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Arlington Shouldn’t Fear a ‘Tsunami’ of New Residents With Amazon’s Arrival, Officials Say

Amazon’s new headquarters will fundamentally transform Arlington in the years to come, but county officials are hoping to reassure residents that the area won’t change in the blink of an eye.

Instead, Arlington leaders are painting the arrival of the tech giant — and the 25,000 workers set to someday occupy its new office space — as a development that will shape the county’s economic landscape over time, rather than overnight. And, they hope, that will give the county time to prepare accordingly.

“This is not going to feel like a tsunami of new people on our streets or kids in our schools,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol said during a question-and-answer session live-streamed on Facebook last night (Tuesday).

Critics of the county’s courtship of Amazon have long feared the impact that thousands of highly paid workers arriving in the region could have on everything from home prices to school overcrowding. But Arlington leaders have often countered that the region is experiencing dramatic growth at the moment, and seems set to see even more in the future, meaning that Amazon’s arrival might not seem especially out of place.

Now that Jeff Bezos and company have made the big decision, targeting Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard for half of its proposed second headquarters, officials remain confident in those predictions. Cristol, for instance, noted Tuesday that the tech company could draw as much as 15 to 20 percent of its new workforce from current county residents.

“They located here because they want access to the tech talent we have here,” Cristol said.

As for the rest of the new Amazon staffers, Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins pointed out that they won’t be arriving on the county’s doorstep next week, or even next month. Under the terms of the company’s proposed deal with the state, Amazon would only hire about 400 workers for the new Arlington campus next year.

That number will ramp up sharply over time, however, leaping to 1,180 new staffers in 2020 and then 1,964 workers the year after. But Hoskins noted that the pace of change would’ve been even more dramatic had Amazon stuck with its original plan to house all 50,000 workers in one city, rather than splitting “HQ2” between Arlington and New York City.

“After February, when the deal is set to be approved [by the Board], you’ll see the first employees arriving,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “Beyond that, I don’t think people will see a lot different in first year… It’ll become more noticeable a few years out.”

For parents nervous about how many kids those new workers will bring with them, Cristol is also optimistic that the school system will be able to handle the influx of students. She expects that the county will only see two to three additional students in each school per year, and that’s only when Amazon fully ramps up hiring in the coming years.

Depending on how the county is calculating that figure, such an increase would work out to anywhere from 70 to 105 new students enrolled in Arlington Public Schools each year, at a time when the school system is already struggling with severe financial pressures to match rising enrollment.

“That’s not nothing,” Cristol said. “But compared to the 500 students per year that APS is already adding, it’s really manageable.”

But Schwartz noted that, under the county’s revenue-sharing agreement with APS, roughly half of the tax revenue that Amazon generates will flow into the school system’s coffers. He estimates a $315 million increase in tax revenue over the life of the county’s deal with Amazon, which beats county projections by about $160 million between now and 2030.

Of course, Schwartz says the county will still feel some pain in the short term. Though Amazon represents a tax windfall for Arlington, he warned that it will take time for the county to feel the benefits — and that means that painful measures like layoffs, service reductions and tax increases remain on the table for the county’s new budget.

“We’ve been through several difficult budget years and we have a couple more to bridge to where we’re going to be,” Schwartz said.

Cristol acknowledged that there are some “difficult short-term conversations” on the way in the county, particularly as Arlington tries to prepare for Amazon’s impact without the tax revenues it needs to fund necessary projects and services.

But she also pledged to be open to having those difficult discussions. Some Amazon skeptics have already called on the Board to hold multiple town halls focused on Amazon alone, and Cristol said officials plan to do so, and more.

“Let us know if you want us to come meet with your civic group,” Cristol said. “We plan to have many conversations in the community about this.”

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Metro Wants to Increase Service Next Year, But Arlington Leaders See Major Legal, Financial Challenges

(Updated Thursday at 3 p.m.) Metro leaders are hoping to increase service during the morning and evening rush hours next year, but they could well face an uphill battle in convincing Arlington officials to help fund the change.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld proposed a budget for the new fiscal year that doesn’t include any fare increases, but does call for rush hour service to extend to 10 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. to better serve commuters. The budget, set to be reviewed for the first time by Metro’s Board of Directors tomorrow (Thursday), also beefs up service on the Yellow and Red lines and expands all trains to a maximum eight cars as part of a broader bid to win back riders for the struggling rail service.

The catch, of course, is that such service increases won’t come without a steep price tag. Even though Metro expects to bring in some new revenue with the added service, Wiedefeld expects that he’ll need an extra $20 million from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to afford those changes.

Virginia relies on individual localities like Arlington to chip in for WMATA each year, and that means Wiedefeld’s proposed changes would increase the county’s annual funding obligation to Metro from $75 million each year to $83 million. That works out to a 9.8 percent increase, a number that is giving Arlington officials some real pause.

