Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Hospital Construction Starting Soon — “Around the time most local residents are firing up the grills for mid-summer barbecues, Virginia Hospital Center will be firing up the bulldozers as it moves forward with a long-awaited expansion. Hospital officials aim to have their land-swap agreement with the county government in place by the end of July, and ‘the plan is to begin construction shortly thereafter.'” [InsideNova]

Swastika in S. Arlington Park — “From a local Nextdoor group: someone drew swastikas on a sign board in Troy Park near S. Glebe Road. A parks department spokeswoman says the graffiti has been covered up and no other incidents of this kind have been reported recently.” [Twitter]

When To Report an Oily Sheen on the Water — “A rainbow sheen can result from iron-oxidizing bacteria or from petroleum. To differentiate, trail a stick through the film. It it readily breaks up, it’s most likely bacteria. If it swirls together, it’s most likely petroleum and should be reported.” [Arlington County]

When to Call 911 for a Medical Issue — “The Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) is initiating a public information campaign to help individuals, facilities and communities develop the know-how to ‘Make the Right Call.’ The effort aims to empower the community to help maintain EMS system readiness by learning appropriate utilization of the medical 911 system.” [Arlington County, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

VHC Land Swap Ready to Move Forward — “Nearly six months after a divided Arlington County Board approved a major expansion of Virginia Hospital Center, board members are set to take the next step.” [InsideNova]

Ballston IHOP Reopens — “Good news IHOP fans: the Ballston location is back open and serving customers. Here’s why it closed.” [Twitter]

DEA Finds Temporary Digs — “The Drug Enforcement Administration has found temporary space in Crystal City for its employees while its… headquarters in adjacent Pentagon City gets a major makeover. Representatives for the DEA recently applied to Arlington County for interior alteration permits to renovate three floors at 2200 Crystal Drive.” [Washington Business Journal]

Road Closures for Ballston 5K Race — “The 2019 Girls on the Run 5K Race will be held in the Ballston-Virginia Square area on Sunday, May 19, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will implement the following road closures from approximately 8:15 AM to 10:15 AM to accommodate the event.” [Arlington County]

Carlee Defines the ‘Arlington Way’ — “‘In its most positive framing’ [the Arlington Way] means ‘engaging with the public on issues of importance or concern (not always the same) in an effort to reach community consensus or… a shared understanding and an opportunity for everyone to be heard,’ [former County Manager Ron Carlee] writes. ‘In its negative framing’ the phrase has been ‘derided as a way to talk everything to death so that ideas are killed or that people are so worn-down that by the end, they do not care what happens as long as it is just over.'” [Falls Church News-Press]

Photo courtesy @klk_photography11/Instagram

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Virginia Hospital Center has announced a new partnership with local first responders to more effectively handle mass casualty incidents like terrorist attacks or active shooter situations.

Arlington’s new Hospital Response Task Force is “believed to be the first of its kind in the nation,” organizers say. It was formed in response to lessons learned from mass casualty situations elsewhere, during which wounded would flood emergency rooms and overwhelm hospital staff.

“In nearly all cases where events included a large number of victims, significant issues were documented at hospitals nearby the incident,” VHC said in a press release. “Hospitals were overrun with victims who self-transported to the hospital, oftentimes with friends or ride-sharing services. The Hospital Response Task Force model in Arlington aims to provide immediate assistance to hospitals to prevent the surge of self-reporting victims from reducing the hospital’s ability to save lives.”

The new plan would have the fire department, law enforcement officers and hospital staff collaborating in the event of a crisis to help handle the surge of victims.

The plan has been in development since a working group was established last June, and the plan is expected to be integrated into Arlington County’s emergency response operations starting in May.

“While specifics of the plan will not be disseminated to the public for security reasons, paramedics, law enforcement officers and hospital staff will work hand-in-hand to provide rapid treatment and protection for incoming victims,” the press release says.

Photo via Google Maps

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Virginia Hospital Center executives celebrated when they finally earned permission to expand the hospital’s North Arlington campus and execute a long-planned land swap with the county — but one of the consequences of the deal has some employees and parents feeling blindsided.

