Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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A coming land-use decision will force the county board to choose among past, present and public safety.

Fire Station No. 8, on Lee Highway across from McDonald’s, holds the historic distinction of being the first African-American-run firehouse south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The Fire Department is mulling a plan to improve fire-truck response times by moving it northward to possible sites on Glebe Road.

Neighbors in the area of Old Dominion Drive near Marymount University are not thrilled. Neither are African-American residents of Halls Hill/High View Park, who feel that given the “passion and emotion” surrounding No. 8, the county should do more “due diligence,” I was told by civic association president Alexandra Bocian.

Public meetings with Fire Chief Jim Schwartz are unfolding in June and July, with a final decision by the board due this fall. But leaders should expect summer fireworks from Arlington’s deep bench of citizen policy kibbitzers.

Richard Lolich, president of the Old Dominion Citizens Association, has been blasting the board and staff for “blindsiding” the community and “short-circuiting” the process with only three public meetings. For 20 years, he said, his community has wanted the county-owned parcel at 26th Street near St. Mary’s Episcopal Church to be a public park with gazebo, play area and garden space. He showed me a map showing the vision alongside the county’s existing mulch pile, future site of the salt dome storage tank (currently farther down Old Dominion). “It’s not a NIMBY thing for us,” he said, given those other public facilities his neighbors accept.

They want a long-term task force convened—as was done a dozen years ago during a fight over the Cherrydale fire station.

A parallel argument comes from Halls Hill native Marguarite Reed Gooden, a retired Arlington schools administrator whose father and brother were captains at Fire Station No. 8. “We want to keep this hub of the neighborhood that became symbolic of how Arlington progressed over the decades,” she told me, noting that the land was donated by the Hicks family, who bought it a century ago because there were no fire stations hiring blacks. “A lot of activists came out of that fire station, encouraging others to further their careers after high school.”

Chief Schwartz is “fully aware” of the site’s history, having participated a decade ago in a commemorative event at Langston School. The site’s significance will be honored, he says. “However, I don’t think that’s reason to compromise response-time objectives (four-to-six minutes), which cannot be achieved if we rebuild that firehouse at its current location.”

The county has funds only for one new station, and the Old Dominion Drive site is already county-owned, under consideration as a firehouse for years, he says. The Cherrydale situation was more complicated because a number of sites had to be considered for purchase, which required more community input, he explains.

The county’s master plan is the vehicle with which the board will balance demands for parks, salt dome relocation and a firehouse—perhaps accommodating all. “My obligation is to make recommendations to the board in the best interest of the community, not any one household,” Schwartz says.” Fire-fighting strategies are “different from a community center, library or park,” he added. “Our preferred site improves response times to a substantial portion of the county and does not compromise them anywhere else.”

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Ever been driving with eyes peeled for a destination address, only to find that the buildings you check for guidance display no address numbers? With annoyance I’ve noticed this in residential neighborhoods, but more flagrantly in Ballston.

On North Glebe Rd. near the Wilson Blvd. crossroads, I’ve spotted the absence of numbers on the George Washington University offices, California University of Management and Sciences, P.F. Chang’s restaurant and the Dry Cleaner Outlet.

David Hunter, Arlington’s deputy zoning administrator, backs me on this one. He quotes Sec. 110.5 of the 2012 Virginia Residential Code: “Each building or structure to which a street number has been assigned shall, upon completion, have the number displayed so as to be readable from the public right of way.” How about it, owners, can you speed us all along to our destinations?