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.
Back in January, I wrote about Chairman Tejada’s call for a Columbia Pike Tax Increment Financing district, or TIF. Some have suggested privately that a dedicated stream of funding for affordable housing was a “condition” for Tejada’s trolley support. Regardless of the TIF’s genesis, the Board will hear public comments on it next Saturday.
First, a reminder of how a TIF works. Essentially, Arlington County freezes the tax base of a defined area and dedicates tax revenue from that base to the general fund. The additional future revenue, or a percentage of it, is then earmarked to spend solely in that area, presumably with a pet project in mind. The general fund, on the other hand, is used to pay for the ongoing county services we all use: schools, transportation, police, fire, parks, and other services.
In this case, the Board is proposing a set-aside of 25 percent in the TIF to put toward the construction of affordable housing projects in the Columbia Pike corridor for the next 30 years. Regardless of what you think about the need to fund additional affordable housing in Arlington, the TIF automatically removes 25 percent of the additional real estate tax revenue along the corridor in the future from the general fund. There is nothing to prevent this percentage from going higher in the future to pay for more affordable housing needs or another project in the area.
This is the second TIF proposed in the county, both begun in large part to help get the Columbia Pike trolley project built. The first was put in place for Crystal City — presumably to help finance bonds for that portion of the trolley line. Those bonds would allow financing without a requiring vote by Arlingtonians.
The Board’s willingness to move toward financing projects with TIFs seems to be setting us on a path toward multiple TIFs throughout Arlington. In effect, the new board policy is that they are willing to create long-term earmarks for pet projects. While we will almost certainly never reach Chicago-style TIF levels, with more than 100, what I wrote nearly 11 months ago still holds true today:
The use of special interest TIFs to avoid future public debate, scrutiny, and up or down votes on such projects is a bad idea, plain and simple. It will not only avoid additional public input, but it will inevitably lead to higher tax rates for all of us. When schools, roads, public safety and other services face a squeeze in future budgets, the Board will tell voters they simply have to raise taxes to pay for it.
The County Board should not lock Arlingtonians into this fiscally irresponsible path.
If you are concerned about the long-term earmarks that TIFs will create, you should consider attending the hearing on Dec. 14 to voice your concerns.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
The bridge, which has been under construction since 2012, was built to replace the previous structure. The old bridge was built in the 1940s as part of the original Pentagon Roadway Network and had been in “poor condition,” according to VDOT.
Construction on the project is still expected to wrap up at some point in 2015, according to VDOT’s project website.
Lane closures will continue on Columbia Pike into 2014 while the new bridge is finished and the old bridge is demolished. Demolition is expected to happen as soon as January.
The bakery was announced as the food service tenant for the center this past summer. As we reported at this time, the 1,875 square foot location on the center’s ground floor was to serve healthier foods, specialty coffee, gelato and salteñas.
Rent on the seven-year lease was to start at $56,250.00 per year and rise to $67,165.44 at the end of the seven year term. For reasons as of yet unknown — its owners could not be reached for comment — Pan American is now trying to back out of the lease.
“We have recently received a request from Pan American Bakery asking to terminate their lease,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jennifer Heilman told ARLnow.com. “Ultimately, this decision whether or not to terminate the lease will be made by the County Board as they approved the lease. There is no date set for this review by the County Board. We are currently exploring alternative options in the interim.”
No word yet on what might replace Pan American at Arlington Mill. The bakery has existing locations at 4113 Columbia Pike in Arlington and 650 S. Pickett Street in Alexandria.
In announcing the bakery as Arlington Mill’s restaurant tenant in July, county officials said its owners were chosen because of their “business experience, local presence, financial strength, willingness to accept the county’s monetary terms, and readiness to proceed.”
The community center will holding an open house on Friday, Dec. 6 and Saturday, Dec. 7.
Disclosure: Arlington County is advertising the Arlington Mill Community Center open house on ARLnow.com
The lingering questions that surround the planned Columbia Pike streetcar project have given developers pause as they look to build along the corridor, according to one of the Pike’s biggest boosters.
