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by ARLnow.com — March 25, 2015 at 9:20 am 1,824 0

Man cleaning up trash on Four Mile Run Drive

Alleged Bank Robber Was Staying at Retirement Home – The FBI tracked down an accused bank robber in an Arlington on Friday thanks to his cell phone usage. The so-called Bicycle Bandit is accused of a dozen bank robberies, including a robbery in Alexandria just a few hours prior to his arrest. Investigators used phone records to figure out his identity. The suspect, Woosen Assaye, was staying at his father’s apartment at The Carlin retirement home at the time of his arrest. [NBC Washington - WARNING: Auto-play video]

Arlington Named Healthiest County in Va. — A new study has named Arlington County as the healthiest county in Virginia. Albemarle, Fairfax and Loudoun ranked second, third and fourth, respectively. [Associated Press]

Fehr Reads to Key Students — Washington Capitals player Eric Fehr read his new anti-bullying book to students at Key Elementary School yesterday. [NBC Washington - WARNING: Auto-play video]

Board Considers Affordable Housing Report — The Arlington County Board on Monday heard a comprehensive report about affordable housing in the county. [InsideNova]

Blue Line Issues — A Blue Line train suffering mechanical problems offloaded passengers at the Pentagon station this morning, causing overcrowding on the platform. [Twitter]

by Ethan Rothstein — March 9, 2015 at 10:30 am 3,463 0

A chart showing the trends of affordable housing in Arlington since 2000In five years, there could be virtually no market-rate affordable apartments left in Arlington, according to county planning staff.

In 2000, 19,740 apartments owned by for-profit property owners in the county were affordable for someone making up to 60 percent of the region’s area median income, according to findings from the county’s three-year Affordable Housing Study. In 2013, there were 3,437 “MARKs,” as they’re called.

(“Affordable” is defined as costing less than 30 percent of a household’s income.)

If the trend holds, there will be a “negligible” amount around the county by 2020, according to Russell Danao-Schroeder, senior housing planner in the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

“If you just look at that chart [above], and if you do a trend line analysis projecting that out, it’s easy to see where that goes,” Danao-Schroeder said. “It crosses zero before 2020.”

That is the reality the Arlington County Board will grapple with as it works toward adopting an Affordable Housing Master Plan in July. The affordable housing study has completed its research and staff, along with the Affordable Housing Study Working Group, released findings and recommendations last month in a draft master plan.

While affordable, market-rate housing is drying up, the county could try to kick-start committed affordable housing development to balance the scales. The county currently has 6,731 committed affordable units (CAFs) rented or leasing, with another 220 being developed, less than 10 percent of total apartment stock.

The draft master plan sets a goal of making 17.7 percent of all housing units in the county affordable at 60 percent AMI. If county projections hold true, that would mean asking developers to build 15,800 CAFs in the next 25 years. Even Danao-Schroeder, who helped draft the plan, admitted the goal isn’t pragmatic.

“That 17.7 percent number is what we would need to have sufficient housing for households at all income levels,” he told ARLnow.com on Friday. “That’s an awful lot. It’s going to be hard to hit that, but that’s the mark that we need to aim for.”

Members of the County Board have time and again reaffirmed their commitment to affordable housing, and a county-run survey of Arlington residents indicates the community approves of the Board’s efforts. In 2012, the Board launched the study with a charge of creating “a shared community vision of Arlington’s affordable housing as a key component of our community sustainability.”

The occupations of residents in Arlington's committed affordable housingProponents of affordable housing often say it’s necessary for Arlington to have places for people like teachers, policemen and firefighters to live within the county. However, according to a survey of 336 CAF residents — 5 percent of the county’s CAF population, “a fairly large sample size” Danao-Schroeder said — only 1.8 percent work in education. Of those respondents, none were Arlington teachers or classroom aides.

There is no data for public safety employees, CPHD staff said. If any live in CAFs, they would be among the 6.3 percent who responded “other” to the survey.

