(Updated at 2:35 p.m. on 12/7/12) County Board Member Libby Garvey was recently reelected, having run on a platform of being an independent voice on the Board. True to that promise, today Garvey raised questions about the propriety of another Board member’s business dealings, given a matter currently before the Board.
Garvey is calling for the Board to delay its scheduled vote on adoption of Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA). The vote is currently scheduled for Monday, after being deferred at the Nov. 27 Board meeting.
The County Board is considering using a private-public partnership for the design, construction and operation of the planned Crystal City streetcar. The Board would need to adopt the state PPTA in order to enter such a partnership.
Garvey, however, has expressed concerns about the PPTA, maintaining that additional public interest safeguards are needed. She cited “problems with the PPTA procurement for the [Metro] Silver Line,” and a recent report by the Southern Environmental Law Center that found “flaws” in the Virginia PPTA, as reasons why the Board needs “more time to study the implications of adopting the PPTA guidelines and to consider safeguards that will ensure full and open competition and true risk-sharing by the private sector.”
In an email sent to the rest of the Board this morning, Garvey took her concerns a step further, raising questions about whether Board member Chris Zimmerman should be voting on the PPTA, given that he recently disclosed that he’s working as a consultant for AECOM, a large construction, design and transportation conglomerate. AECOM has worked on streetcar and light rail projects in a number of U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, Minneapolis and Grand Rapids.
(A representative from the Minneapolis project spoke at a County Board work session last month about the city’s experience with its public-private partnership.)
In the email, Garvey asked Zimmerman to consider recusing himself from the PPTA vote given the appearance of a conflict of interest.
I spoke with Chris briefly yesterday afternoon about our possible vote on Monday concerning the PPTA and asked if he would consider delaying and then if he would recuse himself from the vote. At the moment, Chris sees no reason to delay or recuse himself.
So I am writing to all of you because I am very concerned about how this could look to our public and this concerns us all. Chris sent us a letter on October 25, 2012, notifying the Board of his consultant contract with AECOM Canada East. In that letter, Chris stated that “there is the possibility that at a future point it may be necessary for me to disclose my affiliation with the company in matters coming before the Board . . . and to even disqualify myself from participation in those matters.” In the letter, Chris also states that he wants “to be certain to anticipate any potential conflict of interest (or appearance of conflict) that could arise.” I think with the PPTA issue we are at that point and hope Chris will reconsider, and that we all can take a step back here.
Since I am new to the Board, I have only recently become aware of the extensive contractual relationships that have existed between AECOM and Arlington County Government for at least the last few years. With respect to Columbia Pike, AECOM has participated in the Transit Initiative Traffic Report, the peer review of capital cost estimates for the streetcar, the Columbia Pike Land Use and Housing Study and the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan. AECOM also has worked on the Crystal City Multimodal Transportation Study, the Four Mile Run Demonstration Project, and the Crystal City Second Entrance and Access Study. AECOM has several offices in Arlington, briefed us tonight on streetcar vehicles, and was one of the companies to brief us about public private partnerships — the exact issue we will be voting on. I think anyone would assume that it is quite likely they will be doing additional work for the County and, should we adopt the PPTA, they will be submitting an unsolicited bid.
AECOM has been and continues to work on streetcar projects and other transportation projects in the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Its website includes a section on public private partnerships (P3) and states: “AECOM has been involved in at least 90 percent of the Unites States P3 transportation projects.” The company states that P3 projects work well when, among other factors, there is “political support from the top.”
As you well know, the Board had on its November 27th agenda adoption of guidelines for public-private partnerships, pursuant to Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA). This Act, and our proposed guidelines, would allow a company to present an unsolicited bid to construct and manage major transportation projects, including the streetcar. Given the current economy and limits of federal and state funding, the Board has been receiving information about the possibility of a public-private partnership to fund the streetcar. Last week, I asked that we not act on the proposed guidelines because the PPTA has been flagged as having flaws that (contrary to what we have been told to expect) can allow, and have allowed, the shift of risk from the private to the public sector. These are serious concerns affecting not only our streetcar decision, but also decisions on large projects in the future. We did not have sufficient information to make such a significant decision then. We still do not have sufficient information to act on this, either about necessary safeguards we should implement, nor about Chris’ relationship with AECOM should he continue to decide he need not recuse himself.