Takis Karantonis, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, says he’s seen a slowdown in development and business interest in recent months, as local politicians and residents have continued to debate the merits of the streetcar project. With Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman, a key streetcar supporter, retiring early next year, that debate is likely to continue unabated as candidates vie to fill his seat in a special election.
Despite some uncertainty about how and when the Pike streetcar will be funded, Arlington County is still moving forward with the project. Karantonis is pushing for the streetcar to be built sooner rather than later.
“There isn’t uncertainty around the streetcar, but there are lot of people who want to create uncertainty,” Karantonis told ARLnow.com Monday. “This is concerning the business community because people want to be able to at least make medium-term decisions, and they don’t welcome this kind of prolonged debate about the streetcar itself.”
Karantonis said the ongoing questions about when the streetcar will actually be built has slowed both commercial and residential development. Modern development strives for a mix of uses, Karantonis said, so when one form development is slowed, all forms are.
Small businesses could also be impacted by any delays in the streetcar project, Karantonis said. The thousands of daily passengers the streetcar is projected to carry can’t come soon enough for Columbia Pike merchants. Pockets of retail space along the Pike have been vacant for years, Karantonis said, and the streetcar will help boost businesses in neglected areas.
“It’s not easier for [small businesses] to wait,” he said. “They look at the streetcar as a catalyst and a game-changer. The more challenging the economic times are for us with the government sputtering along, this hardens the demand on local government to deliver the investment goods it has planned for.”
County Board Member Libby Garvey — who was elected last year on an anti-streetcar platform and is currently the lone voice of streetcar dissent on the Board — isn’t so sure about Karantonis’ hypothesis.
“It would surprise me if there were many businesses very concerned about delays in the streetcar,” Garvey wrote in an email. “Remember, we are talking about adding 10 streetcars to 34 buses along the Pike. Hardly a major change in transit, just a major change in expense and disruption of traffic as 10 fixed rail vehicles run in mixed traffic creating headaches for everyone.”
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
At the Nov. 16 County Board meeting, the board voted 4-to-1 to hold a public hearing on Dec. 14 to “consider establishment of a tax increment financing area and fund to help finance affordable housing initiatives in support of the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan.”
The board should vote NO on this proposal in December.
Why is there such a tiff about this TIF?
As a county staff report explains, TIF is a financing mechanism that captures “the projected increase in property tax revenues created by… development… It redirects and segregates the increased property tax revenues that would normally flow to the General Fund so that they can be used for a specific purpose.”
The Board Should Defer A Final Vote Until After It Approves A General Policy on TIF
The same county staff report acknowledges that “the County Manager will be proposing a County-wide TIF policy as part of a comprehensive review of the County’s financial and debt management policies, last updated in 2009.” But, staff recommends that the board go ahead and approve the Columbia Pike TIF now because staff cannot imagine that the County-wide review will change staff’s mind about this TIF.
The staff has the cart before the horse.
TIF is a deservedly controversial form of financing because every time it is used it takes tax revenues away from the county’s general operating budget. TIF curtails the board’s flexibility to adapt to changing economic conditions. Given the new normal of Arlington’s budget situation, no further uses of TIF should be approved until after the comprehensive review is complete and the public is heard.
This TIF Is Highly Problematic
County staff is straining mightily to find a way to pay for an unrealistic goal that the County Board adopted last year: to preserve every single one of the 6,200 market rate affordable housing units defined in the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan.
It was a big mistake for the County Board to adopt this goal before having a robust budget discussion with the Arlington community about:
- the priority of this goal compared to all other community priorities
- the benefits of this goal compared to its costs
This goal should not be shielded from the competition with other goals that takes place as part of Arlington’s annual operating budget review.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
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
Board to Consider Mall Expansion Plan — The Arlington County Board is expected to vote on the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City’s expansion plans at its Saturday meeting. County staff is recommending approval of the plan, which would about 50,000 square feet of space for 5-7 new retail tenants to the front of the mall.
Shopping Center Cost $250k in 1940 — The strip mall at the northeast corner of Columbia Pike and Glebe Road represented an investment of $250,000 in 1940. At the time, traffic volume on Columbia Pike was about 12,000 cars per day and traffic volume on Glebe Road was about 600 cars per day. [Ghosts of DC]
Reminder: Yellow Line Closed This Weekend — The Yellow Line will be shut down this weekend for the annual safety inspection of the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac River. The closure will begin at about 10:00 tonight (Friday).
