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by Mark Kelly April 19, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last fall, the County Manager informed the Board of his intention to recommend that the county no longer pursue a black box theater project that was required as part of a Virginia Square site plan.

The theater was to be approximately 13,000 square feet with 150 seats, and the space provided essentially rent free to the county for up to 45 years.

This project was put into the site plan in 2012 even though at the time the Artisphere project was flailing and the Signature Theater was preparing to seek a bailout. The county promised a business plan for the new black box theater which would essentially provide maximum benefit and minimum cost to the taxpayers. Many of us wondered at the time if that was possible.

After two failed business plans, County leaders closed the Artisphere in 2015. And by the end of 2014, the County Board had approved $661,000 to pay unpaid taxes, canceled 19 years of rent payments, and provided a $5 million loan for the Signature Theater.

There were several reasons offered by the Manager for this latest move, including the fact that the developer still has not provided a timeline to move forward on what was to be an office building. With the commercial occupancy rate what it is, that construction delay is understandable.

Chief among the rationale was both the cost of building out the interior, at $3 million, and at least $570,000 annually in ongoing operations costs the Manager called “unsustainable.”

It seems as though county officials have finally concluded there is no business plan they can present that will make sense to county taxpayers. And it looks like that decision may be finalized as part of the upcoming County Board meeting.

One topic of discussion at the October 2017 meeting where the Manager first broached this subject publicly was creating for community use additional theater space in new public school buildings.

This same approach could have been applied to the aquatics center. A joint venture at a new school building would almost certainly reduce the overall cost of the project. And, it would open up more space for future lighted soccer fields at the Long Bridge site.

There is little doubt that had the developer moved forward before 2017, county taxpayers would own the costs of this theater and we would be facing how to either pay for the build out or its ongoing operations for the FY 2019 budget.

With the lessons learned from the Artisphere and Signature, our county officials should be commended if they exercise their option to get out of the project, even if that decision was a little slow in coming.

by Progressive Voice April 19, 2018 at 3:15 pm 0

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

By Stacy Snyder

Repetition is part of the process I follow as a potter.

My work involves making cups, plates, platters, bowls and vases over and over again. Since there are handmade objects made of clay, each is different, and I frequently find myself having to solve problems. Why did that plate crack? Why did that plate crack again?

Sometimes the problems are within my control, and can be solved easily with a minor repair, and sometimes I am put in a situation where I am forced to have to rethink the way I am working and may need a wholesale rethinking of processes.

Having a problem to solve can be a positive thing. It can lead in a direction that enables me to learn new approaches so I can move my ideas forward in a way I had not thought of before.

It is from this perspective that I view the challenges that Arlington faces with building and planning for new schools. From my experience as chair of the APS Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC), here are my thoughts on how to strengthen and streamline the way Arlington builds new schools.

Our school system has added more than 8,000 students since 2007. Over the next decade, APS is planning to add at least two elementary schools, a middle school and 1,300 high school seats as 5,500 more students arrive.

At the same time both the School Board and the County Board are struggling with decisions to close budget deficits and keep bond and capital improvement requests reasonable. So finding money and land for building new schools is challenging.

Given future enrollment growth and facility needs, every school construction decision today needs to be made with a tough, clear-eyed view on how it impacts the long-term seat needs of our entire school system and our budget.

Approving a project over budget without understanding how and where funds will be found or what the impacts may be on other projects — such as the recent Reed project at $6 million over its $49 million budget — is unsustainable.

In my potter’s studio, it would be a mistake for me to continue using the same process if I knew that the outcome would be that darn plate cracking again. Same with school construction issues. It is time to look for new ways of addressing the issues using innovative, collaborative and forward thinking.

Beginning now to prepare for the future with a long-range planning vision will help us to manage community expectations, make early tradeoffs to keep projects on budget and ensure schools in the construction pipeline are treated fairly.

