the corridor’s future.” [InsideNova]
GMU ‘No Scooter Zone’ Nixed — George Mason University “recognizes the popularity of the scooters, so it is softening the message, [spokesman Buzz] McClain said. ‘I think the ‘no scooter zone’ sign got the attention of a lot of people, a little exclamatory. So we’re gonna tone down the messaging and say, ‘park the scooters over by the bikes,’ and that’s it.'” [NBC Washington]
Tonight: Family Film Showing in Clarendon — “Join Market Common Clarendon each Thursday in October starting at 6:30 p.m. for a FREE family-friendly movie on The Loop! Pre-movie fun begins at 4:30 with face painting and balloon twisting and free popcorn and candy from 6-8 p.m.” [ARLnow Events]
Teachers Endorse Kanninen, de Ferranti — The Arlington Education Association PAC has endorsed Democratic candidate Matt de Ferranti for Arlington County Board and incumbent Barbara Kanninen for School Board. The PAC represents Arlington teachers. [Twitter, Twitter, Arlington Education Association]
Domestic Violence Awareness Month Kickoff — “Project PEACE is hosting Kate Ranta, a local domestic and gun violence survivor… for a community conversation about sex, violence and the Arlington community. The event takes place [on] Thursday, October 4 [at] 6:30 p.m., at the Walter Reed Community Center.” [Press Release]
Arlington’s Pros and Cons Compared to Tysons — “‘Arlington has old office spaces with bad floor plans,’ said [GMU Professor Stephen] Fuller. ‘That’s sending people out to Tysons, which has newer office space… [But] when Amazon was looking at Northern Virginia, they were looking at Crystal City, not Tysons. Tysons just doesn’t offer lifestyle that they’re looking for.'” [Tysons Reporter]
Arlington Police Involved in D.C. Standoff — County police are working with their counterparts in D.C. to arrest a man wanted on rape charges in Arlington. When they attempted to arrest him last night, he barricaded himself inside his home on the 3300 block of Mt. Pleasant Street N.W. [Twitter, PoPville]
ART Route Changes Start This Weekend — Riders on Arlington Transit’s 41, 42, 43 and 75 lines may notice some schedule adjustments starting Saturday. Service will become more frequent on all of the lines, and the northbound stop at the Courthouse Metro Station will become permanent. [Arlington Transit]
Arlington Planners Bring ‘Smart Growth’ Strategies to Md. — At a talk yesterday, the head of Arlington County’s planning division shared some wisdom on “Arlington’s smart growth journey” to planners in Prince George’s County, Md. “As a regional, national and international model of smart growth, Arlington, has demonstrated… how the mistakes and impacts of suburban sprawl can be corrected and avoided through a visionary and continuous commitment to innovative planning,” the event program noted. [Prince George’s County]
Valley Fest Road Closures This Weekend — S. Oakland Street will play host to the second annual Valley Fest, backed by New District Brewing and other local businesses and artists. There will be plenty of beer on tap, but police warn to watch out for some road closures. [Arlington Police]
Leaf Blowers Irk Arlingtonians — Some county residents raised a stink with the County Board over the pervasive drone of leaf blowers, now that fall is nearly here. But local officials say their hands are tied by state law and likely can’t pass any sort of ordinance to limit the noise. [Falls Church News-Press]
Head ‘Back to the Future’ with Rhodeside Grill — The Rosslyn-area restaurant is offering throwback cocktails and dishes from the 1950s and 1980s to commemorate the classic comedy. The event is set for Oct. 12. [Facebook]
Detours on Arlington-McLean Border This Week — Work to replace a culvert will result in the closure Valley Wood Road in McLean, running just near Williamsburg Middle School and Discovery Elementary School. [Tysons Reporter]
Firefighters Extinguish Bellevue Forest Blaze — County firefighters say an attic fan caught fire in a home on the 3100 block of N. Quincy Street around 6 p.m. last night. There were no injuries. [Twitter]
As Arlington officials continue to chart out the future of the Four Mile Run valley, some community leaders in Nauck feel their concerns are being ignored by the county and are demanding a louder voice in the proceedings.
The county’s worked since 2016 to craft new planning documents for the area, primarily located in Nauck but touching Shirlington and other South Arlington neighborhoods as well, in a bid to guide the gradual transformation of the valley’s parks and business district. The County Board passed a “policy framework” to provide a roadmap for that process in May, and is set to sign off on a “parks master plan” for the area at its meeting this weekend.
