Arlington County is asking for public input on a possible partnership with Alexandria to build the proposed Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility in Long Bridge Park, near Crystal City.
The county will reach out to residents this fall to see what they would like to see in an aquatic and fitness facility. Alexandria will also be surveying its residents.
If interests in both counties line up, the two will start to discuss costs and responsibility for the development of the pools and fitness area. The border between Alexandria and Arlington is roughly three miles from Long Bridge Park.
The possible partnership is the county’s latest plan to find the funds it needs to complete the second phase of the Long Bridge Park Project Plan.
“If the synergy is there, and both communities are interested, we will explore this further,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “Partnerships are just one of the many creative ways we are approaching the development of our facilities and programs.”
Phase Two includes building the aquatic and fitness facility, connecting an esplanade in Long Bridge Park to the building and the creation of public areas, trails, public art, walkways and signs for the park, according to the 2013 Long Bridge Park Master Plan.
The county has been planning a redesign of Long Bridge Park for more than 10 years, with the first phase completed in 2011. Higher-than-expected construction bids and operating costs prevented the county from choosing a contractor to complete phase two, pausing the project in 2014.
Once completed, the aquatic and fitness facility is planned to have a 50-meter pool for recreational, fitness and competitive swimming. There will also be a smaller pool for exercise and recreational program, a small hot-water therapy pool and a free-form water play area that will include a lazy river and slides, according to a 2013 design plan for the facility.
In addition to the aquatic elements, the facility will have a large fitness area and a community room, according to the plan. A “Multiple Activity Center,” which will have a climbing wall, a large indoor fitness space and an elevated track, is also planned.
The plans may change based on feedback from residents, Hynes said. The County Manager is scheduled to present recommendations to the County Board in January 2016.
“A lot has changed since that building was designed,” Hynes said. “The economy has changed. Many things in the region are different.”
While the county is waiting on the aquatic and fitness facility, it will continue to make improvements to the park. In June, the County Board unanimously approved the construction of playgrounds on the south end of the park. The $1.082 million contract includes play areas with cooling “fog” systems, tunnels, play structures, bridges, benches and fencing.
Photos via Arlington County
The intersection, located near the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department at the confluence of Lee Highway, Old Dominion Drive, N. Quincy Street, Military Road and N. Quebec Street, has long been a source of ire for pedestrians and drivers alike because it can create dangerously complicated traffic patterns.
This frustration increased in 2013 when the county chose to move forward with proposed changes to the intersection as part of the Cherrydale Lee Highway Revitalization Program, over the objections of neighborhood residents. While the changes were intended to improve the intersection for pedestrians in keeping with the program’s goal of a more walkable Cherrydale, residents claimed they made the intersection even worse.
According to a 2014 neighborhood update on the project, some alterations that irked residents, such as guides directing cars to turn left in front of oncoming traffic (known as “puppy paw guides”), have since been removed.
As of now, the county is still moving forward with many of their proposed modifications. According to project manager Elizabeth Diggs, the project design is 90 percent complete and changes will include the installation of wider sidewalks, the addition of bike lanes, reflective crosswalks and handicap ramps, and upgrades to traffic signals, timing and street lights.
Diggs said recommendations from the Virginia Department of Transportation, county staff and an outside consultant were taken into account when finalizing the design. The project webpage says that recommendations from the Cherrydale Listserv and public meetings were also incorporated.
“The intersection improvements are being designed to improve vehicle turning movements and create a safer environment for pedestrian, bicycle and transit users,” said Diggs.
Construction on the project, originally planned for this spring and summer, is now slated to begin this winter.
(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) The Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department was no stranger to challenges.
The first All-African American volunteer fire department in Arlington faced segregation and limited equipment for almost 40 years, according to a history of Fire Station 8 by Arlington Public Library.
The chronological history of the station was published in the middle of a debate between local residents and county government over its proposal to relocate the station farther north to Old Dominion Drive, by Marymount University.
