Local businesses will not have to authorize each individual tow from their property after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a bill ending the would-be practice.
HB 1960 overrides Arlington County’s towing regulations that required a so-called “real-time authorization” of each tow during business hours. The county’s regulations were set to come into effect on July 1.
The bill, introduced by Del. Tim Hugo (R-40), prevents any jurisdiction in Northern Virginia from requiring the authorization, also known as a second signature. The first signature is the contract that authorizes a company to tow from a particular property.
Having previously railed against the requirement, Arlington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kate Bates praised McAuliffe’s decision.
Bates said in a statement:
The signing of this important legislation into law is a huge win for the Arlington business community. Arlington businesses rely on being able to provide clear, available parking for customers, employees and visitors in order to stay viable, and HB 1960 empowers and protects these businesses so they can continue to do just that. By removing the ability of local lawmakers to force businesses to adhere to a second authorization towing requirement, this legislation returns the decision-making power about the removal of illegally parked vehicles back where it belong: in the hands of private property owners and business owners.
McAuliffe said in an interview on WTOP this morning that he signed the bill after having conversations with representatives of local chambers of commerce and small businesses.
“I always will come down on the side of the small business community, so I signed the bill,” McAuliffe said.
County Board chair Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com he was “disappointed” at McAuliffe’s decision, after he initially tried to amend the bill. Fisette said the second signature is necessary to prevent predatory towing.
“For us, it’s important because predatory towing has gotten worse over recent years, and an increasing number of people are affected by it,” Fisette said. “There is a better balance that can be struck to reduce the number of tows that occur in the first two minutes that somebody parks in a space.”
Fisette said he hopes the Chamber and county can now work together to find a way to address both parties’ concerns.
One minor change requested by McAuliffe, concerning fines for towing operators in Northern Virginia that will apply each time they make an improper tow or violate certain towing regulations, was made to the final bill by the legislature. The bill also calls for towing operators to notify the local animal control office when a car is towed with a pet inside.
Local Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) spoke forcefully against the bill on the floor of the House of Delegates during the General Assembly’s reconvened session earlier this month to discuss McAuliffe’s amendments and vetoes.
He said the fact that other localities like Virginia Beach and Stafford County have a second signature provision shows inconsistency. He said the General Assembly should have “left well alone” for jurisdictions to decide.
“My big concern with this bill is I don’t quite understand why having granted this authority to localities over a decade ago, Northern Virginia is being now carved out and this authority to pass ordinances like the one Arlington did is being stripped away in some localities but not others,” he told ARLnow.com. “There are other localities that do use this authority and apparently it works well without any hue and cry and uproar.”
The diamond athletic field at Gunston Park will be converted from natural grass to synthetic turf after the Arlington County Board approved a $370,000 plan Tuesday night.
The nonprofit Arlington Sports Foundation offered a grant of $180,000 to convert the field, and the county sports commission’s Diamond Field Fund will pay the additional $190,000. The project is on top of a previously-approved $1.4 million maintenance and improvement plan at the park.
It is estimated the new field will add nearly 880 new possible playing hours per year, at a time when there is high demand for athletic fields in the county.
“Both the number of people playing sports in Arlington, and the hours our fields are in use continue to grow. We need creative solutions to meet the demand,” said County Board chair Jay Fisette. “Kudos to the Arlington Sports Foundation and the sports community for helping fund the conversion of Gunston’s field and expand its community use without increasing taxpayer support.”
Before the board’s unanimous approval of the project, there had been questions raised about the safety of the synthetic turf, which will be made from EPDM rubber. Local resident Kelly Alexis asked that a natural ingredient like coconut husks be used instead, and cited previous concerns about the health risks of playing on turf, especially that made up of crumb rubber.
Board vice chair Katie Cristol and others said the health of children is something Arlington takes “incredibly seriously,” and asserted that the health risks of EPDM are minimal.
Several members of the county’s sports community testified in favor of the conversion. Arlington Little League president Adam Balutis said the new turf means more games can be played and not be canceled or postponed due to the weather.
