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.
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.”
Amid concerns about deep cuts on the way for the Neighborhood Conservation program, the County Board is kicking off a new effort to identify some potential reforms.
The Board decided Tuesday (July 10) to direct County Manager Mark Schwartz to draw up a process for studying the program in more depth over the next two years or so, in order to better understand how it can become more efficient and see where it might overlap with other county efforts.
“By adopting this, we’re saying, no, we’re not looking for a slow, or any kind of, death [for the program],” said Board member Erik Gutshall. “But we’re taking a moment here to hit the reset button and double down on the program, to invest the time and staff resources to study remaking the program to meet its original goals.”
Neighborhood Conservation was formed in 1964 as a way for communities to lobby for money to complete modest infrastructure projects, like new sidewalks or landscaping, but Schwartz targeted it for hefty cuts in his proposed 10-year Capital Improvement Plan.
In all, the program is set to lose $24 million over the next decade, leaving $36 million in its coffers to finish out existing projects selected for funding between now and 2028. Some civic association leaders have charged that such a steep cut amounts to killing the program in its entirety.
Tuesday’s decision by the Board essentially represents a middle ground between those two positions. The county’s tight financial position means it likely won’t be able to avoid some steep cuts to the program, but Board members also believe they can pursue some changes to Neighborhood Conservation to ensure its long-term viability.
“Hopefully, this keeps faith with the communities, while at the same time acknowledging the reality that the program has had some challenges,” said Board member John Vihstadt.
Vihstadt hopes the review of the program will provide a “holistic, countywide perspective,” including whether the county might be better served by directing Neighborhood Conservation funding to its “Complete Streets” program instead.
Schwartz is set to establish a working group and lay out a timeline for a review process by Sept. 30, with the ultimate goal of having results in hand by the time the Board reviews its next CIP in 2020.
In the near term, Board Chair Katie Cristol suggested sending a smidge more money to the program as “a show of faith.” County staff managed to earn an unexpected $1 million in state funding for some construction at one of Arlington’s group homes for adults with disabilities, and Cristol suggested using the savings to fund one additional Neighborhood Conservation project.
Yet the Board has plenty of other pressing needs left unaddressed by a challenging CIP, and Cristol’s colleagues didn’t immediately sign off on such a change.
The Board is set to finalize the CIP when it reconvenes Saturday (July 14).
County Board member John Vihstadt is renewing his push to delay the construction of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center.
Vihstadt is waging a lonely battle against the oft-postponed project as the county’s budget picture grows increasingly grim. He says the $60 million the county’s set to spend on the new pool would be better spent on building new schools or buying additional park land, particularly considering that Arlington is feeling a financial squeeze at the moment.
Between sending more money to Metro and declining commercial tax revenues, the County Board is facing some challenging headwinds as it nears a final decision this weekend on a new, 10-year plan for construction spending. Vihstadt, the Board’s lone independent who is running for re-election this fall, thinks the 72,000-square-foot pool complex can wait a bit longer.
The project’s skyrocketing costs have convinced the Board to repeatedly adjust its plans it over the years, and Vihstadt made an effort to drive down its cost a key plank of his 2014 bid for office. But he still feels that even the facility’s reduced cost is too much for Arlington to take on right now.
“Times change, circumstances change, and I just don’t think it’s right to go forward on that project,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “Schools have a higher priority. Parks have a higher priority.”
Yet, just as when he cast the lone vote against the project’s construction last December, Vihstadt appears to be in the minority on that position. His four colleagues on the Board all told ARLnow that they wouldn’t support any effort to postpone the Long Bridge project, even with the county’s money troubles in mind.
“Raising these issues when he first ran for election was an important contribution, because it shifted that narrative to value engineering,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “That success is something John ought to feel he positively contributed to. Now, it’s the responsibility of the rest of us to follow through.”
The pro-pool Board members all point out that the project has been in the works for decades, with the community formally signing off on money for the aquatics center as part of a bond referendum back in 2004, and would fill a void for such a facility in the Crystal City area.
But they also stress that the process of unwinding the work the county’s already done would be so costly as to make the effort pointless. County Manager Mark Schwartz believes that cancelling the county’s existing contract to build the facility would prompt extensive litigation, with financial consequences to follow.
“We cannot simply break the contract,” Board member Libby Garvey wrote in an email. “Likely there would be real financial penalties for us if we did, to say nothing of the damage to our reputation among builders. Companies bidding on our projects in the future would likely add extra cost because we could not be trusted to fulfill our contracts.”
The aquatic center’s proponents also see any move to reverse the Long Bridge decision as one that would send the wrong message to the community, or as an effort to “re-litigate the past,” as Board member Erik Gutshall puts it.
“If you can’t trust our word and the votes of the Board, it’s just inviting an endless cycle of pitting project against project right up to the point the ribbon is cut,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol.
But Vihstadt believes taxpayers would appreciate the Board’s willingness to re-examine its priorities as fiscal realities change. For instance, as debate about amenities to be built for high schoolers at the Career Center site heats up, Vihstadt suggested redirecting some of the Long Bridge money to add a pool at that location instead.
“A pool in a high school… makes more sense than an aquatics center, which is going to be used more heavily by folks outside of Arlington,” Vihstadt said.
Gutshall believes such an idea could’ve been viable if it was proposed “five or 10 years ago,” but he feels the county is too far down the current path to consider that sort of plan now.
“Where do we draw the line and say, ‘Enough is enough’ when it comes to replaying this sort of debate?” Gutshall said.
Democratic nominee Matt de Ferranti is eager to provide a contrasting view in that discussion as part of his bid against Vihstadt.
