Update at 9:40 a.m. — The Saturday County Board meeting is underway and 248 people are signed up to speak about Missing Middle. The Board expects to hear speakers today and during its Tuesday meeting before deliberating and potentially voting on Wednesday, according to County Board Chair Christian Dorsey. The Wednesday meeting will start at 4 p.m.
Earlier: The Arlington County Board is set to vote Saturday on zoning changes intended to add housing by allowing greater density in single-family neighborhoods.
The vote is the culmination of nearly a decade of discussion by elected officials that picked up steam after Amazon agreed to come to Arlington.
Since then, the county has taken incremental steps toward increasing housing. First, it allowed accessory dwelling units. Then, in fall 2020, it kicked off the “Missing Middle” housing study.
After more than two years of grassroots advocacy, politicking and vigorous debate — some of it caustic, introspective and divisive — County Board members have a final vote on their weekend agenda. There are no indications, at least as of today, that the discussion will get moved to the Board’s traditional carryover meeting next Tuesday.
The rezoning plan known as Missing Middle has been rebranded and modified in response to some community concerns such as parking, tree canopy, and the pace of development. The county intends it to address the racial, socio-economic and environmental impacts of previous exclusionary housing practices, in addition to allowing more of the moderate density housing currently limited by zoning codes.
Ahead of the vote, a trio of current and former Planning Commissioners, including two architects, published a guidebook with 12 “fixes” they say will help the county meet its goals more effectively. They say the goals of the current proposal are understandable and laudable but they predict numerous problems once the plan is in place.
“We felt that it was important to… not just criticize what the county has, but study what other communities have done and put on the table proposals that address some of what we see as planners and architects as shortfalls in the county plan,” said architect and former commissioner Brian Harner in a meeting of the Arlington County Civic Federation housing committee Thursday night.
The “fixes” range from placing more limitations on height, lot coverage and density to allowing more accessory dwelling units — effectively creating cottage clusters — and building in tools to incentivize affordability and reuse of existing homes, rather than teardowns.
These may come too late, given the vote is set for tomorrow, but Harner chalks this up to the public engagement process once the county had a draft in October 2022.
“The process was teed up in such a way that there was no chance for adequate public discussion,” Harner tells ARLnow.
For instance, the Planning Commission had just over one week to read the document and prepare for three meetings in rapid succession around the Thanksgiving holiday.
“In response, we created the guidebook, hoping to chart a course to a more well-considered EHO,” he continued, using the abbreviation for “Expanded Housing Options,” another term used by the county for Missing Middle. “The Board should pause and improve its proposal before adoption, but if not, we hope our work provides a set of tools to help Arlington get to a better EHO through the follow-on work that will be essential for overall success.”
Specifically, they say the proposal allows buildings that are too tall, too big and too dense, while falling short on affordability, equity, environmental preservation and neighborhood character. The Missing Middle proposal limits multifamily structures on lots to what is currently allowed for single-family detached homes, which the guidebook authors suggested is too big.
“We don’t see it as a zero-sum game where density fights against other qualitative aspects,” Harner said in the CivFed meeting. “We think we can have them both.”
A record-high office vacancy rate plus burdensome taxes and permit processes are just some hurdles for local businesses that Arlington County Board hopefuls are pledging to tackle.
During a debate hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce last night (Wednesday), incumbent Matt de Ferranti (D) and his two independent opponents, Audrey Clement and Adam Theo, explained to a 30-person audience how they would extend a helping hand toward area businesses.
Clement emphasized office-to-residential conversions as a way of reducing the office vacancy rate, which reached 20.8% in the last quarter, and “deal with our housing crisis at the same time.”
“Office-to-residential conversion is a smart approach that both Alexandria and the District of Columbia are implementing,” she said. “There are many reasons this is a sensible strategy, and Arlington’s Missing Middle is not.”
Office buildings are readily available, have more parking than most new apartment buildings and are close to Metro, she said.
“I don’t believe honestly there’s disagreement that we should do office to residential. It’s how we do it,” de Ferranti said. “We are already working on that, but we need to move more quickly.”
