Schwartz was elevated to the temporary post after the retirement of former County Manager Barbara Donnellan. An Arlington resident since 1985, Schwartz previously was Arlington’s Director of Management and Finance and Chief Financial Officer before serving as Deputy County Manager under Donnellan.
The County Manager serves as the top executive in Arlington County government, managing the day-to-day operations of county government and its $943 million budget. The manager is appointed by the County Board.
The Board is slated to formally vote to approve Schwartz’s contract at its meeting on Saturday, Jan. 23.
County Board Chair Libby Garvey announced the selection of Schwartz in a memo to county employees shortly after 12:30 p.m. today.
County Employees –
I am pleased to announce that the Arlington County Board has selected Mark Schwartz as County Manager.
Mark is our unanimous choice, and we are very pleased to have him at the helm. He offers deep experience and knowledge of Arlington, but has demonstrated in the past six months an ability to look at things differently and a willingness to make changes. With Mark, we will have a tried-and-true Manager and a consummate professional able to work with this new Board to shape Arlington’s future.
We will be announcing this news to the public very shortly with a press release.
Our organization is filled with talent. Each and every one of you is critical to our success. As you know, Mark has been, and will be, a thoughtful and creative leader. Together, we will do great things and I’m excited!
Chair, Arlington County Board
The press release, after the jump.
Violent Attack at Pentagon City Metro — A seemingly random act of violence at the Pentagon City Metro station injured a man late last month. Details of the attack were just released: a 19-year-old man collapsed on the platform after being sucker-punched. Witnesses took cell phone photos of the attacker, who fled. The incident is one of a string of recent violent incidents at Metro stations. [Fox 5 DC]
GGW Questions Garvey’s Leadership — Will new County Board Chair Libby Garvey move Arlington forward with smart infrastructure investments, or pull back and scale down the county’s ambitions? That’s the question being posed by urbanist blog Greater Greater Washington, which has been critical of Garvey’s anti-streetcar stance. [Greater Greater Washington]
Garvey Announces Reelection Bid — Thought she has positioned herself as a somewhat anti-establishment figure in the local party, Libby Garvey detailed her Democratic bonafides while announcing her reelection bid at the Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting earlier this week. Garvey is facing a primary challenge on her left, from small business owner Erik Gutshall. [Libby Garvey]
Grant for ‘Little Saigon’ History — A $9,000 grant will allow Arlington County to produce a full-color booklet preserving the history of Arlington’s “Little Saigon” — a concentration of Vietnamese immigrants and businesses in Clarendon in the 1970s, before the opening of Metro. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey will face a primary challenge on her left this year.
Erik Gutshall, a small business owner and Arlington Planning Commission member, announced on New Year’s Day that he will be running against Garvey in the June Democratic primary. Garvey is nearing the end of her first four-year term on the Board.
Gutshall, who lives in Lyon Park and previously served as that community’s civic association president, said he intends to run a positive campaign against Garvey, who drew the ire of the local Democratic establishment after successfully campaigning against the Columbia Pike streetcar project and endorsing independent County Board member John Vihstadt in his two races against Democrat Alan Howze.
“Our county best meets the challenges we face when we are united behind our shared progressive values,” Gutshall said in a statement.
Gutshall is a home improvement contractor and owns Clarendon Home Services LLC. The full press release announcing Gutshall’s candidacy, after the jump.
Photo via Facebook
Garvey, a Democrat who has clashed with the local Democratic establishment over her endorsement of independent John Vihstadt and opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar, was unanimously elected County Board Chair at the Board’s annual New Year’s Day organizational meeting on Jan. 1.
Garvey is up for reelection this year and it is a long-standing tradition that the Board member who is up for reelection serve as Chair.
Jay Fisette, meanwhile, was elected vice chair. Fisette, who has served on the Board since 1999, is now the body’s most senior member, following the retirements of Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada. Their successors, Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey, served their first day on the Board at Friday’s meeting.
Garvey, who was first elected in 2012, outlined her priorities at the meeting. Among them:
- Improving county government customer service, including by reforming the “Byzantine” zoning and permitting process for homeowners, small businesses and developers.
