Arlington, VA

Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington has over 30 acres of valuable public real estate that it is terribly mismanaging.

The County provides it to some, but not all residents for the express purpose of storing their private property. Some residents can use it for free, others pay a tiny pittance of $20 per year. Many residents, primarily the young and least affluent are forbidden from using it at all. Virtually every inch of it has been paved over.

Perhaps worst of all, those special residents who are allowed to use it, rarely do so. Over 50% of the time this land is sitting completely empty.

I’m speaking, of course, about Arlington’s on-street Residential Parking Permit Program parking spaces.

You’d be forgiven for not realizing any of this — the conversations about on-street parking in the County would make you think the exact opposite. You can’t show up at a development approval public hearing without hearing about the parking scarcity in Arlington. Penrose’s “parking crisis” is a regular topic of conversation at my neighborhood’s Civic Association meetings.

The cold, hard, data from the County’s parking occupancy study paints a very different picture, however. While on-street parking on commercial corridors is often at 85-100% occupancy, especially during evening hours, neighborhood streets with Residential Parking Permit (RPP) restrictions average less than 50% occupancy, even in the hours when those RPP restrictions aren’t in effect. During school hours, nearly every residential block in the County’s detailed study area is under 50%.

In a County as space-constrained as Arlington, we simply must make better use of this public land. Our tax money is used to maintain it; its imperviousness worsens flood risks for all of our homes; and as long as it is on-street parking, it cannot be rain gardens, parklets or bike infrastructure to get our kids safely to school.

Two current problems facing the County could greatly benefit from this land, and some simple changes to the RPP program could accomplish them.

First, Restaurant Row on 23rd St in Crystal City, which is home to many dearly-loved and locally-owned restaurants has very little dedicated parking. This recently received a lot of renewed attention due to the potential redevelopment of a private parking lot in the immediate vicinity. One business owner, specifically lamented the loss of lunch business in his testimony to the Transportation Commission. A large part of the loss of nearby parking near Restaurant Row, is due to those blocks acquiring RPP restrictions of the last decade.

While some sort of restrictions may be necessary to prevent commuter parking, the existing RPP restrictions have clearly gone much, much too far, especially when it comes to during the work day. Nearly all of the nearby blocks are under 60% occupancy at lunch time on weekdays.

There are several ways the RPP program could be changed that would help support these businesses without overly burdening nearby residents. Two hour parking could be allowed in RPP zones without a zone permit. To make this easier to enforce, parking meters could be installed. If this might result in too much commercial parking it could be limited to only during the work day, or only on one side of the street.

Second, the expansion of Arlington’s Career Center is currently working its way through Public Facilities Review Committee and how to accommodate the school’s parking needs is one of the hottest topics of conversation. The County estimates that the expanded Career Center will need 400-500 total parking spaces.

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Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Last month I spent eight hours at Arlington Independent Media (AIM) taking an audio production class. I marveled at the backgrounds, perspectives and skill sets that my classmates could bring to the airwaves.

Among us were a female veteran who is a motivational speaker, a filmmaker who has an interest in the women’s suffrage movement, an engineer and writer who focuses on environmental stewardship and historical fiction, and a woman who wants to produce a show about the downside of romantic relationships.

Next year I will be producing and hosting the Arlington League of Women Voters’ (LWV) radio show “Making Democracy Work” through AIM which will explore the importance of exercising our rights, responsibilities and civic duties. The show will feature prominent voices on a number of topics including voting rights, redistricting, General Assembly legislation and the importance of inclusivity in civic engagement.

The radio booth brought back memories of my time in the Peace Corps. While I was serving in Paraguay one of my projects was with the community radio station, Radio Villeta FM. Paraguay was transitioning from a dictatorship to a democracy, and as a champion of free speech, Radio Villeta flourished in this environment. It was gratifying to see the programming that residents produced, and their passion for their community. Regardless of its quality, the radio station was representative of what democracy means to me – open and participatory, a hub for the community, creative, and while often imperfect, always striving to represent the community’s needs.

The LWV was founded in 1920 by suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt at the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s convention. The 19th amendment gave 20 million women the right to vote (although primarily only white women could vote in practice) and the LWV helped them exercise their newfound right. The Arlington chapter has been on the forefront of civic engagement and refining our democracy since our chartering in 1944 and encourages participation.

