Snow began to fall as developers and Arlington officials broke ground this morning at the future site of the Hyatt Place hotel at 2401 Wilson Blvd.
The hotel was approved last spring and is expected to be finished by summer 2016, according to the Schupp Companies, which owns the site. What now sits at the corner of Wilson Blvd and N. Adams Street — where Wilson Tavern and Northern Virginia Mixed Martial Arts used to be — is a large, empty foundation with graffiti on the sides.
What will be built, starting on Wednesday, is an eight-story, 161-room hotel that will be the first LEED Gold-certified hotel in Arlington, and the first LEED Gold certified Hyatt Place in the country. Ray Schupp, the owner of the Schupp Companies, planned on building a hotel when he first bought the property in 2007.
“I told Ray, ‘that’s a great idea, the county’s going to love that,’” Schupp Development Manager Jim Villars said. “We got site plan approval in May. It’s been a long seven years.”
The plan for the development fluctuated from a hotel, to a planned apartment building, before its final status as a hotel with four single-family houses behind it, as a buffer to the adjacent community. As part of the site plan approval, the developers will donate $1.54 million for a Courthouse Metro elevator and will install a piece of public art at the corner of Wilson and Adams.
“This is a fabulous example of how we can do this moving forward,” Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said. “The community wanted a hotel here and county staff just needed to find a way to make this work.”
The hotel will be the first Hyatt Place in Arlington, but the brand’s portfolio is rapidly expanding. According to Hyatt Place’s vice president of real estate and development, Jim Tierney, a Hyatt Place is expected to open every other week in the U.S. by the end of the year.
Along with the hotel, the building will have space for a first-floor restaurant — potentially a reincarnation of Wilson Tavern — and two floors of underground parking.
The Arlington County Board has scrapped the affordable housing-oriented “Public Land for Public Good” initiative, voting unanimously last night to wait for the findings of its new Facilities Study Committee.
The county’s new, 24-member Facilities Study Committee will broadly look at all county- and school-owned land and evaluate what facilities are possible on different sites in the county.
The Arlington Planning Commission recommended the County Board set aside the initiative — which was intended to identify county-owned property that can be used for affordable housing or new schools — last month. County Manager Barbara Donnellan agreed with the commission yesterday in her recommendation to the Board.
The action was taken “because the planning commission urged us to do so and told us they thought a better approach to this was to do the study committee, which we have launched,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said at the meeting. “I think that makes sense.”
Along with scrapping the initiative, the County Board voted to move forward with studies for the renovation of the Lubber Run Community Center, renovation of Jennie Dean Park in Shirlington and the future of the Salt Dome facility and Fire Station 8.
“The Lubber Run Center needs to be redone,” Donnellan said. “The opportunity is to look at what we’re currently providing there and how it can be updated.”
While those studies continue, the Board unanimously decided that no standalone affordable housing may be built on current parkland or open space.
“As we launch into the facilities study committee, we do not have the luxury to rule anything out based on the buildout of our 26 square miles of space as far as our facilities are concerned,” Board member Walter Tejada said. “This is going to challenge everyone again and it’s going to make us uncomfortable in our seats at times. But the time has come.”
Donnellan’s response to the criticism the Public Land for Public Good initiative received from the public, the planning commission and the Long Range Planning Committee was to defer to the Facilities Study Committee and simply say “criteria for locating new uses on county lands will be reconsidered,” and public facilities policies will be “revisited and built upon.”
County to Hold Affordable Housing Forum — The Arlington County Human Rights Commission is holding a public forum on affordable housing on Thursday. The forum will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street). Between 2000 and 2013, the average rent in Arlington increased by 91 percent while the average home sale price rose 140 percent. [Arlington County]
Beware of Contract Vote Requirements — In the interest of government accountability, County Board member John Vihstadt has proposed requiring a Board vote on all county contracts over $1 million. Beware of such a requirement, says a letter to the editor writer. Reformers in the District want to take away the power to vote on large contracts from the D.C. Council, citing recent scandals and the potential for abuse. [Washington Post]
Hynes to Host Business Breakfasts — Hoping to give a boost to Arlington’s economic competitiveness, County Board Chair Mary Hynes is planning on holding quarterly breakfasts with local business leaders. The meetings come at a time when Arlington’s office vacancy rate is north of 20 percent and the Columbia Pike and Crystal City corridors are facing the loss of the planned streetcar project. [InsideNova]
Christmas Tree Recycling Begins Today — Christmas tree recycling begins today in Arlington County. Trees collected curbside and at the Arlington Solid Waste Bureau will be turned into mulch. [ARLnow]
Flickr pool photo by Lawrence Cheng Photography
The Arlington County Board’s chief priority for 2015 will be a new, broad plan to solve the county’s school capacity and land shortage problems.
