(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.”
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.
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.
The 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).”
“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.
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.”
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.
The male victim told police that a man pointed a gun at him and demanded his wallet around 7:00 Wednesday night. After taking the wallet, the perpetrator fled the scene with an accomplice who was serving as a lookout, according to police.
The park, at 1600 S. Hayes Street, is one block from the Pentagon City mall and Metro station.
From today’s daily crime report:
ROBBERY, 12/19/12, 1600 block of S. Hayes Street. At 7:00 pm on December 19, a male victim was approached by a male subject in Highlands Park. The subject allegedly pulled out a black handgun and pointed it at the victim, demanding that the victim give him his wallet. The subject took the victim’s wallet and fled the scene with another subject that had been the lookout. The first suspect is described as a black male in his 20’s, about 6’0”, wearing a dark colored hooded sweatshirt, dark jeans, and white sneakers. The second suspect was described as a black male in his 30’s, long braided hair, and wearing a dark colored puffy jacket, jeans and tan Timberland boots.
Park Contracts Approved — The Arlington County Board has voted unanimously to approve contracts for improvements to two county parks. The tiny 0.6 acre Nauck Park at 2600 19th Street S. will get a renovated restroom, new swings, a slide and a “spinner bowl.” Virginia Highlands Park, at 1600 S. Hayes Street, will get the county’s fourth “sprayground” park for children. [Arlington County]
Bus Stop Moved Away from Sex Offender — An Arlington mom has succeeded in getting Arlington Public Schools to move her middle-school-aged daughter’s bus stop further away from a convicted sex offender’s house. The stop was six homes away from the man’s house. APS spokeswoman Linda Erdos called WUSA 9’s story on the situation a “cheap shot.” [WUSA 9]
Board Approves ‘Citizens United’ Resolution — The County Board on Tuesday approved a resolution calling for a federal constitutional amendment to reverse the implications of the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision. [Sun Gazette]
The Board will consider a $573,000 contract to build a new “sprayground” at Virginia Highlands Park, at 1600 S. Hayes Street near Pentagon City. The park was originally scheduled to open this past Memorial Day, but the project has been beset by delays. According to the staff report, the project was finally put out for bid in May, only to have the bids from contractors all came in higher than expected.
The sprayground was redesigned in order to put it within budget. A new water re-circulation system, which should save 113,000 gallons of water per week, was put into place. The sprayground was also reduced in scale, and certain features like a steel fence and a designed rock structure were eliminated.
The Board will vote on whether to award a $521,000 contract contract with a $52,000 contingency to Southern Playground Corporation.
Planning for playground upgrades to the park began all the way back in 2004. Construction was finally set to get underway in 2008 — following a plan to enhance amenities at the park while removing an existing restroom — when the Nauck Civic Association request that all work on the project stop, so that the park could be redesigned in a way that would keep the restroom. In order to keep the project within budget, the county scaled down other planned amenities within the park.
On Saturday, the Board is scheduled to consider a $316,000 contract — $287,000 plus a $29,000 contingency — with Avon Corporation. The contract covers renovations to the playground and the bathroom, as well as accessible entrances, an accessible picnic area, benches and bicycle racks.
Planned Parenthood’s “Women are Watching” bus tour stopped at Virginia Highlands Park near Pentagon City on Sunday morning. With a bright pink bus as a backdrop, Kaine told the crowd that he was committed to pro-choice policies and against efforts to place restrictions on birth control.
“Often, these issues are pushed by the other side as wedge issues. They want to use wedge issues that divide us,” Kaine said. “Women’s lives are not political issues, women’s lives are not wedge issues. Women have the ability to make their own health care decisions and their own moral decisions.”
Kaine was joined at the rally by several local Democratic elected officials, including County Board member Walter Tejada, state Senator Janet Howell, Del. Charniele Herring, and Arlington Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy.
Howell and Herring spoke of some of the bills pushed by Republicans during the latest legislative session in Richmond, including a bill that originally would have required women seeking an abortion to receive a transvaginal ultrasound. (The bill was amended to only require an external ultrasound after it made national headlines.) Also discussed was the more recent controversy over remarks by Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). Akin falsely suggested that the female body “has ways to shut… down” and prevent a pregnancy during a “legitimate rape.”
Charniele told the crowd of more than 100 Planned Parenthood supporters that politicians should be required to have a basic understanding of biology before they try to legislate on it.
While politics dominated the rally, not everything discussed was of a political nature.
One of the speakers was a young female immigrant who was diagnosed with breast cancer during a Planned Parenthood screening. She spoke of how, though she lacked health insurance, the organization provided the support and financial assistance she needed to get a mastectomy and emerge from treatment cancer-free.
Kaine will face Republican George Allen on the Nov. 6 ballot in Virginia.
Photos courtesy Kaine for Virginia and Cliffords Photography, as labeled
The proposed sprayground at Virginia Highlands Park is behind schedule and likely will not open until next year.
County officials say the project schedule has been extended while they take “some additional measures to ensure cleaner water enters the storm sewer from the sprayground.” That may be a disappointment to residents who were hoping to have a new place for their kids to cool off this summer.
