William D. Euille is a businessman. He is a self-made millionaire. So he has always been wary of the longstanding legal principle that permits the government, under certain circumstances, to grab someone's property.
But Euille is also a member of Alexandria's City Council. Viewing some persistently vacant buildings on lower King Street as a blight, he has sent a message to the property owners: Use 'em or lose 'em.
Three vacant properties, separately owned and located in the heart of historic Old Town at King and Union streets, long ago became a worrisome eyesore to tourists, nearby businesses and, increasingly, city officials, Euille said.
Known as Seaport Inn Restaurant, the Alamo and the Fish Market, the three were restaurants that have closed or, in the case of the Fish Market, moved to smaller quarters nearby. Each property, within sight of the Potomac River, has historic importance dating to the 18th century.
In recent years, a deal was always about to happen. Several prospective investors, including well-known District restaurateurs, knocked but ultimately walked away, unable to cut a deal with the property owners, city officials said. Much of the problem, according to one city official, was greed.
So last year, City Council members urged the city to become more aggressive in seeking ways to revive the street, including the threat to seize the properties by eminent domain.
The principle, often used to acquire land for highways, railroad lines or other public infrastructure, also can apply to blighted properties. The city attorney agreed that such an option was possible.
"This thing has been troubling and a matter of concern for several years now," Euille said. "I got the impression that some of these property owners have been too stubborn."
Last week, however, Barbara Ross, deputy director of planning and zoning for the city, told the City Council at its regular meeting that sales contracts are in the works for all three properties.
Furry Frequent Fliers
Sure, Arlington may be embarrassed that its transformation from suburb to suburban city has created a rat problem, but how many towns can also boast of having rodents that fly?
Now, fans of glaucomys volans -- a k a the reclusive southern flying squirrel -- can catch the aerial acrobatics at dusk on appointed evenings at Long Branch Nature Center.
People whose only flying-squirrel sighting can be traced to "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" marvel as the sky fills with darting, swooping and voracious squirrels. Thanks to the miracle of peanut butter, park naturalists can lure a dozen or more of the creatures into view.
"To me, I kind of use the analogy of an airport," said Elenor Hodges, executive director of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment. "It's one of the most amazing things I've seen."
Strictly speaking, the squirrels do not fly. They merely glide, but can they ever glide. Riding air currents on flaps of skin attached between wrists and ankles, the squirrels can soar 100 feet or more, park naturalist Anastazia Frueauf said. Flights by giant flying squirrels in Asia have been measured at almost 1,500 feet.
Last week, the nonprofit Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment enlisted the furry aviators in a fundraiser for its community wildlife habitat project, a campaign to encourage Arlingtonians to provide shelter and sustenance for wildlife. The park, which has hosted the attraction for five winters, plans to hold sessions through March, Frueauf said. The presentations are available for the public and private groups that reserve the facility.