- Moving forward with a new transit plan for Columbia Pike. Garvey said she was frustrated with the slow pace of planning following the streetcar’s cancellation, and instructed the County Manager to report back later this month on plans including off-board fare collection and traffic signal prioritization.
- Broader civic participation in county government. Garvey wants to see busier people — those with kids or jobs that prevent them from attending long meetings — have a greater voice in local policymaking.
- More flexibility in local regulation. Garvey said Arlington should be careful not to stifle innovation and to not over-regulate to the point where there’s too much sameness in Arlington’s local communities.
Garvey said she also wants to “ensure that every Arlingtonian, people of all ages, interests, and from across the socioeconomic spectrum, can live and work here comfortably.”
Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz said he and county staff are focusing on improving the county’s use of technology in service delivery and to promote government transparency and accountability. Possible new initiatives include streaming county commission meetings, which currently are not recorded for public broadcast.
Vice Chair Fisette, meanwhile, said his focus will be on schools and county facilities
In her remarks, Garvey said she looks forward to “the need for facilities, including schools, while constrained by limited land,” along with strengthening Arlington’s economic competitiveness, balancing the budget and focusing on housing affordability.
“Clearly, some things are going to be different this year, but a lot will stay the same,” Garvey said. “My goal is to see that Arlington achieves its potential.”
“We have challenges, like our commercial vacancy rate, our growing need for more school space, and our shrinking supply of affordable housing but this remains a wonderful community,” Garvey continued. “I’m confident that, together, our residents, our businesses, our staff, and this new Board will make sure that Arlington delivers outstanding customer service to all our residents and businesses, that every Arlingtonian who wants can have a voice in our government, and that we will work strategically to make this wonderful County even better.”
APS Sweeps Top 16 of Best Elementary School List — The top sixteen schools on a new list of the best public elementary schools in Virginia are all Arlington public schools. Moreover, 19 of the top 20 are Arlington schools. [Niche]
Deal on Historic Designation for Stratford Nears — The Arlington County Board, School Board and NAACP appear close to striking a deal for the historic preservation of the Stratford building, the current home of H-B Woodlawn and a future middle school. Stratford was one of the was the first public school in Virginia to integrate, in 1959. Meanwhile, the Arlington Civic Federation is debating whether the middle school should retain the “Stratford” name, which pays tribute to the plantation where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was born. [InsideNova]
Group Reaches Cemetery Wreath Goal — The group that places wreaths on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery around the holidays has met its fundraising goal thanks to last-minute donations. Just a few days ago Wreaths Across America was 30,000 wreaths short of its goal of placing wreaths on each of the cemetery’s 230,000 headstones. [WTOP]
Garvey Back in Black at ACDC — Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey has formally been welcomed back into the good graces of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, more than a year after she endorsed Republican-turned-Independent John Vihstadt in his successful bid for County Board. Garvey is up for reelection next year and there are rumors that she will face a Democratic primary challenge. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Water Main Break in Courthouse — Courthouse Road is closed between Route 50 and 14th Street N., near the police station, due to a water main break that was discovered overnight. Repairs are still underway as of this morning’s rush hour. [WTOP]
Arlington Scores New Office Tenant in Va. Square — Arlington County will fill 50,000 square feet of vacant office space in Virginia Square thanks to a new tenant. GW Medical Faculty Associates will be moving into 3811 N. Fairfax Drive this coming spring, creating more than 200 jobs. [Arlington County]
Secret Chopsticks Open Today — The previously secretive Secret Chopsticks is planning to open to the public today. The 120-seat upscale, white tablecloth Chinese restaurant is located at 1850 Fort Myer Drive, on the ground floor of the Turnberry Tower condominium. [Washingtonian]
Garvey Wants Strategic Plan for County — Should County Board member Libby Garvey become the board chair next year, she wants to develop a strategic plan for Arlington. “We really don’t have one,” she said over the weekend. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Local Republicans see a silver lining in the lopsided defeat of Mike McMenamin in Tuesday’s Arlington County Board. But one local political watcher says it signals that the narrow window of opportunity to elect conservatives to local office in Arlington has passed.
