Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Opening the Gates; Reading Blogs

Opening The Gates
Louis Quay sat on his black leather sofa across the small living room from the entertainment center. The dining room table, a few feet from the couch, was lightly cluttered with papers and books and other tools of living. His telephone sat on the living room floor under the window. In a bedroom which could be seen from the living room, boxes were stacked.

“I’ve been most pleased with the bug situation,” he said, and it’s a line he came back to in one way or another over the course of a 20 minute conversation.

He had lived in the Gates of Ballston on Henderson Road before the start of the $30 million renovation that has displaced and shuffled many people before landing them back in new units elsewhere on the property. Many opted to move away.

For Mr. Quay that meant six months in an unimproved Gates apartment on Glebe Road, convenient to the Glebe Market, but “a little on the noisy side there.” Utility companies had been ripping up the road to run lines underground at the time. As well, other renters would wedge items in the building doorway so anyone could walk in or out.

“All kinds of bug problems over there,” he said, adding later, “That six months was a bit of a disappointment.”

The Timeline
No one now lives in unimproved apartments, said Christopher Donald, the project manager for AHC Inc., the owner of the property.

Two weeks ago, during a walking tour of the complex, he said that 264 of the 464 units had been fully renovated and people were living in them. Mr. Donald said that all people who wanted to stay at The Gates are either in improved units or live in other AHC complexes until they can move back. He estimated that they retained 40 to 50 percent of the original community.

As part of a $100 million refinancing and renovation package, the company had planned a 30- to 36-month timeline to rebuild, and if they complete the work by the summer, they will be at least six months ahead of schedule, he said. The renovation has gutted every apartment in a complex that is a mix of market-rate and affordable housing units. They replaced windows and roofs, added heat pumps for heating and cooling, and amenities such as washer and dryer units in market-rate apartments, dishwashers in all.

[Christopher Donald, the project manager for The Gate of Ballston renovation, shows off the small but cozy living room in the model unit at the corner of N. Henderson and N. Glebe roads. He said everyone on the premises lives in rehabilitated units.]
Three Bedrooms
The greatest alterations, though, have been the 37 additions to the backs of buildings, adding a half bathroom and one or two bedrooms to the apartments. This will bring 72 three-bedroom, affordable apartments to Arlington, which activists and politicians said were desperately needed. Some of the additions are finished.

“I’m pleased that that has turned out,” said Lois Athey in a recent telephone interview. Ms. Athey is long-time activist from Washington who works with the Buckingham Villages and Gates of Ballston Tenants Association.

“I know the three bedrooms are being picked up.”

Although she said tenants have many problems with the management of the complex, including “heavy-handed” tactics used to force evictions, she mentioned a family in which the daughter finally got to have her own room.

“That’s the good story,” Ms. Athey said.

The “bump outs,” as the additions are called, has caused one minor problem for Mr. Quay, who is blind. They’ve shifted his walking patterns in the backyard where he has listened to books in the past. But, he added, “it’s pretty nicely set-up.”

[This hallway under construction connects the “bump out” addition to the back of a one-bedroom apartment. When finished, the additions will add a half bathroom and one or two bedrooms to 72 units on the 464 unit property. The original bedroom door is at left.]

By August, AHC Inc. believes they will have all major reconstruction on the 18 acre complex completed, both inside and out.

Mr. Donald from AHC said the fences that run between buildings are there to make the backyards more secure for families with children especially. Two tot-lot playgrounds have been added to the complex. Bike racks have been added just inside the backyard fences, and workers installed picnic tables during the walking tour.

Gates with push-button locks will soon only allow people who know the combinations to get into the backyards. An added benefit of the fences is that people cannot cut between buildings to walk from one end of the neighborhood to the metro or the bus stops on Glebe Road. The new grass will last longer and look as good as it does now for a long time, Mr. Donald said.

If the number of bikes chained to the front stoop railings are any indication, the bike racks are not getting the use that management might have wished. Lois Athey said the locking gates might become more of a hassle than a help for families.

Mr. Quay said his building’s front door latches closed and people are not coming during all times of the night and getting in through doors that are wedged open as they were on Glebe Road.

