Arlington, VA

Arlington’s leaders will be pushing the state to increase its affordable housing contributions more than five-fold as Democrats head to Richmond after taking control of the House of Delegates and State Senate.

The Arlington County Board will vote this Saturday, November 16, on holding a public hearing about the legislative priorities as the General Assembly prepares to convene in Richmond for the 2020 legislative session between January 8 and March 7. The draft document lists a number of priorities Arlington leaders hope its state delegates and senators will also push during the 60-day period.

One priority is calling for Virginia to add $100 million to the state’s Housing Trust Fund in the budget for fiscal years 2020-2022 in a bid to solve the area’s persistent housing squeeze. The fund offers low-interest loans to offset developer’s costs when building affordable homes — a program Arlington’s Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) has pushed to increase funding to since founding it three years ago but failed when Republicans blocked the budget proposal this winter.

In addition to the public hearing, the County Board is also due to discuss legislative priorities during a work session with the county’s state representatives on Tuesday, December 3 from 3-5 p.m. in the Bozman Government Center in Courthouse (2100 Clarendon Blvd).

Increasing the state fund to $100 million would match Lopez’s recommendations. It also comes on the heels of Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol saying the county was “trying to fill a really big hole” when it came to funding local projects like the 160-unit affordable housing building on the site of the American Legion Post 139.

The Virginia Housing Trust Fund contributed $700,000 for that project — an amount dwarfed by the $13,000,000 loaned by the county’s own affordable housing fund to the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH).

However, some experts warn that the shortage of affordable housing units could displace hundreds of thousands of D.C. area residents in the next 20 years, including some 20,000 Arlingtonians.

Lawmakers added $5.5 million in the last legislative session, upping the total amount to $9.5 million, reported the Washington Post.

Increasing the funds even more in the upcoming session would also make legislators’ incentive promise to Amazon to contribute at least $75 million towards affordable housing in Northern Virginia over the next five years a reality. Arlington and Alexandria have also pitched the Crystal City-area to Amazon by promising to spend $150 million on affordable housing over the next decade amid concerns that Amazon’s incoming workforce at its new headquarters could spike housing prices.

Amazon itself announced a $3 million donation to affordable housing in Arlington earlier this year, citing the fact the county has “fewer than 25 apartments dedicated for the lowest-income individuals and families who can live independently.”

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is scheduled to introduce his proposal for Virginia’s state budget for fiscal years 2020-2022 on December 17. The General Assembly will then deliberate on the budget during its January session.

Other proposed legislative priorities for Arlington include more state funding for Metro, more local tax authority, additional state funding for school, state funding for the Long Bridge rail project, drivers licenses for non-citizen, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and more leeway for localities to mandate tree preservation on private property.

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The Arlington County Board will soon vote on whether to spend over $700,000 upgrading the County Manager’s Office.

Member are scheduled to vote on the proposed renovation to the third floor office suite in the Bozman building (2100 Clarendon Blvd) during their meeting this Saturday, November 16.

If members vote to approve the project, the county will award $631,535 to Manassas-based Juniper Construction Company, Inc, plus an additional $126,307 for unanticipated costs.

A staff report to the Board indicates that the contract would fund upgrades to:

  • Create a “joint reception area” for the County Manager and County Board offices as well as a new “huddle room”
  • Several “open office concept work spaces” for staffers
  • Renovated conference rooms on the 3rd floor
  • “New finishes” in the offices and hallway

As of today (Thursday), the item is listed on the Board’s consent agenda, a place usually reserved for issues members expect to pass without debate.

The work is funded by a tenant improvement allowance negotiated as part of the county’s lease renewal and is part of a larger project to renovate the local government headquarters.

“The total project budget for the Bozman Government Center Renovation Project is $23.5M with the 3rd Floor CMO Suite renovation at $757,842.17,” the report notes.

Recently, the Board approved a multimillion dollar contract to replace the heating system at the county’s jail and courthouse building.

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Amazon and JBG Smith could one day brush off the dust on Arlington’s long-underused dark fiber network.