Seeing as empty offices are spread throughout buildings, Theo said “conversions are not a silver bullet” and suggested filling these vacancies with schools.
“That is something that’s much easier to renovate for than residential and it helps to tackle our school overcrowding that we’ll be facing over the next decade or two,” and makes more opportunities available to young families in urban areas, he said.
Currently, the county is exploring more flexible zoning in offices to allow for “light industrial” uses such as delivery staging areas, urban farms, breweries and small warehouses.
All three, meanwhile, say they would change how businesses are taxed.
“I am concerned about excessive taxation, particularly real estate taxes, but if you can start with shaving off some of those business taxes, that would be just fine with me,” Clement said.
Theo called for removing the business tangible tax, a tax levied on property used in business that requires maintaining records of nearly every item of value that a business owns.
Business tangible tax assessments are expected to increase by 16% this fiscal year, according to the 2022-23 budget. But Theo said the $40 million it netted last year is not worth squeezing support businesses with thin margins.
“The county sneezes and it spends $40 million,” he quipped.
De Ferranti advocated for increasing the threshold for Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax, which comprises about 5% of the county’s revenue for this fiscal year, and has been steadily rising over the last decade.
Under the tax — which has long had critics both on the right and the left — businesses with revenue of less than $10,000 owe nothing, while those grossing up to $50,000 pay $30 and those grossing up to $100,000 pay $50. Beyond that, most businesses pay $0.36 per $100 in gross receipts, regardless of whether the business is profitable or not. Some businesses, like stores and restaurants, pay a lower rate while others, like printed newspapers, are exempt.
De Ferranti, however, balked at other tax cut suggestions.
“But broad statements like, ‘We should cut’ — first, our real estate tax rate is the lowest in the region,” de Ferranti said. “Our property values are so high, so that’s why our total bills are higher than some other localities. We have to keep investing when there’s a challenge in our economy.”
For voters, evaluating Arlington County Board candidate views of Missing Middle will look a lot like Goldilocks sampling porridge.
Three familiar names are vying for a seat on the County Board: incumbent Matt de Ferranti and his independent challengers Audrey Clement and Adam Theo, who have both ran for a seat on the Board before — Clement numerous times before.
Now, potential Missing Middle zoning changes are becoming a key battleground for the candidates, as both community support and opposition intensifies. The two-year study is entering a final phase of community discussion before it is slated to go to the Planning Commission and County Board for consideration as early as this year.
County Board, School Board and congressional candidates fielded multiple questions from members of the Arlington County Civic Federation last night (Tuesday) during its annual candidates forum. The Civic Federation previously took up the issue of Missing Middle, passing a resolution saying residents need more negotiating power during upzoning and land-use proposal proceedings.
During Tuesday night’s questioning at the Hazel Auditorium in Virginia Hospital Center, Theo said he is “a huge fan” of Missing Middle because “it’s about not squeezing the middle class anymore, of allowing opportunities, options and housing types.”
Clement reiterated her equally entrenched opposition to it as “a scheme to rezone Arlington’s residential neighborhoods for much higher density multi-family dwellings,” which will keep housing types out of reach for anyone not making six figures.
De Ferranti, meanwhile, says he supports the construction of low-density units up to a point.
“Your input has led me to oppose eight plexes as not being worth the cost,” he added. “Your input has led me to tier the ideas so that the smallest lots would have duplexes and as you get to the largest plots, more density would be allowed.”
None, however, pronounced the county’s community engagement efforts as “just right.”
The Goldilocks principle reappeared when candidates discussed whether to do away with first-past-the-post voting for their seats and replace it with ranked-choice voting (RCV) for County Board elections.
Under this system, which has support from some current Board members and which the county has tested out, voters rank candidates by preference and a winner is selected over the course of many elimination rounds.
Clement, an independent, said it would increase competition in otherwise predictable election cycles. Theo agreed.
“Ranked-choice voting has potential, and I want it now in Arlington County,” he said.
Both independents support the change for general elections, while de Ferranti said he is supportive of it for primaries and more cautious about using it for the general election.
