(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) There’s a new temporary traffic circle along Military Road aimed at improving safety where it intersects with Nelly Custis Drive.
Where there used to be a stop sign for traffic on northbound Military Road, the county has added paint lines, bollards and raised temporary curbs, and partially demolished a median. The work was completed Saturday, according to a spokesman with the Arlington Department of Environmental Services.
The one-lane roundabout at the intersection in the Donaldson Run neighborhood was completed after the county resurfaced Nelly Custis Drive as part of its annual street maintenance program.
“This pilot project, in conjunction with the Vision Zero transportation safety program, will test the effectiveness of a roundabout for improving pedestrian safety and reducing vehicle speeding at the intersection,” according to the county. “It will be in place for one year to allow data collection of real-world conditions, and since it’s temporary, it can be adjusted as needed or removed easily if it doesn’t work.”
The county will study traffic patterns to determine whether to keep the roundabout or install a lighted intersection, per a county webpage on the project.
“Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive intersection safety improvements will focus on driver yield rates, shortening crossing distances for people walking through the intersection, providing predictable turning movements [and] reducing vehicle speeding,” the website says.
The civic association said it has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the potential project for four years, and it would like to see the old traffic pattern restored after the study.
“OGCA pledges continued opposition to the roundabout,” it said. “Other civic associations have concurred with OGCA that the project is overly expensive, will not improve traffic safety, and will unnecessarily slow movement along Military Road.”
Per DES data, about 11,000 vehicles pass through the intersection daily. In a presentation this summer, county staff said conversions to roundabouts reduce pedestrian crashes by 27%, and conversions from stop-controlled intersection reduce injury crashes by 82%.
But OGCA argues that crash data for the intersection doesn’t merit the change.
“In August, OGCA argued that the… construction cost was unjustified given little evidence of any safety concerns,” the newsletter continues. “Only three accidents have occurred over the past eight years (two involving bicycles) out of the approximately 32 million vehicles that passed through the intersection during that period. Our letter also said removal of the stop sign and bike lane increases danger for pedestrians — particularly school children during morning rush hour — and also for bicyclists.”
Bike lanes were converted to “sharrows,” or arrows reminding drivers to share the road with cyclists, per a planning document.
This is the last of three intersections — including those at Marcey Road and 36th Road N. — to be changed as part of a project aimed at improving safety along Military Road.
“These intersections were identified in a 2004 Arterial Transportation Management Study that suggested several recommendations to improve safety for all modes of transportation in the Military Road corridor,” according to DES.
Some local residents said in public comments that they supported the roundabout.
“As 25-year residents who live one block from this intersection and who walk, ride bikes, commute, and use the ART bus, we believe that a safer solution is needed due to excessive speed; drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians; and increased traffic volume,” said one couple.
The county website says the key takeaways for traveling through a roundabout are:
- Always yield to pedestrians and cyclists at the crosswalks
- When entering the roundabout, yield to vehicles and cyclists inside the roundabout
- Signal when exiting the roundabout
Sunrise Senior Living is looking to rebuild, expand and modernize a decades-old facility in Arlington that serves people with memory impairments such as Alzheimer’s.
Members of the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) said last Wednesday that they need to study the site more as part of their review, but neighbors are voicing concerns about expanding the facility at 2000 N. Glebe Road in the Glebewood neighborhood.
“There’s a great need for this type of housing in Arlington today, and it’s likely to only get worse in the future,” said Clyde McGraw, Sunrise’s senior director of real estate, development and investments, during the LRPC meeting.
Sunrise’s facility is in a neighborhood that’s designated as “low residential” and is currently legally nonconforming, county staff told committee members. As such, the organization needs permission for the proposed redevelopment.
An initial proposal calls for keeping the property three stories and adding an underground parking garage. If the county requires the facility to be set back farther from the road as part of the redevelopment, a fourth story may be needed to maintain or add units, according to McGraw.
The proposal looks to increase Sunrise’s residential capacity from up to 50 residents to somewhere between 85 and 90, he said. Changing the upward capacity limit, which the county set in 1986, would require a rezoning request, according to staff.
