Arlington, VA

County planners are now kicking off work to chart out the future of the former home of Arlington’s “Salt Dome,” the site of so much community consternation this past summer.

A task force convened by the County Board to study the 7.6-acre property, at the intersection of 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive and adjacent to Marymount University’s campus, is planning a “community roundtable” on the matter Saturday (Jan. 12). The meeting will be held at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), starting at 10 a.m.

For about 90 years, the property was home to a large metal “dome” storing road salt and served as the base of operations for salt trucks in the northern half of the county. But county staff discovered in July that the structure was on the verge of collapsing, and they took rapid steps to secure the Board’s permission to tear down the dome and build a temporary storage facility in its place.

The process took months to complete, but many neighbors still felt blindsided by changes that failed to follow Arlington’s notoriously extensive community engagement guidelines. In particular, some worry that the temporary facility would eventually become permanent, even though people living nearby had hoped for years to see the land transformed into a park or some sort of other community amenity.

County workers removed the old dome just last week, standing up a structure designed to hold about 4,500 tons of road salt in its place.

The Board has since issued a variety of mea culpas for its handling of the issue — new Chair Christian Dorsey even singled the process out as a “failure” during his Jan. 2 speech taking the Board’s gavel — and agreed to kick off a planning process for the property in part to rebuild trust in the community.

The “Master Planning Task Force” could eventually recommend one of all manner of new uses for the property, most of which sits empty. However, county staffers agree that they’ll need to maintain most of their existing operations on the site, from winter storm response to leaf and mulch storage.

As for the rest, there are plenty of possibilities being batted about. The county’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission, a group dedicated to finding space for public facilities around Arlington, is recommending that some sort of park or other public space must be created or maintained on the site, according to November meeting documents.

JFAC is also suggesting that the property could have room for an “elementary or secondary school,” at a time when land for new schools is a particularly acute need for the county, or for vehicle storage for police or school bus drivers.

Additionally, Marymount University is pitching the prospect of striking a deal with the county to build a “multi-use” athletic field on the site for its sports teams, alongside a one-acre park and playground to meet the community’s wishes.

The task force is set to meet again on Thursday (Jan 10.) and hopes to eventually deliver a report to the County Board with recommendations for future sites uses by April.

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Morning Notes

Plan for Decaying Salt Storage Facility Tweaked — “Arlington government officials have come up with a slightly altered placement for a new North Arlington salt-storage container, one that may assuage the concerns of some – if not necessarily all – critics of the move. A new schematic drawing moves the footprint of the new storage facility closer to the existing, dilapidated salt dome on the 7.5-acre parcel along Old Dominion Drive between 25th Road North and 26th Street North.” [InsideNova]

New Office Option in Rosslyn — A local commercial real estate firm is opening a new office concept in Rosslyn which will combine the “office on demand” flexibility of co-working space with larger floor plans and suite configurations more common in traditionally leased office space. [Washington Business Journal]

Operating Costs a Question for Aquatics Center — A groundbreaking has been held for the new Long Bridge Park aquatics center, now the county has commissioned a survey of residents to help determine pricing and offerings, which will in turn help the county calculate the center’s yearly operating costs. The latest estimate pegs the subsidy from taxpayers at about $1 million per year. [InsideNova]

Rosslyn-Based Nestle Continuing to Hire — “Global food and beverage giant Nestle plans to boost hiring in the U.S., where it has just opened a headquarters in Virginia, the company’s U.S. chief said Wednesday. Steve Presley, Nestle USA CEO, said on FOX Business’ ‘Mornings with Maria’ that job creation will include positions at the new headquarters in Arlington County as well as production facilities in the commonwealth. [Fox Business]

It’s August — The calendar has turned a page, to August, but the current rainy weather pattern is expected to continue. [Capital Weather Gang]

Photo courtesy Jeremy Galliani

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As temperatures near 90 degrees, winter feels awfully far off these days — but Arlington officials are taking new steps to keep county roads clear of snow and ice, all the same.

County leaders are preparing to build a temporary replacement for the salt storage tank serving the northern half of the county, located near the intersection of 25th Road N. and Old Dominion Drive.

They believe the current tank, which was built back in the 1930s, has deteriorated over the years and is no longer safe for workers to use. The County Board is now set to consider plans today (Tuesday) to construct a tank for interim use on the site, ensuring that the county has a working facility by the time the winter arrives.

“The loss of a north side operational facility would have an immediate and apparent effect upon response time for every storm and would put the county at significant risk of exhausting salt supplies during an event,” county staff wrote in a Board report. “An expedited process is necessary as ice storms, which rely exclusively on salt, pose the most significant risk and can occur as early as November.”

