Long-time Arlington food truck Bada Bing is calling it quits.
The truck, one of the first of its kind in Arlington, starting serving cheesesteaks and spiedies to customers in 2010. It helped to kick off a wave of mobile dining options that captured considerable public attention and eventually prompted changes to county regulations.
In a lengthy Facebook post, Bada Bing owner Nicholas Terzella blamed unscrupulous fellow food truck owners, parking problems, and issues with county regulations and communications for his decision. He said he will be moving to the Binghamton, New York area and opening a bricks-and-mortar restaurant.
“The restaurants and restaurant lobby has a huge stranglehold on the govt and are making it very difficult for trucks to operate,” he wrote. “That among other issues is why we REFUSE to continue to do business in Arlington and collect tax for them anymore.”
“Please come visit us if you are ever in the Binghamton area,” he added. “We love you all so much and appreciate you more than you may ever know.”
Hat tip to Christina R.
Arlington County officials are seeking the public’s input on how to improve the accessibility and quality of childcare at a community meeting on Thursday.
The meeting is part of the county’s Child Care Initiative, which aims to promote the development of an inclusive, integrated child care system that serves Arlington County families, especially vulnerable populations.
A draft action plan created in December outlined ways to make childcare more accessible for all income levels. Recommendations included creating a financial assistance program to help families defray childcare costs and updating the county’s zoning ordinance to create more facilities.
At the meeting, officials will hear feedback before the draft plan heads to a county workgroup. Attendees will circulate through different stations to provide written and oral feedback. At one station, attendees can also give first-hand, personal accounts of their experiences with childcare.
The meeting will take place at the Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Registration is requested online.
Caitlin Hutchinson, an assistant director with the county’s Dept. of Human Services said Arlington County has a unique opportunity to enact policy changes that drive meaningful progress.
“We’re one of the few jurisdictions in the state in that we can enact our own child care code. We really have an opportunity to think about what we want to look like as a community,” she said.
In March, a 22-member Leadership Roundtable will review the revised action plan. A final plan is expected to come before the county manager and board in April. Implementation of recommendations will begin in late spring, county staff said.
The plan highlighted “significant gaps between supply and demand” for childcare. There are only 6,984 licensed spaces available for children in daycare facilities, but more than double the number of children under the age of five in the county.
Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said the child care initiative is one of her top priorities this year. In a Jan. 2 speech, Cristol said policy changes are necessary to make childcare more accessible and affordable for Arlington County residents.
“I anticipate that some long-awaited steps will be before the Board soon, such as a potential re-examination of our local codes for alignment with the Commonwealth’s; potential zoning changes to increase the availability of affordable places for, and decrease barriers to entry of, childcare centers; and new partnerships to increase the supply of trained childcare workers,” she said.
In addition to attending the meeting, community members can share feedback by Feb. 2 in the following ways:
A draft action plan on child care in Arlington County has found that it must be more accessible to all income levels, have more spaces available and have better quality and safety for all.
Among other things, it suggested developing a financial assistance program to help families defray childcare costs, updating the county’s zoning ordinance to encourage more facilities and supporting more professional development for child care providers.
The plan found that there are 6,984 licensed spaces available for children in daycare facilities, but 13,435 children under the age of 5 in the county. Of those, approximately 1,400 live at or below the federal poverty level.
It also found that some areas of the county — particularly in some southern neighborhoods — are underserved right now. In the last few months, the Arlington County Board has approved a slew of new daycare facilities, with one on Lee Highway the subject of a lawsuit brought by neighbors opposed to the new facility.
“There are indications from the community that there is a significant gap between supply and demand,” the plan reads. “Challenges to starting new child care businesses and expanding existing ones have also been reported.”
The draft action plan follows a study begun this fall by county staff. Under the fiscal year 2018 budget, a full-time employee joined the Dept. of Community, Planning, Housing and Development to suggest changes to Arlington’s zoning ordinance that would help child care centers open.
Yesterday (Tuesday), the county announced the launch of its Child Care Initiative, as well as a CCI Leadership Roundtable and a CCI Work Group. The Roundtable, a collection of 22 people with knowledge of local and state regulations, will meet each quarter, while the Work Group will meet each month. Both will look to refine the plan ahead of County Board approval in the future.
County staff will host a kick-off meeting for the initiative on January 25 at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) from 5:30-8:30 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to opening the doors for a community conversation about how to achieve our goal of a childcare system that effectively serves and supports all Arlington County families. This draft action plan offers specific ideas and concrete steps to meet that goal,” County Board vice chair Katie Cristol said in a statement. “We’re inviting everyone in to give feedback and help fine-tune this action plan, and to be part of the solution to the childcare challenge facing our families and local economy.”