“It’s something I’m supportive of,” de Ferranti said. “There are fair critiques with respect to the simplicity and timeliness — as we just saw in Alaska — of the results.”
The County Board may consider ranked-choice voting before January, de Ferranti said.
While expressing support for ranked-choice voting, Clement claimed it would not work in Arlington because of media bias.
“Unfortunately, ranked-choice voting only works in competitive elections, where the media are unbiased and endorse candidates on their merits. That is not how media operate in Arlington,” Clement said. “A continual stream of press releases by and features about those who promote the status quo are published as news, together with biased editorials, all but guaranteeing the defeat of their challengers.”
(ARLnow no longer publishes opinion columns and has never endorsed candidates for office, though the Sun Gazette routinely publishes editorials and letters to the editor.)
Like their County Board counterparts, School Board candidates Bethany Sutton and Vell Rives said they would work to improve community engagement.
“A change I might make is to make sure we have multiple ways for people to engage and we are deliberately transparent as to how all that engagement has factored into the board’s decision making,” said Sutton, who received the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee after another candidate, Brandon Clark, withdrew from the caucus and then the election entirely.
Rives, meanwhile, said the School Board needs to vote on all “massive decisions,” such as extended school closures or starting a new school.
Sutton and Rives both said a chief concern is addressing student mental health. Both said APS can tighten security at school entrances, while Rives supports reinstating School Resource Officers and Sutton called for clear, consistent emergency communications.
The School Board removed school-based police officers last summer, citing racial disparities in juvenile arrests in Arlington. Following the decision, the Arlington County Police Department said it would be a challenge to staff the program again.
The two School Board candidates both support the construction of a new Arlington Career Center, but criticized how the project was discussed and the strain it could put on future budgets.
‘Innovation Studio’ Planned at HQ2 — “Amazon Web Services will open a new AWS Innovation Studio to collaborate on global solutions that leverage its cloud computing technologies to address issues such as housing insecurity, social justice, climate change, sustainability and health and education inequality. A first for AWS, the studio will launch at Amazon’s new HQ2 headquarters under construction in Arlington, Va.” [CRN]
First Responders Honor Fallen Marine — “ACPD and @ArlingtonVaFD paid our respects to USMC Sgt. Nicole Gee, who was tragically killed in action in Kabul, as her procession traveled through Arlington this evening. May we never forget her service and sacrifice.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Power Outage Near Rosslyn — “About 450 homes and businesses are without power in the Rosslyn area this morning. Initial reports suggest that residents heard a loud boom and firefighters subsequently found a very unlucky squirrel.” [Twitter]
Beyer Blasts GOP for Debt Limit Drama — “By filibustering legislation that would prevent a default, they are gambling with the full faith and credit of the United States. This is poor economic stewardship. The responsible course of action is to increase the debt ceiling to prevent a catastrophic default.” [Press Release]
APS Preparing for Collective Bargaining — “The push to give Arlington Public Schools’ staff collective-bargaining rights is expected to move another step forward in coming weeks. School Board members on Sept. 30 will review a draft list of budget priorities for next year to be handed to Superintendent Francisco Durán. Among the directives in the staff proposal: create a timeline for implementation of collective-bargaining, which until recently was banned for public-sector workers in local governments across Virginia.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s National Recovery Month — “September is celebrated as National Recovery Month with the purpose of educating communities about recovery from mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders; the effectiveness of treatment and recovery support services; and that recovery is possible. Arlington proudly stands alongside our recovery community.” [Arlington County]
Virginia Gubernatorial Debate — “Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe outlined sharply different pictures of Virginia and visions for its future Tuesday in the second and final debate of this year’s race for governor. Youngkin, a former business executive, described a state racked with crime and struggling under a dying economy, then pledged to fix it by slashing taxes and beefing up law enforcement. McAuliffe took credit for creating a booming economy when he served as governor from 2014 to 2018.” [Washington Post]
Tuesday Morning’s Big Boom — “A big boom was reported across a wide swath of Fairfax County from Reston and Herndon to McLean around 10:40 a.m. on Tuesday, leaving many residents confused regarding the possible source. The sound was likely caused by loud thunder that accompanied a storm that was crossing the area at the time.” [FFXnow]
Ranked-choice voting is supported by all four candidates for County Board, according to their comments at an Arlington Committee of 100 candidate forum held last night (Wednesday).
