An interfaith community group says it has gathered more than 10,000 signatures for a petition that calls on Arlington County to help develop 1,000 to 1,500 new units of affordable housing over the next 3-5 years.
Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) collected the signatures and plans to present them to Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada next Thursday. VOICE says the affordable housing can be built by redeveloping government-owned sites, including the Lubber Run Community Center in Arlington Forest.
VOICE’s proposal identifies government-owned sites that could be redeveloped including Lubber Run Community Center. The group wants the units to be available only to families and individuals making less than $50,000 a year.
According to a press release, VOICE plans to bring more than 100 people — including clergy in religious attire — in front of the Arlington County government building (2100 Clarendon Blvd) Thursday, Dec. 12, at 5:45 p.m., in support of the plan.
The VOICE group is seeking immediate action from the County Board to start implementing some of its proposals at its Dec. 14 meeting.
Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada spoke out against the name of Washington’s professional football team name Monday while speaking at the Arlington Food Assistance Center‘s 25th anniversary celebration.
“It is time to change the name,” Tejada said. “Twenty-five years ago, when AFAC started, the Redskins won the Super Bowl. This can and, frankly, should be done. I strongly support that.”
Tejada expanded on his thoughts on the team’s controversial name when reached by ARLnow.com Tuesday. He said it was the first time he’s declared his position publicly, but wanted to stress that it was a personal opinion, not that of the County Board as a whole.
“I’ve been following the discussions reported in the papers and occasionally on television,” he said. “I have to say, that every time someone is defending the name, they don’t really do a good job. This is separate from the franchise itself. It’s a terrific organization, they have a professional team and everything related to it.”
Several major publications, including the Kansas City Star, Slate Magazine, Philadelphia Daily News and Washington City Paper, have recently decided to stop using the name “Redskins” in print, instead referring to the team simply as “Washington” or “the Washington football team.” Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has been adamant in his defense of the name, telling USA Today “We will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Tejada insisted that changing the name would not be as big of a deal as its defenders believed, citing the late-1990s change from the Washington Bullets to the Washington Wizards when D.C. was going through a particularly high period of gun violence. Then-Wizards owner Abe Pollin voluntarily changed the name.
“Life has gone on. There’s Wizards memorabilia all over the place,” Tejada said. “That would be the case too with a new name. To have a name that is insulting to Native Americans is shameful. What would happen if there was a team named the Whiteskins, the Blackskins or Brownskins? Why are we going there? It’s inappropriate. I’m a big football fan, but I just think that they don’t need this.
“Times have changed,” he continued. “It’s simply time for a fresh name and a fresh start. It’s simply a matter of getting contemporary. I think we could all come up with some names we would like.”
AFAC Executive Director Charles Meng announced at the ceremony that AFAC raised 106,000 pounds of food over the past month, exceeding its goal of 100,000. At the Fill the Bus event this past weekend, in which donors helped fill an ART bus full of food, AFAC received more than 4,700 pounds. Meng thanked his predecessors and the organization’s founders, but reminded the dozens in the audience what work he feels there still is to do.
“There are almost 31,000 individuals in Arlington County who do not have enough to eat on a regular basis,” Meng said. “We service only a small part of that.”
Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada, who volunteers at the center along with his wife, Robin, said AFAC is part of the “strong safety net” the less fortunate in Arlington need.
“AFAC has always been one of my favorite organizations,” Tejada said. “There are so many people here who really care.”
The event, at AFAC’s Shirlington-area distribution center, was scheduled to start at 3:00 p.m., but didn’t begin until 3:30 as AFAC representatives waited for the invited elected officials to show. Sheriff Beth Arthur and School Board Chair Abby Raphael arrived on time and Tejada walked in during Meng’s speech.
County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette, state Sens. Barbara Favola (D-31) and Adam Ebbin (D-30), and Del. Patrick Hope (D-47), all of whom we were billed as expected guests, were no-shows for the speeches. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) sent a staff member while he was on Capitol Hill negotiating on the eve of the government shutdown.
