Arlington, VA

Arlington lost two giants of local civic life in successive days last week.

Jim Pebley died after a battle with cancer on Tuesday, June 23. The day prior, George Keating died of a sudden heart attack.

The following obituary of Keating was written by former Arlington School Board member Elaine Furlow.

George Markey Keating, 71, a longtime civic activist in Arlington, Va., died suddenly of a heart attack on June 22, 2020. As a three-term president of the Waverly Hills Civic Association, Keating championed numerous neighborhood improvements, working closely with Arlington County officials and stakeholders. Most recently, after his retirement, he was tireless in his efforts to improve stormwater drainage in the most flood-prone areas of Arlington.

In 2018 and 2019, as reported by ARLnow.com, water was flooding cars and basements at record levels. When water was rushing down neighborhood streets, Keating helped document the situations and the despair that his neighbors felt. In the county manager’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) released this June, $50.8 million has been proposed for stormwater management bonds for consideration by the voters on November 3.

“On issues large and small, George was as gentlemanly as he was passionate about the future of Waverly Hills and the Lee Highway corridor,” said County Board member Katie Cristol. “When the neighborhood experienced historic flooding two years in a row, it was George who capably organized other residents to advocate for new public investments, and who worked diplomatically and analytically with County staff in developing projects.” Cristol said Keating’s passing “is a loss for the community, and those of us on the County Board will truly miss working with him.”

“When it came to community participation,” recalled Sandi Chesrown, vice-chair of Plan Lee Highway, “George didn’t just talk about helping–he immediately and tenaciously tackled whatever the issue, benefiting his Waverly Hills neighborhood and Lee Highway Alliance.  We will always be grateful for George’s friendship and leadership.”

The five miles along Lee Highway in Arlington are soon to undergo redevelopment that combats climate change, strengthens housing and retail, and improves walkability and attractiveness of the corridor. The Lee Highway Alliance (LHA), a consortium of civic groups, business and property owners, and interested citizens, first started the work more than a decade ago. Keating was a member of LHA’s Community Advisory Committee (LHA CAC) and also a member of the Plan Lee Highway Community Forum.

He also helped to gain County Board approval for the Artis Senior Living project, which will add housing options for older residents who need assistance. Ginger Brown, LHA’s executive director, said, “George truly believed in housing for all ages and income levels.”

Tyler Wilson, past president of the Waverly Hills Civic Association, remarked, “Every successful community needs a few people with initiative, motivation and the energy to focus on the greater good and to create a sense of togetherness. George had all those qualities and more.”

Keating is survived by his wife Ellen, sons Owen and Brendan, and granddaughters Eleanor, Alice and Mercedes. He graduated from Georgetown University in 1971 and completed a Master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Minnesota.

Keating loved books and authors. He spent his career in publishing, first managing Canal Street Books in Georgetown and Brentano’s stores in Connecticut and New York. He joined Simon & Schuster in 1978 as a sales representative and rose to become the eastern divisional sales manager. He helped launch and promote a stream of authors including David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Bob Woodward. After leaving S&S, he became director of sales and marketing at the Naval Institute Press, helping to revitalize its book publishing division. Keating retired in 2015.

Photo via Facebook

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The arrival of cold temperatures was preceded by a line of rain showers packing gusty winds that knocked out power to part of Arlington.

Portions of residential North Arlington along Lee Highway — including the Cherrydale, Waverly Hills and Donaldson Run neighborhoods — are without power as of 8:30 p.m. In all, Dominion is reporting 1,641 customers in the dark.

Video posted to social media shows dark clouds and rain arriving, as flashes from transformers can be seen in the background.

Traffic backups are being reported at the now-dark “five points” intersection on Lee Highway in Cherrydale. Police have also been dispatched to assist with traffic control on N. Quincy Street at 20th Street N., where downed utility lines have been reported.

Mother Nature, meanwhile, is not done with us yet. High winds and near-freezing temperatures are expected Saturday. From the National Weather Service:

STRONG WINDS ARE EXPECTED SATURDAY. A WIND ADVISORY MAY BE NECESSARY AS WINDS COULD GUST TO 50 MPH.

A FREEZE WATCH IS IN EFFECT SATURDAY NIGHT INTO SUNDAY MORNING FOR PORTIONS OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA.

More on the storm and the power outages via social media:

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The Arlington County Board has voted unanimously to approve a new, 175-unit assisted living facility along Lee Highway.

The elder care center will replace a handful of single-family homes on a large parcel of property at the corner of Lee Highway and N. Taylor Street. In addition to more homes for seniors in need of memory care and assisted living services, the project includes environmentally-conscious features and a new 10,000+ square foot public open space.

It was approved despite some opposition from those in nearby townhomes and a condo building.

