Arlington, VA

(Updated at 10:55 a.m.) Starting at 6 a.m. today, voters began showing up at their polling places across Arlington as voting in the Democratic primary kicked off.

At Randolph Elementary School in Douglas Park, St. Agnes Catholic Church in Cherrydale, and Madison Community Center in Old Glebe, lines were short and skies were clear.

“It’s been slow, but steady. There’s been 83 people so far, or 2.7 percent turnout. It’s pretty normal,” said Bill Harkins, election officer at St. Agnes.

At Randolph Elementary around 41 people had cast their ballots by 7:41 a.m., according to election officer Harry Dunbar, and another 13 voters arrived in the next half hour. Dunbar said there are 3,000 people who live in the precinct.

“Half of that is normal for a busy general election,” Dunbar said, noting that primary election turnout is usually much lower.

By mid-morning, Arlington’s elections office reported that turnout was somewhat light, but higher in precincts in Arlington’s northwest. Voters in residential northwest Arlington tend to be a bit more conservative, at least relative to the rest of the county.

The only hiccup noticed so far was a ballot that wouldn’t scan at Randolph Elementary. At around 8 a.m., officials had identified the likely culprit: blocks that printed too faintly along the border of the document.

Today’s primary marks the end of several hotly contested races between the Democrats on the ballot — namely the race for commonwealth’s attorney and the state Senate seat in the 31st District. With most races still lacking a non-Democratic candidate, the primary could also decide the Nov. 5 general election.

At Randolph, the race on most people’s minds was the one for commonwealth’s attorney between incumbent Theo Stamos and challenger Parisa Dehghani-Tafti who have clashed in debates since kicking off their campaigns last winter.

Evelyn Luis, a long-time Douglas Park resident, said she doesn’t usually vote in the primaries but showed up today to support Stamos.

“Even though she’s running as a Democrat and I am not a Democrat I know I have to make a choice between the two candidates.” Luis said.

Luis wore a shirt from the 1990s-era Crime Prevention Council of Arlington County, on which she was a board member. She said she disagreed with Tafti’s platform and PAC funding.

Another voter, Aaron Willis, who has lived in the area for a decade, said he’s voted in every primary since moving to the D.C. region. He feels part of the “nerve center” of politics after coming from Ohio where he sometimes felt disconnected.

Willis said he supported Tafti in today’s election, citing her record of pushing for reproductive rights and restoring voting rights to felons.

The interest in the prosecutor’s race also ran high at St. Agnes.

“The important race to me was the commonwealth’s attorney,” said St. Agnes voter Chris Guest. “I think it’s always good to have options, but I wanted to vote against outside money, especially when that’s heavily for one candidate.”

“All of the races are important. Arlington is a great place to live and we have good candidates,” said St. Agnes voter Sarah Devoe this morning. “I’ve been surprised with the commonwealth’s attorney race; it’s not really a race I think of as being competitive. There’s been a lot of TV and print ads. There are two strong candidates.”

Stamos’ record in office and Tafti’s proposed criminal justice reforms have split support among local attorneys and sparked conversations about police brutality and the county’s discovery policy in criminal cases.

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) A local interfaith group is proposing Arlington and Alexandria redirect Amazon revenue to address long-standing community issues like affordable housing and school crowding.

Virginians for Organized Interfaith Community Engagement called on officials to dedicate portions of their revenue from Amazon to solve long-standing issues like Arlington’s affordable housing squeeze and ever-growing school enrollment.

The so-called “Community First Initiative” calls for Arlington County to earmark the first $10 million it receives from Amazon tax revenue to invest in affordability and equity, and dedicate 50 percent of all future revenue to the same.

“This would bring upwards of $232 million by 2035,” noted a VOICE press release on the proposed initiative, adding that leaders needed to start investing in solutions now because, “affordable housing and places are disappearing too fast. Too many residents are already being pushed out.”

Officials have estimated that Amazon will net the county $342.3 million in combined tax revenue over the next 16 years.

Arlington Board Chair Christian Dorsey and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson both expressed general support for the plan during a planned event at Wakefield High School yesterday, though Dorsey disagreed about the specific funding mechanism proposed.

VOICE asked officials to invest in their communities by taking a loan out on the revenue the county expects to earn from Amazon’s second headquarters, making use of the county’s high bond ratings.

