Arlington’s plans to demolish a roughly 90-year-old storage “dome” for road salt and build a temporary replacement are inching forward, even as some neighbors have cried foul about the county’s rushed public engagement process for the project.
The county Planning Commission unanimously lent its seal of approval last night (Thursday) to a series of zoning changes to let work on the salt dome move ahead, keeping the county on track to move about 4,500 tons of salt into a new shelter in time for the first threats of snow in late November.
Officials discovered this spring that the old dome, made out of a repurposed water tank and located on a piece of county property near the intersection of 25th Road N. and Old Dominion Drive, was on the verge of collapse. Considering that the dome was one of just two of the county’s facilities for road salt storage, staff wanted to take urgent action to commission a replacement.
The County Board agreed to kick off that process in July, but people living nearby were peeved that officials would push ahead with these changes on a considerably more expedited timeline than Arlington’s notoriously lengthy engagement guidelines might normally allow. Many neighbors were particularly concerned that the temporary replacement for the dome might become permanent, lending a considerably more industrial feel to the neighborhood, which is just near Marymount University.
“It will be the defining feature of the entrance of our neighborhood, and it will say ‘Welcome to Industrialville,'” Mike Hogan, president of the Old Dominion Citizens Association, told the commission. “Never have so many planning rules been violated in one proposal as this one.”
Arlington Department of Environmental Services Director Greg Emanuel stressed to the commission the rushed process is “clearly not how we prefer to do our work,” offering a mea culpa for his staff’s failure to identify the problem a bit earlier. But he also emphasized that the project was so important that it was worth speeding things along — should the dome fail, he expects the county would see its response time to a snowstorm increase anywhere from 30 to 40 percent.
“There should’ve been a public process, there’s no question about it,” Planning Commission Chair Jane Siegel told ARLnow. “Nobody’s trying to hide the ball here… but if there is no salt storage in the appropriate part of the county, we risk people getting injured.”
Siegel expects that county staffers managed to overlook the salt dome’s degrading status because the property was at one time slated to become the home of a replacement for Fire Station 8. When those plans fell apart, she suspects the salt dome got lost in the shuffle, as officials were initially expecting it to be removed.
Some neighbors, however, were not so convinced of the county’s good intentions.
“We’ve all known for a long time this is failing,” Jacqueline Smith, another Old Dominion resident, told the commission. “This is a really predictable crisis… and we’re being put under this pressure, saying we have no other options. And personally, I don’t see that.”
But Emanuel told the commission that staff did examine other options for the temporary salt dome, like a site the county uses for storing leaf removal and the Buck property, a piece of county land near Ballston eyed for all manner of uses over the years. Neither option, however, would quite fit the county’s needs, Emanuel said.
Even with the county stuck using the Old Dominion property, Siegel pointed out that vocal community scrutiny of the project managed to force some concessions from the county to make the effort a bit more tolerable. For instance, the county shrank the amount of land it plans to use for the project, and will save all but three trees it originally planned to cut down on the site.
“Even though it was not a full public process, the public did weigh in and get some wins out of this,” Siegel said.
Still, Old Dominion neighbors worry about the site’s future.
“We recognize this is intended to be temporary, but we’d like to know what temporary means,” Hogan said.
Manuel estimates that the temporary structure will stay in place for the next three to four years, until the county can build a new salt storage tank. And for any concerned neighbors, Siegel also points out that the County Board will soon convene a working group on a “master plan” for the property, a process she says might not have started for quite some time without the community’s interest in the salt dome.
“Temporary things become permanent if there’s no opposing group or force or idea, but here there obviously will be,” Siegel said. “There is a bulwark against the drift.”
The County Board will get a chance to weigh in on the salt dome zoning changes at its Sept. 22 and Sept. 25 meetings.