During the meeting, neighbors raised questions about Sunrise’s proposal to expand.
April Myers, who lives in a nearby townhome, said she’s okay with the current size of the facility, but is concerned with increasing it and questioned if that was the best path forward. Others expressed frustration with how the zoning code is applied in the neighborhood.
“Most of my neighbors cannot rebuild a porch because it’s nonconforming,” resident Cynthia Hoftiezer said.
Reduced Metro Service Continues — “Metro continues working to finalize plans in cooperation with safety officials to return the 7000-series railcars to passenger service and fully restore its rail system. As a result, Metrorail service will remain at the current reduced service levels through at least October 31, 2021. During this time, trains will operate basic service every 15-20 minutes on the Red Line and every 30-40 minutes on all other lines.” [WMATA]
APS Online Learning Update — “Arlington Public Schools leaders say they have triaged some of the most pressing fallout from a rocky rollout of the new online-learning initiative, but still have steps to take to ensure the program meets its promises to students and their families. ‘We have had a lot of regretful growing pains – that has been bad,’ frustrated School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres said after an Oct. 14 update on the situation.” [Sun Gazette]
Charges Dismissed in Police Shooting — “A federal judge in Alexandria on Friday dismissed all criminal charges against two U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar in 2017, saying that they reasonably feared that one of the officers was in danger and that their actions following a pursuit of Ghaisar were ‘necessary and proper.’ Prosecutors for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and the Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney said they would appeal the ruling.” [Washington Post]
It’s Monday — ⛈ A chance of showers between 2-5 p.m., then showers and thunderstorms — some potentially strong, with heavy rain — in the evening. Partly sunny, with a high near 77. South wind 6 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 18 mph. Sunrise at 7:27 a.m. and sunset at 6:15 p.m. Tomorrow, it will be mostly cloudy and breezy, with a chance of showers and thunderstorms and a high near 65.
The cement spheres of “Dark Star Park” in Rosslyn, the electric blue ribbon of “Dressed Up and Pinned” in Courthouse and the twin striped monoliths of “Echo” in the park at Penrose Square.
These are some of the roughly 70 permanent public art projects in Arlington, commissioned for county capital improvement projects, sponsored by developers or initiated by communities.
Made with cement, steel and stone, these permanent projects are built to last, such as “Dark Star Park,” installed in 1984. The focus on permanent art installations — in particular those integrated into large capital projects — is intentional, according to Arlington’s Public Art program, a subdivision of Arlington Economic Development’s Cultural Affairs division.
“For as long as you have me leading the program for Arlington County, you’re going to have someone fighting for the very difficult work of integrating public art into larger county capital projects,” Public Art Administrator Angela Adams said in a recent Planning Commission meeting. “It’s not the easy thing to do. Temporary public art is the easy thing to do. Murals are the easy thing to do. We don’t do murals: we assist the community to do their own murals.”
The county considers murals, which can last a few decades if maintained well, temporary public art. Most recently, the program provided assistance for the creation of the John M. Langston mural at Sport Fair by KaliQ Crosby.
The county’s emphasis on sculptures over murals and other temporary works received some pushback from Planning Commission members during a discussion about the county’s Public Art Master Plan, which is being updated to reflect modern times.
After multiple years of community engagement and study, arts staff drafted an update to the plan — first adopted in 2004 — that reached the County Board last Saturday. Members approved a request to advertise a public hearing on the updated document next month, ahead of a vote on whether to adopt it.
“It’s a strategy for how public art will improve the quality of our public spaces,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said during the meeting. “We each got briefed on this. I think it’s important.”
The Public Art program’s current emphasis on sculptures and other installations, like the lighted bridge over Route 50 near Courthouse and Corridor of Light in Rosslyn, prioritizes the permanent over the ephemeral, quality over quantity. But it also comes at a cost, often requiring significant funding and years of planning. Plus the artists with the reputation and know-how to create such art in many cases come from out of town.
