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by Ethan Rothstein — December 18, 2014 at 12:00 pm 0

John Vihstadt was sworn in for his first four-year term on the Arlington County Board yesterday evening before an overflow crowd in the County Board room.

It was the second time in a year Vihstadt was sworn in, after winning a special election in April to replace Chris Zimmerman, who resigned in February. In both cases, Vihstadt, a Republican-endorsed independent, defeated Democrat Alan Howze, who was in attendance yesterday.

“Our campaign brought so many people together, united with a message of fiscal responsibility, greater transparency, accountability and checks and balances,” Vihstadt said. Each of his electoral victories were by substantial margins, and came as surprises to many election observers.

“They were not victories based on one issue, despite what some have said, but many issues,” he continued. “They were not victories for national issues, but local issues. Issues that our county can do something about today, tomorrow and the next day.”

Vihstadt’s election was the biggest factor in the County Board’s decision to cancel the Columbia Pike streetcar last month, and as he laid out his priorities for his term, his fifth and final one was directed at the residents of the Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City corridors. Despite the streetcar’s cancellation, he vowed to bring a more robust transit system to the corridor in the future.

“Yes there are wounds in our community,” he said, “but we need to work together to bind them up in a collaborative fashion.”

Vihstadt acknowledged his 94-year-old father, Ed, whose bible he was sworn in on, and his two sons, Ben, a college student, and Jack, a resident of the Columbia Pike area. He also reminded residents that his contact information is on his website. “Please use it,” he said.

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette closed the ceremony, minutes before his last meeting as this year’s Board chair, and said he already has a good working relationship with his newest colleague.

“John’s sense of stewardship and responsibility have already become apparent and are very much appreciated,” Fisette said. “I have no doubt that Arlington’s future is bright and that John Vihstadt will be a part of that future success.”

by ARLnow.com — December 12, 2014 at 4:05 pm 3,756 0

I-66 passing through ArlingtonVirginia transportation officials are taking the first step toward a package of big changes to I-66 inside the Beltway.

The announcement follows the I-66 Multimodal Study, which wrapped up last year and presented a number of options for improvements to I-66 inside the Beltway, including high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes and a third travel lane in each direction. County officials have vehemently opposed widening I-66, and the county successfully sued VDOT to block HOT lanes on I-395.

In a letter to Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette today, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, Jr. said that the Commonwealth is pursuing a multimodal improvement package that includes converting I-66 to HOT lanes during peak hours. (I-66 is currently HOV-only during rush hour.)

Layne said the Commonwealth will be initiating an environmental assessment as the first step toward pursuing changes. He also said the package would include capacity improvements for Metrorail and buses along the corridor, but did not specify whether a third travel lane is to be added, according to a county spokeswoman.

Fisette responded to Layne’s letter with the following statement Friday afternoon.

Arlington is passionate about giving people travel choices. I have just received this letter and have shared it with my Board colleagues and the County Manager. The letter references the I-66 Multimodal Study (inside the beltway) as the basis for any future improvements. It is fair to say that Arlington contributed heavily to that study and largely embraced it. With that in mind, we will consider this new effort and determine how best to constructively respond and engage as a community. We are all concerned about congestion along this vital corridor. It is important to note, however, that whatever changes are made, must enhance all multimodal options – as the I-66 Multimodal Study concluded.

by Ethan Rothstein — December 9, 2014 at 1:05 pm 1,742 0

John Vihstadt high-fives fellow County Board member Libby Garvey at his election party Nov. 4, 2014Arlington County Board members John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey want to revisit the way the county negotiates its redevelopment approvals.

Last week, ARLnow.com reported that Arlington’s site plan application process prohibits the county from receiving funds for schools when developers build bigger buildings, including apartments and condos. If the county wants to start receiving funds directly from developers to offset school costs, the site plan process has to be modified.

