Morning Poll: Public Benefit Requirements = Corruption?

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?