“Arlington County pays their teachers well and pays their public safety people well,” Danao-Schroeder said. “Other areas in other service sectors that we all depend upon in our daily lives are the primary clients and tenants of affordable units.”

The largest industry represented in CAFs is restaurant and food service at 16.7 percent. Construction workers account for 11 percent of CAF residents, with office workers like receptionists in third place at 9.2 percent, followed by taxi and other drivers at 8.3 percent.

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — February 25, 2015 at 5:00 pm 2,577 0

The County Board room during discussion of the Columbia Hills development (photo via @ArlingtonVA)The first two residential developments designed with the Columbia Pike neighborhoods form-based code were approved last night, bringing hundreds of new residences into the Pike’s development pipeline.

The Arlington County Board approved a 229-unit, eight-story affordable housing complex on the western end of Columbia Pike and 50 new townhouses to replace the historic George Washington Carver homes in Arlington View.

The Carver Homes were built in the 1940s for residents displaced by the construction of the Pentagon, and many of the families who lived there when it was built now own residences in the co-operative. While preservationists lament the loss of a piece of the county’s history, the residents urged the County Board to approve the development.

“I know first hand that our co-op has been deteriorating for many years,” Velma Henderson, a Carver Homes owner who has lived in the co-op for 68 of its 70 years in existence, told the Board. “Busted and frozen pipes, leaky roofs and crumbling foundations, to name a few… We have a long and proud history in Arlington, so it was important for Carver Homes to select a developer who had the vision and resources to create a high-quality development. This plan considers Carver Homes’ needs.”

The 44 units will be bulldozed and replaced with 50 townhouses, 23 of which will be duplexes. Six of the duplex units will be committed affordable units, and the developer, Craftmark Homes, also has agreed to build a public park on the property and extend S. Quinn Street through the parcel at the corner of S. Rolfe and 13th Streets.

The George Washington Carver Homes in Arlington HeightsAs part of the redevelopment, the developer will place two historic markers on the property signifying its history. Arlington is also beginning to compile an oral history of the property, which will be available at Arlington Central Library when completed.

“My mother’s dream was that we would benefit from the sale of the property,” said James Dill, a co-op owner whose mother was displaced by the Pentagon construction. “We’ve been banking on it for 50 or 60 years that, at some point in time, Arlington County would grant us our piece of the American dream, and we’ve been holding firm on that.”

The County Board unanimously approved the redevelopment. County Board Chair Mary Hynes thanked the owners — who have been working to sell the property for most of the past decade — and the community for their patience. Board member Libby Garvey remarked that many of the residents were forced out of their homes in the 1940s for the Pentagon to be built, and the Board could, in a very small way, “right that wrong.”

“I think we’re really touching history,” Garvey said. “This was temporary housing 70 years ago. How much temporary housing lasts 70 years? So it’s time.”

The conversation surrounding the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing‘s proposal for its new affordable housing buildings next to its expansive Columbia Grove community on S. Frederick Street was quite different.

Columbia Hills apartments rendering (image via APAH)Dozens of speakers came out to speak on both sides of the issue, and public comment and Board deliberations lasted after midnight. Opponents, many of whom live close to the site, said there is too much concentration of affordable housing on the western end of Columbia Pike.

“Presently our community is home to about 18 affordable housing communities in the immediate area,” Erin Long, a homeowner in the Frederick Courts Condominiums across the street. “What’s become known as the western gateway node of Columbia Pike cannot sustain the affordable housing development as it’s planned.

“It’s clear that plan is for those units lost at the east end of the pike to be relocated to the west end,” she continued. “It’s absolutely inappropriate for every lost unit to be relocated to us. We deserve to benefit from the redevelopment of Columbia Pike, not serve as the repository for those displaced from other nodes.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — February 23, 2015 at 3:30 pm 2,921 0

Two new residential buildings and a rebuilt substance-abuse recovery facility have been given the green light by the Arlington County Board.

The development, called Gables North Rolfe Street, will have 395 residential units and a public, 8,000-square-foot park featuring three mature oak trees. The developer, Gables Residential, will also tear down and construct a new building for Independence House, a transitional living facility for those recovering from substance abuse.