“I believe it is time to start a community conversation as to how we might consider adjustment to the site plan system to be more cognizant of school needs,” Vihstadt told ARLnow.com. “This won’t happen overnight, and it may require legislation in Richmond, but the bottom line is we need to be more creative and proactive in planning for and accommodating the growing enrollment trends in our schools, and we need more tools to do so.”

In Northern Virginia’s suburban counties like Fairfax and Loudoun, county governments negotiate proffers with developers who want to build higher density projects. These proffers include, at least for Loudoun, fully funding the development’s impact on schools, roads and public safety. Those jurisdictions, however, don’t have nearly the commercial tax base of Arlington, which raises about half of its revenue from commercial real estate.

“What we rely on for the payment of the ongoing governmental services are the tax support that comes from the buildings,” Arlington County Board Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com last week. “The system we use has been in place for over 50 years and it has resulted in one of the most successful transformations of a community ever.”

Garvey, who has been on the County Board since 2012, before which she served for years on the School Board, also says it’s time to take another look at that system as Arlington Public Schools experiences unprecedented overcrowding.

“I think it is a good idea to look at the site plan system,” she said. “I would want to see the pros and cons of each before deciding.”

Garvey said she also supports an examination of the way the county and schools split tax revenue and plan their budgets.

“Another look at our revenue sharing agreement and how we do the budget process with the schools, working together with the schools, would be a good idea,” she said.

File photo

by Ethan Rothstein — December 3, 2014 at 12:05 pm 2,440 0

Construction on an apartment building at the corner of Fern and 12th in Pentagon City

In Arlington, when a developer wants to redevelop a property to replace it with a bigger, taller building, the county often receives funding for affordable housing, transportation, streetscape improvements and public art. These “community benefits” from the developer are usually worth millions of dollars.

None of it goes directly to Arlington’s public schools, facing a capacity crisis with no end in sight.

The reason, according to officials, is Arlington’s development approval process, which was codified more than 50 years ago. Builders apply for site plans, and, by state law, community benefits from site plans can only legally be used “to mitigate immediate impacts,” according to County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac.

While a public art contribution is considered an immediate impact for a large apartment complex, for instance, a contribution to schools is not.

What the county is allowed to negotiate are “amenities that are contained within the project, like streetscape improvements, public art, the appearance of the building in general,” MacIsaac told ARLnow.com. “That system does not allow for charges for schools or public safety or running the libraries.”

In neighboring, suburban jurisdictions, developers negotiate benefits like these through the proffer system. In Loudoun County, which has opened 12 new schools in the last five years, the government pegs school costs as high as $37,791 per single family unit, and $11,294 per multifamily unit. Through proffer negotiations, Loudoun asks developers to pay for 100 percent of the estimated capital intensity factors, which includes roads and public safety, according to Loudoun Assistant Director of Planning and Zoning John Merrithew.

The number is typically lower after developers contribute state-mandated affordable housing funds, Merrithew says, but he gave the example of a recent, 70-townhouse development where the builder paid the county $1.3 million, 60 percent of which went directly to school funding. The system works, Merrithew said, because much of the development comes from previously undeveloped land.

“We don’t use the world redevelopment here,” Merrithew said, “because we have very little of it. Most of it is greenfield development.”

Sometimes, developers contribute chunks of land for a new school site. More frequently in the last decade, Merrithew said, Loudoun has bought land from private landowners to build schools. Acquiring land for public uses, including schools, is one of the recommendations the county’s Long Range Planning Committee made last week in evaluating the “Public Land for Public Good” initiative.

The county argues the site plan and special exception system in place has been a major driving force behind Arlington’s transformation over the past half-century, from sleepy suburb to dense urban hub.

“Not only has this zoning structure and this development process worked well in creating today’s Arlington, it’s also resulted in one of the best school systems in America,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said. “If we would have to undo our current structure to be able to replicate what’s done in Loudoun, I think that would be ill-advised. There’s no easy fix for the school growth, but we will address it with the School Board, and we always have.”

