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Morning Notes

New Rosslyn Food Hall Nears Opening — “American Real Estate Partners is nearly ready to take the wraps off Assembly, the food hall atop the Rosslyn Metro station, a project that’s been more than two years in the works and was thrown a curveball by the Covid-19 pandemic. Assembly at Rosslyn City Center, a 29,000-square-foot space spread over two levels at 1700 N. Moore St., is slated to open this week for a sneak peak for tenants and next week to the wider public.” [Washington Business Journal]

Northam Announcement in Arlington Today — “Gov. Northam will announce a ‘budget proposal for federal American Rescue Plan funding’ at the Arlington County offices in Sequoia Plaza on Wednesday afternoon, per a press release.” [Twitter]

Bonds Likely to Be on Ballot — “Arlington County Board members on July 20 formally requested the placement of four local-bond referendums on the Nov. 2 ballot, which if approved by voters – as seems likely – would lead to a further increase in the government’s debt-service payments… the following bonds will go to voters: $38.7 million for transportation and Metro. $23.01 million for schools. $17.035 million for community infrastructure. $6.8 million for local parks and recreation.” [Sun Gazette]

ART Buses Lifting Capacity Restrictions — “Starting August 1, rider capacity restrictions will be lifted on all ART buses. Seats inside the buses will no longer be blocked off.” [Twitter]

Ceremony Held for Urban Garden — “Project HUG revitalizes underused land at Virginia Highlands Park and illustrates how marginalized space in National Landing’s urban environment can be transformed into vibrant, sustainable, food producing ecosystems. This pilot project serves as a model of modern sustainable agricultural practices to demonstrate how community-driven farming can address food insecurity by leveraging partnerships across public, private, civic, and non-profit communities.” [Press Release]

Va. Unemployment System Struggling — “As the embattled Virginia Employment Commission has been scrambling to move through a massive backlog of unemployment claims, thousands more cases have been pouring in from jobless residents. Staff who review disputed claims have been leaving the agency, and the General Assembly’s watchdog has sounded alarms about measures being taken by the commission to hasten the process in response. Many unemployed Virginians say the commission’s unresponsive call center has stopped picking up the phone.” [Washington Post]

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(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Tensions are rising in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood, as residents engage in a letter-writing, petition-signing tug-of-war over the softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park.

A pair of letters to the County Board from members of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association (AHCA), sent this month and in April, as well as a petition launched today (Thursday), illustrate a deepening divide between sports fans and open space advocates, who envision divergent futures for one diamond field in the park near Pentagon City.

The civic tussle surfaced while the neighborhood tested a new arrangement. This spring, Field #3 in Virginia Highlands Park — the bigger of the two diamond fields  — was split between scheduled games and casual use by neighbors, after the civic association said neighbors flocked to the field last year when sports were canceled due to the pandemic.

Adult softball had the field on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It was open to residents for casual use Saturday through Monday, Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.

“This allows for the adult softball league to play on a field that is the correct size for their sport, while allowing the community access to a large green space in their neighborhood,” she said.

Some see shared use as a success requiring more maintenance to work long-term, while others see the model as successful but unsustainable — a demonstration that the community needs softball games condensed to one field and the other, possibly Field #3, converted into open space.

“This would allow thousands of our residents within Aurora Highlands, Arlington Ridge, Crystal City and beyond to have access to regular programming and dedicated casual use space, which does not exist in [Virginia Highlands Park],” civic association president and open space supporter Scott Miles tells ARLnow.

Bart Epstein, a civic association member and softball player, tells ARLnow that, barring maintenance problems, softball players who use Field #3 support the current arrangement and fear the alternative.

“It’s been a constant, low-level effort by a tiny group of people to see the fields destroyed,” he said.

Both sides report problems with shared use, which means the fields are used for everything from softball games to music nights. During an April meeting, AHCA members discussed the time and money required to use the field for non-athletes and return it to being game-ready.

“A big takeaway from the shared use work is that without an immense effort to ‘placemake’ with art, seating, activities, shade, etc.,” Miles said this week. “A field is just a field, and is of limited use. Making it more dedicated is the only way the needed casual uses can be maintained.”

Softball players and the parks department, meanwhile, say other users of the field leave behind waste from their dogs, which also dig holes, creating hazards for players.

“My hope is that the County Board will instruct the Department of Parks and Recreation to fully and properly support and maintain the fields,” Epstein said. Read More

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Feeling a little stir-crazy for the movie experience but not quite ready to return to theaters yet? The National Landing BID is bringing back an outdoor film festival next month.

