On the ground in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Archive for August 2010

Montgomery County students head back to school

August 30, 2010 - 05:00 AM
First day of school
Summer vacation is over. (Photo: Associated Press)

The new school year begins in just a few hours in Montgomery County. Parents, rejoice!

This will be Superintendent Jerry Weast’s last first day of school, as he’s set to retire when his contract expires June 30. The Board of Education can’t officially start the search for a new head administrator until after elections and the December swearing-in of new board members.

Also, county police will be assigning nine school resource officers to 24 high schools countywide to serve as liaisons between schools and the police department.

And then there’s the larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and not as many new textbooks, thanks to a $97 million cut in the total MCPS operating budget. If that doesn’t put a damper on your day and you can still send your kids off to school with a smile, you can submit first-day-of-school photos to be used in an online gallery on the Montgomery County Public Schools system's website.

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Arlington board's Walter Tejada shows love for food trucks

August 27, 2010 - 04:53 PM
Taco Truck
One member of the county board sees food trucks as a way to stimulate retail traffic. (Photo: TBD Staff)

We're not sure if it was just getting to be lunch time or what, but Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada sort of abruptly championed food carts during yesterday's board meeting on retail policies in the county. As the food cart craze has exploded in D.C. in recent months, Arlington has reaped many of the delicious benefits due to the relative ease of obtaining a vending license in the county as compared to D.C.

If D.C.'s Title 24 keeping public spaces open to food carts gets this kind of love from the City Council, we could be in for a lot more food carts.

While talking about ways to stimulate retail areas that may be lagging, Tejada asked members of the Economic Development Commission whether they'd thought about the potential for food carts to stimulate retail traffic.

"Some of the diversity of uses I'd be interested in is street cart vendors," he said. "Sometimes people have carts they can sell hot dogs or sell pupusas, or ice cream."

He added that having a variety of uses, including the trucks, "could inject a little more pedestrian activity," he said. "I just wanted to express that's something i'm very interested in exploring. We have an opportunity of expanding them in other places, such as Columbia Pike and Crystal City."

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Pepco trimming trees across Montgomery County

August 27, 2010 - 03:56 PM
Pepco tree trimming
Trimming trees near Potomac power lines will help reduce outages, according to Pepco.

If you live in Montgomery County, take a look at the video below and get used to it, because Pepco crews will be out in your neighborhoods trimming trees like the company's reputation depended upon it.

The work is the follow-up to last week’s announcement by Pepco’s of a five-year reliability improvement plan, and it will include $256.5 million to be spent over the next five years on tree-trimming, replacing power lines, upgrading substations, and placing some power lines underground.

“It’s a five-year plan. It’s not a five-minute plan or a five-day plan. So it’s going to take some time to get the kind of results that we want to get,” Pepco’s region president Thomas Graham said from Potomac earlier today.

So who gets what? Take a look at the document after the jump to find out what will be happening in your area. In Montgomery County alone, Pepco has planned 107 projects, including ones in Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Olney, and Rockville. There will also be some upgrades in Prince George’s County and in D.C.

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Prepare for evening closures on the Custis Trail ... again

August 27, 2010 - 03:35 PM

The section of the Custis Trail that goes under the I-66 underpass near Bon Air park will once again close overnight next week so a protective covering can be installed, according to Arlington County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources.

The trail was closed at night for four days this week for similar work.

The trail will close from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights in order to allow for the installation of a covering that that will protect riders from debris falling from the future widening of the overpass, according to the parks department. Arlington County Parks recommends walking bikes through that section of the trail while the work is ongoing.

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Park at 11th & Monroe NW closed for lead contamination

August 27, 2010 - 03:27 PM
11th and Monroe park closed
The 11th and Monroe street park has been closed due to lead contamination. (Photo: TBD Staff)

Dust from demolition debris that may contain lead has caused the District Department of the Environment to close a park at 11th and Monroe streets NW in Columbia Heights.

The park was closed last Friday, and DDOE has since alerted the community to the situation and set up a free blood testing station for anyone who is concerned about lead exposure. Acting DDOE Director Christophe Tulou describes the lead levels discovered in the park as "not terribly serious," but he's still urging anyone who lives nearby or uses the park to stop and get tested.