The $36 million Arlington Mill Community Center is only weeks away from opening.
County Board Chairman Walter Tejada and county staff members gave members of the media a preview tour Monday afternoon, showcasing the county’s newest community investment.
Arlington Mill’s construction “will definitely be under budget,” according to George May, Department of Environmental Services bureau chief for facilities design and construction, and the five-story, 67,000-square-foot building will start hosting programs Sept. 3, and hold a grand opening Sept. 21. The project’s expenditures are at about $35 million, May said.
Located at 909 S. Dinwiddie Street, the community center sits at a corner of Columbia Pike where there once stood a Safeway. Purchased by the county in 1996, the land remain unused for years while the economy crashed and the county had to reconfigure its plans for a community center in the area.
“It took a huge effort,” Tejada said. “When the economy tanked, it looked like it might not move forward and the community was very disappointed.”
Tejada had on a perpetual smile during the tour, seeing years of negotiations and false starts come to fruition. He was especially excited at the foosball table, which was covered by a piece of cardboard and he gleefully removed to spin the handles.
The facility will be free and open to the public from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Saturdays and 1:00 to 9:00 p.m. Sundays.
The only uses that will require fees are the fitness center and the parking garage after four hours. It was Tejada’s hope that the garage be completely free, but, in a controversial decision, he and county staff compromised on four hours of free parking, to prevent the garage from becoming a “haven for commuters,” according to the Sun Gazette.
The gymnasium has two full basketball courts and lines painted for volleyball and pickleball, which Facility Manager Rob Carter said was the most-requested activity in community meetings.
Arlington Mill also has a satellite office of the Arlington County Employment Center, classrooms, multipurpose rooms available to reserve, a room for the Project Family service and a rooftop garden. The center will have WiFi and, on the first floor, Pan American Bakery and Café. However, the bakery won’t be open for a few months after the center itself opens.
Next door, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is still in construction on its apartment building, on land leased from the county. The window to apply for the waiting list for the building opens today and closes Saturday, Aug. 31. The fourth floor of the center is currently unoccupied, and is part of 9,900 square feet of the facility that is designated for future use.
When asked what he would tell critics who say Arlington Mill has been a vanity project, Tejada responded, “I would invite them to come here and meet the diverse people who will use this center, and then we can chat them up.”
An ART bus will be more colorful for the next year, thanks to the winner of the ARTists for PAL Bus Design Contest.
County Board Chair Walter Tejada and County Manager Barbara Donnellan joined in a ceremony on Thursday for the unveiling of the winning bus wrap. They recognized Annemarie Dougherty, who will be an 8th grader at St. Agnes Catholic School in the fall, for her winning design.
Dougherty offered the following description of her design:
“My picture on the bus incorporates the ‘Be a PAL’ theme because the cars, bikes and people are sharing the space and are aware of the street signs. This shows that it is equally important for pedestrians, bikers and drivers to watch out for each other and their surroundings. In addition the street is green reminding people to walk or bike more.”
The contest asked middle and high school students to submit designs in line with the theme “Share Our Streets — Be a PAL.” The 26 entries were narrowed down to three finalists and Arlington residents were able to vote online for their favorite.
The newly wrapped bus will be on display at the Arlington County Fair this weekend. After that, it will take to the streets and will remain decorated for about one year.
All of the other contest entries are on display inside the bus.
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and County Board Chair Walter Tejada announced Wednesday that the state, county and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority are looking into leasing the air rights above I-66 near the East Falls Church and Rosslyn Metro stations in order to generate additional revenues for transportation improvements.
“By leasing airspace above certain transportation facilities owned by the Commonwealth, we can better utilize our existing infrastructure to generate additional revenues to fund future transportation improvements, while at the same time attracting new jobs and economic development,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Additionally, by co-locating these potential developments around existing Metro stations and other major transportation facilities, we can reduce congestion and create more livable communities.”