[Locking gates will soon be added to the fences between the buildings. Management hopes it will secure the backyards for children to play and protect the new landscaping.]

Rents are Higher
“This place is comfortable,” Mr. Quay said. “I set the heat,” he said, something the heat pumps allow for the first time. He has a clothes washer and dryer, exhaust vents in the kitchen and bath.

It’s quieter here on N. 4th Street, and he has found thus far that the wind isn’t as cold outside. Something about the wind whipping around the Hyde Park Condominium building along Henderson Road was especially bitter, he said.

And at this point, he has no problems with bugs.

But it’s not all been perfect. He lives in a market-rate unit, and the rent for his two-bedroom unit before the changes was $954 per month. Now it’s $1,400.

“That was a bit of a shock,” he said.

The electrical panel, the small industrial gray door that covers his breakers, the panel that’s usually in the kitchen of apartments or basement of a house, hangs on the wall above his dining room table.

His first night in the apartment, he found the electrical system had been installed improperly, and he kept tripping breakers. As well, the phones did not work.

“All that got straightened out,” he said.

Stay tuned for more stories on the Gates renovation.

Check out other bloggers…

I’ve cleaned up the links at the right, and I just thought I’d make mention of them. The latest entry, “Arlington School of Thought” is from David Wharwood who’s just gotten his blog up and running. Although I have it linked, I don’t think it’s working (perhaps I have the wrong address??). Mr. Wharwood emailed me that he’s a former Buckinghamster whose mother helped in the effort to create the historical status regulating much of the neighborhood.

“Buddy’s folks” is a page run by a friend of mine in which he asks if a father of two, middle aged man runs a blog does that mean blogging is so totally over? Most likely, but that won’t stop us anyway.

“Chez Robert Giron” is written by an Arlington Forester and colleague of mine. Mr. Giron is a poet, editor, and writing professor, so you’ll probably find his commentary on all things literary to be, well, literate.

Then there’s “The Green Miles.” Miles, a former journalist and professional activist, is an environmentalist in Arlington who writes about politics and the environment (his profile says he’s the board chairman for Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment) all with a liberal slant.

He’s also the current top-poster on the “AIRE blog,” a new communications outlet for the county. It’s a blog used to support the latest environmental initiatives of the county (led by County Board Chair Paul Ferguson). The comments area says that comments will be read by the blog author before being posted—it’ll be interesting to see what makes it through. They’ve been kind enough to offer me a chance to post something on the site. I have no idea what I’d say.

Finally, I put up the link for backfence. I knew the backfence company had posts out in Fairfax, but frankly, I never even thought to look here in Arlington. Yet there it is. I read in the
Washington Post a couple weeks ago that backfence itself is in financial trouble and some of the primary actors there have fled, and others have reorganized hoping to save the company. So, it might not be there the next time you look.

Police Notes for Buckingham
Jan. 28: Attempted Residential Burglary, 3800 block of N. 5th St.
At approximately 1:30 a.m. a man was seen tampering with a screen on the back window of an apartment. When officers arrived they found the screen damaged with a crowbar on the ground nearby. One officer spotted the suspect in the area and followed him to a residence in the 4300 block of N. 4th St.
Anibal Rodriguez-Castellanos, 27, of Arlington, was arrested and charged with Attempted Burglary and Possession of Burglarious Tools. He was held without bond.

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Buckingham Villages; Police

MOU Deadline Delayed

A March 1 deadline to reach the objectives spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding set between Arlington County and Paradigm Development Co. has been pushed back to later in March. The MOU states that the county and Paradigm will work in good faith to redevelop Buckingham Villages with the interests of the owner, residents and community in mind.

The timeline was to see final proposals at the county board meeting on Feb. 24. Given the level of detail needed in the application, both sides have said the deadline was too tight. To have the site plan application approved through the various county commissions before reaching the county board in late February would have meant having the entire application completed a couple weeks from now.

“We potentially could have done it, and it just wouldn’t have been perfect. We’ve spent so much time, we want it to be complete and understandable,” said Paradigm President Stan Sloter in an interview.

