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Vihstadt Amasses Robust Campaign War Chest to Fend Off de Ferranti

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) County Board member John Vihstadt is assembling a sizable campaign war chest to support his re-election bid, with roughly three times as much cash on hand as Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti.

Vihstadt, the Board’s lone independent, reported having just over $99,870 in the bank through June 30 on campaign finance documents released yesterday (Monday). He reported raising about $21,700 in the month of June alone, and has now pulled in a total of nearly $112,000 in contributions since last January.

Meanwhile, de Ferranti reported about $33,000 in the bank, now that he’s a few weeks removed from besting Chanda Choun in the Democratic primary. He raised a little over $12,100 last month, bringing his total for the campaign to about $66,200 in all.

County Democrats are eyeing the race intently as a chance to return the Board to unified Democratic control, following Vihstadt’s twin victories over Alan Howze in 2014.

But it would seem they have yet to put their wallets behind de Ferranti in a big way — de Ferranti was his own leading donor in the month of June, chipping in $2,000 to his campaign. De Ferranti and his mother, Margot, have also loaned the campaign $4,000 each. Notably, de Ferranti is planning a fundraiser with County Board Chair Katie Cristol and other Democrats later this month.

Vihstadt, however, has yet to contribute much to his own re-election effort.

His donations are largely split between large-dollar and small-dollar amounts, according to data collected by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project. His leading donor for the month of June was Jackie Kramer, who chipped in $1,000 to the campaign.

Vihstadt, who’s been endorsed by a handful of Democratic officials around the county, is just off the fundraising pace he set in 2014, as he ran in a special election followed immediately by a general election. From July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014, he pulled in about $135,000, compared to roughly $111,000 over the same time period covering 2017 to 2018.

He reported raising about $255,000 in all over the course of those campaigns. Howze managed nearly $222,000 in contributions over the same time period, and lost handily in both elections.

Candidates won’t deliver their next fundraising reports until Sept. 17.

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Real Estate Tax Break Program for Seniors Set to Change Next Year

(Updated at 1 p.m.) Some changes are on the way for Arlington’s real estate tax relief program for seniors, though officials declined pursue the sort of sweeping overhaul favored by some in the community.

The County Board approved a series of tweaks to the program’s eligibility criteria Saturday (July 14), in a bid to better realize the county’s goal of helping older Arlingtonians stay in their homes even as values, and associated tax bills, creep upward.

Starting next year, the program will be open to homeowners age 65 or older and people with disabilities, with an annual income of up to $99,472 and household assets — excluding the home itself — up to $400,000, a slight increase from the old $340,000 limit. The county is also now letting people apply for an exemption from 75 percent of their tax bill, when the program previously only let homeowners try for an exemption from their full bill, half of it or a quarter of it.

“This is important not just for a compassionate community, but a community that works,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey.

To make up for some of this expansion in eligibility, the newly revised program stipulates that the top earners eligible to apply for tax relief — households making anywhere from $80,000 to $99,472 per year — can only apply for deferrals on their tax bills, not exemptions. Yet even that change frustrated some in the county, who would’ve preferred to see the Board move to a deferral-only system instead.

“I absolutely cannot understand why we want to help out the heirs in Spokane of people who are receiving an exemption,” Dave Schutz, a local activist and ARLnow comment section veteran, told the Board.

Caitlin Hutchison, an assistant director in the county’s Department of Human Services, said staff and a working group convened on the issue considered such a policy change, but ultimately decided against it. She noted that the city of Hampton moved to a deferral-only system, only to change course after many homeowners with reverse mortgages “almost immediately received notice that foreclosure proceedings would initiate” when tax bills came due.

“I have no interest in protecting inheritances,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “I am concerned that folks can stay in their home without a notification of eviction or having to leave the county.”

Hutchison also noted that the program broadly does not serve the wealthiest Arlingtonians — 76 percent of households who applied for the program last year had an annual income of $60,000 or less, and total assets of $100,000 or less. Since the tax relief changes were first proposed, the Board also added new limits on the eligibility of owners of properties valued at $1 million or more.

But Kathryn Scruggs, a longtime affordable housing advocate and member of the working group discussing the issue, argued that the program needs an even more substantial makeover to serve solely homeowners with “low incomes, low asset levels and lower than average home values.”

