Press Club

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington is the home of the Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, and of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, which comprises three main installations that were combined during the last round of Base Realignment and Closure: Fort Myer (Army), Henderson Hall (Marines), and Fort McNair (Army). Many of the students living on and off JBMHH attend Arlington Public Schools.

The Virginia Purple Star Designation is awarded to military-friendly schools that have demonstrated a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military. Disappointingly, despite its proximity to the heart of the military, only one APS school (Discovery Elementary) earned the Purple Star designation in 2019-2020. None has earned it for 2020-2021. By contrast, 34 Fairfax County public schools and 21 Prince William County public schools earned the Purple Star designation between 2018-2021. In the other military mecca, 59 Virginia Beach City public schools and 11 Norfolk public schools earned the Purple Star designation between 2018-2021.

To qualify for the Purple Star designation, a school must have a staff point of contact for military students and families who, (i) serves as the liaison between the military family and the school; (ii) completes two online Virginia Department of Education training modules titled “Supporting Our Military-Connected Children in School Settings: Moving them from Risk to Resilience;” and (iii) conducts school-wide professional development that informs staff of the unique needs of and supports available to military-connected students.

In addition, the school must maintain a student-led transition program to include a student transition team coordinator. This program should provide peer support for newly enrolled and withdrawing students to include those that are military-connected. Finally, the school must maintain links to an APS division-wide page dedicated to military student and family supports that includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Clear and concise information on the enrollment and remote registration process for persons to whom public schools shall be free, including enrollment of military children living in temporary housing
  • Information on educational records requests and transfers
  • Information on gifted services, advanced academic programs and application deadlines, graduation requirements, diploma options, and home instruction
  • Information on the Compact Rules and their application under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children
  • Information on Special Education services and parental rights, including parental consent
  • Other important information such as Impact Aid Student-Parent Survey (Impact Aid programs and grants are designed to assist local school districts that enroll federally connected students), PTA membership, school advisory committees, participation in extracurricular activities and local community support

In addition to the aforementioned site-based requirements, APS would need to assign a central office staff member to be the contact for the school-based liaison and military families and complete at least one of the following:

  • Division-wide professional development regarding special considerations for military students and families or
  • The School Board passes a resolution publicizing the school division’s support for military students and families or
  • The school division hosts a military recognition event designed to demonstrate a military-friendly culture across the school division community

The average child in a military family will move six to nine times during a school career. That’s an average of three times more frequently than non-military families. The majority of moves occur over the summer months, even as late as August. A number of military families shared the following challenges with me:

  • Missed deadlines for Extended Day, resulting in a childcare crisis
  • Missed opportunities for desired electives. APS doesn’t allow students to select their electives or classes until fully registered, so electives may be unavailable
  • Missed deadlines for high school sports tryouts and/or missed leadership opportunities on sports teams and clubs. No reciprocity for prior experience
  • Although SB 775 allows incoming military students to fully register for school based on the zone the family intends to reside in (with documentation provided within 120 days), some APS families have been asked to meet onerous requests for documentation before registering their children
  • Lack of social-emotional supports: (i) No dedicated counselors equipped to support students with issues of deployment, combat, PTSD, etc.; (ii) no cohorting of military peers to support each other; and (iii) no special recognition or celebration of military students for Month of the Military Child
  • Having to start over with a new Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan. No reciprocity given for an IEP or 504 from the last school district
  • Difficulty keeping track of (or meeting) the additional classes/credits needed for an advanced diploma
  • Enduring additional disruptive school changes with boundary changes or program moves while on temporary orders

Many of these challenges could be resolved if APS was a Purple Star school district to better support the children whose parents are laying their lives on the line for us. Let’s do better by our military families.

Symone Walker is a federal attorney and an APS parent. She is Vice President of the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC), serves on the Commonwealth Attorney’s Community Advisory Board, and is an Executive Committee Member of the Arlington NAACP and Co-Chair of the NAACP Education Committee. Symone is a former candidate for the Arlington school board.

0 Comments

Freddie Lutz has a lot of stories.

One of his favorites was a time when several men came into his bar, Freddie’s Beach Bar (555 23rd Street S.), and started stirring up trouble. As they started causing trouble and making crude remarks, all Lutz had to do was pick up the phone and a few seconds later a few burly, “football player” friends showed up from a nearby sports bar and gently escorted the troublemakers away.