From the press release:
Air rights development projects have proven a successful revenue generator in other parts of the United States. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, for example, generated $40 million in FY 2011 through leases, with long-term lease income projected at $868 million. Further, earlier this year MassDOT awarded a contract for an additional air rights project through a 99-year lease that will generate $18.5 million (net present value) in rental payments.
“Virginia has long been a leader in partnering with the private sector to advance innovative solutions to our transportation infrastructure needs,” said Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton. “The potential development of these air rights presents a unique opportunity to attract additional private sector investment to the Commonwealth and better utilize our existing assets to fund future transportation projects.”
Arlington County is currently undertaking a review of the Rosslyn Sector Plan. As part of that process, development over I-66 in the northern and eastern edges of the Rosslyn Metro Station area can be evaluated. While there are no existing mixed-use development rights over the I-66 right-of-way at either Rosslyn or the East Falls Church Metro Station location, the East Falls Church Area Plan currently supports mixed use development on VDOT and WMATA’s property next to I-66.
Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada emphasized, “It is important to involve our residents, businesses and developers in this conversation about air rights. We will ensure that any potential transit-orientated development using these air rights in Arlington County is consistent with our community’s vision and is consistent with the County’s land use and transportation plans.”
The state has issued a Request for Information to gauge private sector interest and feasibility. Following the RFI, the county, various state agencies and WMATA will weigh in on assessing how the air rights would match up with the planned development for the communities. The state will then issue a Request for Proposals in the fall, according to the governor’s office.
The Rosslyn project has a suggested location adjacent to the Lynn Street overpass, but staff of the state Office of Public-Private Partnerships said it would consider other areas of I-66 in Rosslyn if those were deemed feasible.
At East Falls Church, the area of I-66 between Sycamore Street and Route 29, including the Metro parking lot to the north, is the targeted area.
An unsolicited proposal from a private entity has been submitted to the City of Alexandria to transform Hensley Park into a sports and entertainment facility. Although parts of the proposal appear strikingly similar to Arlington County’s plans for the Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, so far the County Board is not concerned.
The Alexandria City Council discussed the proposal it received from The St. James Group LLC during its meeting on Tuesday. The plan involves a long term lease of the 15 acre city owned property currently occupied by Hensley Park.
The Alexandria proposal includes amenities such as an Olympic sized pool and water play area, climbing wall and racquetball courts. Those features had already been included in Arlington’s long term plan for Long Bridge Park.
Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada said although there may be similarities, he doesn’t anticipate that a private facility in the southwest part of Alexandria would impact Arlington’s plans.
“I wouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions. I think our approach is much different,” he said. “We have a public facility we are creating, but this is private proposal. The context is so different.”
In fact, Tejada believes it could be considered a compliment that other jurisdictions may be interested in creating facilities similar to Arlington’s.
“The best flattery or compliment is duplication,” he said. “It’s flattering that someone would want to copy or do something we’re already doing.”
Tejada noted that because Arlington’s complex is publicly funded, residents from all walks of life will be welcome to use it. Because that may or may not be the case with the private proposal for Alexandria, Tejada said “we aren’t concerned” about the threat of competition.
“For our project we are looking to be inclusive, so people of all incomes and backgrounds will have access to our facilities,” said Tejada. “Whereas in a private facility it’s for profit and the purpose is whatever the personal group sets forth, so that’s a different matter.”
Kendrick Ashton, Jr., Co-founder and Managing Partner of The St. James Group, agreed that the intent was not to create competition between the two jurisdictions. He said Northern Virginia has a great need for sports facilities that isn’t being addressed.
“There’s certainly a tremendous need in this area for enhanced aquatics facilities,” said Ashton. “I think given the dearth of high quality aquatic facilities at this point, the region needs more of them. It’s not competitive at this point.”