“There is no justification for increasing the asset limit, that just diverts resources from the people who need it most,” Scruggs said.

The revised program is indeed likely to cost the county an extra $154,000 in tax revenue each year. But Hutchison argued that the asset limit changes will help homeowners keep pace with rising home values, and stay in the county longer.

The tweaks will also help Arlington keep pace with its neighbors, Hutchison said, as both Alexandria and Loudoun County have higher asset limits for similar programs.

And as the county struggles to manage a surge in its student population, Dorsey argued that it can only be a good thing for Arlington to keep older residents in their homes for as long as possible.

“Typically when seniors leave their homes, they’re not replaced by seniors,” Dorsey said. “The more we concentrate our housing stock on families with children, the more it creates pressures in other areas.”

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With Salt Storage Facility Deemed Unusable, County Eyes Replacement

As temperatures near 90 degrees, winter feels awfully far off these days — but Arlington officials are taking new steps to keep county roads clear of snow and ice, all the same.

County leaders are preparing to build a temporary replacement for the salt storage tank serving the northern half of the county, located near the intersection of 25th Road N. and Old Dominion Drive.

They believe the current tank, which was built back in the 1930s, has deteriorated over the years and is no longer safe for workers to use. The County Board is now set to consider plans today (Tuesday) to construct a tank for interim use on the site, ensuring that the county has a working facility by the time the winter arrives.

“The loss of a north side operational facility would have an immediate and apparent effect upon response time for every storm and would put the county at significant risk of exhausting salt supplies during an event,” county staff wrote in a Board report. “An expedited process is necessary as ice storms, which rely exclusively on salt, pose the most significant risk and can occur as early as November.”

Workers use the existing storage tank to hold about 4,500 tons of road salt, with another 1,500 tons stored under a tarp on the property. The county is planning to replace that with a “canvass-skinned structure 120-feet long by 85-feet wide, with a height of 47 feet” on the property, according to the report.

The site is owned by the county, and officials are pursuing a few zoning changes for parcels surrounding the old salt storage tank to clear the way for the construction of its temporary replacement, reasoning that “there is insufficient time to deconstruct and reconstruct the temporary facility on the existing site and be ready to meet the upcoming winter needs.”

Staff envision the new tank staying in place for the next three or four years, as officials draw up plans for a permanent storage tank on the property. They’re aiming to begin construction on that project by “the fall of 2021 or 2022,” and will use $2.4 million in previously approved bond funding to afford the effort.

The Board will vote today whether to hold public hearings on the plan for a temporary facility. Should it approve them, those gatherings would be scheduled for sometime in September, and county staff would hold extensive conversations with the nearby civic associations on their plans.

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County Board Signs Off On $3.4 Billion Construction Spending Plan, Complete With Some Deep Cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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County Spends $23.9 Million on Future Home for ART ‘Operations Center’

Arlington is shelling out $23.9 million to buy land that will someday become home to a new bus “operations center” in Nauck, marking an end to years-long negotiations over the property’s future.

The County Board voted Saturday (July 14) to purchase the site, located at 2629 and 2633 Shirlington Road. Arlington Transit plans to eventually store about 90 buses on the property, and eventually develop the space “as a base for ART operations,” according to a county staff report.

The county already leases about 2.5 acres of the roughly 3.5-acre property to use as bus storage, but it was paying $60,000 a year for the privilege. The remaining section of the land was once used as storage by the towing company Redman Fleet Services.

County leaders have eyed the property as an ideal site for additional bus storage for several years now, and considered acquiring it as part of a swap involving another in-demand piece of land: the Buck property near Washington-Lee High School.

The Arcland Property Company proposed trading its Shirlington Road property for a portion of the Buck site, which the county bought for $30 million several years ago, in order to build a self-storage facility on the property. But that proposal attracted pushback from the community, particularly as the county eyed the Buck site as one that could become home to a school someday.

Arlington’s budget pressures means officials still haven’t been able to plot out a long-term plan for the property, though the county did recently agree to allow some school system employees to use it for parking. The county plans to wrap a study of the property’s suitability for some sort of school building this winter.

Yet the Board was able to afford the Shirlington Road site without giving up any of the Buck property thanks to a mix of state and regional funding. Some state grants will pay for nearly $7 million of the $23.9 million price tag, with some recently awarded money from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority adding another $2.7 million or so.