The event was the first candidate forum of the fall general election season.
Support is strong among the three independent candidates — Audrey Clement, Mike Cantwell and Adam Theo — who want to unseat Democrat incumbent Takis Karantonis. He won a special election in 2020 and his seat is now up for a full four-year term. Theo, a Libertarian, is the most recent addition to the ballot after officially launching his campaign this week.
While all four support ranked choice voting, the reform would not be ready for the upcoming Nov. 2 election, as the county is still hammering out the logistics of the system. Dismayed at the pace of implementation, the independents said the reform would reveal public support for candidates like them and add political diversity to the County Board.
“I’ve spent a lot of my free time promoting ranked choice voting in Virginia,” said Cantwell, who became the vice president of Fair Vote Virginia, which advocates for ranked choice voting in Virginia, in 2019. “I went to Richmond in February 2020 and lobbied to bring it to Virginia. At that time, to the surprise of many, the legislature passed bills 506 and 1103, which allowed it in [Arlington] and the rest of Virginia. Since that time, [the county has] taken very little action to implement that new law.”
Theo also criticized the lack of movement on implementing the new voting system and educating voters about it.
“It would’ve been awesome to have the logo-picking determined by ranked choice voting,” he said. “That would’ve been a great way to educate the public. Here we are, waiting for the county to proceed and provide results. I have a lot of skepticism for the County Board’s real willingness to push forward real reform. It puts their own positions, jobs, in jeopardy.”
Karantonis said he is on the record supporting ranked-choice voting and voted to fund an initiative to test it out.
“I put money where my mouth is,” he said. “I think this is a great improvement in democracy.”
During the forum the four candidates articulated their positions housing and on Arlington County’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Both Karantonis and Theo said “affordable housing” is the biggest issue facing Arlington.
“I’ve been a housing advocate from day one,” Karantonis said. “The first thing my wife and I experienced [when moving here] was not being able to find housing, not having choices… Arlington is a community that looks back to a solid record of planning carefully for housing, of matching development with assets like transportation, schools and natural resources. We need to bundle these to support the creation of new housing choices because displacement is a real thing.”
“[Housing affordability] poses the problem of pricing out the elderly, low-income, immigrant and disabled people who are clinging on as it is already,” he said. “The number of housing units built in this county is horrifyingly low.”
But he took a jab at the County Board for talking about affordable housing and posing for photos at new developments, while not doing more to prioritize affordability. He spoke favorably of the Missing Middle Housing Study, a county-led effort to see if single-family home areas should be rezoned for more types of moderate-density homes, as a means to increase housing options for the middle-class.
Cantwell said he worries about affordability both in terms of housing and taxes.
“I think the biggest problem facing Arlington is runaway spending and taxes and lack of accountability in county government, [which] stems from lack of political competition,” Cantwell said. “I’m for affordable housing, but I question the outcomes of $300 million spent on a government-run affordable housing program… I think most Arlingtonians are interested in finding a market rate affordable housing place to live in, but not that many are interested in being part of government run program, where they have to submit tax returns, W-2s [and other] bureaucracy.”
Clement said the Missing Middle Study will create more housing, but nothing truly affordable, predicting people will continue to get priced out of their neighborhoods. She added that it won’t promote racial equity, citing a study from New York University that found between 2000-2007, upzoning in New York City “produced an influx of whites in gentrified areas, even as white population plummeted.”
“A far better solution is to repurpose unrented luxury units in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor to moderate income housing,” she said.
(Another NYU study found little link between neighborhood gentrification and displacement of low-income residents, at least in New York City.)
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Arlington’s four candidates for the County Board agree that Arlington County should take more steps to support small businesses.
The County Board hopefuls articulated their plans for supporting the business community and encouraging economic development during an Arlington Chamber of Commerce candidate forum last night (Tuesday).
