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Morning Poll: Public Benefit Requirements = Corruption?

by ARLnow.com March 29, 2012 at 9:52 am 2,828 145 Comments

Does asking developers to contribute to affordable housing funds or to pay for improvements to nearby roads constitute “official corruption?”

That’s what Arlington resident and conservative political activist Morton C. Blackwell suggested in a letter to the editor of the Washington Times last week.

Blackwell was writing about a study that found Virginia was “among the states most at risk for public corruption” — a study he argued was deeply flawed. At the end of the letter, however, he took a dig at Arlington and other local jurisdictions which often require “public benefits” as part of construction plans that require special approvals.

Especially in Northern Virginia, local governments systematically extort large payments and “concessions” for “public” purposes from land owners before issuing permits for commercial construction on private property. That’s official corruption.

In the past, during site plan amendment processes, Arlington has asked property owners to contribute to its affordable housing fund, to fund certain community amenities like parks and black box theaters, and to help pay for new sidewalks, traffic lights, or road improvements.

Certainly, such concessions are a bargaining chip that Arlington and other localities can and will play. But is it wrong to play it, as Blackwell suggests?


  • CrystalMikey

    Why not pay for the road/street improvements? Construction usually tears up the streets/sidewalks surrounding big projects.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      +10, CrystalMikey. Been on Wilson Blvd. west of Glebe Road recently? Some of us in my neighborhood call it the “corduroy corridor”.

      • CrystalMikey

        That and Pershing and 50 by Ft. Myer. Ugh.

    • Jason S.

      I think it’s reasonable to repair the damage you’ve done, leaving the surrounding roads in better shape.

      Everything beyond that is politicians spending private money for their own popularity boost.

      • Josh S

        Everything.

      • dave schutz

        Twenty plus years ago, I was a member of the Site Plan Review committee. We were the ones who ‘extorted’ the sweeteners from developers. At the time, our guidance from the then County Attorney was that the sweeteners (‘proffers’) had to be near the site, and related to it. The idea that one could take a donation for, for example, a County affordable housing fund was thought dangerous and likely illegal. Don’t know when and how that changed – it still seems reasonable to me that if you are going to go beyond a By Right project, you can meliorate the impacts, and what you do should be nearby and related to the project impacts.

        • Ballston Resident

          I agree with this. There should be clearer guidelines written into the zoning regulations that restrict the improvements to direct impact by the project. In general, I am hesitant about putting zoning up for sale, but at least restrict it to proven negative impacts of the project, like traffic studies and the like.

          • Luther

            One can argue that having a lower wage earner living in Arlington affordable housing is of benefit to an employer.

          • Ballston Resident

            That is not at all the point I am making. The extra contributions extracted from the developers should be to address negative impacts that their projects bring.

          • Sue

            + 1,0000.

            It is extortion. Pressure on these developments–you do this or else is f-d up. How do you think some of those massive McMansions exceeding building limitations got permits? Money in the pockets of the county.

            We need transparency.

        • Coda

          Even back in the days you were talking about I think it was considered OK as long as it was voluntary on the part of the developer. That changed even more some years ago when the County implemented a policy requiring the affordable housing contributions, a developer (Dittmar, I think) took the County to court and lost.

          • drax

            It IS voluntary on the part of the developer. No developer is being required to do anything. Developers may choose to give something in return for getting something.

          • Coda

            Sort of. It’s voluntary in terms of entering into the process of site plan in the first place – you can develop by-right, true. But the situation did change due to the County affordable housing ordinance. The affordable housing contribution did not used to be required as a condition of entering into a site plan process, now it is required. There are many options available to the developer under the ordinance as it can be a monetary-only contribution or it can be units on-site or off-site.

            It’s kind of like buying auto insurance. You don’t have to drive at all, but if you (voluntarily) do you are required to either pay for private insurance or pay an uninsured motorist fee

          • SouthPikeGuy

            I think the county can just arbitrarily designate certain areas as subject to special site plan review, which puts the developer over the barrel even if they stick to the “by right” limits of the parcel’s zoning.

          • drax

            Yeah, agreed, that’s not quite the same thing.

