A mobility advocacy group is asking the county to build a three-year plan for funding projects that make non-car transit faster, more desirable and safer.

And the group, Sustainable Mobility, is trying to capitalize on signs that people are interested in bicycling and walking more coming out of the pandemic. 

“We have to seize that opportunity before everybody gets into their cars again,” said Chris Slatt, the group’s president, who is also chair of the Transportation Commission and an opinion columnist on ARLnow. “This is an inflection point. Arlington has let too many opportunities pass during COVID-19 — we never achieved open streets, when people demanded more space to walk, sit and eat — we need them to do better now.”

Its recommendations respond to a draft document outlining the large projects that Arlington County intends to embark on over the next three years. This plan, called the Capital Improvement Plan, is winding its way through review processes and is set to be approved by the County Board in July.

Volunteers from Sustainable Mobility, or SusMo, combed through the transportation projects and identified a handful to nix, postpone or kick to developers for funding and implementation, which they say could free up about $17 million that could fund 20 projects or programs.

The alternative projects fall into five of SusMo’s priority areas:  

  1. Funding Vision Zero
  2. Speeding up transit 
  3. Building safe routes to every school 
  4. Building out the bike network for all ages and abilities   
  5. Expanding and connecting the trail network 

“None of what’s in our plan is really our idea,” Slatt said. “It is all things that are in sector plans, projects that… the county already has [identified], projects that were identified in the bicycle element of the Master Transportation Plan, or just ways to fund priorities that Arlington says they already have.” 

Highlights include:

  • Changing the signals to reduce the time buses spend at intersections
  • Completing the Arlington Blvd Trail
  • Conducting a feasibility study of dedicated transit and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Columbia Pike
  • All-door bus boarding and off-vehicle fare collection, to speed up buses
  • A trail on the west side of Carlin Springs road, with a connection to the W&OD Trail, to provide a safer route to Kenmore Middle School
  • Protected bike lanes on S. George Mason Drive between Route 7 and Route 50, providing a safe connection to Wakefield High School
  • Additional capital funding for other Safe Routes to School projects
  • Protected bike lanes on a portion of N. Highland Street in Clarendon
  • A two-way protected bike lane on Fairfax Drive between Ballston and Clarendon
  • Other “neighborhood bikeways”

Some projects are already in the County Manager’s draft Capital Improvement Program proposal, including a feasibility study for a trail underpass under Shirlington Road near the Weenie Beenie, and a new trail along the Arlington National Cemetery wall between Columbia Pike and Memorial Avenue.

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A boathouse, a library in Crystal City and a new Metro entrance in Ballston are some of the projects Arlington County is looking to fund over the next three years.

These projects are part of County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed $1.25 billion, three-year Capital Improvement Plan, slated for adoption this summer, which includes a long list of investments, from renovating and building community amenities to upgrading county technology.

“In this CIP, we were able to make more investments than we anticipated at this time last year, but our county — and our residents — are still facing longer-term economic uncertainty and this plan was built with that reality in mind,” Schwartz said in a statement last month. “My proposal takes a more constrained approach that will continue to bridge us through the next year of budget deliberations and economic recovery.”

Normally, the county plots out the next 10 years’ worth of projects but the pandemic derailed that kind of long-range planning. The county aims to use the three-year plan as a bridge to return to a 10-year plan for 2023-2032, according to a release.

Stormwater upgrades area slated to get $96 million in funding, including $26.8 million for the Spout Run Watershed, $16.7 million for the Cardinal Elementary School Stormwater Detention project and $5.4 million for the Ballston Pond Watershed Retrofit.

Other highlights include:

  • Early planning for a community boathouse on the George Washington Parkway shoreline in Rosslyn, $800,000
  • Ballston-MU Metrorail Station West Entrance, $67.8 million
  • Phase two of renovations to Alcova Heights Park, including updates the restrooms and the basketball court, ~$1.7 million
  • A new library in Crystal City, ~$1.2 million
  • Two parks in Crystal City, at 15th Street S. and at S. Clark and S. Bell Street, ~$4.6 million
  • Arlington National Cemetery Wall Trail Project, from Memorial Avenue to a new Columbia Pike interchange, ~$25.1 million

Arlington is looking to fund the design phase for a public boathouse, which has been a topic of discussion for more than 20 years. Arlingtonians will be able to vote on this expense as a bond referendum in November.

