Press Club
County auditor Chris Horton (photo via Arlington County)

Chris Horton, Arlington County’s independent auditor since 2016, is leaving his post.

Horton was hired in late 2016 after previously serving in the Office of Auditor General at Fairfax County Public Schools. His predecessor — the first auditor hired by Arlington after receiving authorization to do so by the state legislature — resigned after less than six months on the job.

During his tenure Horton asked residents for suggestions of things to audit, then went about examining economic development incentives; purchasing practices; fire department, police and Emergency Communications Center overtime; and fleet management — among other topics.

Just last month it was reported that Horton would be looking at whether the conditions set for site plan development actually end up getting carried out, in addition to other projects set to continue through the 2023 fiscal year.

It is not clear why Horton is leaving. A somewhat unusually worded press release said that the County Board “thanks County Auditor Chris Horton for his dedicated service and wishes him good fortune on his next professional adventure.”

The release also noted “the recent addition of two staff positions in the FY 2023 budget” for the auditor’s office.

The full press release is below.

It is with great appreciation that the County Board thanks County Auditor Chris Horton for his dedicated service and wishes him good fortune on his next professional adventure. Chris has announced his departure from Arlington County to pursue new career avenues and, while he will be missed in the County Board Office, the Board hopes for the best in his next chapter. Chris began his tenure with the Auditor’s office in 2016, in its infancy. He wisely pursued a path that prioritized building a firm foundation for the work products to be delivered through his office, along with building relationships throughout the enterprise so that his office could receive maximum cooperation and add value to County departments.

“Chris has decisively advanced the office of the Auditor to become a critical asset supporting the County Board’s work and a tool of good and transparent governance,” stated County Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey.

Chris has over twenty years of experience in audit and risk analysis within county, city, state, and school district functions. He has led or assisted in the development of performance audit functions in three different government audit shops. He has experience in broadening organizations’ focus toward risk management, and educating senior managers on the value of focusing on governance risks, process risks, IT risks, and reputational risks, in addition to the traditional financial risks.

“I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve the Arlington community by working to create and grow the County Auditor function. This has been an ongoing partnership with the County Board and the Audit Committee,” Chris said. “The support from County management has been critical to developing the County Auditor function, and continued support from management will be crucial for the next County Auditor. With several audit reports and follow-ups complete, a mature set of Audit Committee processes, and the recent addition of two staff positions in the FY 2023 budget, the foundation for the next County Auditor is well-established.”

Chris is a dynamic trainer, focusing on ethics for auditors, auditing techniques, audit report writing, and other audit-specific topics. He is a trained and experienced control self-assessment facilitator and is currently the President of the Association of Local Government Auditors. His BS and MS are from the University of Texas – Permian Basin and he has a PhD in Public Administration from Arizona State University.

“We are thankful for his many contributions, not the least of which is the fact that we are in a strong position to build upon his accomplishments as we approach the task of hiring his successor,” stated County Board Member Takis Karantonis.

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Morning Notes

Pigeons hanging out in Rosslyn’s Freedom Park (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Bus Crash in Front of Hospital  — “At approximately 1:52 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of a two vehicle crash involving an ART bus in the 1600 block of N. George Mason Drive. The driver of the other involved vehicle has been transported to the hospital for medical evaluation. Police remain on scene investigating the cause of the crash.” [Twitter]

Civ Fed Proposes Board Changes — “A task force empaneled by the Arlington County Civic Federation has proposed a somewhat radical reconfiguration of County Board and School Board elections… The TiGER proposal, which seeks to expand membership on each body to seven, would have four County Board members and three School Board members elected in a given year, followed by a gap year, followed by three County Board members and four School Board members elected. After another gap year, the process would repeat.” [Sun Gazette]

New Lounge Arriving at DCA — An American Express Centurion Lounge is under construction at Reagan National Airport. [Twitter]

Free Soccer Programming Pilot — “The Arlington Soccer Association is teaming up with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) to provide free soccer programming. The eight-week pilot program recently kicked off and brings soccer programming to families who live in APAH’s more than 2,000 affordable apartments throughout Arlington County. The programming is offered once a week at local parks and elementary schools for children as young as 3 years old.” [Press Release]

Throwback to Metro Groundbreaking — “We recently rediscovered a scrapbook from the early days of NVTC. June 18, 1971: Ceremonies to mark construction of the Rosslyn Metro station, ‘first in the D.C. suburbs.'” [Twitter]

