42°Clear

by Ethan Rothstein — November 20, 2014 at 5:00 pm 2,968 0

The Arlington County Board, Nov. 15, 2014The Arlington County Board officially closed out its FY 2014 budget — which covered from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014 — this week and allocated all of its $233.1 million in carryover funds.

Of that money, $203.3 million has already been allocated for FY 2015 programs, toward county reserves or spent according to county policy.

This includes $46.7 million toward Arlington Public Schools and $62.4 million toward “maintaining the operating and self-insurance reserves” required to keep the county’s current bond rating.

A significant leftover sum is present nearly every year and was accounted for in the FY 2015 budget process. This year, there’s $29.8 million in discretionary funds remaining the county can spend as they see fit.

The County Board approved in a 5-0 vote the county manager’s recommendation to allocate:

  • $13 million for “FY 2016 budget issues,” including $6.3 million in capital improvements like ConnectArlington and the continued move of Department of Human Services divisions to the Sequoia Plaza along Arlington Blvd
  • $8.2 million to the affordable housing investment fund for FY 2016
  • $3.4 million for “employee compensation and management,” including recruiting for the Arlington County Fire Department, staffing the Emergency Communications Center and the fourth year of the county’s pay reclassification program
  • $2 million for safety and technology investments, such as field training, software replacement and records retention
  • $2.4 million for programs like economic development and for contingency funds
  • $1.5 million to housing grants

Among the $13 million is $1.3 million for funding Artisphere. Next month, County Manager Barbara Donnellan will give the County Board a recommendation on the future of the facility, which was expected to be self-sustaining but instead requires millions of dollars in county funding per year.

Donnellan declined to give a preview of her recommendation, but said that even if the county decided to terminate its contract, it would still need to pay $1.1-1.3 million as part of its commitment to the owner of the building that houses Artisphere.

Last year, the county had a $25 million surplus and spent it on many of the same projects: Artisphere, employee compensation and affordable housing. During the County Board’s discussion on Tuesday, no Board member brought up the idea of directing funds elsewhere, including back to taxpayers.

by ARLnow.com — November 20, 2014 at 11:00 am 1,193 0

Local political blogger and Democratic strategist Ben Tribbett, who correctly predicted that the election of John Vihstadt would doom Arlington’s streetcar project, recently analyzed the Nov. 4 County Board election on the public access program Inside Scoop Virginia.

Tribbett placed the blame for Democrat Alan Howze’s stunning defeat squarely on the shoulders of the County Board itself and its communication “meltdowns.”

“The Arlington County Board is insular, arrogant, doesn’t listen well to the community, insults people when they disagree with them,” Tribbett said.

In addition to discussing the role the streetcar, the million dollar bus stop and other spending projects played in stoking voter discontentment, he examined the precinct-by-precinct crossover vote — those who voted for Democratic Sen. Mark Warner but also voted for independent John Vihstadt.

The smallest crossover vote margin in a precinct was 28 percent, Tribbett said. The largest was 82 percent, in the Arlington Forest precinct, which has objected to a plan to build affordable housing on top of the neighborhood’s Lubber Run Community Center.

Tribbett also blasted the belief of some Democrats that John Vihstadt “tricked” voters by running as an independent and not as a Republican.

“Arlington County has just been full of debacles recently. You can see how Democrats are upset at the local level and making conscientious decisions,” he said. “This is where the Arlington County Board is really messing up. These are extremely well-educated voters. They know exactly what they’re doing. They’re not mistakenly voting for the Republican. And [Democratic leaders] keep expecting them to turn around as if it’s a mistake.”

“[It's] in the heart of the most liberal area of Northern Virginia… the whole thing in Arlington has just been breathtaking,” Tribbett concluded.

by Ethan Rothstein — November 20, 2014 at 10:00 am 2,468 0

The future location of the Sehkraft Beer Garden and Haus, the Garfield Park ApartmentsThe Arlington County Board has approved a live entertainment permit for the under-construction Clarendon beer garden, from the owners of Westover Beer Garden, without much of a fight.