The long-stalled Ballston-MU Metro West Entrance, at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and N. Vermont Street, is also slated to get funding. The $130 million project is in its design phase and slated to be built by 2026.

In a letter explaining the CIP, Schwartz said the county is investing more in improving transportation and parks and open space in Crystal City as the area develops and Amazon continues to move in.

“With the increasing rate of redevelopment in the National Landing area, I have asked staff to convene a near-term review of the parks and open space plans, learning from the 22202 Livability Initiative, with the objective of being ready for a more comprehensive discussion as part of next spring’s 10-year CIP,” Schwartz said. “In addition, Arlington County is committed to supporting public infrastructure improvements in National Landing.”

Starting this fiscal year, the county will also use a portion of property tax revenues in Crystal City, Potomac Yard and Pentagon City to pay for infrastructure improvements, including the Army-Navy Drive Complete Street project and the design phase of the pedestrian bridge to Reagan National Airport.

Other transportation projects include the Crystal City Metro Station East Entrance and improvements to bus stops, particularly along Columbia Pike, which the plan said serves “the highest bus ridership of any corridor in Northern Virginia.”

Crystal City will also get a limited-service library as early as 2024 as part of an agreement with developer JBG Smith. The county will use community benefits contributions to build a library at 1900 Crystal Drive, where the developer will lease 7,200 square feet of space.

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Arlington County is taking steps toward making virtual meeting participation a post-pandemic option for residents, staff and local officials.

“We are all trying to figure out what worked really well about virtual engagement and adapting it,” County Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol tells ARLnow.

The board expects to transition back to in-person meetings in June or July, Cristol said. But hybrid formats, such as in-person board and commission meetings with virtual public comments, could be here to stay.

County staff are working on securing funding to expand virtual and hybrid meeting options as part of the three-year Capital Improvement Plan, which the County Board is slated to adopt in July. The plan includes $1 million for adding or enhancing audio and visual capabilities in conference rooms.

The upgrades would help broaden public participation, “making in-person meetings accessible virtually by others unable to participate” in-person, according to a staff presentation.

Last year, Gov. Ralph Northam issued an emergency order and legislators changed state law to allow for online government meetings during the pandemic. Legislation approved in March will allow local officials to be exempt from in-person meeting standards during emergencies declared by local governing bodies, in addition to ones declared by the governor.

State open-meeting laws also allow officials on an individual, limited basis to attend a meeting virtually in certain circumstances, such as a temporary disability or personal matter.

The new legislation is not as robust as some officials advocated for last year, however. County Board member Libby Garvey and other women in politics testified before the Virginia Freedom of Information Association Council — a state agency that helps resolve disputes over Freedom of Information issues — and signed a joint letter supporting more flexible rules governing virtual attendance for public officials.

Now, Arlington County officials are looking to keep some virtual meeting adaptations in place, noting that other governmental bodies benefited from gathering virtually.

Cristol said many people, including appointed commission members who aren’t compensated for their time, can face difficulties with participating in meetings when juggling children’s needs, work and other issues.

She said in an email that the capital improvement proposal would be a foundational step toward “being able to livestream every commission and committee meeting.”

Pre-pandemic, Arlington County live-streamed only key meetings, including those of the County Board, Planning Commission and Transportation Commission.

