Press Club

A recent survey of Arlingtonians found a majority say the county needs to be more aggressive about preserving historic buildings, monuments and resources from demolition.

Engagement in the survey, administered in 2021, was three times higher than engagement in a similar survey distributed two years ago, before the loss last year of two historic homes — the Febrey-Lothrop House and the Victorian Fellows-McGrath House — to make room for new housing.

The tripling, however, did not result in a more diverse group of respondents. More than 80% of respondents were some combination of white, homeowners and 45 years old and up.

The survey is part of a county effort to update its master plan governing historic preservation, with a new focus on equity and inclusion, says Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Rachel LaPiana.

Adopted in and unchanged since 2006, the update — if adopted by the County Board by the end of 2022 — will direct the historic preservation priorities and programs for the next decade, she said.

Many respondents said the county should be highlighting century-old properties, historic neighborhoods, archaeological sites and resources connected to Arlington’s immigrant, African American and Native American communities. Some railed against the county and the plan for not preserving sites like the Febrey-Lothrop House, while a few said such teardowns are necessary to make room for more housing and affordable units.

The survey asked broad questions to understand what residents value, with questions like “what stories, traditions, places, buildings, and/or communities are important to you?”

But for some civically engaged Arlington residents, the demographics of respondents were more interesting. They say this survey yielded detailed feedback from passionate individuals but did not reveal how the broader community values historic preservation.

The problem, per Dave Schutz — a civically engaged resident and prolific ARLnow commenter — is how the survey is advertised and where. His oft-repeated remark about community engagement in Arlington: “You ask twelve guys in Speedos whether we should build [the Long Bridge Aquatics Center], you will get a twelve to zip vote yes.”

Schutz suggested the county keep track of how respondents hear of the survey, so they know whose perspectives are being captured.

“I might require that surveys… contain an identifier so that the people tabulating results could see which ones had been filled out by people who were notified through the, say, Arlington Historical Society website and which by people notified through the ‘Engulf and Destroy Developers Mwa-ha-ha website,’ the County Board website — and if the opinion tendencies were wildly different, flag it for the decision makers that that was so.”

Joan Fitzgerald, a local resident who works in surveying populations, says county survey questions are often worded to confirm the biases of the survey writers, while the questions can be jargon-dense.

“County survey questions are often confusing, and participants often need a strong background in the topic to even understand what’s being asked,” said Fitzgerald, who sits on the development oversight committee for the Ashton Heights Civic Association.

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Arlington County is requesting feedback on partial designs for expanded bus bays and pedestrian safety improvements at the East Falls Church Metro station.

The $6.6 million bus bay expansion project, a capital improvement project approved last year, is part of a handful of near-term upgrades planned at and around the Metro station, the parking lot of which was frequently packed pre-pandemic.

Project and regional transit representatives say the expansion will allow for more regional bus routes without causing traffic jams while making walking from the park-and-ride lot safer. The existing bays currently serve nine Metrobus, Arlington Transit (ART) and Fairfax Connector bus routes.

“The East Falls Church Metrorail station currently has four bus bays that are at maximum capacity,” according to the county. “The project will expand bus bay capacity by adding up to three new bus bays and replacing the existing shelters in the off-street bus loop at the East Falls Church Metrorail station.”

Arlington is leading and sponsoring the project, but Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) owns the Metro station, the bus loop and park-and-ride lot.

The county asks locals to say whether the proposed changes will make them feel safer walking, taking the bus, biking, scooting and driving. The survey, open through Sunday, March 20, includes an interactive map people can use to give location-specific feedback.

 

“What this expansion will allow us to do is get buses in and out of the bus loop more efficiently so we don’t have as much gridlock as we currently do at this time,” WMATA planner André Stafford said in a meeting Tuesday.

It may be awhile before more bus routes are added, county transit planner Paul Mounier said in the same meeting.

The county will install seven new bus shelters and is considering adding a new signal and crosswalk at the Washington Blvd entrance to the park-and-ride lot.

