Press Club
Gunston Bubble, deflated (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

The Arlington County Board is likely to vote this weekend on providing another $140,000 to fix the Gunston sports “bubble” due to issues related to the soil beneath the structure.

Renovations started last year on the Gunston Bubble, the covered, all-season county synthetic athletic field at Gunston Park behind the middle school of the same name. The two-decade-old bubble had reached “the end of its useful lifespan,” reads a county report, and needed to “be constantly monitored and inflated.”

During the summer, the bubble would sometimes get overly hot while, in the winter, snow would build up on top. Both situations were considered hazardous enough that the bubble would have to close on numerous occasions.

Work on the bubble began last year with the renovation project calling for a new frame-supported fabric structure that would make the bubble functional in any weather. Plus, ceiling fans, vents, and LED light fixtures will make it more “more energy efficient and reliable.”

The project was initially set to cost $867,000 and be completed in the second quarter of this year.

But issues arose almost immediately after work began in January, notes a County Board agenda report, due to the soil.

“Upon commencement of the work, the Contractor encountered unsuitable soil conditions that were not known at the time of design and need to be remediated, for proper installation of the building footings. Based on recommendations from the County third-party Geotechnical Contractor, Hillis Carnes, a series of additional undercuts are required to remove the unsuitable soil and bring in new material for the base foundation. This work is critical to ensure the structural stability of the new fabric structure.”

To complete the needed work, contractors IMEC Group, LLC are requesting an additional $140,000.

At the meeting this Saturday, the County Board is likely to vote on if it will allow for an amendment to the original contract that authorizes this extra money.

County officials that if the $140,000 is approved, the Gunston Bubble renovations should be completed later this year.

“We are excited to be updating the Gunston Bubble so that it will be able to support our community year-round with a strong frame structure to keep it open in the winter, and enhanced ventilation to make it more comfortable in the summer,” a county spokesperson tells ARLnow. “We noticed issues in the soil in January and are mitigating the issues. The work will cost us a bit more than expected and will delay the project.  We should have it all ready no later than early fall or sooner. When complete this will be a much better indoor experience than before.”

The bubble isn’t the only thing at Gunston Middle School that is set to being renovated. Earlier this month, the Arlington School Board approved $1.6 million in safety upgrades to the entrance of the school. The work includes moving the main school entrance and office closer to S. Lang Street. That project is expected to start in June and be complete by mid-August, right before the start of the new school year.

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The $15.5 million renovation of ​​Jennie Dean Park in Green Valley is nearly complete, poised to open to the public in the middle of next month.

A lengthy design and construction process has resulted in a major reworking of the seven-decade-old park, located along Four Mile Run, across from Shirlington.

The renovations included adding more than two acres, updating and moving the playground, rebuilding the restrooms, renovating the picnic shelter, relocating and modernizing the baseball fields, and commissioning a site specific work of public art.

Last week, ARLnow got an exclusive tour of the park, which is in the midst of getting final landscaping and aesthetic touches.

The new, re-designed playground is now closer to S. Four Mile Run Drive to make it more “visible and accessible” to the community. It’s ADA accessible with age separated areas and state-of-the-art safety features, like poured-in-place rubber. The look is “heavily inspired by the industrial character of the area,” says landscape architect and county project manager Jeremy Smith, with lots of exposed wood and bolts.

The new all-gender restrooms, now a county-wide ordinance for all county facilities, have also been rebuilt and relocated closer to the front of the park due to safety reasons. The bathrooms are designed to be open year-round and will be open from sunrise to the park closes at 11 p.m.

The two baseball diamonds, one for youth leagues and the other for adult softball, are now moved further away from Four Mile Run. Previously, the diamonds were in the floodplain, so the move is to help mitigate flooding and over saturation. The diamonds are also now equipped with more efficient LED lights that will “focus the light on the fields and not the neighborhoods,” Smith tells ARLnow. First priority for field use are for scheduled and permitted activities.

