Following years of zoning tweaks, the Arlington County Board says childcare centers may finally be reaping some benefit from local policy changes.
The Arlington County Board approved requests from eight childcare providers this past weekend to expand the number of children they can care for — requests Board members took as a sign of success for their many programs intended to ease the regulatory burden on such businesses and expand childcare options in Arlington.
“The use permits that the Board approved for a number of family daycare homes are evidence that the child care initiative is producing real results for families and small businesses,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey during the meeting.
“These established home and child care providers chose to increase their capacity because of changes that we recently enacted to our Zoning Ordinance and County Code, recommended by the child care initiative ably spearheaded by Ms. Cristol,” he added of fellow Board member Katie Cristol.
On Saturday, eight existing daycare operations requested increases in the number of children they are allowed to care for — from nine to 12. The Board unanimously approved all requests through its consent agenda. The facilities include:
- EliBunny Family Child Care at 5916 5th Road S
- Singh Family Day Care Home at 5738 N. Carlin Springs Road
- Yolita’s Daycare at 1509 S. Quincy Street
- Kumar Family Day Care Home at 6610 19th Road N.
- Small Angels Child Daycare at 1523 N. Randolph Street
- Fablis Daycare at 923 N. Edgewood Street
- Modern Tots at 3110 19th Street S.
- Andy’s Room Childcare at 2015 S. Monroe St
The requests come after the Board previously changed several zoning ordinances to allow daycares to care for up to nine children by right, and up to 12 children if they obtain a use permit through the county. The changes also reduced parking requirements and standardized child caps across different zoning districts.
The overhaul required a dedicated staff member and aimed to loosen what some worried were overly restrictive regulations, contributing to Arlington’s sky-high costs of childcare by limiting the number of slots for children in daycares and making it harder to open up new childcare centers.
Parents in Arlington pay the highest average costs in the region — $42,705 per year — for an infant and a 4-year old to attend daycare, leading Board members to consider a subsidy last year to help families afford it. The average cost per child ($21,000) is also among the highest in the region, per the Economic Policy Institute.
Last January, the county reported that there were only 6,984 licensed daycare spaces available for more than double that number of children under the age of five in Arlington.
On Saturday the Board also renewed permits for several larger childcare facilities, including the STEM Preschool on S. Abingdon Street in Fairlington (which cares for 106 children), and the Feya Preschool (40 children) on S. Walter Reed Drive, south of Columbia Pike.
“This is truly a success story, and we look forward to more of these coming forward,” said Dorsey.
Kalina Newman contributed to this report.
Amazon Tweaking HQ2 Heating Plan — “Amazon.com Inc. confirmed it will tweak some elements of its HQ2 plan in Arlington County to eliminate a carbon dioxide-emitting system. The news comes a little more than a week after CEO Jeff Bezos announced in D.C. plans to end the company’s reliance on fossil fuels in a decade.” [Washington Business Journal]
County Tax Deadline Coming Up — “Taxes are due soon! If you have moved or sold your car, you may still owe taxes for the months when your car was in Arlington. If you are waiting for account adjustments, still pay your bill in full by Oct. 5. Overpayments will be refunded.” [Twitter]
Video: Ovi at ATS — Arlington Public Schools has released a video from Caps star Alexander Ovechkin’s recent visit to Arlington Traditional School. “Hi kids, I think it’s breakfast time for you, no?” Ovechkin asked as he pushed a grocery cart full of Ovi O’s cereal into a classroom. [Vimeo]
Dorsey to Talk Racial Equity at Church — “Christian Dorsey, Chair of the Arlington County Board, will be speaking about racial equity at Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ, 5010 Little Falls Road, at 7:00 p.m. Monday, October 7.” [Press Release]
New Daycare Center Near Fairlington — “As Alexandria struggles with affordable daycare, a new facility is in the works near the Fairlington neighborhood. A special use permit has been filed for Our First Step Daycare Center, a new daycare center planned for 2500 N. Van Dorn Street.” [ALXnow]
Ever Have a Dream Like This? — Updated at 8:35 a.m. — “Scanner: Police responding to S. Four Mile Run Drive for a report of a naked woman who walked on to an ART bus then walked right back off.” [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
The 12,000 square-foot child care center would be located on the ground floor and face the interior public plaza. A spokesperson for Amazon told ARLnow that the proposed daycare would be operated by a third party company.