VHC is gearing up to send Arlington its property at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road in Glencarlyn, in exchange for gaining control over a piece of land at 1800 N. Edison Street. The latter property is adjacent to its existing facilities along N. George Mason Drive, and will be a key part of the hospital’s hotly debated expansion plans.

Of course, that’s going to prompt some big changes at the Carlin Springs Road site as the county takes over. Among them is the impending closure of a childcare center that the hospital operated on the property in tandem with Bright Horizons, serving VHC employees and local parents alike.

The daycare facility is now set to close on July 26, according to letters from both VHC and Bright Horizons provided to ARLnow. Though that deadline may be a full four months away, parents with kids at the daycare say they’re now scrambling to find alternative options.

The county is currently facing a childcare crunch, with local leaders currently weighing strategies to bring down the cost of daycare options in Arlington, and VHC parents say those conditions have only exacerbated the shock they felt about the childcare center’s closing.

“I was feeling reassured that finally Arlington realized that there’s more demand than supply when it comes to childcare, and now this happens,” said one parent, who declined to be identified. “It’s ironic that in Arlington, where there’s supposed to be some attention to how challenging it is to find childcare centers, instead of opening a new place we’re closing one of the big ones down and forcing families and employees to figure things out on their own.”

A spokesperson for the hospital would only confirm that the center is closing sometime this year, saying that “the details of the closing are still being worked out,” but otherwise would not comment on the situation.

Mike Malone, VHC’s vice president for administrative services and chief human resources officer, wrote in a letter to parents that it was his “great disappointment” to have to close the center. He said “the county will be repurposing the land on the Carlin Springs campus and demolishing the building,” prompting the closure — VHC leaders previously told ARLnow that the land swap would be finalized by May or June at the latest.

Malone added that Bright Horizons is “committed to helping every current family find care in another Bright Horizons center or [helping] you transition into another center of your choosing.”

In a letter of their own, Bright Horizons executives pointed to the “over two dozen centers spread across the metro area” that the company operates as options for parents. They also noted that they have “resources available to facilitate your child’s transition,” and said they plan to help staff at the center find jobs at other Bright Horizons locations.

Parents at the center told ARLnow that help is appreciated, but they fear it isn’t enough to manage the transition.

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The Virginia Hospital Center might’ve finally won the county’s approval on designs for a hefty new expansion of its North Arlington campus, but officials have months of work left to do before neighbors will start seeing any construction in the area.

Years from now, the hospital will add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage to its property at 1701 N. George Mason Drive, after the County Board narrowly approved plans for the $250 million project on Tuesday. The expansion will ultimately help the county’s lone hospital add 101 new beds, in a bid to match rising demand in the area.

But VHC officials say they won’t be able to put shovels in the ground just yet. First, they need to complete a land swap with the county to make the expansion possible.

Arlington officials and the VHC agreed last year that the county would send the hospital a property adjacent to its campus at 1800 N. Edison Street in exchange for one at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road. However, the swap was contingent on the Board signing off on the expansion plans in the first place.

Community concerns over the project’s design meant that the Board repeatedly delayed its consideration of the VHC proposal, but with that green light finally given, hospital executives will now turn to finalizing the terms of the land swap. Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, says that process will wrap up around next “May or June” at the latest, teeing up construction to start soon afterward.

“It’s been a good three years we’ve been involved in this process, so absolutely it was a sigh of relief when we got the approval,” Stanton told ARLnow. “We wanted to be in front of the Board back in May because we need the beds today… and there a lot of specifics involved, and a lot left to happen.”

Some of the process of sorting out the details of the land swap agreement are fairly mundane, like basic site inspections. Others are a bit more fraught — for instance, the county and the hospital will have to agree on the Edison Road property’s value.

The terms of the agreement call for the hospital to pay either $12.56 million or the property’s appraised value to acquire the site — it all depends on which amount is larger. County records show the property was valued at about $8.9 million this year. By contrast, the S. Carlin Springs Road land the hospital will send to the county was valued at $38.8 million.

Stanton says that the process of hashing out the land swap could wrap up more quickly than they’re expecting, but the hospital is tentatively planning on kicking off construction by “somewhere around June or July 2019” in his most conservative estimate of the timeframe.

