Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

New Leader of Leadership Center — “Leadership Center for Excellence (LCE) announces the addition of Karen Coltrane as its President & CEO… With 27 years of nonprofit work in her professional career, Coltrane most recently served as the President & CEO of EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia, South Carolina.” [Leadership Center for Excellence, The State]

VRE to Review Community Feedback on Station — “Virginia Railway Express officials will spend coming weeks sifting through public comments on plans to upgrade station facilities at Crystal City. July 1 was the deadline for comments on the proposal to relocate and expand VRE facilities in Crystal City, which is the destination of about 18 percent of riders coming in from the west and south.” [InsideNova]

Another Hot Day — Heat index values today are expected to again climb above 100 degrees, though a cold front should cool things off on Friday. There is a slight chance of rain and storms today. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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The Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID) wants to hear your thoughts about the future of Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard.

The process, called the Future Cities Project, will engage members of the public on the area’s future. Simultaneously, the Crystal City BID will hold various public meetings throughout the summer at both the Pentagon City and Crystal City Metro stations, residential and office lobbies, shopping spaces and more. The schedule has yet to come out, but the BID will provide update in the coming weeks.

Throughout the process, the project will “consider public space and placemaking efforts, the strategic goals of the organization, and elevating a new identity for the area — all with the goal of transforming these interrelated areas into a lively, walkable urban center,” according to a press release.

The public engagement effort comes as the BID is weighing plans to expand its boundaries to include Pentagon City and the Arlington portion of Potomac Yard, which — should it happen — would necessitate a new name to reference the combined neighborhoods.The effort also comes as Amazon considers Crystal City as a possible destination for its second headquarters.

Photo courtesy Crystal City BID

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Morning Notes

Arlington Revamps Engagement on Projects — “The County’s new ‘Six-Step Public Engagement Guide for Capital Projects’ aims to strengthen engagement and communication processes across County government – for hundreds of capital projects both large and small… The guide identifies four types of engagement that can occur with capital projects: Communicate… Consult… Involve… Collaborate.” [Arlington County]

Barre3 Opening ‘For Real’ — After construction, permitting, and inspection delays, Clarendon’s new Barre3 exercise studio has set a new opening date of March 22 — “for real.” An email to customers apologized to those who have been “waiting (and waiting and waiting)” for the studio to open in Clarendon’s Market Common shopping plaza at 2800 Clarendon Boulevard.

Millennials Buying Homes at Modest Pace — “Home purchases by Millennials ticked up over the past year, but inventory constraints and higher housing costs kept their overall activity subdued and prevented some from leaving the more affordable confines of their Gen X and Baby Boomer parents’ homes.” Meanwhile, Northern Virginia’s population continues to boom while many rural Virginia locales are shrinking. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

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A proposal to build a 72-unit multifamily building in Ballston that met resistance from neighbors is moving forward.

In a 4-1 vote, the Arlington County Board approved a land use variance that will allow the Ballston condo and townhouse development to move forward. The development includes a total of 84 residential units, including 12 townhouses.

Many residents who spoke during the public comments section took issue with the height of the future residential buildings, as well as the the loss of property value and quality of life from the new building blocking sunlight.

“We will have nine floors of units that currently enjoy will now be limited to fully dark most of the year — a maximum of one and a half hours during the summer solstice,” said Dana Hofferber, a resident of the nearby Westview condominium tower, citing a shadow study produced by the developer, NVR. Inc.

Another resident, Justin Heminger, noted that the community isn’t against all development, just this particular plan.

“The community is not against the development of this project, the community is against what has been proposed,” said Heminger. “And I think it boils down to: it’s too big, it’s too tall, and it’s too close.”

Many of the 26 public comments were from immediate Ballston neighbors, who wore matching t-shirts and held signs. A number of speakers noted in remarks that they purchased condominiums based on the current General Land Use Plan (GLUP), which the Board was voting to modify. Others said they were concerned about traffic, school overcrowding and the impact of the development on mass transit.

A motion by County Board member John Vihstadt to delay the amendment to the GLUP failed. Vihstadt voted against the proposal.

“We’ve talked a lot about process and substance today, but in my view we fall too short of where we need to be and too short of where we could be with more discussion,” said Vihstadt, noting “hand-wringing” among the Board members.

It took about four hours for the development to be discussed and for the Board to vote.

Other Board members cited their concern with various aspects of the plan. Board members who voted for the development said those issues could be addressed at another point in the planning process.