  • Ren

    It strikes me that road improvements (or the provision of enhanced public transportation like an extra 16Y bus when building on the Pike) are entirely defensible. I’m not sure about affordable housing. I think there are better ways from a policy perspective to pursue such objectives.

  • Greg

    As long as there is a nexus between the developers contribution and the public good of the immediate community, I don’t see a problem. If the County requires a developer in Ballston to fund a pet project on Columbia Pike, I think then you might start wondering if power isn’t being abused.

    • Luther

      Where does immediate end? One can argue that having a lower wage earner living in Arlington affordable housing is of benefit to an employer.

      • SouthPikeGuy

        To what employer? What if the employer that benefits is a competitor to the developer? There is so much that is wrong with arguing the economics of this if you look at it from the macro viewpoint.

  • KalashniKEV

    Of course it’s corruption- it’s a shakedown. “You wanna do biz, you gotta render unto Cesar… cough it up!”

    Freeway Ricky Ross called this “Big Homey Money.”

    Why is there even any debate over what this is? Can we not just admit that Government is corrupt?

    • drax

      All government is corrupt, all the time?

      • KalashniKEV

        It is very safe to say that most government is corrupt, most of the time.

        • Wilson-G.Mason

          Arlington is probably the least corrupt government in the U.S.

          • KalashniKEV

            The emperor truly has no clothes…

    • SoArl

      Seriously – I see this all the time with the federal agencies I deal with. It’s common.

      • Reductio ad Absurdum

        No, actually no government ever does anything that isn’t beneficial, legal and well-intentioned. Ever.

    • MC 703

      What about infrastructure improvements to be able to handle adding 4000 people to a block?

      • KalashniKEV

        Like a “Black Box Theater” and other personal whims and desires of the racketeers who hold power at the time?

        It’s just a shakedown. It is what it is. It’s not “shocking” or anything…

        • Josh S

          There is a difference between objecting to the specific requirements that may have been placed on a particular developer and objecting to the practice as a whole.

          • KalashniKEV

            Burger spells it out quite clearly in his post below- it’s a racket created to generate skim. Plain and simple.

        • drax

          No, Kev, he asked about “infrastructure improvements to be able to handle adding 4000 people to a block.” So answer the question, don’t change the subject.

          • KalashniKEV

            It’s the government’s job to ensure infrastructure is there to support development. If they spent their money Correctly they wouldn’t have to rely on shakedowns and extortion to fund necessary improvement- AND we would ALL pay less!

          • Patrick

            +100

          • Josh S

            This ain’t SimCity.

          • KalashniKEV

            Correct. It’s ScamCity.

            🙂

          • drax

            Kev just endorsed higher taxes and he didn’t even know it!

          • KalashniKEV

            The current tax burden should be about 1/3 what it currently is… across the board.

          • drax

            Sure, Kev.

  • Josh S

    That this kind of mush gets published is a sure sign of America’s decline. We have a tremendous amount of inertia that will keep things in our favor for awhile, but as far as the shining city on the hill that inspires people around the world to do better? Gone.

    Selfishness is not inspiring.

    • Zoning Victim

      Neither is corruption for the greater good.

      • Josh S

        You might try to find a different word, since “corruption for the greater good” is an oxymoron.

        • Zoning Victim

          You’re making my point for me.

          • SouthPikeGuy

            He thought you were being literal, when most people could tell you were being ironic.

  • Arlwhenver

    The problem with this “public benefit” nomenclature and structure is that the payments/contributions are not transparent and can be for almost anything. The Arlington process uses a structure that lends itself to settling scores, paying off political debts and directing largess to friends and supporters.

    This, oh it’s for roads claim is a red herring. Take the ridiculously underdesigned, underengineered intersection at Fairfax Drive and Glebe Rd. Not a penny of the hundred plus milions of dollars of public benefits resulting from billions of dollars of Fairfax Drive corridor development negotiated with the County, behind closed doors, has been devoted to improving capacity and traffic flow at that intersection.

