Arlington, VA

Responding to increasing storms, flooding and ongoing development, Arlington County will be changing its stormwater management regulations for single-family home construction projects.

The new requirements — and how they came about — have developers worried.

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services will require developers to use tools such as water storage tanks to ensure new homes can retain at least 3 inches of rain, which will affect applications submitted after Sept. 13, 2021.

Currently, developers are only on the hook to improve the quality of water runoff, using rain gardens, planters, permeable driveways and tree cover.

DES staff tell ARLnow the new system will manage more water, protect downhill properties, reduce plan approval times, and give homeowners stormwater facilities that are feasible to maintain.

In a statement, staff said the change “reflects future-focused and balanced responsiveness to a diverse customer base that includes downhill neighbors, property owners, and builders.”

But some developers who work in Arlington County says the changes blindsided them and they want more input. They predict significant potential cost increases to homeowners and argue that this shifts the burden onto individuals, rather than placing responsibility with neighborhoods or the county itself.

“There is broad concern with the roll-out of this,” said Yuri Sagatov of Sagatov Homes. “There are just a lot of questions and there aren’t a lot of answers. We’re all waiting to get more information from the county to see how the changes might impact properties.”

Staff said these changes were precipitated by the increase in heavy rainfall, the growing intensity of storms, and a sense among residents that the county is not doing enough to protect properties — particularly those that are downhill from development, from the runoff caused by new homes.

A county study last summer found that the soil under new homes is 10 times less permeable than the soil under existing homes, staff said.

With the tanks, which appear to be above ground in photos, the goal is to retain rainwater during flash flooding events like that of July 8, 2019.

“Gravity detention tanks… promote a ‘slow it down and soak it in’ strategy to capture and release runoff slowly as a more robust and reliable way to handle intense rainfall,” says a DES memo.

It seems like a feasible alternative to more expensive underground systems, but the challenge will be blending them in aesthetically.

“They are talking about massive above ground cisterns,” the owner of one remodeling firm told ARLnow. “I would think neighbors would hate this. They’re going to be hideous.”

As for engaging developers during the process, county staff said enhancements to an existing program only require the county to consult with stakeholders. The county surveyed neighbors, home builders and engineers in 2019 and met with engineers early this year.

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With budget planning in full swing and tax season looming near, you may be wondering what Arlington County is paying for with your tax dollars.

County officials are currently hammering out the details for the next fiscal year’s budget, which the County Board is slated to adopt on Saturday, April 17 and which will go into effect on July 1. The proposed $1.36 billion budget, which County Manager Mark Schwartz calls a “transition” budget, includes a COVID-19 contingency fund and $16.4 million in cuts.

And while the pandemic forced some revisions to the current 2020-21 budget, the pandemic has not changed the different buckets of spending by the county — from Arlington Public Schools to the Department of Parks and Recreation — and what proportion of the general fund these sectors receive.

Local taxes represent 83% of Arlington County’s overall general fund revenue. That includes the taxes you pay on real estate, vehicles, restaurant bills, retail sales, hotel stays, and if you run a business, taxes on business or occupational licenses. For next year, local tax revenue is projected to exceed $1.1 billion, increasing only $1.1 million from last year’s adopted budget, according to Arlington County’s 2022 master budget document.

In this year’s budget, about $795 million comes from real estate taxes. Levied on homes as well as apartments and commercial properties, these taxes make up the lion’s share (59%) of general fund revenue.

This year, homeowners should expect to see their bills increasing due to rising property values, although Schwartz is proposing keeping the $1.013 per $100 property tax rate flat, as he did last year. Real estate assessments showed an overall growth of 2.2% with an increase among residential properties of 5.6% and a 1.4% decline in commercial assessments.

Other revenue sources are utility rates for water and sewage; fees, like those set by the parks department; permits and fines; state and federal contributions; and some leftover money after previous budget cycles.

Where does the money go?

The county’s general fund expenditures are divided into three large buckets: county services, schools and the capital fund. In the current budget, the county services bucket — which includes a $48 million contribution to Metro — accounts for $817 million. APS received $524.6 million from the general fund and the capital fund received $3.8 million (the rest comes from carryover balances and bonds).

In the current fiscal year, the school transfer covers about 78% of APS’s total expenses, the largest share of which, accounting for nearly 78%, goes to salary and benefits costs.

Excluding schools, of the nine overall departments or sectors receiving county funding, some are almost completely funded by local taxes, while others receive more support from federal and state support or other sources of revenue.

For example, taxes fund about 90% of the budget going toward public safety, which accounts for 11% of the county’s expenses. Within that, local tax support chips in $71 million of Arlington County Police Department’s $72 million budget.

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The county is calling on the community to submit their ideas for a new county logo and seal.

The logo will phase out the depiction of Arlington House, also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial, on all county communications and materials starting this summer. Over time, the new logo will appear on signage for county amenities such as parks, community centers and buildings, the submissions webpage said.

“We are writing a brighter chapter in Arlington’s story, one that aligns with the County’s important focus on racial equity,” the website said. Submissions are due by Sunday, March 14.

According to submission guidelines, artists only can submit one idea and it must be new and original. The art should “look good” in black and white and in color, and when it is printed on something as small as a pen and as large as a billboard. Designs in any media — from digital to crayon — are accepted.

Proposed design ideas have included dogwood trees, the Potomac River, the Rosslyn skyline, and the Pentagon, as well as abstract concepts like peace and diversity.

“As you create your design, think about the images, symbols and feelings unique to Arlington and shared by people across neighborhoods,” the county website said.

A submission form is available on the county website. It asks people to submit a .jpg, .png or .pdf version of their design, to share whether they are a current or former resident or have some “other” affiliation with Arlington, and to briefly describe the art and what it depicts or represents.

The move to update the emblem began with a push from the Arlington branch of the NAACP last summer, which decried the current logo as a “racist plantation symbol” that honors a slave-owning Confederate general. County Board members expressed their support in September and approved a process for replacing it in December.

County Manager Mark Schwartz previously told the board that the earliest instance of the logo’s use by the county was in 1974.

When the March deadline passes, a panel of community members picked by Schwartz will choose three to five top contenders. A professional graphic designer will further develop the concepts through April. The community will then rank their picks in May and the County Board is expected to choose one in June.

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