Arlington, VA

Benjamin Banneker Park could open sometime before Christmas, about one year after work started and a few months behind schedule.

“We just have a few final items that we are working on,” said Arlington County Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish in an email. “When the park opens, you’ll find a bigger park.”

The new park is 1.8 acres larger, the W&OD and Four Mile Run trails are four feet wider, and the park’s amenities have been upgraded, she said. The $2.5 million project was given the green light in September 2019. Work started in December 2019 and was originally slated to finish in the third quarter of 2020, according to the project page.

“Due to COVID-19, the manufacture and shipping of the play equipment was delayed, necessitating the projected opening of the park to fourth quarter 2020,” said Erik Beach, a Parks and Recreation staff member, in an email.

The playground for children ages 2 to 12 got new equipment, including an obstacle balance course, rock climbing, and “soaring play towers with sky-high slides,” Kalish said.

The athletic field, meanwhile, has been expanded to the west to allow parts of the turf to rest while other parts are used, she said. Spectators will also find updated seating.

The parking lot was resurfaced and striped to improve connections between amenities and to make the dog park, fields and trail more accessible for people with disabilities. The two widened trails include a new pathway configuration around the playground, she said.

Upgrades to the picnic area include new seatings and furnishings, canopy trees and native plantings, and the dog park has new entrances and structures for dogs to explore.

While work has been ongoing, pedestrians and bicyclists using the W&OD trail had to take a detour to the busy intersection of N. Sycamore Street and 19th Street N.

After recent heavy rains, some residents have noted that part of the park tends to flood.

“Like most County parks, Benjamin Banneker Park is predominantly in a floodplain and there will always be lingering moisture due to the geographical nature of its location,” Kalish said.

But Beach said some of the drainage issues people saw during construction have been addressed as work finishes.

“Stormwater management and mitigation measures to treat pollutants include permeable pavement at the walkways and bench seating areas in the playground and a stormwater facility to treat runoff in the parking lot,” Kalish said.

These measures meet the state stormwater management requirements, and the site is graded and designed for water to flow towards Four Mile Run, she said.

Kalish said the department is still fixing a separate drainage issue in the playground’s sand pit, so the sand pit will not be available “for a bit” after the park opens.

“Once we have everything completed the park should run as smoothly as any park that in a floodplain,” she said.

Other mitigating efforts Kalish listed included planting more plant beds around the dog park, field and playground, and adding more than 600 sapling trees. A natural safety surface was installed in half of the playground area for better drainage.

“The County rejected some small areas of the safety surfacing installation, which has since been corrected,” Beach said.

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Morning Notes

A First for ACFD — “A veteran firefighter in Arlington County, Virginia, is breaking barriers as she rises through the ranks. Tiffanye Wesley is the first African American woman named deputy fire chief in all of Northern Virginia.” [NBC 4]

County Wants Feedback on Camera Policy — ” The Arlington County Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Fire Marshals’ Office are seeking the public’s input and feedback on draft Digital Evidence Management System policies, regulating digital audio and video recordings captured by body worn cameras, in-car cameras, and interview room cameras.” [Arlington County]

Guilty Plea in Murder Case — “Jose Angel Rodriguez-Cruz, 54, pleaded guilty in Stafford County Circuit Court on Monday morning in the killing of 28-year-old Marta Haydee Rodriguez, who was last seen walking to a bus stop in Arlington, Virginia, in April 1989.” [WTOP, Washington Post]

Vehicle and Business Break-ins — Arlington County police are investigating a pair of business burglaries in the Rosslyn area, and series of vehicle break-ins in the Barcroft neighborhood, according to Monday’s crime report. [ACPD]

Gov. Backs Marijuana Legalization — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The announcement comes as the Northam Administration prepares to release a report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana.” [Commonwealth of Virginia]

Amazon Order Boosts 23rd Street — “By early May, more than 400 meals a day were leaving the Freddie’s kitchen and reaching firefighters, police, hospitals, and area residents in low-income housing… Due to the size of Amazon’s order, he enlisted a dozen other nearby restaurants. This joint effort ‘breathed life, energy, and activity into the independent restaurants that make up the core of 23rd Street.'” [Amazon]