County HQ Renovation Vote Delayed — The Arlington County Board last night agreed to defer consideration of renovations to county government headquarters until April. The Board will discuss the “‘opportunity costs’ for the $10 million in rent abatements that will fund part of the renovation project,” in the context of the current county budget discussions, according to Board Chair Katie Cristol. [Twitter]
Arlington Declines Amazon FOIA Request — A Freedom of Information Act request for more information about the county’s Amazon HQ2 bid, sent from the Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell, was denied on the grounds that the information was “exempt from disclosure.” At the County Board meeting this past weekend, several speakers called on the county to release more information about what it has offered Amazon. [Twitter, WTOP]
Letter: APS Should Revise Gym Shorts Policy — Eighth-grade students wrote a letter to the editor encouraging Arlington Public Schools to revise its policy on girls’ gym shorts. Per the letter: “The shorts we are required to wear by the school system cause many of us embarrassment because the wide, open legs allow others to see our undergarments, especially during floor exercises. Additionally, the current gym shorts are too big for petite girls.” [InsideNova]
Arlington TV Now in HD — “You can now watch Arlington TV (ATV), the County’s government cable channel, in high definition (HD) on Comcast Xfinity. From live County Board meetings to original programming about Arlington, viewers with HD sets can now watch the same programming on Channel 1085 on Comcast Xfinity’s HD tier.” [Arlington County]
Auditor Releases Report on ECC Overtime — Arlington County Auditor Chris Horton has released a report on overtime incurred by the county’s Emergency Communications Center, which handles 911 calls and dispatches first responders. The ECC’s overtime costs were about $1.4 million last year. Horton found that “a more efficient training process could result in greater staffing efficiency, and potentially reduce overtime expenses.” [Arlington County]
The Capital Weather Gang reports that as Friday night wears on, the chances of light snow, or a mix of snow and rain, will increase. A mix of snow and rain is likely to fall during Saturday, with as much as an inch or two expected to accumulate depending on the severity of the storm.
County government has been planning all year for any winter weather, including budgeting $1.4 million for snow removal, stockpiling 9,200 tons of salt and spending 1,950 hours training snow crews. The team is made up of 92 drivers and 46 trucks.
Crews from the county’s Department of Environmental Services were out this morning with liquid de-icer to pre-treat some county streets.
— Arlington DES (@ArlingtonDES) December 8, 2017
Work on snow-affected roads is broken into four phases, per a county press release:
- Phase 1: Snow crews pre-treat main roads before a storm.
- Phase 2: During the storm, the priority is to keep main arteries passable for emergency vehicles and public transportation.
- Phase 3: Plowing of residential streets and trails begins. It’s important to know that these streets may only be passable with one lane and you may not see bare pavement.
- Phase 4: After the storm, cleanup operations begin, which includes treating ice on the roadways.
As well as more than 1,000 lane miles of county streets, crews will also clear nearly 350 bus stops and shelters, 35 miles of sidewalks and 21 pedestrian bridges or overpasses. Ten miles of trails and three miles of protected bike lanes also will be cleared.
And residents can play their part in helping make snow clearing as easy as possible:
- Coordinate with neighbors to park cars on one side of the street, where feasible, or avoid on-street parking so snowplow operators can efficiently clear more of the streets
- Don’t park “head in” on cul-de-sacs so plows have more room to maneuver
- Clear your sidewalks and scoop snow towards your house, not the street, BUT
- Wait for snow plows to come by before clearing snow from the front of driveways, to minimize the amount pushed back by plows
- Stay home, telework or use mass transit to reduce the number of potentially stranded vehicles
- Apply only the recommended amount of chemical de-icers on sidewalks to attain a safe and passable way
- Stay connected through the Snow and Ice Central webpage and DES social media platforms for updates on snow phases, transportation, trash and other important notifications. Follow on Twitter @ArlingtonDES and on Facebook at Arlington County Department of Environmental Services.
Crews from the Virginia Department of Transportation will also be pre-treating roads ahead of any snow. VDOT urged drivers to give their trucks room to work.
Crews will be pretreating roads today & tmrw between rush hours ahead of potential winter weather during Friday's PM commute. Pls give tanker & safety trucks room to work. Learn more: https://t.co/2gX5CDGM8i #brinelines pic.twitter.com/T7YP4Hq3cD
— VDOT Northern VA (@VaDOTNOVA) December 7, 2017
Our latest calculations for the chance of 2" or more of snow highlights the area from central Virginia up the I-95 corridor. For more graphics, visit: https://t.co/FdluCAnbTi. pic.twitter.com/gIDKzkFz8x
— NWS DC/Baltimore (@NWS_BaltWash) December 8, 2017
NEW: Snow is coming. Here's CWG's snow accumulation outlook for Saturday, as well as information on storm timing and our impacts analysis. Follow this link, which will be updated throughout today: https://t.co/84HdbBUrOy
— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) December 8, 2017
ACPD is monitoring the weather conditions for tomorrow. If there is any change to the performance schedule, we'll post an update on our social media accounts.