The group looked for potential locations for the complex in Arlington, Fairfax and other localities, but no options appeared as feasible as the Henley Park land. Ashton reiterated that although the Alexandria complex would likely draw visitors from around Northern Virginia, it isn’t expected to create competition for Arlington’s $80 million Long Bridge Park facility.
The City of Alexandria’s website assures the public that it has not gone forward with any plans, it has simply heard the proposal from The St. James Group. The website reads: “All that has happened is that an outside party has made an unsolicited proposal to the City about a potential use of City-owned land. Neither City Council nor City staff have reached any conclusion about the merits of the proposal, nor have made any decisions other than the decision to evaluate it.”
The St. James Group will hold a public meeting to further explain the proposal on July 1, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn on Eisenhower Avenue. The City of Alexandria stresses that the meeting will not be led by or sponsored by the city, so residents should not consider it an official public hearing.
According to the timeline offered in the proposal, the hope is to have a recommendation from Alexandria by October regarding whether or not to move forward. If the City Council determines that a sports and entertainment complex is a feasible option, it will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to allow any interested party to make a bid. If the City Council decides such a facility is unnecessary, the process will end without any further action.
“We have to wait and see what becomes of it. They’re evaluating it, like anyone would,” Tejada said. “We’ll see what happens. For us, we’re focusing on our own project.”
Meanwhile, there has been no change announced to the schedule for the next phase of the Long Bridge Park project. In January, Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish told ARLnow.com that construction on the project is expected to begin this fall.
Despite some resident concerns over the cost of the facility, Tejada said the county will continue on with it and make all efforts to keep the project on budget.
“I think that we certainly will continue to practice our best fiscal management qualities that have earned us a AAA bond rating from all the bond rating agencies,” said Tejada. “It’s important to remember that we have a sound fiscal management record. I know sometimes that may get lost when one or two projects may be in the news.”
Firefly Festival on Sunday — All attention will be on the critters that light up the night at the 5th Annual Firefly Festival at Fort C.F. Smith Park (2411 24th Street N.) this Sunday, June 30. Activities include bug hunts, games, crafts, walks and talks about fireflies. There is a $7 charge per participant and children two and under are free. Attendees can bring a picnic to enjoy while waiting for the events at sundown. [Arlington County Dept. of Parks and Recreation]
Ducklings Rescued — Earlier this month, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington got some help from the Arlington County Fire Department with an animal rescue mission. Together they removed five ducklings that had become stuck in a storm drain. [Washington Post]
Tejada Re-elected to Position on National Association of Regional Councils — Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada has been re-elected as the Board of Directors Region III Director on the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC). NARC advocates for regional cooperation as a means of effectively addressing community planning opportunities and issues. It represents more than 230 regional councils and planning organizations across the country. Tejada has served in the position since 2011.
A ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the new sprayground at Virginia Highlands park yesterday evening.
Surrounded by a group of children patiently awaiting the water to be switched back on, Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada thanked those involved in the park’s creation, and touted the water-saving features of the water park. The sprayground saves 82,000 gallons of water per month by employing a water recirculation system, he said.
After his speech, Tejada joined County Board member Chris Zimmerman and neighborhood representatives in cutting a ribbon hastily tied to the sprayground equipment. The ribbon survived earlier attempts by the children to use it as a makeshift backrest — an effort that was repeatedly foiled by a diligent county staffer.
The sprayground, adjacent to a picnic area in the southeast corner of the park, features water jets, showers, dumping buckets and rotating water cannons. It’s scheduled to be open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. through Labor Day.
In the Board chair’s annual State of the County address, Tejada touted Arlington as a “coveted area” that people want to live and work in. However, citing the planned departure of the National Science Foundation and its 2,200+ jobs to Alexandria, and the county’s 17 percent (and rising) office vacancy rate, Tejada said the county must work to “reinvent” itself.
“Arlington is facing some economic uncertainty,” he said. “One of the worst things… is to be complacent. It’s time to reinvent ourselves once again. An important strategy of our reinvention is our focus on science and technology.”