By contrast, the public art one more commonly sees posted on social media these days are of the more temporary variety: Instagrammable murals and community-created installations. Cheaper and impermanent, such art has the possibility of being more ubiquitous around town and more reflective of the current moment and the local flavor. Such is the case with a mural unveiled over the summer in the Town of Vienna, a set of painted, social-media-ready butterfly wings designed by a graduate of a local high school.
Public art by the numbers
Since the 1970s, Arlington County and private developers have completed more than 100 permanent and temporary works of public art. But it wasn’t until 2004 that a systematic approach, called the Public Art Master Plan (PAMP), was codified.
More than 25 permanent projects have been completed or are in progress, while more than 30 temporary works have been commissioned or supported since the PAMP was adopted, the updated plan says. These are funded by county capital improvement funds and developer contributions to the Public Art Fund.
Developers have completed and commissioned more than 25 works to adorn their sites, Public Art program spokesman Jim Byers, Jr. said. Most developers (65%) contribute to the Public Art Fund, which has received 59 contributions since 2004 and today maintains a balance of $3 million, he said.
Their coffers go a long way, Byers said, as “developer and partner funding leverages the county Public Art funding by nearly 25:1.”
Out with the old, in with the new
Despite its successes, the PAMP update says the county’s public art approach needed a fresh coat of paint “to support the County’s civic engagement, planning, economic development and placemaking.”
Among other new priorities, the new plan emphasizes audience development and engagement and equity, and identifies two new priority corridors: Langston Blvd and the Potomac Riverfront. The existing priority corridors are Rosslyn-Ballston, Richmond Highway, Columbia Pike and Four Mile Run.
Audience engagement is a priority because residents seem to know little about the program, the plan admits. It calls for more programming to engage folks and more accessible information about projects.
“One of the things the research showed is that the Arlington community is not fully aware of the breadth of the County’s public art resources,” the PAMP continues. “It is important not only to commission new works, but also to find ways to keep existing artworks fresh in people’s minds.”
Construction could start on the second phase of the Red Top Cab development in Clarendon within the next month or two.
“We are hoping to start the project before the end of the year. It all lies in the County’s hands as we continue to pursue our permits,” said Kelly Shooshan, CEO of Arlington-based developer Shooshan Company.
This is the second of two phases for the project, dubbed “Clarendon West,” by Shooshan and and partner Trammell Crow Residential. In 2015, the Arlington County Board approved a proposal for a three-building mixed-use development, replacing the old Red Top Cab headquarters and dispatch center, and two small commercial buildings.
The first phase was comprised of two buildings on N. Hudson Street and 13th Street N., with a total of 333 apartment units. Shooshan says construction broke ground on the pair of buildings in March of 2019 and was completed this spring, with leasing having started in February. The complex, dubbed The Earl Apartments, was sold to another property owner in July.
The second phase at the corner of Washington Blvd and 13th Street N. is comprised of one multifamily building with 269 units, according to plans filed in December 2020. Shooshan says will likely be completed by the end of 2023 or in early 2024.
Last Saturday, project representatives — who said construction is expected to start in November — made a pitch for one extra hour of work on Saturdays. They said it would shave up to two months off of the end date. The approved construction hours are 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
“This request has gone through multiple iterations based on outreach with the community,” said attorney Matt Roberts of Bean, Kinney & Korman. “It’s going to improve the construction schedule for the project, which is going to have a direct and immediate benefit to the community by providing less time overall for construction.”
Starting an hour earlier allows workers to get in a full day’s worth of work sooner, said Adam Stone, representing Trammell Crow Residential. Construction sites with earlier start times are more competitive because workers can get done and get home earlier in the day, he said.
Their request differed from what Shooshan had initially requested the Board to consider: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
These hours, which county staff analyzed, drew opposition from the Lyon Village, Ballston-Virginia Square and Clarendon-Courthouse civic associations, and St. Charles Catholic Church, according to a county report. The homeowners association for the Bromptons at Clarendon townhomes and two local residents, however, said the extension was fine.
Roberts said the church reversed its position when Shooshan returned the Sunday construction time to 10 a.m.
Following the recommendation of county staff the County Board denied what Board Member Libby Garvey called an “eleventh-hour” request for extended hours. Members were skeptical that the community would actually benefit from longer work hours and a shortened schedule.
