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The Right Note: This Lesson Had to be Learned?

by Mark Kelly | April 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 989 views | No Comments

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.

Fisette on BRT on the Pike: ‘It’s Not Possible’

by Ethan Rothstein | April 4, 2014 at 10:45 am | 2,378 views | No Comments

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.”

County to Unveil Rosslyn ‘Bikeometer’

by Ethan Rothstein | March 27, 2014 at 3:30 pm | 2,240 views | No Comments

Rosslyn's Bikeometer (photo via BikeArlington)Several Arlington County officials will be on hand next week to unveil a high-tech “bikeometer,” on the Custis Trail in Rosslyn.

The bikeometer will be on the trail near the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Lynn Street — known as the “Intersection of Doom” — with electronic displays counting “passing bicyclists in real time and cumulative daily, monthly and year-to-date counts,” according to an Arlington County press release.

The bikeometer is the first of its kind on the East Coast and sixth in the nation, according to BikeArlington. The data will be used in future planning for cyclists in the area in addition to providing “a highly visible, engaging and fun view of the volume of bike usage on the Custis Trail in Arlington.”

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette will be on hand, along with League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke, on Tuesday, April 1 at 10:00 a.m. to unveil the bikeometer.

Photo via BikeArlington

Groundbreaking for ‘Verde Pointe’ on Lee Highway

by ARLnow.com | March 21, 2014 at 11:15 am | 2,875 views | No Comments

(Updated at 2:25 p.m.) A groundbreaking was held Thursday for Verde Pointe, the new residential and retail development on the former Bergmann’s Dry Cleaning site.

The ceremony was held at the site, at Lee Highway and N. Veitch Street, and featured Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette and representatives from the developer and other companies involved in the $80 million project.

Verde Pointe, which was approved by the County Board in December 2012, will feature 177 apartments in a 10-story building, 23 townhomes, a 14,000 square foot Mom’s Organic Market and other retail spaces.

Construction is expected to wrap up in the spring or summer of 2015, according to a spokeswoman. The full press release about the groundbreaking, after the jump.

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Police: Wrong-Way Snow Plow Later Ran Stop Sign, Caused Accident

by ARLnow.com | March 19, 2014 at 9:35 am | 4,607 views | No Comments

(Updated at 10:00 a.m.) Shortly after being caught on video driving the wrong way down Military Road — a story first reported on ARLnow.com — an Arlington County snow plow driver ran a stop sign and caused a multi-vehicle accident, according to police.

The accident happened at 9:18 a.m. on Monday. The 51-year-old plow driver was heading southbound on S. Monroe Street when he ran a stop sign at 18th Street S. and struck an eastbound Toyota Highlander on the driver’s side rear panel, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. The Highlander then struck two parked cars.

“There were no reported injuries as a result of the accident,” Sternbeck told ARLnow.com. The driver was cited by officers for disregarding a stop sign.

The accident happened less than two hours after local filmmaker Jason Berry said he was nearly run off the road by the plow, which was driving the wrong way down hilly, twisting Military Road. At Tuesday’s Arlington County Board meeting, Board Chair Jay Fisette encouraged County Manager Barbara Donnellan to take disciplinary action.

“I think all of us saw that video and thought, ‘oh my God,” Fisette said. “That was horrible. It’s inconceivable to me that there’s a justification for driving a [snow plow] down the wrong side of the road. It was quite amazing to watch the video. We are just fortunate that nothing terrible… came of that particular driving experience.”

Donnellan reported that the driver was working a midnight-to-noon shift and called the incident “unfortunate,” “dangerous” and a “near miss situation.”

“This is completely unacceptable behavior for snow plowing. it is a violation of our Arlington county driver policy and training,” Donnellan said. “As soon as the county learned of the unacceptable behavior we identified the responsible driver and immediately removed him from duty.”

“The investigation is underway,” Donnellan continued. “We’re taking appropriate action with this employee. A full range of disciplinary actions is always on the table for serious safety violations. Our safety policy strives for zero incidents.”

Donnellan noted that the county also received calls thanking snow removal crews for their tireless work during this snowy winter.