In the midst of what is happening at the federal level, it’s easy to fear that instead of strengthening our democracy, we are moving in the other direction. In 2018, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich provided these 10 steps to make our democracy work. An underlying idea in these steps is a stronger civil society. Whether its community radio, or the LWV, we keep trying to move towards a more perfect union.

I served in the Peace Corps during the 2000 elections and Bush v. Gore. Day after day when I walked through the streets the neighbors would yell out “Is there a winner yet?” and “Are you rooting for Bush or Gore”? The United States is revered as a model democracy so it was somewhat embarrassing to teach about democracy during this time, but served as a great opportunity to demonstrate that while democracies are imperfect, we keep trying.

The LWV and AIM are only two examples of Arlington’s contributions to a strong civil society. While the national state of affairs may be disheartening, Arlingtonians don’t have to look farther than some of our longstanding institutions to be proud of the work we have done to strengthen our democracy, no matter how imperfect.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Any time Arlington County gets access to land within our 26 square miles is a cause for celebration. It also requires a firm commitment to make the best possible use of this extremely limited and valuable resource.

On December 14, the County Board may vote to acquire the benefit of a new piece of property just blocks from the Crystal City Metro Station. We need to make sure this opportunity isn’t undone by the cry for parking.

South Arlington’s Crystal House apartment complex, comprised of two 1960s-era high-rise buildings, is slated for infill development. The site plan will be on the County Board’s December 14 agenda.

The staff recommendation contains what Planning Commissioners called a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for achieving the Crystal City Zoning Ordinance’s affordable housing obligation. Instead of providing 47 units of committed affordable housing within the complex, Roseland is offering to convey one portion of their property, currently a surface parking lot, to the County. The understanding is that the County could develop this property with at least 81 units of committed affordable housing.

The benefits of this proposal are enticing.

First, by owning the land and working with an Affordable Housing developer, the County Board could create units that would remain affordable to low-income residents for 60 years, unlike the typical 30-year term for on-site affordable units within market-rate developments. Second, the location of this parcel at 22nd and Eads would provide excellent transportation access for the building’s residents. Third, by owning and developing the property, the County could provide a much-needed community facility for the 22202 ZIP code, in addition to the committed affordable housing, such as we see at Arlington Mill.

But these positive benefits are future opportunities that will require a commitment to realize. The only thing Arlington would get in the short-term is a surface parking lot. And it is a particularly contested parking lot. Business owners from the adjacent “23rd Street Restaurant Row” see these 96 spaces as the key to their business.

Any effort to build on the parking lot will continue to face pushback from the merchants. Roseland is offering this parcel not only to achieve bonus density on their site, but also to get out of the parking fight. By accepting the land, Arlington County is stepping into a battle that could stymie any effort to achieve affordable housing.

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

The first week of December was a busy one in Arlington, complete with lots of news, as well as a bevy of holiday and winter events — including the tree lighting ceremony in Shirlington last night, pictured above.

This weekend will bring more events, including a holiday extravaganza in Ballston on Saturday. The weather will be cold, but dry, on Saturday and Sunday for those heading to any events, stringing up lights, or picking up a Christmas tree.

Here are the most-read articles on ARLnow this past week:

  1. Arlington Named ‘America’s Most Handsome City’
  2. Bob and Edith’s Plotting Nationwide Expansion
  3. Metro Envisions New Rosslyn Station, Silver Line Down Columbia Pike
  4. State Police: Six Highway Workers Injured in I-66 DUI Crash
  5. State Police Investigating Fatal Crash on I-395
  6. Arlington PTA Leaders Speak Out Against Proposed Elementary School Changes
  7. Police Investigating Stabbing Near Ballston Metro Station
  8. ACPD Investigating Sexual Assault Near Ballston
  9. Morning Poll: Should Renters Have Less of a Say Than Homeowners?

Feel free to discuss any of those stories, your weekend plans, or any other topic of local interest in the comments. Have a nice weekend!

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

‘Tis the season for holiday parties — and the season of wine and beer bottles, sauce jars, you name it.