“We should not only study things forever,” de Ferranti said. “Eventually we have to act with courage and conviction to improve the community… and with a reduced cost, it’s the right thing to do to move forward.”
Yet Vihstadt argues that his obstinance on the subject is the just sort of thing that helped him win in the first place — and a clear demonstration of the independent streak he brings to the Board.
“We have to scour things, ask questions and, on occasion, say ‘No’ or hit the pause button and say ‘Not now,'” Vihstadt said. “I think a lot of people appreciate the constructive attitude I’ve had to ask questions and not just nod my head.”
Arlington likely won’t be able to add a second entrance at the East Falls Church Metro station until sometime in the 2030s, as county officials re-examine their funding priorities for the next decade.
The county has hoped for years to build a western entrance to improve pedestrian access to the station, particularly with plans to someday re-develop the parking lot and properties surrounding the station.
But the project’s roughly $96 million price tag makes it difficult to afford as officials grapple with a tight revenue picture. County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing delaying any funding for the second entrance until at least fiscal year 2028 in his new ten-year Capital Improvement Plan.
“Given the pipeline of existing, high-priority stations, it really made sense to move this out,” county transportation director Dennis Leach told the County Board during a work session last Tuesday (June 26).
Schwartz is calling for the county to dedicate $8.8 million in state and regional transportation dollars for design work at the station starting in 2028, pushing back any construction spending indefinitely. The Board’s last CIP, approved in 2016, called for the planning process to start in fiscal year 2022, and construction to start in 2024.
As Leach mentioned, the county is eyeing second entrances at both the Crystal City and Ballston Metro stations as well, and officials are also struggling to fund those efforts as the county copes with increased Metro spending to provide the service with dedicated annual funding.
Complicating matters further is that the county was hoping the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a group that hands out money for transportation improvements around the region, would be able to fund the bulk of the construction of all three projects. But the same dedicated funding deal for Metro involved pulling away about $80 million from the NVTA each year, meaning the group is scaling back how much money it can offer all but the most large-scale projects.
“We can’t do them alone,” Leach said.
For the East Falls Church Metro entrance, the county was hoping to earn about $57.2 million from the NVTA. But with the group barely able to find any money for the Crystal City project, and no money for the Ballston second entrance, the county doesn’t have any clear sense for where to find funding for East Falls Church if its fiscal situation doesn’t improve.
That’s not to say that the county is abandoning the project, however.
Sarah Crawford, the county’s assistant director of transportation, told the Board that she fully expects the East Falls Church entrance “would score well” and earn money generated by the tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission hands out some of that revenue as part of its “Commuter Choice” program for local transportation improvements, and Crawford said the county plans to submit the East Falls Church project for consideration in the coming months.
Karen Finucan Clarkson, a spokeswoman for the NVTC, says the group finished its most recent round of funding through the program last month, but will solicit a new round of projects “this fall, most likely in October.” The NVTC would then select its preferred projects sometime next spring, and the county is hoping to win roughly $6.6 million in funding for the effort.
Meanwhile, Leach also noted that the county will probably apply for more state funding through the “SmartScale” program for the Crystal City entrance project — applications are due by Aug. 1.
The County Board is set to vote on its final CIP by July 14.
Supporters of Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation program are warning county leaders that the steep budget cuts they’re contemplating could effectively kill it.
County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing slashing $24 million from the program’s funding over the next 10 years as part of his new Capital Improvement Plan, dropping its coffers down to $36 million through 2028.
Neighborhood Conservation has long helped dole out money for modest community improvements, like new sidewalks or landscaping, yet the county’s grim budget picture convinced Schwartz to target it for some hefty cuts. That prompted several community activists and managers of the program to lobby the County Board to restore that funding at a public hearing last Wednesday (June 27).
“This is almost a death knell for Neighborhood Conservation,” said Bill Braswell, a former chair of the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. “All the interest in it will dissipate, and it will take forever to get started again.”
County staff say that these proposed cuts would mean that projects already in line for funding will still move ahead, but any new applications from neighborhoods will go on the back burner. Accordingly, Phil Klingelhofer, deputy vice chair of the program’s advisory committee, believes that such a delay would mean that any “neighborhood with a recently proposed project should expect to wait 15 to 30 years for a project to come to the top for current funding.”
“If you decide to accept this… we recognize this is really the end of the program, and at that point, you should take the final step and end the program permanently,” Klingelhofer said.
For some in the community, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. Some activists have started arguing that the program has outlived its usefulness, including columnist Peter Rousselot, who points out that it can already take five or 10 years for a project to move through the Neighborhood Conservation process.
County Board member John Vihstadt has similar concerns about the program’s efficacy, noting that those delays are often driven by “quality control or monitoring issues” with the county switching contractors for some projects two or three times each. That’s why he sees this CIP process has a chance to reform the program, and “mend it, not end it.”
“Things are not good right now, and we’re looking at what we’re going to do,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “If we’re going to fund the program, it needs to be modified and reformed.”
Braswell and Klingelhofer both told the Board at the hearing that they’d be willing to study ways to make the program run more efficiently, particularly if the alternative is steep funding cuts.
For his part, Rousselot proposed shifting its functions to the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation or using the county’s “Complete Streets” program to fund such improvements. He believes those changes would make the process more equitable, as he feels the program currently is skewed toward neighborhoods with active civic associations that have the time and manpower to incessantly lobby county staff.
But Sarah McKinley, president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association, argued that the whole point of the Neighborhood Conservation program is to provide communities with a direct line to the county when it comes to these infrastructure projects. Should the Board follow Rousselot’s recommendations, McKinley expects people will quickly become disconnected from plans for construction in their neighborhoods.