“It’s not that it’s a bad idea,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “It’s a question of, where does the money come from?”

Christian Dorsey, the County Board’s vice chair and Arlington’s representative on the Metro Board of Directors, agrees that he’d love to see some service increases, particularly as Metro wrestles with a thorny internal debate about how to boost ridership. Yet he’s concerned that Arlington won’t be able to afford all of Wiedefeld’s changes, at least all at once.

The county is already dealing with an intense funding squeeze, driven in part by falling revenues but also by the deal struck by state lawmakers to provide dedicated funding to Metro, which already put a larger burden on Arlington’s budget. This latest funding increase could make the county’s already grim financial picture even gloomier, Dorsey said.

“That’s a challenge, and there’s not the ability for any jurisdiction to just say, ‘Let’s take this budget and adopt it as is,'” Dorsey said. “I’ll be honest with you, this surprised me… I can’t quite come up with a rational reason why these service enhancement proposals were developed in this way.”

As Dorsey puts it, “something’s got to give, and something’s got to shift” in Wiedefeld’s proposal. He expects that some of the proposed changes to boost ridership “might need to wait until later,” due not only to Arlington’s specific budget challenges but one specific issue affecting all of Virginia’s localities.

A provision included in the dedicated funding deal prohibits the state from increasing its funding level to Metro by more than 3 percent each year, as part of a bid to control costs. Yet Wiedefeld’s proposal calls for an increase closer to 16 percent for the entire state, though that is largely driven by new construction costs for the second phase of the Silver Line, borne primarily by Loudoun County.

To Cristol, who doubles as the secretary-treasurer of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and argued forcefully for the dedicated funding legislation last year, fighting to exceed that 3 percent cap seems like a perilous decision for Metro.

She notes that the General Assembly included that cap in the funding bill as a way to control costs, and it became an essential way to justify the legislation to lawmakers skeptical of Metro’s management over the years. Cristol believes that the state exceeding that 3 percent cap so soon “flies in the face of” the spirit of what the funding bill was designed to achieve.

“The NVTC has talked a lot about demonstrating that Northern Virginia and the Metro jurisdictions are taking this piece of legislation and, the accountability parts of it, very seriously,” Cristol said. “This is not sending a good signal… and we have to remember that the dedicated funding resolution is still new. It’s fragile.”

Metro spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how Wiedefeld plans to manage the challenge of the 3 percent cap. But, according to documents prepared for the Metro board, he seems set to argue that an exception to the cap would allow Metro ask for more money from the Virginia jurisdictions. The law does allow WMATA to ask localities for more cash, but only if it’s to afford an increase in service above and beyond what Metro is obligated to provide.

Yet Cristol points out that Metro is not the sole authority on interpreting Virginia law, meaning that any discussion of upping funding to pay for service increases is essentially “a legal question and not just a policy question.”

Dorsey agrees that the cap “could become a problem,” but he’s waiting to hear Wiedefeld’s pitch before becoming more definitive on the matter. Cristol suggested that Metro might be better served by putting more of the funding burden on D.C. and Maryland to avoid Virginia’s strictures.

But, even if Wiedefeld can find a way to surpass this legal hurdle, Dorsey wonders whether Wiedefeld’s focus on increasing service around the morning and evening rush hours is misplaced.

While Metro ridership has fallen across the board in recent years, he points out that the declines have been steepest during off-peak times and on weekends, when riders might encounter waits of 20 minutes or more for a train. For instance, numbers set to be presented to the NVTC Thursday show that average weekend Metro ridership in Arlington dropped by 15.3 percent between 2016 and 2017.

Wiedefeld’s budget does call for implementing a $2 flat fare for weekend trips, but Dorsey doesn’t expect that will do much to reverse the ridership slide.

“From everything we’ve seen, at least anecdotally, it’s not price sensitivity driving people away, it’s the lack of frequency of service driving people away,” Dorsey said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it is not. But, uncoupled with the ability to deliver increased service, I’m not sure we’re achieving what we need to here.”

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Morning Notes

Hurricane Prompts Influx of Shelter Dogs from N.C. — “Dogs, cats and kittens were all transported from shelters ahead of the now Category 2 Hurricane Florence. They arrived… in Arlington Wednesday. Six dogs and two cats arrived from Hertford County, NC. Two dogs were adopted on-site. A total of 38 dogs and seven cats arrived from Florence County, SC. In total, 53 animals are now safe and sound in the D.C. area.” [WUSA 9]

PAC Raising Money for Female Candidates — Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol is among those expected to attend a “kick-off fundraiser” tonight for Brass Ovaries PAC, which raises money for first-time, female candidates for public office. [Tysons Reporter]

How to Pronounce ARLnow — FYI: the name of this site is pronounced “A-R-L now,” not “Ahrrrl now.” [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Jeff Sonderman

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County Hands Over Half of Cash Incentives Promised to Nestle for Rosslyn Move

Nestle is now in line to earn half of the $4 million in local grants Arlington promised the company in exchange for moving to Rosslyn, after meeting the county’s targets to qualify for the incentives.

