(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) The shockwaves around the re-election of John Vihstadt to the Arlington County Board last night continue to reverberate today, with many around Arlington wondering if the county is about to undergo a major policy shift.
“The streetcar is dead,” local political blogger and strategist Ben Tribbett told ARLnow.com last night at the Democrats’ election party in Crystal City. “The voters spoke so overwhelmingly tonight. There’s absolutely no way that [County Board members] Mary [Hynes] and Walter [Tejada] can win re-election if they’re running as pro-streetcar candidates next year. The voters have spoken on this now. It’s over.”
The growing chorus that the majority of the County Board — Chair Jay Fisette, as well as Hynes and Tejada — are out of touch with the voters was bolstered by Vihstadt’s margin of victory. The Republican-endorsed independent won 55.76 percent of the vote to Democrat Alan Howze’s 43.8 percent — less than his margin of victory in the April special election but still a big surprise to many who follow Arlington politics, who haven’t seen a non-Democrat win a County Board general election since 1983.
Howze won just 13 of Arlington’s 52 precincts. By comparison, Democrat Sen. Mark Warner won the majority of votes in every one of Arlington’s precincts, and took 70.59 percent of Arlington ballots.
It’s that result that led Arlington County Democratic Committee President Kip Malinosky to determine that Vihstadt’s victory was not from a lack of Democratic voter turnout, but rather the issues and candidates themselves.
“At this point, I’m not prepared to say what the message [voters sent] was, I’d like to look deep into it and hear a lot more,” he told ARLnow.com last night. “Arlington is a wonderful place to live, it’s well-governed, low crime, low unemployment rate. But people are obviously unsatisfied about something, so we’re going to have to do better.”
County Board member Libby Garvey, a Democrat, threw her support behind Vihstadt before the April special election to replace Chris Zimmerman, and was forced to resign from the ACDC executive committee for it. Last night, she experienced a mix of elation and relief at Vihstadt’s home in Tara-Leeway Heights, realizing her efforts had been validated by tens of thousands of Arlington voters.
“This is a mandate,” she said emphatically. “I think our colleagues on the Board have gotten out of touch with what people want, including Democrats. It’s just really a wonderful validation of what we’ve been saying and what we’ve been thinking. I think the people of Arlington are taking back control of their county and that’s a good thing.”
Tribbett agreed, taking it a step further. He said Howze shouldn’t take the blame for the loss; instead, it’s on the Board’s own lack of trust with voters and on the local Democratic leadership.
“It’s on the County Board 100 percent,” Tribbett said.
“This is the problem with Arlington Democrats. They spent the time after they lost the special election, and here’s the arrogant response: ‘When we get more voters, they’ll just take our sample ballot, and they won’t know the issues, so they’ll vote for our candidate,’” he continued. “Their plan is to hope that people aren’t informed? Well, this is one of the most educated electorates in the country, and they just told them basically to eff themselves with that kind of strategy, to rely on them being misinformed. Gimme a break. They ought to be embarrassed.”
While Tribbett believes the Columbia Pike streetcar to be a political impossibility at this point, groups that support it say the election shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on the streetcar.
“It would be reading too much into Arlington voters’ intentions to ascribe the election of John Vihstadt to a full term on the Arlington Board over Alan Howze primarily to the debate over the Columbia Pike streetcar,” said the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a press release this afternoon. “Streetcar opponents linked the price tag of the streetcar to general concerns over government spending and the state of the economy… [but] we are confident that the streetcar will continue to stand up to scrutiny and prove to be the best investment for the Columbia Pike Corridor.”
Tejada said he hopes the Board can “work together in a respectful manner” and “find as much common ground as possible.” He deflected questions about the future of the streetcar and concerns over his and Hynes’ ability to win re-election in 2015. Instead, Tejada championed the achievement of agreeing on the streetcar plan without sacrificing any affordable housing on Columbia Pike.