“We’re dealing with a lot of construction in Arlington, it’s really difficult for residents to be going through that,” Garvey said. “I know while an hour on a Saturday might not seem like much to people, that might be a pretty big difference for people who live in the area.”
Taller Crystal City Buildings? — “With all of the new projects proposed for the area, developers have been increasingly urging Arlington County to consider bumping up maximum building heights to allow for striking new designs to remake the Crystal City skyline. Led by the area’s dominant property owner, Amazon landlord JBG Smith Properties, this effort has the county on the precipice of allowing more structures there to reach 250 or even 300 feet tall along Richmond Highway.” [Washington Business Journal]
New Scooters on Local Roads — “Bird is rolling out its Bird Three, the world’s most eco-friendly shared scooter, in Arlington. Arlington will be one of the first cities in the DMV to have an exclusive fleet of Bird Three e-scooters. When Arlington residents choose to ride a Bird Three down to dinner at the Crossing Clarendon or to start their holiday shopping early on Rosslyn, they’ll have the safest and smartest riding experience possible.” [Press Release]
Public Comment Policy Pilloried — “Are Arlington County Board rules for community comment at its meeting violating the constitutional rights of the public? That was part of the message of one speaker at the Oct. 14 County Board meeting, criticizing the board’s policy of hearing only one speaker per topic during its ‘public comment’ free-for-all that starts off the monthly meetings. ‘You are venturing very, very close to serious violations, violating people’s political speech,’ local resident Juliet Hiznay said.” [Sun Gazette]
Road Closures in Shirlington Tomorrow — “The 2021 Shirlington Shucktoberfest will take place on Saturday, October 23, 2021 from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Set-up for the event will begin at approximately 6:00 a.m. and clean-up should be completed by 7:00 p.m. The Arlington County Police Department will conduct the following road closures during that time in order to accommodate the event.” [Arlington County]
Washington Gas Woes Persist — “Complaints about Washington Gas have come up again and again in the NBC4 Responds call center. Customers report having no one pick up calls, an inability to get service and waiting on hold for hours. A Maryland man reported being put on hold for about four hours… In an exclusive interview, a Washington Gas executive promised better customer service and said the company is grappling with a staffing shortage. ” [NBC 4]
It’s Friday — Updated at 8:15 a.m. — 🌤 Partly sunny today, with a high near 70. Northwest wind 5 to 7 mph. Sunrise at 7:25 a.m. and sunset at 6:19 p.m. Saturday will be partly sunny, with a high near 68, and Sunday will be mostly sunny, with a high near 70.
Flickr pool photo by Joanna Hiatt Kim
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) President Biden is coming back to Arlington.
Like he did in July, Biden will be campaigning with Terry McAuliffe, who’s in the home stretch of his campaign for a second term in the Virginia governor’s mansion. The Democratic campaign event is scheduled to take place from 5-8 p.m. Tuesday at Virginia Highlands Park (1600 S. Hayes Street) near Pentagon City.
Those registering to attend must attest to being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. No signs are permitted at the event, says the RSVP page.
Biden previously campaign with McAuliffe at Lubber Run Park near Ballston.
McAuliffe will face off against his GOP opponent, Glenn Youngkin, in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Early voting is currently underway and taking place through Saturday, Oct. 30. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is tomorrow (Oct. 22).
McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014-2018, will also be coming to Arlington tomorrow. The Friday event to kick off his bus tour of the Commonwealth is scheduled to take place from 8:45-10 a.m. outside county government headquarters at Courthouse Plaza (2100 Clarendon Blvd).
County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing to use leftover money from the most recent fiscal year and federal COVID-19 relief for priorities such as employee bonuses and investments in disadvantaged communities.
He presented his plans to the Arlington County Board Tuesday night.
The county has $20.5 million in unspent, unencumbered “closeout” funds from the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which ended in July. Arlington also has about $17 million in unspent American Rescue Plan Act funding and $23 million more in expected funds for which to plan.
