(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) It was a seemingly uncontroversial item on the County Board agenda: shifting a temporary parking lot for television station WETA down the block, in order to allow renovations to Jennie Dean Park to proceed.
But the proposal, which was approved unanimously last night after a detailed discussion, ended up raising questions about race, equity and public engagement. It was the subject of a recent op-ed published by the Sun Gazette entitled “Arlington government again fails Green Valley,” accusing the county of repeatedly ignoring the wishes of the historically Black neighborhood.
“While millions marched for equity and racial justice last week, the Arlington County government posted a board agenda item that turns these actions into mere slogans,” wrote Green Valley Civic Association members Robin Stombler and Portia Clark. “A license agreement would have the county government turn a newly acquired $1 million property in the Green Valley community into a parking lot for WETA. This action is but one in a series of events that draw attention to the inequity systemic within the county.”
The discussion at Tuesday’s County Board meeting did not include much talk of race or equity. Instead, it mostly addressed the practical matter at hand: about 10 employees of the nearby WETA facility, which produces the PBS NewsHour, were parking on a temporary, county-owned lot that is set to become a playground in Phase 1 of the Jennie Dean expansion. To allow construction to move forward, they would be moved to a lot a short distance away on S. Four Mile Run Drive, between a small commercial building and the Weenie Beenie.
Demolition of the building that will become the new WETA lot started last week, a county staffer said. Heavy construction on the park is set to begin in late summer or early fall. Without use of the current temporary lot, “we would not be able to build out the project as designed,” the staffer said.
The Green Valley neighborhood didn’t want the current WETA lot and doesn’t want the new lot, said Stombler. And notification of the change — it was advertised in the lightly-read Washington Times newspaper, as are Arlington’s other public notices — was inadequate.
“Publishing notices in the Washington Times and considering it an outreach method is very telling of how the county regards Green Valley and community input in general,” Stomber said. We deserve much better… The county’s engagement processes must be improved.”
The remarks echo complaints from Green Valley residents two years about the lengthy design process for Jennie Dean Park.
“This community has been ignored repeatedly by the Arlington County Board while the requests and desires of several other, predominantly white, Arlington neighborhoods are being placed ahead of those of the people who live here,” one resident told ARLnow at the time.
“I feel like we’re second class citizens,” said a resident during the public comment period last night.
Nonetheless, under an agreement approved by the Board, WETA will be granted temporary use of the newly-created lot for a year, after which its use can be reevaluated. Eventually, the lot will become part of park, in the second phase of its expansion. And the county will get something in return for the temporary use.
“The compensation to the County for the Amended and Restated License Agreement will be in the form of 12, 15-second promotional underwriting credit spots on WETA’s radio programs during each calendar year,” a staff report says.
Stombler and Clark — who support the expansion of WETA’s Shirlington headquarters that will see its aging NewsHour studio eventually demolished — said that the radio ads will not do anything to benefit the neighborhood.
“The county government must reassess its engagement processes to correct these actions, and must be held accountable for practices that marginalize segments of our community,” the op-ed said. “More innovative and compassionate solutions should be encouraged. Local hiring, paid internships, job fair hosting and community clean-ups beat 12 ego-boosting radio spots any day.”
Photos (1-2) via Arlington County, (3-4) via Google Maps