Green Party, VOICE at Odds on Affordable Housing — Two groups that both support more affordable housing in Arlington, the Arlington Green Party and Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), are seemingly at odds over the means to that end. VOICE didn’t support the Green Party’s housing authority referendum, and now the Green Party is blasting VOICE because the group “prefers, apparently, to work closely with the Democratic ruling party behind closed doors and support a dysfunctional housing-assistance program.” [Sun Gazette]
New Year’s Eve Events — If you’re still trying to decide where to celebrate the arrival of 2014 in Arlington, our New Year’s Eve guide has 10 ideas for you.
New Year’s Day Closures — Most Arlington County facilities and services will be closed tomorrow, Jan. 1. The Arlington County Board, however, will hold its traditional New Year’s Day organizational meeting at 11:00 a.m.
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
County Board Chairman Walter Tejada made the pledge at its Tuesday meeting, in response to a petition delivered by VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement). VOICE collected more than 10,000 signatures for the petition, which called for 1,000-1,500 new units of affordable housing to be built on public and non-profit owned land over the next 3-5 years.
Possible sites identified by VOICE include the Arlington Career Center, Arlington Central Library, East Falls Church Metro station, and the parking lot of the Lubber Run Community Center. Tejada, in a statement, said the county will carefully consider the best use of public property.
“The County Board… has made affordable housing one the County’s top priorities,” he said. “The County Board is the steward of the community’s public land. In that capacity, we have a responsibility to assure that land decisions consider how best to provide what the community needs — schools, parks, recreational opportunities, and facilities.”
Tejada cited the 122 units of affordable housing built next to the new Arlington Mill Community Center as a model for using “public land for public good.”
The county is expected to identify 3-5 sites as part of its 2014-2024 Capital Improvement Program. After that, “a timeline for a comprehensive land use review process involving the community would be developed for each of the priority sites identified in the CIP,” Tejada said.
Despite the pledge from Tejada, VOICE representatives, who were hoping for quick action on their proposal, expressed disappointment that no firm deadlines were established for the process, the Sun Gazette reported.
Board Takes Action on Affordable Housing — The Arlington County Board on Saturday voted on a series of measures to preserve some of the county’s supply of affordable housing. The Board approved a set of financial tools – including a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) area — that will help preserve the affordability of 6,200 market rate affordable homes along Columbia Pike, an estimated $6.7 million Tenant Assistance Fund for tenants of affordable housing that is being renovated or redeveloped, and a $8.3 million loan to keep the 101-unit Arna Valley View Apartments near I-395 affordable. [Washington Post]
Tree Removal Concerns County Board — County Board members said they were “deeply concerned” and “shocked” at reports that Arlington Public Schools allowed the removal of protected trees on the site of the Ashlawn Elementary School expansion project. [Sun Gazette]
Preservation Arlington Touts Colonial Village — The group Preservation Arlington says “it is a prime time to move to Colonial Village,” touting the community — the first Federal Housing Administration-insured large-scale rental housing project in the U.S. — as “an urban oasis: historic and protected in the heart of the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor.” [Preservation Arlington]
DJO Coach Named to Hall of Fame — Bishop O’Connell High School softball coach Tommy Orndorff has been named to the 2014 National Softball Hall of Fame. [Arlington Catholic Herald]
Arlington Athletes Make All-Mets — Yorktown football running back M.J. Stewart, Washington-Lee cross country runner Sarah Angell, and Bishop O’Connell soccer midfielder Lauren Harkes have been named to the 2013 first-team fall All-Met. [Washington Post]
Photo courtesy Chase McAlpine
An interfaith community group says it has gathered more than 10,000 signatures for a petition that calls on Arlington County to help develop 1,000 to 1,500 new units of affordable housing over the next 3-5 years.
Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) collected the signatures and plans to present them to Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada next Thursday. VOICE says the affordable housing can be built by redeveloping government-owned sites, including the Lubber Run Community Center in Arlington Forest.