Candidates suggested providing grants, cutting certain taxes and fees, expanding online permit applications, and improving both the county’s regulatory processes and how county staff help businesses navigate them.
The debate was moderated by Alex Koma of the Washington Business Journal, a former ARLnow reporter. Koma also asked candidates about office space vacancies, housing and development.
Citing his “Freedom and Justice Plan,” Democratic challenger Chanda Choun said he would encourage public-private partnerships that fund grants for startups and minority-owned businesses, which often struggle to get loans. He would also eliminate the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax, which is calculated based on the gross receipts of a business.
“If you’re a small mom and pop, and you generate revenue — not even profit — of $10,000 or more, you have to start paying business license fees,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
Independent candidate and Yorktown Civic Association President Mike Cantwell said the county should eliminate the business tangible tax — which taxes the assessed value of business furniture, machinery, tools and computer equipment — and instead tax specific things like automated checkout machines.
“The business tangible tax takes in approximately 4% of revenue for the entire budget and it is a highly inefficient tax and an administrative burden on small businesses,” he said, adding that “we have a role to play to make sure machines don’t replace humans.”
Perennial independent candidate Audrey Clement supported expanding the Permit Arlington portal, which took some permits process online in 2019 (a dozen others are already slated to go digital through 2022). She said the county needs to keep up its vaccine distribution efforts and review the real estate assessment process.
Democratic incumbent Takis Karantonis called for small business grants; better customer service for people navigating county, state and federal regulations; and — for big businesses — a review of county processes to see if they are efficient.
“We need to create something that will sustain [the smallest, women-owned and Black- and Brown-owned businesses] in the long term,” Karantonis said, adding that continuing a pandemic-era business loan program “would be a signal that we welcome them and are committed to restoring neighborhood retail and retail diversity.”
The candidates for School Board this November are weighing on how they might approach the prospect of additional cuts to the Arlington Public Schools budget next year.
The pandemic forced Arlington Public Schools to slash millions from its budget this year, and additional budget pressures may be ahead. The candidates — independent candidate Symone Walker, and Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy, who received the Democratic endorsement — were asked about that during an online forum this past Tuesday (Sept. 8), hosted by the Arlington County Civic Federation.
Walker said she thinks “we need to ask for more money from the county.”
“What we absolutely cannot do is cut funding for curriculum and instruction,” said Walker. “That cannot be sacrificed on any circumstances or any programs that require equity. We have to look at how we’re wasting funds and how we streamline and save on funds. One way we could have done that is to replace iPads with cheaper Chromebooks.”
Diaz-Torres said the community should have more of a say on best choice of action.
“I think this is a really important place where collaboration is absolutely critical: work best with the community to identify where we can make cuts,” Diaz-Torres said. “But also, collaborating at different levels of government. The reality is that the only way that we’re going to get out of that 20-25% budget deficit is with a significant investment from the federal government.”
Priddy said budget cuts will not be easy and will require a deft hand.
“Your budget is comprised of: 80% is your operations and salaries, 10% is debt service, and that leaves your middle 10% where that’s what we have to look at and historically,” he said. “Arlington has looked at how do you cut programs instead of cutting personnel and I think we’re going to have it the same way.”
“This is where my professional background comes in,” Priddy continued. “I’ve had many decisions on what to cut and what’s in the best interest of the business and this way it’ll be the community and being from Arlington and knowing the policies of Arlington, I know that I’m the right person to make those decisions.”
Another topic of conversation was whether APS should try to use parkland to build new schools. The candidates largely said it was an option that should be considered, but stopped short of saying it should actually be pursued.
The candidates, who also spoke before an online meeting of the Arlington Committee of 100 this week, discussed why they were running for what’s usually a fairly thankless job. There are two open seats on the School Board this fall, after incumbents Nancy Van Dorn and Tannia Talento decided not to seek new terms.
Diaz-Torres emphasized that she’s a “former teacher and education policy specialist” who wants to “create an education system where all students have the ability to succeed no matter their race, income, or socioeconomic status.”
