An apartment redevelopment proposed for a strip mall on Columbia Pike is stalled for the foreseeable future after the anchor tenant — a grocery store — fell through.
But some of the existing tenants, including the restaurant Atilla’s, have already moved out. And now, the Fillmore Gardens shopping center on the 2600 block of the Pike, which includes a still-operating CVS, is attracting graffiti artists and other signs of blight, according to neighbors.
Penrose Civic Association President Alex Sakes says the development was “slated to become a new crown jewel” but is now “an unbelievable embarrassment.”
“The never ending graffiti and garbage is truly appalling and gets worse by the day,” he said. “My residents and I don’t just work here or drive past this site — we live here. We take great pride in our neighborhood and are happy to step up to help beautify this site once again. I’m not here to point fingers or place blame, but the condition of this site cannot and will not continue to perpetuate.”
The Arlington County Board approved the plans to build a a 247-unit apartment complex with a ground-floor grocery store, rumored to be an Amazon Fresh, in March of 2022. Some tenants have already moved out, anticipating the project starting in late 2022 or early 2023.
Progress halted in late December, however, when the grocery store tenant told the developer it would not be moving in. Without a major tenant guaranteed for the space, the developer — Insight Property Group — could not borrow the money it needed to proceed with the project, Insight’s Sarah Davidson told the Penrose Civic Association earlier this month.
She confirmed that an unnamed retailer pulled out of the space with ARLnow, adding that “economic conditions will determine a revised project timeline.”
The grocery tenant, Davidson said in the civic association meeting, told Insight “they were pulling out of a significant number of pipeline deals, of which this was one.”
That sounds quite similar to what is happening with Amazon Fresh: across the country, proposed locations of the tech company’s grocery store are falling through, with at least one ending in a lawsuit against Amazon.
For Sakes, watching the shopping center struggle is a “worst-case scenario” for “once a thriving hub for diverse, Black and Brown-owned small businesses, including Atilla’s, Salsa Room, Legend Kicks, and more.”
Graffiti keeps popping up. Some drawings found on Monday were apparently scrubbed off only for markings to return today (Tuesday). Davidson says they’re trying to stay on top of it.
“The property owners are committed to keeping the property in clean and presentable condition,” she said.
Insight is also trying to crowdsource ideas for how to fill the storefronts for the next few years, until redevelopment plans can be revived.
“We would love to offer pop-up space for some of the local artist communities, provide space for activities that might be supplementary to CPP’s initiatives, and business incubators as well as find ways to activate some of our parking areas,” Davidson said. “Currently, we feel fortunate to have CVS and Burrito Bros who remain as tenants of the Center.”
(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Arlington County is gearing up to raze a three-story office building on Columbia Pike this summer and turn it into a parking lot.
To get started, the Arlington County Board needs to kick off public hearings to consider the land-use changes needed for the new use. It is slated to do so on Saturday.
“These subject approvals will facilitate the final steps needed to demolish the existing building and construct the proposed interim surface parking improvements, including the review of construction plans and issuance of permits,” according to a county report.
Parking is a temporary use for the site, which the county bought last year for $7.55 million.
“Arlington County acquired the office building at 3108 Columbia Pike in March 2022, after it was identified as a potential site for a future Columbia Pike branch library and for potential co-location of County Board priorities, such as affordable housing,” the county report said.
The adopted 2023-32 Capital Improvement Plan, however, “anticipates completion of a new Columbia Pike branch library no sooner than 2028 at the earliest, thus presenting opportunities for a temporary use on the site in the interim,” it continued.
The county already determined it cannot save the office building and repurpose it.
“While the site is developed with a vacant, three-story office building, through due diligence completed prior to acquisition, the County determined the building is not fit for re-use and should be demolished,” the report said.
If the hearings are authorized on Saturday and the Board approves and the project, which could happen next month, the Dept. of Environmental Services will demolish the building this summer.
Doing so will expand the number of parking spaces from 63 to 92, per the report, fewer than originally anticipated. The county expected to add 58 spaces for a total of 121, according to a county document from last year.