Sehkraft Beer Garden and Haus, which is planning on opening next spring in the ground floor of 925 N. Garfield Street, was approved for live entertainment at the Board’s Tuesday meeting. However, its request to keep its doors and windows open during live entertainment — while supported by the community — was denied unanimously.

The Westover Beer Garden and its owner, Devin Hicks, had a long, contentious battle with the county a few years ago over Hicks’ desire to have amplified music in its outdoor space. Since 2012, Hicks’ and the county’s relationship has improved — County Board members John Vihstadt and Walter Tejada said they are now proud customers of the restaurant — but the memories of the permit fight were still on some of their minds.

Sehkraft Beer Garden and Haus' logo (Image courtesy Devin Hicks)“There were some issues early on, and I don’t want to gloss over some of the history or the occasional problem now,” Vihstadt said, but added, “I think the beer garden is a huge community asset. It really is the embodiment of what makes Westover great.”

The difference between Westover and Sehkraft, county staff pointed out, is the new brewpub is in the ground floor of an apartment building and has residential developments nearby. Westover Beer Garden is in a business district and is 110 feet from the nearest single family dwelling.

However, the Lyon Park Civic Association supported Sehkraft’s request to keep the windows open so those in outdoor seating could hear the music. William B. Lawson, a real estate lawyer representing Hicks, told the County Board the request was intended to be a trial period.

“We think that an exception is appropriate,” he said. “Devin has put a lot of money into soundproofing and construction techniques that we think will lessen the impacts of the music. If there are any problems we’ll shut the doors.”

Although the Board denied the exception — agreeing with county staff that allowing it “would be inconsistent with current practice” — Board member Libby Garvey recommended Hicks come back in a year when the permit is up for renewal and suggest opening the doors and windows at that time.

“I think we should sort of ease into it a little bit,” Garvey said. “We’re hearing so much from folks in complaints [about noise’ that I think it would be better to ease into it.”

When he spoke to ARLnow.com in July, Hicks said he plans to open the beer garden and brewpub in March 2015.

by Ethan Rothstein — November 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,579 0

A graph presented to the County Board showing the increases in Arlington resident taxes and fees the last five yearsThe Arlington County Board says no tax rate increase and no new program expansions should be in next year’s budget.

The County Board approved its annual budget guidance to County Manager Barbara Donnellan yesterday, the framework from which Donnellan will work before she presents her proposed budget to the Board in February. As part of the direction, the Board says Arlington Public Schools should again receive 45.9 percent of county revenue, but County Board Chair Jay Fisette said that number will go up.

“The percentage share is going to change,” Fisette said. “It will end up being a percentage increase to the schools, I think. It will end up being inevitable through the process.”

The county is projecting a 3 percent growth in real estate tax revenue, but that will come entirely from a 6-8 percent increase in residential real estate assessments, according to county CFO and Finance Director Michelle Cowan. Commercial real estate assessments are “flat,” Cowan said, which, coupled with the county’s now 21.4 percent office vacancy rate, is putting “increased pressure” on commercial real estate growth.

“We’re sort of back to where we were in mid-90s,” Cowan said about tax revenue. “Back then, where we were growing was in commercial [growth]… now it’s residential.”

According to the county’s projections, expenditures will outpace revenue based on funding levels from the FY 2015 budget. On the county side, there’s projected to be a $4 million to $6 million funding gap; for Arlington Public Schools, that gap is projected at $20 million.

The chair of APS’ Budget Advisory Council, Moira Forbes, asked the county to increase its funding level to the district, if only to cover the cost of the higher-than-anticipated enrollment growth the schools are experiencing this year.

“While the county of course also is experiencing a lot of pressures and desire for public services because of population growth, the costs associated with new students are immediate, significant, and driven partially by state and federal requirements,” Forbes said. “The Budget Advisory Council suggests that the County Board either increase the revenue sharing percentage or provide a fixed amount to offset half of the $14.1 million in costs [APS is expected to incur] associated with the enrollment growth.”

