Our February agenda had several items of interest and Covid issues continue to evolve.
Residential Permit Parking (RPP)
The difficult issue of Residential Permit Parking (RPP) finally came for a vote after years of study and engagement. While County streets are public, many people want to be assured they can park on their street and close to their house (if not right in front of it), especially if they have no private driveway. The RPP was put in place decades ago when residents of the Crystal City Area were finding their streets clogged with commuters’ parked cars. It was intended to help ensure that people from outside Arlington were not parking on our streets to the detriment of our residents. Over the years as Arlington has become more and more urban, the program has expanded and – we realized – had gotten to the point where it wasn’t always about preserving our streets for residents’ use, but sometimes about keeping neighboring Arlingtonians off those streets. We had situations where streets in an RPP were empty because all homes had their own drives and garages, yet nearby residents could not
park there and were walking a mile or more to get to their homes that did not have driveways or garages. Balancing competing needs and equity of distribution of a scare resource was the challenge.
You are welcome to read the staff report which outlines the many issues and work done. Despite the years long effort there are those that think we have not studied the issue enough nor engaged people enough. I think the bottom line is that this is a complex issue, and it is impossible to make anyone really happy about it. However, I believe we were able to make the situation better. The much opposed 2-hour parking in RPP areas was not adopted because the Board (and our staff) agreed with residents that enforcement would be too difficult to make it work well. We decided residents with no parking on their property could have 4 passes to park on the street, while residents with a driveway could get 2 passes. Clearly, Arlington is an urban community and difficult issues like parking and pedestrian safety will be with us for a long time and will need to be revisited as transportation and housing patterns change.
FY ’22 Budget
The Manager presented his FY ’22 Budget, and we voted to advertise the public hearings we will have on April 8th on the tax rate and fees. I have always tried to advertise the tax rate at a higher rate than I hope to actually adopt in order to give flexibility to address unexpected challenges. We are advertising the tax rate as “no change.” But because nearly every residential property is worth more this year than last, nearly every property owner will see their taxes go up if we do not lower the rate. I’m hopeful we can lower the tax rate in April, but there are still many unknown budget needs the County may face. We continue to have many needs in our safety-net programs to make sure everyone has a roof over their heads, food on the table and access to health care. That said, it looks like we should get major relief from the Rescue America Plan bill working its way through Congress. We are hopeful the FY’22 fiscal year will be a bridge year to a much stronger local economy next year. Our important hotel and hospitality industry is likely to be among those struggling the most even after the pandemic winds down.
There was one hearing item on Tuesday: advertising a public hearing to designate a portion of the Febrey-Lothrop Estate on Wilson Blvd as an historic district. Anyone who has driven on Wilson Blvd towards Falls Church has noticed this large estate. The property has a lot of history going back before the Civil War and was used by both Confederate and Union troops. A number of people came to speak to us about the property. There were those wanting to preserve the
house and the property as an historic site and/or a park, and those who wanted us to use the property for affordable housing. Some speakers focused on the historic aspects of the property, which are significant. Virginia law and our own code is clear about the process for designating a property as historic, and we are following that process.
We voted to hold a hearing at our April board meeting which will allow our staff to prepare a solid report about the property, although on a much expedited timeline. Even should we designate the site historic, we have little ability to tell the owners what they can and cannot do with their property. The fact remains that the owners of the property control their property and are in the process of seeking permits to demolish the house and outbuildings. We have asked to be able to document the buildings for their architectural and historic significance before they are demolished. However, it is unclear if we will be able to do that, since it is quite possible the buildings may be demolished before our hearing. The site itself has historic value even if the buildings are removed. Any new owner could help preserve that history and could decide to provide affordable housing should they wish to work with the County for zoning changes on some or all of the site. I expect we will be talking about this estate and its history for some time no matter what happens in the next few months.
Covid vaccinations proceed apace and we have vaccinated over 65% of those residents 65 and older who have pre-registered with us, including yours truly. We are now scheduling for those 65 and older and those 16 to 65 with medical conditions or disabilities.
As of Feb. 26th, 87% of residents 65+ who have pre-registered in Arlington have received a notification to schedule a vaccination appointment. These notifications will continue to be sent to those remaining on the list over the coming weeks. Every resident who pre-registered as a 65+ individual with Arlington by Feb. 12th will receive an invitation to schedule an appointment by March 12th. The County continues to work with VDH to identify residents in this category who have pre-registered on the Vaccinate Virginia site.
The Virginia pre-registration system still has some issues with migrating our data. Some residents continue to be unable to search and find their registration, but all of the registrations made with us
seem to be in the Virginia system. Our staff can see them, but the public facing portal is not functioning totally well yet. We have everyone’s pre-registration in our own system still and are using that data to reach out to offer appointments in generally the order in which people registered. If you have not pre-registered, I encourage you to do so at: https://vaccinate.virginia.gov/
I’ve received many questions and concerns about people not having a specific appointment time for second appointments. Some localities outside of Arlington have decided to make definite appointments well ahead, but then when there are snowstorms, vaccine delays or something else….have to cancel and reschedule those appointments. Arlington County has decided it is less stressful for everyone to schedule appointments just days ahead to avoid cancellations and rescheduling.
Everyone who is pre-registered is being contacted by phone or email asking to select a date and time for their vaccination a few days ahead of when we can vaccinate them. I know it’s hard to be patient, but I hope everyone can trust our system. I’m sure we are not perfect, but I’ve not yet heard of anyone not getting a time set once they have a date.
Please note that when you get your first shot you receive a CDC card with the earliest date for your second shot on the back. The second dose will be effective even if you get it several weeks after the date given on the card. So don’t worry if you are not contacted by that date, or even a little after, for your next appointment.
The Federal government continues to provide more vaccine doses, but often those doses are going to pharmacies for distribution. We are trying to coordinate with pharmacies, but do not always have much success. We have no control over whom they vaccinate nor when nor how they do scheduling. Finally, we must use Virginia State priorities for who has priority order to get vaccinated. The Governor changes his direction on priorities from time to time and we adapt as quickly as we can. If you have not yet, I encourage you to sign up for regular Covid Updates from the County. We are trying to keep everyone well informed on how we are doing and any changes people need to know about.
I hope this has been helpful. I have been hearing from many readers over the past few months and appreciate your comments, suggestions, questions and hearing about your own experiences. Please continue to stay safe and use face coverings and social distancing.