    If there was a process set up where new development paid w percent for parks, x percent for roads, y percent for schools, z percent for sewage infrastructure and so on, and the funds were so allocated in budgets, that would be a clear and predictable structure benefiting all. The current, jargon-laden, moving target, byzantine, confusing structure is rife with opportunities for corruption and manipulation.

    • Josh S

      I think your solution would require state-level legislative action and it seems highly unlikely that such legislation could ever be passed.

      In the meantime, Arlington negotiates with each developer separately and gets what it can. I also think it would be nice if it was more structured, but that’s the nature of the beast. Absent some sort of formulaic approach, I think the next best thing would be an auditor or IG who could check on developer and County compliance with the terms of the agreements.

      Your comments about Fairfax and Glebe are puzzling. Underdesigned? What do you want, overpasses? Tunnels? Loop-de-doops? Flow there seems pretty good. I guess getting on westbound 66 in the morning can be a hassle. The left turn light from westbound Fairfax onto southbound Glebe is hopelessly short. And it boggles the mind that the timing of the lights doesn’t change, even in the middle of the night. But generally it seems to be doing a pretty good job. I think that traffic engineers rank intersection service based largely on whether or not everyone who wants to make a left turn can do so in one light sequence. Except for the turn onto 66 in the morning, which sequence fails on a regular basis?
      And what hundreds of millions of dollars and billions of dollars are you talking about? Over what time frame is all that?

      • Arlwhenver

        Actually need a pedestrian bridge or tunnel somewhere near that intersection. But don’t worry Josh. I’ll just continue to do what I’m currently doing, cutting through side streets to traverse up to the Fairfax/Glebe instersection. And watch dozens of people making U-turns, cutting through parking lots, curtting off other travelers, playing chicken with pedestrisns. No problem. Everthing is OK. This is Arlington after all.

        • Josh S

          Ah yes, blaming others for your actions. A tried a true tactic.

        • Harry

          A Pedestrian bridge? That sounds like Rosslyn in the 70s, and what a good idea those skywalks turned out to be. The Glebe/Fairfax Dr. intersection is fine, if anything I’d take out the slip lanes to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians crossing the street, but I’m sure that would be an unpopular move.

          • Ballston Resident

            I am surprised they are finishing up the new glass building at Glebe and Wilson and the slip lane is still there! Talk about using this type of money to address important issues, how could they let that project go forward and keep that slip lane? Or do the plans call for it to be removed later?

    • Luther

      Was this intersection designed, built and paid for by Arlington or Virginia’s VDOT. If VDOT neither you or Arlington has much of any say in the decision process.

  • South Awwwlington

    Yes, roads, sidewalks and transportation infrastructure.

    No, affordable housing. It’s nothing more than code for specialty development interest.

  • ArlingtonSouth

    I see no problem with requiring sidewalk improvements, road improvements, maybe even some landscaping.

    Affordable Housing or payments to fund affordable housing elsewhere is ridiculous.

    How many single family homes would be built in America if in a By Right scenario would get built if you had to add another $50,000 or more to your construction costs to fund a Habitat House. Affordable Housing is corruption.

    The other infrastructure charges – go right ahead. Affordable Housing is political pet project.

    Also – no more talk of affordable anything on Columbia Pike until someone builds the next affordable project in Clarendon, Ballston, Rosslyn, or Courthouse.

    • JamesE

      I agree but as for your last point they have built affordable housing in Ballston and Clarendon

      • South Awwwlington

        Yes, there are affordable projects county-wide.

        However, the highest concentration of units as a percentage of all housing is in Columbia Heights West — And we’re SICK OF IT.

        • Juan

          But that part of the Pike has always been on the lower income end of the spectrum around here. It is not the county’s responsibility to ship the low income people out to other parts of Arlington.

        • drax

          Who is we? The people who live in that new housing aren’t sick of it.

          • SoArl

            “We” meaning the people who actually own property (and pay taxes on that property) in the neighborhood. Look at the last board meeting where the neighborhood association and multiple condo associations in the neighborhood came out against building yet another affordable housing complex, which brings our total share of the affordable housing up to almost 30% for the whole county.

          • South Awwwlington

            It is time to mobilize on this.