There could be some room for debate, however, that the current policy prohibits all funding for schools and other public works. As an example, the proposed 29-story, 393-unit apartment building at the corner of Wilson Blvd and N. Randolph Street in Ballston is expected to draw a large sum of community benefit money. Fisette and MacIsaac believe none of that money can legally be spent on schools, but MacIsaac didn’t draw a hard line.

“That’s a tough legal question,” he said. “The kinds of impacts that are typically recognized in the courts in Virginia and throughout the country are much much more immediate impacts, like on the surrounding streets and neighborhood. It does not typically involved secondary and tertiary impacts like government services.”

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — November 18, 2014 at 10:45 am 2,869 0

Columbia Pike streetcar renderingUpdate at 12:40 p.m. — Fisette has announced that the streetcar project is being canceled.

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette will make a “significant announcement” regarding the Arlington streetcar program today, according to a media alert from the county.

Fisette will hold a press conference at county government headquarters in Courthouse at noon, we’re told. There’s no word yet as to what will be announced.

The press conference will be broadcast on the county website and on Comcast channels 25 and 74 and Verizon FiOS channels 39 and 40.

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 Ethan Rothstein — September 26, 2014 at 11:10 am 1,538 0

Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) is now lending gardening tools to Arlington residents, and all they need is a library card.

This morning, the library held a “vine cutting” to open the toolshed on its east plaza, next to its community garden. The shed, built from cedar for free by Case Design, will be open for lending from March through November on Wednesdays, 5:00-7:00 p.m., Fridays 3:00-5:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Borrowers must be residents of Arlington County and at least 18 years old.

“We want people to dig in and get their hands dirty,” Arlington Central Library Manager Margaret Brown said.

Brown was joined by Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette and Board member Libby Garvey at the toolshed’s unveiling. Brown said the library was inspired to develop the toolshed and its neighboring vegetable garden — with produce going to the Arlington Food Assistance Center — through Fisette’s sustainability initiative when he was Board chair in 2010. The plan and location for the shed was developed by the Urban Agriculture Task Force last year.

“I really think the library has done a great job of taking some of the big picture ideas the county has,” Fisette said, “and to find ways creatively… to further goals of the county and the [Urban Agriculture] Task Force.”

Fisette donated a shovel he was given from the groundbreaking of Virginia Hospital Center’s new wing in 2001. The other tools, available for borrowing immediately, are:

  • Bow rakes
  • Bow saw
  • Bulb planters
  • Dandelion puller
  • Four-tined soil turner
  • Flat blade shovel
  • Garden hose
  • Hand rakes
  • Hedge clippers
  • Hoes
  • Hook and ladder
  • Loppers
  • Long-handled shovel
  • Pick axes
  • Pitchforks
  • Post hole digger
  • Seed spreader
  • Trowel
  • Walk smoother
  • Wheelbarrow

by Ethan Rothstein — July 23, 2014 at 10:30 am 2,219 0

The County Board discusses the CIP 07/19/14County Board members weighed in on the ongoing Uber and Lyft controversy during Saturday’s monthly meeting, largely expressing support for the taxi drivers and companies.

None of the County Board members expressed an explicit desire to ban Uber, citing its popularity, but Board Chair Jay Fisette, Vice Chair Mary Hynes and Board member Walter Tejada each expressed sympathy for the county’s taxi drivers — who have organized protests of Uber and Lyft — who are losing business to the ridesharing services.

“As a Board, as individuals, there is a recognition that some of these new services have stolen some people’s hearts or gotten their business because of the technology they provide and some of the customer service they provide,” Fisette said. “We are very respectful of the drivers… that do need to make a living in this community and do a fine job of it, and then we need to figure out as a state and as a community what authority we have and how we might effect and take advantage of that authority as that unfolds.”