To help trim costs, the Board asked Donnellan to “eliminate duplication and inefficiencies, and explore further collaborations with Arlington Public Schools as well as regional collaborations and partnerships that might lead to cost savings and efficiencies.”

The Board also directed the manager to provide an alternative option in her recommended budget that would include a 1 percent cut of operating expenditures. In the event that tax revenue exceeds the county’s projections, Donnellan is asked to look at either lowering the tax rate or providing more funding for schools, new facilities and affordable housing — or some combination of the two.

County Board member Libby Garvey suggested postponing the budget guidance until next month to allow the public to comment, but her motion ultimately failed by a 4-1 majority.

“One of the things we could improve in how we engage the public is bringing them in more at the beginning level,” Garvey said. “Having people read this through and think it through… I think that’s helpful.”

Donnellan, when asked, said she hasn’t spoken to her department heads about the FY 2016 budget, and postponing the budget process for a month would make it far more difficult to present a full budget by her February deadline. Fisette and Vice Chair Mary Hynes each said the public had ample opportunity comment on the budget and tax rate later in the process.

“I think we have a good idea of what we would hear,” Hynes said. “This is the box, not the stuff in the box. We will hear a lot from the public about what’s in the box.”

by Ethan Rothstein — November 18, 2014 at 3:35 pm 2,838 0

Pedestrians on Rosslyn sidewalkArlington is considering adopting a plan to incorporate design guidelines, best practices and incentives to increase retail activity throughout the county.

The Arlington County Board will discuss a proposed update to the 2001 Retail Action Plan, which covered the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. The update expands the plan’s footprint to the Crystal City and Columbia Pike corridors, includes recommendations to improve the county’s retail environment and asks the Board to change regulation to allow for retail growth.

“This is a big deal and this has taken a long time to work through,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the Board. “This is a report that will guide us for many years to come on how we’re going to move forward. Retail will succeed where it can thrive.”

The Virginia Department of Taxation reported more than $2 billion in retail and food and beverage sales in Arlington last year, but the opportunity is there for much more local retail spending, the plan states.

“The estimated demand for retail and food and beverage is in excess of $4.7 billion dollars,” the report states, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Surveys. “With a demand greater than sales, Arlington is considered to have a leakage of retail opportunity — customers must travel outside of Arlington to purchase many goods and services — in most broad retail categories.”

Among the key recommendations are developing design guidelines to make “retail look like retail,” developing a specific retail map to guide which kinds of retail businesses should go where — encouraging clustering of specific types of retail to draw in more customers — and encouraging public art and accessibility.

Stores should be encouraged to design their exteriors creatively, the plan says, and to “design storefronts for three miles an hour (pedestrian speed) rather than 35 miles per hour (vehicular speed).” That’s a bit of a departure from years past, when retail signage rules were more stringent in Arlington, discouraging retailers from standing out too much. For interior design, the plan advocates for higher ceilings on the ground floor of buildings and to ” to allow for maximum flexibility and use of the space.”

The draft plan also recommends softening regulations on food trucks and other mobile vendors. It says “vending zones” are under consideration in Rosslyn, Courthouse and Ballston, which would allow food trucks to park for more than two hours at a time.

“With social media and serial followers, vending can help pull customers into different areas,” the plan says. “Establishing vending zones, to allow trucks to vend for longer than two hours or for alternative hours, can help prime an area that is not quite ready for retail or can attract people to other uses — parks, cultural venues or other businesses.”

Grocery stores are seen as a key component of Arlington’s retail plan, as they serve as anchors for retail districts. The plan generally lauds the Arlington County Board for its flexibility in approving grocery stores, including most recently the store planned at 1401 Wilson Blvd, whenever the property is redeveloped. However, it says the term “grocery store” should be more clearly defined for administrative purposes. “The policy should clearly articulate how and when incentives or mechanisms to support the construction of a grocery store are applied,” according to the plan.

Many of the actions the plan suggests include amending the county’s Zoning Ordinance and special exception policies to factor in broader retail goals. It’s those changes that gave some of the County Board members pause and led them to schedule a work session in January, before the plan is up for a vote in February.

