by Peter Rousselot — November 19, 2015 at 2:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. 

A soon as possible after it takes office on Jan. 1, the new County Board needs to make a series of important decisions regarding recommendations in the final report submitted by the Community Facilities Study Group (CFSG). As explained below, these decisions involve both substance and process.


The CFSG highlighted five pressing community challenges:

  • A scarcity of land for public facilities — Just 2.2 square miles of Arlington’s 26 square miles are public land owned by the County or APS. That public land is needed for schools, fire stations, community centers, storage and maintenance facilities and more.
  • Changing demographics — Arlington’s population is projected to grow from 216,700 today to 283,000 in 2040. School enrollment is expected to exceed 30,000 students by 2024.
  • A threatened commercial tax base — A shrinking federal presence, shifts in the way businesses use office space, and a competitive regional market have combined to push office vacancy rates to a historic high in Arlington.
  • Strategic facility planning and priority setting — The County needs a clear and open structure for setting priorities among competing needs.
  • Revamping the community dialogue — To reach all members of our community, Arlington needs to make participation easier, earlier, and more meaningful.

In accepting the CFSG report, the current County and School Boards directed their staffs to present initial responses no later than Feb. 2016, followed by community feedback and formal staff recommendations due by Sept. 2016. Under the current schedule, both Boards then are supposed to “reconvene” with the CFSG by the end of 2016.


One of the most important issues the new County Board needs to address ASAP is the conflict between the current schedule to review the CFSG report and the traditional schedule to adopt Arlington’s next 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP). Under past practice, the next CIP is due for adoption in summer 2016.

But, the current County Board has just approved a timetable for review of the CFSG report that strongly suggests that the new County Board will not be ready to address the last two of the five pressing community challenges identified by the CFSG — priorities and transparency — until well after the new County Board actually has adopted the next CIP.

It is incongruous that the new County Board actually would make major decisions regarding what is likely to be a $3 billion, 10-year capital improvement plan without first agreeing upon and then utilizing, the types of priorities recommended by the CFSG.


To enable setting priorities, the new County Board should design a transparent 2016 CIP process that mandates:

  • financial modeling of appropriate alternative development scenarios, and
  • alternative capital cost assumptions for individual major capital projects.

by Peter Rousselot — November 12, 2015 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Early in 2016, the new County Board should overhaul the seriously-flawed process the current County Board uses to allocate any surplus funds left over at the close of the County’s fiscal year.


Both the County Board and the School Board have fiscal years that end on June 30. Each Board is required, by law, to adopt a balanced budget. In many years, the County Board has closed its fiscal year with substantial surpluses. Since the School Board receives the lion’s share of its revenues from the County Board, the School Board receives a pro-rata share of any such locally-generated surpluses.

However, each Board currently has very different processes for deciding what to do with such surpluses. The School Board’s approach is far superior to the County Board’s approach.


At its Nov. 19 meeting, the County Board is scheduled to vote to allocate tens of millions of dollars in prior fiscal year surplus funds. The County Board has scheduled that vote based on a proposed allocation contained in a staff report not posted on the County website when this column was submitted to ARLnow.com. This is exactly the same process the County Board has followed for years. You can review last year’s County staff report’s recommendations regarding how to allocate prior fiscal year surplus funds here.

Many activists believe that the County overestimates expenses and underestimates revenues in the operating budget it adopts each spring. They claim the County does this deliberately so that during the following fall’s fiscal year close-out, the County can eliminate a public review of its close-out recommendations comparable to the public review the budget receives in the spring. County staff counters indignantly that any such suggestions are false because the County’s spring budgeting approach simply demonstrates prudent financial planning for which the staff should be praised.

It isn’t necessary to resolve this heated annual debate over motive because there is a far better process available to guard against the possibility that the activists are correct.

The School Board first receives, posts on its website, and discusses in a public meeting its staff’s recommendations regarding how to allocate any surplus funds. But, the School Board does not vote on its staff’s proposal until the following month. This much fairer and more transparent process allows the School Board to:

  • discuss the initial APS staff recommendations at a public meeting,
  • receive a public report from the APS Budget Advisory Committee, and
  • wait a month to get further input from the general public, before finally
  • adopting the final allocation of any APS surplus funds.


