Arlington was almost poised to get rid of a “redundant” regulation for contractors this past weekend.
The Arlington County Board was slated to consider revising a chapter of county code related to home improvement regulations during its meeting this past Saturday, November 16. Specifically, members were scheduled to vote on nixing a requirement for home improvement contractors to match county regulations with state regulations.
In Virginia, contractors paid more than $1,000 for a project must seek either a class A, B, or C license based on the scale of their projects. If a contractor is seeking project that pays under $10,000 they can apply for a class C license, while projects up to $120,000 require a Class B license, and more expensive projects require a Class A license. Officials said because Virginia didn’t previously require contractors to sit for an Class C exam, Arlington decided to administer its own to verify their qualifications.
“However, as of December 1, 2012, all contractors seeking a license from the state Board of Contractors are required to take an examination in their specialty, for all classes (A, B & C),” said county spokeswoman Erika Moore. “Because the Board of Contractors is already administering a test to ensure these individuals are qualified, having the County administer another test is redundant and not cost efficient.”
In an email to ARLnow on Friday, Moore added that the county has only administered one test since 2012, which cost the county “the time it takes staff to process the required paperwork to administer and review that test and then to issue the license.”
However, the proposal to nix the exam — which was originally a part of the Board’s consent agenda — was later removed from the meeting agenda later last week.
Moore told ARLnow that staff removed the item from the agenda because “the report [to the Board] was not completed in time for posting of the consent agenda 72 hours prior to the County Board meeting.”
When asked, she did not answer when the item is expected to return to the dais.
At least one County Board member could be pushing to change setback regulations in a bid to provide more of a buffer between homes.
Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey recently visited an infill residential development on N. River Street, near McLean, with several neighbors she said were upset that a developer clear-cut trees on the lot and is planning to build several homes that could be located close to the neighbors.
Garvey tweeted about the issue last weekend, posting photos of the project in Arlington’s tony Chain Bridge Forest neighborhood, which in September prompted a petition from neighbors concerned about mass tree removal, a loss of privacy and decreased home values.
“This destruction has caused substantial harm to surrounding neighbors who previously had a natural green oasis abutting their backyards,” the petition says.
“I actually went to our top lawyer and said ‘This is really terrible is there something we can do?'” Garvey told ARLnow. “And he said ‘Well, maybe setbacks.'”
Garvey said state laws prevent Board members from intervening on most matters related to tree removal on private property, but the Board could weigh in on the distance required between houses — as members did earlier this year when considering accessory dwelling units.
The idea is that requiring a larger distance between buildings could help preserve existing mature trees instead of incentivizing property owners to cut them down.
Saw by-right development that clear cut large lot and is harming trees near site. Need to examine regs that can encourage such projects. pic.twitter.com/DFMytdZPRJ
— Libby Garvey (@libbygarvey) November 9, 2019
Garvey said she believes this type of development — clear cutting trees and building multiple homes or very large homes — is becoming more common as housing prices spike.
“You got a lot of turnover of the baby boomers starting to move on, downsize, leave their home,” she said. “Some of those homes tend to be those smaller homes with a whole lot of yard and not a whole lot of house — and that makes for an opportunity there.”
However, trees can also help absorb storm runoff — a topic of discussion that gained new urgency after this summer’s flash flood, which sparked conversations about the need for urgent stormwater management solutions.
When asked whether those discussions led her to request the regulatory review, Garvey said she has always been an advocate for preserving Arlington’s tree canopy.
“Looking at a big tree-covered lot turn into a big mud pie is just upsetting to everyone,” she said. “But the community as whole is more aware of [the importance of trees.]”
Garvey said she expects the review of setback regulations to take “a few months” and result in a set of recommendations to the Board.
Board members have frequently cited state laws that prevent them from interceding on private property, with former member John Vihstadt (I) once describing Virginia as a “‘mother-may-I’ state.”
Arlington may soon be making electric scooters a more or less permanent fixture of the county’s streets and sidewalks.
The County Board will vote on an ordinance change during its meeting this Saturday, November 16 to allow e-scooter companies to operate in Arlington — provided companies fulfill the requirements of a new permitting system starting next year.
The code change would make the pilot program for “micro-mobility devices” a permanent part of Arlington’s transit system after officials originally approved a nine-month pilot program in September 2018 — and extended it ever since.
If Board members approve the proposed code changes on Saturday, it would allow scooter companies in Arlington to continue operating as long as they fulfill the requirements of the new permit application and pay the still-to-be-determined application fees by January 1, 2020. Much like the pilot program, the County Manager’s office would also be allow to cap the number of devices permitted per company, demand equitable deployment, and levy penalties.
The program will also specify some “community and information sharing requirement” according to a staff report to the Board — a similar requirement to the one in Los Angeles that Uber refused to fulfill, and which led city officials to rescind the company’s permits over Uber’s objections.
But moving forward on the scooter program in Arlington isn’t a surprise considering a recent Mobility Lab report encouraging county leaders to make the scooter program permanent.
The recent report drew support from bicycle and pedestrian advocates, and also recommended that the county roll out some changes next year, including:
- Adding more safe infrastructure like protected bike lanes for scooters and cyclists, as outlined in the county’s recently updated Master Transportation Plan.
