Some folks squawk endlessly about problems and dither even longer about solutions. Residents of Arlington's Waverly Hills neighborhood try to get things done.
After years spent developing a neighborhood conservation plan, a process required before applying for county funding for some projects, Waverly Hills kicked into high gear. In the past eight years, the community has amassed $10.5 million in county-funded improvements, with six more projects in the queue.
Leading the charge and keeping it all straight is Lewis Bromberg, 45, the civic association president. "He works tirelessly to improve the quality of life for all of us, and he knows the ins and outs of the county government," said Jennifer Caterini, whose family bought an 85-year-old farmhouse 11 years ago.
Community improvements require "spending enormous amounts of time building contacts, volunteering, getting known," Bromberg said.
The civic association also works to build support within the community. Then, when the association makes requests of the county, "officials know you are speaking for a couple hundred people," Bromberg said.
A raised-brick median strip, stretching like a red carpet for seven blocks down the middle of N. Woodstock Street, the widest street in the community, seems to have been the catalyst for other neighborhood improvements. Traffic circles, streetlights, additional sidewalks and improved drainage followed.
The number of children younger than 5 rose 26 percent in Waverly Hills during the 1990s, pushing pedestrian safety to the forefront. Residents along N. 18th Street, where Caterini counted 51 children three years ago, sought sidewalks and traffic-calming measures but had problems getting funding until their research uncovered a county program modeled on the national Safe Routes to Schools project. Because N. 18th Street provides a direct route to Glebe Elementary School, resident Tecla Murphy said, neighbors were able to accelerate the project with money geared to such situations.
While those on one section of the street had to give up a one-foot-wide strip of their front yards in addition to a five-foot-wide strip along the street for a sidewalk, "Once they realized how important it was to other residents, concessions were made. That's the kind of neighborhood this is," Murphy said.
Some improvements weren't the most economical choices but were dictated by circumstances. Tree-lined medians cost $200,000 less than raised brick ones, but Woodstock Street wasn't wide enough to accommodate them. Many residents favored four-way stop signs, at a fraction of the cost of traffic circles, but traffic volume from side streets didn't meet the county's criteria.
Not all parts of the neighborhood want street changes. For example, residents along N. 19th Street say the road is too narrow for traffic circles or sidewalks. However, it's great for back and forth visiting between neighbors, Siobhan Mueller said.
Spur-of-the-moment dinner invitations, block parties and the sharing of updates on ailing neighbors create an extended family atmosphere on the street. Mueller jokes with neighbors, "If you see us out in the street talking, come on out so we don't talk about you."
Elsewhere in the community, residents have found other excuses for socializing. The new sidewalks have to be swept and shoveled. Landscaped nubs, those protrusions from the curb designed to prevent vehicles from cutting corners, have to be weeded, as do the traffic circles. One recent Sunday morning, several residents were digging among the liriope and nandina, sprucing up a nub on Woodstock Street.
The civic association began when Marge Klinger and her husband, Robert, went door to door in 1948 to rally residents to sign a petition that resulted in the creation of Woodstock Park. Today the 1.25-acre park is a testament to foresight -- it is the only large parcel of open space left in Waverly Hills.
"Developers are building anywhere they can find a few square feet," said Klinger, a retired teacher, now in her seventies, who is known for the Japanese red maple trees she has planted throughout the community. "What isn't being built new is being gutted."
Lisa Blaisdell, whose former Arlington neighborhood was changed by oversize new construction, said she is pleased with the remodeling restraint shown by her neighbors. "People are blowing out the [Cape Cods], but they're still mostly Capes," she said.
Waverly Hills, as the name suggests, offers a good cardiovascular workout to walkers. On weekends, children's bake sales and lemonade stands dot the quiet, heavily treed neighborhood on 137 acres of rolling terrain within walking distance of Ballston.
The hills are so popular for sledding, said Murphy, that when a plow headed toward her street after one snowstorm, parents joined children in shouting, "No! No!"
Seventy percent of the community's 551 single-family houses were built before 1960. There are a wide range of styles, and no committees to dictate house trim colors or fence styles. "We only get involved in homeowners' house issues if they need variances," Bromberg said.
The neighborhood also includes apartments, condos and townhouses, and community activists have gotten involved with issues affecting them. For example, in 2002 the civic association supported the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing's purchase and renovation of the Lorcom Arms apartments. The association also donated money for landscaping the complex so that it fit into the neighborhood. Under its new name, Leckey Gardens, the complex provides 40 low-cost rental units.
The housing partnership received an award for Project of the Year in Northern Virginia from the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers; the civic association was named Nonprofit Friend of the Year.
Association input also helped persuade the developer of Dominion Terrace, a garden apartment complex being converted into condos, to help displaced tenants move to other housing. The renovated complex offers units starting at $198,000. County employees selected by lottery receive priority.
But the association hasn't gotten everything it wants. It was part of the successful effort to save a neighborhood landmark, Glebe House. The house, with a large carved eagle perched on top of its octagonal wing, was built in the 1770s as a home for Fairfax Parish rectors and rebuilt twice after fires in the 1800s.
However, the association wanted to have the building, which is listed on both the state and federal historic registers, set aside for community use such as a library. That didn't work out, and the National Genealogical Society, which used the building as its headquarters for a decade, sold it to a private owner who is renovating it.
The house, though, continues to have an important community role: It is featured on the neighborhood's new granite entrance signs. "It's a symbol of Waverly Hills," Bromberg said. "People are very attached to it."