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) December 8, 2017
Crews will pre-treat the Washington & Old Dominion Trail for the first time this winter when accumulating snow or ice is in the weather forecast.
Officials behind the 45-mile paved trail between Shirlington and Purcellville announced the change in a series of tweets last week.
When snow or ice is in the forecast, crews will pre-treat the trail “in Arlington heading west.” The change comes after discussions with staff from Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation, who have been pre-treating trails for at least the past few years.
The Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority, which is responsible for the trail, purchased a tanker trailer to do the pre-treating, which will likely involve putting salt down hours before snow or ice is due to hit. NOVA Parks will continue to use its snow blowers to clear the paths.
“The pre-treatment working in tandem with our snow blowers should help reduce trail down time so to speak with snow & ice on the trail,” the trail’s Twitter account tweeted.
The new regime may be needed later this week. The Capital Weather Gang reports that there will be a “decisive flip to cold,” which may bring snow flurries.
Hi Chris, thank you for your interest in the W&OD. Starting this winter we'll be pre-treating the trail in Arlington heading westward when snow/ice is in the forecast. We've talked with Arlington about snow removal best practices and Arlington County staff have pre-treated……
— The W&OD Trail (@WODTrail) December 1, 2017
….their trail system in winter for some time. After researching suitable equipment and allocating the necessary funds we've purchased a tanker trailer that can hopefully do the job for us. The pre-treatment working in tandem with our snow blowers should help reduce trail……
— The W&OD Trail (@WODTrail) December 1, 2017
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Arlington Pitching Brainpower to Amazon — Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins plans to emphasize Arlington’s highly-educated workforce — 70 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher — in trying to woo Amazon’s new headquarters to the county. [Washington Business Journal]
Animal Control Called for Normal Raccoon — Someone called animal control to report a raccoon “acting strangely” on the 600 block of S. Carlin Springs Drive last week. An animal control officer responded and determined that “its behavior was normal.” [Twitter]
Snowblower Application Deadline Nearing — Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation loans out snowblowers to groups of residents, on the condition that they agree to clear sidewalks for neighbors in need, in front of bus stops, etc. The application deadline for this coming winter is Oct. 13. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Arlington VA
Arlington’s snow removal ordinance requires that sidewalks be shoveled within 24 hours of the end of a snow event with six inches or less of accumulation. As far as the county is concerned, Tuesday’s snowstorm ended at 2 p.m., and thus the sidewalk deadline today is 2 p.m.
If you’ve procrastinated, you might be in for a tough task. Temperatures in the low 20s means that uncleared snow and sleet has turned into a barely penetrable mat of ice.
— Russell Imrie (@tweedyBard) March 15, 2017
Approved this past summer, the new policy had snow crews clearing major roads and neighborhood streets concurrently, a change from the previous practice of only tackling neighborhood streets after arterial streets were totally clear.
The old policy led to complaints (and snow vigilantism) from residents that by the time crews got to their neighborhood, the snow had become so compacted or icy that it was hard for the plows to fully remove.
So how did the snow crews do? Let us know below. (As of 8 a.m., the snow clearing effort was still underway, with crews in the fourth and final phase, cleaning up remaining trouble spots.)
Arlington County brine trucks could be seen pretreating roads around Clarendon earlier this afternoon. VDOT, meanwhile, says it’s preparing for a potentially messy Thursday evening and Friday morning commute.
“Road crews are conducting anti-icing activities today and tomorrow,” VDOT said in a press release. “Please watch for crews as they stage along roads prior to the storm. Crews will treat roads with salt and sand as needed once the storm begins Thursday afternoon, plow in areas where and if snow totals reach two inches, and will remain on duty throughout the course of the storm.”
The snow is not expected to amount to much — maybe just a dusting to an inch. But even a small amount of snow could cause slippery conditions and virtual gridlock.