Community members can share feedback in the following ways:
The Arlington County Board nixed a plan for a huge Lyon Park mansion to be used as a bed and breakfast at its meeting Saturday (September 16).
On a 3-2 vote, the Board denied a proposal for the home at 3120 N. Pershing Drive to operate as a bed and breakfast with at most five guest rooms, with some of those to operate as suites using more than one bedroom. The 13,700-square-foot house contains nine bedrooms, and would have been the county’s first bed and breakfast.
Board member John Vihstadt joined chair Jay Fisette and vice chair Katie Cristol in voting against the plan. Christian Dorsey and Libby Garvey voted for it.
“One of the bottom lines here for me is you have an exceptionally large house… and now it has the potential to provide exceptionally large disruption depending upon what the Board does and either way, how it is managed in the neighborhood,” County Board chair Jay Fisette said.
But the door is still open for property owners Yogi and Daisy Dumera to have their home as a short-term Airbnb rental, which has laxer rules on operation.
Under the Airbnb regulations, a total of six people could stay in the home at one time, or two per bedroom, whichever is most. An Airbnb rental does not require any off-street parking, unlike a bed and breakfast, and would only be inspected by code enforcement after a complaint.
Garvey said given the stricter enforcement on operating bed and breakfasts, she was inclined to support the plan as it could protect the neighborhood more.
“I think, in the long run, it’ll be better for the neighborhood to have more controls and regulations to stay within the parameters of that neighborhood to make it a B&B,” she said. “If we don’t make it a bed and breakfast, I suspect it’ll go the Airbnb route and make things more difficult for the neighborhood.”
The bed and breakfast plan came in for criticism at the Board’s meeting during public testimony. Local resident Harlan Hadley bemoaned the home’s potential conversion into a “quasi-commercial business,” especially because of traffic impacts.
And in a letter to the Board, the Lyon Park Citizens Association said allowing a business in a home would damage the residential neighborhood and possibly encourage similar uses from others.
“Residents opposed the conversion of a residential property in the heart of a residential area into a commercial site,” the association’s executive committee wrote. “The Association believes that this could set a deleterious precedent and could lead to many more sites being developed and reclassified in ways that would erode the quality of our neighborhood.”
The plan followed Dumera’s efforts to sell the house for several years. Records show he dropped the asking price well under the property’s $4 million assessed value, but took the home off the market after not finding a buyer. The property was criticized by neighbors for its ostentatiousness when it was built a decade ago.
Fisette said the bed and breakfast plan appeared to be a “last effort” by the owners to recoup their investment after being unsuccessful in their efforts to sell or auction the house.
Photo No. 1 via Zillow
After hearing from residents and prospective providers, Arlington will formally explore ways to add child care options in the county.
Under the recently-approved fiscal year 2018 budget, a full-time employee will join the Dept. of Community, Planning, Housing and Development to suggest changes to Arlington’s zoning ordinance that would help child care centers open.
The County Board also directed $50,000 be spent on an independent study to determine gaps in child care offerings by age and location.
County Board vice chair Katie Cristol, an advocate for more child care options in Arlington, said zoning ordinance tweaks could be key in adding more centers.
“I am strongly of the opinion, having formed it from talking to a lot of providers or would-be providers, that our biggest obstacles are within the zoning ordinance in terms of the number of parking spaces required by childcare centers or the amount of indoor vs. outdoor space,” Cristol said. “It makes it very hard to find a space for rent in Arlington County that will actually meet the requirements.”
Cristol said the independent study, done in parallel to any work tweaking the zoning ordinance, should give more data on where the gaps in the market lie. WTOP reported in February that children outnumbered daycare and preschool openings by a ratio of roughly three-to-one in 2015.
“There are some things we know and there are some things that we don’t know, so we want to get a little bit more specific about where the geographic areas are where childcare is most lacking,” Cristol said. “We have some hypotheses about that but not as much data.”
The county’s child care ordinance could also be in for another examination, especially in light of Virginia’s statewide regulations not being revised upwards. Cristol said she had been hopeful of the Virginia Department of Social Services revamping its regulations around child care centers, and improving standards that she said could be “almost criminally low.”
Last year, Arlington dropped a proposed update to its own child care regulations after several County Board members, Cristol included, slammed the inclusion of certain controversial provisions, which were seen as overly-prescriptive. Cristol was also critical of adding to the regulatory burden of small daycare providers without a clear health or safety imperative.
State officials decided at the end of last year to leave Virginia’s regulations alone, and while Cristol said Arlington’s continue to be tougher, a fresh look led by the county’s Child Care Licensing Office could help.