If the fields are not scheduled, they are available for drop-in and free use.

The two fields have also been renamed after long-time community activists. Ernest Johnson was the leader of one of Arlington’s first African American Cub Scout Packs while Robert Winkler was a long-time employee of the county’s parks and recreations department. He was also a youth coach who helped provide financial support to local athletes.

To celebrate the park’s long history of baseball, the diamonds will display pennants of historic Green Valley teams that played on the fields in the mid-20th century. The pennants were being designed in collaboration with the Green Valley Civic Association but, as of last week, had not yet been installed.

Near the baseball diamonds is a history walk, with plaques embedded in the ground displaying some of the significant moments in the park’s and Green Valley’s history.

There’s also new public art. Wheelhouse, a green stainless steel multi-sectioned pavilion, “​e​xplores the industrial history of the Jennie Dean Park site through the lens of the great American pastime — baseball,” according the county website.

The design is supposed to look like a mill that once stood in this location in the early 18th century, as well as the heart of a homeplate’s strike zone that is often called a batter’s wheelhouse. It was designed by artist Mark Reigelman with community input and was budgeted at $200,000.

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When “Rocket” — the last goat at the Arlington Career Center — died in August, the large animal component of the school’s Animal Sciences program effectively died with it.

Historically, the school has kept a menagerie of animals for students interested in pursuing careers in animal care and veterinary science, including a miniature horse, goats, cats, dogs, turtles and birds. Today, the program serves about 120 students.

Since the deaths of “Rocket” in 2021 and the miniature horse “Snickers” in 2020, however, Arlington Public Schools administrators have denied requests to adopt new large animals.

APS says this is because it is updating the Animal Science program as part of the planned renovations to the Career Center. Farm animals will no longer figure into the program because they are not required to teach the four courses that will be offered: Small Animal Care I and II and Veterinary Science I and II.

“We are in the planning process to modernize the Small Animal Science and Veterinary Science lab to ensure the lab mirrors local industry facilities,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said in a statement. “Students will continue to learn about and care for small animals in a modern lab that reflects industry-based standards and practices.”

The new space will feature improved work areas for students and staff and better housing, grooming stations and exam areas for animals, he said.

But students are petitioning APS and pleading with the School Board to keep large animals. A petition that started last year has regained steam and, as of this morning, has just shy of 2,600 signatures.

“The lack of farm animals would take away the experience that students would need to prepare them for going into college,” writes Washington-Liberty High School student Ellen Boling in the petition. “It could also lower the interest of incoming students in the course, which would result in fewer people to care for the animals.”

W-L senior Sean Bender-Prouty told the School Board in the fall that farm animals are critical for college readiness. He said the future Career Center redevelopment plans are hurting the students currently in the program.

“The potential loss of that space in the future is being used to deny students access to large animals now,” he said during the Oct. 14 meeting. “If you decide to redevelop the site and take away our green space, students may be permanently denied the opportunity to gain necessary experience with large animals.”

Bender-Prouty’s prediction has been a few years in the making. Officials have mulled ending the large animal component of the program since 2019, when it moved eight trailers onto the animals’ grazing space to accommodate an influx of students. This prompted APS to “reimagine that program for a more urban setting,” Bellavia said at the time.

The decision mystifies Animal Science instructor Scott Lockhart, who says large animals gain students entry to a job sector that is booming, given the shortage of large animal vets in the U.S.

“The number of jobs and pathways is being reduced tremendously,” Lockhart tells ARLnow. “We’ve always taken a wide view of animal sciences and now we’re reducing that to small animal care. It does have an impact on students and what we’re trying to prepare them for.”

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(Updated at 3 p.m.) A half-dozen Arlington fire stations will be upgraded to accommodate more firefighters.

The renovations will give firefighters and EMTs at Fire Stations 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 more space and amenities to use while they’re at the station.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board approved the $1.4 million project, which responds to a recent change to the Arlington County Fire Department’s schedule that required the department to hire more staff.