“My neighbors look at that fire station as the heart, the hub, the star on the tree, whatever you want to say,” community member Jim Derrig said at a July 30 meeting. “And what we’re trying to say is you can’t replace the heart with a pacemaker or a bandaid. You have to replace a heart with a heart.”
The county says relocation is necessary for the Arlington County Fire Department to meet their response time goal of four to six minutes countywide.
“We are focused on life saving. That is our mission,” former Arlington County Fire Chief Jim Schwartz said in a county-produced video.
While this would not be the first time the fire station moved, — the Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department was previously housed in smaller fire stations on Lee Highway and N. Culpepper Street in the 1930s — relocation would mean that it would no longer be in the Hall’s Hill community.
Hall’s Hill is a historically African-American community, once the home of freed slaves and separated from the rest of the county by a fence. In 1918, the members of the community formed the Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department with one 60-gallon chemical tank that six men would have to pull along muddy and unpaved roads, according to the library.
When Arlington County was formally established two years later, the county excluded the Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department from the Arlington County Fireman’s Association and did not give the department monthly pay for professional firefighters.
The VFD, which played a central part in the community, slowly built up its fleet of fire trucks and built a station first on Lee Highway in 1927 and then 2209 N. Culpepper Street in 1934. The 1934 fire house also had a basement for a community center.
After the fire department was integrated, it moved to its current home at 4845 Lee Highway and officially opened on June 17, 1963 with 17 paid firefighters. The Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department owned the deed to one of the pieces of land that went into the new station, while the county owned the others.
The Rosslyn of the future is envisioned to be more walkable, more dynamic and more green with the County Board’s approval of the Rosslyn Sector Plan and Western Rosslyn Area Plan (WRAP). However, with the approval comes the loss of open space from Rosslyn Highlands Park, which left some residents frustrated with the County Board’s process.
The County Board unanimously approved both plans after hearing resident and staff concerns. Residents generally supported the new sector plan, focused primarily on areas around the Rosslyn Metro station. The Western Rosslyn plan focused on the area around Fire Station #10, up the hill on Wilson Blvd.
It was the Western Rosslyn plan — which calls for a new fire station to be built by a developer, which is in turn building a mixed-use office and residential complex next to it — that attracted the most opposition.
“It is a shame that we felt we needed to pay for the fire station with public land, such an irreplaceable asset, especially here,” said resident Stuart Stein, who was involved with the WRAP study. “This has been an unfortunate process, but it is time to pass this plan.”
The lack of energy from the previously vocal WRAP opponents was reflected in the County Board’s responses. Although they all voted to approve the plan, Vice Chair Walter Tejada said that he came out of the vote “with a sense of resignation, almost, about the open space angle particularly.”
“We do need to move forward, but it really is a good lesson learned,” he said. “We just can’t let this happen again.”
With the Rosslyn Sector Plan, Board members were more enthusiastic.
“It’s been a bit of a marathon, but I think it was a good conversation and I think we have a plan that will work for all of us,” Chair Mary Hynes said.
Under the Rosslyn Sector Plan, the neighborhood will get a new open-air Metro entrance, Fort Myer Drive, Lynn Street and Wilson Boulevard will become two-way streets and the county will create a new esplanade that runs along Rosslyn’s eastern edge, connected to the Mt. Vernon Trail via a new pedestrian bridge. It also calls for a corridor along an extended 18th Street, which is envisioned as “a new central spine for Rosslyn.”
Green space has been a big concern for residents under both plans. The Rosslyn Sector Plan calls for a new park and redesign of existing parks, but residents fear that these are empty promises.
“Whether that green space really is developed in the amount that is projected is a question,” Rosslyn resident Diane Gorman said during public comment at yesterday’s recessed County Board meeting.
Parks and Recreation commission member Caroline Haynes urged the County Board members to make sure that plans for open space in Rosslyn were followed, adding that there are limited parks in the neighborhood.
“If we overbuild Rosslyn to the detriment of open space, views and daylight, the built environment will never reestablish those features,” Haynes said. “This plan represents the long-term view for Rosslyn, and should look to achieve long term value for the entire sector, not just for individual land owners and their interests.”