Arlington County staff identified this expansion project back in 2011. Four years later, staff found the biggest needs were increasing the capacity of the bus bays, adding refuges to the 150-foot crosswalk that passes in front of the bus loop, replacing the aging, hazardous cement and adding ramps accessible to people with disabilities.

After the expansion work, Arlington will make streetscape and signal upgrades to N. Sycamore Street, Arlington County project manager Kenex Sevilla said Tuesday. The street forms the eastern edge of the Metro parking lot and bus bays.

Meanwhile, both Arlington and the City of Falls Church are expanding Capital Bikeshare stations nearby. The station was once a popular station to ride to that is still recovering from the pandemic-era hit to commuting. A new $2 million, 92-spot bike facility to accommodate cyclists made its debut in August 2020.

This area is poised to see other development in the future, too. WMATA is studying the site for future transit developments while the Department of Community, Planning and Housing Development is studying it as part of the Plan Langston Blvd initiative. A second entrance to the station was put on hold in 2018.

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Morning Notes

Spotted: Robot Dog in Courthouse — “Several people were standing outside one of the Colonial Place buildings today. I thought it was a fire drill at first, but they were too close to the building. Then I saw it.” [Twitter]

Yorktown High’s ‘Dull’ Scoreboard — “The scoreboard at Greenbrier field is not shattered, opaque or severely damaged, but it is dysfunctional and has been for some time. This is especially frustrating for athletes whose sports play in broad daylight, as the scoreboard’s bulbs are so dim they are nearly impossible to see. Parents of these athletes have voiced their complaints about the dull board, arguing that each of the other high schools in Arlington have modern, working scoreboards, while our school’s model has been in use since 2003.” [Yorktown Sentry]

TR Bridge Delays Could Get Even Worse — “Emergency repairs that will enable the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge to safely support the weight of regular traffic will probably last through the summer and cost about $6 million, the District Department of Transportation said, becoming the latest hindrance to the Washington commute as more employees return to in-person work.” [Washington Post]

More Grants for Nat’l Landing Businesses — “A grant program to support restaurants and small businesses in the National Landing area of Arlington will return for a second year… This latest round of funding totals $100,000. Grants will support small businesses’ pay for workers and other operating expenses.” [Patch]

Wakefield Gymnast Going to States — “Gabby Watts will have her opportunity to participate in the girls state gymnastics meet. The Wakefield Warriors gymnast qualified for the Virginia High School League Class 6 competition by winning the balance beam with a 9.583 score at the 6D North Region championships.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: ARLnow’s Reader Survey — If you want to weigh in on some changes ARLnow might make this year, please take our annual, three-minute survey before it closes at the end of the month. [SurveyMonkey]

It’s Wednesday — Today will be mostly sunny and breezy, with a high near 53. Sunrise at 6:57 a.m. and sunset at 5:47 p.m. Tomorrow there’s a slight chance of showers after 1 p.m., otherwise it will be mostly cloudy, with a high near 66 and wind gusts as high as 29 mph. [Weather.gov]

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Once a year, we ask ARLnow readers to take a couple of minutes to provide feedback that sets the stage for everything we do over the next 12 months.

Adjustments in our news coverage mix, changes to our opinion content, and prioritizing weekly in-depth features. These are all things that survey feedback helped to bring about recently.

We have a number of new, key questions that will inform decisions we’ll be making in 2022. If you enjoy reading our site and want to have a voice in how we can best serve your needs, please click the button below.

This year’s survey — posted here in lieu of the Morning Notes today — will close after Feb. 28.

Thank you, Arlington, for helping us to improve year after year.

