During the annual State of the County address, the chair said Arlington County is well on the road to economic recovery but it has a ways to go before it enters into a period of renewal. The event was hosted virtually yesterday morning (Tuesday) by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, with a Q&A moderated by ARLnow founder Scott Brodbeck.
“We’re growing, but not as fast as at the start of 2020, before the pandemic, when our prospects seemed truly bright,” he said. “If we’re honest, recovery is not all we’re looking for at this moment. The state that we have not reached — that we must create — is renewal.”
Reaching renewal will mean supporting small businesses, working to eliminate inequities and increasing housing options, he said.
Recent data show the health of Arlington County residents has stabilized, with a 0.6% COVID-19 test positivity rate and about one case per day over the last two weeks. Unemployment is down, as well, from 7.2% this time last year to 3% today, he said. As vaccination rates rise, tourism is recovering, with hotel occupancy rates up to 40% from a low of 20%.
The county has also retained organizations with an Arlington footprint, including the State Department, while attracting new companies, from Microsoft to shipping company ZeBox‘s startup incubator. All along, Amazon continues to meet its occupancy and hiring goals while supporting businesses, he said, and will present its second phase of its HQ2 to the Board later this year.
Plus, new development is continuing.
“The County Board has approved numerous office and residential projects that will drive economic growth… and strengthen our economy in Arlington,” de Ferranti said. “We’re hearing from commercial real estate brokers that there is significant pent-up demand from [office] tenants who delayed real estate decisions in the pandemic. We expect to see these deals come forward in the fall of this year.”
Still, the office vacancy rate is a lingering concern for de Ferranti, who noted that it was 18.7% in the first quarter, up 2.1% from the same time last year.
“Part of the reason I sought this office was to bring down the vacancy rate so that we could invest in schools, housing, transit, transportation and the things that make Arlington a great place to live,” he said. “Our economic development projects show promise, our pipeline is strong, so I’m confident we can bring down the rate over the coming years.”
“We saw before Amazon that there was a time when we got a touch complacent working on our office vacancy rate,” he said. “That’s no one’s fault but we do need to stay focused on it.”
While it’s mostly larger companies that help to fill Arlington’s office towers, small businesses in Arlington need help, de Ferranti said, so Arlington Economic Development is preparing a grant program using American Rescue Plan funds. It follows up on a similar program last year that helped 393 businesses.
The county still has work to do to fix bugs with the online permit system and improve the customer service experience for businesses — lessons learned from the roll-out of temporary outdoor seating areas, or TOSAs, the chair admitted.
(Updated at 10:15 p.m.) If you are someone whose home or business was damaged in the July 8 flooding, Arlington has launched a temporary Local Recovery Center (LRC) to help get your life back together.
The center helps connect residents with a variety of resources — like senior services or a table detailing what to do if you find mold in your home — but the main feature of the LRC is the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which is offering flexible, low-interest loans for those impacted by the floods.
The LRC is located on the second floor of the Arlington County Trades Center (2700 S. Taylor Street). The Center is scheduled to operate for the next week:
- Today-Thursday: 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
- Friday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
- Saturday: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Monday: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (SBA loan center only)
A similar center will operate in the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library (7584 Leesburg Pike) in Fairfax County.
Locals who experienced flood damage in Arlington, Alexandria or Fairfax County may be eligible for SBA loans.
“Our qualifications are not as stringent [as a bank loan],” said Julie Garrett, a public affairs specialist for the SBA. “You must demonstrate that you can pay back the loan, but it’s very flexible.”
There are three categories of loans available:
- Business Physical Disaster Loans — These loans are for businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, like merchandise and machinery, though the loans are also available for non-profit organizations. Businesses of any size can apply.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loans — These loans are aimed at helping small businesses or agricultural cooperatives make up for lost revenue from days that they were closed. Garrett said these can be especially important for mom-and-pop businesses that operate on monthly or quarterly cycles that may have difficulty paying their bills.
- Home Disaster Loans — These loans are for homeowners or renters to repair or replace flood-damaged homes or property, which can range from clothing to cars.