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Morning Notes

New County Infrastructure Plan Proposed — “County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a $1.25 billion three-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that focuses on meeting Arlington’s existing commitments, increasing infrastructure maintenance, and beginning investments in long-term plans and programs. The three-year proposal follows a one-year CIP that was adopted last summer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The County anticipates returning to a traditional 10-year plan next year for FY 2023 – FY 2032.” [Arlington County]

Rosslyn Developer Dies from Covid — “Marvin Weissberg, a herald of Northern Virginia development whose portfolio of early projects still mark Rosslyn’s modern skyline, has died. He was 94. The founder of Weissberg Investment Corp. passed away Monday at his home in Annapolis of complications from Covid-19.” [Washington Business Journal]

Marine Corps Marathon Returning — “Good news for runners: the Marine Corps Marathon will take place in-person this year after it was held virtually in 2020 due to Covid. The 26.2-mile race follows a course through DC and Arlington, and typically sees more than 20,000 participants. This year, the marathon and accompanying races and events will be held over the weekend of October 29 through 31.” [Washingtonian]

New Gold’s Gym Opening in Rosslyn — “Rosslyn’s newly constructed Gold’s Gym officially opens for members [today], May 20. Located inside Rosslyn City Center (1700 N. Moore St.), this space is nearly 40,000 SF of brand new equipment and modern facilities!” [Rosslyn BID/Instagram]

Cemetery Flyover Planned Today — “Four Air Force T-38 Talon jets are scheduled to fly over the National Capital Region at 1:50 p.m. The formation is part of a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery for retired Air Force Col. George Benoit.” [Patch]

This Year’s Bond Referendums — “Arlington voters will be asked to approve a modest package of bond referendums in November, if County Board members accede to a request made May 18 by County Manager Mark Schwartz. The proposal calls for a bond package of $62.5 million (not counting an expected school-bond request) that would fund Metro, paving, courthouse renovations and Neighborhood Conservation projects.” [Sun Gazette]

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Arlington County has taken another step toward developing a county-owned and maintained waterfront park in Potomac Yard.

On Saturday, the County Board approved an agreement with the Arlington Potomac Yard Community Association to accept a gift of three parcels of land within the boundaries of Short Bridge Park. The park is located across Four Mile Run from the Potomac Yard shopping center, along Route 1.

The property “is used by the public as an open space but is privately owned and maintained,” according to a staff report. “[It] has concrete paths, landscaping, a public ‘tot lot,’ open grass, trees, and irrigation.”

Since 2015, the county has had a public access easement over the property, the report said. When the land is turned over to the county, it will cost about $44,000 to maintain annually.

Acquiring the land gets Arlington closer to turning Short Bridge Park into a county park. Although the 3.5-acre open space was created through the Potomac Yard Phased Development Site Plan, adopted in 2000, it remained privately owned by the association and the Eclipse on Center Park condominiums.

That process includes two phases of construction to realizing the vision of the Short Bridge Park Master Plan, adopted by the County Board in January 2018.

(That was also when the name changed from its informal moniker, South Park.)

The existing park amenities were constructed by a developer.

“These improvements were intended as interim improvements until Arlington County funds were available to develop a Park Master Plan and implement permanent park improvements,” the master plan said. “The developer-constructed improvements are minimal and lack typical County park amenities such as trash cans, seating, signage, and Americans with Disabilities Act accessible pathways.”

It will take a few years, however, before the master plan’s vision for the park is implemented.

“The first phase includes a trail connection that links Richmond Highway to the Four Mile Run trail and is estimated to begin construction in late 2021,” a county staff report said.

The trail project is funded through a federal grant and 20% county match, according to the report.

“The second phase of the park master plan will construct the rest of the park and is dependent on Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funds,” the report said.

As of now, the adopted CIP plan — which schedules out county projects through 2028 — identified construction funding for phase two “in the out-years” or the 2023-24 fiscal year, the county said.

According to the master plan, this phase includes a dog run, a riverfront overlook and an “interpretive plaza.”