He said that site plan “Scenario 8” has been chosen as the best idea to pursue in the site plan application, and they intend to have the full application regarding that site plan ready for the county’s planning commission by the first week of March. (For the most recent discussion of the site plan scenarios see the Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 Herald Trib.)

A fly in this ointment could be a March 9 deadline for filing a tax-break application with the state. The tax breaks will help the county and Paradigm offer the some of the units at affordable rates. Mr. Sloter said he believes they have enough of the details worked out to be able to apply for the tax credits, but he admitted that something unforeseen might occur.


Police Notes for Buckingham

Jan. 17: Felony Hit and Run, N. Glebe Road at N. Piedmont Street.

Between 7:10 and 7:15p.m., a car rear-ended a vehicle waiting to make a left turn from northbound N. Glebe Road onto N. 4th Street.

The suspect vehicle did not stop and continued onto Piedmont Street, a block east of Glebe Road, where it struck six parked cars. The suspect vehicle was later located, unoccupied, in the area of N. 4th and Nelson Streets, the police reported.

A K-9 unit conducted a track and found the suspect about a block away with the keys to the vehicle in his pocket. David Sanchez Cortez, 26, of Arlington, was arrested and charged with Felony Hit and Run and six counts of Misdemeanor Hit and Run, police reported.

Mr. Sanchez Cortez was also charged for Driving Without a License and he was wanted by the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office on an “failure to appear” warrant for a previous Driving Without a License charge, the police reported. As well, the arrest report indicated that Mr. Sanchez Cortez had been drinking but may not have been impaired by it, wrote Det. Steve Gomez in an email. Gomez is a spokesperson for the Arlington County Police.

In a follow-up telephone call, he said that he didn’t know exactly why no field sobriety test was given. Under Viginia law a driver may refuse the field test, and officers might not have thought Mr. Sanchez Cortez was inebriated enough to require a test, Det. Gomez said.

According to Det. Gomez, Mr. Sanchez Cortez was to be released on $10,000 bond but faces up to 10 years in jail or a $2,500 fine. There are many other lesser possibilities for punishment, depending on the wording of the charges, Det. Gomez wrote.

According to Det. Gomez, the driver of the victim’s car did not report injuries to police.

Reported Jan. 17:
Stolen Car, 300 block of N. Thomas St.
A 1997 black Honda civic, with plates: MD 9BZF54. (Police did not identify when the car was stolen.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Planning Commission; Flying Squirrels

Planning Commission Hears from County Staff on Bham Villages

The County’s Planning Commission heard county staff presentations on the progress of the Buckingham Villages redevelopment on Tuesday night.

There was very little discussion of the matter as it was intended to be an informational item, not an action item, on the agenda, said Freida Wray from the county’s planning division of the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

Staffers presented information on Buckingham Villages scenarios 2 and 8, including site plan designs, density changes, and affordable housing (see the Dec. 10 Herald Trib for a discussion of the scenarios).

Paradigm Development Corp. is in the process of redeveloping the three “villages” located between N. Pershing Drive at the south and N. Henderson Road at the north, and N. Thomas Street on the east and the Culpepper Gardens Apartment complex on the west. They have already begun the process of redeveloping Village 2 on the east side of N. George Mason Drive at N. Henderson Road. Apartments once at that location have been razed to make way for upscale townhouses.

The plan for Village 1, located west of N. George Mason Drive is to remove the current garden-style apartments and replace them with a mix of townhouses and multi-story apartment buildings. Apartments in Village 3 will be renovated inside, and some of the buildings will receive additions. The goal is to maintain about 300 affordable units within Villages 1 and 3.

The Planning Commission is a citizen’s advisory board authorized by the state to help the county make land use decisions, the planning department’s web site says. The Planning Commission makes recommendations of how to proceed to the county manager who in turn makes a recommendation to the county board.
No action was taken. However, a March deadline for implementing or pulling away from the Memorandum of Understanding signed last August between the county and Paradigm, means some decisions will have to be made soon.