“I think after the version you saw in early 2016, which was roundly understood and emphasized by myself and other Board members to be a huge overreach, there are opportunities to look afresh at what are the high expectations that we have and want to communicate, and what do we actually require as a condition of opening a childcare center,” Cristol said.
The study will begin sometime after the start of the fiscal year, on July 1, while Cristol said she anticipated any zoning ordinances changes will come before the community and County Board in around 18 months.
Airbnb Reg Changes Proposed — The Arlington County Board is considering more updates to its new Airbnb regulations. The Board on Saturday is expected to advertise two potential changes: first, eliminate the loophole that allowed Airbnb hosts to get out of paying hotel taxes if they host fewer than four guests at a time. Second, set a $60 annual fee for the permits required to be an Airbnb (or VRBO, HomeAway, etc.) host in Arlington. [Arlington County, Arlington County]
Letter: Short-Term Rentals Pose Risks — A pair of letter to the editor writers in the Sun Gazette argue that allowing Airbnb and other short-term rental services in Arlington involves major risks to safety and the potential for abuse of affordable housing. [InsideNova]
Meeting to Discuss Proposed VRE Fare Hike — A meeting will be held March 7 in Crystal City to discuss a proposed 3 percent fare hike for Virginia Railway Express. [WTOP]
FBR to Be Acquired — Rosslyn-based investment bank FBR is being acquired by Los Angeles-based B. Riley Financial Inc. for $160.1 million in cash and stock. FBR’s chairman and chief executive will become CEO of the combined company. [InvestmentNews, Washington Business Journal]
Wakefield B-Ball Teams Advance — The Wakefield Warriors boys and girls basketball teams have clinched state tournament berths. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Locals who want to put their kids in preschool or daycare programs might have to wait for months before an opening appears. At Early Steps Bilingual Preschool in Lyon Village, the wait list for the upcoming 2017-18 school year is between 20 and 30 names long. And that’s fairly average, according to the preschool’s director, Michelle Clark.
“I have many parents who come to me before they have given birth who put their children on the wait list,” she said. “When parents ask me what the probability is of getting in, I tell them it’s kind of a strange science.”
What’s the problem? For one, says Arlington County Board vice chair Katie Cristol, there’s just too many kids and not enough daycare facilities. Cristol, who won her seat in 2015 after running on a policy platform that included child care, has long spoken out about the lack of affordable options in the county.
“Arlington has a child care supply problem, resulting, at least in part, from high commercial rents and growth in demand,” Cristol said.
The number of kids in Arlington vastly exceeds local availability. As WTOP reported this month, children outnumbered daycare and preschool openings by a ratio of roughly three-to-one in 2015.
But the supply problem isn’t only frustrating parents. In Cristol’s view, not having enough child care options can hurt the county’s prospects attracting and retaining young workers who either have a family or want to start one soon.
“Limited childcare supply creates not only personal strain on individual families, but also a problem for Arlington’s long-term economic competitiveness,” she said. “Our highly-educated young workforce is a key selling point for new businesses and organizations to locate, or existing organizations to expand, here.
Another issue is the lack of space for providers. Tatjana Vichnevsky, who heads the Full Circle Montessori School, said she’d like the county to rework the regulations that surround opening a new child care center. Specifically, Vichnevsky said rules regarding parking and green space at a daycare need updating.
“If you’re in Arlington and you want to open a school, not only do you have the state standards, but there’s also another layer of regulations and bureaucracy,” she said. “Just finding the space is an absolute nightmare.”
Arlington’s child care ordinance, Chapter 52 of county code, was last updated in 1981 and was primarily written in the 60s. In 2013, then-County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s budget-cutting proposal to adopt Virginia’s child care regulations and eliminate three county regulators was met with widespread parent outrage. The proposal was eventually scrapped, but attempts to update Arlington’s child care regulations have also been problematic.
Last year, Arlington dropped a proposed update to its child care regulations after several County Board members, Cristol included, slammed the inclusion of certain controversial provisions. Cristol was also critical of adding to the regulatory burden of small daycare providers without a clear health or safety imperative.
Moving forward, Cristol said her goal will be to look for ways to “clear obstacles to, and support, the provision of more high-quality childcare in Arlington.”
She added that the county’s upcoming 2018 budget could be an opportunity to advance that priority.
“Strategies include more technical assistance to new providers as they locate and develop their small businesses, exploration of land use and zoning strategies to increase the number of commercial spaces available for rent by childcare providers and reduced regulatory burden while still protecting quality,” Cristol said.