For now, DES intends to lease the parking to Arlington Public Schools.
“The County has identified an expanded surface parking lot as a recommended interim use, which could support parking needs for the Career Center Campus during its redevelopment project, or accommodate other public parking needs before future redevelopment of the site,” the report said.
The Arlington School Board approved designs for the new, $182.42 million campus last October. Most of the funds were included in the 2022 School Bond referendum, according to an APS webpage.
“The project will now transition into the Use Permit phase and the new Arlington Career Center will be completed in December 2025,” the webpage says.
A letter included in the use permit APS filed for the Career Center in February said the site will accommodate 1,619 students. The site will also fit 775 Montessori Public School of Arlington students for a total of 2,394 students, per another document in the filings.
When Amazon opens the first phase of its second headquarters in June, it is preparing to debut a new farmers market, too.
This farmers market is set to pop up four Saturdays a month starting June 24. It will be located inside the $14 million public park Amazon renovated as part of the Metropolitan Park or “Met Park” first phase of HQ2, at the corner of 13th Street S. and S. Eads Street.
Loudoun County-based EatLoco is set to operate the market within the park, which features meandering paths and public art.
The organization’s founder and CEO Dan Hine says it will be its first outside of Loudoun County and his “rock star” location, with at least 80 vendors and possibly live entertainment.
“When Amazon approached us back in August 2022 with this idea, we stepped up to the challenge by promising only the Best-of-the-Best Farmers, Food producers and Crafters for this one-of-a-kind, spacious venue,” Hine said in a statement on the EatLoco website. “This game-changer location has a neighboring dog park, children’s park and plenty of table seating for eating and relaxing provided by our Sponsors.”
Hine says he is working on plans for on-site entertainment “to keep customers coming and staying longer.”
“As always, we will do this the ‘EatLoco’ way,” he said. “Well marketed, professionally managed, and of course extremely well attended.”
This weekend, the Arlington County Board is set to consider a use permit allowing EatLoco to operate four Saturdays a month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., March through November. It will be located at a green space to the east of a meandering path users can access from 13th and 14th Street S. and S. Fair Street.
EatLoco’s website says the market will run through Nov. 18.
As part of the agreement, the county is requiring EatLoco to work with the Aurora Highlands Civic Association and the county regarding signage, parking locations and noise restrictions.
Meanwhile, work on Met Park is almost complete, according to Clark Construction, which has overseen the project for the last three-and-a-half years.
Last week, it published the following construction update on its website:
After years of planning, and 40 months of construction, we’ve reached the final chapter in Metropolitan Park’s delivery. As our team puts the finishing touches on our work on site, we wanted to thank you — our neighbors and community partners — for your inquiries, engagement, and, most importantly, your patience and support over the last three years.
Soon the children’s park, edible garden and forest walk will be open and accessible to all. Soon, local businesses will activate new retail spaces, serving up new amenities and flavors that will further enhance this community. Soon, Metropolitan Park’s two 22-stories towers will be filled with new people and ideas.
While the physical structures our team will leave behind fill us with a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment, we are equally proud of the significant economic impact this project has created. From contracting opportunities for local, small, and diverse companies, to apprenticeships, to unique learning experiences for our craft workforce and project management team, Metropolitan Park’s construction has served as a platform for growth. We are honored to deliver this important asset that has and will continue to invigorate the Arlington community for decades to come.
Several local businesses will be moving into the 65,000 square feet of street-level retail, including a daycare and a spa, Arlington’s second Conte’s Bike Shop, District Dogs and an outpost of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) Arlington.
There will also be a slew of restaurants and cafés, including Westover-based Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream and D.C.-based Taqueria Xochi, which were announced last month.
A plan for a pedestrian bridge between Crystal City and Reagan National Airport is headed to the Arlington County Board for endorsement this weekend.
Specifically, the Board is set to bless a girder-style bridge that will connect a future southern entrance to the Virginia Railway Express station at 2011 Crystal Drive to the airport’s Terminal 2. It is also slated to approve more funding for an engineering firm to further develop designs for the bridge, dubbed the CC2DCA multimodal connection.
