Saved by the Arlington County Fire Department

By Bob Hagemann

After 18 months of delays, supply chain disruptions, and ostensible labor supply shortages, we’re back home. The paintings and pictures have been hung, salvageable furniture has been restored, and most crucial lost items replaced. Yes, we’re back in our home that was saved by the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD), for which we are eternally grateful. 

On July 6, 2021, our home in Lyon Park caught fire. The first sign of fire was at 8:02 p.m., right below the back door stoop, in the hardwood mulch. By 8:10, flames had reached the soffit. We frantically grabbed wallet, purse, and car keys, and ran shoeless to the garage to move our cars to the street. We could already hear the sirens, thanks to neighbors Ron and Kate’s instinctive 911 calls. By 8:15, ACFD was onsite to fight the flames and contain the conflagration. Because of the extreme, dry heat that day, a light but steady breeze, and the proximity of residences in the neighborhood, contingency planning warranted a large response. And boy did the ACFD come prepared! There were 5–6 engines and around 70 personnel engaged in the effort, including a “command” vehicle from which an officer coordinated the battle and monitored progress with walkie-talkie and a large whiteboard. In addition, well over a dozen vehicles were stationed on N. Fillmore Street, ready to swing into action in the worst of circumstances should the flames spread to adjacent homes. 

Several dozen curious and compassionate neighbors gathered to witness the event. Their sympathy was not only for our prospective plight of losing our home, but also for the brave firefighters struggling to contain a potentially explosive situation. Many neighbors sprang right into action, some distributing water, and others even burgers, to the firefighters. The combination of very dense smoke under the eaves and in the top floor loft, the high and rising inside temperature, and the flow of oxygen posed a serious risk of spontaneous combustion, and therefore a possibility of injury (or worse) to the firefighters in the house. Luckily, there were only 2 minor injuries among the firefighters: dislocated shoulders, I think. Our triangular 4–level house, situated on a knoll at the corner of two descending streets, posed special challenges to the firemen. Fortunately, the well-equipped department was able to reach the roof and pierce a hole to enable them to flood the house. By 12:30 a.m., the final spark and other threats had been eliminated, and the house was “secured,” pending the start of urgent remediation services 7–8 hours later. 

We were amazed not only by ACFD’s mastery of firefighting, but also its sensitivity to our own worries and emotional state. It’s hard to describe the emotions and thoughts that overwhelm you watching your home going up in flames. At one point early in the battle, one of the firemen asked if there was anything important that we needed urgently from the house. Yes! A cell phone had been left behind. Despite the risks, he immediately entered the home to search for the phone. Although he was unable to find it, he did not emerge empty-handed; he returned with our laptop computer, a pair of reading glasses, and a pill box. To boot, the Fire Marshall dropped by the next day to confirm everything was ok.

How did the fire start? We may never know for sure; the department’s assessment is neither made public nor released to us. There was hardwood mulch under the stoop, and it can apparently combust spontaneously. I wish I could say I hadn’t charcoal grilled that day, but I had. By 1:45 p.m., my brief cookout was finished, and I closed the grill. At 5 p.m. or so, the grill totally cold to the touch, I moved it a few feet away for storage. A bit more than six hours after grilling, the glow of flames appeared under the stoop, as captured by our security camera.

Some forms of education are costly, not only in dollar terms; this fire was instructional. Beds of hardwood mulch abutting one’s home should be avoided, or at a minimum warrant extra precaution. Having a security camera, even an inexpensive one, can be a very helpful forensic device. Flame-retardant siding is evidently well worth the extra expense. Of course, having adequate insurance is essential.

We remain in awe of ACFD’s response. We should all be grateful for their bravery and expertise. We are also extremely grateful to live among such wonderful Lyon Parkers. And we are of course thankful to neighbor Deb for letting us crash in her home at nearly 3 o’clock in the morning once all the activity on the street had quieted.

Oh! And by the way, we now have a gas grill!

Laundry and Dishwasher Pods: Popular but Polluting

By Elaine Simmons

Laundry and dishwasher pods have quickly become consumer favorites. People love the convenience of the pre-measured packets for the dishwasher or washer. I used them for about a year until I realized that the laundry pods’ film wrapping—the part that supposedly dissolves—is made of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), a plastic that several sources said is not fully biodegradable. 

One study showed that over 75% of intact plastic particles from laundry and dishwasher pods can be released into oceans, rivers, canals, and soil. In wastewater, this plastic film has the potential to absorb dangerous chemicals or contaminants, antibiotics, or heavy metals at high concentrations and then work their way up the food chain. 