“Everybody would love to have natural, beautiful green fields that we could upkeep all year round and play and play and play, but it’s not possible in Arlington County because we don’t have enough space,” said Daniel Lopez, vice president of the board of the Arlington Soccer Association. “So the next best thing is we try to turf these fields so everybody can use them and everybody can enjoy them.”
Board members said that the funding model for the new turf field is something that could be repeated elsewhere, especially if community members are willing to help fundraise.
“We know in today’s tight funding times that the government is not going to be able to do it all and will rely increasingly on the generosity of the folks in our community,” said John Vihstadt.
“I think we’ve maybe got a new model,” said Board member Libby Garvey.
Progress on an undeveloped parcel of land in Potomac Yard may not happen for another three years after a recent County Board vote and Virginia General Assembly bill that passed this year.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Board allowed Lidl US, the owner of Land Bay C in Potomac Yard, to withdraw its application to extend the life of its final plan for the site by three years.
The site plan was originally approved in 2007, to include four buildings over an underground parking garage. It includes more than 1 million square feet of office space, 41,000 square feet of retail space and a half-acre park known as North Plaza.
Lidl looked to withdraw its extension after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed HB 1697 into law. The bill automatically extends certain approvals from July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2020 on projects designed to help Virginia recovery from the 2008 housing crisis.
Lidl originally applied for a three-year extension on the site plan last November, before the bill had been debated and passed in Richmond.
The plan is valid until 2020 thanks to the bill’s passage, and at the meeting there was no discussion on a timeline for the project. Representatives with Lidl US did not respond to a request for comment. If construction does not begin before the site plan’s 2020 deadline, the applicant would either need to withdraw the plan or file for another extension.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, local resident Jim Hurysz noted the surrounding community’s concerns about the uncertainty surrounding much of the development at Potomac Yard.
Hurysz noted Alexandria City Council’s worries about a lack of open space in North Potomac Yard during its own planning process, as well as an expected influx of traffic when the Virginia Department of Transportation extends the HOT Lanes on Interstate 395.
The Crystal City station in the Virginia Railway Express system is set for a major facelift, including a new entrance and a longer platform to add ridership capacity.
The station, one of the busiest in the VRE commuter rail system and the destination of around 18 percent of riders, will eventually be fitted with a 700-foot island platform. Currently, Crystal City’s station has a 400-foot platform beside its three tracks.
VRE staff said the shorter platform creates an “operational bottleneck,” and lengthening it would allow more — and longer — trains to pass through. It would also enable VRE to be used by more local residents as a commuter rail service to Union Station, near Capitol Hill.
Any plans to add a second track within the station’s current footprint would also be coordinated with a future track being designed by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s proposed high-speed line between D.C. and Richmond.
As well as adding a longer platform, the station’s entrance would be altered for better connections for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as other transportation options like Metro, the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway, local buses and shuttles and taxis.
VRE staff are currently considering three initial locations for the new platform and either a tunnel or overpass connecting that platform to the rest of Crystal City.
At the County Board’s meeting on Tuesday, vice chair Katie Cristol, who serves on VRE’s operations board, said the agency’s staff presented the criteria to analyze those three options to the public for feedback. In June, staff will return to present their analysis of the three options against the criteria while continuing to receive public comment.
Cristol said that an initial concept design and cost projections would be expected in the summer under that timeline. County Board chairman Jay Fisette said Arlington is looking to schedule a date for a future work session to weigh in on the subject and select its preferred choice.
(Updated at 6:45 p.m.) With two weeks to go until the start of the local Democratic party’s caucus for its County Board nominee, Erik Gutshall leads the way in fundraising and endorsements from elected officials.
Gutshall is one of four candidates for the nomination in early May’s caucus, and has racked up backings from current and former County Board members as well as General Assembly representatives.
Throwing their support behind Gutshall are current Democratic Dels. Alfonso Lopez and Rip Sullivan, as well as state Sen. Barbara Favola (D).