“You’re going to bear the brunt of all the citizen outrage over the county digging up their azaleas to put in a sidewalk,” McKinley told the Board. “That’s why it was created: to allow a process for fulsome civic engagement.”
The Board will review the CIP, including the Neighborhood Conservation cuts, once more on July 10, then vote on the plan on July 14.
A new capital spending plan for Arlington’s burgeoning public school system calls for adding more than 4,200 seats through 2027.
The $631 million construction plan includes a new elementary school at the Reed School site and 1,650 new seats for high schoolers split between the Education Center site and the Arlington Career Center.
The Board has spent weeks working to strike a balance between the school system’s increasingly tight finances and its ever-rising enrollment figures, resulting in a new Capital Improvement Plan that left Board members optimistic, yet unsatisfied.
Debate over the plans at Career Center, in particular, dominated the Board’s discussions about the CIP. Parents living near the center, which is located just off Columbia Pike and will someday be home to another 1,050 high school students, raised frequent concerns that APS might not build the same amenities at the site as it has at its three comprehensive high schools.
“With all the pressures on the school system right now, some may say the plan is not perfect today,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “But I believe it’s evolving in the right direction.”
The Board’s tight financial picture meant that it couldn’t quite meet all the parent requests, but members did work to speed up the construction of some features at the site by re-allocating some of the school system’s capital reserve money.
Under the version of the plan approved Thursday, the Career Center will now include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage.
The field and parking garage will be constructed in 2o23 to make those features available to students as more high schoolers move to the site. APS will then simultaneously add an 800-seat expansion and the performing arts section in 2025.
That will address some of the concerns raised by local parents, including some who formed an advocacy group focused on the issue. But they remain wary of how the Board will ultimately decide which students attend the Career Center site high school — members have yet to decide if it will be a “neighborhood” school only for students who live nearby, or a countywide “option” school.
“No child should be zoned to this school described in this proposal,” said Christine Brittle, an organizer with Citizens for Arlington School Equality. “Arlington has never had a choice school of this size.”
Board members stress that such a decision is a long way off, and the county’s financial picture could someday improve and allow APS to add more amenities to the site. There’s broad hope among officials that tax revenues will rebound when it comes time for the next CIP update in 2020.
“When the inputs change, the plan will change,” said Vice Chair Reid Goldstein. “The CIP is a plan, not a promise.”
In the near term, the County Board still needs to sign off on the school system’s CIP as part of its own capital spending process.
County Manager Mark Schwartz has previously warned that the School Board was a bit too ambitious in its ask from the county, though at a work session Tuesday (June 19), he suggested the version of the CIP the Board passed “can work… with a few minor adjustments.”
The County Board is set to pass its CIP by July 14.
(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) There may be a way to satisfy parent demands for equitable amenities at a new high school program near Columbia Pike — but it comes at a cost.
The School Board is nearing a vote on a new Capital Improvement Plan, which will guide the next 10 years of school construction, and that means time is running out for officials to tinker with plans for the Arlington Career Center. The site will eventually be home to an additional 1,050 high school students, but the Board has yet to settle on just how it will move forward with building on the property.
Parents in the nearby Arlington Heights neighborhood, in particular, have expressed concerns about how many athletic fields and parking options will be available at the Career Center, particularly when compared to the county’s other high schools.
Under the version of the CIP the Board reviewed at its meeting last Thursday (June 7), the school system would build an underground parking lot at the site with a synthetic field on top — but that will only happen in 2026, two years after space for 800 students is set to open up at the Career Center.
For some parents, such a delay seemed worrisome, particularly as students search for open field space for sports. Accordingly, the Board reviewed a plan at a work session Tuesday (June 12) that would ensure the garage and field get built by 2023, pushing off the 800-seat expansion, and simultaneous construction of a performing arts wing, until 2025.
“The community really needs us to define what wrap-around supports we’re going to provide there to make it an equitable experience for high school students,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren.
The plan would also address some of the Board’s funding concerns. Initially, Arlington Public Schools was set to pay for all this construction using bonds, a process that would’ve piled up more debt than school budget minders are usually comfortable with. This revised proposal calls for APS to shell out $24 million from its capital reserve fund to help pay for the Career Center work, cutting down a bit on the school system’s debt load and shifting the reserve money from future elementary and middle school projects.
Board members did express some consternation about drawing down a reserve fund so substantially — Vice Chair Reid Goldstein suggested he had plenty of “heartburn” over the prospect that the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum could jack up construction costs in the future, meaning those reserves could come in handy down the line. Yet most expressed a willingness to embrace the proposal, all the same.
“I see the tradeoffs,” Van Doren said. “But we need to fund as many seats as possible out of our own pocket right now.”
Leslie Peterson, assistant superintendent of finance and management service, noted that the school system’s original CIP proposal calls for about $19 million more in spending than the county is currently expecting to send the school system. The revised school proposal, with its reliance on reserve money, would greatly close that gap, Peterson told the Board.
“It is not a given, as we sit here tonight, that what we vote on as our plan will be fully funded,” said Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “We really do have to understand that.”
Yet even this newly retooled plan for the Career Center is unlikely to answer all the concerns of parents living nearby, some of whom have formed an advocacy group to fight for additional amenities at the site, particularly should it someday become a school serving only students living nearby. They’re even mulling legal action should the Board not meet their demands.
The Board is set to sign off on a final version of its CIP at its meeting next Thursday (June 21).
Photo via Google Maps
A group of parents who could someday send their kids to a new high school program at the Arlington Career Center remain frustrated by the school system’s plans for the site, and they’re planning a new effort to make their voices heard.