“It’s easy to focus on one driver, on one day, but we also have many, many drivers who are safe, courteous and do great work too,” Donnellan said. “My many thanks goes out to staff who works incredibly hard during these weather events to keep our community safe and to keep our streets, trails and sidewalks clear.”

Fisette to Speak at Anti-Plastic Bag Event

by Ethan Rothstein | March 11, 2014 at 10:45 am | 1,210 views | No Comments

County Board Chair Jay FisetteArlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette will be a speaker this Thursday at the showing of a film that examines the impact that plastic bags and other plastic products have on the environment.

The film, called “Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?” will be presented at Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike) this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. The event is hosted by Tap In Arlington, a grassroots organization campaigning against single-use plastic water bottles.

Fisette launched a “personal crusade” against plastic bottles last year, is a supporter of Tap In and debated a bottled water industry executive in January. Fisette will speak alongside the film’s director and star, Jeb Berrier.

In promotional material, the film is described as “touching and often flat-out-funny” and Berrier is said to be an “everyman… who is admittedly not a tree hugger.”

Tickets for the event are $10 at the door, or $5 for students and seniors.

Photos: Bill Cosby Helps to Open Ben’s Chili Bowl in Rosslyn

by ARLnow.com | March 6, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 7,896 views | No Comments

(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Comedian Bill Cosby joined Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette and other local notables in helping to open the new Ben’s Chili Bowl in Rosslyn this morning.

Cosby’s jokes and antics drew laughs from the large crowd of media and spectators that gathered to see the ribbon cutting for the iconic U Street eatery’s first stand-alone, brick-and-mortar expansion. Other attendees and speakers included the Ali family, which owns the restaurant; the ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago, late founder Ben Ali’s home country; WPGC DJ Shack Nd Pack; and Rosslyn BID President Mary-Claire Burick.

Cosby joked that as an aging Navy veteran, he was glad to have a Ben’s Chili Bowl near Arlington National Cemetery.

“The reason why this establishment has decided to open here is for me,” he said. “I’m 76-and-a-half years old. I’m going to have my 77th birthday in July… I spent four years in the Navy, which means I am eligible for a military funeral. Now, my can ghost make the trip here instead of flying over to U Street.”

“Over in that cemetery there is no cholesterol,” he continued. “There are no triglycerides. Eat as many as you like. Double down on the cheese and fries. A lot of people may not go to heaven, because this is heaven.”

Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette presented Cosby and Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, with keys to Arlington. Cosby quipped that he would use it to get out of parking tickets.

“Whoa, who put me on stage after Bill Cosby?” Fisette said, to which Cosby shot back: “your mother did.”

“Thanks for choosing Arlington… for your second spot,” Fisette said. “As I’ve always said, chili for breakfast, chili for lunch, chili for dinner and a half smoke for dessert.”

Customers flooded into the the restaurant following the ribbon cutting, leaving a large crowd outside the doors, waiting to get in. Hundreds showed up to the Colonial Village Shopping Center parking lot to see Cosby speak and get some of the first tastes of chili, half smokes, hamburgers and milkshakes after standing outside in near-freezing temperatures.

The restaurant is located at 1725 Wilson Blvd, in the former Ray’s Hell Burger space. It’s owned and operated by three sons, Nizam, Kamal and Sage, and one daughter, Vida. The family said during the ribbon cutting that the restaurant plans to stay open until 4:30 a.m.

“The chili will sober you up,” Cosby said of Ben’s likely late night customers.

Snowy Trails Frustrate Bike Commuters

by Courtney Battle | January 28, 2014 at 6:05 pm | 2,303 views | No Comments

Snow-covered Custis Trail adjacent to Lee Highway (photo via @BikeArlington)

(Updated at 7:50 p.m.) The effects of last week’s winter storm were felt by one group of commuters for days following the last snowflake.

The inconvenience of traveling in the cold and sometimes icy conditions proved not only difficult for those traveling by car, but also for local cyclists. At Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting, resident Gillian Burgess expressed her concerns about clearing bike trails after snow storms occur in the area.

“We only have one car, and we have lots of bikes,” Burgess said. “Unfortunately, it’s not safe to take most of these bikes onto the trails in the state that they’re in. So I leave the car with my kids because I want them to be the safest, and instead I’m left with the choice of biking on very busy streets that are not safe.”