Katie Cristol, the County Board chair, said that this was not a matter of developers versus residents, but of balancing “resident’s interests with resident’s interests” and not pulling “the ladder up from behind us.”

“There are things that [are] reasonable to expect,” added Cristol. “We will strive to seek to balance the interests of residents, of homeowners to homeowners or renters to renters… this project, which adds new ownership housing steps from a Metro center, is an example of that.”

“The redevelopment of this site will provide much-needed ownership housing in the heart of Ballston, including affordable units, within walking distance of Metro,” Cristol said in a press release. “We heard from some in the neighborhood who have had strong differences of opinion about the development’s appropriateness, but the Board, in partnership with staff and the Planning and Transportation Commissions, believes that it is consistent with the long-held goals of the Ballston Sector Plan.”

At least one resident during the public comment period questioned whether elected officials had received any campaign contributions from developers, which several County Board members denied, including board member Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol.

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Arlington residents can now take a five minute survey sharing their thoughts for the 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), a blueprint for how officials will shape Arlington County from 2019-2028.

The plan focuses on “building, maintaining, upgrading or replacing County facilities and infrastructure” over that 10 year period, according to the County’s website. Some of those facilities include libraries, parks, community centers, and transportation infrastructure.

The deadline for public input on the CIP is March 16. In May, County Manager Mark Schwartz will release a proposed plan for public review, in which the public will again have another opportunity for comment until July. The County Board will adopt the final improvement plan this July.

The CIP for 2017-2026 totaled $3.3 billion for capital projects and infrastructure investment for both the County and schools.

The survey asks about funding for a myriad of topics ranging from schools to transportation, including:

  • Maintenance of roads (ex. paving, potholes)
  • Bicycle and pedestrian safety and connectivity projects
  • Public art projects
  • New parks and/or playgrounds, maintenance of existing parks and playgrounds
  • New or expanded libraries, maintenance of existing libraries
  • Design and/or construction of public buildings (ex. recreation/community centers)
  • New or expanded public schools to address growing enrollment, maintenance of schools
  • Arlington Transit (ART) buses, bus stops or related facilities
  • Neighborhood Conservation projects
  • Metro

Photo via Arlington County

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The draft framework for the proposed Four Mile Run Valley area is now open for public comment. 

The county is setting out to reshape the Four Mile Run Valley area — centered around the Shirlington and Nauck neighborhoods — while balancing the commercial, residential, historic, environmental and industrial needs of the community. This is the latest step in a process which began June 2016.

The plan includes the redevelopment of Jennie Dean Park, with the goal of maximizing the park’s open green space. It also includes the potential establishment of an arts district — with a clustering of studios, theaters and maker spaces — though the idea has received some criticism from groups that want more green space or playing fields.

Proposed park amenities include educational stream overlooks, improved access to the stream, and commissioned public art pieces or sculptures, per the framework.

Changes to the Shirlington Dog Park seem to be limited to minor changes to improve erosion and water quality issues. That follows a public outcry about a potential reduction of the dog park’s size.

Among environmental considerations, the document states that the “area’s history of [industrial] development suggests that there may be soil contamination in soil locations.” Further sections note that excrement from the dog park is another significant soil and water contaminant in the area. The need for “an eye toward environmental remediation, stormwater management, and stream protection” is cited in numerous sections of the draft.

Residents have until Friday, Feb. 16 to comment online. The plan is expected to be presented to the Arlington County Board this spring.

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(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington County’s independent auditor is soliciting suggestions for potential government audits from residents.

Chris Horton, who has been in the job since Nov. 2016 after his predecessor, Jessica Tucker, decamped for California, wants residents to chime in with ideas for transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness measures that should be undertaken. The goal is to uncover suggested audit topics for his 2018 work plan that result in “a broad community impact, a significant financial impact or both.”

“Primarily, we want to find out if there are things that the members of the public, members of the community, are aware of that haven’t necessarily bubbled up to my level or to the board level,” said Horton, noting that having a formal, written process was preferred to individual phone calls.

The previous public call, under Tucker, resulted in approximately 81 submissions. Public comments can be submitted on the county website over the next 30 days, although it may be extended depending on feedback volume. There are no limitations on suggested topics, but anonymous submissions are not accepted and it is recommended that each submission only address one audit topic.

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A draft plan aims to build a clearer approach for county officials engaging Arlington residents on new projects.

Staff in the county’s Office of Communication and Public Engagement put together the plan over the past four months, with the goal of enhancing the engagement process, building more trust and getting a more diverse range of participants having their say.