Beyer Warns of Obamacare Repeal Ramifications — “The Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act will have disastrous consequences for Virginia,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said Friday, citing recent studies. “Hundreds of thousands of our neighbors will lose life-saving, affordable health coverage. The state also stands to lose as many as 100,000 jobs, $30 billion in gross state product, and $50 billion in business output. This is unacceptable and irresponsible.” [House of Representatives, Commonwealth Fund]
Will Startup’s Growth Add Arlington Jobs? — Just before the new year, president-elect Donald Trump said that Rosslyn-based OneWeb will be creating 3,000 jobs as it prepares to launch hundreds of satellites to deliver broadband internet around the world. Will those jobs be coming to Arlington? An Arlington Economic Development spokeswoman said the agency was not sure, while a OneWeb spokesman told ARLnow.com only that it was opening a new office in McLean.
Op-Ed Warns ‘Ignore Arlington’s Bad Example’ — The Arlington County Board’s recently-passed home sharing regulations are a “bad example” for other Virginia localities considering similar rules, since Arlington prohibited renters from renting their homes on Airbnb and other platforms. “The opportunities created by the sharing economy shouldn’t be restricted to only those few who are deemed worthy,” says a fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, in an op-ed. [Richmond Times Dispatch]
County Board Members Take Regional Roles — “Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette will serve as 2017 Vice Chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board. County Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol will serve as chair of the Northern Virginian Transportation Commission’s Legislative Committee, and has joined the leadership of the Virginia Railway Express Operations Board.” [Arlington County]
New Year, New Offer for New Advertisers — Join dozens of satisfied advertising clients and get your business’ message out to the greater Arlington community with ARLnow.com. Learn more about our advertising options and check out our new winter deal for new advertisers: book at least a month of advertising and get another month free. [ARLnow]
(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) The Arlington County Board on Saturday approved regulations on Airbnb and other short-term home rentals — a move cheered by Airbnb as “fair” and “progressive.”
Such rentals were previously prohibited by the county’s Zoning Ordinance, though that didn’t stop hundreds, if not thousands, of local residents from listing and renting their homes on Airbnb, Craigslist and other services.
Above the objections of Arlington Republicans, and a “no” vote by John Vihstadt, four of the five County Board members voted to approve regulations that legalize Airbnb rentals while enacting certain restrictions.
Among the restrictions, per a county press release:
- Short-term rentals allowed only in units used by owner as his or her primary residence at least 185 days per year
- “May host the larger of either six lodgers, or two lodgers per number of bedrooms in the unit per night (but no more than allowed by Building Code)”
- “Will not be allowed in detached accessory buildings”
- “Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and where applicable, carbon monoxide detectors, must be provided and accessible to all overnight lodgers”
- “Does not authorize use of the home for any other commercial use such as parties, banquets, weddings, meetings, charitable fund raising, commercial or advertising activities or any other gatherings for direct or indirect compensation”
“Like other jurisdictions, Arlington is adapting to the rise of the sharing economy,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement. “The extensive input we received about short-term rentals throughout this engagement process was essential to help shape new regulations… Today’s decision will help promote positive and safe experiences for renters, rental owners and their neighbors.”
In response to feedback at Saturday’s meeting, next month the Board will go back and consider allowing renters, not just owners, to rent their residences on Airbnb and similar services. The Board will also reconsider a restriction it approved specifying no more than one rental contract at a time for any given residence.
Airbnb cheered what it described as “the first D.C. area municipality to pass an ordinance creating fair rules for middle class residents and families to continue sharing their homes.”
“Today, the Arlington County Board voted to protect the rights of citizens to share their home and earn extra income to make ends meet,” the company said in a statement emailed to ARLnow.com Saturday.
“Airbnb is proud to have worked with the County Board to improve the previously restrictive proposal and create smart, progressive regulations around home sharing in Arlington County,” the statement continued. “We look forward to using this ordnance as a model for shaping sensible home sharing guidelines across the Commonwealth of Virginia and the entire Washington, D.C metropolitan area.”
Earlier this year the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill legalizing Airbnb statewide, superseding any potential local restrictions, but the bill was sent for a year of further study before Gov. Terry McAuliffe considers signing it. In passing its ordinance, Arlington County beat the state to the punch.
It was partially because of the speedy process that Vihstadt said he voted no. He proposed, unsuccessfully, that the Board’s vote be deferred until January.
“I still have some serious reservations about what is before us today,” he said. “I’m still concerned that it is too rushed, I’m concerned that it overreached in several respects while leaving other issues inadequately addressed, and I believe that it fails to some degree to recognize the realities of the sharing economy where consumers are empowered as never before, which calls for I think a much more flexible, lighter hand of government.”
Board member Katie Cristol voted for the regulations, but spoke in support of allowing renters to rent their property.
“Long term renters are contributing to our neighborhood,” she said, “and should have the same opportunity to take advantage of this additional income.”