It is somewhat of a misconception that Arlington recently stopped recycling glass. We really have just started recycling glass in a different and more efficient way.

This year I am thankful that the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to join forces with the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Prince William County to make our glass recycling more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective. Loudoun County voted this week to pilot the program.

There are two ways to properly dispose of glass since the change:

Preferred: Bring glass to the “Purple Bins”

In this process our glass is broken down and turned into pavement for Northern Virginia roads, bedding for drainage and stormwater pipes, and new glass materials, among other sustainable resources. This process is done at Fairfax County’s glass processing machine “Big Blue,” where 20 tons of glass can be crushed per hour to various grades of sand and gravel.

There are five Purple Bin locations to drop off glass for Arlington residents and businesses:

  1. Quincy Park (Orange/Silver Line Metro corridor accessible)
  2. Trades Center (Shirlington/Four Mile Run area accessible)
  3. Aurora Hills Community Center (Blue/Yellow Line Metro corridor accessible)
  4. Cherrydale Library (East Lee Highway area accessible)
  5. Lee Community Center (West Lee Highway area accessible)

Pro Tip: At the Trader Joe’s checkout there are dozens of wine boxes that you can take home with you, and at other grocery stores you can ask for a box for free. This will help you store glass safely and separately without anything breaking before your next trip to the Purple Bin. You can also keep a separate reusable grocery bag dedicated just to glass.

Put Glass in Your Curbside Trash Bin

Before the policy change, when you “recycled” your glass it was sorted out of the recycling facility and taken to the trash facility. By putting glass directly in the trash you save the county money by skipping the step of going through the recycle facility just to be transported by diesel truck to the trash facility it could have been at if you put it in the trash in the first place.

At the facility your glass is melted, mixed with combusted ash, and put in a landfill. In a bit of irony, if you do not take your glass to a Purple Bin it is better to put it in the curbside trash than in the blue recycle bin.

I am excited about this new program for two reasons:

  1. It exemplifies the best of what is possible in a green economy. It produces materials that are carbon intensive and generally used in public works or construction projects. The process also currently pays for itself making it cost neutral and potentially cost positive
  2. Our region worked together to create an economy of scale to the benefit of us all. Northern Virginia in the past year or two has begun partnering on everything from economic development and housing to waste disposal. Our continued coordination in various sectors will result in a more resilient region.

So far, the Big Blue glass recycling machine has processed 1,400 tons (2.8 million pounds) of glass, and Arlington has delivered 200 of those tons through our Purple Bins. I challenge our community to become a bigger percentage of that glass in the new year, and why not start with your holiday parties. Putting out that new wine box or reusable bag to collect your glass is the first step to start new habits, so try it out!

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The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Around this time each year, I remind readers that county officials annually underestimate revenue and overestimate spending. The result is tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent each November in the closeout process with little public input.

Despite county officials making the case earlier this year that the County Board had no choice but to raise our tax rate in the face of “tough budget times,” this year’s closeout process is essentially a repeat of last year.

Last month the County Board allocated a total of $24.7 million from FY 2019 to the schools after all the accounting was complete. The schools received $7.8 million from excess tax revenue Arlington collected and received back $18.4 million in unspent funds. In other words, despite making the community believe times were tight, the school system did not spend nearly 3% of its budget.

The County Board also decided on what to do with $23.2 million in discretionary funds for the rest of the county budget. The good news is they set aside $13.9 million for the FY 2021 budget process. The bad news is they provided the unelected County Manager with another $2 million slush fund to spend as he sees fit.

The taxpayers received nothing except guidance that there might not be another rate increase next year. This of course does not take into account that real estate assessments are expected to rise by as much as 4% beginning in January which means the average homeowner will probably be paying over $250 more in 2020.

In the words of Board Chairman Christian Dorsey, get ready to “scrub your family budget” to find 4% more for the county on top of the 5% last year.

What the County Board should have done was to set aside $31 million for FY 2021 and committed to cut the real estate rate by at least one of the two cents they raised it last year. The full two cents would be better — and the Board could do it if they scrubbed the county budget — but we have to start somewhere.

