Arlington, VA

Arlington leaders will soon convene more than a dozen town halls to discuss Amazon’s plans for the county in the run-up to a planned vote on the matter later this month.

County Board members plan to spend the next few weeks holding meetings with a variety of civic associations and advocacy groups to discuss the tech giant’s arrival in Crystal City and Pentagon City, and have now released a schedule of the impending gatherings.

Up to two Board members will attend each one, planning them as open forums for community members to discuss all the implications of Amazon’s new headquarters for county residents.

The Board had originally expected to vote on an incentive package designed to lure the company to Arlington in February, but delayed those plans slightly to allow for more time for community engagement. Since the company announced its expansion plans for the county, concerns have bubbled up over the company’s potential impact on everything from housing affordability to traffic congestion.

New Board member Matt de Ferranti was especially insistent on pushing for the extra time, inviting civic groups of all stripes to request meetings with the Board.

The sessions will not, however, include representatives from Amazon itself. County officials and activists critical of the company have been insistent on seeing some engagement from Amazon executives with the broader community — for its part, the company argues that it’s conversations with local business leaders have adequately helped set the stage for its arrival in the county.

The Board already held some meetings last month, holding gatherings with 10 civic associations and the environmental group EcoAction Arlington. Board members now plan to meet with the following:

  • League of Women Voters: Saturday (March 2)
  • Etz Hayim: Sunday (March 3)
  • Civic Federation: March 5
  • Donaldson Run Civic Association: March 6
  • Freedom Is Not Free: March 7
  • Barcroft School & Civic League: March 7
  • Lyon Village Civic Association: March 11
  • Shirlington Civic Association: March 11
  • Columbia Heights Civic Association: March 11
  • Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights Civic Association: March 12
  • Waycroft Woodlawn Civic Association: March 12
  • Leeway Overlee Civic Association: March 13
  • Aurora Highlands Civic Association: March 13
  • Columbia Forest Civic Association: March 13
  • Arlington Mill Civic Association: March 13
  • Northern Virginia Conservation Trust: March 21
  • Arlington Ridge Civic Association: March 21

Anyone interested in attending can check with each group individually for exact times and locations as they’re finalized.

The Board currently plans to vote on the incentive package at its March 16 meeting. Arlington is proposing to send $23 million in grant money to the company over the next 15 years, with the cash drawn from a projected increase in hotel tax revenues driven by Amazon’s arrival.

The Board’s decision is the final domino that has yet to fall in finalizing the company’s plans for the area. Gov. Ralph Northam and state lawmakers have already approved up to $750 million in tax rebates for the company.

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Amazon can feel a bit omnipresent around Arlington these days, but, in one key way, local leaders and activists say the company has been missing in action.

The tech giant sent a few emissaries to Pentagon City in mid-November, as politicians from around the state and the region congregated to hail the company’s massive Arlington expansion. Since then, however, people closely watching the Amazon debate say they’ve seen barely any evidence that the company’s executives have shown their faces in the community.

And in the wake of Amazon’s sudden, splashy decision to cancel plans for a new headquarters in New York City over local opposition to the project, officials see a clear need for the company to build stronger in-person relationships in Arlington.

“I don’t really understand why they’re not out here… they need to have their coming out party, if you will,” County Board member Erik Gutshall told ARLnow. “Without some really clear rationale or justification from them, I would be very, very hesitant to vote on the incentive agreement without them having had some meaningful engagement in the community. In fact, I couldn’t see us voting on this without that happening first.”

The Board is set to take up that $23 million incentive package on March 16, after delaying a planned February vote on the matter, leaving just a few weeks for the company to meet those concerns.

“We should have a dialogue with them on this, and the community’s legitimate concerns, and it should be a dialogue soon,” said Board member Matt de Ferranti.

For its part, Amazon says it’s done plenty of work on the ground to build strong partnerships in Arlington. Spokeswoman Jill Kerr said in a statement that the company “has met with stakeholders in the community to discuss plans for our second headquarters in National Landing and we will continue to do so into the future.”

