At a forum last night, the candidates for Arlington County Board discussed ways to address the high amount of empty office space in Arlington while discussing how the county can be more attractive for businesses.
The eight candidates — six Democrats and two Independents — discussed transportation, commercial office vacancy and a diverse workforce during a candidate forum held by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Rosslyn Business Improvement District.
The empty space largely comes from the shrinking footprint of the federal government, the candidates agreed.
Arlington has to realize that it cannot rely on the federal government as an employer like it once could, Democrat Bruce Wiljanen said. He suggested that the next major business sector may be high technology companies.
“I’m really encouraged by things happening in Crystal City right now,” Wiljanen said.
To fill the empty space, Arlington needs to do more to encourage businesses to move and stay here, the candidates said. It needs to be easier to open a business in Arlington, Democrats Andrew Schneider and Christian Dorsey said.
“I had a small business owner that said after a year of starting his business that he didn’t have to start — both he and his wife work full-time jobs downtown — that he would have started his business in Falls Church,” Schneider said.
Arlington needs to look at its regulatory processes and weed out what is unnecessary and harmful, Dorsey said. Having a business ombudsman is good — the county recently created the position — but it’s just the first step.
“These are the things, little as they may seem, that give a community the character of a place where business is welcome and it is a good place to do business,” said Dorsey.
Arlington also needs to foster a diverse workforce, candidates said.
Arlington needs to be attractive to both millennials and older workers, Democrat Katie Cristol said. This can be done through affordable housing, she said. Cristol, the youngest candidate in the race, lists affordable housing as one of her top issues.
A commitment to affordable housing is needed, Democrat Peter Fallon said. Arlington has a highly skilled workforce, but in order to keep it, there needs to be housing for Arlington’s employees.
With a more diverse workforce comes a need for more diverse businesses. One area Dorsey listed was through grocery stores. If neighborhoods are more diverse there is a need for standard grocery stores like Giant or Safeway but also for ethnic grocery stores, he said.
James Lander also encouraged a focus on millennials in the new workforce. Lander, a Democrat who is the chair of the Arlington School Board, emphasized the need to focus on invest in community amenities, specifically schools. He also said the county should invest more resources into helping small businesses.
“We can’t turn our back on investment,” Lander said.
The candidates agreed that transportation is one of Arlington’s best features, but also one that has area to improve.
“We have great people and we move them well,” Cristol said.
The Metro has allowed Arlington to be easily accessible and allowed it to be attractive for businesses. Many of the candidates argued that it is necessary for the County Board to get its seat back on the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority Board. With a seat on the board, County Board members could advocate for more investment in Metro infrastructure.
Congestion on Columbia Pike also needs to be addressed, candidates said. The candidates had different views about the need for the streetcar system that was canceled last year, but all agreed it was time to move forward.
“We need to wake up from our post streetcar hangover,” Dorsey said.
Fallon echoed Dorsey in saying that the County Board needs to start planning now for new transit options on Columbia Pike. Such plans need to be reasonable in scope, without requiring too much infrastructure, he said.
Cristol suggested enhanced bus service on Columbia Pike. The buses need to be able to move more fluidly, which could be accomplished with off vehicle payment system and/or doors at both ends, she said.
Wiljanen suggested that a mobile app for the bus may improve service. A real-time location app would help residents know when a bus was coming and, possibly, how many seats were on the bus.