The new County Board should adopt the School Board’s close-out process.

by Peter Rousselot — November 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

A poop fence and an APS trailer both represent choices that our local governing bodies have made in the past. We can do much better in the future.


In October, ARLnow.com posted a story about the completion of a public art installation on a sewage treatment plant fence. The County Board properly was ridiculed.

In September, ARLnow.com posted a story warning that more trailers were coming to certain schools. Most Arlington parents agree this is a bad idea.

Will the new County and School Boards continue to make choices like these?


I believe the new Boards must make smarter choices. The new Boards must deny certain constituencies funding to which they aspire in order to provide more funding to other priorities that have greater community support.

The current County Board has dodged certain critical issues such as developer proffers for school construction. While Fairfax and Loudoun require such education proffers, our current County Board continues to claim that Arlington lacks the legal authority to require them. I say: prove it, then get it.

The new County Board should direct the County Attorney to publish a legal opinion explaining why he claims Arlington lacks the authority. After other lawyers examine the County Attorney’s opinion, if there is a consensus that Arlington indeed does lack such authority, the new County Board expeditiously should direct our Richmond legislative delegation to get that authority. Arlington needs a level legal playing field to enable us to require developers to contribute to all different types of “community benefits.”

The new County Board should lead in organizing a transparent community conversation about our next capital and operating budgets. What priorities does our community assign to using either developer proffers or general obligation bond financing for:

  • education?
  • open space acquisition?
  • affordable housing?
  • public art?
  • other?

We need to develop such priorities to direct both our tax dollars and developer contributions.

At the same time, the new School Board should lead a transparent community conversation regarding new and innovative ways to cut the cost of construction of new schools and additions.

New modular school construction technologies are much:

  • cheaper,
  • greener, and
  • faster

than the current school design and construction approach to which APS staff stubbornly clings. Cheaper new classrooms = fewer trailers.

Examples of modular construction that APS should investigate include:


We need to prioritize spending on core services, not on “totally redefining the traditional role of a fence.” We need more regular classrooms much faster.

by Peter Rousselot — October 22, 2015 at 2:30 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Arlington faces competing demands for investment in schools, parks, housing and economic development. It is essential that our County Board members have a record of accomplishment, a demonstrated willingness to exercise independence, and the ability to bring people together to move Arlington forward. That’s why I am strongly supporting both Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey for election to the County Board.

Both candidates support reforming the way our participation process works to make it more accessible and more representative for all Arlingtonians, and have voiced support for the “72-hour rule” for public posting of Board documents.

Katie Cristol will draw on her background working with resource-constrained localities across the country to bring a comparative perspective to Arlington’s challenges. As an education policy advisor, Katie has experience asking tough questions about efficiency: is a dollar spent on a program more effective than a dollar spent elsewhere.

Katie also has proposed more accessible avenues for community input, like open houses in parks, so that residents unable to participate in lengthy meetings still can share their thoughts. Katie’s professional experience with community engagement, which is vital for utilizing the knowledge of Arlington’s many well-informed residents, will make her a thoughtful steward of Arlington’s resources. Rather than seeking to join or represent a particular faction on the County Board, Katie offers an alternative: fiscal responsibility and responsiveness paired with progressive values. To learn more, please visit Katie’s website.

Christian Dorsey’s career has centered on promoting broadly-shared prosperity for communities across the country. This requires critical thinking about budget priorities. That type of thinking, along with his commitment to open, responsive, and inclusive County government, is why Christian has been endorsed by all five members of the County Board.

Christian also embraces the idea that progressive values are, in fact, compatible with fiscal prudence. That’s why, even as a resident living near Columbia Pike, Christian was a voice of thoughtful opposition to the streetcar. Not because he opposes investments in transit and infrastructure, but because Christian wants to ensure those investments make sense and produce optimal outcomes. As a macroeconomist, an APS parent, an appointee to the Planning and Tenant-Landlord Commissions, and a civic activist who has served our community for over two decades, Christian Dorsey will be ready to lead on day one. To learn more, please visit Christian’s website.