Once that happens, Stanton says the hospital will likely need another approval from state regulators before it can wrap up the construction. VHC previously earned a “Certificate of Public Need” from the Virginia Department of Health, certifying that enough demand exists in the area to add more beds to the facility.

The catch is that state officials only allowed VHC to add 44 beds, rather than the full 101 it’s planning. Stanton says that’s because the state only examines demand in five-year increments, while the hospital is projecting a need for 101 beds by looking at a 10-year timetable.

“We agreed to that smaller number with the acknowledgement that we will be back asking for more,” Stanton said. “Our intent is to be able to get the additional beds we feel we need, and do that before construction is complete.”

As for the construction timeline, Stanton says the hospital’s “guesstimate” is that the new garage will be open by the first few months of 2021. Then, he hopes the new outpatient facility will be ready by the second quarter of 2022.

Once that new “pavilion” is ready, the hospital will begin moving its existing outpatient equipment over to the new facility, opening up space for the 101 new beds. However, Stanton cautions that process will require some complicated renovation work, so it’s difficult to know when it will be ready.

“It shouldn’t take as long [as the new construction], but we’ll be doing construction in the existing patient tower,” Stanton said. “It’s not as easy a construction project because we’re working around our existing operations. So it’s by no means easy.”

Looking even further down the line, hospital leaders eventually hope that this expansion will lay the groundwork for the full redevelopment of the campus. However, Stanton’s “best guess” is that work on that process won’t start for at least 15 years or so.

Stanton hopes that hospital officials can use that time to rebuild trust with the surrounding community.

The expansion’s design process became an acrimonious one at times, with neighbors accusing the hospital of ignoring their concerns or even walling off the surrounding community with its new facilities. And Stanton admits to no small amount of frustration that the process turned so contentious.

He argues that the hospital’s initial outreach to the community was “largely positive,” before the county’s formal site plan review process got started. He believes that VHC officials managed to build plenty of consensus around the project, back when neighbors formed their own ad hoc committee to work with the hospital.

“I thought we had a very strong connection with those communities,” Stanton said. “It doesn’t mean were always in agreement, but we felt we, and the County Board, were getting positive reviews from the community about conversations with the hospital. But that seemed to change when we went through formal process with the county, which was really frustrating to me.”

Accordingly, Stanton is pledging “continual communication” between the hospital and its neighbors, to try and recapture the spirit of those early days of planning the expansion, leading to much more harmonious community conversations around any future redevelopment.

“I would only hope that relationship and communication can be just as good, if not better, than before we started this process,” Stanton said.

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The Arlington County Board narrowly approved the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans yesterday (Tuesday), clearing the way for the $250 million project to move ahead despite persistent concerns over its design and impact on the community.

In a rare 3-2 vote, the Board signed off on designs for the county’s lone hospital to add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage adjacent to its existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive.

The additions will help the hospital add another 101 beds to its existing building, a move that VHC officials argued was urgently necessary to meet rising demand in the area. The Board will now send the hospital a piece of county-owned land on N. Edison Street to power the expansion, and receive a some hospital property on S. Carlin Springs Road in exchange.

“We are grateful to have constructively worked with community members to reach a positive solution, and we are committed to remaining good neighbors in the Arlington community,” Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, wrote in a statement. “For 75 years, Virginia Hospital Center’s mission has been to act in the best interest of our patients. We continue to be thankful for our Board, physicians, staff and auxiliary members who are ready to serve for the next 75 years.”

The Board was previously set to approve the expansion plans in September, but opted for a delay instead to give the hospital a chance to tweak its designs a bit. A narrow majority of the Board felt that VHC’s planners managed to meet those standards over the last two months, while Board members Erik Gutshall and John Vihstadt argued that the hospital failed to meet the specific requests the Board previously laid out for design changes.

Others on the Board expressed similar concerns, but none of the other three members were willing join Gutshall and Vihstadt in delaying the project once more.

“I certainly remain troubled to not be able to fully achieve what we envisioned a couple of months ago,” said Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “It’s better today than it was two months ago… We’re at a much better place where this facility interacts with the neighborhood in a way that is going to be a lot more respectful and pleasing for people who will choose to live there for decades to come.”