For Lutz, it’s a story that marks the kind of support he’s had in Arlington County since the start. This year marks the 20th anniversary Freddie’s Beach Bar, which he proudly calls “Northern Virginia’s only LGBTQ+, straight friendly restaurant and bar.” While many gay bars across the country had to fight for their place from the beginning, Lutz said he’s been lucky with mostly positive experiences in Crystal City.

The bar got started 2001, but Lutz said his history with the neighborhood goes back further.

“Prior to losing my mind and opening Freddie’s, I was a maître d’ and manager at an Italian restaurant nearby called Cafe Italia for 25 years,” Lutz said. “I grew up in the neighborhood and was pretty well known. Folks knew me and knew I was gay. We did drag shows at Halloween. That part of my life was no secret, even back then.”

Lutz said opening Freddie’s was partially a matter of finding the right timing.

“The timing was good, because that was when the police department was doing diversity training and people were trying to be more accepting,” Lutz said. “It’s not like we were opening some sleazy bathhouse, we were a respectable bar. I think once we did open, everybody realized we had a very class, respectable clientele.”

Lutz said there’s been “very little trouble” over the years, apart from the earlier crowd escorted out and one time early on when Lutz said the bar had a brick thrown through the window. The bar has expanded a few times over the years, and Lutz is in the process of opening a new “Freddie’s” in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware sometime in the next few months.

“It’s gotten bigger and better,” Lutz said. “We’ve gotten better with age.”

Over those years, Lutz said he’s also seen increasing gay representation at non-gay-specific bars; with pride flags decorating venues throughout the region. While a boon for the gay community, it also has also created questions of identity for venues that made their mark as isolated islands of acceptance — but Lutz said he isn’t concerned.

“A lot of gay bars seem to be fading out because gay people and straight people go to the same bars, but I think it’s nice to have specifically a gay bar, particularly with our history,” Lutz said. “Like with gay folks from the Pentagon who early on considered Freddie’s to be a safe place for them to hang out, even before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I advertised as straight-friendly, which gave them cover even before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Lutz said Freddie’s, like other gay bars, also stands out as a safe place and overall haven for the still under-threat transgender community.

Read More

0 Comments

(Updated at 8:40 a.m.) Some federal agencies are looking to continue remote and hybrid working options for employees post-pandemic — a shift with potential impacts on Arlington’s office and residential real estate markets.

The Biden administration expects White House staff to return for full-time, in-person work in July, but on Thursday federal agencies were told that they will be able to offer increased work-from-home flexibility, even after the pandemic. Remote work may become a permanent option for some federal workers, just as is happening for many private-sector workers.

“I think the office market will cool as companies continue to assess what the remote work shift means for their workforce and space needs in the next few years,” said Eric Maribojoc, the executive director of the Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship at George Mason University.

Arlington has a sizable federal presence despite the Base Realignment and Closure Act, which saw the relocation of military-occupied office space. The experience taught the county some lessons about diversifying its economic base, meaning Arlington today, preparing for more telework, is in a different boat than in 2005 facing BRAC.

Those familiar with the county’s market trends say there will be impacts but they will likely be tempered by a more diverse economy, a trend toward hybrid options that involve some time in offices, and a continued need for in-person work among certain agencies and large tech companies.

“Many companies are just beginning to plan for their potential return to the office and discussing a fully remote future is still largely speculative,” Arlington Economic Development spokeswoman Kirby Clark said. “We anticipate companies will continue to offer telework flexibility during this next stage of recovery. However, we hear from many of our major employers that there is no substitute for in-person collaboration in the office, especially for knowledge-based science and technology industries.”

Arlington’s federal workforce   

Although it took a while, Arlington did experience a significant drop in federally-occupied office space.

From 2003 to April 2021, Arlington’s federal office space dropped from 11.4 million square feet to 6.3 million square feet, according to an AED report and the GSA.gov Lease Inventory.

Today Arlington has 29,200 federal employees — excluding military personnel — and is home to the offices of a number of agencies, including the State Department, U.S. Marshals Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Drug Enforcement Agency, Clark said.