Reopening Groups Blast Teachers — “Our coalitions of over 5,300 parents, teachers and Northern Virginia residents unite today to express dismay and concern of the latest efforts by a group of Northern Virginia education associations pushing Governor Northam to remove the option for in-person school for all of Virginia’s children.” [Arlington Parents for Education]

Local Districts Pause Reopening — “As COVID-19 cases surge, Fairfax County Public Schools will delay bringing back early HeadStart, pre-K and kindergarten students, plus some students who receive special education services… [and] Falls Church City Public Schools announced Tuesday that they will temporarily ‘pause’ in-person learning for the week of Thanksgiving.” [NBC 4, InsideNova, Washington Post]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

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A local watering hole and entertainment spot is reopening, despite the pandemic.

Punch Bowl Social had been open for just over a year at Ballston Quarter when the pandemic struck and the business — which is premised on large groups of people drinking, dining and playing games — was shuttered.

The situation for Punch Bowl Social looked bleak as Cracker Barrel, a major corporate backer, pulled its support and the Denver-based “eatertainment” company was forced to lay off a majority of its restaurant and corporate employees.

But the national chain, which had 19 locations at the outset of the pandemic, has been slowly reopening locations since July, and the Ballston location is one of the next in line.

A spokeswoman for the company confirmed to ARLnow what a newly-posted sign on the door tells passersby: Punch Bowl Social is planning to reopen on Monday, Oct. 12.

Though the appeal of a business with “social” in its name during a time of social distancing seems dubious — and that’s not to mention the shared punch bowls that constitute the other part of the brand’s identity — there is some reason for optimism.

Punch Bowl Social’s space in Ballston is massive, providing plenty of room for people to spread out, and there’s also a sizable outdoor patio. It might just be the next best cold-weather option to the outdoor beer gardens that proved very popular with young bar-goers this summer.

“This brand has always been about bringing people together and creating social connections,” CEO Robert Thompson told Restaurant Dive in June. “We need that now more than ever, and with our expansive, open floorplans we can do that in a way that will make people feel, for a moment, a renormalization of life.”

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Courthouse’s Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar and Eatery has reopened after its storefront was remodeled with COVID-19 precautions in mind.

During the restaurant’s nearly five month closure, its kitchen was remodeled to allow for physical distancing between employees and to minimize the amount of germs in the air. With the changes in place, Bayou opened its doors on Monday for takeout and patio dining.

Shelves now hang 10 feet above the floors, a new ventilation system whirs between the walls and an industrial fan maintains air flow throughout the space. A touch-free faucet was also added to the store’s bathroom, and a hands-free mechanism was installed to open its door.

The restaurant’s landlord provided funding in recent lease negotiations to make the remodel possible. Owner and chef David Guas said these changes were a must for Bayou Bakery to operate amid the pandemic.

“I feel it would have been negligent to not have put these measures into place before reopening our doors,” Guas said. “These newly adopted practices are going to be necessary moving forward — our industry now carries a very important responsibility when it comes to safety.”

Bayou Bakery originally closed its in-person dining on March 16, following a statewide order from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. According to Guas, sales dropped by 70% between March 16-31 and the restaurant cut its 2o person staff to 10.

While Bayou Bakery still offered takeout, curbside pick-up and delivery during this time, Guas said staying open became unsustainable. On April 1, the restaurant fully closed.

Despite not serving customers, Guas used his facilities to support Chefs Feeding Families. He co-founded the project, which provides free grab-and-go meals to local school children and their families impacted by the pandemic, with McLean-based group Real Food for Kids in March as schools began to close.

“Key Elementary Schools is near my restaurant — there were about 300 kids on the meal plan when the school shut down,” Guas said. “I looked at my employees in the kitchen and thought of their children who went to that school. I asked myself how would they and so many others be fed? How many more would be affected?”

Guas said the project allowed him to keep four employees working, and Bayou Bakery has served about 400-500 meals a day to families impacted by school closures and job losses.

Since March 17, six other restaurants including Silver Diner, Rasa Grill and Pizzeria Paradiso have joined the effort. According to Bayou Bakery, Chefs Feeding Families has served over 90,000 meals at its 21 D.C. region pickup locations as of August 25.