Ice remains on the Mount Vernon trail a week after storm“My husband and I first moved to Arlington years ago because we wanted to live the car-light lifestyle,” she continued. “Now we have two kids and one car, and we love it. And most of the time we love mostly biking and walking around Arlington. Unfortunately after it snows we don’t have that luxury. We have found that both after the storm in December and currently, trails do not get cleared.”

According to county Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel, the county does not have dedicated resources for clearing ice and snow from its shared-use trails.

“Staff have been collaborating this past year to find a viable solution to clear these trails,” McDaniel said in an email. “The Department of Parks and Recreation has made an effort to handle snow clearing on trails after addressing other priorities such as snow clearing for several County buildings, routes to schools and Metro rail stations, as well as assisting in the clearing of streets and walkways at other locations.”

Board Chairman Jay Fisette agreed that the county has encouraged walking and biking to get around — the “car-free diet” — and he said Burgess’ concerns were understandable.

Snow plow on the W&OD Trail in 2010“We have heard over time, increasingly the question about bike trails – and it’s a natural one because we’re promoting walking and cycling,” he said. “It makes complete sense that we [are getting] more questions from those who have drunk the Kool-Aid and participate in that culture and maybe even got rid of that car so that they can bike and walk and use transit more frequently.”

Tim Kelley, the marketing manager for Bike Arlington, wrote in Bike Arlington’s forums that the county’s 25 bike counters on its shared-use trails register “a big dip in usage during and in the days following a big snow storm.”

Fisette, who mentioned he is a cyclist himself, remains “unresolved” on the issue.

“I have probably the full range of questions about this as anyone would, you know, about resources, about prioritization, about effectiveness and the environmental impact,” Fisette said. “So I would just say that from my perspective, to have some sort of coherent input from [County Manager Barbara Donnellan] thinking about… what the options are for Board consideration might make sense.”

Ethan Rothstein contributed to this report. Photo (top) via Bike Arlington.

Aquatics Center Could Benefit MS Sufferers

by Courtney Battle | January 27, 2014 at 5:05 pm | 1,587 views | No Comments

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness FacilityThe planned Long Bridge Park aquatics center has been the subject of controversy lately — as critics decry its rising projected construction and operating costs.

Why spend more than $80 million building it when Arlington already has three public pools and other pressing needs, critics ask.

But for one Arlington resident, who spoke at Saturday’s County Board meeting, the facility does represent an unmet need in Arlington.

During the meeting’s public comment period, Cynthia Siton told the Board that the facility could serve residents with multiple sclerosis, like herself. She said that the three existing pools are inadequate for MS sufferers because the water temperature is kept too high, forcing her to use Fairfax County pools instead.

“In the summer I find that the pools in the county — the three county pools — the water is too warm,” she said. “Fairfax County pools tend to keep their water cooler, which is very important for people with MS.”

Siton explained the importance of cooler temperatures for MS patients.

“It’s important during exercise to keep the body at a cool temperature,” she said. “That is, also one of the reasons that I favor pool expansion. There are very few exercises that people with MS can engage in because exercise naturally raises the body temperature, bringing on symptoms. Swimming is a way to get exercise and maintain a pretty steady body temperature.”

In response, County Board Chairman Jay Fisette revealed that his own brother had been diagnosed with MS approximately a year and a half ago. Fisette said he understands the dangers of overheating.

“Heat is not healthy for someone with MS, I hadn’t actually thought about that in terms of aquatics or swimming, but it makes complete sense from what I know,” he said.

In addition to an 80-86 degree teaching pool, supporters of the aquatics center point out that it will include a therapy pool that could be used by seniors and other groups that need a more specialized swimming environment than that offered by the three existing county pools, which are located in Arlington’s public high schools.

The Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility project is currently on hold. Earlier this month, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan ordered her staff to review the costs of the facility and recommend a plan — which could mean downsizing or cancelling the project.

Siton said she hopes for the best.

“My hope is these pools will afford people to swim in environments where they’re comfortable getting in and out of the pool and swimming comfortably in the lanes.”

Fisette: Not Interested in Joining ‘Dysfunctional’ Congress

by ARLnow.com | January 23, 2014 at 10:00 am | 890 views | No Comments

County Board Vice Chair Jay FisetteArlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette says he will not make a run for Congress.