“The whole idea that you bond against revenues that you anticipate to come, but that you don’t have a definite stream, that’s not something that’s done affordably for a community, nor would I ever recommend that we do something like that,” said Dorsey, who added that he would look into alternative funding mechanisms like general appropriations during next year’s budget negotiations.

Arlington County Board members passed a $1.4 billion budget two months ago that increased funding for the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund to $16 million for the next fiscal year, up from $14.3 million currently.

The investment came after a contentious hearing in March over the county’s incentive package for Amazon, which includes up to $23 million in incentives to Amazon over the next 15 years and up to $28 million in local transportation project funding. Protesters disrupted the meeting several times to express fears that the community needed more investment in affordable housing to combat gentrification that could be caused by Amazon’s arrival.

“Will I work with VOICE to dedicate at least half of all additional revenues that come from Amazon’s investments in Arlington priorities in equity and inclusion, among which are the proposals you have generated? The answer is unequivocally yes,” Dorsey said on Sunday.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, who joked it was “great to be across Four Mile Run in his second favorite Virginia jurisdiction,” told the audience that he too was committed to continuing conversations with VOICE, tech leaders, and Virginia Tech, which is planning to build a new 65-acre tech campus in Alexandria close to Amazon’s new headquarters.

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A local interfaith organization is holding a meeting this weekend about how to ensure Amazon’s second headquarters benefits the local community.

Virginians for Organized Interfaith Community Engagement is holding the public meeting at Wakefield High School (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street) this Sunday, June 9 from 4:30-6:15 p.m. and is encouraging residents from Arlington and Alexandria to attend.

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson are expected to attend the event, per a VOICE press release. Other attendees slated to be there include local clergy of various religions, teachers, students, and business owners.

The topics of discussion include affordable housing and equal opportunities in education.

“Arlington and Alexandria officials have talked about the need to work together to mitigate negative impacts and maximize public benefits,” VOICE spokeswoman Marjorie Green told ARLnow. “This VOICE gathering will mark the first public joint event addressing potential actions in any detail.”

The event is free but attendees are asked to RSVP to [email protected]‐iaf.org.

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(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) The Commonwealth of Virginia and Arlington County are loaning a combined $13,700,000 to a Virginia Square affordable housing project focusing on veterans.

Officials announced yesterday (Tuesday) evening that the Virginia Housing Trust Fund will loan $700,000 and Arlington County will loan the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) $13,000,000 to build a seven-story, 160-unit building on the site of the American Legion Post 139 (3445 Washington Blvd).

“We want to make sure Virginia is the most veteran-friendly state in this great country of ours,” Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said in a speech outside the aging Legion building, which will be torn down and replaced by the new development.

Half the units will have a “veteran-preference in perpetuity,” APAH President and CEO Nina Janopaul told ARLnow Tuesday.

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in a speech he was “really thrilled” the county could be a part of the effort to help veterans.

“This is an opportunity for us to actually, truly thank them for their service by providing a very key need. That is, long-term housing,” Dorsey said.

Board member Katie Cristol told ARLnow that it was a “terrific project” and a “model” for Legion posts statewide. She added that it was inherently difficult to bring together all of the disparate parties on these kinds of projects, but the process could be easier if state legislators invested more in the affordable housing fund.

“You see Arlington and APAH trying to fill a really big hole,” said Cristol.

Northam thanked legislators, including state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st), for helping to add $11 million to the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, of which $700,000 is loaned to the Legion development.

The governor added the the fund needs an addition $9 million to meet affordable housing needs across Virginia, saying “we still have a lot of work to do.”

The current design of the Legion’s new building features a new access road that runs along the west side of the lot, by the Casual Adventure shop next door. At the rear of the lot, the road will end in a parking garage for residents and Legion members.

Some neighbors have expressed concern about traffic and noise from the development. A total of 96 parking spaces are proposed, some of which are designated for use by the Legion. Janopaul said the parking ratio is lower than other APAH projects due to proximity to transit, adding that a planned driveway was moved in response to resident concerns.

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Many Arlington homeowners can now build backyard cottages, thanks to a vote from the County Board.

Board members unanimously voted to loosen zoning regulations on so-called detached “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) during their Saturday meeting. The vote came after a contentious discussion with residents who said they feared the impacts of greater density and fewer trees in their neighborhoods.

“I am very pleased to support this motion for the benefits I think we’re going to see,” Board member Erik Gutshall said. “In my view the benefits far outweigh the potential impacts. To me it’s about housing. Period.”

