Press Club
Slide from Missing Middle Housing Study draft framework (via Arlington County)

A few weeks is not enough time for Arlington residents to provide informed commentary on a major local issue, according to the Arlington County Civic Federation.

The group is calling for the county to extend the public comment window for the Missing Middle Housing Study’s draft framework until Sept. 30, from the current deadline of Friday, May 27.

The framework calls for properties only zoned for single-family homes to also allow small-scale multifamily housing — from townhomes to 8-plexes, depending on lot size — provided the building is no larger than zoning currently allows for single-family homes.

That could allow more housing types and price points in Arlington, which will otherwise continue to see small homes torn down in favor of large single-family homes, the framework suggests. The study only expects a modest amount of new “missing middle” housing through the change — about 20 properties per year.

The Civic Federation, however, says that this is a major change no matter how many new duplexes, triplexes, etc. are expected to be built in what are now exclusively single-family home neighborhoods.

The federation passed the following resolution on Tuesday by a vote of 90% to 10%.

WHEREAS Arlington County has an established General Land Use Plan (GLUP) that allows for existing single-family residences and high-density, mixed-use development along the high-density, mixed-use corridors;

WHEREAS Arlington County’s Planning web page states, “Planning decisions are informed by extensive research, professional expertise and community input” and “relies on extensive community input. Individual residents can have a say on the decisions that affect their neighborhoods and the County as a whole”;

WHEREAS on April 28, Arlington County released its proposed Phase 2 Missing Middle Housing Framework document, which is the guiding framework that will facilitate the upzoning of these residential zoning districts — R-5, R-6, R-8, R-10, and R-20 — thus authorizing greater housing density in what are currently referred to as “single-family” neighborhoods countywide;

WHEREAS the impact of the Missing Middle Housing framework and its subsequent upzoning will impact not only housing density but also parking, public school enrollment, stormwater management and tree canopy preservation in residential neighborhoods countywide;

WHEREAS the deadline for public comment and feedback for the Missing Middle Housing framework is May 27, 2022, four (4) weeks from the framework’s release to the public;

WHEREAS this is a complex initiative, civic associations and other county organizations will require additional time to notify their own members, study the likely consequences of the upzoning, and develop a membership response in order to provide meaningful feedback to the county; and

WHEREAS four (4) civic associations — Arlington Forest, Boulevard Manor, Bluemont, and Glencarlyn, which represent more than 4,000 households in central Arlington — have already shared their concerns about the inadequacy of the four-week public feedback period for the proposed Phase 2 Missing Middle Housing Framework document;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Arlington County Civic Federation (ACCF) asks the Arlington County Board to immediately request that the County Manager extend the public review period for the Missing Middle Phase 2 concept plan to September 30, 2022 — to make it possible for civic associations and other community organizations to have sufficient time to assist in disseminating Missing Middle Housing Framework materials to their own members, to meet with and pose questions to staff, to analyze and understand the potential impacts on their neighborhoods, and to provide meaningful feedback before the framework is finalized.

The four civic associations referenced in the resolution noted in an April 25 letter to county officials that “our community associations, like so many others, are inactive during June, July and August,” thus making it difficult to study the issue and engage residents before September.

On the other hand, Arlington has something of a reputation for dragging out its public input and analysis processes, leading 55% of respondents to a 2018 ARLnow poll to say that “elected officials should make quicker decisions based on a streamlined community input process.”

Do you agree with the Civic Federation that residents should be given a few more months to provide their feedback on the draft plan, prior to it being compiled and analyzed by county officials ahead of potential zoning ordinance amendments?

Or should the county just get on with it?

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Morning Notes

Ballston Quarter at twilight (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Poll: D.C. Residents Prefer Alexandria — A poll on Twitter with more than 1,000 respondents shows D.C. residents saying they’re prefer to live in Alexandria over Arlington, if they had to choose, by a ratio of nearly 2:1. [Twitter]

ACPD Lays Wreaths at Memorial — “Following the Observance of Peace Officers Memorial Day, ACPD’s Honor Guard laid wreaths at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in recognition of Arlington’s seven heroic officers who have died in the line of duty. The memorial features the names of more than 22,000 federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of our nation. We are committed to never forgetting their sacrifices in service to their communities.” [Facebook]

Roads in Rosslyn Closing for Police 5K — “The 2022 National Police Week 5k will take place on Saturday, May 14, 2022.  The Arlington County Police Department will conduct the following road closures to accommodate the event.” [ACPD]

Reminder: Expect Police Motorcades — “Police Week is scheduled from Wednesday, May 11 through Tuesday, May 17. Most of the scheduled activities will take place Thursday through Sunday, though the arrival of families of fallen officers on Wednesday and Thursday will prompt many of the motorcades and rolling road closures.” [ARLnow]

