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.
The argument was never really about whether or not Arlington would have a year-round homeless shelter. It always centered around whether or not to spend $2-3 million to retrofit the old shelter versus moving it to 2020 14th Street N. where neighbors did not want it, and spending considerably more than the retrofit would cost.
This week, the County Board approved the construction contract to begin the extensive work on the new location. The construction price tag is as much as $6.6 million. This is on top of $1.5 million in design and administrative costs, and over $750,000 for furnishings, security and IT equipment.
These are not the only costs that should be considered when looking at the shelter. The Board paid just over $27 million for the building in late 2012. Just two months later, it was assessed at just $21.4 million – which was an increase of nearly $3.5 million over the year before. For 2014, the assessment is up to $22.9 million.
Whether you think the Board paid 50 percent too much for the building based on the 2012 assessment, or just 26 percent too much based on the 2013 assessment, one thing is clear — the Board overpaid for the property. And, at nearly $36 million when all is said and done, the Board may have paid over 10 times more than a retrofit would have cost.
In the same week we hear from Arlington County staff that a big reason there are so many potholes is that the roads have not been properly maintained.
It is the same modus operandi I write about often in this space — our County Board is not ashamed about overspending on the big ticket items while pushing some of the basics to the back burner. Sometimes it makes you wonder if Arlington County means “spend indiscriminately” in Latin?
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
The Arlington County Board approved a $6.6 million contract yesterday to renovate two floors of a Courthouse office building to turn it into the long-planned and controversial Homeless Services Center at 2020 14th Street N.
The Board approved the contract 3-0 — Mary Hynes was absent with an illness and former Board Member Chris Zimmerman’s seat is vacant pending a special election — clearing what appears to be the final hurdle, other than the construction itself, before the homeless shelter is expected to open in early 2015.
The shelter will have 50 year-round beds, 25 winter beds and five medical beds. The construction will include building a separate entrance and elevator to separate the shelter from the rest of the tenants in the building, including the two ground-floor restaurants, which will remain open during construction.
The total cost estimate for the shelter project is $8.9 million, which includes $1.5 million in design, administration and county staff costs. The contract also includes a $1.1 million contingency, and the contract adds on to the county’s 2011 purchase of the building for $27.1 million. The shelter will be operated by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) and will replace the Emergency Winter Shelter, just two blocks away.
When the plan to build the shelter was approved last spring, residents of the adjacent Woodbury Heights Condominiums expressed concern that the facility would be a security hazard. Last night, no neighbors spoke against the item, and only one speaker voiced opposition: former Green party County Board candidate Audrey Clement.
“I’m not opposed to a year-round homeless shelter,” Clement said. “What I’m objecting to is the county’s propensity to undertake projects without doing the cost-benefit analyses needed to get the best value for dollar spent.”
Board Chairman Jay Fisette said the shelter is an accomplishment for the community and will be something to take pride in.
“This should be a time for rejoicing, not complaining,” he said from the dais. “This is a terrific project. It has been in the works for, one might say, decades as this community came to terms with our responsibility to the homeless. We’ve always done a good job, and now we’re going to do an outstanding job.”
Board to Consider $6.6 Million Homeless Shelter Contract — County staff is recommending that the Arlington County Board approve a $6.6 million contract for construction of the new year-round homeless shelter in Courthouse. The contract includes a $1.1 million construction contingency to cover overages. The contract is “within budget,” a county spokeswoman said. The new Homeless Services Center will include 50 year-round beds, 5 medical respite beds and an additional 25 beds for winter months. [Arlington County]
Hike in ART, STAR Fees Proposed — Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed a hike in fees for the county’s ART and STAR transportation systems. The base fare for ART buses would increase from $1.50 to $1.75 under Donnellan’s proposal. [Sun Gazette]
Ebbin Reflects on Va. Marriage Ruling — State Sen. Adam Ebbin, the first and only openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly, had mixed emotions after last week’s ruling that the Commonwealth’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. “I always thought if you were gay, you could never get married, you’d never be able to have children,” he told the Washington Post. “I didn’t know you could be gay and be happy.” [Washington Post]
Belly Dancing in Shirlington — Aladdin’s Eatery (4044 Campbell Avenue) in Shirlington will be hosting regular belly dancing shows, starting on Thursday. The shows will be performed by faculty from Saffron Dance, which is based in Virginia Square. [Shirlington Village Blog Spot]
Noise Complaint Targets Church – Even God is not safe from noise complaints in Arlington. Police were called to the 2400 block of Shirlington Road in Nauck on Monday night for “a loud church service in the area.” No word on whether officers found an actual violation of the county’s noise ordinance.