We must look for efficiencies in every part of the planning and building process. In Arlington it can take up to five years to open a new school.

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by Peter Rousselot April 19, 2018 at 2:45 pm 0

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.

Full Virginia Medicaid expansion is the top 2018 legislative priority.

I strongly support this priority to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens gain health coverage.

7,700 currently uninsured Arlington residents will have much healthier lives with full Medicaid expansion.

However, since Democrats lack a majority in both legislative branches, they must make a deal with Virginia Republicans to expand Medicaid.

Virginia House of Delegates

In the House of Delegates (HOD), the dam broke earlier this year during the regular legislative session when Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Scott), the Chairman of the HOD Commerce and Labor Committee, announced he would back expansion because, according to The Washington Post, “his struggling coal-country district would get the ‘hand up’ it desperately needs if more uninsured Virginians were made eligible for the federal-state health-care program.”

Kilgore’s announcement was key to gaining the support of a substantial number of additional HOD Republican legislators who have supported an HOD budget plan. From the Richmond-Times Dispatch:

“That would accept $3.2 billion in federal money to pay for 90 percent of the cost of expanding the program on Jan. 1, 2019 [to 300,000 Virginians], while relying on a new ‘provider assessment’ on hospital revenues to cover the state’s share of the cost of health coverage for currently uninsured Virginians whose care is uncompensated.”

However, these HOD Republicans joined Kilgore in tying their support to certain conditions and limitations:

“Kilgore said work requirements like those the Trump administration has allowed Kentucky to impose, coupled with a mandate that recipients contribute a ‘small co-pay,’ would make for “a conservative approach” to expansion.”

Virginia Senate

At least two Republican Senators now have conditionally endorsed expansion. From The Washington Post:

“One of them — Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (Augusta) — has supported certain forms of expansion for years, though he opposes the hospital tax [‘provider assessment’].”

Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) last week authored a guest column in which he supported expansion under certain conditions. From the Post:

“Those include a tax credit for middle-income people who already have insurance but are struggling to pay soaring premiums and co-pays. He also wants to beef up the work requirement that the House wants imposed on Medicaid recipients.”

Expansion scenarios now

There are at least 5 possible Medicaid expansion scenarios:

  1. Expansion with a perk for lower-middle class. Wagner’s proposal.
  2. Expansion but no hospital tax. Hanger’s proposal.
  3. Expansion with work requirements.The HOD proposal.
  4. Full expansion, no work requirements. Northam’s proposal; unlikely to happen.
  5. No expansion at all. That’s what 19 Senate Republicans currently say they want; unlikely to happen.

Conclusion

As Governor Northam has advocated, Democrats’ long-term goal must continue to be full Medicaid expansion. But, overriding even that goal, Democrats must help people who are dying, or who are much sicker than they need to be because of untreated illnesses. For this reason, Democrats should make the best possible deal with Republicans.

Support for Medicaid expansion has been provided by leading business groups like the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. This has led to major Republican support expressed by the chairs of the General Assembly’s Commerce and Labor committees. New Republican HOD Speaker Cox’s support also is noteworthy.

A final decision on Medicaid expansion probably is weeks away because:

  • hundreds of millions of spending on other budget needs are tied to Medicaid expansion
  • Senate Republican leaders want to see new revenue projections first

by Bridget Reed Morawski April 13, 2018 at 9:00 pm 0

It’s finally warming up, and there are plenty of events — like Saturday’s Key School Auction and the League of Women Voters Post Legislative Forum, or the Animal Welfare League of Arlington’s fee-waiver dog adoption weekend — to keep you busy this weekend.

Before any outdoor fun, though, let’s take a look back at ARLnow’s biggest stories over the past week.