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 Ethan Rothstein — November 17, 2014 at 11:15 am 801 0

Woodstock Park (photo via Google Maps)The residents of the Waverly Hills neighborhood in North Arlington want more mixed-use development and to be able to age in place, according to the community’s just-approved Neighborhood Conservation plan.

Waverly Hill is the area north of I-66, south of Lee Highway between N. Glebe Road and Utah Street. According to a survey of almost 400 residents in the 3,800-person neighborhood, 70 percent of Waverly Hills residents want to retire in the neighborhood.

“Seventy percent is a very large number, and I don’t want to say we’re transient, but there are a lot of people that come and go from Arlington,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said. “It shows how many people like it enough to suggest that they want to live their whole life here and take advantage of the services into retirement.”

The County Board approved the new neighborhood conservation plan, which includes a request to implement a master plan for Woodstock Park (pictured), which would include a vision for future improvements. The County Board approved a $644,000 renovation for the park in June, which will include a new playground and basketball court, under construction now.

County Board members said they expect the update to the NC plan for the community to serve as a model for other civic associations, both with a focus on aging in place and the update’s thoroughness; according to the county’s press release, the civic association spent more than 1,000 hours on the process.

“This plan gives us an inclusive outline for preserving our livable community while addressing the concerns of our residents,” Michael Polovina, president of the Waverly Hills Civic Association, said in the release. “We are very proud to have accomplished this revisioning after a process that took several years to complete. The next 15 years look very bright for Waverly Hills.”

Other priorities for the update include facilitating mixed-use development along Lee Highway and Glebe Road, with nods to affordable, senior accessible housing. The neighborhood also requests a sidewalk on 20th Road N. adjacent to N. Utah Street and further pedestrian improvements for walking to nearby schools like Washington-Lee High School and Glebe Elementary.

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 12, 2014 at 5:00 pm 849 0

Glencarlyn Park Improvement Project (image via Arlington Parks and Recreation)

The southern end of Glencarlyn Park — next to the intersection of the W&OD Trail and Columbia Pike — could soon see major improvements, like a “learning loop” path for beginning cyclists and a bike repair station.

At its Saturday meeting, the Arlington County Board will vote on whether to approve a $395,930 contract for the park improvements, with a $39,593 contingency. The improvements were approved by the County Board back in 2009 as part of the Neighborhood Conservation Program for the Barcroft Civic Association, but the project has been delayed to accommodate the Columbia Pike Undergrounding and Streetscape Improvements project.

The site of the future Glencarlyn Park improvements (photo via Google Maps)If the Board approves the contract with Avon Corporation, construction could begin shortly thereafter. When completed, the new portion of the park would have:

  • A bicycle learning loop separate from the W&OD Trail
  • A bike repair stand
  • A “playful plaza” with picnic and game tables and a sand play area
  • A separate plaza with bike parking, benches and a water fountain
  • Additional plantings of native trees and grasses
  • A rain garden to help in “reuse and absorption” of stormwater on the site

The original cost of the park renovations was projected to be $468,000, but in the five years since its approval, the total price tag has jumped to just over $680,000, including the need to install a new sewer after it was revealed the existing line was deteriorating.

The difference is being accounted for with savings from previously completed Neighborhood Conservation projects that came in under budget, according to county staff.

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

by Ethan Rothstein — November 12, 2014 at 1:35 pm 2,280 0

Key Boulevard Apartments (photo via Preservation Arlington)A plan to redevelop the Key Boulevard Apartments (1537-1545 Key Blvd) is being given a thumbs down from county staff.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board is scheduled to consider affordable housing developer AHC Inc.‘s plan to tear down the three 72-year-old buildings to construct a new, 158-unit building with 82 affordable units. The current apartments have a combined 41 units and were identified by Preservation Arlington as one of the “most endangered historic places” in the county.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan has recommended the County Board deny AHC’s proposal.