Buses Gone Wild on I-395 — From Dave Statter: “I’ve shown you lots of amateur drivers trying to navigate I-395S Exit 8C/Route 1. Let’s see how the pros handle it.” [Twitter]

Car vs. Bakery Near Fairlington — “No one was injured after a car smashed through a front window of Great Harvest Bread (1711 Centre Plaza) in Fairlington Centre on Tuesday night (May 10). The incident occurred at around 7 p.m., which is after the bakery is closed.” [ALXnow]

It’s Friday — Overcast throughout the day with some patchy fog. Showers likely, with thunderstorms also possible after 2 p.m. High of 70 and low of 59. Sunrise at 5:59 am and sunset at 8:13 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Barcroft Apartments, a 1,334-unit, market-affordable apartment complex along Columbia Pike (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) A progressive group says an Amazon- and county-funded plan to keep the Barcroft Apartments affordable will actually displace low-income residents.

The more than $300 million purchase of the 60-acre, 1,334-unit complex along Columbia Pike will take what are currently aging but affordable market-rate apartments and renovate or reconstruct them, while converting them to dedicated affordable units.

The hasty and hefty purchase happened, county officials said, in response to the possibility that the complex could be redeveloped without affordability protections. That is what happened to the nearby Columbia Gardens Apartments, which are being torn down to make way for townhouses.

But the group Asian American Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Collaborative (ACE), an offshoot of Alexandria-based New Virginia Majority, says the Barcroft Apartments plan is flawed and will actually displace some long-time residents. The rent they are currently paying, according to rates listed online, is actually lower than the dedicated affordable rates that the rents could eventually rise to.

ACE is holding a rally this afternoon at Doctor’s Run Park, across the street from the apartments in the Douglas Park neighborhood, to speak out against what it says is the “predicted displacement of Arlington tenants within next year in [the] highly diverse Barcroft Apartments.”

From a press release:

On May 12, 2022 at 4 p.m., Asian American Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Collaborative (ACE) organizers and tenants from Barcroft Apartments will hold a press conference and rally at Doctor’s Run Park, 1301 S. George Mason Drive. During the press conference, tenants will share their experiences trying to prepare for skyrocketing rental costs, and organizers will reveal the results of a recently completed survey conducted by organizers and Marymount University predicting tenant displacement of low-income residents.

Barcroft Apartments provides a home to one of the most culturally-diverse neighborhoods in the area, and was recently sold to new owners Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners. The current agreement involving Arlington County, Jair Lynch Real Estate Partner, and Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund risks displacing long time tenants in the upcoming years because their rental rates will be increased by 3% every year up to 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) starting next year. A majority of the long-time tenants that were surveyed by ACE make below 60% AMI which also increased this year as well.

Tefera Negash, a five year tenant, said, “This was the last place in this area that was in our budget. This will bring too much inconvenience in our life on top of the economic difficulties we are experiencing recently.”

Nupur Chowdhury, community organizer for ACE said, “I’m a Bangladeshi-American living here in Arlington. My family and I have lived in Barcroft for 17 years. As someone who is living and active in this community, I am afraid that the scheduled rent increases year after year will make it too expensive for our diverse community to continue living here.”

Asked about the rally, Arlington County Housing Director Anne Venezia said she and Jair Lynch, the developer that is buying the complex with the loans from Amazon and Arlington, have been in touch with ACE.

“No Barcroft residents are being displaced,” Venezia asserted.

She issued the following statement in response to inquiries from ARLnow.

The Jair Lynch team and I have been working one-on-one with ACE since early this year. Last week we spoke with them directly to talk about their survey, the results, and their concerns. Our conversations have been collegial and constructive. We continue to share that no Barcroft residents are being displaced. Starting in 2023, rents may increase a maximum of 3% annually, up to the 60% AMI rent limit. The County remains committed to working with residents who need financial assistance. Last Friday and again this Tuesday, I followed up with additional information for families facing financial hardship, including a handout in 11 different languages about existing County programs that they could share with any residents. We are working to connect struggling families with rental resources, such as housing grants, including the potential for an information event about County resources at the property. County staff continues to be available to ACE and all Barcroft residents and to provide information and resources as needed. The Arlington Department of Human Services team is also available to help Barcroft residents with assistance for food, rent, and other services, regardless of immigration status. Residents can call 703-228-1300.