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Morning Notes

The Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, the Memorial Bridge, and the 14th St. Bridge over the Potomac River in fog (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Free Outdoor Wi-Fi at Libraries — “During the month of January, 2022, two new free outdoor Wi-Fi hot spots were installed at the Cherrydale and Glencarlyn Libraries. Library patrons and Arlington residents have now 24×7 access to the free Arlington County Wi-Fi network ‘ArlingtonWireless’ at all library branches, both outdoor and indoor, and at various locations around the County. No ID or password is required for the free service.” [Arlington Public Library]

Four Arlington Joints on Best BBQ List — Post food critic Tim Carman’s new “best barbecue” list includes a number of Arlington favorites: Texas Jack’s (9), Smokecraft Modern Barbecue (6), Smoking Kow (5), and Sloppy Mama’s (3). [Washington Post]

W&OD Bridge Work Complete — “The re-decking of the bridge east of Wilson Blvd in Arlington is completed!” [Twitter]

County Conducting Satisfaction Survey — “Arlington County is conducting its sixth County-wide, statistically valid community survey to measure satisfaction with major County services and gather input about issues facing the community. The results enable County officials to assess performance across many County agencies and services.” [Arlington County]

AWLA Selling Pentagon Chicken Shirts — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “No-one asked for this but we did it anyways – get your official #PentagonChicken shirt now! With the Henny Penny stamp of approval, proceeds will go to help keep other wayward poultry out of government buildings.” [Twitter]

Beyer Delivers Boxes of Protective Equipment — “A constituent reached out notifying U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) that Restart Partners, a West Coast-based charity involved in planning for and procuring PPE, learned of a significant amount of it available in a local warehouse. Partnering with the owner (who wishes to remain anonymous), Beyer identified two charities (Doorways and PathForward) that needed the items for those they serve and for their staffs.” [Sun Gazette]

De Ferranti Makes It Official — “County Board member Matt de Ferranti kicked off his bid for a second term on Feb. 2 with a call for Arlington leaders to accelerate efforts to enact Democratic priorities and serve as a bulwark against the new Republican majority in Richmond.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Friday — Rain before today 5 p.m., then a chance of rain and snow. Patchy fog before 1 p.m. Temperature falling to around 37 mid-afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 22 mph. Little or no snow accumulation expected. Sunrise at 7:09 a.m. and sunset at 5:35 p.m. This weekend will be sunny with highs in the 30s. [Weather.gov]

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Arlington’s parks department is identifying tennis and basketball courts that could also accommodate the increasingly popular sport of pickleball.

The department is surveying residents to gauge court usage and the need for pickleball courts, and see where they think pickleball lines can be added. The Department of Parks and Recreation currently maintains 18 multi-use courts that allow pickleball and 1 single-use pickleball court.

But that’s not enough to meet the demand.

“Arlington has seen a significant growth in pickleball with increase in requests for single-use and multi-use courts,” DPR Associate Planner and Project Manager Bethany Heim said in a presentation. “While Arlington has 19 outdoor pickleball courts, players are using tape or chalk to create more pickleball courts on existing tennis and basketball courts.”

More and more Arlingtonians have picked up pickleball, especially during the pandemic. The YMCA Arlington Tennis & Squash Center in Virginia Square repainted three tennis courts to make room for six pickleball courts earlier this year, and one local player says membership in the local Facebook group Pickleball Friends of Arlington, Virginia has surged.

Noted local ultramarathoner Michael Wardian has also taken up the sport, and the parks department now offers pickleball classes for all ages and abilities.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong and is played on a court that is smaller than a tennis court, using a modified tennis net, Heim said. It sometimes brings upwards of 40-50 players to a court at one time.

DPR has relied on adding pickleball lines to existing courts, and that’s still the plan in the short term. Arlington has 87 full tennis courts and five half-courts, as well as 76 full basketball courts and 12 half-courts — some allow pickleball, volleyball and futsal, a soccer-like game played on a hard court.

“A growing trend in parks is to have a multi-use facilities so that a wider variety of activities can be enjoyed at one place,” Heim said. “The [Public Spaces Master Plan] references… using multi-use courts to accommodate the growing interest in pickleball.”

The department striped its first tennis court to allow pickleball in 2015, and in 2017 it piloted a basketball-pickleball court at Walter Reed Community Center. Today, there are multi-use courts at Glebe Road Park, Gunston Park, Fort Scott Park, Lubber Run Park and Walter Reed.

Eventually, the Public Spaces Master Plan recommends establishing a dedicated pickleball facility to meet the demand.