Last month, the county officially implemented the “Kelly Day,” an extra 24-hour shift off every 28 days, which reduces a firefighter’s average work week from 56 to 50 hours per week. The day helps reduce absenteeism, exposure to hazardous and stressful conditions, and overtime, while improving work-life balance, recruitment and retention, according to the county.

“[The] implementation of the Kelly Day [is] the result of committed funding across multiple years and dedicated advocacy on behalf of our firefighters to modernize the schedule of the Arlington fire service to improve their balance and quality of life to make ACFD more competitive across the region,” Board Chair Katie Cristol said on Saturday. “We’re really excited to see the Kelly Day implemented as a way of thanking and respecting our firefighters as the professionals they’ve been, especially our firefighter EMTs, who’ve worked so hard during the pandemic.”

Kelly Day planning began in the 2017-18 fiscal year, and the county began funding additional firefighter positions in the 2019 fiscal year, ACFD spokesman Capt. Nate Hiner tells ARLnow. Between then and the official implementation on Jan. 16 of this year, the department hired 39 firefighter EMTs.

Those 39 firefighters will need additional personnel lockers for their gear, uniforms and street clothing, he said. Other upgrades include expanded refrigeration and storage spaces in the kitchen, additional bathrooms and showers, stackable washer-dryer units to increase laundry capacity and expanded and improved gym areas.

Only Fire Station 4 will require additional locker space after these renovations are complete, says Hiner.

Fire Station 10 in Rosslyn, which was finished last summer, has the additional amenities, as will the new Fire Station 8 in the Halls Hill neighborhood once it’s complete about two years from now, he said. The old Fire Station 8 is currently being torn down and crews are operating from a temporary station.

Also related to firefighters, the County Board approved a deadline extension in its civic code giving new labor unions — authorized last year — more time to get through the necessary procedures to officially form as collective bargaining units. Firefighters were concerned that the delayed hire of a labor relations administrator would put off compensation negotiations another year.

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Alcova Heights Park is going to get a face lift.

The county is gearing up to award a $2.8 million contract to upgrade a number of facilities in the heavily used 13-acre park on S. George Mason Drive, a few blocks north of Columbia Pike.

Over the course of the renovations, most amenities will be replaced, some new features built, site circulation improved and more greenery planted to address stormwater management.

These changes aim to address complaints residents had about the park back in 2018, including: poor drainage; unsafe crossing conditions at 8th Street S., which bisects the park; the lack of a bridge over Doctors Run, which flows through the park; and old picnic shelters and bathrooms.

The renovations — expected to begin this spring and take about one year — include:

  • a new large picnic shelter and site furnishings
  • an improved fire pit area
  • a new sand volleyball court
  • new stairway entrances to the park at the north and south ends from S. George Mason Drive
  • an improved sidewalk and pedestrian crossing at 8th Street S.
  • a new lighted basketball court
  • new restrooms
  • tree and shrub plantings to improve drainage
  • improvements to site circulation

Arlington Palooza, an annual event held at Alcova Heights Park that made its debut in 2017, will be relocating for this year due to the work.

A rendering of the new bathrooms for Alcova Heights Park (via Arlington County)

“The playground and diamond field are not part of the project and will remain open during construction,” a county report said.

These two park amenities will be replaced as part of a yet unfunded second phase, which will also see the construction of a pedestrian bridge.

Phase 2 can be considered in an upcoming Capital Improvement Plan, according to the county. A timeline for these upgrades has yet to be determined.

The county has budgeted $4 million for all the renovations.

The public process for the project kicked off in 2018. Initially, the county planned to begin renovations in 2020 and finish in 2021. The County Board is now set to consider the construction contract at its meeting this coming Saturday.