McMenamin, an independent candidate with the endorsement of the local GOP, garnered 19 percent of the vote to 36 and 34 percent respectively for Democrats Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol. Perennial candidate Audrey Clement, who ran as an independent after several elections under the Green Party banner, received 10 percent of the vote.
Democrats say they were pleasantly surprised by the election results.
“It turned out much better than I predicted it to be,” said Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Kip Malinosky. “I think people responded to an inclusive, welcoming message.”
“We always took [McMenamin] seriously,” Malinosky continued. “We knew he had a good record of public service. But we didn’t hear a positive vision for Arlington from Mike. Voters heard a lot of ‘no.'”
Matt Wavro, Chair of the Arlington County Republican Committee, sees things a bit differently. Via email, he told ARLnow.com that all four candidates in the race ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility — a victory of sorts, even though the GOP’s favored candidate did not win.
Mike ran a solid independent campaign. The Arlington GOP was very proud to endorse his independent candidacy. Mike’s earnest desire to bring people together to solve issues facing the county should be acknowledged by everyone involved in politics in Arlington.
The future of the Arlington GOP is strong. Our goals of cancelling the streetcar, reducing the cost of the Million Dollar Bus Stop, ending the subsidy of the Artisphere, preventing a property tax rate increase, and turning back the plan to build subsidized housing in our parks enjoyed and continue to enjoy wide community support.
With the exception of a firm commitment that subsidized housing should not be built in parks, every candidate for the County Board campaigned on our issues. Even the candidates who were leveling partisan attacks against Mike were trying to appropriate the very issues we considered as the basis for endorsing Mike.
Democrats on the County Board were very effective in 2015 at clearing the decks of issues that highlighted how out of touch narrowly partisan Democrats were from their more rational and reasonable neighbors of all political persuasions.
“Looking out at the issues that are likely to be taken up in the next year, our platform will continue to be a consensus-building counter-point to the partisan Democrat group-think we saw from our County Board members in 2013 and the decade prior,” Wavro added.
Despite Wavro’s optimism, one veteran Democratic campaign operative and election watcher thinks the result shows a return to normalcy in heavily-Democratic Arlington after a brief flirtation with center-right politics.
“It’s back to normal in Arlington,” Ben Tribbett told ARLnow.com. “The voters Tuesday were strongly Democratic, where they’ve always been.”
Tribbett, who correctly predicted the demise of Arlington’s streetcar project on the night of independent County Board member John Vihstadt’s election last November, said McMenamin’s defeat is “embarrassing” for Vihstadt.
“Vihstadt’s endorsement [of McMenamin] had no legs, voters basically ignored it,” Tribbett said.
The center-right flirtation was made possible by the streetcar, the Long Bridge Park aquatics center and other poorly managed, big-ticket projects that drew voter ire. With those out of the way, and with all candidates calling for some degree of fiscal responsibility, voters returned to other issues as deciding factors — issues that favored the Democrats.
(Other political watchers have suggested that it wasn’t just the streetcar that propelled Vihstadt to victory, arguing that he was a uniquely strong candidate with a long history of community involvement, thoughtful debate performances and well-tuned political acumen. There are no other Vihstadt-like candidates on the Republican-slash-Independent bench, some say.)
The Arlington electorate seems to have “lost their appetite for reform-type candidates,” Tribbett contended. That, he said, could signal trouble for Libby Garvey, who’s up for reelection in 2016.
Garvey, a Democrat, went against the party by speaking out against the streetcar and endorsing Vihstadt last year. She could face a tough primary challenge this coming spring as a result.
If there’s one lesson to take away from Arlington’s Metro Safety Seminar Wednesday night, it’s don’t evacuate a train until told to do so. Even though a woman died after not being able to evacuate a disabled, smoke-filled train outside of the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station earlier this year.
In the case of smoke in a tunnel, Arlington County Fire Department and Metro will work together to figure out the source of the smoke and decide if evacuation is necessary, officials said Wednesday at the seminar in Ballston.
Self-evacuating early often leads to injuries and more trouble, said Robert Joy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority during a panel on Metro safety hosted by the county’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission (EPAC).
There’s also the problem of the third rail, which is a major electrocution hazard, running at more than 700 volts, Joy said.
