Coalition for Smarter Growth
March 14, 2019
Arlington County Board
2100 Clarendon Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201
Re: Amazon incentive package and community needs
Dear Chair Dorsey and members of the Board:
The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading non-profit in the DC region advocating a network of livable communities – walkable, mixed-income, mixed-use, transit-oriented centers and corridors linked by an expanded transit network including Metrorail, bus, bus rapid transit, light-rail, and street-car as appropriate. Our partnerships span the region’s leading conservation, affordable housing, bicycle/pedestrian, and transit advocacy organizations, as well as progressive architecture, planning and development firms. We are proud that this web of partnerships enabled us to collectively win the first-ever dedicated funding for Metro.
We support Amazon’s decision to locate in Crystal City/Pentagon City. Their decision is a vindication of Arlington’s long-time leadership and implementation of smart growth and transit-oriented development (TOD). It is a vindication as well of our regional advocacy for TOD and of the Council of Governments’ Region Forwardvision and Visualize2045transportation plan commitments to TOD. Amazon is also teaming with one of the region’s most successful transit-oriented developers, JBGSmith, who have a record of good design and placemaking, and recently started a workforce housing fund.
Turning now to the proposed incentives program. We join others in the long-standing concerns about the nationwide use of incentives to attract major corporate entities – particularly given so many socio-economic needs in our communities. But we also recognize that both Arlington and the State of Virginia incentives are performance based. Arlington’s incentives are also being drawn from the growth in revenue from the Transient Occupancy Tax, of which 15% will go to Amazon for performance but the remainder to schools, housing and transportation in Arlington. We are pleased that the state transportation investments are among the most progressive seen in the U.S. in that they are focused on transit, bicycle/pedestrian and safe street design investments.
A new area of concern raised by Megan Rhyne of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government must be addressed – that the proposed agreement includes a provision allowing Amazon “at least two-business days to refute, redact or file a lawsuit when someone seeks records of its interaction with the county” (P. Sullivan, Washington Post, 3/15/19). At CSG we have always placed transparency in government at the core of community planning and engagement and strongly support ever greater transparency in FOIA standards and fewer exemptions. Therefore, this provision which Ms. Rhyne says is unusual, should be removed from the agreement.
While we are supporting the Amazon transit-oriented project, we share the significant concerns about housing affordability in Arlington and the region – an issue which admittedly predates Amazon. While Arlington and Alexandria are pledging $150 million toward affordable housing needs over ten years, our understanding is that these are not new, additional funds. It is good that the Virginia Housing Development Authority will be allocating $15 million per year over five years in low interest loans for affordable housing and added $3 million to the statewide Virginia Housing Trust Fund. But this level of investment is also far short of the need. Since Arlington notes that increased revenues will result from Amazon’s investment and associated development and economic activity, we urge the use of a significant portion of those revenues for affordable housing – to double or more the current annual commitments. We urge the same for Alexandria, Fairfax, and the state.
As for the state commitment to affordable housing, we need to point out the discrepancy between $750 million in incentives for Amazon and $50 million for Micron, while only adding $3 million to the state housing trust fund and the five-year, $15 million per year loan program for Northern Virginia. Similarly, the comparison between the billions we spend on highways and interchanges is stunning when compared to how little we are investing in affordable housing. In fact, housing close to jobs and transit IS a transportation solution, reducing vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled. Investing in affordable housing in smart growth locations creates far more benefits than do our massive highway expenditures, providing family stability, improved health, improved educational outcomes, improved access to jobs and affordable transportation, and reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, we need both much more public funding support from the state and local governments, but also innovative private sector investment in long-term committed affordable housing for 60 percent of area median income and below.
Beyond funding, we concur with many other groups that we need effective preservation strategies for market-rate affordable housing in our diverse neighborhoods that are potentially impacted by the economic development that will come with Amazon. Arlington, DC, Alexandria and advocates at CSG and the member groups of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance have many ideas for effective tools for both preservation and inclusion of affordable housing, and we need a stronger commitment and an accelerated approach to implementation in each jurisdiction with the full participation of local residents.
Turning back to transportation, and Amazon’s role, we are pleased that Amazon has achieved about a 50% mode share for non-auto commutes in Seattle and has promised that they want to do even better here. We recommend a goal of 65% non-auto mode share. To achieve this, we recommend that Amazon provide transit passes to all employees, and that they minimize on-site parking (as they have discussed) — and price it OR offer equal non-parking benefits to any employee who might be eligible for or offered a parking space but wishes to take transit, walk or bike to work. Include secure bicycle parking, along with showers and lockers for bike commuters.
In addition, the state, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and local jurisdictions should add other projects to the package of transportation investments including:
- Connecting Metroway through Alexandria to Fairfax’ Embark Richmond Highway BRT
- Accelerating the Long Bridge rail project and building the separated bike bridge
- In the I-395 Corridor provide TOD node-to-node bus rapid transit connections between Fort Belvoir, Springfield, Landmark, Mark Center, Shirlington, Pentagon City/Crystal City and Pentagon (and a Kingstown to Van Dorn to Landmark connection).
- Expansion of Capital Bikeshare
- Expansion of dedicated bike lane infrastructure
In conclusion, we support Amazon’s location decision, but we urge you to fix the FOIA issue, to advance these additional transportation projects in partnership with other jurisdictions, AND commit to increasing funding for affordable housing, adopting new tools for preservation and inclusion, and including the community in the development of these strategies and programs.