“Residents from Tazewell Place, a townhouse development located directly to the south of the site, have expressed concerns regarding parking along Lee Highway, light pollution, noise pollution and construction,” noted a county staff report. “Residents from Yorktown Condominium building directly to the west of the site have noted concerns regarding the rezoning request and also parking and traffic on Lee Highway.”

Plans for the facility were first reported in early 2019. Its approval at the Board’s Saturday meeting was made possible by zoning changes, allowing elder care facilities in more parts of the county, that were approved unanimously this past December.

More on the project and its approval from an Arlington County Press release:

The Board approved a plan for an assisted living facility, Artis Senior Living, at the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Taylor Street, in the Waverly Hills neighborhood. The six-story, 175-unit facility will include 80 units for memory care and 95 for assisted living, and a parking garage with 112 spaces. The project’s architecture will embrace biophilic principles, including bird-safe glass windows. The project will obtain LEED silver certification under the U.S. Green Building Council for sustainable design, construction materials, and energy efficiency.

Community benefits will include a 10,174-sq. ft. public open space on the southwest corner of the site that the developer will landscape with a lawn, flowering tree grove, benches, and rain garden, and maintain. A walking path through the public space will connect to Lee Highway and N. Taylor Street. The developer also will contribute $356,528 to the County’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund and will contribute to the County’s Utilities Underground Fund, and Public Art Fund.

“We know that Arlington needs more assisted living facilities to accommodate our growing number of residents who are seniors,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. “This project will provide much-needed quality assisted living for our seniors and new open space for the entire community.”

The Board voted 4-0 to approve a rezoning and the proposed Site Plan for the redevelopment. […]

The 2.79-acre site is currently comprised mostly of vacant lots and some vacant single-family homes. The new facility will be U-shaped, with two wings framing a private interior courtyard that will cover the parking deck. The building will include community rooms, medical, physical therapy and exercise rooms, locker rooms, kitchen and dining rooms, beauty salons, game and tv rooms, and three outdoor terraces for residents.

The Board, at its socially-distanced Saturday meeting, also approved a number of other notable items:

  • Renaming the Crystal City Business Improvement Service District to reflect its expanded boundaries… ‘The Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard at National Landing Business Improvement Service District.'”
  • Naming a new park after Selina Norris Gray, an enslaved woman who preserved Washington family heirlooms left behind in Arlington House by the fleeing Lee family during the Civil War.”
  • “A $1.33 million contract with Ardent Company LLC to improve pedestrian access and safety on both sides of 23rd Street South between South Eads Street and Richmond Highway, in Crystal City.”
  • Two agreements with the federal government related to the Southern Expansion Project for Arlington National Cemetery.”

Satellite image via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Amazon Buys Pentagon City Site — “Amazon.com Inc. has quietly purchased the 6.2-acre Pentagon City site where its first pair of HQ2 towers will be built. Acorn Development LLC, an Amazon subsidiary that is often listed when the company files for permits or makes land acquisitions, purchased the Metropolitan Park site on Jan. 15 from JBG Smith Properties (NYSE: JBGS) for $154.95 million, according to Arlington County records.” [Washington Business Journal]

Waverly Hills is Hot — “‘Hot’ is a subjective term in any context, including real estate. While it’s possible to measure the number of sales, price increases and how quickly homes sell, what draws one buyer doesn’t always appeal to other buyers.
According to Redfin real estate brokerage, Willowsford in Ashburn, Va., and Waverly Hills in Arlington are the No. 1 and No. 5 hottest neighborhoods in the country.” [Washington Post]

Next Step for GMU Expansion — “University officials released a request for proposals Tuesday, looking for developers interested in teaming up with Mason to build a new home for the Institute of Digital Innovation on its Virginia Square property. The building is set to include a mix of uses across its 460,000 square feet, with room for classes and research labs alongside space for companies big and small looking to partner with the university.” [Washington Business Journal]

High Water Bill Saga Continues — Residents are still seeking answers to the recent spate of high water bills, even though it appears that the drought — and outdoor irrigation — during that time period is to blame. The COO of Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services “said about 3,900 people, 11 percent of the county’s residential customers, had their bills double. He said during the 2016 drought that number was about 2,000 to 2,500 people.” [WUSA 9]

Macy’s to Close Stores — Facing major retail headwinds, Macy’s is planning to close 125 of its stores, nearly a fifth of all of its current stores, over the next three years. So far the exact location of most of the closures have not been announced. There are two Macy’s stores in Arlington, at mall in Pentagon City and Ballston. [Wall Street Journal]

Va. Lawmakers Considering Stronger SLAPP Law — “Many states have enacted tough laws making it harder to get away with so-called SLAPP suits: nuisance litigation designed to bury its targets in paperwork and fees. Virginia, however, is considered friendlier to those kinds of filings, and some experts and advocates say that has become a problem.” [Washingtonian]

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Firefighters quickly extinguished an apartment fire in the Waverly Hills neighborhood around lunchtime Saturday.