"Any lead exposure, as far as we're concerned, is too much," he says.

The city began testing dust in the park last week after receiving a complaint from a neighbor. Tulou describes the results as "variable," with some coming back completely negative, while others registered as high as 1,000 micrograms per sq. ft., which is "not an extraordinarily high level" but still one that could "potentially elevate blood lead levels."

DDOE is especially encouraging children under the age of six and pregnant women to take a blood test. About 40 people have been tested so far, but the results have yet to come back, Tulou says.

City officials are still investigating to determine the source of the dust, trying to make certain it didn't come from more than one location. But residents say a nearby demolition site at 3511 13th Street NW, which overlooks the park, is the main culprit. One neighbor described seeing a plume of construction dust fall over the park from the building last week.

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Graham: Gage-Eckington Park will go forward

August 27, 2010 - 02:32 PM
Gage-Eckington Park
The planned Gage-Eckington Park is a go. (Image: Courtesy LeDroit Park Civic Association)

LeDroit Park is going to get its new park after all.

A disapproval resolution placed last month on the planned Gage-Eckington Park by D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) has expired without further action, so the project can now move forward, according to Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

"I am pleased to tell you that as of yesterday, August 26 (my birthday by the way), the contract for the park was approved by the Council. That approval was delayed as we all know… but the disapproval resolution lapsed, and the contract went forward," Graham wrote in an email to constituents Friday.

Graham says he's told the contract will be executed on Monday, with work to follow shortly thereafter.

The LeDroit Park community has been fuming ever since Barry placed his hold on the park at the end of July. Graham himself took to the listservs to chastise his colleague. "This is an outrage, and a totally needless delay in a very worthwhile project," he wrote.

Barry's had a history of these kinds of disapproval resolutions of late, including one against the transfer of Hill East to city control and another against DDOT's move to 55 M Street SE. At the time that he filed his motion against Gage-Eckington, Barry was all about the tough talk, telling the City Paper that he had had no plans to withdraw the resolution, referring to the project as yet more mayoral "shenanigans." But it now appears that Barry has let the issue go.

Amid its investigation into Mayor Adrian Fenty's parks contracting scheme, the D.C. Council explicitly approved funding for the Gage-Eckington project in March.


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Ride On bus service cuts begin Labor Day weekend

August 27, 2010 - 12:35 PM
Metro Red Line
Can't take the Red Line over Labor Day weekend? Don't necessarily count on the Ride On bus. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

If you plan to travel in East Montgomery County over Labor Day weekend, Dave Jamieson has already warned you that Metro may not be the best way. Five Red Line stations — Glenmont, Wheaton, Forest Glen, Silver Spring, and Takoma — will all be closed for maintenance projects and track replacement work. The temporary closures are for good reason: to come into compliance with some recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board. Everyone loves safety.

But not everyone loves budget cuts, which is the reason behind another set of transportation closures in the same area that will take effect during Labor Day weekend. And these changes are permanent, so get used to them.

Starting Sept. 5, some Ride On bus routes will have a shift in times, others won’t come as frequently, but some Saturday routes will be cut altogether. The eliminated routes include: Wheaton-Kensington route 7, Silver Spring-Hillandale route 22, Bethesda-Naval Ship route 32, Glenmont-Bethesda via Medical Center route 33, and Shady Grove-Traville Transit Center-Fallsgrove Center route 43. The complete list of changes can be seen here.

Why the cuts? In case you don’t use toilets in public parks, or need lights in civic buildings, or have kids in school, you may not know that Montgomery County is in a bit of a budget crunch. The county is about $1 billion in the hole and next up on the chopping block is Ride On bus service.

The original budget proposal included a 7.5 percent cut of all Ride On bus service. Residents spoke up during a Feb. 1 public forum, and the final budget went down to just a 2.3 percent cut in service.

Saturday bus riders will still have a way to get between, say, the Wheaton and Forest Glen Metro stations, but the ride will just take longer. So plan accordingly.

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Repaving making roads in Clarendon a mess right now

August 27, 2010 - 12:30 PM
Road Construction
Roadwork is blocking one lane on Washington Boulevard eastbound from Clarendon right now. (Photo: TBD Staff)

In our continued coverage of traffic here on the Neighborhoods blog today, we're including a PSA to tell people that there is a bunch of road construction going on around the Clarendon Metro station right now.If you're in a car, you probably want to circumvent that intersection if possible.