VOICE’s proposal identifies government-owned sites that could be redeveloped including Lubber Run Community Center. The group wants the units to be available only to families and individuals making less than $50,000 a year.
According to a press release, VOICE plans to bring more than 100 people — including clergy in religious attire — in front of the Arlington County government building (2100 Clarendon Blvd) Thursday, Dec. 12, at 5:45 p.m., in support of the plan.
The VOICE group is seeking immediate action from the County Board to start implementing some of its proposals at its Dec. 14 meeting.
The plan was approved less than a week after local preservationists called for alternatives to demolishing the church, which was built in 1931.
The church has partnered with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing on the project, which, if approved by the Arlington County Board, will include a five-story, 142-unit apartment building, a new, 7,100-square foot “worship space,” as the church called it, and ground floor retail space intended for a coffee shop.
APAH plans on submitting a proposal to the county for the redevelopment in 2014, with an eye toward opening in late 2017. The plans are in line with the Columbia Pike Form Based Code, meaning APAH will not have to seek additional density from the County Board.
According to the Arlington Presbyterian press release, the church has been looking at ways redevelop for the past three years. It was members of the church who reached out to APAH to form the partnership.
“Our decision to partner with APAH represents our new vision for discipleship, crossroads and affordable housing,” Pastor Sharon Core said in the release. “We believe in being good stewards of our resources by using our land along Columbia Pike to further this vision, as this redevelopment represents the innovative social change that has been a hallmark of our ministry.”
Photo via Preservation Arlington
Board Adopts Pike Affordable Housing Tools — The Arlington County Board on Saturday formally adopted a number of county code changes needed to implement the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan. The plan includes the implementation of Form Based Code for the residential areas around the Pike. Form Based Code allows developers to build larger projects than otherwise permitted through zoning, provided a number of conditions are met. On the Pike, those conditions include setting aside 20-35 percent of new units for affordable housing and meeting green building standards. [Arlington County]
Board Proposes TIF for Affordable Housing — Also on Saturday, the County Board voted to advertise a plan to implement a Tax Increment Financing district along Columbia Pike. The TIF would take some of the additional tax revenue provided by new development and set it aside for affordable housing. [Washington Post]
Special Election May Be Held in March — Assuming retiring County Board member Chris Zimmerman vacates his seat by the end of January, the special election to replace him on the Board could be held in mid- to late March. [Sun Gazette]
Howze Announces for County Board — Democrat Alan Howze announced his candidacy for Arlington County Board over the weekend. Howze, who has served as president of the Highland Park-Overlee Knolls Civic Association, says he shares outgoing Board member Chris Zimmerman’s “vision for a transit-oriented, smart-growth community that is welcoming to all.” [Facebook]
APAH worked in partnership with church leaders to develop a plan that would build a new, 7,100 square foot church within a five-story, 142-unit apartment building. The proposal also includes a space for nonprofit child care and ground floor retail intended for a coffee shop.
The church approached APAH with the idea of building affordable housing on its site, according to a presentation the church made to its congregation in August. APAH laid out a timeline that would start with signing a lease by the end of the year, starting demolition in early 2016 and opening in late 2017.
The proposal is similar to the Views at Clarendon project, which built an affordable apartment building on top of an existing church. Unlike that project, however, the Arlington Presbyterian Church proposal would not preserve the existing structure.
The group Preservation Arlington is calling for a new plan that would preserve the church, which was built in 1931.
“The church and APAH aim to fill a urgent need for affordable housing and serving the community,” Preservation Arlington writes on its website. “In the process though, they will destroy a tangible link and reminder of how communities are built and how they last but change over time. They and all Arlington residents will lose a fine representation of church architecture and a recognizable landmark on the Pike.”
Preservation Arlington suggests housing the coffee shop in part of the church or the child care center in the former sanctuary.