Some of the budget surplus will go toward employee salary adjustments and retention bonuses, while the federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will support new initiatives, some of which are one-time and some that will eventually switch to ongoing local funding.
In years past, some have scrutinized Arlington’s surplus, or “closeout” funds, as being excessive — a product of conservative budgeting that enables a de facto slush fund, divvied up outside of the normal budget process, at the end of most fiscal years. Critics have also questioned the county’s spending plans for allocating most of the surplus, rather than setting it aside to avoid tax increases.
In the 2019 budget, Schwartz noted that he had made progress on whittling down surplus funds from $21.8 million in 2015 to $11 million in 2017. It ticked back up in 2018 to $21.9 million and reached $23.2 million in 2019, falling slightly to $22.4 million in 2020.
Schwartz attributes the 2021 surplus to the moving target of planning during a pandemic: over-budgeting healthcare costs and departmental operations, which slowed down due to COVID-19, while underestimating tax revenue.
And rather than allocate most of it, this year, he’s proposing to put about $16.6 million toward the 2023 budget to address priorities such as housing and restorative justice.
He will spend nearly $2 million in retention bonuses for police and emergency services health employees, and $174,000 to match state funding for bonuses for the Sheriff’s Office. On Tuesday, the County Board changed the funding source from ARPA funding to the surplus, county spokeswoman Erika Moore said.
The retention bonuses respond to reports of police and clinicians quitting their county jobs over grueling overtime and a demanding mental health crisis response. The situation worsened over the summer when the state closed five of its eight psychiatric hospitals, which were suffering from understaffing and becoming dangerous places to work. Department leaders say employees leave for more competitive, less taxing private-sector roles, such as security jobs at Amazon and private-practice clinical work.
“I appreciate the County Board taking action tonight to allocate retention bonuses, which will include a $3,500 one-time payment for police and emergency services health employees,” Schwartz said in a county press release. “It has been extremely difficult to retain and hire qualified staff for these positions at a time when demand for services is exceptionally high with extreme risk to our community if left unfilled.
Now, the plan will go to the public for review. The Board will hold a hearing on the spending plan at its Nov. 13 meeting, followed by a vote.
In addition to the $20.5 million, the county ended the year with $284.9 million in unspent, allocated money in its coffers. The rest of the fund balance breaks down as follows:
The shop held a “soft opening” yesterday (Wednesday) and has a grand opening set for this Saturday, Oct. 23, with “goodies and special stuff happening,” co-owner Lily Cox tells ARLnow.
The shop first announced its expansion earlier this year, but the opening at 700 N. Randolph Street, Suite #190 has been delayed several months due to supply and material hold-ups.
Cox tells ARLnow the Ballston location was a natural choice, as a big chunk of REWILD’s customer base at its Shaw location came from this side of the Potomac.
“When we started offering delivery service, we found we were doing a lot of deliveries to Virginia,” she says.
The Ballston location will be much like the one in D.C., except a bit larger. It also includes a storefront and delivery service, and will eventually hold workshops.
Like many businesses, REWILD suffered at the start of the pandemic — it shut down for some time and sales dipped by up to 20%.
But this past summer, REWILD sales rose by about 50%, which Cox attributed to the store’s expanded offerings, including more deliveries, consultations and commercial clients.
“Offices have been contacting us because they want plants in their space,” says Cox. “Having plants in the office environment has been proven to boost productivity and [employers] are trying to make the office more enticing.”
Also, in general, people are also investing more into their at-home spaces, she notes.
When Cox opened the first REWILD three years ago, her initial mission was to create “a plant shop that was immersive and interactive.” Now, she says it’s more about education and working with customers to make sure they make the right purchase.
“We have real conversations with our clients about what plants would work best for their space and their lifestyle,” she says “So, they don’t have these horror stories about plants they killed.”
Cox originally got into designing plants as a hobby outside her 9-to-5 job in D.C. She says working with greenery kept her in touch with her West Coast roots. That hobby grew into crafting, workshops and selling plants out of Shop Made in D.C. It was then, three years ago, that she connected with co-owners Joseph Ressler and Kyle Cannon to open REWILD.