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Morning Notes

Soccer practice at Long Bridge Park (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

New Organ Debuts Tomorrow — “The new organ [at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Virginia Square] cost $1.2 million… Opus 28 arrived in Arlington on Oct. 3, 2021. For three weeks, Pasi put together the 500,000 parts that constitute it. He spent the next two months ‘voicing’ the organ: doing the painstaking adjustments necessary to make everything sound just right.” [Washington Post]

Reminder: Pizza Boxes Can Be Composted — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “There’s No ‘I’ in Food Scraps: Arlington viewers of ‘The Big Game’ can give 110% and go all in in the green curbside cart: pizza crusts and boxes, wing bones and greasy napkins. You won’t be denied.” [Twitter]

County Helping With Museum Renovations — “As efforts begin to renovate its museum, the Arlington Historical Society is working to embrace close collaboration where possible with the Arlington County government. Whether that will turn into a financial partnership remains to be seen, but county staff will be providing their knowledge to help the renovation move ahead.” [Sun Gazette]

Public Defender Pay Bill Fails — “A measure to equalize pay between staff of Virginia prosecutors and those working in public-defender’s offices died in a House of Delegates subcommittee. The measure, patroned by Del. Alfsono Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax), would have required localities that supplement the compensation of staff in its office of commonwealth’s attorney beyond state minimums to do the same for staff of a public defender’s office, if a locality has one.” [Sun Gazette]

Nearby: Scammers Impersonating Police — “Officers have received reports from community members who stated that callers contact them claiming to be members of a police department or sheriff’s department. The law enforcement impersonator may… tell the community member they missed a court appearance or jury duty [and] state they need to send money or a warrant will be issued for their arrest or they may turn themselves in to jail.” [City of Falls Church]

Snow Possible This Weekend — “Light to moderate snow could fall in the D.C. area on Super Bowl Sunday. But it’s still not clear whether it will snow hard enough or be cold enough for it to amount to much and have serious effects on the region.” [Capital Weather Gang]

It’s Thursday — Sunny, with a high near 55 today, and wind gusts as high as 21 mph. Sunrise at 7:04 a.m. and sunset at 5:40 p.m. Sunny again tomorrow, with a high near 57 and wind gusts as high as 22 mph. [Weather.gov]

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Work began yesterday (Wednesday) on the long-delayed Ballston Beaver Pond remediation project — but no busy beavers will be involved.

The $4.2 million, 18-month project approved by the County Board this summer will retrofit the pond, originally built in 1980 to collect stormwater runoff from I-66. Today, sediment in the pond prevents detention, and it instead has become home to abundant wildlife, including beavers, according to a county report.

The project, expected to wrap up in July 2023, aims to improve stormwater retention and the wildlife habitat by restoring native plant species and adding habitat features. There will be a new observation platform with educational signage, seating and a reconstructed trail with bike racks.

Arlington County says the new two-acre wetland area will provide stormwater treatment to 460 acres of land in the Lubber Run watershed, and “is among the County’s most effective opportunities to achieve its water quality objectives and meet its regulatory requirements.”

This month, the construction contractor will be setting up the site, county project manager Aileen Winquist tells ARLnow. Excavation will begin next year.

“From now until the end of the year, neighbors will see the contractor bringing in equipment and setting up the boundaries of the construction area,” she said. “In the new year, neighbors will begin to see dump trucks full of sediment removed from the pond leaving the site.”

Public access will be limited as well. The grass area within the park will be off-limits, as it will be used for construction. A bike and pedestrian detour will reroute trail users from Washington Blvd to the Custis Trail and along the south side of the pond.

The detour will be in place for the entirety of construction, Winquist says.

A bicycle detour around the Ballston Beaver Pond construction project (via Arlington County)

The project is divided into a few phases, as work can only occur on one half of the pond at a time, Winquist said.

First, workers will remove sediment from and re-grade a half of the pond while removing invasive plants.

After the second half of the pond receives the same treatment, construction will begin on a new observation platform, trail upgrades, native species planting and new habitat features, including basking stations for turtles, she said.

