Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Barrett, BV, Post Office, Snowmen

A Night for Science to Fly
Balloons, ping-pong balls, the wings from a flying pig, toy helicopter blades, smoke rings from an air cannon, pencils, compressed gas, liquid nitrogen, “Roger, Richard, green to go,” superballs, Newton’s Third Law of physics (acton = reaction), 14.6 pounds per square inch, safety glasses, a small blimp, and one large Science Discovery Night at Barrett Elementary School, our NASA headquarters in the neighborhood.
The theme was flight Tuesday night as NASA scientist Dr. Richard Byles ran the school through the fun of science, shattering a frozen racquetball and splitting a piece of hardwood with a pencil (shot with compressed gas through a “pencil accelerator”). Much of the concepts covered may have flown over the heads of the younger set, but the upperclassmen of the elementary school shouted out answers to his questions, or hypothesized loudly as instructed. He brought a balloon rocket, a balloon helicopter, and his own, home built mini-blimp, powered remotely by the wings stolen from a flying pig toy.
A good time, as they say, was had by all.

[NASA scientist Dr. Richard Byles calls for the countdown before launching the balloon-powered helicopter.]
BV1 Reconstruction Planned for this Fall
The first phase of construction in Buckingham Village 1 is planned to start this year, along North Pershing Drive, said officials with Paradigm Development Cos., the owner of the property. Seventy-six units, or eight buildings, between Culpepper Garden Apartments and North George Mason Drive will be destroyed to make room for construction of “Building A,” a four-storey, 234-unit apartment building with pitched roof, a cupola atop, and a parking garage underground, the officials said at the Site Plan Review Committee meeting on Feb. 22. The building will be a mix of market-rate and affordable housing.
Paradigm has submitted its “4.1,” the official application for the entire redevelopment of Buckingham Villages 1 and 3, to the county. The county board is set to take-up the measure at their March 17 meeting.
Paradigm reported that the location of Building A allows for 100 parking spots for construction workers off-street. They plan to use the existing alley between that runs between Pershing Drive and North Henderson Road as the truck access and staging area.
The parking lot and sidewalks along Pershing will be temporarily blocked during construction, which is expected to take about two years.

Letter: P.O.: Survey Buckingham
Dear Steve,
For what it's worth, and maybe you can pass this along to our neighborhood post office friend to help her cause, I believe many people stay away from the Buckingham Station for their domestic service because of the long (slow) lines and lack of clerks and automated service.
I, who loves the idea of living within walking distance to the post office, dread going there. The post office is seriously lacking. For instance, there are no scales to weigh a package to estimate postage before reaching the teller.
On a recent visit I found out the post office doesn't even possess zip code books when I needed to confirm a zip code. I prefer to drive to another post office where the lines, most likely, are not as long (and slow) and there are more options for self-service postage and self-service mailing/shipping. I have mentioned this to other Buckinghamsters and find they share the sentiment.
Of course, proving the case of "if you build it they will come" is difficult to demonstrate if the post office needs to show a certain level of service to "qualify" for the automated machines. Perhaps they could mail a survey to the Buckingham residents. If our post office had more clerks, and shorter/faster lines I would most definitely do more business there. If it had the automated mailing center I would also frequent there more often.
Elizabeth Vizard

Tejada and Center Get Thanks
Buckinghamster Marco Antonio Vallejos took time at Saturday morning’s county board meeting to publicly thank the county board, and board member Walter Tejada especially, for the Buckingham Community Center in the Gates of Ballston apartments.
Speaking through an interpreter Mr. Vallejos said the community center is proof that Arlington has a “good attitude.”

The Snowmen of Arlington Oaks
I was driving with my windows down a little today (can you believe it?), but on Sunday, as you may recall, we had snow! (I love snow.) In this time of irony, too, I’ll note that I saw my first robin of the year Sunday morning, before the snow started. The poor little thing looked a tad bedraggled; I can only imagine what it was thinking come 3:00, or so.

Anyway, the snow got the kids around my townhouse creative. Take a look:

Audrey, 2, Hazel, 6, and Harry, 4, stand next to their creation.

Sumit and Justin, in the back row, stand next to their full-grown snowman (at over six feet) with fellow creators, Nick and Noah.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Postal Changes; Blackout

No More Trucks, New Lobby: Buckingham PO.

Buckingham Station Post Office may get an interior facelift in the lobby after its distribution facilities move to a renovated main post office building on Wilson Boulevard within the next month. The facelift would include two more clerk windows to shorten lines, and possibly an “Automated Postage Center,” said Station Manager Jacquelyn Greco.