Flickr pool photo by Robpc
Arlington County received two bids on the construction of a new “Homeless Services Center” at 2020 14th Street N., across from Arlington police headquarters. KBE Building Corporation bid $5.7 million and Miller Brothers Inc. bid $5.2 million for the project, which will involve interior alterations on two floors of the county-owned office building and the enclosure of an open parking area on the ground floor. The figures do not include project contingencies and some material costs.
“The total amount is within budget,” Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius told ARLnow.com on Monday. The Arlington County Board is expected to award a construction contract at its meeting later this month.
The Homeless Services Center will be a year-round facility, replacing the county’s aging, part-time Emergency Winter Shelter, located two blocks away. The total cost of the project — including last year’s purchase of the building, tenant relocations and the two-floor build-out — is projected at just over $38 million. The building purchase alone cost the county $27.1 million.
Other floors of the building are expected to eventually be used for county offices, displacing the private tenants there now. That may happen when the county’s below-market lease on office space at Vornado-owned Courthouse Plaza (2100 Clarendon Blvd) expires, insiders tell ARLnow.com.
A timeframe for construction will not be available until the county staff report is issued on Feb. 14, Curtius said. Last year officials were hoping to have the new homeless shelter built and ready to open by fall 2014.
The decision to build the new homeless shelter attracted considerable controversy last year as nearby condo residents told County Board members they were fearful for their safety and property values. As a compromise measure, the Board agreed to require a security guard at the center from 4:00 p.m. to midnight..
Arlington’s Emergency Winter Shelter is now open, and will remain open continuously until the oncoming arctic cold front, expected to bring temperatures down to the single digits with a wind chill below zero degrees Fahrenheit, passes after tomorrow night.
The shelter, at 2049 15th Street N. in Courthouse, has capacity for 73 homeless clients, according to spokesman Jan-Michael Sacharko of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), which operates the shelter. However, it can provide some overflow shelter, if need be, and can send up to 15 people to the Residential Program Center on Columbia Pike.
“Temperatures are expected to drop overnight Monday to single digits,” Arlington Department of Human Services Director Susanne Eisner said in a press release. “We urge anyone who is on the streets — and anyone who knows someone who has no place to shelter from these life-threatening weather conditions — to come to the Emergency Winter Shelter.”
Normally the shelter is open from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. daily. Sacharko said the decision was reached on Friday to keep the shelter open round-the-clock Monday and Tuesday, and since then A-SPAN has been performing outreach to try to get people off the streets and out of danger.
“All last week and at our weekend service sites, outreach staff were informing clients on the street and at the shelter that we would be open those days and that a severe cold front was coming,” Sacharko said. “We’ve been attempting to spread the word today as well with our outreach staff. They regularly do go looking for people to bring services to every day.”
Terrance Toussaint, the director the emergency shelter, said he expects about 10-12 more people will spend the next two nights at the shelter above the usual 70 or so clients. The increase would be higher, he said, if there weren’t other shelters in the area also open to the homeless. Toussaint said he’s satisfied that as many endangered people as possible have heard the message about the impending cold.
“The folks who you’ll still see on the street, they want to be on the street,” he told ARLnow.com. “That could be for mental health reasons, or some are chronic homeless who are hardcore and prefer to camp out. One or two of those will come in tonight.”
Outreach workers for A-SPAN will still try to serve those individuals, bringing them extra coats and blankets and hot soup, Toussaint said, while doing their best to convince them to come in from the cold.