The project is a long time in coming.

After community engagement in 2011-12, the project was paused in 2013 until the necessary easements were obtained from property owners. A redesigned project with new permits went to the public in January 2019, but “COVID-19 and related budget concerns” again delayed the project, the report says.

Still, those nearby welcome the pond redo, according to the report.

“The community continues to be very supportive of the project and it is highly anticipated by Ballston area residents and businesses,” it said.

But once beaver baffles are installed to discourage these critters from returning — and damming the pond again, which could compromise water quality — the wetland area will need a new name.

“This beautiful natural area needs a name that fits its unique space,” says Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Martha Holland.

Next year, the county plans to ask the community for name ideas and provide an opportunity to comment on a list of potential names.

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Morning Notes

Twilight at Washington Golf and Country Club (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Ballston Building to Be Renovated — “Arlington’s Monday Properties has made two new office building acquisitions as it banks on workers across the market returning to their offices in the coming months. The commercial property owner and developer has purchased the former home of CACI International’s headquarters, Three Ballston Plaza at 1100 N. Glebe Rd. — for $118 million. The 330,000-square-foot property, one of the most prominent in Ballston, will get a Gensler-designed renovation to help it compete in the modern commercial office environment.” [Washington Business Journal]

Rescued Dog Seeking New Home — “[Several] weeks ago, a young, mixed breed dog was rescued after being trapped between two fences alongside I-395. Since then, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which renamed the dog “Benito,” has been helping him feel happier and more confident. ‘We were unable to find Benito’s owner, so he’s looking for a new family to call his own.'” [Patch]

Local Shops Offer ‘Passport’ — “On Small Business Saturday 2021, November 27th, Arlington and Falls Church shoppers will get a chance to participate in a shopping ‘Passport’ program to discover unique shops, find deals, keep their shopping dollars local and be eligible to win prizes. Led by One More Page Books, the Passport enables shoppers who are looking to participate in the national #shoplocal effort to easily discover small businesses near them.” [Press Release]

MLK Contest for Students Now Open — “Arlington Public Schools students are invited to take part in the annual ‘Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Literary and Visual Contest.’ Entries are due by 5 p.m. Thu, Dec. 16.” [Arlington Public Schools]

VFW Post in Va. Square Profiled — “7News’ Ashlie Rodriguez discovered a little-known secret, tucked away in Arlington, Virginia, where hundreds of veterans gather, swap stories, share memories, and find a place of refuge. Here’s a look inside the John Lyon VFW Post 3150.” [WJLA]

State Tax Coffers Are Overflowing — “Virginia budget officials say they’ve never seen anything like it — more than $13 billion in additional state revenues this year and in the next two fiscal years. The House Appropriations Committee projects a $3.5 billion increase in revenue above the current forecast in the fiscal year that began July 1, based on higher pending forecasts of state income tax and other revenues in the pair of budgets that Gov. Ralph Northam will present to the General Assembly next month.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch]

It’s Thursday — Today will start off sunny and warm, with a high near 73, before a rainy evening. Southwest wind 7 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Sunrise at 6:54 a.m. and sunset at 4:52 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, breezy and cooler, with a high near 50. Northwest wind 10 to 17 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph. [Weather.gov]

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(Updated 9:20 a.m.) A Dominion Energy substation under renovation near Crystal City is set to electrify the neighborhood with an artistic façade.

The energy provider is expanding and remodeling its substation at the intersection of S. Hayes Street and S. Fern Street to meet the increasing demand for electricity as the population in the National Landing area — and Amazon’s nearby HQ2 — grows. It obtained the extra land needed for the expansion a year ago through an agreement with the County Board.

As part of the renovation, Dominion will be adding public art to one building face — “inVisible” by California-based artist Elena Manferdini — and building a public plaza.

Manferdini’s energetic design features vibrant ceramic tiles interacting with grayscale panels that extend toward the sky. But it’s a big departure from the “cloud concept” Dominion chose last year in response to community feedback.