The NVTA doled out $39 million to help pay for the operations center’s construction as well, in addition to a new “heavy maintenance facility” in Springfield. ART recently opened a new “light maintenance” facility in Crystal City.

Photo via Google Maps

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New Daycare Center in Courthouse Set to Win Permit

A new daycare center could soon be open for business for Courthouse.

The Merit School nearly has the final approval it needs to open up a new facility in an office building at 2311 Wilson Blvd.

The County Board is reviewing a use permit to allow the daycare company, an offshoot of a similar school in Woodbridge, to start operating in the space, and has approved several other child care facilities in the area in recent months. The Board has made the availability of child care in the county a particular focus over the last few years, and is still working on an overhaul of Arlington’s policies governing the facilities.

The 7,600-square-foot space could someday serve as many as 103 children, and includes a nearly 3,000-square-foot playground around the rear of the building.

According to a letter to county staff from the company’s managers, the facility “will be designed with separate areas designated for children by age,” serving kids from toddlers up to 12-year-olds.

The daycare center will have eight parking spaces reserved for its employees in a nearby underground garage, with another six saved for pick-up and drop-offs by parents along N. Adams Street.

The Lyon Village Civic Association raised a few “concerns about potential increased traffic and parking issues in the neighborhood,” according to a county staff report. But county staff ultimately decided to simply require the daycare center to make its parking rules clear to parents in advance, rather than forcing the company to make any significant changes.

The County Board is set to vote on the permit for the new facility at its meeting Saturday (July 14). Board members are planning to unveil their childcare changes in a July 24 work session.

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County Board Set to Examine Neighborhood Conservation Reforms

Amid concerns about deep cuts on the way for the Neighborhood Conservation program, the County Board is kicking off a new effort to identify some potential reforms.

The Board decided Tuesday (July 10) to direct County Manager Mark Schwartz to draw up a process for studying the program in more depth over the next two years or so, in order to better understand how it can become more efficient and see where it might overlap with other county efforts.

“By adopting this, we’re saying, no, we’re not looking for a slow, or any kind of, death [for the program],” said Board member Erik Gutshall. “But we’re taking a moment here to hit the reset button and double down on the program, to invest the time and staff resources to study remaking the program to meet its original goals.”

Neighborhood Conservation was formed in 1964 as a way for communities to lobby for money to complete modest infrastructure projects, like new sidewalks or landscaping, but Schwartz targeted it for hefty cuts in his proposed 10-year Capital Improvement Plan.

In all, the program is set to lose $24 million over the next decade, leaving $36 million in its coffers to finish out existing projects selected for funding between now and 2028. Some civic association leaders have charged that such a steep cut amounts to killing the program in its entirety.

Others in the community have countered that the program may very well need to end, considering that the cost of projects funded through Neighborhood Conservation have shot up in recent years.

Tuesday’s decision by the Board essentially represents a middle ground between those two positions. The county’s tight financial position means it likely won’t be able to avoid some steep cuts to the program, but Board members also believe they can pursue some changes to Neighborhood Conservation to ensure its long-term viability.

“Hopefully, this keeps faith with the communities, while at the same time acknowledging the reality that the program has had some challenges,” said Board member John Vihstadt.

Vihstadt hopes the review of the program will provide a “holistic, countywide perspective,” including whether the county might be better served by directing Neighborhood Conservation funding to its “Complete Streets” program instead.

Schwartz is set to establish a working group and lay out a timeline for a review process by Sept. 30, with the ultimate goal of having results in hand by the time the Board reviews its next CIP in 2020.

In the near term, Board Chair Katie Cristol suggested sending a smidge more money to the program as “a show of faith.” County staff managed to earn an unexpected $1 million in state funding for some construction at one of Arlington’s group homes for adults with disabilities, and Cristol suggested using the savings to fund one additional Neighborhood Conservation project.

Yet the Board has plenty of other pressing needs left unaddressed by a challenging CIP, and Cristol’s colleagues didn’t immediately sign off on such a change.

The Board is set to finalize the CIP when it reconvenes Saturday (July 14).

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County Could Speed Up Design Work on Army Navy Country Club Access Road

County officials seem to have found some money to speed up design work on an access road to link the Arlington View neighborhood to Army Navy Drive.

