Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


Man’s best friend demands only the best dog park.

Such has been Arlington’s approach over the past three decades as it has fenced off no fewer than eight canine recreation centers — allowing unleashed romping and occasionally unleashed social intercourse among the committed humans who partake.

But the enclaves have a history of controversy. The latest unfolded this spring and summer at the Shirlington Dog Park along Four Mile Run, and it augurs for another of our county’s patented “Arlington Way” extended deliberations.

The clash over Shirlington’s park, created in the 1980s on two acres with a nifty gate at S. Oakland St., pits the activist volunteer dog-lovers against some broader county strategies for environmental protection and historic preservation.

Earlier Arlington fights involved high costs and neighbors’ fear of increased traffic. At Fort Ethan Allen on N. Glebe Rd., an informal dog park arose during the 1980s alongside the berms of the Civil War fort. Neighbors objected when the county installed a fence in 2000, fearing damage to the fort’s remnants (a later addition of an outdoor Civil War museum caused another dispute). The solution came in 2006 with construction of a $400,000 canine recreation lot around the corner on Stafford St.

In 2013, the county cut the ribbon for the cutting-edge $1.6 million James Hunter dog park in Clarendon at N. Herndon and N. 13th sts. It’s highly unusual ingredients – public art, rainwater recycling and solar panels – prompted growls about waste from Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, who wrote that Arlington dog park costs are “skyrocketing.”

The Shirlington dust-up comes in context of the country’s long-term Four Mile Run Valley initiative, a vision and policy framework to recast the area’s parks. It will impact the nearby Nauck town square district and the Jennie Dean athletic park near the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

There’s also a set of changing industrial buildings and plans for an arts district. (One warehouse is now home to the New District Brewing Company, a microbrewery I recently toured, and which is helping stage a “Valley Fest” music, food and arts fair Nov. 5.)

This spring, county staff released a preliminary plan to improve the industrial zone’s soil and stormwater management in compliance with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Plan. It suggested a redesign that meant lopping off portions of the Shirlington Dog Park.

Not cool, said the organized dog lovers who take care of the park and supply the poop bags. Some volunteers formed a “Shirlington Dog Park” Facebook page (currently 2,981 likes) and, last month, an authorized sponsoring group set up a website at Shirlingtondogs.org.

On Sept. 15, a county-formed consensus-seeking working group released a report. Gone was any mention of reducing the size of the dog park. But the report was inconclusive—bandying about alternative methods for improving stormwater management, such as tearing down county-owned warehouses (the arts folks objected). “To meet all the county’s environmental requirements would literally be impossible,” working group member Keith Fred told me. “It would cost hundreds of millions, and there would be no dog park.”

County neighborhood services official Chikwe Njoku said the report is being reviewed for a final plan for Four Mile Run expected in summer 2018.

Shirlington’s exuberant dog lovers, meanwhile, can continue removing those leashes as they are accustomed to doing, for the foreseeable future.


Marymount University delivered. When it tore down the Arlington landmark wags called “The blue goose,” it promised to commemorate the unique, if tacky, 1963 architectural marvel at N. Glebe Rd. and Fairfax Dr.

The brand spanking new Rixey office complex, which houses the university’s business and education schools, now displays a blue sign with text and a photo of the old goose, framed by an elegantly lit blue tile wall.

A nearby courtyard contains additional panels giving history of the building and the previous transportation hub situated there a century ago. Great community-building.