Dominion Energy’s original “cloud concept” proposed for its substation near Crystal City (via Dominion Energy)

Her livelier proposal proved polarizing. While well-received by Dominion — and approved by the Arlington County Public Art Committee in March — reactions during last month’s Arlington Ridge Civic Association meeting were negatively charged for two reasons, says one attendee.

“1) Although the good intention to keep the building from being bland was well understood by the attendees, the artwork seemed too ‘busy’ for them, and 2) the artwork is being done by a non-local artist,” Tina Ghiladi said in an email. “At best, some reactions were neutral, because the substation is not in Arlington Ridge nor within our line of sight.”

Dominion Energy spokeswoman Peggy Fox says Manferdini, an award-winning artist with two decades of experience, was chosen on the strength of her proposal.

“We were hopeful to find a local artist for this project,” Fox said. “However, Elena proved to be the superior candidate by listening to both the desires of the community and representing the function of a substation and its ‘invisible’ importance in the community. It was clear she did her homework and drew inspiration from both angles. Elena (and her design ‘inVisible’) was chosen because she was the best candidate for this job.”

Manferdini describes her project as a representation of the unseen force of electricity and an invitation to the audience to question their relationship to it.

“Every day, we are surrounded by one of the most important innovations of all time, electricity,” she said in a March meeting. “Its energy powers every area of our modern lives. And yet we can’t see it. Like gravity, electricity is an invisible force we only recognize when it acts upon other objects.”

“inVisible” by Atelier Manferdini, the planned artwork for Dominion Energy’s substation near Crystal City (via Dominion Energy)

Ghiladi says some negative reaction softened when Dominion explained her vision and that she was selected “because of her experience in, and passion for, the subject.” Overall, neighbors like the other changes, she says.

“The members were positive/supportive about all other aspects of the project, namely improving our power network, as well as the removal of the lattice roof,” she said.

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Three Arlington County parks — Thomas Jefferson Park, Towers Park and Marcey Road Park — could see substantial upgrades over the next year.

Contracts to improve the amenities at these three facilities are teed up for County Board approval this Saturday. The projects were all approved in the summer of 2018 as part of the 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan.

If passed, the natural-grass upper field at the Thomas Jefferson Park (3501 2nd Street S.), which hosts the Arlington County Fair, will be redone with synthetic turf.

As part of the $1.1 million project, the field will get spectator seating, signage, site furnishings and new landscaping, as well as athletic equipment and a long jump area. There will be accessibility and stormwater management improvements. The field’s existing lighting will remain.

“The conversion should not impact the County Fair if it remains at TJ,” Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said. “The County is looking into investing in a turf cover to protect the field at TJ and possibly at other synthetic turf fields.”

But Arlington County Fair organizers are considering moving the event to Long Bridge Park.

During community outreach about the turf project, conducted in the winter of 2019-20, residents indicated “a strong desire to keep the County Fair at Thomas Jefferson Park,” according to a staff report. The county is once more accepting feedback on the potential move.

In the report, the parks department responded to safety concerns about synthetic turf and pointed to Arlington County Public Health’s Synthetic Turf FAQ.

“At this time, all independent studies report that ‘the preponderance of evidence shows no negative health effects associated with crumb rubber in synthetic turf,'” the report said.

Construction would take about six months.

Over at Towers Park, at 801 S. Scott Street near Columbia Pike, the existing playground for 2 to 5-year-olds, last replaced in 2000, would be razed. A new playground for 2 to 5-year-olds and another for 5 to 12-year-olds will be installed elsewhere, as the current structure falls in a resource protection area that will be reforested.

If approved, that project could start in the fourth quarter of 2021 and finish in the second quarter of 2022. There will be stormwater management work and new walkways, fencing, signage, site furnishings and landscaping.