In all, the packaged food giant will receive $12 million in cash and infrastructure improvements after agreeing to relocate its corporate headquarters to 1812 N. Moore Street last February. But the money did come with some strings attached, forcing the company to prove that it will create 748 new jobs with an average annual salary of $127,719 in the county and lease at least 205,000 square feet of office space by the time 2020 arrives.

Only $4 million will come from the county itself, through a “Economic Development Incentive” grant, while a $6 million state grant and $2 million in nearby infrastructure construction round out Arlington’s deal with Nestle. Even still, the grants have become a hot-button political issue around the county, with plenty of observers questioning whether the incentive money might’ve been better spent elsewhere.

So far, at least, the company seems to be holding up its end of the bargain. According to documents released through a Freedom of Information Act request, Nestle has created and maintained 358 new jobs at the Rosslyn office, and has leased 229,000 square feet of space in Rosslyn through June 30. Daniel Nugent, chief legal officer and general counsel for the company, signed a July 18 affidavit attesting to those statistics.

That means the company has well exceeded its office space requirement to earn the grant money, but fell just short of the 374 new jobs it needed to create by the time June 30 rolled around.

However, Cara O’Donnell, a spokeswoman for Arlington Economic Development, noted that the company only needed to hit 90 percent of the grant’s requirements to earn the money. Accordingly, the county will now release $2 million to Nestle.

“This year, Nestle achieved 95 percent of its new jobs target and 111 percent of its facility lease target, well above the 90 percent required in each category,” O’Donnell told ARLnow. “They are currently meeting targets as required.”

Josh Morton, a spokesman for Nestle, added that the discrepancy in the job figure is because “the number is always changing as more people are hired in Arlington.” In July and August alone, he says the company hired another 125 employees.

Though she generally remains “skeptical” of such relocation incentives, County Board Chair Katie Cristol thinks “it’s great, but not a surprise to know that Nestle is performing consistently with those expectations.” She attributes that to the work of county staff to “develop an incredibly conservative incentives program where we can see a very clear and really significant return on investment in any incentive we make.”

“We’re not going to do something speculative where we’re giving away the public’s money without a lot of confidence that we’ll see that money return to us well in orders of magnitude beyond what we invested,” Cristol said.

Cristol is well aware what kind of controversy the Nestle incentives kicked up after the Board approved them last year, and how the prospect of similar grants going to Amazon to bring HQ2 to Arlington has roiled the community.

So while she does remain “a little uneasy” about the prospect of “a community like Arlington, that has so much else to offer, seeking to offer cash incentives,” Cristol thinks the Nestle deal does show that these grants can work, if managed properly.

“We’re delighted to have Nestle here, they’ve been a great partner in the community already,” Cristol said. “And in the long term sense… we’re going to be really gimlet-eyed about continuing to look at all over those targets and looking at the return on investment over the life of any deal we put together.”

Nestle will next report back to the county on July 15, 2019 to affirm that it’s indeed created all 748 jobs it promised for the Rosslyn office.

File photo

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Arlington County Fair Pledges to Cover ‘Racist Caricature’

The Arlington County Fair says it will find a way to remove or cover an image that at least one fairgoer decried as “racist.”

The fairgoer tweeted an image painted on the “Monkey Maze” fun house that depicts a monkey with braids putting on lipstick.

“This is not OK at our county fair,” the man said in a tweet. “Racist caricatures don’t represent our values.”

Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol agreed.

“This is awful,” Cristol tweeted in response. “We’ll connect with the Arlington Fair Board about this vendor.”

Around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the fair followed up with a pledge to take action.

“We appreciate you reaching out us,” the fair said via Twitter. “We are working with our ride vendor to ensure the image is no longer visible.”

Monkey Maze fun houses are used by other traveling carnival companies, though photos posted online show different illustrations on the front of the trailer. A Google search did not turn up any other references to the Monkey Maze and accusations of racism.

The fair runs through Sunday on the grounds of the Thomas Jefferson Community Center (125 S. Old Glebe Road).

Photos courtesy David Rosenblatt (photo illustration by ARLnow.com)

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Plans to Build New Ballston Metro Station Entrance Could Stall

Arlington officials worry that their plans to build a second entrance to Ballston Metro station could stall and be delayed indefinitely if the county and WMATA can’t make progress soon.