Be aware that companies that make PVA pods often tout their environmental credentials, such as using plastic-free containers and avoiding harsh chemicals. There is debate over whether PVA completely dissolves under normal water treatment conditions but, as a layperson, I think the “no” side had a stronger argument. 

Thus, I stopped using pods and hope others will do the same. So now I only use tablets or powder. Blueland makes both laundry and dishwasher tablets with no PVA wrapper and I am happy with their products. There are other good options. According to the website Sustainable Jungle (, the following brands are totally plastic-free, in terms of the container and the lack of PVA: etee, Bestowed Essentials, Ethique, Meliora, Dr. Bonners, Zero Co., and Dirty Labs.

Why Less Lawn is Better

By Elaine Simmons

Maintaining a thick, green lawn is a potent symbol of the American dream, but these lawns are an environmental wasteland, polluting ecosystems and producing greenhouse gasses.

Grass fertilizers, which typically contain large concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous, release compounds like nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas almost 300 times more potent than CO2. Fertilizers also wash off lawns, into storm sewers, and eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay, where they poison animals and create algal blooms that result in oxygen free “dead zones.” Weed killing herbicides often contain toxic chemicals that have been linked with cancer; these chemicals also run off into our waterways. Another major polluter is the gas-powered mower, which the EPA says produces 11 times the CO2 emissions of an average new car in a given span of time. 

Consider removing at least some of your lawn and, ideally, planting native plants that support butterflies, bees, and birds. You can expand your plant beds yourself or hire a landscaper to do more extensive work. I have done both. To expand my plant beds, I covered the grass with overlapping sheets of newspaper (roughly 4–5 sheets thick) topped with 2–3 inches of compost and leaf mulch. The process is quite easy and within 2–3 months the grass was gone. Alternatively, a landscaper can skim off the grass with a shovel. It took 2 guys about 30 minutes to remove what was left of my front yard turf. 

For determining what to plant instead of grass, consult the NovaRegion website. Avoid English ivy, vinca (periwinkle) and pachysandra, which are invasive and will crowd out native species. English ivy is the worst because it kills trees.

Grass-free lawns can be beautiful, as with this property in Lyon Park. Besides esthetics, the benefits are many!


Business Spotlight: Thai Treasure

By Michelle McMahon

If you’ve been looking for a local restaurant to try, there is a hidden gem you may not have noticed on Fairfax Drive in Virginia Square. Thai Treasure opened Feb 2019 with proprietor Piyarat Bumrungsiri (Nui to us) realizing her dream of owning a Thai restaurant—a dream she’d held since immigrating to the US from Bangkok in 1997. 

After weathering the long Covid slog by pivoting to primarily take-out and delivery—including spicy Thai cocktails—Nui is welcoming diners back to indoor and street-side dining (with expanded outdoor seating coming soon). Nowadays, it’s a family affair with Nui (a single mom) and her two college student daughters, Alex and Blaine, typically working at the restaurant.

Thai Treasure offers a variety of menu options from the traditional to the creative. The traditional Pad Thai is, of course, among the most ordered items, but the specialty Thai Treasure Pad Thai offers a twist on the old favorite and includes shrimp, crabmeat, and gouda cheese. Other crowd pleasers include the drunken noodles, stir fried selections, clay pot steak and egg and a variety of curries. And Nui still offers a three-course lunch for under $15. 

Looking ahead, Nui is developing a menu that shares with customers the regional flavors of Thailand. Regional cuisines are influenced by neighbor countries, such as Laos and Cambodia, and even China and India. She’s also building a new signature cocktail menu and wine list to feature in her daily happy hour specials. 

Despite all the challenges running a restaurant, especially during the pandemic, Nui feels fortunate and says, “We have built a strong community with many regular customers who continue to come in and support us.” Next time you’re looking for a new international dining destination, check out Thai Treasure (located at 3811 Fairfax Drive)! 

A Solid Idea

By Heidi Ananthakrishnan

Some years ago, while traveling for work, I became conscious of the enormous amount of plastic travel sized bath product bottles prevalent in the travel industry. I remember being intrigued upon seeing an online reference to “bar shampoo,” a solid form of shampoo that looks like a bar of soap. Because it offered a solution to the plastic problem, I decided to venture into the world of bar products.