In this scenario, the schools still would have received nearly $17 million, leaving them in a solid financial position headed into next year when they are slated to receive a bigger share of county revenue. And the County Board still would have over $20 million to use for next year’s budget.

The net result of this plan is that next November the County Board might have less revenue to spend in the closeout process. And maybe the County Manager would not get his slush fund. But taxpayers would be better off.

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An editorial in the Arlington Sun Gazette newspaper last week, on the topic of single-family zoning, seems to suggest that renters are ill-informed and should have less of a say than homeowners.

Those who live in Arlington’s single-family neighborhoods traditionally have dominated the direction of local governance. They are the ones who have controlled the selection of local officials and then, through activism, ensured public policy proceeds the way they desire.

But if Arlington’s 2019 election season taught us anything, it was that – given enough cash to barrage apartment-dwellers with campaign mailers of questionable veracity – it’s possible to sway those folks (who often have short-term interests in a community they do not plan to live in forever) to get out and vote in races that previously had been of purely local import.

“Be prepared: The ‘woke’ culture that was swayed to enact purported criminal-justice reform will be gunning for others – perhaps even single-family neighborhoods – next,” the editorial concludes.

The debate over whether the “Arlington Way” — the catch-all term for the county’s system of community engagement — advantages certain types of residents over others occasionally flares up in the halls of local government.

Generally, the most engaged tend to be homeowners, older residents and people outraged about a particular proposal. Renters, younger residents, those who are generally satisfied with local government but not passionate about it, and those busy with work and/or family are less likely to serve on commissions or wait to speak at Saturday morning County Board meetings.

In a democratic election, one vote counts as much as the other, but once elected, officials are able to set their own priorities. As seen in the Sun Gazette editorial, some feel that those who have invested in a community — homeowners — should generally be given more of a voice than those who haven’t put down roots.

What do you think?

Photo courtesy @dcaman

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Carmen Romero

As a 20+ year resident of Arlington and an affordable housing developer, I am often asked by neighbors, “What does affordable housing mean?” often followed by, “How can we help?”

In stark terms, here’s an example of the “affordable”* housing situation. The average apartment rent in Arlington in 2018 was $1,918 per month.* Yet a minimum-wage working family would need to work 154 hours a week to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington.

Many people in the private and public sectors are putting in the hard work to combat this situation. Unfortunately, we are falling short on own stated community goals of seeing 17% of our housing stock be affordable* by 2040. As of Fiscal Year 2018, we were closer to only 8.8% (or 10,200 units) of our 115,400 housing units being affordable.

So, to the question: how can “we” help? Arlington has the benefit of excellent planning, transportation, a supportive community, and economic prosperity that comes with being one of the nation’s top technology economies. If we harness innovation and hold ourselves accountable, we can pull the pieces together to make it happen.

What do bold steps and innovation look like?

  • Approving a one-time bond issue. Bold financial commitments from the local and state level could help capitalize new solutions. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity with the Amazon HQ2 economic engine to create new tools to promote large-scale preservation and new construction. Arlington could choose to fully capitalize our affordable housing plan through a one-time bond issuance supported by some of the economic growth anticipated from the arrival of HQ2. Local government could also reduce the development and operating costs for building affordable homes, including expediting zoning and permitting approvals, reducing real estate property taxes, and streamlining of site plan conditions.
  • Rethinking Arlington’s zoning and land use rules. This could help ensure we have the flexibility to create more housing at all levels, but especially for those for whom the rent burden is most acute. Because Arlington is land-scarce, this has often meant more density and height, especially near transit. Given our land scarcity, it is critical to promote non-profit partnerships, such as the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing’s (APAH) partnership with the American Legion Post 139 in Virginia Square to develop affordable housing with a preference for veterans.
  • Connecting more low-income and diverse people to our region’s technology and entrepreneurship economy pipeline. This summer, APAH began brainstorming with several local universities and a large technology partner around a vision to create a “resident impact incubator” with onsite technology classes and instructors/mentorships for young children through senior learners. This envisioned the use of technology as a bridge for low-income residents, instead of a divide. APAH recently opened Gilliam Place, an affordable housing development with 173 homes collocated with a ground-floor home for Arlington Presbyterian Church and a café and business incubator with La Cocina, the Zero-Barriers training and entrepreneurship center.