While the Rosslyn Sector Plan looks to create more open space and redesign existing Freedom and Gateway Parks, the Western Rosslyn plan will shrink Rosslyn Highlands Park to rebuild the fire station, a move that prompted residents to rally in protest, pleading with the County Board to save the park.
Under the plan, the county would take away 3,000 to 7,000 square feet of land from the park to allow for the fire station expansion and the Wilson School will be replaced with a larger, 775-seat secondary school building. However, the plan also calls for a 9,000 square foot park to be built across the street at the Queens Court affordable housing complex, which is slated for redevelopment.
(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Independent candidate for County Board Audrey Clement is continuing to criticize Arlington for hosting a bike race last month.
On Saturday, Clement, a self-described avid cyclist, said the Air Force Association’s Cycling Classic, a two-day racing event in Clarendon and Crystal City, was dangerous to the public.
“No mention made by the Air Force Association of the danger to participants and pedestrians of conducting high speed races in the heart of a densely populated business district or the nuisance value of blocking major throughways to vehicular traffic for half of the day,” Clement said.
Clement previously spoke against the race at a last month’s Board meeting, while the race was happening, because the road closures prevented her from biking to the meeting on the route she usually takes. During that meeting, she told Board members that closing roads for the race was “reckless endangerment.”
“I risked my life to bike to this meeting,” she asserted.
Clement noted on Saturday that she was “ridiculed” for her remarks in June.
“At the June 13 County Board meeting I was ridiculed by County Board members for characterizing the bicycle races in progress that day in Clarendon as ‘reckless endangerment,'” she said.
Board members responded to Clement’s latest complaints by saying the barriers lining the cycling course ensured spectator safety, but Clement disagreed.
“Other Board members agreed with Mr. Fisette that the barricades put in place were sufficient to prevent accident or injury, I wish that were true. Yet on Thursday, July 2, one cyclist was killed and two were critically injured when one of the cyclist’s had a tire blowout on a downhill race sponsored by the World Police and Fire Games in Prince William Forest Park,” Clement said during the July 18 Board meeting.
Clement went on to say that the sport of cycling has more deaths than the Indianapolis 500, which had its last death in 1973. While there were some crashes at this year’s Clarendon and Crystal Cup races, no deaths were reported. During the race, barriers kept spectators away from the speeding cyclists and event staff were positioned at every crossing area to help people get from one side of the course to the other.
Arlington County is happy to work with event organizers to plan road closures and public safety measures, Board member Jay Fisette said.
“Our special events [are] one of the things that makes Arlington special. We have a special events policy, we have our block parties, we have bike events, we have neighborhood events, and events sponsored by the BIDs that happen in our denser corridors and each of those require work and require staff time to make sure the road network still works and they’re safe,” Fisette said.
In her remarks, Clement also called for a multi-modal system of enforcing traffic laws, with police officers monitoring activity from bikes. Board Chair Mary Hynes said a system called “PAL” is already in place to encourage cyclists and motorists to be careful on the road.
The County Board yesterday unanimously approved the purchase of a house at 2822 S. Arlington Ridge Road, a .22 acre property adjacent to the Lang Street Community Garden, for $699,000.
The house is described as a “modest, colonial-style home built three-quarters of a century ago,” which was determined to not be historic.
The County plans to tear down the house and use the land to expand the garden, which is currently 1.2 acres and includes 70 garden plots. The expansion will enable the addition of 45 half-size plots.
Arlington has seven community gardens comprising about 300 individual plots. As of now, the wait list for one of these plots has close to 500 names on it.
Photo via arlingtonva.us
The County Board has given the green light to hiring a new independent auditor, but not before some internal bickering.
The Board approved the recruitment of the auditor with a vote of 4-1 during its recessed meeting Tuesday.
The new independent auditor will work with a new Board-appointed audit committee to review county programs for effectiveness and efficiency, according to the County Board’s charge.
The push for the auditor was led by Board members John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey, with support from Jay Fisette, who is a former auditor himself.