Dems Honor Longtime Volunteer — “The recipient of the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s highest accolade for longtime service says she is pleased that the party continues to expand in both size and scope. ‘With more people doing more things, our organization is more complex than ever,’ Inta Malis said during a May 10 online event sponsored by Arlington Senior Democrats.” [Sun Gazette]

TV Station Honors Arlington Nurses — “As 7News celebrates the third day of Nurses Week, we salute the men and women of VHC Health in Northern Virginia. The community hospital in Arlington is a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network and is a designated Magnet hospital, one of the highest group honors for a hospital.” [WJLA]

Startup Founder Helping Refugees — “As the clock struck 11 p.m. on March 19, Yulia Yaani gathered a group of Ukrainian refugees at the Polish border. She stepped onto the bus that night, alongside roughly 50 women and children, and they traveled to Denmark for the next 17 hours — to escape the war with Russia… Yaani is co-founder and CEO of Arlington fintech [company] RealAtom, a 5-year-old startup.” [Washington Business Journal]

Kiwanis Donate to Ukraine Efforts — “The Kiwanis Club of Arlington has donated $5,000 to the World Central Kitchen (WCK) to assist with relief efforts in Ukraine. Proceeds from the club’s fund-raising activities, including its annual blueberry sale, are being used to support the WCK with their meals programs on the ground in Ukraine and in surrounding countries.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Thursday — Mostly cloudy and cool throughout the day, with a slight chance of rain. High of 68 and low of 58. Sunrise at 6:00 am and sunset at 8:12 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A discarded mask in Fairlington (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Masks are now optional on Metro, on Amtrak and on many airlines.

The announcements were made last night after a judge struck down the federal transportation mask mandate. Some cheered the end of the mandates, while others urged travelers to remain masked regardless.

For Metro, the end of the mask mandate extends to both riders and employees.  From a press release:

Effective immediately, Metro will make masks optional on Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess for its customers. Masks also will be optional for Metro employees. This change comes as a result of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suspending enforcement, while the Biden Administration reviews a federal judge’s ruling.

“Our mask mandate has been based on federal guidance,” said General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld. “We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds, but masks will be optional on Metro property until further notice.”

Metro encourages its customers to make decisions that are in their best interests. Updates will be provided as new information becomes available.

So far, there’s no word from Arlington Transit about the status of masks on ART buses. In New York City, the subway system has, for now, continued to require masks.

In general, what do you think of the decision to end mask mandates on public transportation? Also, do you plan on continuing to wear masks regardless?

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Morning Notes

A United States flag and a Ukraine flag along the W&OD trail bridge over Langston Blvd (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Local Tech Co. Makes Acquisition — “Arlington’s Fluence Energy Inc. (NASDAQ: FLNC) said Monday it has reached a deal to acquire Nispera AG, a software-as-a-service company from Switzerland focused on the renewable energy sector. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.” [Washington Business Journal]

Students Plan Earth Day Event — “Several local high schools and their environmental-club student-leaders are partnering with EcoAction Arlington for an Earth Day community event on April 23 from 9 a.m. to noon at Bon Air Park in Arlington. The initiative will help to raise funds as well as educate the public, in addition to serving as a cleanup event at the park.” [Sun Gazette]

Poll Finds ‘Missing Middle’ Support — “The Zillow report, which surveyed 12,000 adults across 27 metro areas, found that 80% of respondents in the DC region were in favor of allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs), duplexes and triplexes in residential neighborhoods. 70 percent of respondents in the region believe that allowing these types of homes in residential areas would have a positive impact on the availability of more affordable housing options.” [UrbanTurf]

It’s Tuesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 73 and low of 55. Sunrise at 6:37 am and sunset at 7:43 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Looking south, the sun sets as traffic moves along I-395 (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

It could be a big summer for vacations, particularly if Covid stays at relatively low levels.

From a press release last month:

The overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (85%) are expecting to travel this summer, taking even more vacation time than they did in 2021: nearly half (48%) of Americans who plan to vacation this summer will take two weeks or more, up from (41%) last summer. Driving in personal vehicles is the leading choice for getting to summer vacation destinations.

These are key findings from “OOH Consumer Insights and Intent – Q1 2022,” a new research report from the Out of Home Advertising Association of America […]

Of course, high gas prices might be putting a damper on what would otherwise be an even busier travel season. From Skift:

The huge demand for backyard leisure is set to continue in the U.S., as more Americans embrace the endemic phase of Covid and hit the road for spring break and summer vacations. But it’s now becoming clear that rising gas prices driven by the Russia-Ukraine war will have an effect on road trippers — and if ongoing, they could potentially dampen the overall record pace of U.S. travel recovery.

Almost 60 percent of American travelers say that the current increased cost of gas will impact their decision to travel over the next six months. Of those, nearly one-third of respondents predict the impact for them will be great. That’s according to the latest Covid and American Travel Sentiment survey from Longwoods International.