All applicants are required to have a credit history and must be able to show that they can repay all their loans. Garrett said there is no collateral required for loans under $25,000. If the loan is approved, Garrett said the applicants have 60 days to decide whether they want to accept it.
Many of those whose homes or businesses were impacted by flooding have already started work on repairing their property, and Garrett said loans can also be applied to damages paid for out-of-pocket. Those who have already paid to fix their damages are required to have receipts of their purchases and photos of the damage.
“We loan based on the amount of damage,” Garrett said. “Most insurance offers a depreciated value [for property], but we look at replacement value.”
The loans may also cover damages to fences, decks, garages, tree removal and property considered in the “immediate vicinity” of a house.
Aaron Miller, director of emergency management for Arlington County, said the County has received just over 1,000 reports of damages from people and businesses across Arlington. Garrett said only 26 individuals had applied for home disaster loans so far, but more are expected as people learn of and visit the LRC.
Applicants requesting a loan for physical damage are required to file by Oct. 7, while filings for economic injury have a deadline of May 7, 2020.
Meanwhile, Miller said the County is working through financing its own flood recovery — a process that could take months.
“We are continuing to go through assessments for public assistance,” Miller said. “That’s everything from emergency repairs to the longer recovery process.”
(Updated at 6:35 p.m.) Encore Recovery Solutions, a rehabilitation center for young adults trying to overcome “substance use and co-occurring behavioral health disorders,” is expanding.
The drug rehab center has been in business for just over a year and recently moved to larger offices in Ballston. The Ballston facility hosts an outpatient treatment program, according to Tom Walker, Encore’s director of community relations.
In February, Encore announced via Facebook that it had also purchased a residential property at 5805 26th Street N. in the Leeway-Overlee neighborhood, for use as a “sober living environment for young adults.” The house has been approved as “legally non-conforming use by Arlington County,” Walker said.
Some people who live near the home have expressed concerns about its new use.
“We have communicated with several of the neighborhood residents individually, and attended the Open Door Monday meeting yesterday evening where we discussed our plans with other neighborhood residents,” Walker said via email. Some residents are “very much in opposition,” he acknowledged, while others are either “openly supportive of Encore’s efforts” or “willing to engage in discussing best practices.”
Between 2015-2017, Arlington saw a 245 percent increase in patients seeking treatment for opioid addiction and related disorders. The number of patients went up from 100 in 2015 to 345 in 2017, according to the county.
Photo via Encore Recovery Solutions/Facebook
The 1966 celeste green Vespa scooter that was stolen from Westover’s The Italian Store in December has been recovered.
It was found by a man walking his dog this morning (April 3) far off the Lubber Run Trail, near the intersection of N. Carlin Spring Road and N. George Mason Drive. The man called Bob Tramonte, the Italian Store’s owner, and the Vespa was quickly back in the family’s possession.
Given the widespread publicity around the theft, Tramonte told ARLnow that he thought the vehicle was “too hot” to try to sell or even use — though he also believes that the thief didn’t know how to use the scooter’s shifter, as there is some damage to the clutch.
A Facebook post from The Italian Store shortly after the theft had urged residents to come forward with any information they might have had regarding the stolen Vespa, and security camera footage was released showing what employees said was a man loading the Vespa into a red Ford Focus before driving away down N. Longfellow Street.
The family and store employees received dozens of tips, with several calls a day at times since the Vespa went missing. While a few tips led Tramonte on wild goose chases, he called the recovery “truly a community effort,” and expressed gratitude for the tips, concern, and over 1,000 Facebook post shares.
“For being in the leaves for four months, I think it looks good,” Tramonte said. He noted that his sons helped to clean it up this morning, though it will need some minor mechanical work to make it rideable again.
The Vespa is important to the family, not just as an iconic Italian charm but as a part of the family’s history. Tramonte taught his sons how to drive it, and it was a centerpiece at his daughter’s graduation celebration. It’s been in the family for over 20 years.
Though the Vespa was taken outside for photos late this morning, it won’t be staying there long.