  1. TMZ Publishes Video of NBA Star Cheating on Khloe Kardashian at Darna Lounge
  2. JUST IN: Goody’s to Serve Last Slices Tonight
  3. BREAKING: Governor Vetoes Country Club Bill
  4. CAVA Opens Ballston Location This Week With Free Meals
  5. Elementary School Principal Dies Unexpectedly
  6. Honking Metro Trains Irking Residents Along I-66

Feel free to discuss these topics, your weekend plans, or anything else that’s happening locally in the comments below. Have a great weekend!

Photo via Bridget Reed Morawski/Instagram

by ARLnow.com April 13, 2018 at 10:00 am 0

It’s Friday, April 13 — Friday the 13th — that supposedly unluckiest of days.

If you’re superstitious, you might be a bit extra cautious today, walking around ladders, avoiding certain felines and whatnot. Or, if you think that all this superstition stuff is silly, you’re probably not doing a single thing differently.

Let’s find out where Arlington residents stand when it comes to superstition and Friday the 13th.

Photo via Wikipedia

by Mark Kelly April 12, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington Chamber came out against the parking rate and hours of enforcement increases this week.

Almost certainly, it is a way for the county to keep ratcheting up spending without hitting property owners with a tax rate increase. The parking changes are estimated to bring in $2.2 million per year.

According to the Chamber, the revenue grab was done without any outreach to local businesses. Just last month the County Manager just made a big deal out of new public engagement process for capital projects.

If the Chamber’s concerns about the lack of outreach are true, it would only reinforce the concerns about the seriousness of the County Board and staff when it comes to how they consider negative public feedback.

As the County Board continues to finalize the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, there are many short-term considerations like these. There is also a need to continue the conversation about long-term economic development.

It was suggested by the Chair of the Economic Development Commission in the Progressive Voice last week that our tax rate was “highly competitive.” Our persistently high commercial vacancy rate tells a very different story. And coming full circle, it is a good bet that increasing the cost of parking to visit one of Arlington’s restaurants in the evening will not help.

The Economic Development Commission’s strategic plan does state that “a stable and predictable regulatory climate is fundamental to providing superior service.”

But as existing businesses in the county see the incentives being offered and given to big businesses looking to relocate, they are wondering why more is not being done to make the business environment better for everyone.

Did anyone on the EDC really ask the fundamental question, why would a business looking at our business environment choose come to Arlington if we did not offer them an incentive package? In other words, is there a big “open for business” sign here or does it look like a high tax environment and difficult bureaucracy to navigate?

The EDC suggested continued improvements in areas like how businesses can interact with the county during permitting and licensing processes. Talking to people who do business in Arlington, there is still room for improvement here.

The EDC should go out and talk to business owners of all types and sizes. And here is a revolutionary question for the EDC to ask as they do: would our economic prosperity be better off if our government did less, not more?

by Progressive Voice April 12, 2018 at 3:15 pm 0

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 Kelley Coyner

When I first came to Arlington as a college student I stayed to launch a career, lured my city-centric fiancé to the suburbs and returned from graduate studies and other adventures. Back then Metro worked and walking and driving worked pretty well for me and my husband.

Over time, that changed. We added three children (now in their teens and 20s) to the mix, expanded our friendships across ages, focused our professional lives locally and adopted a lighter car diet — primarily for financial reasons.

Like others, we soon realized that even as Arlington pressed forward with travel options, things did not work so well for families with young children, for school-age kids and for older adults.

Want to use a car share to make the deadline for extended day or preschool pickup? Beware there is no car seat.

Your teens work after school or help with younger children? Teens may be able to take a school bus on a fixed schedule. But their independent travel is limited by the lack of cross-county north-south bus service.

Even walking and biking to school and to Metro is hampered by competing views of the value of sidewalks, safety concerns about biking and more.

Eager to get to sports practice, theater rehearsals, tutoring or dance lessons? If it’s not an after-school event, getting around is hard without a culture of carpooling or ways for older kids to get themselves where they need to go.

Although it has been a while since I had a preschooler, I still get flagged down in Ballston with the question, “Aren’t you the lady who used to carry a booster seat on your back?”