Marathon Winner Led for 25 Miles — Girma Bedada, 33, a recent emigrant from Ethiopia, won Sunday’s Marine Corps Marathon with a time of 2:21:35. Bedada led for 25 miles of the 26.2 mile race. [Run Washington, Marine Corps Marathon]
Army Captain Wins Women’s Division — U.S. military servicemembers captured the first three spots in the Marine Corps Marathon women’s division. The first female finisher was Army Capt. Kelly Calway, with a time of 2:42:16. Calway will be deploying to Kuwait in a few weeks. [Stars and Stripes]
Emergency Winter Shelter Opens Friday — Arlington’s emergency winter homeless shelter opens on Friday, Nov. 1. It’s the last time the shelter will open for the season; Arlington’s new year-round homeless shelter is expected to open around this time next year. [Sun Gazette]
Photo courtesy Brian Ossip
The Volunteers of America Residential Program Center at 1554 Columbia Pike is offering fitness classes to its residents and is looking for volunteers to help instruct.
The shelter is looking for qualified Zumba and yoga instructors. It describes the ideal candidates to teach Zumba as “fun, engaging and passionate,” and says all forms of yoga are welcome. The center writes in the volunteer announcements that it can be flexible with scheduling.
In addition to the fitness classes, the center is also hoping to start planting a garden in its backyard. It is looking for someone with gardening experience to work with the residents and teach them the finer points of starting a garden.
Those interested in applying should contact Volunteer Coordinator Joe Onyebuchi at 703-228-0017.
(Updated at 12:45 p.m.) The Arlington County Board on Saturday voted to approve a controversial use permit for the county’s new year-round Homeless Services Center in Courthouse.
The permit will allow the county and the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network to run a year-round homeless shelter in the office building at 2020 14th Street N., which the county recently purchased. The building is located across the street from Arlington County Police headquarters and two blocks from the existing Emergency Winter Shelter, which closes from April 1 to Oct. 31.
Citing concerns primarily about crime, residents of the Woodbury Heights Condominium continued to voice opposition to the shelter, which will be located adjacent to their building. With approval of the use permit looking inevitable, condo residents unsuccessfully lobbied for a 24/7 security guard, and a prohibition on housing homeless individuals with a history of violent crime or sex offenses.
The Board agreed to a condition calling for a security guard from 4:00 p.m. to midnight, and agreed to some design changes intended to address neighbor concerns. That wasn’t enough for condo residents.
“Why in heaven’s name would you cheap out… and cut way back on the security,” said Ken Robinson, president of the Woodbury Heights Condominium Association, in his remarks to the Board. “They have made some changes here that are very positive, but they have to do more to safeguard the community.”
“I will tell you, if something occurs and people come back and say ‘how did this happen’… and it comes out that the County Board decided to squeeze pennies and not have adequate security, you’re going to have a lot of negative publicity about Arlington County and its social policies,” Robinson added.
Along with speakers who opposed the homeless shelter, the Board also heard from A-SPAN and its supporters, including volunteers, formerly homeless clients of A-SPAN, faith leaders and state Sen. (and former County Board member) Barbara Favola.
“There’s no reason to delay this use permit,” Favola said. She called the proposed year-round shelter a “national model” that is the “economically smart thing to do” since, she said, it will actually save money compared to the societal cost of dealing with and caring for homeless individuals who sleep on the streets.
In a report to the Board, county staff argued that the new shelter is not the dire safety concern that residents make it out to be. The current Emergency Winter Shelter, staff says, has not resulted in any significant safety incidents for residents.
“The EWS does not have security cameras or a security guard,” staff wrote. “The EWS has operated one and a half blocks away from the proposed location for the Homeless Services Center for over 20 years with no significant problems for the surrounding area.”