- Addressing parking complaints by creating a map of approved parking spots as well as “no-go” areas.
- Eliminating barriers to lower-income users by waiving company’s requirements that users need credit cards
Users traveled just over 400,000 miles on scooters in Arlington between Oct. 2018 and June 2019, per a staff report, but some crashes and blocked sidewalks have prompted discussions about age restrictions and designated parking spaces as well as allowing scooters on some trails.
“Staff proposes that it be permissible to use County sidewalks (with limitations), trails, and on-street bicycle facilities for micro-mobility travel, unless specifically signed/marked otherwise,” wrote county staff in a report to the Board for Saturday’s meeting. “One of the first steps in implementation of the new ordinance would be to sign/mark as prohibited for riding those key sidewalk conflict areas identified during the Pilot program.”
The question of whether scooter riders should be allowed on sidewalks has been a topic of debate among some local groups. Staff is recommending allowing sidewalk use in areas of the county where bike lanes are not a viable option.
“Key stakeholder groups including the Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Bicycle Advisory Committee, and Commission on Aging expressed concern that irresponsible sidewalk-riding could be a danger to pedestrians of any age, however they also expressed support for allowing responsible sidewalk-riding where it was not inconsistent with volumes of pedestrians using the facility, and where safe in-road options are not present,” the staff report says.
The Commission on Aging also expressed concerns that “scooter parking would create an obstruction to safe pedestrian circulation, especially near public transit stops and stations.” County staff seeks to address those concerns with restrictions that specify that scooters should be parked upright and off to the side on sidewalks, if not in a designated scooter dock.
Earlier this year, lawmakers in Richmond passed legislation requiring localities to create their own regulations for where users could ride, and park, the devices.
The new ordinance would not, however, preclude future changes to the scooter program.
“Staff commits to a review of the program and consideration of potential refinements to the ordinance at or about one year after ordinance changes go into effect,” a county staff report states.
Food trucks lovers in Arlington may now have more opportunities to buy their meals on wheels thanks to newly loosened regulations.
The Arlington County Board approved a series of code changes during its meeting this weekend that open up more parking areas for food trucks and also allow the trucks to operate later into the night. Members voted unanimously in support of the changes as part of their consent agenda for the Saturday, September 21 meeting.
Under the updated regulations, food trucks will be now be able park in places with sidewalks at least 6 wide, down from 10 feet. The amended code also clarified that trucks are can in certain cases operate past the standard business hours of 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
In a report to the Board, county staff noted that the changes will provide “greater flexibility in establishing on-street vending zones.”
The 10-foot sidewalk requirement previously barred trucks from otherwise desirable areas. One example was 15th Street N. in Courthouse, which officials said could accommodate five food trucks were it not for the 7.5 foot-wide sidewalk not meeting the 10-foot requirement.
ADUs are residential dwellings built on existing properties that are separate from the primary residence, like a basement apartment or a standalone structure — sometimes called a “granny flat.”
The County Board first approved standards for accessory dwellings in 2008. The Affordable Housing Master Plan in 2015 urged the creation of more ADUs as a low-cost way to boost housing options in Arlington. Regulations were loosened in 2017, but those changes only impacted apartments created within single-family homes, like in a garage or attic.
Staff at the May 6 Planning Commission meeting said there have been 10 new ADUs approved in Arlington since Jan. 1, 2018, demonstrating that there is some local interest in these types of residential units.
At that time, staff had recommended ADUs with a 1-foot side and rear setback from the property line, but the Board rejected it. Now staff is recommending a 5-foot setback, which they say is enough to mitigate the impact on a neighbor’s property but gives the homeowner enough flexibility within their own property.
Staff estimated between 37 percent and 44 percent of lots in Arlington could accommodate a detached accessory dwelling.
“The proposed zoning ordinance amendments would enable the construction of new detached accessory dwellings and reduce barriers to the conversion of existing accessory buildings into accessory dwellings,” staff said in a report. “The proposed amendment balances design flexibility, privacy and separation concerns, and the county’s housing goals.”
The project has attracted some concerns from both sides of the discussion. At the Planning Commission meeting, a local resident, whose accessory dwelling permit was denied last year, said he was excited for the new ordinance, but was frustrated that ADUs were subject to regulations like annual inspections.
Meanwhile, earlier discussions about ADUs exposed concerns from some residents that the new buildings could increase density and crowding in residential neighborhoods and have negative impacts on trees, stormwater management, noise, privacy, traffic and parking. Concerns were also expressed about ADUs being used as short-term rental units offered through services like Airbnb.
Photo via Arlington County
Woman Injured When Scooter’s Brakes Fail — “An Arlington, Virginia, woman says she had to jump off of an electric scooter moving 15 mph to avoid oncoming traffic because the rented scooter’s brakes weren’t working.” [NBC 4]
Could Goody’s Challenge Sign Rules? — Goody’s restaurant in Clarendon painted over its outdoor mural after running afoul of Arlington’s sign ordinance, but one attorney says a 2015 Supreme Court ruling may point to an avenue to challenge the county’s regulations. [Reason]
Refugees Get Car from Arlington Diocese — “A Catholic family fleeing religious persecution in their native Pakistan [received] a car Monday in Arlington.” [WUSA 9]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
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.