Uber’s UberX service and Lyft allow smartphone users to book rides with non-professional drivers. The drivers drive their own cars and Uber and Lyft don’t have licenses to operate as taxi or car service companies. The lack of regulatory oversight led the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a cease and desist order against the companies, but both Uber and Lyft have continued to operate in the state.

Most recently, eight Northern Virginia taxi companies — including Arlington Blue Top Cabs — have filed a lawsuit requesting an injunction against the two companies, requesting a judge order them to stop operations in the state before the DMV and Attorney General Mark Herring make a ruling on their requests for operating authority.

“I thought the cease and desist order from the state was very appropriate,” Tejada said. “Who knows what other issues are going on that we don’t know about because these [companies] are not regulated. I want to make sure the cab drivers, who are working very hard in this area, get the respect they have earned. These are hard-working individuals, and some of these companies charge them an arm and a leg to operate a cab. I hope that everyone will indeed play by the rules.”

Only John Vihstadt, the lone non-Democrat on the County Board, sang a different tune in responding to the issue, remarking about the popularity of services while pointing out he’s a loyal Arlington Red Top Cab customer.

“I think we need to keep in mind that the marketplace is responding to a need and responding to a demand,” Vihstadt said. “Competition is a good thing and we should not stifle innovation… At the same time, I think we need to consider the current regulatory scheme that we have for our established cab companies to allow them to be more competitive and able to better respond to the needs of the marketplace.”

Hynes pointed out that while Uber and Lyft have grabbed a sizable portion of the market share, they leave out customers who don’t have access to smartphones.

“The state has to explore how you make sure this service is available to all the people who might need it and that nobody is dealt out of the process by their age, disability or income,” she said. “It’s not just about the young people who use Uber and Lyft, but it’s really how it functions as a piece of our transportation system overall.”

by ARLnow.com — July 8, 2014 at 12:35 pm 2,798 0

Pub crawl organizers should have to obtain a permit for each crawl and reimburse the county for the cost of extra police on the street.

That’s what Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan is expected to recommend to the County Board at its meeting later this month. Donnellan will recommend that pub crawls be classified as “special events,” subject to the county’s special events policy, according to county officials.

Arlington’s special events policy was last updated in 2012. The policy is designed to ensure that adequate resources are available for special events while allowing the county to recover its support costs.

Classifying pub crawls as a special event is seen as a compromise, somewhere in between the crawl participants who would like the events to continue unabated and residents who see the crawls as a nuisance and would like them curtailed. The events will continue, but in a more regulated environment, provided organizers can afford the extra costs.

“Organizers would have to get a special events permit and would be required to cover the costs of additional police, fire and trash services — above core services — generated by their event,” Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius told ARLnow.com. “At this point, the Manager’s recommendation does not include any minimum or maximum allowed numbers of pub crawls — the applications will be reviewed as they come in and approved based on the availability of resources.”

Donnellan’s recommendation is coming less than a month after an attendee at the All American Bar Crawl (photos from the event, above) allegedly stripped naked and led police on a car chase that ended in a crash in Clarendon. In an email to a concerned constituent, County Board Chair Jay Fisette addressed the incident.

“I want you to know that we have no tolerance for this kind of behavior. At the same time I want to stress that this incident was highly unusual,” Fisette wrote. “Our top priority is safety. The Board has concerns about the impacts of pub crawls and in April asked the Manager to research options to address these impacts.”

Fisette went on to say that pub crawls can be regulated, but not banned.

Clarendon is one of our most vibrant and lively areas. We support the businesses there, and we welcome visitors who patronize our many great restaurants, shops and pubs. We want to keep it a great place to live, visit, dine, work and shop. It’s important to know that, under Virginia law, we can’t ban pub crawls. We can, however, regulate pub crawls to ensure that they are safe for all and effectively managed. Part of that regulation must include ways that the County can recover some of the costs associated with the stepped-up enforcement activities during the events, and trash and litter cleanup after the events. In the meantime, as part of the FY15 budget, the Board approved one-time funding ($42,000) for overtime costs in the Police department while a longer term strategy is developed to address the increasing frequency and cost associated with pub crawl events.