APAH plans on submitting a proposal to the county for the redevelopment in 2014. The plans are within the parameters of the Columbia Pike Form Based Code, meaning APAH will not have to seek additional density from the County Board.
Photo via Preservation Arlington
The proposal requests approval of a site plan for two new five-story apartment buildings with 287 units and 264 parking spaces. There would be 171 units designated as affordable to households earning less than 60% of the area median income.
Currently, The Berkeley has 110 affordable units out of 137 total units. The two four-story buildings built in 1961 would be demolished under the proposal.
County staff members are reviewing the site plan application and hope to begin the public review process soon. The first Site Plan Review Committee meeting for this proposal is scheduled for Thursday, November 21.
A group of activists sued Arlington County on Friday over its fact sheet about the housing authority referendum on the ballot tomorrow, but a judge quickly dismissed the lawsuit.
As it has in previous years, the county distributed a “frequently asked questions” fact sheet with the stated goal of informing residents before voting on the measure. Members of the Arlington Committee to Save Affordable Housing, which supports the creation of a housing authority in Arlington, filed the lawsuit on Friday to protest the page, with treasurer John Reeder — who filed the suit on behalf of the committee — calling it “a biased fact sheet with bogus data slanted against the housing authority, and misleading voters.”
Judge William Newman dismissed the suit without opinion the same day, prompting Reeder to send out a press release denouncing his decision. Newman is a former member of the Arlington County Board, whose members oppose the formation of a housing authority.
“Virginia Code section 24.2-687 requires that any statement on the referendum issued by Arlington County be no longer than 500 words, be neutral, and not use arguments either for or against the referendum,” the press release said. “The county FAQ statement of over 1,100 words made factual errors about the availability of Federal housing funds and other revenues… [and] included arguments and bogus claims cited by opponents including the Arlington Democratic Party.”
“Judge Newman dismissed the legal petition with no legal opinion issued late on November 1, and refused to grant even a public hearing on whether the state law on elections and referenda had been violated,” the press release continued.
The last time the referendum was on the ballot in 2008, the county distributed a similar flyer which also drew criticism, notably from the Arlington Green Party, of which Reeder is a member. The county has stood by that flyer and stands by this year’s version.
“Judge Newman’s action speaks for itself regarding the merits of the lawsuit on the housing referendum,” County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac said in an email. “It is within Judge Newman’s discretion to take the action that he took … The County put out a factual set of questions and answers, with neutral information about the referendum.”
The referendum, if passed, would create an independent housing authority, appointed by the County Board, focused on eliminating and redeveloping “blighted areas,” and promoting the availability of affordable housing.
Currently, the county handles affordable housing through its Housing Commission and through cooperation with local affordable housing nonprofits. The county draws funds from local taxes, developer contributions, federal and state grants and other affordable housing programs. The county says in its fact sheet that a new housing authority would have access to the same or similar funding sources.
As announced in August, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) plans to replace the existing 3-story Carlyn Springs apartment complex with a new 5-story complex dubbed “The Springs” at 4318 N. Carlin Springs Road. Part of the building’s first floor would house offices for APAH’s headquarters. The offices would have an entrance on N. Carlin Springs Road, separate from the residential lobby and community room entrance on N. Thomas Street.
The proposed building would be 5-stories tall, offering a transition from other high-rises in Ballston to nearby low-rise residences. It would consist of 104 units.
The development would have two levels of underground parking, accessible from N. Thomas Street. The developer is requesting 104 spaces for residential use and seven for office use. Although 10 office spaces are required, special permission for a reduced number has been requested. The developer contends that the spaces will be shared between residents and office workers, so office workers will be able to use open spaces during the day while residents are at work.
Currently, sidewalks surrounding the property measure four to five feet wide, with a two to three foot treeless green strip. The development plan recommends expanding the sidewalks to 11-13 feet wide, with adjacent tree pits.