Priddy introduced himself as a “parent of two sons in Arlington Public Schools, business leader, and lifelong Arlingtonian, running for one of two open seats on the Arlington County school board because I know that with proper planning, we can build back in more equitable and transparent APS.”
Walker said she is an “APS parent and education activist, serving in the school community for the past decade, and as recently as co-chair of the NAACP.”
Walker added that she’s “running for School Board to be an instrument of change because a lot needs to change.”
“The opportunity gap has not closed in decades, the reading curriculum is leaving students farther behind, struggling students are graduating semi-literate, our Black and Latino students are performing far below their white and Asian counterparts,” she said.
The election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Three candidates running to replace the late Erik Gutshall on the County Board met over Zoom for a debate hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100.
The special election candidates — Takis Karantonis (D), Bob Cambridge (R) and Susan Cunningham (I) — all called for a focus on equity and discussed ways to navigate a tighter county budget.
Karantonis, who serves as vice-chair of the Alliance for Housing Solutions and is former executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, laid out a several-pronged approach to how to focus the budget as the county works to manage a more limited revenue stream.
“COVID is an unexpected stress on our budget,” Karantonis said. “Citizens expect to have a government that reacts to such unexpected impacts. Right now, don’t know how deep or broad COVID economic impact will be. The focus [should be] social safety net expenditures as our first priority. Five-thousand families are on food assistance and the region has lost 300,000 jobs.”
Karantonis said in reviewing capital investments, the County Board should prioritize those that leverage external funding, like state and federal grants. Other priorities, he said, include micro-loans to help small businesses get back on their feet and trying to rescue Metro and the Arlington Transit bus service, which have seen substantial ridership losses during the pandemic.
“Then [we can] come out of this with a better base to decide how we will structure the county later,” Takis said. “I’m an economist, I’m trained to do this, and I’ve done it in the private sector and non-profit sector. The best focus is on economic development to rebound.”
Cambridge, an Army veteran and former CIA employee who works as a lawyer in Arlington, said his campaign is built on the idea that different political ideologies have good ideas that can contribute to each other. Cambridge said his approach to recovery would be built on incorporating more flexibility into the budget to address these sorts of crises.
“The budget is highly strained right now,” Cambridge said. “We have got to be flexible and respond as our understanding of challenges become more and more obvious. We do have a lot of city services we need. That is the sinews we all need. We really need to do things in a different way.”
Cunningham, who worked at the Internal Revenue Service and founded the nonprofit EdBuild, said the county should do more to improve how projects are financed.
“There are a lot of opportunities in our budget for improving our spending,” Cunningham said. “Not eliminating, but improving implementation. Our projects take too long, our community engagement takes too long, we don’t look back and do audits of capital programs. There’s a lot of room to improve and be more accountable.”
Cunningham said the budget should prioritize updating the outdated infrastructure, particularly Arlington’s stormwater and flood mitigation systems.
Cunningham and Cambridge both argued for a data-driven approach to solving issues of inequality on Arlington.
“Data and facts should guide us,” Cunningham said. “Our data elements tell us the story of suspensions that begin in kindergarten for black and brown children at much higher rates, and of COVID outcomes right now with over 50% of cases in the Hispanic community. The numbers tell us where we’re doing okay and where we’re not. We should use that to guide our efforts and evaluate the implementation of changes.”
Karantonis argued addressing inequality in Arlington has to go deeper than data and statistics, though, and must look at how different communities in Arlington are prioritized or ignored in county discussions. He pointed to a situation where he said the civic association of a historically Black neighborhood was overlooked in county discussions.
“We have to be active about doing this… including restorative justice efforts and looking at the educational system, making sure people have access to resources,” Takis said. “The numbers are great, but what matters is how people feel.”
Also during the debate, the candidates discussed transit on Columbia Pike. None — including Karantonis, a booster of the Pike streetcar plan while at CPRO — expressed an interest in reviving the cancelled streetcar project, though the candidates “did press for increased attention to mass-transit along the Columbia Pike corridor, and leveled criticism at the county government for not acting fast enough or going far enough in meeting the transit needs of residents there,” the Sun Gazette reported.