County Manager Mark Schwartz initially proposed some hefty delays for the project, which is set to stretch across a section of the Army Navy Country Club, in his proposed 10-year plan for county construction efforts. Under his proposal, design work on the effort wouldn’t even start until fiscal year 2027, with construction set for 2029.

The county’s budget challenges have ensured that Arlington officials haven’t suddenly found enough money to build the road, and its accompanying bike and pedestrian trails, right away. But county staff did manage to track down about $230,000 to pay for design and engineering work starting in fiscal year 2020, officials told the County Board during a work session Tuesday (July 10).

That news is quite welcome for Board members and residents alike, considering that the county has been working to build the 30-foot-wide road since 2010, in order to better connect Columbia Pike to Crystal City.

The road would run from S. Queen Street, near Hoffman-Boston Elementary, to the I-395 underpass, where a country club access road meets up with Army Navy Drive. The process of securing an easement to even cross the country club in the first place was a challenging one for the county, but the two sides ultimately struck a deal after the county agreed to allow the club to build a larger clubhouse than county zoning rules would ordinarily permit.

Staff cautioned the Board that reallocating this money for design work won’t do anything to change when the project gets built, at least for the time being. But members supported the change all the same as a way to provide some more detailed plans for the Board to consider a few years from now, when the county’s fiscal picture could improve.

“At least it’s getting us somewhere,” said Board member Erik Gutshall. “We’ve got to move the ball forward.”

In order to get that design work moving, the Board would need to pull $105,000 away from some minor arterial road projects over the next two fiscal years, and another $125,000 away from the “Walk Arlington” program for pedestrian-centric projects. The latter move will leave just $50,000 available for the program in 2020 and 2021.

But Board members seem to believe the funding shake-up is well worth it, particularly as bicycling advocates stress the importance of the project.

“There is a compelling case to be made that this will allow one of our largest growing population centers, Columbia Pike, to have more access to one of our major commercial and office centers of Crystal City,” Board Chair Katie Cristol said. “The most important thing is we get the scope of this proiect to the point where we can have those conversations about feasibility.”

County transportation director Dennis Leach cautioned that additional examinations of the project could reveal that it’s too challenging for the county to pursue. He noted that the “steep grades” in the area, combined with its proximity to woodlands and I-395, could all combine to make the effort “extremely expensive.”

Initial estimates pegged construction costs around $5.2 million, but the county hasn’t updated that figure in years.

Cristol added that there are also “big questions” about whether the county can afford to bring the project into compliance with federal accessibility laws. However, she did suggest that one avenue for addressing those cost concerns might be redirecting some revenue generated by the commercial and industrial property tax on Crystal City businesses, as the area would potentially stand to benefit from the project.

“I look forward to the prospect of a taking a better scoped project and having a conversation with the business community about whether it’s a proper use of that tax money,” Cristol said.

The Board will make the reallocation of money for the access road official when it votes to approve a final Capital Improvement Plan on Saturday (July 14).

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Power Outage in Clarendon — A small power outage affected several businesses in Clarendon yesterday evening, including Arlington Independent Media and Galaxy Hut.

County to Expand Citizenship Aid — “Arlington government officials plan to expand a subsidy program that helps prospective U.S. citizens pay the costs associated with their efforts. County Board members on July 14 are expected to increase the subsidy amount and expand the ranks of those eligible to participate in the subsidy program, which is funded by private donations.” [InsideNova]

Local Couple Helps Seniors to Downsize — “Bill and Betty Ubbens, realtors with Weichert Realty and parishioners of St. Ann Church in Arlington, assist seniors with downsizing… The Ubbens have found the biggest resistance to decluttering is the ‘sheer amount of stuff to go through and the time to complete the inventory and planned disposition of the property.'” [Arlington Catholic Herald]

Arlington Man Wins Big in Poker Tourney — Arlington resident Yaser Al-Keliddar won more than $150,000 and a World Series of Poker bracelet in a $3,000 limit hold’em tournament in Las Vegas earlier this week. [World Series of Poker]

Monitor Broken at ‘Super Stop’ — As seems to happen every so often, the electronic display at the Walter Reed Drive “Super Stop” along Columbia Pike — also known as the “million dollar bus stop” — is broken. A sign on the monitor, which is supposed to show real-time bus arrival information, says a replacement is planned. [Twitter]

It’s Friday the 13th — Be careful out there. But then again, only 27.4 percent of you are superstitious.