The complex will be located on the 1300 block of N. Rolfe Street, near Courthouse.

Thirty-nine of the units will be committed affordable housing and the developer also has the option to install a $75,000 work of public art on the site or donate to the county’s public art fund as a community benefit. The development was approved unanimously on Saturday.

“This redevelopment addresses some of the important priorities that the Fort Myer community identified in the Fort Myer Heights North Plan,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a press release. “It includes on-site affordable housing, brings a new public park to Fort Myer and preserves some beautiful, mature trees. Importantly, it also rebuilds Independence House, the County’s transitional living facility.”

Before approving the development, County Board members inquired about the option for a small, 1,000-square-foot community retail option in the site plan application, a provision the developer was initially hesitant to put in. Real estate attorney Evan Pritchard, representing Gables at the Board hearing, said they would be open to building a retail space if they can find the right vendor to operate a convenience store, serving the residents and park users.

“It remains to be seen, as we go forward with the project, whether it happens or not,” Pritchard said of the retail.

The construction is expected to take two years, and it would include building four levels of parking; two below-grade and two above-grade.

The Independence House would be rebuilt, but not expanded, because more residents might limit the program’s effectiveness. The new building will have 14 single-occupant units, which provides more flexibility with which users can join the program.

“The existing size is ideal for the group work that happens in the evenings, working on life skills and recovery,” county Department of Human Services substance abuse treatment supervisor Nancie Connolly told the Board. “The larger numbers of individuals would make it more institutional rather than transitional living, which has more independence.”

Only one public speaker — frequent Board critic Jim Hurysz — gave testimony at the Board hearing. The lack of speakers and issues with the proposal, which includes three parcels of county land and a number of community benefits, was “remarkable,” Hynes said.

by Ethan Rothstein — February 5, 2015 at 3:30 pm 2,913 0

(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is planning on building two, eight-story apartment buildings near the western end of Columbia Pike.

APAH is planning on replacing a surface parking lot at 1010 S. Frederick Street with the two buildings, which will contain 229 units of committed affordable housing. All of the units will be affordable up to 60 percent of area median income, with some units as low as 40 percent AMI.

To replace the surface parking, a three-level underground garage will be built.

The development is on this month’s agendas for the county’s planning and housing commissions, and is expected to go before the Arlington County Board at its meetings later this month. The project would be one of the first of its kind to go before the County Board under the Columbia Pike neighborhoods form-based code, approved in 2013.

Some in the community have expressed concern about a concentration of affordable housing on the western end of Columbia Pike, where this project is situated. County Board member John Vihstadt addressed some of those concerns at the Arlington Civic Federation meeting on Tuesday night.

“Certain people have concerns about an over-concentration [of affordable housing] on the west end of the Pike and not enough on the east end,” Vihstadt said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to come to grips with. I think we all want a mix of income in all neighborhoods as much as possible.”

APAH CEO Nina Janopaul told ARLnow.com that those concerns pale in comparison when compared to the concerns over the lack of affordable housing overall in the county. She said the civic association in which the new project is located, Columbia Forest, has lost 750 units of affordable housing in the last 15 years.

“The Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan calls for preserving or replacing the 6,200 affordable units, most of which are market-rate affordable and vulnerable to redevelopment,” she said. “We need to take advantage of the moment now, when the interest rates are low, to build affordable housing that will still be there in 60 years.”

The development, if approved, would add the 229 affordable units right next to APAH’s expansive, 208-unit Columbia Grove apartments. Of those units — on the 8-acre, 14-building campus — 131 are committed affordable housing. Janopaul said the buildings are Columbia Forest’s only affordable housing “at all.”

The project, dubbed “Columbia Hills,” will cost an estimated $85 million, according to APAH’s application to the county. APAH is requesting the county contribute $18.5 million from its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which, along with the form-based code application, the County Board is expected to debate granting this month.