To get a move on and finally construct a western entrance for the highly trafficked station, county leaders say they need millions more in funding, and they’ve had trouble tracking down that money.

Arlington asked for $72 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to help pay for design work and construction, but the regional group passed over the project entirely in its new six-year funding plan. Without that cash, County Board Chair Katie Cristol worries that the roughly $25 million Arlington’s already received in state transportation funding for the project could go up in smoke, throwing its future in jeopardy.

“We have not spent down… very much of the design funds that have already been awarded,” Cristol told ARLnow. “I don’t think it’s imminent that they’re about to be clawed back if we don’t make progress. But I think they could be, especially in a time where resources are constrained everywhere.”

Cristol, Arlington’s representative to the NVTA, says the group ultimately chose not to award more money for the Ballston project because its leaders just didn’t see enough forward momentum on design work for the effort.

“We’re a little stuck, and we do need to show progress,” Cristol said.

It doesn’t help matters, as Cristol pointed out, that the group will lose roughly $80 million a year as a consequence of the deal to provide dedicated annual funding to the Metro system, and has had to scale back how many projects it will fund around the region.

Even still, the NVTA was able to send the county $5 million to pay for additional design work on a second entrance for the Crystal City Metro station, falling far short of the county’s $87 million request but still helping push the project forward.

What set the Ballston project apart from Crystal City, Cristol notes, is the work the county still needs to do with Metro to draw up what the construction will actually entail. Broadly, officials know they’d like to build another entrance near the intersection of N. Fairfax Drive and N. Vermont Street to improve access to the spate of new developments on N. Glebe Road.

Beyond that, however, Cristol says the county and Metro need to work out the details. As WMATA grapples with the existential issue of how to bump up service levels and lure riders back to the system, Cristol worries Ballston could get lost in the shuffle.

“It’s not opposition to the project,” Cristol said. “I don’t even think it’s a sense that the project is too complicated, it’s just a bandwidth problem.”

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld warned County Board members at a Tuesday (June 26) work session that the Ballston project is not without its challenges.

He expects that construction at such a busy station would have “huge impacts on service,” noting that Metro would likely need to build a “temporary platform” while work proceeded. Wiedefeld reiterated his commitment to the project, but he also told the Board that he’d like to see a lot more preliminary work done with such consequences for Orange and Silver line riders at stake.

“We need to make a commitment together that we’re going to spend dollars on it, look at this in detail and make some hard decisions on what will come out of that,” Wiedefeld said. “I’m not comfortable with any of the costs that been bantered around, to be frank, without that level of engineering.”

That sort of tone struck Cristol as good news, even as she urged Metro to address the project sooner rather than later. Fundamentally, she believes additional access to the Ballston station will help WMATA meet its goals of boosting ridership once more, so it should become a natural priority for Wiedefeld and company.

“I do believe this is a project that is good for Metro,” Cristol said. “It would help them get new riders, when they need them the most.”

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County Board Will Unveil Long-Debated Childcare Policy Overhaul Next Month

Arlington officials plan to unveil their long-awaited overhaul of the county’s childcare policies next month.

County Board Chair Katie Cristol announced those plans her first “State of the County” address today (Thursday) while speaking to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce in Crystal City. The overhaul is a substantial step forward in the debate over how to improve the availability and affordability of daycare in the county.

While Cristol said she was broadly “optimistic” about the county’s future, she stressed that the Board needs to take action to bring down the cost of childcare and ease the financial burden on working families. County leaders have been examining a “draft action plan” to tackle the issue since December, and Cristol says the Board plans to unveil a final product and debate it in full at a July 24 work session.

“For many families, child care can cost more than rent,” Cristol said. “In just a few weeks time, the Board will consider a detailed plan to address this… including a new set of land-use strategies, public-private partnerships and more.”

She noted that county staff and a host of community partners have been studying the issue since early last year, and will finally be able to present a path forward in some “granularity” next month.

Some items will be able to put into motion immediately, while others will require more Board debate, particularly if they involve zoning changes.

Cristol also stressed the childcare plan would be just one of the Board’s priorities as it moves into the back half of 2018. Following the “Big Idea Roundtables” the county convened to spark conversations among county residents, Cristol said she’s newly hopeful that the Board will be able to revisit its zoning policies to increase Arlington’s supply of market rate affordable housing.

Specifically, she’s interested in tackling the problem of the county’s “missing middle,” or homes available for county residents who might make too much money to qualify for dedicated affordable housing but still can’t afford detached single-family homes or high-priced luxury condos.

Cristol is hoping to find new ways to encourage the development of duplexes, moderately-priced townhouses or even “accessory” homes small enough to fit on another single-family home’s property. The county has already loosened its rules for such construction, known as “accessory dwelling units,” but she believes there’s more work still to do.