Lack of accessible daycare is the center of a fight in Seattle, where a group called “Momazonians” are arguing the company needs to do more to provide accessible child care, though a spokesperson the Amazon noted that the company does have a daycare facility for both Amazon employees and the nearby community in one of their headquarters buildings.
In Arlington, the company is in a tug-of-war with planners over whether the daycare should count towards the headquarters’ total density. The daycare is one of several types of space that the company is requesting not be included in calculations of gross floor area. Because the proposed complex exceeds the allowable density under zoning for the site, excluding certain types of space from the floor area calculation would cut down on the community benefits Amazon would need to provide in exchange for the added density.
Many of these areas, like mechanical shafts and below-grade storage, are excluded by default as they do not contribute to the bulk and height of the building and are not rentable floor space. But child care facilities typically are not considered one of those excluded types of density.
“Staff has not supported exclusions from density for uses such as child care,” the staff report said. “Staff is currently analyzing the applicant’s requests.”
At a meeting last week, the proposed exclusion of the child care facility from the building’s bonus density drew some criticism from Site Plan Review Committee members, who pointed to the example of the formerly Ballston-based National Science Foundation, which they said was granted a density exclusion for a child development center only to later convert the space to another use.
The spokesperson for Amazon said the company is planning to include the daycare at HQ2 regardless of whether the county approves the density exemption.
A Head Start program for the children of low-income families will have a new home in Arlington.
The County Board on Saturday unanimously approved a lease for Northern Virginia Family Service and its Head Start program, which serves more than 200 children. The program will now be based at 2920 S. Glebe Road, an office building purchased by the county and renovated for about $6.6 million.
The Head Start program is moving from 1800 N. George Mason Drive, which was owned by the county but acquired by Virginia Hospital Center in a land swap. It will continue paying about the same rent — around $274,000 per year with 5 percent annual increases.
More from an Arlington County press release:
The Arlington County Board today approved a lease agreement with Northern Virginia Family Service, Inc. (NVFS) to continue operations of the Head Start program at a new location on 2920 S. Glebe Road.
The County acquired the property in 2017 as a new home for the federal program. Head Start promotes school readiness for children ages five and under from low-income families, an important policy goal for the County.
“Ensuring Head Start’s long-term sustainability remains a key priority for the Board. Head Start has achieved remarkable results in readying children to thrive in school,” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “This facility will provide an optimal learning environment for children and be conveniently located for most families who participate.”
The property was needed when the program’s home at 1800 N. George Mason Dr. was designated for a land swap between the County and Virginia Hospital Center, which plans to expand its north Arlington campus.
The County budgeted $6.6 million to prepare the South Glebe site for more than 200 children. The build-out is set for completion next month. The County’s lease with NVFS ends in January 2023 with four five-year extension options.
NVFS is to pay the County just under $274,000 a year in rent plus 5 percent annual escalations, essentially the same terms that existed for the prior location on George Mason Drive. The County will provide utilities and janitorial service at no additional charge.
The County Board voted unanimously as part of the consent agenda to approve the lease agreement.
Photo (1) via Arlington County, (2) via Google Maps
The Arlington County Board has approved zoning rules they hope will help parents afford rising childcare costs by increasing local childcare options.
The Board voted unanimously during its Saturday meeting to change several zoning ordinances as part of a mission to overhaul the regulations on childcare centers, with the goal of making it possible for more providers to open up shop.
“These carefully crafted changes will be welcomed by our hard-working Arlington families who need access to high-quality child care,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.
The amendments target regulations that childcare business owners and county staff have said makes it hard to run daycares or open new ones.
One change allows small, in-home daycare providers to care for up to nine kids by right, meaning providers no longer need to go through the county’s extensive use permitting process now reserved for homes caring for 10 or more kids.
Summer camps are now allowed to operate with by right process, rather than having to seek a use permit like a daycare provider, thanks to the Board’s Saturday vote.