Tejada also obliquely referred to Garvey and Vihstadt’s rhetoric as “divisive,” saying many of the Board’s critics are “condensing” the issues into “sound bites.” He said he looked forward to “continue to inform details to the community, particularly factual information that it took quite a long time to get to.”
“I think this is a crossroads moment in time for Arlington,” Tejada said. “We need to decide whether we’re going to become a timid and stagnant community or are we going to continue to be bold and innovative and craft difficult strategic policies that will sustain us in the future in all parts of the county.”
Sen. Gillibrand Apologizes to Arlington — “Sorry, Arlington, didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) said via Twitter last night, following ARLnow.com’s scoop that she called the county a “soulless suburb” in her new book. County Board member Walter Tejada, meanwhile, couldn’t quite understand why Gillibrand didn’t like living here. “I’m not sure what she was referring to,” he told the Washington Post. “Maybe somebody got in front of her at the supermarket or something like that.” [Washington Post]
Back to U. Va. for Sullivan Campaign Manager – Washington-Lee High School alumnus Jarrod Nagurka is heading back to the University of Virginia, having spent the summer running the successful election campaign of Delegate-elect Rip Sullivan. Nagurka, 20, also served as political director for Del. Patrick Hope’s unsuccessful bid for Congress. “I learned and matured more during that experience than I ever would have in a semester at school,” he said of the campaign. [InsideNova]
Report: Arlington Man Gave Robbery Victim Cash Back — The victim of a robbery in eastern Pennsylvania says the alleged perp — a 38-year-old man from Arlington — gave him him $5 back before running off with his wallet. The robbery occurred outside of a Wawa store near Allentown. The suspect, Timothy Smith, seemed “almost… remorseful,” the victim said. [Lehigh Valley Live]
Flickr pool photo by erkiletian
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.”
Across the country, the boom in unaccompanied minors emigrating from Central America has caused federal authorities to devote more resources to border protection and enforce stricter deportation policies.
While one Arlington official is calling the growth in this population a “crisis,” most say we’re not there yet. Nonetheless, the county is monitoring the situation and making preparations before such immigrants start to have an impact.
Last week, the Sun Gazette reported that School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez and County Board member Walter Tejada met with representatives from the Guatemalan Consulate to discuss the trend of unaccompanied minor immigrants, and, after the meeting, Violand-Sanchez told the School Board it was a “crisis situation.”
Tejada told ARLnow.com this morning that, while he wouldn’t characterize Arlington’s current population of unaccompanied minors as a crisis, the county is taking steps to prepare in case the population grows substantially.
“We’re organizing right now and saying, ‘how do we deal with this, what issues are we confronting?’” Tejada said. “The most important question is the welfare of the kids. How do we protect the children from being taken advantage of and falling into the wrong world? It’s a very complicated situation.”
According to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos, there were only 10 students identified as “homeless/unaccompanied youth” in the last school year. There were also 83 students in APS’ “Accelerated Literacy Support” program as of June, for older students new to the country who need additional literary support. That number increased from 22 students in June 2012.
“Because we are currently on summer break, we may not know the full impact on APS of the immigration of youth from Central America until the end of August and/or later in the 2014-15 school year,” Erdos said in an email. “We know that we need to be prepared to address this, given the reports in the media, and the response from the President and the federal government. We are also watching the situation closely because we know this may have a major impact on our operating budget.”
Arlington’s Department of Human Services hasn’t seen an increase in unaccompanied minors, according to department spokesman Kurt Larrick. There are always a few who come to the county every year, Larrick said, and those “tend to be older, they tend to have had a rough life at home.”
“I don’t think we’re at a crisis now by any means,” Larrick said. “We’re a long way from the Central American border so I don’t think it’s as acute locally as in other parts of the country.”
Both Larrick and Erdos said Arlington is an appealing destination for many of these immigrants because of its reputation for being welcoming, which dates back to accepting Vietnamese refugees during and after the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
Tejada said it’s impossible to know if the immigrants will eventually come to Arlington in large numbers, but instead of “being reactionary” as the county has been in the past to similar issues, this time the county is being proactive. Tejada said the county plans to organize “mobile Consulates” from different countries with populations in Arlington, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, in August.