“The goal of the project is to create an intermodal connection designed to meet the needs of a broad range of pedestrians, bicyclists, and micro-mobility users of all ages and abilities between the core of Crystal City, the Mount Vernon Trail, and DCA,” per a county report.
Currently, getting from Crystal City to DCA on foot or bike involves navigating a series of trails and crossings the county has previously described as “circuitous.”
“Once completed, the journey from the foot of the bridge to the newly constructed security checkpoint at DCA would be about 1,300 feet,” the National Landing Business Improvement District said in a pamphlet published last winter. “Once completed, the new CC2DCA Multimodal Connector would make National Landing the only downtown in the country with its main street within a comfortable 5-minute walk from a major airport.”
After endorsing the project on Saturday, the Board is set to approve a new $4.2 million contract with Boston-based civil engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) so it can begin drafting preliminary designs. This includes nearly $386,000 in contingency.
Although it may seem incremental, the county says these signs of progress are important milestones in the years-long project, which the county projects could be completed in 2028.
First, this step forward means that a conceptual design phase and environmental review process led by the civil engineering firm VHB are wrapping up.
The County Board approved its first contract with the engineering firm in the spring of 2021 for design work.
Since then, the county, VHB and state and federal agencies winnowed down 16 initial bridge and tunnel connections to a “preferred alternative” and a runner-up bridge proposal, both unveiled last October.
The county says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Parks Service signed off on the “preferred alternative” this February.
In response to criticism from residents, citizen commissioners and county staff, a developer has removed a drive-thru ATM from its plans to redevelop the Wells Fargo in Clarendon.
One year ago, McLean-based developer Jefferson Apartment Group filed plans to replace the bank — the one someone recently attempted to rob — with a mixed-use building. It is set to consist of 238 apartments, 60,000 square feet of office space and 30,000 square feet of retail, including a new Wells Fargo branch.
The current two-story bank building at 3140 Washington Blvd has a drive-thru in addition to a surface parking lot. Critics of keeping the drive-thru say it would detract from walkability in the area, which is seeing significant redevelopment that will result in more people living, shopping and using public amenities in Clarendon.
“This is the most walkable place in the county and drive-up for anything doesn’t make sense to me,” said Planning Commission member Jim Lantelme back in February. “You would have to have a second ATM that people could walk up to.”
One commenter said drive-thrus are “horrible for the environment and they aren’t faster than parking and going into the building,” while another called it “a relic of the 70s [that] doesn’t belong here.”
A third said it “seems like a very bad idea that will take away space from pedestrians and increase the chance of crashes and congestion in an area that is meant to be dense and walkable.”
Jefferson had originally doubled down on the drive-thru ATM, saying in a county document this was “for the convenience of existing customers and as requested by Wells Fargo based on customer feedback during and after the pandemic.”
Ultimately, it agreed to changes that resemble a suggestion from the Clarendon Courthouse Civic Association: walk-up ATMs and free, short-term parking on a new local street that Jefferson will construct as part of the project.
The walk-up ATMs will be located at the northern and southern edges of the bank, which looks out over N. Irving Street. This street, which dead-ends in a green space, is set to become a plaza through a separate, Dept. of Parks and Recreation-led planning process.
People using the ATMs will be able to park in short-term parking on the north side of a planned public road. As part of the project, Jefferson will build a new 10th Road N., which will run parallel to Washington Blvd and separate the new construction from the existing Verizon building to the south.
Even with the walk-up ATMs, staff have concerns that a bank, generally, is not the kind of lively retail that encourages people to use the planned Irving Street Plaza. Those who commented were not as concerned with this but suggested sculptures or water features could help “activate” the plaza.
Arlington County is working on plans to make safety and accessibility upgrades a trio of local streets.
Some of the changes could include adding sidewalks where there are none, removing obstructions from existing sidewalks, and extending curbs — — known as a “bump-out” — to make shorter pedestrian crossings.