Registered voters in Arlington are entitled to cast two votes for the open seats on the County Board. The best way to ensure your say in how our County is governed is to cast both votes, and Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey are clearly the best choices.

by Peter Rousselot — October 15, 2015 at 1:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Twice this year (in May and again this month), the County Board scheduled, but then postponed, a vote on a County staff recommendation to extend parking meter hours from 6-8 p.m.. The Board should just say NO.


In support of its recommendation to extend the hours from 6 to 8, County staff stated:

Use of curbside space by long-term parkers after 6 p.m. limits the number of spaces available for short-term parkers. This limitation has a negative impact on adjacent commercial businesses that are generally dependent on convenient curbside parking … The proposed changes in … hours of operation would help achieve the goals adopted in the Parking Element of the Master Transportation Plan…

The Parking Element is a 31-page, single-spaced document adopted in November 2009. This document proposes an explanation why, in theory, at certain times of the day, parking meters and their fees can play an important role in fostering the health of adjacent businesses.


The Arlington businesses whose health properly is the concern of the staff’s recommendation are strongly OPPOSED to the staff’s recommendation. In a Sept. 24, 2015 letter to the County Board, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce had this to say:

The Chamber recently reached out to our retail and restaurant members regarding the proposed parking meter hour changes …The feedback we received was unanimously in opposition to the extension of parking meter hours…The Arlington Chamber represents 700 businesses with an interest in Arlington County. We appreciate the planning theory that increasing parking meters and hours can in fact lead to more parking spaces and thus more people willing to drive to an area to frequent businesses. However, our members … do not believe that the proposed changes will produce the intended result.

The Crystal City BID wrote a Sept. 25, 2015 letter to the Board, similarly requesting that the two-hour extension be denied:

Despite Arlington’s success in transit-oriented development, retail and restaurant businesses still rely heavily on patronage by customers who drive. With other emerging centers of activity in Tysons, Mosaic District, National Harbor and many more, additional consideration must be given to ensure that the County is not driving people, potential customers, and tax dollars away with ill-timed and burdensome policies.


Without extending hours, ideas worthy of discussion with stakeholders include:

  • smart phone aps that would inform drivers of availability in nearby parking garages and potentially curbside spaces as well,
  • surge pricing technology where meter rates could be calibrated up or down to demand,
  • special parking-garage rates for restaurant service workers, many of whom occupy curb space that businesses with scarce parking would prefer be left to customers.

by Peter Rousselot — October 8, 2015 at 1:30 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Starting in summer 2015, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has been holding a series of public meetings on VDOT’s proposal to impose tolls during rush hour on I-66. VDOT’s proposal has generated substantial support from smart growth advocates. They argue that this proposal is far preferable to the status quo.

However, on Oct. 1, Virginia Republican legislative leaders held a press conference to condemn VDOT’s proposal:

Calling the proposal “outrageously expensive” for commuters, [Virginia House Speaker William J.] Howell … called on the governor to trash the idea and launch a plan that includes promptly adding new lanes to the heavily congested highway.

Of course, “adding new lanes” presumably includes adding them to the portion of I-66 inside Arlington’s borders far sooner than such lanes would be added under VDOT’s proposal.

Regardless of the conceptual merits of VDOT’s proposal, the Virginia Republican legislative proposal, or any other proposal, critical details regarding the costs and benefits are missing from all of these alternative proposals. The Arlington County Board should NOT vote to approve any proposal (including VDOT’s proposal) until all critical details are supplied. Arlington residents also need a reasonable amount of time to examine and comment upon those details before any Board vote.

Among the critical details needed to evaluate the Arlington impacts of any proposal (including VDOT’s) are:

  • numerical estimates of the traffic flowing on I-66 that will be diverted to major alternative routes (e.g., Lee Hwy., Washington Blvd., Route 50),
  • specific infrastructure improvements necessary to accommodate the diverted traffic,
  • how much each infrastructure improvement will cost,
  • who will pay those costs, and
  • what other Arlington neighborhood impacts will be incurred.

At this writing, none of this information has been supplied to nor vetted by Arlington residents.