Joy was joined by ACFD Captain David Santini and ART Director Stephen Yaffee to speak about how to be a safe rider on public transit, including Metrobus, Metro or ART bus. The panel spoke to a small audience, mostly consisting of older Arlington residents, many of whom identified themselves as members of EPAC.
For the most part, audience members were concerned about smoke filling Metro cars, noting the L’Enfant Plaza incident in January.
Smoke in Metro tunnels is not an unusual occurrence, Sanitini said.
“We report to smoke on the Metro several times a month,” he said, adding that most are “minor in nature” usually resulting from trash burning on the rails or small insulator fires.
In the case of smoke filling the cars, passengers should listen to the intercoms, Joy said, as the conductors will tell people when to evacuate.
“Just because the trains stop doesn’t mean it’s an emergency,” he said. “And we’ve had some people self-evacuate a perfectly good train.”
If a train needs to be evacuated, firefighters will come to the train to help passengers evacuate, Santini said. Metro also posts instructions for opening the doors in emergencies and how to evacuate.
Evacuation should be the last resort as walking in the tunnels and jumping from the train can result in injuries, such as broken ankles or legs, he said.
Joy acknowledged that there were problems with understanding the intercoms, which can make emergency situations more stressful. Dust often gets in the speakers, which make them hard to hear.
“We understand that the intercom system isn’t always up to snuff,” Joy said. “I sometimes wonder what they are saying.”
Fixing the intercoms by making sure they are cleaned is an easy step that Metro can do to make riding safer, said John Brown, director of Arlington County Office of Emergency Management.
“I don’t think we can wait for a federal report. There’s low hanging fruit that we know we can fix,” Brown said.
Throughout the discussion, audience members offered suggestions that Metro can implement to improve passenger safety, including more information on car walls. These suggestions will be compiled in a letter and brought before the Arlington County Board, said Board member Libby Garvey.
Garvey and Brown also took a couple of minutes to talk about emergency preparedness in general, telling the audience they should know what to do for everyday emergencies, like weather-related events, or in the case of a decidedly not-everyday emergency: a nuclear attack.
“We really all need to be prepared, not just for these events that happen pretty regularly but also when the unimaginable happens,” Brown said.
In the case of a nuclear attack, people should “shelter in place” and put as much concrete between them and outside, Garvey said.
The last thing people should do is go outside and see what happened, she said. Instead, people should “camp inside” until its safe to go outside.
“We all need to be prepared for camping for three days,” Garvey said.
The little-noticed item came at the end of a long County Board meeting on Monday, Sept. 21.
At issue during the 40 minute discussion of the item: whether the dentist’s office — Courthouse Art of Dentistry — should be allowed to stay in the Courthouse Plaza shopping center at 2250 Clarendon Blvd as part of a regularly-scheduled Site Plan Amendment review.
County Board member Libby Garvey, who supported the office in the vote, wrote about it in her most recent email newsletter to constituents.
There has been a dentist at Courthouse Plaza for about 20 years, although the site plan originally called for retail to be in that space. Repeated attempts by retail stores to locate there had resulted in several store closures, so a waiver was granted to allow a dental office. The waiver was up for renewal. The dental office has thrived, the dentist does pro bono work for the Free Clinic and takes hotel guests when they need a dentist. A few people insisted that this location was not compliant with the site plan and the dentist had to go. The building owner said he could find no one else to fill that space and asked us to please allow the dentist to stay. Hundreds of patients and supporters signed a petition asking for the dentist to stay. Still…..this was the third time in a year he had to come before the Board pleading for us to allow his successful business to stay. He can stay, but the vote was far too close: 3-2. I thanked the dentist for all he does for our community. I told him and his many supporters who stayed until 11:55pm I was embarrassed the Board made this so hard for a successful business that serves Arlington well. It really was one of the more bizarre issues I’ve dealt with as a Board member.
Speakers at the meeting universally called for the Board to let the dentist office stay. The attorney for owner Dr. Joseph Khalil said that they had collected about 500 signatures in support of the practice. (The office is thriving and has 2,200 patients, the attorney said.)