The company has also joined the county’s Chamber of Commerce to work with local business owners. Scott Pedowitz, the Chamber’s government affairs manager, says the company has “been very active since joining” and sent its representatives to a variety of the group’s gatherings.

“Earlier this month, we convened a meeting of over 50 local nonprofit organizations with Amazon’s head of community engagement,” Pedowitz wrote in an email. “It was a great dialogue and we’ve heard directly from several of our local nonprofits about follow-up.”

But activists opposed to the project argue that the company can’t simply work with the business community and Arlington’s professional class, when Amazon’s arrival threatens so many low- and middle-income people in the area. Expert opinions are split on just how much the company’s 25,000 highly paid workers will drive up rent prices in the county, but the changes to the housing market will almost certainly force some people to leave their homes.

“We’re being sold all this stuff about how Amazon wants to be a good neighbor and they love our community, but they haven’t spent a second with the community,” said Roshan Abraham, a longtime Amazon critic and a leader of the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington. “Maybe they’ve had meetings with the Arlington Chamber, and they think that’s the community. But they haven’t spoken to the rest of us.”

In all of the many community meetings focused on the project he’s attended over the last few months, anti-Amazon organizer Alex Howe points out that “the only time I’ve ever seen an Amazon official is in Richmond.” And that was when state lawmakers were debating a $750 million incentive package for the company, which Gov. Ralph Northam ultimately approved earlier this month.

Gutshall did suggest that perhaps Amazon was “distracted” with the opposition it was facing in New York, where city officials called company executives in for heated hearings on the project. However, Abraham reasons that the company has seen no need to make its case to skeptics in Arlington because local leaders have so aggressively pushed the project on their own.

“They haven’t had to speak to us because the County Board has been doing their work for them,” Abraham said. “In New York, politicians pressured them and Amazon was put in a position where they had to speak to the community. No one’s putting that pressure on them here.”

Yet de Ferranti and Gutshall say they’ve both urged the company to engage in Arlington. Gutshall says his consistent message to Amazon officials has been that “the Board and the community are expecting you to join the community, and if you’re going to do that, you need to show up.”

However, de Ferranti says he is concerned that activists opposed to the company’s presence in the county would turn any community meeting into a “shouting match” rather than a constructive dialogue.

“I want to have a real conversation on this, not a chance for people to demagogue,” de Ferranti said.

Abraham says that sort of stance “totally baffles me,” arguing that the Board “shouldn’t be afraid of how the community might respond to Amazon executives being here.” Gutshall also noted that “even our most contentious town halls on this haven’t been abominable.”

“You don’t have to engage with the only purpose of trying to change somebody’s mind,” Gutshall said. “But if you have a dialogue and if it’s done in a civil way, it’s healthy. It’s not necessarily everyone singing ‘kumbaya’ all of a sudden, but it’s important to have those conversations.”

Gutshall says the company has assured him that it has “imminent” plans to start holding community meetings, even though he’s seen no evidence of specific plans just yet.

Pedowitz points out that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is organizing an event titled “A Regional Conversation with Amazon,” scheduled for George Mason’s Virginia Square campus tomorrow night (Thursday). The event will convene “elected officials, government executives, and business and community leaders” for a meeting with Amazon representatives to “discuss plans to become a bigger part of our diverse, dynamic and growing region.”

But that event is described as an “invitation-only” gathering, and does not appear publicly on the group’s website — a Washington Post reporter tweeting out a link to an internal event description seems to be the first public reference to the meeting.

An organizer of the event did not respond to a request for comment on whether the gathering is open to the public or the press.

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(Updated at 12:15 p.m.) Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) is planning a town hall in Arlington tonight (Thursday), in order to collect feedback on everything from the government shutdown to his plans for the new Congress.