“We cannot lose sight of affordability as the fundamental challenge of Arlington’s future,” Cristol said.

She expects that the “overdue” kickoff of planning along the Lee Highway corridor, which the Board found new funding for this year and will start in earnest in the coming months, will have some role to play in that conversation.

Cristol would acknowledge, however, that the specter of Amazon’s arrival in Arlington hovers over any discussion of affordable housing or any other pressing issue in the county.

She declined to “break any news” on that front, but would say that she felt the county’s pursuit of the tech giant’s HQ2 “will make the county stronger.”

“Whatever choice Amazon makes on HQ2, it means the national spotlight has found our county,” Cristol said.

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Morning Notes

Woman Pleads Guilty to Oxycodone Conspiracy — A former medical assistant at doctor’s offices in Arlington and Alexandria has pleaded guilty “for her role in leading a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone,” according to federal prosecutors. “From 2011 through December 2017, [Louise] Edwards stole blank prescription pads and electronically-generated fraudulent prescriptions using a medical recordkeeping system… Edwards facilitated the fraudulent filling of at least 353 prescriptions, totaling 42,360 pills of 30 milligram oxycodone.” [Alexandria News, Patch]

Elected Officials Support Striking Workers — Local elected officials, including Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol and state Sen. Barbara Favola, are scheduled to meet this morning with Didlake Inc. employees who work at the Army National Guard Readiness Center on S. George Mason Drive. The employees are on strike after the company refused to recognize their vote to join a union.

Thousands Attend RFK Memorial at ANC — Thousands of people attended a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy. Speakers at the memorial included Rep. John Lewis, Parkland school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez, and former President Bill Clinton. Country music star Kenny Chesney played a rendition of “This Land is Your Land.” [Associated Press]

Meeting Space Coming to Rosslyn — “Meeting and event space provider Convene has inked a deal to open a new location high atop the CEB Tower at Central Place in Rosslyn, where it plans to join the building’s namesake tenant as early as October. The New York-based company has signed a 14.5-year sublease for 35,000 square feet from Gartner Inc., CEB’s parent company, at 1201 Wilson Blvd.” [Washington Business Journal]

Sun Gazette Endorses de Ferranti — The Arlington Sun Gazette has endorsed Matt de Ferranti in the Democratic Arlington County Board primary, which will be held this coming Tuesday. However, the paper has little good to say about him, instead opining that he and fellow candidate Chanda Choun lack “deep roots in the community and, we fear, each has yet to develop an ingrained grasp of local issues to provide a viable challenge to the very plugged-in incumbent [John Vihstadt].” [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Photo via @ArlingtonVaFD

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Would Amazon HQ2’s Arrival Supercharge Arlington’s Growth Or Just Change its Timing?

Concerns abound about how the arrival of Amazon’s second headquarters might squeeze an already space-starved county — but could HQ2 merely speed up population growth in Arlington that would inevitably happen over time even if Amazon chooses another location?

It’s a possibility that county leaders say they’re increasingly beginning to consider, as Arlington has emerged as a top contender to earn HQ2, among its competitors both locally and nationally.

The way Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol sees it, the D.C. region is already set to grow exponentially in the next few decades. For instance, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments projects that 1.5 million people will move to the area by 2045, an estimate worked up long before Amazon cast its eye towards the region.

Accordingly, Cristol reasons that Amazon’s arrival in Arlington would indeed prompt a sudden surge in growth in the county, but not substantially change how officials are preparing to handle an ever-growing population.

“It’s not as though we are in this perfect equilibrium now and Amazon will upset the apple cart,” Cristol told ARLnow. “Growth is coming to this region… but I think Amazon could really force the issue by probably condensing how fast that growth could happen, maybe we’re talking 10 years over 20.”

That’s why she says county officials are already putting such an intense focus on issues like affordable housing and transportation, and encouraging residents to do the same. She sees the “Big Idea Roundtables” the county is convening this month as a key step in the process, designing them as forums for people to have frank discussions about all of the problems and opportunities associated with the county’s growth in the coming years.

Cristol fully expects many of those conversations to center around the arrival of huge companies like Amazon, or perhaps Apple. But, as she tries to take a long view of the region’s future, she expects they’ll be helpful no matter what Jeff Bezos decides.

“Whether Amazon comes and hastens that [growth] or whether Amazon doesn’t come and the general projected job growth and population growth comes over a longer period of time, the questions and the need for the community conversation are the same,” Cristol said.

Amazon critics, however, are less convinced that leaders like Cristol should accept such growth as unavoidable. Margaret McLaughlin, chair of the Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America, says her group has led a campaign highlighting HQ2’s potentially negative impacts on marginalized communities in order to get officials thinking differently about the region’s future.