The BID will show a new movie every Friday at 8 p.m. on a softball field at Virginia Highlands Park (1600 S. Hayes Street) in the Pentagon City area.

“Social distancing circles” will be sprayed onto the field with a four-person limit per circle. Masks will be required outside of those circles.

Tickets are free but registration in advance is required.

The “Movies in the Park” lineup for May is:

Image via Orion Pictures/YouTube

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Some residents in and around Crystal City want to open up the Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary to more walking and hiking — with help from JBG Smith.

The developer owns property around Roaches Run and is interested in converting parts of its private land into a public connection accessible from the surrounding neighborhood.

This partnership is one way that the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations propose adding open space to their neighborhoods. A second solution is to redesign and upgrade Virginia Highlands Park for more uses than sports.

The two ideas are part of a report published last week from the three associations, which have banded together to form Livability 22202. The report also recommends ways to plan new parks in Crystal City and enhance local biodiversity.

“COVID-19 has changed everyone’s thinking about open spaces,” Livability 22202 President Carol Fuller said. “The traditional parks of the past do not serve the purposes of our new world. We need to have open space, parks and trails for people to go out for casual use outdoors.”

The group is scheduled to present its recommendations to the Parks and Recreation Commission in February, she said.

Compared to other parts of the county, Pentagon City and Crystal City have fewer trails and open parks, Fuller said.

“If we did not have Long Bridge [Park] — which is fairly new — and if we didn’t have Virginia Highlands Park, we would have no trails and very little open space,” she said. (Crystal City is also served by the Mt. Vernon Trail, which connects to the neighborhood near the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S.)

Livability 22202 is proposing a loop trail and connecting trails into and out of Roaches Run. The County too is interested in turning the area into publicly-accessible natural space as the neighborhood experiences a wave of redevelopment in the wake of Amazon’s HQ2 decision — but officials indicated this spring that it could take 5-10 years to implement.

JBG Smith is willing to make use of its land to advance the broader open space discussion happening in National Landing — the collective term for Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard — Andrew VanHorn, Executive Vice President, JBG Smith said in a statement.

“JBG Smith is supportive of plans that would make Roaches Run more accessible to the community and allow more people to enjoy this important natural asset,” he said.

VanHorn added that JBG Smith welcomes “the opportunity to work with the community, the County Board, and the National Park Service to help make this vision a reality.”

Meanwhile, the report authors envision Virginia Highlands Park as an urban park with a blend of recreational and casual uses.

“One of the problems with Virginia Highlands is it’s primarily for recreation,” such as tennis or softball, she said. “It needs an upgrade badly.”

At 18 acres, it is one of Arlington’s largest parks, but suffers from underused and wasted space, at least according to the authors.

The Aurora Highlands Civic Association has long pushed for changes to the park, and this upcoming fiscal year the County was slated to start developing a master plan for it.

But that plan is now on hold, Fuller said. So, in the meantime, Livability 22202 is proposing upgrades that include a gathering space, a sledding site, better lighting, permanent community gardens and a dog run — similar to the dog park proposed by a separate local group.

Money is perhaps the biggest missing ingredient for making changes to Roaches Run and Virginia Highlands Park, Fuller said.

“COVID-19 has not only shown us great need for open space, but it also destroyed the budget to give it to us,” Fuller said.

Earlier, the group published another report calling for more diverse housing options in the zip code.

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(Updated at 9:45 p.m.) A neighborhood group’s years-long battle against softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park in the Pentagon City area is continuing.

The Aurora Highlands Civic Association doesn’t have anything against the sport itself, but asserts that the permit-priority fields on the west side of the park at 1600 S. Hayes Street could be better used as unprogrammed open space.

To prove the point, the association last week sent a letter — and a produced video — to the Arlington County Board highlighting community use of one field during the pandemic, after organized sports activities were cancelled.

“Cancellation of organized sports in the spring allowed community members to put Livability concepts into action over the summer, transforming one of VHP’s softball field spaces into a continuously used public space for art installations, social distancing meetups, and varied casual uses from kite flying, exercising, and families playing with their kids,” wrote AHCA President Scott Miles.

“Events and performances like Zumba classes and Music and Picnic in the Park on Saturdays have gathered over 80 people at a time, all safely distanced, even while other casual uses continue alongside,” he added.

Four years ago, the association released a proposal calling for the removal of the softball fields in favor of space that was open to all.

“The fields are significantly underused relative to other facilities and especially to open space,” the proposal said. “Each field is used for approximately 600 hours per year out of a potential of 4,380 hours (12 hours a day), a total of less than 14% of the time.”