The Board had also urged VHC executives to do more outreach in the community and ease concerns about everything from traffic to the size of the new facilities. The hospital held several community meetings with nearby civic associations and other neighbors since the Board’s last vote, but the Board still expressed plenty of concern that the hospital didn’t do enough to fully engage the community.

“I’m really feeling frustrated and undernourished here,” Vihstadt said. “Too often, it was a matter of ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, we invite your comments, we invite your critique,’ not, ‘Here’s option A, here’s option B, what do you think works best?'”

But some Board members had specific critiques of the design as well. Those primarily centered on a pedestrian walkway running from north-south through the site, starting at 19th Street N. and running toward 16th Street N., and the traffic pattern on N. George Mason Drive as it runs alongside the hospital.

The Board’s September motion specifically requested that the north-south walkway be at least 15 feet wide and two stories in height, in order to create a better flow of both pedestrians and light throughout the campus. Yet the revised design presented a path that wasn’t quite that wide, and had a pedestrian bridge running over top of it along one section to restrict the open air standard the Board laid out.

“It doesn’t seem to me that it really meets the gist and the intent of our motion,” Gutshall said.

Nan Walsh, an attorney for the hospital, argued that VHC’s architects did the best they could to meet the Board’s standards, but ran into a series of intractable problems.

Widening the pathway, for instance, could’ve forced the hospital to move its parking garage too close to neighboring homes, or forced the hospital to cut more than 200 spaces from the structure, Walsh said. The latter option was particularly unpalatable for VHC, as it had already removed hundreds of spaces to meet the concerns of transit advocates.

“We have sharpened our pencils for the last two weeks and we really feel we’ve gone about as far as we can go,” Walsh said.

County planner Matthew Ladd did reassure the Board that the walkway struck him as a “major improvement” over the hospital’s original design, and most members were inclined to agree.

“This is breaking up what felt like a superblock and creating a sense of flow of light and air between the two buildings,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “I know this leaves disappointment on the part of some of the neighbors… but I did not enter this phase with a lot of optimism that there will be peace in the land.”

Gutshall initially looked for a one-month deferral of the project, as the Board had originally planned to take up the new designs in December — the hospital, backed by its allies in the business community, pressed for the earlier consideration. Vihstadt was inclined to support him, dubbing the new plans “too much of a suburban campus, a suburban design.”

Yet Gutshall couldn’t find a third vote for the delay, and he relented. But he did warn the hospital that, as it considers the full redevelopment of its campus in the coming years now that this expansion has been approved, there may be more painful meetings in its future if it doesn’t change its approach.

“You continually throughout this process pushed the envelope every step of the way…but ultimately I think there’s a cost extracted for that,” Gutshall said. “And I’d strongly encourage you to look at what are the things that you can do to build a stronger relationship with the surrounding community to begin to lay the groundwork for the next time you come back for whatever the next phase of this is going to be.”

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Virginia Hospital Center executives believe they’ve satisfied all the demands of Arlington officials in drawing up revised plans for the facility’s $250 million expansion, setting the stage for the project to move ahead as soon as this week.

The County Board is set to consider the matter once again tomorrow (Tuesday), after delaying a decision on the hospital’s expansion back in September. The Board laid out a series of specific changes it hoped to see from the hospital as it embarks on the project, which is designed to add 101 hospital beds and a new outpatient facility to match rising demand in the county, and urged VHC leaders to smooth over its rocky relationship with some people living near the existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive.

The Board initially envisioned taking up the matter next month, but VHC leaders were enthusiastic enough about their progress that they pushed for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting instead.

Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, says VHC officials have spent last few months convening “a series of public meetings with community members, as well as with neighborhood civic associations adjacent to the hospital,” to craft new designs for the expansion, leading to his renewed optimism for the project’s prospects.

“These discussions have been open, honest, and productive,” Stanton wrote in a statement. “As a result of this progress, we asked to present a revised plan to the Board during its scheduled Nov. 27 meeting. We are grateful that we have been granted that opportunity, and remain hopeful that we will be presenting a plan that is acceptable to all parties involved.”

The chief concern of the hospital’s neighborhoods, county planners and Board members alike is how the VHC’s new buildings will fit into the community. The hospital is hoping to add a 230,000-square-foot, seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage, and critics of the original design worried those additions would effectively wall off the hospital from the single-family homes surrounding it.