A representative with Jair Lynch echoed Venezia in saying that no residents will be displaced.

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Slide from Missing Middle Housing Study draft framework (via Arlington County)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Some “missing middle” housing types would be legalized in residential zones throughout Arlington, under a draft proposal released late last week.

The framework is the latest output of the county’s Missing Middle Housing Study, which has been ongoing since October 2020. The study concluded that allowing housing that’s denser but no larger than single-family homes currently allowed under zoning would increase housing supply while diversifying housing types and providing a net environmental benefit.

The recommendations will now be subject to what is likely to be a contentious community engagement and feedback process, expected to be followed by County Board action to amend the local zoning ordinance this fall.

If ultimately approved, the new zoning rules would be similar to those that passed in Minneapolis and Portland to considerable fanfare and White House interest.

Specifically, the framework calls for dwellings with up to eight housing units in most of Arlington’s residential zones. The size of the structure would be subject to existing rules for single family homes, though existing requirements for on-site parking could be reduced.

The maximum number of units would scale down with the lot size, from a simple duplexes to townhomes and triplexes, up to an 8-plex on a relatively large lot.

“Missing Middle Housing (MMH) types with up to 8 dwellings can fit within the same footprint, placement, and height standards as single-detached housing,” said the proposal. “Applying single-detached standards to MMH can minimize or eliminate environmental impacts, compared to status quo redevelopment.”

That represents a significant change from Arlington’s current zoning, which restricts most of the non-federal land in the county to only single-family homes. A county spokeswoman noted that while the proposed zoning changes would increase flexibility for property owners seeking to build, it would not force owners to change anything if they don’t want to.

“The draft framework would add housing type options in the County’s zoning districts that currently only allow single-detached housing and accessory dwelling units,” said Erika Moore, spokeswoman for Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development. “It does not eliminate any housing options that currently exist.”

Also not changing: neighborhoods that currently allow duplexes and townhouses.

“Framework provides an opportunity to welcome potentially more neighbors within a similar building footprint,” said the presentation. “Neighborhoods that are predominantly duplexes and townhouses today (e.g., Arlington Mill, Green Valley, Penrose) and other mixed-use areas would not be impacted.”

Despite the big change, the study suggests that the actual impact on new housing would be modest.

“MMH has inherent economic disadvantages compared with large single-detached homes, including increased costs to build, increased complexity for ownership and sales, and lack of familiarity in the market,” said last week’s presentation. “Based on the financial feasibility and study of other jurisdictions, only approximately 20 lots per year would become ‘missing middle’ (94-108 units).”

That would work out to about 150 additional residents per year over the course of ten years.

While not affordable to lower income households, the new housing is expected to be affordable to more residents than what would be built under current single-family-only zoning, which the presentation says incentivizes construction of large, expensive homes.

“Expected outcome is a wider range of housing types at lower prices than what is currently available,” the study said. “New housing types would be attainable for households with incomes from $108,000-$200,000+. Housing designs would be of a scale consistent with single-household redevelopment already occurring.”

News of the framework was cheered online by those who have been advocating for denser housing in Arlington.

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Assistant County Manager Bryna Helfer talks to the County Board during a meeting (via Arlington County)

Arlington County doesn’t always get public engagement right — but officials say the county is doing better than it did a few years ago.

The pandemic has served as an impetus for accelerating changes already in progress, including a move away from exclusively in-person engagement to more virtual and hybrid community outreach options.

Mark Schwartz said one of his top priorities when he was named County Manager in 2016 was to enhance engagement and communications. This was on the heels of the completion of the county’s community facilities study, which looked at public facilities given a growing population; Schwartz said the group had challenges engaging residents.

“And since then, we’ve learned a lot about communicating and public engagement, especially over the last two years with Covid,” Schwartz said during an update to the County Board last week.

“And I will be the first to admit, I’ve admitted it here, we don’t always get it right,” he continued. “But we’ve come a long way in weaving not just the old style corporate communications but true engagement into our efforts as we develop and implement policies.”

Engaging the community

While the county developed a six-step guide to public engagement in 2018 for capital projects, it’s also applied to planning, policy-making and programs, said Bryna Helfer, an Assistant County Manager who oversees the Office of Communication and Public Engagement.

“One of the things that we still have to work on is getting those folks that are highly impacted but have really low awareness,” Helfer said. “We spend a lot of energy on people with high awareness and low impact and so really [we have to be] intentional.”

