Shuttleworth Drops Out of Congressional Race — Arlington resident Bruce Shuttleworth has dropped out of the still-crowded race for Congress. There are now 7 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Jim Moran. Of those, 6 are from Alexandria and only Del. Patrick Hope is from Arlington. [Blue Virginia]
Garvey Phones It In, Literally — Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, who was injured on Friday in a bicycle accident, voted and participated in Tuesday’s County Board meeting via phone. It’s the first time that has been done in Arlington — Virginia law only recently changed to allow board members to participate in meetings via phone in certain circumstances. [InsideNova]
Clarendon Church Turns 105 — The Church at Clarendon (1210 N. Highland Street) will celebrate its 105th anniversary on Sunday. The church will hold a special anniversary worship service at 11:00 a.m. Originally formed as Clarendon Baptist Church in 1909, the church has seen many changes in its 105 years. One recent change was the new sanctuary that was completed in 2012, as part of a controversial deal that added an 8-story affordable apartment complex above the church.
High Streetcar Ridership Projected — While critics bash the combined $585 million estimated cost of the Crystal City and Columbia Pike streetcar lines, streetcar proponents are calling attention to ridership projections. With 37,100 daily riders by 2035, the combined streetcar system is projected to serve more riders than MARC, VRE and the light rail systems in Baltimore, San Jose, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Houston, Seattle and Norfolk. [Greater Greater Washington]
Truck Day at the Library on Saturday – Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) is again inviting children “to get up-close and personal with a menagerie of trucks and buses” in the library parking lot. Truck Day will take place from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. on Saturday. There will also be transportation-related crafts inside the library auditorium. The library is warning nearby residents to expect to hear some noise from the trucks and the kids during the event. [Arlington Public Library]
(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) The combined cost of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems is now estimated at $585 million.
Presenting an overview of her proposed FY 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan to the Arlington County Board this afternoon, County Manager Barbara Donnellan and her staff said that the cost of the streetcar systems had risen $190 million from the 2013 CIP due to changes in the size of the streetcar vehicles, higher engineering and start-up costs, higher inflation and a larger project contingency.
The CIP projects that the Crystal City streetcar will begin operating in the spring of 2020 at a capital cost of $227 million. The Columbia Pike streetcar is projected to begin operating in the spring of 2021 at a capital cost of $358 million, $71 million of which would be pegged to the Fairfax County portion of the line.
“This is a large capital investment for Arlington, but we have not shied away from large capital investments ever,” Donnellan said. “These are generational projects. Every generation is asked to make decisions that will ultimately benefit generations that follow. Building high-capacity rail in South Arlington will be a transformational investment for our community.”
Nearly 75 percent of the financing for the Columbia Pike streetcar is projected to come from federal and state sources. Most of the funding for the Crystal City streetcar will come from dedicated county transportation funding or bonds, with a portion coming from the state but no funds coming from the federal government. The CIP does not anticipate issuing general obligation bonds for either streetcar system — without which the county would need state legislative approval in order to conduct a referendum on the streetcar systems.
The $585 million price tag is the latest projected cost increase for the controversial Columbia Pike project. Initially pegged as a $161 million project in 2007, that number jumped to around $250 million in 2011. Last spring, the Federal Transportation Administration rejected a county grant application for funding because it estimated the project’s cost between $255.9 million and $402.4 million. At the time, a contractor estimated said $310 million was “a most likely cost” for the streetcar.
Arlington County’s latest transit ridership projection suggests that ridership along the Columbia Pike and Pentagon City-Crystal City corridors will double, to nearly 60,000 daily transit trips, by 2035. Most of those trips will be on a streetcar, the county said. The Columbia Pike line alone is projected to increase real estate values by $3.2 to $4.4 billion and generate between $455 and $895 million in additional tax revenues for Arlington and Fairfax counties over a 30-year period.
The total CIP for the next 10 years calls for $2.7 billion in investment, more than half of which is dedicated to transportation projects, including the streetcar. Donnellan’s proposed CIP now will now be considered by the Board, which will conduct work sessions and hold a public hearing on June 10 before a planned adoption on July 19.