A thorough understanding about necessary safeguards aside, in light of Chris’s letter regarding his consultant relationship with AECOM Canada East, I believe that the Board should not act at this time on guidelines that address the selection of contractors on transportation projects and the risks to be borne by the contractor and taxpayers. Chris notes in his letter his desire to anticipate any future conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest. I believe we all want that. I also believe there clearly could be an appearance of a conflict with the vote on the PPTA guidelines. I believe we all need to know the facts regarding the County’s contractual and other business relationships with AECOM and all the pertinent details regarding Chris’s consulting relationship with AECOM Canada East. Without these kinds of disclosures, it is not possible to determine the degree to which a conflict of interest, or the appearance of conflict of interest, may exist. As we all know, in the public realm, the appearance of a conflict is as important as the facts. Perceptions are everything.
Finally, I know that we all value the excellent reputation that Arlington has earned for good government and understand that even an appearance of impropriety can tarnish that reputation. That result can easily be avoided in this situation either by waiting to vote on the guidelines until all the facts are disclosed or by Chris deciding not to vote on the PPTA guidelines. Finally, since there are reasons other than those relating to an actual or potential conflict of interest to defer voting on the guidelines, that necessary delay would also allow us the time to obtain and review the facts relating to the conflict issues.
As always, I am happy to discuss this. Libby
Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac tells ARLnow.com he doesn’t see any reason Zimmerman would need to recuse himself. He pointed out that the vote pertains to adopting guidelines, not awarding a contract. Because no contract is being awarded and there’s no financial benefit to Zimmerman, he says there’s no conflict of interest.
“My advice to Zimmerman is he doesn’t have a conflict and he doesn’t need to recuse himself. I think all five Board members are eligible to vote on this,” said MacIsaac. “There’s certainly no reason for Zimmerman to recuse himself.”
MacIsaac adds that Zimmerman didn’t immediately have to inform his fellow Board members of his work as an AECOM consultant, but he appears to have done so to allow for transparency.
“He could have just kept it to himself and not said a word and worked out the conflicts when and if one arises,” said MacIsaac.
MacIsaac noted that there may be conflicts related to Zimmerman’s consulting in the future, but they will be dealt with should they arise. He stresses that currently no issue has been found.
“I think it’s unfortunate the Conflicts Act would be raised under these circumstances,” MacIsaac said. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”
MacIsaac sent a memo to the Board yesterday (Thursday) explaining his view. An excerpt from the memo reads:
“The claim of impropriety appears to be based on a projection into the future about what an entity related to the AE Com subsidiary with which Mr. Zimmerman has an employment relationship might do in the future. Such speculative forecasting about potential conflicts in the future creates a standard few elective officials can meet, because it is not grounded in actual facts. It suggests a rule that would prohibit Board members from participating in transactions coming before the Board because their personal interests or those of their family members might one day in the future intersect with County business.”
Arlington County staff are recommending that the County Board approve a proposed mixed-use development for the Bergmann’s Dry Cleaning site on Lee Highway.
Last month, the county’s Planning Commission voted against the project, which includes a 10-story apartment tower. The commission said Arlington should have a development plan in place for Lee Highway before any big, potentially precedent-setting developments are approved.
The Planning Commission’s vote was cheered by some residents, who think the 10-story building is too tall, and jeered by other residents, who like the grocery store component of the development plan (MOM’s Organic Market has signed on to the project) and who think the 1950s era Bergmann’s plant is an “eye sore.”
The development proposes a total of 202 residences, including apartments and row houses, and 13,257 square feet of retail space. In addition to the height of the building, some residents also worried about increased traffic.
While expressing some reservations about building height, county staff said the development is appropriate for the area — located at the corner of Lee Highway and N. Veitch Street, near I-66, 0.4 miles from the Courthouse Metro station — and will benefit the community thanks to its “placemaking” retail and affordable housing components.
“Placemaking involves providing a vibrant space that meets the needs and desires of a community,” said the staff report. “In this instance, the proposed project will provide for a broader mix of uses on a site occupied by a former dry cleaning plant and [vacant] single-family houses. The proposed grocery store and potential ancillary retail space would provide a retail component lacking in this area that residents in the surrounding neighborhoods could easily access on foot or by bicycle.”