Ode to the Arlington Flying Squirrel
Or: Glaucomys Volans (The Southern Flying Squirrel)

We see you at Long Branch
As the dusk turns to dark.
We watch you land softly upon
Cold winter bark.

O! you diamond of the night sky
You fur-covered kite,
You dance upon the tree trunk
To my daughter’s delight!

My son thinks you’re marvelous
And he watches with glee
As you poke around looking
From the back of the tree.

You skitter and cheep,
Fill up on mixed-nuts,
And peanut butter you lick
From the tree’s furrowed ruts.

Then we watch (is it possible?)
You climb 90 feet higher
Then onto a branch
To become the high-diver

—You tiny little thing
That neither flaps, flits nor flutters,
And weighs no more
Than a half-stick of butter—

You glide tree-to-tree
Your white belly aglow
From the beam of a flashlight
Janet shines from below.

Fifty feet down
And 30 away
We watch you depart,
Then we end our stay.

My daughter jumps from our couch
Wishing she were nocturnal
As she tries the flight
Of the Acrobat Squirrel.

Although I wrote this to the single squirrel, I must put in that our viewing with a handful of other families Saturday night saw at least a half-dozen of the little buggers, probably closer to a dozen. Cute as punch—big, nocturnal eyes. It’s a blast to see them. Most people, smarter than I, no doubt, brought flash cameras and seemed to capture some images, but I think I’d go with a flashlight. The squirrels look quite a bit like any other rodent on the tree. The flying is the cool thing, and only the best night-equipped cameras could catch that. Prepare to strain your neck.

The latest email from the county’s “What’s Up Arlington” writes that the next fly-in is scheduled for this Saturday at the Long Branch Nature Center, call 703-228-6535 for “highly encouraged” reservations, $2. (Dates continue at least through February.)

What’s Up Arlington

The “What’s Up Arlington” email (written and distributed by the Dept. of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources) tells squirrel viewers to head over to Bailey’s Bar for happy hour or dinner at the Ballston Commons Mall after viewing the squirrels. It says the conversation will continue, but it feels more like an advertisement for the bar, since there doesn’t seem to be any sort of program attached to it.

Police Notes for Buckingham

Jan. 12: Attempted Armed Robbery 400 block of N. Thomas St.

Around 6:00 p.m., a man selling phone cards was approached by a black male who brandished what appeared to be two handguns and attempted to take the victim’s bag of phone cards. After a struggle, the suspect fled, dropping one of the guns as he left. The weapon turned out to be a BB gun. The suspect is described as a black male in his 20’s, approximately 5 feet, 7 inches tall, 160 pounds, wearing a camouflage jacket and blue jeans.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Glebe & Pershing, Coffee, Art, News of News.

Progress, Slow and Underground, at Glebe/Pershing


had me on the telephone to Bill Roberts at the county. He tells me that some of the telephone poles (most likely Virginia Power’s) are being “topped,” or cut short, before they’ll be pulled from the ground outright.

The neighborhood is probably going to see some more slow-going on this, however, as the different wires are still being pulled through the underground conduits or are being attached to the buildings. Some poles will remain in place to hold up street lights or traffic signals, said Mr. Roberts, who the Capital Projects Manager in the Department of Environmental Services, Transportation Bureau.

Recall that the intersection at N. Glebe Road and N. Pershing Drive is set to undergo a massive renovation, one that Mr. Roberts previously called the worst project he’s seen in his 30-odd years with the county because of the difficulty of working with so many different stakeholders—citizens, property owners and the Virginia Department of Transportation. (See the Sept. 13, 2006 post.)

The power poles will be cut down and the wires run underground. The lanes of traffic will be shifted, and the entrances and traffic flow will be shifted through the CVS parking lot.

Mr. Roberts said that his department has recently sent to VDOT the final drawings of the project for approval, which he expects to take about six weeks. Then the job goes out to bid, and finally, the work gets done.

Buckingham should see changes by the summer; at that time the telephone and power poles should be gone. This is the same schedule that Mr. Roberts reported last September—so in that sense, the project is on schedule!

To give a little perspective, at one point in my journalism career, I published the Buckingham Independent News, and I was covering this project—that was 2002, and it was already about a year old.