Vote Expected on Homeless Shelter — The Arlington County Board is expected to vote this weekend on a use permit for the planned year-round homeless shelter at 2020 14th Street N. in Courthouse. A group of neighbors has vehemently opposed the shelter, which is located two blocks from the existing emergency winter shelter. [Sun Gazette]
Opposition to Environmental Cuts — One local environmental advocate is sounding the alarm about proposed cuts in the County Manager’s proposed budget. The budget would cut a Natural Resources Specialist at the Long Branch Nature Center, would eliminate an “urban forestry” position,” and would shrink the budget for tree plantings, tree supplies and invasive species control. [Arlington Mercury]
Proposed 2013-14 School Calendar – The 2013-14 school year for Arlington Public Schools would begin on Tuesday, Sept. 3 under a proposed calendar that administrators presented to the School Board. [Arlington Public Schools]
Volunteers Pack 60,000+ Meals — A group of volunteers packed more than 60,000 meals for the hungry on Saturday. The meals — a lentil casserole consisting of “lentils, dehydrated vegetables, rice, vitamins and Himalayan sea salt” — were packed in baggies that will be distributed through the Arlington Food Assistance Center and the Capital Area Food Bank. [Sun Gazette]
Spring Forward This Weekend — Daylight Saving Time starts this weekend. Clocks should “spring forward” one hour at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday. [Yahoo]
Condo Residents Still Oppose Homeless Shelter – Arlington County has failed to allay the fears of Woodbury Heights Condominium residents, who still oppose the opening of a new year-round homeless shelter on their block in Courthouse. A vocal group of residents spoke out at an Arlington Planning Commission meeting last night. [Patch]
Fiorina to Participate in AED Event — Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina has just been added to a panel discussion of “empathy in business,” organized by Arlington Economic Development and George Mason University. The event is taking place from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 14 at Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd). [Arlington Economic Development]
Flickr pool photo by Sunday Money
Wakefield Captures District Championship — On Friday, the Wakefield High School boy’s basketball team defeated Mount Vernon 69-60 to become the National District champions. Wakefield is now competing in the Northern Region regional tournament. Yorktown, which fell 42-82 to Wakefield in the National District tournament, is also competing as a lower seed in the Northern Region tournament. [Northern Virginia Sports]
Neighbors Want Security Guard at New Homeless Shelter — Residents of the Woodbury Heights Condominium in Courthouse are pressing Arlington officials to place a 24-hour security guard at the county’s planned year-round homeless shelter at 2020 14th Street N. Residents say they’re worried about an increase in crime as a result of the shelter moving next to their building. A resident’s Freedom of Information Act request revealed that there have been just under 6 police responses to the existing shelter per year, on average, between 1994 and 2011, mostly for alcohol-related incidents. [Arlington Mercury]
Arlington Tourism Tax Bill Passes General Assembly — A bill that would restore Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge is destined for the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell. The state legislature approved the bill, which will restore the tax authority — which is used to fund tourism promotion — for three years. [Sun Gazette]
Conservative Tech Biz Booming in Arlington — Business is booming for a small Arlington-based conservative digital advocacy company. The co-founder of Red Edge, which is based above an antique shop in Lyon Park, says he expects the business to double or triple this year as Republicans look to make up ground lost to Democrats in the online sphere. [New York Times]
Registration Open for Ballston LaunchPad Challenge — Registration is now open for the Ballston LaunchPad Challenge. The contest challenges entrepreneurs to come up with the “next great idea,” for a chance to pitch their innovation to billionaire Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. [Ballston BID]
Budget Cuts May Hurt Local Economic Growth — With looming budget cuts and the possible implications of the fiscal cliff, the D.C. area economy is starting to look more vulnerable and more like the rest of the country, according to economists. The federal government and information job categories have seen losses recently, and slower economic growth is expected over the next two decades. [Sun Gazette]
Residents Still Wary of Homeless Shelter — Residents have of the Woodbury Heights condominium in Courthouse, who have been speaking out against the county’s planned year-round homeless shelter at 2020 14th Street N., have been working with Arlington and its contractors on changes to the design of the building. Residents want the entrance to the shelter to be as far away from their building as possible. One homeless advocate, frustrated with the residents’ continued opposition to the shelter, called the attendees at a recent community meeting “the biggest group of snobs I’ve ever seen.” [Patch]
Library Recommends Audiobooks for Holiday Trips — Arlington Public Library has some recommendations for family-friendly audiobooks to make your holiday road trip go faster. [Arlington Public Library]
Flickr pool by John Sonderman