Any estimates of diverted traffic (and all the improvements and costs attributable to that diverted traffic) will contain a high degree of risk. Such estimates depend on very subjective judgments regarding how many commuters will stop driving alone and choose to carpool instead, or choose some other transit option. Who bears the risk and pays the cost if these subjective estimates are substantially wrong?

If the VDOT toll proposal survives the Republican vow to kill it, Arlington should insist upon a toll exemption for all intra-Arlington trips on I-66. Arlington residents with vehicles registered to an Arlington County home address should be permitted to travel during rush hour on I-66 between any two exits from exit 68 to exit 75 without paying any toll.


The County Board should lead transparently on all these issues. The issues are complicated. There’s no need to rush to judgment.

by Peter Rousselot — October 1, 2015 at 1:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Is Airbnb legal in Arlington? It’s hard to tell, and that’s a problem.

Airbnb certainly is doing business in Arlington. Airbnb’s website currently boasts 300+ Arlington rentals, including:

  • a “cozy Ballston 1bd” @ $45 per night,
  • a $350 per night “huge 3bd” one block from Metro, and
  • hundreds more all over Arlington.

At the same time as it promotes these listings, Airbnb is passing the buck of regulatory and tax compliance to Arlington property owners via a “help center” on the Airbnb website:

When deciding whether to become an Airbnb host, it is important for you to understand the laws in your county. As a platform and marketplace we do not provide legal advice, but we want to give you some useful links that may help you better understand laws and regulations in Arlington County.

The website then lists some of the laws and regulations that might apply to Arlington property owners who use Airbnb’s services:

  • zoning ordinance
  • building code
  • short-term rental building registration and record-keeping
  • transient occupancy tax
  • other rules (like those set by condo boards, home owners associations, etc.)

Finally, this Airbnb website urges property owners to contact Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) or other county agencies or to “consult a local lawyer or tax professional.”

Airbnb nowhere mentions the laws or regulations that might apply to Airbnb itself.

Where have we seen this movie before? Although there are differences, the name Uber comes to mind. Last year, we began the Uber conversation when some argued that Uber was operating taxis illegally in Arlington. This year, some are arguing that Airbnb is operating hotels illegally in Arlington.

As was the case with Uber, in a Dillon Rule state like Virginia, the appropriate regulatory framework for a service like Airbnb must first be established at the state level not the local level. The need for the state to act now is underscored by the fact that the legality of Airbnb’s operations already has been questioned in:


Right now, Arlington County should NOT go down the path of cities like Richmond, Charlottesville and Roanoke by spending time and energy looking for strictly local ways to regulate and tax Airbnb or its participating property owners. Instead, Arlington first should focus on seeking a fair and uniform state-wide regulatory framework for Airbnb and entities like it.

A Virginia state-wide solution ultimately might lead to an agreement by Airbnb and similar entities to act as the tax collection agents for localities like Arlington. Airbnb already has worked out such deals in D.C., San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.

by Peter Rousselot — September 24, 2015 at 2:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On Aug. 17, Arlington County launched a six-month food-truck-zone pilot program in Rosslyn:

The program — designed to create pedestrian-friendly food truck access for area workers and residents — sprang from discussions among food truck owners, local restaurateurs and County and [Rosslyn] Business Improvement District [BID] staff. Participation is voluntary, meaning food trucks can park in other areas of Rosslyn and the County, provided owners observe the parking rules for those streets.

Four Rosslyn pilot zones have been established:

  • On 19th Street N. just past N. Lynn Street
  • Along Wilson Blvd above N. Kent Street
  • At the intersection of N. Nash Street and Wilson Boulevard
  • On N. Pierce Street along Wilson Blvd

Food trucks can park for four hours rather than two in these zones.


In developing this pilot, the County took a holistic view of curbside management, soliciting input from both food trucks and brick and mortar (B&M) establishments. In selecting the zones, the County and the BID pursued a consumer-centric approach. The goal: maximize public spaces, parking and infrastructure so that all retail establishments (B&M and trucks) are visible and easy to access.