APAH is also planning to submit a Low Income Housing Tax Credit application next month. If all goes as Janopaul hopes, the federal government would approve the loan in the first quarter of 2016, after which construction can begin.

Image (top) via Arlington County. Photo (bottom) via Google Maps

by Ethan Rothstein — February 2, 2015 at 5:05 pm 5,170 0

Arlington Presbyterian Church (via Preservation Arlington)(Updated at 5:10 p.m.) After more than a year of waiting, the sale of Arlington Presbyterian Church to the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing can go forward.

The church’s congregation voted in November 2013 to approve the church’s redevelopment into an affordable housing building with a 7,500-square-foot worship space for the church in future years. Last week, the National Capital Presbytery — the region’s governing body for presbyterian churches — approved the sale of the church building at 3507 Columbia Pike.

APAH must now gather financing and go through site plan approval from the county before the sale can close. According to church project manager Jill Norcross, the sale is expected to close in July 2016, which is also when the church’s congregation is expecting to need to find a new home.

“The congregation is thrilled,” Norcross said. “For them, it’s been quite a process, a multi-year visioning process where they’ve had to walk every step of the way. They’ve remained committed, so having the Presbytery approve it is a huge step for them, and they’re really excited about it. The next step is figuring out where they will worship when they leave the site.”

When the plans were approved more than a year ago, it was with the understanding that the new building would be the church’s future home when it opened. Now, Norcross said, APAH will own the land and the building outright, and the church and developer would have to agree on a new lease when the building is built, no sure thing.

“The church has given up any ownership stake in the building,” she said. “That’s what the Presbytery wanted. The church might come back as a tenant, but that’s still to be negotiated between now and 2016.”

APAH hopes to gain approval for a five-story, 142-unit apartment building with ground floor retail space originally intended for a coffee shop.

Preservationists have called for the building, which was built in 1931, to be preserved instead of torn down. The church decided the need for more affordable housing on Columbia Pike, and the opportunity to sell to APAH for millions of dollars, outweighed the idea of preserving the church and its rising maintenance costs.

“The affordable housing is desperately needed on the Pike,” Norcross said. The surprise cancellation of the streetcar did not have an impact on the congregation or the Presbytery’s decision, she said.

Preservation Arlington’s Eric Dobson said he hopes something can be done to preserve the church, because once Arlington’s older buildings are gone, “they’re gone for good.”

“That building was so important to the development of the Pike,” Dobson said. “The materials of the stone and its design… other communities would consider those assets, but in Arlington we seem to ignore that.”

Photo via Preservation Arlington

by Ethan Rothstein — January 28, 2015 at 1:45 pm 1,736 0

The Arlington County Board discusses the "Public Land for Public Good" initiative's futureThe Arlington County Board has scrapped the affordable housing-oriented “Public Land for Public Good” initiative, voting unanimously last night to wait for the findings of its new Facilities Study Committee.

The county’s new, 24-member Facilities Study Committee will broadly look at all county- and school-owned land and evaluate what facilities are possible on different sites in the county.

The Arlington Planning Commission recommended the County Board set aside the initiative — which was intended to identify county-owned property that can be used for affordable housing or new schools — last month. County Manager Barbara Donnellan agreed with the commission yesterday in her recommendation to the Board.

The action was taken “because the planning commission urged us to do so and told us they thought a better approach to this was to do the study committee, which we have launched,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said at the meeting. “I think that makes sense.”

Along with scrapping the initiative, the County Board voted to move forward with studies for the renovation of the Lubber Run Community Center, renovation of Jennie Dean Park in Shirlington and the future of the Salt Dome facility and Fire Station 8.

“The Lubber Run Center needs to be redone,” Donnellan said. “The opportunity is to look at what we’re currently providing there and how it can be updated.”

While those studies continue, the Board unanimously decided that no standalone affordable housing may be built on current parkland or open space.

“As we launch into the facilities study committee, we do not have the luxury to rule anything out based on the buildout of our 26 square miles of space as far as our facilities are concerned,” Board member Walter Tejada said. “This is going to challenge everyone again and it’s going to make us uncomfortable in our seats at times. But the time has come.”