GOP Offers Support to Gun Store Owner — A Change.org petition against a planned gun store in Cherrydale has reached more than 1,900 signatures. The store’s landlord now says he’s trying to figure out ways to legally break the lease. Countering the backlash, the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans have launched a petition in support of the store and its owner, 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran James Gates. “We can’t remain silent while Arlington liberals push their radical anti-gun agenda,” the petition says. [AFCYR]
Hynes Fires Back at Reevesland Sale Critics — Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes is firing back at criticism of the Board’s 3-2 decision to sell the historic Reeves farmhouse to a private owner. Critics charge that the sale was hastily added to the Board agenda the day before the vote and that citizen groups should have had more time to propose alternatives. Hynes said the house would have needed $2.5 million in work to be brought up to code for public use and noted that interested groups have had 5 years to suggest better alternatives for using the house. [InsideNova]
Arlington’s Outdoor School in Fauquier County — Every year thousands of Arlington Public Schools visit the APS-operated Outdoor Lab in Fauquier County, experiencing nature and wildlife first hand. The property was purchased with private funds for school use and is beloved by students. However, some worry that a proposal to increase summer use of the 225 acre site may overtax the lab and its ecology. [Falls Church News-Press]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Memorial Day Closures — Arlington County government offices, courts, schools, and community centers will be closed on Monday for the Memorial Day holiday. Arlington’s public indoor pools will be open, trash and recycling will be collected and ART buses will operate on a holiday schedule. [Arlington County]
Flags In at Arlington National Cemetery — More than 1,000 soldiers from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as the Old Guard, placed small American flags in front some 275,000 headstones at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. The annual ceremony, known as “Flags In,” has been taking place before Memorial Day for more than 60 years. [U.S. Army]
Arlington Man Convicted of Sexual Abuse — Arlington resident Gary Hankins, a 45-year-old former licensed clinical social worker, has been convicted of sexually abusing a 17-year-old patient. The boy’s parents first contacted authorities after they discovered sexually suggestive texts from Hankins on his phone. [NBC Washington]
Candidates Bash Board’s Reevesland Vote — The Democratic candidates for County Board are criticizing the County Board’s vote this week to sell the historic Reeves farmhouse. At a debate lacking one candidate — School Board Chair James Lander, who had a School Board meeting — candidates took turns bashing the decision, calling it “shameful,” “bad business” and “beneath Arlington.” [InsideNova, Washington Post]
APS to Discuss Swanson, Williamsburg Plans — Next month Arlington Public Schools will hold public forums to discuss “interim options” for addressing capacity issues at Swanson and Williamsburg Middle Schools. “These interim solution options include the use of both on-site or off-site locations to house some portion of the school populations, the possibility of some interior redesign, the use of relocatables as part of the solution, and changes in scheduling,” APS said in a press release. [Arlington Public Schools]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Thumbs Up to the County Board for delaying consideration of the proposal to extend parking meter hours from 6pm to 8pm. After watching ground floor retail space sit empty, hopefully the Board will scrap this idea altogether when they reconsider it this fall.
Thumbs Up to Board Members Vihstadt and Garvey for refusing to vote for the Washington Redskins resolution.
There is no shortage of strong opinions as to whether the Washington Redskins should change their name. But when it comes to Members of the Arlington County Board, their personal opinions on the matter have nothing to do with their responsibilities to take care of the needs of Arlington County. Our fortunes will not rise or fall on the name of Washington’s professional football team whose stadium is in Maryland.
The resolution did support the team’s move to Virginia, provided it had a new name. Of course, when FedEx Field was constructed Arlington’s elected leaders ultimately opposed a site in the County and would almost certainly do so again.
Thumbs Down to meaningless resolutions from our County Board.
Telling a football team what to do with its name is not the first time the Board has taken up this type of resolution. In 2012, for example, the Board called on Congress and the American people to pass a Constitutional Amendment limiting the ability of corporations to enjoy the protections of the First Amendment and make political contributions. That resolution essentially called the Citizens United Supreme Court case a threat to our democracy. Though to my knowledge, no County Board Member who voted for that resolution ever refused to accept corporate contributions to their own campaigns as allowed by Virginia law.
Thumbs Down to the Board for unanimously adopting a plan to build an inadequate ART bus facility. As the County’s press release noted, “The new ART bus facility will not be large enough to meet all the County’s projected needs for ART facilities. It can house neither the entire existing ART fleet, nor accommodate all of the buses that will expand the fleet over the next decade.”