Some former government tenants have been replaced with corporate, tech and research anchors and a lot more housing, however. Between 2016 and 2020, Arlington added 5,193 housing units, with 3,175 units under construction and 5,907 units planned for future construction, she said.

“Over the last ten years, the landscape of Arlington’s Urban Villages transformed, becoming more economically diverse and land-use balanced, with residential development replacing old, obsolete office spaces formerly occupied by federal tenants,” said Clark.

As a region, D.C. has the nation’s second-largest pool of potential remote workers, at 49%, behind the San Francisco Bay Area, at 50%, according to a February report from the Greater Washington Partnership. The northern half of Arlington has one of the highest concentrations of remote-capable workers, alongside portions of Northwest D.C. and the Bethesda and Potomac areas of Montgomery County.

The report, which came out before the news of the changing federal work-from-home guidelines was first reported, predicted that some of the largest gains in remote work post-pandemic will likely be among government jobs.

“Two in five federal government workers may spend some time at home, with smaller shares of state and local public-sector professionals working remotely,” the report said.

Among government employees, according to Clark and Maribojoc, these options will likely be expanded for those who perform individual tasks that require focus but not high levels of security clearance.

“Due to the presence of the Pentagon and other defense and security agencies in Arlington, many federal-supporting tenants have security requirements that may require physical office spaces or proximity to major government and defense anchors,” Clark noted.

If more federal government employees go fully remote — a conversation that Clark said is still largely speculative — she predicted that it would be “a challenge not limited to Arlington and has the potential for broader regional impacts in the future.”

Read More

0 Comments

As some indicators point toward another recession around the corner, local economists say Arlington would likely escape the brunt of a downturn.

The recession that kicked off after the country’s housing market collapsed in 2008 devastated communities and families nationwide. But experts say Arlington’s proximity to jobs and contracts from the federal government helped protect the county, and its growing business sector today may also help shield it from future recessions.

How the Great Recession Hit Arlington 

Alex Iams, the Interim Director of Arlington Economic Development (AED), said when it came to the last recession, Arlington was “the last in and the first out.”

“In the last recession Arlington fared pretty well from what I can see,” agreed George Morgan, a finance professor at Virginia Tech, in an interview. “It’s not to say that everything was rosy, but compared to other parts of the country, Arlington didn’t do so badly.”

“At least a third of the [local] economy originates with federal payroll or federal procurement spending or other government spending,” said Stephen Fuller, the high-profile professor of public policy and regional development at George Mason University, when asked what helped cushion Arlington during the collapse.

However, Morgan noted that office and multi-family developments saw “pretty dramatic effects” from the recession as he said some companies’ cash-flows dried up and projects were put on pause. That affected those in the real estate development and construction industries.

Morgan also noted that the education and medical sector were hit harder in Arlington than in other parts of the country, but also rebounded faster in the last 10 years. “That’s a big plus if that happens again,” he said of future recessions.

Both economists agreed that lower-wage jobs were hit hardest by the Great Recession. By 2011, the county’s largest food bank reported a record-breaking number of families seeking help.

“In the low wage industries, Arlington basically looks the same as the rest of the country,” said Morgan, of Arlington around that time. “That was not a pretty picture.”

But Fuller and AED director Iams argued that the economic impact on the county of losing 35,000 jobs through federal sequestration was greater. “Base realignment and closure was really our recession,” said Iams.

How Next Recession May Affect Arlington

While predicting economic downturns can be fraught, Iams and the professors agreed the country is prepared if another one happens soon.

“In Arlington, they’re not seeing the signs of [a] recession that you’re seeing it elsewhere,” said Morgan. “It maybe be that Arlington kind of dodges a bullet if there is a next recession.”

The damage the county would sustain would depend on what exactly would cause the next recession.

“If it’s the trade war that causes it, retail will probably suffer,” said Morgan. “But with the Arlington economy being so insulated from trade, I think if that’s the cause of a recession then the Arlington economy will still do well.”

Fuller explained that “anything that is discretionary begins to take a hit,” including elective purchases like cosmetic surgery, luxury fashion, tourism, and restaurants.

But the professors pointed out that many higher-wage industries — like cybersecurity, which is growing across the D.C. area — can actually weather recessions quite well. Morgan cited an Urban Institute report show that the county has a large share of high-paying jobs from business service companies like Deloitte and government contracting jobs via the Department of Defense.