Image via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Changes at Prosecutor’s Office — Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has announced a reorganization of her office to implement a “vertical prosecution” model. The new structure “requires that one prosecutor be assigned to each case from start to finish; it permits the assigned attorney to work early and closely with law enforcement, victims, witnesses, and defense attorneys.” The office has also recently stopped its courtroom involvement with certain types of minor traffic offenses. [Press Release, Twitter]

Man Pleads Guilty to Arlington Carjacking — “A Washington, D.C. man pleaded guilty today to his role in an armed robbery and carjacking that led to a high-speed police chase and resulted in injuries to two police officers. According to court documents, Jovan Doir Johnson, 30, together with another individual, obtained a stolen vehicle at gunpoint in Arlington and then used it to rob a 7-Eleven in Lorton.” [Dept. of Justice]

Board Approves CIP, Bond Referenda — “The Arlington County Board today voted unanimously to adopt a scaled-down $277.5 million one-year Capital Improvement Plan that focuses on continuing or completing projects already underway and beginning a 10-year program to improve the County’s stormwater infrastructure and flood resiliency… In a related action, the Board unanimously approved bond referenda totaling $144.454 million to be put before the voters on the November ballot.” [Arlington County, Washington Post]

Board to Hold Closed COVID Meeting — “Notice is hereby given that the County Board of Arlington Co., VA, on Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 5:30pm, or as soon thereafter as matters may be heard, in accordance with and for the purposes authorized by law will meet to discuss matters related to the County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” [Arlington County]

Pandemic May Cause Hunger Crisis — “Up to a quarter of a million people in the Washington area could be thrown into hunger because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by the Capital Area Food Bank, even as the amount of donated food and the number of distribution sites plummet precipitously.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by Vincent

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Morning Notes

Schwartz Presents New Capital Plan — “County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a $277.5 million one-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The County Manager, rather than proposing the traditional 10-year plan, is presenting a short-term proposal until the County better understands the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of the one-year CIP is on projects that are already underway, those that improve failing or end-of-life infrastructure, and those required by legal or regulatory obligations.” [Arlington County]

Juvenile Court Reeling from Coronavirus Cases — “An outbreak of covid-19 in the clerk’s office of the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has forced the court to close the office to the public and has concerned lawyers who practice there daily. Four of the seven clerks in the office have tested positive for covid-19.” [Washington Post]

Small Business Grants Announced — “Arlington County today announced 394 businesses are receiving the Small Business Emergency GRANT (Giving Resiliency Assets Near Term). The GRANT program provides financial assistance to Arlington’s small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The GRANT funds were designed to bridge the gap to provide near-term relief for businesses and nonprofits, some of whom have experienced delays or limitations with federal relief initiatives.” [Arlington County, Arlington Economic Development]

Va. Not Ready for Phase 3 — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that statewide Covid-19 numbers ‘continue to look favorable,’ but that he will not move the commonwealth into phase 3 of reopening this week. ‘I want to have more time to see how the numbers look before we make changes, especially as we see surges in other parts of our country,’ Northam said.” [Washington Business Journal, InsideNova]

Wardian to Run to Every District Taco — “This is Mike Wardian, a Guinness-World-Record winning runner, who is partnering with DT on Saturday, June 20 as he runs to ALL 12 DMV LOCATIONS (just about 60 miles)! If you see Mike on his run, snap a pic and use #whereswardian for in-app credit for a free taco!” [Twitter]

County Offers Free Trees and Tree Maintenance — “Arlington County loves trees, and knows trees are critical for our stormwater infrastructure, environmental and human health benefits, and through its Tree Canopy Fund EcoAction Arlington offers grants to plant or maintain trees on private property.” [Press Release]

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Morning Notes

County Scaling Down Capital Improvement Plan — “As the County continues to experience the economic impacts of COVID-19, County Manager Mark Schwartz intends to present the Arlington County Board with a short-term proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) rather than the traditional 10-year plan.” [Arlington County]

Metro May Require Masks — “Metro riders may not see service fully restored until spring 2021, but the WMATA is now making plans to gradually get trains and buses running more frequently. News4’s Adam Tuss has learned that officials are considering requiring all riders to wear face masks on buses and trains and applying social distancing measures.” [NBC 4]