The total cost of the ART facility and surrounding street improvements will cost at least $17.6 million, but will only save the taxpayers $57,000 per year.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
Survey Says: Resident Satisfaction High — Resident satisfaction with Arlington County is high, according to Arlington County. The county’s fourth Resident Satisfaction Survey, conducted by an outside research firm, suggested an 89 percent overall satisfaction rate with the quality of county services. “Just two percent of residents were dissatisfied with the overall quality of County services,” said a press release. One notable area for improvement: maintenance of county streets, with a satisfaction level of only 42 percent. [Arlington County]
Peak Memorial Day Traffic Expected Thursday — Contrary to conventional wisdom, the worst Memorial Day holiday traffic in the D.C. area will be Thursday evening, not Friday. According to an analysis of average travel speeds, drivers hoping to escape local holiday traffic should leave at night, around lunchtime Wednesday or Thursday, or Friday morning. [Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments]
Split Board Approves Reeves Farmhouse Sale — The Arlington County Board voted 3-2 last night to sell the historic Reeves farmhouse. “The County worked with the community for six years to find a way to retain public ownership of the house, or to create a public-private partnership to restore the house and open it to the public, but we were unable to achieve such a partnership, and the cost of restoring the property and bringing it up to code for public use was prohibitively expensive,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes. Much of the land around the house will remain publicly-owned. [Arlington County]
County to Outsource Volunteer Program — The County Board also last night voted 3-2 to outsource Volunteer Arlington, the county’s volunteer management program. The county will now seek a nonprofit with which to form a public-private partnership. [Arlington County]
The resolution was introduced by County Board member Walter Tejada, who said using the name Redskins as a reference to Native Americans is “objectionable to many Americans, Virginians and Arlingtonians.”
In introducing the resolution, Tejada noted that the team is in talks to move from its current home at FedEx Field, perhaps to Virginia. He also said that the issue is “personal for me” as a native of El Salvador with Mayan roots.
The resolution passed with the support of Tejada, Mary Hynes and Jay Fisette. John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey abstained, saying they agreed personally with changing the name but did not think the Board should take a position on the issue.
Tejada said that Arlington “has often ‘spoken out’ on issues ‘before it became popular, and it is time for us to do it again,'” according to a county press release.
The full text of the resolution, after the jump.
Three years after unsuccessfully seeking proposals for use of the historic, county-owned Reeves Farmhouse, the Arlington County Board tonight will consider a proposal to sell it.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan is recommending that the Board approve putting the house and a portion of the surrounding property, adjacent to Bluemont Park, on the market for sale to a private buyer. The proposal was added to today’s County Board agenda on Monday.
Even after being sold to a private party, the house — which dates back to 1899 — would remain a local historic district and would be protected from changes that would hurt its historical integrity.
The Reevesland property was the last operating dairy farm in Arlington County. The county purchased the house and its 2.5 acres of land from the Reeves family in 2001 for $1.8 million.
The county has been struggling to find an entity with a viable proposal for an “adaptive reuse” of the farmhouse. Cost has been a factor. In 2012 it was said that the house needed more than $1 million in work. Now, the county says it would cost $2.5 million to bring the house “up to code for public use,” not including ongoing maintenance costs.
County officials have been in touch with the Reevesland Learning Center, a group interested in using the farmhouse for educational purposes, but staff says the group doesn’t have the money needed to restore the house.
“The County has attempted several different ways to seek a partner for the adaptive reuse of the Reeves Farmhouse, but have not received responses from partners with the necessary financial resources to bridge the $2 – $2.5 million gap,” according to the staff report.
Under Donnellan’s proposal, the land around the farmhouse will be subdivided and the county will retain ownership of much of the property, including portions currently being used by the Reevesland Learning Center.
“The County will continue to own the rest of Reevesland, including the much-loved sledding slope and the historic milking shed, and will continue to maintain the recently expanded raised planting beds there,” according to a press release.
The Arlington County Board on Saturday approved a 25 cent-per-hour rise in metered parking rates. The rate increase is expected to be implemented in September and bring in nearly $1 million per year in extra revenue.
(The increase won’t apply to some reduced-rate meters, currently priced between $0.50-0.75 an hour.)
The Board unanimously approved the rate increase and also voted unanimously to delay action on a proposed extension of metered parking hours from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. A public hearing on parking hours is now planned for September.
In a press release (after the jump), the county said that the rate increase is being being made due to increased parking demand. The higher rate will help ensure “that businesses that need short-term parking spaces on the street for their customers are more likely to have them available,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes.
On Saturday the Arlington County Board approved allocating an additional $140,000 to MTFA Architecture, which is providing administration services for the construction project.
County staff said the expenditure is necessary as “a direct result of the construction contractor’s inability to meet its contractual delivery date.”
The shelter was originally expected to be substantially complete by Feb. 27, with final completion 30 days after that.
Miller Brothers, Inc., the contractor, was awarded a $6.6 million contract in Feb. 2014 to convert two-and-a-half floors of offices space at 2020 14th Street N. into a comprehensive facility for serving the county’s homeless population.