The Arlington County Board was scheduled to vote on issuing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for the tech giant and developer to discuss the “ConnectArtlington” network during its meeting this Saturday, November 16.

The network currently provides internet service to many county buildings, but was once promised to be a way for local businesses and organizations to also access access high-speed internet at faster speeds and cheaper rates than available from larger commercial providers like Verizon.

“The purpose of this item is to discuss the County’s Fiber Optic Network ‘ConnectArlington’,” said Jack Belcher, the county’s chief information officer, when asked for more information about the County Board item.

“An NDA is necessary as the fiber network and its location is considered critical infrastructure of the County,” he added.

Arlington previously spent $4.1 million building the 10-mile underground cable network. But in February, an ARLnow investigation revealed that almost no businesses were able to license the network due to “flawed” legal requirements.

A spokeswoman for Amazon told ARLnow that the county had included the dark fiber network in its pitch for the company’s second headquarters, and that the upcoming County Board vote was “just part of exploring everything that Arlington had included in the original proposal.”

“We don’t have specifics to share about our ongoing discussions but look forward to learning more about the program,” the company spokeswoman told ARLnow, adding that the NDA will allow the county to “fully brief” Amazon about the capabilities of the network.

However, the exact details for how Amazon and JBG Smith could use the network are murky.

County staffers removed the Amazon item from the agenda after ARLnow called company and county officials for comment yesterday (Tuesday), keeping JBG Smith’s NDA consideration in the agenda document.

“Agenda Item #18 was removed because the County wasn’t able to get feedback yet from the company,” said county spokeswoman Jennifer Smith.

JBG Smith declined to comment when asked for more information about the company’s interest in the network.

And as of today (Wednesday) at 12:30 p.m., the agenda included no staff reports to the Board with more information about the items. Smith said the documents had not been uploaded due to a “technical issue” and were due to be published later today.

As for other organizations looking to “light” the dark fiber network?

“Parties are able to use the fiber network and we are in negotiations with several entities today to also use it,” Belcher said.

Aboveground, Arlington has also approved a proposal for a faster, more advanced 5G cellular network.

Nearby, Alexandria is putting out a bid to build its own dark fiber network as well.

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Arlington may soon be making electric scooters a more or less permanent fixture of the county’s streets and sidewalks.

The County Board will vote on an ordinance change during its meeting this Saturday, November 16 to allow e-scooter companies to operate in Arlington — provided companies fulfill the requirements of a new permitting system starting next year.

The code change would make the pilot program for “micro-mobility devices” a permanent part of Arlington’s transit system after officials originally approved a nine-month pilot program in September 2018 — and extended it ever since.

If Board members approve the proposed code changes on Saturday, it would allow scooter companies in Arlington to continue operating as long as they fulfill the requirements of the new permit application and pay the still-to-be-determined application fees by January 1, 2020. Much like the pilot program, the County Manager’s office would also be allow to cap the number of devices permitted per company, demand equitable deployment, and levy penalties.

The program will also specify some “community and information sharing requirement” according to a staff report to the Board — a similar requirement to the one in Los Angeles that Uber refused to fulfill, and which led city officials to rescind the company’s permits over Uber’s objections.

But moving forward on the scooter program in Arlington isn’t a surprise considering a recent Mobility Lab report encouraging county leaders to make the scooter program permanent.

The recent report drew support from bicycle and pedestrian advocates, and also recommended that the county roll out some changes next year, including:

  • Adding more safe infrastructure like protected bike lanes for scooters and cyclists, as outlined in the county’s recently updated Master Transportation Plan.
  • Addressing parking complaints by creating a map of approved parking spots as well as “no-go” areas.
  • Eliminating barriers to lower-income users by waiving company’s requirements that users need credit cards

Users traveled just over 400,000 miles on scooters in Arlington between Oct. 2018 and June 2019, per a staff report, but some crashes and blocked sidewalks have prompted discussions about age restrictions and designated parking spaces as well as allowing scooters on some trails.

