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Chair in tree in Rosslyn’s Hillside Park (photo courtesy John Thomas)

Four years ago, we asked why a stick of deodorant was on top of a Clarendon bus stop.

Today, a new mystery: why is there a cheap plastic chair resting in a treetop in a Rosslyn park? A reader sent us the photos above, showing the chair lodged in some tree branches well above a pedestrian pathway.

“There is a plastic garden chair stuck in a tree about 40 feet off the ground at Hillside Park in Rosslyn,” writes John Thomas. “It might make an interesting story to speculate how it got there. Tornado? Cicadas?”

Trebuchet testing and aircraft door mishap are perhaps some other options that could explain it.

With the caveat that we have yet to contact Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation or the National Weather Service for official comment about what happened, the tornado hypothesis might actually make some sense.

On July 1, an honest-to-goodness EF-1 tornado touched down in Arlington, doing most of its damage in the Waverly Hills, Cherrydale and Lyon Village neighborhoods, before crossing the Potomac and snapping trees on the west end of the National Mall. The damage path finally ended near the South Lawn of the White House.

Between Lyon Village and the Mall, however, the path of the tornado did take it over Rosslyn and… Hillside Park, which is located at 1601 N. Pierce Street.

To better illustrate, here’s a line drawn between Woodstock Park in Arlington, where the tornado damage started, and where it ended. The pin in the center shows Hillside Park.

So unlike the deodorant mystery, which to this day remains unsolved (though a local bar employee’s comment that “people get drunk on the weekends, that would be my best guess,” seems as plausible as anything) it appears that the twister take is a definite maybe for Arlington’s latest head scratcher.

Have any alternative theories? Anything to disprove the tornado hypothesis? Let us know in the comments.

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Morning Notes

Arlington’s Biggest House Numbers? — “In the early days of the pandemic, I went on a quixotic quest to walk every one of the 1,114 blocks in my Arlington, Virginia, ZIP code, cataloging the styles of the address numbers on every house along the way… I have kept an eye on the house numbers in Arlington ever since, and imagine my joy this spring when suddenly, on a street I biked down every week, a new set of enormous house numbers appeared.” [Slate, Twitter]

Stepped Up DUI Patrols Begin Today — “This Labor Day, the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) is participating in the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over impaired driving awareness campaign, which runs from August 18th through September 6th, 2021. This campaign aims to drastically reduce drunk driving on our nation’s roadways through a two-pronged approach of education and enforcement.” [ACPD]

Fallen Pentagon Police Officer Laid to Rest — “A Brooklyn-born Pentagon cop who was stabbed to death while on duty in DC was hailed as a “warrior” and a hero at his funeral Monday… ‘He fought ’til the end,’ his NYPD sibling, Rodney Rubert, said during funeral services at St. Barbara Roman Catholic Church in Bushwick.” [New York Post]

Beyer Proposes Healthcare Provider Vax Mandate — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) today announced the introduction of the Protecting Vulnerable Patients Act, which would require healthcare providers who see Medicare or Medicaid patients to be vaccinated following final FDA approval of a COVID vaccine.” [Press Release]

Arlington Hotels Still Hurting — “Hotel-occupancy rates improved in June but, overall, the first half of the year remained a bust for the Arlington hospitality industry. The occupancy rate of 44.7 percent in June was better than the cumulative 34.4-percent rate recorded over the first six months of the year, according to new data from Smith Travel research and Arlington Economic Development. But that 34.4-percent rate was anemic even compared to the weak first six months of 2020, when it stood at 37.3 percent.” [Sun Gazette]

Arlington Office Vacancy Rate Rising — “The Arlington office-vacancy rate continues to go in the wrong direction, according to new second-quarter data. The overall office-vacancy rate countywide was 19.4 percent for the quarter, according to figures reported by CoStar and Arlington Economic Development. That’s up from 18.5 percent in the first quarter and 16.6 percent a year ago.” [Sun Gazette]

Local Nonprofit Eyes Tysons Development — “The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is adding another project to its new Fairfax County pipeline, pitching a development in Tysons that could become the neighborhood’s first apartment building made up entirely of committed affordable units. The nonprofit hopes to build up to 175 new apartments on about 2 acres on Spring Hill Road near the Silver Line station of the same name, converting car dealership parking lots that are part of the massive Dominion Square development site.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Four years ago today, one of the strangest stories in Arlington history played out.

It was a slow Thursday in August when an ARLnow editor was on the phone while walking around Clarendon, where our offices were located at the time. Along Wilson Blvd, next to the Metro station, an odd sight caught his attention: a van with rhythmic blinking lights at the top of the windshield.