How Amazon Would Impact a Recession

Iams noted that the county has since 2008 added even more corporate jobs as companies like Lidl, Nestle, and Amazon moved into town.

When it comes to Amazon’s massive planned headquarters, the officials said it’s another potential insulator for the county against future recessions by virtue of the 25,000 people it has pledged to hire — and the others businesses and universities its presence attracts to Arlington.

“They know that Amazon burns workers out after 4-5 years, and they’re still software engineers, so they’ll look around for other, similar-type jobs,” said Fuller. “Amazon is going to make Arlington the epicenter of the talent pool.”

Read More

0 Comments

The independent challengers for Arlington County Board confronted the two Democratic incumbents on local hot button issues at last night’s Arlington County Civic Federation debate.

Democrats Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey faced off against perennial candidate Audrey Clement and newcomer Arron O’Dell at the Civic Federation’s annual candidate, which serves as the unofficial kickoff of the fall campaign season.

Clement’s main attacks centered around a perception of unchecked increases in development and density, destruction of native vegetation, and a lack of county government transparency. Specifically, Clement claimed the County Board’s decision to move forward with the Rosslyn boathouse project came with little public community input. Clement said the new boathouse will take away from one of the last green places in the Rosslyn area, a forested plot of land near Roosevelt Island.

“How can you have a public process when the County Board unanimously approved [the boathouse],” she said. “It’s not for or against the boathouse, it’s for or against double speak.”

Cristol fired back that the boathouse had been in the works for decades and has been subject to extensive public discussion. At some point, she said, projects need to move forward.

“The idea of the boathouse was the result of a public process a couple of decades ago,” Cristol said. “There needs to be a standard of finality. “

Cristol and Dorsey also defended repeated attacks from Clement, and to a lesser extent O’Dell, that Arlington’s ever-increasing density was fundamentally transforming the County.

“Development is synonymous with housing,” Cristol said. “So do I think there needs to be more housing? Yes, but we have to plan for the infrastructure to support that and plan for the student population [growth]. But I believe we can welcome more neighbors and still maintain our quality of life.”

Cristol argued later that the law of supply and demand applies to Arlington, as it does elsewhere — that adding more housing will keep housing costs lower. Clement disagreed, citing recent studies that showed rental rates were more closely tied with amenities than with the supply of housing.

Dorsey also disagreed with Clement’s characterization of “growth on steriods” in Arlington.

“We’ve seen 1.4 percent growth [per year] on average,” said Dorsey. “That’s moderate. In the ’40s, ’50s and ‘6os we grew far faster. Managing growth is what we do well. The idea of us closing up shop is not something that can happen.”

O’Dell, who said he did not have a strong opinion about the boathouse and some other topics of discussion during the debate, did express strong feelings on Amazon’s arrival into Arlington. The county is leaning too heavily on the tech giant for economic growth, he said, something that could backfire should Amazon’s plans change — much like over reliance on federal tenants led to high office vacancy rates following the implementation of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Act.

“It’s replacing the federal government with another entity,” he said. “We’re creating another potential vacuum. The key to success will be getting small businesses to follow Amazon.”

Clement also criticized the Board for overselling the positive impacts Amazon would bring and offering the company millions in incentives.

Dorsey recognized the concerns about Amazon’s arrival and said he sympathizes with many of them.

“One of the challenges [will be] the impact on housing,” Dorsey said. “It’s also going to require the Board to work in conjunction with Alexandria for inclusive growth for all as we create concrete arrangements with our neighbors.”

Overall, Dorsey said the company’s arrival will help reduce the strain on local taxpayers and open up new opportunities for the Pentagon City-Crystal City area.

Arlington voters will cast their general election ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Residents have until October 15 to register to vote, and can check their registration status online.

0 Comments

Arlington County is considering a proposal to expand the boundaries of the Crystal City Business Improvement District to incorporate parts of Potomac Yard and Pentagon City, including Amazon’s permanent HQ2 campus.

At its meeting on Saturday, July 13, the County Board is expected to authorize an advertisement for a public hearing on Sept. 21 to discuss expansion of the BID’s coverage area to include 75 new commercial properties.