“I don’t think anyone in the community should be afraid of an auditor,” Fisette said. “I’m not a scary guy and auditors typically aren’t if you set it up properly.”
Board Vice Chair Walter Tejada fought against the charge, saying that the push for an auditor indicates a distrust in government. Tejada specifically called out Vihstadt before he was cut off by Board Chair Mary Hynes.
“Madame Chair, I think that I don’t drink the Kool Aid that has been put out there in the community to create, to allege a culture of distrust of government, which is well know as we know by the Republican party to question and to allege mismanagement,” Tejada said.
“So I submit to you, from my perspective, I respectfully think this is a proposal for an expansion of the bureaucracy, it is redundant, it is not needed, it is again to foster a distrust of government and part of the new era in Arlington,” Tejada said. “A timid and stagnant era of distrust.”
Tejada questioned the need for an auditor when the county has received triple triple A bond ratings for the past 14 years.
“I guess I start first with what problem are we trying to solve?” he said.
The County has designated $200,000 for the creation of the new position in its 2016 budget. The new auditor will report directly to the County Board. An existing auditing function within the Dept. of Management and Finance reports to the County Manager.
Vihstadt said that while the county’s bond rating remains high, certain large projects, like Artisphere and the stalled Long Bridge Park aquatics center, could use extra review.
“The fact is this county auditor is intended to strengthen and buttress confidence in county government, not undermine it,” Vihstadt said.
Grant for New Bikeshare Stations OKed — Arlington County will receive nearly $300,000 from the federal government to install eight new Capital Bikeshare stations along the GW Parkway. Among the locations set for a new Bikeshare station are Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, Gravelly Point Park and Reagan National Airport. [Arlington County]
Jefferson Davis Name Change Unlikely — The Virginia General Assembly is not likely to approve changing the name of Jefferson Davis Highway any time soon. “Jefferson Davis was an avid racist and segregationist… But there’s not a whole lot of people clamoring about it except coffee-shop liberals in Arlington,” Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) told the Sun Gazette. Plus, Arlington County already has numerous streets and schools named after slaveholders. [InsideNova, InsideNova]
APS Honored for Healthy Food Options — Arlington Public Schools has received the top award in the “Healthy School Meals” category of the 2015 Virginia School Boards Association Food for Thought Competition. [Arlington Public Schools]
Lighting Task Force Approved — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday approved the appointment of a citizen working group that will study the issue of athletic lighting in Arlington. After a public process, the group is expected to come back to the Board in 11 months with a recommendation as to whether all artificial turf fields in the county should have lighting, a controversial issue for many who live near such fields. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
The County Board approved a site plan amendment for a new church to go into a planned apartment building at 3001 Jefferson Davis Highway.
The new church — the “Meetinghouse of Worship” — is planned for the first and second floors of the 12-floor residential building. It will be occupy 23,906 square feet of space, with a 300-seat sanctuary, classrooms, administrative offices and a multipurpose room on the first and second floors.
“In the spirit of continuing to work with our property owners on uses that work in buildings, I just want to note that we have approved the location of a church in a commercial building in Potomac Yard,” Board Chair Mary Hynes said. “We think it will be a really interesting addition to what’s going on down there.”
The church will be on the left side of the building, next to 33rd Street. The first floor will have a chapel, multipurpose room and classroom, as well as two bathrooms. There will also be a small retail space next to the chapel. On the right side of the building, the apartment complex will have a lobby and retail space.
“The proposed religious institutions use would be both complementary to, and compatible with the residential and retail use,” the staff report to the Board said.
On the second floor, the church will have administrative offices and classrooms. The residential units start on the second floor on the right side of the building.
With the new plan for the building, the apartment complex will add 11 more residential units, making the total amount of units 342 instead of 331. The parking lot will also have 532 spots up from the initial 438, to accommodate worshipers.
Of those spots, 167 will be for the church: 142 standard spots, 24 compact spots, two handicap spots and two spots for handicap vans.