Board members have long eyed small backyard homes as a way to help increase the county’s available affordable housing stock.

The newly amended zoning rules allow Arlington homeowners to build detached ADUs on their property without first seeking county permission to do so — as long as it’s a one-family property. Previously, homeowners could only build an ADU inside their house (such as an English basement) or convert an existing outside structure into one.

Now, homeowners can build an ADU on an interior lot as long as the structure is at least 5 feet away from the property lines. ADUs built on corner lots must sit 5 feet from the side yard line and 10 feet from the rear yard line.

Previously, the County Board debated whether to allow 1-foot setback distances, but members ultimately nixed the idea, citing privacy concerns between neighbors and the fact it would only increase the number of ADU-eligible properties by 2 percent.

The exact distance didn’t matter to Urban Forestry Commission member Phil Klingelhofer, who said Saturday he had “serious concerns” about allowing any detached ADUs because laying sewer lines and footings anywhere could hurt the county’s tree canopy coverage.

“I want to make sure that we’re not… losing the forest for the trees,” Board member Katie Cristol replied. “Nationally, the biggest driver of emission and therefore climate change is sprawl development.”

Previously, several members of the activist Arlington Tree Action Group cited concerns about ADU construction killing trees and adding impervious surfaces to the county, which is already at a higher risk of floods.

Among the opponents was former County Board member John Vihstadt, who said the measure was part of a bigger mismanagement of density and natural resources.

“We must do better with managing our growth,” he said.

County Housing Planner Joel Franklin said since Jan 1, 2018, the county has approved 10 requests to build ADUs, three of which were converting existing structures into detached backyard cottage-style units.

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(Updated at 5 p.m.) Arlington will now join Alexandria and Fairfax in renaming Jefferson Davis Highway as “Richmond Highway.”

Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board unanimously approved changing the name for the highway, which is also known as U.S. Route 1, earlier this morning.

The state Board’s approval was the last step in the months-long process to strip the Confederate president’s name from the roadway. The Arlington County Board unanimously approved a renaming resolution last month.

One of the attendees at this morning’s meeting asked the CTB “what the direction was for the future” considering that renaming one highway may lead the Board to “be overrun with requests for the future.”

CTB Secretary Shannon Valentine responded by sharing a passage from a letter Gov. Ralph Northam sent the group urging them to approve the name change.

“While it is necessary for us to honestly discuss and interpret Virginia’s history, I feel strongly that commemorating the president of the Confederacy through the name for a major thoroughfare is not appropriate,” Valentine read.

The Arlington Chamber of Commerce shared the news on social media, calling it an “action to support businesses.” The Chamber said hotels along Route 1 have lost business due to the Jefferson Davis Highway name, according to WTOP.

In their request to the state Board, Arlington County requested the CTB change the name to either Richmond Highway or Richmond Blvd.

The county argued to CTB that renaming would help “to avoid confusion and promote consistency” for motorists and businesses.

It’s the same argument local officials used before their own vote last month and one that potentially counters the historical preservation arguments that opposed other local Confederate renaming resolutions like changing Washington-Lee High School to Washington-Liberty.

The county estimated last month that the costs involved in rolling out the new name would be around $17,000.

“No street numbers will be changed, and the United States Postal Service will, in perpetuity, continue to deliver mail to the businesses and residences along the highway addressed to Jefferson Davis Highway,” an April county press release on the name change read.

The General Assembly renamed the highway to honor Davis in 1922. Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey spoke at the CTB meeting, which was held at a Crystal City hotel, and told the Board that the Jefferson Davis’ name “symbolized white supremacy in a Jim Crow south,” reported WTOP.

The Crystal City BID thanked the Board for its Wednesday vote in a tweet, sharing applause symbols with the message.

Google Maps already renamed the highway on its maps several months ago.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, whose legal opinion in response to an inquiry from Del. Mark Levine allowed Arlington County to seek the renaming, called the CTB’s vote “a step in the right decision.”

Near the end of the meeting, Valentine said the CTB is considering forming a “task force” to handle future Confederate re-naming requests and create guidelines.

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County officials are trying to drum up participation in the next U.S. Census — a year before the feds start surveying and counting.

Arlington has joined other neighboring jurisdictions in creating a group called “Complete Count Committee” tasked with convincing residents to fill out the 2020 Census form when it arrives next April.