Beyer’s set to hold the gathering at Yorktown High School (5200 Yorktown Blvd) tonight, running from 7-8:30 p.m. Though Arlington Public Schools have since canceled all after-school activities due to the threat of winter weather tonight, a spokesman for Beyer says the event is still on.

The county’s lone congressman convened the gathering to “discuss the issues on your mind, and what I’m doing in Congress,” according to an event posting.

The shutdown, now the longest in the country’s history, will likely be a prime topic of discussion, especially considering the adverse economic impacts it has had on so many federal workers in the district. A recent study found that the 8th, which covers Arlington and parts of Alexandria, has the largest number of federal employees in the country.

Beyer will also be able to use the town hall as a chance to solicit feedback on his plans in Congress for the next two years, as Democrats assume control of the House for the first time since Beyer won office in 2014.

He previously told ARLnow that he broadly hopes to focus on environmental issues, particularly oversight of President Trump’s picks to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and on securing new funding to combat aircraft noise around Arlington.

File photo

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Arlington leaders are convening their second “community listening session” on Amazon’s new headquarters in Ballston tomorrow (Saturday).

The event is set to run from 9:30-11 a.m., held at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association building at 4301 Wilson Blvd and designed as a chance to let county residents air their concerns about the tech giant as it prepares to move into space in Crystal City and Pentagon City in the coming months.

County spokeswoman Jennifer Smith says officials are closely “watching the forecasts,” but they currently expect they’ll be able to squeeze the event in before the weekend’s snow storm hits.

The County Board and other local officials last convened a similar gathering on Dec. 17 at Gunston Middle School, as part of a broader push to accept community feedback on Amazon in person. The first meeting largely centered on debates over the company’s impact on housing, transportation and the labor force in the coming years, all concerns raised by supporters and opponents of the tech firm alike.

Since then, the county has attracted some criticism for its handling of the town halls, particularly when it comes to making meeting materials available in Spanish and offering translators at each event.

However, the county’s meeting advisory does say that language interpretation services will be available upon request.

Saturday’s listening session could well be the last chance for the Board to hear directly from the public on Amazon before it holds a vote to approve an incentive package (hammered out largely by state officials) that helped convince the company to choose Arlington for the new offices.

Board members have long planned to vote in February on the topic, no sooner than the group’s meeting on Feb. 23, though the debate is largely expected to be a mere formality. State lawmakers will also sign off on other elements of the incentive package over the next few weeks, during the current General Assembly session.

Photo via @SURJ_NoVa

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Arlington leaders are now planning on hosting at least two Amazon-focused town halls to let residents share their concerns about the tech giant ahead of a planned February vote on the deal to bring the company’s new headquarters to the county.

County Board Chair Katie Cristol announced at the Board’s meeting yesterday (Tuesday) that the county will hold a pair of “community listening sessions” to give people the chance to talk directly with Arlington staffers and Board members alike about Amazon. She says the county is targeting Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 12 at 9:30 a.m. for those sessions, but has yet to settle on locations for either one.

“There have been a lot of questions about opportunities to engage or ask questions directly to County Board members as well as to learn about this opportunity and its impacts on our Arlington community,” Cristol said. “We’ve heard that people are very interested in an in-person opportunity to share their feedback and county staff.”

Cristol added that any Board vote on the proposed deal, largely sketched out by state officials, would come no sooner than Feb. 23. In the likely scenario that the deal wins the Board’s approval, the company would then face a whole variety of Board hearings as it looks to build new facilities in Pentagon City and Crystal City.

The county has also scheduled an array of online Amazon question-and-answer sessions on Facebook.

Arlington’s already held a pair of those, and will hold three more next month: a Dec. 6 session focused on transportation, a Dec. 19 discussion on schools and education and a Jan. 16 session on housing.

Skeptics of the tech giant’s impact on the area have accused the Board in the past of allowing too little community discussion on the issue, with many skeptics flooding a Board meeting earlier this month to raise the matter. Progressive groups like Our Revolution Arlington have also specifically called for a series of such listening sessions by Board members.