One issue the SPRC hopes to work through is the 26 foot setback area at the south side of the building, which is proposed to be a recreation area and play space for residents. The developer wishes to locate an above ground transformer at this location. County staff suggests moving the transformer vault inside the building or underground in the parking garage.
Although it may come up at future SPRC meetings instead of at tonight’s, county staff is expected to further discuss construction of a pedestrian/bike path to break up the “superblock” at this site. The path would also provide access to a park proposed for the area.
The developer has proposed building ground level apartment units, and county staff has encouraged the developer to consider stoops and street entrances for these units. That would give residents direct access to the proposed pedestrian/bike path, should the path be built.
Tonight will be the second time The Springs has been addressed at an SPRC meeting. There’s no word so far on exactly when the $35 million redevelopment proposal will be ready to go before the County Board.
Favola: Streamline Development Approval — State Senator and former County Board member Barbara Favola (D) is urging Arlington County to streamline its development approval process in order to make it easier for affordable housing projects to be built. At a fundraiser for the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing this week, Favola and others said red tape and community resistance is making it more expensive to build affordable housing in Arlington. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington E-CARE Event This Weekend — Arlington will hold is biannual Environmental Collection and Recycling Event from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. The event allows Arlington residents to safely dispose of household hazardous materials and to recycle items like bikes, small metal items, shoes, clothing, bed frames, etc. [Arlington County]
NSF Buyers Remorse in Alexandria? — Alexandria officials are thrilled to be taking the National Science Foundation and its more than 4,000 associated jobs from Arlington. But some are now voicing displeasure with a part of the incentive package for NSF that relieved the developer of the agency’s new headquarters from paying what would have been more than $1 million to the city’s affordable housing fund. [Patch]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
If you are like me, your attention has been focused on the ongoing drama surrounding the government slowdown and not as much on local news over the past two weeks. In addition to the statewide, General Assembly and local races on the ballot in November is the referendum to create an Arlington public housing authority. The issue had not received a good deal of coverage before the slowdown drama, and I am not sure the yard signs its supporters have now deployed will do much to break through the noise.
The proponents of the referendum say Arlington’s current approach to affordable housing has proven ineffective in keeping up with the market forces that are driving up housing prices. They argue we should try the approach used by Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria and bring Arlington’s efforts directly under the county’s umbrella rather than using existing public-private partnerships. They say that it would leverage local dollars to obtain additional federal assistance and reduce duplication of efforts.
The opponents of a public housing authority say Arlington already spends a higher percentage of its budget than neighboring jurisdictions without adding to government bureaucracy. This argument actually united the local Democrat and Republican Parties in opposition in 2008.
It has done so again this year. At their September meeting, Republicans debated the merits of getting more bang for our taxpayer dollars, but ultimately decided they could not be assured Arlingtonians would get more value by creating a new local government agency.
There is a lot of valid criticism to be had for how the Arlington County Board “negotiates” with developers. The negotiations often come down to a set of demands a developer must meet. Developers are usually willing to quietly go along with the Board’s demands in exchange for more density than they would otherwise be entitled to. The Green Party, which is backing the referendum, opposes the additional density as well.
Outside of affordable housing, such negotiations have led to empty ground floor retail, an empty art gallery space, and proposed construction of a taxpayer-subsidized black box theater. One could argue strongly that the Board’s planning record leaves a lot to be desired, and that maybe a change to its approach on housing is in order.