In the year we lived carless, our family started the transportation day waiting at the bus stop in a busy construction zone. Why the booster seat? On the way back to pick the kids up from school, I would snag a Zip Car to make the six o’clock pickups at Key School and at preschool in Clarendon.

More than 10 years later, car sharing still is not helpful for a family with carseat kids. Seems like if car shares can find a way to add bike racks, they could figure out something for car seats.

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by Peter Rousselot April 12, 2018 at 2:45 pm 0

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.

In two columns last fall, I asked: Does County government commit too much surplus revenue for spending?

Progress on unallocated closeout surplus

In his proposed FY 2019 budget, County Manager Mark Schwartz notes that he has whittled down the level of surplus funds available at closeout.

“[T]he amount of funds that are ‘discretionary’ for allocation at closeout have been reduced annually ($11.1 million in FY 2017, compared to $17.8 million in FY 2016 and $21.8 million in FY 2015). Of those closeout funds that have been made available, immediate spending has been limited to commitments already made by the Board or for emergency needs,” the budget wrote.

This is a positive step.

More budget reforms

However, of these closeout funds, the majority remaining after allocating the APS revenue-sharing portion is automatically allocated to “commitments already made by the Board.” Missing is a clear, written policy explaining how, when and why these other “commitments” were made.

The County Board essentially has allowed the manager to allocate/spend the remaining closeout funds without adequate opportunities for residents to weigh in on millions of dollars of spending.

The Civic Federation has asked that a fair and reasonable portion of surplus funds be plowed back into the coming-fiscal-year budget to reduce the need for a tax-rate increase. County officials, however, claim that best practices dictate that surplus funds be used only for “one-time” purposes since the county cannot rely on future surpluses to meet ongoing needs.

But there is no written, publicly available policy clearly defining what a “one-time” expenditure is, and this “one-time” money is often spent on recurring needs.

What experts say

At a County Board work session last spring, Public Financial Management, Inc. (PFM) described how other jurisdictions manage their fund balance accounts.

PFM noted that Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties have a 10 percent operating/contingency reserve, twice Arlington’s level.

PFM also observed that:

  • Arlington’s General Fund reserve policy levels are below the median level and among the lowest in the triple-A group (Arlington’s bond-rating peer group).
  • FY 2016 is the second consecutive year of decline in the General Fund balance ratio, and this could begin to concern Moody’s, if it becomes a trend.

More County Board oversight

Too often, committed and allocated funds are established in the fund balance with substantial cash accumulating over time, apparently with little or no monitoring of the reasonableness of the balances. New York State’s Local Government Management Guide on Reserve Funds warns against this.

“Reserve funds should not be merely a ‘parking lot’ for excess cash or fund balances,” the guide wrote. 

The County Board should answer questions like these:

  • Has the financial purpose served by each reserve fund been identified and published?
  • Has a written reserve fund policy been developed and published?
  • Has the Board reviewed all reserve funds currently established, and determined if the balances in each are reasonable?

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by Bridget Reed Morawski April 6, 2018 at 9:00 pm 0

Some snow may fall over the weekend and even though accumulation is unlikely, several events like this weekend’s Fitness + Wellness Festival and Chalkapalooza have been rescheduled or cancelled.

Snow aside, let’s take a look back at ARLnow’s biggest stories over the past week.

  1. Elementary School Principal Dies Unexpectedly
  2. Lyon Park Gun Store Sales Steady Amid Gun Control Debate
  3. The Italian Store’s Vespa Has Been Recovered
  4. Arlington’s Millennials Want To Buy Homes, But It’s Complicated
  5. Updated: Escape Room Opening on Columbia Pike
  6. Istanbul Grill Expected To Replace Ballston Area’s El Ranchero

Feel free to discuss these topics, your weekend plans, or anything else that’s happening locally in the comments below. Have a great weekend!