Since the launch, the BID has continued proactively to communicate with and collect feedback from the community, food trucks and other stakeholders. The goal: to help inform how the zones might evolve. Most people in Rosslyn who were surveyed about the zones (through an online survey and by BID staff on the street) appreciate that N. Lynn Street is less congested. A majority of the respondents initially surveyed (68.75 percent) indicated they approve of the zones.

For the most part, those who do not approve of the zones would like to see the trucks return to N. Lynn Street. During the current Central Place construction, this is not feasible, but it may make sense for the trucks to return after construction ends in the first quarter of 2016.


Any fair appraisal of this Rosslyn experiment must answer the question: compared to what?

Based upon the experience and feedback developed during this worthwhile pilot program, the County and the Rosslyn BID will be better positioned to answer critical questions about food trucks.

If some zones are better than no zones, the County and the BID must find a balance among:

  • expanding zones in size to allow each to hit a critical mass, while
  • complying with Arlington’s Vending Ordinance, and
  • trying to avoid empty or near-empty zones, and
  • deciding whether two or some other number of hours is the most appropriate incremental food-truck-parking benefit

If there continue to be advocates for no zones, the County and the BID must provide convincing reasons why some zones are better than none.

by Peter Rousselot — September 17, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,050 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

It’s time for the County Board to vote to reject historic designation for Stratford. The mere possibility that Stratford might receive such a designation is substantially hurting APS’ ability to design a new middle school to add desperately needed seats.

The current process–which relies on the false hope that a reasonable compromise can be reached between the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) and APS staff–already has proven that no such reasonable compromise will occur. Why prolong the agony?

(1) APS staff’s top priority is to design a school that makes sense – for programming, student circulation and overall school community. HALRB’s top priority, per its guidelines, is that there be minimal changes to the original building. These are two irreconcilable priorities.

(2) APS staff has announced publicly that its preference is the “link” design, which builds an atrium over the historic south building façade. During two work sessions (the Aug. 11 School Board work session and the Aug. 19 APS-HALRB work session), HALRB strongly criticized the “link” design. APS has proposed a wide variety of ways to honor Stratford’s desegregation history, but would definitely change the outward appearance of the building.  HALRB’s mission is to protect the history of the building by maintaining its appearance.  These are two irreconcilable historic preservation strategies.

(3) The idea of a compromise is clearly unrealistic. APS staff continues to present options partially to appease HALRB, but APS continues to promote the design APS believes works best for students. HALRB continues to throw up roadblocks, coming up with additional problems for each APS design. For instance, HALRB provided significant pushback to one of the APS “compromise” designs because the soccer field’s position relative to the school was changed by a matter of several yards. HALRB’s alternative solution basically eliminated a new parent drop-off plaza–an important safety enhancement. HALRB’s unwillingness to make even minimal changes to the outside view of the school is unreasonable. While some of APS’ own designs might prove to be too elaborate or expensive, that is a separate issue that can and should be addressed separately.


The County Board should vote now to reject historic designation for Stratford because it is clear that there will not be a reasonable compromise between two such diametrically opposed organizational missions as those of APS and HALRB.

The new Stratford Middle School should:

  • Incorporate design elements that sensitively and appropriately celebrate the historic desegregation events that took place at Stratford, BUT
  • Only celebrate them in a way which does NOT significantly add to the cost of the building nor otherwise restrict its use as a new middle school, as determined by APS not by HALRB.

by Peter Rousselot — September 10, 2015 at 1:30 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine justifiably are worried about the Virginia economic impacts of the automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration. Absent a Congressional budget deal by Sept. 30–less than three weeks from now, we face either those automatic cuts, a partial federal government shutdown or both:

“If we have the return of sequestration, it’s going to be even worse than it was a couple of years ago, because every agency, particularly the Defense Department, has cleared out most of their coffers,” Warner said. “So that’s why they’ve got to get rid of sequestration and those negotiations need to be starting now, and not wait until the end of September.”

The Virginia economic effects will be dramatic and negative, Warner warned even more recently. And Northern Virginia, including Arlington, is the area of Virginia that is most at risk.

Even prior to this latest threat, Arlington and the Northern Virginia regional economy were experiencing the significant negative impacts of the slowdowns in federal spending that began in 2011. Federal government downsizing “has seen the D.C. region’s gross regional economy shrink two years in a row beginning in 2013.” Federal government downsizing has led to the large increases in commercial office vacancy rates in Arlington and throughout Northern Virginia. There is no end in sight.