Ongoing work to repave Wilson Boulevard has bumped right into new paving on Washington Boulevard, meaning that both of those thoroughfares are down to one lane and parking is restricted for several blocks on each side of their intersection.

It's slow going on Washington Boulevard heading towards U.S. Route 50 right now and pretty much crawling on Wilson Boulevard next to the Metro station. Driver and bikers should be careful around the area.

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Major lane closures on I-66 East this weekend

August 27, 2010 - 11:05 AM
Lane Closures
Two of three lanes will be closed on I-66 East this weekend between Nutley Street and the Beltway. (Map courtesy VDOT.)

It's rare we post something totally outside of Arlington here at TBD Neighborhoods, but when something promises to tie up traffic so severely, we think it's warranted. People will no doubt be out this gorgeous weekend trying to take advantage of the final throes of summer, and congestion could be particularly heavy over the next two days due to some major lane closures on I-66 East.

Two of three lanes on the eastbound side of I-66 between the Capital Beltway (I-495) and Nutley Street will close tonight starting at 7 p.m. "as crews prepare to shift traffic to the new I-66 bridges over the beltway." The lanes will remain closed through 5 a.m. on Monday.

Motorists should expect delays of "an hour or more" during peak travel times on Saturday and Sunday, according to Virginia Department of Transportation. If you're driving late night, you could get caught in one of the periodic stoppages of traffic that will occur after midnight each of the nights. These stoppages are expected to last no more than 30 minutes.

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Pepco reveals more information today

August 27, 2010 - 10:30 AM
Pepco crew
Pepco crews were busy repairing wires after July and August storms. (Photo: TBD Staff)

Pepco officials picked a good day to spend time revealing information: today’s forecast calls for lots of sun and Pepco's StormCenter map currently shows only three customers in Montgomery County affected by power outages. Three!

WTOP reported this morning that the Maryland Public Service Commission ordered Pepco to hand over internal documents, including all documents relating to tree-trimming and a list of its most problematic feeder power lines (the ones that can carry electricity for 800 to 2,000 customers). This comes after the PSC's investigation into Pepco's response to the July 25 storm.

And then at 2 p.m., Pepco region president Thomas H. Graham and others will give out even more details on the company’s plan to improve reliability over the next five years, because apparently the last announcement wasn’t detailed enough. The plan includes large dollar amounts dedicated to tree-trimming, putting some power lines underground, and replacing the ever-important substations — about $250 million in total to be spent over the next five years.

Hopefully everyone in Montgomery County will have a sufficient amount of time to digest all of this new information before Monday night’s public hearing in Rockville on Pepco’s response. And Prince George’s County residents, you have until Sept. 2 until your hearing.

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Howard Theatre groundbreaking is Sept. 2

August 27, 2010 - 10:21 AM
Howard Theatre
A groundbreaking ceremony for the Howard Theatre will take place Sept. 2. (Photo: TBD Staff)

We've finally got an exact time and date for the Howard Theatre groundbreaking. The historic, long-neglected theater celebrated its 100th anniversary last week.

ANC1B commissioner and Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc. board member Myla Moss sent the following message out to neighborhood email lists Friday morning:

It is with great honor and pride that I announce the groundbreaking for the Historic Howard Theatre, on Thursday September 2, 2010 @ 10:45 a.m. All are welcome and encouraged to attend this momentous occasion. The event will take place in front of the original theatre 7th & T NW.

Next week will be a busy one for long-stalled project groundbreakings in Shaw. CityMarket at O is set to break ground the day before, Sept. 1, at 3 p.m.

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Progress Report: The Views at Clarendon

August 27, 2010 - 09:44 AM
The Views at Clarendon
Excavation should be done by the end of next month at The Views at Clarendon. (Photo: TBD Staff)

What: Housing complex with 70 units of affordable housing and 46 market rate units being built behind an existing church in Clarendon.

Where: 1315 North Hartford St., Arlington, VA 22201

Start date: Planning began in 2003, work at the site began in spring of 2010

Since then: Demolition of the existing church building began in January, according to the construction log, despite an outstanding court case against the project. (Residents from nearby the church had been suing to stop the project on various grounds since 2004.) The case, brought by nearby resident Peter Glassman, was dismissed by a U.S. District Court Judge in April. He filed an appeal which is pending at the appellate level.