Optimist Club Christmas Tree Sale Two Weeks Away — The Optimist Club of Arlington will kick off its annual Christmas tree sale on Saturday, Nov. 30. The sale will be held in the Wells Fargo parking lot at the corner of Lee Highway and Glebe Road. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) Two workers were rescued by firefighters after their scaffolding collapsed at a Columbia Pike apartment building this afternoon.
The incident happened just before 3:00 p.m., at 2200 Columbia Pike. Fire department officials say the men were lowering the scaffolding when one of the sides caught and the scaffolding “went vertical.” One worker was caught in netting in the scaffolding, while the other was saved by a safety harness and was hanging from a rope.
Firefighters set up netting below the workers to catch them in case they fell. It wasn’t needed, however. Firefighters using a ladder truck were able to pluck the workers from the side of the building within 10 minutes of arriving on scene.
The workers suffered only “very minor” injuries and did not require transport to a hospital. They were doing masonry work on the building, a fire department spokesman said. Virginia occupational safety officials are now investigating the incident.
Columbia Pike was shut down in both directions during the rescue. The Pike has since been reopened.
Arlington’s Feuding Bike Donation Charities – “Arlington, surprisingly, is home to not one but two nonprofits that donate bicycles to the underprivileged in Africa and elsewhere,” writes Our Man in Arlington columnist Charlie Clark. “Our 26-square-mile county, however, may not be big enough for both – the two groups do not ride alongside each other smoothly.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Pike Apartment Ad from the ’60s – The Columbia Pike apartment complex now known as the Wellington is seen in a 1960s-era advertisement uncovered by Ghosts of DC. The then-new “Executive Apartments” were “designed to meet the requirements of successful executives who can command the finest in luxury air-conditioned apartment living,” the ad says. Rent for a one bedroom was $135 per month. [Ghosts of DC]
Library Reminds Feds to Return Books — Furloughed federal employees might not have access to their government email accounts, and thus might miss reminder emails from the library about overdue items. Arlington Public Library is reminding feds that they can keep track of their account through the library website. [Arlington Public Library]
New Nauck Civic Association Website — The Nauck Civic Association recently unveiled a new website, which includes a history of the neighborhood. Also known as Green Valley, the neighborhood was settled by a freed slave in 1844. [Nauck Civic Association]
B.M. Smith and Associates submitted plans to Arlington’s Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board earlier this month for a six-story apartment building with ground floor retail, tentatively dubbed 2400 Columbia Pike.
Located across from Penrose Square, the building would replace Rappahannock Coffee, L.A. Nails, the former Saah Furniture and other businesses in three low-rise retail buildings on the block. At minimum, the facades from two of the buildings (2338-2344 Columbia Pike and 2406-2408 Columbia Pike) will be preserved and incorporated into the new building.
Columbia Pike’s Form Based Code allows for apartment buildings up to 6 stories, so County Board approval may not be needed in order for the project to proceed, but the relatively historic nature of the buildings on the block will likely require additional community review, public hearings and a Form Based Code amendment.
So far, the developer has not submitted a formal Form Based Code application to the county, so a county spokeswoman was not able to speculate on a timeframe for the development.
Hat tip to G. Clifford Prout
(Updated at 9:45 p.m.) The long-stalled plan to build a western entrance to the Ballston Metro station is taking a small step forward thanks to new transportation funding.
On Tuesday, the Arlington County Board approved a funding plan for the county’s share of revenue generated by Virginia’s new transportation legislation. The plan, which will be submitted to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), calls for $500,000 to be allocated to planning for the new Metro entrance during the current fiscal year.
The entrance is already partially designed. As proposed, it will be located at the intersection of N. Fairfax and Vermont Streets, allowing easier access to the new developments along Glebe Road in Ballston, the Bluemont neighborhood and other points west. The station will feature two street-level elevators and escalators, connecting to an underground passageway and mezzanine (with an attended kiosk) that will lead to the train platform.