Donnellan and county staff say  the requested density “does not substantially comply” with the county’s policy to preserve the character of the Colonial Terrace Conservation Area of Rosslyn, where the apartments sit. County policy calls for reinvesting in existing housing or redeveloping housing with no more than 48 units per acre the zoning ordinance allows. The proposed site plan would build 127 units per acre on the site,  according to the county staff report.

AHC needs County Board permission to transfer development rights from two of its Gates of Ballston affordable dwellings to the Key Boulevard apartment site in order to have enough allowable density to build the project. Donnellan is recommending the County Board deny the transfer, which would keep the Gates of Ballston buildings eligible for redevelopment with an additional 106 units of density.

If the County Board decides to approve the redevelopment despite Donnellan’s recommendation, AHC would have the go ahead to build its six-story, square building with an internal courtyard and two levels of underground parking. The 82 affordable units would be rentals, while the remaining 76 apartments would be sold as condominiums.

The project would completely demolish the existing buildings, which the county designated as an “important” site in its Historic Resource Inventory in 2011. AHC wrote on its website that it has been gathering community support for the project for years.

“Now more than 70 years old — with aging building systems, inefficient windows and appliances, and accessibility issues — the complex is ready for an update,” the website says.

In a separate item on the County Board’s weekend agenda, Donnellan is recommending the Board approve a multi-million dollar loan to AHC for the purchase of the Spectrum Apartments at 5055 S. Chesterfield Road, near Wakefield High School.

Photo via Preservation Arlington

by Ethan Rothstein — November 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm 900 0

Central Place construction and 1812 N. Moore StreetDevelopers may have to meet higher environmental standards in Arlington if they want to continue to construct buildings with “bonus density.”

The County Board could approve measures on Saturday to increase the green benchmarks it requires of developers who are seeking more density than zoning allows. The change in the Green Building Program would coincide with the U.S. Green Building Council’s update to its LEED certification system, which raises the standards by which buildings are approved for silver, gold and platinum ratings.

According to the county’s staff report, a working group from the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks, after reading staff’s recommended changes, “expressed concern that the proposed changes will make it more costly to do business in Arlington, claiming that the additional costs will be reflected in residential and office rental rates.”

To achieve LEED Silver status under the new standards, buildings need to maintain an 18-20 percent “energy efficiency component,” a higher standard than the previous LEED system. The energy efficiency component deals with the building’s sustainability once it is already occupied.

“The current proposed changes to the green building bonus density incentive program are intended to incentivize exceptional energy efficient design and construction as well as efficient energy performance post-occupancy, while continuing to focus on holistically designed and constructed buildings,” the staff report states. “An incentive program is needed in Arlington to encourage developers to incorporate high levels of energy efficiency into new buildings and to ensure performance post-occupancy.”

Although the new standards are more stringent for developers, if approved, they also would allow more bonus density than the incentives currently on the books. If a building achieves the LEED Silver level, the developer can request a 0.25 increase in Floor Area Ratio, which is the square feet of the building divided by the size of the plot of land. If the building reaches LEED Gold, the developer can seek up to a 0.35 FAR bonus. If the building can achieve LEED Platinum, the bonus density can reach 0.50 FAR.

In order to receive the bonus density, however, all office buildings must be rated at least a 75 on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star system, to ensure the building is sustainable once it is already occupied. Residential developments are not required to meet the Energy Star standard, but they can earn additional bonus density if they do.

Buildings that can achieve “net zero energy construction,” as defined by the International Living Future Institute, are LEED Gold Certified and meet at least two other county environmental benchmarks can receive bonus density above 55 percent FAR.

The Green Building Program would be reviewed every three years, or when LEED standards change again. If approved, the new standards would go into effect immediately, but buildings can use the previous Green Building Program standards until Sept. 30, 2015.

by Ethan Rothstein — November 7, 2014 at 10:30 am 4,233 0

John Vihstadt greeting a voter outside the Walter Reed Recreation Center 11/4/14 Alan Howze talks to a voter outside the Wilson School in Rosslyn 11/4/14

No one, not even the closest of followers, expected Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt to win re-election on Tuesday by as big a margin as he did.