New Board Chair Mary Hynes announced yesterday that the County Board and School Board are launching a joint study to assess Arlington’s facility needs and solutions.
The County Board’s annual New Year’s Day meeting has traditionally been used by the incoming County Board chair to announce the new year’s political agenda, and this year was no different. Hynes said “we must develop systemic strategies to meet our array of community facility needs rather than address any particular need or any particular site in isolation,” and introduced the county’s plan for the study.
In the coming year, Hynes said, each board will select members of Arlington’s residential and business community to be on the committee for the “Arlington Community Facilities Study — a Plan for the Future.” The committee will determine criteria and needs for facilities planning and to develop a framework for the county’s 2016 Capital Improvements Plan.
“I believe we are always better when we listen to each other, seek to understand the breadth of the challenges we are facing and work together to adjust our course,” Hynes said. “Our framework will acknowledge that, as our population grows, change is unavoidable; that challenges loom as we work to reinvigorate our economy; and that the reality of our physical space limits some possible solution sets.”
Hynes said the committee will address the following questions:
- For the foreseeable future, what are our facility needs for schools, fire stations, recreation, and transportation vehicle and other storage?
- How do we pay for these needs?
- What criteria should we use to help us decide where to locate them?
- In the context of changing demographics and economics, what opportunities and challenges are there in our aging affordable and workforce multi-family housing stock?
- What do changes in the Federal government presence and the residential and private commercial marketplace mean for County revenues?
Hynes and County Board member John Vihstadt — elected twice in 2014 while presenting himself as an alternative to longtime Board members Hynes, Jay Fisette and Walter Tejada — will serve as the Board’s liaisons to the study committee. The School Board will also have two liaisons to the committee.
“People talk about tension or discord on the Board, but I don’t look at it that way,” Vihstadt said in his year-opening remarks. “We have our disagreements, heated at times. We may have different perspectives, and it is right to air those perspectives … But I’d like to think that, as a collective body, we are working better together and being more productive than our federal and state counterparts across the river and down Interstate 95.”
The Board and School Board will appoint members of the committee later this month, according to a county press release. The committee will answer the above questions, Hynes said, with the understanding that “significant new funding is unlikely” and that “no new land is being created.”
Full details of the facilities study and plan will be made available shortly, Hynes said.
Affordable housing will again be a key priority for the County Board. Along with the facilities study, Hynes highlighted affordable housing and “business vibrancy” as her other two priorities, and new Vice Chair Walter Tejada said affordable housing will be his top priority once again.
“I will redouble my unwavering commitment to supporting affordable housing and maintaining Arlington’s diversity in these challenging times,” Tejada said. “This is a necessary effort to help secure our future as a successful community.”
Tejada, Libby Garvey, Vihstadt and Fisette all noted that securing a new transit plan for Columbia Pike and the Route 1 corridor in Crystal City is a must in the near future.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
The following is an excerpted version of a statement delivered at the Arlington County Board’s January 1 Organizational Meeting. The full text will be available on the County web site – countyboard.arlingtonva.us/county-board-members.
The past year was a time of change in our community. Today is a day for reflection and making resolutions. I resolve to build upon our community values and to listen carefully to Arlington’s many voices as we strive to make Arlington an even better place for us all.
A challenge we face in 2015 as a community is how we move beyond our recent discord on key issues and work together to ensure that our County has the resources to meet our residents‘ facilit yneeds while remaining the high-quality, caring community each of us has chosen to make our home?
We are always better when we listen to each other, seek to understand the breadth of the challenges we are facing, and work together to adjust our course.