Favola is one of several former County Board members to support Gutshall, alongside Mary Hynes, Chris Zimmerman, John Milliken, Mary Margaret Whipple and Joe Wholey. Former School Board members Elaine Furlow, Ed Fendley, Margaret Lampe, Michael Timpane and Richard Barton endorsed Gutshall, as well as numerous former members and chairs of the planning commission.
Retiring Board chair Jay Fisette endorsed Gutshall shortly after he announced his candidacy on March 1. Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson has also endorsed Gutshall, a small business owner who came up short in his primary challenge to Libby Garvey last year.
“Erik Gutshall has the experience, passion, and progressive values that Arlingtonians deserve from their County Board members,” said Lopez in a statement. “Erik’s extensive experience in transportation, planning and entrepreneurship will bring a unique voice to the County Board, and I trust Erik to fight every day for all Arlingtonians.”
At a candidate forum last week, Gutshall rejected the notion that these endorsements mean he is a so-called “party insider.”
Gutshall also has a fundraising advantage. As of the last filing deadline for declaring donations, Gutshall had raised $22,513, with $13,700 left in hand.
Of the other candidates, Vivek Patil has raised $20,320 and Kim Klingler has raised $14,352. Peter Fallon reported $51,129 in contributions, but that included $41,100 in “in-kind” contributions from himself. And ahead of November’s general election, independent Audrey Clement has raised $17,517.
But other candidates have racked up the endorsements too. Patil’s candidacy received an early boost with the backing of County Board vice chair Katie Cristol, who praised his innovative approach.
“We need a perspective like Vivek’s at the table: creative, open-minded and optimistic, with deep experience in the innovation economy and a real dedication to Arlington’s traditions of community engagement,” Cristol said in a statement at the time.
Meanwhile, Fallon picked up the early endorsement of School Board vice chair Barbara Kanninen, who introduced him when he formally announced his candidacy at this month’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting.
And Kim Klingler’s website touts a long list of endorsements from local activists and business leaders, as well as Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy and IAFF Local 2800, the county’s firefighter and paramedic union.
“The rapidly growing landscape of Arlington County requires a leader who understands the need for the best trained and fairly compensated first responders to provide a safe environment for the residents and visitors of Arlington County,” the organization wrote in a statement. “Kim Klingler has pledged her support of these vital issues as well as the ‘live where you work’ program which assists Arlington County public servants to establish long-term residence within Arlington County.”
The candidates will face off in a forum Wednesday hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce at Synetic Theater, then again on May 3 at ACDC’s monthly meeting. The caucus is set for May 9, 11 and 13 at Key Elementary, Drew Model School and Washington-Lee High School, respectively.
The market, restaurant and beer garden at 5863 Washington Blvd in Westover also is applying to have furniture outdoors year-round, and reduce the number of required noise tests.
Westover Market’s application proposes that live music be permitted indoors each night, except Mondays, until 10 p.m.
The business is also requesting to have live entertainment outdoors until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays, later than is currently permitted, and expanding the amplified music that is currently permitted only on Fridays and Saturdays to other weekdays. That request is meeting resistance from county staff.
A report by county staff about the application notes that Westover Market has been issued two verbal warnings for not completing required noise tests in 2015 and 2016, and for its amplified live entertainment being on a non-permitted day and for going past the permitted hours on a day when it was allowed.
The report adds that Westover Market had an independent noise test earlier this month, and that it showed no violations of the Noise Control Ordinance. It also complied with the ordinance during tests in previous years, having struggled in the past with noise complaints from neighbors. Live music returned to the beer garden in 2012.
County staff is recommending that the hours and days for outdoor live entertainment not be expanded, but that indoor entertainment and year-round outdoor furniture be permitted. Staff added that a request that an administrative review be carried out in six months, then a review by the County Board in one year.
Lilith Christiansen, president of the Westover Village Civic Association, said in an email to county staff that they support that recommendation and ” believe it is important that the Westover Beer Garden be in compliance.”
At a March meeting, according to the staff report, some civic association members “noted that the Westover Market owner has not always been receptive to complaints from neighbors regarding noise. “
Arlington residents can expect to pay an extra $277 on average in property taxes after the County Board approved a 1.5-cent tax increase for fiscal year 2018.