Photo courtesy @thelastfc

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Arlington Preparing to Embrace Dockless Vehicles With Pilot Program

Arlington is now gearing up to officially embrace dockless bikes and scooters, even though some scooters have already arrived in the county.

County officials have spent the last few weeks mulling how to respond to the sudden appearance of dozens of Bird’s dockless scooters around Arlington in late June. Though the county did receive some advance warning from the company that it planned to start operating in Arlington, County Manager Mark Schwartz and the county’s legal team weren’t sure exactly how to react to Bird’s arrival.

Some communities have even chosen to take legal action against dockless vehicle companies that start operating without the local government’s consent, but the county announced in a statement today (Thursday) that staff determined there “are no regulations currently in place that would prohibit the operation and use of these devices in Arlington.” The county doesn’t have any regulation prohibiting the scooters on sidewalks, but it does ban “motorized vehicles” from county bike paths, which would include the scooters.

Moving forward, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow that officials are planning to unveil a “pilot demonstration project” to test out all manner of dockless vehicles this fall.

Much like D.C.’s current pilot program, Balliet says he envisions the effort helping to “provide structure to the deployment, operation and use of scooters and dockless bikes within the county and to evaluate the overall performance and gauge the impacts of these mobility devices.” He says the current plan is to deliver a framework for that effort to Schwartz and the County Board for approval this September.

Should the county design a program similar to the District’s efforts, dockless companies like Bird would be able to partner with the county to participate in the pilot. Lime Bike has already been working with the Crystal City BID, as it eyes the county for expansion. Skip’s CEO also says his company, the third dockless scooter outfit operating in D.C., is interested in Arlington.

Balliet did not immediately provide details on what form the pilot program might take, but County Board member John Vihstadt says he’d be broadly receptive to clearing the way for more dockless vehicles to become available around Arlington.

“New methods of mobility are something we need to embrace,” Vihstadt said. “Some people will say, with the greater consumer choice one has with mobility, is that undercutting the Metro system or our bus system… but I think they can work together. If people have to get to to the Metro, or get to the bus stop, we can utilize these other modes of personal transportation.”

In the meantime, the county is urging anyone using dockless vehicles around Arlington to be considerate of other drivers and bike riders. The county also released a new tip sheet today with suggestions on the best ways to use the scooters, while officials hammer out a more detailed policy.

Between Bird and the other dockless companies currently operating in D.C. and Maryland, the county estimates that roughly 100 dockless vehicles pop up in Arlington each day.

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Dorsey: Stop Trying to ‘Protect Neighborhoods’ from Density

County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey is urging people around Arlington to embrace density in their communities and abandon the idea of “protecting” certain neighborhoods from development.

Without that sort of shift in mentality, Dorsey expects the county will never meet its stated goals of bringing down housing costs and making Arlington more accessible for people of all income levels.

“We have to look inward and look at ourselves and some of the things that are holding us back,” Dorsey told the audience at last month’s annual Leckey Forum put on by Arlington’s Alliance for Housing Solutions. “We can’t kid ourselves into thinking we can have it both ways, to tout our progressive bonafides with housing and affordability while also accepting the framework that certain neighborhoods need to be protected. Ask ourselves: protected from what?”

Dorsey would concede that he doesn’t want to “change in any way the notion that neighborhoods are for people who want to grow their families and stay in Arlington for generations.”

But he did challenge people in wealthier neighborhoods to consider that fighting against more dense development often amounts to “preserving a level of unaffordability and segregation” that already exists across the county.

“Often, you hear, ‘We want to mitigate density, we want to concentrate density in certain areas, we want density to be something that we don’t deal with,” Dorsey said. “If that’s our framework and our paradigm, we are losing a key tool to deal with affordability.”

In the past, some critics have charged that the county is facilitating the overdevelopment of affordable housing in places like the western end of Columbia Pike while exempting large swaths of affluent North Arlington from more affordable development.

Dorsey sees the constant churn of redevelopment of small, single-family homes into ever larger homes on the same property as helping to contribute to this problem, arguing that “the whole idea that we have one dwelling per lot and we allow for the increase in footprint on said lots, that absolutely factors into our affordability challenge.”