“I think we’ll keep it inside for now, but maybe eventually it’ll make it back outside,” said Tramonte.
Man Struck by Car in Clarendon Runs Race — Michael Sizemore, 28, is making a remarkable recovery after being struck by a car in Clarendon and nearly dying this past fall. Sizemore, who suffered a fractured skull and two broken legs in the accident, among other injuries, ran a 5K race in Martinsville, Va., near his hometown of Collinsville, this past Saturday. Sizemore’s father, girlfriend, friends and other families were on hand to cheer him on. [Martinsville Bulletin, Facebook]
Residents Speak Out at Tax Rate Hearing — It was a much shorter affair than Tuesday’s nearly four hour public budget hearing, but a public hearing on Arlington County’s proposed tax rate drew a small crowd of activists Thursday night. Those advocating for more affordable housing and social services asked the County Board to raise taxes up to the legal maximum of 5 cents, while budget hawks asked for no tax increase or, at minimum, following the County Manager’s recommendation for a 3.2 cent tax increase. [Sun Gazette]
County to Hold Student ‘ART’ Contest — The county is challenging budding middle school and high school artists in Arlington to design a pedestrian safety-themed “wrap” for buses. The winning entry will be used to wrap one ART bus. The submission deadline is June 3. [Arlington County]
The man who was hit by a car while walking in Clarendon two months ago is making progress in his recovery, but there’s a long road ahead.
Just yesterday (Thursday), 27-year-old Michael Sizemore underwent another surgery to re-attach the section of skull that was removed to alleviate pressure on his brain. The accident had left him with a variety of serious injuries including a fractured skull, two broken legs and multiple lacerations. After being struck, Sizemore was in a drug-induced coma for days to give his brain time to heal. Sizemore’s father, Mark Sizemore, says yesterday’s surgery appears to have been successful.
“The injury to his brain was right above his left ear where the skull fracture occurred, and that’s your speech center,” Mark said. “The majority of the injury has affected him of course cognitively, and in his speech center. He is recovering his cognition and his speech is getting better every day.”
Doctors predict it will take about a year for Michael to rehabilitate his speech and his ability to walk. Mark said it seems as though his son understands what happened to him, but his focus is simply on getting back to living his life.
“Michael just wants to get back to living, is what he tells me. He’s not so much focused on what happened. I think that will come later,” Mark said.
Once he fully recovers, Michael is determined to return to his job as a lobbyist at the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards, which advocates for organizations that help people with developmental delays, substance abuse problems and mental health issues.
“He tells me that almost every single day. That’s what we’re trying to work towards with his rehab,” Mark said. “I think he’ll do it. I think he’ll rehab to the point where he can get back to that job. That’s what drives him.”
Mark says his son and the rest of the family don’t harbor anger toward Tyler Bruce Wills, the man accused of striking Michael. They believe that justice will be served in due time.
“He realizes it’s really a random event that happened to him,” Mark said. “Michael is not looking for revenge against this person, he’s looking for justice to take care of that.”
Meantime, Wills remains in jail on charges of DUI and DUI Maiming. Wills waived his right to a preliminary hearing, which was scheduled for last week, and awaits trial. Police say due to results from the alcohol test and multiple witness accounts, the evidence against Wills is quite strong.
As for Mark, he credits the doctors at George Washington University Hospital with saving his son. That’s where Michael was taken immediately after the accident, and where he had his surgery yesterday. Mark said the situation could have turned out far differently had the hospital and its head trauma experts not been nearby.
“Thank God it was there, because they saved his life,” Mark said. “If my son had not been close to that place, he would not have lived. It was a miracle.”
Update at 12:40 p.m. — Arlington County says its Emergency Communications Center is now accessible from cell phones, but other problems may remain.
More problems with the county’s 911 system are being reported as the area continues to recover from Friday’s storms.
Arlington County says its Emergency Communications Center is “experiencing problems with 911 calls from wireless phones.”
“Verizon is working to fix the problem,” the county said in a brief statement. “Please call our alternate emergency number at 703-741-3035 for assistance if you cannot get through on 9-1-1 or go to your local Fire Station.”