A graphic depicting the public engagement guide the county said they use (via Arlington County)

The level of public engagement intensifies with the size of a project, Helfer said. The higher the level of impact, positive or negative, the more engagement and outreach.

“We’re not showing up to do charrettes if we’re just painting the bench,” she said. “We’re really aligning the tools and strategies with the level of engagement and training all of us to use the right tools.”

The county has used roundtable discussions with civic associations and other organizations to inform them how to ease the groups’ pain points. After some of those conversations, the county created the Civic Association President Toolkit, which includes a county staffer sitting down with every new association’s president and reviewing a list of county resources.

The county also developed a multifamily complex directory to help engage those residents, which make up 60% of the county’s population, Director of Public Engagement Jerry Solomon said.

“That’s an example of a big win that helps us to that greater capacity building that we know our community needs,” she said.

Demographic dashboards give officials an idea on how to strategize and recognize gaps in participation, Solomon said. While planning engagement, they apply an equity lens, asking questions like: who benefits, who’s burdened and who’s missing?

Past criticism

Arlington’s community engagement ethos is commonly referred to as the “Arlington Way,” a vaguely defined term for the local ideal of an open conversation between county government and residents.

But the Arlington Way has taken some barbs over the years, as Arlington’s equity ideals clashed with the reality that effectively participating in the county’s decision-making processes often required hours of in-person engagement — nearly impossible for many shift workers, young parents and people struggling to make ends meet.

Last year the “Arlington Way” was a point of conversation at the Board after controversy over the start time of a north Arlington farmers market made the meeting run long, effectively shutting out participation from low-income residents there to speak about filthy conditions at the Serrano Apartments.

In 2020, community leaders from the Green Valley neighborhood criticized the county for not engaging the community before a temporary parking lot was built for WETA — relying instead on a legal ad published in the Washington Times as a primary form of public notice.

Earlier this year, a typo on a public hearing notice promoted the wrong date, adding to a continuing conversation by County Board members who have critiqued the engagement process.

And even online engagement has been critiqued for attracting a narrow set of interested parties rather than a broad swath of the public. Respondents to a recent survey about historic preservation, for instance, were overwhelmingly older, white homeowners.

Covid learning curve

Covid shifted public engagement to the virtual realm. The county started doing virtual walking tours for site visits and virtual public comment — and learned more about who participates in virtual meetings.

“Coming out of Covid, we think we will be able to do some in-person things, we’ll continue to use our virtual platforms — because the greatest thing has been people participating while watching their kid’s softball game — and that hybrid model where we come together with both,” Helfer said.

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The top two leaders at Arlington Economic Development, as marked, are leaving (photo illustration by ARLnow, via screenshot of AED website)

It’s not just Telly Tucker who’s leaving Arlington Economic Development.

Tucker become the county’s Director of Economic Development in January 2020, just before the pandemic, after serving in the same role for Danville, Virginia. He’s now returning to Danville to head the state’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

But Tucker is not the only impending high-level departure from AED. Cynthia Richmond, the Arlington’s Deputy Director of Economic Development, is retiring, AED has confirmed to ARLnow.

“Telly’s here through the end of May. His last day in the office is May 27,” said AED spokeswoman Kelly Rindfusz. “Cindy Richmond announced her retirement earlier this year. Her last day with the County is June 17.”

It’s unclear who will replace the organization’s two top leaders, though AED’s No. 3 appears to be staying put.

“County management is developing a continuity plan and will release it in the coming week,” Rindfusz tells ARLnow. “No other senior management departures. Katie McConnell remains as AED’s Assistant Director along with the Division Directors for the department.”

AED also experienced a series of high-profile departures prior to Tucker’s hiring.

Former director Victor Hoskins and interim director Alex Iams were both poached by Fairfax County, while Christina Winn left for Prince William County.

Hoskins helped to shepherd Amazon’s successful bid for Amazon’s HQ2, which has produced its own gravitational pull of new development and new office leases, particularly in the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas. But the turnover at the top of AED raises questions about whether Arlington is maximizing its economic momentum, particularly at a time when pandemic-era work-from-home trends have caused office vacancy rates to rise.

Asked about the ongoing brain drain at the top of the county’s economic development organization, County Board Chair Katie Cristol deferred to County Manager Mark Schwartz, who issued the following statement to ARLnow.