At least one resident who spoke at the meeting, however, said the regulations were not restrictive enough.
“I have serious misgivings on the legalization of short-term Airbnb-style rentals, especially the lax permitting proposals by the county,” said Charles Hughes.”People choose to live in these neighborhoods and remain because of the feelings of neighborliness. Allowing homes and neighborhoods to turn into businesses will change the nature and character of our neighborhood.”
The new regulations will take effect on Dec. 31. Homeowners will have to apply for an “accessory homestay permit,” proving that they own and reside in the property in question, though so far there is no fee associated with the permit.
The Arlington County Board is expected to vote on proposed regulations on Airbnb and other short-term rental services at its meeting this Saturday.
The regulations proposed by county staff include limits on the number of short-term renters who can stay in a given residence, depending on the number of bedrooms; it requires that the owner of a rental property use it as his or her primary residence, residing there at least 185 days of the year; and includes other provisions designed to strike a balance between those who want to generate supplemental revenue from their homes and those who don’t want to live next to a de facto hotel.
Arlington Republicans, in a press release today, said they are opposed to the regulations, which the county hustled to enact before the state legislature considers prohibiting such regulations during its January session.
The full local GOP press release is below.
Arlington GOP and Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans (AFCYRs) oppose the proposed “short-term residential rentals” regulations to be considered by the Arlington County Board this Saturday, December 10. While Arlington GOP and AFCYRs support establishing a formal legal structure for Airbnb and other short-term rentals that properly balances promoting the “sharing economy” with maintaining the character of our neighborhoods, the proposed regulations are unduly burdensome.
“Arlington County is rushing at break-neck speed to adopt regulations for Airbnb without fully understanding the impacts or gaining community consensus,” said Arlington GOP Chairman Jim Presswood.
Community Planning, Housing & Develop (CHPD) staff admitted at an Arlington County Planning Commission hearing last week that their process for developing the regulations was “atypical” and much shorter than usual. As a result, they have not done the research and community outreach that would normally be completed prior to adoption of final regulations. CPHD is using an accelerated process because they want the regulations finalized before the next Virginia General Assembly, which is expected to consider legislation on short-term rentals.
The proposed regulations prohibit renters from doing short-term rentals even if their lease allows it, restrict food service, limit the number of contracts and days that residences may be rented, and include potentially onerous parking, inspection, permitting and fee requirements. Taken as a whole, the proposed regulations threaten to push many people out of this activity.
Arlington County should be encouraging the sharing economy in a way that maintains the quality of our community. Benefits include providing residents income to help pay their mortgage or rent, creating additional short-term rental options for travelers, including visiting family members and friends, and enhancing our local economy when guests spend money at local restaurants and businesses.
“It would be a shame if Arlington undermines the future of the sharing economy while other jurisdictions move forward in this area,” said AFCYRs Chairman Andrew Loposser.
County staff is proposing regulations that would permit Airbnb rentals, which currently exist in a bit of a legal gray area in Arlington, while imposing some restrictions.
Among the proposed regulations:
- Those who rent their home on Airbnb would need to apply for and obtain an “accessory
homestay permit,” which would remain valid for two years.
- County inspectors would be authorized to inspect the homes of anyone with such a permit “at least one time per year,” with proper notice.
- The home being rented is required to be the owner’s primary residence, with the owner living there most days of the year.
- A cap of no more than six guests at a time in any given rental.
- The owner would not be allowed to “prepare or serve food or beverages to
any overnight guests.”
There are a total of 21 proposed regulations listed, including more mundane safety regulations like requiring working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.`
Some of the regulations are said to be “an option” for consideration — such as requiring that owner provide at least one off-street parking space and limiting the number of short-term-rental-eligible apartments in a given multi-family building to no more than 25 percent of units.
The Board this weekend will consider advertising the proposed changes. If approved, public meetings on the regulations would be held in November, ahead of final Board consideration in December.
Nearly 1,000 properties in Arlington were listed on Airbnb in September, according to a county press release. The number was closer to 1,600 over the summer, said County Manager Mark Schwartz.
Airbnb, which has become an alternative to hotels or vacation rentals for many, is growing in popularity, prompting county staff and the County Board to initiate a public process that is expected to lead to regulations on such rentals.
Nearly 1,000 properties in Arlington were listed on Airbnb this month, according to a county press release. The number was closer to 1,600 earlier this summer, said County Manager Mark Schwartz.
While Airbnb is allowing residents to earn extra income by renting out their homes, some say Airbnb renters can make for lousy neighbors. Officials say they’ve heard from both residents concerned about Airbnb and from Airbnb hosts who want the service moved out of legal limbo in Arlington.