So, in 2015, the County Board will work in partnership with our community to begin writing a new chapter in Arlington‘s story. Joined by our School Board colleagues, supported by our many advisory commissions, the Civic Federation, civic associations, and PTAs as well as members of the business community, we are launching today the Arlington Community Facilities Study – a Plan for the Future.
The Study Committee will be composed of Arlington residents and business leaders charged with developing a consensus framework to address our community‘s need for additional schools, fire stations, and vehicle and other storage facilities in the context of our long-term economic and demographic growth. This Study is intended to give both Boards information needed to make critical decisions leading to adoption of an updated Capital Improvement Plan in July 2016.
This process will allow the community to address several key questions head-on: What are our facility needs for schools, fire stations, recreation, and transportation vehicle and other storage and how do we pay for them? What criteria should we use to decide their location? What opportunities and challenges are there in our aging affordable and workforce multi-family housing stock? What do changes in the Federal government presence and the residential and private commercial marketplace mean for County revenues?
The consensus framework the Study Committee will create, working with the larger community, will answer these questions as informed by our realities:
- Arlington is small; no new land is being created.
- We must use what we already have thoughtfully and equitably to serve Arlingtonians throughout the County.
- Significant new funding is unlikely.
- We must examine facility needs strategically and maximize use of available revenue.
- We must have a sensible long-term financial plan for the County.
Our framework will acknowledge: change is unavoidable as our population grows; challenges loom as we reinvigorate our economy; and our available physical space limits some possible solutions.
Later this month at a joint public meeting with the School Board, the County Board will adopt the charge for this Study. The two Boards will stay involved. I am pleased to announce that John Vihstadt has agreed to join me as County Board liaison to the process.
Two especially important issues will intersect with the Study Committee’s work: housing affordability and business vibrancy.
Housing affordability – Some have wondered why housing affordability requires local government investment. Simply put, a variety of home choices offers more opportunity to stay in the community. Those who live and work in Arlington share in the value that their work helps to create — rooting them firmly in the community. Through their work, volunteerism and engagement, they strengthen and enrich our community’s civic life.
Business Vibrancy – Arlington is experiencing unprecedented vacancy rates in our commercial sector. To help address the challenges facing the business community we will have on board a new Economic Development Director and we will host a quarterly Chairman‘s Breakfast with Business Leaders, joined by our County Manager. Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce for its support of this activity.
Good ideas can come from anywhere.I am grateful for the time so many have taken to share their views with me. At the beginning of my year as Board Chair, now more than ever, I hope ideas will keep coming from all quarters of our community.
In a very real sense, government in Arlington is informed and driven by dialogue.
- Dialogue within our neighborhoods, among friends, at PTAs, civic associations and other community meetings.
- Dialogue among citizens involved in advising the County Board on the full range of issues.
- Dialogue between citizens, businesses, the County Board and the County Manager and her staff.
It is this on-going, informed dialogue that makes us a better community. Let‘s keep it going.
Mary Hynes will serve as 2015 Arlington County Board Chair. She was elected to the County Board in 2007. She previously served for 12 years on the Arlington School Board, including three times as Chair.
Current Board chair Jay Fisette announced the expected leadership succession at the Board’s afternoon meeting today (Wednesday). Hynes is currently vice chair of the County Board.
Walter Tejada, meanwhile, is to be next year’s County Board vice chairman. The changes will take effect with the Board’s Jan. 1 organizational meeting.
Hynes and Tejada are both up for reelection in 2015.
A majority of Arlington residents between the ages of 25 and 34 say they are likely to leave the county within five years because of the cost of housing, according to a county-sponsored survey.
According to the survey, which polled 1,744 Arlington residents, 60 percent of 25-34 year olds responded “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to the question: “In the next five years or so, how likely is it you will have to move out of Arlington because you would not have the kind of housing you want at the price you can afford?”
Thirty-four percent of respondents said it was “very likely” they would move away.
The survey is a component of the county’s ongoing affordable housing study, which launched in July 2012 and is being run by Arlington’s Affordable Housing Working Group. Michael Spotts, the vice chair of the working group, said the high cost of housing in Arlington is an impediment to those hoping to start families here.