In addition to the June incident, a bar crawl attendee made the news in March when she allegedly showed up naked at the Arlington Magistrate’s Office and demanded that she be allowed to visit her husband, who was arrested earlier that day during a St. Patrick’s Day-themed pub crawl.

Both bar crawls were organized by Courthouse-based Project D.C. Events. According to the company, the two events attracted a combined 8,500-9,000 registered attendees.

“It’s two incidents out of thousands of people,” said Project D.C. Events co-owner Alex Lopez, who also pointed out that neither happened inside a bar. Lopez and fellow co-owner Mike Bramson said they work closely with Arlington County Police and with participating bars to ensure there’s plenty of security on hand.

Neither could explain why bar crawls in Arlington have resulted in high-profile incidents and controversy while D.C.-based crawls seem to go off without a hitch.

“We’ve taken the same steps in D.C. as we do in Arlington,” Bramson said.

“You don’t hear about bar crawls in D.C. because nothing happens at them,” said Lopez. “If you say, ‘oh everything was peaceful in the last bar crawl,’ well, no one is going to read that.”

Bramson and Lopez said they and other bar crawl organizers shouldn’t be on the hook for the cost of extra police staffing because the events are already generating thousands in extra tax revenue.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — June 26, 2014 at 4:30 pm 2,530 0

Uber driver and car (photo courtesy Uber)Arlington officials are trying to walk a tightrope on the topic of Uber, which is pitting two constituencies against each other: tech-savvy, often younger voters vs. hard-working immigrants who have the support of labor activists.

On one hand, the Arlington County Board is sensitive to the plight of cab drivers, who are trying to fend off ride sharing services like Uber while complying with county and state regulations. On the other hand, many Arlington residents seem to like Uber, which is operating outside the law in Virginia.

County Board Chair Jay Fisette addressed the issue Tuesday, at his State of the County address. His audience: members of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. Chamber members tend to skew older than the 20-something crowd one might envision when discussing a popular smartphone app, yet when asked who had used Uber, some 50-60 percent of the room raised their hands. Fisette himself had a hand raised — “I used Uber for the first time in New York City recently,” he revealed.

Arlignton Chamber of Commerce 2014 State of the County address attendeesArlington caught flack from Uber fans when the police department announced it would ticket Uber drivers, given the cease and desist order issued by the Virginia Dept. of Motor Vehicles earlier this month. Fisette, however, downplayed the actual impact.

“Our police aren’t going to look for the problem, but if they run into it they’re obliged to ticket these folks,” he said.

Fisette said services that provide rides to consumers are regulated for a reason.

“We have the taxi industry, a regulated industry, created for consumer protection,” he said. “When it wasn’t regulated, quality went down and risk for customers went up.”

Fisette suggested that Uber should compete on a level playing field by complying with the law, but acknowledged that the consumers the state is trying to protect generally seems to like the service.

“I think it’s fair to say they’re seen to provide some outstanding customer service and ease of use,” Fisette said. “It’s convenient, and that customer friendliness and innovation has helped them create a market. Anytime you have a demand, you’re doing something right.”

In the end, Fisette said Arlington would participate in a state study into the Uber issue, but didn’t say what kind of perspective the county would bring to the table.

“As a locality, we don’t really have a point of view except that we have to enforce the law,” he said.

by ARLnow.com — June 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm 2,481 0

Streetcars in Toronto held up by a car accident (photo by Rick Eglinton/GetStock)

(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette says the streetcar is a “strategic investment” that will drive economic development. But he acknowledges that it has an image problem.

Delivering his State of the County address to members of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Fisette said “the workhorse modern streetcar” gets a bad rap from critics who say it would be waylaid frequently by vehicle accidents and other possible obstructions on the tracks.