Morroy, O’Leary Join Call for Streetcar Referendum — The two elected officials directly responsible for managing the county’s money, Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy and Treasurer Frank O’Leary, have joined Del. Patrick Hope and County Board candidate Alan Howze in support of a referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar project. (Hope’s fellow congressional candidate, Mark Levine, has also called for a referendum.) “This issue has become too divisive to fester any longer,” Morroy said in a press release. [Blue Virginia]
‘Film Processing Kiosk’ to Be Removed from Zoning – In a sign of the times, “film processing kiosk” is being removed from Arlington County’s zoning classifications. The designation was determined to be “archaic,” a victim of the rapid rise of digital photography. [InsideNova]
Ball-Sellers House Tours — The Arlington Historical Society is giving tours of the historic Ball-Sellers house every Saturday through October. The log cabin was built in 1750 and is Arlington County’s oldest house. [Washington Post]
Murphy Named ‘Superintendent of the Year’ — Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy has been named Superintendent of the Year by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. The group lauded Murphy’s “efforts to address school-crowding issues, improve graduation rates and address disparity in student achievement.” [InsideNova]
Follow-up: RaceDots Now Shipping – It’s been a long five months for Jason Berry and his company, RaceDots, since the company was profiled in our “Startup Monday” feature in December. Berry has spent long hours since then arranging for his product’s manufacture and shipment from China to the U.S. As of this week, the RaceDots — strong magnets used to hold race bibs in place instead of safety pins — finally arrived in his Harrisonburg warehouse. “The story behind getting the product here was an absolute struggle but we overcame the hurdles and are officially in business selling product from stock,” Berry told ARLnow.com. Berry tells the story on the company’s blog. [RaceDots]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Sweet Leaf Cafe Coming to Ballston – Sweet Leaf Cafe will be opening a second Arlington location. In addition to the existing Courthouse location, the local salad and sandwich chain will be opening a new cafe at 650 N. Quincy Street in Ballston, on the ground floor of the Residence Inn hotel. [Washington Business Journal]
Businesses Optimistic About County Ombudsman – Local businesses and developers hope that the appointment of assistant county manager Shannon Flanagan-Watson as Arlington County’s “business ombudsman” is another sign that that the county is serious about cutting red tape and being friendlier to business interests. [InsideNoVa]
GGW Blasts Streetcar Referendum Idea – Greater Greater Washington writer Canaan Merchant says that the Columbia Pike streetcar referendum proposal floated last week by Congressional candidate Del. Patrick Hope and County Board candidate Alan Howze is “pointless and possibly destructive.” [Greater Greater Washington]
TSA Opens Pre-Check Office in DCA – The Transportation Security Administration has opened a Pre-Check enrollment center at Reagan National Airport. The Pre-Check program allows “known travelers” who sign up to go through expedited screening lines at the airport. [Washington Post]
County to Provide Super Stop Update – County officials this afternoon will be holding a media briefing to provide an update into the comprehensive review into the $1 million “Super Stop” bus stop. Construction of the other 23 planned Super Stops is on hold while the county reviews cost and functionality concerns associated with the first Super Stop.
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
(Updated at 10:20 a.m.) Del. Patrick Hope, Democratic candidate for Congress, and Alan Howze, Democratic nominee for Arlington County Board, joined forces yesterday to call for a voter referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar.
Hope and Howze are both streetcar supporters, but they said the controversial issue should be put to a referendum so that “we can put the streetcar debate to rest.”
Arlington County in the past has said that a referendum could not be legally held since it’s not planning on funding the streetcar via bonds. Hope and Howze, however, point out that an advisory or binding referendum could be held if approved by the Virginia General Assembly.
The candidates released the following statement on their referendum push yesterday afternoon.
Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47 and candidate for VA-08) and Alan Howze (Democratic Nominee for Arlington County Board) joined together to call for the Arlington Streetcar project to be put to a public referendum. Both Hope and Howze have been on the record supporting the streetcar- and continue to do so- but believe the citizens of Arlington need to have a referendum to make the final decision.
“This issue has clearly divided the Arlington community”, Patrick Hope said. “It’s time to move forward and have a public referendum to settle this issue. I represent parts of Columbia Pike in the General Assembly and I support major transportation investments in that corridor that will ease congestion and stimulate job creation and economic development. We need to move forward quickly with those improvements and I believe a referendum on the streetcar is the only way to settle this issue once and for all. The time has come for a full public debate on this issue and we need to respect whatever the public decides.”
“As we have done with Metro, Schools, the Water Pollution Control Plant, and other important community investments, we should give voters the final decision through a public referendum vote”, Alan Howze noted. “I continue to support the streetcar project because of the broad transportation, economic and environmental benefits it will provide for our community. I heard the concerns expressed by voters in the recent special election, and we can put the streetcar debate to rest and ensure public confidence by allowing a referendum vote.”