I have tried a few brands—Ethique and J.R. Liggett’s—and could hardly believe I hadn’t done it earlier. They were just as luxurious as liquid shampoos, and the packaging was nothing but a minimal paper wrap. And because they are in a concentrated form, they last longer than liquid products. This makes their use a simple way to reduce environmental impact, considering the emissions of trucks and ships that transport thousands of bottles of products made mostly of water. As a bonus, bar products don’t require the chemical preservatives that some liquid products need to prevent contamination. 
I used to think recycling bath product bottles was the best I could do but making and breaking down plastic expends energy. Completely eliminating the need for plastics is even better. And why stop with shampoo? My foray into bar shampoo has extended to concentrated bar conditioner and cleaning solutions (just add hot water), shaving bars for my husband, melting detergent sheets,
and solid toothpaste bits. And of course, I never stopped using good old bar soap. Who knew that humble bar soap, the original cleaning product, would become the inspiration for so many clever and environmentally friendly bath products?

Missing Middle Housing: Where We Are and Where We are Going

By Anne Bodine

On March 22, 2023, the County Board voted 5–0 to change Arlington’s Zoning Code and General Land Use Plan (GLUP) to allow “Missing Middle” (MM) or “Expanded Housing Options” for duplexes up to six-plexes on most lots in residential zones that until now have allowed only single-family construction (i.e., zones R-5, R-6, R-8, and R-20). This policy begins July 1, 2023 and changes our existing mixed (old and new, single- and multi-family) neighborhoods to multi-family new home neighborhoods. 

First, let’s look at our current housing stock. You might be surprised to learn that in terms of types of dwelling units, Lyon Park is diverse, with single-family homes less than one-third of our existing stock:

Single Family Detached Homes:  926

Apartments – Garden:  1,120

Apartments – Mid-rise:  502

Garden style condos: 175

Duplexes / Side-by-sides: 125 

Stacked condos: 120

Townhomes:  27

Total:  2,995

Now let’s discuss what the County Board decided on the new Missing Middle plan. Most of Lyon Park is zoned R-6; countywide, R-6 makes up 66% of the areas that were “rezoned.”  The county will now allow property owners in all rezoned areas to:

  • – build up to 6 units on lots “by-right” (i.e., no County Board review);
  • – build new MM or convert an existing single-family home into MM units, with an annual cap of 58 permits per year for 5 years, of which 30 may be in R-6;
  • – erect structures with the same setbacks and height restrictions as single-family homes, but with a 5% “bonus” lot coverage above single-family home projects;
  • – provide a minimum 0.5 parking spaces per unit if the home is 3/4–mile from a Metro station entrance (shown on the map below) or 1/2–mile from a stop on the Premium Transit Network along Columbia Pike, and provide at least 1 space per unit (the current standard) for other locations and for all lots on a cul-de-sac;  
  • – preserve or plant at least 4 shade trees on properties with new 2–4 unit buildings and at least 8 shade trees for 5- and 6-plexes;  
  • – cap maximum floor area within a range of 4,800 square feet for the smallest MM structure (a combined stacked duplex) up to 8,000 square feet for the largest (5- to 6-plexes);
  • – add interior accessory dwellings only for the side-by-side two- or three-unit semi-detached homes (e.g., a 3-unit townhome becomes a 6-plex if each townhome adds an accessory dwelling);
  • – provide zero onsite parking on streets (such as the 100 block of North Edgewood St.) that currently lack onsite parking, meaning that all parking in those blocks spills over to the street.

Free Tree Applications Accepted Now!

By Bill Anhut, Lyon Park’s Tree Steward

Arlington County is losing overhead tree canopy primarily due to new home development and environmental causes. Lyon Park is one area of Arlington recently experiencing the largest decline in tree canopy coverage. When a large canopy tree is removed, it takes more than twenty years for newly planted trees to replace the lost tree’s oxygen production and rainwater control benefits. Removing a mature tree is a personal decision by a landowner, but the owner and neighbors can help remediate the loss of tree coverage by planting more trees near the fallen predecessor and in appropriate spaces within their own yards. 

Arlington County encourages tree planting in its citizen’s yards by offering two programs providing free trees: The Tree Canopy Fund and October’s Tree Distribution event. The Tree Canopy Fund Program is a developer-funded and volunteer-administered program that plants nursery-grade, native shade trees on private property. Applications are received twice a year, January 6, for Spring planting and June for Fall planting. To be eligible to receive a free canopy tree, (a $350-$450 value), a property owner must represent that the intended location is suitable for the planting of a large tree and promise to care for the newly planted tree (i.e., water weekly during its first year). Each request will be carefully evaluated by a grant review panel based upon site suitability and the species of tree requested.