“We have several goals for regulating short-term residential rentals,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement. “We want to protect the character of Arlington’s neighborhoods, ensure public safety for our community, reduce barriers for those who already are or may want to use their homes as short-term rentals in a legal and responsible manner and provide a mechanism for enforcement.”
In October, the Board is expected to pass a Request to Advertise for public hearings on a Zoning Ordinance amendment related to short-term rentals. A final vote on the new regulations could take place as early as December.
One complicating factor: the Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that would prevent local governments from restricting or collecting hotel taxes on short-term rentals.
“We do not know at this time, what the new legislation will include, and thus the impacts on local government ability to regulate short-term rentals,” County Manager Mark Schwartz told the Board. “We do know that there has been a demand from the community, including short term rental hosts, asking for rules on how to operate legally. By acting prior to the end of December 2016, the County can help inform the state’s ultimate decision.”
(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) Arlington has more to do to make the county friendlier to small businesses, particularly those with brick-and-mortar storefronts.
That was one of the messages sent by Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey during her State of the County talk this morning.
Garvey discussed the county’s efforts to compete economically during the talk, which is hosted by the Arlington County Chamber of Commerce. While Garvey lauded the county’s push to attract large employers — particularly tech-related firms — to Arlington, she lamented that small businesses are still encountering regulatory road blocks. As an example, she cited the experience of former Democratic state delegate Rob Krupicka, who opened a Sugar Shack Donuts location along Columbia Pike in February.
Garvey noted that Krupicka — who served in the House of Delegates for four years, representing parts of Arlington and Alexandria — had been expressing frustration on Facebook with the process of opening a shop in Arlington. She later reached out to him, asking that he share his experience with county staff.
“It was a little hard as a Board member to sit there and hear it,” she said. “He had to come in six times to get approval for a sign… And this was a small business, [Rob] is the one doing it all. [He also] had to come in to pay for permits and things because you can’t pay online.”
“We need to be thinking of the big guys, going to China [to attract businesses],” said Garvey, “but we also need to be down on the very granular level and make sure people don’t have to come six times for a sign — and can pay online. We’re working on it, we’re not there yet, but we’re absolutely committed to making it work.”
Asked about his experience, Krupicka said it was “definitely easier” to open his first donut shop in Alexandria than it was to open his second in Arlington.
“Both have their issues. Both have good staff. Alexandria has put a lot of effort into streamlining and it shows,” Krupicka told ARLnow.com. “The Arlington permitting process is in need of streamlining and modernization.”
There were five areas in particular where Arlington County could improve, according to Krupicka.
- “Payments have to be made by mail or in person rather than online and for some things you can’t move forward without payment, so that means waiting in line in the planning office for hours to get your name called so you can hand a check to somebody.”
- “Planning, Zoning, Health, etc. don’t talk to each other and it appears they don’t understand where each other fits in the process. The process actually seems to assume the small business person will force that communication and coordination. That is crazy, as the small business person shouldn’t have to be an expert on government process, the process should be designed to be easy. The big guys just hire lawyers. Small businesses should not have to.”
- “Many permits need to be applied for in person. You can’t just submit them online. You have to sit in the office and wait to be called, wasting hours of time. I have spent days waiting in the county offices. I have overheard a lot of very unhappy individuals and business people. The elected officials should spend some time walking through this process.”
- “In Alexandria you only need one permit to put up a building sign. It takes 20 days or so. In Arlington, you need two permits, zoning and construction, and it takes 60 days plus. In Alexandria you can apply online and never have to go into the office. My Arlington sign had me to to the County Offices at least 5 times wasting a lot of money on parking and more importantly time.”
- “There is an online system for some things, but in my experience, it was very cumbersome and I spent hours working with tech support to get it to work. I’m hoping that is fixed now.”
“All of this could be streamlined without impacting the proper county regulatory role,” Krupicka concluded. “I was impressed the way Libby Garvey reached out to me, tried to help and then made time and organized county staff to listen to my experience in order to try and fix it. She, [County Board member John] Vihstadt and Commissioner [of Revenue] Ingrid Morroy were the three that made a real effort to help me.”
(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) Arlington County has taken a proposed update to its child care regulations off its website after County Board members called the inclusion of certain controversial provisions “troubling.”
As ARLnow.com first reported Monday, the most recent draft of the child care regulations would have required child care centers to encourage mothers to breastfeed and would have dictated what type of milk, juice and birthday treats could be fed to children, among other provisions.
That’s in addition to new staffing and employee education requirements that panicked the operators of small and part-time child care centers, who said such rules would put them out of business or at least drive up the cost of daycare and preschool programs.