Wanda Pierce, a Nauck resident who co-chairs of the committee, said the group is “representative of all different types of organizations, ethnicities, religions, everyone across Arlington, because to reach a lot of the hard-to-count populations, we have to have those members on the committee,” per a press release.

“The U.S. Census Bureau cannot conduct the 2020 Census alone,” the website for the committee reads.

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey also signed a proclamation calling on “the Arlington community to rise up as leaders and partners in this effort to reach 100% participation in the 2020 Census campaign.”

“It’s not enough to want to count everybody,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz at the event. “We’re going to have to go out and tell people that we want to work with them to make sure they are counted.”

Each member of the committee is tasked with recruiting at least 1,000 Arlington residents to take the annual survey, per the committee’s website.

Previously, Principal Planner and co-director of the Arlington County Census 2020 campaign Elizabeth Hardy spoke at a March meeting with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments where she noted the county began 2020 census preparations in 2018.

“This time I feel like every resident is in a hard-to-count community,” said Hardy, who worked on the awareness campaign for the 2010 census.

She said there “were a lot of lessons learned” from the 2010 campaign, and that this time around the county planned to share more resources with neighboring jurisdictions.

The census is administered once every ten years by the federal Census Bureau.

Next year’s Census has drawn controversy after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to collect information about respondents’ about the citizenship status, a largely unprecedented move that’s been criticized by civil rights advocates and defended by President Trump.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on the citizenship question on April 23.

The most recent Census estimate of Arlington’s population — made in intervening years between official Census counts — was 234,965 as of July 1, 2017. That showed Arlington’s population has continued to grow, from 230,050 in 2016, 226,908 in 2014 and 207,627 from the last Census count in 2010.

Every level of government studies the population data gleaned to make funding decisions. The number of people counted also determines how many House of Representative seats each state is awarded.

Image via U.S. Census Bureau

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Metro is moving forward with its new budget, proposing sweeping service increases to bolster ridership with the need for a modest budget increase from Arlington.

The WMATA Board of Directors gave initial approval for the transit agency’s draft $3.5 billion, FY2020 budget during a meeting today (Thursday). The budget paves the way to start running Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt and Red Line trains all the way to Glenmont, eliminating the Silver Spring turn-back.

The budget asks Arlington to contribute $77.6 million to the agency’s operating budget, a $2.6 million increase from last year.

“Yellow and Red extensions help any Arlingtonians heading to those end points and expand the commute/travel shed into Arlington to accommodate growth in Pentagon City and Crystal City,” Metro Board member and Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow after Thursday’s meeting.

“Better service helps us all,” said Dorsey.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed $45.6 million in the county’s next budget to be allocated to Metro’s operating budget, a $5 million increase from budget adopted last fiscal year. The remainder of the county’s $77.6 million in funding is from a small increase in the portion of the county’s capital improvement program (CIP) funds set aside for Metro.

Arlington County Board members advertised a 2.75-cent bump to the real estate tax in Arlington’s next fiscal budget, in part, to cover rising expenses at Metro.

The idea was Dorsey’s, who said the increased funds to Metro allowed the transit agency’s budget “to do more service, reduce the price of some fare pass products including on bus where ridership is cratering while having no fare increases and staying within legislatively mandated caps.”

The budget also included a small, $1 million proposal provide $3 subsidies for late-night rideshare trips that area workers take, now that Metrorail’s own late-night service is no more.

One uncertainty the transit agency’s budget continues to face is its ridership rates, which have now plummeted to a 20-year low. The budget banks on that number stabilizing this year, a result WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld hopes to achieve with the increased service.

Wiedefeld initially proposed even more sweeping service increases, including an expansion of rush-hour service, but the expense prompted consternation from county officials. Those proposals were ultimately stripped from the budget.

The budget proposal Board members approved Thursday did not include service cuts or fare increases. 

Metro Board member Corbett Price, representing D.C., thanked Dorsey at the end of the meeting for his “political leadership” in assembling the budget, reported WTOP.

“My only hope is people say such things about me when I’m dead,” joked Dorsey.

Metro Board members will convene again this month for a final vote on the budget, which goes into effect in June.

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County Board Chair Christian Dorsey is making a run for re-election, joining fellow Board member Katie Cristol in a bid for another four years in office.

Dorsey formally announced his bid at the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s monthly meeting last night (Wednesday), according to the group’s website. The county’s elections office also now lists Dorsey as a candidate for the Board, which has two seats on the ballot this fall.