“While multi-use courts are effective, Arlington does not have a dedicated pickleball facility with more than one court,” Heim said.

The survey is open through Friday, Nov. 19. DPR plans to use the information to determine how to make sure the changes are done equitably and to identify potential conflicts with making single-use courts multi use.

After the survey closes, DPR will develop draft criteria for converting single-use courts to multi-use courts and identify eligible sites. There will be another public engagement opportunity in January. Finalized criteria and a list of identified sites will later be published online.

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No more than once a year, we survey our readers to help set the direction for how ARLnow will evolve and continue serving the community.

Today we’re releasing our new 2021 ARLnow Reader Survey.

The survey asks about how we’re doing, how we can improve, and what potential new features we can add. It’s critically important that a critical mass of readers take the survey.

The survey should only take about 5 minutes to fill out. We would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time and provide your feedback.

Thank you, Arlington!

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Arlington County is giving residents a chance to respond to proposed changes to the towing code ahead of a County Board vote.

People can share their thoughts in a short online survey before the issue is slated to go before the Board during its regular meeting on Saturday, Feb. 20.

The proposed changes are billed as getting the local code in line with the latest state law, protecting consumers and adjusting to rising costs in the towing industry, according to a staff presentation and additional materials.

Basic towing fee increases are being proposed, from $135 to $150, as well as an increase of the additional fees for night and/or weekend towing, from $25 to $30. That brings the maximum possible towing fee to $210, for a vehicle towed on a weekend night. The “drop fee” for discontinuing a tow in progress, however, will be lowered from $25 to $10.

The online survey has three questions. Among them:

  • “Do you support reconciling the County ordinance with state code for purposes of improving enforcement and making the ordinance easier to understand?”
  • “Do you support the consumer protection measures included in the proposal? These include enhancements to lighting, safety, accessibility and transparency.”
  • “Do you support towing fee increases given the provided financial justification?”

The survey gives the following justification for the fee increases:

In this provided justification, towing operators have indicated increased costs. Staff have included supported materials from towers and Consumer Price Index data has indicated an inflationary increase in our area. Given these economic factors and regulatory requirements that towers have to be within a 3.25 mile radius of Arlington to support private businesses, do you support raising the tow fees to the maximum fees as regulated by state?

These proposed changes come after the county determined, among other things, that some towing and pricing practices are unfair and predatory, signage about towing is inadequate, and people do not have many ways to fight back when their cars are improperly towed and stored, according to a staff report.

“The County Board has found that some members of the public and their property have been placed at risk in circumstances where their vehicles have been towed from private property without their consent and placed in storage,” the report said.

Included in the code would be an updated definition of “immobilization” to mean anything “that does not damage the vehicle,” including using barnacles.

The recommendations were made by county staff with the Trespass Towing Advisory Board.

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The Arlington County Board is going to consider adding food scraps collection to its solid waste services in the 2021-22 budget.

This change would allow residents to toss their food scraps with their yard waste in the existing green bins. All the organic material would be taken to a composting facility and the new service would cost less than $12 annually for those paying the household solid waste rate, according to county staff.

“We should have more information in the spring,” Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien told ARLnow in an email.

The county is mulling the move after being encouraged by positive community feedback. A majority of residents, surveyed in November and December, said they support mingling food scraps and yard waste. The survey garnered 3,973 respondents, of whom 79% supported the addition of food scraps to their organics carts, O’Brien said.

DES pushed out the feedback form to the household trash and recycling email list, which has about 27,575 people signed up for it, added DES spokeswoman Jessica Baxter.

“We believe there is a great support for the program — as evidenced by the feedback form and what we’ve heard through the years since introducing the green organics cart with year-round yard waste,” she said.

This potential service change would only be available to those who receive residential waste collection from the county — mostly people in single-family homes, as opposed to apartment and condo residents served by private waste haulers.

Currently, all county residents can drop off their scraps at Earth Products Recycling Yard in Shirlington (4300 29th Street S.) or the Columbia Pike Farmers Market on Sundays. The county also provides instructions for backyard composting.