Vihstadt, an independent, became the first non-Democrat elected to the County Board since 1983. But the eye-opener was how he did it: by winning 39 out of 52 Arlington precincts, even though every one of those precincts chose Sen. Mark Warner (D). Vihstadt took almost 56 percent of the vote and received almost 7,500 votes more than Democratic challenger Alan Howze, out of 62,663 votes cast.

In his regular post-election report to the Arlington County Democratic Committee on Wednesday night, former Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary struck a somber tone and said he was surprised by low turnout.

“I woke up this morning and I didn’t feel so good,” he said. “We had a turnout of about 48 percent. That stinks, particularly when you’re expecting a turnout as high as 61 percent. What the heck is going on? Very disappointing… I had talked about the County Board race that if turnout gets down to 60,000, if Vihstadt had 30,000 he was going to win.

“He did it,” O’Leary continued. “It didn’t seem possible, it didn’t seem likely, but it happened. The end result, if we look in terms of comparisons: first our candidate won 13 precincts, Mr. Vihstadt won 40. That’s really unheard of. I can’t even think of the last time that occurred. Last time I can think of anything like this was 1979.”

The numbers blew Vihstadt’s campaign manager Eric Brescia away, he told ARLnow.com in a phone interview yesterday (Thursday).

“We were not expecting it to be like this,” he said. “When it came in, it was just euphoric. You always have doubts; it’s very rare in modern politics that you get this many people to split their ticket. Somehow this got pulled off. I didn’t fall asleep that night just because of the adrenaline.”

Brescia said the streetcar was on many voters’ minds, but voters had other concerns, too. Vihstadt is adamantly against the streetcar, while Howze supports it.

“The streetcar was the biggest one issue, and we definitely made it a big part of our materials,” the campaign manager said. “It definitely wasn’t the only thing going on. A lot of people have generic frustrations with the county, responsiveness issues, spending issues, feeling like they’re not being listened to.”

County Board Chair Jay Fisette — who, along with Board members Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes, still make up a pro-streetcar voting majority on the Board – said Vihstadt’s messaging related to the streetcar caught voters’ attention. Fisette suggested voters chose Vihstadt because they were misinformed about the streetcar.

“I think there has been a lot of focus in the last year on that issue,” Fisette said after the ADCDC meeting. “This community has such a history of being thoughtful and policy-oriented … Here on this issue, what has been created and what we see at the moment is a lack of even agreement on some fundamental core facts about the issue.

“It’s almost like climate change,” Fisette continued. “Is it based on science that it’s true, or is it not?”  (more…)

by ARLnow.com — November 4, 2014 at 7:45 pm 14,694 0

(Updated at 2:00 a.m.) Incumbent County Board candidate John Vihstadt, running as an independent, has won a historic victory in Tuesday’s general election.

With all 53 precincts reporting, Vihstadt has captured 56 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Democratic challenger Alan Howze. Vihstadt’s margin of victory is just shy of 7,500 votes, with 62,663 total votes cast in the race.

Vihstadt won by attracting a sizable number of Democratic votes. All Arlington precincts reviewed by ARLnow voted for the top of the Democratic ticket, incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Warner, who is in a tight statewide race with Republican Ed Gillespie.

Vihstadt is the first non-Democrat to win an Arlington County Board seat in a general election since Republican Mike Brunner won in 1983. (Ellen Bozman was elected to the County Board in 1985 and 1989 while running as an independent, but she was endorsed by the Democratic party and in 1993 won reelection as a Democrat.)

“We’ve made modern history in Arlington County,” Vihstadt told ARLnow.com at his election party. “In my view, this was not a victory for any one person or any one party, it was a victory for a new way of doing things, a fresh perspective and a new paradigm in Arlington County where partisanship doesn’t mean much but citizenship means everything.”

Howze called Vihstadt to concede the race at 9:15 tonight. He said he was disappointed with the result, which came despite hard work on the campaign trail by his supporters.