“CCCA renews our objection and voted to firmly oppose a permanent exception to the dentist office in a space designated for anchor retail as far back as 10 years,” civic association president Adam Thocher said in an email to county staff. “We encourage ongoing discussion between [landlord] Equity and Arlington Economic Development to market and secure a tenant that will help fulfill the promise made to the community of activating Courthouse Plaza.”
County staff, however, said that the use was appropriate and consistent with the county’s new Retail Action Plan, which allows for “retail equivalent” uses like medical and dental offices in lieu of more traditional stores and restaurants in certain retail zones, including the Courthouse area.
“We believe the use provides service to residents and to office workers in the plaza,” said Michael Cohen, a county staff member.
The dentist’s attorney, meanwhile, said that the retail landscape has changed since a dentist’s office first opened in the space in 1993. (It has since changed ownership.) She said that online shopping has limited the utility of small retail storefronts and that Courthouse Plaza already has stores that commonly use such spaces — a coffee shop, a cell phone store, etc.
“Voting against this would be inconsistent with policy… and inconsistent with the notion that we should be supporting long-standing local businesses,” said the attorney, Sara Mariska.
Mike Farrey, brother of a dentist at the practice, suggested that a dentist office might even be preferable to an “active” use.
“There are enough coffee shops and restaurants in Arlington, and enough empty storefronts,” he said.
Patients of the office who spoke at the meeting said that there’s no justification for making a successful, community-serving business pack up and move. One called it “un-American.”
“I feel like this is a complete waste of community resources,” said the man. “It’s not a gentlemen’s club, it’s not a bar, it’s not an adult bookstore… what use is it to create another empty storefront?”
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said another patient.
In the end, the Board voted 3-2 — with retiring County Board members Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada voting in the minority — to renew the site plan amendment and allow the dentist to stay, with no further scheduled reviews.
County Board member John Vihstadt said that kicking the dentist out would only create an empty storefront, agreeing with Dr. Khalil’s attorney in suggesting that the space was too small and ill-configured to be attractive to any likely “active” retail tenant.
“Why would we want to open up a new cavity in Courthouse Plaza?” he quipped.
County Board member Libby Garvey and other cyclists will brave the heat on Saturday, riding up to 100 miles as part of the second Annual Kennan Garvey Memorial Ride.
The cyclists will bike on the W&OD Trail from Arlington to Purcellville and back, a 90-mile trek. For riders wanting to do a true century, they can continue to cycle to Roosevelt Memorial Bridge after returning to Arlington.
Cyclists can also shorten the ride by turning around in Reston at the 15-mile mark to make it a 30-mile ride, or in Leesburg, Virginia, at the 30-mile mark to make it a 60-mile ride.
It’s an easy ride, making it a great ride for a family, Garvey said.
“This ride is the perfect way to remember Kennan and to continue the good influence he had on so many people during his life,” Garvey said.
Garvey, herself, is planning to ride out to Purcellville, but is not planning to turn around and head back to Arlington. She and her husband previously rode to Purcellville on a tandem bike, she said.
The ride is also known as the Sizzling Suburban Century because of August’s heat, Garvey said, while promoting the event at County Board meetings. National Weather Service is predicting a high of 91 degrees on Saturday.
Garvey started the bike ride last year in honor of her husband, Kennan, who died of a heart attack in 2008. He was 56 years old.
“The ride means a lot to me and Kennan’s family and friends,” Garvey said. “Kennan commuted by bike to his job at EPA since the early ’80’s. He loved cycling, loved to help people and loved to get young people interested in bicycles.”
The ride has an entry fee of $25, and participants are encouraged to raise $500 for the Kennan Garvey Memorial Fund. All participants will get a boxed lunch and t-shirt as part of the ride. Those who meet the fundraising goal of $500 will also receive a Phoenix Bikes jersey.
The ride benefits Phoenix Bikes’ Capital Campaign, with proceeds going toward helping the nonprofit fund a new building, now possibly in the area of Columbia Pike. The shop had previously looked at a spot at Walter Reed Drive and W&OD Trail, but that faced some community opposition.
Kennan had wanted to volunteer with Phoenix Bikes after retiring.
“Phoenix Bikes is a wonderful little organization,” Garvey said. ” They just do incredible things. And once they get a building, they’ll be able to take off.”