“By them saying that growth is coming inevitably, they’re taking their own agency out of the economic decisions they’re making,” McLaughlin said. “Rents are going to go up, and that ends up pushing out renters, people of color, people working in the service industry… so they’re ones making choices, they’re pushing families out. They’re making the economic situation better for the rich and worse for the poor.”

Other experts wonder if Cristol is even right in believing that Amazon might speed up growth in the area, but not fundamentally change it. Yolanda Cole, owner of a D.C. architecture firm and chair of the Urban Land Institute’s Washington District Council, thinks that sort of assumption is “unrealistic.”

“If they come here, it’s not just Amazon on the way,” Cole said. “It’s going to be all the companies and people who serve Amazon.”

Jenny Schuetz, who studies housing policy as part of the Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program, cautioned that it’s likely too early to tell if Cristol is right until Amazon reveals more about their hiring plans at any future HQ2 in Arlington. However, she does agree with Cristol’s broad point about the region, noting that the arrival of the second headquarters would still have “localized impacts as it grows.”

“Someplace like Crystal City could absorb it easily, since there’s a lot vacant office space, but the question is whether workers would live close by,” Schuetz said. “Somewhere like Ballston would have a lot more of the residential infrastructure and amenities nearby… but housing there is already in such high demand.”

Cristol stresses that those neighborhoods are likely to wrestle with those same issues in the coming years, regardless of whether Amazon shows up one day.

“The pressures are coming,” she said. “So how do we deal with them?”

File photo

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Morning Notes

Action Coming on Child Care Initiative — “When it comes to addressing issues related to child care, “this is a year we’re looking to see some concrete action,” [Arlington County Board Chair Katie] Cristol said during a May 30 meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Arlington.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Ridge Closures Continue — Daytime work will continue today on a collapsed 18-inch stormwater pipe, necessitating the daily closure of Arlington Ridge Road between Glebe Road and 23rd Street S. Rain and a leaking water main break slowed crews down last week. [Twitter]

County Board Primary Update — “The two candidates competing in the June 12 primary for the Arlington County Board are what voters might expect of a Democrat in the affluent, educated, rapidly urbanizing enclave — highly prepared, willing to get into the details of local issues and claiming fealty to the county’s tradition of careful, long-term planning.” [Washington Post]

GW Parkway Bridge Work Next Week — Work to repair a bridge carrying the GW Parkway over Windy Run in Arlington is scheduled to begin next week. The work will result in lane closures that could snarl traffic, especially when more impactful repairs start — likely in late July. [WTOP, InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Rosslyn Opens ‘Parklet,’ Kicks Off Experiment in Adding Green Space to Urban Areas

Arlington’s first “parklet” is now open to the public, providing a small splash of green space amid Rosslyn’s urban landscape — and perhaps giving county officials a new tool for adding more open spaces across Arlington.

Rosslyn’s Business Improvement District teamed up with the county to design the mini-park, located adjacent to the Roti Mediterranean restaurant at the intersection of Wilson Boulevard and N. Oak Street. Starting today (Thursday), anyone can take advantage of the parklet, which is just 30 feet wide — about the size of two parking spaces.

These sorts of mini-parks have become increasingly popular in heavily populated cities like New York and San Francisco, and Arlington tested out a temporary parklet at the same location last fall for PARK(ing) Day, an international event for cities to experiment with temporary green spaces built in parking spaces. Now, planners are hoping to make this parklet permanent, and even set up more elsewhere to help compensate for the county’s dwindling supply of available land.

“Cafe seating used to be the sum total of outdoor seating around here,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “But we know that mixed-use places need mixed-use spaces.”

Lucia deCordre, executive director of the Lee Highway Alliance and an architect of the parklet project back in her days working with the Rosslyn BID, says she came to the idea of creating a parklet like this as she started working on improvements to Rosslyn’s streetscape. As the BID looked at ways to add new benches and bike racks to make its streets more attractive, deCordre says her team “realized we needed to do something for pedestrians.”

“It’s all about helping create an identity for Rosslyn,” deCordre said.

She says the BID selected the space next to Roti because it didn’t have much existing sidewalk seating, and they needed “somewhere safe,” without too much vehicle traffic to test out  a parklet. Ultimately, N. Oak Street ended up being an ideal side street for the mini-park to sit next to, deCordre said.

But she didn’t want to simply see a few tables added to the sidewalk. She also wanted something that was both “flexible” and “user friendly,” so she made sure to include lots of greenery as well — the parklet includes a total of 18 chairs, five tables and four planter boxes.

“This should really boost retail here, but also bring together different stakeholders in the community,” said Mary-Claire Burick, the BID’s president. “And it’s particularly valuable here where open space is at a premium.”