Residents can learn more about this batch of “Neighborhood Complete Streets” projects in the Arlington Mill, Westover and Arlington Heights neighborhoods during a virtual meeting this coming Monday, May 8. t 7 p.m.
The projects were selected from more than 200 nominees by the Neighborhood Complete Streets Commission in February. The commission identifies and recommends for funding projects to improve the experience of cyclists and pedestrians — particularly those who need ramps or wider sidewalks to get around, such as people using wheelchairs or pushing strollers.
“Sidewalks free and clear of obstructions, streetlights, Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible curb ramps, safe space for bikes and appropriate street widths — these are all elements of a complete street,” per a county webpage.
Next week’s meeting will cover three projects selected after a competitive ranking process that considered gaps in sidewalks, heavy pedestrian use, speeding problems and surrounding socio-economic diversity.
On 8th Road S. between S. Dickerson and S. Emerson streets, in the Arlington Mill neighborhood, the county proposes building curb ramps accessible to people with disabilities and installing pedestrian bump-outs and other relevant signage and pavement markings.
“Existing conditions include complete sidewalks on both sides of the street and large intersections, which increase crossing distances for people walking,” per a project webpage. “Curb ramps are blocked by parked vehicles.”
The commission recommended 8th Road S. because of its crash history, traffic, high residential population, proximity to transit and location within a census tract that is lower income and more diverse.
On 14th Street N., in the Westover neighborhood, the county will install an accessible sidewalk for people walking between N. McKinley Road and the intersection with N. Ohio Street.
Arlington proposes installing sidewalk, curb and gutter, accessible curb ramps and new signage and pavement markings on the north side of the street.
The street won out over others because it is close to schools, transit and bike facilities but lacks consistent sidewalks, according to a project webpage.
Lastly, S. Irving Street near Thomas Jefferson Middle School is set to get an accessible, unobstructed widewalk between 2nd and 6th Street S. The upgrades will connect to a planned new sidewalk between 6th and 7th Street S.
Currently, the sidewalk on both sides are obstructed by utility poles and streetlights, according to the county.
The street projects are in a preliminary design phase and, as such, could change. None have “undergone any detailed survey or design work” or have been approved for funding, according to the county.
More opportunities for community engagement will arise as the designs are further developed, the county says.
In one year, a group of Washington-Liberty High School students built a subatomic particle detector from scratch, teaching themselves everything from a new coding language to how to solder.
Now, that hardware and software are set to get launched into space this week, though a date has yet to be set.
“I feel ecstatic,” senior Ava Schwarz tells ARLnow.
Their project, originally scheduled to launch on Friday, will help scientists who are researching particle physics understand the kind of atmospheric radiation that rockets experience on flights just under the line between “space” and “outer space,” which is 62 miles above sea level.
Currently, scientists know that there are electron-like particles called “muons” that form when x-rays and gamma rays produced by stars, including the sun, react with particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. Someone even invented a detector to figure out the strength and magnitude of the muons.
What scientists want to know is where exactly these muons get formed — and that is what the students set out to discover. They proposed building detectors and launching them into space to measure the altitude where they are formed and NASA accepted the project.
The team from W-L did so as part of the inaugural NASA TechRise Student Challenge, which was designed to engage and inspire future STEM professionals. The students comprise one of the 57 winning teams to receive $1,500 to build their experiments and receive a NASA-funded spot to test them on suborbital rocket flights operated by Blue Origin or UP Aerospace, per an Arlington Public Schools press release from last year.
The W-L students essentially started from scratch.
“A year ago, I didn’t know what a muon was,” Schwarz said. “I started completely from ground zero and took a crash course in particle physics, electrical engineering — the whole works.”
Senior Pia Wilson was a teammate with, comparatively, substantial coding experience. Suddenly, she was knee-deep in professionally created code using a language she had never worked with before.
“It was definitely a lot of Googling, lot of scouring forum posts in all the coding forums and a lot of help from professionals as well,” she said. Wilson added that she never expected learning how to solder electronics while in high school.