Accordingly, the Board’s requests for changes centered around improving the facade of the garage and adding more pedestrian connections to (and through) the site, to make it feel more accessible. And, per details laid out in a new report prepared by county staff, the hospital seems to have made all the tweaks the Board was envisioning.

For the new parking garage, the hospital now plans to add “vertical mesh screens” and vary its “brick colors and pattern to provide visual interest,” the report says. The hospital also will eliminate one of the garage’s entrances from along a service road running horizontally through the property, and relocate a sidewalk to the south side of that road to provide a more accessible “east-west” connection through the site.

VHC officials also hope to provide a better north-south pedestrian walkway through the property, creating a corridor that runs from 19th Street N. to connect to both the garage and the new outpatient building. In tandem with that change, the hospital proposes “rounding the corner of the outpatient building to improve sight lines for pedestrians and to soften the edge of the building” so that there’s “no longer a continuous line of buildings for the entire length of 19th Street N.,” staff wrote.

According to the report, representatives with the John M. Langston Citizens Association initially expressed some concern that the walkway revisions still weren’t quite what the Board had requested, but the hospital altered its plans slightly to meet those worries.

Additionally, the hospital will add other features neighbors requested over the last few months of meetings, including new pedestrian safety devices like a rapid flashing beacon at the intersection of N. George Mason Drive and 19th Street N.

All of the hospital’s proposed changes will slightly reduce the capacity of the new parking garage, however, after it already agreed to a hefty cutback in spaces in a bid to ease the concerns of transit advocates. In all, the garage is set to see a reduction about 46 spaces if the Board signs off on these changes, for a total of about 1,694 spaces.

While the design changes may well meet the Board’s standards, they’re unlikely to satisfy all the hospital’s critics. Many neighbors remain concerned about the height of the new buildings, and county planners have urged the Board to require the hospital to adhere to a more robust long-range planning process — the hospital is planning a full redevelopment of its campus in the long term, but can only kick off those plans once it executes this expansion.

The Board will get a chance to have its final say on the matter Tuesday — the public hearing on the issue is closed, setting the stage for an up-or-down vote. Should the Board approve the plans, at long last, the county will sign over a parcel of land along N. Edison Street to power the expansion, and receive a coveted property on S. Carlin Springs Road from the hospital.

The Board will also review a $500,000 grant to set up a new pilot program and expand mental health services at the hospital. The program would empower a new specialist to divert kids and teens arriving at the hospital with behavioral health issues into treatment programs, in order to prevent them from experiencing more serious problems in the future or getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

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The Virginia Hospital Center will need to wait a bit longer to kick off its coveted expansion project, but Arlington officials are largely optimistic that they’ve charted out a path to help the county’s lone hospital meet some community concerns and ultimately win approval.

VHC, and the county’s business community, pressed hard to earn a green light from the County Board this weekend, in order to start work on a $250 million expansion the hospital says it desperately needs to manage demand. But the Board chose to follow the recommendation of its planners instead, and push back a final vote on the project until December.

Rather than ordering any substantial reworking of the project’s design, however, the Board asked that the hospital make some more modest changes to its plans.

While those alterations may not address each and every concern raised by people living nearby, who argue that the two new structures the hospital wants to build are hopelessly out of step with the surrounding community, county leaders hope they strike the right balance between addressing neighborhood worries and providing VHC with reasonable goals to meet.

“We didn’t want to kick this back to everybody to noodle over for the next three months,” Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “We wanted to be clear about the targets the hospital needs to hit to reach approval… I do this think it’s likely that they meet these criteria. We tried to take the judgement calls out of it.”

Those new requests of VHC include a requirement to add better connections throughout the site of the expansion, in a lot on N. Edison Street immediately adjacent to its existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive. As Cristol puts it, she wants to see less of a “superblock,” particularly after planners and neighbors balked at the potential of the proposed seven-story parking garage and 10-story outpatient facility to effectively wall off the hospital from single-family homes in the neighborhood.

The Board also wants to see the hospital spruce up the facade of the garage itself to help it better fit in to the community, and create a pedestrian connection between 19th Street N. and one of the expansion’s proposed terraces.