Schwartz praised Tucker and Richmond’s contributions to economic development in Arlington while promising to recruit “talented and skilled leaders” to replace them at AED.

We have been fortunate to have Telly Tucker in the role as Director of Economic Development for the past several years. Telly has been an incredibly valuable team member, especially during COVID over the past two years, especially in addressing business challenges during the COVID pandemic and implementing our small business emergency grants. He has also been instrumental in attracting  businesses of varying sizes from Microsoft to Zebox, and facilitated the development of the “relaunch program” for small businesses. He has also advanced 5G Smart City/Innovation districts with JBG Smith and advanced the resiliency of our commercial market. While we are disappointed that Telly will be leaving Arlington, we are excited for him to have this new opportunity as the President of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR), located closer to his family in southern Virginia. And, while AED’s Deputy Director Cynthia Richmond also has a scheduled retirement after 17 years with Arlington County, we appreciate the strong foundation they have both established for our economic development across the County. We will begin recruitment for both of these senior positions as soon as possible and confident that we will identify talented and skilled leaders to continue to support existing businesses, welcome new companies, and expand the economic development principles in our community.

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A rendering of the development at 2000 Clarendon Blvd (file photo)

While there are thousands of affordable housing units in Arlington, there’s a smaller, unique portfolio under the county’s purview.

Homes that are part of the county’s Affordable Dwelling Unit Ownership Program are the only dedicated affordable housing in Arlington that residents can own, as opposed to rent.

In 2017, the county took over the program, which only had about 40 units at the time, from affordable housing provider AHC. Since then, the county has added about 20 units as condominium projects have incorporated income-restricted units into their plans.

The current stock of 59 units is made up of mostly — about 47 or 48 — condos, a few duplexes, two townhomes, and two single-family homes, county Homeownership Program Administrator Akeria Brown tells ARLnow.

These units are for households that meet a 80% area median income which, according to stats released by HUD on Monday, is about $113,000 in annual income for a household of four.

The owners still have to meet the same criteria and go through the same traditional mortgage process to purchase an affordable dwelling unit. The county oversight is only in ensuring the unit remains affordable through sales and resale, and assisting owners when needed, such as for refinancing.

“We don’t typically see a lot of sales,” Brown said. “Households tend to get in these units and they stay for a myriad of reasons.”

One of the homes that was in the program prior to the county’s administration is in the process of being sold. The home at 2900 17th Street S., in the Green Valley neighborhood, is only the second of that original portfolio from AHC to go for resale since the county took control in 2017. It is located in the only all-affordable, resident-owned housing in the county: Davis Place Condominiums.

There have been new affordable housing sales, however, through agreements with the developers of Carver Place, Key & Nash and soon from 2000 Clarendon. When new construction affordable units like these become available, buyers are selected through a random lottery.

The county is always looking to add to its stock, but Brown says they particularly wish for greater availability of family-sized units.

“We would like to get family-sized units, two or three bedrooms… so households that have that goal, are really hoping that we would be able to secure those large units in our portfolio,” Brown said.

Richard Tucker, Housing Arlington coordinator, agreed that there is a general lack of availability of those sized units. He noted that when developers don’t incorporate affordable units into their projects, and instead provide financial contributions toward the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, that money typically goes toward affordable rental programs.

The county intends to complete a homeownership study in the next year to determine what’s working and best practices to explore directions for the various homeownership programs. As part of that study, an assessment of the affordable dwelling unit portfolio will look at the “sustainability and viability of that housing stock and to identify whether additional support to these homeowners is needed,” according to a report released in March.

“There’s a need we feel to have some analysis, or some review, of what our programs are doing, how well they’re performing and who’s being served and then looking at, you know, taking a step back and having the conversation with the community about vision and goals,” Tucker said.

In addition to overseeing the portfolio of affordable units that are owned, the county also has resources for home ownership such as the Moderate-Income Purchase Assistance Program, which provides down payment assistance, and the Condo Initiative, which provides technical assistance and information to condo owners.

As part of the effort to address the lack of affordable housing, the county created the Affordable Housing Master Plan in 2015. Each year, an annual report provides an overview of what the county has done to reach affordable housing goals set out in that plan.

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Ukrainian flag hanging from overpasses along eastbound I-66 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County is donating thousands upon thousands of items to Ukraine relief efforts.

