Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

To the scads of projects delayed by the virus crisis we must add the county’s breakthrough solution for the long-empty Reeves farmhouse.

That house built in 1900 on the hill overlooking what today is Bluemont Park was until 1955 the HQ for Arlington’s last dairy farm. It has sat in the dark of public-policy limbo since the county acquired its 2.5 acres in 2001, with preservationists, educators, neighbors and budget critics stalemating on next steps.

This Feb. 25, county manager Mark Schwartz announced to the board his recommendation, and the board accepted a proposed multi-party funding plan for adaptive use of the home. It sets “the platinum standard for public-private partnerships,” in the words of Chris Tighe, president of the neighboring Boulevard Manor Civic Association.

The Reeves family for decades owned a special place in Arlington hearts. After Nelson Reeves retired in the mid-1950s, his land became a county park and Little League fields, the hill in front of his home prized for winter sledding.

“Farming is a good life, although a hard life,” he wrote in the 1975 Arlington Historical Magazine. “We had to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning. I started to help milking when I was big enough to sit on a milking stool and the old cow wouldn’t switch me off with her tail.”

Reeves also worked for 46 years with the Election Board, beginning in 1924 as a clerk in the Glencarlyn precinct and then as a registrar, election judge and courthouse commissioner.

My high school friend Mike Good recently told me proudly that his namesake grandfather worked for Reeves before starting his own dairy farm in East Falls Church. And neighbors and teachers at nearby Ashlawn Elementary School have treasured the property with its milking shed for educational gardening (an asset that under the new plan will continue).

It was neighborhood leader Tighe who got the brainstorm of approaching the housing nonprofit HabitatNOVA, which rebuilds homes for sale to low-income residents. The fading Reeves house, which will require renovations and maintenance, “was too expensive for one family,” I was told by Noemi Riveira, HabitatNOVA’s director of real estate development. So, Habitat hit on partnering with L’Arche Greater Washington D.C., a nonprofit that provides housing and support to persons with intellectual disabilities, which has experience in Arlington. Yet another partner was recruited to perform the renovations: HomeAid, the philanthropic arm of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association.

The country board members are thrilled, though success still depends on HabitatNOVA raising 25 percent of the long-term estimated $2.3 million needed. And the modernized home that will house four or five individuals from “L’Arche” must preserve features and satisfy the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board.

“The county has been super supportive,” if a bit slow, Tighe said, noting that the house over the years “was basically a money pit.” Most in his civic association are pleased.

But the coronavirus has slowed donations absent in-person outreach, Riveira said, and “we had to shift our entire organization’s focus to our construction projects in progress.”

The county had given HabitatNOVA five to six months to meet conditions for acquiring the property, said spokeswoman Susan Kalish. It is now coordinating to determine a new timeline.

My Overlee Community Association took the lead among area pools to create — from scratch — phased-in, safe swimming procedures to address the pandemic.

“We were lucky we have a full membership and could afford $5,000 for cleaning supplies and $600 for plastic bins,” manager Greg York told me. Swimmers make appointments and wear masks when arriving. Because changing rooms remain closed, the bins store a swimmer’s belongings and are carried by gloved staff to the exit end of the pool.

The approach gleaned from TV news was shared with pool managers throughout the region, York said. The only drawback: no lolling poolside after laps are done.