Progressive Voice: Arlington’s History of Long-Term Planning, Part Two

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Larry RobertsThis week marks the second meeting of the Arlington Facilities Working Group, a diverse group of 24 Arlingtonians putting together the “Arlington Community Facilities Study — A Plan for the Future.”

The group and its charge were developed jointly by the County Board and School Board. The County (Mary Hynes/John Vihstadt) and School (James Lander/Nancy Van Doren) Boards designated members to interact with the group throughout 2015.

In addition, the group has a resident forum to promote monthly two-way communication between the group and Arlington organizations that designate forum members and alternates.

This collaboration by the two boards, while maintaining their respective and traditional roles, provides common ground to help solve classroom capacity needs and is an important step forward for Arlington. Addressing the high priorities of school capacity and instruction will require resources that neither board has on its own.

The School Board is facing a lack of land, limited debt capacity, and no independent access to tax revenues. The County has some available land, some ability to address debt capacity, and must determine how to balance the revenue needs of the Arlington Public Schools with the needs of those who rely on county government services in a time of increasing demand and limited support for additional taxes.

Arlington faced somewhat similar challenges in the 1970s and 1990s and in each instance the county came together to develop solutions that have moved Arlington forward.

In light of the continuing work of the 2015 working group and the upcoming formulation by County Board candidates of their platforms and priorities, we return to our interview with Joe Wholey, who chaired the mid-1970s initiative known as the Long Range County Improvement Program (“LRCIP”). Through that initiative, a divided County achieved a consensus that guided Arlington’s revitalization, growth and development through successive periods of Democratic-endorsed, Republican, and Democratic County Boards.

Progressive Voice: Did the LRCIP adopt a formal report?

Joe WholeyJoe Wholey: The committee on the Long Range County Improvement Program put forth recommendations, but it was the County Board that adopted the Long Range County Improvement Program. Board hearings about our work resulted in changes to the committee’s recommendations. I remember that Lyon Village residents were upset about tall buildings that would block the sunlight in the area. The County Board did not adopt what we recommended in the Clarendon area, but opted instead for less intense — and what turned out to be slower — development.

Clarendon would have been more like Ballston. The process showed that the committee did not have all wisdom. Citizen input led to the great restaurants and nice shopping that we have in Clarendon with a lot of pedestrian traffic at all hours. Results like that showed that the blend of analytical work and citizen input were both quite important to what the Board finally adopted.

Our work, and the Board report with regard to land use, led to sector planning. It became the foundation for what later came to be called Arlington’s “smart growth policy.” But also, we had never had a long-term capital budget before it was recommended by LRCIP. We also never before had a historic preservation ordinance.

The Board began implementing the report in 1976-78. After a new county manager took office and even after changes in control of the Board through elections, the plan remained in effect. New boards kept on implementing the plan over the years and decades. The County Board’s report based on LRCIP’s work and citizen input had staying power as a community consensus.

PV: As was true in past times in Arlington, we have recently had fractures within the Democratic Party, between Democrats and Republicans, and among advocates for different priorities who are otherwise often on the same side.

JW: That’s true. In some cases, we have park supporters and affordable housing advocates in opposition. In others we have schools supporters and park advocates in opposition. All are good people and we should be able to find ways to accommodate their interests. Parents are worried about their children being in overcrowded schools. It doesn’t have to be that way. But we have finite land in Arlington. So everyone must be creative and work toward consensus on accommodating various needs.

Arlington needs to consider opportunities with state land and federal land within Arlington. We need to consider options around air rights. We are going to have to look at a variety of options and Arlingtonians will need to work together rather than simply assert that their particular interest should trump all others.

Joe Wholey is former three-time Chairman of the Arlington County Board. His interviewer, Larry Roberts, is former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee and also served in state government as Counselor to the Governor.

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