Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan will hold a public meeting tonight to discuss the county’s upcoming financial year 2012 budget.
The forum will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Arlington Central Library’s auditorium (1015 North Quincy Street).
As we reported earlier, Donnellan has said that her recommended budget will likely not include any further cuts for county parks or libraries, but it will include sizable cuts in other areas.
A crew from Dateline NBC will be filming the evening mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in South Arlington on Saturday. The church is being featured for its upcoming humanitarian mission to Haiti.
A delegation of parishioners and Remote Area Medical volunteers will be leaving for a two-week trip to Medor, Haiti on Sunday. Together, the group will conduct a medical clinic for the cholera-ravaged town of 40,000. They will also repair roads and build an airstrip to allow air ambulances to deliver critical supplies.
“Medor has no running water, no sewage or trash disposal, impassable roads and inadequate agriculture,” the church said in a press release. “Like the rest of Haiti, the village has been devastated by a succession of hurricanes, earthquakes and now the deadly cholera epidemic this year.”
The earthquake and aftershocks that reduced Port au Prince to rubble earlier this year also damaged schools, medical clinics and churches in Medor. It also resulted in an influx of refugees to the area.
Our Lady Queen of Peace, located in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood, has supported missions in Medor since 1997.
The Dateline special is set to air on or around Jan. 12, the one-year anniversary of the earthquake.
(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Wag More Dogs, the doggie day care business that has been engaged in an ongoing dispute with the county over a large mural facing the Shirlington dog park, has filed a lawsuit against Arlington County and county zoning administrator Melinda Artman on the grounds that Arlington’s sign ordinance violates the First Amendment right to free speech.
Wag More Dogs owner Kim Houghton says she commissioned the $4,000 mural, which depicts dogs, bones and paw prints, to beautify the dog park, which her business abuts. But the county zoning office didn’t see the mural as art, it saw it as a 60 foot by 16 foot commercial sign — well beyond the 60 square feet of signage the store is allowed under the county sign ordinance. Had the mural depicted flowers or anything not dog-related, said county regulators, it would be permitted.
After a long back and forth, Houghton was finally allowed to open her business in September, on the condition that the mural remained completely covered with a tarp. In October, Houghton was told that the sign could be considered a mural if she paid for the words “Welcome to Shirlington Park’s Community Canine Area” to be painted in four-foot high letters.
Shortly after that, Houghton linked up with the Institute for Justice, a Ballston-based libertarian public interest law firm. This morning Houghton and her attorneys filed a lawsuit and asked for a preliminary injunction that would allow the mural to be displayed while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.
“The decision to file the lawsuit was to protect my freedom of speech and to ultimately prevail in keeping the mural up as it is, instead of turning it into an informational sign for the county,” Houghton said after a press conference at her store this morning.
This morning’s legal filings cite dozens of prior cases, many of which upheld the right of business owners to display signs and artwork.
“What Arlington County is basically saying is that it is allowed to play art critic,” said Robert Frommer, the lead counsel for the Institute for Justice. “We’re very confident of our legal position, because we’re very confident in the First Amendment.”
But Artman, the county’s top zoning official, seemed unfazed.
“My reaction to being sued is that it’s all in a day’s work,” Artman said in a phone interview. “I’ve been sued before, and I’ll be sued again.”
A seafood restaurant called The Lobster Pot is apparently coming to the ground floor of the Bennett Park apartment complex at 1650 Wilson Boulevard.
The restaurant applied for a license to serve wine and beer this morning. In the Virginia ABC application, the restaurant is described as having a seating capacity of between 101 and 150 seats.
There are a number of Lobster Pot restaurants along the east coast, but none seem to be part of a chain. No word yet on who’s behind this particular restaurant.
(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) Arlington, the top visitor destination in the state of Virginia, spends just under $1 million on tourism promotion each year. But if the county’s state legislative delegation can’t convince fellow lawmakers to renew the law that allows Arlington to collect those funds as a tax surcharge, the relatively meager tourism budget could drop to zero.
Arlington funds its Convention and Visitors Service through a 0.25 percent surcharge on the standard 5 percent hotel tax. Each year, the county collects $21 million in hotel taxes, or about $5,000 per room, the highest rate in Virginia. Suffice to say that given the hoards of tourists who stay at hotels in Arlington as a cheaper alternative to the District, the surcharge isn’t much of a hindrance.
But the extra quarter of a percentage point, despite having the support of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the local hotel industry, may be a tough sell in Richmond.
In an anti-tax, Tea Party kind of a year, Arlington’s Democratic lawmakers say that even passing something as simple as a re-authorization for Arlington’s hotel tax surcharge could be difficult.
“It’s going to be extremely challenging to get this bill through this year,” said Del. Bob Brink. “It has the dreaded T-word in it.”
Brink seemed to tacitly acknowledge that the county’s strained relationship with Richmond — caused in part by the county’s HOT lanes lawsuit, the Secure Communities opt-out fiasco and other slights — has also contributed to the degree of difficulty in gaining legislative cooperation.
“We’re in a very challenging environment, both fiscally and otherwise,” Brink said.
At one point board member Chris Zimmerman parted from the board’s stated position and questioned whether it was worth the legislators’ effort for a mere million dollars.
“Should this be one of the things we expend political capital on?” he asked.
In so many words, ‘yes’ seemed to be the response.
“It is going to be a challenge, but I think we can do it,” Brink said.
The current tax authorization expires on Jan. 1, 2012. Arlington will ask that it be extended for another three years. The approval requires a 2/3 vote in each chamber of the state legislature.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 cars are towed in Arlington each year, according to a three-part series on towing in the county by TBD’s Rebecca Cooper.
Of those thousands of tows every year, only about 50 result in formal complaints being filed with the police. And of those complaints, the cases where the towing company actually violated a county ordinance is in the single digits, according to an extrapolation of Cooper’s numbers.
When we last wrote about Arlington’s biggest tow company, Advanced Towing, a torrent of hate was unleashed in the comment section. But if such a large percentage of tows are legitimate, then are more stringent regulations necessary?
For the time being, county board chairman Jay Fisette tells TBD that he’s just focusing on reducing “predatory tows” in a number of towing “hot spots.” Is that enough?
Ballston Sweetgreen Opens Today — Ballston’s new froyo and salad destination is expected to open its doors today. Sweetgreen, located at 4075 Wilson Blvd, will give away free reusable salad bowls to the first 200 people who order a salad. More from We Love DC.
Arlington Couple Pledges $1 Million to Army Museum — An Arlington couple has become the first individual million dollar donors to the planned National Museum of the United States Army. Preston and Jeanne Caruthers say they’re proud to support the Army and honor its commitment to our country. More from the Sun Gazette.
You Better Watch Out, Ballston – “The enormous Christmas tree is now erect in the food court of the Ballston Common Mall,” reports Patch.