There are multiple options for the Arlington County Board to consider regarding a referendum and both Hope and Howze are open to whichever one the Board decides would be the best way for voters to weigh in on the streetcar. These include voting on the streetcar in the 2014 general election through the County’s transportation bond or an advisory referendum that may need General Assembly approval.
Democrat Mark Levine, who is also running to replace Rep. Jim Moran in Congress, said last week that he supports a voter referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar.
Howze’s opponent in the November Arlington County Board election, meanwhile, released a statement that lauded the referendum idea but took a shot at Howze’s streetcar support.
Independent County Board member John Vihstadt, whose election was considered by some to itself be a referendum on the streetcar, is pushing for the county to halt all spending on the streetcar. He says that any referendum on the issue should be clearly worded.
I am pleased to see that Alan Howze now agrees that Arlington taxpayers should have a voice regarding the County Board’s misguided proposal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to install streetcars in Arlington. I regret that Mr. Howze still believes that streetcars are a good investment for Arlington. Many people have already stated that my election on April 8 with 57 percent of the vote was referendum enough on the wisdom of Arlington streetcars. Yet, if a further specific streetcar voter referendum is to be truly meaningful and anything beyond a gimmick or a political tactic, it is imperative that the County Board direct the County Manager immediately to cease all County expenditures relating to streetcars, as I attempted to do at our April 16 County Board work session. Not a penny more of taxpayer dollars should be spent on promoting, planning for, or in any way implementing Arlington streetcars until such a referendum is held and Arlington voters have had their say once again.
Accordingly, I call on Delegate Hope and Candidate Howze, as well as my Board colleagues, to support my and colleague Libby Garvey’s efforts to ensure that (a) no funds shall be expended in the FY 2014 or FY 2015 operating budgets for the purpose of furthering a streetcar on Columbia Pike or anywhere else in Arlington, except to the extent that such expenditures are required to meet contractual or other legal obligations entered into by the County prior to the date of this motion; (b) no funds be included in the FY 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for similar purposes and that (c) any referendum question on streetcars to be included on the general election ballot in Arlington in 2014:
- be clearly worded to specify in detail the estimated total costs for all proposed Arlington streetcars,
- detail the proposed financing plan for all of them, and
- not combine streetcar financing with any other project so that it is clear to voters precisely on what subject they are voting.
County Board Chair Jay Fisette told the Washington Post that he wasn’t sure a streetcar referendum was such a good idea.
“I lived in California for a while when we had 100-plus referenda on the ballot,” Fisette told the paper. “I became very disillusioned about the use of selective referenda on public policy issues.”
Congressional Candidates Weigh in on Streetcar — Several Democratic candidates for Congress are weighing in with their thoughts on the Columbia Pike streetcar project. Among those weighing in, candidate Don Beyer supports the project while Bruce Shuttleworth supports it “with reservations” and Mark Levine supports a voter referendum on the issue. [Blue Virginia]
Pot Advocates Endorse Ebbin — NORML PAC, a political action committee that supports the legalization of marijuana, has endorsed Democratic state Sen. Adam Ebbin in the race for Congress. “NORML PAC believes strongly that Senator Ebbin has the tenacity, coalition building skills, and political acumen required to help end our country’s destructive war on marijuana consumers,” the group said in a statement. [NORML]
Juicy Couture Closing in Pentagon City — The Juicy Couture store in Pentagon City mall is reportedly closing by late June as part of a larger corporate consolidation. [Patch]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen
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.”
New Restaurants Coming to Rosslyn – At least three new restaurant concepts are reportedly coming to Rosslyn. The restaurants will be opening on the ground floor of the Sedona/Slate apartment building and office buildings at 1100 and 1501 Wilson Blvd, according to speakers at a Bisnow conference in Rosslyn yesterday morning. Little is known about the restaurants — so far, property owners aren’t naming names — but one rumor relayed to ARLnow.com is that one of the restaurants will feature a Top Chef contestant as its head chef. [Bisnow]
Vihstadt Swearing-In Set for Friday — The swearing-in of new Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Friday. The ceremony will be aired live on Arlington TV (Comcast 25 / Verizon 40). [Arlington County]
Other Localities Are Also Having Transit Debates — Arlington County isn’t the only community having a debate over a large transit project, like the planned Columbia Pike streetcar line. Streetcar critics are also active in Cincinnati, where a 3.6 mile, $133 million streetcar line is under construction. In Nashville, meanwhile, opposition to a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line has spilled over to the state Senate. [Greater Greater Washington]
Yorktown Boys Soccer Moves Up in Rankings — The boys soccer team at Yorktown High School is now ranked No. 6 in the region after opening the season with a 5-1 record. [Washington Post]
Rosslyn McDonald’s Demolition Scheduled — The demolition of the now-closed McDonald’s restaurant near the Rosslyn Metro station is scheduled to begin on Monday, April 21. Demolition work is expected to take 7-10 days. [Rosslyn BID]
Flickr pool photo by Nathan Jones
(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.”