As it drove by, there was something missing — a driver.

Quickly the editor apologized to the person on the other end of the phone call, hung up, and took a series of cell phone videos. Published that night, the video would end up making regional and even national news.

“A mysterious, seemingly driverless van was spotted cruising the streets of Arlington’s Courthouse and Clarendon neighborhoods Thursday evening,” we reported that night. “The unmarked gray van with Virginia license plates drove up and down Wilson and Clarendon Blvds more than a half dozen times — with no one in the driver’s seat or passenger seat. The rear windows of the Ford Transit Connect van were darkly tinted.”

“The van appeared to drive cautiously but keep up with traffic. Cameras and a light bar could be seen behind the windshield,” the article continued. “The lack of a driver went mostly unnoticed as Clarendon residents went around their after-work routines near the Metro station, though occasionally people could be seen pointing at the car or asking someone nearby if they saw a driver.”

Arlington County, Arlington County police, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration told us they had no knowledge of any autonomous vehicle testing in the area. It remained a mystery for several days, with many wondering whether autonomous vehicle technology had advanced to the point where a van could safely drive itself in circles around a densely populated area.

Then, an unexpected revelation and some made-for-TV theatrics helped the story attain even greater fame. NBC 4’s Adam Tuss, after leaving an interview at ARLnow’s offices the following Monday, spotted the van, peered inside and found… arms and legs.

“Brother, who are you? What are you doing? I’m with the news, dude,” Tuss said. “Dude, can you pull over and we can talk for a second?”

As it turns out, the “driverless” car was actually an experiment run by Virginia Tech and Ford to see how people reacted when they saw a car with no one in the driver’s seat.

In reality, the driver was disguised as a car seat. The university admitted its role after Tuss’ tweet went viral.

Ford said the light bar in the van was intended as a way to communicate the car’s intentions to pedestrians.

“Anyone who has crossed a busy street likely knows the informal language between pedestrians and drivers,” [Ford researcher John] Shutko wrote. “A driver might wave her hand to indicate to the pedestrian it’s okay to cross, or a pedestrian could throw up his hand like a stop sign to signal he plans to cross first. But what happens in the future, when self-driving vehicles operate without drivers - and in some cases, without anyone even in the vehicle itself?”

After being first reported by ARLnow.com, and famously further investigated by NBC4 reporter Adam Tuss — who was startled to discover a person in a seat costume inside — VT admitted it was behind the driverless car.

Ford said people are put in the cars — and dressed as car seats — for safety reasons, as self-driving technology is still in the early stages of testing and development.

And if not for some meddling reporters, the experiment might have been able to continue to roam Arlington streets and startle pedestrians for a bit longer. Without the mystery and the “news dude” moment, however, the story would not have been nearly as memorable.

A man dressed as a seat for research purposes (via Ford video)
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Mysterious bug bites (courtesy photo)

Arlington residents say they are being plagued by mysterious bug bites featuring unusual red splotches that are itchier than those left by typical summer suckers.

A Facebook group, “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19,” has helped community members with similar bites find each other, share information and try to get to the bottom of the mystery. There’s been similar chatter on local email listservs.

“I was so grateful to see that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this issue — and apparently many, many others feel the same way,” resident Becca Collins tells ARLnow.

The Facebook thread started on Sunday, when the original poster asked the group, “Anyone else finding that they’re getting bit by something while outdoors that is leaving a lingering mark?” She added that “this has happened to us multiple times in the last 10 days. The bite seems a lot different from your typical mosquito bite, leaving a red patch around the bite that’s been lasting for over a week (as well as the intense itchiness despite Benadryl, etc).”

The post has since received at least 160 responses and been shared eight times. A respondent said she went to an urgent care  clinic “after a sleepless night due to the itching/burning bug bite on my neck, that swelled up into a small patch… It also had red itchy streaks reaching up to my lymph node that became swollen and painful.”

Another reported a similar story.

“Had my daughter at urgent care yesterday,” the poster wrote. “Her two bites look EXACTLY like everyone’s photos here. The doctor at urgent care said they’re seeing a lot of these bug bites.”

Receptionists at three local urgent care centers confirmed they’ve seen an influx in patients with bug bites.

“It is up this summer, more than usual,” said one receptionist for All Care Family Medicine & Urgent Care.

Another for Urgent Care Center of Arlington said “we don’t really know what type of bites they are. Patients come in for a bug bite, but they’re not sure if it’s a tick, mosquito or spider bite.”