“We’re alerting our partners to stand by,” Tejada said. “There will be a call to action at some point, but we have to be careful not to put out a false call when there is no need.”
Morgan Fecto contributed to this report
Graffiti Closes Powhatan Skatepark — Powhatan Springs Skatepark is temporarily closed after “graffiti containing vulgar language” was found. The park will be temporarily closed until park staff can remove the graffiti. No word yet on a reopening date.
Tejada: Three Dems on County Board — At the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner over the weekend, Walter Tejada said pointedly that he is “one of three Democratic county board members,” presumably excluding Libby Garvey. Garvey was also not listed as an “Arlington Democratic Elected Official” in the program. [Blue Virginia]
Dominion Planning New Underground Power Line — Dominion Virginia Power is planning on building an underground power transmission line from Arlington to Alexandria. The $160 million project is intended to address “a local reliability load issue… that could potentially impact neighbors by 2018.” Alexandria officials are expressing objections to the project. [Washington Post]
AYDs Eye South Arlington — Arlington Young Democrats are trying to increase their outreach to women, minorities and to residents of south Arlington. The organization has appointed a new “outreach chair and communications director” who will be in charge of recruiting individuals in targeted groups and “mak[ing] them feel welcome.” [InsideNova]
Flickr pool by Brian Allen
(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) Nearly a hundred Arlington (Va.) taxi drivers crowded into the County Board offices Thursday afternoon, asking county policymakers to take action against UberX.
UberX, which launched in D.C. last summer, is a smartphone app that connects users with drivers who use their personal vehicles to give on-demand rides. It presents itself as a “better, faster, cheaper” alternative to taxis.
But in Arlington, taxi drivers and companies are becoming more vocal in their criticism of UberX. They say it’s unregulated, dangerous and illegal. That, and it’s hurting their bottom line.
Red Top Cab, the largest taxi company in Arlington, told ARLnow.com that the number of trips it dispatches is down 5-10 percent compared to 2012 — a drop that it attributes in part to UberX and similar services, like Lyft. Drivers told us there are other signs that UberX is siphoning off riders: full taxi stand lines and some drivers defecting to Uber.
“They’re trying to put people like us out of business,” said Charlie King, Vice President of Red Top, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. “We don’t have $300 million of Google’s money to play with, so it’s a bit difficult to compete. We do everything we can to keep rates for our drivers as low as we can given the cost structures dictated by regulatory requirements.”
(Uber has raised more than $300 million in venture capital, part of which came from Google Ventures.)
Drivers bear the brunt of the impact from increased competition. They pay Red Top and other cab companies a flat fee that covers the vehicle, maintenance, insurance and dispatch service — a fee that they say keeps rising. Meanwhile, with fewer riders to pick up, nearly every driver at the County Board office Thursday raised their hands to say that they’ve been working longer hours and making less money since the launch of UberX. Many said they work 7 days a week.
“UberX is a cancer,” said Daniel Berhane, an Alexandria cab driver who came to support Thursday’s protest, which was organized in part by the group Virginia New Majority. Berhane said he was working 10 hours a day before UberX. Now he’s working 12-14 hours a day and “even that’s not enough.”
“People are preferring UberX because the fare is lower,” said Syed Omar, an Arlington cab driver. “Passengers are telling us they’re taking it.”
“There’s less and less business,” said another driver, who complained about the loitering tickets drivers have been getting from police. “Taxi stands are full. We’re just driving around.”
Drivers and cab companies alike say UberX competes on an uneven playing field and should be subject to the same rules and regulations as the taxi industry. That would include requirements like obtaining taxi permits, taking police background checks, carrying commercial auto insurance, and charging flat, regulated fares. UberX, said Red Top’s King, is “unregulated and frankly an illegally operating entity… that’s doing its best to undercut the market.”