Concerned parents, largely hailing from the Arlington Heights neighborhood around Columbia Pike, are banding together to form a new nonprofit called “Citizens for Arlington School Equality.” The organization, which will lobby the School Board to include a broader range of amenities at the school site, is planning to kick off its efforts with a march from Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Board’s meeting tonight (June 7) at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd), with a rally to follow.
The Board has yet to finalize just how it will build 1,050 new high school seats at the Career Center, but it is nearing a consensus on a new Capital Improvement Plan that would dictate how the construction proceeds over the next decade. A final vote on the plan is set for June 21, but the Board seems to be nearing agreement on a proposal to build the seats by 2024. Under the proposal, amenities at the site would include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage, all to be added by 2026.
Yet that plan has done little to satisfy some Arlington Heights parents, who are concerned that the Career Center site wouldn’t offer the same features as the county’s other comprehensive high schools. They’re particularly concerned that the Board’s proposed design would fundamentally disadvantage students who live near the Career Center in South Arlington and are most likely to attend the new program.
“I want this for my kids, but I want to make sure I live in a county that cares about the education of all kids equally,” Jennifer Milder, the parent of two students attending Henry right now and one of the new group’s organizers, told ARLnow. “And the needle has moved very little on the inequality spectrum so far. There are still not adequate fields, still not adequate parking, or an adequate gym.”
Board members have spent plenty of time wrestling with how they can beef up amenities at the site, and examined several plans that would’ve added more amenities to the program and sped up their construction so they were available as the facility opened its doors.
But all of those proposals would have put a serious strain on the school system’s finances and were ultimately cast aside. Even the Board’s current plans will strain Arlington Public Schools’ borrowing capacity, and the county’s similarly challenging financial picture means the County Board may not be able to help, either.
Yet Milder and some her fellow parents believe both boards should view fully funding amenities at the Career Center site as a priority important enough to force a re-ordering of the county’s long-term construction plans.
“The county is doing all these things to attract businesses and people to Arlington, then not backing it up by supporting students they’re bringing here,” said Megan Haydasz, another Arlington Heights parent involved with the new group.
Haydasz suggested her new group could even pursue legal action against the school system if the Board opts to pursue its current plans at the Career Center. She’s hoping the new group will be able to start accepting donations soon, and will be able to fund all manner of advocacy work.
“Families with the resources to get their students out of this situation will do so, and that will leave behind families who can’t,” Milder said. “It’d be a sad state of affairs.”
That’s why Milder and Haydasz hope to use their new group to convince the county raise taxes next year — a distinct possibility, County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned — and use that money to better fund the school system. If the county fails to do so, the parents worry how the neighborhood might change in response.
“I’ve talked to several people already reconsidering adding onto their houses, or are even thinking about putting their homes up for sale already,” Haydasz said. “The uncertainty is too much for them. They wanted to be in the South Arlington community, but they can’t gamble with their kids.”
The group will begin its march from Henry at 5 p.m., and plans to arrive at the Syphax Center for a rally by 5:15 p.m. The Board meeting starts at 6 p.m.
Construction work on an access road crossing a portion of Army Navy Country Club could be pushed back by nearly a decade, as Arlington grapples with a funding squeeze impacting transportation projects.
County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan calls for engineering work on the project, which is designed to link the Arlington View neighborhood to Army Navy Drive, to start by fiscal year 2027 with construction kicking off two years later. The county has long expected to start design work for the project by fiscal year 2020, with work to begin in 2022.
Since 2010, county officials have aimed to build the new road, which would be reserved for emergency vehicles looking to more easily cross I-395, as well as bicyclists and pedestrians. The 30-foot-wide road would run from S. Queen Street, near Hoffman-Boston Elementary, to the I-395 underpass, where a country club access road meets up with Army Navy Drive.
The process has required a good bit of back-and-forth with the country club — the county only secured an easement on the club’s property as part of a deal to allow Army Navy’s owners to build a larger clubhouse than county zoning rules would ordinarily permit. Some members of the country club even sued the county to block the arrangement, over concerns that cyclists and pedestrians on the proposed trail would be disruptive to golfers.
Yet Arlington leaders have pressed ahead with the project all the same, with the County Board approving two different updates to the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, known as the CIP, including funding for the project.
Schwartz hasn’t gone so far as to ask the Board to abandon the project — his proposed CIP calls for the county to spend $837,000 on engineering work in fiscal years 2027 and 2028 — but the delay does reflect Arlington’s new challenges paying for transportation projects.
As he’s unveiled the new CIP, Schwartz has frequently warned that the deal hammered out by state lawmakers to send the Metro system hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funding has hammered localities like Arlington. Not only does the deal increase the county’s annual contribution to Metro, but it sucks away money from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body that would ordinarily help localities fund transportation projects.
With the county having to shift money around to compensate for those changes, officials say smaller projects like the Army Navy access road will necessarily suffer.
“Overall, the transportation CIP has fewer resources for smaller, neighborhood-scale improvements due to reduced funding resulting from legislation,” Jessica Baxter, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services, told ARLnow via email.
The project’s delay comes as particularly bad news for people living in the Arlington View neighborhood. One resident, Eric Davis, told ARLnow via email that he fears delaying the project would “endanger the lives of nearby bicyclists and pedestrians.”
“With Columbia Pike being our only access out of the neighborhood, this new access road would give us a safe alternative to reaching Pentagon City, Crystal City, and other points east,” Davis wrote. “And, if/when connected to the Washington Boulevard path currently under construction, it then becomes an essential north/south connection in Arlington for bikes and pedestrians.”