To Cox, plants show change and evolution. As REWILD expands, there’s an obvious analogy.
“You see the leaves, you see them add a few more inches of height, or grow in new directions,” she says. “It’s just exciting.”
A decision is expected in Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s lawsuit against Advanced Towing within the next two weeks, a judge said after the trial’s closing arguments Wednesday.
The AG’s office is seeking $650,900 in restitution and civil penalties from Advanced Towing, as well as an injunction. The defense is asking for the case to be dismissed.
Arlington County Circuit Court Chief Judge William T. Newman is presiding over the case, which pits the Commonwealth against a widely-loathed but also widely-used, Ballston-based company that tows vehicles that are considered to be trespassing on private property.
Word of the pending ruling comes after three days of arguments, with the trial starting earlier this month and concluding this week. Wednesday’s closing arguments took just over an hour combined and were intended to crystalize their positions for the judge.
The AG’s office, represented by Assistant Attorney General Erin Witte, reiterated that Advanced Towing practices were “predatory, illegal, and dangerous” while focusing on three main arguments.
First, the employment of unregistered drivers. The AG’s office alleged that more than 10,000 tows, pulled from company records, were made over the last several years by not up-to-date or unregistered tow truck drivers. All drivers are required to be registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).
While Virginia code puts the onus on individual drivers to be registered, it also states that no tow truck operators should “violate, or assist, induce, or cooperate with others to violate, any provision of law related to the offering or delivery of towing and recovery services.”
Witte argued that Advanced Towing ran afoul of this provision by allowing drivers to tow without registration, no matter their intent. There’s also no company policy to have those registrations on file.
Then, the focus shifted to alleged unsafe towing conduct with the AG’s office citing consumer, resident, and police officer testimony of spotting (and ticketing) drivers not applying safety straps when towing. Witte also noted the “unprofessional” interactions some customers had, including testimony from one man who had his car lifted at the tow yard while he was in it.
Finally, Witte spoke about the legality of the contract and towing being done at a specific shopping center parking lot, along Wilson Blvd near Ballston. The contract wasn’t kept up to date with specifics about when Advanced Towing could tow and when, the assistant AG said. The contract also wasn’t made easily available to the public, as county code stipulates, and a revised contract was once backdated before it was provided to a customer upon their request.
Additionally, the markings on individual parking spaces were unclear, particularly night, leaving customers confused, the Commonwealth argued.
In conclusion, Witte said the AG’s office is seeking restitution and civil penalties to “send a message to the defense.”
“[Advanced Towing] tows as many cars as fast as possible,” Witte said. “And acted without regard for the law or safety… we need to hold the defense accountable.”
In his closing arguments, Advanced Towing’s attorney, Chap Petersen — who’s also a state senator — defended his client from these allegations.
(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Two workers were hurt after a construction accident at an Arlington elementary school.
It happened around 10:30 a.m. at Key Elementary School, in the former Arlington Traditional School building at 855 N. Edison Street. Firefighters and police are on scene.
Initial reports suggest part of a wall collapsed and the workers were struck by falling cinder blocks. Both are being rushed to the hospital with serious injuries.
“It is related to the construction of the new kitchen,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said of the accident. “Two workers were injured… No students were near the site as it is only accessible by construction workers.”
Workplace safety officials are being requested to the scene to investigate the incident.
A portion of N. George Mason Drive in front of the school may be at least partially blocked by the emergency activity.
ACPD and @ArlingtonVaFD are on scene of construction accident in the 800 block of N. Edison St. Two patients have been transported to an area hospital with injuries that are considered serious but non-life threatning. Expect continued public safety activity in the area.
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) October 21, 2021
The principal of the school sent the following message to families this morning.
Dear Escuela Key Staff and Families,
I am writing to notify you about a construction accident which occurred in the area under renovation in the kitchen at Escuela Key this morning. No students were involved or near the site. The area where the construction is occurring is in the kitchen, which is sealed off and separate from students at all times. Two workers were injured and have been taken to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. I wanted you to be aware due to the increased police and fire department activity at the school this morning.