Fisette pointed to an image that has popped up on blogs and in Powerpoint presentations given by critics. The image, above, shows the aftermath of a minor vehicle accident in Toronto that caused at least a half dozen streetcars to back up behind a damaged car on the tracks.

“It’s an image emblazoned in people’s minds that has distorted the debate a bit,” Fisette told the crowd.

In reality, Fisette said, such accidents will happen “very infrequently.” When it does, obstructions will be cleared from the tracks as expediently as possible. “There is a protocol in place for dealing with that quickly,” Fisette said.

Plus, Fisette argued, it’s not exactly uncommon for accidents to cause delays for vehicle traffic.

“Backups happen daily on the Beltway due to broken down cars and accidents,” he said.

(Those who oppose the streetcar also point out that streetcars themselves are sometimes involved in serious accidents with vehicles and pedestrians.)

Streetcar-like bus in Las Vegas (photo via Twitter)Critics, like Board members Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt, say an enhanced bus system would offer many of the benefits of streetcar without the high cost and inflexibility of fixed rail. They have at times pointed to a “streetcar-like bus” in use in Las Vegas (pictured, right) as an alternative.

Fisette said fixed rail is, at least partially, the point. People — himself included — are more likely to ride a train with a fixed route than get on a bus.

“I fundamentally disagree” that buses are better than streetcar, Fisette said. “Streetcar is much more comfortable, much more accessible… multiple doors, better for wheelchairs, much smoother ride. I myself know that when I go to another city, do I jump on buses? No. Really, would I get on a rail system that’s fixed and tells you where you’re going? Yes.”

Fisette’s most oft-repeated argument for the streetcar was its higher ridership capacity. He said that prior to the Board’s streetcar approval, during a long planning process that asked Columbia Pike residents what they wanted, the community signaled that it did not want Metro and the density that would come with it, but did want more amenities.

In order to continue to revitalize Columbia Pike — and thus build more housing and retail — Fisette said there needs to be more capacity for transit than buses can provide. Already, the Pike is Virginia’s busiest bus corridor, with 600 bus trips daily carrying more than 17,000 passengers. With the Pike and Crystal City expected to account for 65 percent of the county’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth over the next 30 years, Fisette said the streetcar is the right system to get people to where they need to go.

Jay Fisette delivers his 2014 State of the County speech“No possible bus system can handle that ridership growth,” he said.

On the issue of how to pay for the streetcar – which carries a total price tag of more than half a billion dollars — Fisette said 93 percent of streetcar funding will come from “federal, state and regional money,” including a 12.5 cent commercial real estate tax designated for transit. He said he opposes using homeowner tax dollars for streetcar

At the same time, Fisette said he’s looking for a possible way to move forward without federal funds, since federal funding would come with strings attached, would increase costs and would slow the project down.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — June 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm 1,852 0

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness Facility

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Arlington will not award a contract for construction of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, delaying the project for at least a year, the county announced this afternoon.

The decision to cancel the bids for the facility follows an effort by County Manager Barbara Donnellan and her staff to work with construction companies to “value engineer” the project and lower costs. The bids initially came in well above the level necessary to keep the aquatics center within its original $79 million projected cost. Even with cheaper furnishings and other cut corners, however, we’re told the revised cost estimate “got close but not close enough.”

With $42.5 million in bond funding and a $15 million developer contribution already in place, that puts the County Board in a position in which it must approve additional taxpayer funds, scale back the design of the facility, or seek private funding. For now, the county will seek private funds.

County Board Chair Jay Fisette said the aquatic’s center design resulted from an extensive community outreach process that took into account its location near the Potomac River, within view of I-395 and major D.C. monuments.

“This facility resulted from [a community needs assessment] and then took several years to design,” he said. “I still think that to fulfill that plan is the right way to go. But I understand that staying within the previous budget is also appropriate.”