(Uber’s app can also be used to request pricier rides from “black car” livery service drivers, who are subject to more regulation than UberX drivers. Cab companies and drivers said they’re primarily concerned about the low-cost UberX and Lyft services.)
Safety Improvements Approved for Custis, W&OD Trails – The County Board on Saturday (December 14) approved funding for safety improvements for the Custis Trail and the W&OD Trail. The approval is the first step toward constructing federally-funded improvements for the Custis Trail along Lee Highway at N. Oak Street, N. Quinn Street and N. Scott Street. Improvements will also happen along the W&OD Trail at S. Four Mile Run Drive where it meets S. George Mason Drive, S. Oakland Street and at the entrance to the Barcroft Sport and Fitness Center. [Arlington County]
Tejada Pens Streetcar Opinion Piece — Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post over the weekend. Titled “A streetcar is the right choice for Arlington,” the piece explains why Tejada believes the streetcar is the best option for “transforming Columbia Pike from merely a thoroughfare into a livable ‘Main Street’ served by a variety of transit options.” [Washington Post]
Vornado’s “Dominant Position” in Arlington — Developer Vornado is seen as having a “dominant position” in Arlington’s economy, with $3.7 billion in total real estate holdings. Its presence is only expected to increase with its work on the county’s largest apartment building and the massive PenPlace office project. [Washington Business Journal]
Historical Society Hosts Ornament-Making Event — Arlington residents will get a chance to make their own Art Deco holiday ornament on Saturday (December 21). The Arlington Historical Society will host the event from 1:00-4:00 p.m. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by christaki
An interfaith community group says it has gathered more than 10,000 signatures for a petition that calls on Arlington County to help develop 1,000 to 1,500 new units of affordable housing over the next 3-5 years.
Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) collected the signatures and plans to present them to Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada next Thursday. VOICE says the affordable housing can be built by redeveloping government-owned sites, including the Lubber Run Community Center in Arlington Forest.
VOICE’s proposal identifies government-owned sites that could be redeveloped including Lubber Run Community Center. The group wants the units to be available only to families and individuals making less than $50,000 a year.
According to a press release, VOICE plans to bring more than 100 people — including clergy in religious attire — in front of the Arlington County government building (2100 Clarendon Blvd) Thursday, Dec. 12, at 5:45 p.m., in support of the plan.
The VOICE group is seeking immediate action from the County Board to start implementing some of its proposals at its Dec. 14 meeting.
Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada spoke out against the name of Washington’s professional football team name Monday while speaking at the Arlington Food Assistance Center‘s 25th anniversary celebration.
“It is time to change the name,” Tejada said. “Twenty-five years ago, when AFAC started, the Redskins won the Super Bowl. This can and, frankly, should be done. I strongly support that.”
Tejada expanded on his thoughts on the team’s controversial name when reached by ARLnow.com Tuesday. He said it was the first time he’s declared his position publicly, but wanted to stress that it was a personal opinion, not that of the County Board as a whole.
“I’ve been following the discussions reported in the papers and occasionally on television,” he said. “I have to say, that every time someone is defending the name, they don’t really do a good job. This is separate from the franchise itself. It’s a terrific organization, they have a professional team and everything related to it.”
Several major publications, including the Kansas City Star, Slate Magazine, Philadelphia Daily News and Washington City Paper, have recently decided to stop using the name “Redskins” in print, instead referring to the team simply as “Washington” or “the Washington football team.” Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has been adamant in his defense of the name, telling USA Today “We will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Tejada insisted that changing the name would not be as big of a deal as its defenders believed, citing the late-1990s change from the Washington Bullets to the Washington Wizards when D.C. was going through a particularly high period of gun violence. Then-Wizards owner Abe Pollin voluntarily changed the name.
“Life has gone on. There’s Wizards memorabilia all over the place,” Tejada said. “That would be the case too with a new name. To have a name that is insulting to Native Americans is shameful. What would happen if there was a team named the Whiteskins, the Blackskins or Brownskins? Why are we going there? It’s inappropriate. I’m a big football fan, but I just think that they don’t need this.