Davis also pointed out that the project as a whole could be in jeopardy if delayed much longer.
The county’s CIP documents note that the easement for the country club’s land was recorded back in March 2012, and “may terminate automatically if construction contracts are not awarded within 20 years of that date.” Baxter noted that “the current schedule anticipates completion before the easement expires,” however.
Any delay is also contingent on the County Board approving the change in the CIP. The Board is in the midst of holding a series of work sessions on the CIP this month, but doesn’t expect to sign off on a final spending plan until July 14.
Photo via Google Maps
(Updated at 6 p.m.) The relentless rain soaking Arlington is prompting some serious flooding in the Waverly Hills neighborhood, and now people living there are pressing the county for help.
Tom Reich, a longtime homeowner in the area, told ARLnow that many of his neighbors along the 4000 block of 18th Street N. experienced serious flooding starting two weeks ago, on May 22. He also sent along the above video, showing water reaching high enough to partially submerge some cars parked on 18th Street N. and carry away some recycling bins.
“Many houses had their garages, basements, and cars flooded, sustaining many thousands of dollars in damage,” Reich wrote in an email.
Reich added that similar floods have plagued the neighborhood several times over the years — in 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2013 — and the Waverly Hills Civic Association convened a meeting on May 31 with county officials to address the problem. Reich says many residents urged the county to construct stormwater management improvements, but they didn’t get much in the way of good news on that front.
“The upshot was that the county told us our need is real and acute, but the money is not currently there in the capital budget to execute the projects,” Reich wrote. “Needless to say, the Waverly Hills residents are now in the beginning stage of a campaign to highlight the threat to our homes presented by the county’s failure to act on its own plan.”
Reich points out that a variety of projects designed to manage flooding in the Spout Run watershed, where the neighborhood is located, have gone unfunded in recent years.
The county’s Capital Improvement Plan passed ahead of fiscal year 2013 included funding for four different sewer projects in the area — but Reich says those were never completed and the next CIP, passed by the County Board two years later, includes no mention of them.
County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed CIP, which details construction projects running from fiscal year 2019 through 2028, also includes some funding for stormwater management in other parts of the county, but Reich and his neighbors are frustrated that the spending plan doesn’t call for more construction around Waverly Hills.
Staff with the county’s Department of Environmental Services completed preliminary work on the projects Reich referenced after the 2006 flooding, according to county spokeswoman Jennifer Smith. Yet she says that work “identified significant challenges and costs to upgrade the system, as the current system traverses more than a dozen private properties.”
DES spokeswoman Katie O’Brien adding that the county is “still pursuing” those projects, yet noted that “technical challenges and funding remain an issue.”
Schwartz has certainly warned of the county’s fiscal challenges as he’s unveiled this year’s construction plan, thanks to Arlington’s increasing obligations to fund the Metro system and shrinking commercial tax revenues.
However, Smith would caution that “while greater capacity in the storm sewer would alleviate flooding concerns, there is no system which can guarantee elimination of flood risk to flood-prone properties.”
Video via YouTube
(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Despite mounting financial challenges, top Arlington officials say they don’t plan to walk away from some major construction projects that are already in the works — even if that stance ruffles a few feathers in the community.
County Manager Mark Schwartz has stressed repeatedly that his newly unveiled proposal for the next decade of Arlington construction projects, known as the Capital Improvement Plan, will maintain the county’s standing commitments to several major facilities around Arlington, even as he’s forced to make painful cuts elsewhere.
With the county sending more money to the Metro system, all while dealing with declining commercial tax revenues and rising public school enrollments, Schwartz is adamant that projects like the Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center and the new Lubber Run Community Center won’t be affected.
But the large price tag of those projects already has some community activists asking: why not change things up?
“We’re spending millions on synthetic fields and a new swimming palace… and 600 or 700 kids are moving into the county schools each year,” civic activist Suzanne Sundburg said at a town hall meeting Wednesday night (May 30) that was also broadcast via live Facebook video. “I understand people want to finish what they start, but at what point do we start re-evaluating priorities and reprioritizing?”
Schwartz said the question was a valid one, and will likely spark plenty of debate among County Board members as they evaluate his CIP proposal over the coming weeks. But he also warned that the risks of spurning these projects, particularly after the county has already awarded design and construction contracts, could far outweigh the benefits of saving some money.
“There are some things that are settled that we have to move on,” Schwartz said. “There are obligations on the books that crowd out our ability to do new things, and that is the situation we face.”
Schwartz was particularly concerned that people in the community might see abandoning the Long Bridge Park project as a viable option, even if they blanch at its $60 million price tag. Not only does he believe it would be a “breach of faith” with the community, following roughly two decades of discussions on the project, but he pointed out that a contractor has already spent the last five months working on it.
“If we back out on that, nobody in the contracting community is going to bid on any of our contracts for the next five years,” Schwartz said. “We’d probably not only be involved in protracted litigation with [the construction company], but we probably wouldn’t be able to do as much as we want to do, and our future projects would go up in price. People would build that in as a risk premium.”
Such an outcome would be particularly problematic as the county and APS eye a future full of new school construction; Schwartz noted that contractors tend not to see much of a difference between the county government and its school system.
Schwartz’s proposed CIP does come with some cuts likely to upset some people across the county, which could push the County Board to ignore the manager’s warnings. For instance, county transportation director Dennis Leach noted that initiatives like the Complete Streets program, Walk Arlington and Bike Arlington “did not get eliminated, but they were trimmed.”
The county’s Neighborhood Conservation Program, meanwhile, will also lose $24 million in funding over the 10-year plan, and Schwartz expects that there will “not be an adequate amount of money to keep pace with the program” in county coffers.