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.”
Torrez Murder Trial Begins — The murder trial of Jorge Torrez, the ex-Marine accused of killing Navy petty officer Amanda Jean Snell on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, has gotten underway. Torrez is already serving multiple life sentences after being convicted in Arlington of rape and numerous other charges. [Washington Post]
Anti-Streetcar Group Blasts County Study — The group Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit has released a list of the “top 15 reasons” a county-funded study on the costs and benefits of a streetcar system is “another waste of taxpayers’ money.” AST says the study is biased and lacking in original research. [Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit]
Arlington Named One of the Worst Rental Investments — Those who invest in rental properties in Arlington only receive a 5 percent return on their investment, making it No. 11 on the list of worst markets for returns for landlords. That’s according to a list compiled by the firm RealtyTrac. [Washington Business Journal]
Authors to Speak at Central Library — Acclaimed authors Ann Beattie and Richard Ford will speak at Arlington Central Library this month as part of the annual Arlington Reads initiative. The Arlington Reads theme this year is “Dazed and Confused: Two Great Writers on Boomer Angst.” Beattie will speak at Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) on April 10 and Ford will speak on April 24. [Arlington County]
Civic Federation Calls for Tax Cut – The Arlington County Civic Federation voted yesterday to recommend a 3-cent or more cut in the county’s property tax rate. The rate currently stands at $1.006 per $100 in assessed value. One civic federation delegate said the group’s vote sends a message to county government: “Rein it in a little bit.” [InsideNoVa]
(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) An independent consultant hired by Arlington County has found that the planned Columbia Pike streetcar could generate between $2.2-3 billion more than an enhanced bus system for the corridor over the next 30 years.
The study, conducted by HR&A Advisors, estimates that the streetcar will generate between $3.2-4.4 billion of net impact to the area in the form of increased property values, density and retail opportunities, among other factors. In addition, the streetcar is estimated to bring in up to $620 million in additional local tax revenues between Arlington and Fairfax counties over 30 years, plus 4,600 more jobs within 10 years after construction is completed.
“[This study] is a great validation for what we’re about to do,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said at a press conference this afternoon announcing the results of the study.
The study, which was commissioned last year as an update to the streetcar’s projected return on investment, compared the streetcar to an enhanced bus system. HR&A President Eric Rothman said the study did not factor in bus rapid transit because a dedicated bus lane is “not feasible” for the Pike.
HR&A used four case studies for its projections for Columbia Pike, as well as interviews with Arlington developers and retailers — some of whom are already invested along the Pike — to formulate its predictions.
HR&A used the streetcar in Portland, Ore., and the Hudson Bergen lightrail system in northern New Jersey as case studies for the streetcar. The Boston-Washington Silver Line and the Max Bus in Kansas City, Mo., were used as case studies for enhanced bus service.
“Previous studies that have been done by and large found positive impacts across the board for streetcar implementation in the country the last 15 years,” Rothman said.
Kyle Vangel, who was the study’s project manager for HR&A, said the developers he interviewed the project looked more favorably at the Columbia Pike streetcar if it connected with the Crystal City streetcar line, which Transportation Director Dennis Leach said will have its environmental impact study completed this fall. He also said that, while the tracks and wires might not be aesthetically pleasing, rail engenders confidence in long-term investment.
“In many people’s perceptions,” Vangel said, “the streetcar has more of a feel of permanence than an enhanced bus.”
From one end of the corridor to the other, Vangel said the streetcar would only take one fewer minute than an enhanced bus system, but it would hold 61 more riders per trip, be a one-seat ride to Crystal City and would be under capacity by 2035, whereas enhanced bus would be over capacity in 30 years.
“Having previously spent many millions of taxpayer dollars on studies trying to justify the choice of the Columbia Pike streetcar”, said Peter Rousselot, ARLnow.com columnist and a leader for Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, in a press release, “there was no legitimate reason to spend more taxpayer money on another ‘study’ unless the consultant had been given the independence to reach the conclusion that the streetcar was the wrong transit choice on Columbia Pike.”