With snow expected tomorrow afternoon, crews have been pre-treating the roads today and will continue this evening and tomorrow. #ARLwx
— Arlington DES (@ArlingtonDES) January 4, 2017
Our first snow is almost here! Expect snow to impact Thurs PM & Fri AM rush. Check wx & modify trip times. https://t.co/nmHVmLCRGN
— VDOT Northern VA (@VaDOTNOVA) January 4, 2017
Hmmm, guess what's coming our way! pic.twitter.com/dptq5SHqHy
— Doug Kammerer (@dougkammerer) January 4, 2017
— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) January 4, 2017
It might not be necessary with this storm, but Arlington County is urging residents this year to park in a parking lot or on the odd numbered side of local streets when it snows.
The county recently released the following video on the topic.
There’s no snow in the forecast — sorry to those with dreams of a white Christmas — but Arlington County says it’s ready for the next big snowfall, whenever it may come.
The county has released a video saying that its snow crews — 46 trucks and 92 drivers on staff — are prepared to plow neighborhood streets earlier when 6+ inches of snow is expected to fall.
That’s a change from before, when county snow crews would wait to plow neighborhood streets only after higher-traffic streets were cleared. That led to neighborhood streets icing over and becoming difficult to plow, and that led to complaints from residents who had to wait days until their streets were cleared.
The change, which will “send more plows into neighborhoods sooner,” was approved over the summer.
Arts Truck, Grants Approved — The Arlington County Board last night approved $215,810 in grants to local arts organizations and nearly $70,000 for the purchase and deployment of a new mobile art studio. [Arlington County]
Snow Plowing Policy Change — Starting this winter, Arlington County will plow residential streets at the outset of snowstorms, reversing its previous policy of only focusing on major arterial routes before moving on to residential streets after the snow stops and major roads are clear. [InsideNova]
Ballston Mall Redevelopment Authority Approved — Arlington County is creating its first Community Development Authority. The CDA will be focused on making infrastructure improvements around the future Ballston Quarter mall — the new identity of Ballston Common Mall, which is being renovated. As part of a public-private partnership, the county plans to spend around $55 million to improve local roads, public plazas and the public Ballston parking garage. [Arlington County]
Chamber Supports Aquatics Center Plan — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce has penned a letter in support of building a scaled-down version of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center. “One of Arlington’s main assets is the employee talent pool we have residing in our county,” wrote the Chamber’s president. “The proposed facility will help attract and retain this talent, as well as the businesses looking to employ them.” [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
County Looking at Fire Station Alternatives — The Arlington County Board on Saturday approved an agreement with Arlington Public Schools that would allow it to build a temporary fire station on the grounds of the new H-B Woodlawn school in Rosslyn. However, in response to parent concerns the Board directed county staff to look into potential alternative locations. [InsideNova, Arlington County]
Couple: Snow Melter Fumes Contaminated Our House — A couple who lives near Bluemont Park says diesel fumes from a snow melter that the county was using about 40 yards from their home this past winter has contaminated the home. The county paid for the couple to live in a hotel while the snow melter was running, in the wake of January’s blizzard. Now the couple wants the county to pay for a thorough cleaning of the home. [Washington Post]
Henry Gate to Reopen — The Henry Gate along Route 50 at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall will reopen to military bicyclists and pedestrians on Aug. 1. Among other expected benefits, the gate is expected to serve military users of Uber and Lyft; the ride hailing services are not available on the base. [Mobility Lab]
Police Escort Ducklings Across Road — An ACPD officers and a couple of “alert citizens” helped a mother duck and her ducklings cross N. Stafford Street on Friday. [Twitter]
More on Clarendon Drug Bust — One of the regular meetups for the alleged Clarendon drug ring was Whitlow’s on Wilson, where two of the suspects worked. “It was shocking, disappointing and frustrating to hear that any of this activity took place around our business and the neighborhood,” said Whitlow’s manager Jon Williams, noting that most other Clarendon bars were also named as areas of drug activity. [NBC Washington]
Board Approves Changes to Ballston Building — Originally proposed as an office building, the last building in the Founder’s Square project in Ballston will instead be built as a mixed use building, with a mix of retail, office and apartments. [Arlington County]
That’s nearly $4 million more than was spent the previous winter, when the county almost ran out of salt due to a succession of snow storms.
The total roadway snow removal expenditure — the figures quoted here do not include removing snow from bus shelters or sidewalks — for Fiscal Year 2015 was only $2.7 million, according to Arlington County. As of April 25, the FY 2016 bill was $6.5 million, about $5 million of which was associated with the cleanup from January’s Snowzilla blizzard, as the county revealed last month.