“This is a matter of making choices,” Schwartz said. “There isn’t extra money that’s laying around.”
The Board will hold a series of CIP work sessions over the month of June, with a planned final vote on the proposal on July 14.
With Metro expenses climbing and tax revenue growth slowing, the county’s top executive is calling for a rollback in new construction on some transportation improvements and other neighborhood infrastructure projects.
Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz unveiled his proposed Capital Improvement Plan in a presentation to the County Board Tuesday (May 22), detailing the $2.7 billion in construction projects he wants to see Arlington take on over the next 10 years, and he did not have much in the way of good news for county officials.
Schwartz’s proposal does not call for the county to stop work on any existing construction efforts, or cancel some of Arlington’s major new facilities projects. For instance, Schwartz noted that his CIP still has full funding for things like the Long Bridge Park Aquatics and Fitness Center, the new Lubber Run Community Center and a replacement for Fire Station 8 on Lee Highway.
However, he believes the roughly $90 million in additional bond funding the county will need to put towards Metro, under the terms of the dedicated funding deal hammered out by state lawmakers earlier this year, will seriously squeeze Arlington’s ability to take on major new projects over the next 10 years. When combined with rising school costs, and the Metro funding deal’s cuts to regional transportation funding available through the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, Schwartz feels there’s every reason to believe Arlington will be under some serious budget pressure for the next few years.
“This is not one of the better CIPs I’ve ever worked on,” Schwartz told reporters Tuesday. “You’re not going to find anything new in here… but I’ve proposed a CIP that sticks to what we’re committed to doing. Even still, I think there are things we should be doing that will have to be postponed.”
One of the largest changes Schwartz is proposing is to the county’s Neighborhood Conservation program, which funds modest community improvements like sidewalks, signs and landscaping. The county originally planned to spend $60 million on the program over the next 10 years; the new CIP would slash that to $36 million.
“We’ll be able to catch up on our backlog of projects already in the pipeline, and do some planning for future programs, but not much else,” said Michelle Cowan, the deputy county manager.
Schwartz’s plan also does not include any money for buying land for new parks; the county’s last CIP two years ago included $15 million for that purpose. However, his proposal does include $18 million for the first phase of redevelopment at Jennie Dean Park in Nauck, after the County Board just approved a new policy framework for the Four Mile Run valley.
Transportation projects on “arterial roads,” such as S. Walter Reed Drive or S. George Mason Drive, could also get pushed back under Schwartz’s proposal. He noted that the county still will devote $91 million over 10 years to improvements along Columbia Pike, largely aimed at beefing up bus service in the corridor to help compensate for the death of the controversial streetcar, but he also emphasized that Arlington’s “number one priority” with its transportation money is meeting its Metro obligation.
Even still, Schwartz echoed the warning by some county leaders that the county will likely have to abandon or severely delay plans to add second entrances at the Crystal City, Ballston and East Falls Church Metro stations. The county expected to use regional funds from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to pay for the combined $230 million in costs — now, NVTA leaders warn that they’ll likely have less money to dole out under a hotly debated provision of the Metro funding deal, and Schwartz told officials that he “can’t tell you a way to come up with the funds for those” projects without NVTA money.
Schwartz added that the CIP does include about $3 million for development at the Buck property along N. Quincy Street and $1.5 million for improvements at parcels along Carlin Springs Road. However, Schwartz noted that the county was originally planning on moving forward with ambitious new projects at those sites, which it will now largely have to put on hold.
In all, the county’s financial picture is so strained that Schwartz believes Arlington’s county government and school system are spending about as much on debt payments each year as they can “in good conscience.” That will likely come as bad news to School Board members, who have been hoping the county would help the school system take on a bit more debt to fund expensive high school projects at the Arlington Career Center and Education Center sites.
“If we’re going to put more money toward schools, something has to go away,” Schwartz said. “And I’d be hard pressed to figure out what it would be.”
Board member John Vihstadt echoed that point once Schwartz’s presentation was finished, even as he noted that the lack of money for new park land was “very disappointing.”
Schwartz and some Board members expressed some optimism that the 2019 elections could change the outlook in the General Assembly, particularly as some Northern Virginia Democrats agitate for a chance to re-do the Metro funding deal that’s so squeezed localities.
But, for now, the county is stuck with a gloomy financial forecast. Schwartz even concluded his presentation by noting that he expects to propose tax rate increases in his next budget, an outcome the Board managed to avoid this year.
The Board will now hold a series of work sessions on the CIP over the next month, and is set to approve it by July 14.
Arlington residents can now take a five minute survey sharing their thoughts for the 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), a blueprint for how officials will shape Arlington County from 2019-2028.
The plan focuses on “building, maintaining, upgrading or replacing County facilities and infrastructure” over that 10 year period, according to the County’s website. Some of those facilities include libraries, parks, community centers, and transportation infrastructure.
The deadline for public input on the CIP is March 16. In May, County Manager Mark Schwartz will release a proposed plan for public review, in which the public will again have another opportunity for comment until July. The County Board will adopt the final improvement plan this July.
The CIP for 2017-2026 totaled $3.3 billion for capital projects and infrastructure investment for both the County and schools.
The survey asks about funding for a myriad of topics ranging from schools to transportation, including:
- Maintenance of roads (ex. paving, potholes)
- Bicycle and pedestrian safety and connectivity projects
- Public art projects
- New parks and/or playgrounds, maintenance of existing parks and playgrounds
- New or expanded libraries, maintenance of existing libraries
- Design and/or construction of public buildings (ex. recreation/community centers)
- New or expanded public schools to address growing enrollment, maintenance of schools
- Arlington Transit (ART) buses, bus stops or related facilities
- Neighborhood Conservation projects
Photo via Arlington County
As part of its latest Capital Improvement Plan, the Arlington County Board last night approved a new slate of bond referenda that will appear on the ballot this fall.