Rousselot’s main point of contention was over the contract HR&A signed with the county, which stipulated the county must approve the study at certain milestones before it could be presented. Rothman said those milestones were simply submitted to the county so the company could receive payment, not edited for review.
“The county provided no substantive input for the numbers in the report,” Rothman said.
Frequent County Board critic Jim Hurysz, attending the meeting for his blog, Arlington Yupette, railed against the consultants and county staff members giving the presentation, accusing them of cherry-picking examples of streetcars and buses to serve the county’s agenda. Hurysz fired off questions and opinions alongside reporters from ARLnow.com, the Washington Post and the Washington Business Journal, before being shouted down by a county communications staffer, as she was attempting to end the meeting on schedule.
Restaurateurs Eye Rosslyn — Rosslyn has been long neglected in the restaurant and bar department, primarily because it has been viewed as a place where only fast casual lunch places can be successful. That may be changing thanks to Heavy Seas Alehouse, which has been doing boffo beer and dinner business since it opened last month. [Washington City Paper]
Streetcar Battles Continue — Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey continued her one-woman campaign against the Columbia Pike streetcar from the County Board dais last week. Garvey used her time in the County Board meeting to do a slideshow of streetcar systems that have well-exceeded their budget or which have performed poorly in wintery weather. Meanwhile, the streetcar remains the central issue in April’s County Board special election. [InsideNoVa, Greater Greater Washington]
Tribute to Terry Holzheimer — Acting Director of Arlington Economic Development Cindy Richmond has penned a tribute to her former boss, Terry Holzheimer, who died of a sudden heart attack on March 1. [Arlington Economic Development]
Grand Opening for Arlington Mill Residences — A grand opening ceremony will be held tonight from 4:00-6:00 p.m. for the Arlington Mill Residences, at 901 S. Dinwiddie Street. The four story, 122-unit apartment complex, located next to the new Arlington Mill Community Center, is 100 percent committed affordable. There was a long waiting list for those hoping to live in one of the units.
Arlington Woman on Jeopardy Tonight – Arlington resident Nancy Akerman, who works as a science policy fellow, will compete on Jeopardy tonight. The game show airs at 7:30 p.m. on WJLA (ABC 7).
The following letter to the editor was submitted by former Arlington County Housing Director Ken Aughenbaugh.
I recently returned to private consulting after thirty years with Arlington County Government’s various housing programs. From 2003-2013, I served as Housing Division Chief/County Housing Director – charged with leading and managing housing policy, program and project initiatives under direction of the County Board and County Manager. I had previously served with District of Columbia non-profits, and as a training and course development consultant under contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). During my 35-year career in affordable housing, I have worked with dozens of jurisdictions across the US on housing-related initiatives, ranging from energy conservation to homelessness and transit-oriented development. It is from this perspective, I now feel compelled to share my views on Arlington’s planned streetcar lines and, especially, why it is of critical importance to preserving thousands of affordable homes along Columbia Pike.
Thirty years ago when I moved across the river from DC, Arlington was still a relatively sleepy, primarily residential “bedroom” community. The commercial base consisted of high-rise office buildings in Rosslyn and Crystal City. The retail zones in the Rosslyn-Ballston (RB) corridor were declining. Housing was relatively cheap, and owners were happy to work with the County to rehab and commit a unit at affordable rents for five years in exchange for a $5,000 matching grant. Owners could make a profit, the County was able to use only its federal Community Development Block Grant Funds – no local tax funds were needed.
As Metrorail took hold along with the County’s effort to revitalize the RB corridor, the goal of a 50/50 mix of commercial to residential tax revenue was achieved. This helped Arlington to achieve the lowest real estate tax rate in the region, and maintain its “triple-triple A” bond rating. The unintended consequence of this success, however, was – and is – the intense pressure on housing affordability. As the job base grew, and our great location lured more businesses and residents – real estate values and rents grew exponentially. Our County programs could no longer attract owners to partner on affordable housing. Owners could do better by charging market rents without government “strings.”
In 1988, the County Board adopted several game-changing initiatives, including bonus density if developers included affordable housing in residential “Site Plan” projects, and cash contributions from commercial projects. The County also created the Housing Fund Contingent, now known as the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) program using local tax revenue to assist non-profit and willing for-profit developers with low interest loans to help write-down the costs of affordable housing projects. To date, these efforts have created over 6,600 units of affordable housing or roughly 15% of the County’s total rental housing stock.
The following letter to the editor was submitted by David DeCamp.