“Staff proposes that it be permissible to use County sidewalks (with limitations), trails, and on-street bicycle facilities for micro-mobility travel, unless specifically signed/marked otherwise,” wrote county staff in a report to the Board for Saturday’s meeting. “One of the first steps in implementation of the new ordinance would be to sign/mark as prohibited for riding those key sidewalk conflict areas identified during the Pilot program.”

The question of whether scooter riders should be allowed on sidewalks has been a topic of debate among some local groups. Staff is recommending allowing sidewalk use in areas of the county where bike lanes are not a viable option.

“Key stakeholder groups including the Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Bicycle Advisory Committee, and Commission on Aging expressed concern that irresponsible sidewalk-riding could be a danger to pedestrians of any age, however they also expressed support for allowing responsible sidewalk-riding where it was not inconsistent with volumes of pedestrians using the facility, and where safe in-road options are not present,” the staff report says.

The Commission on Aging also expressed concerns that “scooter parking would create an obstruction to safe pedestrian circulation, especially near public transit stops and stations.” County staff seeks to address those concerns with restrictions that specify that scooters should be parked upright and off to the side on sidewalks, if not in a designated scooter dock.

Earlier this year, lawmakers in Richmond passed legislation requiring localities to create their own regulations for where users could ride, and park, the devices.

The new ordinance would not, however, preclude future changes to the scooter program.

“Staff commits to a review of the program and consideration of potential refinements to the ordinance at or about one year after ordinance changes go into effect,” a county staff report states.

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The Arlington County Board could advance an extensive redesign of Jennie Dean Park during its meeting this weekend.

The Board is scheduled to vote to add dedicated green space to the Shirlington-area park and approve a $15.5 million construction contact during its meeting this Saturday, November 16.

County staff recommends awarding the contract to D.C.-based construction firm MCN Build, Inc., which was also tapped to work on Fire Station 8, per a report to the Board.

The park was first built in 1949 and features two tennis courts, baseball and softball diamonds, a basketball court, a playground, and a picnic area. After a series of public meetings, the county decided to relocate one of the baseball fields near S. Nelson Street, install a bathroom near Four Mile Run Drive, and build basketball and tennis courts near a WETA production facility.

As part of the renovations, the County Board is now considering removing a stretch of 27th Street S. from S. Nelson Street to Shirlington Road “for incorporation into the expanded Jennie Dean Park” per county staffers. The removal of the section of road is not expected to impede access to the WETA building, which serves as the production studio for PBS Newshour.

In addition to vacating the stretch of road, members will also vote on whether to rezone some “service industry” parcels of land to the north of the park as “public” — a move that could add 1.96 acres to the park which would make room for the planned youth baseball diamond, among other amenities.

The design process for the park proved somewhat controversial, with a local civic association calling one proposed design a “non-starter.” The park sits within the boundaries of the Green Valley neighborhood.

County officials are scheduled to discuss the final renovation designs next Thursday, November 21 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Charles Drew Community Center, and on Saturday, November 23 from 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Shirlington Branch Library.

Construction on the project is due to start by early 2020.

Earlier this year, officials asked residents to share their memories of the park with the Brooklyn-based artist selected to design the public art portion of the project.

The park project is part of larger goals to revitalize the Four Mile Run Valley area and emphasize more storm protections for the floodprone area.

Images via Google Maps and Arlington County

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Last night, reform candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was elected the next top prosecutor for Arlington and Falls Church, leaving questions about how her campaign promises could affect the area’s political and legal landscape.

Throughout her unusually contentious — and expensive — campaign, Tafti promised to stop prosecuting some marijuana possession cases, eliminate some cash bail requirements, and make it easier for defense attorneys to access case files, among other reforms.

Tafti declined to discuss details about her plans for the prosecutor’s office itself, but the other agencies most affected by her reforms say her tenure could have a big impact on their work.