The ripple effects are predictable:

As government contractors consolidate, they’ll need less office space. That puts pressure on lease rates region-wide, there will be less construction work, and the necessary process of restructuring from inefficient and expensive land-use patterns to more cost-effective patterns will drag out.

For these reasons, Northern Virginia business leaders are speaking out in favor of a bi-partisan Congressional budget deal:

Where we want to see bipartisan support and having the parties work together is the avoidance of a government shutdown”, says Jim Corcoran, chief executive of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. … Another shutdown “is the most disruptive thing that can happen.”


The slow-down in federal spending that began in 2011 already has had a serious negative impact on Arlington’s economy. That negative impact has manifested itself in our average 21 percent commercial office vacancy rate, producing annual losses of tens of millions of local tax dollars, and putting added pressure on the residential tax rate. Sequestration and/or a partial government shut-down would have additional dramatic and negative impacts.

It’s time to contact our Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, and urge them to reach a bi-partisan budget deal to avoid this. You can do that by emailing them as follows:

by Peter Rousselot — September 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

It’s time for Virginia legislators to do their very best to re-examine carefully and calmly what further legislative steps Virginia should take to reduce the number of people who are killed or injured by mentally unstable shooters.

Andy Parker, the father of Alison Parker, one of the two Roanoke, Virginia TV reporters who were killed while conducting an on-air broadcast last week, put the issue this way:

I’m not going to rest until I see something happen. We’ve got to have our legislators and congressmen step up to the plate and stop being cowards about this…describing himself as a supporter of the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. How many Alisons is this going to happen to before we stop it?

We owe it to Andy Parker and other Virginia family members who have been seared by similar tragedies to take another look at this issue.

Arlington Del. Patrick Hope launched an online petition to assess support for his proposal to take another look. Hope’s petition received more than 20,000 signatures in the first 24 hours. As Hope explains:

Many people feel powerless in these situations because of the political climate that holds us back from real change. I’m asking my colleagues to put people first to get this done once and for all. I know we can’t end all acts of gun violence, but that doesn’t need to stop us from advancing common sense solutions like background checks that can help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

Hope is aware that if there is any chance of legislative success, large numbers of Virginia Republican legislators must support any bill. No such bi-partisan support will emerge if Democrats and Republicans spend their time accusing each other of “callous disregard of a tragedy” or trying to “capitalize on a tragedy.” Also, no progress will be made if politicians refuse even to discuss issues relating to tightening Virginia’s current background check system by arguing that “no system could have prevented this particular shooting.”

Instead, our legislators should approach with open minds a stem-to-stern re-examination of every aspect of the ways in which Virginia collects mental health data to be entered into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system. There should be some quiet, behind-the-scenes discussions among legislators from both parties to explore potential areas of agreement.

There are many local and national resources available. For example, The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police supports strengthening background checks.


Hope deserves praise for his leadership on this. If you have suggestions for him, you can send them to [email protected].

by Peter Rousselot — August 27, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,442 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

For nearly a year, residents of the Claremont neighborhood adjacent to Wakefield High School have been trying to get Arlington Public Schools (APS) to replace dead trees and address other landscaping problems on portions of the Wakefield site. Photos of some of these dead and dying trees and landscaping problems are available here and here. Thus far, APS has failed to fix these problems. APS’ latest promise is to try to do so by the end of September.

The experience of these Claremont residents exposes serious APS management issues. The issues need to be resolved before they inevitably are magnified as APS continues to pursue major school facilities construction projects throughout Arlington.

Michael Graham is a concerned neighbor who lives on South Chesterfield Road directly across the street from Wakefield. He has tried–unsuccessfully–to get APS to fix things:

APS has failed to do what was needed on its landscaping and planting tied to the final stages of the Wakefield HS tear-down and rebuild. Trees, shrubs, etc. all planted within the past year or so are dead and dying. The whole trees thing has turned into a time wasting, frustrating nightmare.

