Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Community Hits Hot Topics Civilly at Forum

The discussion remained civil last evening although the topics covered some of the most contentious facing the Buckingham community. Arlingtonians discussed which stores they would like to see in any new development at the Buckingham Center, a commercial space at the intersection of N. Glebe Road and N. Pershing Drive.

Participants in the forum held by the county's planning division also talked about what grocery store should replace the Glebe Market, about the men who stand on the corner, about safety, about pedestrian traffic, and many other issues. About 35 people other than county staff attended. Many came from Buckingham, Arlington Forest and Ashton Heights as well as from various citizen boards and committees in the county.

Part of the civility may have come from the fact that county staffers who ran the meeting divided the participants into three groups based on where people were sitting. Friends and neighbors sat next to each other as they discussed Use, Design and Transportation at the intersection.

Participants were divided into three small groups for discussion. (Click to enlarge the image.)

This was the first time that the county has heard from citizens on a large scale regarding this project.

The developer, Georgetown Strategic Capital, is looking to raze and replace a few buildings on the west side of N. Glebe Road at the intersection with N. Pershing Drive (see the map, below). Bob Moore, a principal with the company, said they had met about 13 times with county staff, citizens boards and the community.

But past meetings with Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmarks Review Board have largely taken place without regular citizens in attendance. On March 24, the company met with the Buckingham Community Civic Association, but turnout was light, and county staff, other than police, were not there, according to people who attended.

Many people at the meeting, in at least two of the groups, said they did not want a Trader Joe’s grocery store to replace the Glebe Market, which will close when the buildings are razed. They preferred another small, independent grocery that would more closely meet the needs of the largely Latino community.

“Most of us, more than 80 percent of us, are Hispanics, and we use it [the Glebe Market] everyday,” said Johny, a Buckinghamster. A few people in his group said they feared a store like Trader Joe’s would be too expensive or would not have the right products. Johny said he has a petition with 100 signatures of Buckingham families asking that the Glebe Market remain. [Many people left before I could get last names. –ST]

Months ago, Mr. Moore said his company was trying to get the popular, upscale (but low price) Trader Joe’s in the neighborhood. Some people at the meeting last night expressed support for that idea.

However, the county’s Tom Miller said the likelihood of a Trader Joe’s is slim. In an interview after the forum, he said that experiences in planning tell him that Trader Joe’s likely wants space on the Ballston-Rosslyn metro corridor and would not accept a space on the southwest corner of the Glebe and Pershing intersection.

El projecto es muy bonito,” (“The project is very nice”) said Julio in one group, as a county staffer translated, “but what will be done with the people who currently use that space?”

What will happen with the day laborers? Where will they go? Will the police get them? he wondered.

One group listened to a translator (in the foreground) during last night's discussion. (Click to enlarge the image.)

This is a theme that runs under many discussions in the Buckingham neighborhood. This is a community often divided between the largely white, English-speaking community who own homes or condominiums in the neighborhood and renters who are often Latino, Spanish-speakers.

“I just don’t go there [to the Buckingham Center] at all,” said Stacy in a group different from Julio’s. She said that the graffiti and trash in the bus stops along with other issues keep her from going. Others in her group agreed.

The project will have 190 new market-rate apartments, and that has people from BU-GATA, a tenants association, worried about upward pressure on the rents at the Gates of Ballston and other neighborhood apartments. They say they are already seeing that change.

“It [the project] just plain doesn’t look like it belongs there,” said Patè McCullough a Gates resident and BU-GATA board member who did not support the project. Then she looked sideways at Mr. Moore and joked, “Then, too, if you want to put some affordable housing in there, we can work something out.”

At least two of the three groups said they supported the idea of a police substation in one of the buildings. This is one area of agreement between the English- and Spanish-speaking communities in the neighborhood. Mr. Moore said his company and the police supported the idea of the substation.

[AHC Inc. recently said they are looking for space to put the substation on their Gates of Ballston property. A substation was part of the Gates before its major renovation over the past two years.]

The building that will replace the CVS/Ravi Kabob building on the southwest corner will hold about 23,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and about 90 apartments on the top three floors, said Scott Matties, of Cunningham Quill Architects. Drawings show the commercial space in the building divided into about 10 storefronts of about 2,500 square feet each. None of the space has been leased yet, Mr. Matties said.

Do Chon said he is planning to open a coffee shop with his father in one of the new buildings. His father, Sam Chon, owns the Glebe Market, but plans to retire assuming the redevelopment moves forward, the younger Mr. Chon said.

The CVS will move across Pershing Drive into a building that will replace two buildings on the northwest corner. The Glebe Market building, and the El Paso building will be razed. The CVS will occupy the corner in the new building and El Paso might get some outdoor seating.

The design brings the buildings much closer to Pershing.

“We’re talking about a urban kind of streetscape” along Pershing, Mr. Matties said.

Architect Scott Matties describes the two large buildings that will replace the stores and restaurants on the west side of N. Glebe Road at its intersection with N. Pershing Drive. Pershing Drive, which runs between the two buildings, will be part of an "urban kind of streetscape," Mr. Matties said. (Click to enlarge the image.)