Photo courtesy of Libby Garvey
More than a year after she resigned from the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC), County Board Libby Garvey wants back in. But after applying, Garvey has been told she will need to wait at least a few months.
Garvey resigned in April 2014, preempting a committee vote to remove her, after she supported independent County Board candidate John Vihstadt over Democrat Alan Howze. Both Vihstadt and Garvey opposed the now-cancelled Columbia Pike streetcar project.
This year, Garvey is planning to support the Democratic nominees for County Board — Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey — and wants to officially rejoin the ACDC and its steering committee, on which elected Democrats are given seats. She was told to reapply for membership, but after submitting the proper paperwork she was then told that she would have to wait until November to apply again, a source told ARLnow.com and Garvey confirmed.
“I don’t know what the problem is,” she said in a phone interview over the weekend. “I’m a Democrat, I’m not a member of another party, I’m planning to support all the Democratic candidates — I think they’re all great.”
ACDC Chair Kip Malinosky said the move is simply a matter of staying focused heading into a key election, in which the Democratic County Board candidates will have to fend off two experienced independent candidates: Audrey Clement and Michael McMenamin.
“This year we have two exceptional county board candidates in Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey,” Malinosky said. “Because the focus should be squarely on them, as well as the rest of our great candidates, we deferred discussion about the subject of Libby’s readmission until after this year’s election.”
The 5-4 ruling was almost immediately decried by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, but others in the county have enthusiastically endorsed the landmark decision.
Board member Jay Fisette, who in 1997 became the first openly gay elected official in Virginia, said he was overjoyed by today’s ruling.
“I had absolutely no idea that this day would come in my lifetime — let alone while I was still in office,” said Fisette. “The Court’s action validates the lives of millions of Americans, reinforces the value of equality to our nation, and puts us in step with the civilized free nations on the planet.”
Board member Libby Garvey echoed Fisette’s excitement about the Supreme Court decision, telling ARLnow that she was delighted by the news and had “been exchanging happy texts this morning with my sister and her wife and other family.”
In a statement today, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called the vote “an extraordinary moment in our nation’s recognition that Americans cannot and will not be denied dignity, rights, and responsibilities, including those of marriage, simply because of who they love.”
“I am proud we put Virginia on the right side of history on this issue,” Herring said, referencing the fact that gay marriage has been legal in Virginia since 2014. Herring held a press conference about marriage equality outside the Arlington County courthouse this afternoon.
Don Beyer, member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Virginia’s 8th district, also issued a statement this morning in which he applauded the Supreme Court and called the nationwide guarantee of marriage equality a “watershed moment in American history.”
“Gay rights are human rights and today we have ensured that all Americans, regardless of their sexuality, have the right to share the rest of their lives with the person they love,” said Beyer. “I could not be prouder to stand with my LGBTQ constituents and celebrate this incredible moment.”
Several of the area’s gay pride groups have upcoming events where residents can celebrate. The Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance is hosting a Pride Month Social this Sunday evening from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant (555 23rd St S.), and NOVA Pride has a SCOTUS Ruling Happy Hour scheduled for Monday night at A-Town Bar & Grill (4100 Fairfax Drive) from 5-10 p.m.
Arlington officials cautioned that this ruling only deals with one aspect of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, however. According to Fisette, the next big LGBTQ issue facing the nation is employment discrimination, and though some local governments — like Arlington’s — prohibit hiring discrimination on the basis of sexual identity, many still don’t.
“In most states, including Virginia, it is legal to fire someone simply because they are gay,” said Fisette.
Delegate Patrick A. Hope of the Virginia General Assembly agreed with Fisette, saying “Tomorrow, we must continue our efforts to end LGBT discrimination in other areas, such as in workplace, with the goal to treat every American fairly and equally.”
Last week, ARLnow.com reported that Arlington’s site plan application process prohibits the county from receiving funds for schools when developers build bigger buildings, including apartments and condos. If the county wants to start receiving funds directly from developers to offset school costs, the site plan process has to be modified.