“This situation, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s really the most troubled roll-out of a county initiative since the ill-conceived and ill-fated Public Land for Public Good,” said County Board member John Vihstadt. “I really think that this is close to an unmitigated disaster. If our goal is to increase the supply and the affordability of child care throughout Arlington County, this in my view seems to do exactly the opposite.”
Anita Friedman, Director of Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services, said the creation of the new regulations is an “iterative” process that has been underway since 2014, with input from directors of child care centers and consultation from a Kentucky-based nonprofit association.
Despite what she described as a positive public outreach process, Friedman acknowledged that there has been “a lot” of negative feedback, particularly from owners of smaller child care centers and the parents who use them.
“There are some issues with the current version,” she told the Board. “In some places, I think, because some of the enthusiasm of the child care centers and our Arlington Way of striving for the best, we may have probably overreached in terms of the best practices that we want to incorporate in there, that don’t belong in the code.”
That didn’t satisfy new County Board member Katie Cristol, who included affordable child care as part of her policy platform. She called the inclusion of some of the provisions “silly season business.”
“At a time when we have young families leaving this county because it costs as much if not more to have your child in daycare as it does to pay rent… I think we have broader concerns than making sure kids have the absolute best environment,” Cristol said.
“This is really troubling to see this level of best practice conflated with code and with regulation,” she continued. “I am not comfortable inserting unbidden county government in encouraging anybody to tell a mother how to feed her child, whether that’s best practice or regulation.”
“Distraction is not a strong enough word for the real issue at play here. We have been hearing loud and clear from members of our community that this undermines trust in government. It exacerbates a sentiment that Arlington is hostile to child care centers and small businesses.”
With County Board members speaking out against the changes, County Manager Mark Schwartz stepped in part-way into the discussion to say that the draft regulations would be taken down from the county website, while the county continues to seek input by other means.
Arlington’s child care ordinance, Chapter 52 of county code, was last updated in 1981 but was mostly written in the 1960s. In 2013, then-County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s budget-cutting proposal to adopt Virginia’s child care regulations and eliminate three county regulators was met with widespread parent outrage. The proposal was eventually scrapped, though Friedman noted that returning to state regulations — which are more up-to-date than Arlington’s current code — is an option the Board could consider.
Friedman said that the next update to Chapter 52 would likely carve out exceptions for small and part-time child care center — by state law, religious-run child care centers are already exempt from local regulation — and would move some of the aspirational “best practice” provisions from county code to perhaps a best practices manual.
County Board Chair Libby Garvey questioned how such provisions made it into even a draft proposal.
“Some [are] upset that anyone thought this was a good idea,” she said. “Some really important judgement kind of wasn’t exercised here. That’s something that was concerning.”
Garvey and other Board members were careful to say that the provisions were well-intentioned, created by “people of goodwill.”
“I think some of them might not have the best judgment, I’m hoping we take care of that,” said Garvey. ‘There’s much to do. This needs to come down for now. Some judgment needs to be exercised before something goes back up.”
Friedman noted that there has been critical coverage of the policy update from ARLnow.com and other media outlets.
“There are a lot of people commenting… and there’s a lot of stuff on ARLnow, God bless them they think they have their pulse on the finger, but they usually don’t say a nice word about most things,” she said.
Both Schwartz and Friedman took responsibility for the botched policy process.
“Let me first apologize to the Board if we have caused you to lose faith in our department or in our ability to carry this through,” Friedman said. “It is not a simple thing to change code, and indeed we went into it somewhat naively and maybe overzealously… I accept full responsibility for this mess.”
Friedman said “we can push larger child care centers to higher achievement because they have the resources” but that her department doesn’t want to leave smaller centers behind. “Some of the overreaching has occurred,” she acknowledged.
“We are appropriately chastened by some of the comments you made,” Schwartz said. “We will get it right.”
Daycare and preschool providers in Arlington are decrying proposed new child care regulations as overly onerous and intrusive.
A 34-page draft of new child care center regulations would set stringent requirements for employee education, require food handling certificates for handing out snacks and would require providers to encourage mothers to breast feed, among numerous other regulatory provisions.
Child care providers — particularly small, part-time operators — are speaking out against the the changes to Chapter 52 of County Code via the county’s online “open comment tool.”
“This document was supposed to clarify things, however, it created more issues,” said one comment.
Many comments focused on new education requirements for the teachers and assistant directors at child care centers. They would have to have a Bachelor’s Degree in education or a similar major and “at least 9 semester credits of advanced study in child development or early childhood education.” Current teachers would have three years to meet that requirement.
The education requirement could financially burden employees, who may have to go back to school to get the necessary credits, and could burden child care centers by raising the cost of hiring new employees, providers said.