The fire was reported at a garden apartment building on the 2000 block of N. Vermont Street, about a block away from the Lee Heights shopping center. Arriving fire crews saw smoke coming from the rear of the building and found a small fire in a first floor apartment.

The bulk of the fire is out but firefighters are still looking for hot spots and working to clear smoke from the building. No injuries have been reported.

Photo courtesy ACFD

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Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was in Arlington last night, speaking at a private fundraiser.

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana fielded questions from donors in the backyard of a supporter’s home in the Waverly Hills neighborhood, near the Lee Heights Shopping Center.

We’re told Buttigieg confidently answered questions ranging from labor relations to how he would campaign against President Trump to “whether the American Dream was still alive.” Former Energy Secretary and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was also in attendance, we’re told.

An average of recent national polls places Buttigieg fourth among current Democratic contenders.

Photo courtesy Bill Colton

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A new senior living center, perhaps the first to be built in Arlington in decades, could soon be on the way for a property along Lee Highway.

McLean-based Artis Senior Living has filed plans with the county to build a six-story facility with 175 units on a 2.79-acre property near Cherrydale. The building would be divided into two wings, surrounding a landscaped plaza and a new public park near the site, located at 2134 N. Taylor Street.

Artis has discussed the potential of bringing a senior living center to the property with neighbors in Cherrydale and Waverly Hills for close to a year now, but the company (which operates facilities across nine different states) only brought zoning applications to county officials in late November.

“The proposed facility would be the first new assisted living facility constructed in Arlington in almost 20 years,” Martin Walsh, an attorney representing Artis, wrote in a letter to zoning officials. “There is a sincere need for additional senior housing in Arlington. Currently, without sufficient capacity in the county, seniors are forced to look outside Arlington for assisted living. The proposed facility would allow Arlington’s seniors to ‘age in place’ and continue to call Arlington home.”

Artis’ plans call for one wing of the building to be about 173,600 square feet in size, with another at about 152,500 square feet. That would include room for 95 assisted living units, and another 80 specifically set aside for “memory care” patients.

The apartments would range in size from studios to one- or two-bedroom units. The buildings will overlook a plaza with green space for residents, which will sit over top of a partially buried parking garage. That will have about 108 spaces, under the company’s proposal, which Artis expects will be more than enough space for the center’s 50 employees.

The company also expects that close to 30 percent of its workforce will rely on nearby Metrobus and Arlington Transit routes to get to work, and a traffic analysis attached to the plans does not foresee the senior center impacting congestion on Lee Highway.

The new park, designed as a contribution from Artis to the county in order to benefit both the facility’s residents and neighbors, would be located at N. Taylor Street’s intersection with Lee Highway. Walsh noted in the application that a visioning study of the Lee Highway corridor completed in 2016 called for a new park on that site — the document was created ahead of a broader effort to draw up new plans for the entire corridor, which just began in earnest last month.

Once the county signs off this proposal, Artis plans to purchase the property, which is made up of several different parcels of land along the 4300 block of Lee Highway. They were owned for decades by the Courembis family, and neighbors have often debated what might become of them, though the homes on the land now sit empty, according to Arts’ application.

The company is asking for some zoning changes to allow for the construction of a senior center in the area, and submitted this application as a “site plan,” a process that will involve an additional layer of county scrutiny.

The Site Plan Review Committee will now hold meetings on the project and its design. Should it withstand that group’s review, it will need to advance to the Planning Commission and, ultimately the County Board for approval.

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Some new bike lanes and other road improvements could soon be on the way for N. Woodstock Street as it runs between Lee Highway and N. Glebe Road.

County officials are circulating some new designs for the road, which primarily runs through the Waverly Hills neighborhood, ahead of some paving work kicking off later this summer.

The county currently has a community survey open on possible designs for the retooled street, including the addition of bike lanes in each direction and some new traffic calming measures to bring down speeds on the road.

Officials also plan to add new, high-visibility crosswalks where the road meets both 20th Road N. and N. Glebe Road, as the county embarks on the wholesale replacement of brick crosswalks in favor of reflective plastic markings.

The work also calls for the removal of several “outdated medians” to help facilitate the construction of the bike lanes, without requiring any change in on-street parking or traffic patterns.

“Adding bike lane markings rather than having un-utilized pavement (previously occupied by medians) will also serve as a traffic calming measure to keep vehicle speeds low and encourage safer movements,” the county wrote in the survey.

The survey is set to close to respondents tomorrow (July 31).