“It restricts housing supply and increases the pricing of housing on those parcels,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey acknowledges that forcing this sort of shift in attitudes won’t be easy, however, and he lamented that “the pursuit of effective public policies to achieve these outcomes are often thwarted by political considerations.”

Yet he also has hope that “these considerations… are not immutable,” and he believes people in the county will prove to be receptive to his arguments, if they’re framed correctly.

“What I hear as often as, ‘We want to protect our neighborhoods and mitigate density,’ is that ‘I want my neighborhood to be a place where I can interact with people of diverse backgrounds, I want my kids to go to school where they interact with people from diverse communities and diverse life experiences,'” Dorsey said. “We need to hold people to that, and engage them on those levels and expose them to tools to actually make that a reality.”

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Darna Lounge Facing More Legal Trouble Due to Permit Woes

The Darna Restaurant and Lounge in Virginia Square has run into a bit more legal trouble, with the county now pursuing criminal charges against its owner.

County officials briefly shut down the restaurant earlier this year after discovering a variety of health and safety code violations on the property, located at 946 N. Jackson Street.

Darna managed to address some of those problems and re-open in April, long enough to capitalize on its newfound notoriety for being the scene of a TMZ-worthy incident involving NBA star Tristan Thompson, but it seems the restaurant’s managers have yet to resolve all the problems the county identified.

Prosecutors have charged owner Amhad Ayyad and his Maaj Corporation with one count of performing work without proper permits, a misdemeanor charge. He’s set for a hearing in Arlington General District Court on Aug. 1, according to online court records, and could face a fine of up to $2,500 if he’s convicted.

Per a staff report prepared for the County Board, the trouble stems from Ayyad’s failure to secure a building permit from the county for some “unpermitted construction and modifications” inspectors discovered on the property when they briefly shuttered Darna.

Staff write that Ayyad has rectified the bulk of the code violations inspectors identified earlier this year, but still hasn’t managed to win the necessary permit for that construction, some of which involves “a stage used for the live entertainment” at the restaurant.

He submitted several applications for new permits, prompting the County Board to allow Darna to remain open in the meantime, but county inspectors rejected each one. Code enforcement officials ultimately decided to pursue the misdemeanor charge “due to the lack of progress by [Ayyad] to secure the building permit, complete the required modifications and to schedule and pass the final inspection.”

Even with all this legal wrangling, the Board is still set to allow Darna to stay open as Ayyad resolves these issues. The Board will consider a two-month use permit renewal for the lounge at its meeting Saturday (July 14), giving Ayyad until September to make some progress on these issues.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Named Top Digital County Again — “Arlington County is the No. 1 digital county in the nation for a third straight year. The Center for Digital Government and National Association of Counties 2018 award recognizes Arlington for its best technology practices in areas of open government, transparency, public engagement, planning, cyber security and operations.” [Arlington County]

Robbery in Courthouse — Two men reportedly robbed the Dunkin’ Donuts on Wilson Blvd in Courthouse yesterday evening. The men demanded money and fled the scene with cash but did not display any weapons during the robbery, according to initial reports. [Twitter]

Kaine to Campaign in Arlington Today — Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tonight “will host a ‘Neighbor to Neighbor’ community conversation in Arlington to engage Northern Virginia voters on the critical issues facing our country and take their questions.” The event is taking place at the Barcroft Park Picnic Shelter (4200 S. Four Mile Run Drive) at 6:30 p.m.

Britney Spears Touches Down in Arlington — Britney Spears arrived at Reagan National Airport ahead of the kick off of her summer tour. Photos and video show her walking through the terminal with a small entourage. [Daily Mail]

Arlington to Pay to Help Retain Federal Tenant — “Arlington taxpayers will be on the hook for nearly $8 million over 10 years to subsidize a lease that will retain the Office of Naval Research in the county. County Board members on July 14 are expected to approve an incentive package that will keep the federal agency in its current 314,000 square feet of office space in Ballston.” [InsideNova]

Suspect Hailed Cab After Pike Burglary — “A burglar made his getaway from a scene in Arlington by hailing a taxi, according to officials. The Arlington County Police Department said the burglar targeted a business in the 3100 block of Columbia Pike near the Westmont neighborhood at about 10:25 a.m. on Sunday.” [Fox 5 DC]