She said people had already been in to photograph the building, potentially to prepare for improvements.
In the next month, the trucks, drivers and the people who process all the mail that runs through Buckingham will move to Wilson Boulevard and the post office that’s being renovated there.

The Buckingham Station will be left with only about six employees; pick-up times for the mailboxes will run the same as they are now, she said, but they may send carriers out earlier in the day to make up some scheduling differences.

Renovations to the station would include an additional two windows, and, hopefully, an “Automated Postal Center,” a sort of ATM for letters and packages. Patrons can weigh, insure, stamp and mail their domestic correspondence without waiting in line for a clerk, or even when the clerk windows aren’t open.
[It was my love of these doohickeys that got me calling Ms. Greco to begin with. I use one near my office in Rockville often. —Steve.]

“We want one here,” Ms. Greco said. The problem is that the stations that can receive them (this decision is made far up the line) need to have a certain amount of domestic postage sales. [My requests up the line for the exact numbers here have gone unanswered thus far. –Steve.]

Buckingham’s problem is that despite long lines at times in the lobby, the sales are mostly for international postage and money orders; both require a that the patron work with a postal clerk, and neither help to make a case for the APC.

Ms. Greco said she is still lobbying for one, and she said one of the problems is that the machines are still so new that the United States Postal Service might be limiting the installation to places they know do a lot of domestic sales, not necessarily the post offices with the longest lines.

Power Outage Not Caused by Underground Construction
(Edited and re-posted at 2:30 p.m.: Ms. Anderson of Dominion Virginia Power updated information she originally offered.)

Reconstruction is progressing as planned at the corner of Glebe Road and Pershing Drive, and work on that project did not cause a power outage Sunday evening.

According to a report from William “Bill” Roberts, to County Board Member, Jay Fissette on Feb. 9, the undergrounding phase of the project—where the cables running between telephone poles above will be moved under the street—is almost complete.

Mr. Roberts, a capital projects manager with the county, wrote that most of the businesses in the corner have been hooked up to the newly subterranean lines. As well, VDOT issued the permit for construction of the streetscape improvements for the corner on Jan. 30. Residents should begin to see some changes soon.

“The only thing we need now is the easements for the sidewalk” from Marvin Jower of Jenco Corp., an owner of the property at the corner, Mr. Roberts said in a subsequent interview. “Hopefully it won’t be a big deal.”
All of the manipulation of the cables below ground most likely did not cause a power outage Sunday evening, Feb. 18, when two circuits affecting almost 2300 people were damaged, Mr. Roberts and Le-Ha Anderson of Dominion Virginia Power said.

Because of a cable failure near Columbia Pike, 2298 customers found themselves without electricity. Two circuits failed, causing the outage; another two circuits were also affected, but electricity on those lines was diverted automatically, so the 1,500 customers affected there only saw their lights dim temporarily. A total of five circuits were affected Ms. Anderson said.

“We don’t know what caused the failure,” Ms. Anderson said.

She said that problems at “termination,” where cables connect, are common. Many problems can slowly deteriorate a cable, she said.

Customers as far south as Columbia Pike were affected, and all were back on-line within three hours.

Reminder: SPRC Meeting Tonight

Just a quick reminder, the last SPRC meeting is set for tonight, Conference Room on the lobby level of Courthouse Plaza, 2100 Clarendon Blvd. If you want to see what Paradigm will put before the County Board, come and see.

Sorry for the late post.

Normally I post on Wednesdays, but last week I fought one head cold, and this week I caught the stomach flu that both my kids had. With luck, I’ll be back in real business soon. Sorry for the delays.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love Letters and Meetings

Love Letters for Valentine’s Day

Dave Wharwood got back in touch with me about his blog. You may recall that he was among those I mentioned a few posts back. I said that I had a problem with his link, and Mr. Wharwood tells me that’s because he changed the name (and therefore the link) of his blog—that explains it.

At any rate, he’s back, and his first substantive post is a nice one. He’s eloquent, and passionate about this great neighborhood. His first letters have been about Buckingham (she is a sweet mistress, she is). Check out Arlington Love Letters (it’s Valentine’s Day, afterall), and let him (and me) know what you think.

He has an eye for the camera lens, I’m guessing, given there have been two different, nice, photos on the two different days that I’ve checked it out. The link is to the right.


Meetings over Bham Villages 1 & 3—Final Chances for Public Comment

The county has scheduled a batch of meetings that will finalize plans for Buckingham Villages 1 & 3 for the end of February and half of March. These will be some of the last chances for public comment on the plans.