The BID was originally established in 2006 to improve the area’s marketability and attractiveness to the community in the wake of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) — which resulted in 4.2 million square feet of vacant office space and 17,000 lost jobs.

The BID sponsors activities and markets the area to potential tenants, and is in turn funded by a tax surcharge on commercial properties within its coverage area. The BID’s current budget is approximately $2.7 million, but the expansion is estimated to increase the budget by $1.7 million (an increase of 64 percent) to $4.4 million.

According to the staff report, expansion of the BID has been an ongoing priority as the organization works to shift the area’s image away from just government agency tenants. This culminated with the announcement in November that Amazon would be opening a new headquarters in the area.

Even prior to the arrival of Amazon, Crystal City had begun attracting more non-government tenants — including startups, nonprofits, co-working spaces and new retail. The vision and strategy to expand the boundaries of the BID has been revived not only due to new leadership at the [BID] but also upcoming infrastructure, transportation and planning projects expected to transform the nature of the business and residential community in this area.

The staff report noted that the expansion is part of a wider effort to treat Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard as one market — it was dubbed “National Landing” at the time of the Amazon announcement — rather than three separate ones.

Notably absent from the proposed new boundaries is the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall, which has “formally requested… not to be included in the proposed expansion.”

Adoption of the ordinance would require the BID to demonstrate 50 percent of greater support throughout the affected areas — evidence that the staff report noted was not currently available. The staff report notes that property owners and managers in the Potomac Yard portion of Arlington expressed concerns that BID would be unable to “fulfill various obligations of the Potomac Yard Property Owner’s Association (POA) site plan.”

Under the terms of the site plan, the POA must fund certain capital expenses and on-going maintenance of various improvements including maintenance of landscaped areas. In March 2019, County staff and the County Attorney’s Office advised [BID] that it should not take on the obligations of the Potomac Yard POA in order to receive support for the proposed BID expansion. Instead, [BID] should demonstrate to the Potomac Yard property owners the value of the other services it currently provides on behalf of the BID in the current and proposed expanded district.

If the BID cannot build the support it needs in Potomac Yard — as happened to a proposed BID in Alexandria in 2017 — the report said it could still be approved as an expansion into Pentagon City. Major property owners in Pentagon City, including Dweck Properties and JBG Smith, are supportive of the proposal.

The potential expansion, if approved, would be the first time any BID in Arlington enveloped new territory.

Map via Arlington County

0 Comments

This article was written by Christina Winn, Director of Business Investment for Arlington Economic Development.

As a professional economic developer, I’m often asked by my fellow Arlington residents and business owners about the importance of economic development.

After all, we have a thriving community with notable businesses, excellent schools, a highly educated workforce, an unemployment rate of 1.7% and beautiful parks and green spaces. What else do we need?

Well, the problem is that our commercial vacancy rates are too high and we need to continue to broaden the commercial tax base. Arlington’s 2018 4th quarter vacancy rate is at 17.2% (which is significantly better than the almost 21% in early 2015), and it could take up to 10 years or more before we can reach a baseline level of 10%.

Arlington County lost 34,000 jobs since 2001 due to the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), corporations right-sizing and the increased mobility of their workforce. Even with Arlington Economic Developments efforts to strategically market the county to attract new businesses, retain our existing business base and encourage our businesses to grow and expand, it takes time to recover.

So why do vacancy rates matter? And most importantly, why does it matter to you? The majority of Arlington’s taxes comes from either the commercial or residential property taxes collected.

Those taxes are what funds the services that we all enjoy as Arlington residents. Historically, Arlington is unique because our tax base is derived from almost 50% residential and 50% commercial. In most other communities the residential tax base carries the weight — which means the people that live there pay higher taxes.

If our commercial office buildings are vacant with no occupied businesses (currently almost 1/5 of the 40 million square feet of office space is empty), then that means Arlington County is not collecting as much property and business taxes, which puts pressure on the general fund in providing the services we all enjoy.

Our schools, transportation systems, parks and human services struggle for limited funds. Luckily, the recruitment of Amazon will go a long way to help broaden the commercial tax base and increase tax revenues to fund these services.

So yes, economic development is important to you. As an Arlington resident, I want to continue to have top-notch public schools for my kids. I enjoy our beautiful and convenient parks and enjoy that my trash is picked every week.