As reported by the Washington Business Journal, the site plan amendment was proposed by New York City-based real estate investment firm The Praedium Group LLC. The future building will be located just north of the National Gateway office complex, the future U.S. headquarters of German grocery chain Lidl.
(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) A new proposal for the Reevesland farmhouse may be the compromise needed between the County Board and farmhouse supporters who don’t want the farmhouse to be sold to a private party.
Karl VanNewkirk, the president of the Arlington Historical Society, spoke at the Arlington County Board meeting on Saturday, informing the Board members that he has been working with the Boulevard Manor Civic Association to create a new plan for the farmhouse.
While VanNewkirk did not provide a detailed plan during his speaking time, he did say that the county’s estimate of $2-2.5 million in renovations costs was being driven by the need for a large parking lot and American Disabilities Act compliance. Under a private ownership, the farmhouse would not need the lot nor to be fully compliant with ADA.
“I would like to ask two things from you,” he said to the Board. “A: would you give us a little more time to develop a detailed plan that would meet with your approval and B: would you continue to allow staff, the county staff, to work with us?”
VanNewkirk told ARLnow.com that the Boulevard Manor Civic Association and Preservation Arlington are looking at options for the farmhouse. Arlington Historical Society will discuss whether it wants to join in the effort at a meeting of board directors on tonight, he said.
The bare bones of the plan is for a non-profit partner of the Boulevard Manor Civic Association, and other supporting groups, to buy the farmhouse from the county, said Sandra Spear, who is leading the working group on the farmhouse for the civic association.
The civic association is helping to raise funds through charitable donations to help with the costs of renovations, Spear said.
“Our plan is nascent at this time, but the barest bones are that we propose to purchase the house from the County for a nominal sum, lease the land on which it sits, raise money to restore it, and use it in some fashion as a museum to Arlington’s agricultural past. Each element of this plan differs from Reevesland Learning Center’s (RLC) proposal,” Spear said.
It would not be a full learning center, as the Reevesland Learning Center proposed, because of ADA and parking lot runoff concerns. However, the groups may incorporate some of those elements into its proposal, VanNewkirk said.
“Have we fleshed it [a proposal] out, not yet, but we are working on it,” VanNewkirk said.
Board member Libby Garvey told the other Board members that she had also met with the Boulevard Manor Civic Association and that she found its plan for Reevesland to be more responsible than the one proposed by the Reevesland Learning Center.
“What the Boulevard Manor folk are looking at is a different approach and much more responsible, and I’m pleased to see them doing that,” Garvey said.
VanNewkirk and the Boulevard Manor Civic Association have reached out to the Reevesland Learning Center but they have not responded yet, VanNewkirk told ARLnow.com.
Board member John Vihstadt was also in support of VanNewkirk and Boulevard Manor Civic Association’s work toward a plan for the farmhouse.
“This is really the first time that we have heard that there has been any effort by the supporters of Reevesland and the larger community to actually raise funds and I look forward to some sort of public-private partnership as opposed to just county tax dollars for this facility,” he said during the board meeting.
Despite the newfound potential steps forward for the farmhouse, members of the Reevesland Learning Center group are still upset over the Board’s May vote.
Joan Horwitt of the Reevesland Learning Center on Saturday asked Board members to reverse their vote on the sale of the farmhouse. Her public comment turned heated as Chair Mary Hynes and Horwitt argued, with both speaking over the other.