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Billionaire Tom Steyer is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting in Arlington tomorrow (March 20) about the “need to impeach” President Donald Trump.

The Tuesday event is part of a nationwide event series that Steyer has launched since Trump took office, in which he makes what he calls “the patriotic case for impeachment.”

Town hall attendees can ask questions during the program as Steyer details how “to support the resistance against Trump’s administration” and calls on Maryland and Virginia lawmakers to act, according to a press release. A second town hall is planned tomorrow in Prince George’s County, Md.

More via a press release:

Arlington residents are heavily concentrated in Virginia’s 8th district, which has a strong Democratic majority. Yet Congressmember Don Beyer voted against impeachment in two separate floor votes despite clear support for impeachment from his constituents. In Prince George’s County, Congressmember Anthony Brown represents Maryland’s deeply Democratic 4th district. Even with calls to action from his constituents, Brown has also voted against impeachment in both floor votes. The town halls will gather local voters demanding explanations from Beyer and Brown on their decisions not to back Trump’s impeachment.

“Donald Trump has put our entire country at risk, and America needs strong leaders who will stand up to him,” said Steyer. “Those who condemn Trump but do nothing to back their words with action are enabling the damage he is inflicting on our people and our democracy. Both Congressmembers Don Beyer and Anthony Brown have repeatedly ignored their constituents’ voices by voting no on impeachment. Since the only thing Beyer and Brown should be contemplating is their constituents’ well-being and best interests, we need to know why. The people deserve representatives who refuse to back down on our shared principles, and we will ensure their voices are heard.”

Steyer launched the Need to Impeach campaign on October 20, 2017 through national television and social media ads. More than 5 million people have since signed on to support the campaign, creating a digital army that several political strategists call one of the most powerful political tools in the Democratic party. So far, six national commercials have aired, reaching more than 2 billion viewers through television and more than 454 million through social media. A seventh commercial — the first in Spanish — will begin airing nationwide this week.

The press release did not note where nor exactly when the events will take place. Attendees are asked to RSVP in order to find out additional event details.

Photo via Need to Impeach

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“Arlington has a drug problem.”

That’s the message from a flyer for a community town hall event next month focused on “how drugs and the opioid epidemic are affecting our community.” Arlington County may be in many ways a unique community, but it is not immune to the scourge of drugs.

Attendees at the town hall, set for Thursday, October 12 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), will hear from those “serving on the front lines,” including local law enforcement, community leaders and health care providers.

It will include a panel discussion moderated by NBC 4 anchor Jim Handley, a question and answer session with the audience and a keynote address by Virginia Beach School Board member Carolyn Weems, whose daughter died from a prescription drug overdose in 2013.

County government, Arlington Public Schools, the Arlington County Police Department and the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney are collaborating to host the town hall.

It comes after ACPD started conducting K-9 drug searches after hours in APS high schools and later said there had been 18 drug arrests on APS grounds during the first five months of the year.

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Arlington Central Library(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) Confronting a wave of national Islamophobia in the wake of high-profile terror attacks, community leaders in Arlington are aiming to tackle bigotry via civic engagement.

A “Muslim Town Hall Meeting” has been organized and is scheduled to take place from 2-5 p.m. on Saturday, April 9 at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street).