As stated during a press conference with the head of the county’s Office of Emergency Management earlier today, Arlington’s non-emergency number, 703-558-2222, may also be an option for cell phone users to reach emergency dispatchers.
The director of Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) says the county and utility companies are “making slow and steady progress” in the cleanup and recovery efforts following Friday night’s storm.
At a press conference today, OEM Director Jack Brown told reporters that Dominion is making “yeoman strides” to restore power to tens of thousands of Arlington residents. Despite the widespread power outages — 26,997 Dominion customers were without power as of 12:45 p.m., down from 68,000 Friday night — Brown said there has so far been no loss of life as a result of heat following the storm.
Dominion expects to restore power to 80-85 percent of customers by Tuesday night, and 90-95 percent of customers by Thursday night. Restoration works is being focused on high-density areas.
“It is a matter of priorities,” Brown said. “Eventually Dominion will get to the neighborhoods.”
Brown said power has been restored to most critical county infrastructure, but noted that Culpepper Garden, home to 276 low- and moderate-income Arlington seniors, is running on generator power and currently does not have air conditioning. The seniors are being kept in the facility for now while Dominion is being asked to prioritize power restoration to the facility, Brown said.
Brown encouraged residents who don’t have power to go to the county’s 16 cooling centers, its shopping malls, or its community pools. Arlington has set up a 24-hour drop-in cooling center at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.). Daytime cooling centers include other Arlington community centers and libraries, as well as the Ballston and Pentagon City malls. Currently the Yorktown and Wakefield high school community pools are open, while the Washington-Lee pool has closed due to a lack of water pressure.
“We need to pull together,” Brown said. “This event could last for several days, possibly a couple of weeks. Let’s check on your neighbors. It’s really about neighbors helping neighbors. Volunteer to transport those in need to county cooling centers.”
Brown said that all major county thoroughfares are open, although 19 county road remain blocked by storm debris. A dozen county crews are working to clear the debris, and debris pickup is expected to continue for the next 2-3 weeks, Brown said. Meanwhile, 39 traffic signals are still dark this afternoon (down from a peak of 96) because of power outages. Citing last night’s fatal pedestrian accident, Brown encouraged motorists to drive carefully on county streets.
“Please drive safely,” Brown said. “We really need people to slow down, particularly at these intersections. Please treat all… intersections [with non-functioning traffic signals] as four way stops.”
Brown said 911 service “remains spotty” in Arlington. He said residents who want to report an emergency should first try 911, then the county non-emergency number at 703-558-2222, then — if all else fails — seek help at the nearest fire station.
Verizon provides the Arlington’s 911 infrastructure and Brown said the county is going to investigate what went wrong.
“The county is going to conduct a thorough investigation of what happened to our 911 system… so we don’t have a repeat of this in the future,” he said. So far, he said, there have been no reports of anybody suffering serious consequences as a result of a delay in response due to a 911 failure.
Brown said that other county communications infrastructure has performed well. Despite some disruptions in the hours following the storm, Brown said cell phone service has been one of the county’s most reliable forms of communication. He noted, however, that the county’s radio systems did not suffer any outages as a result of the storm. Brown also said that RACES, the county’s emergency amateur radio network, was activated over the weekend.
All in all, Brown said he’s pleased with the response to the storm so far.
“The county’s resources have been stretched very thin,” Brown said. “I think we’ve done a good job of responding.”
(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) Parts of Old Dominion Drive and Rock Spring Road remained closed this afternoon as crews continued to clean up from the “macroburst” storm that ravaged parts of North Arlington on Sunday.
The smell of freshly-cut wood and the sound of chainsaws and wood chippers was pervasive throughout Yorktown and the other hart-hit neighborhoods. Private disaster recovery trucks — along with crews from Dominion, Verizon and other utilities — roamed the streets, many of which are still covered with debris waiting to be hauled off.
No word yet on when Old Dominion and Rock Spring, which are both open to some local traffic, may reopen to through traffic.