The county has proposed four bonds for voters to consider. In total the bonds add up to some $315.8 million.
- Metro and Transportation — $58,785,000
- Local Parks and Recreation — $19,310,000
- Community Infrastructure — $98,850,000
- Arlington Public Schools — $138,830,000
In a board report, county staff detailed the planned use of funds for each bond.
Metro and Transportation:
This proposal will fund a variety of transportation, road, pedestrian enhancement and transit projects across the County. The largest components of this proposal are $30 million for Arlington County’s share of WMATA / Metro’s capital improvement program, and $24 million to fund a portion of the costs for paving local streets and roadways. Proceeds of this proposal will also fund bridge renovation, street lights, transportation systems & traffic signals, as well as the WALKArlington, BikeArlington, Safe Routes to Schools, and Curb & Gutter Missing Links programs. The County Board may reallocate bond funds among the various projects to the extent necessary or desirable.
Local Parks and Recreation:
This proposal will fund various parks improvements and enhancements, as well as $3 million for the Land Acquisition and Open Space Program for strategic park acquisitions. This proposal would also fund the Trail Modernization program, design and planning at Jennie Dean Park and construction at Tyrol Hills Park, and maintenance capital improvements such as playground, courts and other parks infrastructure improvements. The County Board may reallocate bond funds among the various projects to the extent necessary or desirable.
This proposal will fund a variety of County infrastructure projects. The largest component of this proposal is $46.46 million for the Lubber Run Community Center project. Also included is $12 million of funding for Neighborhood Conservation projects, as well as funding for the Nauck Town Square, planning & design of the Fire Station 8 replacement, renovations & improvements to government facilities in the Court House Complex, renovation of the Barcroft Sports & Fitness Center for additional gymnastics, and a County childcare facility. The Neighborhood Conservation Program provides funding for a variety of neighborhood-identified capital improvement projects including street improvements (sidewalk, curb and gutter, drainage, paving), traffic management and pedestrian enhancements, park improvements, street lighting, recreational facilities, landscaping, and beautification.
It also includes funding of a joint County & Schools parking deck and other improvements at the Thomas Jefferson middle school site due to the construction of a new elementary school, critical systems infrastructure upgrades to 24×7 hour facilities; and facilities maintenance capital improvements, including design and construction of projects including but not limited to roofs, electrical and heating / cooling systems and other facilities infrastructure. The County Board may reallocate bond funds among the various projects to the extent necessary or desirable.
Arlington Public Schools:
This proposal will make funds available for the Arlington Public Schools’ capital improvement program. The proposed bonds will fund the following projects:
- The new middle school at the Stratford site ($26,030,000)
- The new school at the Wilson site ($78,400,000)
- Addition and renovation at the Career Center/Arlington Tech ($12,000,000)
- Planning for secondary seats at location(s) to be determined ($10,000,000), and
- Infrastructure capital projects such as HVAC, roofing, etc. ($12,400,000)
The School Board may reallocate bond funds among the various projects to the extent necessary or desirable.
The Board also approved its $3.3 billion 2017-2026 Capital Improvement Plan Tuesday night. A county press release on the plan, after the jump.
The Arlington County Board today approved a $3.3 billion combined County and Schools 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for fiscal years 2017-2026.
The plan funds County capital projects and infrastructure of $2.8 billion and Arlington Public Schools’ (APS) adopted $510.29 million CIP, for a total of $3.3 billion in planned capital projects and infrastructure investment over the next decade for both County and Schools.
“This plan provides funding to address the challenges posed by the fact that our community is growing,” said County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “We will make strategic investments in our schools, transportation, land acquisition and technology. That means APS will have the resources it needs to build new schools and expand existing ones. We will improve bus service across the County, and build a premium bus service connecting Columbia Pike and the Pentagon City-Crystal City corridor. At the same time, we will invest more in land acquisition, improve customer service by investing in technology and fund the replacement of the aging Lubber Run community Center.”
The Board voted 5-0 to adopt the CIP and to approve additional guidance to the County Manager.
Strategic investments over the next 10 years:
- Arlington Public Schools: Full support for APS’s $510.29 million plan to address growing enrollment, including full funding of its 2016 $138.83 million referenda request, which addresses capacity expansion.
- Metro and Transportation: $1.6 billion in extensive investments to ensure safety, accessibility and efficiency for commuters on bike, foot, car and transit over ten years. These include the County’s continued $30 million commitment to Metro over the next two years.
- The CIP lays out a plan to fund the recently adopted Transit Development Plan approach for new, modified and expanded bus service over the next decade, including premium bus service that will offer a one-seat ride from the west end of Columbia Pike to Potomac Yard. It also funds the Neighborhood Complete Streets Program and expands the streetlight management plan.
- Lubber Run Community Center: Planned funding includes $46.5 million in new bonds for design and construction in the 2016 and 2018 referenda for replacement of the County’s aging community center. After the referendum is considered by the voters, the County will undertake, before the end of 2016, a community engagement process on the arrangement of the facility and outdoor amenities on the site.
- Fire Station 8: $1.12 million is included in the 2016 referendum to support the design and planning efforts to replace Fire Station 8 at its current location on Lee Highway. Construction funding is anticipated to be included in the 2018 referenda request.
- Technology: Provides for a new online payment portal and replacement of the tax assessment and collection system.