The additional funds for the architecture firm will be at least partially offset by a $1,250 per day charge being assessed by the county against Miller Brothers. The county allocated $116,842 plus a $25,000 contingency for MTFA.
“Given the construction delays experienced to date on this project, an additional three (3) months of construction administration, site visits, and support services are anticipated,” according to the staff report. “The requested contingency amount allows for continuing the contractor’s services for another month should there be further construction delays.”
The County Board approved the allocation without public testimony as part of its Consent Agenda.
The new homeless services center will have up to 80 beds and will replace the county’s emergency winter shelter, located two blocks away in Courthouse.
If the County Board votes in favor of the motion, meter rates will go from $1.25 to $1.50 an hour, while hours will be extended from 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. County transportation staff estimates the measures would generate an additional $1.6 million in combined revenue in FY 2016.
The changes would go into effect on Sept. 7, 2015.
“County fees are intended to recover the costs of the respective programs,” staff report reads. “The proposed increase in parking meter rates and the proposed extension of hours will cover more of the costs for providing, administering, and maintaining curb-side metered parking spaces than is presently the case, thereby reducing the subsidy currently being provided by General Fund revenues.”
The 181 metered spaces in the county that currently cost 50 or 75 cents an hour would not be affected by the change. Raising the rates, according to the staff report, would bring Arlington more in line with the rest of the region. The District charges $2 an hour in most locations, Alexandria charges $1.75 an hour in most spaces and Bethesda charges $2 for on-street parking, $1.25 for public lots.
If the County Board elects to extend the hours of meters and keep rates flat, it would still provide the county an extra $550,000 in revenue in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
(Updated at 1:20 p.m.) The cafe space in the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street) is likely to remain vacant for even longer, after Arlington County is planning to terminate another signed lease.
After signing coffee shop and eatery “Root” to a 10-year-lease in January, the Arlington County Board will vote this weekend to terminate that lease. County staff say the cafe’s owner, Alami Abderrahim, said he could no longer operate the restaurant after paying for an emergency surgery for his mother.
Root is the second cafe the county had signed to fill the restaurant space, and the second that has had to back out. Pan American Cafe was originally signed as the tenant for the 1,875-square-foot space in summer 2013, but asked out of its lease that November, citing family and personal health reasons. The County Board terminated its lease in April 2014.
It took nine months to sign another restaurant tenant in Root, and again took less than six months before the tenant backed out. Abderrahim never received keys to the space, the county said, and never paid his rent or security deposits. Staff says he has not returned calls since March.
If the County Board signs off on the lease termination this week, staff will again look to court a tenant for the cafe space it envisioned as a healthy, fast options for users of the community center, which opened in September 2013.
When Abderrahim signed the lease in January, the county estimated Root would open in late 2015, partly because of nearly $300,000 in HVAC services the space still needs. There’s no estimate for when it could sign another tenant, or when that would open.
Board Candidates on Bad Decisions — The Democratic candidates for Arlington County Board on Wednesday were asked to name a recent County Board decision they disagreed with. James Lander said he disagreed with the decision to cancel the streetcar. Andrew Schneider said “citizens were owed more of a process” on the streetcar decision. Katie Cristol cited the decision not to fund an extra firefighter to staff certain fire equipment. Christian Dorsey cited the decision to delay building an elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School. Bruce Wiljanen said he wasn’t happy with the development plan for Rosslyn Highlands Park. Peter Fallon disagreed with the redevelopment of the Bergmann’s dry cleaning site on Lee Highway. [InsideNova]
ACFCU Named ‘Credit Union of the Year’ — Arlington Community Federal Credit Union, an ARLnow.com advertiser, has been named “Federal Credit Union of the Year” by the Arlington-based National Association of Federal Credit Unions. ACFCU was bestowed the honor for credit unions with assets of $250 million or less.
Babe Ruth Baseball to Celebrate Anniversary — Arlington Babe Ruth (ABR) Baseball will celebrate its 30th anniversary on May 17. Reportedly the longest-running youth baseball program in the county, ABR will mark the occasion with a “Family Fun Day” for baseball families from 2:00-5:00 p.m. in Barcroft Park.
The land was owned by Bill Buck, founder of Buck & Associates and Arlington real estate mainstay, who agreed to let the county pay for the land in stages: $1.2 million at the close of the sale, $1.8 million in 2016 and $27 million by November 20, 2017, after the county undergoes a revision to the Capital Improvements Program.