George Mason Drive Detour — A “small detour” will be in place this weekend on N. George Mason Drive “as crews above remove the old half still remaining from the soon-to-be-replaced Carlin Springs Road Bridge.” [Twitter]

White Ford Bronco Profiled — Prolific local 90s cover band White Ford Bronco is the subject of a newspaper profile that dubs it the “undisputed king of D.C. cover bands.” The profile recounts that “at a recent concert at the Clarendon Ballroom, guys in button-down shirts and Birkenstocks pumped their fists to the chorus of ‘Mr. Jones.'” [Washington Post]

Metrobus Delays This Morning — Metrobus passengers reported delays and missed routes this morning, which WMATA says was the result of “bus operators reporting late to work as part of a collective labor action by their union.” [Twitter, WTOP]

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State Supreme Court Could Decide Fate of Highlander Motel Redevelopment

The Virginia Supreme Court could soon decide the fate of the Highlander Motel near Virginia Square, as the property’s owner continues to push to redevelop the site.

Arlington County has been locked in a legal battle with local businessman Bill Bayne for nearly two years now over the property at 3336 Wilson Blvd, arguing that Bayne shouldn’t be able to use an existing parking lot for the same purpose after replacing the 55-year-old motel with a CVS Pharmacy.

The matter went before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals in July 2016, and was twice considered by Arlington’s circuit court, with a judge ultimately deciding last year that Bayne should be able to move ahead with his plans. But Bayne says the county is appealing that ruling to the state’s highest court, which could drag out any redevelopment of the property indefinitely.

“There is no reason for them to fight it,” said Bayne, who also owns the Crystal City Restaurant and co-owns Crystal City Sports Pub. “There’s no upside benefit for them… You’re dealing with an old, outdated property that’s behind its time. It’s much better for a neighborhood to have a CVS than an old, beat-up hotel.”

Bayne hopes the Supreme Court will decide by late August whether or not it will hear the county’s appeal. If the court takes the case, Bayne fears it could drag out the process for “another year” or more, further endangering his already damaged plans to redevelop the property.

But even if the court rejects Arlington’s appeal, Bayne worries his deal with CVS has already likely “fallen apart.” He was set to sign a 50-year lease to bring the pharmacy to the site, bringing him close to $45 million over the term of the lease, and believes he may never engineer a redevelopment of the lot even if he emerges successful in court.

“There would’ve already been a CVS built and open, but they’ve dragged me through a legal process that’s taken years,” Bayne said.

County Attorney Steve MacIsaac did not respond to requests for comment seeking clarity on why the county is appealing the court’s ruling.

The county’s legal filings over the years suggest Arlington officials were concerned with the size of the pharmacy Bayne hoped to build, particularly on a site bordering residential neighborhoods just on the edge of Clarendon, even though county lawyers challenged the project on the basis of some arcane zoning laws.

The legal spat over the Highlander began when Bayne asked for permission from the county to use a parking lot just behind the motel on N. Kenmore Street as parking for the proposed CVS.

A county zoning administrator pointed out that the hotel’s owners received permission when the motel was built back in 1963 to use that lot as “transitional” parking, and never sought any subsequent zoning change. That same lot would help Bayne’s company meet the county’s parking requirement for a retail building of the CVS’s size, a shop that would essentially replace the motel in its entirety.

The county changed its zoning ordinance in 1983 to ban the use of transitional lots for meeting minimum parking requirements, as Arlington moved toward a more transit-focused mentality and officials viewed requests for large parking lots more skeptically. Accordingly, the zoning administrator rejected Bayne’s proposal, setting up a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Board members pressed Bayne’s lawyers on whether he couldn’t simply shrink the proposed CVS and reduce the need for more parking. Land use attorney Evan Pritchard noted in the July 16, 2016 hearing that CVS viewed a smaller location as “no longer worth the trouble” of pursuing.

The Board unanimously denied Bayne’s appeal, arguing that the zoning administrator’s interpretation of the law was the correct one, even if such a distinction over parking lots seemed trivial.

“I’m not saying the proposed commercial use is a bad one, or that it even isn’t in the interest of Arlington County, but the County Board has written the zoning ordinance this way,” Board member Peter Owen said during the hearing.