Fisette said the county will now seek funding from a private entity. Possibilities include a corporate sponsorship and naming rights, working with a for-profit operator, or partnering with a university or other institution.

Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston is one such facility built by the county but operated by a rent-paying, for-profit entity. The fields at Long Bridge Park and Barcroft Baseball Field #6 are partially paid for under partnerships with Marymount University and George Washington University, respectively.

A corporate sponsor may be interested in the naming rights to the facility, especially given its high-visibility location. Fisette said he’d be open to having the facility known as the Under Armor or the Nike Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, among other potential sponsors.

“The goal is to identify any balance of funding beyond those already approved by the voters,” Fisette said. “This is an unusual and exceptional opportunity for someone who would like to have that visibility.”

What might make the opportunity more exceptional, according to county officials, is D.C’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Later this month, the United States Olympic Committee is expected to narrow down the list of U.S. cities being considered as an Olympic host. Should D.C. be on that list, it could give a boost to the effort to attract sponsorships, given that the new aquatics center is likely to be one of the facilities used for the games.

“We are under the impression that as they move forward with their bid, that this site is included in their plans,” according to Fisette.

The county will “aggressively pursue private funding support” over the next 6-8 months, Fisette said. Donnellan plans to report back to the County Board in mid-2015, prior to any additional bonds being sold. Should attempts to find private funds prove unsuccessful, the next steps for the facility are “yet to be determined.”

The county press release on the announcement, after the jump.

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — April 23, 2014 at 11:00 am 1,716 0

Libby Garvey at the 4/22/14 recessed County Board meetingArlington County Board member Libby Garvey, an outspoken opponent of the planned Columbia Pike streetcar system, called for a truce yesterday on the language surrounding the bus alternative.

Garvey made a presentation during yesterday’s County Board meeting, challenging the return on investment (ROI) study a consultant performed on contract with the county and presented last month.

Garvey said the study makes faulty comparisons, disputed the $3.1 billion ROI claim, said that calling the streetcar a “seamless ride” is nonsensical since a bus would do the same, and claimed it ignored contrary analysis, among other assertions.

After Garvey’s presentation, County Board Chair Jay Fisette challenged streetcar opponents’ claims that bus rapid transit (BRT) would be a preferable solution since dedicated bus lines, widely considered a requirement of a BRT system, are not possible on Columbia Pike. In response, Garvey offered an olive branch of sorts on the language the two sides of the streetcar debate uses.

“On BRT, I’ll make a deal with you,” Garvey said. “We don’t ever talk about BRT here again, we just say ‘streetcar-like bus.’ That’s all we need to say. A streetcar-like bus will do much better on Columbia Pike than a streetcar. Let’s just forget about it. It’s just a canard, it’s silly to talk the way we have on what’s BRT and what’s not. That just gets away [from the point], and I share your frustration.”

Fisette quickly agreed to Garvey’s terms, replying “all right, let’s call a truce on that one.”

The bus system that is feasible on the Pike was referred to by the ROI consultants as “enhanced bus service,” which wouldn’t use a dedicated lane but would have many features of a streetcar, like greater ridership capacity, a sleeker appearance and off-board fare collection.

Garvey’s challenge to the consultant has been echoed by other streetcar critics, who say the study was biased from the start, and its methodology — comparing two streetcar systems and two enhanced bus systems in cities around the country — was lacking. Fisette said the consultants, HR&A Advisors, will be making presentations to several county commissions, and backed them on their claims.

“I’m not saying [the study's detractors] don’t have some good points or couldn’t use clarifications to better understand how the consultants went about their work,” he said, “but I take issue with discrediting the work of these consultants overall.”

by Mark Kelly — April 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,063 0

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.

Mark Kelly“Live and learn.” That was the end of County Board Chairman Jay Fisette’s apology for attributing Walter Tejada’s tardiness to the Vihstadt swearing-in ceremony last Friday to “running on Latino time.”