The tax hike, less than the Board’s advertised maximum raise of 2 cents, will help fund Arlington Public Schools and Metro. APS will receive an extra $23.3 million, while Metro will get more than $14 million more, meaning Arlington’s contribution to its operating budget will be $71 million a year.
“This budget is a compromise and a consensus of the Board, and reflects the values of this community,” said Board Chair Jay Fisette. “The Board agreed to a modest increase in the property tax rate — less than the [County] Manager recommended — because of the extraordinary funding needs of Metro and our public schools.”
Residents will see several fees increase too. The household solid waste rate will increase by $6.88 a year to $314.16 annually, while the water/sewer rate will increase to $13.62 per thousand gallons. The Residential Utility Tax will see a hike too, while a new $60 accessory homestay permit fee has been added for those who wish to use services like Airbnb to let others stay in their homes.
The Board also hold a public hearing in May on proposed fare increases for Arlington Transit (ART) and Specialized Transportation for Arlington Residents (STAR), the county’s transit service for the disabled. Board members said increases are consistent with Metrobus fare increases, and would help with rising operating costs.
Also included in the $1.5 billion is an extra $1.3 million for the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, taking its total in the budget to just over $15 million. The County Board also approved hiring seven new sheriff’s deputies, three more emergency call takers and three police patrol officers. The sheriff hirings will be phased over several years.
Among other programs to receive extra funding were the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization and the Lee Highway Alliance. The latter had been slated for a budget cut alongside other programs, but last month supporters spoke against that plan.
The Board also provided $100,000 to fund groups that help assist undocumented County residents, families with mixed immigration status and refugees.
At its meeting Saturday, Board members also gave the green light to a 3.5 percent pay increase for all county employees, including themselves. Under the plan, Board members’ pay would rise to $53,282, with the chair’s pay at $59,610.
Board member John Vihstadt (I) tried to separate discussion of other county employees’ raises from talk of Board members’ increases, as he said it would make the talks more transparent.
“I just find it a little anomalous that at the very time we are going to be imposing a fairly sizable property tax increase, which I am voting for, that we’re able to find the money ourselves to help us cope with that increase, but the community doesn’t have such a luxury or advantage,” he said. “I oppose us giving ourselves our own pay raise like this.”
But other Board members objected, and questioned why that issue was raised so late in the game.
“There were so many other important things that we dealt with, and this is 100 percent political posturing that is disappointing to me,” Fisette said. The pay raises passed together with Vihstadt’s abstaining, and he promised to donate the extra money he will receive to charity.
New Elementary School Approved — After a years-long process that included neighborhood opposition and lots of community discussion, the Arlington County Board has approved a use permit and ground lease for a new elementary school on the Thomas Jefferson middle school and community center site. [Arlington County]
Rosslyn Farmers Market Approved — Also at its Saturday meeting, the County Board gave the go-ahead to a new FreshFarm Markets-operated farmers market that will be held at the new Central Place public plaza in Rosslyn. The market will be open on Wednesday evenings from April to November. [Arlington County]
Bebe Closing at Pentagon City Mall — The Bebe store at the Pentagon City mall will close by the end of May. It’s part of a larger restructuring for the struggling young women’s clothing retailer. [Patch]
County Board to Honor Trees — “Arlington has about 755,400 trees of at least 122 species that provide $6.89 million in environmental benefits to the County annually in pollution removal, carbon storage, energy savings and avoided stormwater runoff. The Arlington County Board will honor 10 of these trees as Notable Trees at the April 25 County Board Meeting.” [Arlington County]
Blue Virginia’s School Board Endorsement — Local Democratic blog Blue Virginia has endorsed Monique O’Grady in the race for the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board. The endorsement cites incumbent James Lander’s recent controversial remarks about a murder victim as a reason for not endorsing him. [Blue Virginia]
Flickr pool photo by Ameschen
Renovations will begin soon at Oakgrove Park and Tyrol Hills Park if the County Board gives the go-ahead for construction contracts at its meeting on Saturday.