“Times have changed,” he continued. “It’s simply time for a fresh name and a fresh start. It’s simply a matter of getting contemporary. I think we could all come up with some names we would like.”
AFAC Executive Director Charles Meng announced at the ceremony that AFAC raised 106,000 pounds of food over the past month, exceeding its goal of 100,000. At the Fill the Bus event this past weekend, in which donors helped fill an ART bus full of food, AFAC received more than 4,700 pounds. Meng thanked his predecessors and the organization’s founders, but reminded the dozens in the audience what work he feels there still is to do.
“There are almost 31,000 individuals in Arlington County who do not have enough to eat on a regular basis,” Meng said. “We service only a small part of that.”
Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada, who volunteers at the center along with his wife, Robin, said AFAC is part of the “strong safety net” the less fortunate in Arlington need.
“AFAC has always been one of my favorite organizations,” Tejada said. “There are so many people here who really care.”
The event, at AFAC’s Shirlington-area distribution center, was scheduled to start at 3:00 p.m., but didn’t begin until 3:30 as AFAC representatives waited for the invited elected officials to show. Sheriff Beth Arthur and School Board Chair Abby Raphael arrived on time and Tejada walked in during Meng’s speech.
County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette, state Sens. Barbara Favola (D-31) and Adam Ebbin (D-30), and Del. Patrick Hope (D-47), all of whom we were billed as expected guests, were no-shows for the speeches. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) sent a staff member while he was on Capitol Hill negotiating on the eve of the government shutdown.
The $36 million Arlington Mill Community Center is only weeks away from opening.
County Board Chairman Walter Tejada and county staff members gave members of the media a preview tour Monday afternoon, showcasing the county’s newest community investment.
Arlington Mill’s construction “will definitely be under budget,” according to George May, Department of Environmental Services bureau chief for facilities design and construction, and the five-story, 67,000-square-foot building will start hosting programs Sept. 3, and hold a grand opening Sept. 21. The project’s expenditures are at about $35 million, May said.
Located at 909 S. Dinwiddie Street, the community center sits at a corner of Columbia Pike where there once stood a Safeway. Purchased by the county in 1996, the land remain unused for years while the economy crashed and the county had to reconfigure its plans for a community center in the area.
“It took a huge effort,” Tejada said. “When the economy tanked, it looked like it might not move forward and the community was very disappointed.”
Tejada had on a perpetual smile during the tour, seeing years of negotiations and false starts come to fruition. He was especially excited at the foosball table, which was covered by a piece of cardboard and he gleefully removed to spin the handles.
The facility will be free and open to the public from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Saturdays and 1:00 to 9:00 p.m. Sundays.
The only uses that will require fees are the fitness center and the parking garage after four hours. It was Tejada’s hope that the garage be completely free, but, in a controversial decision, he and county staff compromised on four hours of free parking, to prevent the garage from becoming a “haven for commuters,” according to the Sun Gazette.
The gymnasium has two full basketball courts and lines painted for volleyball and pickleball, which Facility Manager Rob Carter said was the most-requested activity in community meetings.
Arlington Mill also has a satellite office of the Arlington County Employment Center, classrooms, multipurpose rooms available to reserve, a room for the Project Family service and a rooftop garden. The center will have WiFi and, on the first floor, Pan American Bakery and Café. However, the bakery won’t be open for a few months after the center itself opens.
Next door, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is still in construction on its apartment building, on land leased from the county. The window to apply for the waiting list for the building opens today and closes Saturday, Aug. 31. The fourth floor of the center is currently unoccupied, and is part of 9,900 square feet of the facility that is designated for future use.
When asked what he would tell critics who say Arlington Mill has been a vanity project, Tejada responded, “I would invite them to come here and meet the diverse people who will use this center, and then we can chat them up.”
An ART bus will be more colorful for the next year, thanks to the winner of the ARTists for PAL Bus Design Contest.