Miles wrote last week that the recent community experience proves the point that the fields are underused when designated primarily for softball.

“With greater casual use access over the past five months supported by [the Dept. of Parks and Recreation] and local stakeholders, the space has been used more heavily and continuously than ever before, helping support local restaurants, build a sense of shared community, and provide diverse and equitable access to all area residents,” he wrote.

Other initiatives are in the works for the park. A new, temporary community garden has been added, and a proposed temporary dog park near the softball fields has received financial backing from Amazon.

The letter to the County Board — with some links added — is below, along with a video produced by the local group Livability 22202.

Read More

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This content was written and sponsored by The Keri Shull Team, Arlington’s top producing residential real estate team.

On this week’s edition of the Neighborhood Spotlight, join Keri Shull, founder of the Keri Shull Team, as she gives you a tour of 5 more of our favorite family-friendly playgrounds in Arlington.

Between amazing food, drinks and entertainment, there are plenty of great things to do in Arlington — but not all of it is family friendly. Luckily, when it comes to finding fun for the whole family, we are here to help! So take a look below to learn about 5 more of our favorite recreational parks!

Lyon Village Park 

Sitting just south of Lee Highway, Lyon Village Park is a cute, 2-acre space that offers tons of fun activities. Families can enjoy their snacks at the picnic pavilion — and with so much fun to be had, you and yours are sure to work up an appetite!

This gorgeous park is great for toddlers and big kids alike, with enjoyable activities for all ages. In addition to spaces to place tennis and basketball, the park’s sprayground is a perfect way to escape the summer heat.

Rocky Run Park

Rocky Run Park is a great option for school-aged children and toddlers alike, with plenty of fun to be had across its 2 acres. Although there are distinct spaces for each age group, they are close enough together that parents or guardians can keep an eye on all their kids at once.

Little athletes are sure to fall in love with Rocky Run Park — in addition to a full-sized basketball court, the recreational area also features a turf field that is perfect for playing soccer or football. Rocky Run Park also has some convenient luxuries, such as public bathrooms and off-street parking options, that are much appreciated.

At the time of publication, Rocky Run Park is closed for ongoing repairs — so make sure you check the Arlington Parks and Recreation website regularly to see when you can come enjoy this great space!

Hayes Park

Located off of I-66 near the Virginia Square neighborhood is Hayes Park, another one of the best parks in Arlington. Hayes Park is the perfect place to enjoy a steamy summer day, with a great sprayground, fun play structures and courts for playing tennis or basketball.

Hayes Park is also fenced in for ultimate peace of mind, and the spot has an off-street parking lot and public bathrooms. This makes Hayes a great place to spend an afternoon — and you can pack a lunch or snack to enjoy at one of the picnic tables!

Read More

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(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) A community group is pushing the county to develop a new dog park in Pentagon City.

Pentagon City Dogs recently submitted a proposal to Arlington County officials calling for a new, 25,000 square foot dog park within Virginia Highlands Park, an 18-acre collection of athletic fields, tennis courts, and some wooded areas at 1600 S. Hayes Street, across from the mall.

Currently, there are no established, public dog parks in the 22202 zip code and dogs are not permitted off-leash in Virginia Highlands Park. Supporters say a little-used portion of the park between a softball field and 15th Street S. could be an ideal location.

“The location provides easy access from high-rise and single family homes without any disruption of the quality of life of the neighbors,” the group wrote in their proposal. “In fact, the closest single-family homes are the equivalent to nearly two blocks at the end of the proposed dog park.”

The Instrata Pentagon City apartment building, however, is across the street from the proposed location.

The group also argues the location would be ideal for a dog park because of its established amenities including water, trash services, parking, and accessible entrances.

At least 20 volunteers from Pentagon City Dogs have signed up to maintain the space. The group has gathered over a hundred signatures from local residents in support, plus an endorsement from the Aurora Highlands Civic Association.

“The 22202 communities have been expressing a need for dog parks for decades, and the population of both residents and pets continues to increase,” the association wrote in its endorsement.

The proposal suggests that an initial version of the dog park could be established at minimal cost with heavy-duty temporary fencing.

“Arlington Parks & Recreation is aware of the interest to explore the opportunity for a temporary dog park in Virginia Highlands Park,” parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish tells ARLnow. “Our recently adopted Public Spaces Master Plan includes new options for dog parks as we too see a growing interest in off-leash areas for our four-legged friends.”

Pentagon City Dogs says its members are willing to back up the park plan with money to help fund it. The group is in the early stages of fundraising efforts for the park, including seeking business donations, sponsors, and individual donors.