Why was this year’s bill so much higher? It’s mostly attributable to equipment rental costs, we’re told.
“The majority of this cost increase was associated with heavy contract equipment used during the January 22-29, 2016 blizzard,” explained Mike Moon, Chief Operating Officer of Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services.
“The amount of contract equipment deployed for this event far exceeded the requirements for the previous year and cost more than $4.0 million,” Moon continued. “With more than two feet of snow, heavy contract equipment was needed for the effort, which included hauling snow in our commercial corridors (Rosslyn, Ballston, Crystal City).”
Last month Arlington said that it can potentially recoup $2 million from federal disaster assistance funds, though the reimbursement process is a lengthy one.
Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said in March that the county is considering changes to its snow removal efforts in the wake of January’s blizzard. Among the changes being considered is the purchase of additional heavy equipment and a new snow melter.
Flickr pool photo (top) by Starbuck77
The county has been soliciting resident feedback on its snow removal effort and there has been no shortage of opinions: some 3,000 constituents responded to an online survey alone.
In response, County Manager Mark Schwartz yesterday presented an initial report for the County Board, outlining a number of snow removal changes that are being considered.
Among the proposed changes:
- Plow both major roads and residential streets simultaneously during large snow storms, rather than only focusing on major roads and leaving residential streets snow-covered until after the storm.
- Adding “backup drivers” for large snow storms.
- Better utilizing staff and contractors “to minimize snow piling at intersections and sidewalks and reduce missed streets.”
- Improving training and oversight of contractors “to minimize obstructive snow piling.”
- “Improving technology used to track, monitor and communicate progress during snow and ice removal.”
- Better utilizing volunteers and coordinating with Arlington’s civic associations.
Longer term changes also being consider include:
- Adding a snow removal staging area in north Arlington and adding new equipment like backhoe plows and a new snow melter.
- Odd-even parking requirements, enforcement of snow emergency routes and opening parking garages during large snow events to reduce obstructions on residential streets for snow plows.
Schwartz is expected to present a more comprehensive report later this year.
It’s much diminished from its post-blizzard glory, but the big snow pile next to the Ballston mall parking garage is still hanging on despite temperatures well into the 70s.
The snow pile was melting steadily when we visited it yesterday afternoon. The ground around it was gray, from the dirt deposited as the glacier-like pile recedes.
The pile was created by local snow crews, which dumped the snow they were removing from roads there and in a number of other locations around Arlington.
With a high of 80 predicted today and tomorrow, the snow pile may not be long for this world. Which means it won’t match the longevity of its snow pile cousin — which survived until April in the same location six years ago.
‘Sound of Music’ Star Recalls Arlington Upbringing — Showbiz star Nicholas Hammond, who played Friedrich von Trapp in the “Sound of Music” 50 years ago, recently recounted his childhood in Arlington. “I loved growing up there, in a much simpler time,” he told Charlie Clark. “My brother and I had paper routes. Your parents thought nothing of kids going off on their bikes pre-dawn and throwing papers onto front-door steps. We’d play ball, or go on our bikes or explore the woods. It all seemed very safe.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Local Masseuse Working Out Trump Stress — Locals are stressing out about the idea of Donald Trump becoming the next president of the United States. Reports the Post: “Amanda Long, an Arlington, Va., massage therapist… has grown accustomed in recent weeks to clients laying down on her table and bellowing, ‘Can you believe this guy?’ Long allows her clients to vent for a few minutes before she tries to quiet them, if only so they can relax and she can attend to their aches.” [Washington Post]
Comcast Outage in Crystal City — Comcast customers in parts of Crystal City and South Arlington were without their TV, voice and internet service for most of the day yesterday. Service has since been restored, we hear.
Garvey: Use Garages During Snowstorms — To speed up snow plowing on local streets, county leaders want to try to reduce the number of cars parked on the side of the road during snowstorms. To facilitate that, County Board Chair Libby Garvey has asked county staff to look into the idea of opening up Arlington’s parking garages as emergency snow parking areas. [InsideNova]
Winter Is Over — The groundhog was right: an early spring is here. It may still be officially winter, but all computer models are pointing to warmer-than-average weather through April. [Capital Weather Gang]