Community Pushes Back on Fire Station Plan — Arlington County Board members are hearing an earful from residents who live around Fire Station 8 on Lee Highway. The county is considering relocating the station to improve fire response times in far northern neighborhoods. However, residents say the fire station is historic because it was the first in Virginia to be staffed mostly by professional black firefighters, in the 1950s, and should not be moved. [InsideNova, WTOP]
Kojo and Kaine in Crystal City — WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi will host a “Kojo in the Community” discussion with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tonight. “The discussion will focus on the ways in which the military and defense industry shape our region, ranging from jobs and the economy to infrastructure and traffic,” organizers say. The talk will take place at Synetic Theater in Crystal City. [ARLnow Events]
New Restaurant at DCA — Former “Top Chef” finalist Carla Hall has opened a new 110-seat restaurant in Reagan National Airport’s Terminal A. The menu features contemporary American cuisine with a Southern flair. [Eater, Washington Business Journal]
Now Showing: Shrek, the Musical — Arlington’s Encore Stage and Studio is currently performing Shrek, the Musical at Thomas Jefferson Community Theater. The family-friendly show runs through Sunday. [DC Metro Theater Arts]
Bunnies Galore Near Clarendon — There sure are a lot of bunnies around Clarendon these days, at least according to some concerned bunny spotters who have contacted us about it. Now, there’s some photographic proof. [Twitter]
The County Board voted 4-1 on Saturday to approve the plan, which has been years in the making and will replace an outdated retail plan originally passed in 2001. The new plan moves Arlington from a “retail everywhere” approach — policies designed to put ground floor retail in most commercial buildings, regardless of whether a business could actually survive in a given location — to what’s billed as a flexible but “curated” approach.
Color-coded maps will now define where the county would like certain types of retail businesses to set up shop. The owners of buildings in high foot traffic areas will be encouraged to adopt certain building standards that are conducive to ground floor retailers, from higher ceilings to smaller building lobbies.
“By partnering with our business community and our residents, we’ve developed a plan that takes important steps to improve and strengthen the retail sector in Arlington,” Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “We believe the consistent, clear guidance and definitions, as well as flexibility of use, design and timing in the plan will better serve those who live and work here when they shop, dine, get their hair cut and bank on streets throughout the County.”
The plan passed with two notable amendments, both proposed by County Board member John Vihstadt and both addressing concerns of the local business community.
The first further codified that the plan is intended as a guiding principle — to be applied primarily during development approval processes — rather than explicit county rules and regulations. The second added service and repair businesses to the types of businesses encouraged in “red zones” — the parts of Arlington’s business districts with the highest foot traffic. In the draft plan, staff had recommended limiting those zones to shopping, dining and entertainment.
“This plan has come a long, long way,” Vihstadt said after the motions passed by 4-1 and 3-2 respectively. “It was not a good plan when it started out.”
The plan passed with tepid support from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, which had expressed concern about earlier versions of the plan it deemed “too proscriptive.”
“Explicit addition of a statement that the retail plan is not regulatory is paramount,” Chamber President and CEO Kate Roche told the Board. “Moving forward into implementation, we emphasize the importance of the plan being understood as a guideline… we want to make sure this plan isn’t codifying anything that will prevent Arlington from becoming the great, flexible place that we all want it to be.”
The changes still weren’t enough for Libby Garvey, who was the lone vote against the plan.
“I’m much more conformable with the plan with the changes, but still not comfortable enough to support it,” she said. “Both the people who have to make it work and the people we serve are saying, ‘it’s too proscriptive.'”
ARLnow Server Updates — For the security of our visitors, ARLnow.com is now being served exclusively via secure HTTPS. We’re still working out some kinks, so you might notice some bugs over the next week or two. For instance, despite hours of work over the weekend to try to fix it, photo galleries do not appear to be working on iOS devices like iPhones. Also, Disqus is still being served via HTTP. We appreciate your patience while we work to improve your user experience.
Hearings for Courthouse Plan — The Arlington County Board voted unanimously on Saturday to hold public hearings on a new sector plan for Courthouse. “This proposed update advances our vision for the Courthouse area, creating a people-oriented civic and cultural heart for Arlington,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. The hearings have been scheduled for September. [Arlington County]
New Group Champions Single-Family Neighborhoods — A new group, “Blue Ribbon Arlington,” has formed to advocate for single-family home neighborhoods. Initially, the group will focus on making Arlington a better place for seniors to “age in place.” Also, the group plans to address concerns about “edge” development around neighborhoods. [InsideNova]
Midsummer Night’s Dream Now Showing — A seasonally-appropriate production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is now showing at Synetic Theater in Crystal City. The performances will run through Aug. 9. [DC Metro Theater Arts]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
The new Arlington County Retail Plan would move away from the county’s current “retail everywhere” policy, which was an attempt to provide more lively street life around Arlington by requiring retail spaces in most new commercial buildings.