When they needed an expert with whom to talk through a problem, they spoke with associates of their school supervisor, Jeffrey Carpenter — who got into teaching after a 20-year career in space operations — as well as the person who invented a muon detector, Massachusetts Institute of Technology research assistant Spencer Axani.
“It was a very ‘two steps forward, one step back’ process,” Schwarz said. “We were going into a high-level project without a foundational skill set, which we obtained through trial and error.”
Whenever the detector malfunctioned, she said they troubleshooted by eliminating what the problem was not.
“There were many, many afternoons that turned into evenings spent after school, just working for hours, figuratively banging our heads against the wall,” she said.
As the experiment dragged into the summer last year, they kept hitting technical setbacks, particularly with the weight of the detector. They sometimes worried they would not finish in time for launch.
A high-traffic intersection one block north of Columbia Pike could get some safety upgrades, including a traffic signal.
Arlington County is embarking on a project to develop plans to upgrade the intersection of S. Glebe Road and 9th Street S., located between the Alcova Heights and Arlington Heights neighborhoods.
In addition to replacing a rapid-flash beacon with a traffic signal, the county says changes, in collaboration with the Virginia Dept. of Transportation, could include extending the curbs, updating the crosswalks and refuge medians, and fixing deteriorating ramps that do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The forthcoming project responds to community feedback, a 2022 safety audit of Glebe Road — a VDOT-maintained artery — and a 2020 analysis of “crash hot spots,” according to a county webpage. The latter two reports include data, photos and community comments describing unsafe conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and drivers.
“Glebe Road from 14th Street N. to Columbia Pike is part of Arlington County’s High Injury Network,” the county says. “These corridors experience high concentrations of critical crashes compared to other corridors in Arlington.”
Per the safety audit, the intersection saw two pedestrian crashes and five left-turn vehicle crashes between January 2018 and February 2021. It also found that many people drive over the speed limit by at least 5 mph between 8th Street S. and 9th Street S., going an average of 38 mph.
“Community feedback received as part of the Vision Zero Action Plan development identified Glebe Road and 9th Street S. as an unsafe crossing,” the county said.
Arlington is working toward eliminating traffic-related serious injuries and deaths by 2030 as part of its initiative known as Vision Zero. Transportation advocates and the Arlington County Board called for swift action to realize plan goals and make roads safer after a rash of crashes involving pedestrians last year.
Some residents heralded the project on Twitter as sorely needed and a long time in coming.
Back in 2018, cyclists who participated in a “protest ride” to advocate for better cycling conditions, called specifically for improvements to 9th Street S., which is part of the Columbia Pike Bike Boulevards, a bicycle route parallel to the Pike.
— Chris Slatt (@alongthepike) March 8, 2023
This spring, there will be a public engagement opportunity in which the county will solicit feedback on existing conditions, including site constraints such as utility poles that block parts of the sidewalk.
County staff are preparing engagement materials, and “when that’s ready, the engagement will open,” Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors said.
The engagement will first ask people to share how they currently use these streets as well as any ideas or concerns they have.
“This input will be used to refine to goals and develop concept options,” the webpage says.
This spring and summer, county staff will again request feedback on a concept plan, which will be incorporated into a final design plan that the county anticipates can be prepared this fall.
Arlington County has completed, started or has planned other transportation upgrades along Glebe Road, per the 2022 audit, including new or re-programmed traffic signals and new ramps.
(Updated 3:40 p.m.) Work is ramping up on a new Arlington County bus maintenance building and parking garage in Green Valley.
Crews are set to wrap up laying the foundation for the Arlington Transit (ART) Operations and Maintenance Facility at the end of this month, says Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Alyson Jordan Tomaszewski.
“The facility will perform regular preventive bus maintenance, repairs and other unscheduled maintenance work,” per a project webpage. “It also will include administration and operations functions and parking for buses and staff.”
Then, passers-by may notice a crawler crane on site, which will be used to install steel columns. That work is set to last until sometime in March, according to the project webpage.
Meanwhile, work on the foundation of the parking garage is planned to start at the end of January, she says.
Construction began in June 2022 and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2024.
“We have experienced both weather and supply chain delays with the ART Operations and Maintenance Facility,” she said. “However, we are still on track for completion in fall 2024. To mitigate the supply chain issue, we are expediting material approval and procurement as best we can.”
ICYMI: Foundation and other infrastructure taking shape at the ART Operations and Maintenance Facility site along Shirlington Road. Work proceeds through next year. https://t.co/d6DdG1ZpQD pic.twitter.com/WNFKcZ0Oz8
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) January 16, 2023
The Green Valley Civic Association welcomes the new facility.
“The county used to park about 60 ART buses right in Jennie Dean Park, next to the basketball court,” Robin Stombler, community-affairs chair of the civic association, tells ARLnow. “Moving the buses into a new operations facility adjacent to I-395 is not only a welcome change, but should mitigate noise and light disturbances on the residential community.”
Still, the civic association has some lingering concerns.
“We were vocal on the need for improved environmental conditions. This meant a state-of-the-art facility outfitted for a future electric bus fleet, better stormwater management and bioretention ponds, and lit signage that does not face the residential part of Green Valley,” Stombler said.
“The new county bus campus will house a staff-only, multi-story parking garage,” she continued. “We need some creative thinking to make sure this amenity is shared with the rest of the neighborhood.”
Next door, the general manager of the Cubesmart storage facility tells ARLnow that the county has “been very sensitive to the fact that we have traffic flowing in and out of there and has done great job keeping the road clean.”
The Cubesmart opened a second facility near the construction site back in March 2021. Between the original building, now “The Annex,” and the new building, there are nearly 2,400 storage units, she said.
This construction project follows on the heels of other recently completed ones in the Green Valley neighborhood, aimed at realizing a community vision of an arts and industry hub. The new John Robinson, Jr. Town Square, with a towering sculpture, as well as the renovated Jennie Dean Park opened with great fanfare this spring.
The County Board approved the purchase of the three parcels in Green Valley to build the ART facilities back in 2018.
“This project is essential for ART’s long-term sustainability and will address the current and future needs for parking, operations and maintenance of the County’s growing ART bus fleet,” according to the project webpage. “ART has significantly increased its number of routes and hours of service during the past 10 years and plans to continue growing during the next 20 years, supported by a fleet of more than 100 buses.”
The total cost to buy the land, plan and design the project and construct it is $81.2 million.
Work hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Friday, with some weekend work occurring between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.
This article was updated to add comments from the Green Valley Civic Association.
Next month, Arlington County will hold a community event to kick off a three-year parking pilot program that prices parking by demand in a few highly trafficked corridors.
This is the first official step forward since the Arlington County Board accepted a $5.4 million grant from the Virginia Dept. of Transportation for the “performance parking” program.
The pilot would electronically monitor parking space usage alter parking prices based on the day, time and the number of people competing for a metered parking space along the Rosslyn-Ballston and Crystal City-Pentagon City corridors. It would also give drivers real-time information on spot availability and price.
In the meeting description, Arlington County says the three-year pilot project could “improve the user experience for metered parking spaces in two key commercial and residential corridors in Arlington.”
“Join the project team for a Community Kick-Off meeting to learn more about the pilot project, the technology we’ll be using to inform the project, and share your input on the pilot project’s goals to help us understand your priorities for metered parking spaces in the Rosslyn-Ballston and Route 1 corridors,” per the website.
According to the event page, meeting attendees will be able to:
- Learn about the pilot’s background and purpose
- Get briefed on the status of metered parking in the two Metrorail corridors
- Learn what technology will be used and what data will be collected, and how this will inform the project’s next steps
- Get a first look at a demonstration site
Arlington County Board members approved the program in late 2020 after hashing out concerns from some opponents about how this would impact people with lower incomes. Members were convinced by the case staff made that lower-income people are less likely to have one or more cars and could save money on parking by choosing to park on less-popular streets and for shorter time periods.
Ultimately, however, the pilot project is intended to sort out these concerns and “map out any mitigations that are necessary,” parking planner Stephen Crim said at the time.
Project proponent Chris Slatt said at the time that variable-price parking ensures that spots are generally available where and when people want them. He pointed to the city of San Francisco, which found that the program made it easier for people to find parking. This reduced double parking, improved congestion and lowered greenhouse gas emissions.
An online Q&A about the project lists as goals, “Drivers spend less time looking for on-street parking” and “Vehicle miles travelled resulting from on-street parking search or ‘cruising’ are reduced.” That will come at a cost, though, as parking rates are increased in busy areas.
The virtual community kick-off meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 23 from 7-8:30 p.m.
The informal, relationships-based advocacy at the core of the “Arlington Way” makes it harder for nonprofits led by and serving people of color to receive county funding, Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol says.
She tells ARLnow these concerns were raised by leaders of color, and she is working on a resolution — that could be voted on by the County Board this month — to change the status quo. The resolution will incorporate recommendations made by a small group of leaders representing local nonprofits.
At the top of their list is a fairly simple concept: a formal application process. Right now, Cristol says, the county uses an “ad hoc” process that doesn’t “live up to our values of transparency and access.”
Meanwhile, a decades-old, community-based program that identifies small infrastructure improvements is confronting a longstanding criticism — which leadership says is backed up by fresh data — of favoring projects in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.
Community leaders presented updates on these efforts to the Arlington County Board last month. The moves are part of the county’s work to apply its 2019 equity resolution to policy-making and the newest contribution to the Board’s ongoing discussion of problems with the “Arlington Way,” the moniker given to the public process that informs policy-making.
The process often rewards those who are most civically active, connected and vocal about a given issue. But not always: it also frustrates those who follow the civic engagement playbook only to have the Board vote the other way.
“We heard some truthful feedback about how the ‘Arlington Way’ — for the many things it has achieved and its, at times, positive contributions to the community — also has some real downsides,” Cristol said in the Dec. 20, 2022 meeting. “It has been a way of doing things that lacked transparency and access, has prioritized relationships over fairness, and at times, it feels like it is reflective of predetermined outcomes.”
As part of the annual budget, the county awards grants of up to $50,000 or $100,000 for nonprofits serving low- and moderate-income residents, such as employment programs for people with disabilities, after-school programming for immigrant youth and financial planning assistance for families at risk of homelessness.
Leaders of local organizations say the county needs to do a better job of publicizing when funding is available and helping grassroots groups with the application process.
“This part was important for us, particularly for smaller organizations who don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or knowledge in the grant-making cycle that other larger organizations have,” said Cicely Whitfield, the chief program officer for the homeless shelter Bridges to Independence.
This could involve providing clearer deadlines and technical assistance, as well as feedback and workshop opportunities for nonprofits that are denied funding so they can apply successfully.
The group says the county should defer to organizations, which have a better sense of what the community needs, and ask for input on applications from people who would benefit.
Board Member Libby Garvey supported the changes but warned they could be controversial.
“There’s that saying, ‘I’m here from the government and I’m here to help you,’ and that’s supposed to be scary. It’s really because what it often means is, ‘I’m here from the government and I’m here to tell you what you need.'”
The sentiment applies to the Arlington Way, she says.
“We may find a little reaction from this, that ‘This is not the Arlington Way,'” she said. “We’re going to have to figure out ways to bring along everyone and explain… ‘This is going to be better and here’s why.’ We’re going to have work to do with the other part of the community that maybe is usually included.”
There is a three-decade-old program where the county acts on needs identified by residents: the Arlington Neighborhood Conservation Program, now known as the Arlington Neighborhoods Program (ANP).
The downside of this program is that it has “equity liabilities,” County Board Member Takis Karantonis said.
He said the model works for “community members who could afford to go to the meetings, who could afford to make a methodical evaluation of the state of sidewalks, or lack of sidewalks, or lack of public lighting… and fight for funding in a competitive but orderly manner.”
Although not a new criticism, ANP Chair Kathy Reeder provided the County Board with new data suggesting the program has disadvantaged less wealthy, more diverse neighborhoods.