Photo via Erinn Shirley/Flickr

by Mark Kelly April 5, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On Tuesday night, the County Board room was packed with people asking for budget dollars.

Granted, a large number of police officers and firefighters were in attendance to make the case for higher pay, a cause certainly worthy of consideration. However, it is not an uncommon occurrence for the Board to hear about multiple ways to spend more taxpayer dollars.

With the tax rate question settled — unless the Board wants to lower it, which would be fine with many of us — the Board has a relatively big, but finite universe of spending to do this year. I have already made the case that the auditor’s office needs additional resources to truly be effective.

If we want to help relieve future budget constraints, let’s speed up the process of reviewing how the County spends our money.

The County Board should also constrain the closeout process now, as part of the budget. Calls in this column for the closeout funds to be used to lower tax rates have amounted to nothing. But what about an approach that takes our expenditures, tax rates and debt into account?

Total debt for FY 2019 is projected to reach nearly $1.2 billion by the end of the fiscal year. That is $5,193 for every Arlingtonian. Debt service is projected to cost taxpayers about $126 million in FY 2019 between the schools and the county government.

That is 9% of the county budget, which is close to the 10% threshold credit rating agencies look at when evaluating whether we maintain our high bond rating. And with upward pressure on interest rates, the days of uber-cheap financing may be coming to an end.

Here is a suggested constraint on the County Board’s year-end actions for the next five years:

25% of closeout funds, for unforeseen needs in the county or school system.

25% of closeout funds set aside in a reserve fund and earmarked to pay cash for some or all of a future school building.

25% of closeout funds set aside in a reserve fund and earmarked to pay cash for some or all of a major project in the Capital Improvement Plan.

25% of closeout funds given back to homeowners as a tax rebate.

Meeting unforeseen needs, saving to pay cash for purchases instead of putting them on the “credit card,” and giving money back to the people paying the bills sound like a pretty reasonable allocation of excess resources.

by Progressive Voice April 5, 2018 at 3:15 pm 0

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 Sally J. Duran

Arlington is a dynamic place and a lot of economic development happens within our small borders.

Our economy is fortunate to be powered by technology and innovation companies, federal government agencies, higher education institutions, small businesses like neighborhood coffee shops and big newcomers like Nestle.

However, maintaining a robust and diversified local economy doesn’t just happen; it requires a progressive development strategy that holistically considers many aspects of our community. How does Arlington stay resilient and attractive through all kinds of challenges? How do we ensure both large and small businesses stay competitive – and viable – for the future? What does it truly mean to have “progressive development” in a local economy?

It’s something Arlington has faced many times over the years, and it’s something we at the Economic Development Commission (EDC), a citizen advisory commission set up to monitor Arlington’s economy and make policy recommendations to the County Board, often consider when planning for the future.

Arlington has a growing technology sector and diversified corporate community along with the federal government, commercial business, non-profit and international communities. It’s no surprise that Arlington has access to one of the most educated and sought after workforces in the nation.

Our balanced and stable fiscal base allows for highly competitive tax rates that in turn provide world-class services and amenities to Arlington residents, businesses and visitors. The high incomes and low unemployment rates of our residents enable us to attract quality cultural events, excellent restaurants and varied retail establishments.

We have a long tradition of welcoming those from around the globe, and Arlington is supportive of varied lifestyles.

Our attractive economic landscape hasn’t just happened; it’s the result of careful planning, community engagement and aggressively addressing challenges such as those that arose in the past decade.

In 2008, the EDC created an economic development strategic plan to address the significant impact to the county’s commercial vacancy rate that resulted from the federal government’s decision to relocate federal tenants out of leased space in Arlington.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that subsequent federal government budget reductions would further erode the federal presence in Arlington. Equally significant changes were happening in the private sector. New ways of working — teleworking, 3rd spaces, hoteling, etc. — would shrink the per worker footprint in our office buildings across all markets and transform the definition of “workplace.” Clearly, we faced challenges that were neither fully anticipated nor understood a decade ago.