The county is holding a media availability tomorrow (Thursday) morning to discuss the donations, which are primarily from Arlington’s public safety agencies, including the fire, police and emergency management departments, as well as the Sheriff’s Office.

“For this initiative, Arlington is coordinating with United Help Ukraine, a grassroots, entirely volunteer-based organization that will handle the shipping of the donated goods, including 200,000 disposable gowns, 9,000 Particulate Respirator N95s, 19,000 latex gloves, more than 100 ballistic vests, 150 sets of firefighting gear and breathing apparatus, and two pallets of firefighting hand tools,” the county noted in a press release.

Among those expected to speak at tomorrow’s press conference are County Board Chair Katie Cristol, fire chief David Povlitz, and emergency management director Aaron Miller.

Up until this point, Arlington County’s actions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were mostly of the symbolic variety, including passing a resolution condemning the attack on Arlington’s Ukrainian sister city of Ivano-Frankivsk and illuminating the Ballston pedestrian bridge in the blue-and-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Neighboring Falls Church and Fairfax County also recently announced donations of law enforcement ballistic vests to Ukraine.

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A recent survey of Arlingtonians found a majority say the county needs to be more aggressive about preserving historic buildings, monuments and resources from demolition.

Engagement in the survey, administered in 2021, was three times higher than engagement in a similar survey distributed two years ago, before the loss last year of two historic homes — the Febrey-Lothrop House and the Victorian Fellows-McGrath House — to make room for new housing.

The tripling, however, did not result in a more diverse group of respondents. More than 80% of respondents were some combination of white, homeowners and 45 years old and up.

The survey is part of a county effort to update its master plan governing historic preservation, with a new focus on equity and inclusion, says Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Rachel LaPiana.

Adopted in and unchanged since 2006, the update — if adopted by the County Board by the end of 2022 — will direct the historic preservation priorities and programs for the next decade, she said.

Many respondents said the county should be highlighting century-old properties, historic neighborhoods, archaeological sites and resources connected to Arlington’s immigrant, African American and Native American communities. Some railed against the county and the plan for not preserving sites like the Febrey-Lothrop House, while a few said such teardowns are necessary to make room for more housing and affordable units.

The survey asked broad questions to understand what residents value, with questions like “what stories, traditions, places, buildings, and/or communities are important to you?”

But for some civically engaged Arlington residents, the demographics of respondents were more interesting. They say this survey yielded detailed feedback from passionate individuals but did not reveal how the broader community values historic preservation.

The problem, per Dave Schutz — a civically engaged resident and prolific ARLnow commenter — is how the survey is advertised and where. His oft-repeated remark about community engagement in Arlington: “You ask twelve guys in Speedos whether we should build [the Long Bridge Aquatics Center], you will get a twelve to zip vote yes.”

Schutz suggested the county keep track of how respondents hear of the survey, so they know whose perspectives are being captured.

“I might require that surveys… contain an identifier so that the people tabulating results could see which ones had been filled out by people who were notified through the, say, Arlington Historical Society website and which by people notified through the ‘Engulf and Destroy Developers Mwa-ha-ha website,’ the County Board website — and if the opinion tendencies were wildly different, flag it for the decision makers that that was so.”

Joan Fitzgerald, a local resident who works in surveying populations, says county survey questions are often worded to confirm the biases of the survey writers, while the questions can be jargon-dense.

“County survey questions are often confusing, and participants often need a strong background in the topic to even understand what’s being asked,” said Fitzgerald, who sits on the development oversight committee for the Ashton Heights Civic Association.

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Morning Notes

Cherry blossoms and Amazon’s HQ2 construction in Pentagon City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

County Prepping New Tree Study — “Arlington leaders may take their next crack at guesstimating the number of trees in the county – a topic not without political as well as environmental ramifications – early in 2023, if all goes according to plan… estimating the cost at $100,000 to $150,000.” [Sun Gazette]

New Name for GMU Arlington Campus — “George Mason University announced today that its Arlington Campus will be renamed Mason Square as the new centerpiece of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor for multi-disciplinary talent and business development, as well as a civic and cultural destination. Also being announced is Fuse at Mason Square, the name of the new technology-forward building that is the heart of Mason’s commitment to growing Northern Virginia’s next-generation workforce. A groundbreaking ceremony for Fuse at Mason Square will take place April 6.” [Press Release]