While staff said that an 8-story building might be more appropriate for the area in the general, they said 10-stories is appropriate for this specific development.
Staff believes that the proposed height of the East block is appropriate for the site for the following reasons:
- The general area of the proposed site plan, Lee Highway west of Rosslyn and east of Cherrydale, consists largely of medium density apartment and townhouse residential development, with a few pre-World War II frame single family houses dispersed throughout. The general area had been almost entirely rezoned for apartments between the 1940s and 1960s. The tallest apartment building in the vicinity, Potomac Towers (located at 2001 N. Adams Street), was constructed by-right in 1961, and is approximately 90 feet in height and has 10 stories.
- Similarly, the Circle Condominiums constructed in 1964 at 2030 N. Adams St., varies in height from eight (8) stories and 12 stories (due to the sloping grade). Most of the development surrounding the Bergmann’s site is of older garden apartments of generally no more than eight (8) stories, and townhouses of more recent construction (1980s- present) of no more than four stories or 40 feet.
Therefore, for the above reasons staff believes that, in general, the appropriate maximum height in the neighborhood would be no more than eight (8) stories. However, staff can support a building of 10 stories on this particular site, because it is unique within the area for the following reasons:
- The site for the proposed East building is the only location on Lee Highway within a half-mile radius from a Metro Station, outside of East Falls Church and Rosslyn, that is bordered on two sides by a major highway and a major arterial: I-66 and Lee Highway. The site for the proposed 10-story building is located on a full block, separated from other uses by the Interstate 66 right-of-way on the east and north (approximately 230 feet), the Lee Highway right-of-way to the South (150 feet in width including a 45-foot landscaped buffer area acquired as Lee Highway right-of-way but not used), and will be buffered on the west by the retail/mixed use block, transitioning down to the townhouses on the west. Furthermore, the grade at this site is lower than in the immediate vicinity.
- Most of the Lee Highway corridor is more than one-half-mile from the nearest Metro station.
- The applicant is proposing bonus dwelling units for the provision of on-site affordable housing, under the provisions of Section 36.H.7 of the Zoning Ordinance, where the applicant is permitted additional density of up to 25% of the base number of dwelling units, and up to six (6) stories of additional height. The applicant is requesting 33 bonus dwelling units, eight (8) of which will be on-site committed affordable dwelling units, 24% of the total number of bonus units, which is similar to recent site plans, and exceeds the County’s adopted target of 20% of the bonus. Each floor of the 10-story East building has 16 dwelling units. Staff believes the proposed East Building as an eight (8) story building with two (2) stories of bonus height, accommodating the 33 bonus units. Again, it is important to note that 10 stories is the maximum height for apartment buildings, exclusive of possible bonus height, in the “C-O-1.5” Zoning district.
Caffe Aficionado is hoping to open at 1919 N. Lynn Street, near the main entrance of the Corporate Executive Board building, at some point in April or May 2013. Owner Adiam Berhane, who spent part of her childhood in Italy, says she’s going for an Italian vibe, eschewing the laid back “Northwestern” vibe of Starbucks and other coffee chains, while serving American coffee.
“America beats Italy in coffee,” Berhane said. “I probably won’t be allowed back in the country after saying that.”
Caffe Aficionado will serve Handsome Coffee, which is roasted in downtown Los Angeles, and Steven Smith Tea, a high-end artisanal tea from Portland, Oregon. The shop will also offer hot chocolate, Liege waffles and locally-made patries.
Berhane, who speaks Italian, moved with her family from Italy to D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood later in her childhood (her parents own restaurants in Adams Morgan). Most recently, she was working in music management and magazine publishing in New York City, before deciding to open a coffee shop and “live a more Italian life” closer to her parents.
“I wanted to open a business I really like and that I’m passionate about,” she said.
The cafe is being designed by the same architects who design Taylor Gourmet restaurants. Berhane said she wants the cafe to emphasize “elegance and service” while also being a welcoming “third place” for people to hang out.
Photo via Facebook
The would-be victim of an armed robbery in Ballston managed to get away thanks to some dirt.