To that end, Tejada said the county will continue to fight to keep the NSF in Ballston.
“We are profoundly disappointed, but I believe the last word has not been written on this,” he said. “We still believe Arlington is the best home for the National Science Foundation, and we hope that it stays. We will work diligently to make sure that happens.”
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he continued. “Undoing a science cluster that the federal government itself has spent two decades and quite a lot of taxpayer money building? We believe this decision needs closer scrutiny. How much are Alexandria taxpayers paying for this deal?”
“Arlington has become a hotbed of startup technology companies,” he said. Emphasizing private sector commercial growth is important, he said, since the biggest office tenant in Arlington, the federal government, has become “unpredictable at best.”
Also part of Arlington’s “reinvention” is the controversial Columbia Pike streetcar system.
“The streetcar is our best transit option for Columbia Pike,” Tejada said. “The streetcar will create that main street feel that the community wants. It will reduce pollution and congestion. And yes, it is affordable in the long term. The Pike streetcar system is equal to the cost of one Metrorail station.”
The streetcar will be funded via a commercial property tax surcharge that’s earmarked for transportation projects. The financing would not qualify for a voter referendum under state law, Tejada said, and “the plan is well within the county’s self-imposed debt limit.”
Tejada said he would not have supported the streetcar had the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan not called for the preservation of affordable housing. He called on the business leaders in the room to contribute to the affordable housing effort on the Pike.
It’s been open since this spring, but today county and federal officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the South Joyce Street Shared-Use Sidewalk Project,
The $1.8 million Federal Highway Administration project built new, wider sidewalks on the 1/5 mile stretch between Army Navy Drive and Columbia Pike. The 10-foot-wide sidewalks can be used by pedestrians and bicyclists. The sidewalks “improve safety and access at one of the few places in Arlington where bicycles and pedestrians can cross I-395,” according to a county fact sheet.
“As a result of the FHWA project, which was funded with a Congressional allocation… the once highway-style passage has been transformed into an easy-to-navigate bicycle and pedestrian route that connects the east end of Columbia Pike, the Pentagon reservation and Pentagon City,” the county wrote. “Arlington supported the the project, which aligns with the goals of Arlington County’s ‘Complete Streets’ program, with design guidance and funding for some additional elements.”
County Board Chairman Walter Tejada lauded the project, saying that it’s especially useful for those who commute via bicycle from Columbia Pike. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) joked that the new sidewalk “is not the kind of project you’d see on a postcard,” but said it’s important nonetheless.
“This is basic infrastructure,” he said. “If you don’t invest in it, if you don’t do the right thing, you negatively impact a lot of other infrastructure.”
In addition to wider sidewalks, pedestrian-scale lighting was added to the street and automatic bicycle/pedestrian counters were installed. Meanwhile, highway-style guard rails were removed and fire department standpipes were relocated out of the pedestrian route.
Entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Out Broken Immigration System,” the Moran-organized forum attracted several dozen attendees to Kenmore Middle School’s auditorium. The congressman and the panelists told the audience that immigration reform would energize the economy, bring in additional tax revenue, and enable immigrants to live a more productive and fulfilling life.
In his opening remarks, Moran said bipartisan immigration legislation that’s currently being crafted in the Senate has a better shot at becoming law than any other recent attempt at immigration reform.
“The possibility for reform today may be better than it’s ever been,” he said. “Now is the best time in recent memory for enacting comprehensive immigration reform. But the enactment of reforms is by no means guaranteed… in a Congress that can’t seem to agree on anything of consequence.”
Moran said immigration reform is particularly important in Northern Virginia, where 27 percent of the population is foreign-born. (Of that foreign-born population, 38 percent of come from Latin America, 36 percent from Asia, 16 percent from Africa and 10 from Europe, according to statistics cited by Moran.)
Panelists made moral and economic arguments for immigration reform.