All of those requests seem reasonable enough to Adrian Stanton, VHC’s vice president of business development and community affairs. He told ARLnow that the hospital is, of course, “disappointed” by the Board’s decision to delay the proceedings, but largely optimistic about the project’s prospects.

“We’re very confident that we can work collaboratively with the county and community to iron out these remaining issues,” Stanton said. “I truly believe we will, and that’s where we appreciate the Board being very specific.”

But the Board’s requests won’t fundamentally impact a chief concern of many people living near the hospital: the size of the new buildings.

The county’s Planning Commission urged the Board to force VHC to move the largest structures closer to the center of the site, in order reduce their impact on the community. Neighbors similarly hoped for larger setbacks or other measures to help the structures better blend into the area, but felt those requests went ignored.

“None of these hopes were realized,” Suzanne Nirschl-Brown, head of the nearby Taratown Homeowners Association, told the Board Saturday. “We’re the ones with the towering structures close to our homes.”

However, Stanton noted that the hospital is fundamentally “landlocked” by those single-family homes and will need to build large structures to make any expansion happen. Cristol added that VHC did also reduce the size of its garage, simultaneously shrinking the structure and satisfying the demands of transit advocates concerned that offering so many parking spaces would encourage employees to drive to the hospital.

Planners are also concerned that the hospital still hasn’t done enough to lay out what its future construction on the site might look like. Once it can complete the expansion, the hospital hopes to overhaul its existing campus over the coming decades — the Planning Commission called for VHC to go through a different process known as a “phased development site plan” to help the county better scrutinize those long-range plans.

Yet Stanton says that the constantly changing nature of the healthcare industry would’ve made it difficult to predict exactly what sort of facilities the hospital will need to build so far in the future. He added that VHC also fully plans to go through the PDSP process when it proposes any design for a future overhaul of its campus, which he doesn’t expect to happen for the next 10 to 15 years.

The Board agreed to that condition, even if it doesn’t quite meet the demands of planners.

“That’s akin to closing the barn door after the horse is gone,” Planning Commissioner Nancy Iacomini said Saturday. “One of the most important things a PDSP does is make the edge of a site match its context.”

Still, Stanton pledged to work closely with the community over both the next three months and the coming years on all manner of designs. Cristol and her fellow Board members agreed that was well warranted, given the hours of public comment they heard Saturday.

Cristol pointed out that tensions between VHC and its neighbors “go back decades.” One resident of the nearby Halls Hill neighborhood, Tia Alfred, compared the hospital’s design to the infamous “wall” used to separate the historically black community from its white neighbors decades ago.

To some Board members, such recriminations suggested that a lot more community engagement is needed on VHC’s part.

“If only VHC would treat their neighbors the way they treat their patients,” Board member Libby Garvey said Saturday. “I really hope this is one of the first steps between a repaired relationship between the hospital and the neighborhood.”

Stanton says VHC staff will meet with community members “as frequently as they request,” but did underscore the urgency of the hospital’s expansion, nonetheless. He noted that VHC regularly has to send patients seeking some mental and behavioral health services elsewhere, and will continue to feel a squeeze in its emergency rooms until the expansion can move forward.

Stanton added that the hospital expects construction to take from 24 to 30 months, and it will only be able to offer more in-patient beds on its current campus once it can build the new outpatient facility. The county has its own interest in seeing the project go forward as well, as it’s set to provide the Edison Street property with the hospital in a swap for a property on S. Carlin Springs Road.

But even with those pressing needs, and the Board’s specific guidelines, county officials warn that they’re not willing to simply offer a rubber stamp to the plan three months from now.

“I’m not going to support any proposed solutions for today’s problem if I believe it’s going to cause more problems the next time around,” Board member Erik Gutshall said Saturday. “Come back to us with what’s really your best and final offer.”

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Officials from Virginia Hospital Center left Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting without the approval they were seeking for the hospital’s expansion plans.

Instead, following a unanimous vote, consideration of the plans will be delayed another three months.

The outcome is a disappointment for the hospital, which says it urgently needs additional space to serve a growing population. It’s also a disappointment for its supporters, from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce to the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, which urged approval.