As a result, we will continue to market Arlington to attract new companies. We will expand our engagement programs to retain our existing employers and help them expand and grow. We truly understand that our mission is to generate revenue for Arlington County, and every program, service and project is focused on that goal.

Every time you read in the paper that a new business has located to Arlington, be excited because that means their taxes are paying for your services.

0 Comments

To combat growing concerns about how Amazon’s new influx of workers might put a strain on Arlington’s congested roads and Metro’s troubled rail system, county leaders are increasingly embracing the same argument — so many people have left Crystal City and Pentagon City over the years that the area’s transit network is ready to welcome new residents.

There’s little doubt that the 25,000 workers Amazon plans to eventually bring to the region will have an impact on commute times for drivers, and crowd more people onto local trains and buses. But Arlington officials stress that they already planned to move plenty of people through and to the newly dubbed “National Landing,” only to see thousands of federal and military employees flee the neighborhood years ago.

That means the area’s trains and buses still have available seats, ready to accommodate Amazon’s new arrivals.

“Transportation system utilization is reflective of building occupancy,” county transportation director Dennis Leach said during a question-and-answer session live streamed on Facebook yesterday (Thursday). “We’re down about 24,000 jobs and we see it on the rail system, we see it on the roads… so we have that capacity, we just have to get people to use [these options].”

Leach points out that Crystal City has been hardest hit in recent years, particularly by the Base Realignment and Closure process. He noted that he “had to go back to 1986 to find a lower annual passenger count” at the neighborhood’s Metro station; for Pentagon City, he had to go back to 2001.

Similarly, Leach said that traffic volume on Crystal City and Pentagon City roads is “down 20 percent since 2000,” another “reflection of lower employment” in the area. He believes there’s even ample parking available, despite some neighbors’ concerns to the contrary, arguing that the neighborhoods’ “parking assets are incredibly underutilized.”

That being said, Leach admits that the county would much rather see Amazon’s new arrivals using public transit, and the county has some “work to do” in that department. Metro presents a particularly thorny challenge for leaders — even if stations in the “National Landing” area aren’t seeing as many riders as they once did, the rail service is still trying to improve its safety and reliability after years of struggles.

But Lynn Bowersox, Metro’s assistant general manager for customer service, communications and marketing, believes that the agency is moving in the right direction in solving those problems. She’s particularly enthusiastic about General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which would see Metro return to running nothing but eight-car trains and even expand its “Rush Hour Promise” program to offer more refunds to commuters for lengthy rides.

“I think the capacity is really going to be there as these jobs come to Arlington,” Bowersox said. “Especially with these improvements we have in the pipeline.”

Of course, it’s no guarantee that Wiedefeld will win all those promised changes from Metro’s governing board. The full suite of service improvements Wiedefeld is calling for come with a hefty price tag, and Arlington officials have cautioned that they may not be able to afford everything Wiedefeld is asking for. The new budget could end up costing the county another $8 million per year, a particularly worrying prospect for county leaders, given Arlington’s existing budget pressures.

With or without those enhancements, however, Bowersox is confident that Metro’s safety and reliability improvements will be enough to win Amazon employees over.

“We believe in our reliability and we’re standing behind it,” she said.

Leach is optimistic about as well about the state’s planned investments to help the county build its long-planned second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station, making it even more accessible to both Amazon’s future office space and the rest of the neighborhood. The state will also help Alexandria fund another entrance at the soon-to-be built Potomac Yard station, even though funding concerns initially convinced leaders to cancel the project.

Yet officials also recognize that the area is still not as walkable, or accessible for cyclists, as it could be. That’s due in large part to Route 1, which Leach points out acts as a “divider” between Pentagon City and Crystal City with its large, elevated sections of highway.

The state and county are both planning on spending $250 million on Route 1 improvements, but they haven’t identified the exact source of all that money, or even what the improvements will be. Generally, Leach does hope that the change help “knit the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods together,” and that will likely mean bringing the highway down to the same grade as the rest of the street network.

Renee Hamilton, deputy administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northern Virginia District, said that officials only have a “broad concept” for what those changes will look like, and are still discussing the exact timeline for how the project will move forward. But, like Leach, she does expect that substantial changes are in the offing.