County Board Chair Walter Tejada and County Manager Barbara Donnellan joined in a ceremony on Thursday for the unveiling of the winning bus wrap. They recognized Annemarie Dougherty, who will be an 8th grader at St. Agnes Catholic School in the fall, for her winning design.
Dougherty offered the following description of her design:
“My picture on the bus incorporates the ‘Be a PAL’ theme because the cars, bikes and people are sharing the space and are aware of the street signs. This shows that it is equally important for pedestrians, bikers and drivers to watch out for each other and their surroundings. In addition the street is green reminding people to walk or bike more.”
The contest asked middle and high school students to submit designs in line with the theme “Share Our Streets — Be a PAL.” The 26 entries were narrowed down to three finalists and Arlington residents were able to vote online for their favorite.
The newly wrapped bus will be on display at the Arlington County Fair this weekend. After that, it will take to the streets and will remain decorated for about one year.
All of the other contest entries are on display inside the bus.
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and County Board Chair Walter Tejada announced Wednesday that the state, county and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority are looking into leasing the air rights above I-66 near the East Falls Church and Rosslyn Metro stations in order to generate additional revenues for transportation improvements.
“By leasing airspace above certain transportation facilities owned by the Commonwealth, we can better utilize our existing infrastructure to generate additional revenues to fund future transportation improvements, while at the same time attracting new jobs and economic development,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Additionally, by co-locating these potential developments around existing Metro stations and other major transportation facilities, we can reduce congestion and create more livable communities.”
From the press release:
Air rights development projects have proven a successful revenue generator in other parts of the United States. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, for example, generated $40 million in FY 2011 through leases, with long-term lease income projected at $868 million. Further, earlier this year MassDOT awarded a contract for an additional air rights project through a 99-year lease that will generate $18.5 million (net present value) in rental payments.
“Virginia has long been a leader in partnering with the private sector to advance innovative solutions to our transportation infrastructure needs,” said Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton. “The potential development of these air rights presents a unique opportunity to attract additional private sector investment to the Commonwealth and better utilize our existing assets to fund future transportation projects.”
Arlington County is currently undertaking a review of the Rosslyn Sector Plan. As part of that process, development over I-66 in the northern and eastern edges of the Rosslyn Metro Station area can be evaluated. While there are no existing mixed-use development rights over the I-66 right-of-way at either Rosslyn or the East Falls Church Metro Station location, the East Falls Church Area Plan currently supports mixed use development on VDOT and WMATA’s property next to I-66.
Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada emphasized, “It is important to involve our residents, businesses and developers in this conversation about air rights. We will ensure that any potential transit-orientated development using these air rights in Arlington County is consistent with our community’s vision and is consistent with the County’s land use and transportation plans.”
The state has issued a Request for Information to gauge private sector interest and feasibility. Following the RFI, the county, various state agencies and WMATA will weigh in on assessing how the air rights would match up with the planned development for the communities. The state will then issue a Request for Proposals in the fall, according to the governor’s office.
The Rosslyn project has a suggested location adjacent to the Lynn Street overpass, but staff of the state Office of Public-Private Partnerships said it would consider other areas of I-66 in Rosslyn if those were deemed feasible.
At East Falls Church, the area of I-66 between Sycamore Street and Route 29, including the Metro parking lot to the north, is the targeted area.
An unsolicited proposal from a private entity has been submitted to the City of Alexandria to transform Hensley Park into a sports and entertainment facility. Although parts of the proposal appear strikingly similar to Arlington County’s plans for the Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, so far the County Board is not concerned.
The Alexandria City Council discussed the proposal it received from The St. James Group LLC during its meeting on Tuesday. The plan involves a long term lease of the 15 acre city owned property currently occupied by Hensley Park.
The Alexandria proposal includes amenities such as an Olympic sized pool and water play area, climbing wall and racquetball courts. Those features had already been included in Arlington’s long term plan for Long Bridge Park.
Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada said although there may be similarities, he doesn’t anticipate that a private facility in the southwest part of Alexandria would impact Arlington’s plans.