Demolition and excavation has had to be done very carefully, according to Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing President/CEO Nina Janopaul, because the building is preserving the existing front of the church building and the school building behind. "A lot of this has been done by smaller excavation equipment because of the two existing buildings there," she says. Excavation began in May and was expected to be done by the end of this month, according to the project's blog.

The latest: Excavation of the three-level parking garage below the building is expected to be finished by the end of September, according to Janopaul. Floor-to ceiling concrete work will begin after that and last through February of 2011. Earlier this month, conduits for Verizon and Comcast utilities were installed (a 4" line for Verizon, does that mean the new building will be FiOS-ready?) and work to install a fire hydrant across Hartford Street from the building was ongoing this week.

Bottom line: Neighbors are likely in for a noisy few months as the skeleton of the building goes up. The project is on schedule for completion by November 2011, according to APAH.

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Glenn Beck rally stage is set

August 27, 2010 - 09:33 AM
Glenn Beck rally
Glenn Beck is back. (Photo: Associated Press)

Here's the view from the National Mall this morning, as the stage for Saturday's Glenn Beck rally is put into place.

Feeling any tea party anxiety? TBD's Jeff Sonderman has you covered with all the times, street closures, and routes for this weekend's dueling rallies. Beck's "Restoring Honor" event is set to run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., while the NAACP's "Reclaiming the Dream" rally, marking the anniversary of the March on Washington, will start at 11 a.m. at Dunbar High School (1301 New Jersey Ave. NW), followed by a march to the site of the future Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.

And don't miss this morning's iteration of The List, which offers helpful tips on how to throw an actual tea party.

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New Silver Spring library $3M over budget

August 27, 2010 - 05:00 AM
Silver Spring Library
The design for the new Silver Spring Library includes a lot of glass (Image: The Lukmire Partnership, Inc.)

There will be two groundbreakings in Silver Spring next week for two major projects that are both around $3 million over budget.

One is the much-reported upon Fillmore, a publicly-financed rock club that will be leased to Live Nation. And the other is the new Silver Spring library.

The Fillmore is safe; there just happened to be some extra public money around to fill the gap. But planners are now trying to figure out a way to reduce the $32 million library project by $3 million before the construction contract is awarded.

The library project is much more ambitious than the $11.2 million, 23,000-square-foot Fillmore. The library on the corner of Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street could be 112,000 square feet and seven stories tall. Plans include a coffee shop, a Metro platform to accommodate the future Purple Line, county offices, meeting rooms, and artist studios on the first two floors.

Now everyone is faced with making some cuts. Nix county office space on the sixth floor? Doing that also means cutting potential future library space. Separate the art studios? Move the meeting rooms to lower levels? Eliminate an entire floor? What about that three-story escalator?

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Phoenix Bikes wants to pitch your tent ... for the kids

August 26, 2010 - 05:05 PM
Phoenix Bikes
Phoenix Bikes is in Barcroft Park near Four Mile Run. (Photo courtesy Phoenix Bikes)

Hey Arlington! Do you have a tent you're not using this weekend? You should lend it to the folks at Phoenix Bikes, who are getting ready to leave tomorrow morning on their end of summer camping trip.

There's about 14 of people going on the trip, between shop staff and kids involved in the after school/summer program, but the problem is, they're missing tent space for at least four of them. The youth mechanics have spent all summer learning to fix up bikes at the shop and are psyched to get out onto the trail tomorrow morning.

Tents will be returned on Sunday and well cared for by experienced campers. If you'd be up for [temporarily] donating your tent to this cause, call the shop at (703) 575-7762.

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In D.C., most sidewalk signs are OK these days

August 26, 2010 - 04:07 PM
Sandwich board at Solly's Tavern
This sign outside Solly's Tavern on U Street won't cause the bar to be fined by DDOT. (Photo: TBD Staff)

All this debate over sandwich board signs in Arlington County reminded me that the District of Columbia went through a similar kerfuffle last year.