Fisette was apparently shocked that people would find such a stereotype offered up in a public forum by an elected official as insensitive, offensive or insulting?

It would be one thing if Fisette wasn’t a Democrat. Democrats have spent the past five years telling the American people that those opposing policies from President Obama were doing so because they were racially motivated. The day before Fisette inserted foot in mouth, U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel was doing just that.

Imagine for a moment that John Vihstadt had uttered the same words during his remarks on Friday. The Arlington County Democrats would most certainly have fired off a pointed press release – possibly even calling for Vihstadt to resign. Twitter, Facebook and the ARLnow.com comments section would have exploded with activity.

Does anyone really think Jay Fisette is racist or that he was in any way intentionally trying to offend? No. But, to essentially throw up your hands and say “live and learn” was a disappointing response from someone who should have known better.

Since there seems to be no risk in stating the obvious this week, here are three other lessons to learn from recent events:

Alan Howze’s campaign was built around a central theme of “I am a Democrat, and my opponent is a Republican.” That strategy may have gotten Mr. Howze across the finish line in year’s past. This year, it was destined for failure. The voters who most care about local issues saw right through it.

The election last week also clearly demonstrated that these same voters do not want the trolley to be built, and probably at a higher percentage than the Vihstadt vote. Some die hard Democrats voted for Howze despite not being fans of the project. The County Board may ultimately move forward. However, there are two Board members who are in cycle in another low turnout election in the fall of 2015 who may regret it.

Finally, rumors are swirling that higher than anticipated revenues have Board Members considering a tax rate cut — a move that is long overdue (Ed. note: This column was submitted before the County Board approved a one-cent tax rate cut). However, a one, two or even three-cent rate cut is not a tax cut. It is simply a smaller than anticipated tax increase for most, if not all, Arlingtonians. If your assessment went up by 10 percent or more this year, you may not even call a three-cent rate cut a good start. But, it would beat the alternative.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Ethan Rothstein — April 4, 2014 at 10:45 am 2,378 0

Jay Fisette speaks at a Columbia PIke business luncheon(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette used the podium at a Columbia Pike business luncheon yesterday to respond to critics of the Columbia Pike streetcar and the county’s recently completed return on investment study for Pike transit.

The study, conducted by an independent consultant and funded by the county, suggested that the Columbia Pike streetcar would generate about $3 billion more for the corridor’s economy than enhanced bus service. Critics of the streetcar say a Bus Rapid Transit system would be a preferred, cheaper alternative, but Fisette reiterated yesterday that BRT is not an option for the Pike.

“Bus Rapid Transit, by definition, needs at least part of its route to have a dedicated lane,” Fisette told members of the Columbia Pike business community for the annual Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization Business and Development Luncheon. “I’d love to have a dedicated bus lane. I wish we had room, but it’s not possible.”

Streetcar opponents have asked why the county spent money on a return on investment study when a similar study was conducted last year, but Fisette said this study accounted for the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan and compared streetcar to enhanced bus service, two components the previous study did not include.

“Sure, attack the messenger, pick [the study apart],” Fisette said, “but use the facts please.”

CPRO Executive Director Takis Karantonis speaks at a Columbia PIke business luncheon

Fisette described the community process used to develop the plan for the streetcar, and said the county projects that, in the not-too-distant future, 65 percent of Arlington’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth will be concentrated along the streetcar lines on Columbia Pike and in the Route 1 corridor from Pentagon City to Crystal City and Potomac Yard.

Takis Karantonis, the executive director of CPRO and one of the streetcar’s biggest advocates, gave a brief talk to the dozens of business and community leaders in attendance while wearing a pin on his lapel for Streetcar Now. He said a $310 million investment by the county in streetcar is a fair number compared to the money the private sector has invested in the Pike.

“Each of these new buildings cost around $90 to $100 million,” Karantonis said. “Each one. Private money is holding up its end of the deal.”

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