Public defenders may have more time with their clients 

Chief Public Defender Bradley Haywood has been a vocal critic of outgoing Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and donated to Tafti’s campaign. He told ARLnow her win will “absolutely” change the work his office can do, adding that her election was an “amazing opportunity” for judges, lawyers, and prosecutors to work together on criminal justice reform.

One reform Haywood said will majorly impact public defenders is Tafti’s promise to do away with the the requirement that defense attorneys hand copy all the prosecutor’s files about their criminal cases — a process several attorneys say is “horribly inefficient” and makes preparing large cases impossible.

“We estimated that there were about 1,000-1,500 hours we spent in that stupid room typing manually,” Haywood said of his office’s work in the past year. “It’s going to go down from 1,000 hours to zero probably in January. That will give us time to actually learn more about our clients.”

Tafti told ARLnow last night after the polls closed and her campaign declared victory that she was “absolutely” still committed to digitizing the document policy.

The Arlington County Bar Association, which includes private defense attorneys, declined to comment when asked how the new prosecutor’s policy priorities could affect members’ work.

The Sheriff’s Office may need a budget bump

Another one of the reforms Tafti focused on during her campaign was ending the practice of “cash bail,” which she said penalizes lower-income people who might instead remain jail as they await trial.

Outgoing prosecutor Theo Stamos announced last November she would stop seeking bail for people accused of low-level misdemeanors after seven state lawmakers urged her to fix the system. However, public defenders criticized the plan for still excluding too many defendants, calling it a “cynical PR move” to help her bid for re-election.

Sheriff Beth Arthur, who won her re-election last night, told ARLnow she didn’t necessarily oppose more changes to the bail system. But she did express concern about how to manage resources if judges choose to release defendants before trial with conditions — like weekly drug testing — in lieu of bail.

“I do have concerns from a staffing perspective and from an operational perspective on how how this impacts the poor people who are managing the program and who have a caseload of 60-65 people,” she said of her office’s pre-trial program that supervises such defendants. “That’s a lot.”

However, Arthur said she’s hopeful that the county will grant her office additional resources to staff pre-trial programs should they be affected by Tafti’s reforms — or the jail diversion program for people with mental illnesses.

In June, the Arlington County Board approved a $45.3 million total budget for the Sheriff’s Office in fiscal year 2020.

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(Updated at 10:10 a.m.) The reconfiguration of Clarendon’s worst intersection is one step closer to finishing as crews begin paving.

Working began repaving the roads that together form the notoriously dangerous “Clarendon Circle” — a.k.a. the intersection of Wilson, Clarendon, and Washington Blvds — this past weekend.

The paving work will continue for the rest of this week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is expected to close some traffic lanes and cause temporary detours, the county’s Department of Environmental Services warns on its webpage for the project.

“Increased traffic congestion is expected, and drivers are encouraged to seek alternate routes and avoid Clarendon Circle during this work if possible,” DES said on its website.

On Monday, for instance, through traffic on Wilson Blvd was blocked and redirected to Washington Blvd. On Tuesday, steam and a burning rubber smell clouded the intersection as crews directed traffic around a cluster of paving equipment.

Work on the project is expected to wrap up by Veterans Day, this coming Monday.

The county has long aimed to redesign the intersection to be safer for pedestrians and cyclists and less confusing for motorists, with a goal of reducing crashes. The project design selected will realign Wilson and Washington Blvd, shorten crosswalks, and widen sidewalks.

Construction kicked off last year after the Arlington County Board awarded a $2.5 million contract to Ardent Construction Company.

Since then, the county has made several changes to the tricky nexus of roads, including cutting off N. Irving Street and banning left turns onto Wilson from Washington — though many drivers at least initially ignored the ban.

Image 1-5 via Arlington County

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Crews are now starting work on the walls for the long-awaited, long-debated Long Bridge Aquatics and Center near Crystal City.

Arlington County tweeted that the final beam was lifted into place last week for the controversial $60 million recreational center at 475 Long Bridge Drive. Officials say the next steps will be setting up walls and pouring pool foundations.