Arlington’s quarterly trash audits have revealed that food scraps make up more than 20% of what residents throw out. According to the county’s website, collecting food scraps would support the county’s goal of diverting up to 90% of waste from incineration by 2038.

During the week, residents would collect their fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy in a countertop pail. Once the pail fills up, residents would place the scraps — bagged in paper or compostable bags — in their green organics cart and take it to the curb on trash pickup day.

To limit odors, staff recommend lining the pail with a bag, emptying it regularly and rinsing it occasionally. Freezing the scraps also reduces odors. Like the yard trimmings, food scraps will be brought to a permitted composting facility.

The County has collected grass clippings, cut flowers, brush, hedge trimmings and leaves year-round since 2016.

Photo (top) by The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

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With performances canceled and potential gatherings impacted by COVID-19, a local nonprofit says that catastrophe looms for arts organizations without assistance from Arlington County.

Embracing Arlington Arts released its “State of the Arts in Arlington” survey earlier this month, and the results revealed a decimated local industry that has lost more than $10 million this year.

“We all can agree that the arts have been and will continue to be a critical component of our healing, our sanity, our quality of life and our overall well-being as together we fight this virus and protect our citizens,” Embracing Arlington Arts President Janet Kopenhaver wrote.

Embracing Arlington Arts is asking the Arlington County Board to consider helping local arts organizations with financial support, assistance locating safe performance venues, and facilitating introductions with potential corporate donors.

The survey of Arlington’s arts organizations found:

  • Arts organizations laid off 15% of full-time staff and 55% of part-time staff as of Nov. 1
  • More than half lost 41%-60% of their income
  • 43% reported that they would have to close their doors in the next 16 months without “additional financial resources”
  • Only 10% believe the earliest they will be able to offer live performances is within the next four months

Despite the challenges, Kopenhaver said that artists and arts organizations keep giving back to the community with virtual performances, donations for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, arts classes, and arts kits to the Bridges for Independence’s family shelter.

“From our younger generations to our seniors to residents with disabilities to those struggling with depression or mental illness, the arts can help us survive this pandemic and be stronger when we can all come together again,” Kopenhaver said.

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That’s one of the questions Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation is asking as it begins a two year-long process to update its Forestry and Natural Resources Plan (FNRP). The new plan will include “a variety of long-term goals, strategies and priorities that address tree canopy in a comprehensive, systematic manner,” according to the project website.

The public is now being asked to weigh in on how to improve nature, tree canopy and natural areas within the 16,500 acres of a county that, as of 2017, has a tree canopy of 41%. That’s the same percentage as when the FNRP’s predecessor, the 2004 Urban Forest Master Plan, was approved.

The visioning and information gathering process for the FNRP began in November and will continue through next February with yet-to-be-scheduled community and focus group meetings. A draft plan will be drawn up for public review by September 2021, and, after another period of public engagement the final draft plan is scheduled to come out in February 2022,  with County Board approval set for May 2022.

The FNRP is part of the Public Spaces Master Plan (which is a component of the County’s Comprehensive Plan) and will “serve as the guiding document for Arlington County’s management practices related to trees, plants, wildlife and more,” according to the project website. “This plan will cover topics regarding impacts and opportunities related to Arlington’s tree canopy, natural lands, urban development, wildlife, recreation, public education and stewardship among others.”

Questions to the public include:

  • How frequently do you visit Arlington’s natural areas (e.g., forests/ woods, meadows, streams, etc.)?
  • What are your favorite types of natural areas to visit?
  • What do you think are the best ways to conserve and expand Arlington’s natural resources?
  • If you could snap your fingers, what would be your one wish to improve nature in Arlington?
  • What do you think is the biggest threat to the future of Arlington’s natural resources and tree canopy?
  • What would you hope Arlington’s natural resources and tree canopy look like in 30 years?
  • What areas of opportunity are there to EXPAND Arlington’s tree canopy?

The county produced a video, below, to promote the update to the plan and the accompanying public survey.

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