While I must admit that part of me would like to strike a blow against the County Board’s business as usual approach, I have to agree with my fellow Republicans on this one. There is no guarantee a public housing authority get additional results on affordable housing, but we would guarantee the expansion of local government. And as regular readers here know, I think we pay too much in taxes for a government that is already big enough.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
Affordable Housing Crisis in Arlington? – “Arlington County is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis,” writes reporter Michael Lee Pope. The county has lost more than half of its affordable housing units in the last decade, a time when the average rent increased by 47 percent while the average salary increased only 37 percent. The “crisis” has led the Arlington Green Party to propose a referendum on the creation of a new housing authority, a move that many existing affordable housing organizations in Arlington oppose. [Arlington Connection]
Gravelly Point Still Busy Despite Shutdown – Gravelly Point has remained a popular destination for picnickers, fisherman and airplane watchers, despite the fact that it’s officially closed and its parking lot barricaded. Despite being a potential safety hazard, a number of park-goers have been parking on the grass adjacent to the GW Parkway. [WJLA]
Columbia Forest Tops for Female Divorcees — Arlington’s Columbia Forest neighborhood has the highest concentration of female divorcees among census tracts in the county, with 355. According to census data, Shirlington and Pentagon City are No. 2 and 3, with 339 and 298 respectively. As previously reported, Crystal City has the highest concentration of divorced men, 297. [Patch]
Stink Bug Season in Washington — It’s stink bug season once again. While a few of the insects have been reported around Arlington, the stink bug population seems to increase as you go west, beyond the Beltway. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Runneralan2004.
Safeway Seeks New Developer in Bluemont — Safeway is looking for a new developer to work with for the redevelopment of its Bluemont store at 5101 Wilson Blvd. Developer Mark Silverwood pulled out of a partnership to build a new Safeway store topped by 160 apartments after Bluemont residents rejected it, saying the proposed building was too tall and would generate too much traffic. [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington’s Recycling Rate Reaches New High — The recycling rate in Arlington hit a new all-time high in 2012. The county’s recycling rate was 51.1 percent in 2012, according to the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality. [Sun Gazette]
Wakefield Seniors Names Scholarship Semifinalists — Three Wakefield High School seniors have been named National Achievement Scholarship semifinalists. The scholarship program recognizes academic excellence among African American students. [Arlington Public Schools]
Affordable Housing Forum Tonight — Arlington County is holding a public forum on the topic of affordable housing tonight. Arlington residents are encouraged to attend and weigh in on the county’s affordable housing goals. The event is being held at the Navy League Building auditorium (2300 Wilson Blvd) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
The AHS, an Arlington-based nonprofit “working to increase the supply of affordable housing in Arlington County and Northern Virginia through research, public education, and advocacy,” doesn’t believe that the housing authority the referendum would form would benefit the community.
AHS issued the following statement about the referendum:
The Alliance for Housing Solutions is urging Arlington voters to reject the proposed Redevelopment and Housing Authority referendum that is on the ballot this November. Arlington faces significant challenges to housing affordability. However, AHS believes that an Authority would not solve this problem and would, in fact, have a negative impact.
“Arlington has long used an innovative public, private, & non-profit partnership approach to the creation and management of affordable housing in our community,” said AHS President Mary Margaret Whipple. “This successful approach has allowed Arlington to access financial tools and state and federal funding in order to create mixed-income communities, while avoiding the costs of running a housing authority.”
Using this highly successful strategy, Arlington has created more affordable housing units per 1,000 people than any other county in Northern Virginia, including those with housing authorities. It also is the only jurisdiction in Virginia to offer County-funded rental assistance through the Housing Grants program.
“As they have twice before, Arlington voters should reject the Redevelopment and Housing Authority referendum,” Whipple added. “A new authority would not increase the availability of affordable housing units, and would actually stall progress by pitting a housing authority against our highly successful non-profits for the same funding.”
AHS urged a broader community dialogue about the critical need for affordable housing. By working together, especially through the Affordable Housing Study process, supporters of affordable housing can work together to find solutions and raise awareness.
“There are no easy solutions,“ said AHS Executive Director Mary Rouleau. “As a community we must be willing to consider, for example, putting affordable units on public land and increased density along transit routes.”
AHS released a Question-and-Answer document, responding to the key positions of the housing authority backers. It can be found on its website: AllianceforHousingSolutions.