FBI Warns of ‘Sextortion’ of Boys — “The FBI Washington Field Office is warning parents and caregivers about an increase in incidents involving sextortion of young children. The FBI is receiving an increasing number of reports of adults posing as young girls coercing young boys through social media to produce sexual images and videos and then extorting money from them.” [FBI]

Nature Center Staffing Slowly Returning — “Don’t expect hours of operation at Arlington’s two county-government natures centers to return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming year, or maybe ever, but local leaders say that doesn’t mean nature programs won’t have priority in coming years… [the] hope for the coming year was to use funding for temporary workers to increase hours at the nature center, including perhaps evening hours.” [Sun Gazette]

Church Wins Climate Award — “Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ’s commitment to fighting climate change over the past 15 years landed it a top award in the 2022 Cool Congregations Challenge. Rock Spring, on Little Falls Road in Arlington, was named the 2022 winner of the Energy Saver category in the challenge, sponsored by Interfaith Power & Light, a nonprofit group that seeks to motivate people of faith to take steps to address climate change.” [Patch]

Alexandria Schools Propose SRO Extension — “Alexandria City Public Schools is requesting an extension of its controversial school resource officer (SRO) program through the end of the 2022-2023 school year. School Board Chair Meagan Alderton says that the extension is part of the reimagining of the $800,000 program.” [ALXnow]

It’s Friday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 58 and low of 47. Sunrise at 7:05 am and sunset at 7:26 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Leaves and a face mask on the ground in Crystal City (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County is making masks optional in county facilities — from community centers to County Board meetings — starting tomorrow (Thursday).

The county made the announcement this afternoon, following the lead of Arlington Public Schools, which made masks optional for students and staff on Tuesday.

“This decision follows new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued on Feb. 25, 2022, which updated how it monitors COVID-19’s impact on our communities,” the county said in a press release. “For the public and most employees, masks will no longer be required inside County facilities, so long as Arlington is in the ‘Low’ level,” as defined by the CDC.

Only about 13 daily cases and 0.3 daily hospitalizations are being reported per 100,000 Arlington residents, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. That’s well below the threshold for Covid levels to be considered low by the CDC. All full-time Arlington County government employees, meanwhile, have been vaccinated or obtained valid vaccine exemptions, the county said this week.

Covid cases in Arlington as of 3/2/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Earlier today neighboring Falls Church also announced that masks would be “welcome [but] no longer required in city facilities.” Additionally, the biggest office building in Arlington — the Pentagon — is now a mask-optional zone.

The dropping of mask mandates in Arlington is a dramatic reversal from just over a month ago, when the County Board expressed support for Arlington Public Schools suing the state over Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order to let parents opt kids out of mask wearing at schools.

At the time, in late January, the average rate of new Covid cases in Arlington was roughly ten times the current level.

As of today daily Covid cases in the U.S. have dropped to the lowest level since July 27, 2021, CNN reports.

The full county press release about the masking change is below.

Effective Thursday, March 3, 2022, Arlington County will no longer require masks for the public and most employees while inside County government facilities.

This decision follows new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued on Feb. 25, 2022, which updated how it monitors COVID-19’s impact on our communities.

The CDC’s new tool – COVID-19 Community Levels – looks at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area to determine a level of low, medium, or high.

Currently, Arlington County is “Low,” meaning individuals may choose to wear a mask based on personal preference and level of risk of developing severe illness.

For the public and most employees, masks will no longer be required inside County facilities, so long as Arlington is in the “Low” level.

Masks are still required in some specific locations, such as public transportation and where health or medical services are provided. People may choose to mask at any time. People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.

People who are at increased risk of severe illness–and family, friends, and coworkers who spend time with them–should consider taking extra precautions even when the COVID-19 Community Level is low.

This change in the County’s mask policy is consistent with the recent guidance issued by CDC and Virginia Department of Health, as well as Arlington Public Schools.

The pandemic is not over, but we are in a new phase. Although COVID-19 continues to circulate, we now have vaccines, tests, and treatments that work, and most Arlingtonians have some immunity from vaccines or past infection.

Vaccination remains the leading public health prevention strategy to protect individuals and communities from COVID-19. The CDC recommends everyone 5 years and older be up to date, meaning a person has received all recommended COVID-19 vaccines, including any booster dose(s) when eligible. To find a vaccine location near you, visit vaccines.gov, walk-in to one of the County’s clinics, or call our COVID-19 hotline at 703-400-5368.

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