The town hall, described as a “non-partisan community event,” is being hosted by the groups NOVA Muslim Americans and Veterans Challenge Islamophobia. It will take place in three parts:

  1. “Civic engagement panel discussion”
  2. “Political engagement panel discussion”
  3. “Tackling Islamophobia”

Scheduled speakers at the event include:

  • State Sen. Adam Ebbin
  • Arlington County Board members Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey
  • Arlington School Board member Nancy Van Doren
  • Arlington Police Chief Jay Farr
  • Baroness Pola Uddin of the British House of Lords
  • Jim Driscoll of Veterans Challenge Islamophobia
  • Kip Malinosky, Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee
  • Eric Brescia of the Arlington County Republican Committee
  • Ghizlane Moustaid, Chair of GMU Muslim Association
  • Yasmine Taeb, co-author of “Fear, Inc. 2.0”
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Del. Patrick HopeDel. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) will be holding a town hall meeting on school safety on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

Hope was recently appointed to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Task Force on School and Campus Safety, which was created in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The task force has been charged with making recommendations regarding improvements to school safety practices at K-12 schools and at colleges and universities. Such improvements may include expanded use of school resource officers or security guards, new state or local programs or policies, and improvements to Virginia’s mental health system.

From 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, interested parents, students and residents are invited to discuss school safety with Del. Hope at the Wakefield High School auditorium (4901 S. Chesterfield Road). Hope will give an update about the work of the task force and listen to concerns and recommendations from the audience.

Hope said the discussion will be wide-ranging, and may incorporate topics beyond the scope of the task force. For instance, the task force was not charged with making recommendation regarding firearm policies, but Hope said guns may still be discussed.

“I don’t see how you can talk about safety in classrooms without talking about gun control… It’s a little like talking about trying to cure lung cancer, but you can’t talk about smoking,” Hope told ARLnow.com. “If you really want to solve the problem, you can’t leave gun control aside.”

Hope said he will likely hold at least one more town hall meeting before the task force concludes its work this summer. The task force’s relatively short time frame, he said, is the reason the controversial topic of gun control was not included in its agenda.

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County Board member Walter TejadaThe first of the new-for-2013 neighborhood town hall meetings, an initiative of this year’s Arlington County Board chairman, Walter Tejada, will kick of on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

The first neighborhood town hall will be held at the Drew Community Center cafeteria, at 3500 23rd Street S. in Nauck. Residents will have an opportunity to voice their opinions or ask questions about any topic, while County Board members listen.

“As part of my ‘Moving Forward Together’ agenda, I am looking forward to hearing from the community in this informal setting, where people can speak their minds directly to County Board members, and get answers,” Tejada said in a statement. “Arlington is always at its best when we are listening to each other and sharing ideas.”

The town hall meetings will be held once a month, except August and December, in various locations around Arlington. The meetings will start at 6:46 p.m. and end at 9:00 p.m. The unique start time was chosen so “people would remember it better,” according to a county spokeswoman.

The February town hall will be held at the Lee Community Center (5722 Lee Highway) on Wednesday, Feb. 27. The March meeting will be held at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road) on Wednesday, March 27, and will be focused on one topic: the proposed Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems.

“It is expected that all five Board members will participate,” the county said in a press release. “They will provide a detailed update on the planned streetcar system, respond to questions from the community and discuss next steps.”

“The Board decided several years ago, after a lengthy public process, to build a streetcar system that will help us handle expected growth, encourage high-quality development, and better connect us to the regional transit network,” Tejada said in a statement. “With streetcar planning now underway in earnest, this is a good time to update residents, business owners and anyone else who is interested, answer questions, and talk about next steps. This is a conversation meant to help us ‘Move Forward Together.'”

The schedule of town hall meetings for the rest of 2013 is available on the Arlington County web site.

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Metro wants your input on how to make MetroAccess service better. There’s a town hall meeting tonight at the Central Library (1015 N. Quincy St.) to gather ideas from the public.

Metro leadership and members of the Accessibility Advisory Committee will be on hand at the meeting to hear what customers believe could be improved or changed. The meeting runs from 6:30-8:00 p.m., with an informational open house beginning at 6:00 p.m.

MetroAccess is a door-to-door shuttle service for people who have a disability preventing them from using rail or buses. The current MetroAccess contract expires on June 30, 2013.

Anyone who can’t make the meeting but has constructive comments to share can send an email to [email protected] or call 202-962-1141.

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