Collins said hers was different from a tick bite, which is ringed by a clearly defined red circle. Hers and “many of these welts have ‘trailing red tails’ coming from them,” she said.

The Facebook group members have hatched a theory that these bites are tied to oak itch mites, or pyemotes, which are thought to feed on cicadas eggs. Similar outbreaks of itchy bug bites have coincided with periodic cicada cycles in Chicago and Northern Ohio.

“They are the gift that keeps on giving,” one resident tells ARLnow of the Brood X cicadas that swarmed the D.C. area. The cicadas may also be linked to a wave of dead birds this spring and summer.

These mites feed on insect larvae that inhabit oak trees, according to previous news reports and academic papers. And this year, with thousands upon thousands of eggs laid by cicadas, there was a veritable feast for the mites.

“Until I saw the post, I thought I was getting eaten by spiders in my sleep and was going to take some serious mitigation steps, but if the mite theory is correct, that saves me A LOT of work and worry,” one tipster told ARLnow.

Kurt Larrick, the assistant director of the county’s Department of Human Services, confirmed that residents are reporting these strange bites to the county. But county staff cannot say anything definitive yet about the phenomenon.

“We are tracking reports and consulting with internal and external subject matter experts,” he said. “However, there is no clear cut answer at this point.”

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Birds are dying in large numbers across Arlington and much of the D.C. area, prompting an investigation.

Dead birds have become an eerily common sight along local roads and sidewalks, and a common discussion thread in local Nextdoor groups. The wave of bird deaths this month — which seemingly corresponded with the emergence of Brood X cicadas — has also caught the attention of local and state authorities.

“Beginning on Tuesday, May 18… Animal Control began receiving an increase in the number of calls regarding sick/injured juvenile birds, specifically Grackles and Blue Jays,” wrote Animal Welfare League of Arlington Animal Control Chief Jennifer Toussaint. “Eye issues were reported in what otherwise looked like healthy juvenile birds, causing blindness and the birds to land and stay on the ground. Animal Control is now seeing additional species of birds affected. Other agencies and localities across the region and state are reporting similar issues at this time.”

Arlington County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas tells ARLnow that the issue “is widespread” across the region and is a hot topic of conversation among local naturalists.

“We have received numerous [reports]… from numerous places outside the county as well,” he said, adding that he is in contact with the state biologist about the matter.

“He is investigating and will examine the birds,” said Abugattas.

In addition to Arlington, an increase in dead birds has been reported in Fairfax County, Bethesda, and parts of D.C., according to Nextdoor posts viewed by ARLnow. One post, from a wildlife veterinarian, suggests that a bacterial disease may be behind the phenomenon — but the information is very preliminary.

“The resolution of [a bird’s symptoms] after administration of an antibiotic suggests that this is a bacterial infection, not a virus,” the veterinarian wrote. “Hopefully we will have more definitive answers from the lab in a couple of weeks.”

AWLA says it is in contact with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, which is performing tests on a selection of deceased birds.

“We await any results that may shed more light on the current situation,” the organization said. “At this time we are asking members of the public to dispose of these birds promptly when found on their property.”

The league provided the following safety tips for residents who dispose of dead birds.

  • “Wear hand covering (such as gloves) and avoid any direct contact with the birds”
  • “Consider picking up the birds using the same method you would for pet waste. Invert a bag over your hand, pick up the bird, and then pull the bag over the bird, tying with a knot at the top before disposal.”
  • “Dispose of in waste receptacle outside of the home… use diligent hand washing following”

Another tip: don’t use insecticide on cicadas, which can poison whatever creature later eats them.

ALWA is also encouraging residents to report dead birds via an online form, and to report dead and injured birds on public property via phone.

“If a resident finds an injured bird or deceased birds on public playgrounds, parks, and fields please promptly call Arlington County Animal Control promptly at 703-931-9241,” the organization said. “We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work with State Agencies to better understand and address this issue.”