“It’s very difficult to get from one side of Route 1 to another,” Hamilton said. “So we’re going to look at creating a boulevard feel to it, which will likely require us to lower some of the roadways.”

0 Comments

Crystal City’s bevy of aging office buildings have long been in need of a makeover, and Arlington officials hope Amazon’s arrival will spur some big development changes in the neighborhood.

The tech giant itself will be responsible for a major transformation of the newly christened “National Landing” all on its own, of course. Amazon will start off by leasing space from property owner JBG Smith in Crystal City, with plans to fully renovate those office buildings, and even construct its own facilities on various plots of land in Pentagon City.

And while the company could one day control as much as 8 million square feet of office space in the area, there are plenty of other buildings dotting Crystal City’s landscape that Amazon won’t touch. JBG alone controls another 6.2 million square feet of office space throughout the neighborhood, including a whole variety of buildings constructed decades ago, when Crystal City was primarily a home for the military and federal agencies.

It’s those structures that Arlington leaders are most anxious to see receive a refresh, in order to lure even more businesses to the area. While Amazon’s new headquarters will put a huge dent in the neighborhood’s office vacancy rate, officials say the county still has plenty of work left to do in that department.

“Many of these buildings were purpose-built for the federal government or overflow from the Pentagon,” Anthony Fusarelli, the assistant director of the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, said during a question-and-answer session live-streamed on Facebook last night (Monday). “As the economy diversifies, the building stock needs to diversify with it.”

Sally Duran, the chair of the county’s Economic Development Commission, pointed out that business leaders have been strategizing ways to orchestrate such changes in Crystal City for years now, dating back to the immediate aftermath of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure process. But the county lacked any sort of driving factor to spur that change, she noted, making Amazon’s selection of the area quite welcome news indeed.

Fusarelli also observed that many Crystal City property owners, including JBG, were already nearing a critical decision point about how to handle the future of their buildings. Given the age of the structures, he said owners faced one of just a few options: sell their holdings, “reinvest and try to cary the building forward for 10 to 20 more years,” or simply “demolish and redevelop.”

With Amazon about to bring 25,000 jobs to the area, he expects to see plenty of developers choosing the third option.

“We may have these 40-, 50-year-old buildings come off the line and be replaced with residential buildings, or other uses,” Fusarelli said. “We may see the vacancy rate go down over time to the extent that additional activity in this area will lead to redevelopment and changing uses.”

Even before Amazon’s announcement, Fusarelli says the county was projecting an additional 20 million square feet of development in the area he dubbed “the Route 1 corridor,” rather than the controversial “National Landing” moniker, through 2025. Accordingly, he expects that the county will be ready to embrace all that new change, rather than be overwhelmed by it.

“Over the past 14 months, we’ve been evaluating the area and making sure it could manage that growth, and it could,” said Christina Winn, director of Arlington Economic Development’s Business Investment Group. “It was planned for that.”

Of course, there’s plenty of community consternation around just how the area will cope with Amazon-related growth, with apprehension surrounding everything from the company’s impact on transportation networks to home prices.

But county officials remain adamant that the slow pace of the tech giant’s arrival, to be stretched out over the better part of 12 years or so, will help Arlington adjust to the changes gradually. The company plans to add only a few hundred workers in the near term, then bring on about 2,000 staffers a year through 2030.

Officials also stressed that the county will review every step of the assembly of the new headquarters. The County Board will vote no earlier than February on the outlines of the state’s proposed deal with Amazon; then, the company will submit individual applications for each new piece of construction it’s planning, most of which will require the Board’s scrutiny.

Fusarelli says the county doesn’t expect to see any applications from Amazon until early next year, projecting a first Board vote on new Amazon developments by mid-2019 at the earliest.

“We don’t expect a flood of Amazon-specific building proposals in the first quarter of next year,” Fusarelli said. “What we do expect is a gradual submission of projects over time that align well with their need to house workers.”

File photo

0 Comments

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Larry Roberts

Nearly four years ago, I had the honor of taking on the role of editor of a new ARLnow column titled “Progressive Voice.”

I believed that weekly columns by Mark Kelly and Peter Rousselot, while well written and informative, were not fully representative of views many Arlingtonians had about their County, elected officials, and County government.