In a statement, Fisette said a major decision point for him was “the contrast between the dysfunctional climate on Capitol Hill and the can-do atmosphere in Arlington.”

So far, those who have said they’ll run for the seat being vacated by Rep. Jim Moran (D) are Democrats Bruce Shuttleworth and Del. Patrick Hope, and Republican Micah Edmond.

Fisette’s statement:

Congressman Jim Moran recently announced that he will not seek re-election. He deserves our heartfelt thanks for twenty-four years of strong, principled service to all of us in Northern Virginia. His voice and experience in Congress will be missed.

Many friends and colleagues have asked of my interest in running for this seat and have encouraged me to run. While appreciative of those comments, I have decided that I will not seek this position.

One reason for my decision is the contrast between the dysfunctional climate on Capitol Hill and the can-do atmosphere in Arlington. The state of politics at the national level is disheartening, with the outsized influence of shrill, well-financed forces and the disintegration of sincere efforts to forge compromise, respect one’s colleagues and realize the potential of government to make people’s lives better. The distorted effects of re-districting and the demands of a relatively small band of conservative extremists have hijacked the House in particular for the moment.

Arlington is different. This community continues to take policy deliberations seriously, engage widely and with civility, and put our progressive values into action. As a result, we have achieved amazing things together and are in a strong position to continue moving forward. Here, diverse people with good will and good ideas can and do make a difference. Having just been re-elected by the voters and tapped by my colleagues to lead the County Board this year, I will be staying to continue my work in our wonderful community.

There are many qualified Democrats who could represent the Eighth District very capably. I will work with our party’s nominee to secure a victory in the November election and keep the Eighth District in the progressive ranks.

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | January 21, 2014 at 8:55 am | 1,470 views | No Comments

Sunset over Metro 29 Diner on Lee Highway (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

County Gets $500k for Beaver Pond Project — Arlington County has received a $500,000 state grant for a project to improve the Ballston beaver pond. “The $2.7 million improvement project, paid for mostly from stormwater funds, includes changing the flow pattern to keep water in the pond longer, allowing wetland plants to remove nutrients and other pollutants before it flows out,” the county said in a press release. “Construction is expected to begin in the summer 2014.” [Arlington County]

Fisette’s Disclosure Doesn’t Include Husband — County Board Chairman Jay Fisette’s annual financial disclosure did not include the finances of his husband. Fisette was married in D.C. this past September, but Fisette says he’s not required to include his spouse in the disclosure since their marriage is not recognized under Virginia law. [Washington Post]

Howze Tops Fundraising Battle — Democratic County Board hopeful Alan Howze has raised the most money of any County Board candidate, with $16,245. Fellow Democrat Cord Thomas appears to be completely self-funding his campaign, while independent candidate John Vihstadt’s donors include a number of local Republicans. [Blue Virginia]

Congressional Primary Date Set — A date has been set for the crowded Democratic primary in the race to succeed the retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). The primary will be held on June 10. [Twitter]

APS Budget Forum Dates Set — Arlington Public Schools will hold three community forums on the upcoming FY 2015 budget. The forums will be held on Jan. 22, Jan. 29 and Feb. 3. [Arlington Public Schools]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

Fisette: Economic Sustainability is a Key Priority

by ARLnow.com | January 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm | 1,018 views | No Comments

Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece was written by Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette. It originally appeared in ARLbiz, our weekly Arlington business e-newsletter. You can subscribe to ARLbiz here.

On New Year’s Day, I announced that my focus this year as Arlington County Board Chairman will be on sustainability – the ability to prosper through change. A key element of that focus for me will be laying the groundwork for Arlington to become a hub for the innovation economy.

Everything we do should be judged by how it advances our goal of building a community that will sustain Arlingtonians for generations to come. We have such a strong foundation on which to build.

When I moved to Arlington in 1983 — 31 years ago — it was a somewhat sleepy place with an uncertain future. Arlington had made the commitment to transit as our prime engine of redevelopment but we were not sure how far it could take us. Today, 40 percent of all transit trips in the state — in the entire state — begin or end in Arlington. After years of persistence, patience and sound investment, the unprecedented prosperity that has resulted is clear.