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Morning Notes

Amazon Buys Hotel Next to HQ2 Site — “Amazon.com Inc. has purchased the Residence Inn by Marriott in Pentagon City with plans to demolish it and expand its second headquarters, the company tells the Washington Business Journal. Acorn Development LLC, an Amazon subsidiary, paid $148.5 million for the building and its 1.5-acre site at 550 Army Navy Drive.” [Washington Business Journal]

Trail Roundabout Now In Use — A new roundabout along the Custis Trail is now in use, improving safety at a formerly hazardous T-intersection in Bon Air Park. [Twitter]

Changes for Missing Middle Housing Study — “Staff from the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) presented to the County Board a revised Missing Middle Housing Study Scope and Charge, which was shaped by community feedback and informed by research.” [Arlington County]

Optimists Now Meeting in Person — “While many other service organizations across Northern Virginia have curtailed operations or moved to an online-only presence due to the public-health situation, the Optimist Club of Arlington is back with in-person meetings. The local club… resumed its twice-monthly meetings in July at Washington Golf & Country Club, with appropriate precautions.” [InsideNova]

Robo Mower Snatched, But Then Returned — “Though not a tale of high crimes and misdemeanors, the brief disappearance Tuesday morning of ‘Shultzy’ the robotic AutoMower caused a degree of excitement for one Maywood family.” [Patch]

ACFD Touts First ‘Whole Blood’ Use — “Crews responded for a person that suffered serious injuries after a long fall on Monday. Medics quickly administered whole blood, helping to stabilize the patient’s vital signs. This was the first use of our innovative whole blood program implemented earlier this month.” [Twitter]

Today: Virtual Pike Progress Luncheon — “Support our community with this year’s virtual ‘luncheon’ benefit! While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Columbia Pike, the region and indeed the world, our community is still strong.” [ARLnow Events, CPRO]

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Police responded to an unusual accident in Ballston Friday afternoon.

A Toyota Prius appears to have been driven into a construction zone at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and N. Quincy Street and partially fallen into excavated portion of roadway — possibly an uncovered utility vault — in a scene that looks somewhat like Arlington’s version of the infamous Pittsburgh sinkhole bus.

No injuries were reported.

The crash was not obstructing traffic and did not appear to have a significant impact on the construction work. A 22-story apartment tower is being built at the site, which was formerly home to long-time local watering hole Carpool.

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The restaurant business has notoriously thin profit margins. Which makes a new promotion from Clarendon sports bar Bracket Room (1210 N. Garfield Street) seem extra risky.

The restaurant, which opened in 2013 and is co-owned by Chris Bukowski of Bachelor fame, says it will refund the checks of every guest for the entire year if the Washington Nationals go back-to-back and win another World Series in 2020.

There’s a catch, however — you have to keep the receipts. From a Facebook post:

We are launching a promotion to celebrate the Washington Nationals winning the #WorldSeries! If the Nats win the 2020 World Series we will refund every check for the entire year! Hold on to your receipts bc if the Nats go #back2back you will receive a full refund on all food, beverages and taxes (excludes tips) from Nov 2, 2019 to when the 2020 champion is crowned!

As unlikely as everything about the offer sounds — but still, go Nats — perhaps an even greater stretch of credulity is the challenge issued by Bracket Room to the entire D.C. area.

“The owners of {Bracket Room}… challenge everyone in the DMV to eat and drink with them 7 days a week over the next year,” the company said in a press release. That might be difficult to achieve: at last check, Bracket Room had a seating capacity of 100 inside and 36 on the outdoor patio.

Congrats to the Washington Nationals! We are launching a promotion to celebrate the Washington Nationals winning the…

Posted by Bracket Room on Saturday, November 2, 2019

Photo (top) via Facebook

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If you want to remain in the dark about the contents of the mysterious Ballston time capsule, which is set to be opened next year, read no further.

Melinda Schaedig, who was a third grader at Taylor Elementary School in 1988 when the capsule was buried, approached ARLnow with details from when the capsule was put into the ground.

“In 1988, it seemed like 2020 would never arrive, but here it is in the blink of an eye,” Schaedig said. “I just turned 40 and the time capsule is all that I have been thinking about as I have been waiting for this day for a long time.”

In the 31 years between the time capsule was buried and now, Schaedig said some of her memories from the burial have grown hazy, but she reached out to her third grade teacher to help put more details together.

“It was a big deal at the time,” Schaedig said. “I’ve always thought about it. I recall a couple months ago I was driving in the car with my mom and kids and I said ‘2020 is coming, is there anything on the building?'”

Schaedig saw the plaque and inquired inside the building, eventually being directed to the top floor where the building’s owners told her what a spokesperson for WashREIT told ARLnow yesterday: the capsule is there and but the company has no idea what’s inside.

But Schaedig remembers.

“I remember seeing a steering wheel with an airbag, which was new at the time, and maybe some Redskins memorabilia,” Schaedig said.

An article in the Northern Virginia Sun said a signed baseball, old coins and a postcard from an Arlington auto dealership were included as well. The article notes that Schaedig — then Melinda Foulke — added a poster showing how America has changed since the Constitution was signed.