“The building’s structural steel work is nearing completion and concrete for the 50-meter pool is being formed and poured,” Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish told ARLnow.

The final design includes a 50-meter pool with diving towers, as well as a family pool and public fitness space — and $410,000 video screens.

Arlington officials have already budgeted for two full-time staffers to run the facility once it opens.

Kalish also confirmed that last year’s record-breaking rain did not interfere with the construction timetable — even if it did dampen the groundbreaking ceremony.

“Weather has not had any effect on the schedule,” she said. The wet weather reportedly delayed construction projects across the region.

The aquatics center is expected to open at the beginning of 2021, and officials hope it will serve everyone from middle schoolers to competitive swimmers who currently train at the high school pools.

Image (below) via Twitter/Arlington County

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(Updated at 2 p.m.) Arlington’s culinary school La Cocina is planning to add a cafe and a business incubator — as well as triple the number of students it teaches.

The bilingual non-profit donates healthy meals and trains Hispanic immigrants for culinary jobs. But now La Cocina is planning to move from the basement of a church near Ballston to a 5,000-square-foot space in the affordable Gilliam Place housing development at 3507 Columbia Pike, where the organization’s CEO and Founder Patricia Funegra says La Cocina will help residents cook up new businesses.

“We call it the zero-barriers training and entrepreneurship center,” Funegra told ARLnow today. “The new center will triple our capacity.”

For the last two years, she said she’s worked to raise money ($2.5 million so far) for the new space where La Cocina will continue training residents for culinary jobs — but also rent out its kitchen space and offer micro-lending to low-income entrepreneurs looking to start their own food businesses.

Funegra says the plan is also to launch a “pop-up cafe” with space for 40 seats where these burgeoning business owners can sell their offerings.

Also planned for the new space is an in-house catering business to help pull in revenue for the nonprofit.

The kitchen space itself will include six to eight prep tables and industrial ovens, fridges, and a walk-in freezer. All together, she hopes to quadruple the number of students a year from around 30 to 120.

“We are moving from a workforce development nonprofit in the food service to becoming producer of food,” Funegra said of the ambitious plans. “So there is some learning process we are going through as well.”

Funegra also hopes the new location on Columbia Pike will also allow Cocina to better reach low-income individuals who need access to healthy meals. She said the organization’s existing food donation program has given out 12,000 such meals, but they hope to give out 40,000 in the new location thanks to the bigger space and larger staff.

Currently, Cocina employs six full-time staffers. It now plans to hire another six come January, including cooks, a manager of operations for the cafe and catering service, and a social worker.

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Today may be Election Day in Arlington, but the Arlington Democratic party may well be watching other jurisdictions’ elections more closely.

Virginia is one of the few states with a “serious shot” at flipping both its House and Senate blue this election, an outcome Democratic leaders have long hoped for to pass a more progressive agenda in Richmond and boost Democratic presidential candidates come next November. Acknowledging that Arlington voters overwhelmingly vote blue already, the local party is casting its support out wider to help other Democratic candidates in the state.

“Arlington is fortunate to have an electorate that largely supports progressive candidates, as well as very engaged volunteers,” Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo said in a statement yesterday (Monday). “Arlington Dems decided early to unleash its resources to support strategic contests beyond Arlington.”

“Our volunteers have fought hard across the state to elect Democratic candidates to the General Assembly who will pass important legislation on healthcare accessibility, economic opportunity for all, gun safety, women’s, voter, and reproductive rights, and other critical issues,” said Caiazzo.

Overall, the party said it has lent support to 14 House of Delegates and 7 state Senate candidates in Chesterfield, Fairfax, Fauquier, Fredericksburg, and Prince William counties, as well as the Virginia Beach. The roster of incumbent and challenger candidates supported include:

  • Sheila Bynum-Coleman for Delegate District 66 (Chesterfield)
  • Jennifer Carroll Foy for Del. District (Ashburn/Prince William)
  • Lee Carter for Del. District 50 (Manassas/Prince William)
  • Joshua Cole for Del. District 28 (Fredericksburg/Stafford)
  • Wendy Gooditis for Del. District 10 (Loudoun/Frederick)
  • Danica Roem for Del. District 13 (Manassas)
  • Ibraheem Samirah for Del. District 86 (Fairfax/Loudoun)
  • Kathy Tran Del. District 42 (Fairfax)

In the last two months, the party supported the General Assembly candidates by sending postcards (20,000), deploying volunteer canvassers (100), and running phone banks (25.)