The project was delayed by the pandemic and over-budget bids, per a board report. After a first round of bids came back too high, the report said DPR “value-engineered the play equipment selection” and rebid the project this June. All the bids were still over-budget, but the county negotiated the lowest bid to $825,000.

Finally, at Marcey Road Park, located 2722 N. Marcey Road near Military Road, the basketball court, the three tennis courts, the parking lot and picnic shelter will be replaced. The park will get new LED court lighting and furnishings, as well as drainage, stormwater management and landscaping work.

“The outdoor amenities for this park are past their life expectancy and are in need of replacement,” a county report said. “Community feedback indicated the desire for more seating opportunities and trash receptacles, a larger basketball court, a larger picnic area with shade, improved tennis court practice wall, improved accessibility and preservation of as many trees as possible.”

Every bid was over-budget, and the lowest was a non-negotiable $1.3 million, the report said. That project is expected to start in the fourth quarter of 2021 and finish in the third quarter of 2022.

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Marjorie Tarantino’s townhouse deck (courtesy of Marjorie Tarantino)

When Marjorie Tarantino was closing on the purchase of her townhouse this spring, she learned there were problems with the deck.

Tarantino had bought a property in the Richard Bassett subdivision, a 1970s-era development in the Waverly Hills neighborhood, just off of N. Glebe Road and Route 29. And when it was being inspected, Tarantino was informed her 10-foot by 12-foot deck was structurally unsound.

“It’s the middle of summer and I haven’t been outside,” she tells ARLnow. “I can’t go out there — it’s too dangerous.”

So she made plans to rebuild it. But when she told her neighbors about those plans, she got a foreboding response.

“My neighbors were like, ‘Good luck,'” she said.

Tarantino is not just rebuilding her existing 10-foot by 12-foot deck. Because she’s got extra space in her side yard, she plans to expand it slightly to be 12-foot by 19.5-foot. Originally, she said her builder was under the impression he could just get started on the project, but her architect said that with the extension, they probably need to go through the proper channels.

Those proper channels ended up more complicated than the trio could have expected. Tarantino had to file for a site plan amendment that needed County Board approval, which she received during its regular meeting on Saturday, and now she could be facing a $4,000 bill for the process.

“They’re discussing huge things like collective bargaining, and renaming Lee Highway, and then there’s my deck request,” she said. “I kept checking back in during an 8-hour meeting, wondering, ‘Did I get my deck? Did I get my deck? I just want my deck.”

Her townhouse is in what Site Plan Review Section Supervisor Matt Pfeiffer calls a “unique, legacy district.” It has a specific zoning code that was used for only a handful of townhouse developments in the newly-renamed Langston Blvd corridor, all built in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Not only is this not common, it’s not common for townhouses,” Pfeiffer said.  “It appears to me, I don’t know the exact history, to have been a specific tool created in that time to respond to market demand for townhouse development in general. My speculation is that this was a zoning district created to respond to cluster development so as to preserve open space on the site.”

This particular subdivision had similar site plan amendments approved in 2010 and 2012, and in total, he said there have been five site plan amendments for this site.

“I will tell you that some of the site plan amendments at this particular development have been controversial,” he said. “I know, it seems crazy. But there’s a single family home-zoned street abutting this development, and there have been concerns from the neighbors about the impacts of these decks at a higher elevation than their properties.”

The site plan supervisor said he thinks the existing regulations will likely be maintained, in part because these projects are not uncontroversial and it impacts only a few dozen townhouses.

Talking to neighbors, Tarantino said she learned other potential projects were “defeated by red tape and hoops.” Her journey to minor site plan amendment approval involved getting documents notarized, sending disclosures and having her neighbors write to the county, as well as lots of correspondence between her and the county and her architect.

“I understand the need for rules,” she said. “But it’s confusing and seemingly meaningless.”

Tarantino is just looking forward to when she can grow herbs and host dinner parties on her new deck.

“The hard part of this is done [and] it looks like it’s going to happen,” she said.

Now, she just has to get a building permit.

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