Here are the final drawings as supplied by Mr. Roberts. (The image is cropped and saved as a small file. With luck, the detail comes out. North is to the left.)

I’m a sucker for a new coffee shop…

and the Rendez Vous Café caught me a little by surprise. I had just left the parking lot of the Arlington Arts Center on Wilson Boulevard, heading vaguely on my way to Murky Coffee in Clarendon, when a large, “Grand Opening” sign written in permanent marker caught my eye.

I can’t remember what used to fill the space, but there was this nice little coffee shop, which was doing a slow but steady business mid-morning on Tuesday. It holds just six tables, and the place was a little warm. It offers the standards of a coffee shop: the drinks, muffins and bagels.

But it also offers crepes and paninis, fresh fruit and gourmet breads, items not offered on-the-go at most coffee shops, the owners said.

They are Mourad Rais and Hesham Bennani, both from Morocco.

They built the interior décor themselves, Mr. Rais said. It’s a nice use of space, Mediterranean colors, and an exposed wood frame that mimics a trellis-roof, beachside. International music played—some of it was American ‘60s pop translated into French and Spanish.

Mr. Rais said the plan is to expand into the one-bedroom apartment at the back of the store and put in couches and more tables. The Internet access was not up and running, but it was coming, he said.

The coffee was good and reasonably priced; I didn’t try the other foods—the desserts looked beautiful, too: tiramissu, chocolate tarts (damn that new year’s resolution!).

Mr. Rais said he has owned a coffee shop for seven years in the Potomac Mills mall, but troubles with the lease brought him to Arlington.

The grand opening was on Saturday. According to Mr. Rais, they had an outdoor buffet and the place was packed. People were sitting on the stairs outside, enjoying the warm weather.

The restaurant is at 3540 Wilson Blvd, next door to the Arlington Arts Center.

Free Sun Gazettes for Buckinghamsters? Maybe this year…

The Sun Gazette hopes to mail newspapers to all the houses in Arlington by the end of this year, Deb Hummel, the Sun Gazette’s business manager said Monday. She said they don’t mail to two zip codes currently, including Buckingham’s 22203.

"We would love to add another 10 or 15 thousand,” she said. This is part of changes in their subscription management.

The conversation came about when I called to find out why I was getting a Sun Gazette mailed to me. See, last February I sent in my check, never cashed (the former manager of subscriptions left a little to be desired, apparently).

I let my subscription lag, and then, as you know if you’ve read this blog, I got miffed that I had been paying about $30 per year, while some lobbyist making eight times my salary in North Arlington got it for free.

Suddenly, about a month ago, the paper started showing up again. I feared they found and had cashed a check my bank had long ago given up for dead. But that’s not the case. The newspaper has begun to send out papers to former subscribers, Ms. Hummel said, to gauge interest and get their subscription management in better order.

Even though I write for the Arlington Connection, which is already free to any Arlingtonian who calls and requests a subscription (703-917-6465), I look forward to the time when we all get the Sun Gazette. I just don’t like it when our neighborhood gets left out.

Global Shifts at the Arlington Arts Center

I’ll give you another reason to begin thinking about Global Warming: Arlington Arts Center.

“Topotechture,” the grey-painted bamboo frames that look somewhat like mountain peeks on the center’s front lawn have been moving and changing. When the piece was first installed (reported here on Oct. 11, 2006), they were snow-capped with a white, waterproof material and they formed a long range. Now, the snow caps are gone, and the chain is two separate clumps of mountains, moved there by artist Laura Amussen.

The change (the mountains have moved four times since their installation last fall, AAC staff told me) is attempting to simulate, like time-lapse photography, the changes in the earth.

With the lack of snow (and all this terrible warm weather we’re having), I just couldn’t help but think of major shifts in the environment. I don’t believe that this one winter will be the precursor to warm winters forever. But with those mountains moving so quickly, and the weather abnormally warm, with polar bears threatened and even Bob Seeger singing about too much fossil fuel consumption, I just couldn’t help but feel a little moved myself.