Doug Plowman, the BID’s urban planning and design manager, is hoping that everyone from Rosslyn residents to tourists take advantage of the parklet. But he also says the BID is keeping an open mind on the matter — he’s looking at this space as a two-year prototype, and each table directs visitors to an online survey so they can share their thoughts on the space.

“Is it workers using it, or residents?” Plowman said. “How long are they staying here? Should it be bigger or could it be smaller? This is all stuff we want to know.”

Cristol says county leaders will certainly be monitoring that feedback closely.

As the county increasingly grapples with development gobbling up green space — not to mention a financial squeeze that could prevent Arlington from buying up any new park land over the next decade — Cristol fully expects that plans for more parklets could wind up included in the County Board’s long-planned update of Arlington’s Public Spaces Master Plan.

“The old model of creating green space in retail corridors is getting tougher,” Cristol said. “So let’s bring it on, and do these sorts of public-private partnerships to get creative. This is our first foray into that.”

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County Board Plans ‘Big Idea Roundtables’ to Gather Feedback on Arlington’s Future

The Arlington County Board wants to hear directly from you about how the county should grow in the coming years.

The Board is convening a series of “Big Idea Roundtables” next month, in order to have “big picture conversations about our county’s future,” according to a news release.

“These roundtables, framed around some critical issues, are open-ended and not limited to any one issue, policy or site proposal,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol wrote in a statement. “Our goal is to create a space for and spark a conversation among civic leaders and residents of all backgrounds about their hopes for our county’s future as we grow and change. We look forward to lively conversations about diversity, density, affordability, traffic and beyond.”

Chairs of Arlington’s citizen commissions will help facilitate the seven discussions, in conjunction with Board members. The roundtables are planned for the following days:

  • Saturday, June 2 from 2-4 p.m. —  Langston-Brown Community Center, Rooms 108 and 109 (2121 N. Culpeper Street)
  • Monday, June 4 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. — Drew Community Center, Room 118 (3500 23rd Street S.)
  • Saturday, June 9 from 9-11 a.m. — Arlington Mill Community Center, Rooms 411 and 413 (909 S. Dinwiddie Street). Translation services available for Spanish-speaking residents at this session.
  • Monday, June 11 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. — Ellen M. Bozman Government Center, Room 311 (2100 Clarendon Blvd)
  • Wednesday, June 20 from 9-11 a.m. — Lubber Run Community Center Multipurpose Room (300 N. Park Drive)

The Board is asking anyone interested in attending to register for just one roundtable each, as space will be limited. Registration is open on the county’s website.

Anyone with questions about the project can email [email protected].

Photo via Arlington County

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Arlington Officials Fear Metro Funding Deal Could Imperil Ballston, Crystal City Station Projects

Funding to help WMATA keep running and catch up on maintenance may end up jeopardizing major projects slated for two busy Arlington Metro stations.

A new deal brokered by state lawmakers will send about $154 million to Metro each year, providing funding for badly needed improvements to the system — but Arlington officials fear the structure of the agreement could imperil planned Metro entrance projects.

For years, the county has been hoping to add second entrances to the Ballston and Crystal City stations to make it easier for people in those neighborhoods to access the Metro. But Arlington planned to pay for those projects with the help of a regional group that doles out money for transportation improvements: the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, commonly known as the NVTA.

Yet the NVTA can only afford to fund that kind of construction effort with the tax revenue it brings in, and the dedicated funding deal hashed out in Richmond will divert a substantial chunk of that money to Metro for ongoing operations and maintenance.

Gov. Ralph Northam and his fellow Democrats had hoped to avoid that outcome by bumping up a few Northern Virginia tax rates instead, but the slim Republican majority in the House of Delegates scuttled that plan in favor of sending the NVTA money to Metro.

NVTA leaders aren’t yet sure just how much money the group will lose — they’re currently projecting a roughly $80 million drop in annual revenue for the next six years — but they are reluctantly admitting that the group will have to trim the list of projects it can fund in the coming years.

Arlington County Board Chair and NVTA board member Katie Cristol expects that will prompt indefinite delays of the projects at Ballston and Crystal City, or it could force the county to find new funding streams for them entirely, an unwelcome prospect given Arlington’s increasingly stretched finances.

“When there’s less money to go around, it forces a re-racking of priorities,” Cristol told ARLnow. “These would be transformational projects for us, but the need is different elsewhere.”

NVTA chairman Marty Nohe, a Republican who also serves as vice chair of Prince William’s Board of County Supervisors, says his group largely focuses on funding projects that relieve traffic congestion around the area. While he fully expects that adding second entrances at those Arlington stations would pull some cars off the road, he also notes that they likely won’t have the same impact as other road improvements elsewhere in Northern Virginia.