Donnellan’s response to the criticism the Public Land for Public Good initiative received from the public, the planning commission and the Long Range Planning Committee was to defer to the Facilities Study Committee and simply say “criteria for locating new uses on county lands will be reconsidered,” and public facilities policies will be “revisited and built upon.”

by ARLnow.com — January 5, 2015 at 9:00 am 1,227 0

Arlington's planetarium (Flickr pool photo by Lawrence Cheng Photography)

County to Hold Affordable Housing Forum — The Arlington County Human Rights Commission is holding a public forum on affordable housing on Thursday. The forum will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street). Between 2000 and 2013, the average rent in Arlington increased by 91 percent while the average home sale price rose 140 percent. [Arlington County]

Beware of Contract Vote Requirements — In the interest of government accountability, County Board member John Vihstadt has proposed requiring a Board vote on all county contracts over $1 million. Beware of such a requirement, says a letter to the editor writer. Reformers in the District want to take away the power to vote on large contracts from the D.C. Council, citing recent scandals and the potential for abuse. [Washington Post]

Hynes to Host Business Breakfasts — Hoping to give a boost to Arlington’s economic competitiveness, County Board Chair Mary Hynes is planning on holding quarterly breakfasts with local business leaders. The meetings come at a time when Arlington’s office vacancy rate is north of 20 percent and the Columbia Pike and Crystal City corridors are facing the loss of the planned streetcar project. [InsideNova]

Christmas Tree Recycling Begins Today — Christmas tree recycling begins today in Arlington County. Trees collected curbside and at the Arlington Solid Waste Bureau will be turned into mulch. [ARLnow]

Flickr pool photo by Lawrence Cheng Photography

by Ethan Rothstein — December 10, 2014 at 10:55 am 2,440 0

Rendering of the proposed Columbia Hills development on S. Frederick StreetSome stakeholders along Columbia Pike are asking the Arlington County Board to name the area a “revitalization district” — a designation normally reserved for blighted and impoverished communities — in order to spur affordable housing development.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan has yet to issue a recommendation on the item, which the Board is set to discuss at its meeting this Saturday.

According to Virginia Code, an area can be deemed a revitalization district if:

  • “the area is blighted, deteriorated, deteriorating…”
  • “the industrial, commercial or other economic development of such area will benefit the city or county but such area lacks the housing needed to induce manufacturing, industrial, commercial, governmental … enterprises or undertakings to locate or remain in such area,” or
  • “private enterprise and investment are not reasonably expected, without assistance, to produce the construction or rehabilitation of decent, safe and sanitary housing and supporting facilities that will meet the needs of low and moderate income persons and families.”

Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization Executive Director Takis Karantonis said the Pike isn’t blighted, but he believes it may qualify for revitalization district standards because “when a community lacks the diversity of housing that would support certain types of economic development, then it still can qualify for Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) points.”

Those points are crucial for affordable housing on the Pike, as LIHTC money funds “9 out of every 10 of America’s apartments for low-income families,” according to the Housing Advisory Group. In Virginia, those funds are distributed by the Virginia Housing Development Authority, which gives projects 30 points toward its total qualification score simply for being located in a revitalization district.

“In the past, these points weren’t really critical to obtain tax credits,” Karantonis told ARLnow.com. “Now they are critical. If you don’t have a project in a revitalization district, you can really forget about LIHTC support.”

Karantonis said the decision to apply for the district had “nothing to do with” the recent cancellation of the streetcar project.

It’s unclear if the County Board will have the same interpretation of Virginia Code as CPRO and the Pike’s affordable housing developers, but at least one project in the pipeline is relying on the designation.

The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing has submitted initial plans to build two eight-story residential buildings, containing a total of 229 apartments on S. Frederick Street, a block from Columbia Pike in the Columbia Forest neighborhood. The building, whose rendering is pictured above, would be built on what is currently the parking lot of the Columbia Grove apartments.