The County Board approved the purchase 5-0.
“This is a rare opportunity for the county to acquire a significant piece of property in North Arlington that is zoned for light industrial use, at a time when our community is struggling to find public land to accommodate our many facilities’ needs,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a press release.
“We are thrilled that Bill Buck, whose family has played such an important role in the development of Arlington, has agreed to give us this purchase option. Over the next two years, we will be having a conversation with the community about the best uses for this site, using the criterion and process being developed by our Community Facilities Study effort.”
In the announcement, the county said it has no specific plans for the site yet, but all but 1.35 acres of it is zoned as light industrial. That zoning allows the county to decide which of its chief land priorities — school buildings, a new transportation storage facility and open space — it wishes to devote the new land to.
Currently, Nova MMA/Crossfit Arlington occupies the westernmost building on the land, where it moved in 11 months ago after it was forced to move from its first location in Courthouse. It had previously stood next to Wilson Tavern, where a Hyatt House hotel expects to open next year.
The Board can opt out of the purchase before November 2017. The first payment was funded through CIP 2014 bond money. The land will be rolled into the ongoing Community Facilities Study, after which time the county will involve Arlington Public Schools — which just announced a plan to put 71 new trailers at elementary and middle schools by 2020 — in discussions on the site.
“Although funding for this purchase is not in the current CIP, sometimes you have to act when opportunities arise,” Hynes said in the release. “For many years, community members have suggested that this property should be in the public realm. We are delighted that after complex negotiations, we are able today to achieve that goal.”
This is the biggest county land acquisition since it acquired 7.1 acres for Long Bridge Park in 2011, in an exchange for additional zoning from a developer. The 1.35-acres not zoned for industrial use are zoned for residential, which allows building streets, sidewalks, trails and recreational facilities.
Michael McMenamin, the president of the Arlington County Civic Federation and a two-time Republican candidate for County Board, announced this morning that he’s running again, as an independent.
In a press release (below) McMenamin said his top priorities will be economic development, adding school capacity, replacing aging infrastructure and fiscal responsibility.
McMenamin, an attorney and owner of a consultancy firm, seems to be aiming to adopt the successful electoral strategy of County Board member John Vihstadt, who was active with the Arlington GOP before running for Board as an independent candidate. However, with the streetcar project canceled, Artisphere set to close and an independent auditor on the way, it’s unclear if McMenamin will be able to tap into the discontent that helped Vihstadt attract Democratic voters.
So far, the November general election for County Board is slated to include McMenamin and Audrey Clement, running as independents, and the two Democratic nominees, who will be chosen in a June 9 primary.
McMenamin’s campaign press release, after the jump.
Elementary Student Fascinated by Fallout Shelters — Nathan Eberhart, a McKinley Elementary student, has been trying to unravel the mysteries of school fallout shelters for his school’s student newspaper. Eberhart thinks the Cold War relics could be better put to use nowadays “as a community-activities storage area for things like Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, recreational sports and enrichments.” [InsideNova]
Protest Planned in Rosslyn — The Mayday Project will be protesting outside the Infectious Diseases Society of America headquarters in Rosslyn today and tomorrow. The organization wants Lyme disease recognized as a chronic illness. The protest will be held from about 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on the 1300 block of Wilson Blvd. [Twitter]
Four Mile Run Cleaning Planned — Starting in a few days, Arlington County and the City of Alexandria will begin a joint project to remove excess vegetation from the Four Mile Run flood control channel, which extends from I-395 to the Potomac River. “Residents will see crews working in or near Four Mile Run, removing trees, shrubs, and other vegetation growing in the channel,” the county noted in a press release. [Arlington County]
Washington Blvd Lane Closure — A northbound lane closure on the Washington Blvd bridge over Route 110 was put in place overnight, according to VDOT. A southbound lane closure, similarly reducing the number of lanes on the bridge from three to two, is expected to be put in place next week. The lane closures were originally planned for this past Monday.
Another County Board Straw Poll — Another straw poll in the race for the Democratic County Board nomination was held last night at Del. Alfonso Lopez’s campaign kick-off event at the Arlington Cinema Drafthouse. The reported results were: Christian Dorsey 27%, Peter Fallon 23%, Katie Cristol 22%, James Lander 15%, Andrew Schneider 12%, Bruce Wiljanen 1%.
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman