A draft plan aims to build a clearer approach for county officials engaging Arlington residents on new projects.
Staff in the county’s Office of Communication and Public Engagement put together the plan over the past four months, with the goal of enhancing the engagement process, building more trust and getting a more diverse range of participants having their say.
They met with members of the community and took feedback on the public engagement process — sometimes referred to as the “Arlington Way” — particularly around new capital projects.
A survey is now open for county residents to share their concerns on how previous processes have gone and their priorities for how public engagement can be improved. Based on staff’s preliminary sessions with community leaders, concerns have been raised about communication around projects, how costs change and the impact on nearby neighbors and businesses.
That follows a number of instances in which residents complained about a botched engagement process for projects in their neighborhoods. Examples include opposition to new baseball and softball field at Bluemont Park, which was eventually built with little controversy after a compromise was reached, and stringent opposition to the proposed relocation of Fire Station 8, which was scrapped after neighbors of the current station and the proposed new site both spoke out against it and said they were “blindsided” by the plan.
As it stands now, the draft plan would develop a template for public engagement that would better lay out the details of a project early on while also identifying stakeholders like civic associations, residents and commissions.
Throughout, the county would look to use a range of tools to communicate “early and often” about a project, including on signs, its website, newsletters, emails and postcards among others. Staff would also make an effort to show how feedback from the community influenced a project, and show a wider range of opinions on a project, including when briefing the Arlington County Board.
The plan would also look to establish a “common set of ground rules” for in-person and online discussions, all to encourage “civil dialogue and respect.” An engagement boot camp is mooted for spring or summer next year for staff, civic associations and commissions.
To increase the diversity of participants that get involved in public dialogue about county projects, staff recommended partnering with organizations to engage with “hard to reach” communities, and establishing liaisons to help out. There will also be an effort to ensure diversity on county boards and commissions.
The new plan is scheduled to launch this fall.
The draft, first published online last month after a public “charrette” planning process in 2015, outlines a sweeping vision for the corridor, which currently is a primarily car-oriented mish-mash of strip malls, aging apartment buildings and other assorted low-density businesses and infrastructure.
The plan envisions a tree-lined Lee Highway that’s more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, with mid-rise development concentrated in “mixed-use activity nodes.”
New apartment buildings, townhouses and retail hubs would be encouraged to spring up. New parks and bus service would be added. Building heights up to 12 stories are discussed, though 3-6 stories would be more common; the taller buildings would be along Lee Highway itself and “sensitive transitions to single family neighborhoods” would be emphasized.
The activity nodes along Lee Highway, which would be the focus of pedestrian-oriented development and placemaking, include:
- North Highlands / Spout Run / Lyon Village
- Cherrydale / Maywood
- Glebe Road / Lee Heights / Waverly Hills
- Harrison / George Mason
- East Falls Church
Changes are expected to be made to the plan based on feedback received online, before the County Board reviews it in May. Greater Greater Washington has more details about the Lee Highway plan and process.
Other notes and quotes from the draft plan, after the jump.
Widening Critics Still Questioning I-66 Deal — “Widening the highway for four miles from Beltway to Ballston will not relieve traffic congestion, according to every expert I’ve spoken to,” writes WAMU transportation reporter Martin Di Caro, regarding the I-66 deal struck by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette, meanwhile, says the overall plan for tolling I-66 is worth the compromise. [Twitter, WAMU]
Arlington Probably Won’t Sue Over I-395 HOT Lanes — After mounting an expensive legal battle over a plan by Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) administration to convert the HOV lanes on I-395 to High Occupancy Toll lanes, Arlington appears poised to accept a similar HOT lane plan by VDOT and the McAuliffe administration. There are some key differences between the two proposals, observers say. [Greater Greater Washington]
Arlington Man Arrested in D.C. Cold Case — Arlington resident Benito Valdez, 45, has been arrested and charged with an alleged accomplice in a 1991 triple homicide cold case in the District. [Associated Press]
Chamber Concert in Lyon Park This Weekend — On Saturday, IBIS Chamber Music will hold a free concert of chamber music in the newly-renovated Lyon Park Community Center (414 N. Fillmore Street). The concert will start at 7:30 p.m. and feature music by Schubert, Beethoven and Debussy. [ARLnow]
Local Resident’s Cat Story Appears in Book — A story by Arlington resident April Riser is featured in the new book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat,” according to a PR rep for the publisher.
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
The initiative, launched this year by County Manager Barbara Donnellan, is intended to identify county-owned land where affordable housing could be built. That could include parks, community centers and public safety facilities, such as fire stations.
The county received public comments this fall on the guidelines for evaluating sites. After reviewing those comments, the LRPC determined that the guidelines should be “set aside” while the entire initiative — and how the county engages the community in its decision-making process — is re-evaluated.
Among the committee’s strongest indictments of the current process is its recommendation that the criteria Donnellan used in her preliminary report to the Board in May — the catalyst for the public opposition to the initiative since — should be “withdrawn and reassessed.”
“The term Public Land for Public Good does not capture the importance and benefits of other public facilities and uses and should be reconsidered,” the report, approved at the LRPC’s meeting last week, states.
All of the LRPC’s recommendations include reaching out to the community before continuing the process further. The committee recommended that the county’s deliberations over which sites are evaluated and why need to be made more transparent. “This process should result in an understanding of how site selection is conducted and how the public participates in the decision,” the report states.
The LRPC’s report comes on the heels of County Board Chair Jay Fisette’s statement during last month’s Board meeting that the “Public Land for Public Good” rollout “didn’t work.”
While recommending the county slow down on evaluating land it currently owns, the LRPC also recommends Arlington adopt an “aggressive land acquisition policy.”
The Planning Commission will likely discuss the LRPC’s recommendations at a meeting this week. The County Board could discuss the issue at its Saturday, Dec. 13 meeting.
The “Public Land for Public Good” initiative the Arlington County Board launched last December has led to miscommunication and confusion, and County Board Chair Jay Fisette admitted as much this weekend.
The Board asked County Manager Barbara Donnellan to identify at least three public land sites that could be identified for public housing. One was with the redevelopment of the Lubber Run Community Center, a proposal that initially was the brainchild of an Arlington interfaith group and was floated as a potential solution by Donnellan.
The proposal set off broad opposition in the county to the idea of building affordable housing on parkland. Fisette said on Saturday that it was never the intention to do that — at most, the community center would be redeveloped and affordable housing would be built on top of it.
“It was never the intent… to have a standalone affordable housing building on an officially designated park, nor is it the interest of the Board to do that,” Fisette said. “I think there’s a real understanding that the way the concept was put forward in the direction for the manager didn’t work the way it was anticipated… We all felt this was a way to start a conversation. It was the very beginning of a discussion that would have taken quite a bit more time to solve. Some people were anxious that it was the end of a conversation, and it was the beginning.”
Several speakers during the County Board’s public comment session spoke about the issue, including one, Max Lyons, who presented a statistical breakdown of the 577 responses the county received to its public land site evaluation survey. Lyons said that 61 percent of respondents commented on using park land for affordable housing. Of those comments, 94 percent opposed the idea.
“Chairman Fisette, I was concerned by your recent characterization of those comments,” Lyons said. “You wrote, ‘As we have reviewed the summary of comments received to date on the draft Public Land Site Evaluation Guidelines, we recognize that many commenters agree with these goals and practices, which will surely inform the final guidelines.’ My review of the comments led me to a very different conclusion. ”
Lyons said that more than 100 respondents gave unsolicited endorsements of other county affordable housing policies, but 75 percent of those responses still opposed affordable housing on park land. Another speaker, Rick Epstein, said he understands where the miscommunication came from, but still thinks the Board is taking the wrong approach.
“I genuinely believe that much of this miscommunication could have been avoided if the Board had followed the Arlington Way prior to passing the December resolution,” Epstein said. “The Board and county manager should preferably have engaged the entire community in open and thorough discussion, not simply about public land for public good, but for the future use of public lands. The site review process by the county manager is not a substitute for a broad community discussion” on public land.
County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes plans to take on a larger role on the issue in the coming year, she said, and responded to many of the comments by promising to engage the community more, although she didn’t say how.
“We need to take a look collectively at how this community moves forward to meet any number of needs,” she said. “We need to understand that there are short-term, medium-term and long-term needs in our community, and we need to focus on all of them. In the end, it is about our collective future and where as a county we go, and the time really has come to dive deeply into that question.”
Three potential designs for the re-envisioned Courthouse Square area will be presented to the community tomorrow (Wednesday) night.
The workshop will be held on the third floor of the office building at 1310 N. Courthouse Road from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. The public will see three draft design concepts for the area that include plans for open space, building location and design, cultural resources, circulation (moving cars, pedestrians and bicycles through the area) and sustainability.
After the workshop, county staff and the Envision Courthouse Square Working Group will take the community’s recommendations and, along with county planning staff, formulate a draft revision to the 1993 Courthouse Sector Plan Addendum, to be brought before the Arlington County Board this winter.
The workshop could be the final chance for the public to engage in person with the working group before the plans start to take a more definite shape. There have already been two community workshops — one in March and another in April — as well as an online survey that revealed respondents have more open space and an outdoor movie program on the top of their wish list for the area.
Courthouse Square is defined as the 9-acre area around the large surface parking lot between Courthouse Plaza and the Arlington County Justice Center. It’s bounded by N. Courthouse Road to the east, Clarendon Blvd to the north, Courthouse Plaza to the west and just south of 14th Street N. to the south.
Image via Arlington County
As the Arlington County Board moves forward on an update to its noise ordinance, owners of high-rise condominiums in Ballston, members of private swimming clubs and economic development boosters are all upset with some of county staff’s recommendations.
Staff consulted an ad hoc committee of condo owners in Ballston who want police to issue citations whenever they can hear noise in their apartments that originates from at least 50 feet away. The condo owners want the enforcement period to start at 10:00 p.m. on weeknights, 11:00 p.m. on weekends and from noon to 6:00 p.m. on Sundays.
In voting to advertise changes to the noise ordinance on Tuesday night, the County Board gave itself the flexibility to decide whether to make the minimum distance 50, 100 or 200 feet, and to decide when the noise ordinance should be enforced.
Judson McIntire spoke for a more restrictive ordinance. He bought a condominium two years ago on the second floor of the Berkeley Condominiums, at the corner of Fairfax Drive and N. Randolph Street, which is directly across the street from A-Town Bar & Grill.
“Staff has recommended that protections start at midnight,” said McIntire, who insisted that he moved to Ballston for its “vibrant mixed use” and said he loves living in the neighborhood. “We believe this is too lenient and urge the board to accept stricter enforcement times. Many Arlington residents go to bed before midnight and they expect and deserve an uninterrupted night’s sleep.”
Business owners and economic development advocates worry that provisions in the noise ordinance that prohibit “yelling, wailing, shouting, or screaming” at night in Arlington’s mixed-use corridors, including areas near Metro stations, are overly restrictive. They’re also concerned about provisions that could hold business owners and managers personally responsible for such noise coming from their patrons when they’re outside on patios or rooftop bars.
Sally Duran, a member of the Arlington Economic Commission, countered the condo owners, saying the Board should discuss any noise ordinance changes with the business community, which pays half of all taxes in Arlington, and millennials — generally, those 25-34 years of age.
“These millennials, which make up 45 percent of our population, are the ones who are living and working in Arlington and they are the driving force of businesses’ desire to be located here,” Duran said. “Obviously that’s a blessing, but it’s also creating a little bit of noise… The county needs to holistically study the issues associated with the lively, energetic and sometimes messy environment created by the nightlife uses in urban and mixed-use environments.”
The Board hasn’t given any indication on which direction it prefers. It is advertising the noise ordinance for various enforcement times, to be as broad as possible. It can vote on later hours when it holds its public hearing and likely adopts the noise ordinance at its meeting next month.
One other sticking point among the public was proposed noise restrictions on private swimming clubs, which are located in residential neighborhoods and which hold swim meets during the warmer weather months. Swim club representatives have expressed concern that the new ordinance would make it illegal for fans to cheer on swimmers and divers, particularly on weekend mornings.
Staff recommended these clubs hold no more than 10 meets a year, submit an annual noise management plan and ensure “measures are in place to limit the extent to which noise sources used in the conduct of athletic contests and other activities are audible on properties at least 200 feet from the noise source. ”
“Swim and dive meets have been held at all these community pools for more than 50 years without an issue ever arising,” said Lander Allin, who lives in the Arlington Forest neighborhood. “The ordinance as proposed is so restrictive and burdensome that it puts us at risk of civil and criminal penalties for staging athletic events for our children. It would require us to take very expensive steps to fix a problem that does not exist.”
The Board is expected to vote on a final version of the revised noise ordinance as soon as next month.
During the hearing members of the community typically lobby the Board to direct budget funds to particular areas of need or to specific nonprofit organizations. Only a couple asked the Board to cut spending.
Forty-five speakers came to the podium Tuesday night, and even more packed the County Board meeting room in support of their causes.
Members of the Arlington General Employees Association (AGENA) represented a significant chunk of the audience, with speakers rallying against pay raises that they feel unfairly favor management over the labor force.
“A team works together to provide great service. Each member brings something unique which makes the team work well,” said Jewyll Davis, speaking on behalf of AGENA. Davis cited County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s budget that calls for an avergae general management pay-for-performance raise of 3.2 percent, but an average increase of 2.3 percent for general employees. “Good team members should not receive a raise less than their managers’.”
Dozens of speakers requested additional — or continued — funding for nonprofits like Arlington Free Clinic; Bu-Gata, a tenant advocacy group; and the new nonprofit Arlington Neighborhood Villages, which supports those aging in place in Arlington.
There were at least five speakers who mentioned a need for an increased contribution to mental health services, from $75,000 for peer counselors to support for replacing state and federal funding that is set to run out.
“The preservation of critical safety net services to protect our most vulnerable residents should take highest priority,” Jim Mack, chair of the county’s Community Services Board, said.
The biggest contingent of speakers were those requesting additional County Board investment in affordable housing. Six speakers presented direct cases for more affordable housing funding, while others speaking for related causes, like family services and tenant’s rights, expressed support during their comments for more affordable housing money.
“I’m here to ask that [the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] and other organizations like APAH will be able to have a budget to be able to fund affordable housing in Arlington for many years to come,” one speaker said. “I know that that the request is for $5 million more in the budget, but it’s worth it.”
Donnellan’s proposed budget calls for a general fund of $1.1 billion, which includes no tax rate increase but an average yearly cost increase of $381 per family due to a rise in real estate assessments and other fees. Only three speakers at the meeting spoke out against spending more.
“Needs not wants must drive county government and the county board. But that’s not what’s occurring in Arlington County,” said Jim Hurysz, a frequent County Board critic. He said he’s attended several budget work sessions so far, and “no one, with the exception of [Board member Libby] Garvey, expressed any concern for Arlington’s taxpayers, and I haven’t heard any concern expressed here tonight.”
The County Board will be holding another public hearing tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. to address the tax rate, which Donnellan has proposed holding steady at $1.006 per $100 in assessed value tax rate.
The park is being built on a third of an acre of what is currently vacant land along Clarendon Blvd, between N. Adams Street and N. Barton Street. The land, which belongs to the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, is being leased to the county at no cost for at least two years, under the condition that the county maintains the land.
The park proposed for the parcel is being described as a “dynamic, inviting and sustainable open space” and Arlington’s “first temporary pop-up park.” It will include paths accessible to those with disabilities, chairs, tables, umbrellas, benches, planters, a drinking fountain, a small lawn area, shade trees, other plantings, and a small lawn area.
“A portion of the park building materials will be recycled from existing County surplus materials,” the county said. “Improvements to the site will be mostly surface improvements and will be designed to minimize the need for excavation. This will reduce the cost of construction and allow park elements to be reused at other sites.”
Via its Open Arlington website, the county is seeking community input on other potential park features. Ideas floated by county staff include:
- Small-scale outdoor games (like cornhole, croquet or table tennis)
- Bocce court
- Miniature golf course
- Gardening/demonstration gardens
- Exercise classes
- Outdoor market
- Game tables for chess or checkers
- Picnic tables
Last Chance to Comment on Bikeshare Plan — Today is the last day to comment on Arlington’s Capital Bikeshare Expansion Plan. Comments on the six year strategic growth plan can be submitted online through the end of the day today. [Arlington Transportation Partners]
Republicans Pounce on Garvey’s Streetcar Abstention — Hoping to capture a seat on the County Board this November, Republicans are planning on hammering away at the current all-Democrat Board for approving the Columbia Pike streetcar. The GOP is also planning to pounce on their Democratic opponent, Libby Garvey, for abstaining from the streetcar vote while expressing skepticism about the plan. Republican Matt Wavro will face Garvey and Green Party candidate Audrey Clement on the Nov. 6 ballot. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Officials Puzzled by Estate Gift — Arlington officials can’t fathom why a late resident left the county five percent of his estate in his will. The County Board had to vote to refund some of the money after whoever is in charge of executing the will made an error and sent the county $51,000 more than it was actually owed. [Patch]
Paisano’s Named Best Pizza by WTOP — Paisano’s has been named the best pizza in the D.C. area by WTOP listeners and website visitors. The local chain has a location near Crystal City at 3650 South Glebe Road. Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, which has a location in Clarendon, placed #4 in the voting. [WTOP]
Flickr pool photo by Christaki