In recent years, the Board approved funding for the earlier phases of the Tyrol Hills Park (5101 7th Road S.) renovation project, including more than $878,000 in upgrades in 2015. The current phase — phase four — is the final one and requires Board approval for a nearly $1.6 million construction contract.
The main upgrades include installing a new unisex bathroom, adding another picnic shelter and converting a sand volleyball court into a futsal court. The new court was an idea that came up during community outreach. The scope of work also includes stormwater management improvements, site furnishings, a paved plaza and landscaping.
If approved, construction on the phase four upgrades is expected to start before fall and should take about nine months.
The Board also is expected to approve the $795,000 construction contract for renovating Oakgrove Park (1606 N. Quincy Street). This is the second phase of upgrades for that park; the grass field and track renovations were completed in 2015.
This phase focuses on replacing the existing tot lot and adding play equipment for school-age children. Other improvements including replacing the picnic shelter, adding site furnishings, improving accessibility and improving stormwater management.
If approved, construction at Oakgrove Park is expected to start by the summer and last for about four months.
The four Democratic candidates for County Board may hold differing positions on a number of issues, but they agree on one thing: Arlington’s subsidy to lure Nestle might have been better spent elsewhere.
At a forum last night hosted by the Arlington Young Democrats, less than three weeks before the local party’s caucus, the four Democrats running for the Arlington County Board said the package of $12 million in state and local performance-based funds could have better served the local community.
“This is good for Arlington, good for filling our office space, but I would rather have seen some of that money go towards child care in Crystal City and Rosslyn, for example,” said Erik Gutshall.
“At the end of the day, we have to consider who is getting a subsidy and if they deserve it,” said Peter Fallon, who added that given the competition between jurisdictions for such moves, incentives can play a role in the right situations.
Both Kim Klingler and Vivek Patil drew a comparison to the small businesses throughout the county, and asked if they could have been assisted like multinational Nestle was, in particular through the building of a website showing all that Arlington has to offer.
“If we can stand up a website for Nestle [employees that showcases the county] in three weeks, imagine what we can do for our small businesses in three weeks,” Klingler said.
“That red carpet should be rolled out for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Patil agreed.
In addition to general questions about the county’s tax rate, business community and the environment, each candidate faced questions specific to their campaigns and backgrounds from moderator Michael Lee Pope, a reporter with Virginia Public Radio.
Gutshall was asked if he is a so-called “party insider” due to the endorsements he has received from a slew of former County Board members and current chair Jay Fisette, who will retire at year’s end.
“I think it speaks to the fact that I have worked alongside these people for a number of years,” Gutshall said.
Fallon spoke about what he learned from his time on the planning commission and said that the county’s comprehensive planning at times has failed to keep up with the demand of county services.
Patil reiterated his call for a “green and clean tech economy” to encourage innovation and new industries in the county. “There is no city or state that owns that right now,” he said.
Following her run in 2012, Klingler said she was inspired to run again by the results of last year’s presidential election.
The candidates will be joined by independent Audrey Clement at a forum next Wednesday hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce at Synetic Theater, then they will debate again the following Wednesday at ACDC’s monthly general meeting.
Rosslyn could be getting its own farmers market. The Arlington County Board is scheduled to take up the issue at its meeting on Saturday.
FRESHFARM has applied to operate a farmers market in the Central Place plaza (1800 N. Lynn Street), which would run on Wednesday evenings from 4-8 p.m. from April to November.
FRESHFARM anticipates that up to 10 vendors would sell at the market for the first year.
County staff have not identified any issues with the request and recommend that the Board approves the permit for the farmers market, with a review in one year.
No new projects to improve pedestrian safety — such as sidewalk fixes or streetlight installations — will be approved until at least December after a vote last week by a citizen committee.
The Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee voted April 13 to suspend its spring funding round due to “anticipated increases in construction costs for projects that have already been approved by the County Board,” neighborhood conservation program coordinator Tim McIntosh said in an email.