We reported in 2010 that the sprayground — the county’s most elaborate water park yet — was originally scheduled to open by Memorial Day 2012. Now, we’re told, the county hopes to begin construction late this summer, which will allow the sprayground to open on Memorial Day weekend 2013.
Soccer Field to Close for Summer — The synthetic turf field at Virginia Highlands Park, used extensively for soccer games, is expected to be closed for much of the spring and summer so that the turf can be replaced. [Sun Gazette]
Church to Celebrate 50th Anniversary — St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (4250 N. Glebe Road) will be holding a concert next weekend to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The concert, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12. [Falls Church News-Press]
Arlington Man Killed by Dump Truck — Prince George’s County Police are investigating the death of an Arlington County man who was hit by a dump truck in Capitol Heights on Wednesday evening. [Gazette.net]
Starting this year, a few new sports will start to be played in the shadows of the office towers and high-rise hotels that line Jefferson Davis Highway. Among them: street hockey, rugby and outdoor volleyball.
An “old school” street hockey league is currently accepting new player and team registrations. The co-ed league will play on Thursday nights from May through July at a surface parking lot near the corner of 20th Street and S. Bell Street. The league’s start date — May 5 — is set to coincide with the Crystal City’s Fit Week.
A co-ed touch rugby league will play its first game Saturday afternoon, at a park on Eads Street near Ft. Scott Drive. The leagues is still in open registration for individual players.
Registration for an outdoor volleyball league at Virginia Highlands Park (1600 S. Hayes Street) started last week. The 6v6 league will supplement an indoor volleyball league that is played at Sport & Health Club Crystal Gateway (1235 S. Clark Street).
All the leagues are run by the Arlington Athletic and Social League. AASL is also running an indoor dodgeball and a women’s 3 on 3 basketball league in Crystal City this spring. Both sports are in open registration for individuals.
Photo courtesy DC Social Sports
Over the winter, crews narrowed the portion of Joyce Street from 15th Street to 16th Street. A sidewalk was added to the side of the road facing Virginia Highlands Park, and the width of the street was reduced from 40 feet to about 35 feet.
The changes were intended as traffic calming measures. Narrower streets, the county says, encourage drivers to slow down.
To slow traffic down even more, Arlington has added six car-length planters — three on either side of the street. Trees will be planted in the planters, which each take up what was once a parking space.
“They serve to visually narrow the roadway on a very long stretch that is not interrupted by intersections,” said Traffic Engineering and Operations Bureau Chief Wayne Wentz.
Wentz said that while one side of the street has cars parked on it throughout the day, the other side sometimes lacks parked cars. The empty parking spaces, in turn, make the street appear wider and result in people speeding up. The planters, Wentz said, will do the job of calming traffic even when parked cars aren’t present.
Wentz noted that the roadwork actually added two parking spots to South Joyce Street, so the net loss of parking is only four spots. But one resident worried that park-goers may soon be forced to leave their cars in the adjacent neighborhood.
“Those barriers on the side take up parking spots that fill up quickly during softball season!” said the resident. “I live at South Joyce and 20th and you can bet neighbors will be complaining about increased parking in their neighborhood.”
The construction was paid for by money set aside by the developer of the nearby Pentagon Row shops.
“The changes to Joyce Street were actually development conditions of Pentagon Row,” Wentz said.
Wentz expects the trees to be planted by mid-April. The county’s arborist will decide which type of tree will be planted. In addition to the six planters on the side of the road, road crews also added a planter in the middle of the road at a pedestrian crossing.
Update on 3/23/12 — This project has been delayed, according to Arlington County.
Virginia Highlands Park is in line to get the county’s most elaborate sprayground park yet.
The spiral-shaped park takes elements of Arlington’s existing sprayground parks, as well as elements from other water parks around the country. It will be located in a corner of the park, near the volleyball and basketball courts.
As planned right now, the park will feature water cannons, buckets that fill and dump water on anyone below them, mini waterfalls, small pools of water for play, bubblers, interactive locks and dams, jumping water jets and a boulder wall dividing the active and passive play areas in the park. The boulder wall will also provide a place to sit during the off-season.
The sprayground will be partially bordered by a rain garden, which will benefit from the park’s runoff. Other excess water would be directed to a large underground tank, which could then be used for irrigation or for the park’s toilets.
Funding for the park is still in question. An official who gave a presentation to the Aurora Highlands Civic Association last night suggested that the construction could be paid for with Neighborhood Conservation funds while the county tries to secure other funding.
If all goes according to plan, the park will be open in time for Memorial Day 2012. (Sprayground parks are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Recently park hours were reduced, but it sounds like the county is confident that normal hours will be restored by 2012.)
At Virginia Highlands Park in Pentagon City on Sunday, the county’s snow melter sat idle as 60 degree weather ate away at the monstrous piles of dirty snow surrounding the parking lot.
Soccer, football, tennis and basketball were all being played, with most of the participants emboldened enough by the mild temperatures to ditch their jackets and track pants for shorts and t-shirts.
Squirrels scurried about, digging for acorns and heading for high tree branches when one was found.
It’s a scene that’s sure to be repeated, with sunny days in the mid- to low-sixties predicted for much of the week.