Ariana Kincaid, the general manager of Woofs! Dog Training Center said she wanted to make sure the signs for her company are more visible from the street. Her company occupies the back half of the El Paso Cafe building. Getting adequate signage in Arlington is tough, she said.

Lois Athey, a long-time activist that works with the BU-GATA tenants association, said, Woofs! is “detrimental” to the neighborhood. A dog training facility without any yard of its own should not be there, she said last night as she has many times in the past.

Participants said they want CVS to remove the walls from behind its windows so that people can see into, and through, the store. Others talked about the need for better sidewalks and accessibility for the disabled, for safer intersections both for pedestrians and bicyclists.

In one group people discussed the idea of using the space around the Post Office building for community events. That side of the street will get only superficial changes according to Georgetown Strategic.

The county plans to compile and analyze the notes from last night. Advisory commissions in the county (such as the Planning Commission) will review community feedback with stakeholder representatives, followed by a formal review of the use permit (Georgetown Strategic has not yet officially filed a use permit).

Other items that staff summarized in bullet form on jumbo sticky notes (the items are complaints, wishes, or ideas):

  • Need improved, wide sidewalks with bus stop visibility.
  • Wi-Fi service.
  • It’s a busy intersection with no place to meet.
  • Could we get a pedestrian underpass at the corner?
  • Can Woofs have two or three 10 to 20 minute parking spaces?
  • We cannot seriously discuss the northwest corner retail space without a left-turn lane from the N. Glebe Road onto N. Pershing Drive.
  • We need a realistic discussion of traffic signals and site circulation
  • Glebe Market is an “important anchor.”
  • “Safety issues” encourage people to drive rather than walk.
  • Can we have a special play area for kids?

  • Click the icons and lines for more information.

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    This is a really positive step that the county is serious about getting rid of the blight that is all those men standing on the corners, harassing all female passers-by. It is a total embarrassment to Arlington. I support affordable housing. But this has nothing to do with affordable housing, and to link it does the cause a grave dis-service.
    At at end of the meeting, I complained to Sam Chon, the owner of Glebe Market, about day laborers that trespass and congregate on his property. I informed him that I do not patronize his establishment because of these trespassers.

    I suggested that he phone the police to report the trespassers and to ask the police to remove them. I informed him that I believed that he not done this sufficiently in the past.

    The best thing that people can do in this situation is to boycott the Glebe Market until the trespassers disappear or until Glebe Market is torn down. Nothing else is going to work.
    Thank you, Mr. Thurston, for your efforts to keep the neighborhood informed about these important developments. I've read plenty of reports of similar meetings that left me totally flummoxed. You do an excellent job of sorting out the chatter from the important issues. You explain what the issues are and what the differing viewpoints are instead of just regurgitating officialeze in terms we mere mortals can't comprehend. You are a valuable asset to the community yourself!!
    Thank you Steve for your blog and your report on the meeting. I would like to see Glebe Market eliminated permanently, since it makes our community look like a slum. I am not surprised that Trader Joes has no interest in putting a store there. Many of us would like to see Buckingham become a safe, (crime free), clean, litter free community. Beginning with Jane Eboch, the County staff has endorsed this goal.
    Re. Lubber Run Park: Yesterday I found broken glass adjacent to the stage, and all over the parking lot, and graffiti on one of the wooden posts. I informed a county staff member. I often pick up litter as I walk and deposit it in the large trash containers by the bus stop, which the County has provided. Ann
    My name is Mary S. I am so disappointed that I could not make it to the meeting. I have had the flu. I have a lot to say about the '200 lb. gorilla,' and am so sorry that I missed my chance to do so. I must agree with earlier posters that, while I enjoy the convenience of the Glebe Market, I have often been deterred from going there because of the gentlemen who like to convene outside of the entrance. I have not only been harrassed, but invited into cars. I have lived here for almost 5 years. When I first moved here, I said hello to every individual I met. Too often, my 'hellos' were received with 'oh hi mommy-you love me.' I have since stopped addressing my neighbors. And I really don't like the current situation. I would like to communicate with the hispanic community that I live among, butI would also like to address the issue that I live here, too. I pretty much sold my kidney to buy my place, and I would like for that to count for something.
    I really hope that Woofs can stay. The lady who complains about it obviously hasn't taken the time to see how they operate. They do not need a yard it is an indoor operation. They take care of "bathroom issues" within the facility itself. They keep it spotlessly clean and it is a wonderful, invaluable resource for the community.
    Thanks for your blog. I was unable to attend the forum and am glad there seems to have been broad community participation. As an Ashton Heights resident who likes to support local businesses, I've tried several of the area restaurants and frequently utilize the post office, dry cleaner, Suntrust Bank, El Paso Cafe and Popeye's. After word got out that Glebe Market will likely close, I was surprised to hear how many neighbors enjoy the store's fresh and low-priced produce. Sadly, as a woman, I've never stepped foot in the store to avoid running the gauntlet of men who hang out around it. It's not that I fear for my safety during the day, I just don't like getting eyeballed or dealing with the catcalls that have kept female friends from jogging in the area. If these guys want a place to congregate, surely a space can be designed that is more attractive and comfortable for them and that benefits the larger community, as well. And we should be able to turn left onto Pershing as we drive south on Glebe.

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