All meals are vegetarian and no ID or proof of need is required to pick one up.

“It was important to us that we were presenting healthy and inclusive options that would appeal to as many people as possible,” Guas said. “I have faith in people and those who came out of their way to get a meal, so the honor system is the way we approached [giving out meals]. By not requiring ID, it opened the doors for us to reach so many more families in need.”

Now, while continuing to support Chefs Feeding Families, Bayou Bakery is open for “Grab N’ Geaux” takeout, delivery and socially distant dining on its patio. Meals like buttermilk biscuit sandwiches and chicken and smoked gumbo are available on an abbreviated menu.

Photos courtesy Bayou Bakery

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After being closed for months, Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike) is planning to reopen this weekend, but with restrictions.

Owner Tim Clark said this week’s reopening is a test drive to gauge public interest in attending the entertainment venue while the rate of coronavirus cases is still going up.

“It feels weird, but good,” Clark said. “There are a lot of unknowns, but we’re excited to get back up. [We’ll be at] 33% capacity for everything, and with social distancing probably under that… We just really want to see how the room flows and how people react.”

Clark said he recognized that the prospect of reopening the venue, which has been closed since March 13, is likely to concern people.

“At this point, we feel pretty confident in how we’re going to reopening,” Clark said. “We’re keeping to all of the mandates and recommendations. We’re doing everything we can. We still have bills and have everything going forward, so having zero revenue was going to be detrimental to the business. We’re seeing a small window and this is really a test.”

Clark said the venue will be run by what’s left of his staff. Many people have moved out of the area or found other jobs. While recognizing that it wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly, Clark said in the interest of public health the venue is also going fully disposable containers and utensils for its limited menu.

“Excited to see if people come out,” Clark said. “I think people are itching for it.”

According to the theater website:

Mask or facial covering will be required for entry into theater and must be worn while moving around inside the theater, no exceptions.   Once you are seated the masks may be removed for eating/drinking.  Seating will be in compliance with social distancing Virginia phase 3 mandates.  Full menu will be available for purchase tableside.   High touch areas will be sanitized regularly during and between events.  No one with a fever, COVID 19 symptoms or know exposure to COVID 19 with in the last 14 days will be permitted in the establishment.

This weekend, comedian Sarah Tollemache is scheduled to perform stand-up shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 6) and Saturday (Aug 7). Tickets will be $20.

The venue will also be showing The Goonies on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Tickets are $5.

Photo via Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse/Facebook

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The indoor public pools at Washington-Liberty and Yorktown high schools reopened on Saturday.

Arlington Public Schools announced Friday afternoon that the pools would be reopening under the state’s Phase 3 guidelines. The Wakefield High School pool “will remain closed for a few more weeks” due to major maintenance work, APS said.

Those who want to use the pools are required to make a reservation for a 45-minute window.

More from an APS email to parents:

The two pools will open under the Virginia Forward Phase III guidelines, which include diminished capacity, physical distancing of 10 feet and the requirement of a health and temperature screening for all staff and patrons. We have posted many of the details on our website and will continue to do so over the next 24 hours. Use this link to learn more and stay informed.

Patrons will need to purchase admission and make a reservation for a 45-min swim or water exercise/jog session. You will need to set up an account on our Self-Service Portal. You will receive a separate email this evening inviting you to join the APS Aquatics Self-Service Portal. Follow the instructions on the email to set up your account. […]

The reservations will open at 8 a.m. on the previous day (On Friday at 8 a.m. you will be able to register for Saturday sessions). They will first go live tomorrow morning. Instruction on registering are available at Making a Reservation. This section also includes information about what to expect when you get to the pool, while you swim and after you are done. Patrons will be checked in, directed to the locker rooms to shower before swimming and out to the deck to a designated Blue or Red lanes. After you swim, you may choose to exit directly off the deck or enter the Unisex Room to change out of your swimming gear and shower. If you have any questions or need assistance navigating the portal or the registration page, please call 703-228-6264 or 703-228-6263. […]

Regretfully, The Wakefield pool will remain closed for a few more weeks. APS is performing major maintenance in the entire building ahead of the start of the school year. We recognize this is disappointing to our Wakefield patrons, but it is imperative that this work be completed. We anticipate opening around August 24. […]

The APS Aquatics team is excited to be back at the pools and ready to welcome you back.  Staff will be learning how to navigate this new way of serving you and the success of our re-opening depends greatly on your willingness to follow the guidelines and on your patience. Our primary concern remains your safety both in the water and in the building.