          • Josh S

            What do we want?

            Poor people to go live somewhere else!

            When do we want it?

            Now!

            (I don’t think you’ll get much sympathy in the national press…..)

          • SoArl

            Do you want to come down here and take over my mortgage or something, Josh? It has nothing to do with “poor people” – it has to do with the county artificially keeping property values low by packing in nonprofit affordable housing instead of allowing for private redevelopment. Not everything is an emotional issue. I would like the area to recover from the housing downturn at some point. Columbia Heights West is the only neighborhood in Arlington that didn’t see a rise in property values last year. Its not a coincidence. Recent studies have shown that small affordable housing developments, as in under 50 units and dispersed throughout a city or area, don’t really impact real estate values. Larger ones, like they are building in the neighborhood, decrease surrounding property values. So, it’s not about “poor people” – its about protecting our investments.

    • ArlingtonNative

      +100
      Took the words right off my keyboard!

      • ArlingtonNative

        +100 >> to ArlingtonSouth

    • bob the builder

      Thing is these are not “By right” developments. They are usuall because the builder wants to exceed the “By right” zoning allowances (for height green space etc). County says – OK but you must do x,y and z for us then we will allow you to do this.

      • Suburban Not Urban

        +1

      • Burger

        Right. But why are the zoning laws so archaic. Wouldn’t it make sense to review them once in awhile to update the zoning requirements as the area changes. Somewhat akin to what MY talked about last week.

        No, it is easier to keep them the same and then extort said money from developers. I am not disagreeing with it but that’s how the game is played.

        • Suburban Not Urban

          Except that the zoning laws are intended as a kind of contract between those who buy property and the powers that be. Otherwise it becomes the tyranny of the majority as imposed by the will of the powers that be, where you could buy a top 1% property and tomorrow have someone drop a dump next to your home(Possibly to settle some old political score).

          • Burger

            Did I say anywhere about changing zoning. I merely said they should be reviewed to see if zones created 50 years ago still adequately describe the current environment.

            In other words, if Ballston was zoned low commercial but the CB approved every change to build up and the zone now has 60% of the buildings zoned for high commerical then it makes no sense to keep Ballston zoned for low commerical buildings and just change the zone to reflect the change in the neighborhood.

          • TCE

            Actually this is what the General Land Use Plan is for. It’s reviewed I believe every five years and shows the direction that zoning should be taking over time. So yes, the County does review zoning and it does change. But you don’t want a sudden overnight change so it’s done gradually over years.

      • T.G.E.0.A….

        Exactly. The CB is handling this correctly. The build wants an exemption, then they have to negotiate for that exemption,

        Unfortunately what the CB negotiates for is usually stuff like subsidized housing and artsy fartsy projects.

        • Zoning Victim

          Why is it okay for them to do that with businesses but not with residences? I don’t think people would be so gung-ho on this corrupt practice if the county board started making homeowners who want a special use permit pay them an undisclosed sum of money before they agree to give your addition the green light.

          Doing this is corrupt because the CB is allowing the rules to be broken only because they’re being bribed to allow an exception, and only the people with the money pay the bribe get to break the rules. In my opinion, that runs afoul of the right to due process.

          • Josh S

            Jeez you appear to have a very murky understanding of what you are talking about. Bribes go to a person. Despite the headline, the topic of this discussion is payments to the county government. There is a clear distinction.

          • T.G.E.0.A….

            And bribes are hidden transactions.

          • Zoning Victim

            I know exactly what I’m talking about. Obviously, I see very little difference between taking the money yourself and insisting it gets put toward one of your pet projects. Symantec arguments are pretty useless.

          • Josh S

            What about MacAfee arguments?

            Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    • Josh S

      I suppose if you wanted to, you could label just about anything a “political pet project.” But that’s all it is – a label.

      • Patrick

        Yea because Artisphere is not a political pet project.

        • Josh S

          Gosh — the funny thing is, I don’t see the word “Artisphere” anywhere in ArlingtonSouth’s post……

          • Plunkitt of Clarnedon Blvd

            Are you really this dense or are you just putting this on for rhetorical purposes ??