“It was a little surprising to me,” Spotts, 30, said about the survey results, “but I think whether [current 25-34 year olds moving out of Arlington] will actually happen depends a lot on how consumer preferences change moving forward.
“I’m a millennial myself and my wife and I live in Arlington, and we bought a house in Arlington and are very happy here,” Spotts continued. “I think it was a little surprising, but given how expensive it is, especially as people get older and start a family, it’s not particularly surprising.”
According to the study, 39 percent of the 25-34 age range said they want to buy a home at some point in the future, and Arlington is out of their price range. The study also included the figures on which ARLnow.com reported earlier this week that suggested residents generally approve of the Arlington County Board’s affordable housing policies and priorities.
County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes is the Board’s liaison to the working group, and she presented the survey to the Board last week. While Hynes said everyone is aware of the housing struggle in Arlington, even she was surprised that so many younger residents were planning to leave.
“The numbers do jump out at you,” Hynes told ARLnow.com on the phone from Los Angeles yesterday. “It is one of the reasons we’re being so proactive around housing, because we know it’s a challenge for people. It’s not just a challenge for Arlington, it’s a challenge for the whole region.”
The same question about moving within five years, when asked to minority groups, received a lower but still high “likely” response.
Forty percent of Hispanic respondents and 50 percent of African Americans said they were somewhat or very likely to leave Arlington within five years due to housing costs. The lowest “likely” response came from current property owners, at 28 percent.
The region’s economic prosperity is generally viewed as the main factor that housing prices have escalated to the point where such a study is even worthwhile, but Spotts said Arlington may have inadvertently contributed to its own predicament.
“One of the things that a lot of people, generally speaking, would find surprising is that all of the things that go into the county that make it great are also things that can add cost to housing,” Spotts, who studies affordable housing policy as his career, said. “You want to protect your parkland and streams, and there’s a direct cost of those elements in terms of maintaining green space, but there’s also sort of an indirect cost. If you’re restricting some of the housing you can build because of other goals, then that drives up the cost of housing.”
According to a survey, cited during last week’s County Board meeting, 65 percent of 1,744 respondents believe it’s “very important” to help senior citizens age in place. Meanwhile, 60 percent believe affordable housing options for the county’s workforce are “very important,” and 58 percent believe it’s important for “moderate and low-income families with children in public schools” to have affordable housing options.
When “very important” answers were combined with “somewhat important,” those figures jump to 92 percent, 88 percent and 90 percent, respectively.
The survey, which was conducted in English and Spanish, is a component of the county’s ongoing affordable housing study, which was launched in July 2012. The study’s recent work includes a review of best practices, a preliminary report on housing needs and a “complete assessment of strategies/program approaches, with community review.”
County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes said the survey revealed “strong support for what [the County Board] has been doing.” She also said that the survey wasn’t an attempt to “duplicate census information,” but rather measure the priorities of the community.
“We were instead trying to find out what people thought about how housing is at the moment in Arlington,” she said. “As well as their attitudes about housing objectives and policies that this board has been pursuing… It’s good validation for us, and really helpful information for our group as they continue to work on refining what will become, we hope, a comprehensive plan.”
The study weighed residents’ opinions on the county’s affordable housing policies. Forty-six percent of respondents “strongly favor” Arlington’s affordable housing ordinance — which allows developers bonus density if they dedicate affordable housing units or donate to the county’s affordable housing fund — while 44 percent strongly favor the county’s affordable housing grant program. Twenty-four percent of survey takers either somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the affordable housing ordinance.
The County Board is expected reveal more survey results at its September meeting. Another phase of the affordable housing study is expected to conclude in June 2015.
Arlington County dedicates about 5 percent of its non-school budget to affordable housing investment.
Morgan Fecto contributed to this report
County 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.”
(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) Officials from Arlington County and Alexandria gathered near Potomac Yard this morning to break ground on the region’s first Bus Rapid Transit line.
The 4.5-mile Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, when it’s completed, will connect the Braddock Road Metro station in Alexandria to the Pentagon City Metro station with a dedicated bus lane. The bus route, which WMATA is calling Metroway, will open Aug. 24 and run from Braddock Road to the Crystal City Metro at first.