That application is in the early stages — it’s scheduled to be discussed by the Form-Based Code Advisory Working Group today — but Karantonis said it an projects like it on Columbia Pike need the revitalization district designation to continue receiving federal support for affordable housing.

“This is exactly the kind of density related to the future transportation system’s capacity,” Karantonis said. “In order to get this kind of density, you need the financial support to do that, and you have to weave it together. One of the important parts in the LIHTC subsidy, and for this we want to qualify.”

Rendering via APAH

by ARLnow.com — December 3, 2014 at 9:10 am 1,198 0

A building in the midst of being torn down on a rainy day in Rosslyn

Civ Fed: Start Over on ‘Public Land’ Process — The Arlington Civic Federation voted last night for a resolution calling on Arlington County to restart its “Public Land for Public Good” affordable housing initiative. The compromise measure called for a more robust community process to discuss the idea of using publicly-owned land to build affordable housing facilities. The county’s Long Range Planning Committee has made a similar recommendation, as we reported yesterday. [InsideNova]

Stagnant Assessments Poses Challenge — Stagnant real estate assessments are causing problems for local governments around the D.C. region. In Fairfax County, it’s contributing to a $173 million budget gap. Arlington has fared better, thanks to its location adjacent to the District and the higher proportion of commercial real estate in the county (commercial property owners pay about half of all county taxes). Still, the poor state of the regional office market means that localities can’t rely on a rise in commercial property taxes to bail out homeowners. The choice for local governments, says a George Mason University study, is now to raise taxes on homeowners, cut spending or both. [Washington Post]

GW Parkway Reopens After Sinkhole Repairs — The southbound lanes of the GW Parkway reopened early this morning after repairs were made to a large sinkhole that formed between Spout Run and Route 123.

by Ethan Rothstein — December 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm 2,045 0

Lubber Run Community CenterArlington’s “Public Land for Public Good” initiative should be “reassessed,” according to the Long Range Planning Committee of the county Planning Commission.

The initiative, launched this year by County Manager Barbara Donnellan, is intended to identify county-owned land where affordable housing could be built. That could include parks, community centers and public safety facilities, such as fire stations.

The county received public comments this fall on the guidelines for evaluating sites. After reviewing those comments, the LRPC determined that the guidelines should be “set aside” while the entire initiative — and how the county engages the community in its decision-making process — is re-evaluated.

Among the committee’s strongest indictments of the current process is its recommendation that the criteria Donnellan used in her preliminary report to the Board in May — the catalyst for the public opposition to the initiative since — should be “withdrawn and reassessed.”

“The term Public Land for Public Good does not capture the importance and benefits of other public facilities and uses and should be reconsidered,” the report, approved at the LRPC’s meeting last week, states.

All of the LRPC’s recommendations include reaching out to the community before continuing the process further. The committee recommended that the county’s deliberations over which sites are evaluated and why need to be made more transparent. “This process should result in an understanding of how site selection is conducted and how the public participates in the decision,” the report states.

The LRPC’s report comes on the heels of County Board Chair Jay Fisette’s statement during last month’s Board meeting that the “Public Land for Public Good” rollout “didn’t work.”

While recommending the county slow down on evaluating land it currently owns, the LRPC also recommends Arlington adopt an “aggressive land acquisition policy.”

The Planning Commission will likely discuss the LRPC’s recommendations at a meeting this week. The County Board could discuss the issue at its Saturday, Dec. 13 meeting.

by ARLnow.com — November 19, 2014 at 9:30 am 1,625 0

Autumn in Arlington (Flickr pool photo by Eric)

LWV to Address Pike Changes — Scheduled well before yesterday’s news that the county’s streetcar project is being canceled, the League of Women Voters tonight will hold a forum entitled “Columbia Pike in Transition.” The forum will explore the future of the Columbia Pike corridor. [InsideNova]

Board Approves Affordable Housing Loan — The Arlington County Board has approved a $8.5 million loan for developer AHC Inc. to purchase the Spectrum Apartments at 5055 S. Chesterfield Road and convert 80 market-rate apartments to committed affordable units. [Arlington County]