While successful by some measures, “retail everywhere” — a policy last updated in 2001 — has hit snags, with the owners of buildings in low-foot-traffic areas struggling to find viable retail tenants.
The new retail plan, which has been seven years in the making, is an attempt to concentrate retail in the highest foot traffic areas of commercial corridors, while encouraging more retail-friendly building designs. The hoped-for end result: more vibrant stretches of retailers and restaurants in Arlington.
“This updated approach will strengthen Arlington’s primary retail nodes; allow long- and short-term market shifts in retail and ground floor use to occur within this retail policy framework; accommodate innovative uses on the ground floor; and increase Arlington’s overall level of economic competitiveness,” according to a staff report.
The plan includes color-coded maps of neighborhoods like Clarendon and Crystal City, with each color corresponding to a different retail approach. In the red areas — those with the highest foot traffic — county planners want to encourage food, entertainment and shopping destinations, while discouraging large building lobbies and service businesses, like dry cleaners.
In other coded areas, there is more flexibility, but still some design guidelines and an action plan for the type of businesses the county would like to see in ground floor spaces.
Critics say the county is “acting like a mall operator” in trying to decide which businesses go where. In “curating what the community wants on the street,” in the words of one business leader who requested anonymity, the county is again taking a proscriptive approach — one that may not reflect the changing market a decade or two down the line.
For instance, high-end service businesses like blow dry bars are growing in popularity and may want to locate in one of the “red zones,” where the county is now specifically saying they shouldn’t exist.
There have also been concerns raised about the wisdom of restricting business lobbies, which ostensibly are needed in order to serve the building’s main purpose — being an attractive place for offices or apartments. Others in the business community have disputed the coding of the plans, though some of those concerns were addressed in a recent update of the plan.
“The refinements to the Retail Plan, which address concerns and comments raised through the public process, have made for a stronger document,” the staff report says. “The retail street maps, while not meeting 100 percent consensus by all stakeholders, provide a balance of the stakeholder positions and existing policies pertaining to ground floor use.”
Additionally, while property owners are still able to request exceptions through the county’s site plan process, some say that process remains too rigid, time-consuming and expensive. An apartment building owner might be reluctant to spend tens of thousands in attorney’s fees and staff time, for instance, on a site plan amendment that could allow a dry cleaner to go where there was formerly a small convenience store.
The County Board is about to begin the process of hiring a new independent county auditor.
The Board is expected to charge Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz with the creation of an independent county auditor position during its recessed meeting next Tuesday.
Once the Board approves guidance to the manager, Schwartz and officials from the Department of Management and Finance will begin recruiting and screening candidates, with the final hiring t0 be done by the County Board.
The auditor will report to the Board rather than the manager, who is county government’s top executive and oversees the county workforce.
“The County Auditor will serve at the pleasure of the County Board, annual performance reviews will be conducted by the full County Board with written input from the County Manager,” according to the County Board’s charge.
The new auditor will work a new Board-appointed audit committee to review the county’s programs for efficiency and effectiveness, as well as any policy concerns, according to the County Board’s charge. The committee will consist of two members from the County Board, the county manager or deputy county manager, the director of the Department of Management and Finance and up to three members from the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission or members of the public.
The new audit committee and auditor will be separate from the existing internal audit function inside of the Department of Management and Finance, which reports to the county manager.
“The County Board intends that the County Auditor and the Internal Audit group will collaborate and cooperate in furthering their respective missions, including meeting and exchanging information and materials as appropriate,” the charge says.
The County has designated $200,000 for the creation of the new position in its 2016 budget. After that, it’s hoped that it will begin paying for itself by finding cost savings and efficiencies in county government.
The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill allowing for the creation of a county auditor position in Arlington last February. County Board member John Vihstadt has pushed for an independent auditor while on the Board and the campaign trail.