Environmental Benefits of Trees and Landscaping

Trees and landscaping provide aesthetic and environmental benefits. The environmental benefits, including removal of atmospheric CO2, have been documented repeatedly. Arlington’s Urban Forestry Commission is an important local resource. This Commission provides advice on tree and plant care, including watering and other important maintenance tips. A glance at the photos of the dead Wakefield trees shows that APS did not follow this locally-available advice.

Trees and Landscaping as a Neighborhood Buffer

Trees and landscaping also act as a buffer between school property and adjacent residential neighborhoods. Regrettably, APS’s earlier experience in cutting down mature trees at Ashlawn Elementary may show a pattern of insensitivity to the role of trees in community relations.

At Wakefield, there also are community dangers such as metal poles sticking out of the ground, exposed electrical wires, and dirt craters big enough to hold/hurt small children. Some neighbors believe APS has failed to use trees to conceal adequately the backs of scoreboards on an athletic field. Future uses of that field also will require APS to consult with Claremont residents.


APS consistently needs to be a thoughtful steward of its trees and grounds and a good neighbor. If the School Board and Superintendent currently can’t do that due to budget constraints, that needs to rectified. If the issue is not budgetary, the Board and the Superintendent still need to fix it.

At Wakefield, APS must move quickly to solve the identified problems, involve Claremont residents in the proposed solutions, and restore goodwill.

by Peter Rousselot — August 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm 1,560 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Arlington County is considering selling approximately 5 acres of County-owned land known as the Edison site adjacent to the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC). This County land could be sold for cash, VHC land or a combination. The VHC land would consist of other Arlington properties VHC owns. The County has created a special website for this proposal.

Arlington faces a crisis. It lacks adequate County-owned land for both current and future needs for core services like parks and schools. If we are to avoid–or at least minimize–continuing community conflict by trying to address too many public needs in too limited space, the County must enlarge “the box” of available County land. The County’s proposal to sell its Edison property in exchange for VHC land represents just such an opportunity.

aerial photo of the Virginia Hospital Center Carlin Springs Road propertyThe County has scheduled a Sept. 9 public meeting to discuss the proposal. While many details remain to be worked out, one of the really promising aspects of the proposal is that Arlington might be able to acquire an 11.57 acre VHC property located at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road.

Due to the relatively large size and location of the Carlin Springs Road property, it offers great potential to enlarge our public land inventory and thereby address a number of critical needs the County faces over the next decade. This potentially can be done for no, or relatively limited, tax payer dollars.

Among the critical public needs that could be met by this South Arlington property are additional parkland and school capacity.


As shown in the aerial photo, the site contains at least 2.7 acres of natural areas and open space abutting Glencarlyn Park. The site offers a unique opportunity to add material acreage to a park at little or no cost. Typical park additions are a fraction of an acre of developed land at a cost of millions of dollars per acre.


The site currently contains a former hospital building, an adjacent multi-story parking garage, and a multi-story office building.

The site could become a future location for multiple school uses, such as:

  • choice or magnet school programs;
  • swing space for both North and South Arlington to permit additions to existing schools, enabling “building up” rather than out; and
  • short or long-term locations for other APS programs and functions, thereby potentially freeing up hundreds of seats at already over-crowded schools.


Obviously, issues such as compatibility, transportation, and refitting costs will have to be considered. However, obtaining the Carlin Springs Road property is a great win-win opportunity for Arlington.

by Peter Rousselot — August 13, 2015 at 2:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

An excellent new report (“Valuing Arlington’s Community Parks and Open Space“) demonstrates the value of parks in our community dialogue about major issues, including:

  • Development
  • Zoning
  • Siting school facilities and housing

The new report should help us avoid serious mistakes like Arlington’s decision to sacrifice Rosslyn Highlands Park to the interests of a private developer.

The new report is sponsored by the Arlington Park & Recreation Commission. The principal authors are Elizabeth Gearin, who has a PhD in Urban Planning and Development and William Ross, who has a PhD in Economics. Both are long-time Arlington residents. They combined their individual expertise to highlight both the qualitative and quantitative benefits parks provide.

Neither author has any direct financial interest that would be served by accepting their conclusions. They prepared this report as a community service. Backed by extensive research and analysis, the report cites both intangible and tangible benefits of parks and green space.