“I wouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions. I think our approach is much different,” he said. “We have a public facility we are creating, but this is private proposal. The context is so different.”
In fact, Tejada believes it could be considered a compliment that other jurisdictions may be interested in creating facilities similar to Arlington’s.
“The best flattery or compliment is duplication,” he said. “It’s flattering that someone would want to copy or do something we’re already doing.”
Tejada noted that because Arlington’s complex is publicly funded, residents from all walks of life will be welcome to use it. Because that may or may not be the case with the private proposal for Alexandria, Tejada said “we aren’t concerned” about the threat of competition.
“For our project we are looking to be inclusive, so people of all incomes and backgrounds will have access to our facilities,” said Tejada. “Whereas in a private facility it’s for profit and the purpose is whatever the personal group sets forth, so that’s a different matter.”
Kendrick Ashton, Jr., Co-founder and Managing Partner of The St. James Group, agreed that the intent was not to create competition between the two jurisdictions. He said Northern Virginia has a great need for sports facilities that isn’t being addressed.
“There’s certainly a tremendous need in this area for enhanced aquatics facilities,” said Ashton. “I think given the dearth of high quality aquatic facilities at this point, the region needs more of them. It’s not competitive at this point.”
The group looked for potential locations for the complex in Arlington, Fairfax and other localities, but no options appeared as feasible as the Henley Park land. Ashton reiterated that although the Alexandria complex would likely draw visitors from around Northern Virginia, it isn’t expected to create competition for Arlington’s $80 million Long Bridge Park facility.
The City of Alexandria’s website assures the public that it has not gone forward with any plans, it has simply heard the proposal from The St. James Group. The website reads: “All that has happened is that an outside party has made an unsolicited proposal to the City about a potential use of City-owned land. Neither City Council nor City staff have reached any conclusion about the merits of the proposal, nor have made any decisions other than the decision to evaluate it.”
The St. James Group will hold a public meeting to further explain the proposal on July 1, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn on Eisenhower Avenue. The City of Alexandria stresses that the meeting will not be led by or sponsored by the city, so residents should not consider it an official public hearing.
According to the timeline offered in the proposal, the hope is to have a recommendation from Alexandria by October regarding whether or not to move forward. If the City Council determines that a sports and entertainment complex is a feasible option, it will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to allow any interested party to make a bid. If the City Council decides such a facility is unnecessary, the process will end without any further action.
“We have to wait and see what becomes of it. They’re evaluating it, like anyone would,” Tejada said. “We’ll see what happens. For us, we’re focusing on our own project.”
Meanwhile, there has been no change announced to the schedule for the next phase of the Long Bridge Park project. In January, Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish told ARLnow.com that construction on the project is expected to begin this fall.
Despite some resident concerns over the cost of the facility, Tejada said the county will continue on with it and make all efforts to keep the project on budget.
“I think that we certainly will continue to practice our best fiscal management qualities that have earned us a AAA bond rating from all the bond rating agencies,” said Tejada. “It’s important to remember that we have a sound fiscal management record. I know sometimes that may get lost when one or two projects may be in the news.”
Firefly Festival on Sunday — All attention will be on the critters that light up the night at the 5th Annual Firefly Festival at Fort C.F. Smith Park (2411 24th Street N.) this Sunday, June 30. Activities include bug hunts, games, crafts, walks and talks about fireflies. There is a $7 charge per participant and children two and under are free. Attendees can bring a picnic to enjoy while waiting for the events at sundown. [Arlington County Dept. of Parks and Recreation]
Ducklings Rescued — Earlier this month, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington got some help from the Arlington County Fire Department with an animal rescue mission. Together they removed five ducklings that had become stuck in a storm drain. [Washington Post]
Tejada Re-elected to Position on National Association of Regional Councils — Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada has been re-elected as the Board of Directors Region III Director on the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC). NARC advocates for regional cooperation as a means of effectively addressing community planning opportunities and issues. It represents more than 230 regional councils and planning organizations across the country. Tejada has served in the position since 2011.