The special election is scheduled to be held on July 7.
Image via Arlington Committee of 100
More Arlingtonians Getting Out of the House — “The District and its suburbs all saw an increase in travel and a 1 percent to 5 percent drop in people staying home by April 17. The biggest drop occurred in Arlington County, where 50 percent of residents stayed home, down from 55 percent the previous Friday.” [Washington Post, @Matt4Arlington/Twitter]
County Launches Homeless Outreach Effort — “Last week, Arlington launched a homeless outreach coalition to help identify unsheltered individuals at high risk for COVID-19 and connect them with available resources and services. The coalition is comprised of stakeholders from the Police Department, Department of Human Services, and Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN).” [Arlington County]
YHS Senior Photos on CBS Evening News — “For America’s nearly four million high school seniors, the end of this school year is not what they imagined would be. But as Chip Reid reports, one photographer is making sure some members of the class of 2020 are not forgotten.” [CBS News]
Dem Primary May Be Called Off — “Chanda Choun, who was slated to face off against incumbent Libby Garvey in the June 23 Democratic County Board primary, anticipates pulling out of that race to seek the Democratic nomination for the July 7 special election to fill the seat left open by the death of Erik Gutshall… if Choun does drop out, the Democratic primary will be nixed.” [InsideNova]
Video: School Board Candidates Forum — “The questions covered a wide range of topics – whether/how much new curriculum should be taught during the COVID-19 crisis; how best to feed families during the pandemic; distance learning access during and after the pandemic; equity initiatives; equality in the classroom; encouraging integrated classrooms; AP and IB classes; community engagement; boundaries; sex education; and the superintendent’s contract.” [Blue Virginia]
School Board Rejects Furlough Day Proposal — “Arlington School Board members on April 23 rejected a budget-cutting proposal from Superintendent Cintia Johnson that would have had every school-system employee take an unpaid ‘furlough’ day in the coming school year. Instead, the school system will use about $3 million in reserve funds to pay staff that day and fund several other initiatives that Johnson had recommended reducing or eliminating.” [InsideNova]
Amazon Donates to Va. Comp Sci Education — ” Amazon will donate $3.9 million to CodeVA through 2022 to support their long-term plan to offer computer science education and training to every high needs school across Virginia – more than 700 schools… The donation will support more than 500,000 students and more than 12,000 teachers.” [BusinessWire]
Arlington County Board incumbents fought to hold their ground against independents over Amazon incentives and housing topics at a debate Monday evening.
At the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum at U.Group in Crystal City (2231 Crystal Drive), Democratic incumbents Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol faced off against independent challengers Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell.
One of the moments of back-and-forth criticism among the candidates came over the redevelopment of a number of market-rate affordable housing complexes in the Westover neighborhood. Clement has frequently criticized the County Board for what she said was the “preventable demolition” of the Westover garden apartments.
The redevelopment was by-right, meaning the developer did not need County Board approval. But Clement said the County Board could have designated the apartments part of a historic district and preserved the homes.
Overall, Clement argued that development drives up costs to build housing and that even dedicated affordable housing units come at a steep cost.
“The average cost of a new [Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] unit is in excess of $400,000,” Clement said. “Most of the units are not affordable. Because the units are not affordable, the income-qualified people who move in, 30 percent of them have to have rent subsidies to pay the nominal amount of rent that they do pay. The taxpayers are hit twice, they have to pay their own rent and their own mortgage and they have to pay someone else’s because the cost of building that unit was astronomical.”
Dorsey fired back that rather than use the historic district designation, the County Board is working to change the regulations to protect affordable communities from redevelopment.
“In the Westover reference that Ms. Clement talked about, while she thinks the Board has done nothing, what we did do was take a courageous stand… and stopped the perverse incentive that led people to take affordable communities and turn them into by-right townhouses,” Dorsey said. “We paused that option and put it into the special exemption process so that we created options to preserve that housing.”
“We’re studying ways that can be better purposed to provide long term, market-based affordable housing,” Dorsey added. So you have to figure out where you’re doing harm and stop doing harm to create new options to preserve affordability both through direct subsidies and through the market.”