Real Estate Market Falters — “Home sales across the region took a tumble in April as the first impacts of COVID-19 were felt… The District of Columbia (down 31 percent) and Arlington (down 25 percent) were hardest hit, but all jurisdictions except the small city of Fairfax posted double-digit declines in closed sales.” [InsideNova]

APS Asks for Public Feedback on Data — “Beginning May 12, APS is inviting community members to review the data that will be used in the Fall 2020 Elementary School Boundary Process. This review of data by Planning Unit — the geographic building blocks APS uses to establish school attendance zones — will help ensure that the final data reflects what you know about your neighborhood.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Swim Season Cancelled — “With the logistics to pull off the 2020 Northern Virginia Swimming League season proving too numerous and complicated in a COVID-19 world, officials have pulled the plug on summer competition.” [InsideNova]

Photo courtesy of Peter Golkin

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Morning Notes

Ballston-Based E*TRADE Acquired —  “Morgan Stanley and E*TRADE Financial Corporation have entered into a definitive agreement under which Morgan Stanley will acquire E*TRADE, a leading financial services company and pioneer in the online brokerage industry, in an all-stock transaction valued at approximately $13 billion.” [BusinessWire, Wall Street Journal]

County Wants Feedback on Capital Projects — “As part of this year’s budget season, you’re invited to share your input on capital priorities for Arlington County Government. Where should we make investments? Which types of projects top your list? We want to know what you think. Your input will help guide development of the County Manager’s Proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Fiscal Years 2021 – 2030, which will be presented to the Arlington County Board in May.” [Arlington County]

More on Upcoming EPA Move — “‘Facing budget constraints during the past few years, the agency has tried to reduce impacts on its programs by using rent savings to absorb appropriations cuts,’ said the EPA spokeswoman. ‘The lease for [Potomac Yard South] expires in March 2021 and by not renewing it, the agency can expect to attain approximately $12.7 million in rent savings annually,’ she said.” [E&E News]

New AED Director Settling In — “Tucker is pledging not to lose focus on helping the county’s existing businesses, particularly its small, family-owned companies. Critics of AED have long accused it of pursuing large corporate tenants at the expense of supporting mom-and-pop shops, a perception Tucker is keen to reverse.” [Washington Business Journal]

AHC Returns $$$ to Affordable Housing Fund — “AHC Inc., an Arlington, VA-based affordable housing developer, deposited more than $710,000 this week into the County’s revolving low-interest loan program, the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF). This year’s annual repayment boosts AHC’s total repayments to more than $45 million since the AHIF program began in 1988. The payments vary from year to year. Last year, AHC returned $4.9 million to the fund.” [Press Release]

Saturday: Census ‘Celebración Comunitaria’ — “Join us at the Gates of Ballston Community Center for food, family activities, an art contest, a kid’s raffle, and information about the upcoming 2020 Census 2020! Event sponsored by Arlington County, Census 2020, Alfo-Conce, Producciones POPB’IL.” [Arlington County]

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The return of several bridges lost in last summer’s flooding will depend on the upcoming Arlington County budget, officials tell ARLnow.

Arlington homes, businesses, parks and some infrastructure suffered significant damage last year during the July 8 flash flooding. Among the casualties of the storm were seven bridges in parks throughout Arlington.

“There was one in Bon Air and Gulf Branch parks, and two in both Lubber Run and Glencarlyn parks,” Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said in an email.

A small pedestrian bridge at 38th and Chesterbrook, in the Old Glebe neighborhood, was also destroyed, but has since been replaced. Kalish said it was a simple wooden bridge and there was sufficient funding in the maintenance budget. None of the other destroyed bridges have been replaced.

While the six other bridges have been removed, Kalish said replacing them will be an item considered in the upcoming Capital Improvement Plan — a ten-year plan to address infrastructure issues. Discussion of the proposed CIP is scheduled to run from May to July following the adoption of the operating budget in April.

In addition to the bridges, the restrooms at Bon Air Park are also still closed, and will remain closed indefinitely, the county said in an update on Jan. 24. The update notes that following repairs “all of the [damaged] picnic shelters, volleyball courts and playgrounds are open.”