Bayne appealed that ruling to the county’s circuit court, arguing in an Aug. 11, 2016 complaint that simply using the parking lot for a different establishment would not “change the character or intensity” of the property.

But in motions opposing Bayne’s appeal, county attorneys reiterated their historical zoning arguments and repeatedly cited the size of Bayne’s proposed CVS as a troublesome factor.

“It is as a result of the size of the CVS that all required parking can’t be located on the site,” assistant county attorney Christine Sanders argued in a trial on the matter.

In an Oct. 26, 2017 motion, Sanders also dubbed Bayne’s effort “an end run around the public process of a rezoning” from a residential designation to a commercial one, which “continues to foist upon the neighborhood a noxious use” of the property.

Retired Judge Alfred Swersky sided with Bayne, and denied the county’s subsequent request for another hearing, setting up a potential state Supreme Court fight.

Bayne says he “fully expects” to emerge victorious in the end, whether he’s ultimately able to realize his vision of a CVS on the property or not. He simply remains frustrated that this process has even dragged on for so long in the first place.

“It’s a good thing for the county, how can you argue with it?” Bayne said. “They’ve been told they’re wrong twice by a judge, why do you need to be told a third time?”

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County May Ask State for $78 Million for Second Crystal City Metro Entrance

(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington is getting ready to seek nearly $78 million in state transportation funding to build a second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station.

The County Board is considering submitting the project for “Smart Scale” funding, money handed out by the Commonwealth Transportation Board for big-ticket projects around the state. If approved, Arlington would have the money it needs to add an eastern entrance to the station at the northwest corner of the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S., perhaps by sometime in 2024.

The county has spent years studying the prospect of a second entrance to ease access to the Crystal City station, particularly as planners project substantial increases in housing development in the area over the next few decades, with or without Amazon’s potential arrival. The project would also include two street-level elevators and a new underground passageway and mezzanine to reach the Metro platform.

Yet the county has hit some roadblocks when it comes to finding funding for the $91 million project.

Arlington’s recent budget woes, brought on by declining commercial tax revenues and new funding obligations for Metro service, means that the county will need to rely on outside funding for the second entrance. The county expected to get most of that money from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body that funds major transportation improvements.

But the NVTA recently told the county that it can only chip in about $5 million towards design work for the project, as the group adjusts its own funding plans after losing out on tens of millions in annual revenue as a result of a deal to provide dedicated funding to Metro.

That forced Arlington officials to turn to the statewide “Smart Scale” program to for funding, an outcome local lawmakers predicted as a result of the NVTA losing out on money as part of the Metro deal. The county is similarly concerned about how it might pay for second entrances at the Ballston and East Falls Church stations in the coming years due to these same factors, but officials only chose to submit the Crystal City project for “Smart Scale” money.

State transportation officials will evaluate the Crystal City entrance against other projects across the state, and award funding based on factors like how much congestion they will relieve and how much economic development they’ll spur. Should Arlington win the full $78 million it’s asking for, county officials plan to use the NVTA money and some local tax revenue to fund the remainder of the project’s cost, according to a staff report.

The county also plans to submit three more projects, with a total cost of roughly $10.1 million, for “Smart Scale” funding.

Those include the expansion of Transitway service in the Crystal City area, the installation of new equipment and software to create a demand-based pricing system for county parking meters and the procurement of software to better manage Arlington Transit (ART) bus service.

More on the parking meter proposal:

Performance Parking Deployment in Commercial Corridors ($6.1 million)

This project will install equipment and software to support demand-based pricing of on-street meters and improved public information about parking availability. On-street parking is limited by the finite length of curb on County streets and competing curb uses while offstreet parking is very expensive to build. Given these limitations, it is critical that the parking supply is managed effectively. Modern parking technology enables a much more efficient management of the system. County policy, as stated in the Master Transportation Plan’s Parking and Curb Space Management Element, supports the use of multi-space meters and other high performing technologies. The project will support the installation of hardware and software to monitor and display occupancy, turnover, and parked duration information from the curbside metered spaces and County owned and operated off-street facilities in order to support demand-based pricing of on-street meters and improved public information about parking availability.

The County Board will formally vote to endorse these “Smart Scale” applications at its meeting this Saturday (July 14).

Photo via Arlington County

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