Nonetheless, Arlington’s economic development strategy has evolved thoughtfully in response to these changing dynamics. As a result of careful planning, we’ve maintained Arlington’s triple-AAA bond rating and balanced fiscal base with an approximate 50/50 commercial/residential split in property taxes — which is what’s key to Arlington’s economic prosperity.

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by Peter Rousselot April 5, 2018 at 2:45 pm 0

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.

In last week’s column, I discussed a helpful new report on APS Future Facilities Needs prepared by the Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs.

The new report makes a compelling case that APS must pivot to a new way of thinking and decision making about capital projects. One commenter offered the following observation, “Yes of course but what is the ‘new way’? Some specifics would be nice.”

Today’s column offers some specifics.

Fiscal responsibility & long-range planning

Every future facilities decision should be made with fiscal responsibility and long-range planning as primary factors. The County and APS should collaborate to develop financial projections out to 2035 for both capital and operating budget spending, utilizing at least three assumptions: most likely case, optimistic case(s), pessimistic case(s).

The results of those projections, together with the major assumptions underlying them, should be published and shared for discussion with the community.

County & APS collaboration on site selection

The County needs to work with APS to find some sites for some new schools, starting with the next elementary in the new 2018 APS Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

The County should adopt a land acquisition program to acquire acreage for school sites many years before the new schools would need to open. The County & APS should appoint a new task force, comprised of qualified, independent real estate professionals, to assist APS in negotiating for school space in vacant office space.

County-wide focus on locating new seats

Every decision on where to locate new seats should be made with a full understanding of the impacts of that decision on all of Arlington — not just the impacts on the immediately-proximate neighborhood.

Every community needs to be prepared to deal with some more intensified use of current buildings and sites. Congestion will grow inside and outside our schools. Every community will need to shoulder part of the burden, although the details will look different in each case.

APS & County resident-engagement

We must cut down on the average time it takes (currently up to 5 years) to get a new school on line. We also must introduce cost considerations into every stage of our engagement processes.

We need reformed civic engagement processes in which the public can weigh in early enough concerning a manageable number of budget-driving alternative options. We cannot continue with processes in which residents or staff are enabled to add one feature after another, never being told what the costs of doing so are nor that APS can afford X or Y but not both.

New CIP must include plans for enrollment growth beyond 2028

Last week’s column discussed the compelling evidence for future enrollment growth well beyond 2028. We won’t have enough capital funds or land (or money for land) to build up to 8 more schools beyond 2028 and service the debt in our operating budget. We need different (non-building) solutions to accommodate such further growth.

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by Bridget Reed Morawski March 30, 2018 at 9:00 pm 0

We hope you get to enjoy the weekend’s sunny, mild weather, which should be a nice backdrop for the beginning of Passover tonight and Easter on Sunday.

Before the outdoor activities begin and the Easter baskets are filled, let’s take a look back at ARLnow’s biggest stories over the past week.

  1. Want to Live Comfortably in Arlington? Here’s What It Will Cost You
  2. Alt’s Vegetarian Restaurant to Open Soon in Lyon Park
  3. Crowdfunding Campaign Launched for Ballston Homicide Victim
  4. La Tasca Has Closed in Clarendon
  5. Ballston’s Lebanese Fast Casual Restaurant Badaro Now Open
  6. Arlington Bar Owners Cheer Chef Geoff’s Happy Hour Advertising Lawsuit

Feel free to discuss these topics, your weekend plans or anything else that’s happening locally in the comments below. Have a great rest of your weekend!

by Mark Kelly March 29, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last week, County Manager Mark Schwartz put out a new “Six-Step Public Engagement Guide for Capital Projects.” The county press release called it a “major milestone.”

County staff will find no objection to a more clearly defined path to consider large scale infrastructure projects. And the process will certainly provide a good path for projects that everyone will generally agree on the need for, but maybe need just need a little tweaking that comes from public input.