“While there is a possibility of County funding, we think our best chance of success will be if we can bring funding along with our proposal to the County,” said Lowell Nelson, spokesman for Pentagon City Dogs.

To accommodate the expected crowds, the group says it may be necessary to take away from of one of the current softball fields.

“There will be easily 50+ dogs (small & large) at peak times,” the proposal says. “The size would need to be at least 22,500 ft to avoid conflicts, which can be achieved by expanding into space currently occupied by one softball field. “

There are eight established county-run dog parks in Arlington, open from sunrise until half an hour after sunset.  The nearest to Virginia Highlands Park is Towers Park, nearly two miles away at 801 S. Scott Street.

A similar initiative has begun for Eads Park, which is a mile away and similarly endorsed by the Aurora Highland Civic Association. In addition, a community group has been pressuring the county to build a temporary, gated space for dogs in Rosslyn’s Gateway Park.

Nearby, Amazon has proposed 1.1 acres of open public space — for “a dog park, recreation areas, farmers markets, and more” — at its forthcoming headquarters in Pentagon City.

Photo via Google Maps 

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(Updated at 9:35 a.m.) Neighbors of Virginia Highlands Park are accusing Arlington County of ignoring a proposal they put together for the park’s future.

Last year the Aurora Highlands Civic Association submitted a plan for the permit-only softball fields on the west side of the park at 1600 S. Hayes Street to be converted into open space, without any set programming.

“The fields are significantly underused relative to other facilities and especially to open space,” the proposal says, noting that use of the fields is seasonal. “Each field is used for approximately 600 hours per year out of a potential of 4,380 hours (12 hours a day), a total of less than 14% of the time.”

The county is at the beginning of what it says is a “community-wide conversation” about the park’s future and developing a comprehensive plan.

But some residents are critical of staff at the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, saying that staff has not adequately considered their proposal nor communicated with them, despite an “extraordinary effort” on the part of community leaders “to ensure that there was little to no miscommunication in this process.”

“Attempting to develop a long-term plan for the park that fails to openly and honestly consider the needs of all park goers over existing facilities and their usage, as well intentioned as it may be, will just reshuffle that poor planning with some prettying around the edges,” the group Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks said in its latest newsletter.

ARLnow columnist Peter Rousselot wrote in a recent opinion piece that a member of DPR staff said the softball fields “are needed” and would not be removed.

A county spokeswoman, however, said that while there is no set timeline for planning for the park’s revamp, the civic association’s proposal is still on the table.

“The Aurora Highland Civic Association did provide a plan for the neighborhood’s vision for the park,” the spokeswoman said. “When the county begins the framework plan for the park, the civic association’s plan as well as other community-wide inputs will be considered. County staff is now working with the County Board to determine next steps.”

The softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park are used by a variety of leagues across age groups, from youth to adult.

The D.C. Fray adult league — formerly known as United Social Sports — begins a new eight-week season on July 7 at the fields. Founder and CEO Robert Kinsler said the league “strongly supports maintaining and expanding the fields available for organized sports in Arlington and specifically at Virginia Highlands.”

“We permit and use the parks as much as availability and DPR allows and often have to turn away players due to lack of field space in the area,” Kinsler said. “Any loss of the softball fields would be a huge lost for the activity community that lives in the area.”

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Arlington County will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony at Virginia Highlands Park on Sunday, marking the completion of a nearly $2 million renovation project.

The renovations include new basketball courts, tennis courts, tennis practice courts, drinking fountains, water bottle fillers and site furnishings. There’s also new “dark sky” lighting and parking and accessibility improvements.

“Join the community in celebrating this newly renovated space!” said the invitation to the ceremony, which is scheduled to run from 1-2:30 p.m.

“The ribbon cutting ceremony will include fun activities for kids and adults including a tennis drill clinic for kids and adults hosted by FirstServe Tennis Academy and a basketball clinic for kids with shooting and dribbling instructions that will culminate into fun group games hosted by Tiptop Sports.”

The park is located at 1600 S. Hayes Street, near Pentagon City.

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Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks(Updated on Sept. 2 at 11:55 a.m.) A new organization of Aurora Highlands neighbors are working to protect the green space in their parks from becoming playgrounds and basketball courts.

The Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks is a group of neighbors who say they’re trying to make parks in the neighborhood enjoyable for all ages. This means that the parks need to have a balance of open fields, athletic courts and playgrounds, said Kari Klaus, the president of the group.

“The perfect park is a balance,” Klaus said.