The efforts to bolster Democrats in other jurisdiction began months ago, as the local party highlighted Loudoun County’s candidate for Senate District 13 (John Bell) and Fairfax County’s candidate for Delegate District 40 (Dan Helmer) and Newport News’ Delegate candidate for District 94 (Shelly Simonds) at its annual Blue Victory Dinner in May.

“We believe this election will have historic implications for Virginia and will be a shot across the bow to the White House that 2020 is coming. We are just getting started,” said Arlington Young Democrats President Dan Matthews.

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A new car-sharing company for quick trips or all-day rentals has quietly rolled out vehicles in Arlington and D.C.

The sedan ARLnow spotted in the Bluemont neighborhood was discreet, with a sticker reading “dash” on the driver’s side door. It is part of the “Penske Dash” car-sharing venture recently launched by Michigan automotive services company Penske Corp.

However, the service’s debut is “awkward” timing considering Car2Go has been cutting service, and General Motors, Lime and BMW have also pulled out from their car-sharing programs, as TechCrunch reported.

The former CEO of Car2Go, Paul Delong, is leading local operations for Dash, per TechCrunch.

Dash’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Montri told ARLnow today (Thursday) that the company was choosing to invest anyway because Penske’s focus on slow growth for the program, experience in automotive, and partnership with Colonial Parking would help it succeed where others had failed.

“As the automobile industry undergoes rapid change, alternative transportation models are becoming more common place, particularly in densely populated urban areas,” he said. “Mobility as a Service (MaaS) provides a hassle-free and environmentally friendly alternative to private car ownership.”

Montri added that Arlington and D.C. were “great” spots to pilot Dash because “residents of these communities have shown an interest in, and comfort with, new mobility models,” and the local governments were willing to work with companies offering new transit programs.

Penske joins French company Groupe PSA, which also launched its own car-sharing program “Free2Move” in the D.C. area in June. Groupe PSA’s program now operates around 600 vehicles in D.C. and Arlington, according to industry news site Automotive News.

Montri did not answer how many Dash cars Penske planned to roll out in the county when asked by ARLnow.

Dash works in a similar way to competitors like Free2Move and Car2go: users download an app to create an account, locate an available Volkswagen Jetta, and unlock it with the app to get behind the wheel.

Users can then “return” the cars by parking anywhere it is street legal in Arlington or D.C. However, the service’s warns people to avoid underground garages where apps can struggle for signal.

Dash credits up to $25 to fuel up the cars, but users pay the rest, along with a 45 cent charge per minute spent driving the car. The difference between Dash and its competitors, Montri said, was better vehicle upkeep and customer service.

Montri’s full statement about Dash is below.

As the automobile industry undergoes rapid change, alternative transportation models are becoming more common place, particularly in densely populated urban areas. Mobility as a Service (Maas) provides a hassle-free and environmentally friendly alternative to private car ownership. 

Penske has a legacy in transportation solutions, spanning automobiles, services and trucks. We bring our expertise to the marketplace, and alongside our partners, Penske Dash offers best-in-class quality and operational excellence.

Our entry into any market will be methodical as we grow in partnership with local communities, pursuing customer satisfaction and repeat business as primary metrics rather than number of users or vehicles. Additionally, both the A-to-B and rent-by-minute models provide added flexibility for those who may not wish to return their rental to the same starting point, or return, by a specific time.

In Washington DC, Penske Dash’s partnership with Colonial Parking gives members a guaranteed free parking solution in dense, city center areas so they can avoid struggling to find street space.

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