Dorsey did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment, but he’s telegraphed a run for another term for several weeks now. He held a Super Bowl-themed fundraiser in early February, but held off on formally announcing until now. Cristol, who won office in 2015 alongside Dorsey, announced her re-election bid last month.

The pair won spots on the Board four years ago as relative political newcomers, triumphing in a crowded, six-way caucus to earn the Democratic nomination and then decisively winning in the general. Dorsey had run for county office before, but his background is mainly in work at D.C. think tanks.

Since joining the Board, Dorsey has taken a leading role on transit and housing issues, most notably serving on Metro’s Board of Directors. He rotated in for a one-year stint as chair back in January.

Dorsey and Cristol have since helped steer the Board through several tough budget years, as persistently high office vacancy rates have strained county coffers, and also been tasked with navigating the complexities of bringing Amazon to Arlington, and the resulting debate over the deal.

As of yet, however, no other Democrats have stepped forward to challenge the pair in a June 11 primary. Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo said that other candidates have until March 28 to file for the race, otherwise the party will call off the primary.

“I have not heard of anyone else seeking the Democratic nomination at this point, but there is still time,” she told ARLnow via email.

However, independent (and perennial candidate) Audrey Clement has already announced plans to run for the Board in the general election.

There’s broad speculation as well that recently ousted independent John Vihstadt could mount a comeback bid, after losing to Democrat Matt de Ferranti this fall.

In an off-off-year election, where only local offices and statehouse races will be on the ballot, Cristol and Dorsey could well face a taller task in fending off Vihstadt. De Ferranti was buoyed, in part, by a surge of Democratic voters, eager to send a message to national Republicans in the 2018 midterms.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) and Dels. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District), Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) and Mark Levine (D-45th District) also formally announced their re-election bids at last night’s meeting.

Favola and Lopez have drawn primary challengers so far; Sullivan and Levine are currently unopposed.

File photo

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Morning Notes

Dorsey: Safety Over Late Night Hours — “Metro Boardmember and Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey… says Metro’s first responsibility is not to run as much service as possible, but to keep the service that is being run as safe as possible. He supports more maintenance.” Meanwhile, Metro is considering a plan to subsidize late night Uber and Lyft service. [Twitter, Washington Post]

Arlington Redistricting on Kojo Show — The always-controversial redrawing of school boundaries in Arlington was the topic of a recent discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, featuring APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy and community leaders. [Kojo Nnamdi Show, Twitter]

Zoning, Permitting Offices Closing Tomorrow — “Arlington’s planning and DES permitting offices are running away for a long romantic Valentine’s weekend. When they return [on Tuesday], they will live as one exclusively on the tenth floor of 2100 Clarendon Blvd.” [Arlington County, Twitter]

Snow Threats Coming This Weekend, Next Week — “In the past day, computer models have begun advertising the potential for a snow event on Saturday. And it may mark the start of a series of winter storms that streak across the Washington region.” [Washington Post]

Check Out ARLnow’s Instagram — ARLnow’s Insta currently features photography from around our fair county. Coming soon: more photos, plus contests and other exclusives. [Instagram]

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Arlington will celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. with a free annual event featuring local performers this Sunday (Jan 20).

“Supernatural” actor Christian Keyes is set to host Arlington’s MLK Tribute, which is now in its 50th year. The event will run from 5-6:30 p.m. at Wakefield High School.

Community members and county staff created the annual tribute one year after King’s assassination in 1968 as a way to bring the community together around King’s vision for social equality.

“Arlington’s beloved MLK tribute event is a joyful celebration of Dr. King and his powerful advocacy for social and economic justice, non-violence and empowerment that continues to serve as a beacon for our nation more than a half-century after his assassination,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in a press release.

The program features music, dance and spoken word roles.

The lineup includes:

  • Spoken word artist Outspoken Poetress (Audrey Perkins)
  • Inspire Arts Collective
  • Soloist Jackie Pate
  • Soloist James Gibson
  • Arlington resident Joy Gardner
  • The Hoffman-Boston All Star Chorus led by Molly Haines
  • Teen Network boardmembers
  • Winners of the Arlington Public Schools’ MLK Literary and Visual Arts Contest

Guests will be seated on a first-come, first-served basis, and overflow space with a live stream of the program will be available if the auditorium reaches capacity. Anyone attending is encouraged to bring non-perishable goods to donate to Arlington Food Assistance Center.

Photo via Arlington County

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