As reported on Jan. 24, Paradigm is applying to build “Scenario 8” in Buckingham Village 1. Village 1 lies between N. Henderson Road and N. Pershing Drive, and between N. George Mason Drive and the property line of the Culpepper Garden Apartments. Scenario 8 calls for two large, four-storey apartment buildings and townhouses that line George Mason Drive.

The latest committee and board meeting schedules, are posted on the county’s Buckingham community page.

Tuesday, Feb. 20 the Community Preservation Committee, which is primarily concerned with the residents of the Buckingham Village Apartments, will look into relocation plans for the current residents of the neighborhood as their lives are disrupted during any renovation process. (See more in the next item of this post.)

Wednesday, Feb. 21, the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board takes up Buckingham. Their primary concern is maintaining the look of the community. Although the garden style apartments typical of this neighborhood are not going to survive in Village 1, they still want the neighborhood to feel much the same. As well, Village 3 is likely to see changes with additions to some buildings, and maybe even stairwell access to basement apartment or condo units.

The Site Plan Review Committee has a tentative meeting scheduled for Monday, Feb. 26. Their concern is what, exactly, what happens to the overall site—the buildings, roads, lights, everything.

Thursday March 1 (with a potential carry-over meeting on March 8) the Transportation Committee takes up potential changes to the traffic of Buckingham. In Buckingham Village Scenario 8 plan (the one Paradigm has said they are pursuing, see the post from Jan. 24) N. 3rd Street is extended across N. Henderson Road, and N. 4th Street cuts through Village 1 (currently it’s little more than a cul de sac). Different entrances and exits from the development must be considered as well as potential traffic lights, especially at 4th Street.

The Housing Commission picks up the discussion on Thursday March 8.

Monday March 5 (with a potential carry-over on Wednesday March 7), the Planning Commission takes up the overall project. This is a large, final preparatory meeting before the entire application goes before the County Board on Saturday March 17, with a carry-over on Tuesday March 20.

[Buckingham Village 1, Scenario 8]

Community Preservation Committee

In all the activity surrounding the Buckingham Villages renovation project, I’ve mainly focused on the Site Plan Review Committee because I didn’t have time to go to every meeting.
Luckily, a couple people in the community have been keeping me apprised of developments in other areas.

The Community Preservation Committee—which is primarily concerned with what happens to tenants during a renovation—is one of those areas, and they’re asking for input, so I thought I’d find some space for it here.

They’ve put together a draft proposal for the relocation plan, which includes plans for relocation assistance as well as the procedures by which the owners of the property (Paradigm Development Co.) can further communicate with renters on the property.

Email me if you want a copy of the proposal, and I’ll send it along:; better yet, contact David Cristeal,, in the county’s Housing Department.
I’m posting here in its entirety a memo signed by 20 Buckingham Village residents regarding what they hope to see happen during the relocation and renovation process:

Paradigm Development Corporation & Paradigm Management Corporation
February 5, 2007

We, the tenants of Buckingham Villages 1 and 3 are proposing the following for the Relocation Plan that is being prepared by you. We have read the Arlington County Relocation Guidelines, and we have also read relocation plans from other complexes. Below is our list of points and positions that should be included in the Buckingham Village Relocation Plan

Note: This plan only contemplates a relocation package whereby Paradigm continued to control the entire property, including Village 3. If Paradigm sells Village 3 to another entity, then we think there should be a separate Relocation Plan for Village 3.

1. Survey: The survey/questionnaire instrument should be reviewed by a Working Group (see below) to ensure that the questions are responsive to the tenant population and its socio-economic and demographic characteristics. Paradigm will conduct the survey in the entire complex and with every vested tenant during the first two months following the County’s approval of the Paradigm project. Paradigm will give all tenants copy of the survey form that they filled out.

2. A Buckingham Village Working Group should be established that is comprised of Paradigm representatives, tenants and/or representatives from BU-GATA, BRAVO, Save Buckingham Coalition, Commissioners (Housing and Tenant/Landlord), and County staff. This group shall have the job of monitoring the relocation process and the return of tenants to the new buildings once they are built. This group will also establish a Mediation Committee that will resolve cases in the case that the tenant is not satisfied with the decision by Paradigm regarding their benefits.

3. The Working Group will work with Paradigm to help prepare the agenda and format for the first meeting with tenants after the County approves the plan, whenever that occurs. Paradigm will notify all tenants about this meeting. Paradigm will continue to hold tenant meetings on a quarterly basis until the new mixed-income building is fully occupied.