O’Dell, meanwhile, said the County should do more to accommodate for “tiny apartments” aimed at people moving to Arlington immediately after college, who may need an affordable place to live but not a lot of space.
“When you talk about housing affordability, you need to have a variety of types of units,” O’Dell said. “We should look at the lower incomes that fall into the 60 percent bracket and give them opportunities to possibly move in and look at places to live.”
Cristol said the County should work to open the door to other types of housing, pointing to the recent legalization of detached accessory dwelling units as an example and noting the large amount of land in Arlington zoned for only single-family housing.
“One of the most important things we can do is legalizing alternative forms,” said Cristol. “There are so many housing forms that could offer folks not only an opportunity to rent but [also to] buy and it’s literally illegal to build them in huge swaths of the county… There’s room for creative ideas, this is an area where we need partnership in the private sector, particularly for those who develop housing.”
The independent challengers for Arlington County Board confronted the two Democratic incumbents on local hot button issues at last night’s Arlington County Civic Federation debate.
Democrats Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey faced off against perennial candidate Audrey Clement and newcomer Arron O’Dell at the Civic Federation’s annual candidate, which serves as the unofficial kickoff of the fall campaign season.
Clement’s main attacks centered around a perception of unchecked increases in development and density, destruction of native vegetation, and a lack of county government transparency. Specifically, Clement claimed the County Board’s decision to move forward with the Rosslyn boathouse project came with little public community input. Clement said the new boathouse will take away from one of the last green places in the Rosslyn area, a forested plot of land near Roosevelt Island.
“How can you have a public process when the County Board unanimously approved [the boathouse],” she said. “It’s not for or against the boathouse, it’s for or against double speak.”
Cristol fired back that the boathouse had been in the works for decades and has been subject to extensive public discussion. At some point, she said, projects need to move forward.
“The idea of the boathouse was the result of a public process a couple of decades ago,” Cristol said. “There needs to be a standard of finality. “
Cristol and Dorsey also defended repeated attacks from Clement, and to a lesser extent O’Dell, that Arlington’s ever-increasing density was fundamentally transforming the County.
“Development is synonymous with housing,” Cristol said. “So do I think there needs to be more housing? Yes, but we have to plan for the infrastructure to support that and plan for the student population [growth]. But I believe we can welcome more neighbors and still maintain our quality of life.”
Cristol argued later that the law of supply and demand applies to Arlington, as it does elsewhere — that adding more housing will keep housing costs lower. Clement disagreed, citing recent studies that showed rental rates were more closely tied with amenities than with the supply of housing.
Dorsey also disagreed with Clement’s characterization of “growth on steriods” in Arlington.
“We’ve seen 1.4 percent growth [per year] on average,” said Dorsey. “That’s moderate. In the ’40s, ’50s and ‘6os we grew far faster. Managing growth is what we do well. The idea of us closing up shop is not something that can happen.”
O’Dell, who said he did not have a strong opinion about the boathouse and some other topics of discussion during the debate, did express strong feelings on Amazon’s arrival into Arlington. The county is leaning too heavily on the tech giant for economic growth, he said, something that could backfire should Amazon’s plans change — much like over reliance on federal tenants led to high office vacancy rates following the implementation of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Act.
“It’s replacing the federal government with another entity,” he said. “We’re creating another potential vacuum. The key to success will be getting small businesses to follow Amazon.”
Clement also criticized the Board for overselling the positive impacts Amazon would bring and offering the company millions in incentives.
Dorsey recognized the concerns about Amazon’s arrival and said he sympathizes with many of them.
“One of the challenges [will be] the impact on housing,” Dorsey said. “It’s also going to require the Board to work in conjunction with Alexandria for inclusive growth for all as we create concrete arrangements with our neighbors.”
Overall, Dorsey said the company’s arrival will help reduce the strain on local taxpayers and open up new opportunities for the Pentagon City-Crystal City area.
Arlington voters will cast their general election ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Residents have until October 15 to register to vote, and can check their registration status online.