Staff photo by Ashley Hopko

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Though it comes with some painful cuts and delays a variety of anticipated projects, a 10-year, $3.4 billion construction spending plan won the County Board’s approval this weekend.

The Board unanimously signed off on a new Capital Improvement Plan, commonly known as the CIP, at its meeting Saturday (July 14), marking an end to its months-long work to wrestle with the county’s budget pressures and lay out a new blueprint for major construction projects through 2028.

Ultimately, Board members made relatively few changes to County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed CIP, but did manage to find an extra $1 million for the Neighborhood Conservation program.

That means the program, designed to fund local infrastructure projects like sidewalk improvements or new landscaping, will have $37 million to work with over the next decade instead of $36 million, even though community leaders still fear the $23 million funding cut will imperil Neighborhood Conservation’s future. The Board also formalized plans to study potential reforms to the program, in order to ensure its long-term survival.

By and large, however, the Board didn’t have much leeway to pump much additional money into the CIP, considering that the county remains constrained by challenging factors like a decrease in commercial tax revenues and an increase in the amount of cash it needs to send to Metro as part of a deal to provide the service with dedicated annual funding.

“It’s kind of a carrots and peas CIP, rather than a steak and asparagus CIP,” said Board member John Vihstadt. “It’s a realistic one for where we are at this point in time, given our economic circumstances and near-term challenges ahead.”

Board generally members struck an optimistic tone about the CIP Saturday, but there is little doubt that they’re already looking ahead anxiously to 2020, when the Board will revise the spending plan once more. By then, the county’s revenue picture could improve, or lawmakers in Richmond could answer Arlington’s pleas and tinker with the Metro funding deal to free up more money for Northern Virginia transportation projects.

“In two years, we’re either going to have a lot more money or we’re going to have a lot less,” said Board member Libby Garvey.

That’s why Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey stressed that he looks at the CIP as “a two-year document and an eight-year math exercise.” He was particularly adamant that parents concerned about school funding shouldn’t view this spending plan with trepidation, even as debate simmers over how the school system builds new space for high schoolers at the Arlington Career Center.

The Board’s CIP includes $614 million to fund the school system’s own construction plan, and the county wasn’t able to find much in the way of additional money to fund some of the more ambitious construction plans the School Board considered. Yet Dorsey is broadly optimistic that this new, limited CIP is far from the end of Career Center discussions.

“When our needs become more clear in the coming years, whether it’s schools or county facilities as well, and we’re able to price them out more, we’ll figure out how to pay for it,” Dorsey said.

There are certainly plenty of other cuts in the CIP the Board hopes to someday revisit. For instance, the plan pushes out the construction of second entrances at the Ballston, Crystal City and East Falls Church Metro stations far into the future, and cuts funding for improvements on some of the county’s arterial roads.

The CIP also contains only limited funding for planning at the Buck and Carlin Springs Road properties, a pair of sites officials have long eyed as potential homes for new schools or county facilities someday.

However, the plan does maintain funding for previously approved capital projects like a new Lubber Run Community Center and a replacement for Fire Station 8 on Lee Highway.

Board members were also eager to reiterate their support for the Long Bridge Park aquatics center. The project isn’t funded as part of this CIP, yet the county’s strained financial picture has nonetheless convinced some in the community to agitate for the pool’s delay or cancellation, in favor of sending its funding elsewhere.

“To try to cancel the contract now is not reevaluating past decisions in light of new information,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “To cancel a contract that breaks ground in a week would be setting a toxic precedent.”

Vihstadt, the lone Board member to vote against a slimmed-down version of the project last fall, reiterated his belief Saturday that the project should be delayed. Yet he also signalled that he was willing to let the matter go, for now.

“We had a vote last December, I was in the minority, I acknowledge it and I accept it,” Vihstadt said. “But I have no doubt if this process were going forward today, or if there were a vote on this particular issue today by the voters of Arlington, it would fail.”

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