Today, other localities are learning from us and making smarter planning decisions themselves. We face a rapidly changing economy and increased competition as the Silver Line brings rail transit to Tyson’s and beyond and DC creates new office markets. To tackle these challenges, the County Manager, accompanied by Board Members, went on a listening tour in the business community. What we heard on that tour helped me formulate my action plan. Owners of businesses both small and large love this community and value the business opportunities here, but we heard thoughtful suggestions from them on how we can make Arlington an even better place to do business.

We know that Arlington has amazing assets that will continue to be a fundamental part of our economic strength. Our location is not going to change. National Airport and the Pentagon are not going anywhere. Our outstanding transportation system, smart growth policies and great schools will be protected and enhanced. Did you know that today’s Arlington has the nation’s highest concentration of 25 to 34-year-olds — and is the home of the region’s “creative class?”

In the coming months, as part of my six-point plan, we will be presenting ideas for accelerating the growth of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor’s science, technology, art, research and education eco-system; strengthening communications and partnerships between County government, businesses, entrepreneurs and residents; updating our Retail Action Plan; and strategically marketing Arlington to businesses and developers nationally.

These initiatives will help ensure that Arlington is a leader in the innovation economy — the 21st-century economy of flexible, creative enterprises and high-tech products and services.

You can read my entire January 1 speech on the County website.

It is an ambitious agenda — but this is an ambitious community. We lean forward and are good at turning challenges into opportunities. Arlington’s future is bright. Together, we will continue to build a community that is a model of sustainability, diversity and civic engagement – a place that other communities look to for inspiration.

Jay Fisette
Chairman, Arlington County Board

Downsize or Die for Aquatics and Fitness Center?

by ARLnow.com | January 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,981 views | No Comments

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness FacilityWith operating costs projected at twice the original estimates, and construction bids “significantly higher” than anticipated, it may be a case of downsize or die for the proposed Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility.

The project, which was at one point supposed to be under construction by now, is on hold as a result of contractor bids well exceeding the $79.3 million budgeted for the first phase of construction. The county has yet to reveal exactly how high the bids were.

Last night, meanwhile, Arlington County officially acknowledged that a 2012 estimate of the facility’s operating deficit — $1.9 million in Fiscal Year 2020 — has doubled to an annual deficit of $3.8 million. That excludes the cost of running the existing facilities at Long Bridge Park.

After pausing the project, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan instructed her staff to analyze the rising costs of the facility and recommend a course of action. That course of action may be to downsize the county’s lofty ambitions for the “world-class” facility, push it back until economic conditions improve, or scrap it altogether.

Speaking at last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting, County Board member Mary Hynes left open all possibilities.

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness Facility“We’re in the process of trying to figure out what the costs will be should the Board decide to move forward on the project at this time,” she said. Speaking to ARLnow.com, Hynes said she would not support spending additional money on the facility at a time when capital funding is urgently needed to increase school capacity.

“We have a certain amount of money set aside for this, we don’t have more than that,” she said. “We have been building pretty significantly for the last 20 years, we’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in schools. We’ve done fire stations, we’ve done other things. We have a 10 percent self-imposed debt limit and we’ve been bumping around in the 9′s.”

“The only way you get more debt capacity is to raise taxes,” she continued. “I guess that’s a choice that some people would make, that’s not a choice I’d make for a swimming pool.”

Scrapping the facility altogether could prove difficult. Voters have already approved a $42.5 million parks bond for the facility and Vornado has committed $15 million as part of the PenPlace development.

Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness FacilityJay Fisette, a stalwart supporter of the Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, says nearly a decade was spent on the center’s design in order to address a community need. Noting that the design of the facility was “incredibly energy efficient,” perhaps driving up costs, Fisette said he’s hoping that those bidding on the project will be swayed to lower their bids and “value engineer” some savings.

“It’s certainly my hope that there’s some ability to look at the bids and talk to the bidders… and narrow that gap,” he said. “The park and the facility design itself came out of a community needs assessment. It was supported by 64 percent of the voters just 14 months ago. I hope we can responsibly move forward.”

Blaming earlier reports that the projected operating costs had increased up to 350 percent on “a complete error” by county staff, Fisette said there are numerous misconceptions about the costs. He added that earlier “exaggerations” about the exact extent of the cost increases have been “celebrated by longtime opponents of the facility.”