“The County’s goal with the new funding is to advance the design of the West Entrance and proceed to construction,” said Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Laura G. Smith. “In the next few months, the County will assemble [stakeholders] and reexamine the previous preliminary design.”
In another set of funding priorities submitted to NVTA, for fiscal years 2015-2017, the Board requested $56 million over those three years to cover 75 percent of the estimated $75 million cost of constructing the new entrance. Additional funds for the project are expected to come in the form of a $11 million developer contribution — tied to an approved but thus far unbuilt redevelopment project — and from other local and state sources.
The funding request would suggest that the entrance could be built by 2018, but the construction timeline does not appear to be set in stone.
“The Ballston Metro West Entrance Project has a lot of moving parts,” Smith noted.
Also included in the FY 2015-2017 priority list is $10 million for the planned realignment of the eastern end of Columbia Pike, between the Air Force Memorial and the Pentagon. Arlington is hoping to reach an agreement with the military on the realignment plan and a related land exchange “within the next six months,” said Smith.
Four Arlington transportation projects were approved by NVTA this summer. Other transportation funding requests made by the County Board on Tuesday include:
- Clarendon Circle pedestrian safety improvements ($2 million)
- Crystal City street improvements ($2 million)
- New Arlington Transit bus maintenance facility ($2.25 million)
- Streetcar project management ($2.5 million)
- New traffic cameras and signals ($1 million)
- Design of improvements to Glebe Road ($2 million)
The Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse will soon be getting a new neighbor.
Mazagan Restaurant, at 2901 Columbia Pike, recently put up posters on the windows of its storefront, advertising a restaurant with “Cuisine. Cocktails. Culture.”
Chef/owner Riyad Bouizar signed the lease for the space last month and said construction will begin next week, with an estimated opening in late December or early January. Mazagan will be a Moroccan restaurant, Bouizar said, with three different sections: a “big bar” with seating for about 50, a dining room with seating for about 60 and a lounge area in the back for cocktails and appetizers.
Bouizar, who was born in Morocco, where he went to culinary school, also owns Ristorante Murali and Brasserie Creperie at Pentagon Row. He said Mazagan’s future location on Columbia Pike inspired him to re-enter the kitchen and open a restaurant that builds on his culinary passion.
“It’s an upcoming area, I like it because of the international people there, and they’re from everywhere,” Bouizar said. “That’s where the concept came there, to do something a little different, bring something new. I’ve always wanted to open a Moroccan restaurant, and there are not too many around here.”
Mazagan said he envisions a “half-open kitchen” concept with a wood-fired grill in the middle of the dining room. The fare will stray a little from traditional Moroccan cuisine; Bouizar wants the theme to be a “kebab bar,” offering more than 20 different styles of kebabs from the grill.
Bouizar plans to start dinner slightly early, at about 5:00 p.m., and continue serving it later, to accommodate the movie-going crowd at the Drafthouse.
Arlington to Update Streetcar Analysis — Arlington County has hired a consulting firm to update its analysis of the transit capacity needed for Columbia Pike and the potential return on investment of the county’s planned Columbia Pike streetcar system. The new analysis, which should be complete by December, will take into account changes in population and employment since the original analysis was done. [Arlington County]
Rosslyn Planning Halloween Film Fest — The Rosslyn Business Improvement District is planning a Halloween film festival on Saturday, Oct. 19. The festival will feature a kid-friendly Halloween film, followed by something more adult-oriented. The BID is asking the public to vote on which films they would like to see. [Survey Monkey]
Va. Senator Defeats Journalist in Spelling Bee – Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was declared the victor in a journalists vs. lawmakers spelling bee at the National Press Club last night. Sen. Kaine won with the spelling of “nonpareil,” against runner-up Rebecca Sinderbrand, of Rosslyn-based Politico. [Twitter]
Preservation Arlington Lauds Residential Redevelopment — Preservation Arlington is lauding the redevelopment of a residential property on the western end of Washington Blvd in Arlington. About 10 years ago, the 1940s-era colonial-style home at 6315 Washington Blvd was renovated, preserving its unique architecture, while two new homes were built on the large tract of land. Thanks to “foresight and good planning,” the project prevented the stately home from becoming “just another in-fill development site.” [Preservation Arlington]