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Peter’s Take: Let the Sun Shine in on Developer Proffers

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotA recent ARLnow.com story asked the question: “Why doesn’t Arlington ask developers for school funding?” County leaders quoted in the story bobbed and weaved, but failed to provide convincing answers.

County Attorney Steve MacIsaac seemed to suggest that current state law severely limits the extent to which such developer contributions could be required. But, MacIsaac didn’t explain exactly why such developer contributions are not similarly limited in neighboring jurisdictions like Fairfax.

Is MacIsaac claiming that, with respect to developer proffers, Arlington has a different legal status under Virginia law than Fairfax? If so, he needs to explain that fully. If that’s the situation, then any Arlington legislator could seek necessary changes in state law.

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette was similarly opaque. Fisette was quoted as saying, “if we would have to undo our current structure to be able to replicate what’s done in Loudoun, I think that would be ill-advised.” Why would it be ill advised? Fisette didn’t explain.

Fisette was somewhat more candid on the Kojo Politics Hour. When a caller noted that projections of rapid school enrollment growth suggested Arlington would have real trouble financing the construction costs of seats for new students, Fisette admitted: “We are victims of our own success.”

Precisely because Arlington students and their parents indeed would be the victims of this kind of “success,” the public is rightfully calling for a completely transparent discussion of the developer proffer issue.

It was troubling to read several comments to the ARLnow.com story claiming that County Board members have threatened School Board members that there would be adverse consequences to the school system if the proffer issue were discussed publicly. Claims like these could be either true or false. But, the issue of developer proffers is real, and deserves a full, fair and extensive public discussion.

It was welcome news to learn that such a public discussion could take place at the January meeting of the Arlington Civic Federation. A Sun-Gazette story about the Civ Fed’s plans suggested that County leaders might be reluctant to open up this issue because developer proffers for new school construction might be “a zero sum game.” If so, such proffers might have to be offset by comparable cuts in developer contributions for other things, like affordable housing or public art.

We need a robust public discussion of questions like these:

  • Is it really a zero sum game?
  • Which priorities matter most?
  • If we can’t even afford to pay for the seats for new students required by recent development, why shouldn’t we slow future development until we catch up?

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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