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Morning Notes

by Katie Pyzyk | January 8, 2014 at 8:45 am | 1,019 views | No Comments

Icy: Four Mile Run in Arlington Virginia (Flickr pool photo by @ddimick)

Fisette Staying Out of Confederate Name Issue — Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said he has too much other business to worry about in the coming months to get involved with the request to remove the name “Jefferson Davis” from Arlington roads. Fisette says he’s sensitive to the reasons behind the request to remove the Confederate leader’s name, but the process for removal is laborious and has to go through the state. [Sun Gazette]

Burst Pipe at Reagan National AirportTrader Joe’s in Clarendon certainly wasn’t the only business affected by a burst water pipe during Tuesday’s cold weather. Some pipes burst at Reagan National Airport yesterday afternoon and flooded the area near the baggage claim terminals for American Airlines and United Airlines. [DCist]

Tomb Sentinels Brave Freezing Temps — Most people did what they could to bundle up and stay indoors yesterday, but members of The Old Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery are getting attention for braving the bitter cold. The 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment posted a photo of one of the sentinels on its Facebook page and news organizations immediately spread the word. [WTOP, WUSA]

Flickr pool photo by @ddimick

New Board Chair Fisette Makes Economic Development 2014 Priority

by Ethan Rothstein | January 2, 2014 at 12:30 pm | 603 views | No Comments

Jay FisetteAs expected, the Arlington County Board officially selected Jay Fisette as chairman for 2014 yesterday during its annual New Year’s Day meeting, and Fisette announced his priorities as, in a word: “sustainability.”

Fisette, who will serve as chairman for the fourth time since being elected to the board in 1998, made economic development, school capacity, affordable housing and the environment his top priorities for the coming year. Fisette also reiterated, along with outgoing chairman Walter Tejada and newly-elected Vice Chair Mary Hynes, his support for the Columbia Park streetcar project.

“We in Arlington have always welcomed change, carefully managed with broad community involvement and thoughtful review,” Fisette said at the beginning of his remarks. “Sound planning and adaptability are two of our civic strengths.”

Fisette laid out a six-point plan for economic development, which he said “could grow into the traditional 10-point plan by the end of the year.” The six points of his plan are accelerating the technology startup economy, particularly along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor; strengthening business and regional partnerships; marketing Arlington nationally and internationally as a business-friendly location; updating the county’s Retail Action Plan; working to improve the county’s commissions (specifically the Planning Commission, which is viewed by developers as business un-friendly); and “be flexible where possible.”

Fisette said his plan for “aggressive business development” will include and effort “streamline processes and improve predictability” for businesses opening and operating in Arlington. He also announced a new $700,000 public-private partnership fund to help technology startups in the county. To illustrate Arlington’s flexibility, Fisette highlighted the planned redevelopments of Ballston Common Mall and the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City.

The office vacancy rate in Arlington stands at 20.3 percent, the highest it’s been in 20 years, according to the Washington Post. Fisette noted Arlington’s challenges in being competitive, particularly the BRAC closures in Crystal City. Arlington is also soon to lose other major employers, like the National Science Foundation. In addition to BRAC, Fisette blamed the vacancy rate on factors like increased competition from other localities, increased rates of teleworking and federal government caps on rent. But Fisette said he believes the county can adjust and continue to grow.

“We’ve shown resilience to a challenge that would have crippled many communities,” he said. “Arlington has amazing assets that will continue to be a fundamental part of our economic strengths. Our location is not going to change. National airport and the Pentagon are not going anywhere. And our transportation system, smart growth policies, great schools and creative class workforce will be protected and enhanced.”

The streetcar also featured prominently in Fisette’s speech, as the chairman attempted to debunk the theory that Bus Rapid Transit is a better solution and the funds for streetcar would be better spent elsewhere.

“The community planning process has been extensive and inclusive,” he said. “Such a thorough and broad-based decision-making process should not be easily disrespected or reversed.”

Fisette said the board “must do more” to meet the growing need for schools capacity, stressing Arlington Public Schools’ projection that an additional 4,000 students will enroll in the next five years and that the district needs an additional four-to-eight capital projects in the next 10 years.

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