They met with members of the community and took feedback on the public engagement process — sometimes referred to as the “Arlington Way” — particularly around new capital projects.

A survey is now open for county residents to share their concerns on how previous processes have gone and their priorities for how public engagement can be improved. Based on staff’s preliminary sessions with community leaders, concerns have been raised about communication around projects, how costs change and the impact on nearby neighbors and businesses.

That follows a number of instances in which residents complained about a botched engagement process for projects in their neighborhoods. Examples include opposition to new baseball and softball field at Bluemont Park, which was eventually built with little controversy after a compromise was reached, and stringent opposition to the proposed relocation of Fire Station 8, which was scrapped after neighbors of the current station and the proposed new site both spoke out against it and said they were “blindsided” by the plan.

As it stands now, the draft plan would develop a template for public engagement that would better lay out the details of a project early on while also identifying stakeholders like civic associations, residents and commissions.

Throughout, the county would look to use a range of tools to communicate “early and often” about a project, including on signs, its website, newsletters, emails and postcards among others. Staff would also make an effort to show how feedback from the community influenced a project, and show a wider range of opinions on a project, including when briefing the Arlington County Board.

The plan would also look to establish a “common set of ground rules” for in-person and online discussions, all to encourage “civil dialogue and respect.” An engagement boot camp is mooted for spring or summer next year for staff, civic associations and commissions.

To increase the diversity of participants that get involved in public dialogue about county projects, staff recommended partnering with organizations to engage with “hard to reach” communities, and establishing liaisons to help out. There will also be an effort to ensure diversity on county boards and commissions.

The new plan is scheduled to launch this fall.

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(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) The public comment period on a draft plan for the Lee Highway corridor is ending after Thursday.

The draft, first published online last month after a public “charrette” planning process in 2015, outlines a sweeping vision for the corridor, which currently is a primarily car-oriented mish-mash of strip malls, aging apartment buildings and other assorted low-density businesses and infrastructure.

The plan envisions a tree-lined Lee Highway that’s more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, with mid-rise development concentrated in “mixed-use activity nodes.”

New apartment buildings, townhouses and retail hubs would be encouraged to spring up. New parks and bus service would be added. Building heights up to 12 stories are discussed, though 3-6 stories would be more common; the taller buildings would be along Lee Highway itself and “sensitive transitions to single family neighborhoods” would be emphasized.

The activity nodes along Lee Highway, which would be the focus of pedestrian-oriented development and placemaking, include:

  • Rosslyn
  • North Highlands / Spout Run / Lyon Village
  • Cherrydale / Maywood
  • Glebe Road / Lee Heights / Waverly Hills
  • Harrison / George Mason
  • East Falls Church

Changes are expected to be made to the plan based on feedback received online, before the County Board reviews it in May. Greater Greater Washington has more details about the Lee Highway plan and process.

Other notes and quotes from the draft plan, after the jump.

Read More

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Morning Notes

Opening the gates at the Ballston Metro station (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

Widening Critics Still Questioning I-66 Deal — “Widening the highway for four miles from Beltway to Ballston will not relieve traffic congestion, according to every expert I’ve spoken to,” writes WAMU transportation reporter Martin Di Caro, regarding the I-66 deal struck by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette, meanwhile, says the overall plan for tolling I-66 is worth the compromise. [Twitter, WAMU]

Arlington Probably Won’t Sue Over I-395 HOT Lanes — After mounting an expensive legal battle over a plan by Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) administration to convert the HOV lanes on I-395 to High Occupancy Toll lanes, Arlington appears poised to accept a similar HOT lane plan by VDOT and the McAuliffe administration. There are some key differences between the two proposals, observers say. [Greater Greater Washington]

Arlington Man Arrested in D.C. Cold Case — Arlington resident Benito Valdez, 45, has been arrested and charged with an alleged accomplice in a 1991 triple homicide cold case in the District. [Associated Press]

Lee Highway Plan Comments Extended — The public comment period for the Lee Highway Visioning Study has been extended to March 31. [Arlington County]

Chamber Concert in Lyon Park This Weekend — On Saturday, IBIS Chamber Music will hold a free concert of chamber music in the newly-renovated Lyon Park Community Center (414 N. Fillmore Street). The concert will start at 7:30 p.m. and feature music by Schubert, Beethoven and Debussy. [ARLnow]

Local Resident’s Cat Story Appears in Book — A story by Arlington resident April Riser is featured in the new book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat,” according to a PR rep for the publisher.

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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