We very much look forward to seeing you on Saturday at Washington-Liberty and Yorktown Pools. It has been a long 4-months on dry land.

Arlington County does not have outdoor public pools, but is home to several private swim clubs. The county government itself does not currently operate any public pools, but that will change when the Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center opens. The opening of the aquatics center, however, has been delayed at least a year due to the pandemic and budget issues.

File photo

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Virginia’s Phase 3 reopening starts today, with relaxed rules for restaurants, stores, fitness studios and social gatherings.

But as new coronavirus cases continue to surge in the South and West, the reopening raises the specter of Virginia’s waning epidemic returning.

Unlike New Jersey, which recently postponed the return of indoor dining, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is opting to continue reopening indoor, communal settings. He announced yesterday, however, that bar seating will be prohibited inside restaurants.

Arlington County, meanwhile, is encouraging residents to stay “safer at home” and to continue social distancing, telecommuting, and wearing masks in indoor public settings.

“Because Arlington is an urban, high-density area — and because there is still community spread of the virus — the County is going to similarly move forward with caution in the hopes of continuing to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety and well-being of the entire community,” the county said in a press release today.

The press release notes that fitness rooms and gyms will reopen at four community centers — Fairlington, Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Langston Brown — next Friday, July 10.

The good news for Arlington is that the current level of coronavirus spread remains low: five new cases were reported overnight, for a seven-day total of 46. The seven-day rate of new hospitalizations stands at just three, a new low since such data started to be reliably reported by the Virginia Dept. of Health.

The county press release about the reopening is below.

Arlington County, along with the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, is transitioning to Phase 3 of the Forward Virginia plan on Wednesday, July 1.

In Phase 3, Arlington will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing and teleworking, and the requirement that individuals wear face coverings in indoor public settings. All businesses should continue to follow physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces and keep enhanced workplace safety measures in place.

As part of a cautious approach to entering Phase 3, Governor Northam on Tuesday announced that bar seating will remain prohibited in restaurants to reduce the likelihood of patrons gathering in bar areas without observing social distancing guidelines. The Governor added he is prepared to implement tighter restrictions if needed.

Because Arlington is an urban, high-density area — and because there is still community spread of the virus — the County is going to similarly move forward with caution in the hopes of continuing to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety and well-being of the entire community.

Arlington will continue to open government facilities gradually to ensure adequate space for social distancing and follow public health guidelines. […]

Playgrounds and Outdoor Restrooms Now Open, Select Fitness Rooms to Open July 10

Continuing its gradual reopening, in according with public health and safety guidelines, Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation reopened playgrounds and outdoor restrooms, including playgrounds located at Arlington Public Schools, effective Friday, June 26. Additionally, athletic field and court lighting returned to regular schedules.

Park users must continue to social distance and comply with the appropriate usage guidelines. Learn more on the Reopening Arlington Parks FAQ page.

Starting Friday, July 10, fitness rooms and gyms will reopen in four of DPR’s centers: Fairlington, Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Langston Brown.

Community and nature centers and spraygrounds remain closed.

Read More

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Morning Notes

March Planned Tonight in Crystal City — “This Tuesday (6/30) we will be gathering in Crystal City Courtyard Green to march to Pentagon City in defense of Black womxn.” [Twitter]

Petition for APS to Require Masks — “To maximize the chances of success for Arlington Public Schools (Virginia) hybrid return to school model we urge the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán to make face coverings compulsory for both students and teachers during the days they are at school for in-person learning. Those who object to wearing masks can always choose the distance-learning option.” [Change.org]

Local Church to Feed Thousands — “On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) in south Arlington is working with José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (WCK) to feed families in need of food assistance. World Central Kitchen is providing 3,500 meals to OLQP for distribution to the community. Meals will be offered to take home in conjunction with pre-packed food the OLQP food pantry distributes every Wednesday morning. This is the second time WCK will be providing meals to OLQP during the pandemic.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]

