Crawling Cherrydale projects are starting to pick up the pace

January 13, 2011

Long-awaited projects in Arlington County's Cherrydale neighborhood are slowly moving forward after many years of community disputes, property fights and, in some cases, falling building materials, all of which thoroughly frustrated neighbors.

A fire station on Old Dominion Drive, a project 20 years in the making, is on schedule to be completed in May. The Bromptons at Cherrydale project on Lee Highway is back on track for an occupancy permit in the spring; its original move-in date was five years ago.

The first phase of placing utilities underground along a stretch of Lee Highway could be completed within a year, although some county officials had told the community it would be finished about 10 years ago.

Maureen Ross, president of the Cherrydale Citizens Association, said she has doubts about the various county agencies' and developers' ability to keep the projects on track. "They don't focus. They don't stay on task. It is like the county with ADD," she said, referring to attention-deficit disorder.

Ross has kept files over the years tracking the association's correspondence with county officials on projects, especially those dealing with placing utilities underground and problems that arise from that, such as utility poles being erected in the middle of sidewalks and dangerous wires lying about.

"There is a consistent lack of follow-through," Ross said.

County officials said things are better than before.

The $19.3 million firehouse is coming in cheaper than anticipated four years ago.

"The estimate has been going down as we bid out the job," said George May, facilities design and construction bureau chief. He attributed the lower price tag to "a favorable construction market and efficiencies as we went forward."

The fire station project was held up by difficulties in choosing a location, which was finally done in 2007, and purchasing the private property, officials said.

"This is probably one of our very worst examples" of a county building process, said County Board member Jay Fisette (D). He said the putting up of bond proposals for residents' approval now happens farther along in the process, after citing and project design, which gives voters a better sense of the cost.

The site where many wanted the fire station to be built is where the stalled Bromptons at Cherrydale project sat, falling apart for quite some time.

The developer, Ed Peete Co., got its building permit in 2004. By 2006, however, a stop-work order was issued because of structural problems, and the building fell into disrepair.

A 2009 settlement between Peete and the county required the developer to fix the building within a year or demolish it. Peete has been meeting each deadline, and all of the structural repairs are nearing completion, said Shahriar Amiri, Arlington's chief building official.

"I look at the building now and the way it looked a year ago with the Tyvek flapping in the wind and all the concerns" from the community, Amiri said, highlighting the changes. "My job is to make sure the building is safe before it is occupied, and we are getting very close to that."

When the building was in limbo, a vault that would house utilities underground flooded, hindering the county's ability to continue the project putting utilities underground, said Michael Collins, chief of the county's engineering bureau. Now that the building is back online, the vault will be clear and dry for utilities, he said.

But that was just one of the delays on the $7 million project, he said. The first phase of the project, which runs utilities underground from Interstate 66 to Monroe Street, is set to be completed in one year.

The second phase, taking the burying to Quincy Street, could take three more years.

"The complexity of these projects is not apparent to the naked eye," Collins said.

The county must coordinate with a variety of utility companies to find the best routes for burying utilities without disturbing what is already there in a densely built corridor, he said.

"This is one of the first [burying projects], certainly by Arlington and by anyone in this region. . . . We did not have as much knowledge or information as we would have liked when we started this project," he said. "We created expectations that probably were not reasonable and obviously led to frustration by members of the community."

But all of the waiting will be worth it, said Greg Emanuel, director of the engineering and capital projects division. "We can help transform several blocks on Lee Highway and spur the type of development we want," said Emanuel, who also said there would be more communication with the neighborhood as the projects continue.

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