The incident happened around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30. A 6’2″ tall, 250 lbs man with a .45 caliber handgun tried to rob a victim at gunpoint, according to police, but his robbery was foiled when the victim threw dirt in the suspect’s face.
From this week’s Arlington County crime report:
ARMED ROBBERY, 11/30/12, 1100 block of N. Taylor Street. At 9:30 pm on November 30, a suspect allegedly attempted to rob a victim at gunpoint. The victim was able to throw dirt at the suspect and run away. The subject fled the scene in the opposite direction. The suspect is described as a black male in his late 30’s, approximately 6’2” tall and 250 lbs. He had a full beard and was wearing a shiny black shirt and black pants. The weapon was described as a black .45 caliber handgun.
Also in the crime report, a man wearing a black leather jacket, white hat and white gloves allegedly punched a woman in the face and took her cell phone in Crystal City.
ROBBERY, 12/01/12, 2100 block of S. Jefferson Davis Highway. On December 1 at 7:35 pm, a victim was allegedly punched and then robbed of her cell phone by an unknown subject. The suspect is described as a Hispanic male, approximately 30 years old. The subject was wearing a black leather jacket, a white hat, and white gloves during the incident.
The rest of the crime report, after the jump.
An electronic tourism kiosk, located at 1919 N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn, is set to be removed.
The Arlington County Board must ultimately approve the removal, but the kiosk already has a sign indicating that it’s out of service. In a report to the Board, county staff say the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service kiosk “requires replacement, due to aging, at significant cost.” Staff recommends removing the kiosk and not replacing it.
“With the increased use of smart phone technology and the mobile-optimized version of the Stay Arlington website, the need for the kiosk is substantially reduced,” staff wrote. “ACVS wishes to remove the kiosk and repair the property to its original condition.”
The kiosk was first installed in August 2008. It was paid for by the developer of the adjacent Waterview complex, at a cost of $50,000. In 2010, the county touted the kiosk as one of an “array of innovative new visitor service options” in Arlington, though one local blogger who used it questioned its ultimate utility.
“Unfortunately, the visitor information kiosk in Rosslyn isn’t innovative or particularly useful,” the Ode Street Tribune blog said in early 2010. “It provides information and directions to Rosslyn-area dining, shopping, attractions (Iwo Jima, etc.), accommodations, services (parking, etc.), and events. That might be useful, but now many persons can get better information and directions through their smart phones.”
Since the kiosk was a County Board-mandated site plan requirement, the Board must first advertise and then the county must hold a public hearing on the site plan change before the kiosk can be removed.
Rosslyn Lights Up Tonight — The 19th annual Light Up Rosslyn night is tonight. The holiday event is taking place from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. in front of the WJLA building (1100 Wilson Blvd). Local officials will flip a big switch to “light up” the Rosslyn skyline. In addition, there will be musical groups performing and free hot cocoa, chili, cider and cookies. [Rosslyn BID]
Reduction in Blue Line Service Planned — Metro plans to further reduce service on the Blue Line when the Silver Line to Tysons Corner opens. With the Silver Line in operation, perhaps by the end of 2013, Blue Line trains will run every 12 minutes between Franconia-Springfield and Largo, during both peak and off-peak hours. [Washington Post]
More Commuters Are Using Transit — Updated at 10:10 a.m. — There has been a significant jump in the number of Arlington residents using mass transit as their primary means of commuting to work, according to U.S. Census figures. In 2011, 28.4 percent of residents used transit, compared to 23.3 percent in 2000. [Sun Gazette]
Winter is Coming — This week is Winter Preparedness Week. Though the weather might have been warm over the past few days, Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management is advising residents to take steps to prepare for winter weather. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
Jewelry Trunk Show and Art Reception — Today (Dec. 6) from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. — The Northern Virginia Art Center (2100 Crystal Drive) is holding a a Jewelry Trunk show featuring the work of Julie Jernigan (Jules’s Jewels) and Christine Bartoletta (Society Hill), as well as an opening reception for two art shows: “Illuminations” and “Metroscapes: NOVA/DC.” King Street Blues will offer a tasting, wine will be served, and Arlington duo Suburban Hearts will be playing music. Free and open to the public.