Board members asked VHC to go back and find a way to address the concerns of homeowners who live around the hospital. The charge specifies that the size of the proposed buildings is fine, but improvements are needed to improve exterior decor, pedestrian walkways, and traffic flow.

More from an Arlington County press release:

After hearing hours of public testimony, the Arlington County Board today voted unanimously to defer consideration of Virginia Hospital Center’s proposed expansion plan to its December 2018 meeting, saying the center needs to do more to address neighborhood concerns.

“Virginia Hospital is an asset to our community and the region,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said. “We view the continued success of this major health center as important to everyone in Arlington, both for the high-quality medical care it provides, and the economic benefits it brings to the community. But it is also important that the expansion is designed in a way that respects the basics of good planning and design that have allowed Arlington to grow while still maintaining high quality of life for residents. We are not seeking a fundamental re-design, but rather, specific and concrete adjustments that can address some of the concerns.”

The Board’s action came after dozens of people spoke both for and against VHC’s expansion plan during a public hearing.

VHC’s expansion plan would grow its N. George Mason Drive campus onto the adjacent site at 1810 N. Edison Street to build new in-patient and out-patient facilities, a medical office building and a parking garage. The County approved a purchase agreement with VHC for the Edison site in 2015. It is requesting a rezoning, a Site Plan amendment and a Use Permit County sealamendment.

Under its proposed expansion plan, VHC plans to replace existing buildings on the Edison site with a new seven-story outpatient building and a six-story parking garage. VHC also proposes converting 120,000 square feet of medical offices on its current campus to hospital use.

The proposed plan also calls for an ultimate build out of 101 more beds on the hospital site. Existing outpatient uses would be relocated to the new outpatient building on the Edison site, freeing up space in existing buildings for the hospital expansion. The proposal is the hospital’s first step in its longer-term plans to focus inpatient care on the south side of its campus and outpatient care on the north side.

The Board noted that it accepts the height and massing of the buildings proposed by VHC as necessary to meet the center’s “programmatic needs.” It asked that VHC improve the connections to and through the site; enhance the proposed parking garage facades to add visual interest through awnings, hanging planter boxes or other architectural features; provide a pedestrian connection between 19th Street N and the proposed terrace overlooking the sunken garden on the first floor of the outpatient building; and make other changes related to providing safe, well-lighted, accessible pathways on the site.

While the public hearing now is closed, and changes made to the proposed design will not be subject to further formal County advisory commissions, the Board communicated its expectations that VHC will continue to engage with the surrounding neighborhood on improvements before the proposal comes back to the Board for consideration.

To read the staff report, and view presentations on the proposed expansion plan, visit the County website. Scroll to Item No. 58 on the agenda for the Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 Regular County Board Meeting.

In December 2015, the County Board approved an agreement granting VHC an option to purchase the County-owned land at 1800 N. Edison Street. The agreement included the possibility of a land swap between the County and the Hospital. In July 2017, the Board voted to notify VHC that the County intends to acquire the hospital’s property at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road as part of the purchase price for the Edison site. Approval of VHC’s expansion site plan is required prior to closing the purchase agreement.

VHC’s site plan underwent an extensive public review process, including six Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) meetings, and SPRC walking tour and additional community meetings held by the County before and after the SPRC process.

County staff also met with civic association representatives and other community members, tracked and posted community comments and answered frequently asked questions for the project website.

Virginia Hospital has served Arlington and the region for more than 70 years. Over the years, the hospital has expanded to meet the needs of the growing Arlington community.

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The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Michael Garcia, a Columbia Pike insurance agent who serves as the board chair of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, a local nonprofit that works with homeless individuals in Arlington. A-SPAN is weighing in on the proposed Virginia Hospital Center expansion, which the Arlington Planning Commission and some residents who live near the hospital oppose in its current form.

I am writing in support of the Virginia Hospital Center expansion project. It is my hope that the County Board recognizes the enormous value that VHC brings to this community and approves the project, as soon as possible.