Patrick Oakford, who researches immigration issues for the liberal Center for American Progress, said that legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could boost the economy by $832 billion over 10 years while raising the wages paid to immigrants.
Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada said immigration reform would help cash-strapped local governments. It would also help police departments, he said, by facilitating better cooperation with an immigrant community that’s currently fearful of law enforcement.
“The future of our nation is brighter by providing a path for citizenship,” Tejada said. “We really need to get behind and support our leaders in Congress.”
Other panelists tried to shoot down some of the arguments against immigration reform.
Kristian Ramos of the New Policy Institute, pro-immigration think tank, said immigration reform won’t open the floodgates to Mexican immigrants. He said that Mexico’s growing economy has helped to significantly reduce the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States by providing more jobs and opportunities in Mexico. He also pointed out that that crime is down near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Two months after holding a raucous forum on gun violence, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is planning a public forum on another hot-button topic.
On Tuesday, May 14, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road), Moran will host a forum entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Our Broken Immigration System.”
Just as the gun violence forum featured panelists that largely shared Moran’s gun control views, the immigration forum will feature panelists who favor liberal immigration policies: County Board Chair Walter Tejada, plus representatives from the Center for American Progress, the National Immigration Law Center and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“The panel discussion will outline systemic problems in our current immigration system and layout the comprehensive reform plans that are currently under consideration in Congress,” said a press release for the event.
“There are an estimated 10 – 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America, the majority having settled here more than a decade ago,” the press release said. “Reforming the broken immigration system to resolve the status for these individuals has the potential to boost the entire U.S. economy, adding over $800 billion to the national GDP over the next decade and creating over 100,000 more jobs per year.”
Blog Points Out Bike Lane Blockers — Frustrated with supposed inaction by Arlington County Police, a local resident has created a Tumblr site to publicly “shame” the owners of vehicles that illegally park or idle in bike lanes in Arlington. [Arlington Bike Lane Blockers]
Clarendon Farmers Market Starts Tonight — The Clarendon Farmers Market is back for the season, starting tonight. The market will run from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m., in the newly renovated Clarendon Central Park, next to the Metro entrance. The market will run every Wednesday through Dec. 18 before taking a break for the winter. Another seasonal farmers market, the Crystal City Freshfarm Market, is set to start the season on Tuesday, April 30. [Clarendon Alliance, Freshfarm Markets]
District Taco to Open Third Location — District Taco, which opened its first location on Lee Highway, is getting ready to open its third location. The new District Taco restaurant, like the second location, will be located in D.C. [Prince of Petworth]
Tejada Talks Immigration Reform — County Board Chair Walter Tejada spoke to a group of pro-immigration supporters at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Clarendon Tuesday morning. Tejada told the crowth that “it is our duty” to “work and fight together for comprehensive immigration reform.” The group is planning a rally at the Capitol next week. [WJLA]
Fire Weather Watch — The region is under a Fire Weather Watch. Gusty winds and low humidity are creating ideal conditions for brush fires. [Capital Weather Gang]
Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada has suggested that he’s open to a discussion about imposing a local income tax and using it to fund transportation projects, the Washington Post reports.
A bill that would allow Arlington and other Virginia localities to impose a 1 percent income tax without a voter referendum passed the Virginia state Senate last week. It’s now under consideration in the House of Delegates, although most tax bills face an uphill battle in the Republican-majority body.
(Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County and other jurisdictions are currently authorized to impose a 0.25 to 1 percent income tax, but must first have it approved by voters.)
Tejada told the Post’s Tom Jackman that the Board is following the bill “intently.”
“We’re always trying to find ways to fund transportation projects, and considering we were ranked number one in gridlock, any resources would be helpful,” Tejada said. “We’ve been trying different things, and traffic’s not going anywhere.”
At last month’s meeting, County Board members said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) transportation plan might not raise enough new revenue to meet Northern Virginia’s transportation needs. McDonnell and state lawmakers are currently working to hash out a compromise version of the governor’s proposal.