Pandemic fatigue has led many to enthusiastically start planning their summer vacations early this year. We’re still more than a month and a half away from Memorial Day, but let’s find out the extent of already-planned summer trips among ARLnow readers.

Note that for the purposes of this poll, we’ll define “summer” as between the start of Memorial Day weekend and the end of Labor Day weekend.

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Looking for books at the Columbia Pike Branch Library (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) Arlington’s public libraries are trying to figure out how to get patrons back after Covid closures.

Since starting to reopen in mid-2021, library use has been down more than 25% from pre-pandemic levels, the Sun Gazette reports.

In a budget presentation with County Board members, longtime library director Diane Kresh acknowledged that the 75,000 users of her system in the days before COVID had dwindled to 55,000 today. (She didn’t do the math for board members, but it represents a drop of roughly 26.5 percent.)

“We want those people back. We’ve got to bring them back,” said Kresh, on hand to push for a library-system budget increase of 6 percent to $15.9 million and a staffing increase to about 140 full-time-equivalent positions from 131.

Meanwhile, while printed material remains the centerpiece of local libraries, digital rentals are quickly catching up. Kresh’s budget presentation cited the following national figures.

In 2009, non-digital materials made up 98% of a library’s collection. In 2019, that number was 45%.

In 2019, use of digital collections is at an all-time high of 37% of all collection use. This is triple what it was in 2013.

But in terms of borrowing, more physical books are borrowed than digital ones, with roughly 5.6 physical books borrowed per person per year and 3.5 digital.

The presentation noted that hold times in Arlington are long for popular material, like the novel The Lincoln Highway. Digital holds — e-books and e-audiobooks — are roughly twice as long as that for print, the presentation said, with 702 holds for the digital versions compared to 264 for print.

Hold times from library budget presentation (via Arlington County)

Arlington’s public library system, like others across the country, has been evolving its offerings, adding digital material rentals, holding various events and children’s activities, opening makerspaces, providing free meeting space rentals, and offering free Wi-Fi — indoors and outdoors — in addition to computer rentals.

A library is very much a public space: a place to meet up, study, research, create things, and participate in community activities.

Ultimately, though, much of the library system’s physical footprint and operational focus remains devoted to printed materials, at a time when you can read many books instantly on a screen and complete research projects entirely online.

There’s nostalgia for the democratization of knowledge unlocked by the Gilded Age rise of public libraries in the U.S., and print materials are still undoubtedly popular, but there is an argument to be made that libraries could serve more people by repurposing some space for more computers, kids activities and other public functions.

On the other hand, fewer physical books on the shelves could backfire and turn off some devoted patrons while failing to attract marginally higher numbers of new patrons.

What do you think? Should Arlington Public Library should consider gradually de-prioritizing print and using the space for other community uses?

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Love it or hate it, Nextdoor has undeniably found its place in local life here in Arlington.

It’s a place where people go to buy, sell and give away things; kvetch about noise or other local inconveniences; share crime and safety tips; and — for the past week at least — share lots of photos of cherry blossoms. It’s used by thousands of Arlington residents and the county itself to share information.

Some people, notably those who run Nextdoor, see the social network as a force for good and for building empathy in local communities. Others see more nefarious effects, like vigilantism or racism. Others see the frequent (presumably) unintentional humor.

One line of thought as the pandemic (hopefully) nears a conclusion is that more people will go out and do things in real life and spend less time on their phones having screen-based interactions. For Nextdoor, however, user growth appears to be accelerating.

In the last three months of 2021, Nextdoor reported 36 million weekly active users, up 32% from 27 million the prior year.

With that said, the experience here in Arlington — where Nextdoor has been around for a long time — may be different. So today we’re asking: are you using Nextdoor more or less now than you did around the same time last year?

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Officials at the March 2022 Arlington School Board meeting (via APS)

Earlier this month, the Arlington School Board meeting featured some business casual attire on the dais.

That was not well received by the Sun Gazette’s Scott McCaffrey. He took to his editor’s blog to rail against the “sans cravate” look for elected members and other top officials:

This has been festering for a while, but a couple of current members of the Arlington School Board – maskless since last week’s meeting! – are going commando, either without a jacket, without a tie, or without both. Even the superintendent, who makes an obscene amount of money and ought to dress the part, seems to prefer the jacket-and-sweater look, although there may have been a tie hidden underneath.

Some will call the informal look inviting, saying those who expect formality are Luddites and fuddy-duddies. What is that you say from the great beyond, oh sartorially splendid John McLaughlin? “Wrong!” And right you are.