“There was a message of dissatisfaction with the electorate,” Howze said. “I worked hard to bring new ideas and a new perspective to the County Board. They chose John and the alternative path he put forward. He ran a very good campaign, ultimately the voters rewarded him for that.”

Now off the campaign trail, Howze said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife and three young children.

At the Vihstadt victory party, the mood was jubilant, with campaign manager Eric Brescia jumping for joy as more and more precincts reported wider and wider margins for Vihstadt. County Board member Libby Garvey was by Vihstadt’s side during his victory speech, and was giddy after the victory. A Democrat, Garvey resigned from the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s executive board in April after backing Vihstadt.

“This wasn’t just a squeaker, we won it big,” Garvey said. “It’s a validation of what I’ve been saying, what John’s been saying. We serve the people of Arlington and we presented them with what we think needs to happen, and they said ‘yes, that’s what we want.’ It’s democracy at its best. I’m thrilled.”

Barbara Kanninen defeated Audrey Clement in one of two School Board races tonight. Kanninen has 66 percent of the vote to 34 for Clement. Nancy Van Doren, running for School Board unopposed, has 97 percent of the vote.

Across Virginia’s Eighth Congressional District, which includes Arlington, Democrat Don Beyer has emerged victorious over his four opponents. Beyer captured 63 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Republican Micah Edmond, 2 percent for Libertarian Jeffrey Carson, 0.5 percent for Independent Green candidate Gerard Blais, and 3 percent for independent Gwendolyn Beck.

“My whole life has been leading up to this moment and this mission,” Beyer said in a statement tonight. “Together, we will move Congress and this nation forward.”

In the statewide race for U.S. Senate, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, Democratic incumbent Mark Warner has 49.18 percent of the vote, Republican Ed Gillespie has 48.27 percent and Libertarian Robert Sarvis has 2.48 percent.

Though news outlets like CNN have yet to project a winner in the race, an “energized” Warner took the stage at his election night party at the DoubleTree Crystal City hotel to declare victory. A centrist, Warner promised to work across the aisle in the newly-Republican controlled Senate.

“Whether it’s here in Virginia or anywhere around the country, the people of America want to move past sound bites, they want us to move past political bickering… to make sure that we get the job done for you and actually govern,” he said. “I’ll go back to Washington and recognize that we have to find that common ground. I know that most of us here are Democrats but neither political party has a monopoly on truth or virtue or patriotism. In this new Senate I’ll work with anyone — Democrat, Republican, independent, you name it — if we’re going to make sure we get our country’s problems fixed.”

Among other things, Warner pledged to a work to pass a budget “so we don’t go back to the stupidity of sequestration.”

Locally, voters on Tuesday approved the all four Arlington County bond questions on the ballot, including:

  • Schools ($105.7 million)
  • Metro and Transportation ($59.7 million)
  • Community Infrastructure ($40.2 million)
  • Parks and Recreation ($13 million)

Democrat Carla de la Pava, running unopposed for county treasurer, captured 97 percent of the vote. (more…)

by ARLnow.com — November 4, 2014 at 3:55 pm 1,175 0

(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) The two candidates for Arlington County Board both say they’re feeling optimistic about their chances in today’s general election, but they also admitted that it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge victorious in the race.

Incumbent John Vihstadt, who’s running as an independent, said his campaign has “the message, the momentum and the means to win,” but said he’s “concerned” about the number of Democratic voters who came out specifically to vote on the congressional races, and are voting a straight party line by default.

“We would like to think most people who come out to vote, if they’re going to cast a vote for an office, that they will be informed and they’ll study the candidates in advance,” Vihstadt said while greeting voters outside the Walter Reed Recreation Center, near Columbia Pike. “There’s bound to be some people who just vote party line and don’t really look at the issues. But we feel confident that if voters judge the candidates, look at the issues, look at our background, that they’ll vote Vihstadt for County Board.”

A majority of the voters who talked to ARLnow.com outside the Walter Reed center around lunchtime said they opposed the Columbia Pike streetcar project, the election’s most talked-about issue. Vihstadt opposes the streetcar, while Democratic challenger Alan Howze generally supports it.