Workers use the existing storage tank to hold about 4,500 tons of road salt, with another 1,500 tons stored under a tarp on the property. The county is planning to replace that with a “canvass-skinned structure 120-feet long by 85-feet wide, with a height of 47 feet” on the property, according to the report.

The site is owned by the county, and officials are pursuing a few zoning changes for parcels surrounding the old salt storage tank to clear the way for the construction of its temporary replacement, reasoning that “there is insufficient time to deconstruct and reconstruct the temporary facility on the existing site and be ready to meet the upcoming winter needs.”

Staff envision the new tank staying in place for the next three or four years, as officials draw up plans for a permanent storage tank on the property. They’re aiming to begin construction on that project by “the fall of 2021 or 2022,” and will use $2.4 million in previously approved bond funding to afford the effort.

The Board will vote today whether to hold public hearings on the plan for a temporary facility. Should it approve them, those gatherings would be scheduled for sometime in September, and county staff would hold extensive conversations with the nearby civic associations on their plans.

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Morning Notes

What Arlington Residents Think About Arlington — “Arlington residents of all ages are concerned about housing costs. Many like new urban amenities and denser development but are worried about displacing lower-income neighbors. Others point to the county’s affluence and pockets of racially homogenous communities and wonder what that says about their progressive values.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Salt Storage Facility to Be Torn Down — Arlington County is planning to dismantle the rusted-out road salt storage tank on Old Dominion Drive near 25th Road N. later this year, deeming it unsafe for use during the upcoming winter season. In its place, the county hopes to build a temporary facility that could remain functional for several years. [InsideNova]

New Restaurant Kiosks Planned in Crystal City — “Two new funky restaurant spaces could be coming to Crystal City in 2019… JBG Smith wants to build two unusual standalone restaurant buildings, one that resembles a green house and one that calls to mind a tree house, in green space that sits in front of 2121 Crystal Drive. The green is currently a mix of walking paths, open seating, trees and lawn.” [Washington Business Journal]

How Critics Could Fight W-L Name Change — Those opposed to changing the name of Washington-Lee High School have floated the idea of a community-wide referendum, though state law does not currently allow Arlington to hold an advisory referendum. One more fruitful path may be convincing the Republican-controlled state legislature to block the name change, though any such action would likely not survive Gov. Ralph Northam (D)’s veto pen. [InsideNova]

Employer Moving Out of Rosslyn — Amid a series of economic wins for Rosslyn and Arlington, there are also some losses. Among them, The Carlyle Group is planning to consolidate its Rosslyn office — with some 300 employees — into its larger D.C. office on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, after striking a deal to expand its lease and modernize its space. [Washington Business Journal]

Photo courtesy StardogCZ

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Arlington County crews pretreating S. Glebe Road with brine (file photo)(Update at 2:15 p.m.) Arlington County is preparing for the possibility of snow, sleet and freezing rain on Saturday, though the exact forecast is still far from certain.

“Crews began pretreating roads yesterday and will continue today to prepare for the expected icy weather conditions on the roadways,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien told ARLnow.com Friday morning.

“Due to the low confidence of this forecast, we are still analyzing the level of response that will be required” on Saturday, O’Brien continued. “A determination of resource levels and time of activation will be made this afternoon.”

VDOT, meanwhile, is encouraging drivers to stay off the roads in Northern Virginia on Saturday.

Virginia Department of Transportation and contract crews are preparing for plummeting temperatures and a gamut of winter weather forecast for northern Virginia this weekend, from early Saturday morning through Sunday morning.

Drivers are asked to monitor weather reports for the latest updates to avoid being on the road during periods of limited visibility or icy conditions. Stay off roads Saturday or delay trips until Sunday if possible, to avoid being caught in deteriorating conditions as weather transitions between snow, sleet and freezing rain through the day.

Crews began pretreating roads yesterday and will be staged roadside in the region by 10 p.m. tonight. Throughout Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington* counties (*Arlington maintains own secondary roads) crews treat about 5,200 lane miles of interstates and other high-volume roads with liquid magnesium chloride or brine when conditions allow for winter weather. Learn more about northern Virginia’s snow preparations.

Why does VDOT ask drivers to stay home?

  • Visibility will be limited during periods of snow.
  • Freezing rain causes an ice glaze that is difficult to see. Black ice often looks like pavement that is simply wet, making it extremely hazardous for driving or walking.
  • Four-wheel drive vehicles cannot stop any better than two-wheel drive vehicles on ice.

It could be deja vu if the weather does trend toward more freezing rain. Icy weather caused a number of crashes and other problems on the roads in Arlington less than a month ago, on Saturday, Dec. 17.

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Morning Notes

Mother and son shovel snow on 1/6/14 (Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley)

Murphy Apologizes for Snowy School Opening — Arlington Public Schools superintendent Patrick Murphy has personally apologized for the unpopular decision to open schools on time yesterday, in the midst of a snow storm. Murphy said APS, like other local school systems that also opened on time, had to make a decision early in the morning, when the forecast still called for less snow. “Once that decision is made, we are kind of locked in,” said Murphy. [InsideNova]

Salt Truck Slides Down Hill — The refreeze may have claimed a salt truck last night. A reader spotted a salt truck being pulled out of a ditch on N. Roosevelt Street. [Twitter]

Crystal City Profiled — As part of its ongoing “Where We Live” series, the Washington Post has profiled Crystal City, which the paper says is “not just underground anymore.” The neighborhood is noted for being convenient to various forms of transportation and having a very low crime rate. [Washington Post]

Remembering Kathryn Stone — Kathryn Stone, a “legendary figure in the history of Arlington County and the Commonwealth,” is remembered for her role in advancing the role of women in government. [Falls Church News-Press]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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The “S” word has been on the lips of many in the metro area this week. That’s right, much to the chagrin of many residents, there’s a slight chance we’ll get a rare October snowfall.

Coincidentally, Arlington County started its annual snow training this week. Workers have been hooking up trucks, doing some trial runs and making sure all equipment is ready for the season.

Water, Sewer and Streets Bureau Chief Operating Engineer Dave Hundelt said, “Conveniently we get a random forecast for flurries or light rain/snow and overnight temps right near freezing for this weekend.”

Hundelt says Arlington doesn’t plan on mobilizing its plow or salting teams this weekend because the pavement temperatures will remain well above freezing. That prevents any precipitation from sticking to the ground or causing major driving issues. However, if the forecast changes and conditions worsen, crews could be expected to mobilize.

Currently, Arlington is not included in the winter storm watches or warnings issued by the National Weather Service for many surrounding counties. Although that could change, right now there is only a chance for a light snow shower or a rain/snow mix around here. Due to the uncertainty of the storm, most weather experts are putting the chances of snow on Saturday around 50-50.

Fall snowstorms are worrisome because trees haven’t yet shed all their leaves, making the branches heavy and susceptible to snapping off as a result of accumulation. This traditionally makes autumn snow more dangerous than winter storms.

The last time the metro area experienced a significant snowstorm in October was back on October 10, 1979.

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Police are urgently calling in salt trucks to the Arlington Forest neighborhood, where a number of cars have been sliding down a steep hill on North Edison Street.

Cops are starting to block off access to the road in the area of Carlin Springs Road and North Emerson Street. They’re reporting on the radio that the street is coated with ice.

At least two cars are reported to have been involved in a collision, and at least one county vehicle is stuck at the bottom of the hill.

Update at 9:55 a.m. — Dangerous, icy conditions are also being reported in the area of South Hayes Street and Fort Scott Drive in Aurora Hills.

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WMATA has announced that aboveground Metrorail service will shut down when snow accumulation reaches eight inches, as it did on Dec. 19. Don’t try to use Metrorail when the accumulation totals are nearing 8″ — there’s a real likelihood of the system shutting down as you’re in transit, stranding you halfway to your destination.

Some hardy souls may try to drive this weekend, despite pleas from local governments for drivers to stay off the road. If you absolutely, positively must drive, you’re likely to encounter a few salt trucks along the way. For many drivers, the exact rules of engagement around slow-moving salt trucks is unclear. Do you pass? How close to you get? To help shed some light, here are some salt truck safety tips, as emailed to arlnow.com from the county’s Department of Environmental Services:

Snow Operations Tips: Roadway Safety

  • If you are behind a snow plow, stay at least 100 feet back to allow the truck adequate room to maneuver and see you in the rearview and side mirrors.
  • Do not attempt to pass snow plows working in tandem on major roadways. Working together in a staggered pattern allows the plows to quickly clear more of the roadway.
  • A snowplow needs a minimum roadway width of 15 feet to maneuver safely, and on many streets a snowplow cannot operate when cars are parked on both sides of the street.
  • If you see a plow on a narrow, two-way road, consider an alternate route or wait for the plow to pass to ensure that both vehicles can safely navigate the road.
  • Prior to a storm, work with neighbors to move as many cars off the street and into garages or driveways. Park all remaining vehicles on one side of the street – the ODD numbered side, if possible. With fewer parked cars, streets can be cleared more completely, safely and quickly. Your car is also less likely to be covered with salt and sand.
  • Use extra caution when driving during, and shortly after, winter weather events. Roads can remain slippery for some time after trucks have plowed and treated them, especially when the temperatures remain low.
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