“I believe it is time to start a community conversation as to how we might consider adjustment to the site plan system to be more cognizant of school needs,” Vihstadt told ARLnow.com. “This won’t happen overnight, and it may require legislation in Richmond, but the bottom line is we need to be more creative and proactive in planning for and accommodating the growing enrollment trends in our schools, and we need more tools to do so.”
In Northern Virginia’s suburban counties like Fairfax and Loudoun, county governments negotiate proffers with developers who want to build higher density projects. These proffers include, at least for Loudoun, fully funding the development’s impact on schools, roads and public safety. Those jurisdictions, however, don’t have nearly the commercial tax base of Arlington, which raises about half of its revenue from commercial real estate.
“What we rely on for the payment of the ongoing governmental services are the tax support that comes from the buildings,” Arlington County Board Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com last week. “The system we use has been in place for over 50 years and it has resulted in one of the most successful transformations of a community ever.”
Garvey, who has been on the County Board since 2012, before which she served for years on the School Board, also says it’s time to take another look at that system as Arlington Public Schools experiences unprecedented overcrowding.
“I think it is a good idea to look at the site plan system,” she said. “I would want to see the pros and cons of each before deciding.”
Garvey said she also supports an examination of the way the county and schools split tax revenue and plan their budgets.
“Another look at our revenue sharing agreement and how we do the budget process with the schools, working together with the schools, would be a good idea,” she said.
(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) The shockwaves around the re-election of John Vihstadt to the Arlington County Board last night continue to reverberate today, with many around Arlington wondering if the county is about to undergo a major policy shift.
“The streetcar is dead,” local political blogger and strategist Ben Tribbett told ARLnow.com last night at the Democrats’ election party in Crystal City. “The voters spoke so overwhelmingly tonight. There’s absolutely no way that [County Board members] Mary [Hynes] and Walter [Tejada] can win re-election if they’re running as pro-streetcar candidates next year. The voters have spoken on this now. It’s over.”
The growing chorus that the majority of the County Board — Chair Jay Fisette, as well as Hynes and Tejada — are out of touch with the voters was bolstered by Vihstadt’s margin of victory. The Republican-endorsed independent won 55.76 percent of the vote to Democrat Alan Howze’s 43.8 percent — less than his margin of victory in the April special election but still a big surprise to many who follow Arlington politics, who haven’t seen a non-Democrat win a County Board general election since 1983.
Howze won just 13 of Arlington’s 52 precincts. By comparison, Democrat Sen. Mark Warner won the majority of votes in every one of Arlington’s precincts, and took 70.59 percent of Arlington ballots.
It’s that result that led Arlington County Democratic Committee President Kip Malinosky to determine that Vihstadt’s victory was not from a lack of Democratic voter turnout, but rather the issues and candidates themselves.
“At this point, I’m not prepared to say what the message [voters sent] was, I’d like to look deep into it and hear a lot more,” he told ARLnow.com last night. “Arlington is a wonderful place to live, it’s well-governed, low crime, low unemployment rate. But people are obviously unsatisfied about something, so we’re going to have to do better.”
County Board member Libby Garvey, a Democrat, threw her support behind Vihstadt before the April special election to replace Chris Zimmerman, and was forced to resign from the ACDC executive committee for it. Last night, she experienced a mix of elation and relief at Vihstadt’s home in Tara-Leeway Heights, realizing her efforts had been validated by tens of thousands of Arlington voters.
“This is a mandate,” she said emphatically. “I think our colleagues on the Board have gotten out of touch with what people want, including Democrats. It’s just really a wonderful validation of what we’ve been saying and what we’ve been thinking. I think the people of Arlington are taking back control of their county and that’s a good thing.”
Tribbett agreed, taking it a step further. He said Howze shouldn’t take the blame for the loss; instead, it’s on the Board’s own lack of trust with voters and on the local Democratic leadership.
“It’s on the County Board 100 percent,” Tribbett said.
“This is the problem with Arlington Democrats. They spent the time after they lost the special election, and here’s the arrogant response: ‘When we get more voters, they’ll just take our sample ballot, and they won’t know the issues, so they’ll vote for our candidate,'” he continued. “Their plan is to hope that people aren’t informed? Well, this is one of the most educated electorates in the country, and they just told them basically to eff themselves with that kind of strategy, to rely on them being misinformed. Gimme a break. They ought to be embarrassed.”