Sometimes when you fly into National Airport you get a perfect view of the buildings that comprise the Rosslyn-Ballston (R-B) corridor.
The tallest buildings are clustered around the metro stations and then taper off to garden apartments, single family houses and lots of trees. This is my “visual” for a turn-around story of epic proportions, and a template for why I am sure the streetcar system will benefit all of Arlington.
In the face of economic decline and even a shrinking population in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, visionaries like Arlington County Manager Burt Johnson boldly campaigned and cajoled naysayers to get the Blue and Orange Lines routed through Arlington with nine or ten stops inside the County. Then enlightened urban planning processes, starting with a document known as “R-B ’72,” articulated the tapered bulls-eye build-out around the future metro stations. The Blue Line opened in 1977 followed by the Orange Line in 1979. Arlington started to grow again. Because the urban planning and the rail-transit investments were coordinated early on, Arlington got more economic return out of Metro than any other jurisdiction.
How much more?
Consider this. I was fortunate enough to be part of a development team that built a mixed-use project on most of a city block near the Clarendon Metro Station. When we bought the parcel in the early 2000’s, it looked like a typical part of today’s Columbia Pike (a two-acre parking lot surrounding an old grocery structure). The annual real estate taxes were $100,000. Now that the ten-story Station Square project is built and occupied, it produces over $1,500,000 in real estate taxes each year. That’s an astounding 1,500% increase. Arlington collects this payment year after year and the occupants use almost no county services.
Take this one example and multiply it by about 200 other buildings in the transit-oriented development corridors that pay us a handsome annual dividend on our investment in transit and that is “The Arlington Miracle.”
As a result, Arlington’s businesses and residents enjoy the lowest tax rate in Northern Virginia and arguably the highest quality of life. We have more office space than downtown Dallas or Atlanta. Forty-nine percent of all tax receipts in Arlington come from businesses. Our businesses pay enough taxes to cover Arlington’s entire annual transfer payment for our high-achieving public school system. Believe me, when it costs around $18,000 a year for each student in the public schools, and most single family home-owners in Arlington pay less than $8,000 in real estate taxes, we need to encourage a robust and growing business tax base in Arlington.
The streetcar routes planned for Columbia Pike and continuing through Crystal City are using the same tried-and-true combination of coordinated urban planning in conjunction with appropriately sized transit investments. The transit and the enhanced development are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other. Scores of new buildings, comprising millions of square feet, have been planned through extensive community processes and scaled to suit the aspirations of the neighboring stake-holders. Buses alone do not have the required characteristics or capacity to move the projected growth.
And note: while the density increase is significant, the planned buildings for the Pike are not even half as large as those found in Rosslyn or Ballston. However, harkening back to The Arlington Miracle, early indications show us that we can expect the streetcar corridors to induce new transit-oriented buildings that yield a 500% increase in real estate taxes on re-developed sites. The Arlington streetcars will pay us back with a handsome and increasing return on investment.
Quoting retired Virginia state Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, from her April 2013 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Metrorail turned Arlington around, streetcars will keep it moving forward.”
David DeCamp is a real estate developer and sales agent. He is the immediate past-Chair of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and serves on the board of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO). David is a 2004 graduate of Leadership Arlington. According to DeCamp, he owns interests in commercial property in North Arlington but has no financial interest in any real estate in South Arlington. His views are his own.
To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.
Vihstadt Says His Election Won’t Stop Streetcar — Even if Republican-endorsed independent Arlington County Board candidate John Vihstadt were to be elected, the Columbia Pike streetcar project would likely continue unabated. Currently, Libby Garvey is the lone anti-streetcar vote on the five-member board. With Vihstadt in, the number still favor the streetcar: 3-2. Still, Vihstadt suggested that increased community opposition could derail the project. [Sun Gazette]
Why There Are Tiffany Windows in County Buildings — In case you’ve ever noticed the Tiffany stained glass windows in the Arlington Arts Center, Westover Library and Fairlington Community Center and wondered how they got here, the answer is: somewhat by accident. The windows were salvaged from a mausoleum next to Arlington National Cemetery that was slated for demolition. It was during the salvage operation that workers noticed the very sought-after signature of Louis C. Tiffany on the windows. [Preservation Arlington]
Arlington National Cemetery Documentary — A public television documentary on Arlington National Cemetery will premiere tonight. The hour-long documentary is scheduled to air locally at 8:00 p.m. on WETA. [WETA]
Flickr pool photo by ksrjghkegkdhgkk