- Neighborhood Conservation: Continues to fund this neighborhood-based program that improves neighborhoods, with $12 million per referenda.
- Land acquisition: Increases funding over last CIP to $3 million per referenda.
- Joint County School project: Funding of a parking structure and other improvements at the new elementary school at the Thomas Jefferson site.
- Longer term projects: Funds the acquisition of the Buck property (a six-acre site on North Quincy Street), and possibility of improvements needed at potential future acquisitions through the Virginia Hospital Center. Invests over the medium-to-long term to meet new public safety technology and regional interoperability requirements. Anticipates planning beginning in 2022 for a community facilities study for the Central Library/Quincy Park area to maximize existing land while preserving and maximizing open space.
Maintaining existing infrastructure -funding several areas of basic infrastructure:
- Parks and Facilities: Continues the County’s reinvestment in playgrounds, courts, fields and essential components of buildings such as HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and roofing systems. Jennie Dean Park design will begin when the Four Mile Run Valley Initiative is complete.
- Includes funding to expand the gymnastics program at the Barcroft Sports & Fitness Center, and funding for a new program, which provides $1 million every two years to modernize off-street trails.
- Existing funds for Long Bridge Park will be used to design and construct a reduced aquatics building program and complete the 10.5 acres of park development and esplanade. Additional funding is included in fiscal years 2023-2024 to plan and design a fourth synthetic field and parking structure at the park. Funding to build the field and garage will be considered as part of future CIPs.
- Paving: A $5 million increase in paving over the next two years, bringing the total to $24 million over two years.
- Water/sewer system infrastructure: Water delivery, sanitary sewer collection and wastewater treatment to provide high quality services and products and stormwater management investments to reduce potential stormwater impacts to public health, safety and property.
- Technology: Continued re-investment in technology to replace and support basic County functions such as PCs, servers, network capabilities etc., as well as critical public safety equipment including defibrillators, fire alerting system, mobile and portable radios, mobile data computers and fire vehicle refreshment.
The Capital Improvement Plan is within the financial and debt management policies adopted by the Board, which are important to ensuring maintenance of Arlington’s triple-AAA bond ratings.
A total of $315.775 million in bonds will be put before voters, in four separate questions. The referenda will be held during the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.The County Manager released the Proposed CIP in May 2016 after a public process that included three public forums and more than 430 online comments. Since then, staff provided briefings and answered questions for commissions and committees, and made presentations during five County Board work sessions.The Proposed CIP was posted on the CIP webpage, and the County Board held a public hearing on June 22. The staff report and County Board actions at the July 19 meeting can be found on the County website. Scroll down to Item #57 on the Agenda for the Tuesday, July 19 Recessed Meeting. To read the 2016 bond referenda resolutions and questions, scroll down to Item #58.
Arlington updates its Capital Improvement Plan — a planning document that outlines the County’s long range capital investment objectives — every two years. Proposed capital projects frequently include parks and recreation, government facilities, community conservation, technology, multi-modal transportation systems, Metro and transit, schools, utilities and other capital programs.The County’s Adopted CIP includes referenda amounts requested by the Arlington School Board to be voted on in November.
The following letter to the editor was submitted by 26 Arlington residents, regarding the Arlington Public Schools proposed Capital Improvement Plan.
With an exploding school population leading to hundreds of Arlington students spending their school days in trailers, Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy’s proposed solution falls far short of meeting the needs. The Superintendent’s Proposed Capital Improvement Plan (“CIP”) only funds 53% of the needed seats district-wide. Our school system is facing a 4,600 total seat deficit but the Superintendent’s Proposal is for only 2,445 additional seats.
Perhaps the worst looming problem is at the high school level. Arlington will soon be short 2,775 high school seats, but the CIP would fund just 43% — fewer than half! — of the needed seats. That shortfall would be more than enough to fill an entire high school but the Superintendent does not plan to build one.
Instead, Superintendent Murphy wants to use incremental measures such as “internal modifications” to existing buildings, which would leave 1,575 Arlington students without a seat in high school. He would address that huge shortfall by having students attend school in shifts, partnerships with local colleges, and even more trailers. Cost estimates or details have not been provided for these stop-gap measures.
As parents of APS students, we are seriously concerned about Superintendent Murphy’s plan and its inadequate approach to Arlington’s demonstrated school enrollment boom. We don’t want our children to attend high school in shifts or be off-loaded to local colleges because of poor capacity planning. We don’t want our children spending their school days in villages of trailers. We don’t understand why Arlington’s many community centers sit under-utilized while our children sit in trailers.
We believe Arlington can do better for its students, and we call on the School Board, APS Superintendent Dr. Murphy and the Arlington County Board (which controls the overall size of the school CIP) to work together now to create real seats in real school buildings for Arlington’s students.
Bob Adamson, Arlington
Katie Adamson, Arlington
Rasha AlMahroos, Arlington
Jon Berroya, Arlington
Meghan Berroya, Arlington
Sarah Botha, Arlington
Stephanie Carpenter, Arlington
Christopher Carpenter, Arlington
Lee Davis, Arlington
Ben Eggert, Arlington
Kelly Fado, Arlington
Robin Frank, Arlington
Yahya Fouz, Arlington
Brian F. Keane, Arlington
Kate S. Keane, Arlington
Mary Kusler, Arlington
Kim Lipsky, Arlington
Michelle McCready, Arlington
Tamara McFarren, Arlington
Geoffrey Megargee, Arlington
Peter O’Such, Arlington
Valerie O’Such, Arlington
Wendy Pizer, Arlington
Stacy Rosenthal, Arlington
Jesse Rosenthal, Arlington
Laura Simpson, Arlington
ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.