4. Relocation payments
· all tenants that are in good standing, receive a 120-day notice and move within Buckingham Village will be paid a relocation payment
· all tenants who move back into one of Paradigm’s new rental units will also receive a second relocation payment
· all tenants who move into Buckingham Village after the County approves the Village 1 and 3 projects, whenever that occurs, will be eligible for a relocation payment if they are in good standing, living at Buckingham Village, and receive the 120-day notification

5. Paradigm will present a grid explaining the anticipated rents for the new mixed-income building (both for affordable and market rate units), as well as the incomes that will be required to qualify for the units

6. Paradigm will not require a minimum income qualification for Buckingham Village tenants to qualify for the new units in the mixed-income building

7. Paradigm will hire a full-time Relocation Specialist who is bi-lingual in English and Spanish. This person will work nights and on Saturday and will hold meetings on an as needed basis. This person will be skilled in dealing with complicated, difficult cases and will have experience working with tenants or households with social service needs.

8. The current proposal to displace all 140 households from Village 3 at the same time is not tenable. Relocation in this village should be broken into mini-phases of 40 units for each phase. Notices could be sent out at 30-day intervals.

9. The current proposal to displace all 76 households in Village 1 at the same time is not tenable. Relocation in this village should be broken into two mini-phases. Notices could be sent out at 30-day intervals.

10. All information about the Relocation Plan, the Affordable Housing Plan shall be posted in English and Spanish Paradigm’s Management Office wherever it is located. Currently this office is located on N. Pershing Drive.

11. The priority list shall include a system that is detailed in the County’s Relocation Guidelines. Tenants shall not have to prove their status (i.e. former displacement, ages of children, etc). The survey document will be used to collect this information.

12. Tenants who are not on the lease will be encouraged to get on the lease. Paradigm will work closely with BU-GATA to try and achieve this goal by the time the first 120-day notices are sent out.

13. If a vested tenant wants to move to a larger and/or smaller unit at Buckingham Village, Paradigm will maintain a waiting list and give priority to a current tenant rather than rent to a tenant off the street.

14. Paradigm will allow tenants who receive 120-day notices to move to an apartment of their same size at no rent increase until the tenant’s anniversary date.

15. Paradigm will not raise rents at Buckingham Village for the first year after the first 120-day notices are issued.

16. Paradigm will establish a hardship fund for difficult cases. For example, if a tenant wants to move to HPB or Gates of Ballston and has to pay a fee to determine if he/she qualifies for a unit, that fee will be waived and covered by this fund. Likewise, if a tenant does not have the money to pay a security deposit at another complex, the hardship fund can be used to cover that security deposit. The fund will be used on a case-by-case basis.

17. Paradigm will stop charging the $300 move-in fee for all tenants who sign leases for the first phase of Village 1 (see attached map). This policy will begin now.

18. If a tenant who receives the 120-day notice moves within the complex, Paradigm will pay for reconnection of utility and phone fees.

29. Paradigm will provide the financial resources and enter into a contract with BU-GATA so that BU-GATA can work with individual tenants to ensure that they get their benefits and/or resolve their individual problems.

30. There will no new leasing in units one month prior to issuance of the 120-day notice

Name Address

Signed by 20 Buckingham Village tenants

Comments are welcomed and should be sent to Micheline Castan-Smith of Paradigm at, David Cristeal and Jo Ann Cubbage of Arlington County staff, and, or Melissa Bondi, of the Community Preservation Committee,, as soon as possible, and before Monday, Feb. 19.

This will allow Paradigm to review & incorporate any changes in a second draft in time for relevant meetings next week.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Police Patrols Started Before Reported Here

Letter to the Editor:
Mr. Thurston,

I received information from Capt. Herbstreit, commander of the First District, that what he calls "high visibility patrols" by Day Shift officers in Buckingham began the morning of Feb. 7 in response to the second purse-snatching on Feb. 6. I thought you would want to know that Capt. Herbstreit had already orchestrated a quick response even before I forwarded your concerns to him.

Detective Steve Gomez
Media Relations Office
Arlington County Police Department

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

EXTRA: Police to Step-up Morning Patrols in Buckingham.

More patrols should arrive soon.
Arlington Police told the Buckingham Herald Trib that they plan to step up morning patrols of the Buckingham neighborhood after two similar purse-snatching thefts occurred within two weeks of each other.

Although Det. Steve Gomez of the Arlington County Police said the investigators are not ready to say the crimes were committed by the same person, he admitted the similarities made it very possible.

According to police, the victims, both women, described men wearing similar coats--blue coats with hoods. The methods of attack--shoving the women to ground and running off with the purses--were the same. The times were early morning and they occurred within a couple blocks of each other. (See the post from earlier today for more details.)