Howze acknowledged the “power of the sample ballot” helping his cause, but said he expects his progressive message to resonate with Arlington residents.

“A healthy democracy is always a good thing,” Howze said, while talking to voters outside the Wilson School voting center in Rosslyn. “Having a lot of people out participating in the process will give us a clear signal as to the direction the community wants to go.”

Howze, a father of three young children, said his campaign has been “a family and a community effort,” with a big assist from his wife, Pam.

“We’ve been working hard, we’ve done everything we can do, and now it’s up to the voters to decide,” Howze said. “We’re confident that the voters will choose to move Arlington forward.”

Vihstadt said his campaign has been fighting an uphill battle to reach voters who aren’t as engaged in local issues as those who voted for him over Howze in the County Board special election earlier this year. He’s hoping the Washington Post’s endorsement will help, as well as his television commercials, which have run during primetime football games and other cable TV programming.

“Cable TV ads… were surprisingly affordable, and we decided to give it a go,” Vihstadt said. “We’ve got great feedback, great response from those ads. The other nice thing about that ad is that it broadcasts the fact that as an independent we’re supported by parties across the political spectrum.”

Despite strong turnout this morning, so far few problems have been reported at polling stations. Arlington election officials tweeted that a party worker who had been handing out flyers outside Fire Station No. 10 in Rosslyn collapsed and was treated by emergency responders around 3:00 this afternoon.

Many voters who talked to ARLnow.com today said they were voting out of a sense of civic responsibility.

“I vote in every election because I think it’s our civic duty. I don’t miss a vote,” said Columbia Pike resident Nathan Chaisson.

“I am a huge supporter of Mark Warner, I think he’s done a wonderful job for this state,” Chaisson said of one of the factors that motivated his vote. “[I'm] satisfied with the taxes and the way our local government is run.”

Another voter, Alan Green, said he was voting after just getting back from serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq.

“I just want to come out here and do my part,” said Green. “People who don’t vote, that’s crazy. It’s one way you can express your thoughts and feelings to get the right person in the house.”

“We just need to get somebody… to make better decisions than we’ve got right now,” Green added. “Because right now it’s terrible. Basically we need to get things fixed because a lot of things are broken.”

by Ethan Rothstein — October 31, 2014 at 4:30 pm 2,184 0

John Vihstadt at the County Board candidates debate 3/4/14The Washington Post editorial board has given Republican-backed Independent John Vihstadt its endorsement for Tuesday’s Arlington County Board election.

The Post said Vihstadt would be a “badly needed independent voice” on the otherwise all-Democratic, five-member County Board. Vihstadt was elected to the Board in April in a special election, when he defeated Democrat Alan Howze by a 57-to-41 percent margin.

Howze is again running against Vihstadt, and local prognosticators are predicting this race will be closer; former Arlington treasurer Francis O’Leary thinks Howze will win because of a greater turnout of Democratic “party line” voters. However, the Post writes, the issues that led voters to choose Vihstadt in April haven’t changed.

The editorial board writes:

… Many Democrats have accorded Mr. Vihstadt grudging respect as someone who formulates and presents his views intelligently; he is no tea party bomb thrower. Equally important, in our view, is his insistence that the county reevaluate other expensive projects, such as a proposal for a state-of-the-art aquatic center, which he regards as unaffordable.

Whether Mr. Vihstadt prevails or not, it’s important for Arlington to have the debate; without him, the board runs the risk of groupthink.

The Post writes that it supports the Columbia Pike streetcar, and praised Howze as “a very capable candidate,” but said Vihstadt’s “civil and cogent” arguments against the streetcar have earned him the chance to serve a four-year term. Vihstadt has also been endorsed by Arlington County firefighters for his commitment to public safety

Howze has been endorsed by Greater Greater Washington and environmental group Sierra Club.

In its editorial, the Post also endorses Barbara Kanninen over Audrey Clement for School Board, citing Kanninen’s experience working with children’s issues.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list