Catholic Churches Enter ‘Phase 3’ — “All 70 parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington will move into phase three of Virginia’s reopening plan on Wednesday. Officials announced Monday that each parish is ‘able, but not mandated, to celebrate public Mass with capacity restrictions lifted’ beginning on July 1.” [Fox 5]

County Adjusts Committee Meeting Rules — “After facing a rebellion from members and chairs of advisory commissions, the Arlington County Board has revised rules for holding meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the two biggest changes from the original plans: Commission chairs (apparently) will no longer have to seek county-staff permission to hold meetings. Advisory-group meetings will be allowed in-person or in a hybrid format, in addition to the previously announced “virtual”-only arrangement.” [InsideNova]

New Construction Contract for VHC Inked — “Skanska USA has inked more work with Virginia Hospital Center as the Arlington hospital soldiers on with its $250 million expansion project. The construction company said Monday it signed a contract worth $96 million for site work for the new outpatient pavilion and parking garage at the hospital. That’s on top of a $37 million contract with VHC it grabbed late last year.” [Washington Business Journal]

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The rate of new COVID-19 infections in Arlington continues to drop.

Seventeen new cases have been reported since Friday, bringing the trailing seven-day infection total to 42 — an average of six per day. One new hospitalization has been reported since Friday and no new deaths have been reported, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.

Arlington’s test positivity rate, meanwhile, now stands at just 2.5%.

“It appears that wearing masks, social distancing, and being outside have had a very positive impact on the area,” Virginia Hospital Center ER chief Dr. Mike Silverman wrote Friday in a public social media post. “We’re still seeing patients that require COVID evaluations at a similar rate to the last couple of weeks but this remains well below the peak volumes we saw in April and we did not appear to see a bump in cases as a result of the protests.”

“COVID is not gone though I know some people think it is. It does appear to be less prevalent,” he added. “We’ve even seen a drop in the rate of our asymptomatic screening patients which gives me a sense for the prevalence in the general area.”

One area of concern is what might happen as Virginia enters Phase 3 of the reopening on Wednesday, allowing more people to gather indoors at restaurants and other businesses, albeit with masks required.

A surge in new coronavirus cases prompted Texas and Florida to close bars last week. A few hours from Arlington, bars have been temporarily closing on the Delaware shore as employees get sick, and Pittsburgh is banning alcohol consumption at bars starting Tuesday amid a spike in new cases.

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Good news for kids and parents: two weeks after dog parks and tennis courts reopened, playgrounds and outdoor public restrooms are opening up today.

Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation made the announcement Thursday afternoon, amid the slowing rate of new COVID-19 infections. In addition to the reopening of playgrounds and restrooms, athletic field and court lights will be turned back on and organized sports allowed in parks.

Park users are asked to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines, and anyone with flu-like symptoms or recent contact with a known COVID-19 case is asked to refrain from using park amenities.

More from the parks department:

Effective Fri., June 26, Arlington County will reopen playgrounds and outdoor restrooms, including playgrounds located at Arlington Public Schools. Athletic field and court lighting will return to regular schedules. Park users must continue to social distance and comply with and follow the appropriate usage  guidelines. Here is a list of open park amenities and their usage guidelines:

  • Athletic fields (with restrictions)
  • Basketball courts
  • Batting cages
  • Bocce courts
  • Community gardens
  • Disc golf course
  • Dog parks
  • Playgrounds
  • Pickleball courts
  • Picnic shelters (with restrictions)
  • Restrooms
  • Skate park
  • Tennis courts
  • Tracks
  • Trails
  • Volleyball courts

Organized and drop-in games are allowed on athletic fields. Continue to practice social distancing when possible. Avoid physical contact during sports or fitness activities.

Access to various amenities, such as courts and shelters continue to be first-come, first-served at this time.

Do not use any Arlington County park amenity, if you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

Park visitors are asked to adhere to the physical distancing and small group guidelines – keep at least six feet of distance from others and groups should not exceed 50 people. Wearing a cloth face covering is encouraged.

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