Intangible Benefits (traditional literature review)

  • Health

Parks provide opportunities for exercise, creative play, and lowered stress levels.

  • Community Cohesion

Parks reinforce the social fabric, providing opportunities for residents and visitors to participate in activities, socialize with one another, and form a neighborhood geographic focus.

  • Environmental

Trees, shrubs and grasses improve air quality by reducing air pollution; ameliorating the urban heat-island effect with shade and cooling; acting as a noise barrier, and reducing urban runoff as roots capture and filter rainwater.

Tangible Benefits (economic analysis)

Some of the intangible benefits of parks are priceless, but the report provides a helpful methodological framework to quantify the tangible benefits of Arlington’s parks. The report quantifies for Arlington the dollar impacts of these 10 benefit categories:

  • Increased Property Values from Park Proximity
  • Increased Property Sales Taxes from Park Proximity
  • Increased Value of Annual Property Sales from Park Proximity
  • Direct Use Value for Park Users
  • Tourism Tax Benefits Attributed to Parks
  • Tourism Profits Attributed to Parks
  • Health Value of Parks
  • Storm Water Management Value of Parks
  • Air Pollution Mitigation Value of Parks
  • Community Cohesion Value of Parks

As summarized on the Arlington County website, the bottom line is that:

[T]he annual, ongoing benefits from Arlington parks and open space is $155 million. On top of that, “the existence of parks and open space may have resulted in a one-time increase in residential property values estimated at $160 million…”

These valuations represent a preliminary approximation. Arlington should study these issues further.


Arlington’s parks and open space are not “free.” When we use our parkland for other purposes, not only do we bear the replacement cost (if we even can afford it), we lose the benefits outlined in this excellent White Paper.

by Peter Rousselot — August 6, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,317 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In a recent interview (“Arlington Needs to be Innovative Again”), Victor Hoskins–the new Director of Arlington Economic Development (AED)–answered some questions. Based on the partial transcript published last week by the Washington Post, Hoskins offers both promising and questionable approaches to address Arlington’s many daunting economic challenges.

On the promising side, Hoskins recognized that Arlington cannot rest nostalgically on its reputation for having planned well in the past. Dramatic change is needed:

Everything is changing, and we have to change with it or we go down. We’re going down because we haven’t changed. … I loved my BlackBerry. I didn’t want to give up my BlackBerry. But where is BlackBerry now? The competitive landscape has changed so dramatically, conditions have changed. We haven’t dramatically changed.

Hoskins also helpfully provided examples of ways in which excessive micro-management hampers the nimbleness Arlington needs:

  • There was a retail permit in D.C. that used to take four months to get. Now it takes four days. That’s our competition.
  • Do not tell developers what color the grout has to be. Don’t tell them who the tenants should be.

But, there also were telling weaknesses in Hoskins’ presentation. He placed far too much responsibility on County residents for delays in project approval rather than where that responsibility primarily belongs: on County staff. Look no further than County staff’s persistent advocacy for the micro-management philosophy embedded in fatally-flawed proposals like the Retail Plan.

County Board leaders must help Hoskins by making it crystal clear to County staff that in our new, highly competitive environment, Arlington will no longer tolerate the rigid central planning theologies to which too many County staff members cling.

Board leaders also must help Hoskins by clarifying local government policies regarding millennials (those in their 20s and 30s). Hoskins admits “we don’t have a clear vision of where that’s moving.” Arlington has twisted itself into a pretzel by spending millions to attract and retain millennials as residents. Certainly, we want to continue attracting millennials to our community and including them at all levels of our civic life. But focusing excessively on millennials (and their entertainment) at the expense of everyone else is a big mistake.

Workers ages 45-54 generate the highest number of new start-ups, according to the Kauffman Report. The theory that millennials drive the “Creative Class“–a class ostensibly key to urban “vibrancy”–has been discredited.


Hoskins’ fresh perspectives are welcome. The County Board can help Hoskins best by urging him to refine those perspectives into reality-driven policies and streamlined procedures that will encourage businesses and residents of all ages to invest in Arlington.


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