The two parks in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood are having trouble keeping the balance, Klaus said. Nelly Custis Park (701 S. Grant Street) is may be getting another playground and Virginia Highlands Park (1600 S. Hayes Street) is under construction to build more courts.

The group was formed after the Aurora Highlands Civic Association (AHCA) began discussing the additional playground for the Nelly Custis Park and and differences arose between some residents and the association’s majority. The new playground would make three in a little over a block, Klaus said.

Nelly Custis ParkThe park already has a playground and creating another one at the expense of open space went against the wishes of many neighbors, Klaus said. Despite the opposition, the civic association went forward with the plans to ask for the playground as a Neighborhood Conservation project.

“The civic association has not budged on the playground from our parks perspective,” Klaus said.

The Aurora Highlands neighborhood is age diverse, meaning there are families with young children, families with grown children, millennials and senior citizens. Adding a new playground would take away from the open space used by many of the neighbors, Klaus said.

“We still have a very adult-related neighborhood,” she said.

The civic association also had trouble communicating with the neighborhood, according to Klaus. There were notices about the plans in the beginning, but the advertisements stopped and neighbors felt left out of the process, she said.

“There was some effort in the beginning but somehow the notices were dropped,” she said.

Joel Nelson, president of AHCA, said he has yet to hear of the Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks and noted that the Nelly Custis Park playground is still being discussed.

“I’m not familiar with the group, but I know that our community greatly values the park as an important local resource,” Nelson said.

“There were two public meetings (March and April) with county staff to collect feedback from the community for improvements to the Nelly Custis Park via the Arlington County Neighborhood Conservation program,” Nelson said via email. “At our June AHCA meeting, we heard a few complaints (about county process and about as-yet-TBD details in the design phase of the project), so the project was put on hold pending additional community input (scheduled for two additional meetings with county staff in September).”

Virginia Highlands Parks facilities over green spaceThe Friends are also working to protect the open spaces in the Virginia Highlands Park. The Department of Parks and Recreation is adding more courts, which takes away from the green space.

“Even though some neighbors use the recreational facilities it appears that they are primarily used by organized leagues and residents in other parts of Arlington County and even D.C.,” she said.

The group has reached out to the department and are working with the Arlington Parks Coalition to make sure parks stay age-diverse, Klaus said.

The group aims to have more trees added to the park and would like AHCA to help to build a dog park, which is part of the civic association’s master plan for parks, she said.

“Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks will work with the county on acknowledging these valuable park resources and benefits in the hopes of preserving the current limited green and tree covered parkland while working to reverse some of these programmed spaces to fulfill actual neighborhood needs and deficits,” according to the group’s website.

Klaus said the group has heard that Virginia Highlands Park is being considered as a site for a new elementary school, which is concerning because use of the park is only likely to increase with new development planned or under construction on the nearby Riverhouse and Metropolitan Park sites in Pentagon City.

“This area needs more green space to compensate for the density increases and the age-diverse population and we need to make sure that no more facilities or buildings go over our very limited park and green space that we have,” said Klaus.

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Scenes from Virginia Highlands Park on Sun., March 7, 2010(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) The Arlington County Board could approve nearly $2 million worth of renovations to Virginia Highlands Park near Pentagon City at its meeting this weekend.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan is recommending the Board approves a $1.83 million contract, with a $183,000 contingency, to replace the park’s six tennis courts, two tennis practice courts and two basketball courts. The money will also fund a new, junior half basketball court, new fencing, new “dark sky” lights for the courts and accessible parking improvements.

The improvements are part of the county’s ongoing effort to completely renovate the recreation facilities at Virginia Highlands (1600 S. Hayes Street), which are some of the busiest recreation areas in the county. Within the last 10 years, the synthetic turf field, playground, restrooms, athletic field lighting and spraygrounds have all been either renovated or constructed.

In addition to new tennis courts — which will replace existing courts that were recently resurfaced — the renovations call for new covered waiting areas outside the courts, along with a drinking fountain and an “information kiosk.”

Virginia Highlands Park renovation rendering (Image via Arlington County)

The junior basketball court will replace the tennis practice courts to the south of the six tennis courts. The court was requested during public input meetings last fall. The community lamented that there was no basketball space to be used specifically by young children.

The basketball courts will be relocated to the north of the current courts.

“Several community members expressed concerns about the proximity of the existing basketball courts relative to the playground area,” county staff said in a report, explaining the relocation.

The remaining park features — the diamond field turf, picnic shelter, gazebo, petanque courts, and front plaza area — are proposed for renovation in 2016.

File photo (top). Image (bottom) via Arlington County. 

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