Applications must be submitted by Friday January 6, 2023. Panel results will be announced in early Spring and the trees will be planted by contracted professionals several weeks later. At the time of planting, trees are typically 2” in diameter, approximately 8-10’ tall and are expected to grow to heights ranging from 20-100’ at maturity (depending upon tree species). The following species are available in the current cycle:

Large Shade Trees:

American Beech, American Sycamore, Red Oak, Scarlet Oak, Swamp White Oak, Sweetgum, White Oak, and Willow Oak

Medium Shade Trees: 

Bald Cypress, Black Gum, and Wild Black Cherry

The Program, in its 14th year, awards hundreds of trees annually. The review panel usually approves tree applications for open and sunny areas (particularly on the south or westerly property quadrants). Special consideration is given to locations where a previous canopy tree once stood.
I will again serve as the Lyon Park Civic Association coordinator to help consult on tree species, location within your yard, prepare and submit your application. Contact me by e-mail ( or phone (301-908-8204) and notify me of your interest. Together, we will schedule a time for me to visit your home (between December 26 and January 5), to evaluate the planting location and agree upon a tree species to request. I will submit your application with other Lyon Park neighbors. Most applications I submit are approved. Won’t you help replenish Lyon Park’s tree canopy by contacting me today?

Who Was Dr. Charles Drew?

By Kalkidan Ausink

You may be familiar with Charles R. Drew Elementary or Community Center, but not the local hero for whom the school is named, a Black physician whose blood transfusion discoveries transformed emergency medicine and surgery. When Dr. Drew started studying blood, it only had a shelf life of a few days, which meant the donor had to almost be co-located with the recipient—an unmanageable situation in times of war, for example. Drew made two remarkable discoveries: 1) he figured out that cells are what determine blood type and that plasma, when separated from cells, could be given to anyone regardless of blood type and 2) he invented a method by which plasma could be dried and reconstituted when needed. 

Dr. Drew was born in 1904 as the eldest son of a carpet layer. He grew up in Washington D.C. and attended Dunbar High School, the first public high school for Black students in the United States. In 1920, Drew’s oldest sister died from tuberculosis and influenza during a city-wide epidemic. Drew’s family blamed the city’s air for her death and moved to Arlington’s Penrose neighborhood that year. 

Drew attended Amherst College on an athletic scholarship, lettering in four sports. He suffered a college football injury and credits the ensuing hospitalization, along with the death of his sister, as inspiring his interest in medicine. After Amherst, Drew earned medical and surgery degrees from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He returned to our area in 1935 as a pathology instructor at Howard University and later earned a Doctor of Medical Science degree from Columbia University, the first African American to do so. 

Drew saved thousands of lives as the medical director for “Blood for Britain,” creating what would eventually be today’s mobile blood bank for British soldiers in World War II. As Drew ramped up plasma stockpiles for America’s entry into the war, the military stipulated that the American Red Cross exclude African Americans from donating, later deciding that they could donate blood, but only for Black troops. Drew, the leading expert in blood banking, was ineligible to participate in the program he helped establish. He resigned in protest. In 1950, at age 45, Drew’s life was tragically cut short by an automobile accident in North Carolina. Drew’s home at 2505 1st Street South is a historical landmark.

Missing Middle Housing: Arguments For and Against

By Chris Thompson and Elaine Simmons

On November 12th, Arlington County leaders will decide whether to implement new zoning laws to allow for denser population on our existing county footprint; in this case by rezoning current single-family-only residential zones. 

First, a few facts. County data indicate that about 24% of the county’s housing stock is detached single-family homes (SFH) and about 47% is mid- or high-rise multifamily housing. Most of the remaining 29% is low-rise garden-style apartment buildings. In 2018, under then current zoning rules, the county forecast a net growth of 68,300 residents from 2020 through 2045 (a 30% increase in our population), with many or most of these presumably housed in an expanding number of mid- and high-rise buildings. Our county has more room to build “up” to accommodate expected population growth than to create new, low-density, single-family neighborhoods. In fact, the notable recent past trend in the Arlington SFH stock is not the growth in quantity; it is the growth in the size of homes via renovation or total replacement. According to the Alliance for Housing Solutions, the average size of a replacement home for an Arlington “teardown” in the past 10 years was three times the size of the original house, with an average sales price of $1.7 million. The concept to use the limited space we have to grow the proportion of housing that is neither SFH nor mid-/high-rise is called “Missing Middle (MM) Housing.” 