The vote also reduces parking requirements for childcare centers after business owners complained they were expensive and county staff found parking spaces often went unused. Zoning ordinances previously required one parking space per employee, but the amendment will change that requirement to one space per eight children. The Board also approved a reduction in the parking requirement if the the daycare is near Metro or bus stations.
The Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee approved the amendments in January after they had been discussed for months. Now that they have the Board’s approval, the changes are set to go into effect on July 1.
A 2017 draft action plan noted there are “significant gaps between supply and demand” for childcare in Arlington, stating in its findings Arlington had 6,984 licensed spaces for 13,435 kids under the age of five.
Officials think the gap might be one of the reasons why the average yearly daycare bill for Arlington families is $42,705 — $2,000 higher than the average bill in D.C., and one of the highest in the country.
“The District has just as much supply-demand pressure, yet we’re more expensive,” Dorsey said in July. “I’m not interested in Arlington exceptionalism when it comes to this.”
More from a county press release:
The proposed changes arise from recommendations included in the Child Care Initiative Action Plan the Board accepted in July 2018, after a year-long community engagement process. The plan’s short-term recommendations include increasing flexibility in Zoning Ordinance provisions that regulate center-based and family-based child care programs in Arlington, and examining local child care regulations to incorporate Virginia state standards. The proposed changes are meant to eliminate perceived and actual barriers to child care in the County.
“The Child Care Initiative’s research, particularly the ‘Risk and Reach’ Study, confirmed that Arlington’s childcare crunch isn’t just an anecdotal challenge for individual families, it’s a systemic problem that affects Arlington’s economic competitiveness, and our goals of achieving equitable outcomes for all our kids and families,” said Board Member Katie Cristol, who proposed the initiative as the Board’s 2018 Chair. “These proposed changes to our Zoning Ordinance and Childcare Codes represent a coordinated, comprehensive approach to the problem, and reflect nearly two years of dedication, analysis and compromise among stakeholders in the initiative.”
The proposed changes are the result of a comprehensive outreach and engagement process that included parents, child care program staff, and other local stakeholders.
“The hard work of a lot of people in this community, in partnership with our Department of Human Services, has produced proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance and County Code that, if adopted next month by this Board, will improve child care options in Arlington for all our families,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “As a father, I know how stressful the hunt for high-quality, affordable child care can be. I am so proud of the creative, can-do approach of all those who participated in the Child Care Initiative. Arlington families, for years to come, will thank you for your efforts.”
This Saturday, the County Board is set to vote on long-awaited zoning changes “to eliminate perceived and actual barriers to child care” in Arlington.
The bundle of zoning ordinance amendments the Board is poised to approve aim to add more childcare centers to the county and ultimately make the service more affordable. It’s the latest component of a discussion that’s lasted years on how the county can help parents struggling to afford rising childcare costs.
One of the zoning amendments up for a vote Saturday would end the requirement that small family daycare homes need to apply for extensive county approval if they cared for up to nine children. Family day care centers with nine or fewer children could thus be approved “by right,” whereas now the cap is five kids.
The maximum number of children these smaller facilities could care for would also be lifted to 12 from nine, but the new “by right” exception would only apply to facilities caring for nine or fewer kids.
Another amendment would reduce parking requirements in light of findings that indicated current lot requirements were too costly for new businesses and that many staff and parents travelled by public transportation. The amendment would change the requirement from one parking space per daycare employee to one space per eight children cared for by the center.
A proposed amendment also noted that, “based on community input and feedback, Arlington’s child care providers perceive the existing development review process as a significant barrier.” Now officials are proposing to reduce the permit reviews from three to two reviews in order to “streamline” the process and “provide more certainty to child care providers.”
The vote has been delayed several times: Board members originally aimed to pass the changes before the end of 2018. In the summer, members approved a “Childcare Action Plan” to grant parents daycare subsidies.
The zoning changes have been in the works for months, and were approved by the Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee in January. If the Board passes the bills, the zoning changes will go into effect July 1.
“We’ve come a far way, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Board member Libby Garvey at the time.
Childcare services in Arlington are among the country’s most expensive, costing an average of $21,000 a year per child, according to estimates from the Economic Policy Institute.