As Board Chair of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) and a long-time Arlington resident, I see first-hand the consequences of delayed healthcare visits. The homeless clients at the Homeless Services Center frequently suffer from infections, life threatening reactions to untreated chronic illnesses and other medical conditions. That is why we have the Medical Respite and Nursing Services Program at the Homeless Services Center. For most Arlington County citizens, when a doctor says to go home and recuperate, that’s what they do, but what do you do when you have no home? VHC and A-SPAN through our partnership work together to ensure that these homeless individuals and veterans have a safe, compassionate, high-quality environment in which to recuperate.

VHC staff make every effort to assess and treat patients in a holistic way. When homeless patients are discharged from the Hospital to the Medical Respite Program, A-SPAN is part of the follow-up care plan and clients are referred to VHC outpatient services, as appropriate.

I cannot stress enough the value of a new Behavioral Health Center like the one proposed by VHC. Over 70% of homeless veterans and individuals suffer from some form of mental illness and this condition must be treated. We are fortunate that VHC, an Arlington provider that was recently named one of America’s 100 top Hospitals for the third year in a row, is willing to respond to the community’s need for more outpatient mental health services. Moreover, the VHC has indicated that all patients would be welcome at the new Center, regardless of their ability to pay.

The distinction of VHC being named as one of the 100 Top Hospitals in the nation is an honor benefitting all Arlingtonians by providing excellent care to the community. I am confident that this commitment to excellence will extend to the newly proposed Behavioral Health Center services, as well. VHC is a community partner worthy of support and we hope our elected leaders demonstrate this support.

Sincerely,

Michael Garcia
Board Chair, A-SPAN

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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Supporters of the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans are ramping up their advocacy efforts, now that the project’s fate looks murky ahead of a key County Board vote.

The hospital itself has begun sending out mailers backing the expansion, according to ARLnow reader Dave Schutz, urging county residents to contact the Board about the $250 million project. Arlington’s lone comprehensive hospital has hoped for roughly a year now to add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage next to its existing campus (1701 N. George Mason Drive), arguing that it desperately needs more space to keep pace with the county’s burgeoning population.

Meanwhile, the county’s business community is also redoubling its efforts to push the expansion forward. The Chamber of Commerce penned a new letter to the Board today (Tuesday), imploring officials to ignore the recommendation of the county’s Planning Commission and approve the project “without further delay” this weekend.

“Further deferral of this already-delayed project will impose additional financial and time costs that will redirect resources that VHC would otherwise use to provide health care services to the Arlington community,” Chamber President and CEO Kate Bates wrote.

County planners are indeed urging the Board to hold off on giving the project a green light, over concerns about the height and design of the proposed buildings. VHC is looking to build the facilities on a parcel of county-owned land near the intersection of 19th Street N. and N. Edison Street, and the commission argues the large new buildings would look out of place sitting across the street from small single-family homes.

Though commissioners support the project in principle, they voted unanimously last week to recommend that the Board force the hospital to revise its plans to address those concerns. They argue that the county would be better served by requiring the hospital to go through a “Phased Development Site Plan” process, a long-range exercise that would give planners more say over VHC’s intentions to redevelop its existing campus.

The hospital argued that such a process would be prohibitively difficult and expensive, and Bates alleged in her letter that VHC has already been made to wait too long to move ahead with its expansion plans. The hospital originally hoped to earn the Board’s approval this July, but neighbors successfully convinced the county to hold off on until the end of the summer to allow for more community involvement in the process.

“Each additional delay in the approval of the site plan application puts off the day when VHC will be able to care for its patient load in a full and comfortable facility,” Bates wrote. “Absent a timely expansion of VHC to accommodate its patient-centric mission, the community as a whole will bear these costs.”

The Board will have the final say on the matter at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22), a vote made all the more consequential for the county because Arlington stands to gain an 11.5-acre site on S. Carlin Springs Road as part of a “land swap” with the hospital if the expansion moves forward.

Though Board members have been loath to tip their hands on the vote, they are pledging to thoughtfully consider the concerns of neighbors and planners about the project.

“Public or private institutions and buildings, whether hospitals or schools, office buildings or community centers, must respect our planning documents, the built environment and the residents of surrounding communities,” said Board member John Vihstadt during a Chamber forum last week. “Height, setbacks, connectivity, building orientation, traffic and parking concerns are critical factors in any development proposal, and they’re concerns I take seriously. I’m looking forward to hearing more from the hospital and community in the coming days.”

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