Arlington, VA

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.

The County Board approved the Four Mile Run Valley Area Plan (Area Plan) at its Nov. 17 meeting. A Dec. 13 c ounty press release summarizes the plan.

The plan recommends the continuation of industrial and commercial uses, while also encouraging more arts-related uses. The recommendations also call for a new working group to duplicate what another county committee already has accomplished.

That new working group will:

  • waste government resources and volunteer time
  • discourage future volunteer recruitment

Background

At the direction of the County Board, the Arts District Committee was formed to study the possible creation of an Arts District in the Four Mile Run Valley Area. With significant and constructive input from businesses, arts representatives and the community, a detailed report, known as the SNAIQ report, was issued. Like other parts of the Four Mile Run Valley study, this report was shared widely through numerous meetings and public engagements.

What the County Manager is mistakenly doing now

A county manager Oct. 12 report recommended a new planning process to identify “an arts/industry vision.” This manager’s report also recommended the appointment of a new working group to work on this project for at least a year.

Referencing the existing SNAIQ report, the county manager’s  Oct. 12 report states: “while these suggestions have not yet been fully analyzed by staff, staff would make this information available to the future working group established to advance the arts district idea.”

The SNAIQ report was published in 2017. The County government now has admitted that it hasn’t reviewed it, yet it somehow did find the time to recommend a new working group to duplicate what another county committee already has accomplished?

In outlining the proposed new working group process, county staff, at an Oct. 20 County Board hearing, said it wanted to “establish a vision for a possible arts district” and “look at a variety of scenarios… and pros and cons” (beginning at 1:16:17 and at 2:01:16 and in the county manager’s report).

This is a direct duplication of what the existing Arts District Committee already did in preparing the SNAIQ report. (Just read page two of the SNAIQ report to verify.)

Conclusion

I have previously criticized the possible use of new taxpayer subsidies that might be part of the creation of a formal Arts District. Before any serious consideration is given to any such new taxpayer subsidies, the County Board must adopt a comprehensive 21st century arts subsidy policy and engage in a transparent cost benefit analysis of any proposed Arts District.

However, the County Manager’s plan for a new working group essentially ignores a significant and effective job by volunteers on an authorized, existing county committee (page 5).

County Board members often proclaim that recruiting and encouraging residents to serve on county committees is a high priority, but the county manager’s plan here will have exactly the opposite effect. The County Board failed us by acquiescing in the manager’s plan at its Nov. 17 hearing. (The county government even failed to post on its website a Nov. 16 letter from the existing Arts District Committee explaining its position.)

The Arts District Committee ably fulfilled its charge. If further work needs to be done, this existing committee would like to do it. Instead of duplicating its significant work, the county should ask this existing committee to continue its work with a new, expanded portfolio.

As one Arts District Committee member stated, “All in all, I think the Arts District Committee experience has been a model for how such groups can and should operate – dare I say it, a model of ‘the Arlington Way.'”

Proceeding with a new working group in these circumstances mocks the Arlington Way.

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