“Unless you invest in growth for the future, all you have is memories of the past,” Rep. Jim Moran said. “Many other communities across the country are not growing, yet Arlington and Alexandria are growing. The principal reason is they’re willing to invest in infrastructure for the future.”
The dedicated lanes, already under construction in Alexandria, were approved for a $10.2 million construction contract in February and are expected to be completed by 2015. The right-of-way in which the buses will operate is planned to eventually turn into the Crystal City streetcar system, which will connect to the controversial Columbia Pike streetcar. The streetcar’s two opponents on the Arlington County Board, Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt, attended the groundbreaking and Vihstadt passed out press releases elucidating his support for the transitway, but not the streetcar.
“Even the county’s own press release on the new Crystal City Transitway says it will ease congestion and support both redevelopment and high-density growth,” Garvey said in the release. “This is exactly what we have been saying BRT can do and this is why we don’t need an expensive streetcar. We appreciate the validation of BRT and look forward to watching how it performs.”
Alexandria has not yet committed to building a streetcar system to connect to the Crystal City project — something Arlington officials say the city is “open to” — but the transitway is seen as a piece to connect the two communities even further.
“I think it makes amenities on both sides of the [boundary] line available to people on both sides,” County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes said. “Our communities are good friends and our borders are kind of invisible. This just knits this place into a much more cohesive place over time.”
The construction is expected to take about 10 months. When completed, the bus will operate in dedicated lanes near Potomac Yard, with stops on Crystal Drive, S. Bell Street, Clark Street, 15th Street, 20th Street and 26th Street. During morning and evening rush hours, the buses will use a dedicated lane south on S. Bell and Clark Streets and north on Crystal Drive, replacing an existing traffic lane. The lane will be open to normal traffic during other times.
The groundbreaking ceremony was put on brief hold in the middle when one of the attendees suffered an apparent seizure. Arlington County medics responded and the individual was transported to a nearby hospital.
Crystal City Business Improvement District President/CEO Angela Fox said the transitway is key for Crystal City in that it’s simply another layer of accessibility for its residents and workers.
“I think one of the most amazing aspects of Crystal City, which we’ve built our marketing and integrity around, is how accessible Crystal City is,” Fox said. “The transitway is just one more step to ensure Crystal City is competitive as we reach the next step. We support any and all things that make transit easier for Crystal City.”
The following letter to the editor was submitted by Mary Hynes and Noah Simon. Mary is Vice Chair of the Arlington County Board and a former School Board member. Noah is an Arlington County School Board Member. This letter represents their individual views.
Arlington residents value education. We are, after all, a community where 70% of residents hold bachelor degrees and over 25% hold advanced degrees. We see the commitment to education daily – in engaged parents, committed teachers, active PTA’s, and strong business partnerships. That commitment has been demonstrated for more than three decades by voter support for upgraded and expanded schools.
Still, our community now faces school enrollment levels that we have not seen for nearly 50 years in Arlington. People want to live in Arlington because of our high quality schools and to entrust their children’s education to our dedicated school professionals.
We know that Arlington supports education because of the way our tax dollars are spent. As has been true for decades, both the County’s and the Arlington Public Schools’ FY15 budgets reflect Arlington’s sustained commitment to public education and academic excellence. And the School Board maintained the community’s vision of a high quality education for all students while aligning community priorities with fiscal prudence.
In terms of dollars invested in education, the APS budget totals $539.4 million, an increase of 3.1 percent. It includes a County transfer of $432.2 million as well as one time payments that provide an even higher percentage increase. The increases address the growing enrollment trend that shows no sign of slowing in the next several years.
This schools investment represents approximately 47% of Arlington County’s locally generated revenue. We spend more on schools than on any other community priority. We invest far more per pupil – approximately $19,200 — than other jurisdictions in our region, largely a product of low class size and high quality teachers. Considering that only 13 percent of Arlington households have school-age children, the community’s commitment to education is substantial.
What do Arlington students and residents get for this education investment? Successful students, great schools, expanded adult education opportunities, high graduation rates, strong higher education attainment rates, more efforts to eliminate achievement gaps, and a highly ranked education system that attracts quality businesses and employers.