NCAC represents 48 of the county’s 57 civic associations and leads the development of neighborhood plans. It also recommends neighborhood-initiated improvements for county funding, like sidewalks, street beautification, pedestrian safety projects, street lights and parks.
The NCAC’s decision does not affect existing projects already approved by the County Board. McIntosh said design work and construction on several plans will continue this year, but that the committee “wanted to reserve a portion of its 2016 bond to cover any cost overruns which may occur later this year for projects going out for competitive bid.”
“The focus will be on continuing design work for approved projects and making sure sufficient funding is on hand to complete them prior to approving new ones,” McIntosh said.
In an email, an anonymous tipster was critical of the NCAC approvals process and said more must be done to help improve pedestrian safety.
“Clearly, the NCAC system isn’t working as a method to help improve pedestrian safety,” the tipster wrote. “These projects are getting conflated with beautification projects and are now shut down due to poor project controls. The queue of vital pedestrian safety projects, many in the NCAC process for years already (projects that have neighborhood endorsement) is growing rapidly as Arlington traffic increases and there is now no way to address these problems.”
McIntosh said no decision has been made about the fall round of funding, set to be voted on in December.
“[Neighborhood Conservation] staff and the NCAC will evaluate whether or not to have the December funding round later this year,” he said.
The new elementary school at 125 S. Old Glebe Road would provide 752 seats and replace the current Patrick Henry Elementary School at 701 S. Highland Street. A naming process for the new school is underway. It is projected to cost $59 million and to open in September 2019.
But a report prepared by county staff acknowledges the project still has concerns, including theater parking during construction, the impact on homes at the north side of the site, whether an existing surface parking lot should remain and neighbors’ desire for sidewalk improvements in an area outside of the project’s scope.
As part of the approval process, the County Board will also discuss leasing county-owned land at the site to the School Board so the new school can be built.
If the County Board allows the lease to be executed, Arlington Public Schools would then have the right to use the land to build the new elementary school and a 214-space, joint-use parking garage. The lease would be set to expire in 75 years, in 2092.
A report by county staff found that executing the lease would not impact the county financially, but an agreement will be necessary to solidify how the county and APS will share the parking garage’s operating and maintenance expenses.
Staff recommends approval of the use permit for the new school and the execution of the lease.
Candidates Largely Favor Land Swap — During a debate, Democratic County Board candidates generally indicated they want the county to move forward with a land swap agreement with Virginia Hospital Center. VHC has offered the county various pieces of land in exchange for a 5-acre parcel of county-owned land on N. Edison Street, just north of the VHC property. [InsideNova]
Impact of Pike Streetcar Cancellation — There’s speculation that the county’s 2014 cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar plan may have contributed to stalling revitalization efforts in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County. [Washington Post]
New Assistant County Manager — Arlington County has named Samia Byrd as a new assistant county manager. Byrd has more than 20 years of planning experience and will serve as a senior adviser to County Manager Mark Schwartz. [Arlington County]
Historic District Proposal — Next month the County Board will consider a proposal to designate “The Hermitage,” a home at 4025 N. Randolph Street, as a local historic district. [InsideNova]
County Board Candidate Forum Recap — The four Democrats hoping to win Jay Fisette’s seat on the County Board addressed issues such as infrastructure and a real estate tax increase at a candidate forum Wednesday night. [InsideNova]
APS Principal, Teacher Finalists for Honors — An Arlington Public Schools principal and a teacher both are finalists for Washington Post awards. Swanson Middle School Principal Bridget Loft is a finalist for the Principal of the Year Award, and Wakefield High School Teacher Michelle Cottrell-Williams is a finalist for the Teacher of the Year Award. [Washington Post]
Local Student Serves as Speaker — Wakefield High School senior Wisam Mustafa served as the speaker for the 2017 Virginia Model General Assembly program. The three-day session in Richmond included 550 high school students from across the state. Mustafa got to meet Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and House Speaker William Howell (R). [InsideNova]
Closings for Easter — Libraries will be closed on Sunday for the Easter holiday, as will county community centers. Parks will remain open.