But even with a slew of community meetings on the subject and a working group dedicated to the valley, some Nauck leaders remain frustrated by how the county’s handled their input. While they have gripes with some policy specifics — the re-design of Jennie Dean Park, in particular — their broader concern is that residents are being left out of the process of determining their own neighborhood’s long-term outlook.
“It is confounding when the community that’s most impacted by the Four Mile Run valley is blocked from county communication,” Robin Stombler, a Nauck resident and vice chair of the Four Mile Run working group, told ARLnow. “There’s been a history of exclusion and marginalization of this community, and the county’s current actions don’t correct that history.”
As Stombler points out, the community’s roots as a historically black neighborhood add an extra level of tension to any discussion of how the county engages with people in Nauck. Even with the Board’s frequent commitments to remedying historic inequities in the community as part of the planning process, some residents can’t help but feel suspicious that Nauck’s past is still influencing its future.
“This community has been ignored repeatedly by the Arlington County Board while the requests and desires of several other, predominantly white, Arlington neighborhoods are being placed ahead of those of the people who live here,” Nauck resident Renee Greenwell wrote in an email. “It takes a lot for a historically marginalized community to speak its mind, [and] for Arlington County leaders and staff to patronize us and ignore our opinions is despicable.”
Arlington officials dispute that they’ve ignored any community involved in the planning, let alone Nauck. For his part, Board member John Vihstadt, the Board’s liaison to the Four Mile Run working group, says he’s done his best to “understand and appreciate the sometimes varied perspectives of all stakeholders in our planning process, especially those from Nauck.”
County parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish also touted the “enormous amount of community outreach” involved in the process, noting that the county has held a total of 65 meetings on the valley as well as creating “an online forum for those who could not attend” those gatherings.
Nauck Civic Association President Portia Clark, however, says the county’s “engagement process was lousy from the beginning.” While she says the county has indeed held plenty of meetings, it’s the quality of those meetings that concern her.
For instance, Clark says she invited parks officials to a civic association meeting last Monday (Sept. 10) to have a broader conversation about the parks master plan. Despite repeated requests, Clark and Stombler both say the county ultimately only sent one representative to the meeting, who couldn’t discuss the plan in the detail they were looking for.
“Where were the other county folks behind the parks plan?” Clark said.
Kalish acknowledges that the county was invited to that gathering, but noted that other officials had just held an “open house” on the parks plan on Sept. 5, calling it “robust and distributive.”
“We heard from a variety of people, including residents from Nauck and the surrounding communities,” Kalish said.
But Clark claims the meeting was sparsely attended, coming so soon after Labor Day, with county officials outnumbering community members by a hefty margin.
“How engaging is that?” Clark said. “We recommended from the beginning that they contact every household… It just went on deaf ears, because they weren’t listening.”
Clark feels that the county instead came into the process with “certain things in mind that they wanted,” and then refused to change based on community input.
Among her biggest concerns are the plans to revamp Jennie Dean Park. Eventually, the county envisions acquiring the WETA building next to the park, relocating a baseball field and adding new tennis courts to the area.
The Board ultimately endorsed a plan to move the field closer to the intersection of 27th Street S. and S. Nelson Street, even though Clark’s civic association and the county’s Park and Recreation Commission backed an option that would’ve left a bit more open space at the front of the park by locating the field elsewhere. But county staff endorsed the former alternative, reasoning it would be easier to build and maintain, and the Board is set to formalize that selection when it votes on the park master plan Saturday (Sept. 22).
To Clark, the dispute represents the perfect example of the county not listening to Nauck’s input, even though the neighborhood hosts the park itself.
“We’re concerned it will be a border to the community, and about the noise levels, what will project out into the neighborhood,” Clark said. “We just have to live with that now.”
Vihstadt noted that “Board members and staff are in continued communication with a variety of communities as we approach our Saturday vote,” and said the county is working to “build as much consensus and mutual understanding as possible” on the plan.
But Stombler is already looking a bit beyond the parks plan to what she thinks the county can take away from this whole dust-up moving forward.
“I think we need an assessment of how this process has proceeded, so future engagements are more collaborative and understanding of the community,” she said.