But Board Chair Christian Dorsey noted in July that multiple kids means Arlington’s families pay an average of $42,705 per year for daycare — $2,000 higher than D.C. and a number that left Dorsey “gobsmacked.”
“I can’t imagine our rents are higher than they are in D.C.,” he said. “The District has just as much supply-demand pressure, yet we’re more expensive… I’m not interested in Arlington exceptionalism when it comes to this.”
In addition to voting on the childcare zoning bills, the Board is also scheduled to discuss a proposal to increase legal aid funding for the county’s undocumented residents and a controversial subsidy package for Amazon.
Virginia Hospital Center executives celebrated when they finally earned permission to expand the hospital’s North Arlington campus and execute a long-planned land swap with the county — but one of the consequences of the deal has some employees and parents feeling blindsided.
VHC is gearing up to send Arlington its property at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road in Glencarlyn, in exchange for gaining control over a piece of land at 1800 N. Edison Street. The latter property is adjacent to its existing facilities along N. George Mason Drive, and will be a key part of the hospital’s hotly debated expansion plans.
Of course, that’s going to prompt some big changes at the Carlin Springs Road site as the county takes over. Among them is the impending closure of a childcare center that the hospital operated on the property in tandem with Bright Horizons, serving VHC employees and local parents alike.
The daycare facility is now set to close on July 26, according to letters from both VHC and Bright Horizons provided to ARLnow. Though that deadline may be a full four months away, parents with kids at the daycare say they’re now scrambling to find alternative options.
The county is currently facing a childcare crunch, with local leaders currently weighing strategies to bring down the cost of daycare options in Arlington, and VHC parents say those conditions have only exacerbated the shock they felt about the childcare center’s closing.
“I was feeling reassured that finally Arlington realized that there’s more demand than supply when it comes to childcare, and now this happens,” said one parent, who declined to be identified. “It’s ironic that in Arlington, where there’s supposed to be some attention to how challenging it is to find childcare centers, instead of opening a new place we’re closing one of the big ones down and forcing families and employees to figure things out on their own.”
A spokesperson for the hospital would only confirm that the center is closing sometime this year, saying that “the details of the closing are still being worked out,” but otherwise would not comment on the situation.
Mike Malone, VHC’s vice president for administrative services and chief human resources officer, wrote in a letter to parents that it was his “great disappointment” to have to close the center. He said “the county will be repurposing the land on the Carlin Springs campus and demolishing the building,” prompting the closure — VHC leaders previously told ARLnow that the land swap would be finalized by May or June at the latest.
Malone added that Bright Horizons is “committed to helping every current family find care in another Bright Horizons center or [helping] you transition into another center of your choosing.”
In a letter of their own, Bright Horizons executives pointed to the “over two dozen centers spread across the metro area” that the company operates as options for parents. They also noted that they have “resources available to facilitate your child’s transition,” and said they plan to help staff at the center find jobs at other Bright Horizons locations.
Parents at the center told ARLnow that help is appreciated, but they fear it isn’t enough to manage the transition.
Parents looking to enroll their kids in the program, which provides low-cost before and after school care for students, will now be able to submit applications from April 1-May 15 each year.
If schools have enough room, anyone who applied before the May 15 deadline will earn a spot in the daycare service. At schools that receive more applications than they have “Extended Day” slots available, however, applicants will be entered into a “random, double blind lottery” to sort out who earns a spot in the program.
That represents a distinct change from the school system’s old process, which opened up registration on an online portal at a set time (often late at night), and only accepted applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.
That prompted parents to race to register all at once, resulting in a series of system crashes the last few years. Just last year, frustrated parents raced to the school system’s offices in an attempt to register in person, as the technical glitches persisted.
“We understand that the stress of being online early to register was a major imposition for many families and often led to system ‘crashes’ because so many people tried to access the system at the same time,” APS staff wrote in an online announcement explaining the “Extended Day” changes. “This new process will allow everyone to register anytime within the six-week period and all will now have the same opportunity for enrollment.”
School officials wrote that the program saw a substantial increase in enrollment over the last decade — growing from “about 2,600 to over 4,300” students — which they believe contributed to some of the school system’s technical glitches.