          • WestoverPam

            But it is a direct result of this “benefit” process. Or did you not know that?

          • Josh S

            But what has the Artisphere to do with what ArlingtonSouth was calling a “political pet project?”

          • QuangTri1967

            It is Jay’s pet project. You didn’t know that???

          • Josh S

            Will now bang my head against a wall……same effect.

  • SMR

    Um, you don’t have unlimited rights to construct whatever you want. Property rights are not absolute. If I want to construct a huge mural depecting offensive things, perhaps Jesus in feces form, does the local governing body not have the power to regulate that?

    If you don’t like it, remove the legislators or move to a different jurisdiction that let’s you do whatever the hell you want.

    • Josh S

      Of course, no such jurisdiction exists……

    • Zoning Victim

      That has absolutely nothing to do with the corruption associated with the government selling exemptions to the zoning ordinance.

      • drax

        Requiring something to be done in the public interest is not “selling” exemptions.

        The very act of having zoning laws is a restriction on property rights for the public interest. Giving out exceptions to them should involve commensurate give-backs to the public.

        • Clarendon

          It’s not even an *exemption* to the zoning ordinance, it’s a provision *of* the zoning ordinance (36.H) which describes a special exception use process subject to regulations that are enumerated (including provision of the community benefits and affordable housing etc).

          • drax

            Thank you. Even better.

          • Zoning Victim

            Codification of charging builders for special exemptions doesn’t make the practice non-corrupt. Either high density buildings in a particular location are good or bad for that location. That doesn’t change because the builder is willing to pay more money into affordable housing. In addition to which, you’re talking about one instance where Arlington County’s Zoning Ordinance is stipulating this one provision about affordable housing, the statement in the letter to the editor was this:

            “Especially in Northern Virginia, local governments systematically extort large payments and “concessions” for “public” purposes from land owners before issuing permits for commercial construction on private property. That’s official corruption.”

            The poll (in which the majority of people seem to agree with my point of view that this practice is corrupt) and my comments (unless pertaining to a particular scenario stated by someone else) are based on that statement. You guys seem to be hung up on exactly what is or is not happening in Arlington County as opposed to the statement that is the subject of this article and poll.

          • Josh S

            It is odd that we would have a conversation about the reality of a situation rather than what some crackpot wrote in a letter to the editor of the Washington Times.

            But seriously, the poll obviously stands on its own and is not dependent on said crackpot. And the results clearly show just the opposite of what you think they do.

            Have you gotten enough sleep recently?

          • Zoning Victim

            Actually, no; I obviously haven’t.

  • Stuart22207

    It is certainly a fuzzy area. The analogy is a kick-back or under the table payment by the developer to the zoning officials for looking the other way when the developer wants to exceed zoning requirements.

    In this case, the “payments” are out in the open, but the way they are administered and allocated are definitely never going to satisfy everyone. There is no way this type of practice could continue if the Democrats lost their homogeneity in the elected positions.

    • Josh S

      HUH?!?!!?

      Democrats??!?!

      Requiring developers to help pay for the costs their developments place on society is not limited to government institutions dominated by the Democratic party.

      • nom de guerre

        It is in Arlington County.

      • Stuart22207

        I doubt a board with a Republican majority would be spending the payments on affordable housing. Get a few arguments started about where the money goes based on ideology and I am sure the practice would begin to crumble, or at least be reduced to specific types of improvements that are much less political.

        Also, plenty of development in Arlington happens where the project does not “pay for the costs their developments place on society”. Only the ones that seek to exceed the zoning. So there is no paradigm where projects NEED to pay for some burden they supposedly bring to the neighborhood. It is simply a red herring used to defend the payments. Frankly, that is the role of the government to provide the infrastructure (using our tax dollars), and any new development will pay for itself in higher property and real estate tax revenue over time.

        The fact that it happens so frequently among a small number of development companies, who also ritually contribute to the election campaigns of the candidates approving their deals is right on the knife-edge of corruption.