In that earlier incident, Ye Olde Sun Gazette had enough heft in the community that it got the elected official to mend his ways and return to a tie. Not sure our whining about it will make the current elected officials do the same. Nobody seems to care any more about keeping up appearances and maintaining standards. But they should. Sloppiness reflects badly on the School Board, the school system and the community.

Please, fellas, have a little self-respect. This is not Bradenton Beach, Fla., a community I have some knowledge of, where flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts are the norm for men at some meetings. Northern Virginia is supposed to be a little higher up the political food chain.

Officials did not make the same out-of-the-norm sartorial choices at this past weekend’s Arlington County Board meeting — the men on the dais were all wearing suits and ties (though at least one suit jacket came off after a little while).

Many may agree with McCaffrey, but surely some do not. It’s 2022, lots of people are working from their pajamas at home, and perhaps the old ways of dressing should become another pre-pandemic relic, outside of courts, cotillions and the upper echelons of government.

It’s been a decade since Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie made business headlines and of all the problems we have in the world, tech executives and local elected officials ditching neckties remains pretty low down the list. There is, some may believe, a happy medium between a sea of suits and the State of the Union scene from Idiocracy.

What do you think? Should our top local officials keep up suit-and-tie norms as part of their public service, or can the dress codes be relaxed a bit?

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Virginia Capitol in Richmond (staff photo)

Good news: Virginia is flush with cash.

State tax revenues have been unexpectedly robust — billions more than first anticipated — and that has Republicans and Democrats in Richmond at loggerheads over what to do with the money.

From the Virginia Mercury last month:

Virginia’s new governor marked his 30th day in office with a state tour meant to build support for his tax-cutting plans, which have gotten a mixed response in the politically split legislature.

Parts of it, such as a plan to give every Virginia taxpayer a one-time rebate of $300, have passed with strong bipartisan support. Other proposals, like eliminating the state’s grocery tax and suspending a scheduled increase in the gas tax, have been a tough sell in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The budget remains in flux, with the state legislature adjourned until a special session is called, allowing lawmakers to work out their differences. While Republicans are calling for nearly $5.5 billion in tax cuts and rebates — plus, more recently, a temporary gas tax holiday — Democrats want more modest tax cuts, targeted to those with lower incomes, while boosting funding for priorities like education.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The House budget includes almost $5.5 billion in tax cuts and rebates, but the Senate continues to insist on deferring the centerpiece of the governor’s tax plan — the doubling of the standard deduction for income tax filers — until a joint subcommittee completes a comprehensive study of Virginia tax policy in the coming year. Doubling the standard deduction would reduce state revenues by $2 billion over two years.

The Senate has agreed to partial repeal of the 2.5% sales tax on groceries, but has balked at eliminating the 1% that goes directly to local governments and has approved a less generous tax exemption for military retirement income than the House. It also has approved smaller tax rebates this year than the House and rejected a 12-month rollback in the gas tax as meaningless to soaring prices at the pump.

In general, what do you think the state should do with its unexpected extra revenue, if you were to select one thing as Richmond’s top budget priority?

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Traffic flows along Langston Blvd in front of Metro 29 Diner (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

At least two U.S. cities are using automated noise enforcement technology. Should Arlington?

Knoxville, Tennessee recently deployed a noise-monitoring camera as a test to see whether it helps to stem rising noise complaints downtown. From local TV station WATE:

Data that will be collected includes the time and date of a noise violation, the vehicle type and a photo of the vehicle’s license plate.

The camera footage cannot be be used alone as the basis for issuing a noise violation but warnings may be issued. The city release said the trends that are verified by the data can lead to more effective enforcement.

New York City also reportedly has a system that sends out warnings to drivers whose cars are too loud.

Arlington may not be able to deploy such a system without legislative authorization, given that Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. But, if the county can get the authorization, should it?

Excessive noise from cars and motorcycles became a more frequent complaint in Arlington over the course of the pandemic. Meanwhile, a law originally proposed by a local legislator, and intended to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops by prohibiting noise being used as a pretext for pulling drivers over, has made enforcement more difficult. An automated system could address both both issues.

What do you think?

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Sunset over Ballston, as seen from The View of DC in Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

All of a sudden there’s an hour of additional daylight in the evening.

Daylight saving time is back, and for many this is a welcome change that means more sunlight for exercise, outdoor dining, or other evening activities. For others, however, less sunlight in the morning could be detrimental to their AM exercise routines, commutes or overall feeling of wakefulness.

Amid the annual time change, there’s a nationwide push to end the springing forward and falling back, which leave many fatigued twice a year while they adjust.

A bipartisan roster of sponsors are backing a bill in Congress dubbed the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021, which would make daylight saving time permanent.

Polls have suggested it would be a popular move, particularly with the rise of working from home making early wakeups less necessary. But some people and many sleep experts say that sticking with standard time is the better way to go from a health and wellness perspective.

What do you think about these potential changes?

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