But as Mike Tyson once said about boxing, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” In other words, the true test of the guide is what happens when a project turns out to be controversial.

In the case of a controversial project, how will county staff address negative feedback that present major obstacles to move through the six steps?

If, at the end of the engagement process, the staff and elected officials are unable to address concerns in a way that the community feels good about, will county staff just step up the public relations effort to tell Arlingtonians why the project is a good thing? And under what circumstances will the County Board move forward with the project anyway?

What about putting a policy in place to bring the biggest projects to a straight up or down vote with the public? A standalone vote at a threshold borrowing amount of $25 million for a single project does not seem too much to ask. If a majority of the voting public feels the project is worthy, they will approve it.

Finally, what accountability is there for a project that doesn’t live up to its promises? For example, what if the county subsidy for a new aquatics center doubles, or triples over estimates? This is the type of thing that happened when it came to the Artisphere.

Over the years, we have heard a lot about how the government will listen to the public and be held accountable to the public. Every time a member takes over the gavel to chair the County Board, the subject is incorporated into their speech.

Two years ago, the County Board unceremoniously terminated a proposed “Blue Ribbon Panel” that would have provided independent citizen input into county priorities up front. The county auditor has not been given adequate resources to embark on a scope of work that would result in real accountability.

The true test for the County Board moving forward is how they take into account advice, input and accountability that is truly independent of the county manager, not whether there is an avenue to offer it.

by Progressive Voice March 29, 2018 at 3:15 pm 0

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 Laura Saul Edwards

Arlingtonians used to say that rising enrollment in our public schools was “a good problem to have.”

The catchphrase emphasizes the drawing power of the high quality instruction and student achievement at APS.

But these days, unprecedented enrollment growth, a shortage of seats and limited land for new school construction pose major challenges.

Fresh thinking and problem solving are needed as we face a space squeeze for schools — and for play space and other recreational needs. Building up — not out — is one solution. And building usable green space on rooftops has emerged as another promising option.

On the plus side, green roofs provide space for recreation and athletics when there is little to no available space for these activities at ground level. Just as important, they provide students with the chance to look at trees, plants and other natural amenities instead of industrial rooftops sprouting air conditioning units.

In this way, green roofs serve an environmental purpose while providing students with landscaped areas that can be used as a teaching tool, recreational areas for athletics and fitness and space for special events and programming.

For instance, in Rosslyn on a cramped urban site, construction is progressing rapidly on the new home of the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs, opening in September 2019. With seven floors, this facility will be Arlington Public Schools’ tallest building to date.

These massive rooftop terraces on four levels include one large enough to accommodate the equivalent of three basketball courts. These terraces create more functioning space on this small site with its compressed ground-level athletic field than would otherwise be possible if the new school were simply a multi-story box.

The rooftop terraces on top of the fanning bars of this modern building (picture a spread deck of playing cards) are a radical departure from the large, grassy suburban campus. Currently the programs are located with a traditional school building, full growth trees and acres of space for Ultimate Frisbee games.

But most people involved in reviewing the unique fanning bars design with its innovative rooftop terraces agreed that it made moving to the urban location more palatable. And the move also made space possible for a sorely needed middle school on H-B Woodlawn’s old site.

As green rooftops take hold in design nationwide, architects are learning how to lower the cost while addressing concerns with maintenance and drainage. Green rooftops can’t be the answer everywhere because each project and site is different.

Yet, given Arlington’s scrunch for space, even the most unlikely sites are being snapped up and creatively re-envisioned, often bringing a plus for the environment.

Imagine the old Alpine restaurant on Lee Highway – vacant for eight years – torn down and replaced by a three-story glass-paneled contemporary building for The Children’s School, a non-profit pre-school.

Imagine two secure rooftop green decks, where kids can safely run and play. A tree buffer to the residential area to the south. Open air, sunshine and a revitalized stretch of land.

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