        • Bemused bystander

          Um … except for Barbara Favola’s state senate campaign, can you name a current or recent Board member who took campaign contributions from developers? Maybe in Fairfax or Alexandria, and certainly in Loudoun, but the Arlington bunch tries hard to avoid that particular trap.

          • SomeGuy

            Please share what makes you write, “the Arlington bunch tries hard to avoid that particular trap.”

            I’m not baiting you here. I’m genuinely curious how you’ve seen or heard of them “trying hard.”

        • Josh S

          I’m wondering, is “red herring” the only logic error you remember from your Critical Thinking 101 class?

          There most certainly is a paradigm that calls for projects to pay for the infrastructure burdens they bring. It may not be widely adopted, but the paradigm exists. Yes, you are right that the standard method is to rely on property and other taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements. But I don’t think it is so absurd to imagine developments that will cause an immediate and significant burden to a community’s infrastructure. I think these circumstances are rare in a place as well-built up as Arlington. But I still think the possibilities exist. What if, for example, a developer comes forth to build on top of the EFC parking lot. As part of the deal, said developer is required to deposit a sum into a fund dedicated to building a new elementary school in Arlington. Would this be so absurd?

          And what could you possibly mean by “less political?” Everything is political. Perhaps you mean less objectionable? And that would, of course, beg the question of objectionable to whom? You?

          • Zoning Victim

            Absurd, no – corrupt, yes; obviously, that’s just an opinion, but I simply cannot see where selling exclusions to the zoning ordinance is not a corrupt practice.

            Contrast that to a system where experts get together and say “If you build this here it will create enough traffic that we’ll have to change the intersection and put in traffic lights and you’re paying for that,” which is perfectly fine (not to mention prudent).

          • Josh S

            How is the reality different than your second paragraph?

          • WillJohnston

            I would really like to see their expert’s analysis that shows that certain projects create a burden on affordable housing that needs to be offset by contributions of replacement affordable housing.

          • Josh S

            And please see Clarendon’s post above, where he points out that providing exemptions to the zoning process is BUILT IN to the zoning process. There is no way that your choice of language to describe the process actually fits the process.

          • Zoning Victim

            I’ve seen it, and (a) I don’t believe that codifying payments for exclusions makes the practice any less corrupt and (b) I’m mostly talking about the general practice of taking money to approve exclusions to the Zoning Ordinance, which is exactly what you’re suggesting (I say that because I don’t see that provision in the Zoning Ordinance, if it’s there somewhere, I retract this part of my argument).

            My second paragraph deals with real and direct damages as a result of building something, whether or not it’s by right. Yours deals with padding the educational coffers just to give an exception to the Zoning Ordinance, which is improper in my opinion.

          • Ballston Resident

            I am fascinated by your use of the phrase “part of the deal”. Why is there a “deal” at all. That is what this whole question revolves around.

          • Josh S

            Um, why? I guess if we were talking about by right development, there would be no deal. But we are not talking about that. We are talking about instances where the developer is requesting exemptions to the zoning regulations. Therefore, the need for a deal.

          • Ballston Resident

            I am sure when the glue factory gets built next to your house because they agreed to pay for some affordable housing in another part of the county you will be just fine with that.

          • drax

            Ballston Resident:

            You act like every deal offered has to be taken. This isn’t about whether there should be a glue factory in Ballston, it’s whether the county should be able to negotiate over a glue factory in Ballston if it chooses to.

          • Zoning Victim

            The glue factory statement cheapens what is actually a good argument on your part for why this practice is corrupt. The big problem here is special exception stipulations where money is given to the county for anything other than the damages and direct expenses that will result from the construction project (which should also have to be paid on by right builds) gives the county a perverse incentive to allow construction that it originally deemed as out of character for the location.

    • SMR

      That’s a terrible analogy. A kickback that goes to the public is not corruption. It’s not even close.

      • WillJohnston

        From the developer’s point of view, it is no different. Payment for exceeding the regulations. The debate then is about whether the community is getting an appropriate benefit.

        Look at the west end entrance to Ballston metro. The developer has been cashing in for years on the extra bonuses to the building size, and the community has received zip back in benefit.