“That’s the nature of these multimodal projects,” Nohe said. “It doesn’t put more trains on the track, it makes it easier for people to get there and opens the station up to a larger segment of the Arlington population… so it’s a good example of the type of project that will absolutely be affected by a loss of NVTA funds due to the Metro bill.”

Del. Tim Hugo (R-40), a leading opponent of tax increases associated with the Metro funding bill, has frequently dismissed Nohe’s concerns as overblown. He’s often noted that Metro is already cancelling some of its own requests for NVTA funding with the state deal secured, which could very well free up more money for localities like Arlington and lessen the need for such a drastic reordering of funding priorities.

But Cristol and Nohe are both taking the prospect of the deal delaying the Ballston and Crystal City improvements seriously. Cristol is concerned that further delays for the second entrance at Crystal City will have ripple effects on the nearby Virginia Railway Express station — without another Metro entrance closer to the VRE station, she fears the county might not be able to effectively encourage commuters to transfer between the two transit systems.

“We’re trying to create this nexus with VRE there,” Cristol said. “But if people have to do a bunch of walking and cross the street to transfer, they might be inclined to just get in their car and drive.”

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) points out the county could apply for “Smart Scale” funding to pay for the projects, putting Arlington in competition with localities around the state hoping for transportation dollars. That could mean less money is available for other, smaller municipalities, and Favola predicts that could prompt more action on the issue in Richmond next year.

“Every Northern Virginia lawmaker, particularly on the local level, they’re concerned,” Favola said. “I really think we’re going to have to go back and revisit this.”

Photo via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Yorktown Grad Chosen in NFL Draft — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose Yorktown High School graduate M.J. Stewart in the 2018 NFL draft. Stewart was working with his youth foundation at Langston-Brown Community Center when he learned that he was the 21st pick in the second round of the draft. [InsideNova, Twitter]

Amazon Speculation Boosts JBG Stock — JBG Smith Properties’ stock is up 13 percent in the past month on speculation that Amazon could build its second headquarters in the D.C. metro area. Many of the company’s holdings are based in Crystal City, which is seen as a contender for the site of Amazon’s new HQ2. [Washington Business Journal]

Drug Take-Back Day Numbers Up — Arlington police collected nearly one-third more prescription drugs at Saturday’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day than at last spring’s event. Residents handed over 744 pounds of prescription drugs to police on Saturday, compared with 562 pounds last April. [Twitter]

Arlington Recognized for Tourism Event — The Virginia Association of Destination Marketing Organizations presented the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service with an award for its June 2017 Monumental Views IPW Travel Trade Reception, which showcased Arlington to international travel trade and media during the U.S. Travel Association’s IPW 2017 event in Washington, D.C. [Arlington County]

Rosslyn Circle Beautification — Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol was among the volunteers with the Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria and the Children’s International School to team up with the National Park Service to beautify Rosslyn Circle on Sunday (photo above). They planted 32 trees and plan to add more later this year.

Red Flag Warning Today — Northern Virginia is under a Red Flag Warning through 8 p.m. today, indicating a heightened danger of outdoor fires. “Dry and windy conditions will create an environment conducive for the rapid spread of wildfires,” the National Weather Service said. “All outdoor burning is discouraged today.” [Twitter]

Photo via Katie Cristol on Twitter

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BREAKING: Gerber Moving Headquarters to Rosslyn

(Updated at 2 p.m.) Baby food and products company Gerber is moving its headquarters from New Jersey to Rosslyn and creating 150 jobs, officials announced Monday afternoon (April 16).

The company, a Nestlé subsidiary acquired in 2007, will invest $5 million in the relocation.

The announcement comes a little over a year after Nestlé announced its move to Arlington to a 250,000 square foot office space at 1812 N. Moore Street.

Gov. Ralph Northam made the announcement at Nestlé’s Rosslyn headquarters, noting that his excitement in announcing the move partially stemmed from his 30 years as a pediatrician.

“We want to be the most business-friendly state in the country,” said Gov. Northam at the relocation announcement.

A line of elected officials at the state and local level praised the relocation at a brief media event, including Rep. Don Beyer, Del. Rip Sullivan, and County Board Chair Katie Cristol.

Esther Lee, Virginia’s Secretary of Commerce and Trade, who also spoke at the event, was quoted in a press release saying that “gaining the headquarters of the iconic Gerber brand is an important win for Arlington County and the Commonwealth.”

At the event, Cristol presented a key to the county to Steve Presley, Nestlé’s chief financial officer.

More from the press release regarding funding:

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Arlington County Economic Development to secure the project for Virginia. Governor Northam approved a grant in the amount of $862,500 from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist the County with the project. The company is also be eligible to receive a Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit.

Funding and services to support the company’s employee training activities will be provided through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.

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