“Have you considered the impact this would have on preschools and just how difficult finding teachers with these very narrow qualifications will be?” said one comment. “As former preschool board member who was in charge of hiring for two years, I can tell you that finding highly qualified teachers who are willing to work for preschool pay is already very challenging. You add these new rules and and two thirds of our EXCEPTIONAL staff would not be qualified to teach.”
“I am sure these regulations are well-intentioned and meant to foster excellent Arlington preschools,” said another. “But we already have excellent Arlington preschools. The effect of some of these costly new requirements will be to drastically increase costs, making these excellent schools inaccessible financially for some area families.”
Providers also questioned a requirement that they have a certified food handler on staff if they serve or store food.
“If we need to obtain a license for teachers to distribute Goldfish crackers, this would be unduly burdensome,” said a daycare provider. “We are a part-time center and children are required to bring their lunches from home. The only food we give them are snacks and milk for lunches, if requested.”
Operators of part-time cooperative preschools and daycare centers, which are run largely by volunteers, said that such schools should be exempt from the provisions. Staffing requirements that require specific child-to-adult ratios but only count paid staff, while also prohibiting volunteers from being alone with children, would make it “virtually impossible for parent cooperative preschools to function,” said one commenter.
Some of the most incredulous commentary was reserved for provisions that daycare providers viewed as unnecessary for child safety and overly prescriptive. Among them:
- “The licensee will ensure that mothers are encouraged to breast feed their infants.”
- “The interior of the building must be finished in light or bright colors…”
- “Celebrations (birthdays, special occasions) should include mostly healthy foods or non-food treats.”
- “Children two years of age and older will be served only skim or 1% pasteurized milk.”
- “Staff will promote dental hygiene among children at mealtimes.”
- “Only full-strength (100%) pasteurized fruit juice or full-strength juice diluted with water from a cup will be served to children twelve months of age or older.”
- “… All cribs, cots and mats must be spaced a minimum of 3 feet (36 inches) apart.”
- “[Providers must have a plan for] acquiring, stockpiling, storing and cycling to keep updated emergency food/water and supplies needed to care for children and staff for up to 3 days if shelter-in-place is required…”
- “The licensee will ensure that a trained staff member shall conduct and document a health check of each child every morning upon arrival.”
- “In addition to the application document, the [child care center] must submit… a business plan.”
- “A licensee will have specific arrangements with a health care provider who will provide consultation on both routine and emergency health care issues for children.”
“I feel there is overreach regarding such topics as paint colors in classrooms, types of milk/juice to use, amount of outdoor time and number of snacks within a half day program,” said a commenter. “I also think that each preschool should be free to develop its own core philosophy and goals for their specific program.”
“I prefer we are not mandated to get involved with individual decisions,” one said in response to the breastfeeding provision. “Stating centers will support only gets into a very sticky violation if a mother tells an inspector my center director did not mention I should… Doctors should tell mothers what to do with their bodies, not center directors. Strike this reg. It is completely none of our business. This is definitely a reg that is invasive and intrusive to women.”
“I am starting to think this document is a joke,” one said about the celebration food provision. “This is intrusive. Birthday treats are not a health and safety issue. Celebrating a birthday is a cultural experience and should not be county regulated.”
Kurt Larrick, spokesman for Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services, says the update to the county’s child care regulations is necessary and “a lengthy, iterative process that is not even close to over.”
“The current code was written in the late sixties and has not been updated since 1981, so it was dated and due for some revisions – a lot has changed over the past 50 years,” he told ARLnow.com. “We began the process of updating Chapter 52 in February of 2014. The goal always has been to create a code that (1) establishes standards that help protect the health, safety and well-being of children in child care centers in Arlington County and (2) provides a business-friendly framework that supports the community’s needs for quality child care options.”
We have used many tools to make our process open, participatory and inclusive to stakeholders and the entire community (meetings, online feedback, work groups, soliciting comments via e-mail, etc.). In response to feedback received this week, we have extended the comment period on the current iteration of the draft to March 31. This will ensure that all stakeholders have ample opportunity to share their thoughts on the draft.
The current comment period has shined a light on some areas of the draft code that require closer examination. That’s how the process is intended to work. Accordingly, the next iteration of the draft code will potentially include modifications in several key areas:
- Grandfathering staff whose hiring predates certain credentialing requirements
- Revisiting requirements related to access to medical care
- Clarifying adult-student ration requirements for cooperative preschools
Again, this is a lengthy process and we aren’t at the finish line by a long shot. The next draft will reflect the feedback we’ve received from parents, child care providers and other community members. And we’ll solicit feedback once again. The bottom line is we want a code that protects children while not being overly burdensome on child care providers. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the providers to achieve our goals.