        I am not calling it corruption, but the program has some glaring cases of poor return from the concessions to the developers.

  • Larry

    funny how Blackwell didn’t express this kind of outrage during the Iraq war… when the cost of ‘doing business’ ended up being ten times the cost of our stated objective. (I guess he was too busy handing out purple heart band aids mocking Kerry, something even Rove called inappropriate. )

    Meanwhile, anyone who lives on or near El Pike will affirm the enormous cost that the community has assumed while developers make millions off new construction. From potholes and traffic issues to significant noise and dirt from the construction sites, not to mention the added infrastructure requirements, there’s a significant cost to the existing community.

    Additionally, it’s entirely up to the developers where they want to build… No one is forcing their hand to build in Arlington but this county is an attractive place – high demand and high land values… and these fees and agreements are a small part of the reason the county remains that way.

    Personally I think we should add on an additional $5,000/unit of new construction for a school/transportation tax, even then it’s only a start to catching up with the investment made by current residents who have paid for the high quality schools and transportation infrastructure that makes the county so attractive to build/live in.

    • MC 703

      Spending hundreds and hundreds of billions on war and defense expenditure is OK. Spending it on healthcare (greater public benefit) is wrong.

      • Ayn Randy

        That’s Right!!

  • JohnB

    Bob the builder said it. Public benefits are only required when the property owner wants to exceed the by right zoning. For all the people complaining about how there is no transparent process, I have to disagree. From what I’ve seen the county extracts public benefits based on what has been decided by the neighborhood planning process. The black box theater is going in because the neighborhood said it wanted an arts venue during the planning process.

    • SouthPikeGuy

      The other angle on this argument has to do with the damn high rent. You can’t really expect the developers to eat that cost that they incur to grease the wheels with the county planners. They have to build their fancy units and charge top end rents to recoup those costs ASAP. It’s a fiduciary thing for them. You get paper-thin construction with some fancy finishes and appliances at top-dollar rents.

      • jan

        hogwash. There’s no relationship.

        • Burger

          Please tell me you are joking otherwise you failed economics.

    • Jason S.

      I live near the new theater and was never asked. So the “neighborhood” certainly didn’t ask for it. If you are in the arear at 0100 at night, the obvious thing in demand around here is more bars.

      • JohnB

        How long have you lived there? The plan was adopted in 2002. It may be time for an update, but this plan was done with input from the community.

        http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/CPHD/planning/data_maps/metro/virginia_sq/index.htm

      • drax

        Josh, that’s like saying you had no say in who is elected because you didn’t vote.

        There’s a neighborhood association and a process, even if you didn’t participate in it.

        • Josh S

          I actually have a brother named Jason, so I’m quite used to hearing one called by the others name……

          • drax

            Oops, sorry. Josh, Jason, John….confused me.

      • nom de guerre

        You must be new to Virginia. Virginia does not allow bars, they allow food establishments to sell alcoholic beverages under certain circumstances.

    • Patrick

      Many people believe that subsidized housing is a detriment not a benefit to the community.

      • Josh S

        I also find clean water to be not all that it’s cracked up to be….

        (I wonder if “Many people” are related to “Some people”?)

        • Patrick

          Are you attempting to compare clean water and subsidized housing as being related?

    • drax

      Yep. I will put up with more traffic, etc. due to a higher building, and I get my theatre in return. The developer doesn’t have to take the deal.

      I bet no developer opposes this. To them, it’s a way to get more. It’s just another business deal they make.

  • Stitch_Jones

    Why exactly are we singling out this piece of opinion?

    I smell a straw man argument/debate being set up…

    • Josh S

      Well, yes. By even having the conversation, we are part of the shift in norms. This guy is fringe and should be labelled such.

  • T.G.E.0.A….

    Good Lord. I actually voted Yes on this and cast my lot with the Politburo.

  • Plunkitt of Clarnedon Blvd

    This is a con game run by the county board.
    Think about it for a minute…who passes the regulations that they are easing for a price ??
    This really just amounts to a legal shake down.

    If they are going to be “easing the regulation” then what was the point of putting it in place to start with ??