I believed that the best answers would not come from a more conservative direction, a desire to keep the status quo, or steady criticism of County government.

In my view, Arlington was going to be affected more and more by what happened at the federal level, in Richmond, and through heightened competition from jurisdictions in Northern Virginia as well as the District and Maryland.

I saw important trends that I believed Arlington needed to acknowledge and respond to in order to remain economically vibrant and competitive.

Some examples – then and now – included: 1) diminishing federal spending in the county and the impact of the Base Realignment and Closing process on Crystal City and Arlington more broadly; 2) the opening of the Silver Line to competitive centers such as Tysons, Reston, and Loudoun County; 3) changing demographics including an influx of millennials; 4) shifting trends in real estate toward mixed-use and transit-oriented development; 5) an increasing office vacancy rate; and 6) losing important tenants such as the National Science Foundation to other jurisdictions (in that case to Alexandria).

At the same time, Arlingtonians continued to want and press for high-quality services and more of them. Moreover, a rising school population required additional resources to maintain a school system regarded as among the best in the nation.

Because of the trends identified above, I believed it important to provide a voice for the proposed Crystal City-Columbia Pike-Baileys Crossroads streetcar system that was vitally important to the County’s competitiveness and maintenance of affordable housing.

I continue to believe that defeating the streetcar project – including turning down $285 million in dedicated funding from the Commonwealth – was a major policy mistake that will set back Arlington for generations to come. However, the voters chose a different path and left local elected officials with little choice but to move on to other items of importance.

The history buff in me wanted to ensure that we honored Arlingtonians living and no longer with us who shaped the County such as Ellen Bozman, Joe Wholey, Talmadge Williams and those who risked much so that Arlington (together with Norfolk) became the first jurisdictions in the Commonwealth to integrate their public schools.

Unlike the “Right Note” and “Peter’s Take” columns, ARLnow wanted the new Progressive Voice column to reflect a range of voices and, particularly, to give voice to women and persons of color. So rather than writing my own weekly column, I became a column editor.

At first, this seemed to put me at a competitive disadvantage, because I had to enlist a group of columnists and — to be expected — each columnist had their own perspective on what issues she or he wanted to address and how to approach those issues.

But I came to value very highly the process of identifying talented columnists and providing a platform to express diverse points of view from varying perspectives and life experiences.

I met or got to know better many outstanding Arlingtonians. I learned, re-learned, or gained valuable insight into a broad range of issues, programs, needs, goals, and services.

And I learned to think more broadly, deeply, and holistically about Arlington County and its place in the Commonwealth, region, and nation.

All of that reaffirmed for me how unique and special a place Arlington is, but also that Arlington must continue to progress – as it has progressed – and not seek to stay in place or shrink from new opportunities. Communities either grow and thrive or they wither and lose what made them great.

I want to thank the Progressive Voice columnists for their outstanding contributions and willingness to produce quality columns under deadline pressure, ARLnow for the opportunity to edit the column, and the new editors who will continue to ensure that a broad range of voices will be heard via the Progressive Voice column.

Finally, I want to thank the readers who gave us reason to write our columns. I can’t say I have enjoyed every online comment received, but it has been a pleasure to hear from so many people over the years that they appreciate the column.

Carry on and move forward!

Larry Roberts was recently named Chief of Staff to Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax. He has long been active in Arlington’s civic life, including serving as Chair of the Arlington Democratic Committee. He chaired five successful statewide campaigns, served as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine, completed a successful term as Chair of the Board of the Virginia Public Access Project, and was named a 2017 Virginia Leader in the Law by Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

0 Comments

After 20 years on the Arlington County Board, chair Jay Fisette is retiring, to be succeeded by fellow Democrat Erik Gutshall.

And having presided over his last meeting earlier this week (Tuesday, December 19), Fisette was in a reflective mood as he looked back at his tenure, but said he is excited for the future of the county.

Fisette won re-election four times after first winning a seat on the Board in 1997, and rotated in as chair in 2001, 2005, 2010, 2014 and this year. He also briefly flirted with a run for Congress in 2003.

On this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast, we talked with Fisette about his memories of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, Base Realignment and Closure, Metro, development and the nixed Columbia Pike streetcar, among other subjects. He also had some advice for his colleagues remaining on the County Board.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list