By the way, the painting and multi-media pieces inside the center are really something to see. Arlington Arts Center: 3550 Wilson Blvd.

Police Notes for Buckingham

Jan. 5: Fatal accident 600 N. Glebe Rd (the Ballston Common Mall parking lot).
At approximately 11:17 a.m., a woman was struck by a vehicle in the parking garage of Ballston Common Mall. The victim was taken to a local hospital where she later succumbed to her injuries.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

EXTRA: Arlington Budget Not As Bad as Feared

The funding gap in the county’s 2008 budget is projected to be “substantially less” than originally estimated, Mary Curtius, a spokesperson for the county, said today. With commercial real estate assessments higher than expected, the county manager’s office learned this week that the gap is not projected to hit the $20 million they originally feared. The county budget, including school funds, runs about $1 billion annually.

The economic juggernaut that was Arlington housing is rolling more slowly, and with it, the tax receipts to the county have shrunk. The county is still facing a large gap that Ms. Curtius could not estimate. Budget cuts, or slower spending growth, are still expected.

The county manager’s office is preparing the budget for the county board to consider at their February meeting. The board is expected to finalize the budget in April after debate and public input. The new budget takes effect July 1.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A New Year!, Truck Operations, Fences, etc. etc.

I’m back. Had a restful holiday, thanks for asking. I hope yours was eventful in the best sort of way. As I said when I last signed-off, this blog will be updated on a weekly basis (Wednesdays) with occasional “extras.”

From the Department of Understatements…

Det. Steve Gomez, a spokesman in the Arlington County Police, wins the understatement of the day with this quote:

“That was a tractor-trailer that attempted to make a U-turn, unsuccessfully.”

He was referring to the truck I reported on in my Dec. 20 posting.

When I saw the truck, it was blocking both southbound lanes of George Mason Dr. at N. 4th Road. The rear wheels of the truck were on the median and the front wheels were on the southbound sidewalk.

Det. Gomez reported that the police responded near 8:00 a.m. and left the scene at 9:12.

An hour-long operation using a tow truck first disconnected the tractor from the trailer and then reunited them after removing the blockage.

The driver drove on his way, without a citation, Gomez said. “We helped out the driver since he got himself into a predicament.”

Fencing for Seniors

A higher and pointier fence should grace the grounds of Culpepper Gardens, replacing the four-foot decrepit chain-link fence. The county board last November approved the site plan for the replacement fence that board materials said is made of aluminum and has “spear”-like points on the tops of the palings.

The county will continue to run a senior center from the basement of Culpepper Gardens. The lease with a slight amendment, basically changing the dates of the lease, was approved at the county’s December board meeting. The senior center will continue there until 2012.


About Arlington

I must admit that I like my latest
About Arlington piece in the Connection. Check it out, or better yet, get your own copy (have it mailed to you for FREE).

I know you can pick up a copy at the Barcroft Community Center on Four Mile Run, at Murky Coffee in Clarendon and Bob and Edith’s diner (the original store) on Columbia Pike—I’m sure there are other places in the county where you can snag one. Or
simply call 703-917-6465, and they’ll set-up a FREE SUBSCRIPTION for you (if you live in Arlington). It takes about six or eight weeks to get your first, so be patient.

Police Notes for Buckingham

Dec. 26, 2006:
Attempted Robbery by Force, 200 block N. Glebe Road (in the vicinity of Pershing Drive).
At approximately 10:45 p.m., a man walking down the street was approached by three men who demanded his money. One of the men pushed the victim and the other two grabbed him. The victim was able to get away from the suspects but had to go to the hospital to be treated for a bite to the hand.

Det. Steve Gomez, an Arlington County Police spokesman, said there were no reports of the man having left a nearby ATM or anything that would have made him a better target.

Suspect #1 is described as a white Hispanic male, 6’ tall, 200 lbs, wearing a brown leather jacket. Suspect #2 is described as a white Hispanic male, 5’7” tall, 200 lbs, wearing a blue jean jacket. Suspect #3 is described as a white Hispanic male, 5’7” tall, 200 lbs, wearing a brown shirt.

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