APS staff hope this new process means that “all families will have the same opportunity to register, regardless of the time registration opens, access to computers, work schedules and other extenuating factors.”
Officials stressed that no decisions about “Extended Day” enrollment will be made until after May 15 under this new system, and any child who misses out on a spot in a lottery process will be placed on a waitlist. The school system noted that nine elementary schools (Abingdon, Arlington Science Focus, Ashlawn, Claremont, Glebe, Henry, Key, McKinley and Tuckahoe) have reached capacity for the program in the past, making them likely spots for lotteries.
School officials also urge any parents applying for an option school to wait until those results are released on May 1 before applying for “Extended Day” inclusion.
The new process has already irked at least one parent, who told ARLnow that they’re concerned that the school system has created “an entirely new registration process, without a public discussion.”
“If you are going to run a true lottery process, as they seem intent on doing, they need to conclude it much earlier than May 15, so families have an opportunity to make other arrangements if they don’t get lucky,” the parent wrote in an email, declining to give their name.
The school system’s “Extended Day” webpage says that APS plans to post additional information on the new registration process on Monday (March 4).
Arlington officials could soon advance zoning changes designed to make it easier for more childcare providers to open up shop in the county, as part of a lengthy push to increase access to daycare options for local parents.
County leaders have batted around a variety of potential changes for months now, but they finally seem ready to pass a suite of zoning tweaks impacting both large childcare centers and smaller “family daycare” homes. The proposals will go before the Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee for the first time tonight (Wednesday), and could make their way to the County Board sometime later this spring.
The Board previously approved a “Childcare Action Plan” last summer laying out some potential changes, including a new subsidy to help families afford daycare services. But it has long planned these additional zoning changes to encourage more childcare providers to move to Arlington, initially hoping to vote on them before the end of 2018 and address what officials see as the exorbitant cost of childcare in the county.
Despite the delay, officials now seem ready to advance the proposals, particularly after soliciting feedback from the community via online surveys and public gatherings in recent months. In all, the main potential zoning changes include:
- Cutting back on parking requirements for new daycare facilities
- Expanding the maximum number of children allowed in family daycare homes from nine to 12
- Allowing small family daycare homes to educate nine children “by right,” without extensive county approval
- Reducing the frequency of county permit reviews for daycare facilities
The parking changes may well prove to be the most impactful alterations that the county is considering, as many childcare providers say Arlington’s current standards make it a bit difficult for them to open new locations along the county’s Metro corridors.
Currently, the county requires that large childcare centers offer one parking space for each employee.
But staff subsequently discovered that many childcare employees aren’t driving to work — a December study by the county found that roughly 40 percent of parking spaces for childcare centers currently go unused, and a survey of local employees found that 36 percent commuted by using public transit, biking, carpooling or walking.
Accordingly, county staff are proposing requiring one parking space for every eight children attending a center, which should cut back on the number of parking spaces each one needs. The average daycare center in the county currently requires about 40 spaces using the employee-based ratio; the new proposal would cut that number back to about 25 spaces per location.
That would put Arlington more on par with parking requirements in Fairfax and Prince William counties, where daycares generally have 32 spaces and 24 spaces, respectively.
Staff are also suggesting that the Board allow additional parking reductions for centers hoping to locate near Metro and bus stations, letting companies apply for less parking as part of the process of earning a use permit from the county. For comparison, Alexandria lets childcare centers have as few as three spaces if they have access to transit options, while D.C. only requires five spaces for all centers.
The transit advocates over at Greater Greater Washington are especially enthusiastic about that section of the plan. The group’s development director, Pentagon City resident Jane Fiegen Green, praised the county for examining parking requirements in a recent blog post, and urged readers of the site to back changes to such “outdated” standards.
While the parking changes would largely impact centers educating dozens of children, many of the other proposed changes are aimed at loosening standards for smaller family daycare homes.
By bumping up the maximum number of children allowed in each facility to 12, the county would come into alignment with the standard outlined in state law. Arlington and Alexandria are currently the only localities in the D.C. area with a cap of nine children, staff wrote in a report for the zoning committee.