Va. Liquor Price Hike — The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has approved a price hike for liquor that’s expected to raise an extra $5.4 million for the state coffers. [Washington Business Journal]

McLean Stabbing Victims Recovering — Arlington law firm Bean, Kinney & Korman says its managing shareholder, Leo Fisher, and his wife are recovering from a brutal stabbing in their McLean home. “There has been universal concern for the welfare of Leo and Sue, and we are thankful to be able to assure everyone that they are recovering steadily,” the firm said in a statement yesterday. Meanwhile, new details have been revealed about the hours-long “torture session” former Bean Kinney attorney Alecia Schmuhl and her husband Andrew allegedly put Fischer and his wife through on Nov. 9. [Washington Post]

Rip Sullivan Joins Bean KinneyRecently-elected House of Delegates member Rip Sullivan has joined the Courthouse-based law firm of Bean, Kinney & Korman, the firm announced yesterday. [Bean, Kinney & Korman]

Flickr pool photo by Eric

by Ethan Rothstein — November 17, 2014 at 5:05 pm 1,899 0

The Arlington County Board, Nov. 15, 2014The “Public Land for Public Good” initiative the Arlington County Board launched last December has led to miscommunication and confusion, and County Board Chair Jay Fisette admitted as much this weekend.

The Board asked County Manager Barbara Donnellan to identify at least three public land sites that could be identified for public housing. One was with the redevelopment of the Lubber Run Community Center, a proposal that initially was the brainchild of an Arlington interfaith group and was floated as a potential solution by Donnellan.

The proposal set off broad opposition in the county to the idea of building affordable housing on parkland. Fisette said on Saturday that it was never the intention to do that — at most, the community center would be redeveloped and affordable housing would be built on top of it.

“It was never the intent… to have a standalone affordable housing building on an officially designated park, nor is it the interest of the Board to do that,” Fisette said. “I think there’s a real understanding that the way the concept was put forward in the direction for the manager didn’t work the way it was anticipated… We all felt this was a way to start a conversation. It was the very beginning of a discussion that would have taken quite a bit more time to solve. Some people were anxious that it was the end of a conversation, and it was the beginning.”

Several speakers during the County Board’s public comment session spoke about the issue, including one, Max Lyons, who presented a statistical breakdown of the 577 responses the county received to its public land site evaluation survey. Lyons said that 61 percent of respondents commented on using park land for affordable housing. Of those comments, 94 percent opposed the idea.

“Chairman Fisette, I was concerned by your recent characterization of those comments,” Lyons said. “You wrote, ‘As we have reviewed the summary of comments received to date on the draft Public Land Site Evaluation Guidelines, we recognize that many commenters agree with these goals and practices, which will surely inform the final guidelines.’ My review of the comments led me to a very different conclusion. ”

Lyons said that more than 100 respondents gave unsolicited endorsements of other county affordable housing policies, but 75 percent of those responses still opposed affordable housing on park land. Another speaker, Rick Epstein, said he understands where the miscommunication came from, but still thinks the Board is taking the wrong approach.

“I genuinely believe that much of this miscommunication could have been avoided if the Board had followed the Arlington Way prior to passing the December resolution,” Epstein said. “The Board and county manager should preferably have engaged the entire community in open and thorough discussion, not simply about public land for public good, but for the future use of public lands. The site review process by the county manager is not a substitute for a broad community discussion” on public land.

County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes plans to take on a larger role on the issue in the coming year, she said, and responded to many of the comments by promising to engage the community more, although she didn’t say how.