Proponents of MM support this land-use approach because they see SFHs on typical lots (1/6 acre in the case of Arlington) as beyond the economic reach of those in the middle class. The county also aims to rectify the injustice inflicted by racial exclusionary practices dating from the 1930s of limiting neighborhoods to SFHs. The MM approach is to rezone current SFH-only neighborhoods to allow for a mix of duplexes, triplexes, and even 8-plexes as, long as the building meets the same standard as a single-family dwelling. The desired outcome is more units of housing that are less expensive than new single-family units, with an intended focus on walkable/shoppable neighborhoods. This should benefit those looking to move into Arlington, those wanting to up-size within the County, and older residents looking to downsize within the same neighborhood. Environmental arguments for MM are that multi-family units have a lower per capita carbon footprint than large SFHs and increasing housing density within Arlington will reduce sprawl outside our county. Look for the County’s slides promoting the MM approach at   Also, you can find a major MM advocacy group’s website here: Five Things to Know About Missing Middle Housing — Alliance for Housing Solutions

Opponents of increasing the allowable density in low-density neighborhoods say that duplexes (which have sold in Arlington for $1.2M) and tri-plexes will be unaffordable for middle-income buyers. They agree that 6- or 8-family dwellings in neighborhoods like Lyon Park should be more affordable but expect them to be mostly rentals. They also consider the MM proposals as environmentally unsound (especially in reducing the tree canopy) and unduly taxing on County infrastructure (to include road congestion, stormwater/flood control, parking, schools and other public facilities). Opponents point to County data indicating that 60% of Arlington’s trees are found in the residential areas targeted by MM, which reduces the tree replacement requirements by up to 50%. Look for arguments against MM on the Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future website at:

If you are a first-time buyer in Arlington or are up-sizing within the county, a key question is what size MM housing unit (duplex through 8-plex) will be within your financial reach?  If you already live in an Arlington SFH neighborhood, how will multi-family units nearby affect you? Will MM optimistically yield a more accessible and diverse community, or will that optimism be tempered by issues often associated with higher density living, such as school crowding, competition for parking and traffic congestion? The county has sent up engagement opportunities at this link:

Keeping “Abreast” of the Turkey Trot

Based on an interview with Mark Riley, member of Christ Church of Arlington and Turkey Trot race director (aka “Chief Turkey”)

With the 17th running of the Arlington 5K Turkey Trot fast approaching, Mark Riley talked turkey on how the race started, how it has changed, and why it is important. While the race now has a max of 4,000 registrants and is a beloved tradition in Arlington, it started as a suggestion by the wife of the former pastor of Christ Church to reach out to the community. She had some prior experience organizing a race; the rest of the church volunteers had a very steep learning curve, but they were game!

The first race in 2006 had 275 runners and disbursed $4,200 to two beneficiaries right here in the neighborhood: Doorways and Bridges to Independence. In recent, “normal” times, with the help of about 100 volunteers and corporate sponsors, the typical net is about $120,000—all gravy!!  The beneficiaries have grown from two to 18. The organizers target non-profits with modest budgets doing important work locally. The goal: inclusion of these organizations in the community as well as inclusion of the people they help (who often don’t feel included). 

Covid was a challenge for the race, especially in 2020. The choices were suspending the race entirely or conducting it virtually. The decision was the latter option and participants “did their own thing,” including one family that sent pictures of themselves at an Atlantic beach jogging in turkey regalia. But the race still took a hit: registrants dropped by 75%. 

Last year the in-person Turkey Trot rebounded with 3,200 registrants but there were other challenges, such as not enough police on the force to support the effort. Cancelation was one option, but organizers decided instead on a “course correction”—literally, which meant running up and down Pershing Drive. No, not terribly exciting but it allowed the race to happen. This year the organizers expect the course to be back to normal, with the same route as in 2019. 

While the Turkey Trot attracts serious runners with 15–16-minute times (that’s a sizzling sub-5 minute mile pace), many participants are there to have fun, with a costume lineup to include a gorilla, dinosaur, flamingo, families of bananas and squirrels, Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Grinch, pilgrims, and, of course, TURKEYS!!!  There are adults who now run it with their kids who once ran it as kids with their parents. 

There are many ways to participate: you can donate, promote, register, sponsor, or volunteer. All are opportunities for organizing community resources, inspiring family fun, and addressing charitable needs. So don’t chicken out:  join in and help the community!