Photo 1 via Google Maps

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(Updated at 6 p.m.) The relentless rain soaking Arlington is prompting some serious flooding in the Waverly Hills neighborhood, and now people living there are pressing the county for help.

Tom Reich, a longtime homeowner in the area, told ARLnow that many of his neighbors along the 4000 block of 18th Street N. experienced serious flooding starting two weeks ago, on May 22. He also sent along the above video, showing water reaching high enough to partially submerge some cars parked on 18th Street N. and carry away some recycling bins.

“Many houses had their garages, basements, and cars flooded, sustaining many thousands of dollars in damage,” Reich wrote in an email.

Reich added that similar floods have plagued the neighborhood several times over the years — in 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2013 — and the Waverly Hills Civic Association convened a meeting on May 31 with county officials to address the problem. Reich says many residents urged the county to construct stormwater management improvements, but they didn’t get much in the way of good news on that front.

“The upshot was that the county told us our need is real and acute, but the money is not currently there in the capital budget to execute the projects,” Reich wrote. “Needless to say, the Waverly Hills residents are now in the beginning stage of a campaign to highlight the threat to our homes presented by the county’s failure to act on its own plan.”

Reich points out that a variety of projects designed to manage flooding in the Spout Run watershed, where the neighborhood is located, have gone unfunded in recent years.

The county’s Capital Improvement Plan passed ahead of fiscal year 2013 included funding for four different sewer projects in the area — but Reich says those were never completed and the next CIP, passed by the County Board two years later, includes no mention of them.

County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed CIP, which details construction projects running from fiscal year 2019 through 2028, also includes some funding for stormwater management in other parts of the county, but Reich and his neighbors are frustrated that the spending plan doesn’t call for more construction around Waverly Hills.

Staff with the county’s Department of Environmental Services completed preliminary work on the projects Reich referenced after the 2006 flooding, according to county spokeswoman Jennifer Smith. Yet she says that work “identified significant challenges and costs to upgrade the system, as the current system traverses more than a dozen private properties.”

DES spokeswoman Katie O’Brien adding that the county is “still pursuing” those projects, yet noted that “technical challenges and funding remain an issue.”

Schwartz has certainly warned of the county’s fiscal challenges as he’s unveiled this year’s construction plan, thanks to Arlington’s increasing obligations to fund the Metro system and shrinking commercial tax revenues.

However, Smith would caution that “while greater capacity in the storm sewer would alleviate flooding concerns, there is no system which can guarantee elimination of flood risk to flood-prone properties.”

Video via YouTube

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Jon David Salon is planning to open another location in Arlington, with a second salon slated for the Lee Heights Shops along Lee Highway.

The company said last month that it’s hoping to open the new location sometime this fall.

The salon will take the place of furniture store Random Harvest at 4522 Lee Highway, between a Starbucks and a Chipotle. Random Harvest closed up shop just before the start of 2018.

Jon David is planning on hosting a cosmetology school known as “Hair Tech Institute” at the new salon. Classes for aspiring stylists are set to start on Sept. 4.

The company currently operates another salon in Courthouse along Wilson Boulevard, as well as locations in Clifton and Springfield.

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A new senior living center could be coming to Cherrydale on a property along Lee Highway.

McLean-based Artis Senior Living is considering building a new facility on the north side of Lee Highway near the intersection with N. Taylor Street. Representatives intend to bring some development ideas to an April 26 community meeting convened by several civic associations.

The Lee Highway Alliance will play host to that gathering at its headquarters (4620 Lee Highway) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (April 26), and the Cherrydale and Waverly Hills Civic Associations will help coordinate the discussion.

Sandra Chesrown, president of the Lee Highway Alliance and vice president of the Waverly Hills Civic Association, says Artis has yet to divulge many details of what the new facility might look like so it can first hear the community’s concerns.

Indeed, county real estate records show that Artis, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has yet to even buy the 2.7-acre property.

A message sent out on the Cherrydale Civic Association listserv suggested that Artis is considering a “seven-story, 184-room assisted living residence” on the property.

“The facility would allow Cherrydalers and their family members to age right in our neighborhood,” the message read. “It would have a sizable workforce. There might be some issues with parking. We certainly want it to be welcome addition to the neighborhood.”

Made up of five separate parcels of land along the 4300 block of Lee Highway, the property was owned for decades by Louis Courembis, records show. Courembis transferred those parcels to William Murray, a local estate attorney, in September 2015, and the county hasn’t recorded any other sale of the land. Murray did not respond to a request for comment.

The property is currently home to a single-family house and several other structures. All of the land is valued quite highly — county assessments pegged one parcel as worth nearly $3.5 million in 2018, while the other four are assessed from $687,000 to $880,000.

Photo via Google Maps

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