“Expanding the maximum number of children will increase Arlington’s potential child care supply, align with the maximum set by the state, provide potential additional revenue for providers and additional child care jobs in homes that are able to increase their capacity, increase opportunities for children to play together and help address the county’s lengthy child care wait lists,” staff wrote.
The recommendations also call for easing permitting requirements on small providers, as many are “intimidated” by the complex process of earning the county’s permission to set up childcare facilities. Staff found that centers with nine children or fewer regularly operate “without significant disruption to their surrounding neighborhoods,” so it would make sense to allow them to open up “by right” without extensive permits.
The proposed changes also include allowing small daycare homes with up to nine children in more dense sections of the county zoned for apartments, which could “expand the number of units eligible to operate a family day care home by approximately 3,220 units in Arlington County.”
So long as the zoning committee signs off on these zoning alterations, the County Board could order public hearings on the matter at its Feb. 23 meeting. The Planning Commission could then take them up on March 4, setting up a final Board vote on March 19.
Arlington officials have given the green light for a new childcare center to set up shop in Ballston, in a debate that forced the County Board to weigh its years-long effort to expand access to childcare in the county against the vocal opposition of neighbors to the project.
The Board voted unanimously last night (Tuesday) to award the Bright Horizons Children’s Center with the permits it needs to open a new location on the first and second floors of a building at 4001 Fairfax Drive.
The new center will have room for about 145 kids in all, and include a 4,700-square-foot playground in the small courtyard between the building and an adjacent set of condos at 1001 N. Randolph Street.
The playground, in particular, worried neighbors. Matt Nyce, a board member at the nearby EastView Condos, told ARLnow via email that the location was a “totally inappropriate” place for a playground, given its proximity to two exhaust fans and how close it would be located to homes on the first floors of the two buildings.
But Board members were convinced that some of those concerns were a bit overblown — as Erik Gutshall put it, the Board judged the childcare center unlikely to be “an overwhelming detriment” to quality of life in the area, or to property values.
Officials would acknowledge that the playground would be a bit of a tight fit in the courtyard, and that it would occupy some of Ballston’s very limited open space. But, as the Board weighs a comprehensive overhaul of its zoning regulations governing childcare centers, members also said that they were willing to allow designs that may not be absolutely perfect if it means expanding options for Arlington parents.
“This is not a willy nilly one-off, but consistent with a direction the county seeks to go,” Gutshall said. “This is an evolution as we rethink what is acceptable for our ground floor uses.”
The Board did not make the decision lightly, however. Board member Katie Cristol, a lead backer of the county’s childcare overhaul, said she even considered pushing for a deferral of any decision on the matter, particularly after the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association decided to oppose the project.
Collier Cook, the group’s president, told the Board that he worried that dropping a playground on the site would rob the nearby residents of some crucial open space.
And, as an EastView resident himself, Cook said he understood the concerns of his neighbors. One, Andres Delgado, told the Board that the prospect of additional noise was particularly concerning for people who live in the building and work from home.
“We have neighbors who live on the first floor and it goes right into their living room,” Delgado said. “Noise is a big concern for them.”
Similarly, he said neighbors are worried about smoke from the nearby parking garage impacting the kids’ health.
But Zach Williams, an attorney representing Bright Horizons, said the company made every effort possible to address those playground concerns. The childcare center plans to pay for a timer to ensure the exhaust fans aren’t operating while children are outside, and Williams said they even agreed to shrink the playground by 200 square feet to give residents some more breathing room.
Yet, with the county’s ordinances requiring that the center add 75-square-feet of playground space for each child outside at any given time, Williams said Bright Horizons can’t do much more to address those issues.
“We don’t have a lot of flexibility, but we’ve tried to do as much as we can,” Williams said.
Board members commended those efforts and made another point for neighbors worried about noise — considering the way the area is zoned, a new bar or nightclub could easily move into the space instead and set up outdoor seating, which could prompt even more substantial noise concerns than the childcare center.
“It would be completely irresponsible for us, I believe, to suggest we can prevent change from happening,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey. “The other ways in which this property could change could be all manner of degrees more intense.”
With this approval in hand, Williams said the center plans to open by January 2020. Bright Horizons is also on the cusp of opening another childcare center in Courthouse, which also faced its fair share of pushback from neighbors last year.