Here are a few highlights from the budget:
- A reaffirmed countywide commitment to current low class sizes;
- Additional County transfer funding to address enrollment growth;
- Full funding for all available Pre-Kindergarten slots in recognition that early childhood education is critical to student success — Arlington remains the only Northern Virginia county that uses all available state funding for Pre-K;
- Funding to prepare students to meet the demands of a global marketplace by eliminating early-Wednesday release at three schools and enabling those schools to implement the Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) Program;
- A strong commitment to students with special needs;
- Numerous opportunities for Advanced Placement courses, athletic participation and arts education;
- A 2 percent salary increase and $500 one-time bonus payment for employees; and
- Opportunities for adult English language learners to earn their high school diploma and enhance their future career opportunities.
Our community knows that education is a key contributor to our economic growth and to the success of future generations. That is why Arlington is so committed to having excellent schools.
As the needs of the school system change over time, we remain committed to addressing those needs. Today, enrollment growth is one of the most pressing challenges we face. That is why the County Board and School Board are working together to come up with solutions and resources – including a look at how we can take a fresh look at how best to structure a revenue sharing agreement to manage taxpayer funds efficiently and plan effectively to keep our schools strong.
With the passage of the County and Schools budgets, attention now shifts to the Capital Improvement Planning (CIP) process. In the coming weeks, the Schools capital plan will request funding to meet enrollment needs. Getting more seats into the pipeline – at all levels – is a priority that both Boards are committed to meeting.
It will take all of us — parents, educators, civic associations, School Board and County Board colleagues – the entire community – to solve the challenge of school capacity in a timely and responsible manner. Arlington remains committed to providing the best in public schools – and we are committed to keeping it that way by growing our economy, investing for the future, and aligning community priorities with fiscal responsibility.
‘Team Kids’ Launches in Arlington — Arlington County is the first locale outside of California to participate in the Team Kids Challenge, which empowers elementary school-aged children to learn about community needs while working alongside police, firefighters, parent volunteers, and other mentors. [WJLA]
Hynes to NVTA Board — Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Mary Hynes will succeed retiring County Board member Chris Zimmerman on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority board. [Sun Gazette]
County Launches Transit Tech Initiative — Mobility Lab, the research and development arm of Arlington County’s transit agency, is launching the “Transit Tech Initiative.” The initiative aims to use technological tools “to look beyond traditional approaches to journey planning and travel visualization.” [Mobility Lab]
With 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.
“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.
Jay 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.”
Va. to Consider Tougher Texting Laws — In January, state lawmakers will consider bills that would stiffen the penalties for texting while driving in Virginia. Currently, texting while driving is a secondary offense — you can only be charged with it if pulled over for another violation — and the penalty is a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mt. Vernon) wants drivers to be charged with reckless driving if they get in an accident while texting. [Lynchburg News & Advance, Daily Press, WTOP]
Road Closures for ‘Jingle Bell Run’ — Parts of S. Joyce Street and Army Navy Drive in Pentagon City will be closed from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning for the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis. Race attendees are encouraged to take Metro. [Arlington County Police]
Hynes Lauds Animal Welfare Efforts — Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes has issued a proclamation praising the Animal Welfare League of Arlington and The Humane Society of the United States “for working together to improve the treatment of animals, including farm animals in the food industry.” [Humane Society]
PG Lawmaker Called ‘Too Arlington’ — Prince George’s County Council member Eric Olson, a progressive Democrat and noted environmentalist, recently lost his bid to become chairman of the Council. One lawyer who represents developers in Prince George’s County said of Olson: “Some people think he is too ‘Arlington.’” [Washington Post]
At the County Board’s New Years meeting in January, new Board Chairman Mary Hynes announced a new initiative called PLACE, which stands for Participation, Leadership and Civic Engagement.
The initiative has resulted in weekly “open door” meetings with County Board members, civic engagement training for county staff members, and the new PLACE Space “community networking” web site.
PLACE Space allows Arlington residents to engage in online conversations about community issues and to join “circles” for specific neighborhoods or interests. There’s a circle for cyclists, hikers, church-goers, and even for “fig aficionados.”
In the video above, the county’s television channel takes a look at progress on the PLACE initiative so far.