Detective Gomez said the investigators have been taking the cases seriously, and the patrols should begin soon.

Gates' Center; Watch for Bham's Blue-Hooded Thief

Gates’ New Community Center
AHC Inc. is “pulling permits” and has drawn plans to build a 10,000 square foot community center in a rear courtyard of the Gates of Ballston Apartments complex on N. Glebe Road.
Current plans for the building show the apartment management offices, a fitness room, a pre-school, meeting rooms, other offices, and a large community room with a patio, a fireplace and small kitchen.
It will replace the Community Center currently located in a couple apartments at N. 3rd Road. AHC said the project will take up to two years to complete.
The original plan was to renovate the small single-family house on 374 N. Glebe Rd., where the contractors on the Gates of Ballston renovation project are located. However, in a recent walking tour of the property, Christopher Donald, the project manager for AHC, said for historic reasons that building was “sacred” and won’t be renovated. The plan for now is to do nothing with it, he wrote in an email.
The new center will be built behind that house.
All of the programs offered for free at the current site will continue for free at the new site, Mr. Donald said. At the center, people learn English, write resumes, or get help with healthcare and housing, along with other programs for adults and children.
The policies for how to use the building, especially the community room, haven’t been planned yet, Mr. Donald said. This has Lois Athey, a housing advocate with the Buckingham Villages-Gates of Ballston Tenants Association, concerned.
She wants to make sure that the tenants have a say in how the center is operated: for instance, who has access to the rooms and how much the rooms will cost to rent. BU-GATA will have an office in the new building.
Mr. Donald said he didn’t know at this point whether or not the community will be invited to speak about the rooms’ use. However, David Cristeal, in the county’s Department of Housing, said, “I guess it’s been our expectation that there would be a conversation about that use.”

[This is the architect's current rendering of the front of Gates of Ballston's planned community center.]

[The 10,000 square foot building includes a large community room (the left wing of the building) with a patio and fireplace.]

Police Notes for Buckingham
Feb. 6: Robbery by Force, 4400 block of N. Pershing Dr.
At approximately 6:10 a.m. a woman was walking west on N. Pershing Drive when a man walking in the opposite direction grabbed her purse. The suspect pushed the victim and ran away. The victim fell to the ground but was uninjured. The suspect was described as a 6’0” tall male, unknown race and age, wearing a blue hooded jacket and black pants. His face was partially covered with a scarf or mask.

My take: I’ve got a call into Det. Steve Gomez in the Arlington County Police Department just to ask if they’re seeing a trend here because I sure am. This is the second time in two weeks that this has happened. I posted this a week ago:

Jan. 27:
Robbery by Force, N. Thomas Street.At approximately 7:40 a.m. a woman was walking down the street when an individual pushed her to the ground and took her purse, police reported. The suspect was wearing a blue hooded jacket and blue jeans.

It’s like déjà vu all over again. It wouldn’t hurt to have a cop swing by the neighborhood at the start of rush hour. I’ll be asking them what’s going on with this, and of course, I’ll keep you posted.


The Boulevard Burglar
Police are asking for help in catching whoever has committed a number of burglaries and break-ins along the Arlington Boulevard corridor. The police reported in a news release that they have seen a trend in these break-ins over the course of months. As many as 16 have occurred over the past week, according to police reports.

The burglar has broken through the rear door of the house in all but one case where he or she broke the front. Electronic equipment, cash and jewelry has been taken, but no one has been seen, police said.

Advice from police for protecting yourself:
  • Immediately report suspicious persons in your neighborhood, especially if they are seen in the backyards. Call the police (703) 558-2222.
  • Secure your home, and if you have an alarm system activate it, even during the daytime.
  • Watch your neighbor’s home and ask them to keep an eye on your home.
  • If you think you are observing a burglary in progress call 911.

Police are asking anyone with information to contact Officer Roger Estes 703-228-4180 or

Get Connectioned—Help Buckingham Get the News Faster…
The Arlington Connection has been arriving at my mailbox about a week later than it should be, and the powers that be at the Connection tell me the best way to fix this (so it works better with the post office) is to get just a handful more people taking the Connection.

So, if you’re reading this, and you live in Zip Code 22203, sign up for the Arlington Connection newspaper—it’s free; just call 703-917-6465. Plus, you get to read me every other week; what’s cooler than that?

By the way, if you’re interested, my last two columns (which I don’t think I mentioned on this site) are:
Public Comment? Not Now, Thank You; and Should County Board be Paid More? (By the way, they gave themselves a raise—it just doesn’t take effect for awhile.)

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