When current DDOT Director Gabe Klein took office in 2009, one of his first acts was to announce a push to begin enforcing an old law that bans sidewalk signs on city streets. Business owners were told they'd soon be receiving $150 fines if they failed to comply with a law that had long been ignored. But after Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham kicked up a fuss over the plan, its implementation was delayed pending further review.

So what's the story today?

"Currently we will enforce if the signs are considered a safety hazard to pedestrians," says DDOT spokesperson John Lisle. "For example, if a sign is in the middle of the sidewalk or blocking an accessibility ramp."

All other sidewalk signs, such as those placed immediately adjacent to a building or business entrance, won't currently invoke the wrath of the District, according to Lisle.

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Arlington County Board will also address larger retail issues

August 26, 2010 - 03:34 PM
Retail Space For Lease
A sign in Clarendon advertises available retail space on the ground floor of a large office building. (Photo: TBD Staff)

The ongoing sign discussion within the Arlington County Board I posted about earlier was part of a larger meeting between the board and members of the Retail Task Force, who have asked the county to look at changing some of its policies that require very specific retail uses on the ground floors of buildings along heavily trafficked corridors.

The task force, which was appointed by the Economic Development Commission, asked the county to look at some changes that would allow other uses, including day care centers, educational classrooms, galleries or professional offices, in spaces currently reserved for more traditional retail.

It was a suggestion the board took in stride, although some members questioned whether the problem of too much retail space being allocated is really a significant one considering that there is just a 6 percent vacancy rate among Arlington’s retail spaces.

“That strikes me as being low. Is our system really broken?” Board chairman Jay Fisette said. “Because the data doesn’t necessarily support the statement that there’s a problem.

Greater Greater Washington asked a similar question in response to our retail post earlier this week: rather than changing retail rules, what about lower rents?

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Silver Spring library design update tonight

August 26, 2010 - 02:58 PM
Silver Spring Library
A shiny, new library is in store for Silver Spring (courtesy of Montgomery County).

Want more library posts today? OK.

Tonight, folks in Silver Spring can head on over to their old library to find out what their new library will look like during a public meeting on the building's design.

A library design doesn’t seem like something that controversial, but it kind of is. Last summer the county council defeated a proposal to build a pedestrian bridge to connect the library to the Wayne Avenue parking garage. Proponents said the bridge increased handicapped access, opponents said such a design would be an eyesore and not contribute to redeveloping Fenton Street.

The current library design still allows for a bridge, if it’s ever approved, says county spokeswoman Bonnie Ayers.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the lower level meeting room of the old library at 8901 Colesville Road. And if any residents don’t like the way the new library will look, there isn't much time to change it; the ground-breaking is scheduled for 10 a.m., Monday.

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Arlington businesses may get reprieve from sign laws

August 26, 2010 - 02:55 PM
Sidewalk Sign
Will Arlington really end the crackdown on these pesky sidewalk signs? (Photo courtesy Clarendon Culture.)

Update: ARLNow brings up another prime example of the skirmish over the sign laws.

Everyone seems to agree that Arlington County can be a little finicky about its signs. All five members of the County Board said as much at a meeting Thursday morning. But given the bureaucratic process required to change the law, businesses could still be stuck without their sidewalk signs for awhile.

Or maybe not.

The county is looking into giving businesses a pass on certain signs while it works on changing countywide sign laws, members say. Board chairman Jay Fisette said the board has asked the county attorney whether it’s possible to suspend enforcement of certain sign laws (like the one that got a couple of A-frame sidewalk signs confiscated off North Fillmore Street two weeks ago) while the sign policies are revised.

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Planning on renewing your license in VA today? Skip it.

August 26, 2010 - 02:46 PM

Were you planning to sneak out early and take care of that long overdue driver's license renewal this afternoon? (C'mon, you can admit it. We get it. No one likes to go to the DMV on their own time.)

If you're a Virginia resident, you might want to re-think that plan. (Well, you can still leave early, but don't use the DMV as an excuse.) The state-wide computer system that manages the drivers licenses went down today and was still down as of 3 p.m., according to a spokesperson. The state is still working on the problem but there is currently no estimated recovery time, says DMV spokesperson Melanie Stokes.

All other transactions, including vehicle titles and registrations, are still available. The DMV issue is part of a larger outage affecting other departments, including the taxation, emergency management, social services, transportation and alcoholic beverage control.

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