“We need to take a look collectively at how this community moves forward to meet any number of needs,” she said. “We need to understand that there are short-term, medium-term and long-term needs in our community, and we need to focus on all of them. In the end, it is about our collective future and where as a county we go, and the time really has come to dive deeply into that question.”

by ARLnow.com — November 17, 2014 at 10:25 am 1,526 0

Rainy morning on Glebe Road in Ballston (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

Glencarlyn Park, Sewer Main Upgrades Approved — The Arlington County Board over the weekend unanimously approved a sewer main construction project for Old Dominion Drive. The Board also approved upgrades to Glencarlyn Park, including a rain garden, plaza and bicycle facilities. [Arlington County]

Arlington’s Per-Pupil Spending Tops Region — Arlington Public Schools spends $19,040 per student, the highest such figure of any Washington suburb. On a per-pupil basis, Arlington spends 24 percent more than Montgomery County schools, 41 percent more than Fairfax County schools and 84 percent more than Prince William County schools. [InsideNova]

Loan Approved for Senior Housing — On Saturday, the Arlington County Board unanimously approved a $1.35 million loan to help keep the Culpepper Gardens I apartment complex affordable. The complex include 204 committed affordable units for seniors. [Arlington County]

No New Westover Middle School? — The Arlington School Board has informally voted to remove the Reed School site in Westover from consideration as a potential location for a new middle school. Many residents have said they would rather see the building used for a neighborhood elementary school. [InsideNova]

Board Updates Green Building Incentives — The Arlington County Board voted 4-1 to require higher sustainability standards for its Green Building Incentive Program, which rewards developers for environmentally-sound building practices. [Arlington County]

Local Reporter Travels to Germany for Streetcar Story — WAMU reporter Michael Lee Pope traveled to Germany to report on the use of streetcars in Berlin, tying his findings back to Arlington’s proposed streetcar project. Streetcars run in formerly Communist-controlled East Berlin, but no longer in West Berlin. One interviewee said people ride East Berlin’s streetcars partially out of a sense of nostalgia and the “special feeling” one gets from riding them. [WAMU]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

by Ethan Rothstein — November 5, 2014 at 5:30 pm 1,436 0

Construction on 193 new apartments — including 78 affordable units — in the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood has begun, and county officials and developers celebrated today with a groundbreaking.

The project, called Union on Queen, will raze three buildings to erect a 12-story tower, which will contain 181 apartments. The two buildings that make up the Pierce Queen Apartments, built in 1942 on the 1600 block of 16th Street N., will be gutted, but preserved and renovated. They will be converted into 12 affordable units.

The project is a public-private partnership among The Bozzuto Group, nonprofit developer Wesley Housing and Arlington County, which is providing debt financing. Construction began a few weeks ago, according to Bozzuto President Toby Bozzuto, and is expected to last two years, putting the project on track for an October 2016 opening.

The process to get the apartments from proposal to site plan approval to construction was not an easy one. The project was deferred by the Arlington County Board before its March 2013 approval for design and parking concerns. It also faced issues securing affordable housing grants from both the county and the state.

The developers and public officials in attendance at this morning’s groundbreaking all noted how tough of a slog the approval process was. Wesley Properties President and CEO Shelley Murphy said the company’s founder called Pierce Queen Apartments “the project from hell” when the company acquired it in 1991.

“This is as good an example of why Arlington succeeds as anything,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said. “We actually follow through. Follow-through is hard. We all create plans, we all create visions, we write beautiful words, we put it on a shelf. In Arlington, we work really hard to bring the vision to life, to make the investments and the hard calls to make things work.”

Rep. Jim Moran didn’t step up to the podium — “One of the nice things about retiring is that I don’t have to stand up at any more podiums and microphones,” he joked — but said “Arlington County works, and it works because they understand that communities and their economies are a reflection of a collective decision-making on the part of thousands of families.”

Arlington approved $6.8 million in Affordable Housing Investment Fund money toward the project, which also received assistance from the Virginia Housing Development Authority. The state money wasn’t easy to secure, several of the speakers said, partly because the development’s total cost was close to being ineligible for state money. Eventually, the sides struck an arrangement and Fisette said the apartments will be up to the high standards the county has set.

“There are a lot of places that would say, ‘Dumb it down, cheaper, less efficient. It’s affordable housing in there’,” Fisette said. “But that’s not the way this community works. We want every building to be indistinguishable from the next.”

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