The poster selected via a competition for local elementary school students.

“The contest presented local teachers with an opportunity to review Ballston’s evolution from farmland in the 1800s to the retail, business and retail center county planners forsaw when they wrote the Ballston Sector Plan in 1980,” the Sun noted.

Foulke said she dug up old news footage her mother had kept around, in which the building owners talked about how Ballston was poised to become the new downtown of Arlington.

“They talked about how in the future, there were unlimited possibilities because of the number of corporations moving in,” Foulke said. “They were predicting that with growth between Rosslyn and Ballston, [Arlington] would have more office space than Miami.”

(That turned out to be true: as of 2018, Arlington had 41.7 million square feet of office space compared to the Miami area’s 35.6 million square feet.)

The video does show some items being placed in the capsule, confirming Foulke’s memories of a steering wheel and a Redskins pin.

WashREIT said they were unsure how to open the time capsule. One of the old clippings shows Schaedig and the late County Board member Ellen Bozman holding a key to the capsule. Schaedig says she doesn’t know where the key is now.

“I hope to go when they open it,” Schaedig said. “It’ll be exciting to bring my kids and my family. It’s silly, but it’s been a part of my life.”

Newspaper photos courtesy Melinda Schaedig

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A time capsule in Ballston that has been largely forgotten to time is set to be opened at some point next year, and no one seems to know what’s inside.

An inconspicuous plaque on the side of the Fairgate office building (1005 N. Glebe Road) announces the time capsule.

“A time capsule celebrating Arlington County and the building of Ballston, placed by the Rouse and Associates in 1988, to be opened in 2020,” the plaque reads.

A lot has happened since 1988, however. For one, Rouse and Associates no longer exists. In 1994 it was sold and the company, based in suburban Philadelphia, is now known as Liberty Property Trust.

“Oh wow, that would be us [behind the plaque],” says Jeanne Leonard, vice president of Liberty Property Trust. Over the phone, she detailed how Rouse and Associates did have a Northern Virginia office at one point, but it was shuttered several decades ago.

“We developed this office building in 1986,” Leonard said, confirming the site of the capsule. “But we have not owned it in many years. Unfortunately, there is no one here now who was with our Northern Virginia operation back in the 80s. I’ve got no idea what could be in it.”

Per county records, the building was sold in 2012 to WashREIT, a D.C.-based real estate company. Deanna Schmidt, a communications official at WashREIT, confirmed that the firm knows about the capsule and said they are exploring the best ways to celebrate the capsule come 2020.

They aren’t quite sure how to go about opening it and said they will update their plans once that detail is figured out.

As for what’s in there?

“No idea,” said Schmidt.

A reader first tipped ARLnow off about the plaque, which can be seen from the corner of 11th Street N. and N. Vermont Street. Representatives for the Ballston Business Improvement District, Arlington County and Arlington Public Library’s Center for Local History were similarly unable to find any information on the time capsule.

“I’ve probably walked past that plaque 100 times without noticing,” said Peter Golkin, spokesman for the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services.

Update on 9/20/19 — We now know at least some of what is in the capsule.

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Don’t tell the Caped Crusader, but someone swiped the name of his family’s estate for use as the name of a small garden apartment building in Arlington.

“Wayne Manor” may conjure up images of Batman, but it’s also the name of the apartments at 500 S. Wayne Street in Penrose, according to county property records.

The apartment building was built in 1963, 24 years after the Dark Knight first appeared in comic books. The “Wayne Manor” name doesn’t seem to appear on apartment rental websites, but it was prominently featured on a commercial property sale listing from 2011.

Wayne Manor Apartments is a four-story, 15-unit, walk-up apartment building situated in the Penrose neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. Built in 1963 and continually renovated over the years, the subject property has a history of consistently high occupancy levels with rental rates that have seen substantial growth over the last few years. Situated on a 19,250-square foot parcel of land, Wayne Manor Apartments totals 11,925 square feet of net living area… A majority of units have been updated with new kitchens including microwave ovens, bathrooms, and flooring, providing tenants with a modern living space. Due to the property’ s superior unit conditions, ample on-site parking, and the neighborhood’s recent growth and new development, top rents for one and two-bedroom units have immediate potential for growth.

Located in the Penrose neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, the DC MSA’ s most desirable sub-market, Wayne Manor Apartments is in close proximity to public transportation, areas for recreation, new development, educational facilities, dining, entertainment, and employment hubs.

Unfortunately for Bruce Wayne wannabes with similarly deep pockets, the apartment building is no longer listed for sale.

Photo via Google Maps

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