    • Ballston Resident

      See: special zoning changes to extract cash from Walmart if they decide to build in Shirlington.

  • Jameson

    Get rid of the public benefit requirements, the companies just pass the costs on to others (tenants, homeowners, arlington county (indirectly)).

  • Hokie

    I was in Denver last year- and in their downtown core they required concessions as well. What I liked about their concessions though, was that new buildings (state/county/private) in the downtown core were required to take something like 1% or 1/2%, I forget which, of their construction costs and apply that to public art. Make the city a little more lively.

    • Patrick

      How do you think we got Artisphere?

  • drax

    After watching this debate and thinking about it, I think it’s fine.

    Developers can do some things by right. Why should we, the public, let them do more? We should have the power to demand that they do something for the public in return for them going beyond the usual burden on public resources that they impose by doing that.

    Otherwise, they should go do whatever they can do by right and not ask for exceptions to the rules.

  • WeiQiang

    If you consider the article a straw man to move the goal posts, the answer is obviously “no”. If you want to look at the spectrum of alternatives and decide each on its merits, then there’s likely a threshold for each alternative that could decide “yes” or “no”. When you hear the business community complain about the practices, you’ll see movement on the issue. There is no hue and cry from the business community.

    Having been a customer of Vornado and others in the Crys City/Pent City areas for a couple of decades, my opinion is that the developers and tenants pretty much get what they want from the County and these concessions are window dressing. For example, the new Boeing HQ in Crys City was required to pay $150K in infrastructure costs and install a BikeShare station. Meanwhile, the Long Bridge Drive (Old JD Hwy) rehabilition sheduled for (and paid for by public funds) Long Bridge Park was slow-rolled so that the impact of Boeing’s HQ was mostly absorbed by the rehabilitation of LB Drive. The County could have extracted concessions that legitimately reflected Boeing’s impact on the road and saved the LB Park funds.

    Trust me, everyone’s happy with the current arrangement. Next up: PenPlace. A developer’s wet dream and the County will negotiate in a dogwood tree or two.

  • Just me

    No, by all means let the developers off scott free for the impacts of their projects. They deserves to get rich and the taxpayers should gladly pay to mitigate the impacts to the community.

    • Zoning Victim

      Nobody has said that during this debate other than you. I don’t know of anyone who thinks it should be up to the county to pay for the damages or upgrades to public property that arise from a private developer’s project.

  • MC

    Sadly “conservatism” today means: 1) government is illegitimate and does not have a right to do anything; 2) business entities have no responsibilities; 3) business entities should be able to use public goods without having to pay for them. As dumb as the letter writer is, he’s completely in the mainstream of corptocracy conservatism today.

  • Luther

    Arlington has a Land Use Plan that the County follows closely. Arlington’s review of developer site plans is ultimately regulated by the State and the State legal system. Arlington receives “give backs” from developers, if the developer wishes to exceed the maximum height, lot coverage and/or density on a particular piece of land. The developer voluntarily offers compensation for the extra benefit the developer receives over and above the Land Use Plan. The developer would not offer a give back unless what the developer receives is of benefit to the developer. This Washington Times letter shows ignorance of the land use laws in Virginia.

  • nota gain

    Developers’ equipment normally damages roads to the point that they must be repaved, replaced or remacadamed. Oh well, let them pay for the privilege of increasing the housing.

  • John

    Asking developers to make improvments to the community in exchange for project approvals is a tried and true practice across the country. What boggles my mind is that instead of asking JBG to provide the County with additional AHIF funds (like the $5.9M they gave for their Peck development in Ballston), the County is actually SPENDING $35.5M to move out of JBG’s way so they can develop the block near the Courthouse Metro. Name one other example where the County pays for someone else’s development. Now that smells of corruption.

    • JohnE

      Which is why we should be able to vote in November to restrict that type of eminent domain acquisition.

  • Frank Smith

    Why would this be news or a controversy? This is done in every juristiction in the metro area. Anyone that is involved in this business understands this and accounts for it in their proforma. This is not news…it is simply a tax that developers anticipate and factor into the project cost. It is also good for Arlington. Get back to work.

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