While Tribbett believes the Columbia Pike streetcar to be a political impossibility at this point, groups that support it say the election shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on the streetcar.
“It would be reading too much into Arlington voters’ intentions to ascribe the election of John Vihstadt to a full term on the Arlington Board over Alan Howze primarily to the debate over the Columbia Pike streetcar,” said the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a press release this afternoon. “Streetcar opponents linked the price tag of the streetcar to general concerns over government spending and the state of the economy… [but] we are confident that the streetcar will continue to stand up to scrutiny and prove to be the best investment for the Columbia Pike Corridor.”
Tejada said he hopes the Board can “work together in a respectful manner” and “find as much common ground as possible.” He deflected questions about the future of the streetcar and concerns over his and Hynes’ ability to win re-election in 2015. Instead, Tejada championed the achievement of agreeing on the streetcar plan without sacrificing any affordable housing on Columbia Pike.
Tejada also obliquely referred to Garvey and Vihstadt’s rhetoric as “divisive,” saying many of the Board’s critics are “condensing” the issues into “sound bites.” He said he looked forward to “continue to inform details to the community, particularly factual information that it took quite a long time to get to.”
“I think this is a crossroads moment in time for Arlington,” Tejada said. “We need to decide whether we’re going to become a timid and stagnant community or are we going to continue to be bold and innovative and craft difficult strategic policies that will sustain us in the future in all parts of the county.”
The following letter to the editor was submitted by Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey.
What transportation projects should we fund in Arlington with the money we save from not building a streetcar?
This is an important question. John Vihstadt and I asked our staff exactly this question during a work session on the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) this summer. Our staff said they could provide a list if a majority of our Board colleagues voted to ask for it, but our three Board colleagues voted against it. So neither we, nor the public, has the benefit of staff’s expertise and analysis to answer this question.
We do know that the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars are projected to cost over $500 million and consume about 19% of our Capital Improvement Program. We also know that these streetcars will require over $8 million and perhaps millions more per year in annual operating costs. We all should be wondering what could and should we do with this money instead.
If we reprogram those local and state dollars, here are some possibilities we might fund partially or fully:
1. Expand and improve the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in Crystal City so it operates more like a streetcar with side opening doors. Run it frequently and all the time. Connect it to the BRT line in Alexandria. Work with Fairfax and run BRT all the way down Route 1 to Fort Belvoir. Take the BRT line down the route planned for the streetcar on Columbia Pike, and take it into Annandale. Run a BRT line from Rosslyn out Lee Highway and work with Fairfax and Loudoun to take it all the way to Leesburg. Work with Montgomery County, Maryland and D.C. and take a BRT line from Arlington and the Pentagon to D.C. and on to Rockville or further. In other words, build a robust regional BRT service that people can depend on to get them where they want to go conveniently and efficiently.
2. Address the dangerous intersection at Lynn Street and Lee Highway at Key Bridge with a permanent and effective solution to protect pedestrians and cyclists. This likely means significant construction to rework the intersection. We could improve pedestrian and cyclist safety around the county at other places like East Falls Church.
3. Add much needed new Metro entrances at Rosslyn and Ballston.
4. Add a whole new Metro station in Rosslyn as called for in the Metro Momentum plan.
5. Pay for some of the huge capital costs Metro anticipates in their Metro Momentum capital improvement plan. While not detailed yet, this is a large expense that looms in the near future. Currently we have not planned how we will pay for it.
6. With the old bridges over the Potomac needing extensive reconstruction soon and the huge casino opening at Harbor Place the need for more ways to cross the river is clear. Transportation funds could be used for a new bridge, or tunnel or even dock facilities for a Potomac ferry service. A recent study showed a ferry to be economically viable. National Airport is a natural location for a dock. Besides millions of tourists arriving there each year, thousands of people commute to and from Ft. Belvoir and other military bases located on the river every day.
In sum, taxes will be lower and transportation better without a streetcar. There are many needed transportation improvements that will have to wait until we can raise taxes or get federal and state dollars to fund them if we waste over $500 million on a streetcar.
To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.
Photo courtesy Donna Gouse