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It’s time to batten down the hatches and get ready for your tryptophan coma: a windy Thanksgiving is upon us.

While we take a brief holiday break (we’ll have a lighter than usual publishing schedule Friday), feel free to discuss anything of local note in the comments.

Happy Thanksgiving from ARLnow!

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Karen Darner

Leadership in public service makes a difference. I want to share a true story of the School Board appointments made by the Arlington County Board in 1976. (This was before we returned, in 1994, to electing School Board members.) And then I want to reflect on some challenges facing our leaders today.

In 1976, there were two School Board vacancies to be filled. I was the new president of the educators in the Arlington Education Association, and sent each candidate a questionnaire so a candidate endorsement might be possible.

There were many candidates in this race. I had heard many good things about one candidate, Mary Margaret Whipple. Another candidate was Tom DeScisciolo, father of a Washington-Lee senior. Mr. DeScisciolo worked for the National Labor Relations Board in DC. As Mr. DeScisciolo and I talked one day, I was impressed by his interest in many questions and how we, as educators, developed our own positions on issues. I was a novice on the workings of our collective bargaining agreement with the School Board, but knew it was the cornerstone to discussion and compromise among our members, and eventually with the School Board for our contract.

AEA’s political arm reviewed all candidates’ answers and reached an endorsement decision for the County Board to appoint Mrs. Whipple and Mr. DeScisciolo. When I arrived at the County Board meeting for the decision, I slipped into a seat next to Mr. DeScisciolo and his daughter. He then explained to me how he came to apply to become a School Board member.

Earlier, he had been helping his daughter research the process for becoming a School Board member for a report of one of her classes. He himself became interested in serving, and felt he had the motivation to become a valued member. And now it came to be: The County Board appointed him and Mrs. Whipple to the Arlington School Board.

I am aware of the extraordinary value of Mary Margaret Whipple’s tenure on the School Board, County Board, and eventually the Virginia State Senate on behalf of Arlington and Virginia residents. Her knowledge and integrity are incomparable, and we are very fortunate.

Tom DeScisciolo’s leadership is less well known, but he stood up for what was right. In January 1977, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the collective bargaining process practiced in Arlington by the County Board and by the School Board was unconstitutional, and was to end. Arlington’s superintendent at the time saw this as an opportunity to break the contract with the educators, and said so publicly.

This is where Tom DeScisciolo’s presence became most valuable. He reminded the Board and Superintendent about collective bargaining, and that all parties had negotiated our contract “in good faith.” I will never forget his passionate message–“‘good faith’ means it is your word.” The School Board voted to reaffirm its contract with its employees.

Sometime afterward, Tom DeScisiolo was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He had completed about 18 months of a 4-year term, yet his Board presence was a gift of “the right person at the right time.”

Today we still need leaders who can make wise decisions–benefitting the whole county–while negotiating the thicket of competing demands. (As a former state legislator, believe me I do understand how hard this is.) We need leaders who can look long-term and not get stuck on what works for just today, or on who yells or lobbies the loudest. I say all this not as a reflection on any particular elected official, but more to guide us all going forward. Leadership in public service makes a difference. And the right kind of leaders especially matters.

Karen Darner served her community as a speech therapist in the Arlington Public Schools for over 35 years and represented part of Arlington in the Virginia General Assembly for 14 years. She loves it here.

Editor’s note: A few Progressive Voice columns will be publishing outside of the new biweekly schedule, following our column changes earlier this fall.

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Anecdotal as it may be, it seems that the Thanksgiving holiday has already started for a lot of local folks.

On the way to ARLnow’s office in Ballston during the peak of the morning rush hour, the usual backups on eastbound Wilson Blvd at N. Glebe Road were gone. So was the usual line at a certain chain coffee shop near the Ballston Metro station.

Ballston wasn’t a ghost town by any means, but there just seemed to be a modest reduction in the usual delays and hubbub. The same couldn’t necessarily be said for post-Express Lanes traffic on I-395, however.

That has us wondering just how early does Thanksgiving break start for our readers — when is the first day you’re taking off for the holiday?

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