November saw a very full agenda. The Board met on three different, and long, days. Community involvement was impressive throughout.
Honoring Ellen Bozman
Many residents and elected officials, past and present, came to support our naming the County office building after long time Board member Ellen Bozman. I’m pleased we have named our office building in honor of a woman who did so much for the County, and that her husband, Bill Bozman—who I am told watched from his hospice bed—was able to see this action before he died on November 30th.
Supporters of the Arlington YMCA and the Veterans of Foreign Wars John Lyon Post came to speak about advertising changes to the General Land Use Plan (GLUP) for the land where they sit off Washington Blvd & N Kirkwood. Both non-profits provide important services to many in our community, and both requested a change to permit more density on their sites so they can renovate their very outdated facilities. Some neighbors came with concerns about adding that density and about building a road to cut through the site. We approved the advertisement, but not a regular road through the site. We will not adopt the changes, however, until the landowners come to us with plans for their sites. The Board will see exactly how those changes will affect the area and could modify the advertisement and readvertise at that time.
We heard from many of our residents in the Rosslyn-Ballston and Route 1 corridors who were concerned that we would change their neighborhoods’ character by lowering guidelines for how much parking we require in new multi-family buildings. The Board did reduce the minimum guidelines for parking spaces, but the zoning requirement of 1 space per unit remains. The Board will also assess each new building on a case-by-case basis. We do not expect many new buildings in those corridors, where we already have a lot of unused parking spaces. I urged one speaker experiencing issues in his current building to work with our staff to see if his building might arrange to use some unused spaces in nearby buildings. It is just that sort of sharing we hope to encourage.
The business community was very concerned about our advertising a hearing to create housing conservation districts. In these districts, property owners would need to get Board approval to tear down apartment buildings and build townhouses. Currently in these areas, they can build townhouses by right, often in place of garden apartments. We hope to work with the Chamber of Commerce and property owners to create incentives that would make this change amenable to them. Our older garden apartment complexes provide green space, affordable housing, and a unique atmosphere to their communities. The Board wants to preserve these qualities in our neighborhoods.
Our approval of the Long Bridge Park and Aquatics and Fitness Center has been a long time coming. This project went “back to the drawing board” in 2014 when bids to construct the first plan for the facility came in far over budget. We have since created a detailed scope of work, and we asked firms both to design and to build the project while keeping it within the $60M budget voters had already approved. We are using the Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) approach, which means that the contractor has to cover any cost overage. The winning contract is an efficient, attractive and functional building that I believe will be an important facility for Arlington. The use of survey data to help create a scope of work and then contracting using the CMR process is efficient and gives cost certainty. It is an improvement over our old processes and likely will become our preferred approach.
What to do with Left Over Money
We had our annual discussion of what to do with the close out funds left over at the end of the fiscal year. I again supported using those funds for emergency or unanticipated needs, but not for regular budget items like affordable housing. I believe regular budget items should be part of the regular budget process. I was fine with directing the Manager to support affordable housing in his FY ‘19 budget, and I likely will vote for that allocation in the spring. But I do not believe we should decide how to allocate left over funds now; we should carry them forward and fold them into the entire budget discussion that starts in February.
As I write this note, tax “reform” legislation is sprinting through Congress. If the Federal government eliminates deductions for local and state taxes and several types of bonds that localities like Arlington use to fund projects, we will be looking at some very drastic and painful adjustments to our budget and how we do things. It is quite possible we will soon need even more community involvement to determine how best to preserve the quality of life we currently have in Arlington.